Saturday, December 13, 2014

REVIEW 309: THE HOBBIT – THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES (3D)

Release date (India):
December 12, 2014
Director:
Peter Jackson
Cast:


Language:
Most people who were in the earlier Hobbit films & some from the LOTR series
English


The final Hobbit film in Peter Jackson’s second Tolkien trilogy is a magnificent spectacle. It is also a magnificent bore.

The special effects and camerawork are impeccable no doubt, but after a point – with a handful of exceptional sequences – all that it is is more of what we’ve already seen ever since Jackson released his first film in The Lord Of The Rings (LOTR) trilogy in 2001. I mean, how many more times will we gasp at those same mythical creatures with a few additions per film, those panoramic views of breathtaking natural scenery, those spectacular kingdoms, the dragon Smaug from the last film, the rivers of gold stashed away in the innards of a mountain? We get it, Mr Jackson – you are a king of visual wonderment. We get it too that you are in love with J.R.R. Tolkien’s books. Now stop it, please. Unless you can show us something vastly different to the eye from what’s gone before, do get back to telling us a story, please.

For the very few people left in this world coming in late on this, The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies is the third film Jackson has derived from Tolkien’s fantasy novel The Hobbit, first published almost a century back. This book was the precursor to Tolkien’s LOTR trilogy, which was made into three films by Jackson before he began exploring The Hobbit in three parts (The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and this latest film, The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies). Ergo, Jackson has worked in reverse order with this. 

The Battle Of The Five Armies begins with Smaug attacking the humans of Lake Town to punish them for giving refuge to the dwarves. Bard attacks the marauding creature and takes off with his people to claim the share promised to them by the dwarves from the treasure of the Lonely Mountain, so that they can rebuild their lives. Whatever little is left of the plot is geared towards gathering armies of orcs, elves, dwarves and humans at the mountain for that one final clash of the title.

After the initial set-up for the battle, there’s little by way of story or narrative depth, and the battle is painfully stretched. It goes without saying that the special effects are of high quality (C’mon, that’s a given! This is Peter Jackson we’re talking about!) but most of it has been recycled from the earlier films and there’s little here that’s conceptually innovative and exclusive to this particular production.

It starts with promise though. The deadly Smaug is far more effectively explored here than in the second Hobbit film. The initial scenes of the dragon raining fire on Lake Town are heart-stoppingly beautiful and handled with a difference. There’s another lovely scene during the battle when a massive stone structure is collapsing, and the elf Legolas uses the falling rocks as a stairway-like bridge across a chasm, stepping on each one just in the nick of time before it descends too far down. And during a hand-to-hand fight on thin ice between the dwarf king Thorin Oakenshield and Azog, there is thought invested in that one moment designed to make the audience chuckle and go, “Oh, I didn’t think of that.”

Three sequences in an entire two-and-a-half hour film, the familiar strains of Howard Shore’s lovely background score which remains elevating and a mood song playing over the end credits ain’t enough though to justify the existence of the film for any reason other than the fact that Tolkien’s classics are bestsellers even today, that the LOTR trilogy was an international money-spinner and that the Tolkien-Jackson brand value is expected to make even this one a box-office success. Those are calculations that corporate honchos make with all eyes on bottomlines and balance sheets – I have no argument with them.

My argument is with the film maker in Peter Jackson. With him, the bottomline is this: there is nothing in The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies that explains why these three Hobbit films could not have been condensed into a single, incredibly fantastical, richly imagined film.

Rating (out of five): **

CBFC Rating (India):
U/A
Running time:
MPAA Rating (US):
147 minutes
PG-13 (for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images)
Release date in the US:
December 17, 2014


Sunday, December 7, 2014

REVIEW 308: BHOPAL – A PRAYER FOR RAIN

Release date (India):
December 5, 2014
Director:
Ravi Kumar
Cast:




Language:
Rajpal Yadav, Tannishtha Chatterjee, Martin Sheen, Kal Penn, Mischa Barton, Manoj Joshi, Joy Sengupta, Fagun Thakrar, Vineet Kumar, David Brooks
Hindi



Bhopal: A Prayer For Rain is an account of the events in the run-up to the 1984 gas leak that killed thousands in the Central Indian town of the title. Over 10,000 people are estimated to have died and countless maimed in what is considered the world’s worst human-made industrial disaster. This film aims at chronicling the negligence that led to the tragedy, fuelled by collusion between the US’ Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) and Indian politicians.

The dead are not just statistics. Bhopal brings us living, breathing human beings in the form of the impoverished rickshaw-puller Dilip (Rajpal Yadav) who takes up a job in the UCC factory, his wife Leela (Tannishtha Chatterjee), the local journalist Motwani (Kal Penn) who is determined to expose UCC for storing dangerous chemicals in hazardous conditions, and Rekha, the widow of the worker Rakesh who was killed by one of those chemicals much before the leak. 

