Monday, February 28

First Look - City of God.

Movie - City of God (Malayalam)
Director - Lijo Jose Pellissery
Producer - Anitha Anil Mathew
Cast -  Indrajith, Prithviraj, Shwetha Menon, Rima Kallingal, Parvathy, Rohini & others. 
Music - Prashant Pillai
Cinematography - Sujith Vasudev
Editing - Manoj
Story, Screenplay, Dialogues - Babu Janardhan

City of God is a new Malayalam film directed by Lijo Jose Pellissery, who directed the slick & stylish Nayakan last year. And he has cast the brothers Indrajith & Prithviraj together after a pretty long time. Also in the cast are Shwetha Menon, Rima Kallingal and the talented, but underutilized actress Parvathy (Notebook, Poo) making a comeback of sorts along with seasoned actress Rohini. Music is by the extremely talented Prashant Pillai who gave a mindblowing soundtrack for his debut Nayakan. One song of the movie is already out and its sounding great. Here are the trailer and some posters of the film.  The only thing which is putting off about the movie is the title which is exactly the same as a Brazilian classic. 

Friday, February 25

First Look - The Hangover Part 2

Movie - The Hangover (English)
Director - Todd Philips
Cast - Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Justin Bartha, Ken Jeong
Writers - Todd Phillips, Scot Armstrong
Release Date - 26th May, 2011

In "The Hangover Part II," Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms), Alan (Zach Galifianakis) and Doug (Justin Bartha) travel to exotic Thailand for Stu's wedding. After the unforgettable bachelor party in Las Vegas, Stu is taking no chances and has opted for a safe, subdued pre-wedding brunch. However, things don't always go as planned. What happens in Vegas may stay in Vegas, but what happens in Bangkok can't even be imagined.

For now, here's the teaser and the theatrical trailer of the movie. Yenjaay!!

Tuesday, February 22

7 Khoon Maaf is disappointing!!

Movie - 7 Khoon Maaf (Hindi)
Director - Vishal Bhardwaj
Producers - Vishal Bhardwaj, Ronnie Screwvala
Cast - Priyanka Chopra, Naseeruddin Shah, Annu Kapoor, Irrfan Khan, John Abraham, Neil Nitin Mukesh, Vivaan Shah, Aleksandr DyachenkoUsha Uthup, Harish Khanna
Music - Vishal Bhardwaj
Cinematography - Ranjan Palit
Editor - Sreekar Prasad
Story - Ruskin Bond
Screenplay, Dialogues - Vishal Bhardwaj, Matthew Robbins
Lyrics - Gulzar
Release Date - 18th February 2011

Vishal Bhardwaj had grown to be a master filmmaker with films like Maqbool, Omkara, The Blue Umbrella & Kaminey behind him. So when he announced 7 Khoon Maaf, an adaptation of Ruskin Bond’s short story Susanna’s Seven Husbands, all eyes were on him to see how he would translate that story which had limited cinematic appeal to a big budget Hindi film with such a huge cast. And the bad news is that 7 Khoon Maaf is Vishal’s weakest film to date and is a huge disappointment to fans of the composer turned director.

Designed as a dark comedy, 7 Khoon Maaf tells the story of Susanna who is in search of love and goes wrong each time in choosing a partner. And then, Vishal Bhardwaj spells out episodes in Susanna’s life where she marries, kills her partner and remarries in the most predictable fashion. An impotent army-man, a coke-snorting rockstar, a sadomasochistic poet, a two-timing Russian spy, a lecherous cop and a doctor who has other schemes and an adopted orphan are the men in her life. Each husband is introduced, gets a song or two to show his romance with Susanna, reveals his flaw and then conveniently gets bumped off.  On one side, Bhardwaj tells Susanna is a psychopath who would rather kill a dog who is in her way than take another safer route available. And on the other hand, he gives us the impression that Susanna is a lady who is in constant search of true love, but never able to get it. Ultimately, the audience is left confused as to who Susanna really is. And of course, Susanna clearly hasn’t heard of a concept called divorce.

