The Front Row Review of The Amazing Spider-Man 2

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is only the second comic book film of the summer but already, I can feel superhero fatigue setting in. As I watched Spidey soaring through New York, assorted villains destroying buildings, cars, homes and the incredibly talented cast - Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Oscar-winners Jamie Foxx and Sally Field - imbuing life into the struggles of these characters, I felt a keen sense of déjà vu. It didn't seem new or startling enough. Neither did it leave me breathless with excitement - which is the least that I demand from my superheroes these days.

And yet, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 isn't an abject failure. Director Marc Webb keeps the narrative wheels churning hard with a multitude of villains - sadly, Foxx's Electro is the least impressive. He's all sound and fury but not menacing or interesting enough. Paul Giamatti in a Rhino shaped steel armor doesn't do much better. The best of the lot is Dane DeHaan as the tortured, slimy, neglected Harry Osborn.

The strongest thread in this overwrought film is the relationship between Peter Parker and his great love, Gwen Stacy. Garfield and Stone have charm and chemistry to burn. It's a joy to watch them work against each other. But authentic romance isn't what I'm looking for in a $200 million dollar superhero movie. There are some spectacular action sequences - especially the climax - but the adrenalin high isn't sustained. And at the fag end, Webb gives us such a Bollywood moment between Spider-Man and a young boy that I wondered if Webb had been watching too many Hindi movies.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 works in fits and starts. I recommend that you watch it for its gorgeous leads but have patience - it's long and in places, not entirely amazing. I'm going with three stars.

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The Front Row Review of Kya Dilli Kya Lahore

If good intentions were enough to make a good film, then Kya Dilli Kya Lahore would be a winner. Written by Aseem Arora and directed by Vijay Raaz, the film is about Rehmat Ali, a low ranking Pakistani solider and Samarth Pratap, an Indian army cook. It's 1948. Their paths cross at the border. They first try to kill each other but eventually, as they spend time together, they discover their shared humanity. It's a compelling idea with ineffectual execution.

Raaz, who also plays the Pakistani soldier, sets most of the action around one army chowky. I counted only four characters with dialogue. Most of film consists of Ali and Pratap, played by Manu Rishi, exchanging insults, memories and family anecdotes with each other.
To underscore their common tragedy, Arora gives opposing backstories to his leads - so Rehmat is a Delhi resident who moved to Pakistan during partition and Pratap is a Lahore boy who now lives in a refugee camp in Delhi. Some of their exchanges are moving but both strain too hard to be both poignant and poetic. Since everything happens in the same space - basically a cabin in Fiji posing as the Wagah border - the film quickly becomes visually monotonous. The plot might have made good theater but as cinema, it's staggeringly tedious. In the second half, Raj Zutshi enters as the army postman - he screams up a storm but doesn't accomplish much.

Kya Dilli Kya Lahore demands that we stay interested in only two actors for almost two hours. Under any circumstances, that's a tall order. I'm going with two stars.

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The Front Row Review of Revolver Rani

Revolver Rani establishes Kangana Ranaut as the most fearless actress in Bollywood. After winning our hearts as the achingly naïve dumped bride in Queen, she does a 360 degree turn in this film. As the psychotic, murderous, sexually ravenous dacoit turned politician Alka Singh, she is frankly ugly - literally and figuratively. In the Chambal region, a land overrun by corruption, misguided machismo and guns, Alka is the lone woman warrior. Naturally she has to shout louder and shoot harder than the boys.

It's a startling performance that almost goes over the top but Kangana reins herself in and balances expertly between madness and vulnerability. She alienates us and yet keeps us invested. The people around Alka are equally nasty. Quite deliberately, debutant director Sai Kabir doesn't give us anyone to root for. Revolver Rani, co-produced by Tigmanshu Dhulia, is a throwback to Dhulia's films like Saheb Biwi aur Gangster in which scorpion-like characters try to out sting each other.

