Thursday, June 28, 2012

Movie Review: The Amazing Spider-Man

Coming just ten years after the dizzying excitement of the Sam Raimi-Tobey Maguire Spider-Man, and just five years after the eyeroll inducing schmaltz of Spider-Man 3, does the reboot live up to its arrival? The answer is (mostly) a yes. 

First, the bad news: The Amazing Spider-Man contains a majority of the elements found in the Sam Raimi film – Peter Parker is a loser school kid in NY, Peter has the hots for his classmate, Peter gets bitten, Peter becomes Spidey, Peter overcomes the school bully, Peter loses his uncle, and Peter fights crime. There is precious little that the reboot brings to the table, some of which includes a glimpse of his parents. The good news is that The Amazing Spider-Man works despite the constant sense of déjà vu. 

The slightly-okay story finds a young Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) being hurriedly placed by his parents in the care of Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field). Cut to a grown up Peter working with his late father’s old colleague Doctor Connors (Rhys Ifans) and finding love and a pesky reptilian ruffian with a master plan. The bulk of the film then becomes a series of action scenes and romantic cutaways in which Peter and Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) effortlessly top the lame melodrama between Maguire and Kirsten Dunst. There is no upside down kiss under the rain, but there is an unexpected moment under a starlit balcony and a finale that puts a big twist on the bittersweet climax of the 2002 movie. Despite some clunky dialogue, the melodrama and romance here actually works – thanks mainly to director Marc Webb who brings the matured, assured handling of emotions from his (500) Days of Summer and makes his actors believable. Unlike the case in Spider-Man 3, Webb keeps The Amazing Spider-Man from becoming a string of hastily glued together boring ‘emo’ bits.

Best, however, is the charming Andrew Garfield in the title role – even though at times he looks hilariously old for a school kid. Garfield is a perfect leading man and apart from being a great actor he has a sunny, winning charisma that audiences (mostly girls) can cheer for. Peter here is faced with more heartbreak and trauma than in all three previous films put together, yet Spidey is more of the sarcastic wisecracking punk here – it makes for a nice change, and Garfield handles both the shades extremely well. Emma Stone is jaw-droppingly gorgeous to look at, and her Gwen is rather courageous instead of ditsy. There are enough little moments between Spidey and Gwen to make teens go awww and the older kids forget about the lack of chemistry between Maguire and Dunst. Sheen and Field here are the Hollywood versions of Alok Nath and Farida Jalal, and they even have those overtly dramatic facial expressions and cringe-inducing lines. Irrfan plays the Token Black Guy of the movie.

The Amazing Spider-Man was filmed in 3D, and there are instances when the investment seems to have paid off. Marc Webb seems to understand why we have put on the 3D glasses, and he offers enough immersive scenery to keep us wowed. When Spider-Man swings through the buildings, he takes you along with him. The downside is that there simply aren't enough swinging scenes. Which isn't to say that there are no other special effects – there are plenty and they are fantastic. There are some brilliant sequences, including one in a sewer that lasts quite a few minutes. One little scene at Peter’s school where a certain someone makes a cameo is probably the film’s best moment. There is also a 3D jump scare that might scare the hell out of you. The Lizard is menacing, and very intricately designed but frustratingly there aren’t enough still moments to make us appreciate the work that was put in to create the motion capture CGI beastie. When the action isn’t happening, Webb brings in his years of music video experience and throws in some rock music montage, but it sadly makes us yearn for Danny Elfman’s score from the Raimi movies. 

As for the film’s intellectual quotient, well, it’s rather bleak. The Amazing Spider-Man is really just a setup for one familiar storyline to another, in 3D, and folks who would like to see something completely new would be severely let down. The climax hints at further adventures of Spider-Man, which means more webby coolness – that is more than welcome, but please let Gwen Stacy stick around, her eyes make me stronger and weaker at the same time, more than Mary Jane’s ever did.

