Tag Archives: Review

Movie Review: Wanted (2009)

wanted-20091 Star (out of 4)

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Wanted is a movie with an identity crisis. Is it a gruesome action flick? A mafia thriller? A slapstick comedy? A scathing critique of police corruption? A romantic drama? A musical?

The film contains elements of all these genres, and as a result, Wanted is a schizophrenic mess.

Salman Khan plays Radhe, an uber-cool thug who can take down a roomful of bad guys single-handedly. He’s the kind of guy to whom you’d apply a tagline like, “Every man wants to be him. Every woman wants to be with him.”

Of course Radhe’s trumped up machismo makes him completely unrelatable and unlikable, but the filmmakers go with it anyway.

Radhe works as a hired gun with no allegiance to the feuding mafia dons who hire him. He’s got three loafer buddies who conveniently show up whenever the girl of Radhe’s dreams, Jhanvi (Ayesha Takia), walks by, triggering dream sequence dance numbers.

The beautiful Jhanvi is pursued by the lecherous, corrupt police inspector Talpade, giving Radhe plenty of opportunities to come to her rescue. Jhanvi falls for Radhe until he kills about twenty guys in front of her (hey, they shot at him first!), making her question whether he’s marriage material after all.

Eventually, the biggest don around comes to town, and things get really bloody. There are rapes, kidnappings and beatings, and the police seem unable or unwilling to do anything about it. Jhanvi has Radhe to protect her, but is that enough when the rest of the world is falling apart?

Now, don’t let me mislead you. The plot isn’t nearly as straightforward as I’ve made it seem. There are several unnecessary dance numbers, as well as a subplot involving Jhanvi’s portly landlord, whose every entrance is announced by either a dopey musical theme or elephant sound effects.

All of this nonsense occurs amidst graphic, bloody deaths and frequent instances of sexual violence against women. Mahesh Manjrekar is exceptionally slimy as Inspector Talpade, who at one point proposes to Jhanvi’s mom an arrangement in which he gets to rape both of them at will.

Immediately following this uncomfortable scene, the inspector walks outside and finds the fat landlord trying to hide behind a tiny potted plant. The inspector punches the landlord in the eye, knocking him down. When he comes up, his eye is surrounded by a circle of black makeup — an instant, comic black eye! Then the inspector does the same to the landlord’s other eye. Goofy music plays in the background.

The juxtaposition of these two scenes highlights Wanted‘s misogyny. That the movie seems to suggest that the only way for a woman to save herself from this systematic violence is to find a muscly guy like Salman Khan to protect her just worsens the insult.

Don’t worry, ladies. At least you get to see Salman with his shirt off. That makes up for Wanted‘s cavalier attitude toward rape, right?

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Movie Review: Kaminey (2009)

kaminey2 Stars (out of 4)

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With every Hindi movie I watch, I expect that I’m not going understand everything. I don’t speak Hindi, so wordplay jokes go right over my head. I’ve lived in America my whole life, so references to things like Indian historical figures also go over my head. Rarely do these cultural and language differences impede my enjoyment.

But Kaminey is different. On top of a convoluted plot, Kaminey contains so many euphemisms and Indian regional references that most non-Hindi-speaking Westerners may find it more confusing than entertaining.

The plot of Kaminey (“Scoundrels”) focuses on the troubled lives of pair of identical twin brothers, both played by Shahid Kapoor. Guddu is a straight-arrow who stutters and has a cute girlfriend named Sweety (Priyanka Chopra). Charlie is a thug who works with a gang to fix horse races. He has a speech impediment which causes him to substitute the letter “f” in place of “s”.

Charlie gets his big break when he accidentally finds a huge stash of cocaine, which he intends to sell for big bucks. Meanwhile, Guddu’s life is threatened when Sweety’s brother finds out that she’s pregnant with Guddu’s child. The twins, who haven’t spoken in years, each get suspected of the other’s actions, and all hell breaks loose.

Kaminey is a great looking film. It’s dark and atmospheric; there’s nothing neon or glossy about it. And its fight scenes are gritty and believable, without being gory.

But the convoluted plot gets in the way of everything. You practically need a flow chart to keep track of who’s stolen what from whom, and who’s ultimately supposed to receive which stolen goods.

Then there are the aforementioned language differences. Charlie’s f-for-s substitutions are pretty meaningless to those who don’t understand Hindi. He occasionally utters some altered English words, like “fortcut” and “Fweety” in place of “shortcut” and “Sweety.” I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be funny, but I found it more distracting than amusing.

Also troublesome is the subplot of Sweety’s angry gangster brother, Chopper Bhope. He objects to Guddu marrying his sister because Guddu is originally from “U.P.” — and that won’t fly with the Maharashtra constituents Bhope needs to win over as he tries to become a politician.

This conflict doesn’t mean much to the average American, who probably doesn’t know that U.P. refers to Uttar Pradesh, which, as with Maharashtra, is an Indian state. (My fellow Midwesterners need not worry that Bhope holds anything against residents of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.) It’s not the movie’s fault that Americans are bad with world geography, but there were points during the film when I tuned out, resolving to visit Wikipedia when I got home, to look up references I didn’t get.

