Monday, June 30, 2014

Bollywood Movie Preview: July 2014

When school’s out, work is slow, and everyone's dawdling under that sluggish, summer-induced lethargy, I’m seeking protection from the blistering heat with the best form of sunscreen: the cinema!

In what I hope will become a regular series on Reel Simple, I’m taking a look at movies hitting your multiplexes this month, with my takes on what to see, what to skip, and what to delegate to the DVD department.

Here’s what’s on the Bollywood slate this July….

Bobby Jasoos
Release Date: July 4
Starring: Vidya Balan, Ali Fazal, Kiran Kumar, Supriya Pathak

What’s the story? A small-town gal with lofty dreams and a penchant for espionage aspires to become Hyderabad’s leading detective, despite naysayers and skeptics who doubt her potential.

See it or skip it? The trailer of Bobby Jasoon shows Vidya bumbling her way through her investigative endeavors in various disguises, giving this highly anticipated film a lighthearted vibe of Harriet the Spy meets Sherlock Holmes. With the prospect of Vidya trying her hand at some physical comedy, plus the picturization of “Tu”—the gorgeous tune I’ve been hooked onto since the movie’s audio release—I’ll be queuing outside the theater for this one!

Lekar Hum Deewana Dil
Release Date: July 4
Starring: Armaan Jain, Deeksha Seth, Rohini Hattangadi

What’s the story? Sick of her father’s nagging to get married, a young woman decides to escape on a road trip with her best friend, who happens to be a fun-loving young man {insert predictable ending here}.

See it or skip it? I’ll be honest: this movie was nowhere near my radar until about ten minutes ago, when I did a frantic Google search to be able to write this very blurb. Turns out, it might be kind of a big deal. Sure, the cast list isn’t twinkling with A-listed starlets; however, co-produced by Saif Ali Khan, directed by Imtiaz Ali’s little bro Arif Ali, and scored by A.R Rahman, I’ll be watching Lekar Hum Deewana Dil out of involuntary curiosity—albeit probably on DVD a few months from now rather than in the cinema this weekend.

Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhaniya
Release Date: July 11
Starring: Varun Dhawan, Alia Bhatt

What’s the story? When rich girl Kavya Singh from Ambala visits Delhi to shop for her wedding and meets Punjabi munda Rakesh “Humpty” Sharma, it’s hate-at-first-sight, eventually turning into an opposites-attract scenario.

See it or skip it? The second big-ticket release this month after Bobby Jasoos, the on-screen reunion of Varun Dhawan and Alia Bhatt bears a few vague similarities to their 2012 Student of the Year debut: Alia’s cast in a similar rich-girl role, the glitzy “Saturday” dance number is set in a nightclub much like SOTY’s “Vele,” and producer Karan Johar’s influence inevitably gives the trailer a glossy, bubble-gum feel. Yet, Humpty Sharma seems to feature less frothy flouncing around, more witty banter, and significantly fewer gratuitous shots of Varun’s well-oiled abs. Plus, any film that makes DDLJ references scores points in my book. While it doesn’t promise to be a groundbreaking cinematic accomplishment, Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhaniya sure looks like a whole lot of fun—who’d say no to that?

Pizza 3D

Release Date: July 18
Starring: Akshay Oberoi, Parvathy Omanakuttan, Dipannita Sharma

What’s the story? A pizza boy’s day goes from humdrum to hair-raising when he makes a delivery to a house that’s haunted, and becomes ensnared in the secrets and supernatural threats that loom inside.

See it or skip it? If director Akshay Akkineni thought he could spook up a title and a premise as lame as this one (I’ve made student films in middle school with more sophisticated plotlines) by tacking on the 3D element, I’m convinced he’s grossly mistaken. The only thing scary about looking at melted mozzarella in enhanced depth is that it’ll probably tempt me into calling in for a personal stuffed-crust pie. No need for those goofy stereoscopic glasses to see a clear verdict here: save your waistlines—and your brain cells; skip this one. 

Hate Story 2
Release Date: July 18
Starring: Surveen Chawla, Sushant Singh, Jay Bhanushali

What’s the story? I don’t know, guys. It’s an erotic thriller. Do those have stories?

See it or skip it? I’m scratching my head as to why, after the hot mess that was the original Hate Story back in 2012, producer Vikram Bhatt thought that a part 2 would be a good idea. Hate Story 2 then shoots itself further in the foot even before its release by claiming to be inspired by Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill series—way to set your bar unattainably high, Vikram. Even trying to keep an open mind with the whole “erotic thriller” thing, I’m at a loss for reasons to watch this. If you come up with any, I’m all ears.

Release Date: July 25
Starring: Salman Khan, Jaqueline Fernandez, Randeep Hooda, Nawazuddin Siddiqui

What’s the story? Salman Khan stars as a he-man with a mysterious profession that involves a lot of helicopters and death-defying feats, and an inexplicable obsession with what gives life its “kick.”

See it or skip it? Given that Salman Khan has the most loyal fans in all the world, I’ll probably face serious backlash after saying this but, like most of his films, Kick looks to be just another rendition of his tried-and-tested formula: a confused but oddly effective mix of highly risky, highly improbable action sequences; melodramatic yet meaningless dialogue; and a romantic subplot featuring Sallu’s latest inappropriately young flame haphazardly thrown in. Worth the price of popcorn and soda? I’m still on the fence. 