Priyanka Chopra’s performance is inconsistent. She is very good in some scenes and very poor in some other. And most of it has a heavy hangover of what she did in Fashion. She doesn’t look convincing as an ageing lady and the patchy make-up does even more damage. All the male actors have given poorly developed characters with very little screen time dedicated to each of them. Neil Nitin Mukesh is ridiculous, John Abraham is convincing, Irrfan is great, the Russian actor Aleksandr Dyachenko is charming, Annu Kapoor is brilliant and Naseeruddin Shah is wasted in a poorly written role. Vivaan Shah, son of Naseeruddin Shah, making his debut, has perhaps the best written character in the movie and he plays it effortlessly. Harish Khanna as the butler makes a mark. Ruskin Bond, on whose story the film is based, makes an appearance too. Usha Uthup is decent. Konkona Sen Sharma pitches in a delightful cameo. 

There are indicators in the form of crises and major events in the country like Operation Bluestar, the Babri Masjid demolition, the nuclear test, Kandahar hijack and 26/11 to indicate which time period the narrative is taking place in. Otherwise, the world Vishal has created in this movie is quite detached from our regular world. He also gives smart references to novels The Seven Wives of Bluebird and Anna Karenina, and even Deewaar (why didnt someone tell the Russian that 'Mere Paas Maa Hai' is Shashi Kapoor's line, not Amitabh Bachchan's). There are dialogues and moments which reminds one of the incredible talent of Bhardwaj, but they are few and far in between. The movie follows a completely predictable narrative which leads to an interesting surreal climax and epilogue, but by then the audience had already lost interest. 

Ranjan Palit’s camera keeps us in the dark world of Susanna and Sreekar Prasad’s editing is confusing, reminding one of his work in Raavan. The visual effects are very poor and gimmicky. Good news is that Vishal Bhardwaj doesn’t disappoint as a music composer as he comes up with a fantastic score with great songs such as India's first true-blue rock song O Mama, the chartbuster Darling & the sublime Bekaraan along with lyricist Gulzar. But it is a crime for a composer like Vishal Bhardwaj to create a gem of a song like Tere Liye for a movie and then not include it in the movie. The background score sounds more like Rahman than Bhardwaj.

All in all, 7 Khoon Maaf is a major disappointment coming from one of India’s best filmmakers Vishal Bhardwaj.  It is not a bad movie, but it is certainly not a good movie too. Lets hope the maverick filmmaker comes back to form with his next, a film in a more commercial format - the 2 States adaptation with Shahrukh Khan in the lead. What stays with you after 7 Khoon Maaf are the brilliant songs and the striking image of a snow white cat against the backdrop of the snowy peaks in Kashmir. 

Rating – 2.5/5

Monday, February 21

First Look - Urumi

Movie - Urumi (Malayalam)
Director - Santosh Sivan
Producers - Prithviraj, Santosh Sivan, Shaji Nadeshan
Cast - Prithviraj, Prabhu Deva, Arya, Genelia, Vidya Balan, Nithya Menen, Tabu, Amole Gupte, Jagathy Sreekumar and others
Director of Photography - Santosh Sivan
Music - Deepak Dev
Editing - Sreekar Prasad
Art Director - Sunil Babu
Action Director - Anal Arasu
Release Date - March 31st, 2011

Santosh Sivan's Urumi has been in the news ever since its launch. It is jointly produced in a mega budget by Santosh Sivan & Prithviraj under the banner of August Cinema and has a pan-Indian star cast. The movie tells the story of Chirakkal Kelu Nayanar (Prithviraj) who has an epic mission of killing the viceroy of the Portugese empire in India, Vasco Da Gama. The film is spread between the second and third visit of Gama to India and chronicles a varied version of how Gama could have met a bloody death in AD 1524. 

The film stars Prithviraj, Prabhu Deva, Genelia, Nithya Menen, Amole Gupte & Jagathy Sreekumar in crucial roles with extended special appearances by tamil star Arya and Bollywood beauties Vidya Balan & Tabu. Music for the film has been scored by Deepak Dev and the cinematography department has been handled by Mr. Sivan himself. Sreekar Prasad handles editing and Sunil Babu has been given the responsibility of recreating the atmoshere of AD 1524. It is written by Shanker Ramakrishnan, long time of associate of director Ranjith and director of the much-appreciated Island Express segment in Kerala Cafe. The film is slated for a wide release on March 31st, 2011. The trailer which has just released promises mindblowing visuals, actors looking their best, epic war scenes, stunt sequences and great performances. Prithviraj's look in the movie seems to be inspired by that of Salman Khan's in his mega budget epic misadventure Veer. Waiting eagerly for the movie.


