Tag Archives: Movie Review

Dark. Twisted. Funny. Fucked Up. Gone Girl. #Review #GoneGirl

As I sat watching Gone Girl and the movie unravelled one of its incredible plot twists, I could sense a feeling of dread settle into couples throughout the theatre. I was transfixed at what was happening on screen – and how staggering it was – yet, I was distinctly aware that a quiet unease was creeping its way into the psyche of every couple, married or otherwise, as the theatre slowly fell into an uncomfortable silence. Perhaps this was the paranoia that the movie had projected unto me manifesting itself into a dark, perverse fantasy about the lives of others, or perhaps, Gone Girl is, in fact, the kind of movie that will make every couple momentarily reassess all that is right, and certainly all that is wrong with their relationship.

To say that Gone Girl is a thriller about a the hunt for the missing wife of a seemingly sociopathic man (or look at it as a thriller from the angle that you’ll see when you watch the film) will be a gross misjudgement of what director David Fincher and screenwriter Gillian Flynn have attempted to do with the movie, and will be a much too simplistic – and inaccurate – reduction of what is undoubtedly one of the most twisted and murky deliberations of marriage on the big screen.

That marriage is not easy is a fact that has been explored through several prisms in many a great films of our times, and of that before, from Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf? to Blue Valentine. But just how f**ked up marriage, or for that matter, relationships can be, has arguably yet to be dissected in a manner in which Fincher and Flynn together do through the movie.

Gone Girl takes any and all expectations a viewer may have aligned himself with when going into the movie, and then smashes them to pieces, much like it does to every thought we may have had about the institution of marriage, or about what it means to be in a committed relationship. What the movie may do to couples watching it together is entirely dependent on just how seriously they take the movie or for that matter, just how mature or happy they are, because at its best, Gone Girl is a movie that can save a troubled marriage; and at its worst, it is the most horrid and unpleasant date movie of all time.

On the other hand, and in a most brilliant contradiction to the theme of the film, Gone Girl is also a first rate black comedy and satire. I found myself laughing out loud on several occasions through the film, because its meditation on the bizarreness, incredulity, ridiculousness, stupidity, ethical and moral ambiguity, and the complete and utter disregard for professionalism that has become the media, is top class and should necessarily be seen and taken with a very big salt of pinch by everyone who works in the profession themselves.

David Fincher has used the plot of the movie to deliver a scathing diatribe on what has come to be called the ‘media circus’, where (no spoilers, don’t worry) people are put on trial and verdicts are passed without evidence, facts or even logic, where the convenient outcome is passed on the news as the right outcome, and where the consequence could be immense and tragic and yet no individual person has to take the fall – and which is why this unfortunate trend continues to grow, unabated.

Cinematically speaking, there’s nothing I can tell you that you wouldn’t know already: Fincher’s direction is outstanding, the music by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross is fantastic, Flynn’s screenplay is far too superior for being her first, and most other things including editing (Kirk Baxter), cinematography (Jeff Cronenweth) and the cast are near-perfect. But if there are two elements that stand tall among equals, they are the acting performances by leads Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike.

It’s funny how Matthew McConaughey’s McConaissance is spoken about with much ferocity all over the internet when Ben Affleck underwent a McConaissance, or Benaissance, if you may, much before he did. This is an actor whose performance does not rely on histrionics or dramatics but on subtlety – and Affleck betrays the confidence of an actor who could be, at this stage of his career, unbeatable at his game. This is a performance worthy of many rewards, and oh man, I can’t wait to see Affleck as Batman now. He’s going to fucking kill it! Since I can’t say much about Pike because of spoilers, let me say this: The greatest actress you didn’t know of so far has arrived, and how. Her performance is the stuff of legend (and I believe it would’ve been amplified if the film were to be shown without cuts).

Since I don’t need to convince you any more to go watch the movie, let me say this: I don’t think it was a perfect movie because the end didn’t go down well with me (I will write why after everyone’s seen it). And I still think Fincher’s best films are The Social Network and Fight Club. But if you are a fan of movies, and particularly of movie experiences, Gone Girl is as unique an experience as you’d get at the movies. Do not miss it.

