Name: Kunal Khandwala
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.
Somewhere along this Unexpected journey to Erebor, The Hobbit found his courage that transformed him from being the Baggins of Bag-End to a burglar who repeatedly saved the lives of the dwarf company through many an adventure. Tolkien's beloved tale takes an evil turn as Peter Jackson stretches the storyline for 3 films, meandering about with new characters and old. Be it studio pressure to cater to larger audiences rather than just its fan base or Jackson's self-consuming digression in support of more action and violence, 'The Desolation of Smaug' loses the charm of a coherent story with enjoyable characters and turns into a tale of evil in Middle-Earth with a Hobbit.
Right out of a frying pan and into the fire, the company of Thorin Oakenshield is rescued by the eagles (summoned by Gandalf) who carry them all to the eastern edge of the misty mountains. There lies before them a treacherous path through the Mirkwood forest that will bring them to Long Lake and Esgaroth before they head north towards the lonely mountain and Erebor wherein rests the cunning dragon Smaug.
But before that, they find refuge and rejuvination in the house of Beorn the skin-changer. Jackson has altered the entry of the company into Beorn's home by taking the fun out of it and giving this interesting character minimal screen time.
Their journey through Mirkwood thereafter resumes without Gandalf, who leaves them in lieu of urgent business. After struggling through the bewildering forest and battling spiders, the company gets captured by the wood-elves who incarcerate them in the halls of King Thranduil. Legolas (Orlando Bloom) re-emerges for Jackson as the King's son who, along with the beautiful lady Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) fights spiders and orcs with adept shots of arrows and swords. Using his ring, Bilbo plots an escape with the dwarves during a feast. They roll down the river in barrels, chased by orcs and elves alike. This sequence is thoroughly enjoyable and even with all special effects, makes it the film's action highlight.
The company reaches the shores of Long Lake where Bard (Luke Evans) the bowman of the book, turns into a mere bargeman in Jackson's version who sneaks the company into lake town. After spending an infinite time there, the company journeys into the the desolation of the dragon where the hidden door is opened at the right celestial time and the hobbit is asked to perform his burglar duties in the dragon's lair.
Meanwhile, Gandalf ventures into the abandoned fortress of Dol Goldur where the Necromancer reveals himself as the enemy of past and future.
The wizard must use all his powers to combat the evil spirit that has resurfaced, Bilbo and the company must outsmart the dragon that threatens to unleash hell and the remaining dwarves must ward off an orc attack in lake town. The epic climax leaves you on a cliffhanger that will guarantee a big opening for next year's 'There and back again'.
Peter Jackson digs into the appendices of Tolkien's works and often times enriches the story-telling for a complete cinematic experience. The flashback scene with Gandalf and Thorin in Bree provides solidity to the quest, the introduction of Legolas and Tauriel adds some charm and kick-ass action while Gandalf's business in Dol Goldur draws intrigue and excitement for the next installment.
From Azog the defiler to Blog the ugly and to the nasty spiders, the creatures are meaner looking and formidable but none to rival Smaug the stupendous. The commendable CGI artists at WETA who created Smaug have detailed his aging skin, fiery eyes, flaming chest and maintained his size and length to that of a 'worm' rather than a Godzilla sized monster just as the book described him. Benedict Cumberbatch lends his regenerated voice that adds to Smaug's distrustful yet conniving nature.
In terms of action, the battle with spiders, elves against the orcs, the escape in barrels, Gandalf's confrontation in Dol Goldur and the devastation by Smaug in the halls of Erebor are all spectacular to behold.
Martin Freeman's Bilbo is even more convincing with a bit of courage now and Armitage is excellent as the transforming leader. Evangeline Lilly forms a beautiful elf who can seriously cut through some orc flesh while Orlando Bloom is a much more violent and fun to watch Legolas. Ken Stott's Balin brings wisdom and much needed emotional balance to the company and Luke Evans rises above his controversial character of Bard. Sir Ian McKellan's commanding voice and diction yet again prove to be a compelling force among the performances.
The film charges along faster than the previous one on account of having gone through the introductions already. The journey of the dwarves moves along rapidly and yet, it clocks in at 2hr41min. It seems that the well intended Peter Jackson went too far with his digressive story-telling to the extent that he began to sub-plot his sub-plots. The appendices were useful to propel the story into a thrilling 3rd installment as long as Jackson stuck to the plan of Gandalf's business in Dol Goldur, introduction of the fan-favorite Legolas and imposing the threat of orcs who will eventually come in bigger numbers. However, his liberty brings a curse upon the Tolkien folk who shake their heads in dismay as these events unfold before their 3D spectacled eyes:
> Intoducing Tauriel as an Elf warrior is quite welcome as she is the only female character but to put her through a mundane love triangle was completely unnecessary.
> Dwarves depart from Lake town after celebrations but they leave some of their company behind due to injury? Only to lead an orc attack with Legolas and Tauriel to defend them? Jackson is in a parralel universe at this point.
> Bard, the respectable bowman is now a bargeman who smuggles dwarves into town for coin? He will need a convincing character change when he has to raise the giant bow onto a fiery Smaug and lead his men to Dale.
