Wall-E: Pixar... Well, Pixar!

Right from the inception of fully computerized animation in Toy Story (1995), Pixar has been the best in their domain, by and large (no puns intended, hope none taken!). Time and again, I have been swept away by each one of their films. How I wish every time that some other animation company in USA made such a good film. Dreamworks came close with Madagascar (2005), but posed no threat whatsoever to the throne held by Pixar. Here they are with WALL•E, coming to the country after creating waves in the US box office. Before the film started, how I wished Pixar would falter, just a bit for just one time, to at least testify the theory that even the mightiest are not infallible. But no, not yet.

It is 29th century. Amidst the exanimate garbage wastelands, happily compacting the dump is WALL•E (Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class), a rusty little robot with notably large eyes. There are no traces of life in the whole area. Yes, there is earth, there is fire, there is wind and there is water, but not life. WALL•E’s only source of connection comes in the form of his friend the cockroach and the only place of warmth being his home, which he carefully assembles from the scrap materials he gathers. He examines every bit of junk with his reflective yet assimilative eyes, in search of excitement. He spends his nights watching romantic numbers from the (19)60’s and trying to imitate them. The sheer silence adds to the comic intensity, proving once again that neither comedy nor animation needs dialogue for success. One wishes that this spectacular act never ends.

One great day, WALL•E notices an elegant robot dislodging from a large spaceship that has landed. It is the Eve of this defunct Garden of Eden, the angel of death floating in air, the femme fatale from the future, EVE (Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator). She’s like nothing he has ever seen and definitely better than him – Faster, stronger and smarter – but unaware of life. Instantly smitten, WALL•E tries to get closer to his subject of interest, only to find out that she has been sent by the humans residing in the spaceship Axiom, which had been installed 700 years ago to temporarily hold humans till the ecological problem on earth was solved. EVE is immediately called back to Axiom when she discovers that there is vegetation on earth again, after so many centuries. WALL•E decides to go after her and leaves earth.

WALL•E is introduced to a whole new species called humans. Though comically executed, it is with some solemnity that the humans are handled in the film. WALL•E notices that man has been pampered and made back into infants, refusing to even walk and eat on their own, ignorant of all the small joys of life. This is when its gets a bit dramatic and things seem to become a bit conventional. WALL•E, unintentionally, induces life into everyone there and they start realizing the vitality of life. It seems like the second dawn of man. Man learns to walk, again. He gets independent of all his machines. Thus Spoke Zarathustra. As the ship’s captain decides to return back to earth, he faces stern opposition. Can humanity be brought back to earth? Can man re-learn everything? Can earth feel the Fifth Element once more?

In a film about robots, it is difficult to make the audience empathize with the rigid geometrically built characters. But WALL•E’s large eyes are so full of life that one does not feel that he is a lifeless being right from the first glimpse. One is reminded of Scrat’s eyes from Ice Age (2002), but this is only better. So are EVE’s two dimensional eyes. The creators have generated so much emotion from just changing their shapes. And so has a lot of effort gone into the fabrication of the wasteland. The damp roads, the disposed plastics and the occasional gust of wind – everything here is a lunge forward for CG animation. Pixar regular Tom Newman has done a good job by introducing some 60’s and 70’s feel into the score that is, ironically, very suitable for such a futuristic film.

In A Bug’s Life (1998), there’s this scene where Manny the mantis performs his routine trick called the Chinese Cabinet of Metamorphosis and Molt the bumbling hopper is shocked and cries out “How did he do that!!!”. That is exactly what I ask myself every time Pixar churns out one of their creations. Producing around five minutes of animation every week, Pixar has once again proved all those clichéd maxims about hard work. Here they are now, with WALL•E, clearly another winner. May not be their best, but it does get the credit of being the best film of the year so far.

P.S: Stick till the quirky end credits which roll over as WALL•E and EVE dance over paintings ranging from the early man’s pagan art to Van Gogh.

P.P.S: Check out the Pixar short Presto that comes along with this film. It is up there with the likes of Geri’s Game and For The Birds. Absolutely hilarious.


The DC versus Marvel battle continues as Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight arrives along the wake of the success of Iron Man (2008). With almost all of the filmdom going gaga over the performance of Heath Ledger even before the film’s release, it was but naturally clever for Warner Brothers to leverage this mass curiosity and fabricate one dark power ride for the audience. The fans had already caught a glimpse of the sober Batman in the previous offering by Nolan in Batman Begins (2005), which changed the whole gravity of the franchise in contrast to the light-hearted prequels by Burton and Schumacher. The film does not disappoint, to say the least.

