Friday, January 30, 2009

The Bodies Left Behind

Jeffery Deaver's Bodies Left Behind starts off with a home invasion at an isolated vacation house. The couple who own the house are killed but the husband starts off an incomplete 911 call, which brings an off-duty cop Brynn to the scene. Surprised by the bad guys, Brynn runs off into the forest and is soon joined by Michelle, a friend of the couple, who was in the house at the time of the killings.

Most of the story follows Brynn and Michelle as they trek through the forest with the bad guys behind them. The two are as different as oil and water with Brynn being quick-thinking and street-smart and Michelle being rich and spoiled. The chase is initially interesting and tense as the two women begin to bond and try to outwit their enemies. But things get repetitive very soon as the sequence of ' the women trick the men; the men recognize the trap and evade it; the men set their own trap; the women recognize the trap and evade it' happens over and over again. The traps are too complicated and so the fact that one side can think them up and the other side can anticipate them becomes unbelievable after a certain point. Deaver's trademark twist comes a little late in the proceedings. The author has a lot of experience at covering his tracks and setting us up and so the twist does come as a good surprise. The ending after that feels rushed and the sense of closure is not complete.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

2008 Tamil Cinema - Top 10 Disappointments

While the previous post listed the worst movies of the year, most of them arrived with little or no expectations attached to them. So, while watching them was a painful experience and they collectively represented 25 or so hours of my life that I'll never get back, they weren't really disappointments in the true sense of the word. So this list is made up of the biggest disappointments of 2008.

How much I look forward to a movie depends mostly on the actor and the director. The rest of the cast, the music director, the quality of the soundtrack and other factors do play a part but not as much as the actor and the director do. That is what you'll see reflected in this list.

10. Thenaavattu
Jeeva's previous movies like Raam and Kattradhu Thamizh led us to believe that he might have tried to do something different even within the confines of a masala movie but boy, were we in for a nasty surprise! The film gave us ridiculous characters in a predictable storyline and then proceeded to bore the daylights out of us with a fashion show and song sequences set in a community of transgenders.

9. Sathyam
Vishal, with his pumped-up physique, was perfectly suited to play a cop but that was the only thing we got out of this tired cop story. The film's screenplay was a mess with originality, continuity and tonal consistency not very high on the director's list of priorities and after a different start, the storyline became easily predictable. Nayanthara was at her most irritating in her clashes with Vishal and Harris Jayaraj delivered a lukewarm soundtrack for his 25th film.

8. Indhiralogathil Naa. Azhagappan
The quality of Vadivelu's previous appearance as hero and the genre this film belonged to made us look forward to it. With sad results. A rare entry in the socio-fantasy genre, it was stuck between feeding Vadivelu's ego, incorporating his brand of comedy and conveying a message. As a result, it alternated between cheap comedy, artificial sentiments and confusing messages. Azhagappan may have been in heaven but were in cinematic hell!

7. Aegan
The hero's role in the remake of Main Hoon Na seemed perfectly suited for Ajith at this stage of his career but director Raju Sundaram stumbled badly in this film, revealing a complete ignorance of what made the original work so marvelously. Ajith's larger-than-life heroics felt completely out-of-place, the overt comedy segments were irritating and the Hindi film's effective emotional hook was transformed into an unconvincing, last-minute addition.

6. Dasaavathaaram
Kamal appearing in 10 roles made this the biggest and most-hyped release of the year but the film itself was an unsatisfying effort. As an actor, Kamal sparkled with characters that were meticulously researched off-sceen and well realized on it. But almost all the other aspects of the film - the screenplay that ground to a stop in the second half, the cheesy graphics, the overdone make-up that made some of the faces stiff and inexpressive and the irritatingly whiny Asin - were more than a little disappointing.

5. Kuselan
With Rajni opting to do a quickie before the mega-budget Endhiran, this remake of the Malayalam blockbuster Kadha Parayumbol came as a welcome surprise for his fans, who weren't expecting to see him on the big screen in 2008. But P.Vasu spoiled the surprise, butchering the original by shearing off its subtlety and emotions and replacing them with loud sentiments and cheap, crude comedy. Rajni's stand-alone scenes had no impact because of the lack of background and Vadivelu was plain intolerable. The emotional climax was the sole saving grace in the film.

4. Abhiyum Naanum
Considering the loveably realistic characters, the subtle emotions and the understated humor that were part of Mozhi, we were looking forward to a similarly charming tale of love between a father and daughter in this follow-up from Radhamohan. Instead, we got a one-sided relationship where the father got all the attention and the daughter's character remained underdeveloped. The emotions in the film lacked depth and things turned really cinematic once Trisha's fiance was introduced.

3. Arai En 305-il Kadavul
The way director Chimpudevan balanced satire, social commentary and comedy near-perfectly in Imsai Arasan... led us to expect a lot more from this socio-fantasy that was loosely based on Oh God! and Bruce Almighty. But the director's balancing act with comedy and moralizing didn't work nearly as well. The were only a few laughs scattered among the messages and the messages themselves were muddled, leaving us with nothing.

