STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI – A few thoughts

I really liked The Force Awakens. It was loaded with nostalgia and a good new beginning for the modern avatar of the classic franchise albeit low on an original plot.

The Last Jedi picks up exactly where The Force Awakens left us. The First Order reigns supreme and are close to wiping out the Resistance, who must escape to survive. Meanwhile Rey seeks Luke’s help to fight reignite the fight.

Director Rian Johnson who made the terrific Looper – gives us a unique entry into the franchise – it’s bold, it’s funny and it’s packed with a lot of surprises.

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The cinematography is breath-taking and the action sequences are absolutely spectacular. Whether it’s those dazzling space battles, classic lightsaber duels, breakneck speed chases, they’re all a sight to behold. This is a movie where IMAX and 3D combine well to create a truly immersive experience. The score is glorious as usual and I loved the film-maker’s use of silence in some poignant sequences.

The performances are surprisingly strong – Mark Hamill becomes Luke BHAI-walker, Adam Driver excels as a confused & tortured young dark lord in the making & the classy Carrie Fisher in her last on-screen appearance got me choked up. Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac and Laura Dern (whoa!) put in strong turns as well.

On the flip side, non fans might find the pacing a bit sluggish in the middle portion and a couple of sub-plots including a longish one with Rey and Rose, white entertaining doesn’t do much for the main story.

The one major downside to The Force Awakens was that it felt like a rehash of the classic Star Wars films. The Last Jedi on the other hand is fresh, quite unique and full of unexpected twists and fun surprises. And it works equally well as a stand-alone film. It has strong emotional moments as well as some seriously cool whistle-worthy ones! And of course there are Porgs!

Thank you Rian Johnson, we have everything we need.

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My score: 8 on 10

STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI

Directed by: Rian Johnson

Starring: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega

Running time: 152 minutes

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JUSTICE LEAGUE – A few thoughts

At the start, let me say that I liked Batman v Superman. More than the theatrical version, the three hour Ultimate Edition really works. And I have no problem with Zack Snyder’s vision of the DCEU. It is clear, well-defined and works well for comic-book fans. Sadly, comic book fans are not the majority of the movie-goers so we get a lot of pandering and course correction in tone for Justice League.

So Superman is dead and a new threat is upon us which could mean the end of the world. Bruce Wayne and Diana Prince see this coming and set out to recruit some more members to form a team to combat this evil.

Because of all the feedback related to how dark the DC films have been till now, this movie adopts a much lighter & brighter tone than the previous entries in the DCEU and we get a movie that’s a very entertaining and breezy watch. The action is cool and each of the characters get some fun moments to do their thing. Some of these are truly epic and comic book fans, especially, are in for a real treat. There are some nice Easter eggs as well, so watch closely.

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On the downside, the movie feels really rushed and the tonal change feels a bit forced at times. The epic moments that I mentioned are too few for a movie of this scale. Besides the Trinity, the others don’t get much of a backstory so it’s difficult to connect with them. The villain – Steppenwolf is all-powerful but nowhere as menacing as he should have been, although they designed him cooler than he is in the comics.

I’ll give a quick word on what I thought of each of the characters:

Batman: In the absence of Superman, Batman is the stand-in captain here and has the job of getting the gig together. Ben Affleck is a good Batman, but not a great one. I’d put him behind Christian Bale and Michael Keaton mainly because I don’t like how bulky Snyder has made him with all the armour. He feels slow, laboured. Whereas Batman is supposed to be fast & stealthy. He is one of the world’s best martial artists and basically a ninja! I liked Affleck more as Bruce Wayne here. Having said that, there are some insanely stunning visuals of Batman swinging in to action as well as crouching/standing across different cityscapes, cape-in-the-wind and all, that really brought the comic panels to life.

Superman: Now we all know Superman was going to be a part of this movie so it was hardly a surprise. But his comeback scene was pretty bloody epic! One particular moment, I jumped out of my seat and screamed! But I wish this movie had more of him overall.

Aquaman got a couple of good moments, but I was generally left a bit underwhelmed. Not sure if it is the character or the actor here. I guess I’ve never really been a fan of either and nothing in this movie changed that.

Cyborg, for me was the weakest character of the league. A pity because Cyborg has some really cool powers. But we barely got a glimpse of some of them. And the CGI for him was extremely inconsistent. Hope they improve this in the next one.

