• Shah Rukh Khan is, in many ways, an embodiment of quintessential anti-heroism, his magnetic screen presence invariably lending heft even to half-baked roles like that of Don whom he played six years ago.
    In Raees, however, Khan ups the ante considerably, playing a kohl-eyed, bespectacled liquor peddler with consummate flair – ostentation has seldom felt more fun.
    Director Rahul Dholakia won universal acclaim for his National Award winning feature Parzania that focussed on the disastrous Gujarat riots of 2002 and their aftermath.
    He returns to familiar territory with Raees, spinning a blood-spattered yarn of treachery, gumption and chicanery.
    The film is reportedly based on the real-life story of the Gujarati gangster Abdul Latif – as a result, it never fails to feel frighteningly authentic.
    However, a film of this nature is, more often than not, forced to cater to demands indirectly stipulated by popular mainstream cinema, and it shows.
    Poor Sunny Leone is relegated to gyrating in front of hundreds of lecherous salivating men while Raees, conveniently enough, chooses the aforementioned moment to take down his nemesis for good.
    Mahira Khan is strangely insipid in her performance as the titular hero’s wife – this makes for a vapid romance that lacks both substance and bite.
    Nitpicking aside, Raees is a compelling character study of a deeply flawed man who refused to comply with various restrictions imposed by the place of his upbringing – and ended up paying the price for it.
    Raees managed to get an entire state – dry, as it self-righteously reiterates to this very day – high on alcohol.
    A few decades down the line, the actor who portrayed him continues to get an entire nation high on cinema.

    January 26, 17
  • With Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, it is evident that director Karan Johar aspired to make a film that stands testament to the power of love – especially that of the gut-wrenching, unrequited kind.
    What he does end up making, however, is a mushy, maudlin mess of a film that grates on the nerves – one that will probably be remembered as his most amateurish, imbecile production to date.
    Ranbir Kapoor plays Ayan, a guy who’s helplessly smitten with Alizeh (Anushka Sharma in a stellar turn) but whose love remains mostly unreciprocated for reasons that vary over the course of the film.
    One of the biggest problems plaguing Ae Dil Hai Mushkil is that the film feels tonally inconsistent throughout its running time, constantly vacillating between juvenile comedy and melodramatic excess.
    The humour in this film is mostly meta and of the self-referential type, and this would not have been an issue if it didn’t appear so forced and out of place.
    The film feels derivative more often then not – many portions are largely reminiscent of Imtiaz Ali’s terrific Rockstar and the Shailene Woodley-starrer The Fault In Our Stars.
    This is a shame, considering the wealth of talent that Johar has at his disposal here.
    Ranbir Kapoor has the acting chops to pull off any role – any decently written one, that is.
    Ayan, however, remains a woefully sketched-out character, and one whose obsessive behaviour borders on the creepy.
    Johar’s latest will inevitably go down as one of the most disappointing Hindi films of 2016 – a cracker that fizzles out without so much as a spark.
    Ae Dil, This Buzzkill.

    January 12, 17
  • When I first heard that director Neeraj Pandey was making a biopic on a man who’s widely regarded as the greatest ever captain to have served Indian cricket, I couldn’t help but wonder if he had got his timing disastrously wrong.
    Dhoni, after all, continues to serve the national team in all limited overs formats, and a film of this nature would probably have been better served if it delayed its production until the point when he, as is inevitable, walks into a glorious sunset – one that’s destined to remain unparalleled in its magisterial beauty.
    This skepticism, however, was dispelled when I watched MS Dhoni: The Untold Story.
    Pandey, after all, is the man who made the wonderful A Wednesday, and his magic touch remains intact.
    The film remains effective for the most part, thanks in large measure to the incredible life story that it addresses with an almost reverential eye for detail.
    The best parts of the film are those that underline Dhoni’s struggles as a young man, and the many difficult decisions that he had to make over the course of his rather dramatic life.
    Sushant Singh Rajput is excellent as Dhoni – he brings a much-needed touch of vulnerability to a man whose aura, to this day, remains one of calmness and detachment.
    If there’s one major grouse I had with the film though, it’s the fact that the treatment of its source material remains largely soap-operatic in nature.
    Indeed, the film is replete with caricatures- ones that are painted in the broadest of strokes.
    MS Dhoni: The Untold Story is a solid, watchable film that deserves to be celebrated for the perennially uplifting theme that it highlights: the classical rise of the underdog.
    There’s no denying this fact though: Captain Cool deserved a little better.