2. Bheema
Lingusamy crafted one of the best masala flicks in recent times in Run and so when he got together with Vikram, who can bring intensity to any role and has been rather choosy with his films, expectations were that the collaboration would lead to fireworks. Sadly, the film was simply another cliched tale about a rowdy and his mentor, with all the usual accompaniments like fights, dances and an item number. The first half was an exhausting, non-stop fight-fest and the surprisingly downbeat end was too little too late.

1. Kuruvi
Dharani was the director with the Midas touch when it came to masala movies with three of the best entries(Dhil, DhooL, Gilli) in that genre in recent times. So his re-teaming with the rest of the Gilli team - Vijay, Trisha, Vidyasagar - was looked forward to. But the film was a huge letdown without any traces of the pace or the excitement that made Gilli so enjoyable. The few good action sequences had ridiculously over-the-top punchlines and the second half reminded us of Thagappansamy, a film which even its hero Prashanth would probably like to forget.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

2008 Tamil Cinema - The Bottom 10

Here in reverse order - best of the worst to worst of the worst - are my choices for the 10 worst Tamil movies of 2008...

10. Dhanam
Unrealistic characterization and an unbelievable plot erased the anticipation raised by the film's central character - a prostitute. Unable and unwilling to exploit the uniqueness of the character, the film manufactured a conflict through a series of coincidences and some unbelievable behavior on the part of the supporting characters. Predictably, the situation - and its solution - failed to have an impact on us.

9. KaaLai
Simbhu's next entry in his quest to become the next Vijay was DOA with a start that was more confusing than suspenseful. The familiar revenge saga with a cliched flashback had all the elements that go into a masala flick but the action was routine and unexciting, the romance was silly and the song sequences were unimaginative.

8. Seval
Hari joined the brigade of directors resisting Tamil cinema's advancement with this rural tale that was completely regressive and shamelessly manipulative. After a predictable father-son relationship and a passable romance, the film turned into a manipulative, disgusting tearjerker as it made its heroine Poonam endure one humiliation after another.

7. Pazhani
Director Perarasu continued his mission of sending Tamil cinema back to the Stone Age with this entry. A movie that set expectations by starting off with a farewell day in prison, it had everything we've come to expect from Perarasu's movies - regressive sentiments, shoddy technical aspects and a complete absence of logic.

6. ULiyin Osai
While one can overlook few missteps in a period film considering how rare entries in that genre are, this entire film felt like one giant misstep. Poor production values doomed the film right from the start while the stilted acting, horrendous comedy - quite possibly, the worst of the year - and unnecessary fillers, like a dance competition between Manorama and Kovai Sarala, further compounded our misery.

5. Indhiralogathil Naa. Azhagappan
A rare entry in the socio-fantasy genre, this film was so ineptly made that it could make one swear off films in that genre forever. Stuck between feeding Vadivelu's ego, incorporating his brand of comedy and conveying a message, the director made a complete mess of the film as it alternated between cheap comedy, artificial sentiments and confusing messages.

4. Vedha
The funniest emotional movie of the year, the film appeared to be aiming to incorporate every single cliche in Tamil cinema and in that aim, it succeeded admirably. The overload of cliches, poor characterization and silly way in which the sentiments were handled ensured that we were laughing during most of the movie, inspite of its serious theme, downbeat plot developments and lack of comedy.

3. Pandhayam
Director S.A.Chandrasekhar did his son Vijay a favor by not casting him in this film, which made Vijay's other films seem like classics. The preposterous plot, which had Nitin Satya plan Prakashraj's downfall while being inside his group, made Prakashraj look like a dumb villain and so there was no energy or tension in the clashes between him and Nitin Satya.

2. Nenjathai KiLLadhey
Director Agathiyan(of Kaadhal Koattai fame) fashioned two of the most outrageoous characters to ever headline a love story in this film. There wasn't a single believable moment in the interactions between the leads and their handling of the so-called romance was completely silly.

1. Thenaavattu
Jeeva, who seemed to picking some good, offbeat roles recently, dashed our hopes in this terrible masala cocktail. The film gave us ridiculous characters in a predictable storyline and then proceeded to bore the daylights out of us with a fashion show and song sequences set in a community of transgenders.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Chandni Chowk to China

Chandni Chowk to China feels like an old-fashioned masala movie that has been upgraded for today's audiences. It has ideas like a timid man turning into a hero and twins separated at birth - that were staples of masala movies of the 80s - and throws in exotic locales, grand song sequences and fancy stunt sequences. The film's approach swings between treating the subject in a tongue-in-cheek manner and taking things seriously. The story(about a cook in Chandni Chowk who mistakenly thinks he is the reincarnation of a long-dead Chinese warrior) just cannot be taken seriously and the film works when it realizes this. For instance, the cinematic screenplay turns that involve the twins (Deepika Padukone plays a model and her Chinese twin) and their dad are actually enjoyable and the obvious way the products she hawks in an advertisment eventually turn up in the story, is rather clever. But the movie falls flat whenever it takes itself seriously. This usually happens in the sentimental scenes between Akshay and his dad though the scenes where Akshay is insulted by the villain are guilty of being a bit too downbeat also. That said, the film is also guilty of not knowing when to stop taking itself lightly. Akshay's training scenes after he realizes his true calling and the subsequent fight sequences are nicely done. But the unnecessary comic touches drain away the excitement in those scenes.

