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Some of my all-time favourites from World Cinema

Cannes 2014 Roundup: Films on our must-watch list #SundayGuardian #Films

– Nikhil Taneja (@tanejamainhoonfor The Sunday Guardian

We may not hold it against you if, on the mention of ‘Cannes 2014’, the image that pops into your head is that of a jaw-dropping Aishwarya Rai on the red carpet. We may hold it against you a little bit if you recall Freida Pinto and Sonam Kapoor’s alleged BFF rumours. But heaven forbid, if Mallika Sherawat is all that you can think of, especially in a year she *gasp* covered herself, you should take a deep look inwards and examine your choices in life.

Because at the Festival de Cannes 2014, India had more to be proud of than the assembly line of fashionistas it churns out yearly.

  1. TITLI Chief among India’s growing presence at Cannes was first time director Kanu Behl’s TITLI, about the youngest member of a family of criminals in the ‘badlands of Delhi’s dystopic underbelly’ (according to the synopsis), who teams up with his newly wed bride to try and escape the family business.Produced by Dibakar Banerjee and distributed by Yash Raj Films, the film was featured in the prestigious Un Certain Regard category at Cannes and opened to glowing reviews with Hollywood Reporter calling it “an enjoyable, character-driven Indian yarn” and Variety calling it “a grittily impressive noir debut.”
  1. GRACE OF MONACO Yash Raj Films had even more glory come their way, as they unveiled Nicole Kidman-starrer GRACE OF MONACO, their first ever film produced under the banner of their Hollywood-based division, Yash Raj Entertainment (YRE), headed by Uday Chopra. The film, distributed by indie powerhouse The Weinstein Company, got the honour of opening Cannes, and despite dismal reviews, it was probably the first time Uday Chopra was a sight for sore eyes, as he proudly represented YRE and India alongside director Olivier Dahan, Kidman, Tim Roth, the very hot Paz Vega, and several other international names.
  2. TRUE LOVE STORY Another proud achievement was the selection of filmmaker Gitanjali Rao’s 18-minute animation film about a coming-of-age Bollywood-fantasy romance that was selected as one of the 10 short films at the Cannes Critics’ Week. Rao’ silent film won her well-deserved accolades at Cannes.

Of course, no matter how much the Indian media tries to showcase Cannes as the sister-festival of the International Film Festival of India, Goa, the hard truth is, Cannes has a lot more to offer than Sonam, Freida, Mallika and Jacky Bhagnani (YES, HE WAS THERE TOO!). So here’s a look at the most-talked about films at Cannes 2014:

  1. FOXCATCHER Moneyball director Bennett Miller’s swan song that won him the Best Director, Foxcatcher features a non-funny Steve Carrell as a creepy, schizophrenic millionaire, Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo as wrestlers, and recounts a real life tragic story set around the 1996 Olympics.
  2. MOMMY Canadian indie film prodigy, Xavier Dolan, 25, continued giving everyone an inferiority complex, with his fifth film in as many years. Mommy, about an Oedipal relationship between a single mother and her son, won the Jury Prize.
  3. WINTER SLEEP At a runtime of 196 minutes, you’d think the film’s name would be a sign of its outcome. But Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylon took home the Palme d’Or and had critics and fans mesmerised about the brilliance of the class-divide drama.
  4. TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT The name may suggest otherwise, but the French film directed by the Dardene Brothers, is not a romcom, but a character-study about a woman fighting depression. Two words: Marion Cotillard.
  5. LEVIATHAN The Andrey Zvyagintsev-directed drama, about an ordinary man fighting against the system, took home the Best Screenplay award, and is said to be the best Russian film in years and thankfully, comes with subtitles.
  6. MAPS TO THE STARS The scandalous take on the Hollywood film industry through the eyes of two former child stars, the film, being hailed as David Cronenberg’s return to form, won Julianne Moore the Best Actress Award.
  7. MR TURNER Director Mike Leigh’s biopic of controversial 19th century British artist, JMW Turner, won Timothy Spall the Best Actor Award for his portrayer of Turner.
  8. IT FOLLOWS An indie horror film that is actually scary! David Robert Mitchell got everyone talking about his film about a teenager who has nightmarish visions after a sexual encounter.
  9. WILD TALES ­The following words have been used often in reviews of Damian Szifron’s comic thriller, a multi-story revenge saga: Dark, noir, comic, outrageous, twisted and violent. Yes, it’s an ode to Pulp Fiction.
  10. THE TRIBE A film without a single dialogue would sound exactly the kind of arty film you’d be likely to avoid, but Ukrainian director Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy’s thriller, set in a boarding school for deaf students, is being hailed as a masterpiece. It also has graphic sex, by the way.

An edited version of this article first appeared in The Sunday Guardian on June 7, 2014

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© Copyright belongs to the author, Nikhil Taneja. The article may not be reproduced without permission. A link to the URL, instead, would be appreciated.