On Alka's team, there's a selfish, philandering, greedy toyboy Rohan, played very well by Vir Das - Rohan is clearly awful and yet there are moments, when he is being bullied by Alka, when you actually feel sorry for him. But the performance to watch is Piyush Mishra as Alka's Machiavellian mama - a man willing to destroy her life to preserve their power. Kabir, who has also written the film, piles on the betrayals and counter-betrayals. There are goon-like politicians, sting operations, a hilariously hyper television anchor and relentless shootouts - just in case you forget that this film is called Revolver Rani. Some of this works and some doesn't. In places, the film strains too hard to ape the Anurag Kashyap school of cool. The narrative becomes totally divorced from any known reality - at one point, Alka the ex-chief minister drives into a rally of the current chief minister and starts shooting. It's a consequence free Wild West. But what keeps Revolver Rani together are the performances and the sly humor - I especially enjoyed two testosterone-filled duffer politicians whose only aim is to kill Alka.

If you like uplifting, cheerful cinema then this isn't the movie for you. But if like me, you can enjoy bad people doing bad things, then Revolver Rani is fun. I'm going with three stars.

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The Front Row Review of Samrat & Co.

Samrat & Co. is an intriguingly amateurish murder mystery in which Rajeev Khandelwal plays a Sherlock Holmes style detective. Armed with impressive powers of deduction and a sidekick who describes himself as Watson, Samrat solves crimes - in this film, the murder of a rich man in Shimla. But this unintentionally funny detective story throws up a few mysteries itself - like why is an actor as talented as Khandelwal reduced to doing material like this? What exactly is going on with his hair - you and I have bad hair days but here he has a bad hair film. Why does writer Sanjay Masoomm have the suave detective mouthing dialogue like this: Life is an unsolved puzzle and I love it. Did no one tell director Kaushik Ghatak that the climactic fight in which Samrat explains how he found the killer while exchanging blows with him, is laugh out loud funny? As is Samrat's peculiar habit of speaking to himself when things get tough - he actually stops and says, “Come on Samrat, what does it mean? Focus.” What was going on with the disjointed editing and the constantly changing digitized backdrop? And my favorite mystery: Why does the leading lady insist on wearing short skirts when they are supposedly in freezing cold Shimla?

These are puzzles that even Samrat wouldn't be able to solve. I am going with one star.

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The Front Row Review of 2 States

Early on in 2 States, Krish, a young IIM-Ahmedabad student played by Arjun Kapoor tells his girlfriend Ananya played by Alia Bhatt, that actually he wants to be a writer. He wants to write good stories. ‘Story mein hero ho na ho,' Krish says, ‘story hero honi chaiye.' The irony is that in 2 States, the story is the weakest link. The film is bolstered by talented actors, gorgeous songs by Shankar Ehsaan Loy, nice styling and production design and a few sparkling moments. And yet it is a slog.

Based on Chetan Bhagat's bestselling novel, 2 States is about a Punjabi boy and a Tamilian girl who love each other but they decide that they will only marry with the approval of their parents. So like Raj in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, they set out to win over each other's families. Ananya's parents are conservative, straight-laced and simple. Krish is saddled with a loving but drama queen mom who insists on calling Ananya's family ‘Madrasis' and an alcoholic father with serious anger management issues. It is, as you can imagine, a real mess.

In the first half, debutant director Abhishek Varman gives us a sweet, unassuming love story. It's slow and in places stilted but there is a warm sense of companionship between Krish and Ananya. Arjun, departing from his earlier violent roles, makes a nicely goofy lover boy but it's Alia who lights up the screen. She is pure magic. Their parents - played by terrific actors like Revathy and Amrita Singh - present interesting oppositions. But I'm tired of watching Ronit Roy be a drunken bully. Can directors please give this talented actor something more than variations of his role in Udaan?

In the second half, 2 States falls apart. It becomes more contrived and unconvincingly twisted. At almost two and a half hours, it's also stretched so thin that by the time Krish and Ananya walk into the sunset, you are long past caring. The story is narrated by Krish to a psychiatrist but at some point the lady disappears. What exactly happened here? I'm still trying to figure it out.

Ultimately 2 States is unwieldy and disappointing. I'm going with two and a half stars.

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