Monday, January 26, 2009

2008's Top 10 Song Sequences

Having finally seen all 2008 Tamil films that I intended to see(there are still 2 more reviews to come), I can finally get to those Top 10 lists. Kicking things off in musical fashion, here are the 10 best song sequences in Tamil films in 2008. As the term 'song sequence' indicates, the criteria for this list are the song itself as well as the way it was picturized and presented.

10. Hey Saala... - Aegan
This song packed a lot of the energy that was missing in the rest of the film as it was bright and colorful with a large group of dancers. Ajith danced surprisingly fast considering his slow steps in his last few movies and the lines incorporated enough glorifying lines to please his fans.

9. Vaa Vaa En Devadhaiye... - Abhiyum Naanum
Director Radhamohan perfectly captured the father-daughter relationship in this soft, beautiful song that was made up of vignettes that captured some very cute and beautiful moments between a father and his daughter. The film had Prakashraj reminiscing about his daughter in the film and this song was capable of sending every dad who watched it on a walk down memory lane.

8. Aavaarampoo... - Poo
While all the songs in this album from debutant music director Kumaran were pleasing to the ear, this number has a big impact since it happens at a key point in the film. Picturized with the same slice-of-life nature that marks the rest of the movie, the sequences in the song make us laugh and cry within the span of a few minutes.

7. Kathaazha Kannaale... - Anjaathey
Director Mysskin once again lent respectability to the phrase 'item number' with this dance number. Picturized under soft light and with light steps that appeared to be done naturally rather than choreographed, the number was fun to watch. The song itself was catchy and relatively slow considering that it was a dance number.

6. Palaanadhu... - Kuruvi
In recent films like ATM, Vijay's dance steps became complicated enough for his dances to resemble exercise routines. So it was a pleasure to watch his simple but graceful steps for this number that once again reminded us how good a dancer he is. After a long time, he actually seemed to be having fun dancing. The fast song was perfectly tuned for his dance too.

5. Mukunda Mukunda... - Dasaavathaaram
The smooth, soft number was beautifully sung and picturized in a suitably mellow fashion. We got our first glimpse at Kamal in the guise of Krishnaveni paatti in this song and the best part of the number came when she - very creatively - acted out all the avatars of Vishnu in silhouette.

4. Dosth Bada Dosth... - Saroja
This soundtrack was an example of an album where mediocre songs were elevated by great picturization. The best example was this number, where the graphics made the visuals interesting while the happenings conveyed the sense of fun the friends were having on their road trip.

3. Thozhiyaa En Kaadhaliyaa... - Kaadhalil Vizhundhen
While Naakku Mukka... grabbed the spotlight with its fast pace, this number was actually the best of the album. The lyrics conveyed Nakul's predicament perfectly while the picturization, especially in the second stanza, where the camera revolved around a seated Nakul, captured his emotions very well. Nakul, for his part, performed the number with a lot of intensity and passion.

2. Kanngal Irandaal... - Subramanyapuram
A simple but addictive melody, this number was picturized with the same earthiness that marked the rest of the picture. The light touch of humor was unexpected but somehow added to the effect while watching it.

1. Adiye Kolludhe... - Vaaranam Aayiram
Song picturization hasn't been one of Gautham's strengths but he broke that notion with his picturization of all songs in this film. Right from the exhilarating guitar riff after the "Its a song, Dad. A rock song" start, this number was glossily and stylishly picturized and nicely choreographed. The locales added to the song's sense of class. Surya's steps were uncomplicated and natural and Sameera Reddy was fabulous with some simple but superbly graceful steps.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Ayan Audio

Vizhi Moodi... is the pick of the album - extremely catchy tune and simple orchestration that doesn't drown out the lyrics. The best parts of the lyrics come right at the beginning(thaniyaai pesidum sandhosham thandhaai penne penne...) and the short mazhaikkiliye... segment and its humming- and later, whistling - are beautiful. Thoovum Poomazhai... has a familiar feel to it but is energetic and catchy nevertheless. The lines that occupy the interlude (neeyum neeyum...), a Harris specialty, add some zest to the song. PaLapaLakkira... starts off like one of Harris' usual folk songs but the fast(but not frenetic) beats make it different and appealing. The slower parts of the song sound a bit old-fashioned. Sayarora's childish voice is Honey Honey...'s main appeal but the song is rather ordinary. The lyrics are silly and the segments that finish off the 2 stanzas(like hello sugavasi...) are the only interesting portions of the song. Nenje Nenje... is a familiar duet instantly recognizable as a Harris number. It reminds us of a couple of numbers from Bheema but Harish Ragavendra and Mahathi make it work very well.

