Name: Kunal Khandwala
The world's most successful racing video game that let players ride in the most desirable cars was the obvious choice for a movie franchise that could fill the gap between two Fast and Furious movies. While there isn't much that one can do about a storyline when it comes to pure adrenaline pumping street racing in fancy cars, George and John Gatins try and make the most out of a generic revenge plot. Directed by Scott Waugh (XXX, Act of Valor), 'Need for Speed' features some jaw dropping stunt sequences and credible action that are attributed to his decision to use less CGI and more actual stunt work with the mean machines. The most rewarding aspect of watching NFS on the big screen is that these super-cars are driven at manic speeds almost all the time.
Tobey (Aaron Paul) is now out of prison and is keen on seeking revenge for his wrongful incarceration and his friend's death that was actually caused by the rich kid Dino (Dominic Cooper). Two years ago, his family's failing garage operation had to be salvaged with a job to build Carroll Shelby's incomplete prototype of the 5oth anniversary special 2012 Ford Mustang. Dino had acquired this car and was offered to sell it to a British buyer who would only buy it if it could touch 235 mph. Tobey pushed the car to that record speed on a track and won a part of the proceeds. However, the conniving Dino challenges Tobey and his protege Pete to a winner-takes-all race in identical street illegal Swedish Koenigsegg supercars. Towards the end of an exhilarating road rash at incredible speeds, Tobey deliberately brakes before Pete's car, to send him airborne over a bridge and down into an inferno of death. In a sinister move, he leaves the scene and covers up the trace of his red Koenigsegg, resulting in the wrongful arrest of Tobey.
He now plans on beating Dino in the secretive De Leon race in California that is organized by the internet's mysterious commentator Monarch (Michael Keaton). For that, he asks the Brit buyer for his Mustang with the lure of prize money and accompanied by Julia (Imogen Poots), he sets off for a super fast cross country drive to San Francisco from the East Coast. The perilous journey turns out to be a chase by cops and goons who are enticed by Dino's declaration of a bounty on the Mustang. Benny (Scott Mescudi) may occasionally rescue our hero via borrowed planes and helicopters but it is in San Francisco, that Tobey suffers a big blow. His ex-girlfriend who is now Dino's girl, learns the truth about her evil lover and helps Tobey find a new ride for the De Leon race, which turns out to be the missing Red Koenigsegg.
The climax is a revenge-driven race through Mendocino that lives up to the NFS legend of high octane action at astounding speeds.
As this story unfolds, the audience is frequently thrilled by chase sequences and stunts on the cross-country drive. Waugh does not forget what the audience has paid to watch and with minimal CGI, he makes the stunts as realistic as possible to give a jaw dropping effect. Combine that with the sheer speed at which the actors race in these super-cars and you have a winning combination for a joyous time in theaters.
The astounding scenes include the drag race through Mount Kisco's streets, the police chase through Detroit and the insane jump over the highway, the Apache helicopter rescue over Utah's gorges, the high speed driving against traffic which makes one's insides stir, the high speed refueling while driving and the frantic racing in Mendocino with some of the fastest cars around.
However, the most spectacular stunt work and action piece is the red car's horrific accident as it launches in air, hits a pole with ferocity and descends from the bridge into the fiery ball.
Aaron Paul of 'Breaking Bad' fame is suitable both as a revenge-driven racer and a fun companion to ride cross-country with. Imogen Poots is the iconic girlfriend one would want (she can drive like a racer and is British). Scott Mescudi is funny whenever he's flying around and checking out unrelated objects when he needs to look out for traffic. Rami Malek as the talented designer in the team is hilarious in his departure from a worldly job while Michael Keaton plays a very excited commentator for whom this race is life-changing. Dominic Cooper plays the sinister villain who is always resourceful with his bag of dirty tricks but he leaves a bit to be desired as Paul's acting nemesis.
Need for Speed is certainly an exhilarating time at the movies and Scott Waugh has brilliantly portrayed the high-speed racing and stunt sequences. Although the NFS franchise will not rival the sheer entertainment in the Fast & Furious series, it can surely work as an ideal filler between its two parts. If you've played the games since childhood, it really is an adrenaline rush to watch the super-cars burn rubber in excess of 100mph.