    January 12, 17
  • Does the wearing of a short skirt by a woman serve as a natural indictment of her character, a rather visible emblem of promiscuity?
    Do we, as members of a society overwhelmingly plagued with male chauvinism, even have the right to impugn a woman’s motives based on her past relationships?
    These are just some of the rather uncomfortable themes that Pink – arguably the smartest, finest film you’ll see this year – chooses to grapple with.
    Director Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury has managed to outdo himself with a modern masterpiece – a film so wonderfully made that everything else pretty much fades into oblivion.
    A young Delhi girl (Taapsee Pannu, in a riveting performance) gets into a fracas with a politician’s son, a rather entitled snob who chooses to molest her when she refuses to succumb to his advances.
    The fallout of this is expectedly grim, and one that feels even scarier than usual because of how relatable it feels.
    Amitabh Bachchan is exceedingly good as Deepak Sehgal, a lawyer who chooses to come out of retirement and fight for a cause that he is able to genuinely empathise with.
    As for the screenplay and the writing, both brim with a sharp, sardonic wit that, rather incisively, cuts too close to the bone.
    Pink is truly a film for the ages – one that is timely, relevant and gut-wrenching all at once.
    Like the finest of champagnes, it leaves you with a wonderful aftertaste.

    January 12, 17
  • How much you end up liking Mohenjo Daro will invariably be a function of what your threshold for historical inaccuracy is.
    For this is a film in which a chieftain wears bull horns (even in 2016 BC, that must have ranked as a serious fashion faux-pas), a farmer sports six-pack abs even as he rushes to rescue a city in distress (Snap Fitness must have inaugurated their Mohenjo Daro outlet by then), and probably most outrageously, horses remain suspended in mid-air even as they politely wait for our hero to rescue his damsel in distress.
    Needless to say, there is a plethora of things this film gets wrong.
    But here’s the deal – I found myself in a willing mood to forgive all this theatrical lunacy, and for one simple reason: I never got bored.
    Say what you will about Ashutosh Gowariker – the man has got a penchant for telling a story with ostentatious flair.
    It’s inarguably the reason why both Lagaan and Jodhaa Akbar have come to be regarded by many as two of the greatest films to have been churned out by Bollywood since the turn of the millenium – a view I incidentally subscribe to.
    Gowariker directs the film with a slow-burning intensity that reaches its peak in a memorable climax that left me gasping on the edge of my seat.
    Hrithik Roshan is an abundantly gifted actor blessed with undeniable screen presence and oodles of charisma – he is a major reason why this film works.
    The same, tragically, cannot be said of newbie Pooja Hegde – I couldn’t help being reminded of Nargis Fakhri’s painfully wooden performance in Rockstar and the way it affected the film as a whole.
    Mohenjo Daro is sure to have its fair share of detractors – but I found myself succumbing to the seductive power of Gowariker’s storytelling for the umpteenth time.
    Unlike its moniker that quite literally translates to “Mound of the Dead”, this film manages to stay alive with a unique beating pulse of its own- even if it probably deserved to be buried in a grave itself.

    January 12, 17
  • One thing that’s instantly noticeable about Sultan is the fact that Salman Khan – that most enigmatic of Bollywood thespians – doesn’t play himself.
    Here, finally, is a fully fleshed-out role that he gets to sink his teeth into – and one that’s a far cry from the grossly caricatured versions of himself that he’s grown so accustomed to playing in the recent past.
    In Sultan, director Ali Abbas Zafar draws an enchanting portrait of a Haryanvi wrestler who, in his rather arduous quest for infinite glory, loses a piece of his soul somewhere along the way.
    In doing so, Zafar also tackles some very interesting themes: the gaping chasm that is the gender divide in modern rural India, the thin line that separates confidence from egotism, and the double-edged sword that love continues to represent in any courtship.
    As Sultan, Salman is clearly in riveting form, giving us a faulty, layered person whom we can all empathise with and relate to.
    The scenes in which he grapples with various opponents over the course of the film are exquisitely well-shot and pulsate with a certain raw energy that is hard to describe.
    The biggest strength of Sultan, however, lies in the tender, beautiful romance that its lead couple shares – it’s awkward, heart wrenching and exhilarating all at the same time.
    Both Salman and Anushka share an electrifying chemistry – the latter does some of her best work here – and this helps elevate their on-screen relationship to unprecedented levels of loveliness.
    At its heart, Sultan is a very simple tale – much of it is indeed mired in the oldest of storytelling cliches – albeit one that’s told with a lot of heart.
    For the die-hard romantic that lurks somewhere deep inside each one of us, there is beauty to be found in banality.
    Not unlike its muscular protagonist, this film packs quite a punch.

