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Iron man released this Friday and I had no idea it was releasing. For some strange reason that upset me. A closer inspection of my feelings revealed it had to do with being robbed of anticipation. You see I like the anticipation of watching a film almost as much as (and in some cases even more than) watching it. It’s a bit like the anticipation of a meal après a fast. Much more fun than the actual act of eating.

Anyway to get back to story, I figured out why they launched the film with such little publicity. That’s because they figured they’d spend the money in bribing the reviewer instead. Four stars the-fucker-who-shall-remain-unnamed gave it.

As soon as I read the review, I dropped everything I was doing (including an expensive china dish) hopped into an auto and sped to Cinemax to catch the cheap morning show (I’m only a poor writer and can’t afford regular shows) although at 140 a ticket the only thing cheap about it is the management’s disgraceful attempt to pass it off as a cut price ticket. AND IT WASN’T EVEN FOR THE RECLINING LOUNGE! AND I MISSED THE FIRST FEW MINUTES PRIOR TO THE OPENING CREDITS.

The plot, for the lack of a better word, is closer to home now that the evil Paki terrorist horse has been flogged to death. And the enemy this time around is the US Army that wants to obtain the Iron Man technology. Impervious to Tony Stark’s trademark braggadocio assertion, the suit is not Iron Man, I am, the Army appoints Stark’s friend ‘Rhodie’ Rhodes to acquire it. To add to Stark’s woes, the thingie he wears in the centre of his chest, the motor that keeps the shrapnel away from his heart is giving him Palladium poisoning.

Then there are Tony’s other nemeses, Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) and Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke). Justin Hammer’s got a real hard on for a lucrative Army contract. The only problem is whatever his company, Hammer Tech manufactures has as much sizzle as a damp Diwali cracker. Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), an evil Russian genius hates Tony Stark because Tony’s father, Howard Stark was responsible for getting his father deported to Russia. “Well that makes two of us,” Tony should’ve said to him, at least according to the back story they’ve given him about how (sob) his father never loved him.

That’s the plot. The rest of the film is a lot of mumbling on Robert Downey Jr.’s part, blowing up a lot of cars in Monte Carlo, him giving grief to Pepper Potts, him flirting with Agent Romanov (Scarlett Johansson), him bullying Jarvis.

A whole lot of talk and not much action. You know, I’m thinking the new trend they’ve started on TV, subtitling? Excellent idea. Especially when you got to watch someone like Robert Downey Jr. who has a tendency to mumble. Far funnier? Sam Rockwell. At least I could understand what he was saying. And what was that whole thign about Sam Rockwell oozing malevolence? Does malevolence means ineptidue in your lexicon, Mr Reviewer?

Mickey Rourke, neither good, nor bad. Indifferent is the word that comes to mind. Gwyneth Paltrow is efficient as the long suffering Pepper Potts. Scarlett Johansson is sexy as Agent Romanov. On an aside though, why did they make her a brunette when everyone knows blonde = sexy. And isn’t Romanov a male name? Shouldn’t it have been Romanova? What are they trying to do, rewrite sexy and gender equality?

My verdict, go watch the Hindi version. At least, it will be coherent and hilarious. Sample:

“Tony Stark, lauh purush ki tukneek amrikan thal sena ke havale kar do.”

“Kabhi nahin. Lauh purush purush se banta hai, tukneek se nahin.”

Doesn’t make sense? Neither does the movie.

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Disclaimer: Two back to back reviews of Jason Reitman’s films is a mere coincidence (facilitated by the purchase of a brand new DVD player) and not a premeditated act. The reviewer, any one in her immediate family or her pet cat, are not being paid, in cash or kind, by Reitman. The reviewer claims, in her defense, that she didn’t know Thank You for Smoking was Reitman film. It had been lying with her for the longest time and the only reason it didn’t get viewed (and reviewed) earlier was its advanced format, a format the reviewer’s former, antediluvian player pouted at.

Thank You for Smoking is a satirical look at the intrigues of the PR Machinery of Big Tobacco. The story is that of Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart), the spokesperson for Big Tobacco. Naylor is a glib spin doctor whose arsenal consists of four words  –  convince, confuse, deflect, bribe, and he uses them effectively.

Hell, he can make anti – tobacco lobbyists look bad while sitting next to a lung cancer patient with all the outward and pity inducing symptoms – bald pate, wheelchair bound, stick thin, sallow complexion – of the vitiating disease. The scene where he goes to his son’s school to give a talk on his job and almost gets booted out for telling seventh graders that smoking isn’t bad is too funny.