Saturday, June 14, 2014


One of Chef's most memorable scenes is Jon Favreau making a sandwich for his son. Generous layers of cheddar are nestled between two buttered rectangles of sourdough, carefully placed on a griddle until their sizzle signals their doneness. There’s a satisfying crunch as his knife cuts through the bronzed slices, cheese seeping like molten from their sides.

Here’s the thing: I barely consume dairy.
That, in a nutshell, is why you shouldn’t watch Chef hungry. If it could make my make my practically-vegan palate salivate, imagine what it would do for the meat-loving moviegoer. From close ups of juicy, falling-off-the-bone brisket and succulent slabs of bacon to steaming golden coils of spaghetti and airy nuggets of sugar-dusted beignets, Chef is an undeniable feast for the eyes, if not an entirely satisfying meal for the viewer with a bolder appetite. 

Here, Favreau returns to his indie roots in his first endeavor as writer/director since 2001’s Made. Starring as Carl Casper, he plays an ambitious yet stifled head chef at an upscale L.A restaurant who, despite his desperate desire to cook outside the box, is forced by his boss (Dustin Hoffman) to dish out the same menu night after night.

When the redundant offerings (not to mention Casper’s “dramatic weight gain”) are verbally chewed out by veteran food blogger Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt), Casper starts a Twitter account to state his beef with Michel’s review. But his angrily defensive tweet—intended as a private message—is posted publicly; a social media feud is ignited and explodes in an in-person outburst, captured in a video that (obviously) goes viral and costs Casper his job.

What looks like a dead end turns into a glimmer of opportunity: at the urging of his restaurant-hostess friend (Scarlett Johannson) ex-wife (Sofia Vergara) and her ex-husband (Robert Downey Jr.),** Casper starts a food truck and takes to the road. Thus begins a journey that allows him to not only indulge his culinary whims but also bond with his son Percy (Emjay Anthony), who joins in as sous-chef along with Casper’s former coworker Martin (John Leguizamo).

The cast list reads like Favreau’s personal phone book, with buddies from previous projects over his almost twenty years in showbiz making token appearances and then disappearing.  At moments, it’s easy to get distracted from the plot as you wonder which A-lister is going to show up next. But that’s not to say that the actors don’t deliver. From his notable knife skills and heavily inked arms to his impressive girth we can easily be convinced was part of “preparing for the role,” Favreau clearly relishes being Casper. He essays the chef/father duality so fluently that you can’t help assuming that Casper’s struggle to maintain a balance between career and family is Favreau’s written confession of his own challenges as a working actor with three children. His chemistry with his on-screen son is effortless and gives the film its most solid plotline, Anthony himself being a rare young find who wins you over with his completely unaffected talent.  Together with Leguizamo, the three forge a lovable bromance as they drive cross-country. As Percy's Latina mom, Sofia Vergara doesn’t quite step out of her Modern Family zone, but it’s refreshing to see her display some restraint here. Robert Downey Jr. has his classic over-the-top moments, but performs them with characteristic charm. Scarlett Johansson remains firmly mediocre but she’s on screen for a total of maybe 7 minutes, so her overall impact is negligible.

It’s the movie’s predictable narrative beats that do compromise its effect, at times falling short in believability or plain oomph. With its emphasis on humble beginnings as well as second chances, Chef is an ideal feel-good film and, judging by the tender reverence with which Casper extracts a perfectly roasted pork from an oven, a welcome reminder to do what you love even if it goes against the grain.*** But a bit more rawness and a slightly grittier depiction of Casper’s struggles during his period at rock bottom would have lent the plot a greater air of realism. Once he is dramatically removed from his job, all it takes is a brief spell of moping, a pep talk from his curvaceous coworker, and an especially delectable Cuban sandwich to rekindle his confidence and ambition. From the funding to the cooking to the marketing of his new venture, the upturn is suspiciously obstacle-free. I’m no expert, but I doubt one needs to be Roy Choi to realize that running a food truck is no joke. It’s difficult to swallow that two men and a 10 year old can pull it all off without considerably more nervous breakdowns. Sure, it’s “just a movie,” but even still, Chef makes it all look way too breezy.

What it (thankfully) doesn’t do so easily, is blast critics. Favreau could have easily used the film as a vindictive rebuttal against reviewers he’s been stung by in the past.  Yet, Chef nobly suggests that there is as much a space for critics as there is for the people they write about.** Sure, there are the obnoxious few who use their profession and their subjects as punching bags for their snark. But reviews aren’t always gratuitously belittling diatribes; as Chef implies, honest evaluations are not only often spot-on, but can be much-needed wake-up calls for a career boost, attitude adjustment, or leap of faith.

More than just food porn, the film delivers both the hearty and healthy message of following one’s dreams. Yet, some areas are a little overcooked for my liking.  Well-intentioned and comforting, Chef is occasionally too much sugar and not enough spice. But, given my insatiable sweet tooth, I devoured it without much fuss.

*Don’t worry, we’re still talking about Chef. Not Iron Man 3. Chef.

**I particularly appreciate this, y’know, seeing as how I’m aiming to do this for a living.

***Sorry. Food puns are my weakness.