Learning To Drive – I just loved watching Patricia Clarkson and Ben Kingsley acting together

learning to drive

Learning To Drive is that rarest of films, one produced, written, edited and directed (Isabel Coixet) by women.  The film opens with Wendy (Patricia Clarkson) and her husband Ted (Jake Weber) arguing in the back of a taxi driven by Darwan (Ben Kingsley).  Ted has been cheating on Wendy and is leaving her as she tearfully begs him to stay.  Darwan is very uncomfortable leaving the distraught Wendy at her apartment.  She has left a package in the cab, and he returns the next day to give it back.  This time he’s driving his driving school car, and she asks for his card.

Wendy, a book critic, lives in New York City and has never learned to drive.  She always had Ted to drive her to visit her daughter who lives in Vermont, or her sister (delightfully played by Samantha Bee) who lives in Connecticut.  The inability to drive metaphor for her live is hit a bit over our heads, but still, Patricia Clarkson is such a fantastic actress that she elevates whatever script she’s in.

learning to drive daughter
Grace Gummer (Meryl Streep’s daughter) plays Wendy’s daughter

When Wendy’s daughter tells her she’s going to be moving to Vermont, far from a train station, that pushes Wendy to call Darwan and start driving lessons.

The film is more focused on Wendy’s life, but does give us background on Darwan.  We learn he is a Sikh immigrant here in the US for political asylum.  The police raid his home and his nephew Preet hides in a cupboard, which I was gathering meant he had overstayed his student visa?  I wanted to know a bit more about the nephew’s story, and not just because the actor was a dreamboat.

learning to drive nephew
Avi Nash as Preet (Darwan’s nephew)

There were some great cameos in the ninety minute dramedy film.  John Hodgman is a car salesman, and the most delightful surprise is that Samantha Bee plays Wendy’s suburban sister.  She has some great zingers as she urges Wendy to move on from Ted.

learning to drive samantha

Darwan’s sister arranges for him to marry a woman from his village.  He is disappointed to find that Jasleen is not educated, and is timid in her new urban home.

learning to drive wedding
Darwan and Jasleen’s wedding

Darwan tells Jasleen (Sarita Choudhury) that she is in America now and they will only speak English to each other.  This leads Jasleen to hardly talk at all.  Jasleen and Darwan are supposed to be Punjabi, and it would have been more natural for them to at least speak some of that language in private.  In reading about the film after watching it, I learned that neither Ben Kingsley or Sarita Choudhury can speak Punjabi.  Still, Sarita Choudhury was great in her scenes as Jasleen conveying much just through her expressions.

960

Darwan and Wendy develop a friendship over their driving lessons, and because she rear ends another car during a lesson, she ends up coming to the airport with him to pick up his bride.  He contrasts the intellectual conversations he can have with Wendy to his home life with his new bride, still basically a stranger to him.

I enjoyed this “almost” romantic comedy.  I watched it on Amazon Prime.  It’s free to watch if you have a Prime membership.  Four stars out of five mainly for the wonderful performances.

 

Socha Na Tha – An Absolutely Delightful Romance – I wish Imtiaz Ali Would Make Another Romance Like This His First

socha-na-tha

Dharmendra chose well for his nephew Abhay Deol’s debut film, Socha Na Tha [I Never Imagined].  He picked the talented director Imtiaz Ali who gave the falling-in-love-with-the girl-your-parents-picked-for-you Indian romance a fresh modern feel.  This was Imtiaz Ali’s first film,  after directing in television.  Socha Na Tha was not a commercial success, but it gained critical praise at the time, and he followed it with Jab We Met, one of the all time favorite Hindi romance films.

Abhay plays Viren, a young man who has returned to India from University in the US, but has not started work yet.  His family despairs of him growing up, and his father puts his foot down.  He’s 24, and it’s time he was married.  He agrees to meet a girl his family chooses, but he has a secret romance with a Christian girl, Karen.  He’s on the verge of proposing to Karen.

sn3

Viren and Aditi (Ayesha Takia) first meet at her family home.  Ayesha is absolutely adorable.  She explains to him that she doesn’t want to get married either, but he has to be the one to refuse her, as she can’t.  Once they get that out of the way, they have a wonderful easy conversation.  From the little we’ve seen of Viren’s interactions with Karen, he has a rapport with Aditi immediately and an ease that he doesn’t with his years long girlfriend Karen.