(First published in MiD Day)

Friday, June 22, 2012

Movie Review: Brave

The problem with Pixar is that one expects every film of theirs to be groundbreaking, and while their latest Brave fails to be one, it’s still a charming and entertaining little story. Forgoing originality, Pixar this time around delivers a mild throwback to the Disney films of the 80’s, with eye-poppingly gorgeous, sweeping Scottish locales and a protagonist as likable as the Scottish brogue.

Directed by Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman and Steve Purcell, Brave is a cute little film that stands apart from the slam-bang pop culture laced humor that epitomizes the current crop of animated movies. And even the animation, while extraordinarily lifelike, is mostly low-key. There are dark forests with blue wisps and bright red hair, but the colors never overwhelm you as much as they immerse you in the simple story. Perhaps this is why Brave works as well as it does. Rather than attempt to top Pixar’s own earlier works and throw in adult themes, the film is happy to entertain 10-year-olds.

Here we have Pixar’s first female protagonist, the scarlet-haired tomboyish princess Merida (Kelly Macdonald), a skilled archer who would rather have an adventure outside the castle than follow the boring customs and requirements of being a princess. When her mother Elinor (Emma Thompson) announces the arrival of the three lords of the land Dingwall (Robbie Coltrane), MacGuffin (Kevin McKidd) and Macintosh (Craig Ferguson) to contest their sons in marriage, she storms off into the forest where she finds a strange magical trail that leads her to a curse that changes her fate.

On the downside what follows isn’t as epic and magical as you’re led to believe. Neither is there the whirlwind adventure that you expect nor is there a Princess Mononoke story of courage. What we do get is an old fashioned, mildly clichéd lecture on life lessons, which is a shame given the scope and the larger-than-life setting of the film. Director Brenda Chapman was supposed to be Pixar's first female director, but she was replaced during the production, and it’s hard not to wonder what her original ideas were. 

Without a doubt, the imagery is incredible – Merida’s hair needed 1,500 individual animation tools to render and it shows. If the cloudy Scottish hills and picturesque sunny plains don’t impress you then Patrick Doyle’s music certainly will. But one can’t shake the feeling of the filmmakers having favored technological wizardry over story. This is especially apparent after having watched Dreamworks’ beautiful How To Train Your Dragon and Disney’s Tangled – it isn’t that Brave isn’t good, but it’s difficult to consider it worthy of having Pixar’s branding.

(First published in MiD Day)

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Movie Review: Gangs of Wasseypur

Gangs of Wasseypur is so visceral, that watching it feels like sticking your face right above an exploding Laxmi Bomb. The effect, carried gleefully and brilliantly by director Anurag Kashyap is blinding. This is not a film to just watch once at the multiplex, it’s a movie to love completely and become absorbed into its lush imagery and glorious characters. 

Mercifully free of item songs and music video style flashy cinematography, Gangs of Wasseypur works as both an entertaining gangster thriller and a gently mocking sardonic history lesson. Apart from the dizzy shifts in mood between the guilty pleasure of dark sexy comedy and gripping socio-political drama, writers Kashyap, Akhilesh Jaiswal, Sachin Ladia and Syed Zeeshan Qadri create a loaded and layered canvas of revenge and violence.  They avoid the clutter and manipulation of most mob thrillers and escalate the plot and tension solely through the characters' stormy emotions.

And what a crackerjack pack of characters these are – easily the best performances you're likely to encounter in some considerable time. Manoj Bajpayee makes a hurricane of a comeback as he is simultaneously mesmerizing and repellant as the foul mouthed bald gangster out to avenge his father. Relative newcomer Richa Chadda who plays Bajpayee’s wife, is absolutely searing in her role. Nawauddin Siddiqui (who has a bigger role in Part 2) is hilarious and charming as the wheeling and dealing, disillusioned, soft spoken son of Bajpayee. Then there’s Tigmanshu Dhulia as part fascist chieftain and part conniving rogue, quietly petrified of being hunted by Bajpayee. But far ahead of them all is Pankaj Tripathi in his first major role as Sultan the Butcher –he so effortlessly entwines his many shades that you can't separate his helplessness from his nepotistic determination to seize power. An ambivalent character has rarely been made so magnetic.