In his own words, Naylor’s job is ‘to talk’ and he does that tirelessly. He spins and spins and spins. All the time. He has few friends and none outside his line of work. The two friends that he has are all from his line of work, i.e., spin doctors for Big Gun and Big Alcohol, or, as they, self-deprecatingly call themselves, Merchants of Death. They meet regularly to vent and bitch about do-gooders.

The only genuine relationship he has is with his son which is one of mutual love and respect.

Naylor is Now conflict enters his life from various sources. A senator from Vermont, Finnistre (William Macy) is threatening to go more graphic about the warning labels on cigarette packets and the Marlboro Man is threatening to lash out at Big Tobacco for giving him cancer and teen smoking (Big Tobacco’s bread and butter) is at an all time low.

No problem. Naylor has the fix for all. However, all the good work Naylor’s done threatens to come to nought when a sexy reporter (Katie Holmes) seduces him into spilling all and a bunch of anti-tobacco lunatics kidnap and poison him with nicotine patches. Things come to when he has to make a choice about his son’s future.

The story is as much about how Naylor goes about solving these problems as about his relationship with his precocious son whom he takes along with him everywhere.

The film is hysterical. The characters are all stereotypes. All the characters are caricatures. Special mention to Rob Lowe’s Hollywood Superagent and Robert Duvall’s’ smoke-till-I-die Big Tobacco chief. There are no ‘deep’ moments, and yet it is extremely effective anti smoking film. Yes, don’t let the title fool ya. The film works because there is no preaching of any kind – subtle or overt. Everyone gets their ass taken and nobody on either side of tobacco fence gets spared.

It is not Reitman’s best film – amongst the three films I’ve seen, I would rate it after Up in the Air and Juno. But even Reitman’s worst (and debut) effort is right up there with the best of the industry.

Statutory warning: This film kills with laughter.

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I was watching the telly a couple of days ago and I happened to catch a 100 richest celebs kinda show on E!

Now, most of them have had to work for their supper but some, like Steven Spielberg get paid on just waking up! Royalties etc, you got it. And guess who was next on the list? JK Rowling. According to the show she’s worth a billion plus pounds. And the show was produced in 2007! Since then there’s been Stephanie Meyers, too.

Now, I was  filled with envy. Cross that. My new age guru will be horrified to hear that. *affirmation to self: Day after day I’m getting better and better and better. The world is filled with abundance and I live in this abundance. I deserve my good fortune and celebrate it*

Anyway, envy or motivation, call it what you will, but I decided to do something about my own, shall we say, considerably less salubrious pecuniary state. I called upon all my experience (and it is vast, spanning investment banking, adventure sports, publishing and writing) and arrived at a winning formula.

As you know, writing a novel is hard work and takes a lot out of you. Added to that is the uncertainty that it will be published. And even if it is, there’s no guarantee that it will sell, let alone be a best seller.

First things first. We have to begin the project by de-risking it. A good way to do that is to attempt a romance. According to the latest trends in fiction, romance still sells. In the wake of the Twilight series, a spate of vampire novels have hit the market but thre’s appetite for more. Well written conspiracies, spelling the doom of mankind, still work.

So, a good beginning premise would be a vampire romance set against the backdrop of an impending disaster.

Now that we’ve de-risked the model, we have to turn it into a multibagger. To do that you have to get attention. And not just the odd newspaper interview/review kinda thing. I’m talking serious, reams and reams of newsprint. The kind that’s devoted to the controversy of the day. Enter Raj Thakeray.

But. But, we can do one better. And that is, we can try and get the book banned. Based on all the above analysis, I’ve decided on what I’m going to write next. Watch out for it tomorrow. Meanwhile, do write in your thoughts on the subject.

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After I wrote my post yesterday, it occurred to me that I was being a tad unfair to producers. When you’re making a film, there are multiple risks at different stages involved.

The first is at the story level. Writing a story/screenplay is quite an art. Just because someone has a good idea doesn’t necessarily mean they will be able to translate it into a good story. A good story is driven by characters and conflict. There are ebbs and flows of emotion in the narrative and a good story paces them out well. An intensely emotional or suspenseful sequence needs a comic relief or downer immediately afterwards. You cannot pile an emotionally charged sequence on top of another.

Then there’s the direction. Just because you have a good script doesn’t mean it will translate into a good film. The director’s vision can either lift the script to a subliminal level (Lucky # Slevin) or reduce it to trash (Richard Kelly’s Domino). It has to be said here, though, that the chances of a good script turning out to be a bad film are rare, no matter how bad the director. As a caveat, I have to add that judging something like this is highly subjective. What I may consider a good script badly executed may well be someone else’s bad script made better.