When the film is telling the story of the slum dwellers around that Bhopal factory, it is moving and realistic. The poignancy is exacerbated by the fact that, knowing what we know about the night of December 2, 1984, we assume they will be dead by the end of the film.

We grow attached to Dilip. And that hurts.

This much is achieved even though Bhopal makes some questionable casting choices: Fagun Thakrar as Rekha does not look like a Bhopali slumdweller, and try though he might, the talented Kal Penn is unable to mask that American accent (he was perhaps chosen to add to the film’s international cast with Martin Sheen and a wooden Mischa Barton playing a foreign journalist).

However, Rajpal Yadav as Dilip is a perfect pick. As the story rolls along, Dilip realises that the factory is unsafe. He can’t afford to leave though, because of his desperate circumstances. Dilip epitomises the tragedy of Bhopal – of abject poverty, of how corrupt netas and a heartless business empire exploited that poverty.

In the portrayal of Dilip, his milieu, Motwani’s crusade and Indian politicians, the film can’t be faulted. The portrayal of the UCC players from overseas is extremely troublesome though.

There are three of them in the film: Carbide CEO Warren Anderson (Martin Sheen), Edward “the accounts guy”, and Shane Miller (David Brooks) who is the company’s fixer in Bhopal.

They are the big bosses whose larger machinations controlled the goings-on at this UCC plant in India, leading to the leak of the deadly methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas. Yet, the film makes every effort to make them likeable to viewers, while giving the culpable Indians – the factory supervisor Choudhary (Vineet Kumar) and the bribe-taking Madhya Pradesh politician (Satish Kaushik) – a sleazy air about them.

The film’s American Nice Guy No. 1 is Shane. He may be shown delivering a bribe, yet he is the voice of everyone’s conscience, constantly slamming Edward’s ruthlessness.

Nice Guy No. 2 is Anderson. The Carbide CEO is shown repeatedly justifying negligence at UCC Bhopal; he knows that cost cutting at the factory has translated into unskilled labour being used to run machines requiring expertise; one assumes he knows that the plant’s air-conditioning has been turned off despite the in-house safety officer’s protests; yet Bhopal works hard to get us to like him. The dominant image of Anderson from the film is as a sweet – even if patronising  white man who stops to speak to the little son of an Indian household employee; a jolly old, hard-working, all-American blue collar worker who rose to riches from humble beginnings.

These men did not have to be portrayed as cliched villains with fangs and horns. Of course they could have had with shades of grey. But what purpose was served by having Sheen play the Carbide chief with a charming, avuncular air of benevolence?

After watching Bhopal twice, I went to the official website in search of an answer and found it in a speech delivered by David Brooks, who is also the film’s co-writer with director Ravi Kumar.

“…The intention,” he says, “was to create…a human puzzle, that exposes the big issues of multinational corporate governance – how business and government negotiate disaster. The film explores the small details of the individual human decisions that made up those complex problems. The ‘evil corporation’ is too easy. We wanted to ask the audience “What you would do if you were Anderson? Or Dilip for that matter?”…”

Dear Mr Brooks, “The ‘evil corporation’ is too easy” only if you blame them and them alone. And are you actually trying to quietly apportion even a tiny measure of blame to the miserably poor Dilip?

Brooks further says: “This is about a nation and how it governed its people…”

Ah, we get it now. Just as Anderson squarely blames UCIL (Union Carbide India Limited) in the film, Brooks appears to favour blaming the Indian government. Of course the role of corrupt Indian politicians in the entire saga is inexcusable and unforgivable. But their amorality can’t be UCC’s excuse. What point is being made by this film when it goes gentle on them?

Brooks continues: “If Anderson and his ‘Carbiders’ could be shown as three-dimensional, even likeable, then their two-dimensional corporate response to the disaster could really shock.”

Err... mission unaccomplished.

Bhopal: A Prayer For Rain pulls at the heartstrings with its portrayal of the victims of the gas tragedy. It manages to explain what’s going on at the factory without drowning us in jargon. It effectively builds up a sense of foreboding about the impending disaster as chink after chink is revealed in the running of Carbide’s Bhopal plant.

That being said, the film’s simultaneous effort to whitewash the wrongdoings of Carbide’s American bosses is repugnant to say the least.  

Rating (out of five): **

CBFC Rating (India):

U   
Running time:
103 minutes



Friday, December 5, 2014

REVIEW 307: ACTION JACKSON

Release date (India):
December 5, 2014
Director:
Prabhudheva
Cast:




Language:
Ajay Devgn, Sonakshi Sinha, Manasvi Mamgai, Yami Gautam, Kunaal Roy Kapur, Anantharaaj, Guest appearances: Shahid Kapoor, Prabhas, Prabhudheva
Hindi


Ingredients:
      hero (dubbal role mein)
      heroine (in fact, do do heroine-ay!)
      vamp (bahut hot si)
      villain (ek aankh waala)
      gaana
      bajaana
      bade star ka guest appearance
      romance (hero no. 1 ka)
      dukh bhari back story (hero no. 2 ka)
      maa (Yami isme Mummy banti hai)
      weird bhai-behen ka weird pyaar
      Mumbai nagri
      phoren locayshun
      badey-badey sets
      chhote-chhote kapde pehni hui girlz
      shirt utaarke abs dikhaane waala bwoy
      Punjabi gaana
      godown mein fight

Bhala aur kya chahiye logon ko?