Sunday, February 20

Payanam is brilliant!!

Movie - Payanam (Tamil)
Director - Radha Mohan
Producer - Prakash Raj
Cast - Nagarjuna, Prakash Raj, Bharat Reddy, MS Bhaskar, Thalaivasal Vijay, Brahmanandam, Sana Khan, Rishi, Kumaravel, Prithviraj, Poonam Kaur Chaams, Mano Bala & others. 
Background Score - Pravin Mani
Cinematography - KV Guhan
Editor - Kishore
Art Director - Kathir
Story, Screenplay - Radha Mohan
Dialogues - TJ Gnanavel
Release Date - 11th February 2011

Radha Mohan is known for making feel good family entertainers like Azhagiya Theeyae, Mozhi & Abhiyum Naanum. Through his latest film Payanam, he has made an engaging, realistic hijack drama with all commercial elements (romance, comedy, heroism, sentiments) in place, and that too, with a Superstar in the lead. Telugu Superstar Nagarjuna and the Superstar among character actors, Prakash Raj, lead the brilliant cast of the movie. 

A Chennai - New Delhi flight is hijacked by 5 terrorists and while diverting it to Pakistan, they have to land at Tiruppati, Andhra Pradesh due to a technical fault in the flight. They demand the release of the international terrorist Yusuf Khan & Rs. 100 crores to release the hostages in the flight and the Indian Government is given a little less than 2 days to make the decision whether to accept their demands or face the consequences. Led by Vishwanath, Home Secretary (Prakash Raj), the National Security Advisor's team land in Tiruppathi airport to negotiate with the terrorists and soon after the NSG team and Major Raveendran (Nagarjuna) are also summoned to tackle the situation. How Vishwanath & Raveendran go about doing that is what Payanam tells in its 2 Hours 15 Minutes running time.

There are a bunch of interesting characters in the film, most of them being the people who're trapped inside the flight. And the interactions between them takes up majority of the screen time of the film. Each person gives a different emotional side to the movie. While the priest provides faith that there is someone watching over them all, the retired colonel is on the lookout for any solution to the tense situation. The 'Shining Star' chickens out on the sight of a cockroach thereby shattering the image of a terrorist-bashing superhero that his ardent fan seated next to him had. An atheist youth believes in compassion and humanity more than God and the petrified astrologer seated next to him believes that the flight is going through a bad time. A charming but sarcastic doctor and a beautiful young lady strike a chord with each other over a time period. A little Pakistani girl going back to her country after a successful surgery in Chennai finds a friend among one of the terrorists whom she later begins to hate because of their actions. There is even a mimicry artist who entertains the people inside in spite of the tension looming in the air. There is a central minister who is the trump card for the terrorists and an old Brahmin couple who're trying to pacify a young wife who has run away from her husband. A drug addict who believes he can escape from all this and the airhostess who serves her passengers and makes sure of their well being despite being trapped. Even the terrorists have distinct characterizations. On the other side, the bureaucrat and the NSG chief try hard to find a solution for the problem at their office in the airport, stuck in between the growing threats from the terrorists and the indecisiveness of the Indian Government. Each character grows on you as the narrative progresses and by the end of the film, each one of them is a hero/heroine in his/her own respect. 

Among the performances, Prakash Raj takes the cake as the Home Secretary who acts as a mediator between the terrorists and the Indian Government. He handles himself with control throughout the situation despite going through a hell lot of frustration from the people involved on both sides. And his performance in the scene where he explodes with anger after remaining in control for such a long time is simply mindblowing. Nagarjuna making his comeback to Tamil Cinema after a long 15 years is excellent. He is wonderfully restrained and is stripped off of his mass-hero antics which he is famous for in Telugu. His subtle performance packs a solid punch and he shows that you need not go out there and utter silly lines and do unbelievable fights to show that you're a hero (its funny that such a hero is also there in the movie, sitting inside the flight, petrified of the things around him). My respect for him as an actor has grown tremendously after watching this movie. Dr. Bharath Reddy provides the required support to his character as his sub-ordinate Nawaz Khan. Each one of the people trapped inside the flight played their parts perfectly - the best ones being Kumaravel (perhaps Radha Mohan's favourite actor after Prakash Raj), MS Bhaskar, Thalaivasal Vijay, Prithviraj, Chaams, Poonam Kaur & Rishi. The famous Telugu comedian Brahmanandam comes back to Tamil Cinema after his hilarious role in Mozhi and gives us a few great light moments to divert our minds from the tense situation in the second half. The actor who played Yusuf Khan was also very good. 