- 7.303 on a scale of 1-10.
With hopes of a big celebration, Rani's preparations involve the London thumka and a complete emotional and mental surrender to the dream of an ideal wedding. Her world is shattered by her fiance who chickened out of the wedding on grounds that Rani didn't evolve to his now foreign lifestyle. The distraught and heart-broken Rani comes out from a brief self imprisonment to her concerned family and seeks permission to escape to Europe on her own for a solitary honeymoon and to find solace from the anguish.
The Hungama begins in Paris as she struggles independently in a foreign land. The despondent Rani who cannot cross the street, order normal food or even find peace in the city of lovers, meets Vijayalaxmi (Lisa Hayden) who is the antithesis of a conservative Indian girl. This scantily clad hotel housekeeper gradually exposes Rani to a free spirited living where every moment is fun-filled and made of carefree choices. Rani enjoys the company of her new friend and is almost past her failed engagement when her next move takes her to Amsterdam in a hostel room shared with 3 guys. The initial hesitation and fear is soon converted to a genuine bond of friendship as these roommates have fun around town. Language is a bit of an issue especially with Rani but she knows how to take a joke on herself. This uncanny ability turns even the most awkward moment into a laughable memory.
In the company of such unusual, warm, funny and trust-worthy friends, Rani lets go of the inhibitions she was brought up with and discovered freedom that had no strings attached. The resulting confidence was a handy weapon to use when she was suddenly confronted by her now apologetic betrayer, Vijay. Rani has found her true self in the company of these strangers in a foreign land while on the other hand, an opportunity to fix the ignominy of a failed wedding ceremony rests before her. She doesn't have to follow the conventional norms anymore. With her freedom comes the right to make her own decisions and she shall be the Queen of her own fate.
With the charming 'Chillar Party', Vikas Bahl portrayed his penchant for feel-good comedies. Queen isn't really challenging society's norms but it is proving yet again that society doesn't have the right to dictate the path for an individual. Within an open environment, a person can find their path and face challenges with renewed confidence. Rani is the embodiment of a simpleton's free-spirited nature and while she violates Guptaji's principles, she doesn't cease to entertain in this journey of self-discovery. Kangana Ranaut's exemplary performance is owed to her ability to naturally become Rani. Her ability to laugh at herself no matter how awkward the situation, is a particularly striking attribute that makes her so loveable. Kangana excels in some scenes where the simpleton Rani emotes naturally. With a few drinks on a night out, Rani helplessly bursts into tears and whines about her life 'itna kharab ho gaya' and soon she erupts on the dance floor to rock to Hungama hogaya and goes wild on the streets. She is deeply rooted to her conservative culture but does not mind trying some of Vijayalaxmi's open and free ways. Rani grows out of the broken relationship and by the time she mingles with her roommates in Amsterdam, she is a fun-loving, carefree individual who has found her peace among friends. This transition is handled by Kangana with a naturally subtle performance. The roommates Tim, Taka and Olexander are also fine actors with a keen ability to portray their characters in a natural manner. Taka is so full of energy while Olexander provides an understanding of Rani's traits and becomes a support for her. The rest of the supporting cast including Rajkumar Rao as Vijay and Rani's parents have provided sincere performances to suit the mood each time.
Hungama hogaya is definitely the most suited and entertaining song from the soundtrack. London Thumka starts off the entertainment during the Mehendi event. Badra Bahar is also a fun track that revolves around Rani's initial times in Paris. O Gujariya is Rani's transition into a fun-loving bride-to-be whereas Jugni and Kinare offer more depth in their lyrics to convey Rani's emotions and the story's implications. Amit Trivedi impresses yet again after his shot to fame with Wake up Sid, Udaan, Ek main aur ek tu, Kai po Che and Lootera.
