Edition 76

The Non-English Movie of The Week

Aferim (Romania, 2015) [IMDB: 7.8 , Rotten Tomatoes: 98%, My rating:8.0 ]

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Trailer

My introduction to Romanian cinema was through the classic ‘4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days’. ‘Aferim’ continues the tradition of high quality movies from the East European nation. Shot in black and white, Aferim tells the story of the search for a runaway Gypsy, with the socio-cultural background of slavery, in the 19th century. The mores of that period are in turn humorous and outrageously shocking. This contributes to the dark humor which is the running theme of the movie. At the same time, the nasty and brutish life of a slave is not lost in the plot. The twisted idea of justice and the ruthlessness of the landlords add to a strange mix of emotions the viewer experiences during the film. Even scenes where the slaves are auctioned off are conducted with a sense of normalcy. The credit for giving coherence and direction to the movie goes to the director. Overall, a must watch.

Movies I Saw This Week

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (2016) [IMDB: 7.0 , Rotten Tomatoes: 76%, My rating: 6.5 ]

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Trailer

‘Popstar’ is a mockumentary in the vein of the cult classic ‘Spinal Tap’. Even though ‘Spinal Tap’ hit the bulls eye, ‘Popstar’ hits the target a bit off centre. It tells the story of a band member trying to chart his independent path but failing badly. Replete with instances that can be traced to the behaviour of real world pop-stars, this movie works till the last thirty minutes. At that point it gets too cliched and subsequently boring. Watch it for the first hour where the satire is as biting as the banality of the songs.

Central Intelligence (2016) [IMDB: 6.8, Rotten Tomatoes:71%, My rating: 6.0 ]

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Trailer

Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson bring a lot of heart and a few laughs to this comedy about a man in a mid-life crisis teaming up with a CIA agent on the run who used to be his high school pal. It is the kind of movie that you know will have a happy ending. In fact, if it were an animation movie, it would have been made by Disney. Especially so, because the movie is devoid of logic and relies solely on the lead pair to pull off the improbable. Kevin Hart shines with his rib ticking humour in a few scenes and ‘The Rock’ gets to perpetrate his idea of being macho. Put your grey cells to sleep, grab some popcorn and have fun.

Eye in the Sky (2015) [IMDB: 7.4 , Rotten Tomatoes: 95%, My rating: 7.5 ]

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Trailer

One of the best thrillers to have come out in recent times, this movie tells the labyrinthine procedures and games that go on behind the scenes of a drone operation to eliminate dreaded terrorists. The arrival of a girl on the scene only adds to the already complex situation which leads to the nail biting finale. Evidently made on a shoe string budget, the movie is strongly supported by commendable performances from veterans like Mirren and Rickman. The movie also gives insight into the decision making process in the military. Even when there are unnecessary sentimental scenes which are incredulous, the movie never loses momentum. Highly recommended.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (2016) [IMDB: 6.7 , Rotten Tomatoes: 68%, My rating: 7.0]

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Trailer

Based on the memoirs of a lady journalist who served in war ravaged Afghanistan and Pakistan, this movie traces her life and experiences in the region. The movie is more about how the setting changes her over the years and what she learns from being in a remarkably different milieu.Tina Fey carries the film with her sincere performance but that does not plug all the loopholes in a script which is weak, especially when it tries to explain the politics of the region. Still, recommended.

Finding Dory (2016) [IMDB: 7.9 , Rotten Tomatoes: 95%, My rating:7.0 ]

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Trailer

Riding on a massive media generated hype, ‘Finding Dory’ fires more blanks than expected from a Pixar movie. Starting on a solid premise with the endearing young Dory, the movie loses steam towards the end and starts resembling a cliched Bollywood production where anything goes. The animation is nothing to write home about. Frankly, I almost fell asleep midway through the proceedings. It must be said that the movie is not all gloom and doom. There are some nice touches but they are few and far between. Maybe, too much pre-release hype is a bad thing.

