Movie Review: Baby (2015)

BABY_poster_20152.5 Stars (out of 4)

A lot happens in Baby, but that’s not necessarily a good thing. A choppy story structure and underdeveloped characters make Baby feel like a TV mini-series shoehorned into movie format.

Writer-director Neeraj Pandey’s broad vision pays dividends in certain ways. Globetrotting Indian counter-terrorist operative Ajay (Akshay Kumar) follows his targets to visually interesting places like Turkey, Nepal, and Saudi Arabia. Ajay’s luckier than his poor boss, Feroz (Danny Denzongpa), who only appears in scenes set in office buildings.

Ajay’s first mission — in which he tracks a rogue special agent to Istanbul — starts the movie on a promising note. Ajay extracts enough information to thwart a bomb blast, and the rogue operative foreshadows future attacks before killing himself.

The attacks are the work of a radical Muslim cleric in Pakistan, Maulana Mohammed Rahman (Rasheed Naz). Ajay must disrupt Maulana’s network — which includes a local recruiter, a jailed militant (Kay Kay Menon), and a corrupt businessman (Sushant Singh) — to get to Maulana.

What makes the plot so jarring is that Ajay’s participation is the only connecting thread between operations. (Feroz coordinates the missions, but he never gets to leave his office.) Ajay is alone on his first mission in Turkey, while his subordinate, Jai (Rana Daggubati), foils the bomb plot in India. New flunkies join Ajay for his next mission, and he gets a female sidekick, Priya (Taapsee Pannu), for the mission after that. It’s only after the militant escapes from jail that Jai reenters the story, after an absence in real-time of over an hour.

Segmenting the story this way keeps Ajay from forging strong connections with his people, thereby lowering the stakes. Would Ajay care if Jai died? It’s not like Jai is his partner or a trusted friend. He’s just a guy who shows up when called on and disappears when he’s not needed.

Worse still is Ajay’s forced family narrative. He shares two scenes early on with his wife (Madhurima Tuli) and two kids, but the kids are never seen again after that. The wife — whatever her name is — reappears for a spy-movie cliché scene, in which she calls to reminds him about their daughter’s birthday while he’s in the middle of frisking a suspect.

It’s another example of the low stakes for Ajay. His family is never endangered by his job, and he hardly thinks about them. In fact, he’s rarely in any real danger at all. The terrorists don’t realize he’s onto them, so they go about their business until he shows up. If they were tracking him in return, it would’ve raised the tension.

The movie’s lengthy 150-minute runtime also keeps Baby from being a truly thrilling thriller. Though effective early on, Pandey employees the same tension-building camerawork patterns repeatedly, making scenes that should be intense predictable.

Kumar is well-suited to anchor this kind of film. He plays the role straight, allowing Anupam Kher to lighten the mood as a reluctant hacker. Kumar also cedes the movie’s most exciting fight scene to Pannu, who is terrific in her minor role.

Despite the film’s bloated runtime, its villains are woefully underdeveloped. Menon’s character doesn’t have any dialogue after his opening scene, which is a shame given some great non-verbal acting he does during his character’s escape from prison. The cleric Maulana spouts some ideology early on but is likewise mute for most of the rest of the movie.

The silent villains may be a deliberate choice on Pandey’s part. De-emphasizing the terrorist’s ideology brings to the forefront a political opinion expressed by both Feroz and Ajay. Feroz explains to the Prime Minister that, when young Indian Muslims choose to fight for Pakistan, it’s India’s fault for making them feel unwelcome in their own country. That inclusive sentiment is one that any government that values diversity should take to heart.

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Streaming Video News: January 23, 2015

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix because another film produced by Excel Entertainment is departing the service. As of January 30, 2015, Honeymoon Travels Pvt. Ltd. will no longer be available for streaming. This follows on the heels of today’s removal of Dil Chahta Hai, Don, and Lakshya from the catalog. Assuming this is a trend, it may be worth boosting good, older Excel releases like Rock On!! and Luck By Chance to the top of your Netflix queue.

