Badlapur movie review[March 15th, 2015]

The film starts with the following African proverb:

” The Axe forgets but the tree remembers …”

Let me begin by pointing out that I don’t enjoy Bollywood movies much, not because they’re not usually entertaining but because most movies each year pander to the lowest denominator of society. Indian film industry, in my opinion was at it’s prime in the 50s since India just got independent and there was a drive to succeed. The 60s & 70s had most stars ripping off Hollywood (thus getting the infamous Bollywood tag, which I still prefer not to use) and I prefer not to talk about the 90s as a whole. I must also point out here that a renaissance parallel cinema was thriving in tandem with the mainstream which gave us amazing actors like Anupam Kher, Naseeruddin Shah & Om Puri. This balance is what makes the film industry what it is today where you’ll mostly get a lot of masala Salman Khan/Shahrukh Khan blockbusters every year, mostly being sheer dumb entertainment and a Badlapur/Johny Gaddar/Gangs of Wasseypur.

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[Spoilers follow] The movie begins with Misha(Yami Gautam) & her son Robin shopping and returning home when they’re abducted in a high octane car chase that involves a bank robbery. The bank robbers: Liak(Siddiqui) & Harman(Pathak) intimidate the mother-son and during the chase sequence kill them. What follows is a character study that was unexpected.

The palette is old but the structure is deliciously unique such that no screen time is wasted on playing the traditional revenge drama of will he or will he not be caught? That question gets answered in the first 30 minutes and the movie takes a 15 year time jump showing us how these characters have evolved. ‘Badlapur’ uniquely showcases how no one is truly good or bad but rather shaped by the circumstances he/she is thrown in. Raghav who is the supposed hero of the movie makes some really questionable moves while Liak who starts out as the absolute villain displays an uncanny humanity.

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I would also like to give an honorable mention to Radhika Apte who plays Kanchan, the wife of Harman. Her ability to emote through her eyes and hands is truly gut-wrenching and I expect her to go places.

Overall, I would give Badlapur a solid 8/10. Here is a movie that shows you that a newcomer actor in the hands of a deft writer and a solid all rounded cast can deliver. Watch it for the spectacularly muted performances of Siddiqui & Dhawan and to see that there is more to Bollywood(read the Indian film industry) than the usual song ‘n’ dance routine.

 

I wrote this article originally on Moviepilot.com here in March last year.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Review

A month before the new Star Wars movie was supposed to come out I was pretty indifferent about the whole affair. Before I am called crazy by the masses I want to put a disclaimer here, my first experience to the Star Wars universe was The Phantom Menace. I remember being bored beyond my mind and having no idea what I was watching, so it took me a lot of guts to revisit the Star Wars universe. Now in retrospect, I can definitely say that I was missing out since I can only imagine what it would have been watching the original trilogy as a kid. The concept, the perfect 3 act storytelling, the underdog protagonist versus the ultimate antagonist: this would have been my favorite trilogy as a kid had I seen it then.

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Once the original trilogy was out of the way I decided to revisit the prequels. Conclusively there is not much I missed out there and nothing is really special except the last 15 minutes of The Revenge of the Sith. I cannot believe how much noise was present in those three movies and it can easily be made into one(You can check out The Phantom Edit on Youtube if you haven’t already).

The movie begins with the very familiar screen crawl and right off the bat it feels right. There is a kinetic energy in the movie that is just inexplicable and this is something very similar to the new Mad-Max movie. Star Wars is one of the those franchises which never lacked in concept but execution and Abrams definitely changes that with his midas touch. The Force Awakens has some great homages to the original trilogy and all of those work in a perfect mix and hit you in just the right nostalgia spots. Abrams takes on the herculean task of balancing pleasing fans of the original trilogy, the extended universe spanned by the Star Wars novels & comic books and the prequels, which I personally know has some fans.

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One of the finest additions that is back is the humor: Star Wars had a very distinct humor going on till the prequels came along. Han Solo’s swagger is not the only thing missing from the prequels.

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The movie begins with the First Order, an analogue to the old evil Empire, attacking the resistance on planet Jakku.  We’re introduced to the conflict in a very new way when Finn(John Boyega) , a stormtrooper actually sees the horrors of war. He realizes that the First Order might not be the best team to be in and decides to quit. During this attack we’re also introduced to, most probably my favorite character in the movie, Kylo Ren(Adam Driver). In a breathtaking sequence he faces Poe Dameron(Oscar Isaac) and the First Order captures Poe. Poe as it turns out hides a part of the map to find Luke Skywalker in a droid called BB8. BB8, in a very familiar chain of events ends up on the doorsteps of Rey(Daisy Ridley), our new protagonist. In a very interesting sequence, Finn meets Rey, escapes the First Order for the second time and ends up in the millennium falcon. Since I saw the trailers I was waiting for Harrison Ford utter: “Chewie we’re home” and it was magical all three times I saw the movie.  There are several moments like this when I believe a true Star Wars fan will be transported to his childhood. The movie crisply makes a point of establishing new characters while respecting the old ones and their legacy. Ford & Fisher have instant chemistry as soon as you see them together.