Udta Punjab (2016) [IMDB:8.2 , Rotten Tomatoes: 77%, My rating:6.5 ]

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Trailer

(Spoilers ahead) The thing that struck me the most while watching this movie on the drug epidemic sweeping Punjab is that none of the characters find it particularly difficult to come out of drug addiction. They just will it and it happens. The only addict who checks into a de-addiction centre kills his doctor. In fact, the irony in the movie is that all the addicts survive at the end. Many people are killed during the movie and all those who are killed are either in the drug trade or in rescue work. The addicts enjoy their drugs and live happily ever after. But for the shenanigans of a demented Censor Board Chief ( who was subsequently put in his place by the courts), ‘Udta Punjab’ would not have received the importance it is being given. From a botched product placement for ‘Cox & Kings’ to doctors who enter drug manufacturing facilities as if on a stroll, the amateurish plot leaves much to be desired. The only redeeming factor for the movie is that it shatters the popular image of Punjab as a land of mustard fields with people who are ready to break into Bhangra at the drop of a hat.

Love & Friendship (2016) [IMDB: 7.2, Rotten Tomatoes: 99%, My rating: 7.5]

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Trailer

The thing about classic literature is that they stand the test of time. Well made movies from classic works have one major thing going for them: the screenplay. A recent success was an adaptation of ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’ in which Carey Mulligan displayed her histrionics. A suitable addition is ‘Love & Friendship’ with the underrated Kate Beckinsale in a career best performance. Based on Jane Austen’s ‘Lady Susan’, the movie tells the story of a widow who desperately needs to find a husband for herself and her daughter. The key for her success is that she should not give away her desperation and execute her plans with gusto and slyness. The fine ensemble assembled makes the movie a slow but riveting affair. Recommended.

Phoenix (Germany,2014) [IMDB: 7.3, Rotten Tomatoes: 98%, My rating:8.0 ]

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Trailer

‘Phoenix’ is movie about identity, greed and guilt. An Auschwitz survivor with a disfigured face tracks down her husband who might have betrayed her. (Spoilers ahead) The movie is a commentary on Germany immediately after the war when people had not come to terms with the guilt of the nation and a code of silence hid the horrors of the concentration camps. At a more personal level it is a metaphorical take on how greed blinds people. Even when everyone else is able to identify his wife, the husband sticks to the belief that she is dead. The wife’s unwillingness to accept that her husband was responsible for her fate is expressed through her momentary hope for a reunion. Some of the events are implausible but the viewer is kept on the edge of the seat till a befitting climax which acts as an icing on the cake. Must see.

Ozhivudivasathe Kali [An Off-Day Game] (Malayalam, 2016) [IMDB: 8.5, Rotten Tomatoes: Not Listed, My rating:8.0]

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Trailer

I have not pondered on the metaphors in a any recent Malayalam movie than in this gem of a film. The movie is an allegory to the politics and social fabric of Kerala. The subtlety of the events is maintained till the last moment of the movie. The second half of the movie is an uninterrupted single shot where the camera does the talking. Without being overt, the movie addresses issues like feudalism, casteism, gender equality, patriarchy, left wing politics, the idea of justice, the idea of democracy, tyranny of the ruling class, alcoholism and much more. The story is set on an election day when five friends get together for a booze fest. For a movie with first time actors, it is remarkably accomplished. The director and writer deserve the plaudits for stating so much without saying anything. Must see.

Valiya Chirakulla Pakshikal [Birds with Large Wings (Malayalam, 2015) [IMDB: 8.2 , Rotten Tomatoes: Not Listed, My rating: 7.5 ]

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Trailer

Based on the tragedy in the lives of the people in Kasargode district of Kerala,India due to repeated exposure to the chemical Endosulfan, the movie is gut wrenching to watch. Filled with real life characters who suffer from mental and physical deformities as a consequence of the chemical exposure, it is evident that the tears of the photographer protagonist did not require any glycerin. There are no performances here. All that matters is real. Yet another pointer to the fact that lives in India are cheap. As a movie, the only drawback is the tendency to show long unnecessary scenes of vehicles on the road.

