Movie Review: Amazing Spider-Man2

I am a sucker for superhero movies. I rarely ever dislike them. So, my reviews are unabashedly biased in their favour. More often than not.

But this time, that’s not the case. Because Amazing Spider-Man is not really a super-hero movie. It’s a Romtion movie. I am not sure if I am coining a new term. But what I mean is that AS-2 is a romance drama disguised or wrapped up as an action movie.

Why do I say so?

A big part of the movie is dedicated to Peter’s estranged (and non-existent) relationship with his parents who left him at his uncle/aunt’s doorsteps, his maturing relationship with Aunt May, his on and off and on and off romance with Gwen Stacy, a confused friend (Harry Osborn), a distraught fan (Electro/ Max) and life in New York. Somewhere in there is a bit of a thriller plot about what’s really going on at Oscorp, the power politics, the hidden secret projects, a dying Norman Osborn, and so on. And somewhere towards the end, are a few well choreographed action sequences. And a mechano-Rhino.

Should that matter?

Not quite. A the Dark Knight taught us, Superhero movies can be as much about heroic action as they can be about the internal conflicts, the moral tussles and great character depth.

Is AS-2 that then?

No. The movie drags on for most part.

So, what went wrong?

While Peter’s story has always been the conflict between his personal sacrifices and the greater good, one wonders whether the construct is stretched too thin. Next, the adversaries. In the spiderman arc, most of his archnemesis have a human side too, whether its Otto Octavius or Norman Osborn. So is the case of Max/ Electro this time. However, unlike the other instalments, Max does not ring a strong connect this time round, and his self-obsessed insecurity complex works only because Jamie Foxx desperately tries to pull it off. Jamie Foxx is wasted as Electro, even as he shines as Max. Harry Osborn on the other hand is blah, at the best.

Andy Garfield, I think, is a finer spiderman, with a little more of the spidey charisma and humor quotient than Tobey Maguire. And he plays the conflicted yet responsible Spidey very well. Emma Stone seems continuously clearheaded about not having too many expressions, but is probably still an improvement over Kirsten Dunst in the looks department. Jamie Foxx, in his effort to make Electro credible, makes a worse caricature of himself than Suniel Shetty. Dane DeHaan shows promise as Harry, only to make it a rather unfulfilled one by the end of it as the new Green Goblin.

One expects long shots and droolworthy action sequences. And when they are there, they are as good as any that you’ve seen. But they are fewer.

The editing leaves a lot to be desired.

And before I forget, James Jonah Jameson has no role this time. How could you Webb?

 

Net net – the movie did not work for me. Slower pace, confused positioning on the dark side for a rather clean super hero, lack of action, and not so awesome electric adversaries.

 

 

Book Review: Love @ Air Force

“This book review is a part of The Readers Cosmos Book Review Program. To get free books log on to thereaderscosmos.blogspot.com

 

“A heart is a more sophisticated device than a Sukhoi”

“The violent romance of the Fighter planes with the clouds in sky… the pulchritudinous Officers walking around arrogantly… the runway with the logo constituted by the concentric tricolored circles in the background… is the spectacle meets our eyes at the feeble mention of the Air Force but there is more about the Air Force besides these…” – Official book blurb

 

Love @ Air Force is Gaurav Sharma’s debut novel, and is a love story set against the backdrop of the actual and perceived hierarchies at an air force base station. Most of us would have heard stories about what hierarchy and order means in the armed forces. Most of us are familiar with the world of class based societies where the rich and the poor don’t mingle, the masters and the servants don’t, and so on. And we are familiar with the fact that some of these divides and biases flow from one generation to another. A King’s daughter doesn’t marry a foot soldier’s son.

Such is the premise of the book, and Gaurav weaves a simple tale of unfulfilled love and compromises about JWOs and Seargants and Officers. The book is written with a lot of heart, and one can feel the personal nature of this story. Gaurav’s father was a JWO in the Indian Air Force for more than 26 years, and the narration for most part seems autobiographical.