    January 12, 17
  • Sometimes, the films that are most uncomfortable to watch – those that leave us squirming in our seats – are those that merit the greatest of applause.
    Much has been made of Udta Punjab’s prolonged battle with the Censor Board – at one stage producer Anurag Kashyap was even asked to make 89 cuts – and for a film that deals with a subject as dark as Punjab’s never-ceasing battle with drugs, it’s easy to see why.
    Abhishek Chaubey has developed a reputation over the years for being an astute filmmaker who rigorously researches the milieu that he sets his films in -it’s a trademark quality of his that shines through in his latest venture.
    The film presents a tapestry of tormented individuals, who have – unwittingly or otherwise – had their lives torn apart by unregulated consumption of drugs and the horrors that inevitably accompany it.
    This is a tale of hopelessness, debauchery and moral decrepitude – and certainly one that’s not for the faint-hearted.
    However, Chaubey’s dark humour and Trivedi’s riveting background score make for a heady cocktail that, to a certain extent, helps digest the unpleasantness on display.
    The acting, too, is top-notch – Shahid Kapoor, Alia Bhatt and Kareena Kapoor all deliver some of their finest performances to date.
    However, it is Diljit Dosanjh who emerges as the moral conscience of this film with his hugely affecting portrayal of a corrupt cop who turns over a new leaf when his own brother nearly succumbs to drug overdose.
    Udta Punjab would have been a pitch-perfect film, if not for that blood-splattered climax that quite frankly borders on the ridiculous.
    It is, however, one of the bravest Hindi films of 2016, and one that encourages society to recognise a deeply discomfiting truth for what it is rather than remain nonchalantly ignorant about it.
    Like those sinister-looking heroin-filled syringes peppered throughout the dark alleyways of Punjab, this film delivers a dosage of acute pleasure.

    January 12, 17
  • I can’t recollect the last time I watched a genuinely good Bollywood comedy – one that earned its laughs rather than pummelling its audience into submission with a sledgehammer.
    It was with great trepidation, thus, that I entered the cinema hall to watch Housefull 3; given Sajid-Farhad’s less-than-enviable filmography, it was rather unlikely that their latest venture would be anything other than a cinematic Apocalypse.
    Needless to say, some – if not all – of my worst fears were confirmed.
    Housefull 3 is cheerfully crude, laboriously long and painfully pretentious.
    Most unforgivably though – the film is just flat-out boring.
    The underlying premise remains the same as that of the previous two installments – three boys and three girls manage to find themselves entangled in a ridiculously convoluted situation, largely thanks to the many dim-witted choices that they make over the course of the film.
    This is a film that brims with solid comic potential, and in the right hands this could have turned out to be one hell of a rollicking entertainer.
    There are a few gags that land their punches well enough – especially those that involve a lot of self-deprecation.
    All three leading men – Akshay Kumar, Riteish Deshmukh and Abhishek Bachchan – throw themselves wholeheartedly into their half-baked roles, and this earnestness helps propel the film forward.
    The ladies however remain woefully bereft of anything that even remotely resembles a well-crafted story arc.
    There was a time when I found myself pondering over what might have prompted Sajid Khan all those years ago to spell his franchise’s name the way he did.
    Hark, the mystery stands resolved: the extra ‘L’ is for Ludicrity.

    January 12, 17
  • The very nature of celebrity culture is one that begs for a closer , more layered introspection.
    Director Maneesh Sharma of Band Baaja Baaraat fame recognises this fact well, which is why his latest film, Fan, casts a cynical spotlight on the dark side of obsessive passion and its often tragic repercussions.
    The underlying concept of the film – that of the biggest movie star in this nation playing both the worshipper and the worshipped – is one that merits applause for its ingenuity.
    Do the privileged few in society pay enough attention to the very same followers who are responsible for shaping their legend? Do we fail to take enough control of our own lives even as we doggedly obsess over the lives of our superstars?
    Is there, indeed, more to being a fan than meets the eye?
    These are some of the themes that the film chooses to explore.
    Fan sometimes requires a complete suspension of disbelief, especially post intermission.
    There are a few sequences that are largely contrived in nature- especially the long elaborate chase down the streets of Dubrovnik that left me rolling my eyes in skepticism.
    But this is a film that is largely salvaged by Shah Rukh Khan’s miraculous performance.
    Indeed, Chak De India’s Kabir Khan has been consigned to the history books – this is the benchmark that his career might just be remembered by.
    For three decades now, the Pied Piper of Bollywood has made an entire nation sway to the allure of his beats.
    I count myself amongst the enchanted.