Radha Mohan addresses a whole lot of issues with cleverly written scenes and dialogues. He showcases the myriad of emotions which the passengers go through trapped in a life or death situation and also the angst of two dedicated officers who wants immediate action, but are tied down by the policies of a diplomatic government which wants to play safe. There are references to the insensitivity of the media who just wants to sensationalize issues for their TRP ratings before thinking about the consequences. Unexpected twists make the narrative more interesting, leading up to a nail biting finale which leaves you completely satisfied. There is a slight inspiration from last year's quirky indie flick Tere Bin Laden and that has been used very effectively to take the narrative forward at a crucial turning point. Radha Mohan has proved that he is an extremely versatile director who can handle sensitive subjects in an entertaining format, no matter what the genre is. There is a slight romance which buds between Rishi & Sana Khan; the hilarious conversations between the star Chandrakanth and his ardent fan who is disappointed seeing the actual avatar of his favourite hero; the friendship between the little Pakistani girl & the young terrorist who still hasnt turned as cold blooded as his colleagues and many more such wonderful moments.

KV Guhan's camerawork captures the emotions of each character in their most minute details. The claustrophobic atmosphere inside the flight has been wonderfully recreated by art director Kathir and cinematographer KV Guhan. Editor Kishore keeps the pace of the movie engaging even when it takes detours to flashbacks and comic scenes. Background score by Pravin Mani has helped a lot to enhance the overall mood and feel of the film. 

Overall, Payanam is an excellently made engaging hijack drama with fantastic performances ranging from the stars Nagarjuna & Prakash Raj to the most minor junior artists and a whole range of emotions that the principal characters go through, thereby making the audience completely involved with them. No songs, dances, punch dialogues and foreign locales, yet a completely satisfying film in the commercial cinema format. Payanam is indeed a must watch.

P.S. - Mr. Major Ravi, please watch this movie to see how a person with no connections to the army or commandos has effectively handled a hijack drama, despite it being his first attempt in such a genre. And how he has inserted other elements of comedy, sentiments, heroism, patriotism, compassion and romance seamlessly into his narrative. Not by including item songs, toilet humour and unwanted scenes like you did in the movie you made on a similar subject. And look how he has used a superstar effectively without giving him mass hero antics, unlike you who had two of India's best actors with you and let them and their fans down terribly. 

Rating - 4/5 

Friday, February 11

127 Hours is Stunning Cinema!!

Movie - 127 Hours (English)
Director - Danny Boyle
Producers - Christian Colson, Danny Boyle
Cast - James Franco
Original Score - AR Rahman
Cinematography - Anthony Dod Mantle, Enrique Chediak
Screenplay - Simon Beaufoy, Danny Boyle

I dont usually review English/Foreign movies that I see because I dont feel comfortable doing them somehow. But after seeing 127 Hours, I had to write what I felt about the movie. First of all, let me admit that I completely loved Slumdog Millionaire as Hollywood's take on our 70s masala cinema. (It is a different question whether it deserved the Oscars or not, but it still was a great movie). I am yet to see Boyle's earlier work Trainspotting and I've heard only awesome things about it. So I was eagerly expecting 127 Hours and another major reason for that being that AR Rahman was collaborating with Boyle a second time around and anything with the name AR Rahman on the credits gets me excited. 

