Monday, December 24, 2007

Recent movie round-up

Springfield standing in for America:

The Simpsons Movie (2007, Director David Silverman): Rating 7.5/10

I am not sure what my expectations from The Simpsons Movie was. After more than 17 years of tv episodes, what really was there to cover in a full length feature? Maybe that is the reason I stayed away from the theater for this one. But I was still curious to see if maybe, just maybe, the movie attempted to take some risks. And as it turns out, there are absolutely no risks in the movie -- having Bart skate nude does not translate into risky material! The overall experience feels just like watching a regular tv episode stretched over 80 minutes. Yes the movie contains some hilarious moments and is enjoyable in parts. But the story is not a stretch from the tv show and even contains a theme covered in one episode -- the pollution of Lake Springfield. There are other familiar elements from the tv show such as the town begging Mr. Burns for turning on the power and spoofs of big Hollywood films.

The movie feels too squeaky clean, as if the film-makers kept in mind that the movie would be shown globally so there shouldn't be any content to offend anyone. The only character who comes under fire in the movie is Homer himself, which is the easy choice. Overall, good for some laughs but a disappointing effort.

Grimsby standing in for England:

This is England (2006, Director Shane Meadows): Rating 8/10

Adolescence is a difficult enough experience for a teenager with hormonal changes, peer pressures and general angst. So any further complicated issues such as the loss of a father to war, having no friends and not fitting in just makes things worse. Such is the case of 12 year old Shaun who gets bullied at school and has no friends to look out after him. His life takes a turn for the better when he befriends some skinheads and the head of the group (Woody) takes Shaun under his wing. Things seem fine until the group's original leader, Combo, returns from jail. Combo and Woody are complete opposites -- Woody is a bit moderate and although he may indulge in vandalism, he won't engage in racist or neo-fascist violence; Combo on the other hand proudly believes in a 'pure England' and his years in jail have turned him into a hate mongering skin-head. So as these two opposing views clash, Shaun finds himself switching loyalties from Woody to Combo until a horrific incident makes him realize the poison that lies buried within Combo.

The film is set in 1983 yet plenty of elements are true even today. There was a period in the mid 80's when the skinheads dangerous ideas propagated throughout England and even found their way into the soccer terraces around the U.K. However, the mid to late 90's saw a decline in such ideas in England. But in recent years, these hateful ideas are once again finding support not only in England but also in Germany, France and even Italy.

India via several cities:

Bheja Fry (2007, Director Sagar Ballary): Rating 7.5/10

An interesting Indian adaptation of the hilarious French film The Dinner Game. The story is similar to the French version where a bunch of rich men have a weekly party and bring an 'idiot' as a guest. While they all laugh at the idiots, they also have a contest to see which person brought in the biggest idiot. In Bheja Fry, the idiot is Bharat Bhushan (Vinay Pathak), an honest government employee who has a passion for singing. This movie belongs to Vinay Pathak who is fantastic in every scene. Unfortunately, the remaining cast is not on par with Pathak's excellent performance.

Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi (2003, Director Sudhir Mishra): Rating 9/10

Sudhir Mishra has crafted an intelligent movie that looks at the youth rebellion that existed in India during the period of Emergency (prior to and after that period in the 70's). We see three youths with different takes on what is required to take the country forward -- communism, capitalism or democracy. A smart movie that deserves a longer write-up in a future post.

Dil Dosti, etc (2007, Director Manish Tiwary): Rating 7/10

Just like Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi, this film focuses on college youth but the movie is not really interested in politics. The film is more interested in examining the confused ideas that can effect college youth. While Sanjay (Shreyas Talpade) wants to run for college presidency, Apurv is not interested in politics or a career. He is not even interested in love but finds more pleasure in attempting to bed as many women as he can. While reading Sartre, Apurv freely quotes some random philosophy as he drifts through life immorally. Acting wise, Shreyas Talpade is the only one who has put in good performance. That is understandable as the rest of the cast consists of newcomers making their acting debut. Still, this had potential to be a much better movie than it turned out to be.

Dhokha (2007, Director Pooja Bhatt): Rating 5.5/10

The story of Dhokha is interesting enough but the execution could have been better. A police officer (Zaid played by Muzammil Ibrahim) goes to investigate a bomb explosion at a night club caused by a suicide bomber. The tables are turned on Zaid when he is shocked to find that he is the prime suspect in the investigation as the detective claims that it was Zaid's wife who was the suicide bomber. He fights the false charges but despite his best efforts, he is labeled a traitor and eventually suspended from his job. Eventually, he slowly starts learning the truth and it is indeed eye opening for him. The film shows some elements from other Indian films such as Mission Kashmir in how the abuse of power by police towards the Kashmiri Muslims only fuels the anger of the locals and turns them over to the fundamentalists. After Zaid starts finding the truth, the film turns into a predictable mess as other Bollywood movies and heads towards an unrealistic happy ending.

Welcome (2007, Director Anees Bazmee): Rating 5/10

It is always a bad sign when actors and filmmakers promote their movie by saying that the "audience should leave their brain at the door" while watching their film. This is a lazy way of saying that the movie was made without any thought or a screenplay. And when the film director is Anees Bazmee whose previous effort was the awful comedy No Entry, I had very low expectations from Welcome. Still the presence of Akshay Kumar, Paresh Rawal, Nana Patekar and Anil Kapoor offered some hope. As expected, all four have put in a decent effort with Nana Patekar shining in every scene. But the silly screenplay and poor direction make this a painful experience. If the movie had ended after 90 minutes, it wouldn't have been that bad. Even at 2 hours, the film might have been passable. But a running time of 2 hour 40 minutes is pure torture. It was indeed a welcome relief when this mess of a film eventually ended.

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