What is NOT magnetic is the opening 15 minute section of Gangs of Wasseypur, which is bizarrely complicated enough make you feel like a 10-year-old in an Advanced Thermodynamics class. With a droning voiceover by Piyush Mishra, you are straightaway plunged into dozens of characters in a half a dozen places and you’ll have a hard time trying to connect the dots between the who’s who what’s what and where’s where. It takes a while to sink into the film and identify the characters, and this may be frustrating for some. Perhaps according to Kashyap this is what cinema is about, taking the viewer into a completely new world and challenging them to make some sense out of it. A more knowledgeable person could probably explain how Kashyap’s vision of Bihar’s history in miniature reflects the personality of its chronically divided people, but Gangs of Wasseypur rings true to anyone who's ever watched a mafia drama.

There is violence, a lot of it, the gritty, unsettling kind, not the bloody in-your-face flying limbs variety, and it is kept firmly in its place and never allowed to take over the story like in Rakta Charitra. In one scene a local goon is made to watch his brother getting shredded to pieces - the slaughter occurs off camera but you are left cringing at the sight of the goon’s face reacting in horror. In another scene Bajpayee repeatedly stabs someone and drifts around as if playing kabaddi. Later a hapless cop investigating a murder finds a finger in a butcher’s den and is made to walk away or mix with the dead meat lying around. It makes for a righteously angry, yet joyous story because Kashyap fills every moment with song and life - Womaniya plays to the backdrop of Bajpayee finding lust at first sight in the form of Reema Sen’s glistening kamariya; Keh ke lunga is juxtaposed with violence while the Calypso I am a hunter is mixed with a character smuggling guns in a train. If all that weren’t enough there is also Yashpal Sharma in a cameo dancing and singing at a wedding.

After the three hundredth character is introduced one begins to wonder where all this is leading, but Kashyap pulls a stand up-and-cheer finale out of his hat, sweetened only by the self-liberation of the character featured in the climax, escalated by the infectious Jiyo ho Bihar ke laala playing at full blast.

Some of the imagery is downright fantastic. It'll be a long time before the image fades of Huma Qureshi and Nawazuddin having a hilariously flirtatious exchange at a pond. Even the beginning credits are crafted with large doses of grindhousey amphetamine. The dialogues have a force that pack a gut-punch and are a mixture of dicey menace, goonda lingo and expletive-laced fiery one-liners. There are one too many ‘bhosadikas’ but even when the film turns darker it never loses its sly humor.

Editor Shweta Venkat deserves a hand for Wasseypur’s fine, razor sharp pacing that glances over so many things without needing to rub them in. Equally pleasing is Rajeev Ravi’s cinematography which alternates bright sunlight with the coldest, blackest coal colored nights. Sneha Khanwalkar’s meticulously crafted music is an exotic sandwich of genres buoyed by Varun Grover’s super lyrics. But GoW’s big achievement is Kashyap’s cinematic vision of post-independence Bihar and Jharkhand’s landscapes. No tacky stock villagers here – only shifty hoodlums framed by heavy silences to inculcate a powerful sense of claustrophobia and power.

The other big feat of Gangs of Wasseypur is that Kashyap balances massy masala and offbeat snobbery very well - you can watch the film for its character study, political idealism, or for entertainment value alone. In either case it doesn't disappoint. Kashyap eschews the arthouse minimalism for cinematic pizzazz. His fine ear for dialogue and control of tone is all the more impressive for being delivered under the short schedule and massive story content. 

Alive and far more entertaining and exciting to watch than just about any Indian gangster movie you have ever seen, Gangs of Wasseypur is thrilling as fuck, because it achieves the rare feat of wanting to be an epic and actually being one. It’s carefully strained pulp and when it's over, you won't remember much of who killed whom, instead what remains is the silly grin on your face and the desperate urgency to watch Part Two. 

Friday, June 15, 2012

Movie Review: Piranha 3DD

Having its origins from the 1975 Spielberg movie Jaws, its ripoff 1978’s Piranha, the James Cameron sequel Piranha 2: The Spawning and the 2010 reboot, this film is a sequel of a reboot of a remake of a classic. Piranha 3DD is in 3D, but what really jumps at the audience is its dearth of intellect. When the trailer says Double the Ds, it doesn’t mean guilty pleasure – it means Dull and Dreadful.