It is a time when Batman (Christian Bale) has become an integral part of Gotham City’s vocabulary and people have seriously started questioning his position as a saviour of the city. Meanwhile, the crime rate shoots up during the broad daylight. The Joker (Heath Ledger) concocts a series of crimes in the city and “introduces a little chaos into the system”. The district attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), his love interest Rachel (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and the Deputy Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) join hands in order to track down the Joker, but find themselves unable to save their own skins, quite literally. The Joker demands Batman to bare his identity in order to save the people of the city. Though torn by the consequences of the choices, Batman decides to “endure” and hold his sanity.

Harvey says at a dinner that heroes either die or live long enough to see themselves become villains, quoting the corrupt emperors of Rome. Bruce decides that the people of Gotham City should need a superhero no more and it is their faith in their own laws, the citizens that abide them and the spirit of humanity which binds them all that would save them from the escalating crimes. Taking off from this, the film ends on a contemplative yet grand note, a la Yojimbo, as the masked crusader moves on towards the next stage of his life.  This way, the film raises questions about the need for heroes and dependence on a stranger for safety, opposed to the affirmative answer given by Clint Eastwood’s Flags of Our Fathers (2006).

Much has been talked about the performance of Heath Ledger and no review seems to be complete without the perfunctory statement about the posthumous Academy award. Is the performance that good, one is tempted to ask. The answer is a definite “Yo”. Right from the swaying of his tongue as if to widen his grotesque grin to the Jack Nicholson-esque preoccupation with contorting his facial muscles, you sense that such a performance does not come often. The performance would have lost no fraction of its intensity even if Ledger had been there today.

Christopher Nolan knows how to use his technicians and it shows. The brilliant cinematography is evident and needs no elaboration. The cross-cutting among multiple scenes, especially during key events in the film, tests one’s comfort and at the same time makes long scenes seem shorter. And there lies the success of The Dark Knight. No other superhero film could have gotten away with a excruciating runtime of over 150 minutes. This tautness in cutting is what that gives Nolan the breather to delve into the psychological part of the man behind the Batman, keeping the audience hooked all the while to the staple action scenes.

Though not a definitive statement about Hollywood, this year isn’t as productive as the last and there have been no real winners.  Let’s face it, most of the biggies (Read Indiana Jones and Iron Man) have been a letdown and the rest of them were just fillers. The Dark Knight has been the only film holding its head high amidst this slump. And just for that, “Let’s put a smile on that face!”.


Jaane Tu Ya Jaane NaNo, this is not a review of Nagesh Kukunoor’s box office bomb Bombay To Bangkok (2007) but of debutant director Abbas Tyrewala’s Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na. Even before the film had got completed, the director had called it a typical Bollywood love story complete with its own quota of songs, fights and even the quintessential over-the-top airport climax. With that kind of a statement from a man who has some very successful scripts behind him, you can’t help but expect the film’s USP to be something completely fresh.

(Spoilers Ahead, yeah right!)

Jai (Imran Khan as a peace loving, meek yet mature guy) and Aditi (Genelia D’Souza in a zealous role) are two very close friends and are part of a small gang of youngsters who have their own share of pubbing, partying, cussing and fooling around. After their college gets over, they try to hook each other up with an apt partner. After they manage to find partners that they think are ideal, they slowly understand that this is not what they desired for. It is not soon when they realize that they have been with their best match all this time. As they struggle to reveal their love to each other, Aditi gets ready to leave for the USA. It is up to Jai to stop her at the airport and reveal his true love to her. Sounds familiar?

(End of already known spoilers)

The film’s almost effortless progress reminds us of the deluge of Korean rom-coms and the screwball comedies of the Clark Gable era. But that just shows how the international cultures have seeped into our own. Right from the generous dose of swearwords to the now-hackneyed dance floors, the movie would look totally outlandish for the village and town dwellers. The best part about the screenplay is that you know you have seen it all a thousand times, but are still attracted towards the film for some reason. That is where the director scores.