Because of these problems, it’s hard for me to say whether Kaminey is actually a good movie. It didn’t work for me, but it might be great if you understand Hindi and have a better handle on geography than I do. The best endorsement I can give is that I find director Vishal Bhardwaj’s visual style is interesting enough that I’m going to rent some of his prior movies.

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Movie Review: Love Aaj Kal (2009)

loveaajkal24 Stars (out of 4)

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The message of Love Aaj Kal is that there have always been obstacles to true love — whether it’s 2009 or 1965 — but that it has always been worth fighting for. The movie is charming and sweet and utterly deserving of the $1.2 million it earned during its opening weekend in U.S. theaters.

Saif Ali Khan plays Jai, an ambitious architect living in London. When Jai’s sort-of girlfriend, Meera (Deepika Padukone), gets a new job in India, they decide that the practical thing to do is to break up but stay friends.

The owner of a cafe Jai and Meera frequent gets wind of their plan and essentially tells Jai that he’s stupid for letting Meera go, when they were so happy together. After all, it wasn’t easy when he was courting his beloved Harleen in Delhi in 1965.

Flashbacks throughout the rest of the movie show a younger version of the cafe owner, Veer — also played by Saif Ali Khan during the flashbacks, by Rishi Kapoor in the modern day — as he pursues demure Harleen (Brazilian model Giselle Monteiro), falling in love before he even speaks to her. Jai thinks this is quaint, but doesn’t see how it applies to his relationship with Meera.

The relationships don’t parallel each other, but they are analogous. There are obstacles in both relationships, whether imposed from the outside or generated from within. Veer recognizes that Jai has the potential for a happy future with Meera and does his best to help it happen, showing Jai that love sometimes requires grand gestures.

While both of the relationships featured in Love Aaj Kal are charming, Veer’s pursuit of Harleen might be the sweetest love story I’ve ever seen on the big screen. It’s more innocent because of the social restrictions of the time, but it’s no less believable.

Everything in this movie is done well, from the engaging story to the convincing acting, from the bright colors to the catchy music; it’s immersive from the get-go. A lesser story teller would’ve resorted to cheap dramatic twists, but director Imtiaz Ali wisely lets the romance shine through.

The little details are delightful. Separated from Jai, Meera dons a pair of his trademark Chuck Taylors and drinks straight black coffee as reminders of him. Khan and Padukone have terrific chemistry; they should be a go-to romantic duo for years to come.

My only complaint about the movie is a minor one. Twice, Ali resorts to one of my least favorite Hindi-film cliches: the spontaneous parade. How many times have we seen couples in Hindi films stumble upon a parade, complete with a band and costumed performs, only to join in? Often, it’s an excuse to shoehorn in a song that wouldn’t fit anywhere else in the movie.

I’m not sure if parades are a regular feature of Indian life, but they don’t make sense in downtown London. If directors are desperate for a way to include music in their movies, it makes more sense to use a montage.

Movie Review: Short Kut (2009)

shortkut2 Stars (out of 4)

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The message of Short Kut: The Con is On is that there’s no short cut to success. The message seems ironic, coming from a clone of the Malayalam film Udayananu Tharam, which itself was a remake of Bowfinger, an American movie that also featured Short Kut’s tagline: “The Con is On.” But Short Kut makes its point in amusing enough fashion, even if the villain does get more screentime than the hero.

The film begins with the hero, Shekhar (Akshaye Khanna), deciding to finally write and direct his own Bollywood film, after working twelve years as an assistant director. He’s adamant that he succeed on his own merit, so he keeps his relationship with superstar actress Mansi (Amrita Rao) a secret.

While Shekhar finishes his script, his former pal, Raju (Arshad Warsi), shows up to crash in Shekhar’s apartment. Raju is convinced he’s a superstar actor just waiting to be discovered, though everyone else knows he’s a talentless leech.

Raju steals Shekhar’s script and gives it to a producer who declares it so good that it would be a hit even if a total idiot played the lead. To prove his point, the producer gives the role to Raju. The film is a hit.

The rest of the story deals with the damage Raju’s theft does to Shekhar’s ego and his relationship with Mansi. However, the lovebirds don’t get as much screentime as Raju, whom fame has turned into an insufferable megalomaniac.

It’s easy to write scenes for Raju; the audience knows he’s a buffoon, and it’s fun to see him get his comeuppance. But there are a few scenes where Raju is cruel for cruelty’s sake, and it’s uncomfortable to watch. Worse, it distracts from the genuine struggle Shekhar is going through.

Short Kut drags in its second half, but it’s a watchable movie, overall. There are some nice scenes between Shekhar and his junior-artist friend, Anwar, as well as between Shekhar and Mansi. Unfortunately, the English subtitles disappear during a pivotal speech by Mansi, but the rest of the movie’s translation is pretty good.