When Viren refuses Aditi as a potential bride, the families grow hostile to one another, as Aditi’s family feels Viren led her on.  They meet by chance in a mall, and he explains asks for her help in convincing his girlfriend’s parents to let her go on a holiday trip to Goa.  Aditi tells her parents that Karen is attending her wedding, and Karen tells hers the opposite.  But Karen joins the party a few days late.  Viren and Aditi spend lots of time together and grow closer and friendlier.  When Karen arrives, she senses what’s happening.  Aditi and Viren spend one whole night talking and fall asleep together on the beach.

socha na tha beach

Once they return, Viren does propose to Karen but his family is opposed to him marrying a Christian.  He’s convinced it will never be resolved and meanwhile is obsessing over video he took of Aditi in Goa.  He goes to see Aditi, and almost Romeo like sneaks up her balcony into her room.  What comes next is one of the most romantic scenes I’ve ever seen in Hindi film.  It’s not that Abhay is such a great actor at this early point in his career.  It’s all Imtiaz Ali’s skill in directing this scene.  It’s become one of my all time favorites.

socha na tha room

Viren says to Aditi, “I thought I was in love with Karen.  But if that was love—what is this?”

 

Things become a tangled mess for Abhay, as his parents suddenly agree to his marriage with Karen and now he’s stuck.

The last part of the film is hard to watch because Viren is so indecisive and takes a long time to tell people what he wants to do with his life.  He doesn’t want to disappoint his family, and can’t figure a way out.  He needs to grow up, and so does Aditi.

Margaret at Don’t Call It Bollywood gives a great analysis of Socha Na Tha and how it reaffirms arranged marriage.  Because in the end, this film is showing that the best partner is the one your family chose for you.  That they know you best.  It was her post that led me to buying this film and watching it.  I’m so glad I did.  I loved it and how natural and modern Imtiaz Ali made this story feel.  Abhay Deol was fantastic in this even if I wanted to wring his neck at several points.  Ayesha Takia was wonderful, and I liked how Karen (Apoorva Jha) wasn’t a stereotypical evil ex.  She is actually instrumental in getting Viren and Aditi back together.  Even the stern father, we see really loves Viren, and has good reason for wanting his son to grow up already.  (Since I have a son about the same age who is finding himself, I can relate, much more than I want to.)

Four and a half stars out of five.  Imtiaz, please give us more great romances like Socha Na Tha and Jab We Met with these great real characters!

 

 

 

Brahmotsavam – Loved the songs in this Mahesh Babu film, but I left so confused by the plot

I have just recently discovered Mahesh Babu, and I was really excited to be able to see my first Mahesh Babu film on the big screen.  I have been listening to the Brahmotsavam soundtrack non-stop, especially Vacchindi Kada Avakasam, the first song in the movie.  The full song sequence did not disappoint!

I have very mixed feelings about the movie.  The songs and the soundtrack are GREAT.  I mean, I saw a movie with an A. R. Rahman soundtrack this week that didn’t impress me half as much  (the Tamil Sci-fi 24)!    And the song number sequences were amazing.  The dancing, everything.  I’m going to be downloading most of the soundtrack.  Vachhindi Kada Avakasam is still my favorite, but the title track and several other songs are fantastic.

I felt like this was one of those movies where they assembled all the actors, but didn’t really have a script.  I can hear the pitch to Mahesh – It will be about family!  Two romances with your romantic leads from other films!  Great location shots all over India!  Scenic!  Gorgeous!  Great music!

 

And….. then the plot was an afterthought.

I have not seen Seethamma Vakitlo Sirimalle Chettu, writer/director Srikanth Addala‘s previous hit film with Mahesh Babu.  Three Indian guys after the movie told me that one is much better, and one I should definitely see.