What separates Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na from its predecessors is its grey treatment of characters, actions and emotions. There are no extraordinary monologues, fights, melodrama or reactions in the film. Unlike the bickering leads of yesteryear, Jai and Aditi realize each others’ persona and are mature enough to not quarrel with them for that. There is not one false note in the characterization of the cast and their relationships, with the possible exception of Sushant, Aditi’s fiancé, who is handled with a pinch of coldness. Parents who have closed in on the so-called generation gap, a brother who is more sensible than he looks, a protagonist who thinks everything has a non-violent solution, the characters ring true and are omnipresent in the cities. Be it the sibling relationship between Aditi and Amit or the miserable one between Meghna’s parents, there is honesty written all over.

Abbas Tyrewala seems to know that his target audience is miniscule and is unperturbed by that. He has deliberately let some things go over the head of the audience outside his reach and does not care about that. He is quite sure that the young metropolitan crowd, at whom the film is aimed at, will find a page out of their own lives in the film. This confidence is, perhaps, the director’s biggest success in the film. Imran Khan manages well with his small set of expressions and is overpowered by the more experienced Genelia who seems tailored for the role. Arbaaz and Sohail Khan steal the show in the few scenes they are in and the same can be said about veterans Paresh Rawal and Nasseeruddin Shah.

So when do you know it’s love? You do not realize the importance of a commonplace object until it becomes not-so-common. The film handles the same issue handled in Mani Ratnam’s successful flick Alaipayuthey (2000), but gives a totally urban look to the concept. What is more interesting than the film itself is the question that what a confident and clear writer and director, such as Abbas Tyrewala, is going to do in the future where not only would he have the funds to experiment, but also the opportunity to reach a universal crowd. Guess only time will tell. As for now, enjoy this fresh lease of energy amidst stale and pretentious multi-starrers while it lasts in theatres.


The Happening

What if the air that we breathe could kill us? What is the effect of increase in human population on nature? What happens when humans settlements clear vegetation? How will nature react to it? Can science reason the reaction, if there is one? These are the issues explored in M. Night Shyamalan‘s latest venture The Happening. Observing his progressively ordinary series of films (With the probable exception of Signs (2002)) starting from his fabulous third feature The Sixth Sense (1999), one will be quick to pan his new offering often with a tinge of prejudice. But forgetting statistics and filmographies, The Happening is not half as bad as some may claim.

The Happening records the events that spread over one day in the life of Elliot (Mark Wahlberg), a science teacher in the city of Philadelphia. His marital relation with his wife Alma (Zooey Deschanel) is not all that great. His friend Julian (John Leguizamo) is the math teacher at the same school. As Elliot is discussing the mass disappearance of bees in the eastern coast of the country, he comes to know of strange happenings in New York city. It is found that people inhale some kind of toxin that disorients them both physically and mentally, prompting them to kill themselves in the most bizarre fashions. It is found that these events originate in parks spread to other areas too. No one s able to say for sure the reasons for such strange events and its restrictions to the eastern coast alone. There is a large panic resulting in people’s migration to safer towns and cities. Julian discovers that his wife is in trouble, hands over his daughter Jess (Ashlyn Sanchez) to Elliot and Alma and goes after her. He does not return. As Elliot, Alma and Jess try to run for their lives from the spreading toxins, they try to find the various reasons for its occurrence.

Perhaps the best observation by the film is about the mentality and the rationality of the people before and after the 9/11 attack. After the terrorist attack, people have been attributing every petty inexplicable event to terrorism. This has not only resulted in the undermining of their rational stability, but also resulted in distrust of people in one another and hence more misery. Fear has been the central emotion in all Shyamalan films. The high point of the movie is this portrayal of the contemporary American mentality. The weird attacks keep reducing as we move from to denser to sparser areas. Hence the story strikes a relationship between the ever increasing plaguing of nature by the fast growing human population. In this way, the attacks act as cries from the nature against the human ravaging. The theme is made clear at the house of Mrs. Jones (Betty Buckley) when she chides Jess for taking a cookie without asking and says “Do not touch what is not yours”. This is the line that briefs the motive of the film. Yet another theme is the movie is about how people overcome their emotional isolation when they are forced into a physical one. Both Alma and Elliot realize their attachment to their wives when they are seperated by the large stretch of grassland between their cabins.