> Smaug's terrific creation justifies a bit more screen presence but certainly not at a complete twist in story that engages him with the dwarves! The subsequent chase sequences involving fires and forging of gold that pass through as rivers turns into a blasphemous preview of next year's Godzilla.
Oh! Peter Jackson what have the fans done to deserve your betrayal in such manner? There is enough material in Tolkien's Hobbit itself to warrant 3 movies if you must but the compulsion to make them in such lengths at the cost of digressions and self-consuming reinventions will disappoint a legion of fans.... but they will still flock to the theaters next december for the midnight screening.
For the regular audience, Jackson's Smaug is intense fun with a sense of urgency in the journey of the dwarves as they get ever closer to their quest's completion. Keeping with 'An Unexpected Journey's high frame rate for spectacular visuals, Jackson makes Mirkwood, realm of the wood-elves, Dol Goldur, lake town and even the Desolation look epic. Howard Shore's menacing score suits the film's more evil theme.
As a grander vision, the impact of the imminent danger pertains not only to the dwarves but to the world and therefore the added focus on the wood-elves, men of lake town and orcs. The essence of the story is of course that Smaug wasn't the cause but merely a symptom of greed that led many to battle and doom. Through his adaptation of Tolkien's appendices, Jackson adroitly renders this aspect and is sure to showcase that in full glory in the final installment of the Hobbit's tale. Just hope that his deliberate inventions find their purpose as the quest comes to its fateful end.
- 8.68 on a scale of 1-10.
It has been 2 years since the New York incident and wars are raging all across the nine realms. Asgardian warriors have the onus of restoring order and warding off all evil. Meanwhile back on Earth, Jane Foster has accidentally unleashed an ancient weapon of the Dark Elves that resurrects their race, threatening the very existence of the Universe. The Norse God of Thunder has a mighty force to reckon with and will need the assistance of his deceitful brother Loki. Thor must prevent the world from falling into darkness before the imminent convergence of all realms. With most of the events unfolding upon Asgard, some fantastic special effects were obvious devices to be used by the celebrated TV director Alan Taylor whose most recent works include several memorable episodes of Game of Thrones, Mad Men & Sopranos. 'Thor: The Dark World' is undeniably an exciting superhero epic that outdoes its predecessor and establishes Chris Hemsworth as a worthy Avenger.
While the Asgardians police the realms and keep trouble away from their homeland, Thor's ambivalence is highlighted. On one hand, he has a role in protecting Midgard as an Avenger and being closer to Jane Foster and on the other, the responsibility of being the King of Asgard in the near future. As Jane accidentally becomes the host for the dark power Aether on Earth, Thor decides to bring her to Asgard. Darkness then draws onto itself and the resurrected Malekith (Christopher Eccleston – Who?) attacks the might of Asgard itself causing terror and despair. Thor must now seek the assistance of whom he wouldn't trust at all but retribution, has common enemies. Together with Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Thor must prevent Malekith from unleashing darkness upon the world before the convergence of all nine realms occurs. The common plane of this rare alignment falls in Greenwich, which then serves as the final battleground for an epic clash between Thor and the forces of the Dark Elves.
At his third outing as the God of Thunder, Chris Hemsworth is more convincing and iconic than ever before. He effectively manages distinct relationships in this sequel, between his father, his conniving brother and his love, Jane. With more humor, action and evil, Hemsworth does a mighty job with his hammer. Natalie Portman has a better role that is suited to her talent and at Asgard, she feels just at home as she was on Naboo as Queen Amidala. Anthony Hopkins might look weary of playing Old Odin but his voice and persona still make him the most suitable King. The show stealer however, is Tom Hiddleston as Loki. His comic timing and charm simply add to his character's dishonest nature. The untrustworthy Loki is turning out to be the most lovable villain and that simply asserts how well Hiddleston plays the part.
Alan Taylor's comprehensive background with major TV series does enable him to blend in several elements of the story in a fast paced, eventful and exciting movie of less than 2 hours. A seemingly uncomplicated plot does yet provide the grip and thrill. With some exemplary visual effects that not only showcase the fantastic realm of Asgard in vivid light and colors but also showcase the epic destruction in Greenwich, Taylor makes remarkable use of technologies to enhance the story's appeal. The best part is, he directs the screenplay in a seamless manner that keeps the audience engaged with the pace so the film isn't heavily reliant on its visuals but is merely aided by it in its storytelling. That is precisely how such superhero movies should be made. The cinematography is excellent even with simple scenes such as Thor's arrival upon Earth, London's aerial view and the action on desolate landscapes of other realms. The background score has the epic tone and sustains the darkness associated with the film's evil.
Technicality finds its happy medium with comic book storytelling and Taylor deserves credit for enhancing Thor's presence in the Marvel world. As Malekith's evil grows with the power of Aether, Thor's strength increases with his loved ones around him. His definitive stance for Midgard's well being and for his love, Jane Foster will establish him as an Avenger and protector of all realms. Meanwhile, Loki's wile ways shall keep us entertained with the brilliant Tom Hiddleston.
Thor: The Dark World isn't ground-breaking but it does everything right for a superhero movie and that, is the simple reason you should spend that money. Oh, and to watch the scene where Thor sheds his cloak, jumps off the balcony, catches the incoming mjölnir and flies away. Epic.
- 8.688 on a scale of 1-10.