Monday, June 28, 2010

The Invention Of Lying (2009)

A film that not many have heard about, but everyone will be forced to relate to.

When I first heard the plot of this film, I was already sold; not specifically because of the story, but the man behind it. The film's writer, director, and lead actor is Ricky Gervais - arguably the funniest man in entertainment. For those who haven't heard of him for some reason, he is responsible for creating the original The Office series (2001-03) in the UK, as well as Extras (2005-07), another brilliantly written comedy. He also happens to be a widely famous comedian, who gets a royalty check for every episode of the american version of The Office.

Back to the film. Once the first trailers were out I was quite impressed with the look and apparent storyline - in a alternate reality, where no human being has ever lied, one man (Gervais) accidentally finds himself to be the speaker of the first ever lie. Seemed funny enough, and it was supported by a great comedic cast. But it bombed at the box office. Why? I had to wait until the film came out on dvd to find out (since it was an independent film its stay at the theaters wasn't long). The first half hour was exactly as I expected, which was pretty much what the trailers had indicated. Still, knowing Gervais' style of humor, I noticed that he had paid a lot of attention to detail to background story elements in his alternate reality. It wasn't until after the protagonist realizes that he can lie, and therefore do anything he wants, that the film began to take an unexpected turn.

The remaining hour was pure screenwriting gold. The humor was top-notch of course, but it was the message within the satirical context that truly makes this film one of the most important films in history. Gervais, in about a 100 minutes, summed up human existence to this day, and then went on to demonstrate why we do what we do.
By this time one doesn't see the film as a comedy - something I'd blame the distribution studio's marketing team for misleading trailers (something I'd mentioned before with Fight Club).The goal of the film was self-reflection - which eventually led to its downfall in the general public. But I believe Gervais probably expected that to happen (he seems to know his audience pretty well). Perhaps he knew that the general movie-going audience doesn't want to be told its stupid for believing in anything. I'd argue that that wasn't the message - and that the real message of the film was that it is important to think about why we believe in things in the first place, and then any choice we make regarding that belief is for our own inner-satisfaction - but a message like that cannot be expected to be accepted by the majority. Tag along the fact that Gervais is known to be an atheist, and along with the content its safe to say the film wasn't the first choice for (religious) family movie nights.

Obviously my analysis of the film is only understandable once its been seen. So its safe to say I am a huge fan of Gervais and this film, and would recommend anything the man makes. Also from what I've observed the film seems to be doing pretty well in dvd rentals, thanks to word-of-mouth, the most trusted form of marketing. While the film may not reach the cult status of Fight Club, I still believe it may get its due in the coming years, and finally be seen as an attempt to bring humor to mankind's apparent lack of purpose.
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Sunday, June 27, 2010

Bollywood peek-a-boo: 2010

I Hate Love Storys
Coming from KJo's arsenal, IHLS is among my most awaited films this year. Its first few glimpses remind you of Imtiaz Ali's (of Jab We Met fame) romcoms. It seems to have a bit of everthing - Jab We..., Love Aaj Kal, DDLJ. LAK was disappointing, but I liked the other two. Directed by Punit Malhotra (designer Manish Malhotra'a nephew), IHLS will release this Friday (July 2). Punit has earlier assisted in films like Kabhi Kushi Kabhi Gham, Kal Ho Naa Ho, Paheli, KANK, Dostana. I hope the film lives up to all the hype!

The Hrithik-Ash starrer film is expected to come around Diwali. Sanjay Leela Bhansali says he'd release it Nov 17 (Wednesday). Have we recovered from the aftermath of what came last Diwali? His "blue" film (Sawariya) broke pretty much every record at the box office. Even Ramu's Aag?? I dont know, coz I haven't seen that one. Given the starcast (Hrithik-Ash looked great together in Jodha Akbar) and all the hoopla around it, however, Guzarish might just be able to soothe old wounds and restore SLB. 
Did I hear it's the remake of Christoper Nolan-directed The Prestige?

Munnabhai Chale Amrika
Third (and the last one, I guess) in the Munnabhai series, MCA is slated for release in August this year (Aug 27 tentatively). The 2-minute teaser, packed with a bunch of old jokes, is barely a rib tickler, unlike the first one -- Lage Raho....... But with Bollywood, trailers can so deceiving. Films with the most luring promos have been big disappointments and vice versa. Kites, the most-hyped film of 2010, doomed at the box office and who could tell by the trailers that, A Wednesday, would go on to become one of the most successful films in Bollywood. Hoping for the best, anyway!
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Directors - creme de la creme

By Lakshya Dutta
....who are still active and only getting better.