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2012 Roundup: The 20 Best Films You’ve Not Seen

Having gone through innumerable ‘Best Of’ lists over the past month, there is only one conclusion to be made: There is no such thing as the “definitive” list of the best movies of the year, since each ‘Best Of’ list depends only on the movies the critic compiling the last has managed to see in the past year. Because thanks to multiple film festivals, quick DVD releases, wide indie distribution and.. *ahem*… the internet, there’s far more variety of outstanding movies available for consumption than what the mainstream media thrusts in our faces. But at the same time, with the amount of brilliant international television out there, it’s not possible to watch *everything* without ensuring  a clot in your brain.

So, having watched around 200 movies this year, here’s a helpful guide to the 20 best movies you have probably NOT seen this year, but you really must! This list includes independent cinema from across the world, including India, and is subjective and limited to the 200 or so movies I’ve seen, and which made me feel. There are probably many more fantastic indie movies I’ve missed, and I’d love to hear your suggestions and recommendations in the comments.

20. GOD BLESS AMERICA God Bless America was this year’s guilty pleasure. Written and directed by comedian Bobcat Goldthwait, who has earlier directed The Jimmy Kimmel Show, the movie follows a miserable 40-something insurance salesman, who goes on a rampage to rid the society of its ills – including worthless reality television contestants and people cannot park decently – along with 16-year old accomplice who is tired of it all too. The movie is hilarious, bizarre, demented, over-the top, wacked out, and a giant middle finger to the world at large.

19. CABIN IN THE WOODS The craziest thing about this year was the fact that The Avengers was probably *not* Joss Whedon’s best film of the year. Cabin in the Woods, which was co-written and produced by Whedon and directed by Drew Goddard (frequent collaborator of JJ Abrams), took every horror movie cliché and turned it on its head to come up with probably the smartest horror film in a while. About a bunch of friends (including Chris ‘Thor’ Hemsworth) who travel to a remote cabin and start dying mysteriously, nothing is as it seems in this must-watch film.

18. HIGH SCHOOL High School is a laugh-out-loud stoner comedy set in high school… and hence the ingenious name. The film by writer-director John Stalberg is about a geek who accidentally gets stoned for the first time in his life one day before a drug test in his high school. To avoid his future from getting jeopardised, he decides to get his entire school stoned before the test. With a plot that crazy, the laughs come fast and loud, and Adrien Brody’s side-splitting turn as a drug dealer makes this movie one of the year’s funniest!

17. CHRONICLE What Whedon did to Cabin in the Wood, newbie writer-director Josh Trank, along with co-writer Max Landis, did to Chronicle. A movie about three friends who accidently gain superpowers, Chronicle brilliantly fuses together elements of superhero, sci-fi and found footage movies to give a refreshing, intelligent and fun take on a bunch of genres that have been so done-to-death that you puke on hearing the term “hand-held camera”.

16. GOOD NIGHT GOOD MORNING The Hindu film critic Sudhish Kamath’s sophomore film after 2006’s The Four-Letter Word, Good Night Good Morning was a fresh, inventive, witty and wonderfully crafted rom-com, that’s as far a cry from Bollywood as dreamy lead actress Seema Rahmani is from your typical Bollywood showpiece ‘heroine’. Co-written by Kamath and Shilpa Rathnam, the film is about an all-night conversation about love, life and all that in between, between two strangers trying to belong.

15. END OF WATCH David Ayer, who has in the past written Training Day and The Fast and the Furious, came out this year with End of Watch, a gritty cop drama-meets-buddy movie about two young officers who inadvertently cause events that make them a mob target. The film is polished yet stark, cinematic yet realistic and entertaining yet honest, and boasts of two of the finest performances of the year by Jake Gyllenhall and Michael Pena.

14. STARBUCK Before India came out with Vicky Donor, in 2011 Canada came out (no pun intended) with Starbuck (that had a wide theatrical release in 2012), a French comedy by writer-director Ken Scott about a forty-something slacker who discovers that he has 142 children from the sperm he had donated years ago. A funny, sweet, heartwarming and feel-good comedy, Starbuck is a unique film that’ll make you warm and fuzzy about family ironically through its theme of artificial insemination.

13. KSHAY Kshay is the unlikeliest of Indian movies you’d ever see in your life, and yet one of the most confident, well-crafted and riveting ones. A psychological thriller about a woman’s obsession with an unfinished sculpture, the film that’s been made on a shocking micro-budget of Rs 4 lakh, is an accomplished, brave and original piece of Indian cinema that’ll give you hope about the future of our movies, in the time of Bodyguard and Rowdy Rathore.

12. RUBY SPARKS The writing debut of actress Zoe Kazan, who also stars in the movie, Ruby Sparks is a romcom that blurs the line between reality and fantasy and ends up as one of smartest and sweetest films in recent times. Made by Little Miss Sunshine directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, the film stars Paul Dano as a writer who falls in love with a character in his own novel – as she comes alive. A novel film about both love, loneliness and writing, Ruby Sparks is a wonderful watch.