Unlike some of the previous Shyamalan movies (especially The Village (2004), which also dealt with people’s apprehensions but never decided what it wanted to be), the central theme of eco-conservation is evident from early on. But it mixes it with the right amount of thrill to avoid the film from becoming didactic. On the negatives, the film is way too predictable for this generation and fails to deliver what one expects from the maker of The Sixth Sense – an absolutely honest thriller with no thinking stuff. The cinematography by Tak Fujimoto and score by James Newton Howard faithfully underline what the director wants the viewers to feel. Mark Wahlberg’s performance is passable, but no one can ever believe this lad that seems like he is in the late 20’s to be a science teacher. The dialogues in the movie at many places are weak, to be euphemistic. Deliberately induced humour does not help at all.

M. Night Shyamalan, who has been evidently inspired by Alfred Hitchcock since the start of his career, treads the same path as his idol. Right from the habit of sticking to a single genre to the regular cameos in his films (and the occasional absence such as The Happening), Shyamalan seems to make his career a photocopy of the Master of Suspense’s. This time around, he has reworked the spectacular The Birds (1963) and tried to make it palatable to the post 9/11 audience. If it was the strange bird behaviour in The Birds, it is strange plant behaviour in The Happening. More verbose and explicit than its inspiration, The Happening has sequences that will force you to find similarities between the two. Right from the isolated country locales resembling Bodega Bay to the baseless worrying and reasoning of the people around, the film has “remake” written all over. The questions about the science of nature and the nature of science that was implicitly raised in The Birds is kept intact and even explained a bit. However, Shyamalan’s script comfortably adds an extra layer to that calls for environment preservation and control of pollution.

So, does The Happening mark the comeback of the director? Not Quite. Shyamalan, who gave us the genuinely original The Sixth Sense, is much more restricted this time and conforms to the time tested formula. I would say that The Happening is not his comeback, but definitely gives the director a little more breathing space in Hollywood and he can now gradually concoct a truly original script independent of industry needs. As for the recommendation, if you have seen the staggering The Birds, you can avoid this one and if you’ve not, The Happening is definitely a good option for you.


(Warning: No spoilers in the review. However, storyline and characters are revealed. Proceed at your own risk)

DasavatharamFinally here. Passing through its quota of controversies, production delay and legal attacks, Aascar Films’ Dasavatharam has finally made it to its destination. Dubbed as the most expensive movie made in India, the film has been in the making for over two years. If it was Sivaji – The Boss for 2007, it is very much Dasavatharam for this year. Apparently, the time between consecutive movies of Kamal Haasan has been larger than that of Superstar Rajnikanth‘s. The promos have been, surprisingly (for a Kamal movie), extremely low key. So, have the team’s efforts paid off? Let’s see.

The movie opens in a non-traditional fashion (for Indian cinema) with a preface that recounts the spat between the Shivites and the Vaishnavites of the south during the 12th century. Rangarajan Nambi (Kamal Haasan) is a staunch Vaishnavite who does not wish to relinquish his ideology even at the cost of his life. Rangarajan is portrayed as a very strong person, physically and mentally. As a result, he is dumped into the sea along with the prime Vishnu idol. Cut to the 21st century, where the remainder of the story is to take place. It is December 2004. Govind Ramasamy (Kamal) is a biological scientist in the US and is involved in developing a powerful biological weapon for the military of the country. Govind decides to hand over the formula to the FBI when he senses that the weapon sample is all set to reach unsafe hands. Things take a difficult turn when the package is couriered to India by mistake. Govind manages to track down the package in the intention of returning it to the officials. He is closely tailed by Chris Fletcher (Kamal), an ex-CIA and a mean trigger-happy machine and Jasmine (Mallika Sherawat). This character, with his near-invulnerability and I-don’t-stop-at-nothin’ attitude , is reminiscent of T-1000 of Terminator 2: The Judgement Day (1991).