Martin Scorsese
He has made so many great films in his time that naming even a couple that stand out would do injustice to the rest. He is an artist, and his every frame is masterfully constructed. He's done every genre: drama, crime, horror, suspense, biography, comedy, musical, documentary - and delivered classics each time. Leonardo Dicaprio, who has collaborated with Scorsese in 4 films, calls him "the film encyclopedia". A true living legend.

Steven Spielberg
He has worked with everyone. His movies earn oscars, and are also huge blockbusters at the box office. He runs successful TV and film production companies that, along with his directorial jobs, make him the richest artist in hollywood. He is most popular for directing Jurassic Park (1993), Jaws (1975), Indiana Jones and E.T. (1982); but I would also suggest watching:Schindler's List (1993), Empire of the Sun (1987) , Munich (2005), The Terminal (2004), and The Color Purple (2005).

Woody Allen
A better writer than a director, he has a few misses every decade or so. Still his best work is in the hall of fame and its the content of his films that sets him apart from the rest. His scripts don't have dialogues - only descriptions and plot points, and the rest is improvisation. This technique is highly risky for a film crew as well as a studio, but Allen delivers every time. Some like his humor, while some like his take on morality; his films have everything for everyone - philosophy, comedy, suspense, drama, satire - mostly all in one! While most people prefer his earlier works (Annie Hall (1977), Hannah and her Sisters (1986)), I would consider myself a fan of his newer films, my favorites being Match Point (2005), and Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008) (watch this one for improvised dialogue).

Quentin Tarantino
I will always watch anything he makes. His scripts are true genius. And he knows it. What's even better - he doesn't just direct; he creates art with his camera, where every scene is beautifully crafted and framed. He even publishes his screenplays to share his gift (the ego is part of the package I guess). His films have form and content both, and are perfectly executed. But what impresses me most about his work is how he learned how to do it - he used to work at a video rental store, so he watched everything. When someone asked him what film school he went to, his reply was "I didn't go to film school, I went to films." More on his films later.

Christopher Nolan
As I mentioned in an earlier post, this man made superhero films real. His first film is still one of the most innovative screenplays I have ever come across. His style is modern-Scorsese, plus he writes his own scripts. For these reasons he happens to be the most sought-after director in hollywood and also one of the most highly paid. And he's just getting started. Within only a decade of entering the industry, he has written and directed 6 films, and 5 of those names can be found on the Best 250 Films of All Time List ( When the studio saw how he made superhero films profitable and oscar-worthy, they asked him to reboot the Superman Franchise, which he will be writing and producing in the coming years.
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Jab We Met, we fell in love!

Where do I begin? Even before JWM hit the theaters, it had me super thrilled. I couldn't resist the temptation of watching it day 1. 
The establishing shot where the subtle, restrained Aditya Kashyap (Shahid) walks away from everyone and everything, directionless, got me hooked. 
The subsequent shot - introducing Geet (Kareena), an idyllic - transported me to an entirely different world. Geet's life is perfect. Her world is perfect. She is in love with everything around her - the city (even though everyone around cribs how crowded it is), the hills, the mountains (even though she's clueless of the difference between the two) and herself ("main apni favorite hun")! The sikhni from Bhatinda runs the show hands down (even overshadowing Aditya in bits).
The fun begins where the chalk and cheese characters meet for the first time (video below). It's a joy ride, thereafter.

Besides the roaring chemistry between the leads, I think it's the simple story and even simpler, relatable characters that makes it one of my most memorable films of all times.

This is one of the few movies where neither the hero nor the heroine once had to use the trite 'I Love You' to express their louv for each other. Geet articulates her feelings in the last shot (without 'I love you,' mind you!). While Aditya's silence is enough to say it all.

The last shot actually reminded me of my favorite dialogue by Shahid (Ladki bhagane ka ilzaam mere sar pe hai aur mujhe ladki bhi nahi mil rahi hai -- superb timings, Shahid). He finally gets his due ;)

A wonderfully executed film you won't mind picking up twice or thrice. Did I say I've seen it 25 times already? :)

I am yet to come across someone who didn't enjoy this one!
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Friday, June 25, 2010

Raavan: Boring!

It's very unsettling a feeling when a movie drags and drags without taking the story ahead. I had no great expectations after having seen the trailer. Something in my heart told me this one's not working. The first hour in the theater pretty effectively proved so. It was going nowhere. The crux of the first 60 minutes is really just Beera (Abhishek) kidnapping the police inspector's wife Ragini (Aishwarya) and ill treating her. Why? You have to sit and endure (i.e., if you manage to last) until the second leg of the movie to find that out. No exaggerations here, but I saw people leave the theatre within the first 45 minutes.