Rani's solitary honeymoon turns out to be quite an adventure rather than a lonely, sulky escape. The screenwriters and dialogue writers have done very well with a story that wasn't supposed to provide depth and intricacy. Rather, Bahl's focus is maintained in the primary character and her relationships with strangers in a foreign land. It's Rani's vacation that is the focus and her transition is only a side-effect of all the fun she has away from home. Queen is thoroughly enjoyable in every aspect with Kangana's ground-breaking performance at its core. Vikas Bahl has brought meaning to a simple story with soulful music by Amit Trivedi, sharp editing, witty dialogues and genuine performances by the supporting cast. This Rani will win your heart and you will only be too glad to lose it.
- 9.115 on a scale of 1-10.
Journeys. A traveller's monotony can become the adventurer's thrill and an escapist's dream. With his unique style of poetry in film-making, Imtiaz Ali has dealt with journeys of finding love and reminiscing in 'Jab We Met' and with a man's journey through his passion in 'Rockstar', he asserted his craft in dealing with human emotions through life's journeys. This time around, with less stardom, he focuses on a simple yet deeply emotional journey of a girl who is taken away from society only to be exposed to a new found freedom in aimless travel. Imtiaz Ali truly rises with his typical form of story-telling to take you on a soulful journey but this ride may not be for most of this country's audience that would shower their wealth onto Chennai Express and Dhoom3.
The daughter of an influential industrialist in North India longs for fresh air and freedom from the binds of society and her upcoming marriage. Veera's (Alia Bhatt) wish isn't quite granted with a sudden abduction and her limited exposure to the real world leaves her in awe of the surroundings to which the kidnappers expose her as they travel from one town to the next, hiding from authorities. Soon enough, she finds comfort in making the truck her new home and solace in being on the Highway.
Her stubbornness gets the better of her kidnappers who give her space as long as she is restricted to their reach. Their relationship grows with their travels and later on, she becomes an incorrigible persona of freedom whom one grows to adore. 'Highway' is about her escape from the confines of a society that abused her, haunted her memories, took away her innocence and bound her in the shackles of a wealthy, protected lifestyle. The beauty is in the journey of her escape. Apart from the spectacular locations in remote India, including breath-taking views of the Himachal region, the meaning is conveyed through AR Rehman's soulful music and the adroitly directed tender scenes of self-realization. Sometimes, the silence in those times is deeper than even the most meaningful dialogues.
Veera does find her destination and the kidnapper is no longer an oppressor but a companion in her dream. Is this really where she belongs or will society put the shackles back on her feet?
The dilemma of the kidnappers who bit off more than they could chew is humorous while Randeep Hooda's confidence makes him unpredictable. His calm yet sinister character is quite a contrast to his victim who enjoys her life as such. He realizes the folly in their abduction plan but is incessantly on the run which gives Veera more time to enjoy her liberty while they outrun the police. Hooda is comfortably natural playing Mahabir with fewer words but louder actions and Imtiaz Ali surely brought out his best.
Highway is Veera's journey and Alia Bhatt's rise as an actress. With a laudable performance, she convinces the audience that with the right story, script and direction, she has the potential to impress. Imtiaz's keen ability to extract the best from his actors has never had such success and the last half hour of the film that is dominated by Alia is his testament.
The supporting cast manages to remain as natural as their characters but there is another element of the film which, by itself is justified to be a pretty important one.
AR Rahman's melodies convey the words behind the silent expressions of the actors. There are powerful moments in such finely crafted scenes. Notice Alia's silent gaze outside the truck's rear, her blank stare while sitting on the desert dune, her inability to express the joy in living her dream on the banks of a river and Hooda's laughter when Veera just doesn't let go of him and he accepts defeat to the escapist's dream.
Pathaka Guddi with the Nooran Sisters signifies freedom, wildness and is by far the best track with Rahman's genius all over it. Maahi Ve is another fine melody that is quite playable on the road. With fewer dialogues and an elaborate background score, Imtiaz Ali lays emphasis on the journey through a beautiful land and lets it speak and connect to all senses.
The story, based on Imtiaz's earlier work in television, isn't convoluted but when he transforms the main character through a vivid exposure to life's highway and alters the relationship dynamic with her assailants, the tale is enough to mesmerize. The scenery is breath-taking, the music is soothingly relevant to the story-telling and the actors have given a soulful performance. Some of the dialogues are perhaps quotes of fine poetry and Imtiaz doesn't shy away from being philosophical.