Jakku

One more key thing to point here is the distinct world building that Abrams does. We are introduced to the scorching and barren Jakku, the green and luscious Takodana and the icy Starkiller Base which serves as an evolved DeathStar. All three of these planets serve as characters in the movie.

Without spoiling the rest of the movie, I’ll now delve on some aspects that I didn’t like about the movie. Subtlety is not one of Abram’s strong points and it is clearly evident here as the entire narrative is heavily supplemented by exposition. The CGI used to show Snoke is one of the worse CGI models I have seen recently and could definitely be worked on for future films. The heavily featured and advertised Captain Phasma serves entirely as a plot device and has no purpose in the entire movie.

Last but not the least, I want to delve more into our main antagonist Kylo Ren played brilliantly by Adam Driver.  Ren has many similarities to the great Darth Wader but is a much more layered character. There are many sequences in the movie where he has fits of rage and each one of those is better than the previous one.

Finally I would like to mention that although not without its flaws the Force Awakens delivers on the promise of making Star Wars relevant again and strikes exactly the right cords. If this is the New Hope of the new trilogy then I cannot wait for the new Empire Strikes Back.

 

The Man from Uncle review

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2015 should be coined “Year of the Spy” by whoever coins movie years.  Mission Impossible 5, Hitman: Agent 47, Bridge of Spies & Man from Uncle, all spy movies but each with a  different taste to the palette.

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Man from Uncle features Henry Cavill as Napoleon Solo, a reluctant CIA agent who made a deal to work for them instead of going to jail and Armie Hammer as Ilya Kuryakin, a KGB agent who is as tough as they get. Solo is tasked with recruiting the gorgeous Gaby (Alicia Vikander), who is the daughter of an ex-US scientist gone rogue. Kuryakin who has a very different modus operandi than Solo is also tasked with the same. What follows is a global sprint to stop a global catastrophe, the kind seen in almost every other spy movie these days. The plot is banal but the execution is really where Guy Ritchie shines.

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Ritchie was aiming at that very 60s vibe with all three protagonists dressed dapperly and the typical spy locations: UK & Italy gorgeously placed in the backdrop here.  The best part about the action set pieces is the comic interludes with Solo savoring a sandwich while a group on henchmen are chasing Kuryakin instead of defending him, being my favorite. A torture scene which featured the uncle/mad scientist  torturing Cavill while showing him a scrapbook of his victim’s pictures was chilling but again was followed by an equally funny sequence. Split screen montages are finally done right with the right amount of tension and energy between the frames. We also have the final “chase the bad guy in a dune-buggy  sequence” which reminded me of the early Sean Connery Bond movies.

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Overall, what I liked about Man from Uncle is it’s simplicity.  Ritchie went with style over substance but that doesn’t degrade the final product in any way. Also worth mentioning is the Hugh Grant special appearance which might have taken the charisma quotient of the movie up 2 more points.

The Martian Review

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“I’m going to have to science the shit out of this”
–  Mark Watney

I have always loved movies where the protagonist is placed in unfathomable conditions and does anything to survive. I also love movies which have an intriguing plot (Duhh!) and I was pleasantly surprised to see the perfect mix in Ridley Scott’s the Martian.

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The movie starts with Captain Lewis (Chastain) and her crew Johannsen (Mara), Martinez (Pena), Beck (Stan) & Watney (Damon) on an exploratory mission on Mars. Things go wrong when a sudden change of weather results in a storm on foreign terrain and Watney in a series of unfortunate events gets left behind on Mars. From being impaled by an antenna to a lack of food he goes through an incredible journey to survive.

 

The Martian is the movie Gravity wanted to be. Alfonso Cuaron is one of the best directors out there but Gravity just lacked on so many levels, the biggest being an interesting enough protagonist. Damon’s Watney is the all american hero in every sense of the way. He realizes the mortal peril he is in but that doesn’t curb is sense of humor. He doesn’t delve into Avengers style humor but still keeps you smiling in what could have been the saddest movie of the year. Ridley Scott proves that he is the king when it comes to realistic sci-fi.

