careless diss-per

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At this point, it is safe to say that movie-going audience is done with superhero franchise movies. You know the drill – a regular everyman / handsome billionaire  is offered the chance to save the world, he does so prove himself to the love of his life / redeem himself / resolve his daddy issues, is helped along the way by an old wise mentor (preferably black / European / Asian, who dies tragically, but not before giving a rousing speech on duty and honour). Our superhero must not only overcome physical obstacles, but win the tussle within, and find out who he is, while smashing a city to smithereens. The same story is told over and over, by different superheroes, boots and reboots, prequels and sequels and alternate universes. It’s the decade of the comic-book nerd, and mainstream audiences were loving it, until it all reached a saturation point. Or has it?

The superhero movie of yore made its protagonist infallible and invincible. Then Batman Begins (2005) came along, and the flawless hero was humanised, and audiences discovered The Story; the ugly flashback which explained to us how troubled our hero really was, and how he decided to rise above his limitations.  Then Marvel started making the Iron Man (2008 – ?) movies – fun, witty action-fueled romps, without the intense gravitas of Nolan’s trilogy in the DC Comics universe. Story again gave way to stunning stunts and action sequences. Production houses joined the mad race to create the next biggest summer blockbuster, which would smash all previous records.

Hot on the heels of unexpected hit Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), the movie which launched Parks and Recreation’s Chris Pratt into one of the biggest Hollywood stars today, Marvel took a chance on Tim Miller’s Deadpool (2016), with Ryan Reynolds playing the Merc with a Mouth, who wields his katanas and cusses with equal aplomb. Like its (anti)hero, Deadpool is a movie that shouldn’t have been. Constantly spoofing the traps and tropes of its genre, the opening credits eschew the actors’ names completely, and set the tone for the rest of the film. Loaded with gags and jokes at the X-Men universe and how it might never get a sequel, Deadpool is irreverent, uncouth, crass, and oh so much fun. You will raise your eyebrows and laugh despite yourself at all the dick jokes, notwithstanding the Indian Censor Board’s best efforts to ruin enjoyment for adults.

Deadpool has many faults – Homeland‘s Morena Baccarin’s character is not given any depth, the criterion for casting Ed Skrein as the villain appears to be just a British accent, the climax isn’t particularly remarkable, the storyline leaves much to be desired, and the film seems to be playing into all the clichés it has been so gleefully mocking. But go watch it as a purely spoof movie, and you will get your price of admission’s worth. It’s a giant fuck-you to superhero movie clichés, probably in hopes that directors and writers will buckle up and write fresh storylines for the next hot ticket at the box office. To borrow a line from a rival – maybe Deadpool is the antihero we need and deserve right now?

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no heaven on earth

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The third and final instalment in Vishal Bharadwaj’s Shakespearean trilogy (after Maqbool, 2004, and Omkara, 2006) is finally here after a long wait and a brilliant trailer, and is the real bang-bang you should be watching this long weekend. (See what i did there?)

Haider, 2014, starring always-dependable character actors Tabu, Kay Kay Menon, Irrfan Khan, and Bharadwaj’s new favourite, Shahid Kapoor, devolves into a spiral of madness, possible incest, gunshots and bloodbath, over two hours. Adapting the Bard’s works into a watchable two-hour motion picture is no easy task, but Bharadwaj does a decent job of it once more, this time with help from the Kashmiri journalist Basharat Peer on his first film project. Aided by his stellar cast, Bharadwaj once again proves why he is one of the most sought-after directors in India.

Far from Denmark, Haider is set instead in 1995 Kashmir, torn apart by civil war, crackdowns in the wee twilight hours, the air rent with gunshots, people living in constant terror. This Kashmir is nothing like the one on your travel and lifestyle channels and magazines. Instead, this is seedy, shady, scary, and far from pristine. The towering snow-capped mountains remain in the background; at the forefront is blood, betrayal, and a pervading sense of unrest and unease. Much is made of the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and the flagrant human rights violations in Kashmir, and the film does seem to be a mouthpiece for the cause sometimes.This bleak mood serves the film’s purposes very well.

