The Front Row Review of August: Osage County

A special mention here of August: Osage County, which also releases this week. Based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning play, the film is about a dysfunctional family that comes together when the father commits suicide. I found the film overwrought and overripe but you might enjoy the Oscar-nominated performances of Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts. Check it out.

The Front Row Review of Non-Stop Anupama Chopra reviews...

The Front Row Review of Non-Stop

Anupama Chopra reviews Non-Stop directed by Jaume Collet-Serra and starring Liam Neeson and Julianne Moore.

The Front Row Review of Highway

Highway is a problematic film. Elements in it have great beauty - starting with Anil Mehta's cinematography. The film was shot and improvised as the cast and crew drove across six states. Mehta's camera caresses the changing terrain so that we can almost taste the bleached salt pans of Rajasthan and the crisp air of Kashmir. There is A. R. Rahman's soulful music - especially Patakha Guddi - and above all, Alia Bhatt's performance. There are two scenes - one a long monologue - in which she lays bare her soul and becomes utterly broken. It's deeply moving. Her honesty and courage, both as actor and character, is exhilarating.

And yet, I left the theater, deeply dissatisfied. Writer-director Imtiaz Ali is one of Bollywood's most original and interesting storytellers. Here he courageously goes off the formulaic star-driven, song-driven path and returns to his favorite genre - the road movie. Imtiaz gives us a portrait of two damaged souls who through a journey across North India, help to heal each other. So Veera Tripathi, an affluent Delhi princess who lives in a mansion with a Rolls-Royce, ultimately finds peace in the arms of Mahabir Bhatti, a rough Gujjar criminal, played by Randeep Hooda. The idea of a victim falling in love with her kidnapper isn't new - the Stockholm Syndrome in which the hostage forms an emotional bond with the abuser has often been cinematic fodder, especially in Hollywood. But here, it is both uncomfortable and unconvincing.

Veera becomes relaxed around her kidnappers fairly quickly. Early in the film, she says to them: Yahan aake aacha lag rah hai so thank you. After her initial horror, she's behaves like a friend, chatting and laughing. Later in the film, she tells Mahabir: Kafi cute lagne lage ho tum. This to a man who, at regular intervals, threatens to sell her to a brothel. The film posits kidnapping as therapy. It tells us: So what if you've been abducted, heal yourself as you travel the undiscovered countryside. Given the horror inherent in the situation, this just feels false and fundamentally, wrong. Imtiaz skillfully creates moments that are at once, tender, funny and fragile. But my problem was that I simply didn't buy into the story.

And yet, both Veera and Mahabir stayed with me. They are compelling, intriguing characters. Randeep is extremely effective as the brutalized and brutal Mahabir. I just wish they had met under different circumstances. I'm going with two and a half stars.

The Front Row Review of The Monuments Men

The Monuments Men is a perplexing experience. Based on true events, the film tells the little known but fascinating story of a group of men - art historians, curators, restorers - who were assigned to trace and rescue artistic masterpieces at the end of World War II. The star-cast is mouth-watering: George Clooney directs and plays the leader of these unlikely soldiers - which includes Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin and Cate Blanchett as a Parisian curator. But despite this winning combination of story, director and actors, The Monuments Men is a staggeringly lifeless film.

This could have been The Dirty Dozen meets Ocean's Eleven in the art world but instead we get a plodding ride through Europe as the men chase art-stealing Nazis. What is the relevance of art when millions are dying - Clooney answers this fundamental question with lectures on art being the very foundation of modern society. At one point, he solemnly asks: Who will make sure the statue of David is still standing, the Mona Lisa still smiling? The action is tame and the humor, labored. Though Bill Murray has a few good moments.

Eventually the film feels like a tidy museum piece, too bland to even work as escapist adventure. I'm going with two stars.

The Front Row Review of Gulabi Gang

If you are looking forward to watching Madhuri Dixit face off with Juhi Chawala in Gulaab Gang on March 7, be sure to first see the reality behind the fiction. The documentary, Gulabi Gang is a record of an extraordinary women's movement started by the extraordinary Sampat Pal Devi in Uttar Pradesh in 2006. The gang comprises of women vigilantes who wear pink saris and wield sticks. They find strength in numbers and fight against abusive husbands, corrupt politicians and police. We are told the gang has 150,000 members.

Director Nishtha Jain offers us a front row seat to India's heart of darkness. Here a girl can be married at 11 and burned to death at 15. Women, even those strong enough to be part of the Gulabi Gang, support honor killings. The parents of murdered girls shrug, take money in exchange for silence and life goes on. Except that Sampat Pal makes sure that it doesn't.

Sampat Pal is remarkable for her strength and courage but Jain also captures the contradictions in this revolution. Pal has power. People touch her feet. She can get things done - in places, she seems like a don. But what she has wrought is incredible and inspiring.

Gulabi Gang is a fascinating portrait of the power of one. I'm going with three and a half stars.

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