The Front Row Review of Fugly

New Delhi. Four friends who live by the motto of the three musketeers - all for one and one for all. A perversely brutal and corrupt cop. The friends make a wrong move. The cop starts to blackmail them. He makes their lives a living hell until they have no option but to retaliate.

Rahul Handa’s story begins with an intriguing suicide attempt and at least until interval, director Kabir Sadanand manages to keep you hooked. There’s a lot here that doesn’t work - the background music is deafening, the Delhi atmosphere is synthetic, lame comedy dilutes the tension, the social messages are clumsily tacked on - and yet I was interested in the quicksand that that these four are sinking in. Debutants Mohit Marwah and Kiara Advani are attractive and competent and Jimmy Sheirgill, playing the horrific Chautala, has a chilling menace. His introduction is the film’s best sequence. Kabir demonstrates exactly what Chautala is capable of.

But post-interval, Fugly becomes entirely logic-free. The friends decide they can solve their many problems by throwing a farm house party, complete with hookers and drugs. It’s a stressful situation but they find the time to sing a song that goes: I’m good in bed baby, baby, I’m the hall of fame, I’m good in bed, baby, baby I’m the king of the game. To get the farmhouse, they make a deal with some lecherous aunties. In exchange, one of them has to spend the night there. How can you take any of this seriously? As Rahul and Kabir try to stir up Rang de Basanti-style patriotism, Fugly becomes more and more preposterous. By the end, anything is possible, including a patient with third-degree burns physically fighting with the mighty Chautala on a hospital bed.

Now that’s what I call Fugly. Despite the good intentions, this one is a misguided mess. I’m going with two stars.

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The Front Row Review of Holiday - A Soldier is Never Off Duty

Holiday - A Soldier is Never Off Duty, a remake of the Tamil blockbuster Thuppaki, is a profoundly moronic film. Without pause, it moves from one preposterous situation to another. So fearsome terrorists are stored in bedroom cupboards, frantic searches for sleeper cells are interrupted by an inane love angle, at one point, the hero fixes his dislocated arm by casually snapping it back into place. In the climax, hero and villain go at each other, one on one and a side-kick suggests killing both of them. It was so unintentionally funny that I collapsed with laughter. That’s perhaps not the response that writer-director A. R. Murugadoss and star and co-producer Akshay Kumar were hoping for.

Akshay is Virat Bakshi, an army man and special agent in something called the Defense Intelligence Agency. Which means he can torture and murder anyone he pleases. When Virat is not pursuing terrorists, he is romancing Saiba, played by Sonakshi Sinha. Saiba is a young, seemingly cool, urban woman who is also a boxer but her only purpose in life is marriage. She arrives at regular intervals to dance in a nightclub, ask for a kiss and shed a tear or two when Virat rejects her, accepts her and rejects her again. She represents a whole new level of doormat. But she’s still better off than the other female characters in this film who exist only to get abducted or slit their wrists for love.

Meanwhile Virat gets to do heroic things like chewing his lip and solving the Rubik’s cube while he tries to figure out how to stop the dastardly sleeper cells from burning up Mumbai city. Characters say dialogue like: Saare sleeper cells coma cells ho jayenge and Indian army main sleeper cells desh ke liye cancer hain. The villain, played by Farhad Daruwala, has a nice menace but the plot is so low IQ that he loses it quickly. The only solace is Govinda, in high-waist pants and strange hair-do. He still puts a smile on my face.

Holiday - A Solider is Never Off Duty is a superstar vehicle without a brain or a heart. I’m going with one star.

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The Front Row Review of Holiday - A Soldier is Never Off Duty

Holiday - A Soldier is Never Off Duty, a remake of the Tamil blockbuster Thuppaki, is a profoundly moronic film. Without pause, it moves from one preposterous situation to another. So fearsome terrorists are stored in bedroom cupboards, frantic searches for sleeper cells are interrupted by an inane love angle, at one point, the hero fixes his dislocated arm by casually snapping it back into place. In the climax, hero and villain go at each other, one on one and a side-kick suggests killing both of them. It was so unintentionally funny that I collapsed with laughter. That's perhaps not the response that writer-director A. R. Murugadoss and star and co-producer Akshay Kumar were hoping for.