2010’s Piranha 3D had two things to offer – gratuitous display of scantily clad women and over the top intentionally funny thrills, so how hard is it to ramp up the nudity and humor? Leave that to the magnificent  screenwriting team of Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan, who hold the honor of writing the Saw sequels, and Joel Soison who has brought us such gems as Mimic 2, The Prophecy: Forsaken and Children of the Corn: Genesis. The trio came up with a plot that would shame even porn filmmakers – in Arizona a dead cow floating in a lake farts out bunch of prehistoric Piranhas who make their way to a nude water park full of strippers owned by a sleazy stepfather (David Koechner). To think that this premise was the collective creative input of three writers and three editors boggles the mind.

There are a bunch of the stock horny shrill spectacularly stupid teenagers in the form of Danielle Panabaker, Matt Bush and Katrina Bowden, and a collection of horribly acting cult favorites including Ving Rhames and Gary Busey in bit roles. We’re treated to scenes like a Piranha getting stuck in the anus of a fat man, the removal of which results in 3D views of the man’s feces; a woman who is attacked by Piranhas in a van while having sex and whose boyfriend is also unable to escape because he was handcuffed; and another scenario which results in a girl saying ‘Josh cut off his penis because something came out of my vagina’. There is also a ‘crotch cam’ in the swimming pool to click pictures when women climb the ladder out. Classy. Oh and there’s David Hasselholf who plays a parody of his character from Baywatch, and has a silly elated expression on his face as if he can’t thank the producers enough for promising him a paycheck.  

While blood, nudity and horror-comedy can be goofy fun, Piranha 3DD is neither fun nor entertaining – it’s a disdainful cash grab by greedy grimy hands of people who aren’t much different from the owner of the naked water park. If your taste in movies includes ones where a man’s decapitated head lands between a pair of bloodied woman’s breasts and jiggles for ten whole seconds, then this is just the movie for you.

(First published in MiD Day)

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Decoding the Third Act of Danny Boyle's 'Sunshine'

Five years ago Danny Boyle embarked on a mission to reinvent the sci fi genre, but that mission was lost before it reached the star. Four years ago, I and a crew of two roommates watched the film as if frozen in a solar winter. The film delivered a payload of an Awesomeness Bomb with a mass equivalent to Manhattan Island. Its purpose was to get the box office registers ringing. It had failed.          

Sunshine became a cult classic. Everything from John Murphy’s music to Alex Garland’s script became the circle jerk content for movie geeks around the world. It bombed without a trace at the box office - not just because it was badly marketed, but also because most critics and audiences dismissed the third act as a ‘slasher film’. They failed to see the bigger picture.    
I feel like a lone astronaut strapped to the back of a bomb. Welcome to the third act.     

Until now, the crew of Icarus II, who were on their mission to re-ignite the sun have diverted course and discovered the Icarus I after receiving a distress signal. While changing course the Icarus II navigator fucks up the heat shield alignment which results in the deaths of the captain and irreparably damages the ship’s oxygen garden. 

The Icarus II crew climbs aboard and explores the Icarus I, when suddenly the airlocks that bridge the two ships decouple and are destroyed. Only crewmember Capa (who originally made the decision to divert course) manages to return to Icarus II. He makes plans with the other three in the ship to at least complete the mission and save mankind, knowing that there isn’t enough oxygen to return home.

Inside the ship, Capa makes a startling discovery. The ship’s computer says ‘There isn’t enough oxygen to complete the mission. You will not live long enough to even deliver the payload. Four crew could survive on the Icarus. There are five crew members’.

Now here is when the ‘slasher’ film begins. We’re shown that Pinbacker (the captain of the Icarus I, who had gone mad and killed everyone on board and sabotaged the mission) has somehow made his way into the Icarus II and is repeating his actions. After a few jump scares and crazy action sequences Capa overthrows Pinbacker and heroically saves mankind.       