The central theme of the plot is disarmingly simple. It does not have many layers, neither for the characters, nor for the story. One hopes for the author’s sake that such a plot lends itself to being a Bollywood romance drama, wherein an old-ish Shahrukh Khan gives up on his love for Madhuri Dixit to find happiness with Sri Devi. Or something like that. The question is – would you want to watch that movie? Or read that script?

When the theme is simple, the narration takes precedence over the story. The language, the imagery, the characters, the conversations. And that’s where the book fails to delivery. The quality of editing is horrendously disappointing. Without reading the book with great attention, I could find more than 20 glaring mistakes. A 50-page shorter version with crisper editing, a scrupulous editor with zero tolerance for grammatical errors and irrelevant flowery prose would have made the book so much more bearable. I had a tough time finishing the book, simply because halfway through the book, one could foresee the end. The quality of prose was far from being noteworthy. And unfortunately, the excitement that the air force delivers on a screen was completely missing from the narration, as most of the book is a bland narration of a love story come undone by the class distinctions of a military society.

 

I will go with a 1 on 5 for this one. Passable. Breaks my heart to say this, but your first and the freshest piece has got to deliver a little more passion.

 

“This book review is a part of The Readers Cosmos Book Review Program. To get free books log on to thereaderscosmos.blogspot.com

Names, Urdu, Religion and Us

The other day, I was thinking about the strong religious connotations a name has. Or, a regional connotation. Almost everyone I meet, thinks of me as a bengali, because of my supremely common name combined with a supremely common bengali surname. It’s a different matter that Das can be a bengali, bihari, oriya, assamese (and others?). Now, imagine the confusion someone who would be in if I had an urdu first name and my original surname. Or, my original first name and an otherwise urdu surname. Amit Shah Zafar, or Justjoo Das.

Which leads me to the conundrum I faced several months back. As me and the missus were going through names for laddoo, we were stuck on Guthli (the seed) as his or her pet name. But the formal name was a challenge. My love for urdu language in general, and ghazals as a a genre of poetry meant that I would often come up with (beautiful) names that would be immediately considered muslim. Not that me and the Missus have a problem with that, but this would have meant a lifetime of questions for the poor laddoo/ guthli. Imagine being asked five times a day, “you aren’t going for your namaaz? You are a non believer, eh?” or, “your parents are hindus, but you are a muslim! how?”. Imagine him repeating many more times in a day – My surname is Das and I am not a Bengali.

Just imagine the possibilities of beautiful names if such forced observations could be done away with. Instead of the Aaravs and Aanyas who have replaced Amits and Nehas these days, we could experiment with Arsh, Nihaa, Soz, Ghazal, Ashaar, Rehbar… Irrespective of the irreparable damage a boring surname like Das would have done to a Ghazal, an Ashaar Das would probably still sound beautiful. Imagine a Gurumurthy down south being called Soz Ramakrishnan – the firy Ramakrishnan. Or, Jatinder up north being called Sabr Singh- the patient lion. Such joy. Lost.

I just think that when you (can) bring other languages to your own, in an increasingly cosmopolitan world, it has the possibility to make it so much more beautiful. Alas, the only accepted confluence is english. So, David Patel or Arlene Mehrotra might be ok, but we will have to wait some more for a  Naaz Tendulkar or a Shoorveer Ahmad.

*It’s odd to be posting this at the fading end of a political debate where one gentleman is an extremist Hindu with a reasonably well documented hatred towards Muslims, another whose party has a long history of promoting religious/regional divide and rule, and a rookie whose name has been lent to an egg based delicacy at a place which claims to serve the food of the Greek gods.

Movie Review: Queen (2014)

kangana1Rani’s (Kangna Ranaut) fiancée Vijay (Rajkumar Rao/ Yadav) dumps her on the eve of her wedding, he being a London dwelling engineer and she being a Rajori Garden types. Rani is crestfallen, having danced through her pre-wedding functions. She mopes for a night, and then decides to do the thing that she had always wanted to do. Go to Paris for her honeymoon. So what if the marriage did not work out. She has a ticket. And a desire.

