Highway Review

Highway_Hindi_Film_PosterHighway Review Summary: Best Way To Sum Up Highway – Dora The Explorer Undergoes an Eat Pray Love Moment during a YRF-style Kidnapping Plot Sponsored by National Geographic. The Result is a Frustratingly Disappointing Mishmash.  

Rating: 1.5 / 5

Director: Imtiaz Ali

Cast: Alia Bhatt, Randeep Hooda

Highway is almost stoned with verdurous landscapes eager to capture yet another snow-capped valley, yet another batch of folk artists warbling in the middle of nowhere. If it were to go under the scanner, I’m sure the reports shall detect directorial self-indulgence. Yes, we have come to expect a great deal of travel in director-writer Imtiaz Ali’s films.

His debut effort Socha Na Tha treated us to Goa, and his next and most popular Jab We Met circled through Himachal Pradesh and Punjab. His next two films – Love Aaj Kal and Rockstar went international. Of course, the locations acted as backdrop to the storyline in each of the four cases. Why are repeatedly subjected to shots of tranquil nature in Highway then? Yes, to convey an atmosphere and to a degree the characters’ frame of mind. Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity and Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours have shown great degree of expertise in employing environment alongside filmic elements to heighten the emotional state.

 

In Highway, however, scenery chews up everything and all we’re left with are memories of parting clouds, chirping crickets and vegetation and little of anything else. It feels as though a very filmi kidnapping story was spliced with truckloads of scintillating images from National Geographic, and what we get in the end is something a la Eat Pray Love except on the Highway, with a Yash Raj treatment to the kidnapping angle and plentiful of ped-paudhe. The mishmash makes for a unsatisfactory watch.

 

You know a film’s in trouble when itself doesn’t understand what its tone has to be. Some images are so sharp they seem to be injected with artificial coloring. It seems the characters’ themselves weren’t as besotted with the beauty as Imtiaz Ali was, and therefore the picture looks pretty but empty.

Talking about characters, Alia Bhatt returns in her sophomore work after Student of the Year as Veera Tripathi, a rich but unhappy girl (cliché) who gets kidnapped on night on the highway and soon goes “Yeah, I’m kidnapped! Now I can sightsee!”. She has a troubling childhood secret that’s eventually revealed to us and the other characters. Alia has a babyface, but her screen presence is far more refreshing than babyface contemporary Hansika Motwani’s. There isn’t much to her character, who goes through the routine cycle of outright fear and apprehension, followed by submission, cooperation, realization, then finally intimacy, in a movie that requires her to fall in love with her kidnapper.

 

She’s overtly nice and simplemindedly naïve for someone from a well-off family, and Alia portrays Veera as a bug-eyed Dora The Explorer. Her eyes don’t convey much about her past, and most experienced actors know you can convey a great deal about your character through your eyes. She doesn’t give us a fully realized character the way Kareena Kapoor presented us Geet in Jab We Met, the way Shahrukh Khan played Mohan Bhargav in Swades. More than a breakthrough performance, it’s a Filmfare-baiting performance through and through, especially in the scene where Alia tells her kidnapper how she was the victim of child abuse. What had me scratching my head was that she had no purpose behind telling him all that stuff at that point of time. See, I told you she wants that naked statue badly!

 

Randeep Hooda gives a less than impressive performance as Mahavir, her kidnapper, for he too cannot completely settle into character the way actors like Irrfan Khan and Nawazuddin Siddique would. The scenes play more like airbrushed reconstructions of events and the performances ring false. A.R. Rahman’s soundtrack redeems the film to an extent by creating an aura that’s more in tune with the film’s purpose, but that can’t undo all the mishaps and collisions caused by Ali, cinematographer Anil Mehta and the cast. It’s a highway to nowhere.

August: Osage County Review – Part 3

8c0a941c-797f-4be9-b6ff-a9bb7d9dd131_augustosagecounty_redband_gsCriticism 2: Acting Style

The wounded cries of Violet echo throughout the Weston’s home moments her daughter wrestles her to the ground and snatches the ‘blue babies’ (pills) from her hand. Violet isn’t just wounded, she’s rabid. Verbally clobbering each and every member while puffing on cigarettes (‘You think you can shame me, Charlie? Blow it out of your ass!’ she barks, when her poor brother-in-law attempts to provide reassurance), the harridan attempts to get even with her daughters for spoiling themselves and turning out to be major disappointments in life.

 

Meryl’s performance has been compared to Faye Dunaway’s in Mommie Dearest, the greek monster Medusa, a monstrous pterodactyl, Tyler Perry’s Madea (!), a gorgon, etc. I think she sought inspiration from the character of Roy Cohn, performed by Al Pacino in Angels in America. She was the lead on that show, and witnessing the terrifying outbursts and the nasty barbs here, spoken with the most horrifying expression you’d imagine, I think Meryl really owes credit to Pacino rather than ‘Dunaway’ or ‘Madea’. Plus, she’s played a cancer patient in One True Thing, and the physical appearance when she sheds her wig takes us back to that film. When she opens about her past in a vulnerable moment with her daughters on the swing, I thought of my grandmother, who suffered a nasty and lonely dotage suffering from cancer, osteoporosis and paralysis. In her verbal lashings, she reminded me of… me when I was eighteen and (although my parents still think I’m kidding) suffering from melancholic depression (two years of meditation and intense introspection proved helpful). She’s also an abandoned King Lear in the film, ramping up her performance to the histrionics of a Shakespearean character when required.