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The look of the movie left me dumbfounded. I would believe in a heartbeat that it was actually filmed on Mars if I didn’t know no man has been there. Scott, along with Nolan & Tarantino, is one of those directors who has never been afraid to throw intelligence at the audience and make us feel like intellectuals. After watching Mad Max, which is almost on the opposite end of the spectrum when it comes to movie making, I was pretty sure no movie was going to top that this year however this movie beats it by a mile.

 

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The Martian paints the picture of a very recent future that is very real. Interstellar is one of my favorite sci-fi epics and the Martian comes really close. Both have Chastain & Damon giving brilliant performances but both are so dissimilar that it does not hit you for even a moment.

 

In the end, the Martian is about hope and survival and is a must watch.

The Flash Season 1 Review[Spoiler warning]

BarryAllen_The FlashThe Flash has been one of the coolest superheroes out there: the guy cracks jokes, zings around and always saves the day with a one liner that makes you smile. Here, of course I am talking about the Wally West version of the character. That has always been the version I have been exposed to, be it the comic books or the classic Justice League show. On a side note, Michael Rosenbaum, who played the live action Lex Luthor on Smallville voiced the Flash on that show and did an amazing job.  Being such a Wally West fan I was pretty skeptical when it was announced that Barry Allen would be the protagonist of the show. I haven’t been much of a Allen fan since my only exposure to him was the classic “Crisis on Infinite Earths“, which you have to check out if you haven’t already and Geoff Johns’s amazing The Flash Rebirth. Johns is one of those guys at DC who they call up whenever they want to revitalize a character and the guy is one of the best comic book writers out there. What made it a must see for me was that he is one of the creators on the show too. Finally comic book writers are getting the credit they deserve thanks to the golden age of cinematic superheroes.

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The pilot introduces us to a Barry Allen who is struck by lightening while also giving us relevant flashbacks as how he was traumatized as a  kid when his mom was killed in a freak accident and his dad is sent to prison for it. As a result we see a Barry Allen that is very different from the one in the books: the childhood trauma made him very unsure of himself and he is not the self assured hero we’re used to seeing in the books. The CW template of surrounding the protagonist with a mixed supporting cast is aptly applied here by having a crew that is trying to revive Barry from his coma and we’re introduced to everyone’s favorite nerd Cisco, Caitlin & Harrison Wells dubbed as one of the visionaries of the century along with Joe, Barry’s adoptive father and Iris, his sister/crush (creepy, I know). The pilot had a very Smallville’ish feel to it and when I say Smallville I mean the good portions of that show and not the powderpuff girls show which it turned into. In the final moments of the pilot though you get to realize what the show can be capable of.

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I was pretty doubtful even after watching the pilot though. CW has a very cruel bait and switch track record which is what kept me hooked but unsatisfied from Smallville. I had a feeling that the discovery of his own powers with a possible glimpse of Reverse Flash would be Season 1 and man was I wrong. If memory serves me right because i just binged the show, even the first four episodes which are primarily CW filler material keep you glued just because of Harrison Wells(Tom Cavanagh). Grant Gustin’s Allen is the moral anchor of the story while Cavanagh’s Wells is the propeller.

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In typical CW fashion we’re always introduced to a rogue of the week but here that actually progresses the story pretty darn well. The prison break duo of Wentworth Miller & Dominic Purcell make a comeback playing Captain Cold & Heatwave. They ham it up way too much but that does play to the show’s strengths. Here is a show that shows that comic book pop-culture references when done right and with the right balance even on a network like CW can result in greatness. Cold’s one-liners do make you cringe but when followed by action set-pieces like when the Flash saves an entire train full of people in super speed more than makes up for it. I can definitely do without Heatwave though I think he is in there just for PrisonBreak nostalgia.

 

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As the episodes progress we get to see how deep the rabbit hole actually goes when it comes to Harrison Wells. It’s not long when Barry starts to see through the facade.  Harrison Wells as it turns out is the Reverse-Flash or RF, one of Allen’s most formidable villains. The origin of RF is the most intriguing  plot point this season and something that might be quite lacking from the next one. Cavanagh brings such a dramatic flair to the character which would be missed guessing from the Finale, but then again this is DC Comics we’re talking about where their are infinite Earths with Infinite crisis. Another landmark for the series is how they handled the budget. They managed to portray Flash, The Reverse Flash & Grodd on a CW TV budget and gave us a show that is clearly the best superhero show on television(Daredevil fans calm your horses)

 

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The Flash is a must see for anyone who is interested in watching a good sci-fi show. I’ll rate it a solid 8/10.