Brahmotsavam (which I think means grand celebration) is very much like the Hindi classic family films Hum Aapke Hain Kaun (HAHK) and Hum Saath Saath Hain (HSSH).  Not a lot of plot.  Lots of family.

The drama, such as it is, is that the Sathyaraj, father of Mahesh, loves big celebrations and family gatherings.  He is wealthy and has a paint company that he started with 400 rupees given to him by his wife’s family.  His brothers work for him at the company.  But there is one brother-in-law who is bitter and resentful.  And this is where the non-specific relationship names in the subtitles were tripping me up.  When Mahesh called the mean uncle, “uncle”, it could have been because he was his father’s partner and it took me quite awhile to figure out that he WAS a family uncle.  I don’t know the Telugu terms as well as I do the Hindi yet.

Mean uncle wants Mahesh to marry his daughter.  But Mahesh is falling for Kajal who is visiting for the holiday?  Her relationship to Mahesh was really unclear.  I couldn’t catch if she was a cousin, her father’s relationship to Mahesh’s father I couldn’t figure out.  I think she was the daughter of a family friend.

I was very, very confused.  We have this “wedding scene’ which I later figured out was a holiday ritual.  Family on two sides of a room with a god/goddess statue at the center front.  And the family members argue in turn like they are arranging the marriage of the gods.  “What’s this about this Radha we’ve heard about??  Will the groom be faithful?”  Banter like that.  The scene is repeated later in the movie which is when I finally figured it out.  The first time I literally could not tell if they were arguing and arranging Mahesh’s marriage or his sister’s or WHAT the heck was going on.  It was a scene I have never seen in an Indian movie before, but I haven’t seen very many Southern Telugu films.

What was good in the film were the two romances with Mahesh.  The first is with Kajal, and their teasing flirtation, and couple of songs were fantastic.  This song made me swoon.

She goes on a big family trip with Mahesh’s family, which reminded me very much of the family trip scenes in Hum Saath Saath Hain.  Cue GORGEOUS scenery.

And me mouthing that Liz Lemon line over and over, “I want to go to there!”

 

SPOILERS, SPOILERS, SPOILERS ahead.

Their break up is over something I have never seen in an Indian movie.  Kajal breaks it off because she can see his large family means so much to Mahesh, but she just can’t take so many people all at once all the time.  (And she seems to have a career in Australia, too.)

There was a family argument with mean uncle and Mahesh’s father — and then this super weird confusing scene where Mahesh is consoling his despondent father.  And it turns into like a nightmare dream state and Mahesh is running around the house — and the father is dead?  I mean it was not obvious, and it took me awhile of dialogue after that to figure it out!  The subtitles might have not served me well, but it was damned confusing.  It was a missed opportunity for drama, in my opinion.

So now Mahesh is lonely, his uncle won’t reconcile, and Kajal left him.

Enter Samantha, a friend of his sister’s in London!  She comes to the house in a very funny scene, introducing herself as the sister’s friend and can she stay.  Sure!  Um, can I bring in to stay some friends I met on the way?  Sure!  An entire BUSLOAD of people come into the house!!  It was very amusing.  Samantha Prabhu was in the Tamil film 24 I saw earlier this week, and she was better here, but not exceptional.

She is the life and brightness that Mahesh needed.  She obviously loves having more and more family and people around, which is just what he likes.  For some unknown reason, he brings her with him on a quest to find “the generations”  — his roots and to meet all his distant relatives.  This leads to traveling ALL OVER INDIA finding distant cousins, Nasser is one, and other recognizable character actors.  This part was super super confusing to me.  The cities visited were stunning and gorgeous, but it was hard to tell why they went all those places.

And at the end he invites them all to his uncle’s daughter’s wedding, thus showing respect??  And they reconcile and Mahesh begs to live in his uncle’s house.  Wha???