Opening January 23: Baby and Dolly Ki Doli

Two new Hindi films open in the Chicago area on January 23, 2015. Akshay Kumar’s counter-terrorism drama Baby gets the wider release of the two.

Baby opens on Friday at AMC Showplace Niles 12 in Niles, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington, and Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 39 min.

The weekend’s other new release is the romantic comedy Dolly Ki Doli, starring Sonam Kapoor.

Dolly Ki Doli opens on Friday at MovieMax Cinemas in Niles and the South Barrington 30. It has a listed runtime of 1 hr. 40 min.

PK gets a sixth week at MovieMax and the South Barrington 30.

After a terrible box office response to Gangs of Wasseypur Part I, it looks as though Friday’s planned theatrical release of GOW Part II has been scrapped. Click here for information on upcoming showings of GOW in Dallas, Nashville, and Seattle.

Other Indian movies showing in the Chicago area this weekend include the Tamil version of I at the Cantera 17, Cinemark at Seven Bridges in Woodridge, and MovieMax, which holds over the Telugu version as well; Gopala Gopala (Telugu) at Seven Bridges and MovieMax; and the Telugu films Beeruva and Pataas at MovieMax.

Movie Review: Creature 3D (2014)

creature2.5 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

Hindi horror movies are few and far between, and monster movies are rarer still. Taking into consideration the largely nonexistent infrastructure of screenwriters, directors, and visual effects artists that specialize in monster movies, my expectations for Creature 3D were low. While it lived down to my expectations, Creature 3D is so bad, it’s good.

Here’s an example of how Creature 3D qualifies for “so bad, it’s good” status: the humanoid monster’s roar is literally a guy saying, “Roar.” Not making a roar sound, but saying the word, “Roar.”

The creature’s victims are primarily guests and employees of the Glendale Forest Hotel, a place that sounds more like a rehab clinic than a mountain resort, according to my brother (with whom I watched the film). The hotel belongs to Ahana (Bipasha Basu), who left Delhi following her father’s death. Her hopes of a fresh start in the hinterlands are dashed when a monster starts eating her clients.

The monster also interrupts a budding romance between Ahana and Kunal (Imran Abbas), one of her guests. Kunal is supposedly a famous author, but he gets mysterious phone calls asking if he’s done what he came to the hotel to do.

Do Kunal’s mysterious phone calls or the events that drove Ahana from the city have any connection to the creature? No. Unlike American horror movies in which a supernatural attack is often a response to a sin committed — why do you think the teens making out in a car are always first to die? — Ahana’s encounter with the creature is just a case of bad luck. So says Professor Sadanand (Mukul Dev), a zoologist familiar with the creature.

If there’s a moral to the story, it’s that one can’t run from one’s problems. However, the problems that drove Ahana from the city aren’t the kind that can be fought. She’s just grieving her dead dad. Kunal guilt-trips Ahana for taking anti-anxiety medication, which he considers a moral weakness.

Ultimately, Ahana decides to stay and fight the creature, because there wouldn’t be a second half of the movie if she didn’t.

As for the hybrid man-lizard creature itself, oh, boy. It’s entirely computer generated, so it lacks the physical presence of a man in a suit or even a puppet. Some of its movements are neat, but it feels fake and never scary.

In fact, it’s almost like writer-director Vikram Bhatt — who probably has more experience with the horror genre than anyone else presently working in Hindi cinema — went out of his way to make Creature 3D not scary. There isn’t a single frightening moment in the film.

There’s no payoff in scenes where you expect a jump scare. When Ahana and Kunal stand in front of a window, the creature doesn’t pop up on the other side of the glass. Instead, the camera cuts to a window on the other side of the room, and we see the creature’s hand reach over the windowsill before he slowly pulls himself over it. Several shots are just pans across a blank wall with growling sounds in the background that end with the monster coming into the room through an open door.