Now let’s stop to think for a second: Throughout the third act, Pinbacker only has a ‘spectral’ presence. Boyle shakes and moves the camera around and throws in some severe grading and lighting to obscure Pinbacker. We never see his complete form – all we see are hallucinogenic flashes of him.

Why was Pinbacker never shown clearly? And how the heck did he simply walk from Icarus I to II without anyone noticing, without any oxygen mask? How did he get past the airlocks? Surely someone aboard the Icarus II would’ve noticed a random guy attempting to enter their ship.

Answer: There WAS no Pinbacker.

Pinbacker was a figment of Capa’s imagination. He was the exemplification of the Capa’s 'madness' that was forcing him to fail the mission. The same paranoia that caused the crew of Icarus I to fail the mission. In space no one can hear you go batshit insane.

Only Capa sees Pinbacker. We never see Pinbacker with any other character in the film other than Capa. There is not a single frame that Kappa and Pinbacker share with a third character. Because Pinbacker is Capa.

Corazon (Michelle Yeoh ) the Botanist is stabbed in the back to death by flickering images of Pinbacker, but she never really sees who stabbed her.

Then Cassie (Rose Byrne) the pilot is stalked by Pinbacker in the dark, though she never knows who or what is stalking her. She lunges on the ‘stalking body’ and stabs it on the arm, and looks puzzled and shocked at the bleeding shadowy shape in front of her. We are never shown that it is Pinbacker, because that is Capa, and she is clearly baffled by this.

Capa, who was trapped in an airlock by Pinbacker manages to blow it open, blasts through space, and reaches the huge payload room. In the vast room he finds Cassie alone who just stares at him, frightened. Capa asks Cassie where Pinbacker is, and she is unable to snap out of the shellshock and fear.

Pinbacker suddenly appears out of nowhere and attacks him. It would be ridiculous that Pinbacker was real, because that would mean Capa and Cassie failed to spot him running towards them in a room that spans hundreds of feet. There is no Pinbacker. This is Capa’s madness indulging in a last ditch effort to sabotage the mission.

Pinbacker and Capa reach the edge of the payload, while Cassie looks on stunned. She is witnessing Capa attempting suicide.

She manages to pull Capa back, and the two tumble to the bottom of the payload crevice. Capa leaves Pinbacker behind and comes to his senses. 


 After a knowing look to Pinbacker who stands very far away from him, Capa gets up, manually unlocks the payload, and completes the mission, embracing his death in a fiery ball of sun’s radiation. 

Sunshine  wasn’t a slasher movie downgrade, Boyle gleefully played around with existential themes, with his trademark flashy showmanship. All you have to is look out for a little extra brightness in the dark frames of the third act. And when you wake up one morning and it's a particularly beautiful day, you'll know you’ve understood the film.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Movie Review: Prometheus

In space no one can hear you scream, but in a movie hall everyone can hear you sigh in disappointment. That is a real shame because Ridley Scott’s big return to science fiction has as tame a climax as it has an incredible buildup.

Scott’s Alien and the James Cameron sequel Aliens aren’t just seminal films – they are sacred entities for millions and millions of movie geeks all over the world. Prometheus, which began as a prequel to Alien and then ‘evolved’ into a completely different storyline ends up devolving into the original film and decades of sci fi clichés. The film is infuriating not only because of its constant reliance on Alien to validate itself, but because after a very promising two-thirds it mutilates itself into a chasm much like the character in the opening scene. It throws a volley of themes like Creationism and Darwinism and grabs you by the finger to take you to the secret room containing the secrets of the universe, only to sneer mischievously and pull the rug under you. 

Prometheus, which was spoiled entirely in the trailer, introduces us to Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) who discover ancient cave paintings in a Scottish island in the year 2089 – the two quickly realize that the maps within the paintings would lead them to the answers to the origins of mankind. Fast forward four years, Shaw and Holloway embark on a mission funded by the mysterious Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) to explore planet LV-223 aboard the ship Prometheus - a name derived from a Greek titan who dared to bridge the gap between humans and the gods and suffered a horrible fate. All kinds of hell breaks loose once the crew lands on the planet, as the ‘where did humans come from?’ quickly turns into ‘does it even matter’.  