P.S.: If you liked the film, you are going to love these alternate posters of Gone Girl: http://goo.gl/qe98H3


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DAAWAT-E-ISHQ: HABIB FAISAL ROCKS! #FBMOVIEREVIEW

By Nikhil Taneja (@tanejamainhoon). Original article: http://goo.gl/Uk51lH

How much romance should be in a romantic comedy? I have always felt that the makers of contemporary Bollywood romcoms have not been able to figure that out yet. There’s the new age filmmakers, who believe in ‘less is more’ so there seems to be this big fear when something reaches towards an emotion, or more like, ‘OHMYGOD EMOTION! WHAT DO WE DO NOW? THIS WILL MAKE PEOPLE FEEL AND THAT WILL DESTROY THE WORLD’. For example, the recent Finding Fanny, or Hasee Toh Phasee or Shuddh Desi Romance or you know, Dunno Y.. Na Jaane Kyun (#badjoke).

Then there’s the old school Bollywood filmmakers – or new age old school Bollywood filmmakers – who are basically the sons of somebody or one of the 100 relatives of the Bhatts, who approach emotion as a fat man would approach food: ‘LET’S HAVE EVERYTHING! THIS IS SPARTAAAAAAAAAAA!’ For example, Ek Villain, Aashiqui 2, Tum Mile, and 300 (#secondbadjoke)

And then there’s Dharma, YRF and Imtiaz Ali, who straddle the thin line in between, basically behaving like a drunk guy walking trying to walk straight: one time he will fall to the left, one time he will fall to the right, but he can never, ever stay in the middle. But every once a while, there comes a guy who, like a veteran drunk, can contain his daaru, and *own* this bloody line. Habib Faisal is one such veteran piyakkad (and I’m going to ignore that he wrote Bewakoofiyan because you know what, shit happens, ok?).

Faisal so expertly straddles the rom and the com in his movies that it’s hard to believe the genes of a 16 year old teenage girl and a, say, Asrani or Mehmood, or Keshto Mukherjee, doesn’t run in his blood at the same time (although I have no proof it doesn’t).

Let me cut the crap now and get to the point: Dawaat E Ishq is a romcom feast! It’s a delicious (#wordthatgoeswithdaawat) film with just the right ingredients in just the right quantity (#diditagain) and all the right garnishing on top (#somebodystopme) to make for a perfectly cooked meal (#omgthisisadisease) of love and fun. (#sorry)

I’m not going to get into the story since you should discover that yourself, but what I really loved about the movie is that it’s a movie that completely maintains its irreverent tone from the very beginning to the very end; never for once taking itself too seriously. When there is romance, it’s emphasised so very well in body language or through the eyes, or through the face; basically through everything Parineeti Chopra does because she’s just that damn awesome.

And when there’s drama, it is emphasised not with blaring emotional background music (*cough* Bhansali films *cough*)or a bucketful of glycerine (*cough cough* Bhansali films *gets asthma *); but just through great writing that leads itself to a conflict so well, that you are naturally intrigued to what could happen next. And what happens next, is usually a witty line or a smart foil of a cliché, usually through the OUTSTANDING Anupam Chopra – who is just as good as an Amitabh Bachchan or a Rishi Kapoor in any damn thing he does; in fact, several times he’s better – and the very charming Aditya Roy Kapoor, who’s quite a revelation, really.

For example, in the scene in which Gullu (the girl) has just been proposed to, the camera just stays on her face for a bit – and she is given the freedom to make us feel. And she does it so damn well, that you can’t help but feel and get tingly inside, perhaps because of the direction, perhaps because it’s Parineeti! And when there’s a conflict – like the finale – without giving any spoilers – there’s a leap of logic and some surreality but never any hammering the point away, all done to maintain that fantastic tone that’s been carried from scene one.