11. THE RAID: REDEMPTION Indonesian action thriller The Raid: Redemption or Serbuan Maut, written and directed by Gareth Evans, is orgasmic-level of awesome where action movies go and is possibly one of the best you’d ever see. About a SWAT team trapped in a building with a crime lord and his ruthless killers, and featuring possibly one of the longest martial arts fight sequences ever, the hand-fights, raw energy and visceral violence in the film will leave you giddy for more.

10. SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK Two years after his inspiring Oscar-nominated The Fighter, David O’Russell goes back to a genre only he does in a manner quirky and smart enough to spawn its own genre – the comedy drama. Silver Linings Playbook is a family drama, a romcom, a character study as well as an ode to the dysfunctional people and relationships in life all rolled into a fun, honest film with delightful performances by Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Anupam Kher.

9. SLEEPWALK WITH ME The debut film of writer-director and lead actor Mike Birbiglia, Sleepwalk With Me follows a struggling comedian who tries to get noticed at the cost of a long romance and regular sleep. The film is one of the year’s most amusing and likeable, and only uses humour as a garb to say meaningful and intelligent things about relationships that are always best said funny.

8. HOLY MOTORS Holy Motors is a one-of-its kind bizarre, inventive, crazy, random and awesome movies of the year that’ll give you an experience you rarely have at the movies. About a day in the life of Monsieur Oscar (an exceptional Dennis Lavant), who goes from being a beggar to an assassin and dons many other avatars through the course of the film, Holy Motors entertains, bewilders and thrills as Leos Carax lives up to his reputation of an auteur.

7. LIBERAL ARTS How I Met Your Mother actor Josh Radnor’s follow up to his charming Sundance-winner Happythankyoumoreplease, Liberal Arts is an even more enchanting, assured, intelligent and feel-good take on love and relationships. A film reminiscent of Midnight in Paris in its celebration of nostalgia, conversations and the liberal arts, the movie is exactly what you need to put a smile on your face.

6. JAGTEN One of the year’s most brilliant films, Jagten (The Hunt) is a tense, taut and terrifying psychological drama about a man wrongly accused of sexual abuse and the consequent mass hysteria that endangers his life. A collaboration between two of Denmark’s contemporary cinematic greats – director Thomas Vinterberg and actor Mads Mikkelsen, Jagten is a powerful film that will make you think as much as it thrills.

5. EK MAIN AUR EKK TU Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu is only a Karan Johar production in name and budget, but its heart and soul is as indie as you could find. The debut film of writer-director Shakun Batra, EMAET is about two weeks in the life of its uptight, troubled and pushover protagonist as he meets a quirky, confident girl who teaches him about life and living. A refreshing, uplifting and happy film about love and relationships by a director who has nothing but a bright future ahead.

4. THE INTOUCHABLES A French comedy-drama about friendship, The Intouchables is based on the true-story about the unlikely camaraderie and bond that’s forged between a quadriplegic millionaire and his caretaker, an ex-con. The film about hope, trust and possibility, does for disability what few others have ever managed by driving home the pointing that… it really doesn’t matter. But it does so in a hilarious, irreverent and loveable manner, ending up as one of the movies of the year.

3. BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD Writer-director Benh Zeitlin’s debut film, Beasts of the Southern Wild, is a beautiful, moving and inspiring tale about the defiance, optimism and courage of a six-year old girl in the face of certain doom. One of the most polished, poised and powerful feature film debuts in a while, the movie will make you feel like few others, and has a heart like no other.

2. WILD BILL English actor Dexter Fletcher (best known for Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) delivers a fantastic, enjoyable and profound debut film about the relationship of an ex-con with his two sons who were abandoned by both him and his wife. A smart, entertaining, well-acted and beautifully-crafted crime drama about life and relationships amongst people who rarely have either, Wild Bill is one of the best Brit films you’d seen in recent times.

1. SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED Undoubtedly my favourite film of the year, Safety Not Guaranteed is about three magazine employees who travel to a small town to interview a guy who placed an ad looking for a companion to time travel with. But it’s not just the wacky premise that the film is a must-watch for. The film is essentially about friendship, about a sense of belonging, about hope, about the power of belief, about magic and about the fact that miracles do happen, if you want them bad enough to!

10 Other Notable Indies:  Valley of Saints, Teddy Bear, Smashed, The Sapphires, Pitch Perfect, Moonrise Kingdom, Goon, Detachment, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

10 Notable Mainstream Films: Argo, Cloud Atlas, The Hobbit: An Unforgettable Journey, Life Of Pi, 21 Jump Street, The Dictator, The Dark Knight Rises, Project X, Looper and Ted.

5 Notable Documentaries: Supermen of Malegaon, Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, The Imposter, This is Not A Film and Indie Game: The Movie.

