Monday, June 17, 2013

Man of Steel - the review

I have always been a huge fan of superheroes. Every superhero has an alter ego who is an ordinary man guarding from the world his extraordinary nature. I love the idea that there could be amongst us people who have special powers and who unbeknownst to anyone, help the world become a better place. It makes common everyday life that much more exciting if you think that the man passing you in the street could be a hero. Bruce Wayne, Peter Parker or Clark Kent, billionaire playboy, high school student or shy reporter, they have the potential to be a Batman, Spiderman or Superman. It is the ultimate breakdown of stereotypes.

While not all superheroes are genetically enhanced – take for example Batman or Iron Man – my favourite Superman has a whole array of biological superiorities to choose from. Super strength, speed, flight, X-ray vision, heat vision…he’s almost invincible. As a kid, I often imagined what I would do with the powers that Superman had! So when the new Superman movie, "Man of Steel", released last week, I was at the theatre as soon as possible.

"Man of Steel" is essentially an origin story for Superman. How his planet, Krypton, is on the verge of collapse because they have been harvesting the ‘core’ instead of looking to newer worlds. The mutiny it faces from General Zod (Michael Shannon) who is eventually subdued and sentenced. How Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and his wife Lara send away their only son Kal-El to Earth to save his life before their planet explodes. Kal-El is found by Jonathan (Kevin Costner) and Martha Kent (Diane Lane) and grows up as their son, Clark Kent (Henry Cavill). When we first see him, he is a troubled man moving from one odd job to another – on a fishing vessel, in a small town diner – however he never manages to fully escape his destiny saving lives even as he conceals his true identity.

When he discovers the story of his origins, he finds a new meaning in his life. His secret is shared almost from the beginning with intrepid reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams). General Zod however manages to find him and plans to take over Earth and establish Krypton in its stead, in the process killing off all humankind. Clark knows he cannot let this happen and thereafter begins an orgy of violence with a predictable end.

Okay, so the biggest problem with Man of Steel? It tries to ‘Batman-ize’ Superman. Superman is not dark, he is not brooding, he is not a tortured soul. He is a fairly happy Kansas farm boy who is lucky to have parents who support and ground him while he uses his extra-terrestrial powers to help earthlings. His alter ego is a little extra geeky just to over-compensate for how truly awesome he is in reality! There was really no need for "Man of Steel" to attempt (and fail at) creating dark undertones for this story too. It feels very uneven and most importantly, adds nothing to the tale. Instead it detracts from what could have been a bright, positive tale like the first Spiderman movie. His superpowers are also shown as terrifying revelations and his powers a burden that his father urges him to keep secret even at the cost of losing lives.

They barely call him Superman in this one for chrissakes! 

Second, the self-indulgent special effects and the glut of fight sequences were quite off-putting after a point. There really wasn’t much that we haven’t already seen in this age of Transformers, Thor, Iron Man, Matrix, Avengers and the like. Especially towards the end, the movie felt interminable as there was encounter after encounter between Superman and the same set of villains. Every time a villain was injured, they were carried away to their ship till they came back later for a repeat showdown. The military was given a place of pride in the action sequences leading to more shouted orders and crashing helicopters and making me wonder what exactly this movie was trying to do. 

The good part about the movie? Henry Cavill as Superman. While I went with low expectations, he proved to be quite charming and not as wooden-faced as I had expected. And so much better than Brandon Routh. And…very easy on the eye!

Amy Adams was adequate though I cannot but picture her in a comic role with her retrousse nose. Russell Crowe has seen better days and Kevin Costner was irritating in his self-sacrificing role. The beautiful Diane Lane was sadly deglamourized so that Superman could comfortably have a ‘how-dare-you-threaten-my-mom’ moment with General Zod. And Michael Shannon was just not scary enough as General Zod. He might work well as a Mafia boss during the ‘30’s but not as an extra terrestrial archenemy.

All in all, the movie is watchable if you can ignore the sound and fury and focus on Clark Kent. How he runs through fire to save workers on an oil rig, how he pushes up from the ground with his fists for his first flight into the air, how he bends a fence trying to control his anger as he is taunted by bullies, how he coolly wears handcuffs to let the soldiers feel safe… How he is truly a special man.


Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Yeh Jawaani hai Deewani - the review

Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani feels schizophrenic. Like the movie has a bipolar disorder. A large part of it is predictable fare- full of Bollywood clich├ęs but there are some parts which are refreshing in their realism. In a way it is exactly what you would expect if Ayan Mukherji and Karan Johar made a movie together!

The movie’s story is pretty much what you see in the trailers – Ranbir Kapoor is Kabir a.k.a. Bunny, a youth bitten by wanderlust who wants to live every moment chasing his dreams of travelling to all corners of the world. Deepika plays Naina, a shy, geeky, ‘scholar’ type who is preparing to be a doctor.  Avi (Aditya Roy Kapur) and Aditi (Kalki Koechlin) are Bunny’s devil-may-care friends. The lives of these four intersect when Naina impulsively decides to go with them to Manali, tired of doing what is expected of her all the time. On the trip, she falls in love with the effervescent Bunny but realizing that their paths are different, she doesn’t tell him and makes her peace with it. 8 years later, the four meet again at Aditi’s wedding in Udaipur – Aditi’s wedding not to Avi as one had been half-expecting but to Taran (Kunal Roy Kapur in a delightful cameo). At this wedding, the friends clash, make up and come to different realizations about themselves and each other. Bunny has to decide whether he will continue on his chosen path or whether his dreams have now changed.

The movie has none of the subtle nuances that characterized Ayan Mukherji’s earlier work, Wake up Sid. Where that was a growing up story with a beautiful romance woven in and a very relatable set of scenarios and characters, YJHD is much more larger than life. Here you have stunning landscapes, foreign destinations, big fat Indian weddings and the usual KJo style opulence thrown in. This is a movie where the awkward, scholarly, conventional Naina wears hot pants in Manali. She is afraid of attending a party where she doesn’t know everyone but dances like a maniac during a Holi song. And yes, 8 years later she is wearing bikini cholis that look in danger of causing a wardrobe malfunction. Aditi, the tomboyish rebel eventually transforms into a girly girl who wants to have a lavish wedding (Kuch Kuch Hota Hai deja vu). Bunny, I am sorry to say, is the least endearing Ranbir character I have seen so far. He is portrayed as a selfish boy who grows into a selfish man and his decision to make some changes to his lifestyle at the end appear more a sacrifice to the demands of passing time than any real transformation

There is a strong streak of practicality in all characters in the movie – Naina accepts quite calmly that she has fallen in love but lets it go because they both want different things, Bunny understands that time is running out for him and he has to make some changes whether he likes it or not, Aditi realizes that her love for Avi is one-sided and she finds a more meaningful relationship with Kunal and Avi is okay with telling Bunny quite bluntly that they are no longer friends because he was not there for him. This is both refreshing in its honesty and also sometimes a bit depressing in its very transactional nature. Much like relationships today.

Some of the more entertaining sequences and dialogues in the movie – such as when Bunny and Avi try to wake up Aditi by singing Jumma Chumma or when Bunny spies on Kunal’s dance routine and calls him a ‘bhabhi’, or Aditi calling Bunny and Avi ‘Karan Arjun’ - do feel new and real. However there are still several times when it feels like the scenes are falling flat and the actors struggling to convey more than the material they have been given. Deepika has done a fairly good job and come a long way since her flat dialogue delivery days. Ranbir surprisingly was unexceptional and did not stand out as much as one might have expected him to. Kalki did a good job as usual and was helped by getting perhaps the most grounded and interesting character. Sometimes indeed the Aditi-Avi angle was more interesting than the Bunny-Naina one. 

The songs are a clear win for this movie - from the completely gratuitous Ghagra where Madhuri looked fantastic, to the get-up-and-dance-in-the-aisles Balam Pichkari, to the Ranbir showstopper Badtameez Dil to the liquid melody of Kabira and Ilahi.

Overall, YJHD is still a growing up story but more in the vein of an Imtiaz ‘Love Aaj Kal’ Ali than an Ayan ‘Wake up Sid’ Mukherji. Go for it to enjoy some super songs, some decent performances and some genuinely good moments. That's equal to getting a lot from Bollywood these days.