The Flash: Now this one I am conflicted on. While he got the funniest lines and lightened the tone considerably, I am not a 100% sold on Ezra Miller’s casting choice. He does fine but those who watch The Flash on TV are used to a much better Barry Allen played by Grant Gustin. He’s more charming, more likable and just fits the character a lot better. He also has a much better suit and any given day – golden lightning beats the silly blue one hands down.

And finally, Wonder Woman. She’s definitely the heart and soul of this team. She’s grounded, she’s funny, she’s bloody gorgeous and she’s extremely badass. She gets some super moments and I really wanted more and more of her. And Gal Gadot is easily the most perfect casting choice for a superhero role since RDJ as Iron Man.

All in all Justice League is a lot of fun and a pretty grand beginning for the first iteration of the team but it deserved more epic moments and needed to have a much smoother and more leisurely pace. It was absolutely terrific to watch these guys together on the big screen finally and I mostly loved what I saw, but I was left hungry for a lot more. I really hope for a more clear, concise vision for the next part, and one that backs the director’s vision for the Universe of The World’s Greatest Superheroes.

Oh and stick around for the end credits for some more fun.

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My score: 7 on 10

JUSTICE LEAGUE

Directed by: Zack Snyder

Starring: Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Henry Cavill

Running time: 120 minutes

QARIB QARIB SINGLLE – A few thoughts

Oh I love unconventional romcoms. Pretty much as much as I dislike the conventional ones. Thankfully, Qarib Qarib Singlle is mostly quite unique.

So when a reluctant woman and a willing man (both in their mid to late 30s) decide to meet-up through an online dating site, things become – interesting, to say the least! Opposites attract they say, and so we see. Because, despite finding him pretty annoying, our woman can’t quite cut the cord and hangs on to him to head off on a road trip (of sorts!)

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This isn’t a very plot heavy film and so it relies on the chemistry between the two leads and  some smart, funny writing. Irrfan is in top comic form, as usual, and gets to deliver some hilarious punch lines. Newcomer to Hindi films – Parvathy is quite a revelation. She displays a gamut of expressions and emotions and I loved the fact that the story is told from her point of view. Irrfan delivers the funny lines. She reacts. They feed off each other brilliantly.

The film meanders a bit in its penultimate act as it aims to give closure to both their individual stories. There are a couple of interesting cameos and a couple of mundane ones. Also, someone please give Brijendra Kala longer roles. He is terrific!

Tanuja Chandra’s Qarib Qarib Singlle gives us a fresh look at getting a chance to find love and companionship a bit later in life and for a second time. Or maybe a fourth. It is cute and charmingly old school and Qarib Qarib Super.

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My score: 7 on 10

QARIB QARIB SINGGLE

Directed by: Tanuja Chandra

Starring: Irrfan Khan, Parvathy Thirovuth

Running time: 125 minutes

RIBBON – A few thoughts

A young, urban, working couple, staying in a typically small yet upmarket flat in Bombay. An unexpected pregnancy. What follows, is what Ribbon looks at.

This slice of life drama is mainly powered by top notch mature performances from the two leads. The always-refreshing Kalki Koechlin is in top form as the feisty Sahana and web-series star Sumeet Vyas is adequately restrained as the caring Karan. Both of them form a very believable twosome you can really identify with.

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The hand-held cameras, cramped spaces everywhere, long takes, all add to the realistic portrayal the film puts forth, tackling a lot of practical issues at home and work. Later on, it takes us into some unexpected territories, which I did not see coming.

On the downside, the pacing is a bit off – sluggish in the first half – exploring  in detail the routine and mundane lives of the couple – both domestic and professional. And then a whole lot happens in the final third, and most of it, although very relevant, is just brushed upon rather than explored to the extent it should have been.

Nonetheless, first time director Rakhee Sandilya gives us a sensitive, important, mostly engaging and well-acted film, which a lot of young working people in metros should identify with. Just like life, you need to be patient with it and you will be rewarded.

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My score: 6.5 on 10

RIBBON

Directed by: Rakhee Sandilya

Starring: Kalki Koechlin and Sumeet Vyas

Running time: 109 minutes

 

THOR: RAGNAROK – A few thoughts

In today’s day and age of dark, gloomy, brooding, self-aware superhero movies, this one comes as a breath of fresh air.

The plot is fairly simple, yet effective. So Ragnarok is coming. Which is essentially the end of the world as far as Asgard goes. Thor needs to step up to save the day against the evil Hela – the Goddess of Death. But before he can do so, he needs to find a team from a bunch of loony yet potentially powerful allies and combat some bigger demons. Great fun ensues!