It may have been a filmmaker's delight -- the cinematography, the performances, etc. -- but the audience really steps in for some sort of entertainment. Accepted that filming certain shots must have been really tough, but nobody sits out there and wonders what went behind making the film. It's the film we're interested in. The stuff I had to endure, though, made me wonder (there was loads of time to think :D) what was going on in Mani's mind while creating this masterpiece (read: junk) 
The second half was relatively a breather...for it finally gets to the story. 
If you like forests, rivers, cliffs, mountains, (130 minutes well spent), watch Raavan!
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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Greatest Hollywood Films of All Time: Part I

To me a great film is basically anything that makes me think so much after the first viewing that a second viewing is unavoidable.

Fight Club (1999)

A crazy film. When it first released, the studio was so scared that an
adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk's story about a "generation of men raised by women" would be so unappealing to the general public that they were forced to advertise the film as a literal "Fight Club". Now I was one of the lucky few who saw the film post-critical success; but when it hit the theaters it was a big flop. The problem was obvious: its commercials were attracting the wrong crowd. A masterpiece of modern-literary genius was being sold as an action flick. The result was underwhelming to say the least - but once the word got around about the film's actual plot of "moral impotency to global anarchy", the film was a critical success and a cult hit - and now, more than 10 years later, a rare post-release commercial success, thanks to DVD sales and collector editions. One of the first things that one learns in a screenplay writing class is that narration exhibits weakness in writing. Fight Club is a true exception to that rule, where the narrator is a separate character in itself. From fist-fights to vans filled with napalm explosives to clever & thought-provoking dialogues - the film inserts you in the mind of its unnamed narrator. At the end of the film we hope that there was a Tyler Durden in all of us, only to make us realize that there is, and how this fantasy world of Fight Club may become a reality if we let our Tyler Durdens run our lives. It's hard to do justice to the film's plot by trying to capture it in a couple of sentences - so all I will say to whoever hasn't seen Fight Club is go experience it yourself. And once you have, you will never forget the name "Tyler Durden". Greatness Elements: Direction, the cast and characters, the plot.

The Dark Knight (2008)
This film made superhero films real. A sequel to Batman Begins (2005), the first true adaptation of the most complicated comic book hero, The Dark Knight was bigger and better in every aspect. Every other superhero, and by extension the superhero films, live in a world where almost anything is possible - mythical characters and creatures, superpowers, even time travel, among other things. But in the current Batman Franchise the only fictional element is the name of its city. Everything else is as real as any other drama film. It is not about a superhuman beating up bad guys with guns and getting the girl, but about a man who is struggling with his pain while protecting the lives of the few good people left in his city. The film makes you believe Batman can exist. With its plot, the cast, and especially the Joker, itt is perhaps the only super-hero film that didn't depend on its protagonist to excel. Greatness Elements: Direction, screenplay, the Joker.

The Back to the Future Trilogy (1985-90)
A truly unique set of films that I wish I had experienced in person during its release. These three films, together and individually, have everything - action, drama, comedy, romance, and most importantly TIME TRAVEL. It is perhaps the only non-geeky mainstream sci-fi film. Directed by a man who has mastered storytelling and has a specialty in fantasy elements - Robert Zemeckis, who later directed Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), Forrest Gump (1994), etc. The story and mythology of these films will never get old, and it is perhaps the only one I would hate to see remade. The 70's and 80's of hollywood were ruled by two men - George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. Together, these two had 3 critically and commercially successful trilogies. George Lucas created the most successful film franchise of all time - Star Wars, one that has earned him over $10 billion over the past 30 years, making him have to never work again and still one of the richest men in hollywood. He and Steven Spielberg, who were and are great friends, collaborated on another franchise - Indiana Jones, with Lucas as writer and Spielberg as director. The third franchise, produced by Spielberg, was Back To The Future. Today, a film franchise is no longer governed by the same rules. Nowadays no matter how absurd the story may be, any film that earns twice its budget is "green lit" automatically by the studio for a sequel and a possible franchise. It has come to a point where the studios are forced to make more money. An example would be the recent comedy The Hangover (2009), which is getting a sequel for no other reason than to recreate the luck it had the first time. Besides the exception of the current Batman franchise (which may still be spoiled due to the studio forcing the director and writer to make the third film since the second one made over $1 billion), the Back To The Future trilogy is perhaps the last franchise where the sequels were made only because the creative team behind the films believed they were important to the overall story, and the "The End" at the end of the third film was taken seriously. However, I wouldn't be surprised if in the years ahead we saw a "re-imagination" of the franchise, something I would always be skeptical about as a huge fan of the originals. Greatness Elements: Story, characters, and the crazy situations they find themselves in.
Greatest Hollywood Films Of All TIme: Part II - The Tarantino Magic
Greatest Hollywood Films of All Times: Part III - Pixar
Greatest Hollywood Films of All Time: Part IV

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Salaam Namaste - movie review

The first time I saw it, I thought it was time and money wasted. A few days later my cousin called saying she had still not seen the movie. No big deal, I had thought. She wanted me to come along. Before I could come up with an excuse, her emotional blackmailing began and I had to agree.
Surprisingly, I enjoyed the movie. Not quite sure what really clicked - the day or the company? The movie has grown on me. I have seen it like a dozen times now and can watch it again. 