The chemistry between Parineeti and Aditya Roy is quite outstanding. To be honest, Parineeti can generate chemistry with a dying puppy if she wants (#ArjunKapoor #runningjoke); but full credit to Aditya Roy Kapoor, who’s taken to the role of a dil-phenk Lucknawi nawaab of the streets, like Deepika has taken to an anti-TOI activist (#snarky #sorryDeepu). To be honest, I really didn’t know Kapoor can act so well, but he’s immensely likeable in this, and makes one thing clear: he belongs among the leads, and he’s here to stay.

Karan Wahi, in the small role he has, is very, very sweet and, pardon my French, cute, and does a super job of making us like him. I really want to see what Kapoor and Wahi do next; their charm is a healthy thing in an industry that needs more of them else Saif Ali Khan will NEVER STOP playing romcom roles. IS THAT WHAT YOU WANT? And once again: Anupam Kher!!!!!!!!!!! I mean, what an actor!!!!!!! What a star!!!!!!!!! He owns every frame of what he does!!

The only thing that got my goat a little bit were the badly placed songs, and well, the fact that it had very little plot, but when did things like plot ever come in the way of an enjoyable film, right? I would totally recommend the film: it’s such a great family film after such a long, long time. Light, breezy and very entertaining. And the best part: while being all this, it also makes such a fantastic point about a social evil dowry (so very Rajkumar Hirani-esque, yay). So basically: Habib Faisal roxxxx!

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Note: This article first was first put up on Facebook on September 19, 2014. Link: http://goo.gl/Uk51lH

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Review: Gangster Squad (2013)

Gangster Squad is 2013’s first big disappointment

Okay, so I am not saying I certainly did, but I may have popped an artery in my brains due to the awesomeness explosion that was the official trailer of the Gangster Squad, when it first hit the net. I’m not saying that I did, but I may have run around in circles with my hands waving wildly in the air on finding out that the star cast of the film included Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, three of the finest young character actors in Hollywood today – Anthony Mackie, Michael Pena and Giovanni Ribisi – and the woman of my dreams, Emma Stone.

And I’m not saying that I did, but I may have lost the will to live when I found out that Gangster Squad’s release date was pushed from September 2012 to January 2013. And I’m not definitely not saying this because it may reflect on how awfully exciting my real life is, but one of the biggest reasons I may not have wanted the world to not end was because “HOW COULD IT END BEFORE GANGSTER SQUAD RELEASES?”

But here’s what I’m definitely saying today: The last time I was so disappointed with a movie was when I walked into a theatre to watch Don 2 and ended up watching Farhan Akhtar’s midlife crisis in what could only be called Shah Rukh Khan’s Bodyguard. Okay, so maybe Gangster Squad is not *that* awfully bad, but the problem with the movie is that… it’s not awfully good either.

At the outset, Gangster Squad has *so* many things going for it: It’s got THAT cast, with Sean Penn relishing the role of mob king Mickey Cohen possibly as much as Christoph Waltz relished Hans Landa (Inglorious Basterds) or the… err… mountain that played Mordor relished Sauron (Lord of the Rings). It’s got Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone paired together for the second time after Crazy, Stupid, Love showcased their out-of-the-world chemistry that made even the non-believers go giddy with incurable bouts of lurrrveee.

It’s got epic music, outstanding art direction, styling, look and atmosphere, and dialogues so quotable, they could put a Salman Khan-starrer to shame. At its helm, it’s got director Ruben Fleischer, whose Zombieland was by far the coolest take on the zombie-pocalypse by an American (because the Brits did Shaun of the Dead). And it’s NOIR! About GANGSTERS! Set in the ‘40s! In Los Angeles! If that doesn’t spell “OMGTHISISTHEBESTFILMEVER”, what does?

The answer to the above question may arrive on February 14th in the form of A Good Day To Die Hard (yippee-ki-yay!), because Gangster Squad spells something between “OMGISTHISREALLYHAPPENING” and “OMGHOWCOULDTHEYDOTHIS”. Because Gangster Squad has so many things going for it, and yet, it somehow botches it all up and ends up looking like a parody of a gangster movie, rather than an actual gangster movie.