Akshay is Virat Bakshi, an army man and special agent in something called the Defense Intelligence Agency. Which means he can torture and murder anyone he pleases. When Virat is not pursuing terrorists, he is romancing Saiba, played by Sonakshi Sinha. Saiba is a young, seemingly cool, urban woman who is also a boxer but her only purpose in life is marriage. She arrives at regular intervals to dance in a nightclub, ask for a kiss and shed a tear or two when Virat rejects her, accepts her and rejects her again. She represents a whole new level of doormat. But she's still better off than the other female characters in this film who exist only to get abducted or slit their wrists for love.

Meanwhile Virat gets to do heroic things like chewing his lip and solving the Rubik's cube while he tries to figure out how to stop the dastardly sleeper cells from burning up Mumbai city. Characters say dialogue like: Saare sleeper cells coma cells ho jayenge and Indian army main sleeper cells desh ke liye cancer hain. The villain, played by Farhad Daruwala, has a nice menace but the plot is so low IQ that he loses it quickly. The only solace is Govinda, in high-waist pants and strange hair-do. He still puts a smile on my face.

Holiday - A Solider is Never Off Duty is a superstar vehicle without a brain or a heart. I'm going with one star.

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The Front Row Review of Filmistaan

Filmistaan is a delightful film. It has heart, imagination and intelligence. Filmistaan is a celebration of our enduring love affair with Hindi cinema. But it is also an exploration of the shared humanity between Indians and Pakistanis. Debutant director Nitin Kakkar, who has also written the film, has created a comedy that is permeated by a profound sadness. Filmistaan tells us that the lines between people and nations are as arbitrary as they are permanent but one thing unites us all - Bollywood.
Filmistaan is about a fanatical Hindi movie fan and wannabe actor who gets abducted by jihadis and taken to Pakistan. At first, Sunny Arora, played by Sharib Hashmi, doesn't realize that he's crossed the border. Ghar, khana-peena, shakalen sab same hain, he reasons. True to his name, Sunny brims with an infectious good cheer. Slowly, he makes friends with his captors, the family in whose house he is kept a hostage and the children in the village. Even when he is shot, Sunny doesn't lose heart. His love for movies and fellow human beings keeps him alive.
Kakkar directs this unique story with a sure hand. Most of the narrative takes place in one location but Kakkar imbues the space with texture. The film's beginning is bumpy and the end is stretched but mostly the story moves at an even clip, alternating between smiles and tears. At one point, Sunny is teaching his captors how to shoot his own hostage movie, because he says, no matter what the film is, never compromise on quality. In another scene, he's mouthing the entire dialogue of Maine Pyar Kiya.

Filmistaan wouldn't be half as effective without Hashmi's stellar performance. Sunny is so engagingly sweet and sincere that he lights up the frame. Hashmi has also written the film's crackling dialogues. But Filmstaan has impact because Kakkar has given all the characters flesh. Aftab, a Pakistani who sells pirated Hindi movies, played by Inaamulhaq, is equally interesting. Even the jihadi abductors are people, not straight-up villains. The other plus is that Kakkar isn't lazy or over-the-top with the Hindi movie referencing. Filmistaan truly touched the Bollywood fan in me.

So don't be put off by the name or the lack of stars. This is a lovely little film that will sneak into your heart. I'm going with four stars.

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The Front Row Review of Edge of Tomorrow

Tom Cruise is all that stands between us and extinction. Yes, I know - we've been here before in umpteen action movies that feature one of the world's biggest stars. But Edge of Tomorrow, directed by Doug Liman, is a little different. In this one, we also get to see Cruise die again and again and again.

The film has been described as Groundhog Day for sci-fi fans. Cruise, playing Major William Cage, gets infected by alien blood and acquires the powers to reset time. He keeps dying and keeps going back to where he started but with each life, he acquires new skills, which help him to ultimately defeat the enemy and save the world. If you think that's a spoiler, you haven't seen enough Tom Cruise movies.

Based on the novel All You Need is Kill, Edge of Tomorrow has a compelling plot that becomes less and less interesting as it plays out. The fabulous Emily Blunt plays the warrior Rita, who helps Cage in his mission. The two make for an intriguing combination - Blunt has a fierce intelligence that blazes through even this largely banal role. The action is propulsive and the snazzy editing by James Herbert and Laura Jennings keeps the narrative moving frantically even though the same scenario is repeated over and over. Despite this, tedium invariably seeps in. By the time, we got to the limp climax, my mind was far, far away. I came out of the theater, utterly exhausted.

In a summer brimming with annihilating monsters, vicious aliens and assorted villains, Edge of Tomorrow just isn't dazzling enough to stand out. I'm going with two and a half stars.

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