There’s an old Quentin Tarantino interview in which he proselytised, and I’m paraphrasing here: “I’d never stick around too long as a director, as with a higher number of films to one’s name coupled with advancing age and technology, an older filmmaker is bound to lose his/her touch and edge.”
This statement rings true in many cases as only the cream of the crop in the field of directing can weather the ever-changing film industry and manage to stay relevant over the course of a few decades by reinventing themselves constantly. Telugu mainstream cinema’s indie-flavoured filmmaker Teja has clearly not been one of them. A true maverick at the commencement of his career (delivering blockbusters laced with social commentaries such as Chitram, Nuvvu Nenu, Jayam and Nijam), he slowly started to fall victim to the ravages of time. His insistence on working with fresh faces while keeping away from the bigwigs of the mainstream eventually took a toll on his career.
The man has now made an attempt to reinvent his modus operandi as a filmmaker by working with known stars and writers, and a reputed production house, with hopes of aiding an ailing career. Nene Raju Nene Mantri tells the story of a corrupt politician Radha Jogendra, tracing his meteoric rise and sickening fall as he loses his innocence and puts the sweet relationship that he shares with his doting wife in jeopardy. Jogendra is a hot-headed, short-tempered and amoral leader who is surrounded on all sides by cookie-cutter Tollywood politicians and two “attractive” women of whom one, the wife, is reliably sari-clad and the other is not. If you know the cast of the film, you know who’s who, and have a pretty clear idea about their character traits while you are at it.
While not being a broad comic satire like a Sudigadu or a Hrudaya Kaleyam, Nene Raju Nene Mantri is a belting, darkly funny satire about the state of our country, our heroes and Tollywood itself. The film cleverly masks its true intentions over a nearly opaque veil of mass cinema clichés. With loud noises, needless murders, downright silly political maneuvering, gratuitous navel, and thigh shots, and childhood romances, the film offers up a biting critique of every one of the nation’s citizens and of the industry, it is so lovingly a part of.
Look, if there is one saving grace to this movie, or to most mediocre movies he finds himself in from time to time, its Dhanush. Like Ranbir Kapoor in Bollywood, this man can do no wrong when it comes to his on screen work. Behind the scenes, however, the measure of quality is poles apart.
Velai Illa Pattadhari 2 is a sloppily put together, unfocused mess of a film which is moderately enjoyable owing to its lead’s unyielding charisma. Explaining the plot of the film would be one the biggest undertakings I’ve had in recent memory. The film’s B-plots include everything from launching one’s own start-up to taking on the prejudice of a rich businesswoman to stopping illegal theme parks from being constructed to losing a job to dealing with your nagging wife and so on and so forth. The multiple B-plots which try to serve as many demographics as possible fatally cripple the film in one very important aspect of screenwriting; the film has no primary story.
Under a gigantic layer of the unpalatable hip-hop infused score by Sean Roldan which ushers in Raghuvaran’s return, the film chips away at one’s need to watch a film with a coherent narrative and focuses on the many bright colors and loud noises which have drained most audience’s patience with masala potboilers. Dhanush, whose previous work on the page was the surprisingly refreshing Pa Paandi, pens a story whose plotting and beats are lost under a host of admittedly humorous dialogues. These jokes aren’t wholly original (nagging wife and lost opportunity jokes are rarely effective) but the eye catching packaging it comes as a part of makes for some wholly entertaining moments.
As the film gets into the meat of the matter, it rarely focuses on anything substantial. There is a distinct lack of flow from scene to scene as plot points are left to hang out to dry with no discernable effort to weave them into the overall narrative. Antagonists come and go, resolutions are haphazardly stitched together and Raghuvaran the character acts as a savior to one too many people while the film forgets to adequately illustrate his competence and drive.
I had a sinking feeling in my stomach when I first heard that screen legend Kajol was being cast as the primary antagonist of this film. There is something laudable about ambitious casting and Kajol is an actress who is highly capable of pulling off most roles with aplomb but my fear of this being an exercise in gimmickry used to mask serious deficiencies in plot were laid bare within the first few minutes. While the original VIP had an entertaining dichotomy between the protagonist and the antagonist with both starting their lives on the work force at varying circumstances but with similar goals, the sequel fills itself with contrivances to justify character motivations and actions.
With Soundarya Rajinikanth at the helm, one would not be fault to expect a film with a certain degree of technical finesse. Her previous work 3 has a distinct style to it. But VIP 2 is aggressively bland with its visual packaging. The cinematography is flat throughout and a few slow-mo fight scenes are in no way redeeming. The excellent fight choreography and spatial awareness the original had are sorely lacking and when these flaws are combined with the aforementioned score, the recipe for a forgettable venture has been executed to a tee.
