Tag Archives: Lauren Gottlieb

Movie Review: ABCD 2 (2015)

ABCD22.5 Stars (out of 4)

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ABCD 2 tries way too hard. Earnest efforts pay off in the spectacular dance numbers, but the movie’s ham-handed moral and patriotic themes only inspire eye rolls.

ABCD 2 is not a direct followup to 2013’s ABCD: Any Body Can Dance. Many of the actors from the original are in the sequel, but in different roles. Prabhu Deva again plays a choreographer named Vishnu, but he’s not the same guy, which is needlessly confusing.

Vishnu 2.0 is a drunk, washed up Mumbai choreographer. He gets a chance at a fresh start when a disgraced hip-hop crew led by Suru (Varun Dhawan) asks for his help in winning an international competition in Las Vegas.

While the original ABCD was aimed at teenagers, ABCD 2 skews younger, with sophomoric humor and more explicit moral lessons woven into the story. Yet that’s what makes the redemption arc of Suru’s crew so darned awkward.

At the start of the film, Suru’s crew, the Mumbai Stunners, is the most popular group on an Indian TV dance competition show. During the show’s finale, the judges — one of whom is ABCD 2 director Remo D’Souza, playing himself — bust Suru and his buddy Vernon (Sushant Pujari) for copying the choreography of a hip-hop group from the Philippines. The Stunners are branded cheaters and thrown off the show.

The consequences haunt Suru, Vernon, and other members of the group like Vinnie (Shraddha Kapoor), even at their day jobs. That prompts Suru to reform the Stunners and beg Vishnu’s help, hoping that victory in Vegas will prove their talent to the Indian audience that shunned them.

The problem is that Suru and Vernon — though mostly Suru — really did cheat, but they never admit it or apologize for it. They are punished by being kicked off the show, but they aren’t sorry. Even as his friends are ridiculed because of his devious actions, Suru doesn’t ask for their forgiveness.

The redemption-without-remorse lesson is a strange moral to preach to children. Worse, they meet the Filipino team they stole from at the Vegas dance competition, and no one mentions the theft. The Stunners act like fanboys, and the Filipino team praises them for their heart.

If someone stole my work and passed it off as his own, then tried to act like he was my biggest fan, I wouldn’t be grateful. I’d be pissed.

Other subplots fail to tug the heartstrings as intended. Suru tries to honor the memory of his dead mother, a famed dancer. Crew-member Vinod (Punit Pathak) is not only deaf and mute, but also routinely coughs up blood. There’s a long-lost son. The crew finds their mojo only when they embrace their Indian roots and dance to absurdly patriotic/religiously tinged songs.

The most successful subplot involves the only two female members of the crew: Vinnie and Olive (Lauren Gottlieb), an Indian-American dancer who joins them in Vegas. When Olive gets too flirty with Suru for Vinnie’s liking, the two talk about it rather than devolving into a catfight. It’s nice to see the two women portrayed so positively.

Plot problems aside, the dancing is the real reason anyone goes to see ABCD 2, and in that regard it does not disappoint. These days, even big budget Bollywood movies only feature one or two large-scale choreographed numbers, but ABCD 2 has a bunch of them. On top of that, spotlight performances showcase just how skilled the cast members are. The talent level of pro dancers like Gottlieb, Pujari, Pathak, and Dharmesh Yelande (who plays Dharmesh) cannot be overstated.

Part of what made ABCD so successful was that the cast consisted of professional dancers who acted. It gave cohesiveness to the production. The integration of Kapoor and Dhawan — professional actors who dance — into the cast of dancers is mostly successful. They aren’t just good dancers as far as actors are concerned; they are very, very good dancers, period.

However, Dhawan occasionally stands out from his crewmates, most noticeably in the song “Happy Hour.” It’s not that he’s performing poorly, just that the thousands of extra hours men like Pujari, Pathak, and Yelande have spent dancing gives their movements a fluidity and crispness that Dhawan can’t precisely replicate.

Sushant Pujari was my standout performer in the original ABCD, and it’s nice to see his role elevated in the sequel. His acting has improved enough that Bollywood casting agents need to give him a lot more attention.

Even though the plot is geared toward a youthful audience, there is a ton of toned flesh on display for older moviegoers. Kapoor and Gottlieb both look amazing, and every guy in the crew is ripped. If you are a fan of hot, shirtless dudes, then the climactic dance number is for you.

ABCD 2 is not as good as ABCD. However, there’s unlikely to be another Bollywood production this year that has the volume and quality of dancing that ABCD 2 has. Go see it if you want to get your groove on (but forgo the 3D upcharge).

