captain phillips
Drama, English Movies, Recently Posted

Captain Phillips – Subtle, gripping and surprisingly poignant

Captain Richard Phillips: There’s got to be something other than being a fisherman or kidnapping people

Muse: Maybe in America, Irish, maybe in America

Captain_Phillips_poster Initially, I admit, I was a bit reluctant to watch the movie. For a couple of reasons – post the complex and sensitive ‘Syriana’, it has been tough work   finding a portrayal that was is not either a self-pitying American version of white man’s burden or an out and out macho version of how American military goes about its business. Though thankfully, movies like Rambo have moved out of fashion. Secondly, the theme seemed like one where there will be quite a bit of action – though with Tom Hanks in there, I was sure it wont be of the Bruce Willis and Nakatomi Tower variety. More like the cat and mouse variety, I reckoned

Well, I can say that I feel lucky that I was persuaded to watch Captain Phillips. In its short running time, it was gripping and surprisingly subtle, with the best acting, probably, not coming from Tom Hanks as Captain Phillips but Barkhad Abdi playing Muse, the Somali pirate captain. At the end, it leaves with you with a feeling of having watched a well made, well balanced movie. It also leaves you with an ache you cant shake off. Continue reading

Bollywood Movies, Popular, Thriller

Paan Singh Tomar directed by Tigmanshu Dhulia


Paan Singh Tomar makes for good movie recipe…a national sports champion turning bandit to avenge injustice

Like a desi Robin Hood

Paan Singh Tomar, the movie, is also a sad testimony to the fact that unless he had turned bandit, a movie would not have been made on him. Not if he had broken a thousand sports record

The movie itself proves what the movie tries to say.


The real Paan singh But it makes for a great script. And with the irrepressible Irrfan Khan in the lead role, you can expect the screen to come alive. And it does. Irrfan Khan brings to Paan Singh Tomar an amused dead pan humour that suits both Paan Singh the athlete and the Paan Singh the bandit

Like Paan Singh Tomar says in the beginning, while giving an interview – “dacait to parliament me hai, hum to baagi hai” (dacoits are in parliament, I am an outlaw)


Its the same Paan Singh Tomar who readily joined the army sports team because he was told that he could eat as much as want without limits

The movie starts off with a flashback, while giving an interview to a local newspaper, of how he first becomes a national steeplechase champion, creating records that will stand for decades and then how a disillusioned Paan Singh turned bandit to avenge his land grabbing of his ancestral property

There is good rhythm in the first part as we see the rustic youth in the army turning into an athlete. His talents as anPaan singh soldier inexhaustible runner is soon recognized and he goes on to represent India at the Asian Games. He is a good family man and is content with loving his wife and his children. Mahie Gill as his wife plays the perfect supporting role – a wife who will support Paan Singh no matter what and who understands why he has to act the way he did.

The first half ends with the transformation of Paan Singh Tomar as he is pushed into what has been both the curse and the blessing of Chambal valley. Turning bandit is both an act of liberation and defiance and an act of desperation. And Paan Singh tries his damn hardest to defy his fate – going through all ‘proper channels’ to try and get his issue resolved.

He even tries to use his sports medal to try and persuade. In a heart-wrenching moment when his medals are thrown away by an openly corrupt police inspector, Paan Singh finally sees the truth. He sees the only way open…

Mocked and derided at every turn by a compromised establishment, facing apathy by even the district collector, Paan Singh does what many men and women before him had done and what many after him will do – he turns to the only route that will give him justice. Through the barrel of a gun

The second half is his journey as a bandit – from taking his revenge to finally falling to police bullets, refusing to surrender till the end.

The second half is also the story of the sheer futility that he faces as he realizes that he has to be always on the run. Even if he completes his revenge, he realizes, there is no going back. Paan Singh Tomar will only run for his life now. He can never again run for sport. As he gains notoriety and his gang becomes big, he knows that he only has to go forward. That this was the life chosen for him. Not by him but chosen for him.

I do have an issue with the second part. It seemed a little incomplete. The Paan Singh we could relate to in the first half paan_singh_tomar_20120319 seemed to disappear somewhat in the second half. The storytelling in the second part dealt more with action than with the man. We see he becomes a bandit but what we don't see what it does to him. Except for a few scattered dialogues, we don't see the dilemma much. The man who loved his family to bits – does he not miss the wife that he loved so much? If he did and I am sure he did, that fact never makes an appearance. We know that he realizes the futility of it all but Irrfan Khan as the Paan Singh Tomar on screen does not share it with us.