Saif (Nick) and Preity (Amber) make a great couple. I loved the chemistry they shared. The love (Preity cancelling movie plans with friends to wait for Saif at home or Saif waking up early morning to prepare breakfast for her), the fights (when they are at loggerheads about the idea of getting married) or the silly arguments -- fighting over the TV (Preity's snappy repartee - cable ke paise har mahine main bharti hun) or over using the bathroom....or Preity puking in his chef's cap. They are cute together. 
One adorable character is Nick's best friend Ron. There were quite a few fun scenes between the two. One that I get reminded of immediately is their first shot together, where Saif is probing Ron about the girl he was with, at the bus stop. Ron tries to fend it off but Saif insists (sure what Ron must have been upto). 
Saif - Bus stop pe akeli khadi hai, use lift de dete hai
Ron - Nahi nahi, voh doosre direction mein jaa rahi hai, so its pointless  
And then Saif with an inquisitive smile asks, Kitna maang rahi thi
$40 dollars, chuckles Ron, unable to hide it anymore
Another one is in the club (their so called "boy's night out") where they are discussing an argument Ron had with his wife that morning. She asks if she's has put on weight. Ron parries off the question thrice after which he finally, honestly says tumne do char kilo chada liye hai, par mujhe farak nahi padta. Holy moly. And she (quite expectedly) gives it off to him. Hopefully, Ron learnt his lesson. Age and weight are two things girls are kinda always conscious about. The lesser the better. (wink wink)

Coming back..the landlord (Javed Jaffrey) is one weirdo, but I did enjoy his senses of humor. Besides, I certainly need vocab classes from him. Did I hear you say, sorry? Don't worry. You heard eggjactly right!!
One character who's an utter nuisance is the ugly owner of Nick of Time restaurants, Mr Dheka from Dhaka. He is offputting. In the race for the worst, he gives tough competition to the owner of the radio station Salaam Namaste with an unneccessarily-exaggerated Mallu accent. 

Locations - The locales are beautiful. Every bit of Australia, mate :) - the beach (where Saif, Preity meet for the first time), the house (they both rent), the roads where the song pone barah baje is shot, the bridge - where my dil goes is shot (Melbourne, was it?), the park where Tu Jahaan is shot. Did I miss out something? :D

Wardrobe - Saif, I think, is among the few actors who can carry off pinks pretty decently. He looked his best at the wedding (at the beach) where he wears a white and pink shirt, under a beige-ish blazer. Preity too looked perfect in just about every outfit.
And finally, the music - Songs are catchy, contemporary and contextual to the story. My favorites are Tu Jahaan and My Dil goes hmmm....
All in all, an entertainer!

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Monday, June 14, 2010

Bollywood films that didn't get their due: Part I

Rocket Singh -- Salesman of the Year
People usually come to the theatre hoping to get away from reality even if only for a few hours. And that's probably why this film didn't appeal to many. Rocket Singh.... is superbly screen played and is hard-hitting with some really well-etched out characters and a gripping theme. And that's the USP of the film. My review here.

Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna

While it must have done a fairly decent job grossing monies for all its promotions/publicity, it wasn't as warmly received as some of other Karan Johar films. I thought the subject was well dealt with (except for a few forgettable glitches here and there with the characters). Also, people didn't quite connect with Shahrukh and Rani's characters. It is unacceptable to see stars falter. Or was it negativity being glorified? I'm not quite sure.

Socha Na Tha
I've seen it more than a dozen times and still have the capacity to watch it again and enjoy it as much. Having fallen for day 1 reviews, I decided against going to the theatre for this one. But it was a pleasant surprise. It's a film that tugs at your heart, keeping you hooked till the end. An inherently sincere film with some believable characters, fresh faces (what a promising start for Abhay Deol) and a theme that can never fail if executed well ;-) A DVD for keeps!

Another film that is very close to my heart. I saw it months after it released. Shahrukh proves he's just as good in any role he picks. I just wish he does more films like Chak De, Swades than churn trash like Om Shaanti Om. None can beat him in the industry even today, if he chooses roles his age. Gayatri surprises. For a model to have donned a non-glam role and carried it with much grace is noteworthy. The film promises heart-warming moments and a rare lead-pair chemistry. Rahman's music breathes life into the film. One of my all time favorites and highly recommended.

Which other films did you think didn't get their fair share of credit? I am waiting to hear from you :-) 
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