Documentary of the Week

Virunga (2014) [IMDB: 8.3 , Rotten Tomatoes: 100%, My rating: 8.5]

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Trailer

A fight to save mountain gorillas and a national park in Congo turns into a war with the local community and the conservationists pitted against vested interests. Beautiful and tragic. Hats off to the conservationists who have the stomach for such battles.

Eagerly waiting for: ‘Jason Bourne’ because we have good memories of the series.

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Did you know: There is a sound effect called the Wilhelm Scream that has been used in over 200 movies and TV shows since 1951.

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Edition 74

The Non-English Movie of The Week

Theeb (Jordan, 2015) [ IMDB:7.3, Rotten Tomatoes:97%, My Rating: 7.5 ]

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Trailer

A young boy cajoles his brother to allow him to be a part of a group traversing a dangerous desert terrain in the middle of World War I. In the process he gets more than what he had bargained for or imagined. Critically acclaimed ‘Theeb’ tells the story of a young boy who has to weather the elements and treacherous humans in a fight for survival. The perilous conditions bring out the best and worst in him; his kindness is juxtaposed with the tribal instincts he displays in the climax. The film is also a commentary on how modernity wrecks established norms and lifestyles. Masterfully directed and visually appealing, ‘Theeb’ is certainly one of the best movies of 2015.

Movies I Saw This Week

Zootopia (2016) [ IMDB: 8.4 , Rotten Tomatoes: 99%, My Rating:8.5 ]

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Trailer

‘Zootopia’ is a right movie at the right time. Even when it gets self righteous at some points, the movie is a reminder of the dictum ‘Live and Let Live’. It may not be a mere coincidence that at a time when there is unabashed bigotry all around, ‘Zootopia’ virtually name calls all types of bigotry. Thankfully, it also a very entertaining affair. Essentially, ‘Zootopia’ is a story of an underdog breaking the glass ceiling and overcoming odds and prejudices. The action is in a society which is fighting to keeps its pluralism, tolerance and sanity intact. As much as it is a jovial fun ride which can be enjoyed by all age groups, ‘Zootopia’ is probably the most hard hitting social drama to take the form of animation. Must watch.

Kapoor and Sons (2016) [ IMDB:8.2 , Rotten Tomatoes:90% , My Rating:6.0 ]

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Trailer

(Spoilers ahead) Kapoor and Sons is a record of the shouting matches in a dysfunctional family with absolutely zilch to show for its painful duration. There is nothing endearing about any member of the family. With a motley of characters including a foul mouthed uncouth grandfather, a cheating husband, and a dense mother, the film’s speedometer remains on zero for the better half of the proceedings. There is even a sibling who very predictably turns our to be gay. True to producer Karan Johar’s sensibilities, he is the least flawed character in the movie. He wants to help his financially ailing brother. He is a victim of the circumstances because the leading lady chooses to kiss him and not the other way around. He also accidentally discovers his father’s infidelity. He even takes his brother’s idea to write his debut book. After scouting with a magnifying glass, I was not able to find a single redeeming feature in the family. At a certain point during the movie I felt like the plumber in the movie who has to bear the brunt of having been at the wrong place at the wrong time. Kapoor and Sons is a family that I would take extra pains to keep away from if they were real. Fortunately they aren’t.

McFarland, USA (2015) [ IMDB:7.4 , Rotten Tomatoes:88% , My Rating:7.5 ]

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Trailer

Everybody likes a story on the triumph of the human spirit. Disney is adept at sugar-coating such themes. Once in a while they run into a story worth spending the sugar on. For all its cliches and predictable turns, there is something about this inspirational sports drama that keeps you interested. Maybe it is the story. Maybe it is the acting. Maybe it is the score. Maybe it is the editing. Maybe it is all that and more.