However the second half is action packed and the chase that ensues between Paan Singh and his main nemesis is one the most riveting moment. Especially when Paan Singh uses the same strategy to run over obstacles as he did when he ran for India – the tragedy of his situation could not have been made starker

The end is shot with care and the very last that we see of Paan Singh leaves you with a good closure…

Another thing to note is that the dialogues are almost completely in rustic dialect. This is a great move. Since you understand what is being said well enough, the dialect gives a very earthy and real feel to the movie. You can almost feel how Paan Singh must have talked

Overall, Paan Singh Tomar is a welcome direction that Hindi movies are taking. India is filled with folklore and mythical figures.Chambal folklore especially has never been exploited as it should have been. Man Singh, Putli Bai cry out for a245909-paan-singh-tomar portrayal on the screen. We really don't need to go to exotic locales or dance in Greece or in front of pyramids to get audiences anymore

Paan Singh Tomar's success is testimony to the fact that the we, the audience today, want a good story told. And we want a a sincere movie not a fluff in the wind…

This one really should not be missed. Irrfan Khan as Paan Singh Tomar will leave quite a mark on you… and so will the ending credits, when you realize just how many sportsmen have been neglected to death. Makes the movie even more telling…

This is a good article that I found on the web post the movie release – well written piece on a journalists journey today to Paan Singh's homeland

Times crest article – here

and a Frontline article related to Chambal dacoits – here

What do you think?

Action, Drama, English Movies

Watchmen directed by Zack Snyder

Watchmen_2 The problem with some books (more specifically graphic novel, in this case) is that they are literally untranslatable into movie form. Especially when the story is highly complex and interwoven with multiple characters with a storyline that needs to go back and forth in time to make sense.

The problem doubles when the storyline contains “Superheroes”. Then the movie has to take form of the typical action superhero format (Batman, Spiderman etc) or become watered down in its effort to appeal both to the graphic novel fan and to the mass audience. An example of the latter is V for Vendetta, which was a highly sanitized teenager version of the original novel, which more or less killed its appeal for those who cherish the original.

The plot, simply put (very simply!!) is this. Watchmen is about an watchmen_by_imladrisellethalternate/parallel world similar to ours but different in many others. In this world, US has won the Vietnam war but only because they had the help of the Watchmen (their predecessors, the Minutemen helped win WWII), a group of vigilantes who don't have special powers like typical superheroes (except one) but they still dress up as ones and help out with ‘saving the world’. They become unpopular however and are  disbanded. The story starts with one of them getting murdered by an unknown assailant. One of the Watchmen (Rorschach), who has refused to leave the ‘field’ decides to investigate…so the story and the movie begins…

Watchmen is as much a complex novel as V for Vendetta, if not more. The film-maker chose a simpler route to avoid the fate of V. TheyWatchmenSmiley simply copied the frames of the movie from the original. When I say copied, I literally mean a xerox. While watching the movie, I had a weird feeling that I was seeing the novel move in fast motion. Even the dialogues were the same. Which in a way killed it for me – I loved the original and seeing the same thing in front of me without any adaptation or original thought of any sort made the movie feel like a sham, made it feel like a rip-off. What made it worse that they still had to water it down significantly in order to make it comprehensible in the 3 odd hours it played (it was a long movie) – for example, the pirate  sub-story was gone…

Then I stepped back a bit. I realized that the novel cannot be made into watchmen_silk_spectre a movie and be pleasing to someone who loves the original. But for those who are not so close to the original or have not read it, it was more than above average. It has a great storyline, has fascinating characters, great camera and animation work and yes, superb music. I mean, when they played “Sounds of Silence” by Simon & Garfunkel during the funeral of the Comedian, the movie took on a surreal air. And the opening song by Dylan as the movie is introduced fits the mood perfectly.

And yet, no matter what, you cannot relate to the characters, like you did in the original. Everyone remains just about distant…

So, if watchmen is something you haven't read, this movie is worth a watch, if only as a primer for the read. And if you have read the original, give this one a skip…


Action, Classics, English Movies, Popular, Thriller

Heat directed by Michael Mann

heat The definitive robber-cop/crime thriller movie. I had heard a lot about it but only managed to watch it yesterday. And boy did it blow me away!!!

