Archive for June, 2015

Jurassic World: A Review

June 30, 2015
Tyrannosaurus wrecks

Tyrannosaurus wrecks

Dir: Colin Trevorrow; *ing: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Vincent D’Onofrio, Irrfan Khan

In an era when your Felix Baumgarters make freefalling back to earth from the stratosphere seem like a jaunty run around the park, it’s probably hard to imagine that human beings landing on the moon for the first time back in 1969 was actually a pretty big deal. For a while, anyway. For the more wondrous the world science and technology make for us, the shorter the time span between “Ooh, how amazing!” and “Yawn, is that it?” seems to get (just ask your local Apple product snob). People become bored and jaded so swiftly that, coming back to the moon landings, barely a year after Neil Armstrong and the crew of the Apollo 11 laid that historic first footprint on the lunar surface, no news channel in America was interested in carrying live footage from Apollo 13 out in space on its moon mission; ‘been there, done that, gave away the t-shirt’ they said. (Until an accident on board the shuttle turned it into a real-life disaster epic, but that’s another story, retold compellingly on film by director Ron Howard in 1995).
The premise of Jurassic World is also based on the notion that people, particularly as consumers of entertainment, need to constantly be wooed by things bigger, louder, and, generally, awesome-er. At the titular amusement park, for instance, profits have plateaued because dinosaurs are so, like, yesterday. Kids sit on triceratops like they’re coin-operated baby rides at a mall, holographic dinosaurs pointlessly dot the foyers, and feeding time for the Mosasaurus looks more like a benign orca’s party trick at Sea World. jw3Christmas dinner at grandma’s seems a riskier proposition than this family-friendly glorified petting zoo. People just aren’t dazzled anymore. Or so reason the minds behind the park, indulging in a bit of the old Super Secret evil genetic experiments of the mad scientist variety in order to woo back the crowds. The result of this tinkering around with Big Lizard DNA is the Indominus rex, a newer, scarier, toothier beast that would put the fear of God in bad boy T-Rex himself. However, obviously not having learned anything from the abomination that was New Coke (if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, imbeciles), said minds, with all their evolutionary superiority, fancy gadgets, and sleek black polo-neck sweaters, grossly underestimate the creature’s ability to make the excrement hit the proverbial fan, which it does pretty soon. And needless to say, since rampaging dinosaurs are probably slightly worse for business than boring dinosaurs, panic-stations are in order. As our heroes trying to save the day, we have operations manager Claire (Howard, all severe bob hairstyle and impractical shoes) and her one-time flame, Owen (Pratt – brawny, pretty, pretty sweaty) who happens to be the resident dino behavior expert. Together, the two not only have to locate her visiting nephews (your typical annoying, cookie-cutter adolescents), but also to keep the rest of the twenty thousand or so park guests from being unwittingly served up as a hot lunch. Obviously no man-versus-genetically-modified-nature-run-amok story would be complete without a human villain as well, who in this case is – surprise, surprise – a barely sane power hungry military stooge (D’ Onofrio), who dreams of using the park’s velociraptors as weapons in battle. No, really.
Of course there’s more than a hint of irony in here somewhere that like the mad scientists of Jurassic World, the minds behind the film itself must also have started off their initial brain storming on the assumption that movie audiences today won’t be wowed by a small bunch of CGI dinosaurs yawping at human fodder anymore, that they’d have to be given something far more imposing, far more threatening (to the point of near-ridiculousness) than even the Tyrannosaur, whose tiny lizard arms have become something of a joke since the days of the original Jurassic Park movie. Today’s audiences can nit-pick special-effects films with the best (or rather, worst) of them and have plenty of forums to express their righteous indignation – forums that make studio bosses very nervous. Thanks a lot, social media.
So the writers (all seven of them) and director Trevorrow throw all the pointy teeth, claws, and reptilian scales in 3D they can at the screen in the shape of the monstrous Indominus, and more. The action sequences come thick and fast (though the initial set up occurs at a leisurely, almost sluggish, pace) and the creature-feature aspects get more than a generous nod, with the pterodactyls providing some aerial shenanigans as well. The question, though, is: does any of it stick? The answer depends, really, on the kind of audience you are. If you’re going in looking for clever, nuanced writing, some semblance of scientific credibility, and believable characters, then you’re going to come up short, way short. On the other hand, if all you’re interested in is relentless action, bombast, and a jw2respectable death-by-dinosaur body count, then you could do a lot worse than this. In either case, the CGI work is top notch, as it should be under Steven Spielberg’s supervision, and there is plenty of regard on display for what was part of the charm of the first Jurassic film: that often misplaced sense of wonder that both nature and technology can inspire in human beings. The film certainly has joyful, exciting moments, and the actors bravely (and, for the most part, successfully) negotiate the flimsiness of the paper they’re written on. I for one am still waiting for the day Hollywood figures out what the hell to do with the great D’Onofrio, whose explosive potential was really only effectively exploited on the big screen by Stanley Kubrick in Full Metal Jacket, in 1987. Khan, as the kindly but ill-fated proprietor of the park, brings his trademark casual charm to the proceedings, while Pratt and Howard brawl and banter competently. You’d also do well to remember that even the original Jurassic Park, once you remove your nostalgia-tinted glasses, was no great shakes in the script department. As a piece of cinematic writing, Jurassic World is dwarfed by that other current action retread, Mad Max: Fury Road. But as a two-hour, entirely enjoyable distraction in an air-conditioned theatre, it’s not a bad deal.