For one, it’s funny. I’m not talking of Goodfellas funny or Gangs of Wasseypur funny, I’m talking about Adam Sandler funny (yeah, ouch). For example, in a movie about a squad of six daredevil cops who’re entrusted with the responsibility of destroying the operations of California’s most dreaded gangsters, there is an extended gag about these guys botching their first operation by being caught by other cops and being jailed for it. Had it been done convincingly enough, it may well have been a classic, but Fleischer takes the slapstick route he undertook fairly well in his 30 Minutes or Less, but imagine such sequences in an LA Confidential or Boardwalk Empire or any noir movie or TV show worth its salt, and you’d understand why they stuck out like sore thumbs.

Another reason is that the film is as predictable as a Katherine Heigl romantic comedy, and just as exasperating at times. *Spoilers ahead:* So when a cop doesn’t want to join the squad, you know a close one would die for him to agree – but the movie introduces the close one about two minutes before this turn of events, and only for that purpose. When a henchman screws up, you *know* that the boss is going to kill him – but the sheer number of times the henchmen screw up and face their imminent deaths makes you wonder if Cohen probably failed as a gangster because he employed the biggest fools of Los Angeles in his gang. And when everyone in the team leaves for a mission except the one person, you *know* that one person is going to die – but the movie is so obvious in its manipulation that this person is the only one who is shown with a family.

But probably the biggest blame in this sabotage of what could have been a classic, lies with the editing: the movie feels like it should have been a two-and-a-half-hour crime saga but is wrapped up in less than two hours. While that’s a great thing now considering even those two hours feel like two long never-ending Mumbai summer months, you get the feeling – you hope – that the movie has been mercilessly cut and there exists a Director’s Cut somewhere, within which lies a movie that is just as awesome as the trailer suggested.

Because if there isn’t, then Ruben Fleischer should really never try anything other than a comedy again because, honestly, even the most serious scenes in the film are funny – it’s laughable how badly they are acted, how convenient they end up being, and how contrived and obviously manipulative the emotions are (wait for the scene with the kid and the bicycle and let me know how hard you laughed). I, for one, was actually *rooting* for someone central to the plot to die in the film so I’d feel more connected to it, but even when a couple did, I was just happy that the climax was finally around the corner.

There is a fine line between being pulp and being corny. Gangster Squad pretends to be the latter but ends up being the former, and it’s only the masterful acting by Sean Penn and the heart put into it by Josh Brolin that just about save the day. If you must, watch Gangster Squad without any expectations, and while you may still be disappointed, at least you will not go on a binge of junk food and aerated drinks, without a care for calories, having lost all faith in Hollywood and the world at large (okay, I’m not saying I did that, but I may have…).

Note: This review first appeared on Firstpost.com on January 11, 2013
Link: http://www.firstpost.com/bollywood/film-review-gangster-squad-is-2013s-first-big-fat-disappointment-584405.html
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.

Review: Les Miserables (2013)

Les Miserables is cinema as it was meant to be

How do you adapt to screen an epic
In a way that’s not been done before
An epic so well known, an epic so often seen
In a way that leaves us wanting more

Well, it can be done, and marvellously so
Shows Tom Hooper, in his work of art
So a magnum opus musical like Les Miserables deserves
Not a review, but some poetry from the heart

Set in that time in 19th century France
When the rich just got richer
And the poor, condemned, weren’t given a chance
This has gone on too long, this needs to change
One ex-convict Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) took the stance

He forged a new identity, rose to the top
Found redemption by being honest and kind
But he was hunted by Javert (Russell Crowe), a cop
Whom duty, law and an oath had made blind

Many a people, and many a stories, were born, and died
In this 17-year-long journey that Valjean undertook
There was political turmoil and a tragic student revolution
As the very foundation of France shook

Hooper captures the suffering and pain
So heart-breakingly well on screen
But there’s hope, love and morality too
And rousing performances, seldom seen

Hugh Jackman is a revelation; an unbelievable talent!
Russell Crowe is so remarkable, he makes his villain seem gallant
Anne Hathaway, in a short role, makes a huge impact
And the supporting cast leaves you sweating; phew, can they act!