Through all these downsides, the film is rarely boring. For the lack of a better phrase, there are just way too many things happening on a constant basis. The film’s plot hopping antics make for entertaining viewing even though it lacks a sense of deftness. The film self-awareness combined with its effective self-deprecation make for popcorn entertainment which is funny as you watch it but will quite easily slip away as soon as you step out of the hall.
Films starring Dhanush are rarely unwatchable. When compared to his contemporaries, Dhanush is one of the very few big name actors who takes chances with his films while trying to essay universally relatable stories. The man has proved his mettle as a producer, actor, singer, writer, and most recently as a director. This creates a swirl of expectation when one sees his name stamped on a film. And as almost all of our beloved artists are guilty of, they always have a dud in their repertoire. VIP 2 is Dhanush’s most recent.
Sit around the campfire, boys and girls – you are going to read a scary story about something that happened to good old TJ. Good old TJ reviews films as one of his lines of work, but he never considered it work. He loved movies and would have gladly lived out his days at a cinema hall because that is where the world made sense to him. In this world, he is exposed to true cinematic brilliance occasionally and mediocrity at most other times.
But there is one classification which is rarer than “excellent”, and The Emoji Movie falls into that category. These are the days good old TJ dreads as he sees his hope, happiness and will to watch movies wither to a dry husk. And now, you get to share in his trepidation as you read about TJ and his terrible, horrible at the movies when he willingly bought a ticket to watch the terrible, horrible Emoji Movie.
I’ll clean up TJ’s language and opinions about this soulless branding exercise for you young whipper-snappers. The first statement he had coming out of the theatre was “Intercourse (I cannot say the word, obviously) this movie. Intercourse it with one of those deliberately shaped eggplant emojis present on each of your smartphones.”
So, you’re telling me that Furiosa is coming off that dumpster fire F-word 8 by featuring in an out and out action movie co-starring that guy who has 23 personalities and directed by one of the minds behind John Wick?
Alright, makers of this film – I’ll play ball, but with two conditions: 1. Shut up and take my money, and 2. Don’t make me regret giving you my money.
And here we go.
Atomic Bond – oh, forgive me, Atomic Blonde – follows the story of supposed MI-6 agent Lorraine Broughton (Theron) as she kicks names and takes ass while traversing Cold War-ravaged Berlin and its wall in an attempt to retrieve the film’s McGuffin (a list which has the identities of many a spy) with the aid of a loose cannon British agent, David Percival (McAvoy).
With this plot line, the film quite obviously does not reinvent the wheel – instead, it takes a time-tested wheel and tries to drive away with it while trying to look chic. The first bit of information I’d like to give the movie-going masses is that this film is not the female version of John Wick (Jane Wick if you will) even if the trailers are cut with a deliberate intent of generating false expectations. What this film actually is, is a Cold War spy thriller with a sprinkling of some admittedly badass action.
When one hires David Leitch to direct a film, one can be sure of a few things. Firstly, he gets his crew of stunt trainers, choreographers, and performers known for creating spell-binding stuff. Secondly, he can direct pulse-pounding action while creating an unflappable mood and tone via his visual style and choice of music. And finally, his films need a clear and concise plot to be effective. What he does not need is the poor man’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. While I would like to applaud the director for expanding his horizons by making a convoluted spy thriller, his glaring limitations as a filmmaker are jarringly evident.
We all have that one friend. You know, that guy/girl that thinks he/she knows better. They supposedly know more about everything and can’t stop patting themselves on the back about how much of a godsend they are. A person so toxic that being in his/her presence destroys your confidence and makes you feels horrible about the person you are. You look at that person and think to yourself, “Dude, this guy/gal can have a whole conversation with him/herself and be content as a self-serving tool because he/she has no time for external input or feedback.”
Now that you have a picture of this person materializing before your eyes and the feeling this person induces in your heart, I would kindly ask you to associate these emotions with Darsakudu. After the appalling 2016 Kannada film Eradane Sala, 2017’s Darsakudu reaches a similar level of atrociousness, at least in my book.
This film likes to reference other movies while talking about how it “sets itself apart” from the crowd. In that vein, I’ll use other films to compare and contrast as I write my review.
Imtiaz Ali and Shahrukh Khan making a film together? Damn.
Two men who have been accused of rarely veering away from their tried and tested paths join hands with When Harry Met Sejal. Ali and his proclivity for tweaking the same basic story over and over again with every new project (except for Highway) combine with Shahrukh “please stop making romance/unfunny movies because you actually have so much more range” Khan.