What really, really irked me was that when Kajal breaks up with Mahesh, she kisses him and hugs him.  Mean uncle sees this and leaves the family trip in a huff — because he had wanted his daughter to marry Mahesh.  He doesn’t know that Kajal was breaking it off.  Now, what happens next was confusing in the movie, but I think he beat his own daughter.  And Mahesh goes to the hospital and the daughter tells Mahesh that her father (mean Uncle) was upset when he saw the Kajal kiss.  She has bruises all over one arm, and her ankle is being bandaged.

So the whole movie Mahesh is trying to reconcile with the mean uncle.  He is not ostracized for harming his daughter.  He arranges a good marriage for her at the end– I’m not sure we ever saw the groom, and frankly up till the end I couldn’t tell if Mahesh was the groom and was giving up Samantha to patch up the family.  It was that confusing!  But I know this is all “Indian family values” like in HAHK, but I was really bothered about it as I’ve been thinking it over in the hours since I left the theater.  WHY should family harmony trump all, and there be no backlash for the daughter beating.  It rankles me that Mahesh felt he needed to literally bow down to this uncle to make peace.

arjun huh

And Mahesh has a sister we see on video chat, but she doesn’t ever reappear even after the father’s death.  Another missed opportunity for drama.

I was so confused at the end!  As I walked out of the theater three young men stopped me and asked how I liked it, and I admitted that I was confused but loved the soundtrack.  And they said it was all about connecting to the generations at an Indian wedding, but they agreed that the plot was confusing to them, too.  That made me feel somewhat better because I thought it was just me, and my ignorance of the Telugu language and the Southern rituals and all.  But these three guys said the plot was not the best for them either.

Brahmotsavam was a big letdown for me. This movie was not as great as I was hoping it would be.  I will read up on what the heck the plot was about, and then go back to see it again when the prices are lower.  (It was $18 for the opening day.)  I did love the song sequences a lot, and would like to see them again on the big screen.  The colors, the scenery, the chemistry with Kajal, the music, were all fantastic.   It’s just really a shame that there wasn’t a worthy enough plot and drama to hold it all together.  I contrast this to Kapoor and Sons which was such a fantastic family drama with a stellar script.  I shouldn’t have to come out of a movie and then go online to figure out what the plot was that I just saw!

I give Brahmotsavam two and a half stars out of five, mainly for the music alone and the romance with Kajal.

24 – A Tamil Sci-Fi Time Travel Movie with a Great Triple Role

Inline image 1

Sci-fi films are not that common in Indian Cinema at all.  (I still haven’t seen Rajnikanth’s Robot which is sitting in my DVD pile.)  24 was a really interesting film, because it used some of the conventions of sci-fi films I’m used to from the West, but added in the family and mythic elements of Indian cinema.  The film stars Suriya in a triple role.  This is my first Suriya film.  Looking him up later, he is famous for originating the role of the cop in Singam (which Ajay Devgn remade into the Hindi Singham).

In the picture above Suriya plays the inventor dad who makes an almost steam punkesque time machine watch.  It can only go backwards a maximum of 24 hours, thus the movie title.  The middle character is the evil brother of the inventor — very Indian!

Then the left is the 26 year old son of the inventor, present day 2016 Mani.  Nithya Menon of OK Kanmani has a brief role as Priya, wife of inventor, mother of Mani.  Samantha Prabhu played the love interest for Mani and was just okay.

Suriya was impressive.  He is a talented actor because he really, really pulled off three separate characters with the three roles.  And there are scenes of him being one character and pretending to be another which is hard to do, and he totally nailed it.

There’s a whole plot with baby Mani being entrusted to a young girl who raises him on her own as a single mother.  I’m thinking there’s a whole Mahabharata story I’m missing that it ties to that would be obvious to the Tamil audience.   (Asked a friend and the foster mother is supposed to be Yashoda who raised Krishna.)  There’s also elements of karma and fate as the time travel machine watch and a key find their way to Mani.