Note: This column first appeared on on December 31, 2013

Picture courtesy: Google. None of the pictures are owned by the author all rights belong to the original owner(s) and photographer(s).
© Copyright belongs to the author, Nikhil Taneja. The article may not be reproduced without permission. A link to the URL, instead, would be appreciated.

Hollywood Bowl #5: Telluride Festival 2013 Roundup

On its 40th anniversary, the Telluride Film Festival (TFF) strengthened its reputation as one of earliest Oscar predictors in the world today. The festival, which is located in the small mining town of Telluride in Colorado, USA, was the first one to showcase the 2013 Best Picture Oscar winner, Argo, last year, and in its earlier avatars, premiered a host of other Oscar nominees and winners, including The King’s Speech, The Descendants, Slumdog Millionaire and Brokeback Mountain.

While these films may have their ‘world premieres’ later at bigger festivals like the Venice Film Festival or The Toronto Film Festival with the red carpets and all the razzmatazz that comes with it, with what it calls ‘sneak peeks’, TFF has been instrumental in giving Oscar voters and pundits an early heads up on the films that stand strong chances of nominations. That’s because TFF has now started attracting a strong audience of Academy Awards voters every year as attendees, who are both here to catch the early Oscar buzz, and by being there, contributing to it.

TFF is also a rare festival in that it doesn’t reveal its lineup of films until just a day before the festival, and has thus, in a strange way, has become the cult indie fest that relies on its cultivated loyal fan following to populate itself every year. And this year, the festival’s followers got more than their money’s worth with some of the most anticipated films of the year showing at TFF before their official world premieres, including 12 Years a Slave, Prisoners and Gravity. Here’s a look at some of the films that made the most noise at the recently-concluded TFF, 2013:

  1. 12 Years a Slave

London-based filmmaker Steve McQueen, who has twice missed Best Picture Oscar nominations for his critically acclaimed films, Hunger (2008) and Shame (2011), can be rest assured a nomination this time, and possibly even a win, if raving reviews and insane buzz around his new film, 12 Years a Slave, are any indication. The film, a historical drama based on the life of a free black man who has kidnapped and sold into slavery, has received unequivocal acclaim, with critics predicting Oscars (not just nominations) for lead actor Chiwetel Ejifor (American Gangster, Love Actually) for his heartbreaking performance and for director McQueen himself for what is being touted as the finest movie ever directed on slavery. The film also stars Brad Pitt, Benedict Cumberbatch and Paul Giamatti, so you have all reasons to be excited!

2. Gravity

Being hailed as one of the most visually immersive cinematic experiences ever, the 3D thriller Gravity, about two astronauts trying to survive outer space after an accident, is also most likely to nab multiple Oscar nominations this season. Starring George Clooney and Sandra Bullock and directed by Alfonso Cuaron (Children of Men and Y Tu Mama Tambien), the film has elicited awe from critics, audiences and even director James Cameron, who called it the “best space film ever made”.  With its supposedly unparalleled use of 3D and the strength of Bullock’s harrowing performance, critics are predicting that this could be Bullock’s second Oscar win after Blind Side (2009).

3. Prisoners

While critics are divided over whether or not Canadian director Denis Villeneuve’s English-language debut, Prisoners, is going to bag an Oscar nomination, they are certain of one thing: the film sees career-best performances from actors Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal.  A crime thriller about a father (Jackman) who will go to any lengths to find his kidnapped daughter, even if it requires him to be at odds with a police detective (Gyllenhaal), the film is being compared to the likes of David Fincher’s Se7en and Zodiac, and even Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River. The film’s script, by Aaron Guzikowski, was long listed as one of Hollywood’s best unproduced scripts.

4. Nebraska

Director Alexander Payne’s (Sideways, The Descendants) new film, the black and white road trip drama-comedy about a troubled father-son relationship, had earlier premiered at The Cannes Film Festival 2013 and earned decent reviews, but its reception at TFF elevated it to being a rather special film. Bruce Dern, who played the alcoholic father to Will Forte’s son in the film, has already won the Best Actor award at Cannes, but with the buzz that the film generated – some even calling it the Best Film at TFF – he seems to be a likely Oscar contender and the film itself could surprise with an Oscar nomination, like Payne’s The Descendants did in 2011.

5. Under The Skin

A film that polarized audiences and critics alike at TFF was Sexy Beast director’s new film, Under The Skin, which stars Scarlett Johannson as a seductive alien. While everyone agreed that the film was distinctly original and that Johannson is outstanding in her unnerving portrayal of the alien, the film has been called everything from ‘silly’ to being a ‘cult’ film.

6. Starred Up

Another father-son story that received much acclaim at TFF was director David Mackenzie’s (Young Adam, Spread) brutal prison drama film about a violent teenager (Jack O’Connell) who’d much rather stay behind bars to be with his father (Ben Medhelson), than get out into the real world. Critics believe that the film, which they likened to Jacques Audiard’s A Prophet, has managed to find the fine line between an emotional family drama and a starkly realistic incarceration movie, with a career-making performance by O’Connell.