Pee-wee’s Big Holiday (2016) [ IMDB:6.6 , Rotten Tomatoes:79% , My Rating:6.5 ]

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Trailer

I had not heard of Pee-Wee till I saw this movie. Pee-Wee was a superhit TV character in the 80s. Pee-Wee had a movie in 1985. Thirty one years later, the remarkably youthful lead actor reprises his role in a movie which starts on a promising note but loses steam towards the end. Pee-wee decides to leave his home town for the first time to meet his buddy. The film focuses on the encounters he has on the way. Pee-Wee will certainly delight the kids but it may find it difficult to gain the attention of a mature audience.

Brooklyn (2015) [ IMDB:7.5 , Rotten Tomatoes:97% , My Rating:7.5 ]

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Trailer

There is no prize for being a runner-up at the Oscars. Else, Saoirse Ronan would have a Silver Medal to her name for her striking portrayal of an Irish immigrant try to find her footing in Brooklyn in the 20th century. ‘Brooklyn’ is not just about her but also the many characters who fill the movie who make it an absolutely riveting watch. The movie walks into to a list of thoroughly enjoyable and well acted movies made in recent times. Definitely worth your time.

Experimenter (2015) [ IMDB:6.6 , Rotten Tomatoes:89% , My Rating:7.0 ]

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Trailer

Nowadays if you open a newspaper or website you will find numerous new studies which confirm something one day and the exact opposite the next day. There used to be a time when some studies and experiments were more authentic. They have also stood the test of time. Some of those remarkable experiments were conducted by Stanley Milgram. This movie is about him. More than a movie, it throws light on some issues such as response to authority and peer pressure. It is a very enjoyable movie for those curious on getting insights on human behaviour.

Waffle Street (2015) [ IMDB:6.3 , Rotten Tomatoes: Not yet Rated , My Rating:6.5 ]

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Trailer

A wall street guy who loses his job in the 2008 financial meltdown starts working in a waffle chain. Based on a true story, ‘Waffle Street’ draws the contrasts on the two lifestyles on display. One of the lifestyles involves honesty, hardwork, treating your customers with respect, dealing with people who pay their debts back, cooperating with colleagues at work, thinking about the long run etc. Though hampered by some amateurish acting by the protagonist, the rest of the cast puts in an effort which makes the movie worth a watch.

The Dressmaker (2015) [ IMDB:7.2 , Rotten Tomatoes:65% , My Rating:6.5 ]

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Trailer

Kate Winslet returns to her village as a suave and chic dressmaker. She has some accounts to clear and some demons to bury. She also meets her love. The movie does not rise to greatness but it does not flounder even when the subject matter is weak. Largely due to the acting ability of Winslet, the film remains a rather easy one to watch. Recommended.

Bill (2015) [ IMDB:6.7 , Rotten Tomatoes: 94%, My Rating:6.5 ]

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Trailer

Yet another movie on Shakespeare but unlike any other because of the screw-ball comedy that it makes of itself. ‘Bill’ largely follows the template of Monty Python movies. The irreverence and confidence are coupled with the thick skin of the film-makers whose half serious attempt at postulating on Shakespeare’s life during his ‘missing years’ makes for engaging viewing. Obviously, the performances or the music or anything other than the screenplay does not matter. If you are in a mood to accept a bumbling Shakespeare in a comedy, this is the movie for you.

Trumbo (2015) [ IMDB:7.5 , Rotten Tomatoes:80% , My Rating:7.0 ]

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Trailer

Dalton Trumbo was the writer behind such classic movies such as ‘Roman Holiday’ and ‘Spartacus’. He was hounded for his communist leanings during the infamous era of McCarthyism. ‘Trumbo’ tells the story of his struggle to overcome the witch hunt against him. His single minded devotion to his work and the high quality of his output were his best responses to the blacklisting by subservient Hollywood studios. The movie also shows the guiding philosophy of Trumbo when he encounters hard times. Bryan Cranston embodies Trumbo and carries the film on his capable shoulders. The movie also gives a glimpse of the back-room shenanigans in Hollywood during the dark age for film making.