The first thing that you drool over is right in the first few seconds when the casting comes up – Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Val Kilmer, Jon Voight, Ashley Judd, Tom Sizemore and more. That itself was a warning signal that I better wake up to what follows…

Then of course you realize that Al Pacino and Robert De Niro are squared off against each other, the former being a career cop who hunts down career criminals like Niro. Then sets the thermometer even higher and if the name of the movie had to have a second meaning, it would have been the epic battle between two of the most stylish and talented actors in Hollywood.

The thing about this movie is that it never once goes down the road of cliched scenes or dialogues that other gangster movie go down so easily. There are no stereotypes. You understand and reach out to both sides – the cop whose life is unravelling and the robber who goes against his instincts to fall in love. The dialogues are taut and one piece of conversation between Pacino and Niro in the restaurant would surely rate as one of the most intensive conversations in the movies – it was so poetic and full of imagery. This conversation, more thanheat1 anything epitomised the movie.

The characterization is complex, the characters are multi-faceted and you constantly see new sides to every person. That makes this movie highly engrossing and makes you a part of each moment.

And one thing you realize while watching this movie is that reason why we are fascinated by movies populated by these kind of characters. They, the cops and the robbers, live amongst us but all we can ever do is cower when the firefight rages on. We may look upon them with awe and fear but its so difficult to get a glimpse into their lives (other than the idea that it must be exotic and dangerous), difficult for us to see them as normal people with different temperaments (as Niro and Pacino remarked, they cant do any other thing). We watch, fascinated, because we could never really understand them, even if told and shown. This, I believe, is the movie’s main triumph. Without stereotyping, without cliches, it told, amidst everything, a very human story.

heat-large-tm And what would an action movie be without the action? This movie could boast of one of the best action sequences (the bank robbery), with machine guns slugging it out in the middle of a street and all you hear is the ferocious rat-a-tat and the screams and the guttural commands. Rivetting!!!

So, anyway you look at it, this movie is perfect…the actors, the acting, the script, the dialogue and the dialogue delivery, the action, the suspense, the complex characters, the story behind the men and women. This is a movie that you can watch many times and find something new everytime. Just became one of my all-time favourites…


English Movies, Satire

Capricorn one directed by Peter Hyams

capricorn-one Its truly a surprise that this is not more well known. Its one of the most exciting movie that I have seen – thought-provoking, good storyline, good narrative, great scenes, some superb action sequences. It might have been made in 1977 but what it portrays is even more relevant today than it was then.

The movie is about a mission to Mars sent by NASA, except that the crew does not actually go very far from the surface of the earth. In fact they are put in a movie-studio in a military base – as actors. And the whole Mars landing is faked. The reason for the plot and how its carried is captured well. However, a chink in the planning shows up in the form of a suspicious employee and he chances to be friends with an incorrigible reporter. Thus begins an investigation which the powerful ‘they’ try to thwart by any means necessary. A chain reaction starts which quickly becomes life-threatening.

The movie quickly moves into action mode near the last quarter when it becomes a horror story for the three astronauts. The flight and the chase (and capture) scenes are truly well done considering the cinematography technology available at that time. The story is well paced with the best bit saved for the last half hour. The story itself is taut and moves quickly.

Though compared to modern standards, it looks a bit unpolished but that is only when we compare it technologically. In terms of a story which is relevant and in terms of the kernel of truth that it puts out in the form of a fictional story, its bang in the league of ‘Wag the Dog’. Bothcapricornone1 in term of the bold concept as in the tautness of the script where you will find dark humour and grimness in equal measure.

The basic premise is this – Can a government pull of a huge hoax like this? The answer is in the movie itself – Yes. With the technology available even then and with a few clever manipulation by movie technicians, even the Moon landing could have been faked!!! In fact I found the reference to this movie from the Fox documentary on the fake moon landing theory. I must say, I was a believer after I saw the documentary. This movie just made it seem much more plausible.

A keeper for sure. And a movie that really ought to be much more well known.