7. Salinger

Shane Salerno’s documentary, Salinger, about JD Salinger, author of the cult novel, Catcher in the Rye, became one of the most talked about events of TFF. The film about the reclusive author who disappeared from the public eye for 45 years, passing away in 2010, revealed that the author’s private work will be published posthumously in 2015, which is possibly one of the most important literary announcements of the year. The documentary itself received mixed reviews, for the fact that the film gathered its footage and pictures by intruding into the privacy of the man who wanted nothing but to remain private.

8. Labor Day

Up In The Air and Juno director Jason Reitman’s new film is an emotional love story about an escaped convict (Josh Brolin) who takes refuge – and then kidnaps – a lonely single mother (Kate Winslet) and her son. While critics were somewhat divided over whether the romance is able to shine through the suspenseful tone of the movie, Reitman has received universal acclaim for his most mature and powerful directorial attempt yet, and that, of course, Winslet is eternally brilliant.

9. The Invisible Woman

Actor Ralph Fiennes followed up his directorial debut, war epic Coriolanus, with a period drama The Invisible Woman, about the secret relationship of author Charles Dickens (played by Fiennes) with a younger woman (played by Felicity Jones), in the last few years of his life. While Coriolanus wasn’t lapped up the critics, this time around Fiennes is being praised for his exceptional direction of the movie, and for extracting a career-making performance out of Jones (Like Crazy).

10. The Lunchbox

After getting fantastic reviews at Cannes 2013, Indian director Ritesh Batra’s debut film, The Lunchbox, starring Irrfan Khan, Nawazuddin Siddique and Nimrat Kaur, started gaining momentum for being a potential Best Foreign Film Oscar nominee. Almost every important publication from The Hollywood Reporter to The Wall Street Journal called the film charming and endearing and counted it amongst their favourite films at the fest. The film releases on September 22 in India, and is easily a must-watch.

Some of the other highlights of the festival include: Hayao Miyazaki’s final film before retirement, The Wind Rises, an animation film based on the life of a World War II fighter plane designer; Pawel Pawlikowski’s Polish-language film, Ida, a sincere 1960s drama about an 18-year-old orphan in the backdrop of communist Poland; the 26-year-old granddaughter of Francis Ford Coppola, Gia Coppola’s debut film, Paolo Alto, on teenage angst, based on James Franco’s book of the same name; Asghar Farhadi’s follow up to the Oscar-winning A Separation, relationship drama The Past; Penn and Teller’s provocative documentary Tim’s Vemeer exploring the relationship between art and technology, JC Chandor’s survival film about a man lost at sea, starring Robert Redford; Israeli filmmaker Yuval Adler’s thriller on the Israel-Palestine conflict, Bethlehem and Polish filmmaker Agnieszka Holland’s three-part HBO miniseries about 1969’s Prague Spring.  Two Cannes winners, Inside Llewyn Davis and Blue is the Warmest Color continued receiving rave reviews at TFF too.


Note: This column first appeared on on September 10, 2013

Picture courtesy: Google. None of the pictures are owned by the author all rights belong to the original owner(s) and photographer(s).
© Copyright belongs to the author, Nikhil Taneja. The article may not be reproduced without permission. A link to the URL, instead, would be appreciated.

Hollywood Bowl #4: We’re The Millers, Safety Not Guaranteed, Seven Psychopaths, Drug Wars

We’re The Millers released this week and there’s only one thing you should know: Jennifer Aniston plays a stripper in the film. Let me repeat that in case your brains exploded with that information: Jennifer Aniston plays a stripper in the film. And yes, she has enough sequences in the film (that are, amazingly, left uncensored by our censor boards) to justify her profession. If you are a man, this is probably all you need to know to go watch We’re The Millers NOW.

In case you are a woman, or a man who clearly doesn’t know what’s good for him, We’re the Millers is also one of the funniest movies out this year, after The Heat, of course. Filled with massively inappropriate humour that is offensive to just about everybody (and hence, hilarious), We’re the Millers is a road trip movie about a drug dealer (Jason Sudeikis) who hires a stripper, a homeless girl (Emma Roberts) and a kid in his building (Will Poulter) to smuggle drugs across the US-Mexico border. The movie’s script brings out every comedy cliché in the book, but the brilliant cast delivers them so well, it’s hard to stop laughing.

Will Poulter (the star of two of the British indie films of the last decade, Wild Bill and Son of Rambow) is easily the best thing about the movie (apart from Aniston’s anti-ageing body, obviously) and with his hilarious performance, guarantees for himself a long career of frat pack comedies, once Vince Vaughn finally realizes he’s too old for this s**t.