Kali (Malayalam, 2016) [ IMDB:7.7 , Rotten Tomatoes: Not listed , My Rating: 6.0]

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Trailer

Dulquer Salman plays a man with a short fuse and a streak of violence in a movie which takes a different turn in the second half. Though he does justice to his part, the same cannot be said of Sai Pallavi whose command of Malayalam is severely lacking. She could have left the dubbing to professionals. Though the tension is palpable in the second half, the climax does not excite. Overall, it is an average flick with nothing substantial to offer.

Documentary of the Week

The Look of Silence (2015) [ IMDB:8.3 , Rotten Tomatoes:97% , My Rating:9.0 ]

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Trailer

The sequel to the much appreciated ‘The Art of Killing’ is as devastating as the original. A man confronts his brother’s killers in a society which condoned the systematic killing. The killers are unapologetic. Or are they?

Eagerly waiting for: ‘The Jungle Book’.

Did you know: The credits and title cards of ‘Spotlight’ are set in Miller, the typeface that Boston Globe newspaper uses for most headlines and body copy.

Edition 55

The Non-English Movie of The Week

Miracle in Cell No. 7 (South Korea, 2013) [ IMDB: 8.2, Rotten Tomatoes: 91%]

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Trailer:

This Korean blockbuster tells the story of the bonding between a father and a daughter. The father who is a simpleton gets framed in a rape case and is sentenced to death. The daughter who has nobody else in the world, is smuggled into the prison cell of the father. A remarkable tearjerker which is cloying, this Korean film is an out and out crowd pleaser. I often feel that Korean and Indian movies have a lot in common. The most important of those is the ability to play unashamedly to the galleries. As for this movie, I have a feeling that this is waiting to be made into a bad copy in Hindi. Why spoil the experience by watching another badly made Bollywood movie? Go for the original.

Movies I Saw This Week

The Hundred-Foot Journey (2014) [ IMDB: 7.4, Rotten Tomatoes: 83%]

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Trailer:

Based on the novel with the same name, this is another crowd pleaser which is a cheerily brisky movie to watch. An Indian family of cooks, displaced by riots in India moves to Europe, only to accidentally end up in a French village. The patriarch of the family (played adorably by Om Puri) decides to set up shop and then the restaurateur comes in direct competition with an obsessive owner of a Michelin starred restaurant right across the street. What ensues is a no holds war; a battle royale between Indian and French cuisine. While I was secretly hoping that the Indians win hands down, the movie takes a different route and becomes a lesson on cultural integration and tolerance. It is therefore not difficult to see why the film is produced by Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg. The film is a bit clichéd but has some very good dialogues. Some of them are cheesy (” I am a cook, not a chef”)  and some have far greater depth (The one on French national anthem and the French national slogan). With decent music from A R Rahman and more than decent performances, this is an easy film to watch.

The Guest (201) [ IMDB: 7.3, Rotten Tomatoes: 91%]

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Trailer:

Every once in a while there comes a movie which you are willing to write off without bothering to watch it but when you watch it you know how wrong you were. ‘The Guest’ is one such movie. It surely will not win any awards and uses every cliché possible to advance the plot. There are enough loopholes in the plot but in spite of all this there is something remarkably endearing about the movie that makes you sit through it and enjoy it. In real world terms, it means that you know you are watching nonsense but you start liking the nonsense because it is really nicely done nonsense. A family grieving for its lost soldier son gets some succor in the form of a guest who claims to be the son’s colleague. The guest wins over every member in the family but soon his mask starts slipping. What could have been a really bad movie starts kicking in the style. Acted and shot with panache, this finally becomes the  guilty pleasure of 2014.

Nymphomaniac Vol 1 & 2 (2014) [ IMDB: 7.1, Rotten Tomatoes: 75%]

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Trailer:

From acclaimed director Lars Von Trier comes this movie about a nymphomaniac recollecting her sexual experiences. More smoke than fire, this movie is a voyeuristic expedition solely interested in titillating the viewer.  I don’t get it when such movies are slotted as high art because they simply aren’t good enough. The film had its fair share of controversy too because it has unsimulated sex scenes. That I am afraid to report, is the only claim to fame of this movie.

