Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Star eCentral: Movie Reviews

THERE is an ongoing fascination with gangster movies in Indian cinema. If you look back at the past few decades of Indian movies, many of the biggest hits have revolved around the theme of criminal gangs.

What's more, almost every major star of recent times in Indian cinema would count playing a gang-related character as one of their biggest successes, whether it is Amitabh Bachchan in Deewar (1975), Kamal Hassan in Nayagan (1987), Rajnikanth in Baasha (1995), Ajay Devgan in Company (2002) or Vijay in Pokkiri (2007).

Tamil film superstar Rajnikanth's portrayal of a good-hearted gangster in Baasha is still remembered as one of his best.

It is no coincidence that storylines related to street crime and gangsters started becoming more prominent in Indian cinema sometime in the early 1970s, a period of increased industrialisation in India, which saw mass migrations of people from rural areas to the cities.

This also marked a time of economic, political and social crises in India, where the rise of poverty and corruption caused the public to lose faith in the government and the police force.

And so, alongside the growth of gangs, came the belief that justice was far more easily sought outside of the legal system, particularly among the downtrodden and disenfranchised members of society. It is this sentiment that is most often reflected, even today, in Indian gangster movies.

Yes, Hindi and Tamil movies (as well as those in other regional languages) do have a tendency to idolise and glamourise portrayals of gangsters, but the plots typically also feature a strong sense of morality and justice.

There is usually a clear distinction made between the "noble" gangster - who turns to a life of crime out of necessity but retains a strong moral code - and the "villainous" gangster, who is usually the personification of evil. Moreover, most big-name actors usually only take on the role of the "good" gangster, a character that is likely to go down better with the audience.

From the late 1990s onwards, however, Indian movies have seen a change in the way gangsterism is portrayed, particularly with the influence of Hollywood and the rise of filmmakers who are more willing to examine complex themes in their works. Movies like Company, Vaastav (1999) and Shootout At Lokhandwala (2007) not only portrayed the gritty realities of the underworld, but are even loosely based on Mumbai's actual criminal gangs and dons.

Since the early 2000s there has also been an increased willingness by big stars to tackle out-and-out negative roles, thereby showing the realities of the gangster life, such as Madhavan in Tamil film Ayutha Ezhuthu (2004) and Abhishek Bachchan in its Hindi remake Yuva, or Saif Ali Khan in Omkara (2006).

Alongside these more realisitic portrayals, however, the "masala" gangster film continues to thrive, and influences from global popular culture such as Hollywood films and hip-hop are clearly seen.

The violence portrayed onscreen increasingly stylised, and life as a gangster often comes with a heavy dose of cool, not to mention the requisite cash, booze and women - such as Don (2006) starring Shah Rukh Khan and Mankatha (2011) with Ajith Kumar.

If this year's Indian movie releases are any indication, there is still no shortage of stories revolving around gangsters. In Hindi, we've thus far seen D-Day, based on former Mumbai don Dawood Ibrahim, Once Upon A Time in Mumbai Dobara (a sequel) and Shootout At Wadala, based on another 1970s Mumbai gangster. In Tamil, Thalaivaa - which stars Vijay as the son of a gangster - is currently doing well in cinemas.


ALTHOUGH they have very little, husband and wife Neung (Krissada Sukosol Clapp) and Dao (Supaksorn Chaimongkol) are happy with their simple life. After eight years of marriage, they have finally saved enough money to invest in a small business. Unfortunately, their business venture goes south.

Things get from bad to worse when Neung runs over his neighbour's daughter while driving under the influence. The girl slips into a coma and Neung is wrecked with guilt. Wanting to do right and pay for the girl's hospital bills, Neung decides to visit a pawn shop to get some money.

Since this is the premise for a Thai horror film titled Pawn Shop, you can bet Neung's transaction is not a typical one. Pawnbroker Long Zhu (Chalee Muangthai) suggests that Neung "pawn" his life for a lot of money. Thinking this is the only solution to pay all his debts, Neung agrees. He doesn't realise that the pawnbroker is going to use Neung's life to feed a vengeful ghost that the pawnbroker has pledged his life to.

On the website, director Parm Rangsi (Daddy's Menu) explained that he wanted to make a film in which the living interacts directly with a ghost. "The idea of Pawn Shop actually came to me when I went broke making a film previously and had to go in and out of the pawn shop all year round."

To get the right setting for the pawn shop, Rangsi picked to film in a mansion in Phang-Nga, a small town situated between Krabi and Phuket in the south part of Thailand. The mansion is apparently haunted!

In the film's production notes provided by Rainfilm Sdn Bhd, Rangsi explained: "It used to be the property of the Na Thalang clan, who had a history at that place for over hundred of years. Someone told me that there was a murder committed at the mansion too. Behind the house, there is an isolated limestone mountain. It is so gorgeous during daytime, but when the night falls, it looks scary."

The eerie location somewhat helped actor Clapp to create the emotions his character was experiencing. It is fortunate that neither Rangsi nor Clapp had any supernatural encounter working at such odd hours at the big, empty, house.

Perhaps what is scarier is the fact that the director is a perfectionist and made his actors shoot the same scene between 10 to 15 times before he was satisfied. Clapp shared: "That made all of the cast members stressed, some even cried. But I get it, that is how he directs."