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Movie Review: Welcome 2 Karachi (2015)

WelcomeToKarachi0.5 Stars (out of 4)

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When a character in Welcome 2 Karachi says, “I want to shoot myself,” it felt like he’d read my mind. Watching this alleged comedy is torture.

I’m still not entirely sure where the film’s first scenes take place. Former British Navy officer Shammi (Arshad Warsi) and his idiot friend, Kedar (Jackky Bhagnani), work for Kedar’s dad, an event planner. They discuss Kedar’s desire to move to America, preferably via a boat from London.

Kedar’s dad puts the guys in charge of a yacht party, accompanied by a dozen bikini clad white women. The boat sinks after being caught in a ridiculous CGI cyclone, and Shammi and Kedar wash ashore in…Karachi, Pakistan?

Despite all the indications that the movie opens in the UK — Shammi’s British Navy discharge, talk of traveling from London to America, a boatload of white women — they must have been in India all along. Otherwise, their arrival in Pakistan would make no sense. Not that sense has much value in Welcome 2 Karachi.

The movie is casually violent to a jarring degree. While the guys are still passed out onshore, a bomb explodes next to them, killing dozens of people. They joke around in a morgue. When the guys seek help from the Indian embassy, they trigger gun battles between several other embassies: the US and Iraq, Israel and Palestine, and Russia and Ukraine. Because ongoing conflicts with civilian casualties are hilarious.

Lowbrow jokes based on offensive generalizations are tossed about without care. Every Pakistani is violent. White women are scantily-clad sex objects. Americans are buffoons keen to take credit for military victories they didn’t earn. India is always the best, yet the first thing Shammi and Kedar request upon their rescue as accidental heroes is joint US-UK citizenship.

Lauren Gottlieb plays a Pakistani spy, but the fact that she’s actually a white American means that Kedar and Shammi can hallucinate her performing a sexy dance number in a bra top and hotpants.

Her character doesn’t do much to drive the plot forward, but then again, neither do any other characters. Stuff just happens, and characters drop in and out of the narrative at random. By the time Shammi & Kedar’s redemptive arc peaks with them having to rescue a plane full of deaf Paralympians, I wanted to barf.

As poorly constructed as the story is, the technical execution in Welcome 2 Karachi is worse. Every bit of CGI — from the cyclone to the plane taking off — looks cheap. The voice dubbing is wretched. It’s easy to tell which characters have been dubbed because their lips don’t match the words they speak.

The movie has particular trouble with its American characters. The dubbing is so bad that the same character’s voice changes from scene to scene. A high-pitched Southern accent becomes a flat, middle-American accent the next.

Also, why is the American embassy in India staffed by Aussies, and the American embassy in Pakistan staffed by Brits?

Welcome 2 Karachi‘s single biggest problem is that its main characters are annoying. Almost every character who meets Shammi and Kedar eventually tells them to shut up. If everyone else in the film finds them that irritating, imagine how annoying they must be to a bored, confused audience.

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Opening May 29: Welcome to Karachi

On new Hindi film opens in the Chicago area on May 29, 2015. The comedy Welcome to Karachi stars Arshad Warsi and Jackky Bhagnani alongside So You Think You Can Dance‘s Lauren Gottlieb, who plays a Pakistani spy. Movies in which Warsi is the marquee star don’t often release in North America, so this is a surprise.

Welcome to Karachi opens on Friday at MovieMax Cinemas in Niles and AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 11 min.

Tanu Weds Manu Returns carries over for a second week at the AMC River East 21 in Chicago, Regal Gardens Stadium 1-6 in Skokie, MovieMax, Regal Round Lake Beach Stadium 18 in Round Lake Beach, South Barrington 30, Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville, and AMC Loews Woodridge 18 in Woodridge.

Piku gets a fourth week at MovieMax, Cantera 17, Woodridge 18, and South Barrington 30, which also carries over Bombay Velvet for a third week.

Other Indian movies playing in the Chicago area this weekend include Masss (Tamil) and Pandaga Chesko (Telugu) at both the Muvico Rosemont 18 in Rosemont and MovieMax, which also carries Gaddar: The Traitor (Punjabi), Rakshasudu (the Telugu version of Masss), Lailaa O Lailaa (Malayalam), and 36 Vayadhinile (Tamil).

Movie Review: ABCD: Any Body Can Dance (2013)

Anybody-can-dance3.5 Stars (out of 4)

Buy or rent the movie at iTunes
Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

Indian production houses have recently been fumbling with attempts to make movies targeted at urban teens with disposable income. ABCD: Any Body Can Dance is the first film to really hit its target audience. It’s vibrant and fresh without feeling condescending.