Well, how about coherence and originality?

Director Prabhudheva’s Action Jackson is an unbelievably disjointed, unimaginative, unamusing wonder that chucks into the cooking pot, all sorts of ingredients that have worked in formulaic films of the past. Virtually storyless though it is, here’s a spoiler-filled shot at relating the plot…

So first we meet one Vishy in Mumbai who beats up people in gravity-defying style and does do-numberi-ka-kaam, as his neighbour Aunty says. Then a bubbly girl called Khushi (Sonakshi Sinha) sees him in a clothing store trial room where he is (get this!) trying out underwear, and later when he emerges from a toilet after doing susu. I don’t know which clothing store in Mumbai allows people to try out chaddis, but be warned if you go shopping in that city.

So anyway, Khushi has seen Vishy’s thingie, which somehow turns her fortunes. Which makes her want to see his thingie again before an Amreeka-based boy comes ladki dekhne ke liye, because she thinks Vishy’s thingie is a good-luck charm. But Amreeka-based boy doesn’t stand a chance because he is not played by a major Bollywood star. Plus, Vishy is played by Ajay Devgn so how can she fall in love with anyone else, you silly-question-asking people.

Khushi soon falls for Vishy because when she falls unconscious in his house, he doesn’t change her kapda but maintains her laaj by getting neighbour Aunty to do the deed. Besides, he does nice things for poor people, being bad guy with heart of gold and all that, you know. You know?

Enter: second Ajay Devgn. Whoa! What a twist! He is first Ajay Devgn’s humshakal. Why? Bichhda hua judwaa bhai, you ask? No no, he is humshakal because he is humshakal. You didn’t ask questions when it happened in Don in 1978 so why discriminate now, stupids?

Bangkok-based AJ works for ek aankh waala gangster. He also has a girlfriend-turned-wife (Yami Gautam). Enter: ek aankh waala gangster’s bad sister Marina (Manasvi Mamgai) in thigh-revealing outfits and cigarette between lips. Now phillum launches into Fatal Attraction-type obsessive love saga complete with daayin laugh in background and girl kissing boy as though her lips are “a vacuum cleaner” (not my words, his).

Vishy and AJ meet. Lots of people get beaten up. Arms and necks are twisted. Ajay as Vishy clowns around while bashing up local goondas. Ajay as AJ takes off his shirt and poses about artistically to bash up international gangstas. Beech-beech mein, lots of people dance to loud songs in loud costumes on gaudy sets featuring every single colour of the rainbow. Uskey beech mein Vishy’s sidekick (Kunaal Roy Kapur) appears – to be funny – and disappears.

The unwitting star of Action Jackson – in a good way and a bad way – is debutant Manasvi Mamgai, former Miss India. When she’s trying to look ominous, she’s a hoot. Not her fault, the film is just THAT silly. In fact, she’s featured in a scene that teeters on a precipice between offensive and laughable: AJ has come to save Marina from being raped by a hooligan and while he’s fighting them, shirtless of course, she’s ogling him through a curtain of her hair! Ugh!

But don’t write her off. In that scene in which she raises a leg shoulder-high to kick a man out of a high-rise building’s window, she displays a skill that ought to find a place in A-class action flicks. And in the song You’re my gangster baby, notice how uninhibited she is, how completely not body-conscious, so lost in the moment that she makes Ajay look like a prop. Of course the impact of all that is vastly diluted by the fact that AJ casually kicks Marina aside at one point while she lies on the floor. Yes, rips off his own shirt, fires a gun and kicks her. I kid not.   

At the end of this mind-numbingly unentertaining film, I consoled myself with the closing credits in which Prabhudheva (kindly note the spelling) appears in his dance-wiz avatar playing choreographer to the lead cast. He’s so vastly superior to Ajay in that department, that you can’t help but appreciate Ajay for sportingly demonstrating his shortcomings to the world.

What he was thinking when he accepted this film though is a mystery that may never be solved!

Rating (out of five): 1/2 star (for the scenes that were so bad, they made me giggle)

CBFC Rating (India):

U/A (this rating epitomises the double standards of a Censor system that awarded an A certificate to the Rani Mukerji-starrer Mardaani for its relatively brief scenes of violence in comparison with the grossly bloody Ghajini from 2008, Force in 2011 and now Action Jackson that have all got away with a milder U/A) 
Running time:
145 minutes