In an interview, the “King” Khan (talking about his future projects) made the statement (being paraphrasing here) “I’m branching out from the so-called Shahrukh formula. Hopefully, the audience sees and appreciates my efforts.” Well, here we go Mr. Khan – I am a fan of most of your work (including the divisive latest ones Raees and Dear Zindagi), and was sitting amongst many other such fans hoping you’d surprise us with your latest offering. Alas.
From what I could glean (from in between the screams of a few young ladies) the movie tells the story of a Lothario named Harry – absconding from Punjab, now Canadian citizen and European tour guide – and a girl named Sejal who has lost her an engagement ring which is very important to her fiancée. The duo travels across Europe attempting to locate said ring while the film attempts to find some sort of romantic connection between the broken and distraught Harry and manic pixie Sejal.
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Vetala Panchavimshati, the collection of 25 stories narrated to King Vikramaditya by the zombie? or should I say demon? hmm.. the Vampire Vetal (Betal) rank behind The Mahabharatha as my second favorite literary accomplishment of ancient India. King Vikramaditya is tasked with retrieving Betal from the edge of a cemetery with the rule being if the noble King utters but a word, the body of Betal will fly back to the tree at the edge of the cemetery with the King having to make the journey back to said edge to recover him again.
Why would The King say anything you ask? Well, Betal narrates a story each time the king repossesses him and makes the walk back out of the cemetery. Each story ends with a moral conundrum and if King Vikramaditya does not choose to solve said conundrum whilst knowing how to, his head is set to explode into a million pieces. What a fantastic conceit on the backdrop of which 25 uniquely engaging stories were constructed back in the day. After director Upendra used this conceit and made the 26th story with his classic film Upendra, the directing duo of Pushkar-Gayatri narrate a neo-noir pseudo 27th story with Vikram Vedha.
Vikram Vedha follows encounter specialist Vikram (R. Madhavan) embroiled in Operation Hammer which has been designed to capture or kill the legendary gangster, who once sliced a man’s head in half with a sickle, Vedha (Vijay Sethupati) and his crew. Vikram’s contracted world view is put to the test as his encounters with Vedha open his mind to varying takes on morality.
If there is one thing I always scream out for when I watch movies, it is for characters to have character. I apply my own version of the Beckdale test as I ask myself “Can I describe a character in 5 sentences or more?” More often than not, this test gives me resounding answers as to how well or how poorly characters are etched in narratives. Even though the character work might require a few tweaks, this film possesses two of the most evenly matched characters I’ve seen in cinema since 95’s Heat or 08’s The Dark Knight.
Before Vijay Sethupati’s Vedha makes his almost Kevin Spacey from Seven-esque entrance into the picture, Madhavan’s Vikram and his multiple shades as a character have been established deftly. While we are shown the man as only a knight in shining armor, the film never forgets to plant a seed of doubt in the audience’s mind about Vikram’s frailties. As Rorschach from the seminal Watchmen comes to realise, a monochromatic view of the world is near impossible to justify.
Vedha helps Vikram realise this by means of three stories; each story/flashback resulting in more revelations about the near-mythical Vedha which results in Vikram exploring his own psyche and moral code. A setup so compelling needs actors of equal if not higher magnitude to pump life into it. Vijay Sethupati’s new salt-and-pepper look combined with his heavier frame help him match Madhavan’s physicality. Vedha’s character is decidedly the more interesting of the two and Sethupati does steal the film but without Madhavan playing a more than adequate foil to his eccentricities, the film would have fallen flat.
While the film worships many subtleties in terms of plot and character (which is a welcome change), it forgets to adequately explain Vikram’s motivations to listen to Vedha’s many tales. To its credit, the film has a well-rounded female cast with characters who have shades of their own. These ladies mark their territory with their limited screen time. While there are a few plot threads which would be more intriguing if explored to a higher degree, the film is already dealing with quite an intricate plot of its own through its runtime.
I don’t know how to word this intelligently every time but a specialist sharp shooting team who have storm trooper aim is just annoying in any film, let alone a good one.
While the primary theme and a romance track are catchy and vibrant, the score is overpowering. Not as bad as Baahubali’s score but not too many steps behind. But in the vein of Baahubali, the film does have a series of exceptional shots; shots and costumes that convey the mental state of the characters that inhabit them. The ominous but tender nature of the story being told is expertly conveyed by the crisp editing and shot design.
While taking a step back from the initial wave of excitement the film creates might dim a few of its merits, these dings do not discount the film being a perfect mixture of the raw materials that create a crowd pleaser and thinking man’s detective movie. It warmed my heart when I read that the filmmakers worked on scripting this idea for over 2 years before being happy with the results. Their effort is laid bare for all to see and as much as I like to nitpick, I would always recommend a film like this to a fellow human.