The visuals are glorious and stunning
The soul-stirring music will make you feel alive
The sets are grand and majestic
The filmmaking shows tremendous grit and drive

Take our word and flock the theaters
Les Miserables is one to see
This is moviemaking at its finest
This is cinema the way it was meant to be

Note: This review first appeared on Firstpost.com on January 20, 2013
Link: http://www.firstpost.com/bollywood/movie-review-les-miserables-is-epic-poetry-from-the-heart-594910.html
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.

Review: The Impossible (2013)

The Impossible is 2013’s first best film

A typical Hollywood disaster film is defined by its multiple interconnected storylines where half the fun lies in guessing who’d die first, extravagant special effects that cost more than the souls of the studio heads producing it, a huge ensemble cast of a bunch of B+ actors who’d *actually* otherwise be brought together only if there’d be a real-life apocalypse, and the Godforsaken choice between Michael Bay and Roland Emmerich as director, which makes ALL the difference in the world (no it doesn’t). Thankfully, The Impossible is not your typical Hollywood disaster film. In fact, it’s not a Hollywood film to begin with.

The Impossible, that stars Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts in the lead roles, is an English-language Spanish production about a Spanish family, The Belons, who faced the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami head on, and lived to tell their heart-wrenching tale. This is not a movie that wastes its time in setting up the impending doom, or savours the disaster scenes by amping up the destruction for the pleasure of the viewers, or even boasts of the blockbuster tag that demands limited emotional participation in exchange of instant gratification. This is a simple but powerful film about human tenacity, about surviving against all odds in the face of death, about salvaging and hanging out to the last bit of hope when life has little of it to offer.

The Belon family – Maria and Enrique Alvarez, and their three sons, Lucas, Tomas and Simon, were spending their Christmas vacation in a tropical paradise resort in Thailand on December 26, 2012, just minutes off the Thai coast, when the deadliest Tsunami in human history ravaged the shores of global cities across South East Asia. The Belon family, injured and separated from each other on that day, did not give up on each other, and persevered the chaos and turmoil in post-tsunami Thailand to find each other amidst a sea of wounded, dying or dead tourists and locals, in a story that is traumatic as it is beautiful.

After powerfully setting up the haunting moment when the Tsunami first struck, The Impossible follows the independent journeys of the separated family – Maria (Watts) and the eldest son, Lucas (Tom Holland) who end up in one of the many Thai hospitals teeming with the injured, and Henry (Enrique Alvarez played by McGregor) and the two younger sons, Thomas (Samuel Joslin) and Simon (Oaklee Pendergast), who are looking through every hotel, every hospital and every morgue in the hope that the rest of their family is alive.

While the disaster and its aftermaths – the human suffering at the hands of an unforeseen and unexpected natural force – are definitely an important part of the movie, the core of the movie lies in what is probably the core of the human fabric: the love for family. The movie does not care to deal with subtexts or larger meanings, or try and analyse why the disaster happened, why were these particular people chosen or who was responsible for it all; instead, it taps into the most basic of human emotions and shows, through a screenplay that is at times heart-breaking, and at times fills you with elation, that the tragedy of losing everything material can always be overcome, if your loved ones are still by your side, holding your hands.

The Impossible is sometimes a difficult movie to watch, purely for the range of emotions it stirs within you, but it is also an important watch, to drive home the point that we only know too well – that love is all you need. It’s directed straight from the heart by Spanish director Juan Antonio Bayona (The Orphanage); it’s got some of the best, most natural and most heart-rendering performances seen on screen in a while, by Watts (who deserves an Oscar like nobody else), McGregor and especially Hollander, who makes the viewer feel pain, joy, suffering and hope like only the real Lucas could have felt; and ultimately and most important , it’s about courage and the triumph of the human spirit.