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The vibrant colors really pop on screen and along with the immersive 3D, create some stunning visuals which add up to quite the trippy, psychedelic experience. And all this is accompanied by an terrific soundtrack, including Led Zeppelin… and we get some incredible action sequences. Even the much hyped Thor v Hulk fight is bonkers!

The cast is in top form especially with their comic timing. Chris Hemsworth and Mark Ruffalo bicker & bond and are an absolute delight while Tessa Thompson as Valkeriye kicks some serious ass. Cate Blanchett is… awesome! She’s wicked & badass and a terrific supervillain. Tom Hiddleston is deliciously sneaky as always, Jeff Goldblum is a hoot and of course there will be some surprises which I’ll let you discover.

The movie’s two hour plus runtime just flies by thanks to Kiwi helmer Taika Waiti’s crisp pacing. I also liked how the movie was structurally different from conventional superhero movies and didn’t rely on just 2-3 big action setpieces, instead had the action  interspersed throughout the movie.

This is a sort of game changer for superhero movies – showing that one relying purely on humor & fun can be as effective as a serious, gripping one. I know Guardians of the Galaxy did it too but this one takes it to a whole new level. At the end, what it is more than anything else – is a sumptuous audio-visual feast and a whole bunch of fun – and that is why I go to the movies. This one is IMAX worthy.

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My score: 8.5 on 10

THOR: RAGNAROK

Directed by: Taika Waititi

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Cate Blanchett

Running time: 130 minutes

GOLMAAL AGAIN – A few thoughts

Non-stop laughter resulting from slapstick comedy and a barrage of PJs is what you expect when you set out to watch a Golmaal movie. This movie doles those out to good effect and adds some emotions and a semblance of a plot too. Mostly it works, at times drags a bit.

So this time our loony bunch find themselves among the tea gardens of Ooty & Coonnoor and in a haunted house that has “aatmaas”. Why? And what happens next forms the crux of the movie. Rest assured, chaos will ensue and all hell will break loose.

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Ajay Devgn leads the brat pack and they all do exactly what they’ve been doing three times before. The supporting characters are all there and are adequately funny – Johnny Lever was my pick of the lot. There are two new ladies in the ensemble and I wish there was more of them. Parineeti does well and looks a million bucks. As does Tabu but I wanted a lot more of her. There’s a voice-over cameo in the movie culminating in an actual one and that thread was pretty funny.

The music is nothing special, like all the films in the franchise. This one remixes two popular 90s oldies, thankfully not butchering them.

The production values are good, the color palette is nice and bright and I really liked the special effects used in the climactic scene featuring – books!

On the negative side, the movie features two far too long extended flashbacks and drags in a few places. Those looking for pure comedy might be disappointed with the emotional quotient the movie packs in – more so in the second half.

All in all, Golmaal Again lands most of its jokes and is mostly what was promised – a very effective and entertaining Diwali release. Just remember the warning: No logic, only magic!

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My score: 6.5 on 10

GOLMAAL AGAIN

Directed by: Rohit Shetty

Starring: Ajay Devgn, Parineeti Chopra, Tabu

Running time: 151 minutes

SECRET SUPERSTAR – A few thoughts

It’s not a secret anymore. Secret Superstar is quite super! It’s a charming, emotional and inspirational fairy tale of a movie. It tells the story of fifteen year old Insia who wants to break free from her patriarchal home and become – simply – the best singer in the world. The hurdles she faces on her journey and the help she gets – from family, friends & some quirky strangers is what the film mainly deals with while tackling important issues like domestic abuse and following your dreams.

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In a film that has singing as a key backdrop, the music needs to work and work it does. The songs are quite a high and actually feel like they’ve been written by a teenager besides being really shot well and adding a lot to the story.

The cast is absolutely sparkling. Zaira Wasim is just luminous. Natural to the core, be it laughing, crying, singing, everything she does just pops on the screen. Aamir Khan is a real hoot. Outrageous, hilarious and completely crazy, I can’t remember the last time he had so much fun on the screen and it pays off well. And there’s Meher Vij as Insia’s caring mother – one of the most endearing characters I’ve seen in a long time, and she’s so effortless. Raj Arjun as the patriachal, abusive dad is pure evil and Tirth Sharma as Insia’s best friend is pure aww.

Advait Chandan makes an assured debut as a director keeping you engaged for the long-ish running time. If I have to nitpick, I’d say at times it’s all too simple and sweet, convenient in resolution, but I didn’t mind it at all.

This Secret Superstar and her cronies will leave you with a smile on your face and a few (khushi ke) aansoo in your eyes!