    January 12, 17
  • A hundred and twenty-two years ago, Rudyard Kipling wrote a wonderful novel that was not only a game-changer in its genre but radically influenced contemporary society’s perception of the ever-altering dynamics between Man and Nature.
    Adapting the aforementioned book to the big screen was always going to be a daunting task, but then Jon Favreau is not considered one of the most exciting American filmmaking talents of his generation for nothing.
    Favreau merges the emotional core of Rudyard’s classic with the most advanced digital trickery that modern CGI can facilitate.
    Needless to say, the upshot is nothing short of magnificent.
    The film highly benefits from the casting of young Neel Sethi as Mowgli, the main protagonist in this rollicking adventure.
    Sethi has a certain wisdom beyond his years and a rather disarming lack of self-awareness which, in many ways, makes him the ideal fit for the role.
    Perhaps the film’s most astonishing achievement lies in how it imbues each animal from Rudyard’s tale with a distinct flesh-and-blood personality of its own, a task that is accomplished largely because of its first-rate voiceover cast.
    From the peerless Sir Ben Kingsley as the black panther Bagheera to the ravishing Scarlett Johannson as the slithery serpent Kaa; from the effervesent Bill Murray as the highly adorable Baloo the Bear to Idris Elba as the menacing Sher Khan – each one of them is in ridiculously good form.
    Favreau’s film is a highly sensory experience and one that leaves you with a wide grin on your face long after the end credits have rolled.
    This is indeed one of the best live-action films to have come out in recent memory.
    Because a film that blurs the line between human and animal existence so seamlessly is inevitably one that merits the highest of praise.

    January 12, 17
  • Whoever said old-school is passé probably didn’t watch Kapoor and Sons.
    Much in the vein of 2001’s Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, Kapoor and Sons is a good old-fashioned tearjerker that plays to the gallery.
    Where director Shakun Batra’s film stands out, however, is in its recognition of the need to draw a fine line between subtlety and saccharine vacuousness.
    Well, for the most part, at least.
    The film captures the ebbs and flows of modern Indian family life – in all its chaotic and tempestuous glory – with startling attention to detail.
    Fawad Khan and Siddharth Malhotra play two brothers – one a well-established writer in London, the other a struggling wannabe author who works as a part-time bartender in New Jersey to eke out a living.
    Both are summoned back to their home in the picturesque hill station of Coonoor where their grandfather (played by Rishi Kapoor) has recently suffered a heart attack.
    Skeletons come tumbling out of never-before-discovered closets in the wake of the aforementioned family reunion, making this family question everything that it once stood for.
    Where Kapoor and Sons really succeeds is in its rich character detailing – each of these people comes with his own baggage of lies, insecurities and desires.
    It’s the perfect recipe for a feel-good familial drama, and Batra utilises this goldmine of emotions to create a well-textured tale of hope and redemption.
    The performances are uniformly impressive, but it’s Rishi Kapoor’s heartwarming portrayal of an ageing family patriarch that stays with you long after the end credits have rolled.
    Kapoor and Sons is certainly predictable, but it is also heartfelt, sensitive and deeply moving.
    In short, it makes you believe in the power of family again.
    Because sometimes, all you need in life is love.

    January 12, 17
  • The best of films are always those that inspire discourse on multiple levels.
    To borrow an analogy from farmyard parlance, it is how one ideally separates cinematic wheat from chaff.
    The story of Dr Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras, a Marathi professor at Aligarh Muslim University who was largely ostracized by society on account of his sexual inclinations is heart-rending and one that has largely tragic undertones.
    Few laws have provoked as fervent and passionate a debate as that on Section 377 of the IPC and its relevance in contemporary Indian society.
    Director Hansal Mehta, the brain behind 2013’s smashing Shahid, outdoes himself this time.
    He tackles this controversial subject with great grace and subtlety, making for a wholesome cinematic experience that ever so inconspicuously tugs at your heartstrings.
    The acting is uniformly excellent across the board – Manoj Bajpai’s riveting performance as Siras lends a hauntingly human dimension to a character who remains tragically misunderstood even to this day.
    As a young, enthusiastic reporter eager to cast the spotlight on what he describes as an eminently “human story”, Rajkumar Yadav is yet again first rate, making you root for him to do anything – just anything – to improve our doomed protagonist’s state of affairs.
    The film could have done with a crisper screenplay -there are portions that would have benefited from a greater sense of urgency in narrative terms.
    Yet Mehta’s storytelling is so compassionate, so innately empathetic that I couldn’t help but be charmed.
    Aligarh is a film with a big, beating heart.
    I strongly recommend you see it.