ABCD follows a familiar formula. An adult with something to prove whips a scruffy bunch of kids into shape, helping them grow as individuals and as a group of friends. It’s Chak De India, but with dancing instead of field hockey. This isn’t a knock on ABCD. The formula works, so why not use it? A good formula executed poorly results in a bad movie. Thankfully, ABCD is well-executed.

Prabhu Deva anchors the film as Vishnu. Booted as the lead choreographer at Mumbai’s most popular dance studio to make way for a flashy new choreographer from New York, Vishnu contemplates returning to his native Chennai. His friend and fellow dance teacher, Gopi (Ganesh Acharyaas), talks Vishnu into staying in town for a few more days, during which time Vishnu spots some talented young people dancing at a religious festival.

The dancers are divided into two rival factions headed by Rocky (Salman Yusuff Khan) and D (Dharmesh Yelande). Rocky’s crew immediately accepts Vishnu’s offer to mentor them, but D’s crew needs more convincing. Vishnu must get Rocky and D to set their egos aside for the group to have any chance of beating Vishnu’s former studio, JDC, in the national televised dance competition, “Dance Dil Se” (“Dance From the Heart”).

Vishnu’s new school gets a boost when a former student, Rhea (Lauren Gottlieb), defects from JDC after the head of the school, Jahangir (Kay Kay Menon), makes a pass at her. Menon is great as the slimy director of the studio. Gottlieb, a former competitor on So You Think You Can Dance in the U.S., does a nice job in her debut role in a Hindi film. Obviously, she’s an incredible dancer.

The dancing is ABCD‘s selling point, and it does not disappoint. All of the routines — from flashy stage numbers to solo performances in the rehearsal space — are really entertaining. The 3D effects added to the big routines don’t add much, but they aren’t distracting either.

For the most part, the acting is solid. All of the younger cast members — many of whom made their names on dance competition shows in India — do a great job, as does Prabhu Deva. Ganesh Acharyaas overacts as Gopi, turning what could’ve been a warm character into a source of distraction. Also distracting is Pankaj Tripathi in a minor role as a politician in a neck brace who speaks in an inexplicably bizarre voice.

Another problem in ABCD is the lack of development of all but a few characters. There are about a dozen additional dancers in the Vishnu’s group, and only a few of their names are spoken in the movie. Director Remo D’Souza could’ve dispensed with a needless anti-drug subplot to at least give the supporting characters names.

Something about the ethnic makeup of the dancers at JDC struck me as funny. The Mumbai school, which performs a style that is mostly Western contemporary, is made up of Indian boys and white girls. There isn’t a single Indian girl in the company. There’s no explanation for why this is, nor does it keep JDC from being the most popular dance group in India. It’s weird.

What I especially enjoyed about the dancing in ABCD is the way the numbers refrain from objectifying the women in the cast, treating them as equal members of the company. There are no item girls in ABCD. It’s refreshing.

If anything, the men in the cast are the ones being objectified. The dance crew is mostly made up of young, fit dudes who spend a lot of time with their shirts off. As a woman who sees a lot of Hindi movies, it was nice to be the target audience for a sexy dance number for a change.

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Opening February 8: Special 26 and ABCD

Two new Hindi movies make their way into Chicago area theaters on February 8, 2013. Special 26 (aka Special Chabbis) has the greater star power of the two, starring Akshay Kumar alongside notable character actors Anupam Kher and Manoj Bajpai.

Special 26 opens on Friday at the Big Cinemas Golf Glen 5 in Niles, AMC South Barrington 30 in South Barrington, and Regal Cantera Stadium 17 in Warrenville. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 40 min.

I’m more excited for this weekend’s other new opening: ABCD (Any Body Can Dance), India’s first 3D dance film. For anyone who’s fond of Bollywood movies for their dance numbers, this should be a gold mine. The movie stars choreographer Prabhu Deva in the lead role and features So You Think You Can Dance Season 3 competitor Lauren Gottlieb.

Starting Friday, ABCD will be showing in 3D at the South Barrington 30 and AMC River East 21 in Chicago and in 2D at the Golf Glen 5. It has a listed runtime of 2 hrs. 25 min.

Race 2, which has earned $1,371,815 in the U.S. so far, gets a third week at the South Barrington 30, Cantera 17, and Regal Gardens Stadium 1-6 in Skokie.

Other Indian movies showing in the area this weekend include the Tamil version of Vishwaroopam at the Cinemark at Seven Bridges in Woodridge and Golf Glen 5, which is also carrying Vishwaroopam in Telugu, as well as Ayalum Njanum Thammil (Malayalam) and Mirchi (Telugu).