What was great about the film is that when Mani gets the time travel machine watch to work (he’s a watch repair man, fortuitously!), he first uses it to romance the girl.  He’s almost like a young superhero geeking out over his new found super powers.  Those scenes were really fun.  He can also freeze time, and uses that to take a selfie with Dhoni in the middle of a cricket match.  Watching him explore the powers of the time travel machine, explains what it can do, and how the time travel is going to work (and its limits) to the audience in a clever way.

I really love time travel movies, especially when they are used in romantic films.  Outlander is hot right now, but who can forget Christopher Reeve in Somewhere In Time?  He had no time machine, just hypnosis and the power of his love!

There have been several adaptations of H. G. Wells novel The Time Machine, notably the 2002 The Time Machine directed by Simon Wells, great-grandson of the author and starring Guy Pearce.

In The Time Machine, Wells or his avatar finds love with a primitive girl as civilization has collapsed in the distant future.  Yeah, there’s none of that kind of nonsense in 24, thankfully.  It’s a story of personal revenge in one family.  But while Suriya was great as the villain, hell bent to get the time machine watch to try to cure himself — it was never explained why he hated his inventor twin so much.  I wish a little less time had been spent on the romance plot towards the end, and some time had been given to the back story of the twin brothers.  Of course, the filmmakers have left it open to a prequel or a sequel.

I thought the CGi and special effects were good, and the music was by A.R. Rahman.  Not his best score ever, and I’m not running out to download the songs, but good.  I would hesitate to bring very young children to the film as one character gets his hand cut off.  Overall, an enjoyable action film, especially for the performance of Suriya in the three roles.  Four stars out of five.

24 is out in Tamil, and a dubbed Telugu version.  My theater had both.

Love & Friendship -A Jane Austen Adaption With Bite and Wit

Love & Friendship is based on the early novella Lady Susan by Jane Austen.  She never submitted the epistolary novel for publication, and the movie is actually titled after another early work of Austen’s.  Whit Stillman’s adaptation stars Kate Beckinsale as the scandalous widow, Lady Susan, and Chloe Sevigny as her American best friend

There are some verbal zingers in this film that are just delicious, especially when Beckinsale and Sevigny share the screen.  The scene stealer, though, is Tom Bennett as the hilariously stupid but incredibly wealthy suitor Sir James Martin.  In a twist, Beckinsale’s Lady Susan is pursuing a younger man (Xavier Samuel), and urging her daughter to marry Sir James Martin.  Stephen Fry has a delightful cameo as Chloe Sevigny’s husband.

I saw the premiere at Sundance, and I think it will play extremely well on your TV like a great PBS series.  But if you’re tiring of superhero fare and are looking for something adult to see in the theater, check out Love & Friendship.  Three and a half stars out of five.

 

 

 

Vettai – The Madhavan/Arya Brother Cop Movie I Didn’t Even Know I Wanted

My neighbor brought me back a stack of Tamil DVD’s from her trip to Chennai and I’m slowly making my way through them.  I was looking for a lighter movie and took a chance on Vettai (The Hunt), a 2012  Tamil action comedy.  Arya AND Maddie in a movie together?  I’m in!  This movie just made me smile for so many reasons.

Vettai establishes the dynamic between the brothers with a scene from their childhood.  The older brother is actually timid and scared of everything.  When a bully hits him, the two years younger brother comes to the rescue.  Their father is a policeman, who then beats the younger son for getting in a fight.  He stoically takes the blows silently while the older brother weeps and wails even though not a single blow touches him.

That dynamic continues to the present day.  Madhavan who is physically large and imposing plays a very timid adult.  He’s scared of violence and confrontation.  His younger brother (Arya) is a rowdie, and quick to fight and intimidate anyone who threatens Maddie.  Their policeman father suddenly dies, and by family tradition, Madhavan as the oldest son should take his father’s place.  Arya convinces Madhavan that he should take their father’s job, the same one that their grandfather held.  Maddie tries to get Arya to do it instead, but he has 4 charges against him.

At first Madhavan enjoys the stature his uniform gives him, but he doesn’t know what to do when a young girl is kidnapped by the local goons.  He calls his brother Arya, who comes to the rescue.

  

Never underestimate the powers of disguise in a hoodie or a rain coat!