There are scenes in Pawn Shop which Clapp's character slaps himself and also hits his head against the wall repeatedly. Let's hope that's not the scene Clapp had to film 15 times!

In the end, however, the director hopes the audience doesn't see Pawn Shop as just another horror film. He said: "It is a strong drama as well. I hope audiences will not only feel scared, but will shed tears too."

Pawn Shop opens in cinemas nationwide on Aug 29.FIVE UP-AND-COMING YOUNG ACTORS WHO WILL BE MAKING HEADLINES WITHIN THE NEXT FEW MONTHS.Many fall films are anchored by promising up-and-comers in projects that could make them household names - or Oscar attendees. Some, like Asa Butterfield, have already landed impressive parts in films like Hugo, but are ready to take the next leap forward. Others have strung together a string of weighty performances in supporting roles, but now are ready to take centre stage.

Asa Butterfield

HOW HE'LL SPEND HIS FALL: Rescuing the planet from alien attacks as the teenage warrior in the big screen adaptation of Orson Scott Card's Enders Game (US: Nov 1).

UPCOMING: Lionsgate and Summit think that Ender's Game (pic above) has franchise potential to rival The Hunger Games and Twilight. If audiences embrace the futuristic adventure, there could be plenty more Ender Wiggin in Butterfield's future; Card wrote four sequels to his hit novel. The 16-year old actor has also signed on to the fantasy adventure The White Circus opposite Chloe Grace Moretz.

WHY HE'S ABOUT TO BREAK THROUGH: Butterfield first caught audiences' attention as the wide-eyed orphan in Martin Scorsese's Hugo, but Ender's Game marks his first full-fledged action role. The big-budget extravaganza will rise or fall on his performance. If it works, the opportunities are limitless. Just ask Jennifer Lawrence.

Oscar Isaac

A PUSS AND A MELODY: Oscar Isaac and a friend in Inside Llewyn Davis.

HOW HE'LL SPEND HIS FALL: Stumbling his way through Greenwich Village during the 1960s folk music explosion in the Coen brothers' Inside Llewyn Davis (US: Dec 6) and examining the finer points of 19th century Parisian infidelity in Therese opposite indie "It Girl" Elizabeth Olsen (US: Sept 27).

UPCOMING: He will star as a Greek guide to married tourists in the thriller The Two Faces Of January with Viggo Mortensen and play legendary drug kingpin Pablo Escobar in The Ballad Of Pablo Escobar.

WHY HE'S READY TO BREAK THROUGH: As a nomadic folk singer consigned to the margins of the music industry, Isaac astounded critics when the film debuted at Cannes. Many reviewers predicted big things for the actor, including a possible Oscar nomination. Isaac has demonstrated an impressive intensity in supporting roles such as the ill-fated thief he played in Drive, but here he is front and centre.

Bonus points for doing his own singing and guitar work.

Margot Robbie

HOW SHE'LL SPEND HER FALL: Playing Leonardo DiCaprio's love interest in Martin Scorsese's Wolf Of Wall Street (pic above) and starring in time-travel romance About Time.

UPCOMING: A supporting role in Suite Francaise, a film set in German-occupied France, and the lead role in Focus opposite Will Smith. In Focus, she'll play a young, attractive woman sheperded by a grifter (Smith).

WHY SHE'S READY TO BREAK THROUGH: Robbie has been scratching at the door of stardom for a few years, particularly when she landed a lead role on the short-lived ABC show Pan Am. She's now ready for her breakthrough thanks to movies, taking a major part in Scorsese's latest before starring alongside one of the world's biggest movie stars next year.


HOW HE'LL SPEND HIS FALL: Helping Julian Assange steal state secrets as a technology activist in The Fifth Estate (US: Oct 18) and racing for the world championship as Formula 1 driver Niki Lauda (pic above) in Rush, out in the US on Sept 20.

UPCOMING: He'll engage in international espionage in the big screen adaptation of John Le Carre's A Most Wanted Man opposite Philip Seymour Hoffman before crossing the boards with Kristen Stewart and Chloe Grace Moretz in the backstage drama Sils Maria.

WHY HE'S READY TO BREAK THROUGH: Bruhl is already a star in Europe thanks to his buttermilk features that belie an inner steel. Chris Hemsworth may be the bigger name in Rush, but it's Bruhl who has the showier role as a race car driver who has to battle back from a devastating accident to compete for the sport's top prize.

Plus, with Edward Snowden a hot topic of debate, The Fifth Estate and its examination of WikiLeaks is bound to stir controversy.


HOW SHE'LL SPEND HER FALL: Playing Nelson Mandela's wife Winnie in the biopic Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom. The Weinstein Co film will premiere at Toronto in Canada before opening in theatres in November.

UPCOMING: Though little has been announced about the next James Bond movie, it's hard to imagine she won't be included since she was anointed the new Money Penny at the end of the last one.

WHY SHE'S READY TO BREAK THROUGH: She's stolen scenes in several big-budget films over the past few years, from two Pirates Of The Caribbean films to the aforementioned Skyall (pic above) . Now viewers will get a chance to see her in a different light, playing one of the best roles for a black actress you can imagine.

While Jennifer Hudson will play it just two months earlier, we're guessing Harris holds her own. And after that? Another big Bond movie. -- Reuters

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