As interesting as that premise is, Prometheus in its attempt to juggle between Creationism and Darwinism fails to focus on narrative and character. One of the dozens of brilliant things about Alien was that the crew was comprised of simple engineers who indulge in effortless banter and face a nightmare in their own ship. The characters eat lunch and bitch about their salaries – it made them relatable and believable and made us root for them when the Xenomorph attacked. Prometheus sadly comprises of the stock wide-eyed scientists and corporate scumbags who were seen in Aliens and many, many other sci fi films over the past two decades. Not only do the smart and sophisticated scientists in Prometheus behave like blonde teens in a slasher movie but they also mouth some of the worst ever dialogue. One botanist says ‘I ain’t here to make friends’ while a geologist says ‘I just love rocks!’. And when a scientist spots a strange creature staring at them, he acts in the most unscientific way possible by going all koochi-koo and proceeding to touch it with his hands. Later, when a circular ship crashes and rolls on the ground threatening to crush the two supposedly bright people, they run along the path of the wheel for two whole minutes instead of moving aside.  

The lead heroine is a rubbery wad of contradictions as well – Shaw is a scientist on a trillion dollar space mission to locate the source of human life, because of her ‘faith’. Moreover, the conflict between faith and science is handled in a hilariously bad manner here, with close-ups of Shaw’s cross dangling from her neck. Then there is Charlize Theron as Meredith Vickers, an antagonistic Weyland boss who exists in the film mainly to perform semi-naked pushups. Theron’s character adds absolutely nothing to film, even despite the major plot twist involving her in the third act. There is also Idris Elba as the ship’s captain who is bland enough to warrant a red Star Trek shirt. However Prometheus belongs to the android David (Michael Fassbender) who is somewhat modeled after Peter O'Toole in Lawrence of Arabia. Ironically, the non-human David is the brains and heart of Prometheus and Fassbender is just excellent in his role. 

Prometheus poses more questions than answers, and the sequel bait at the climax, though frustrating, gives way to a potential trilogy that would be more than welcome. Nitpicking the bad characterization and lack of a solid story doesn’t take away from some meaty dissection of the film. Apart from the extraordinary sets and 3D cinematography, Prometheus presents a very interesting theme of fatherhood, a polar opposite of the motherhood leitmotif of the Alien films. One character is left to deal with the trauma of its father being physically absent, while the father of another is emotionally absent. Another character manipulates a man into regarding him as his surrogate father. Everyone in the film is on a quest to meet the father of mankind, on a ship named after the one who fathered mankind. The final scene of the film offers an even bigger reference to this theme. Strangely, the same theme of abandoned fatherhood works for Ridley Scott, who created the Alien universe and then ran away, only to return years later and is now unable to mend a 32-year-old child intellectually broken by the scars of Alien 3, Alien Resurrection and the Predator crossover movies. 

(First published in MiD Day)

Friday, June 1, 2012

Movie Review: Rowdy Rathore

If Anil Sharma ever gave a movie-making contract to a bunch of drunken teenage boys, it might look something like Akshay Kumar’s Rowdy Rathore. Because this film is as funny as tuberculosis.

Five minutes into Rowdy Rathore, you begin to suspect that everyone associated with this film had been under the influence of very high grade marijuana while producing it. Passed off as ‘humor’ are scenes like a thief raiding a house with a poori in his mouth, and making the owner of the house bite it; or a female cop taking her cap off and dancing mischievously after our hero sprays deodorant on himself. It is a movie made by people who laugh at their own jokes, made for people who will laugh at anything. And at the helm is star Akshay Kumar, whose comedy here is not just endured, but feels like spending twenty four hours with an inebriated, stoned bore who thinks he's being funny by constantly making faces. It almost seems like he was upset to be the last guy at the Tollywood Remake Buffet Table, following Salman, Aamir and Ajay Devgn.  