    January 12, 17
  • At one point towards the climax of director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s new film, DiCaprio declares in a somber tone: “He’s afraid. He knows how far I came to find him.”
    He might as well have been talking about that coveted golden Oscar statuette that has, rather ironically, eluded him for so long.
    This year though, the accolade is his to lose.
    As Hugh Glass, a nineteenth century fur trapper who sets out on a path of vengeance after being betrayed by one of his comrades, DiCaprio demonstrates astonishing levels of commitment to his craft.
    The kind of trauma and suffering that his character endures is simply remarkable: it’s the kind of film where getting attacked by a bloodcurdling beast of a bear for a whole five minutes can only be a portent of more painful things to come.
    In the span of two and a half riveting hours, we see Glass removing a horse’s entrails and sneaking himself inside its carcass, eating raw bison liver and even falling from the top of a cliff, and that’s just the starting point.
    Let’s just say that Bear Grylls would have approved.
    On the surface, The Revenant might appear to a banal, straightforward revenge saga, but dig deeper and you will realise that it’s also a tale of hope, redemption and the indomitable power of the human spirit.
    Inarritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki achieved stunning results with last year’s Birdman; this time too, their partnership has yielded incredible dividends.
    The screenplay does tend to get slightly erratic in places, especially post intermission.
    Visually, however, this is a highly sumptuous meal, and one that begs to be devoured.
    Not many directors, after all, can make blood look beautiful.

    January 12, 17
  • And that, dear Bollywood, is how a biopic should be made.
    Neither dripping with awkward sentimentality nor bordering on excessive hero worship, Neerja is every bit the film its titular protagonist deserved, and more.
    This is a tricky tightrope that second-time filmmaker Ram Madhwani has chosen to walk, and one that he ends up conquering with great dexterity.
    Kudos to him for telling a story that, quite simply put, just had to be told.
    It took 28 years for Neerja Bhanot – that most exemplary of women – and her sacrifice to rise to public prominence on the big screen, but better late than never.
    The acting is uniformly excellent – Shabana Azmi and Yogendra Tikku, playing Neerja’s parents, will render you speechless with tears even as they try and come to terms with the harrowing state of affairs on board the ill-fated Pan AM Flight 73.
    As ruthless terrorist Khaleel, Jim Sarbh delivers an incredible performance, one that is spine-chillingly brutal and yet delivered with clinical precision.
    But this is a film that belongs to Sonam Kapoor.
    It is a stunning, stunning performance, and could very well end up being the one that marks her pinnacle as an actress.
    Neerja is destined to go down as one of the year’s very best films.
    A suitable tribute, then, to India’s very own paragon of selflessness.
    May your light shine on for ever, Mademoiselle.

    January 12, 17
  • Abhishek Kapoor is a man on a roll.
    For a man whose filmography boasts of the likes of Rock On and Kai Po Che, Fitoor is just the icing on a particularly delectable cake.
    An adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic 19th century novel Great Expectations, Fitoor takes all of his Victorian-era characters – Pip, Estella and the delightfully complex Miss Havisham – and adapts them to a contemporary setting that alternates between Kashmir and Delhi.
    The characters, their intricacies and motivations remain mostly in sync with Dickens’ original vision – setting the stage for a powerful drama that is not only sensuous but also deeply affecting.
    What particularly surprised me about Fitoor was the performances of its lead pair.
    Both Aditya Roy Kapur and Katrina Kaif have never been this compelling in a long, long time.
    These are performances that will be talked about for years to come.
    Kapur seems to be having a blast playing Pip – it’s a role that’s tailor-made for him and one that thankfully doesn’t descend into caricature.
    Katrina, on the other hand, is the living embodiment of Estella.
    Fitoor’s biggest strength, however, is its subtlety and the delicacy with which it unravels what is essentially a tale of love, hope and despair.
    Even the slow parts work, and work well.
    This is a film that would have left Charles Dickens helplessly grinning in his grave.
    And that is as big a compliment as a filmmaker can ever get.