Barring a couple of missteps(Sathyam was one) Harris has been very consistent and reliable. He doesn't disappoint in Ayan and comes out with another winner.

5 New Reviews

Reviews for Thiruvannamalai, Abhiyum Naanum, Poo, Dindukkal Sarathy and Villu are now online @ bbreviews.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Daddy's Girls

Unlike their illustrious dads, there 2 pretty women are not competitors. Nevertheless, an interesting photo :)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


With romance being an integral part of Tamil cinema since its beginning, one could be forgiven for questioning if there were any kinds - or aspects - of romance that were still left untouched on film. But director Sasi, who has showcased different kinds of love in films like Sollaamale, Rojakkoottam and Dishyum, unfurls yet another facet of romance in Poo. A tale of a woman's dedication and commitment to a man, it is simple yet stirring.

As Poo opens, Maari(Parvathy) is happily married to a store owner. On the occasion of a festival, she visits her mother's house in the village she was born and raised in. The visit triggers memories of her uncle Thangarasu(Srikanth), who she grew up wanting to marry.

As we can see above, Poo has a very simple story. But Sasi's directorial skills and penchant for creating powerful characters transform the story into a powerful, memorable movie. With his visual touches(like the way he shows us Parvathy remembering Srikanth's cellphone number), unexpected comic interludes(like the young goat-herd's cellphone incident) and character development(like the teashop owner who ends up playing a key role), Sasi delivers a soft, emotionally strong film.

Poo has a very unique, rather remarkable woman as its protagonist. It is difficult to define exactly what Parvathy feels for Srikanth but it is impossible to not see - or admire - the intensity with which she believes those feelings. Initially she comes across as someone who is naieve, always dreaming and setting herself up for disappointment. But as the film unfolds, it is clear that she is actually someone who knows exactly what she wants and is willing to go to any lengths to make that happen. So, while her character remains the same, our view of it undergoes radical change.

With her frequent declarations about marrying Thangarasu and her anger at anyone who suggests otherwise, the film starts off by making us believe that Parvathy is in love with Srikanth. But as we understand her more, we realize that her feelings cannot be descibed by a simple term like 'love'. When she is unable to even dream of more intimacy than simply holding hands with Srikanth, we see that she is not in love with him. We understand that she is simply in love with the notion of spending the rest of her life with him. And when she sits down to write a letter to Srikanth, the final few lines of the letter exhilaratingly show us what is important to her. That's when we realize that she wants to marry Srikanth not because she would be happy but because she thinks that she would be able to make him happy.

It is not just Parvathy's character that surprises us with the path it traverses. The film is populated with wonderful characters and the way the character arcs of some of them are developed surprises us. For instance, Srikanth's father, with his penaakkaarar tag and self-pride, is a very likeable character and so his transformation, even though it is caused by valid reasons, isn't expected. At the other end of the scale is the lecherous foreman at the fireworks factory. His character is developed as a familiar, cliched villain but the way it ends is a pleasant surprise.

This is one of the movies where narrating the story as a flashback after showing us the present, actually helps. Sure the surprise element is lost since we know that Parvathy is not going to wed Srikanth. But in its place is a curiosity about how a woman who is thinking of her uncle every waking second finally ends up marrying someone else and living happily. This question is always at the back of our minds and keeps us engrossed in the proceedings. And the way the screenplay brings that about is very satisfactory. The decisions taken by all the characters are logical and understandable.

Parvathy is a fantastic find and lives the role of Maari. She is able to convey both the innocence and intensity of her feelings for her man. Her final scream is a perfect outpouring of her feelings at the way things have turned out. Srikanth graciously underplays the role of the village youth. All the other members of the cast fit their roles perfectly with the actor playing Srikanth's father being very natural. Debutant music director Kumaran gives a suitably rustic soundtrack with the slow Aavaarampoo... and the fun Choo Choo Maari... being the top picks of the album.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Trip to Soda Springs

We made an impulsive(as in, decided after 8pm the previous night) and unprepared(as in, we didn't plan an itinerary, print directions or even pack lunch for the kids) trip to Lake Tahoe on Sunday. We stopped at Soda Springs ski resort, the first resort we hit on I-80. Our initial plan was to stop at the resort for an hour or so and then head down to the lake. But the resort was just so much fun that we ended up spending all our time there.

First we let Kavya and Karthik do what they had come there for - play in the snow.

We then headed to Planet Kids which, as the name indicates, was the area intended for kids. Kavya and Karthik first took a couple of rides on the 2 tube carousels (essentially, carousels with tubes that slid on the snow taking the place of the usual seats).

There were also a couple of large, fenced-in play areas - with a very slight incline - intended for little skiers and snowboarders. So the little ones had their first skiing experiences here and had a blast.

With some roller skating lessons behind her, Kavya took to it quite well and after a few practice runs with me holding her, had many solo runs.