Far scarier than the monster is Kunal, who spends the bulk of the movie leering at Ahana. One of the film’s song sequences — “Hum Na Rahein Hum” —  is just Kunal staring at Ahana while she goes about her day. Whether she’s buying flowers or driving through the woods, he’s always lurking. I’ve included a link to the hilarious music video below the review.

Mukul Dev is the real hero of the film, providing most of the unintentional comedy. Even though the professor saves a dining room full of people by scaring the monster with fire, his elaborate plan to kill the creature doesn’t involve flames. Instead, it requires “an old bus” and a human dummy covered in meat.

When that plan doesn’t work, the professor must rescue Ahana and Kunal using — you guessed it — fire. This sets up the single greatest shot in the whole film. Instead of soaking his jacket in gasoline, running to the old bus, setting the jacket on fire, and throwing it into the bus to give Ahana and Kunal a chance to escape, Professor Sadanand lights the jacket on fire first and then starts running. The sight of Mukul Dev running down the road trying not to get burned by his flaming sport coat is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen.

Despite a tremendously boring final twenty minutes, there are abundant reasons to watch Creature 3D: Kunal lurking seductively in the woods. The creature’s “roar.” Mukul Dev’s flaming sport coat. Meat dummy.

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Bollywood Box Office: January 16-18

Tevar‘s business took a huge hit in its second weekend in U.S. theaters. According to Rentrak figures supplied to Bollywood Hungama, Tevar earned $7,274 from 14 theaters ($520 average) during the weekend of January 16-18, 2015 (not taking into account the Monday Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday). That’s less than 6% of what it earned in its opening weekend, bringing Tevar‘s total earnings to $164,351. It is worth pointing out that, according to Box Office Mojo, Tevar had already earned $214,635 during its first full week in theaters. However, without second weekend figures to augment that data, I’m sticking with the lower Rentrak total.

PK continued its exceptional run, adding another $101,350 from 43 theaters ($2,357 average), bringing its North American total to $10,433,363. That puts it in 24th place all time among foreign-language films released in North America.

Perhaps Gangs of Wasseypur waited too long to make its North American theatrical debut. The first part of the 2012 epic debuted on January 16, 2015, in 13 theaters, earning a measly $5,167 ($397 average). Here’s hoping business picks up during the week before the release of Part II on January 23.

Of the $1,206,346 that the multi-language release I earned in its first weekend in theaters, just $14,382 came from the 47 theaters showing the Hindi-dubbed version ($306 average).

Sources: Box Office Mojo and Rentrak, via Bollywood Hungama

Streaming Video News: January 16, 2015

I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Netflix because three films are about to expire from the streaming service. Dil Chahta Hai, Don, and Lakshya — three movies from Farhan Akhtar’s studio, Excel Entertainment — all leave Netflix on January 23, 2015. Don was one of the first Hindi movies I saw in a theater, I loved Dil Chahta Hai, and I’ve heard nothing but good things about Lakshya. If you’re looking to marathon some movies this weekend, these three are a good place to start.

Gangs of Wasseypur Opens in U.S. Theaters

GoWDirector Anurag Kashyap’s five-hour crime epic Gangs of Wasseypur made a splash on the festival circuit in 2012. It released theatrically in India but didn’t make the journey overseas. Finally, on Friday, January 16, 2015, select AMC theaters across the United States will carry Gangs of Wasseypur Part I. The following Friday, January 23, those same theaters will carry Gangs of Wasseypur Part II. Both parts of the film will run for one week only.

Through a stroke of luck, my local public library ordered Gangs of Wasseypur on DVD back in 2012, so I was able to review it back then. It’s a fascinating movie, unlike any other Hindi film I’ve seen. However, my viewing experience suffered by having to wait several weeks in between watching Part I and Part II.

The one-week break between the theatrical releases of Part I and Part II sounds about right in order to maintain the film’s momentum. Fans of Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Manoj Bajpayee will want to make a point of seeing this on the big screen.

Follow this link to see if Gangs of Wasseypur is playing in a theater near you.