Assuming the director’s vision translates the screenplay into a gem of a film, the marketing and promotion of the film may fail. The communication may leave the audience cold or target the wrong consumer group altogether.

Assuming everything turns out well – the script is good, the direction exceptional and the publicity succeeds in tweaking the viewers’ interest – the film may still turn out to be a box office dud.

You see, a film is a commercial venture involving millions of rupees. So, perhaps, the producers are not wrong to back winning horses against untested ones.

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I saw Kaminey last night. And it didn’t appeal to me. And no, it wasn’t the burden of expectation because these days I leave all that behind. Whenever I find everyone raving about a film or a book, I immediately become cautious. So, I went in fully expecting to not like it. However, it wasn’t so much that I didn’t like it. It was more like I found it boring.

To begin with, the theme was boring. I find all gangsta movies boring, unless of course they’re Tarantino films. And in our case, with Ramu having ODed on them, I find I can without one more gangster film. The story is straight forward enough. It’s a classic story of identical twins – one good, one bad – and a mix-up. There it is. That’s the story.

Since the story is neo-noirish  (dealing with the corruption of the soul), predictably Vishal Bharadwaj’s treatment is the same – lots of dark shots, excessive use of the steadicam etc. The film is slow to build up. It takes up all of the first half (whatever happened to grip your audience in the first ten minutes?) and had me fidgeting within the first twenty minutes. While I understand the importance of a build-up, for me it was like get on with the story already. Why? I don’t know. I guess I didn’t find the characters funny, endearing or engaging.

For instance, I didn’t find the hotel scene at the beginning particularly cleverly written or shot. The characters of Francis and the two corrupt policemen were, well, yawn. In fact, most of what happens in that hotel is boring. What does Francis want, what does Tashi want, who are the twins, what do the policemen want…who cares?

At the outset it is clear that Bharadwaj’s inspiration is Tarantino. The story is straightforward enough but the telling lies in the treatment. It is all about random, ridiculous events altering the course of the story and allowing the underdog to emerge the victor. But while Tarantino’s random events are shock and awe (remember the scene in Pulp Fiction where John Travolta gets shot?) Bharadwaj’s are, what the F? The sidekick backing the car onto the senior policeman? Seriously?

And when Tarantino engages us in a long dialogue between John Travolta and Samuel L Jackson, we are riveted. The long, long, long pub scene in Death Proof has us hooked.  But when Bharadwaj does it (the whole episode with Bhope and his cronies in Charlie’s kholi), it induces fidgets. It does not flow naturally even though it does end with a vintage Tarantino shock incident. A case of trying too hard? Maybe.

The climax is long drawn out and seems to never end. The runtime is 150 minutes and I was fidgeting for 120 of them.

Having said that, I also say that Kaminey is the best Bollywood film I’ve seen this year. For one, at least the story is not the run-of-the-mill, boy-meets-girl romance or a ridiculous Neeraj Vora comedy. And two, the performances are good. The stars are playing the characters for the most part and not themselves, although Shahid does slip-up once in a while. Priyanka does a good job of the spunky Sweety.

Only Bharadwaj could have elicited such performances and goes to show that Vishal Bharadwaj is probably the best (commercial) director we have today. If only he could ignore that tag and not be compelled to ‘try too hard’ to live up to it.

And now I’m off on a holiday. See you guys on September 7.

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Picture this…a delinquent is given charge of a very expensive machine to run it as he pleases. Indeed, run it aground if he wishes….what’s that?…no, it’s not a quirk of fate…it is a carefully considered decision…No, no, I’m not talking about George Bush, although I do see your point. I’m talking about the latest Star Trek.

As for Angels and Demons, let’s not even go there. The plot is this: The Pope dies and the next four cardinals in line to succeed him, the preferati (have I got this correct?) are kidnapped by some sicko claiming to be a member of the secret society Illuminati. Now it’s a race against time if the four cardinals are to be saved and the succession to go off without a hitch.

But fear not, the rules are relatively simple and the only knowledge required is that of the location of ancient churches in Rome and the various statues in them. A job, apparently, only Robert Langdon can do.

No conspiracy theory here. This is an out and out thriller, a genre Dan Brown is not good at. Makes me kinda nostalgic about the strike period.

Oh, I also did an interview with FHM India. Give it a read if you, as the article says, wish to know ‘her quirks, chic lit and also answers to those strange questions you have always wanted to ask writers!’

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