Karthik was rather uncoordinated initially and had trouble walking with the skiis but with some help from the instructors, was able to have a few solo runs too.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Abhiyum Naanum

It looks like Dad's finally getting his due in Tamil cinema. After years of being forced to watch from the sidelines as Mom was placed on a pedestal, he's finally showing up in movies where he plays a pivotal role. This year we've alreadyhad Santosh Subramaniyam and Vaaranam Aayiram that revolved around dads and their relationships with their offspring and Abhiyum Naanum joins the list. A movie about a father-daughter relationship told from the father's point of view, it is low-key and down-to-earth but its lack of depth is a problem considering the emotional subject.

Talking to a dad Sudhakar(Prithviraj) who has brought his daughter to the park makes Raghuraman(Prakashraj), an estate owner, reminisce about his own relationship with his daughter Abhi(Trisha). Abhi was the apple of his eye and so every small indication that she was growing up came as a rude shock to Raghu. The biggest shock happened when he met Jogi(Ganesh Venkatraman), his prospective son-in-law.

When it comes to the relationship between parents and their offspring, the biggest difference between raising a son and a daughter probably happens at the time of marriage. After raising their daughter with love and affection, the parents are suddenly faced with the prospect of seeing her leave and spending the rest of their lives without her. That's a difficult time and its understandable that Abhiyum Naanum puts most of its focus on that time. It is after Trisha brings Ganesh home that Prakashraj understands that she's no longer daddy's li'l girl and his difficulty at coming to terms with that is captured well. As he turns silent or snaps at Ganesh unnecessarily, we understand exactly what he is going through and his behavior conveys the conflicting emotions he is feeling.

But this focus on one particular part of the relationship seems to be at the expense of the rest of it. The few scenes that showcase Prakashraj's attachment to his daughter when she is really young are nice and cute. But as she grows older, we see very little of the bond that exists between them. With the necessity of compressing a number of years into a couple of hours, the film fast-forwards through many important phases of the father-daughter relationship and as a result, we never see it really blossom.

Its clear that Radhamohan intended Abhiyum Naanum to be a light-hearted, feel-good film but that has translated into a film that has absolutely no dramatic tension or suspense. The few issues that are shown before Trisha's marriage is brought up are minor and resolved quickly. Trisha is quite the model daughter, sailing through school and college with absolutely no conflicts with her parents. And when she falls in love, it is with the perfect man(as the movie proceeds he becomes more perfect than we could've even imagined!). There are no issues or conflicts that reveal more about the characters, forcing us to take sides and become more involved in the film.

Prakashraj's character is well-developed and we get to see all sides of his personality when it comes to his daughter - his love for her, his anxiety about her well-being, his uneasiness at her growing up so fast, etc. But the same cannot be said of Trisha's character. We learn very little about her as a person. Barring one scene where she talks to Prakashraj about his dissatisfaction with Ganesh, we never see her interact with her dad or reciprocate her love for him. The relationship seems rather one-sided and with one half of the core relationship being so poorly developed, the film isn't as emotional as the subject matter deserves.

Like he did in Mozhi and Azhagiye Theeye, Radhamohan infuses the film with a lot of gentle, subtle humor. Almost all of Ishwarya's comebacks to Prakashraj work and Kumaravel has several funny one-liners. But the more obvious attempts, like the whole parent interview segment, dont work quite as well.

Prakashraj looks like he is hamming it up a little bit initially but he is good playing the insecure dad awaiting his daughter's marriage. He conveys a lot of emotions with his expressions and body language during the quiet moments. Considering the subject of the film, it is surprising that Trisha makes even less of an impression than she does in all those hero-centric films. Ishwarya is pitch-perfect as the more level-headed of the two parents and her gravely voice makes her sarcastic comments work very well. Kumaravel brings the right mix of sincerity and humor to his role and makes all his lines, whether they are sentimental or funny, work. Its difficult to see how Ganesh really looks but he fits the role and is quite natural. Considering Vidyasagar's work for Mozhi, his soundtrack here is a disappointment. Vaa Vaa En Devadhaiye... is a nice number and picturized nicely as it tracks a child's growing up but none of the other songs stay in mind.

Monday, January 12, 2009


After turning director, Prabhu Deva helmed a couple of love stories in Telugu. But when he moved to Tamil, he changed tracks, opting to direct Vijay in Pokkiri, a remake of the Telugu blockbuster of the same name. The film was a huge success in Tamil too and the duo has joined hands again for Villu. Apart from the actor-director team, the film has a couple of more things in common with Pokkiri, as it has the same villain and is also being released for Pongal. But the similarities end there. Where Pokkiri was a fast-paced action film, Villu is an old-fashioned, amateurish revenge flick. Pokkiri was no classic but next to Villu, it sure looks like one.

After dealing with Raka, one of the kingpins of a network of arms and drug dealers, Pugazh(Vijay) makes his way to a wedding, where he impresses Janavi(Nayanthara), the bride's friend. Turns out his romancing Janavi was only to get to her dad JD(Prakashraj), another important man in the arms and drug network. Pugazh and Janavi travel to Munich to meet JD and Pugazh runs into Shaan, the third key player in the network.