Now to get into the movie. By the time it released in India, I had already known the story of the movie which is inspired by the life of real-life mountain climber Aron Ralston, who became trapped by a boulder in Robbers Roost, Utah, for more than five days in 2003 before amputating his arm with a dull knife. Boyle & Beaufoy wrote their screenplay based on Ralston autobiography Between a Rock & a Hard Place. So I was perfectly aware of the almost all the events that would happen in the movie before going in to watch it. Yet, I had my eyes glued on to the screen for the entire length of the movie and Danny Boyle & team made me experience such thrill, emotions and tension despite almost the entire action of the movie taking place at a single spot where the main lead couldnt even move from his place. Boyle described it as an 'action movie where the guy cannot move' and no words can describe this movie better than that. James Franco lives the role of Aaron Ralston. 90% of the movie features him and him alone and the camera goes so close to the actor to capture every minute detail of his reactions to the terrible situation that he is in. Only an extraordinary actor can perform those emotions with utmost precision and detail that Franco has managed to portray. Watch out for the scene where he imitates a radio interview with himself and of course, the climax where you sitting in the hall would feel the exact same pain that he goes through during those scenes. Terrific performance to say the least. Anthony Dod Mantle & Enrique Chediak capture every minute emotion that Ralston goes through with all the detail through their extraordinary cinematography. And Boyle & Beaufoy give ample scope for them in their screenplay to show how Ralston seems like a minute & insignificant insect inside those huge canyons. Simon Beaufoy & Boyle adapted Ralston's autobiography which is as close to what happened in real life (according to Ralston) as it can be in a documentary, but yet makes the movie an extremely dramatic experience. Even though you can predict the course of events, the screenplay is structured in such a way that even those predictable events become hugely interesting to watch. The flash backs and retrospects are juxtaposed very effectively into the narrative. Both the pauses and the leaps in the narrative come at the right time which makes the screenplay very interesting.  And last but not the least, our man Rahman!! There is nothing new which I can say about his brilliance which I havent already said. In a movie like this, the scope for music is enormous. Rahman realizes the enormous potential of the narrative and gives a stunning score which gives equal space for silence as it does for his brilliant music. He is nominated yet again in two musical categories for his work in this film. He faces severe competition from The Social Network & Inception in the original score category, but I must say that his work is definitely as good as the brilliant work by the respective composers in those two movies. His song 'If I Rise' featuring Dido & himself plays out just before the gruesome climax and has an extremely elevating effect. And 'Acid Darbari' plays out during another crucial scene in the movie and has a tremendous impact along with the kind of visuals Boyle has shot for it. 

On the whole, Boyle's 127 Hours is a stunning cinematic experience that can be enjoyed best in movie halls, not on torrent prints. You need to be really involved with the experience and watching the movie in a hall indeed gives you that impact of being closely involved with Ralston's experience. And of course, 127 Hours is definitely not for the weak hearted. I am a person who gets quite nauseous when I see a lot of blood, and the climax of this movie would've made me faint if it had been in any other context. But after seeing the entire experience of Ralston, I kept my eyes wide open even during the most disturbing of scenes. Such was the effect of the movie. People contemplating suicide, should see this movie just before they plan to do it. A change of mind is guaranteed. So, do not waste any more time and go watch this movie immediately in the nearest movie hall!!

P.S. - This is the first time I'm writing about an English film, so the writing might seem very amateurish. So please excuse me. :)  And of course, no rating for this one. You can assume the rating from how much I loved the movie. :)

Wednesday, February 2

First Look - August 15

Movie - August 15 (Malayalam)
Director - Shaji Kailas
Producer - M Mani
Story, Screenplay, Dialogues - SN Swami
Cast - Mammootty, Madhu, Shwetha Menon, Meghna, Siddique, Jagathy Sreekumar, Lalu Alex, Thalaivasal Vijay, Saikumar, Nedumudi Venu and others
Cinematography - Pradeep Nair
Editing - Bhoominathan
Release Date - 11th February 2011

A sequel to the cult film August 1, released in 1988, this film has Mammootty reprising the role of Office Perumal in the script of SN Swami who also wrote the first part. The first part was inspired from the classic novel/film - The Day of The Jackal and by the visuals in the trailer, it seems like its almost the same story in this one too. A professional killer wants to kill the Chief Minister of the State at any cost and Mammootty's Perumal has to stop him at any cost. This was essentially the plot of August 1 and the trailer indicates that August 15 also has a very similar plot. Siddique's character looks like an upgraded successor to Captain Raju. While Sibi Malayil was the director of the first part, this time Shaji Kailas has taken over the directorial veins. Anyways, the trailer looks impressive and the movie is getting ready for February 11 release. Shaji Kailas desperately needs a big hit after huge flops with all the top line actors and the embarrassment called Drona 2010 which he made last year with Mammootty. And yes, Mammootty is looking great, I must say. In fact, even better than how he looked in August 1.