Action, English Movies

The Great Raid directed by John Dahl

great_raid If all you like is great action visuals, watch only the last 45 minutes of this movie or go watch Saving Private Ryan. If you like a complete movie which concentrates on historical accuracy and goes caringly into depth of an issue that is viewed differently by different affected parties; If you don’t mind sub-plots that gives a holistic understanding of the situation and if you like to understand the build-up to a mission, you will enjoy this movie immensely…

Other than the fact that movie is well-balanced and does not hurry you to the final firefight, what I liked best about the movie was the accuracy and the highlighting of the contribution made by an often overlooked part of the war – local resistance. The war would not have been won if not for the local intelligence provided by the resistance militia. With the overt focus of Hollywood on D-day landing (it provides for great visuals), most people would think that wars are won by heavily loadedphoto_06_hires landing parties (US would have been winning in Iraq that way isn’t it?). Of course, this movie is all true and painstaking detailing has been done to replicate this, right down to the last bit of strategy.

Also, this is a theatre of war (The Pacific) that has received little attention from movie makers over the years. Only recently has the Soviet theatre started to receive attention (possibly because they had done the western theatre to death and needed newer visuals). The Philippines, Indonesia etc are places where the fiercest battles were fought, yet few directors have ventured there…

photo_10_hires This is about the ‘Raid at Cabanatuan’, a mission to save POWs captured by the Japanese. As the war was drawing to close, the Japanese gave a directive to kill the POWs. After this practise became known, this mission was conceived. The Americans were helped in planning and execution of the mission by the Filipino guerrillas.

The film rotates between the Americans, the POWs, Margaret Utinsky (a nurse who helped the resistance), the urban resistance and the guerrillas. Care is taken to ensure that that each side’s viewpoint, motivation and courage is shown. This part is what I respect immensely about the movie. No one side completely dominated the movie. More emphasis was not laid on the Americans. Everyone was taken on as an equal partner, something that an overwhelming majority of movies of this genre tend to do. Sure, this makes this a little longer than usual but who said that good things always had to come in small packages…

The final mission is executed with great care and this makes for one ofphoto_09_hires the best action sequences in a long time. You understand the strategy completely and you are a part of the nerve-wracking moments when the knife-edge strategy is on the point of collapse. Its a great visual treat to watch how the coordinated action on three fronts led to one of the biggest POW rescues in history…The final actual footage is a nice add-on.

Overall, a movie that gives you complete satisfaction – on the characterization front, on the action front, on the story and accuracy part.

Great watch!!!


Action, Classics, English Movies

The Dirty Dozen directed by Robert Aldrich

dirty-dozen-titles1 Now, this is a movie that is usually first heard of before being seen, such is the iconic fame of this movie…

I approached this movie with some trepidation since with such famous movies, the expectations built up can spoil the experience of enjoying the small things in the story. Another problem with the classics is that many of the assumptions of the era (racial, ethnic etc) can be galling to the modern viewer.

My fears were unfounded however. Other than the fact that the Germans were cardboard in characterization (a common flaw in movies that is being corrected only now), the movie had the feel of a good action thriller with a quirky humour of its own. And it nothing galling about it, thankfully.

The story of  group of criminals given a chance of freedom in return for a mission has been repeated in its various avatars over the years. But the premise still retains its charm. A dozen of hard, gruff men (including an impossibly young Donald Sutherland) forced to get together by a maverick army captain; bonding together to form a band of brothers going out on a mission that was considered suicidal – this is a story that retains its freshness and excitement no matter how manyDirtyDozen2 times you portray it.

The story progresses quickly – right from the offer made to the condemned men, the training, the baptism by fire and the final mission. The bonding that happens between the wildly different men is shown naturally without any artificial constructs. The mission itself was pretty thrilling even though you argue on some of the obvious flaws in the assumptions in the execution of the final plan.

Another good thing about the movie was that there was no holier than thou attitude that western movies tended to take of the World War with respect to Germans. The movie never went preachy. Instead, it was obvious that for the condemned men, it was the US army that was the enemy. The Germans were remote and just a mission. This is refreshing especially from a movie from that era. There is a tacit understanding that every army is pretty much the same. It just depends which side you happen to be born in.

the_dirty_dozen However, for all that its worth, there is a problem with the depth of characterization. Many of the characters seemed only slightly better than two-dimensional with the result that you fail to connect with them properly. You don’t get to know them well enough to become a complete part of the proceedings. And this surely had nothing to do with the era. I got the feeling that more effort was made to manage the huge cast and to develop the storyline and the action than to develop the characters. The result is that movie is intensely enjoyable in most part but you just get the feeling that you got cheated on the emotional front. You just could not feel enough for the characters. Maybe that is a bit too much to ask for. But then for movies this famous, you do want it all, don’t you?!