After some initial action, the film settles down as Vijay romances Nayanthara and irritates Vadivelu. The comedy is of the familiar variety and mostly involves Vadivelu getting hurt in a variety of ways as he is electrocuted, scalded, pushed into a well and ridden down a flight of stairs. But many of the gags do work and make us laugh. He is out of the picture once the action moves to Munich but Prabhu Deva, to give the action-heavy second half some relief, brings him back for two scenes. The two sequences - one of which sees him fight a CGI cow in a scene from Kung-Pow Chicken and the other sees him dance to a few recent, popular film songs - are plain intolerable and make us forget the laughs earlier.

The romance is even less of a success than the comedy. Though there are scenes(like the one where Nayanthara shouts at Vijay but an enamored Vijay hears the words coming out of her mouth in a musical fashion) that remind us that Prabhu first honed his directorial skills in a very sweet love story(the Telugu original of Something Something Unakkum Enakkum), the track skirts vulgarity at many moments and consists of cliched elements like Nayanthara hiring goondas to beat up Vijay and Vijay saving the bride from some troublesome relatives who want to stop the wedding.

There is a lot of technology in use once Vijay goes up against the bad guys in Munich. So we get blu-ray discs to store the villain's information(though Sriman and Anandraj, who are obviously not early adopters, still refer to them as CDs) and a hideout with palm print and voice recognition technology (though there seems to be no point to showing us all this security without a heist sequence to show how someone beats it) that somehow leads to a tunnel that's straight out of Resident Evil. We also get a peek into the future with the world's first wireless DVD-reader, which is apparently in Prakashraj's sunglasses as he scans a DVD by just looking at it! A well-staged stunt sequence in a plane that is actually thrilling manages to sneak into the movie but the rest of the proceedings are amateurish and silly.

There are a couple of surprises in the plot but once Vijay's past and mission are revealed (via a flashback that proves that Vijay and Prabhu Deva might have taken the phrase 'one man army' a little too literally), it is clear that all the aforementioned technology simply hides the oldest story in the book. As Vijay's mission nears closure, all the technology and style so far give way to really old-fashioned sentiments. As we are forced to endure spiteful villagers, crying wives, weird punishments and melodramatic surprises, we begin to wonder if the movie has suddenly been hijacked by the likes of P.Vasu, Perarasu and Hari.

Vijay does what's expected of him, dancing and fighting with energy. He's cut down on the finger-swishing and punch dialogs, a welcome change and trades those in for some designer wear and stylish looks. Nayan continues her recent tradition of mistaking innerwear for outerwear but is adequate for the little that is needed from a heroine in a Vijay movie. Prakashraj plays another routine villain. Even the token melodious number in earlier Vijay movies like Kuruvi has been dropped as Devi Sriprasad delivers a soundtrack filled with fast numbers that Vijay can shake a leg too. Jalsa... is the only number that sounds good while Nee Kobappattaal... has some nice lyrics and a somewhat interesting picturization with multiple Vijays on screen. Hey Rama Rama... finds Kushboo shaking a leg with Vijay and Prabhu Deva too making his expected appearance for a beat-filled interlude.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

ARR is Golden!

Next Stop - The Oscars!

Thursday, January 08, 2009

3 New Reviews

Reviews for Bommalaattam, Silambaattam and Panchamirtham are now online @ bbreviews.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire

Slumdog Millionaire can serve as a textbook example for how a movie should be made from a book. Danny Boyle takes only the basic, very interesting story (the best part of the book) and a few other key ideas from Vikas Swarup's Q & A and then puts his own spin on it. The more unsavory aspects, which would be even more unpalatable on screen, are removed, the violence is toned down, the confusing non-chronological style of the book is dropped and the more over-the-top plot points, like the twists in the climax, are left out. With Boyle's kinetic directorial style and Rahman's fantastic music, the end result is a consistently gripping, entertaining film.

As I mentioned when I wrote about Q & A, the idea of a young man(Jamal) appearing on a quiz show and answering the questions from the knowledge he has gleaned from various happenings in his life, is very innovative. There is suspense when each question is posed and a kind of elation when the segment leads him to the answer - not always in very obvious ways. The individual segments - like the time he acts as a guide at the Taj Mahal - are interesting by themselves but the fact that each of them has a purpose adds another level. Though the questions referencing events his life in a chronological order(unlike in the book) seems a bit convenient, it does help us get a fuller picture of his life and makes it easier to connect with him. The final question brings a smile to our lips though the way it is answered is a bit of a letdown

Though the more unpleasant aspects of the book(like, for instance, the incest) have been dropped, it is still not easy watching some of the difficult turns that Jamal's life takes. But Jamal's undying love for Latika is definitely heart-warming. It is the thread that runs through the movie and connects the segments. As the two meet under vastly different circumstances in different stages of their lives, we keep wishing that each meeting is more everlasting than their last one. They way they find each other for the last time is the result of a very clever narrative and is much more satisfying than their meeting in the book.