Shahid Kapoor is inspired here, as he transforms from a love-sick, innocent poet to a deranged near-militant, blinded by hatred and his vow to avenge his father’s death. Observe the glint in his eyes, him trying to restrain his madness and get a grip on the situation, as he is rendered helpless in his quest for justice. Bharadwaj extracts a terrific performance from him. With barely any make-up on, Tabu has commanding screen presence. Torn between love and power, her real motivations remain unknown and her intentions misunderstood. Her scenes with Shahid Kapoor explore the play’s Oedipal complex, which is somewhat bold for conservative mass Indian audiences. Kay Kay Menon remains the power-hungry, despicable uncle and homewrecker. Irrfan Khan, doing classic Irrfan Khan, is given quite an entry. Shraddha Kapoor is just about adequate as Haider’s lover Ophelia, but really needs to work on her dialogue delivery. Two actors, subbing for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, as Salman and Salman (the Salman Khan fandom really is omnipresent), provide some comic relief in this otherwise moody, bleak movie.

While the first half is devoted to the civil unrest in Kashmir, the second half stays fairly close to the source play. Basharat Peer’s single biggest achievement is weaving the Kashmir conflict with the family tragedy of Hamlet. The first half is thus a searing view of the violence in the Valley, spattered with the blood of the innocent, and the second half is where the film really comes into its own. The trio of Kapoor, Tabu and Menon, give it their all, as the film reaches its explosive climax. Stray observation: in the beginning of the film, Tabu’s character speaking to her schoolchildren about what makes a home, referring subtly to the film’s theme of broken homes. But for all its merits, Haider falters with its meandering pace, the distinct restlessness felt by viewers (in a way, the film takes an hour to reach the first scene of the play), the disjointed screenplay, and the obligatory love-song right when things are about to get interesting. Vishal Dadlani’s brilliant version of ‘Aao Na’ is also unfortunately featured only in the trailer, not the film.

But these are minor complaints, when you’re witnessing a master like Bharadwaj in action. So if you want to be rewarded with a fine moviegoing experience, Haider is a compelling watch that must not be missed!

greenback boogie

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I shall be forgiven for ripping the title off the Ima Robot song. Suits this film too well. (See what i did there?) But i digress. Here we go:

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), Martin Scorsese’s all-out epic of drugs, sex, money, and then some more, is probably the most brazen, brash, and obscenely fun film i have watched this year.

Money and its associated privileges are what the young, ambitious Jordan Belfort wants, and Wall Street is the place to make your destiny. Soon, he discovers that fortunes can be made in the deceptively named penny stocks, and so he embarks on the highway to hell, paved with hookers and quaaludes. The film reminded me most of Scorsese’s own Goodfellas, with the protagonist’s fascination with the good life, no matter how he gets there. Also, both films employ a similar style of narration.

Leonardo DiCaprio plays Belfort with energy and gives it his all. However, at the end of nearly three hours’ running time, his escapades frankly become a little exhausting and too much to digest. DiCaprio bravely carries the film on his shoulders, as a man who just can’t have enough fun and cocaine for one lifetime. At one point, he yells “I can’t die sober!” Margot Robbie is a revelation, Jean Dujardin is unrecognisable from his innocent turn in The Artist, Jonah Hill and Matthew McConaughey are adequate.

The film could have done with some leaner editing though, and i didn’t understand why Rob Reiner was cast as Mad Max. Still, The Wolf of Wall Street is a must-watch, for its slick, sick, twisted, and, damn it, highly entertaining portrayal of greed and vice. The film however is not a cautionary tale, and i do hope youngsters are not influenced by it. So make your peace with the number of times the four-letter-word is used in the film, and enjoy the ride.

P. S. Kudos to you if you spot the real Jordan Belfort in the film.

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