The ‘story’ would seem outdated even if the film released during the stone age - Shiva (Akshay Kumar) is a smalltime bandit who falls for Priya (Sonakshi) and stumbles across a little girl, the daughter of his doppelganger policeman Vikram Rathore and crosses paths with a gang of hoodlums from a Bihar village who are after Rathore. Of course any semblance of a story makes way for sloppy narrative, vulgar lines, tedious attempts at slow-mo fighting and jokes that seem to date from before South remakes turned Bollywood into a cottage industry. Even the two gags that are mildly funny have a smug, take-it-or-leave-it tone that makes giving a damn about anything on screen seem impossible. 

Writer Shiraz Ahmad stoops to using Sonakshi Sinha’s bare tummy as a stand-in when he runs out of the hollow little skits. And then he brings in the most achingly clichéd pan-chewing women-raping sweaty goondas from the 80’s, the ones who’d make even the lyricist of the song ‘Daloonga Daloonga’ roll his eyes. During one scene a police officer (Yashpal Sharma, in a horrendous role) goes with his kids to a smarmy goonda (Nassar) to beg him to return his wife who is held as a sex slave by the goon’s deranged son. And as the woman is displayed in front of everyone by the chest-scratching baddie, the goonda promises to let her go in two days, after which he throws his head back and laughs. That is as classy as it gets. On the plus side, at least director Prabhudheva doesn’t subject us to full-on shots of women being brutally molested by sniggering men in Leopard skin underwear. It's a small mercy, but a mercy nonetheless. 

What's most appalling is that the filmmakers felt the need to make this pungent mound of toxins run for more than two and a half hours, as if they actually have something to say. But all I saw in between the Akshaygasms was a torrential rain of paychecks and a distasteful disregard for entertainment. Mindless masala movies can be fun but Rowdy Rathore presents a cinematic devolution that yammers on endlessly and insultingly. A real crook would steal your money and then walk away, but producer Sanjay Leela Bhansali and co seem to be content to first take your money and then clobber you until you are reduced to a dead nubbin with your ticket floating in a pool of your blood. 

Director Prabhudheva has electrifying energy but he seems to use it to mask his shortcomings. Sonakshi is not horrible - which for her is a real step up. She looks seductive (and butch) while holding a plate of laddoos and behaves like Malvika Tiwari in Chamatkar. A nice change from Akshay Kumar who sounds like he is falling asleep.

If Bollywood has another opportunity to remake a Ravi Teja film (that sound you hear is me twirling a mala of divine beads, praying that doesn’t happen), maybe it should only have each actor simply sitting around drinking tea. After Wanted and Singham I have yet to understand what makes them so profitable, and if Rowdy Rathore is the type of filmmaking we can expect from Bollywood in the future, maybe the 2012 apocalypse isn’t such a bad choice after all. 

Movie Review: Cabin in the Woods

Two nights ago I walked out of a hall with a lopsided grin on my face, in a cathartic state, oblivious to the dozens of cars screeching to a halt and honking as I crossed the road. I had lost all connect of sight and sound, and the only emotion I felt was of being completely overwhelmed. I mention these things not to meander pointlessly, but to let you know that I’d just seen a certified cult classic – Drew Goddard’s bizarre and terrific The Cabin in the Woods

Written by cult grandmaster Joss Whedon and Goddard, The Cabin in the Woods isn't just a traditional horror movie, but a thoroughly entertaining, visceral experience. And by visceral I mean truly twisted, unique and endlessly fascinating to sit through. What is most engaging about this film is the way in which Goddard deliberately mixes the horror movie clichés with the darkly absurd and the over the top unexpected punch. This is a movie that is terrifying, hilarious and smart at the same time, a modern masterpiece. 

Cabin in the Woods takes place in a creepily dank and isolated titular place, one that is freshly populated by five college kids (Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchison, Fran Kranz and Jesse Williams) for a weekend getaway. Like in Evil Dead, they stumble upon some ancient book and are attacked by all kinds of horrific things. But don’t let that premise fool you – all I can give you is the tagline ‘you think you know the story, think again’. Suffice to say that a lot of mayhem ensues, and to say that you are prepared for what follows in the final half hour would be a huge flashing neon sign of an understatement. And the more you chip away the mystery through the film, the deeper your jaw sinks towards the floor. 