Rahman's score is scintillating. Like he did in Rang De Basanti, he surprises us with his choice of music for particular sequences. But once the surprise wears off, the music works beautifully and really enhances the appeal of many sequences (like the one where some kids leads the cops on a merry chase through the bylanes in the slums of Mumbai).

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

2 Trailers

Trailers of 2 movies that probably can't be further apart. But both are touted to be January releases and in their own ways, their trailers are pretty impressive.

Naan KadavuL

It's all Arya in this trailer and he does cut an impressive figure as he stands on his head, strides purposefully and bashes someone up. The only problem is that all that doesn't really give us a hint about the story. Based purely on the trailer, this would seem to be Bala's least commercial - and hence most courageous - film yet. Ilaiyaraja's music is powerful and pumps us up though what we're seeing is simply a montage of scenes from the film. Really looking forward to this film.


Vijay's now-familiar expressions, fights and dance steps are all part of this trailer, pointing to another typical Vijay masala film. But what caught my eye more were the glimpses of the action sequences - the boat chase, the plane and the shot of the helicopter flying over the snow. Its been a while since we saw some good, stylish action sequences in Tamil and those shots have me hoping that Villu gives us some. Then again, I might be pinning too much hope on a film that seems to be making Bharatiyar utter a part-Tamil part-English punch dialog!

Monday, January 05, 2009

Ghajini vs Ghajini

Its never easy reviewing remakes when we've seen the original and the problem is more pronounced when its a pretty close, other-language remake of a Tamil film. So instead of reviewing Aamir Khan's Ghajini, a remake of the Tamil blockbuster of the same name, I thought I'd simply compare the most important aspects of the two films.

Surya vs Aamir Khan
Ghajini's protagonist's role can be divided into 2 parts - the rich, suave businessman and the revenge-obsessed man afflicted with short-term memory loss. I think Surya has Aamir beat in the businessman's role. Surya was perfect in the role and shared great chemistry with Asin while Aamir looks somewhat old and doesn't really possess the same kind of charm. There's this one scene where Sanjay, walking back(in slo-mo) after meeting Kalpana for the first time, turns to look at her as she recounts her made-up romance on the phone, and smiles. Surya's smile was just perfect and conveyed his amusement perfectly while Aamir's smile just didn't work as well. Its these kind of small touches that made Surya the better Sanjay. As far as the part where he is afflicted with STML, Surya seemed to be hamming it up just a teeny bit while Aamir plays it just right. He brings the right mix of intensity and ferocity to the role and his blank looks and expressions convey his confusion very well.

Asin vs Asin
If it ain't broke, don't fix it seems to have been Asin's policy in repeating her role as Kalpana. And it's the right route to follow. Her performance in Tamil made it one of the more memorable heroine roles in recent times and she does it exactly the same way in Hindi. Her smile is just as enchanting, her disposition is just as cheery and the tension on her face when she is hiding from the villains is just as real. There are places where we feel that they simply carved her role out of the Tamil version and dropped it into the Hindi version.

Nayanthara vs Jiah Khan
Ghajini would probably count as Nayanthara's worst movie as she looked bad, fat and overly made up. So anyone would've been an improvement over her. Though Jiah Khan isn't dazzling or a great actress, she scores over Nayan just by not messing things up.

Murugadoss vs Murugadoss
For the most part, Murugadoss makes the Hindi Ghajini a carbon copy of its Tamil counterpart. There are a few minor changes(like Sanjay's first auto ride) and some of the narrative misses are corrected(like Kalpana calling Sanjay when stuck inside her apartment) but for about three-quarters of the films, a strong sense of deja vu is unavoidable for those who have seen the Tamil original. Ofcourse, this means both the positives(the interesting initial portions as we learn how Sanjay deals with his unique condition) and the disappointments(the non-handling of an interesting plot point like the villain destroying all of Sanjay's tattooed notes) are carried over. The last part of the film is where Murugadoss has really made some changes in Hindi. And they work. Eliminating silly plot points like giving the villain a twin and turning down the masala aspect of the climactic fight, he takes the narrative forward in a straightforward but sensible way. It also allows him to recreate an earlier situation, adding an emotional touch to the proceedings.

Harris Jayaraj vs A.R.Rahman
Rahman's songs didn't really stay in my mind but considering that I've heard them only once (during the movie), it would be unfair for me to compare them with the songs from the Tamil film, which I heard maybe a few times everyday when the soundtrack was released. But Rahman's background score is a definite improvement over Harris' cacophony.

The Final Verdict
Thanks to Surya, the Tamil Ghajini scores in the romantic track but the clean-up of the action track makes the Hindi version a wee bit more consistently entertaining overall.

Sunday, January 04, 2009


Bharatiraja has been one of the most versatile directors in Tamil cinema, crafting both psychological thrillers like Sigappu Rojakkal and rustic films like 16 Vayadhinile with equal skill. His latest film Bommalaattam is a thriller set against the backdrop of the film industry and considering that his last foray into the thriller genre was the silly and amateurish Kangalaal Kaidhu Sei, it doesn't arrive with much hope. But the experienced director does make amends to a certain extent with Bommalaattam. It is an engaging, suspenseful film though the director's sleight of hand makes the film's conclusion a little disappointing.