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My score: 7.5 on 10

SECRET SUPERSTAR

Directed by: Advait Chandan

Starring: Zaira Wasim, Meher Vij & Aamir Khan

Running time: 150 minutes

 

MIRZYA – A few thoughts

It’s no easy task trying to tell an epic love story on the big screen. Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra tries to give us two instead of one. And that ends up being the boon and the bane of Mirzya.

Based on the popular Mirza-Sahibaan legend, the movie opens with an absolutely stunning sequence set in an unknown time and an unknown land filled with archers on horseback, arrows piercing clay pigeons, flaming fireballs, all in a medieval contest of sorts with life, death and love at stake. This is juxtaposed with a second story set in present times in the magnificent locales of Rajasthan with palaces, princes and polo matches. Shuchi is betrothed to Prince Karan but therein looms forbidden love with Aadil, the prince’s stable boy no less and a possible rekindling of a childhood sweetheart romance cut short. The two stories run parallel infused with a narrative that makes use of ballads set to twirling Rajasthani folk dancers to help it move forward.

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The problem with doing a love story based on popular folklore is often the predictability of it all and that’s where you need the writer, director and the leads raising their game to overcome it. And they don’t quite do it.

The newcomers are fine. Rough around the edges when it comes to dialog delivery, Saiyami is lovely in an exotic way and looks the part of a reluctant princess. Harshvardhan goes for a non-histronics, non-six-pack, non singing dancing debut and although mumbly, is quiet, understated (maybe a bit too much) and lets his eyes talk. Individually they are fine but together they fall flat. For an epic love story, chemistry is an absolute must and the lack of which is the biggest problem of the movie. No fireworks, no passion even when they’re locking lips. You don’t feel for them at any stage, their love, their pain, nothing. In fact I thought the kid actors playing them had better chemistry. Those kids were fab actually.

The supporting cast do a fine job. Especially Anuj Choudhry as the understanding but jealous Prince and  Anjali Patil as Aadil’s friend who quietly pines for him.

But where the movie soars is in its visuals. Polish cinematographer Pawel Dyllus paints his frames like no other. A bit excessive with the use of slow motion, director Rakeysh Mehra exhibits technical finesse and this is visual poetry unfolding on screen. The contrasting locales of both the stories – from the cold mountains, dreamy landscapes and lakes in Ladakh to the simmering deserts and glorious palaces of Rajasthan, you can’t take your eyes off the screen even if your mind wanders. And then the music. By far what is Shankar Ehsan Loy’s best soundtrack in a long time, Gulzar saab’s tremendous range of poetry comes alive and redeems the movie to an extent. Aave Re Hitchki, Teen Gawah, Hota Hai and the title song being my favourite picks.

If you have the patience to overcome the sluggish pace and the flat chemistry between the leads, then for its sheer aesthetic magnificence and soulful soundtrack, Mirzya is worth a watch and a listen.

mirzya-3My score: 5.5 on 10

MIRZYA

Romance, musical, drama

Directed by: Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra

Starring: Harshvardhan Kapoor, Saiyami Kher

Running time: 128 minutes

PINK – A few thoughts

Pink is THE most important film to have come out in the last few years. And it is powerful, relevant and extremely topical for today.

Three young, independent working girls living in a posh locality in Delhi find themselves in a harrowed situation one night after a post rock show – drinks and dinner rendezvous gone wrong, leaves a guy seriously injured with repercussions to follow. Accusations fly left and right, things get out of hand and our girls need to lawyer up as hurt egos, chamcha friends, shady cops and politicians all queue up to have a go at them.

Pink treads where very few films (if at all) have dared to and it does so very boldly and very matter-of-factly, pulling back no punches. And that is the biggest strength of the movie. I liked how the opening credits listed the three girls before Amitabh Bachchan. They do a pretty solid job mostly. The firebrand Meenal played by Taapsee Pannu, the pragmatic Falak (a terrific Kriti Kulhari) and the sweet Andrea (Andrea Tariang) go from being a cheerful fun-loving bunch to crumbling before our eyes as the incidents begin to unfold and the guys as well as society leave no stone unturned to question their character and blame everything on them. The guys in question are lead by a menacing Angad Bedi who plays Rajvir and Vijay Varma as the casually ruthless and misogynistic Ankit.