If these are not enough reasons to watch what is undoubtedly one of the best films of the year, watch The Impossible because it will leave you with a smile on your face, as you go back home and hug your entire family, and thank the powers that be for every moment you’ve got to spend with them, and for every moment hereafter.

Note: This review first appeared on Firstpost.com on November 1, 2012
Link: http://www.firstpost.com/bollywood/movie-review-the-impossible-is-really-about-family-not-about-a-tsunami-585567.html
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.

Review: Midnight’s Children (2013)

Midnight’s Children is a stunning mess

How do you go about adapting an epic novel whose scope is as humongous as its legacy… if you are not Peter Jackson? The evident answer is: you don’t. Fanboys (ahem… guilty as charged) may go on a limb and even say: you *can’t*, but every now and then, a Cloud Atlas turns up and proves us wrong. Midnight’s Children, unfortunately, is no Cloud Atlas, and is certainly no Lord of the Rings (and not because it has no Hobbits — in fact, it has Darsheel Safary).

It’s not so much that there’s anything Deepa Mehta, the director, or Salman Rushdie, who has adapted his own book into a screenplay, have done anything wrong, or even anything less, than what they could have done — it’s perhaps that adapting a 600-page novel that spans 60 years and intertwines genres as diverse as magic realism and historical fiction, into a two and a half hour movie, was never going to be easy.

For those who’ve been living under a rock, the story of Midnight’s Children is the story of Saleem (played by Darsheel and Satya Bhabha), who was born at the precise stroke of midnight, and exchanged at birth with the child of an affluent Indian Muslim family, the Sinais. Saleem shares a gift that over a thousand children born between the hours of 12 and 1 — the Midnight’s Children — that historic night, were bestowed with: he has super powers. In a Bryan Singer movie, this could have led to a X-Men type battle between these children and the villainous humans who want to destroy them, but this film sticks largely to Saleem’s story, as he battles his destiny through two wars and the emergency.

To its credit, Midnight’s Children holds your interest for most of its running time, because, well, it *is* a phenomenal story and no matter what you do, you cannot screw it up… beyond a point. But the problem lies with the fact that there’s just too much happening on screen, and there’s too little coherence between it all. There are more characters than the number of years the movie covers, and due to the limitation of its running time, the plots these characters inhabit are half-baked and remain unresolved, not exactly unlike the protagonist of the film, Saleem Sinai.

The screenplay quickly moves from one plot point to another, but not seamlessly, and as a result, before you can properly start connecting with a character, or even, err, lusting for the actor that portrays it (Anita Majumdar as Emerald, woot!), another has been introduced. And before you can start wondering where – and why – did Emerald go, another story begins and ends prematurely, so as much as you’d want to see more of the gorgeous Shriya Saran or the powerhouse Siddharth (playing Parvati and Shiva, two other Midnight’s Children), all you get is a *lot* of Darsheel and Satya.

While both are decent actors and do a pretty good job, they’ve been pitted against some of the finest and most experienced talent our country has to offer, which really isn’t fair to them, and so, the supporting characters register far more than them. The scene stealers are Ronit Roy, who reprises a role similar to the one he did in Udaan, and is just as outstanding again, and Siddharth, who sets the screen ablaze in every scene. Shahana Goswami and Rahul Bose also deliver top-notch performances and everyone else, from the legendary Kulbushan Kharbanda to Saran are a joy to watch.

Mehta does a solid job of direction, given the muddled script, and deserves credit for ‘showing’ so much of the history of India — including a daring section on Indira Gandhi — by showing so little. The cinematography (Giles Nuttgens) makes the film visually powerful and while the background score (Nitin Sawhney) compliments it for the most part, it really could have been less clichéd. Really, when will India stop being represented by flutes in Hollywood? And after such great primary casting, the make up on the fringe characters is annoying, since they look like those Indian stereotypes that Americans see us as.