    January 12, 17
  • Some filmmakers just choose to sink in a morass of their own making.
    Milap Zaveri, purveyor of all things infantile and foolish, has for long fallen into that unfortunate category.
    From Housefull to Grand Masti, his has been a filmography that boasts of hardly any range or texture.
    Mastizaade turns out to be no more different.
    Tusshar Kapoor and Vir Das, trying to keep a straight face throughout this muddled mess of a film, play two imbeciles who fall irrevocably in love with two Sunny Leone(s).
    There. I just summed up what I saw in two hours.
    Is it so hard to make a film with one half-decently written character, one good line of dialogue, one well-constructed scene?
    Is it so hard, indeed, to make someone laugh?
    Or does this film just stink of arrogance, a general disdain for the cinema-going public and a desire to set cash registers ringing all over the country by sacrificing basic decency at the altar of expediency?
    It shall take a while for me to recover from this traumatic experience.
    Even writing about this film makes me want to retch.
    Poor Sunny Leone deserves better.
    And so do we.

    January 12, 17
  • The first thing you notice about Airlift is that Akshay Kumar no longer plays the role of a buffoon.
    His career has always been a study in contrasts – from juvenile mediocrity like Housefull to hard-hitting, edge-of-the-seat drama like Special 26, no actor in Bollywood has entertained (and disappointed) us quite as frequently as Akshay has.
    As Ranjit Katyal, a wealthy businessman who dons the hat of saviour during Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, however, Akshay delivers a career-best performance.
    Director Raja Krishna Menon’s new film throws the Middle Eastern crisis of 1990 and the geopolitical dynamics that surround it into sharp relief, following a narrative template that largely mimics that of Ben Affleck’s Oscar-winning masterpiece, “Argo”.
    Shops are ransacked, proud skyscrapers are razed to the ground and innocent citizens are ruthlessly murdered in cold blood, and all these take place in broad daylight.
    Predictable, it falls to our hero to orchestrate what turns out to be the largest civilian evacuation in modern-day history.
    While the storyline and its execution is predictably routine, where Airlift succeeds is in creating a claustrophic, nerve-racking atmosphere that will leave you gasping on the edge of your seat.
    The acting is uniformly good throughout the film, save for Inaamul Haq’s ridiculously over-the-top performance as an Iraqi war general that wouldn’t have seemed so out of place in a B-grade Sajid Khan comedy. His pseudo-Arabic accent gets on your nerves every single time he appears on the screen and is by far the film’s biggest weakness.
    Menon also needlessly injects random songs into the screenplay that not only disrupt the film’s narrative flow but also amply demonstrate the need for greater subtlety in Indian filmmaking.
    Akshay’s terrific performance, however, makes up for many of this film’s weaknesses.
    Airlift is a film that attempts to reach stratospheric levels of perfection.
    As things stand, though, it just about manages to take off, and that it does well.

    January 12, 17
  • At one point in George Miller’s totally whacked out new film, a character proclaims: “Oh, what a day … what a lovely day!”
    If you end up watching this film as I did, chances are your day will be anything but that.
    Mad Max: Fury Road is a totally underwhelming experience, a film that promised so much but ended up flattering to deceive.
    George, who also created the Mad Max Trilogy of the 80’s with Mel Gibson in the titular role, goes for the jugular this time, delivering a film that’s high on adrenalin but short on nuance.
    Plot, you ask? Immortan Joe is a dictator who presides over his subjects with an iron hand.
    Water, guzzoline (and common sense) are in short supply.
    It falls upon a rebel, Imperator Furiosa, and Max himself to liberate the country from the clutches of Joe’s oppression.
    In fact, Furiosa (Charlize Theron in a stellar turn) is the heart and soul of this enterprise. She completely owns the screen each time she appears on it, lending a sense of urgency and gracefulness to the film’s proceedings.
    Tom Hardy, on the other hand, is completely out of sorts. He lacks the charisma and easy charm that a leading role of this nature would inevitably demand.
    The whole film is basically one long explosion-filled chase down a barren, dystopian landscape that could give Panem from Hunger Games a run for its money.
    Problem is, the aforementioned chase takes all of two exruciating, mind-numbing hours.
    Miller’s vision is grand and has a sweeping quality to it. The same cannot be said for his execution.
    A good film goes far beyond just expensive CGI and VFX. It requires a solid script, cracking dialogue and characters whom you can empathise with and relate to.
    In his zest for making a film that redefines the action genre, Miller unfortunately seems to have overlooked this elementary fact.
    I could have slept through the entirety of this film’s duration and it would hardly have made a difference.
    In the film’s very beginning, Max says, “My name is Max. My world is fire. And blood.”
    And boring, he might have added. This Road is full of potholes.

    January 12, 17
  • They made this film in one take. I reviewed it in one sentence.