 

Queen is all about Kangana. Her character, her personality, her dialogues, her foils. The movie has many perfectly placed set pieces, each acting their part out with aplomb, and making Kangana win over an audience that has hitherto found her largely devoid of talent.

 

Kangana had a good debut with Gangster. However, after Gangster, things never really evolved, and even I had little hopes of seeing an evolving actress. That being said, she continues to be one of those that I find to be extremely beautiful in real life (not reel life). Ethereal almost. She had a good one with Krish 3, playing the vamp turned good one, making more of a presence than Priyanka. But her performance in Queen is something else.

 

Queen is, most likely, the performance of the year. She has taken a rather mundane role played by many actors and actresses over the years, and added layers of texture to it, either by design or by accident. The end result is an extremely happy movie that does not depend on Rani becoming a role model for anyone, but on making you live her life. The movie keeps you smiling, even in the somewhat  tragic moments. Like when Rani’s grandmother is trying to give her advice after her fiancée has dumped her. Or, right after a street bum tries to snatch Rani’s purse and she fights tooth and nail to protect it, she narrates a pure-dilli style story to Lakshmi. Lisa Hayden as Lakshmi impresses, and so does Taka, the Japanese guy. Rani’s father, brother, mother are all excellent in their characterization.

queen1-dec22

The movie has some really amazingly detailed sequences. There is one where Rani wants to know what Heeng is called in Hindi, and tries to wake her mother up on a long distance call to figure it out. And in the Hungama ho gaya sequence, the way Rani puts the sweater back in her bag after waving it over her head is priceless.

 

Interestingly, Kangana is also credited with dialogue writing in the film.

 

Amit Trivedi has scored another winner with the music of Queen. While the promos seemed too keen on promoting London Thumakda and O Gujariya, the album is an out and out winner, whether it be the revisit of Hungama Ho Gaya or Raanjha or Taake Jhaanke. And Amit Trivedi is mastering that oft missing skill of blending the soundtrack of the movie seamlessly with the movie.

 

One must spare a thought for the salwar-suit that Rani is shown wearing in the pub. I hope it survived the shoot to be someday sold in an auction. Kyonki, with this movie, Hungama Ho Gaya!!!!

 

Go ahead. Enjoy it. On a DVD, or through the numerous TV reruns that will happen.

Book Review: The Other Side by Faraz Kazi and Vivek Bannerjee

<I was sent a copy of the book by the authors for an honest review. Blimey! Honesty? In this age and time?>

The other side

I hardly ever read horror, macabre, spooky and such books. I haven’t really read a lot of Stephen King, and/or his imitators. Nor, GreatBong’s The Mine. So, when Faraz requested me to review his book, I gave him as much of a disclaimer.  That being said, the merit of a book is in its ability to retain you while its unfinished, and stay with you once its over. So, I picked it up.

 

I got down to reading the book one fine afternoon, and thankfully, rather than being a long gut twisting novel, TOS is a compendium of shorter stories. Expectedly enough, it has (unlucky) thirteen stories. The stories range from spooky to macabre, but mostly dealing with the kind of urban legends, old wives’ tales, etc. that we have most likely heard growing up. Don’t go near that well because it’s cursed, or there is an old lady in white sari that comes by the graveyard every night and takes away little children that cry too much. I managed to finish the book in two settings, which is testimony to the book being able to retain me.

 

The prologue of the book starts with a casual chat between Vivek and Faraz as they start telling each other some spooky stories from their respective childhood. The genesis of the novel, it would seem.

 

The book is an easy read, and is hardly the kind of gruesome that I was expecting when I picked it up. Its audience seems to be decidedly on the younger side. But then, the authors are young too! And the narrative style as well.

 

Except for a story or two, it plays on one of two things – either a twist in the tale spookiness, or a tale of confrontation with the other side (the undead dead). The narratives are simple. The stories always seem familiar but have a measure of newness. Interestingly, recently, there was a link floating around on Facebook and other soial networks that captured really short two line horror stories, and many of them were mind bogglingly brilliant. As you read the book, I couldn’t help but think that many of these stories could have been condensed to give a more brutal and chilling effect.