Madhavan gets the hero accolades, while Arya acts as his secret enforcer behind the scenes.

Interspersed with the action scenes, we have the romantic storyline.  Arya meets a very assertive young woman (Sameera Reddy) when he accidentally knocks over her motor scooter.  She turns out to be the young woman that their uncle wants to arrange a marriage with for Maddie.  It was a nice fake out.  Arya then is attracted to the younger shy sister (Amala Paul).  The romantic scenes give a lot of comedy and sweetness to the movie, and some nice music numbers.  I loved when Sameera’s character forces Arya to change his view of his brother, “Are you the older brother?  You don’t even have a job.  Don’t you think you should address him with respect?”

Things come to a head when Madhavan is badly beaten by the goon gang.  As you can probably guess, Arya teaches him to release his inner lion.  Cue training montage and action scenes.

This isn’t the greatest movie in the world, but it was entertaining and I loved the chemistry of Arya and Madhavan together as brothers.  Madhavan was really, really great in all the scenes where he is the gentle timid sensitive giant.  He has a great comic touch.  In his native Tamil, I think he has an even greater comfort in playing comedy.  I haven’t seen as many Arya movies.  I’ve seen his action film Urumi, and I’ve seen his sweet romantic roles like Raja Rani and Size Zero.   He carries most of the water in the romantic scenes in Vettai, and there’s a funny subplot with an NRI that is supposed to marry the sister Arya loves.

Three and a half stars out of five.   Nice entertaining light action romantic comedy.  Plus Arya and Madhavan dancing together!  Who can ask for more than that?

Pizza – A Seriously Creepy Tamil Horror Film with a Disarming Title

I am not really a horror movie person.  I rented the  Tamil Horror thriller Pizza (2012), which was recommended over and over on the Quora post.  It’s the debut feature film of writer/director Karthik Subbaraj.

It was SO intense that I had to take a break in the middle of watching it.  I am really impressed the level of scariness and creepiness the director was able to achieve with a guy running around an empty modern house with the lights out and carrying a shaky flashlight.

It’s called Pizza because the main character is a young pizza delivery guy.  Michael (Vijay Sethupathi) and his girlfriend Anu  (Remya Nambeesan) live together.  Anu is writing a ghost story novel, and doing research by watching lots of horror films.  Anu finds out she’s pregnant, and that causes a crisis in their relationship as Michael doesn’t think he’s ready to be married.  He’s not earning enough working at the pizza shop.   Michael and Anu don’t seem to have any family.  They patch things up, and we get a very sweet love song sequence.

Michael makes a pizza delivery to a house, and then gets locked in when the woman who had answered the door goes up to get change.  The lights have gone out, and that’s when things get super creepy and weird.  Pizza was the first Tamil film to use surround sound, and the soundscape of the film is part of what makes it such an effective thriller.  About an hour in, I was so affected that I had to stop the film for a bit.  It’s that good and intense.  Realize that I’m a scaredy cat and I don’t usually watch many horror films at all.

In the last 20 minutes or so of the film there is a great twist, and then a final double twist at the very end.  Part of what makes the film so good is the performance of the lead Michael,  Vijay Sethupathi.  He was great.

Not my usual choice of flick but I’m glad I saw it.  These scrappy low budget filmmakers have to be so inventive.  I’ll be looking forward to seeing Karthik Subbaraj’s other films when he has a bigger budget to work with.

Tom Holland as Spiderman gives Captain America: Civil War a Nice Spot of Levity

How else to spend Mother’s Day but to go see Captain America: Civil War with my family?  My husband was disappointed in the film, and felt it was too dark.  I don’t agree.  I thought it was a very good installment in the Marvel Comicverse.  I loved that it wasn’t yet another alien force threatening the existence of humanity on earth vs. our superheroes movie.  This film was about relationships, and the complexities of the aftermath of those huge battles in the past movies.  Civilians died.  Buildings and cities were destroyed.  Shouldn’t the Avengers be answerable to oversight?  But what are the risks of that?