Largely though, Midnight’s Children is a stunning mess, but it is, ultimately, a mess. For the brave attempt and the fabulous ensemble cast, the movie warrants a singular visit to the theaters, but unlike the novel or the momentous date it is built on, the movie won’t be making it to the history books.

Note: This review first appeared on Firstpost.com on February 4, 2013
Link: http://www.firstpost.com/bollywood/movie-review-midnights-children-is-a-stunning-mess-611692.html
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.

Review: Zero Dark Thirty (2013)

Zero Dark Thirty is good but not great

At the upcoming 2013 Academy Awards, it’s been nominated for five Oscars, including Best Motion Picture of the Year. So far, it’s won the Best Picture Award at AFI Awards, Austin Film Critics Association, Boston Society of Film Critics Awards, Chicago Film Critics Association Awards, National Board of Review, New York Film Critics Circle Awards, and some 40 more. Yes, it just *might* be a little fact that critics love the film and that they *may* want to marry the film and have little baby sequels of the film.

So the question isn’t whether Zero Dark Thirty, Kathryn “The Hurt Locker” Bigelow’s film about the decade long hunt for Osama Bin Laden and his subsequent assassination, is any good. The questions are exactly how good is it, precisely how excited should you be to watch it, does it really deserve all the awards on this planet over Argo and most importantly, whether or not the Osama in this film looks better than Pradyuman Singh from Tere Bin Laden.

Cutting to the chase (pun totally intended), Zero Dark Thirty is an engrossing, superbly directed, well-acted and finely made drama about the longest manhunt for the most dangerous man in recent history. It’s an intense, grim and disturbing film that seethes and festers in the palpable tension that Bigelow creates on screen through the superlative performances. But – yes, there’s a but – there are a few glaring hiccups in the film that make it far from perfect.

For one, the film is unapologetically one-sided in its portrayal of what exactly happened. We see people being tortured, maimed or killed through the film, and the film focuses on the fact that it is wrong, but never on the story behind it. There’s no remorse shown by anyone in the film – whether on the “right” side or the “wrong” – and there is no justification or reason given as to why one side is right, and the other wrong. Like the protagonist of the film, CIA agent Maya, who takes it upon herself to capture Bin Laden, Zero Dark Thirty is clinical in its approach as well.

Most of the film is, hence, devoid of any moral ambiguity or real emotion, apart from the tension that runs through the atmospheric first half, and while it’s always refreshing when a cliché is avoided, somehow, the film feels a bit hollow and because of the categorical absence of the other side. Of course, this could all be propaganda, but if that is indeed the case, it is a far cry from the balanced portrayal of war in Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker, and the film’s emotional maturity.

Then there is the case of the graphic torture scenes, of which much has been made in the American media. Without getting into the political implications of these scenes, cinematically, and as part of the film as a whole, the scenes are long, drawn out and after a point of time, unnecessary. Whatever they add to the dark, harrowing feel of the film is conveyed in the first 10 minutes, after which, they seem like an exercise in futility. Even the last 30 minutes of the film, shot in night vision, that focus purely on the elimination of Bin Laden by the US Navy Seals, could have been done with some chopping on the edit table.

The real film lies somewhere in between the first and last 30 minutes, in Jessica Chastain’s gritty portrayal of Maya, whose resolve to capture Bin Laden against all odds, be it political, professional or emotional, give the film its highest dramatic points. It’s hard to miss the fact that her arc, and the movie’s actual story, mirrors that of the brilliant American TV series, Homeland, and just like Claire Danes carries the series on her shoulders, it is Chastain’s measured and tenacious performance that makes Zero Dark Thirty the riveting watch that it is.

Watch the film for Chastain, Bigelow’s direction, and the remarkable story that it is, but carry along some patience in good measure, since Zero Dark Thirty is more a pensive drama than the thriller it is made out to be.

Note: This review first appeared on Firstpost.com on February 17, 2013
Link: http://www.firstpost.com/bollywood/movie-review-zero-dark-thirty-is-good-but-not-great-628499.html
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