 

For instance, the story about the girl in the village (Unfulfilled Desires) drags. And so does the story about the little girl by the banyan tree (Possession). However, some of the other stories are well edited and leave you either wondering or smiling at the end. In fact the first half of the book comes across as better edited than the second half. “The Fateful Night”, “The Long Weekend”, “The Mark Of The Beast”, etc. are enjoyable, while the “Dream Girl’ was disappointing.

 

The biggest success of the book is the variety of spook that is delivered. The stories are not carved off a single mould, and are not of a single flavour. The failure of the book – the inconsisteny of the experience. After the first couple of stories one comes to expect a twist in the tale format, but many of the remaining tales are extremely linearly narrated, and hence the horror is never really delivered.

 

At the same time, one must acknowledge that the genre by itself is a less explored one in the Indian English literary scene, and Vivek and Faraz have done a good job bringing together a bouquet of these quintessentially Indian tales, full of bhatakti aatmas, tantriks, and bhootiya havelis.

 

If you enjoy watching the horror films, give it a read. It may seem juvenile at times, but is an enjoyable read.

 

Book Review: The Virgins by Siddharth Tripathi

Siddharth Tripathi’s  “The Virgins” carries the ominous tag of “written by a young MBA riding the bandwagon of Indian publishing revolution”. I am scared of most books falling in that genre, usually, much as I would love to be a part of that bandwagon myself.

 How does one become a man? Three young friends are about to find out.

The book revolves around the lives, friendship and coming of age of Guggi, Bhandu and Pinku? Guggi is the sexpot fun seeking school bully, who comes from a lot of money, Bhandu is a middle class bred studious jock looking to discover fun, and Pinku is the much poorer struggling to get by bloke who tags along. Or, so it seems. Their friendship has undertones and dynamics that range from protectiveness, subservience, adulation, affection, cunning, to betrayal and tragedy. The irreverence of adolescence, the crushes, the archies cards with poems written by a friend, the first encounters with a failing relationship- Pinku, Bhandu and Guggi, grow up and grow apart. A little too far apart.

 

cce2f-the-virgins

The book is set in the city of kashi/ varanasi, and stays with the small city feel throughout. The life and times in a smaller city in the 90s was remarkably different from that in a bigger city, and the life now. There are the touches and flourishes in narration that can make you smile very now and then, and I think. Siddharth captures that nostalgia very well. And in occasional bursts, it hilarious.

 

The book has a linear storytelling style.  The flashbacks, as they come, derail the pace of narration. And somewhere in there, lies the biggest challange of the book. The three central haracters as well as the many peripheral ones don’t get the depth that they deserve. Almost all of them are presented somewhat frivolously. The parents, the parents, the teachers and the mentors. And doubt not the potential, for the chracters are extremely relatable, and people we would have seen in our school days. Maybe, some of the goony stuff would be missing. But that would be just about it.

 

There are times when I am very glad that someone writes on these themes and social setups. Given the dearth of quality indian literature that captures the psyche of that era of growing up in the 80s and 90s, most of the folks from my generation resort to facebook sharing of old telly serials, advertisements,and listing of things we used to do. Or, we watch Jo Jeeta Wahi Sikandar. Some of us would remember Goonj, the TV serial. When I read hindi literature, I am awed by the depth of charaterization in the pre independence era stories. Or even some of the stories set in in 60s and 70s. However, 80s and 90s seem to be the industrial revolution conundrum. Just as india skipped the industrial revolution to move straight to a services revolution, indian literature skipped  that generation to jump straight to the 21st century. There arent any wonderful literary records of the life and times in those two decades.  When the current indian workforce was discovering its identity. Or the lack of it. The old moralities were dying, and the new was yet to come in, the world was not a standard unified place where either everyone was looking for independence, or where everyone was looking to gain personal independence. I am a firm believer of history needing to be preserved not just through the eyes of the historian, but also in the literature of the generation.