What Captain America:  Civil War had was some great moments of humor that Batman vs. Superman utterly lacked.  Civil War introduces us to the Tom Holland incarnation of Spiderman.  I’ll be honest.  I groaned when I heard that Marvel was rebooting yet again the Spiderman franchise.  We’ve already had Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield.  I felt no urge for yet another telling of Spiderman’s origin story.

That is, until I saw Tom Holland in Civil War.  He actually looks like a young high school kid.  He has that youthful exuberance about him.  And Marissa Tomei is Aunt May!  Tony Stark decides to become Peter Parker’s patron, and visits him at his home, to ask for help with the capture of Captain America and the Winter Soldier.  This was one of my favorite sequences of the whole movie.   Peter has been dumpster diving and has an ancient iMac and other spare old computer parts on his bedroom desk.  He looks and acts like a kid.  And when he joins into the battle at the airport (that we’ve all seen in the trailer), he can’t help but be a fan boy meeting all the heroes.  He tells Captain America he’s a big fan as he snatches the shield.  He exclaims over how cool Winter Soldier’s metal arm is.  In a big throwing parts of airplanes kind of huge battle, Spiderman adds some welcome levity.

I like Slate’s Josh Brogan’s take:

In fact, he’s kind of a comics nerd: Mid-fight, he pauses to geek out over the composition of Falcon’s wings and the makeup of the Winter Soldier’s mechanical arm. That he does so while everyone around him is trying to beat each other into submission neither takes anything away from the proceedings nor slows down the action. Batman v Superman fixated on feats of ponderous badassery when its protagonists finally smashed into one another. Civil War rejects that dour attitude, starting from the premise that it’s fun to be a superhero—and fun to hang out with them too, even if they happen to be tossing each other into walls.

Now, I can’t wait to see the new Spiderman.  Tom Holland totally won me over.

I also was lukewarm about Black Panther until I saw Chadwick Boseman ooze amazing cool as the character in Civil War.  In a film filled with superstar actors, Chadwick Boseman stole the entire movie, in my opinion.  It was just enough of a taste to make me super curious about his character, his origin story and where that very cool headquarter place he has in the jungle might be!  Chadwick Boseman has been consistently excellent in biopics like 42 and Get On Up.  I’m excited to see him get his own superhero franchise.

Captain America: Civil War does not really advance the overarching Avengers narrative.  It sets the stage, dividing the Avengers into opposing factions, presumably leaving them vulnerable for the next antagonist.

It was an enjoyable Superhero flick.  Four stars out of five.

Okkadu – Now My Favorite Mahesh Babu Movie so far

Over the last two days I watched Okkadu, my third Mahesh Babu movie.  It’s on Google Play.  But in looking for a clip I just discovered the whole thing with subtitles is on Youtube.

 

I got about 20 minutes in and I realized I was watching the Southern film that Arjun Kapoor’s Hindi Tevar was based on!  Kabaddi and all.  Okkadu has a better title, because it means “The One” which has several meanings.  The girl is the one for the villain (Prakash Raj again!) and Mahesh is the one who can save her and win her heart.

Normally I don’t notice the background score very much in Indian movies, but this one started by riffing off the opening music of West Side Story.  I kid you not.  It was the Jets and the Sharks all the way complete with snapping fingers and jazzy music.  Not a direct copy of the music, but definitely inspired.  Totally inspired by, and it made me smile.  Watch the first few minutes and you’ll see exactly what I mean.

It’s fascinating to me what they kept the same, and what they changed for the Hindi version.  I was one of the few people who actually liked Tevar (because Arjun!) but Okkadu is so much better.

Okkadu was a megahit in 2003 for Mahesh.  It was remade in Tamil, and Bengali (both megahits) and then twelve years later as the Hindi Tevar — not so much a hit.

In Okkadu, the young woman Mahesh saves is played by Bhumika Chawla who the same year had almost the same sort of role with Salman in the Hindi film Tere Naam.  Swapna (Bhumika) is being forced into marriage with a goon  (Prakash Raj) who has killed her brother.  Ajay (Mahesh) sees the goon dragging Swapna towards a car as she’s crying.  He punches the goon and rescues the girl, not realizing he has just punched the crime boss of the town.