'Highway' offers an escape from dual standards, from everyday stresses of the mundane and gives you a chance to reflect upon life and notice what is truly important. To breathe in fresh air, to experience freedom while disconnecting from your other world, to take a pensive break in rich natural surroundings and to then get up for a spontaneous journey of discovery. Perhaps we have gone so far in our routine life to even appreciate such normalcy that it seems like an escapist's dream. But in his most personal and heartening film, Imtiaz Ali has given us a picture of what could be. In an ugly world where trust leads to anguish and love leads to doom, the Highway is the road less traveled and indeed, the one to take.
- 9.101 on a scale of 1-10.
The war on terrorism saw the rise of drone warfare that not only saved lives of soldiers on field but also improved the military's attacking prowess. The future portrayed by director Jose Padilha (Elite Squad) is much more sophisticated with droids and weaponized machines taking the place of real soldiers in combative warfare. The essence of both the original Robocop and its remake is that they are reflective of their times. Padilha exposes the need for human emotions and sensibilities that are lacking in even the most advanced machines and how that need becomes completely irrelevant when politics and mean businesses are in control of who or what is on the street, protecting civilians. Alex Murphy is as human as a robot can get and the movie deals with his conflict between a controlling software and the brain's emotional impulses. His family wants the human, Omnicorp desires the Robot while American citizens are shrouded in political darkness.
In a live report covering Operation Freedom in Tehran, Novak (Samuel L. Jackson) asserts the success of robots in peacekeeping abroad while questioning America's reservations against employing the technology within its borders. Novak maybe overly patriotic but his allegiance to Omnicorp soon becomes ridiculously obvious. Sellars (Michael Keaton) brilliantly plays the head of the robotics conglomerate Omnicorp that employs Dr. Norton's (Gary Oldman) genius in robotic prosthesis to create the most human-robot peacekeeper that can win over Americans. After a suspicious explosion, Murphy's salvaged organs are then given a Robotic body that keeps him well alive but devoid of sensibilities that often try to overcome his programmed actions. His wife, though glad of his survival, is cynical of Omnicorp's real intent and Murphy's whimsical attitude towards his family. Meanwhile, Robocop is a hit for the citizens of Detroit as he nabs numerous law breakers in a short period. As he investigates and closes each crime incident, the inevitable occurs when his own accident comes under his scanner. Murphy's persistence in finding the mastermind makes him a nemesis of both Omicorp and the law. That's when Robocop goes crazy.
Jose Padilha's screenplay and direction question morality, justice and freedom in the application of robotic warfare. Constantly, it is Murphy's inquisitive human nature behind the stoic and methodical Robocop that becomes the distinct feature of this installment. The battle between man and machine is well delineated in both emotional and physical aspects. Jose's take on this 1987 franchise is of course technologically advanced and while the shoot-out sequence in the abandoned warehouse is thrilling enough to be the best of the movie, there's little else that impresses much. Today's suit could be loaded with weapons but we mostly have Murphy pulling out the gun from his thigh as expected. But damn! That Motorbike......
Joel Kinnaman doesn't create the greatest appeal in Robocop's shoes but give him time to play the emotions that range from shock, devastation and anger to see what he is capable of. Gary Oldman is excellent in his dedication to helping mankind rather than supporting malpractice and he would be quite a pillar in this franchise. Samuel Jackson is lavishly over-the-top but that's not his fault. Michael Keaton convinces us of his ambition, greed and confidence in his technology to the extent that he is at times, not wrong. You dislike what he does to the Murphys but you still support his initiatives for America.
Murphy's inability to be with his family and his struggle to overcome the shock of his accident are the emotional platforms on which, corporation evil and politics make up for
dirty business. The proceedings get predictable and may even drag the film between action sequences but clearly, MGM & Sony Pictures' intention is to tease with sequels that can build on the platform.
- 6.882 on a scale of 1-10.