 

Or, maybe, a lot was written but I missed all of  it.

 

Does this book attempt to go there? Not deliberately. I doubt if it even attempts to. It seems to be a simple enough tale that many of us would have grown up with. Dramatised for extra effect. However, in trying to tell the story of three kids from small city, the book does preserve some cultural references. And thats a good win. It’s not an exercise in nostalgia, and hence, not sepia tinted. It just is an account of things that happened in the lives of three kids who are on the verge of loosing their innocence.

 

It doesnt matter if the book is not the best written or the most flowing book. I enjoyed reading it one sunday afternoon, thinking about the times I had left behind in a small school in a small town, and wondering whether it still is the same.

 

Not the best, but a good debut by Siddharth. I wish him well for his future works.  Looking for a lazy read, go for it. Looking for a stroll down the memory lane. Read it.

Movie Review: American Hustle

As a child, my trips back to my native village involved a 2 hours+/ 40+kms leg on the narrow gauge train connecting the railhead of Darbhanga with the interiors of Darbhanga and Madhubani. On this leg, there would be vendors selling eatables that I’d not find elsewhere. Like – 12 masala 13 swaad (12 spices 13 flavors). It was a collection of 13 candies (the tiny hard candies, the most famous of them being the orange candies that most of us would have had as kids) – with the first 12 being individually flavored and colored, and the thirteenth being a mixed flavor (almost the equivalent of garam masala)!

I watched American hustle with a lot of expectations. The star cast seemed intriguing, and so did the setup. And the movie is 12 masala 13 swaad.

This year’s oscar battle now has two stark black comedies. Set in the 70s, the movie about two cons, Bale and Adams, caught and further enlisted by FBI agent Cooper, to bring down several congressmen, mayor and the mafia. Lawrence plays Bale’s wife (referred to as the Picasso of Passive Agressive Karate) in an interestingly complex marriage. Because thats what they do. They fight and they fuck.

AH1The movie is hilarious, and the drama perfect. The actors are brilliant. The cinematography realistic. The script average. There are many flaws, but they don’t matter so much, when the entertainment value is so high.

Renner is the Mayor, of italian descent, who is trying to do a lot for New Jersey, and Bale and Cooper set up a sting operation to nab him and others. How this entire operation unfolds, and what it means for the Adams – Bale relationship, the facades of each character, and the layers underneath that, the unfinished ice-fishing tale,  the conclusion- thats what its all about. Its a savory delight, and you have to relish it.

The movie’s opening shot, involving bale’s comb over, is a quirkily funny moment which sets the context for whats coming our way. Bale is in good form throughout the movie, having put on a significant amount of weight and a paunch to fit the role. Amy adams is delightful as Edith/ Sydney, and brings oodles of deceit, sexiness and vulnerability to the character. I haven’t seen silver linings, so this was my first real exposure to Jennifer Lawrence. And boy of boy! Is she brilliant in this one? She is a rockstar in this movie, and probably some of the most hilarious moments of the movie ride on her. Renner and Bradley ooper are good foils, but are heavily overshadowed by the three in top form.

The other piece thats near perfect is the contextual setting, right with the get ups and the hotels and the neighborhoods, to the language and the dialogues. The incident was semi-ready-made, but the treatment is what makes the movie is a joy. There seems to be a new trend in the US where the revisit to the retros is the new new. Probably given a shot in the arm by Mad men.

What did not work for me is the oversimplified plot and the corresponding plotholes. Some of the con jobs that are pulled off are too simplistic. Makes you wonder if the folks at the receiving end were that naive back then. Maybe. Maybe not, because the focus of the movie seems to be the stylistic narrative, the subtle and not-so-subtle humor, definitely not the script.

The movie does keep you glued and thoroughly entertained, and one can see why it would be one of the favorites for the oscars. Enjoy it. And while I saw the screener version (and hence the uncut version), I am sure the deleted scenes from this movie wont affect the movie as much as the deleted scenes of Wolfie did.

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