This isn’t just a movie about jump scares and gore (although there is plenty of it), but it's as smartly entertaining a black comedy as you're likely to come across. As the film progresses Goddard (who has also written Cloverfield) lovingly piles on the horror movie tropes like a crazed fanboy and grabs your mind and blows it. He pays homage to the horror genre, sneers at the genre’s various in-jokes and turns the whole thing into a parody at will. Fans of horror and pop culture junkies will in particular be giddy in delight at the tongue in cheek references here. This isn’t the Shaun of the Dead, but the Godfather of Cabin terror, and Sam Raimi would be pleased.

The creepy setting maintains the nightmarish mode, which is buoyed by all the lead performances. Newbie Kristen Connolly and Chris Hemsworth deliver without being the least bit hackneyed but it's Fran Kranz as the bong-wielding goof that commands the most attention. Most stoners in Hollywood films have the stock set of established gimmicks, but this guy is actually a three-dimensional and entirely sympathetic. The special effects are few, but they contain enough meaty punches and sheer lunacy to spiral you into guilty pleasure. And the film’s final scene is brilliant enough to warrant a big fat Keanu Reeves-eque ‘whoa’.

The ultimate form of cinematic asskickery, The Cabin in the Woods is a devious and admirably fun mind-bender of a genre dissection. It will be referred to and revered by movie geeks in the decades to come. Heck, I don’t just appreciate this film, I swear by it.

(First published in MiD Day)

Movie Review: Snow White and the Huntsman

There are two reasons to watch Snow White and the Huntsman – if you are a fan of mediocrity, or a fan of Kristen Stewart. The film is a lumbering, occasionally good looking pseudo epic that walks a bizarre line between teen-centric tripe and wannabe dark war drama. 

Based on the famous Brothers Grimm fairy tale and starring Twilight star Kristen Stewart, Snow White and the Huntsman is a cheesy and hammy cocktail, and seemingly proud of it. First time director Rupert Sanders has little in command outside of the lavishly detailed CGI and the intricate text of the end credits. The special effects are admittedly great, but the story of a kingdom’s rightful heir (Stewart) who overthrows an evil queen (Charlize Theron) feels quite outdated. Sanders attempts to darken the story with moody lighting and epic landscapes but despite the spectacle the film never really differentiates itself from other cheesy ancient-history fairytale failures like last year’s Red Riding Hood. 

The film doesn’t completely dip to Twilight levels of dreadfulness but it does seem like a big budget product catering exclusively to Twi-hards. Perhaps the Snow White story has simply run its course – we’ve already seen countless adaptations, including Tarsem’s Mirror Mirror. And perhaps we've all seen too many gloomy sweeping panoramas , or perhaps cinematographer Greig Fraser’s camerawork is pale by comparison to the skill found in Peter Jackson’s movies where the camera’s floating artistry achieves a kind of poetry. Perhaps Stewart lacks the modicum of skill and shred of likability that a lead actress is supposed to bring.  Whatever the case, Snow White and the Huntsman remains uninvolving. 

It doesn’t help that Stewart as usual looks constipated and bored and bestows that expression upon the audience as well. Chris Hemsworth, who plays the cover model for Medieval England’s Sassiest Bounty Hunter mag, is wasted in a dull thankless role. Charlize Theron, in her career worst as the evil queen Ravenna is hammy enough to fill large sized pepperoni sandwiches. She is as evil as the villains from Kanti Shah’s films and her shape-shifting is as threatening as the monsters from Gyanendra Chowdhary’s horror movies. It’s only a matter of time until clips of her performance arrive on YouTube and become Chris Klein-like viral sensations.

Some of the scenery involving trickling sunrays is truly beautiful; there's one particularly gorgeous enchanted forest scene with an antler and a couple of fairies. Another sequence where Snow White hallucinates the trees and brambles coming to life is haunting.  Sadly Snow White and the Huntsman rambles along from one overproduced scene to another and at the end we're told that the brave will be rewarded handsomely, a message that works as a lie for those who plan to see this film. 

(First published in MiD Day)