The rest of the film follows Govind’s attempts to retrieve the weapon and escape the gunpoint of Chris. He is assisted by Andal (Asin), the grand daughter of Krishnaveni Srinivasan (Kamal) who does no help by dropping the package into a Vishnu idol. Andal is not only a love interest for Govind but also his antithesis. The atheistic, borderline-scientologist Govind is balanced by the whole-hearted theist Andal. She completes him, romantically and ideologically. Chris and Govind are also being followed by the local police led by Balram Naidu (Kamal), a true-blue “Andhrite”, who provides a rip-roaring comedy both with his accent and his lines. And there are Shinghen Narahasi, a Fujitsu master and the brother of Govind’s dead friend Yuki, Kalifullah, an overgrown yet innocent Pathan, Avatar Singh, a Punjabi pop star with a Tamil Nadu connection, Vincent Poovaragan, a Nagercoil-based activist and environmentalist and George Bush, the president of America (played by Kamal, Kamal, Kamal, Kamal and Kamal respectively!) whom Govind meets on his pursuit. The most appealing character is definitely of Vincent Poovaragan, the most humanitarian of all the characters in the film. He stands against the unquestioned plaguing of the nature by humans for monetary benefits and faces trouble for the same. The script draws a parallel between Rangarajan Nambi and Vincent Poovaragan (apart from the more obvious adversarial relation between Govind and Rangarajan), both of whom go down fighting for their principles and what they think is the meaning of their existence.

The film’s narration is fraught with twists and suspense but can be boiled down to a large treasure hunt. As a consequence, it is action right from the word “go” with no questions asked. Hand-to-hand combat, gunfight, car chases, daredevil stunts – you have them all. With the characters consisting of a Hindu, a Muslim, a Christian, a Sikh, a Buddhist and even an atheist, it is but inevitable that the story has slight religious overtones. The film, however, does not hurt the sentiments of anyone and even silently calls out for religious tolerance in the society. Believers and non-believers would just have reinforced their respective faiths at the end of the film without contradicting each other, which itself is a success for the movie.

Though all the ten characters are given considerable screen time to make it seem like they all have equal weights, only a few of them actually contribute to the plot and take the story forward. In fact, one feels that a couple of characters could have been entirely done without. As a result, many scenes involving the non-pivotal characters become fillers for the shallow central motive. But one does not complain because something new (a new character for most of the time) pops up regularly to keep you engaged. Only after the ten characters are familiarized that you realize that the film has been extended needlessly. After this point, the film is nothing but overlong is spite of the adrenaline that’s oozing out of the screen. It is now a unanimous feeling that the climax could have been trimmed down.

It is just a formality to speak about Kamal Haasan’s performance. Right from the impeccable accents (especially the Nagercoil accent) to the don’t-tell-me-he-is-acting body-language (George Bush and Krishnaveni noteworthy), Kamal has put in more than everything to realize the film. It is not that his performance is worthy of such a grand movie, but it is his performance that has made Dasavatharam a grand movie. I, however, would personally like to see him in roles such as Shaktivel (Devar Magan), Balu (Sagara Sangamam) and those of Erland Josephson and Philippe Noiret, without much concentration on make-up. But nobody nowadays has the guts to produce such films. Asin‘s performance, which is like a torchlight amidst a Supernova, is going to go unspoken. She has done justice to the charater(s), to say the least. The (remaining!) minor characters are done satisfactorily by Kamal regulars Nagesh, Santhanabharathi, Ramesh Kanna and Vaiyapuri to name some.

K. S. Ravikumar‘s midas touch is alone what Kamal needed for this otherwise one man show and he has got that. With long pseudo-takes used at proper places, the movie “appears” to have larger than life cinematography. Himesh Reshamiyya‘s music is at times melodic, at times bubbly and at times jarring. Devi Shree Prasad‘s inspired but spirited background score has nothing to complain about. It is a known fact Kamal gets carried away with prolonged stunt sequences and Dasavatharam is no exception to that. Some illogical scenes corrupt the otherwise decent stunt sequences that are saved by the CG most of the time. A special mention for the CG that is seamless in scenes where multiple characters appear and also in many shots in the initial and final part of the film. Much is talked about the make up which is really fantastic agreed, but the harsh lighting exposes the prosthetics’ and makes one a bit alienated from the character. The editing is so prudent about the run-time that one can feel how large the original footage was. Huge production values in the preface speak for themselves.

There are two things Indian cinema has always been haunted by – Religion and Science. No one (fabulous exceptions always there) has dared to pass a judgement or even to make a documentation of these two issues. Dasavatharam, though superficial, tries to blend these two concepts into the simple narrative and that too, in such a risky venture. For this reason alone, one can argue for the movie. It is not something new to the medium altogether, but is definitely like nothing that Tamil cinema has never tasted before. Dasavatharam may not be what Kamal wants, but is very much what his fans want.

P. S.: Be alert to spot the brief homage to Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976) in the film!