    Every once in a particularly blue moon comes a film that grabs you by the gut and refuses to let go, a film so dazzlingly original that you remain bewitched by its sheer audaciousness for days on end, and this is exactly what Birdman is – one of the wittiest, most well thought-out, and, might I add, trippiest films in recent memory, but that is hardly a surprise, given the fact that it was directed by acclaimed Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu, until now famous for helming the direction of devastating, emotionally-wrecking films like Love’s a Bitch, Babel and Biutiful, who takes a complete detour here and delivers a complete rollercoaster of a ride, a film so ridiculously smart and funny, it will leave you feeling satiated the way few films have ever managed to, and this is largely due to its absolute cracker of a script, the basic gist of which is as follows – Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton in a killer comeback performance) is a complete washout of an actor, a man famous for playing the eponymous role in the Birdman trilogy of films that came out in the early 90s, a period when he experienced much appreciation, power and fame, and now two decades later, having refused a lucrative offer of starring in the fourth installment of the franchise, he is eager to make a comeback, writing, directing and starring in an adaptation of a Raymond Carver short story titled “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” for Broadway at the prestigious St. James Theatre in New York, but Riggan has his task cut out big time, for there are a number of people who throw a spanner in his works – an egotistical star Mike Shiner (played by an excellent Edward Norton) who wrecks a preview of the play just because the gin he received on stage was water and not gin (and one who believes in getting an erection on stage to get into the skin of his character to boot), an ex-drug addict of a daughter, Sam (played by the gorgeous, gorgeous Emma Stone) who constantly berates him for his lack of recognition of the vitality of social media in an age of selfies and Twitter, a batty old theatre critic called Tabitha Dickenson (Lindsay Duncan), his primary nemesis, who is hell-bent upon trashing his film in the New York Times and completely destroying his play, a girlfriend named Laura (played by Andrea Risenborough) who might be pregnant, an ex-wife who constantly visits him (Amy Ryan in a stellar role) who, in one of the film’s most hilarious scenes, reminds Riggan how he had thrown a kitchen-knife at her and minutes later declared his love for her, and, most of all, his alter-ego Birdman, a voice in his head that constantly criticizes his choice of Broadway as a medium for staging a comeback when all someone in his position really has to do is go back to playing those superhero roles he is so well-known for, and one that drives him to imagine the craziest of visions (not least of all the film’s very opening scene in which we see him levitating three feet above the ground and which pretty much sets us up for the outrageousness that is set to follow) – and needless to say, Riggan encounters one hurdle after another, even leaving him at a point where he believes all is lost and there is no hope of redemption, and whether or not he manages to overcome this lies at the very crux of this incredible film, one that is made even more incredible by its genius, genius cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki, better known in film-circles as Chivo (Spanish for goat), but what he manages to accomplish here is hardly the work of one, for he manages to make our jaws drop in collective wonder and remain there for the entirety of the film’s duration, admittedly something that was expected, given the fact that this is a man who had earlier delivered a sucker punch with his thrilling camerawork in Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity (and much deservedly won Oscar acclaim for it as well), but what Lubezki manages to achieve here is unprecedented and something that has only been seen earlier in master filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope – he gives us the impression that the entire film, barring the last few minutes, has been shot in a single take, for the camera just keeps moving from stage to the terrace of St. James Theatre to the streets of New York in a fluid, breathtaking manner – and this is all the more admirable, given the fact that Innaritu took all of 30 days to complete shooting for this film, which, needless to say, would have involved an unbelievable, unbelievable amount of preparation and rehearsals from everyone involved in this outrageous project, from the actors themselves to the technicians and cameramen, for even the tiniest of mistakes, a tiny slip here, a mispronounced syllable there, would render the efforts of everyone else in that same take worthless and of no use, and as a result, let the entire crew down, which just goes to show how admirable it is that the entire film was shot in such an incredibly short span of time, but Lubezki and Innaritu have never been ordinary mortals, and here, in the best work of their respective filmographies, they amply demonstrate how filmmaking can be elevated by gifted craftsmen like them from a simple art to a work of awe-inspiring beauty, but let us digress from that for a moment and dwell upon the many nuances that the film has to offer, and nuances there are aplenty, for this a film with many layers, a film with subtext beneath its glossy, shining veneer, a film that manages to cunningly sneak home a point or two about celebrity culture, mankind’s eternal need for recognition, and egotism even as it constantly bedazzles us with its sheer visual glory, which are pretty much running