In the late 1970s, while America was swinging to rock n roll, exposing all its flashy jewelery over plunging necklines and under unruly hairdos, a scandalous entrapment planned by the FBI threatened several political figures and rocked the nation in its most oddly alluring time. David Russell reunites his cast from his previous best movies including 'The Fighter' and 'Silver linings playbook' to tell us the story of con artists who are led by the FBI to trap bigger fish in an attempt to expose corruption at high levels. This highly fictionalized version of the Abscam sting by the FBI has some meaningful conversations, witty dialogue and glorious nonsense in its overlong narrative.
In an era of resurgent wealth and dynamic lifestyles, success is achieved with compelling ambitions amidst increasing competitiveness, only through some hustle. Right through his childhood years of conning people for his father's business, Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) used the guise of legitimate businesses such as dry cleaning to conceal his beguiling loan schemes.
Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), initially suspicious of Irving's businesses, soon becomes his partner in bed and crime. Her fake identity as Lady Edith Greensly not only attracts investors lured by her supposed British financial contacts but also by her revealing attire. Soon enough however, the con-artist duo is in the grips of FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) who intends to entrap a New Jersey Mayor along with several Congressmen. Aided by a wire operator and a bogus Sheikh Abdullah (Michael Pena) who was to provide the funds for the redevelopment, the hustling of mayor Carmine (Jeremy Renner) begins with Richie, Sydney and Irving hustling each other in the process. If that wasn't enough, Irving's loud mouthed, cleavage flashing housewife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) gets them all on the edge with her erratic outbursts and ignorance of the entrapment.
This sexy looking inspiration of the Abscam operation lacks a fast-paced plot and intrigue that made other conman films such as 'Catch me if you can' and 'Argo', exciting movies. Loud characters protract several insipid sequences that outlast their importance from the script. The seriousness of the entrapment plot is often overshadowed with the digressed focus on the characters and their relationships and while this dilutes the story-telling, it isn't such a bad thing when you have such a talented cast. However, one can only go so far with just acting, good looks, sexy styles and 70s tunes. David Russell fails to engage the audience with a tight script and twists in a con-artist's story that are only few and far apart. Clearly, style over substance was his approach here with entertainment left solely upon the actors' talents.
Christian Bale put on 40lbs for this movie. It isn't the first time he has transformed himself on-screen and won't be the last. This con-man draws a line on his wrong doing and hesitates on going too big with the plan. His love for Sydney grows through the movie but always comes second to his son's well being. Irving has everything likeable about him, even his weirdly meticulous wig. His softer, more intelligent character is a sharp contrast to his unabashed wife. Jennifer Lawrence plays everything that is wrong and right with the film. Rosalyn can be a big mouth, whining incessantly and trying hard to prove her worthiness. But she can also be the one character whose presence just makes you nod in disbelief about what she will do next. That uncanny ability and its unpredictable deliverance is surely Lawrence's talent at work that doesn't fail to impress. Bradley Cooper is a hot-headed FBI agent whose ambition gets the better of him. There are many scenes where he clearly improvises, such as enacting Louis C.K.'s agent Thorsen and the epic moment when Sydney lays herself out on the table for him, he gets so close and simply can't handle it. The most striking aspect of Cooper's performance is that his character is so unconvincing. He is ambitious and he has the con-artists by their necks in his elaborate plan but he is still an amateur who is guided by instinct rather than experience. Jeremy Renner's Mayor Carmine shows his devotion to his city and while it took some major hustling to draw him into the plan, those interactions with Irving were quite a delight to watch. Amy Adams looks sensational and sizzles in the chemistry she builds with Irving and Richie. She portrays wit, grace and spontaneity as they adapt to changing scenarios during the sting operation and remains ever focused on the plan. Adams may not be as loud as Lawrence nor as multi-dimensional so to speak but her screen presence is equally alluring.
David Russell hasn't showcased his fine talents in a script that needed to be funnier, wittier and tighter. The actors improvise on their greyish characters and provide more entertainment than the script possibly could. That certainly isn't the film-maker's achievement but he did choose the right cast that could pull that con off on the audience. Perhaps that is the year's biggest hustle from hollywood that bends the audience into liking material that is portrayed to be far greater than it should be accorded for. Enjoy it for the gorgeous women, the committed actors and the stylish times but do not get ensnared in the hype surrounding this hustle.
- 6.701 on a scale of 1-10.