The negative to Bhumika’s role vs Sonakshi Sinha in Tevar, is that Bhumika starts the film very passive, and Sonakshi gets to reject the goon villain with some tevar of her own at first.  Bhumika as Swapna is mousy and terrified (but with good reason) and only when she’s kidnapped at the end to be forcefully wed to Prakash does she get some gumption.  She tells him, go ahead and force yourself on me but I’ll only have my one, my true husband before my eyes, Ajay (Mahesh).  (Much more effective and satisfying than the parallel scene in Tevar).

Prakash Raj as the villiain is way creepier than Manoj Bajpayee because Manoj falls in love with Sonakshi just from seeing her dance one time.  Prakash has been waiting for Bhumika to “mature” for it sounds like years so he can marry her against her will.   She has reason to be terrified from the get go.

In Okkadu, Mahesh is mid-20’s and still has that boy to man thing going on.  The film is really about him becoming a man.  In the beginning his boy gang is fighting another boy gang.  His whole life is just winning the kabaddi championship.  Tevar is the same, but the first fight (also in defense of a harrassed girl), but Arjun fights an adult man.  In Okkadu, his fight with the adult goon Prakash feels like his first step to taking on the responsibility of manhood.

(adorable!)

Tevar uses the Taj Mahal as the backdrop, and Arjun’s house in Agra has this whole roof top terrace with a view of the monument.  It’s similar in Okkadu, but instead the movie is in Hyderabad and Mahesh’s family rooftop terrace overlooks the Charminar mosque, but it’s much more woven into the plot.  At one point he hides Swapna inside one of the minarets, and they escape by running through the crowds coming to afternoon prayer.  (In Tevar it’s Holi.)

One thing Tevar is missing is that in Okkadu Prakash Raj (and his politician brother) have this goonda cigar smoking mother who was a RIOT.  Her intro scene:

One thing that Tevar did better was the relationship of Arjun’s character and his policeman father.  In Okkadu, the father arrests Ajay (Makesh) but it doesn’t feel like it was for his own protection as in Tevar.  I didn’t like the father of Ajay, although there were a few funny family scenes.  But I loved Arjun’s father in Tevar — you saw where Pintu (Arjun) got his tevar from.  Exasperated with him, but ultimately respecting Pintu.

There was one thing I hated about Okkadu – one scene that just infuriated me.  Mostly Mahesh was adorable and steadfast.  At one point, Swapna (Bhumika) is reluctant to get to the airport and asks to stop for a snack on the way.  Ajay turns around and she’s vanished.  He finds her and slaps her in a “What were you THINKING?” kind of way, and then she reveals she had just bought him a gift — “Knee caps” (knee pads) for his Kabaddi championship game.

Other than that one off note, I adored the movie.  I’m just going to pretend that moment didn’t happen — like I ignore the undressing scene in Baahubali.  Ajay does feel major remorse later looking at those knee caps — knee pads.  But he doesn’t grovel or apologize.

And while the action scenes are just as gravity defying, somehow they are a little less ridiculous than Arjun being stabbed and slashed by a sword and still getting up to wallop Manoj.  Gunasekhar, the writer/director of Okkadu just keeps a fantastic pace to Okkadu, and the action scenes are really well done and inventive.  It’s just filmed better and edited better than Boney Kapoor’s Tevar.  The songs feel organic to the narrative.  There is no shoe-horned item song as in Tevar.  I do like the music in Tevar and listen to Superman all the time, but the music numbers in Okkadu have better placement and flow for the most part.

The scene that is absolutely better in Okkadu is their parting at the airport, because Swapna (Bhumika) runs back and proposes to Ajay.  “I don’t want to leave.  I want YOU.”  It’s a fantastic moment.

This is just going to be one of those movies for me, one of my favorites I will rewatch.  I mean, West Side Story music!!  But mostly Mahesh is awesome.