Two other films released this week: Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters, and Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, and they are exactly as clunky as their names. Percy Jackson is still a decent-ish watch, merely because of the presence of Nathan Fillion, who makes anything a decent-ish watch, merely because of his presence (although Stanley Tucci is pretty damn good too). And while Mortal Bones had a better cast on paper, with Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Lena Headey, Robert Sheehan and the like joining in, at a length of 2 hours plus, the movie is 2 hours longer than it needed to be.


DVD Roundup

Undoubtedly my favourite film that’s out on DVD this year, Safety Not Guaranteed is about three magazine employees who travel to a small town to interview a guy who placed an ad looking for a companion to time travel with. It’s not just the wacky premise (that’s based on a true incident, by the way) that the film is a must-watch for.  Aubrey Plaza is indie Jennifer Lawrence level-awesome, and Jake M. Johnson (New Girl’s Nick) is downright hilarious and should do a lot more movies. There’s also an Indian kid making his debut, and Karan Soni is far better than the clichéd love-less nerd role that he plays. The script by Derek Connolly is genuinely one of the funniest, most hopeful, and strangely moving you’d come across, and Colin Trevorrow’s assured direction has landed him the job of directing Jurassic Park IV. Don’t miss it!

Another comedy that should be watched just on the street cred of the people involved is the British indie flick, Seven Psychopaths, which is directed by the outstanding In Bruges director, Martin McDonagh and has a stunning cast that includes Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Christopher Walken. A black comedy about seven psychopaths (with the most awesome reasons for being so), the movie is as original, unique, disruptive and mad as they come.  About a struggling screenwriter who (Farrell) who gets entangled with the mob because of his psychopath friends, this Tarantino-esque movie’s going to make you laugh and leave you in awe.

Hong Kong-based director Johnnie To’s new crime and underworld film, Drug War is out, and though it’s not as fantastic as some of his other gangster films like Election, it’s a perfectly good time at the movies. About a cartel boss who is arrested in a raid, the film takes on the usual crime themes of betrayals and survival in its own unique way: a mix of equal part art and equal part pulp. One and a half hours of a solid action thriller.


Trailer roundup

Just a few decent trailers released over the week till yesterday, but today the internet was bombarded with awesomeness. You need to watch the trailer of Under the Skin to realize why there can never be enough horror films. British director Jonathan Glazer’s (of Sexy Beast fame) creepy-as-hell nod to the Alien movies, starring Scarlett Johansson as the alien in human form is going to leave you afraid to see more, and yet want it desperately, at the same time.

A film about Allen Ginsberg and Lucien Carr, that also brings to life Jack Kerouc and William Boroughs, is probably every beat generation fan’s wet dream. Exciting new talent Dane DeHaan stars along with Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) in Kill Your Darlings, in what promises to be a heady movie about a heady time in literary history (with a heady trailer to boot). 

And then there is Neighbors. From Nicholas Stoller, the director of Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Get Him to the Greek, here comes your new R-rated comedy starring Seth Rogen *yawn*. But wait, does this actually look funny or does it actually look funny? A film where Zac Efron is the douchebag to Rogen and Rose Byrne’s mellow husband-wife couple? Also starring Dave Franco, Christopher Mintz Plasse, Lisa Kudrow and Jake M. Johnson and Carla Gallo in what seems like a battle of the generations? Yes, please!

A film that could potentially be Matthew McConaughey’s genuine shot at an Oscar, Dallas Buyers Club (Directed by C.R.A.Z.Y. director Jean-Marc Vallee) about a Dallas cowboy who contracts AIDS and then illegally helps treat people with HIV, genuinely looks like the kind of movie we’ll all be talking about for long. Check it out.

Also out: British indie crime flick, The Rise, starring the who’s who of young Brit talent, from Luke Treadaway to Iwan Rheon; James Franco’s weird teaser for his next as director, Child of God; Bounty Killer, a B-movie that looks quite mad;  The Turning, a collection of short stories with a trailer of short shots that have no meaning whatsoever, and Ass Backwards, one of those Sundance comedies that are supposed to be heartwarming, but, umm, aren’t.


Note: This column first appeared on on August 29, 2013

Picture courtesy: Google. None of the pictures are owned by the author all rights belong to the original owner(s) and photographer(s).
© Copyright belongs to the author, Nikhil Taneja. The article may not be reproduced without permission. A link to the URL, instead, would be appreciated.

Hollywood Bowl #1: The Iceman, Drinking Buddies, New World

In this landmark week of Chennai Express, where no Hollywood film has released in India, it’s been wonderful to see everyone buying overpriced movie tickets to see a movie they think sucks to update their Facebook statuses about how the movie sucks and why everyone is buying its overpriced tickets. But if you are one of the few strong-willed, self-respecting or fortuitous souls who’d much rather stab your own eyes than see a Rohit Shetty film, here are some DVD recommendations to get you through the week:

DVD Roundup

You probably recognise Michael Shannon as Man of Steel’s General Zod, also known as the guy who battled Superman in a climactic battle that was longer than the lifespan of Mukesh (of ‘Smoking Kills’ fame). Or, if you are a person of taste, you may know him from Revolutionary Road, Boardwalk Empire and Take Shelter. And if you too get the creeps by his natural face, or can imagine him most likely to be the physical embodiment of the monster under your beds, then Ariel Vromen’s The Iceman is just the movie for you.