22 Jump Street (2014) [IMDB: 7.3, Rotten Tomatoes: 83%]

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Trailer:

The thing with maths is that you can always add one. The sequel to 21 being 22 would not have been a major problem if not for the various scenarios that are shown as possible future sequels as the end credits roll. Come on, this sequel itself is an unwarranted tribute to a lousy original. The good thing is that it looks better than the original but that is not much to say. Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum reprise their roles as cerebrally challenged undercover cops. This time they are back in college. The film does have its moments but overall, it doesn’t make the cut. Recommended for those who like big loud senseless movies.

Endless Love (2014) [ IMDB: 6.3, Rotten Tomatoes: 15%]

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Trailer: 

A remake of the 1981 Brooke Shields starrer, this movie begs the question ‘Why?’. To start with, the original was a lousy and painful one to watch. Its only redeeming feature was the (then) angelic face of Brooke Shields. The 2014 version has no reason for its existence. It sticks to the same tacky screenplay and is not aided by some plastic performances. For those interested, the story is that of a girl falling in love with a boy; a relationship the girl’s parents oppose tooth and nail. Sounds familiar? Save yourself the pain. Give it a miss.

Rang Rasiya (2014) [IMDB: 6.7, Rotten Tomatoes: 100%]

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Trailer:

The story of legendary Indian artist Raja Ravi Varma who dared to put a face to the gods. His representations of the Hindu gods and goddesses continue to be used on posters and artwork to this day. He was also one of the first to understand the commercial aspects of art and marketing. It would be nearly impossible to capture his genius in a movie. ‘Rang Rasiya’ tries with mixed results. The film is a genuine attempt at an authentic portrayal of the life and times of the artist; his passions, his art, his battles and his demons. It is ultimately the multitude of issues that the film tries to tackle that becomes its undoing. It also has a subtext about the freedom of expression for an artist, which has become a hostage in present India. Randeep Hooda puts in a fine performance as the protagonist. Definitely among the better Hindi movies of 2014.

Kill Dil (2014) [IMDB: 5.2, Rotten Tomatoes: 33%]

Kill Dil

Trailer:

Shaad Ali who made his name through movies like ‘Saathiya’ (which I like) and ‘Bunty aur Babli’ (which I dislike) returns to helm the affairs seven years after the disastrous ‘Jhoom Barabar Jhoom’. The hibernation for seven years seems to have done no good and exposes the rustiness of the filmmaker. Two abandoned kids raised by a don turn to crime and proudly finish off 11 souls when a girl walks (rather dances) into their life. The criminals try to reform but find that some things are easier said than done. Ranvir Singh doesn’t require make up to play the stupid youngster who thinks no end of himself. Parineeti Chopra has the same ‘Oh I am so cool’ look she sports in every movie. As for Ali Zafar, he should stick to singing. Thespian Govinda looks better at dancing than being a gangster. The movie is let down by some uninspired music by the Shanka-Ehsaan-Loy trio who also are well past their glory days. The movie tries too hard and it shows. I am reminded of the similar fate of the ‘Sarfarosh’ (1999) director John Mathew Matthan whose second movie was a dud called ‘Shikhar’ (Ajay Devgan, Shahid Kapoor, Bipaha Basu)released in 2005. Moral of the story: Don’t take 6 or 7 year long vacation.

Documentary Pick of the Week

Facing Ali (2009) [IMDB: 8.0, Rotten Tomatoes: 83%]

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Trailer:

It has been 20 years since there was a rumble in the jungle. Why was Muhammad Ali voted the sportsman of the century? Certainly not just for the punches he could throw. Listening to the people who received the punches, it is clear that the punches were enough.

Eagerly Waiting for: ‘Nightcrawler’ because it is generating rave reviews.

Did you know: ‘Casino Royale’ was the first James Bond movie approved by the Chinese censors.