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And then there’s Amitabh Bachchan. He plays retired lawyer Deepak Sehgal who’s now diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Creepy as hell to begin with, wears a pollution mask that instantly reminded me of Bane. And where there’s Bane, there’ll always be… Yes! The way he goes back to being a lawyer is complemented by a very Zimmer-ish music piece. He watches over the girls from the shadows. He’s the silent guardian. The watchful protector. Need I say more? The Big B really makes full use of his booming baritone in the courtroom scenes and the audience in our screen clapped, whistled and cheered at every blow he lands. He’s pretty awesome.

I had a few issues with the movie as well.. the aforementioned courtroom scenes are played to the gallery with realism going for a complete toss. There’s no mention of prints, DNA or anything remotely resembling forensics. Key witnesses who could’ve turned the case either way are forgotten – like the girls’ landlord. Piyush Mishra as the lawyer for the boys, although effective is as caricaturish as it gets. A lot of the supporting cast are poorly written, not adding much value to the plot – like Meenal’s father or Deepak’s sickly wife. Even the songs feel added just to take a break from the proceedings. Finally the way the case is decided – it all seems convenient and a bit too wishful.

While the writing is lazy from a plot point of view, the dialogues are terrific. Besides playing to the gallery, they actually convey the message and the point of the film well. The movie adopts a thriller format in the first half. As we’re not sure exactly what happened, it keeps us guessing until we learn the same through the witnesses and evidence presented in court in the second half.

But here’s a movie where I’m willing to overlook all the issues for what it’s saying and the way it’s saying so. The dread is real. The problem is real. Pink brings it all to the forefront. I can’t even begin to imagine what women – of all ages go through in this country every single day and it’s high time a mainstream movie gave us a small glimpse into the same. Also credit where it’s due – let’s commend the censor board for giving the movie a UA certificate despite its adult theme. I’m sure a lot of parents will want their teenage children to watch this movie.

The message is loud. The message is clear. No means No. Which makes Pink an absolute must watch.

Pink-1My score: 7.5 on 10

Pink

Drama, thriller

Directed by: Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury

Starring: Taapsee Pannu, Kriti Kulhari, Andrea Tariang, Amitabh Bachchan

Running time: 136 minutes

BAAR BAAR DEKHO – A few thoughts

Nitya Mehra’s directorial debut – Baar Baar Dekho promises a lot. Time travel films are a rarity in Bollywood and I was quite keen to know where this one goes. It went to an interesting enough place, but I can’t quite use the same word for the journey.

Jai and Diya are childhood sweethearts about to get married. And when the reality of it all kicks in and overwhelms Jai, he finds himself at different stages in the future getting a glimpse of (not quite) marital bliss. Will it be all he fears? How will he deal with losing time? Will he get back to the present?

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The movie does get around to answering all of those questions, but takes a long time to do so. Well, at least it felt so. Engaging at a conceptual level, Baar Baar Dekho ends up being a slow and tedious sort of watch, suffering from pacing issues. Some of the scenes feel really stretched way beyond what they should have been – like the conversation Sid and Diya have at their new home just before they’re due to be married. Or maybe it’s the writing that’s testing your patience. And this feature repeats itself often in the future. I never quite understand why Hindi film-makers like to beat a point into your head by repeating it again and again instead of putting it out there once and leaving it to the audience.

Having said that, it’s not all bad. The predicament Jai finds himself in is genuinely perplexing and keeps you curious as to how he’s gonna get out of it. The movie’s great to look at. It features some gorgeous locations and beautiful people – the least you’d expect from a Karan Johar production. The music serves the film well  from the slow numbers to the Punjabi dance ones, both kinds being ear candy, Dariya and Kho Gaye Hum Kahaan being my favourite picks. I also liked the production design, especially the bits depicting the future as well as the use of prosthetics and make-up.

Coming back to the beautiful people – Kat does what Kat always does. She looks good. Sid is the interesting one – he wears the shocked look a bit too often but then I wondered how anyone else would react in the same situation – probably the same way. He does fairly well but just about lacks the emotional heft needed to carry this movie on his shoulders. Nonetheless he’s earnest and that come across on screen. Maybe a couple of more movies down the line, he’d have nailed the role. Sarika and Ram Kapoor lend able support to the leads.

What director Nitya Mehra needed was better, more engaging writing to flesh out her interesting story and a better editor to knock off the uninteresting bits and keep it at a tight 110-120 minutes, which would have left us with a bit more than just some nice moments across the entire movie.

The extra 30 minutes make Baar Baar Dekho just about a one-time dekho.

BarrBaarDekho1My Score: 5.5 on 10

Baar Baar Dekho

Romance, Drama, Fantasy

Directed by: Nitya Mehra

Starring: Sidharth Malhotra, Katrina Kaif

Running time: 141 minutes