themes that serve as the backbone of this enterprise for the entirety of its running time, and this is perhaps best demonstrated in one of the film’s most powerful scenes that Emma Stone pretty much knocks out of the park, featuring a devastating monologue she delivers in sheer frustration at her father’s almost self-debilitating desire for fame and power, and his complete (thus far) ineptitude in achieving the same, and another one in which the play’s producer and Riggan’s best friend (played by an amiable Zach Galifianakis, in a complete U-turn from his The Hangover days) insists that Mike continue to remain on the play’s cast for the massive star power he enjoys, which alone was responsible for most of the preview audience coming in in the first place, this despite him having publicly humiliated Riggan and nearly wrecked the entire play itself – it’s a scene that speaks volumes about our obsession with stars and how production values and pretty much anything else in theatre will always take a back seat, one that hauntingly reminds us of ourselves even, and therein lies the power of this audacious film, a film laced with dialogue so rich it packs the power of dynamite – for instance, in response to Riggan reprimanding him for his outrageous actions a few minutes ago, Mike nonchalantly replies, “Popularity is the slutty little cousin of prestige, my friend”, and “That’s a nice bird, man!” as he eats fried chicken in the wreck that the stage is, even while a horrified Riggan looks on in utter disbelief, a disbelief that we as an audience share incidentally, for I can’t remember the last time that a film managed to enthrall so much, a film that grabs one by the balls and delivers a shot of adrenaline so acute it will leave one giddy with pleasure, and it is the wittiness of the writing and the laudable originality of the script that help elevate this sensation of awe-inspired wonder to an entirely new level, besides an absolute cracker of a soundtrack by Antonio Sanchez that is mostly jazz-based, the constant and feverish beating of the drums pretty much making me want to leave everything else and headbang for as long as my neck can hold, and that, ladies and gentleman, is the power of a good background score – it unfolds in a joyous, all-pervasive narrative of its own, and considering all this, one can’t help but acknowledge that Birdman is one of the most technically proficient films to have come out of Hollywood in recent memory, and this is a welcome, joyous landmark for an industry that is otherwise much dreaded as an assembly-line of brain-dead big-budget crap that it somehow manages to churn out week upon week, year after year (are you listening, Michael Bay?), and this is why we should appreciate this little gem all the more and give it all the recognition it so rightfully deserves, besides sparing a thought for the magnificent Michael Keaton, who, like the character he plays, pretty much faded away from public memory and cinema after starring as Batman in two of Tim Keaton’s films, an actor who deserved so much more with the sheer wealth of talent he has on offer but ended up getting sidelined in favour of the Adam Sandlers and Zac Efrons of a film industry that is barely capable of recognizing genuine, once-in-a-generation talent for what it is worth, and for that, we must doff our hats to Innaritu, a master filmmaker in complete control of his craft, indeed something that very few of his contemporaries, Wes Anderson for instance, can claim to be, and a man who has managed to pull off one of the greatest, most awe-inspiring miracles in the history of modern cinema: that glorious, glorious single take (it did contain a negligible number of cuts, but Lubezki knows his cinematography better than anyone else) is something that will be discussed and scrutinized closely in film circles for as long as movies are around, but in a film like this, almost anything (and everything) can’t help but appear to be a tiny miracle in itself, given the sheer quality of filmmaking that is on display here, and Innaritu does appear to be a modern-day version of Midas, a master who changes anything he touches on the film set to gold – needless to say, this is a glorious, much-needed moment for indie filmmakers and connoisseurs of quality cinema alike, and I can’t help but feel that is a film that SHOULD sweep a majority of the Oscars that it has been nominated for but will not, given the Academy’s propensity for feel-good dramas and coming of age films, films that mostly come with a baggage of self-importance attached to them (Twelve Years A Slave…really???), but groundbreaking achievements like these don’t really need a golden statuette to confirm their merit, for this is a film that any true lover of films and what they stand for will appreciate, a film that packs a punch and yet manages to remain frighteningly intelligent at the same time, and now that I have raved on and on for nearly two thousand words about how good this masterpiece is, throw aside anything else that you are doing, visit the nearest multiplex and soak in the glory of Innaritu’s creation for all its worth, for it is an experience that is best enjoyed on the biggest of big screens that you can ever find, and watching it will be tantamount to watching your perception of what cinema can be change before your very eyes – for this is a film that belongs to the biggest of big leagues, one that you will be very unlikely to ever forget in the near future – so go ahead, experience an incredible journey that is as much a life-altering experience as it is a film about life itself, and on this rather fanboyish note, let me conclude with a quote by our winged hero himself: “Let’s go back one more time and show them what we are capable of!”

    January 12, 17