Rana(Nana Patekar), an experienced and respected film director with quite a few movies and awards in his kitty, is currently working on a movie titled 'Cinema'. Frustrated by the heroine's demands, he fires her and halts the shooting until he can find a replacement. He finds the heroine of his dreams in Trishna(Rukmini) and completes the film with her. But just before the film's release, Rana and Trishna, while fleeing from the press, get into an accident that kills Trishna and leaves Rana injured. Vikram Varma(Arjun), a CBI officer, is convinced of Rana's guilt in Trishna's death, especially since there have been other questionable incidents in other locations where the film was being shot. And Vikram has a personal axe to grind with Rana too since Vikram's girlfriend Anita(Kajal Agarwal) is a big fan of Rana and is working closely with him.

The film is constructed skilfully, not giving us the full picture too early but never confusing us so much that we lose interest in the proceedings. Things are somewhat frustrating in the beginning as there are huge gaps in the story (as the movie fast-forwards through several events) and there are references to past events that we do know about. But as the gaps get filled in through flashbacks and the story begins to take shape, the suspense and the questions do draw us in. The red herrings(I counted 2) are added judiciously and not too obviously and so they do work in misdirecting us, even if only for a short time.

The film falls prey to the same thing most Tamil thrillers fall prey to - lack of focus. Partly due to the need to pad the running time and partly due to the need to ensure that the film attracts a wider audience, Bharatiraja adds extraneous elements that kill the pace and dilute the intensity requisite for a successful thriller. These elements - like Arjun's romance with a duet thrown in, Vivek's comedy, two other song sequences - are not intolerable or bad per se but interrupt the flow. The good thing is that they come early in the movie when the damage they cause is less.

Successful thrillers lull us into believing something and then surprise us using something that's been right before our eyes all the time. Bommalaattam too has a big surprise up its sleeve but it is brought in out of the blue, giving the viewer no chance of guessing what's coming. So it is a surprising twist alright but it doesn't elicit the pleasant surprise that usually accompanies a good twist. The feeling here is more along the lines of having been cheated - not just because we didn't see the twist coming but because the editing and the choice of actors ensured that we were never ven given the opportunity to see it coming.

With its film-inside-a-film structure, Bommalaattam seems as much an exposition on the orkings of the film industry as it is a thriller. So we get to see the unreasonable demands of actresses, the harsh treatment meted out by the director to the artistes(this is rather surprising considering the rumors that the film director's role was loosely based on Bharatiraja himself), the sorry state of the producer, the rumors accompanying a film shoot, the stress a shoot could put in the personal lives of those involved and the difficulties faced by some of the cast members, both from other team members and from the locals. Though none of this is new, it is still interesting since it is not something we see often. At the same time, since the movie is primarily a thriller, the goings-on don't have as much of an effect as they did in a more focused, emotional movie like Kodambakkam.

Nana Patekar, in his first Tamil film, imbues the director's role with the right mix of confidence and arrogance. His behavior on the sets is pitch-perfect and realistic. Arjun's role is more of an extended cameo though he does pave the way for the film's conclusion. Kajal Agarwal and Rukmini are adequate. Vivek has a few funny lines but is more of a distraction while Manivannan earns our repulsion easily.

Saturday, January 03, 2009


Traitor can be termed a thinking man's thriller. It doesn't have the shoot-outs, chases and explosions that usually characterize films in that genre but is still an intense and suspenseful film. To begin with, the film effectively plants seeds of doubts about which side its protagonist is on but considering the choice of actor(Don Cheadle) playing him, there aren't really any questions about his loyalties(this is somewhat similar to Kamal's Kalaignan, where the film was quite successful in throwing suspicion on Kamal but we knew he couldn't be the killer). So the film's big twist - which, to the film's credit, isn't showcased as a surprise or shock - is easy to see coming but that doesn't detract from the film's impact. While spy thrillers usually romanticize their heroes, Traitor is effective because it deglamorizes its protagonist. We see the unexpected consequences of his actions and the moral and ethical dilemmas that he has to face because of them. The film also feels balanced since it doesn't portray everybody on the other side as complete bad guys and shows us that there are all kinds - the fanatics, the misguided, brainwashed believers and those with a conscience. It ratchets up the suspense towards the end as the elements of a plan come together. The climax does end the film on a positive note but feels a little too convenient and cinematic compared to the rest of the film. Cheadle is perfect and brings out the torment the character goes through. Guy Pearce plays a no-nonsense cop while Saïd Taghmaoui is solid as one of the terrorists.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Happy New Year!

Wish you all a happy and wonderful 2009...

A busy couple of weeks at work and some bad prints have conspired to create a long backlog of 2008 movies to still watch and/or review. So the retrospectives and Top Ten lists will have to wait till the backlog is cleared.