Bombay Velvet – Dir: Anurag Kashyap; *ing: Ranbir Kapoor, Anushka Sharma, Karan Johar, Siddarth Basu, K.K. Menon

June 2, 2015
Makhmali khwaab

Makhmali khwaab

Almost exactly forty years ago, Hindi film producer-director Ramesh Sippy was sweating bullets. After two-and-a-half years in production and a then unheard-of budget of Rs. 30 million, his magnum opus was floundering at the box-office in its second week in wide release. Print media critics had savaged the film and trade pundits were typing up its obituary, and with it, possibly, that of Sippy Films, too. And then something mindboggling occurred: the film went into a miraculous reversal of fortune and became a seemingly unstoppable juggernaut, going on to be the monster hit the world knows as Sholay, the standard by which all pretenders to Bollywood greatness are measured today.

Imagine, though, if the internet had been around in those days – Sholay wouldn’t have stood a chance. Instead of being allowed the time to transform from slow-burning embers to the raging inferno of success it went on to be, Sholay would have been dead in the waters off Bombay’s Marine Drive faster than you could say, “Kitne aadmi the?”, driven to the morgue by the net’s media commentators, self-appointed guardians of our cinematic sensibilities. Such is the dubious ‘power’ of the worldwide web’s insidious arachnids; the only thing they love more than building up a talented filmmaker’s reputation is tearing it to shreds when they get bored with playing nice, or when said filmmaker is deemed to have outstayed their welcome by not appearing to be appropriately deferential to the powers that be, or simply dreaming too big. Which, one suspects, is what has happened across the border with Bollywood’s brash, irreverent wünder kid Anurag Kashyap and his massive-budget labour of love, Bombay Velvet. Barely three days after the film’s long-awaited release, the filmmaker felt compelled to go onto social media to pen an emotional disclaimer of sorts, stating that he was proud of Bombay Velvet but was now moving on. This came after vicious butchery by the Indian media (particularly the virtual kind) of a film which, to believe their version, is nothing less than a crime against humanity and small, furry animals. One should probably point out here that some of these critics are the same ones who champion mind-numbing fare like Happy New Year by stating that it’s worth watching if you ‘leave your brain at the door’, without, of course, explaining the process by which one is supposed to do that.


All this is not to suggest that Bombay Velvet is the best thing to come along since sex and chocolate (it isn’t). Is it a great film? No. But is it the unsightly verruca on the fair face of Hindi cinema that so many gleefully spiteful, schadenfreude-laden reviews are painting it out be? Good grief, NO. It is a flawed film, certainly, but its one truly great sin is, let’s be perfectly honest, a pretty damn common one: a set-up whose audacious ambitions are let down by a meandering screenplay. Bombay Velvet is solid on subtext but fails to find a narrative focus, making it a frustrating watch, yes, but that does not prevent it from being a compelling story experience. It borrows generously from 30’s Hollywood gangster films (as acknowledged in an early scene), as well as the New American cinema of Scorsese, Coppola, De Palma, and even Sergio Leone’s epic Once Upon A Time In America, to tell the tale of Johnny Balraj (Kapoor) a small-time hoodlum in 60’s Bombay (framed very much like the 40’s aesthetically, though) who, against all odds, strives to become a ‘big shot.’ Aiding him in this endeavour, albeit for his own cynical purposes, is slick media tycoon Kaizad Khambatta (Johar), who puts Johnny in charge of his new venture, the Bombay Velvet, ostensibly a nightclub but obviously a front for more nefarious activities than jazz music. Throwing a spanner in the works is Johnny’s love for the club’s entertainment headliner, singer Rosie Noronha (Sharma), as well as the messy, violent politics involving high-profile stakeholders in the city’s impending financial boom.

The trajectory of BV’s main characters of course owes quite a debt to oft-told cautionary tales of the promise of prosperity offered up by an urban metropolis morphing, inevitably, into a landscape of moral decay. So the film is as much about Johnny’s descent into darkness as it is about the wily ways of Bombay itself, that lures its prey with bright lights and blue waters only to cripple them morally, like a spider ripping the wings off a captured fly. Kashyap and co recreate bygone Bombay with Dick Tracy-style panache: the film’s visual stylisation of an imagined past is an utterly dazzling smorgasbord of high-contrast inky blacks and warm ochres, punctuated with splashes of jewel tones that look good enough to eat. And the ugly rot underneath the surface is portrayed just as lovingly as the crimson seductions of the titular establishment. At the heart of it is Kapoor’s mesmerising performance, marking him yet again as far and away the best actor of his generation. Johar has fun with the snivelling Kaizad but often teeters dangerously close to being one-note. Sharma is adequate but her plumped up upper lip, which has become as prolific as her lately, is a distraction. Add in Amit Trivedi’s haunting jazz score and you have a film that strikes a resonant chord, despite itself. For now, Bombay Velvet has to lick its wounds in a dark corner. But there will come a time when many will sheepishly recall the undeniable, if somewhat shallow, glories of a film they so cruelly dismissed.

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