Shannon plays the titular character in this dark and gritty biopic of mafia hitman Richard Kuklinski, who was so cold-blooded that they nicknamed him The Iceman. The film also stars Ray ‘I-can’t-stop-doing-gangster-films’ Liotta, David Schwimmer (yes, Ross! In a ponytail!), Chris Evans, James Franco and Winona Ryder, but epic cast aside, the film is worth watching just for Shannon’s superlative performance. Kuklinski probably wouldn’t have been able to play himself better. 

Another movie with a great cast is the mumblecore-ish indie romcom, Joe Swanberg’s Drinking Buddies, that stars Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson (New Girl’s Nick), Ron Livingston (Office Space), Anna Kendrick and Jason Sudeikis. A film literally about two drinking buddies, Kate (Wilde) and Luke (Johnson) who are each in a relationship, explores the dynamics of the age-old question, ‘Can a boy and a girl just be friends?’ by upping the ante and throwing into the mix two interesting elements: Beer, and Olivia Wilde’s hotness. Given the cast’s strong indie credentials (Johnson’s Safety Not Guaranteed was my favourite indie of last year, Kendrick’s 50/50 was my favourite indie of 2011), the film is good fun to hang out with. But if you get your buddies along, and play a drinking game where you drink beer for each time they drink it in the movie, an epic night is guaranteed.

But if you had to choose just one movie to watch this week, let that be South Korean gangster flick, New World, directed by Park Hoon-jung, the writer of I Saw The Devil (another crime film you *must* watch). About an undercover cop (Lee Jung-jae) planted in Korea’s biggest and deadliest crime syndicate, the film is a suave, masterful, suspense-filled and outstandingly plotted crime drama that raises questions about loyalty, ethics, honour and duty. The film is so good that there’s a good bet that somewhere, Sanjay Gupta is plotting an ‘inspired’ version of it.

Trailer Roundup

There are trailers and then there are trailers that make the world a better place just by being released. The trailer of CBGB, a film by Randall Miller, about a cult New York night club that gave birth to American punk music in the ‘70s, is one such trailer. Starring Professor Snape or Alan Rickman, as he is known to muggles, as the dry (of course) founder of CBGB, who led the revolution of original punk music, and co-starring Donal Logue, Ashley Greene, Johnny Galecki, Rupert Grint, Malin Ackerman, Stana Katic, Justin Bartha and then some, the movie looks like the *trippy* version of 24 Hours Party People!

Another awesome trailer out this week is the trailer of Her, Spike ‘Being John Malkovich’ Jonze’s science fiction romcom. About a man (Joaquin Phoenix in a role only Joaquin Phoenix can play) who falls in love with the voice of a computer operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson, so it makes perfect sense), the film promises to be at least as evocative and heartwarming as the episode of The Big Bang Theory where Raj falls in love with Siri.

George Clooney is back in writer-director mode with The Monuments Men, which looks like the World War II version of Ocean’s Eleven, but no, not like Inglorious Basterds. About a group of men tasked with saving pieces of art from being destroyed by the Nazi, the film co-stars Matt Damon, Bill Muray, John Goodman and Jean Dujardin. So yes, this will probably be nominated for Oscars too. Speaking of Oscar nominations, the full-length trailer of Ridley Scott’s The Counselor, starring (take a deep breath) Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz and Cameron Diaz is out, and it leaves you wondering: HOW does Hollywood manage to get such epic casts together, when our multi-starrers star Abhishek Bachchan and Bobby Deol and are directed by Abbas-Mustan!?

The trailer of Lady Diana’s biopic, Diana is also out, starring Naomi Watts with a new nose, and Lost’s Sayyid (Naveen Andrews) in a role where he only cuts people because he’s a doctor.  Paul Greengrass continues his long lasting tradition of showing America as the country so evil that in the trailer of his Tom Hanks starrer, Captain Phillips, Somalian pirates look humane in comparison. Finally, the new trailer of Thor: The Dark World is out too and in a completely novel and original move, the film promises to be so dark that it even has the word ‘dark’ in its title.  

Casting roundup:

Bruce Willis will not be in The Expendables 3 because apparently, he’s “greedy and lazy” (according to Stallone). While I’m still pissed Anil Kapoor or Mallika Sherawat are not part of the film either, here’s what the rest of the cast of The Expendables 3 looks like (so far): Sylvester Stallone, Jason Stathom, Jet Li, Mickey Rourke, Terry Crews, Dolph Lundgren, Harrison Ford,  Mel Gibson, Antonio Banderas, Jackie Chan, Wesley Snipes, Arnold Schwarzennegar, Kellan Lutz, Milla Jovovich and Steven Seagal. That’s all.