 

It’s a nut-loose persona, and a second viewing is needed to catch the subtleties in her act. She delivers with a lifelike intensity, which to be honest, I don’t see in any other working actor today. Daniel Day Lewis flares up on screen, so does Brando or De Niro or Di Caprio, but they’re more reliant to the power of their voice to convey emotions. Meryl somewhat hides her emotion in her timbre, but if we’re observant, we hear the strains in her voice as she intones. The ‘lifelike’ quality is harder to notice, especially for people who haven’t been in such situations or who haven’t experienced such emotions, and that’s why she’s called ‘cold’ and ‘technical’ by a few. Right now, I can bet that anybody who’s been through her condition or who has seen someone undergo such a phase will say Meryl’s given the most realistic performance one can imagine.

 

But again, she makes Violet a shade too melancholic in an endeavor to get into the skin of the character. Julia Roberts is emotional too. As Jean, Abigail Breslin plainly has to look left and right during the dinner table battle, mutter some lines on being a vegetarian and loving Phantom of the Opera, and then shedding tears when she’s caught later. McGregor fares worse, looking like Tom Hanks from Captain Phillips (if you look really hard), and stalling on the periphery of the action.

juliette-lewis_august-osage-county_ocfs

Juliette Lewis

Who nails the tone of the play – a very dark ‘comedy’? Juliette Lewis, who looks like she’s landed from David O. Russell’s world of quirky, sad characters. She helps transit the play’s spirit to screen, and so does Margo Martindale and Chris Cooper who play Violet’s younger sister Mattie Fae and her husband Charles.

 

You know what, I watched Pedro Almodóvar’s All About My Mother, a Spanish-French dramedy, a couple of hours after August: Osage County, and it was infinitely more funny, melodramatic, heartwarming, sad and touching. Roger Ebert perfectly described it as ‘a struggle between real and fake heartbreak–between tragedy and soap opera. They’re usually funny, too, which increases the tension. You don’t know where to position yourself while you’re watching a film like “All About My Mother,” and that’s part of the appeal: Do you take it seriously, like the characters do, or do you notice the bright colors and flashy art decoration, the cheerful homages to Tennessee Williams and “All About Eve” (1950) and see it as a parody?’. All this is missed in August: Osage County, which ends up working like a sappy, patchy melodrama. It isn’t stuck together properly.

 

August Osage County Review: Part 2

August Osage County movieHere’s my first criticism: ‘faithful adaptation’.

I had prepared myself for this one, having posed a question to playwright Tracy Letts during an audience Q&A round (the selected question, along with Letts’ response can be read here: https://sashankkini.wordpress.com/2013/11/28/my-question-to-playwright-tracy-letts-for-august-osage-county-live-qa-with-cast-and-crew/).

 

Pruning a three-hour tragicomedy into two for film also calls for adjustments to the resultant footage. In simple words, care should be taken to equalize the ‘just-noticeable difference’ due to reduction in material. Maybe it was Weinstein’s decision to shave off scenes that in his opinion added little value to the overall film. However, the cuts prick.

 

Let’s consider a scene in the play towards the finish in which the distraught Barbara, Violet’s eldest daughter, attempts to kiss Sheriff Gilbeau but ultimately withdraws; this happens two weeks after her ex-husband Bill leaves the house with their daughter Jean. The film slings out this sequence entirely and moves on to the ‘catfish’ catfight between her, Violet and Ivy. A turning point for Barbs, the scene also justified a previous conversation involving Gilbeau between Barbara and Jean. Maybe when Roberts and Breslin were performing the scene, they held the impression Gilbeau would appear later into the film. Roberts adds a weight to her words that is balanced by Gilbeau’s appearance. But since he’s missing, Roberts’ tone should’ve been slightly different, something that didn’t mislead us to believe he’d come.

 

Certain deletions impact character dynamics as well. The film hardly showcases Violet interacting with her granddaughter Jean, while the play teases Jean’s voluptuous boobs with jocular remarks from Violet (as well as Mattie Fae, which has been retained). The “Hollywoodish” ending (a shift of focus from Violet to Barbara) may have worked had the film been Julia’s journey from the beginning.

 

The screenplay, also penned by Letts, hangs in mid-air motionless, like it’s stuck in the plains, in the sense that its confused about what it should take in to maintain the flow, what it could leave out to avoid appearing stagey and what it can add to make it more cinematic. Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia, constructed in myriads of concurrent and converging storylines, threaded a satisfying storyline for each major character while tying it all to the major themes of the film. The only characters lucky enough to get a special treatment in August Osage County are Violet, Barbara, Mattie Fae and Charles, Ivy and Karen. The others, especially Barbara’s husband Bill, Karen’s fiancé Steve, Jean, Little Charles and Johnna, the native-American maid are slovenly handled. The issue of Native Americans driven out of their country by settlers could’ve been explored more deeply on film. But expect for scattered references and a simplistic symbolism on the wall, little effort has been taken to delve into that angle.

 

august-osage-county-elizabeth-taylor-2013-movie-scene-1024x576The biggest irritant is the camera sitting through wordy, rehearsed monologues adapted too faithfully to sparkle on film. When Meryl browbeats Ivy for not wearing make-up, the camera cuts back and forth between the two, selecting the same position every time. The rehearsed nature, devoid of the improvised spontaneity visible in Altman films, adds to the laggardness. The actors are a touch too sombre to possess a vibrant volatility demanded during the dinner sequence. The screenplay wants the best of both stage and cinema and succeeds in neither.

        

Criticism 2: Acting Style

(Contd in part 3)