Which actor, Indian or otherwise, do you think should be part of the film? Sunny Deol? Suneil Shetty? Danny Denzongpa? 

Note: This column first appeared on on August 13, 2013

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© Copyright belongs to the author, Nikhil Taneja. The article may not be reproduced without permission. A link to the URL, instead, would be appreciated.

Movie Recommendation: El Mariachi (1992)

What’s the baddest you’ve wanted to do something? And what’s the maddest you have done to make it happen? Nope, losing 4 kgs after five months of dieting and ‘power yoga’ doesn’t count. Nope, giving up drinking forever – on one day of the week – doesn’t count either. And no, being a dumba** on national television to appear in a reality show definitely doesn’t count (okay maybe it does for us, just a little bit).

If the above paragraph isn’t already making you feel worthless, this will do the trick – Robert Rodriguez, who went on to make the cult Sin City and Desperado, volunteered as a lab rat in an experimental drug clinic for 30 days, to raise $3000 – so he can use that money along with only $4000 more to write, producer, direct, shoot and edit his debut feature film, El Mariachi. The only reason Rodriguez didn’t act in the movie too is because there was no one else to operate the camera!

Frequent collaborator of Quentin Tarantino, who incidentally debuted with his Reservoir Dogs in the same year, Rodriguez burst onto the international movie scene with this film that he had originally intended as a straight-to-DVD release. But when the local video market rejected it, he had no option but to send it to bigger distributors. Columbia Pictures picked up the movie, invested more than 10 times the original budget in marketing it, and the rest is history.

The story of Rodriguez’ phenomenal rise to fame is not more incredulous than how the maverick director – only 23 at the time of making this movie – put it all together. Crazy stories include how a broken hospital wheelchair was used for tracking shots instead of the conventional camera accessory called ‘dolly’. Or how water pistols were used instead of real guns to save on budget. Or even how local journalists who were critical of the shoot were given parts in the movie!

The movie, about a wandering guitar player aka El Mariachi, who gets caught in a gang war after being mistaken for a criminal, is, incidentally, one of the coolest action films you’d ever see. The story revolves around Filmed in approximately .00000000000001 times the budget of a Michael Bay film, the movie is a lesson in filmmaking for amateurs (and masters) on how to kick ass in whatever money you have – especially if you don’t have any money!

Starring: Carlos Gallardo, Consuelo Gómez, Jaime de Hoyos
Written By: Robert Rodriguez
Directed By: Robert Rodriguez

Note: This recommendation first appeared in MTV Noise Factory, May 2012 issue
Picture courtesy: Google. None of the pictures are owned by the author all rights belong to the original owner(s) and photographer(s).
© Copyright belongs to the author, Nikhil Taneja. The article may not be reproduced without permission. A link to the URL, instead, would be appreciated.

Movie Recommendation: City of God (2002)

The cinema of every country reflects its own culture subconsciously. But every once a while, a filmmaker makes a movie that ends up being the defining thing about a culture. Cidade de Deus (City of God) is that movie for Brazil.

Adapted from a 1997 novel of the same name by Paulo Lins, City of God translates on screen the murky, filthy and gruesome crime underbelly of Rio de Janiero between the ’60s and the ‘80s, seen through the eyes of the protagonist, Buscape or Rocket. Trying his best to keep away from the life of crime and corruption, which all his friends seem to have so easily succumbed to, he watches silently, and helplessly, as Rio de Janiero disintegrates in front of him.

The story is as much about Rocket and his endeavour to follow his passions of photography and live an honest, uncorrupted life, as it is about the rivalry and gang war between the drug lord Li’l Ze and criminal Mane Galinha or Knockout Ned – one which became the identity of the capital city for the time it lasted.

With its inventive, nonlinear narrative style, City of God rivals the very best of Quentin Tarantino and Guy Ritchie, but with drama so gritty and real, it makes Francis Ford Coppola proud. It’s not often a movie exceeds its own scope and surpasses every expectation – but that’s exactly what the movie directed by Fernando Meirelles and Katie Lund does.

The masterpiece is, in equal parts, a disturbing, compelling and hard-hitting origin story of how the City of God came to be, as well as a rollicking, stylized and ridiculously entertaining flick about drugs, power and lots of guns. And what makes it a notch more interesting than the other greats of World Cinema is the simple fact that this convoluted, shocking and fascinating story went down exactly so in real life as well!

Starring: Alexandre Rodrigues, Matheus Nachtergaele, Leandro Firmino
Written By: Paulo Lins, Bráulio Mantovani
Directed By: Fernando Meirelles, Kátia Lund

Note: This recommendation first appeared in MTV Noise Factory, December 2011 issue
Picture courtesy: Google. None of the pictures are owned by the author all rights belong to the original owner(s) and photographer(s).
© Copyright belongs to the author, Nikhil Taneja. The article may not be reproduced without permission. A link to the URL, instead, would be appreciated.