Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Five Major Highlights from US Open 2014

US Open, the slam that used to be Federer's turf for 5 years from 2004 to 2008 in which period he defeated five different opponents to claim the title, suddenly got a lot unpredictable seeing 4 different winners in the next 4 years. Rafa Nadal was about to restore order in 2013 but this year's edition takes the cake for unpredictability in the men's draw over which a lot would have lost money on bets and very few would have gained huge rewards. They deserved to, if they had backed Kei Nishikori & Marin Cilic - two from the Lost Boys generation of tennis - to be the lone men standing on the third monday at Flushing Meadows.

A quick summary of five key takeaways from this year's US Open here:
Child's Play for Serena!
Child's Play for Serena

1. Serena is Serena, no matter what!The women's draw saw a number of upsets which were no shockers given the characteristic inconsistency seen & expected off a number of top-10 players. Simona, Aga, Ana, Masha, Kerber & a struggling Vika were all shown the doors in matches they were expected to win. There was one player in the mix who certainly was not expected to bow out despite the fact that she had not reached Quarters in any of the slams this year - Serena Williams. Serena was on quest for her 18th Major to tie her with legends like Navratilova & Chris Evert in terms of slam count and she was unwavering in that quest - She won the title without dropping a set, and not dropping more than 3 games in any of the 14 sets she played! In tennis terms, that is 'God Level' of play. She is all set to chase the Stefanie target. I won't place any bets against her doing that,even if she is 4 slams away from it.

2. Some New girls, Some Old girls

Take Serena out of the picture and there were a few delightful stories from the women's draw. There is a young Swiss who is making rapid progress this season - Belinda Bencic. She made some giant killing on her way to the Quarters but was tamed by a veteran Chinese who had a breakthrough of sorts. Props to Shuai Peng, the doubles specialist for making a deep run. It was a pity the girl who had a heart surgery as a kid had to suffer heat cramps and retire in the first semi-final of her career against Caroline Wozniacki. The Dane was the protagonist of another sweet story at the US Open with her inspiring run to the final after she was unceremoniously thrown off her relationship by the Golfing champ Rory McIlroy. She has chosen a wonderful means to divert her attention and that seems to be playing hard & playing better. Kudos!

3. Brothers, Legends!

Win - a Hundred times over!
Few partnerships have been as mind-boggling as that of Mike & Bob Bryan! The duo had not won a slam this season & were stranded at 99 titles together for quite some time. The way they played this tournament makes one think they delayed the inevitable, as if on purpose, just to choose the most grand of stages, the biggest of courts to get to Title No.100! They did that in style. The fact that the 2nd best partnership (61 titles of Woodbridge/Woodforde) is light-years away from their tally underlines the weight of this achievement of the left/right twin pair.

4. Curtains on the Fab Four Era?

It has been the first slam since the Australian Open of 2005 to not have at least one of Roger, Rafa and Novak in the final. It is also the first major since French 2005 to have two first-time finalists. It is the first year since 2003 that we have had two first-time slam winners. It is also the second time in three years that we have had 4 different winners for the 4 slams. Does the combination of all these stats mean the Fab Four era is inching closer to its end?! Inasmuch as I am tempted to say 'Yes', it still seems early days for any such bold statements. They have still won 2 off 4 slams and 5 off the 7 Masters titles this year! The year may have set the ball rolling for the Lost Boys and the 90s generation to step up and be counted but the big guns are still dominating the sport with as much intent as they have in the past. The rest of the year and the World Tour final will provide a better answer to that looming question. Having said that, Don't be surprised if the Big 3 dominate the reminder of the season. They are going nowhere. At least for the moment.

5. Boom, The Cilic Clinic!

Marin Cilic would not have featured beyond the Quarters in most (if not all) of the projections of the men's draw but his season and his Wimbledon run in particular had all signs that nobody cared to see. He stretched Novak to five sets there. After serving a 4 month ban for alleged drug intake, Cilic seems to have set the time up to take the rust off his game, use Goran's inputs to start enjoying the game and he came in to week-2, scraped through a tough 5-setter against Gilles Simon & then literally set up a clinic on Arthur Ashe and showed how professionally one can lay hands on the trophy coveted and longed by the ATP pros. In his straight-sets wins over Berdych, Federer & Kei with unbelievable serving, aggressive approach in hugging the baseline, power-packed shots off both wings, he has played the best tennis we have seen from anyone in week 2 of any slam in the last few years. It is one thing to say Kei was nervous, lacked the energy to match Cilic but is quite another to appreciate his getting over the emotions he must have run through the last year or so and get the Win playing clean tennis on his own terms.
Idemo Chillaaa!
Idemo Chilaa!
The best bit of the tournament was this quote from Cilic:
“For all the other players that are working hard, this is a big sign, a big hope, that if you’re working hard, things are going to pay off.” 

It won't be incorrect to say this bit from his winner's speech was more classy and inspiring than the clinical display he put forth in the business end of the tournament. That is saying something!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Two Line Reviews - #495

Movie: Queen (Hindi, 2014)

Plot: When Rani’s fiance forces their marriage into cancellation hours before the event citing unconvincing reasons, she is crest-fallen but decides to go on the Honey moon they had planned, alone! She meets people in Paris & Amsterdam who give her whirls of experiences which she uses to resiliently handle her guy when he comes back repenting for his earlier mistake.

What Works?
  • Women-centric films, though not taboo, don’t still come in leaps & bounds. To have given a feel-good film that has such a solid & impactful woman-presence, Vikas Bahl – Queen’s story writer & director deserves praise
  • The film’s lifeline is the character Rani played by Kangana Ranaut. She gives a spell-binding performance marked by simple yet tremendous body language & acting. Her role as an additional dialogue writer (to Anvita Dutt, whose simple dialogues carry enough intensity & humour) shows the involvement she must have had in the project
  • The characterisations of the European companions (Vijay from France & Oleksander, Taka, Tim & Marcello from Holland) are good & help create an emotional connect
  • Music by Amit Trivedi has some foot-tapping numbers & the locales of Europe have been captured very well by Siddharth Diwan & Bobby Singh
  • The climax is fitting & has been handled deftly, showing the presence of Anurag Kashyap in the Editing department
What Doesn't?
  • The film has its share of 'feel-good film' cliches films but the good news is, they are not big deterrents to the film's flow
  • The joke involving Vijaylakshmi & Rani’s family bring a twitch to our faces with its repetition
Woman emancipation tales are not uncommon but this Rani from Delhi impresses with the refreshing treatment the makers have provided her with

In a Nutshell: She is the Quintessential Queen

Two Line Reviews - #494

Movie: Dallas Buyers Club (2013)

Plot: An electrician in Dallas is diagnosed with HIV and is given an expected lifetime of 30 more days. They try to lure him into making him join the candidates for testing an HIV antivirus AZT which he later comes to know to be a counter-productive drug through an unorthodox Mexican doctor. He gets treated by the doctor for some days & tries to stealthily carry the medicines across the border to set up a Buyers club and gradually, in partnership with a fellow HIV patient, gets relentless in stepping up the revolution against the state & FDA’s exploitation of patients through their administering AZT for business reasons.

What Works?
  • The film creates a deep emotional connect with the viewer thanks to the direction of Jean-Marc VallĂ©e & the infectious screenplay of Craig Borten & Melisa Wallack. We are initially made to believe the protagonist to be a junkie but his character is built cohesively over the course of the film and that makes us feel for him later on.
  • Matthew McConaughey comes up with the performance of a lifetime as Ron Woodroof. In the way he has transformed his physical self to get a HIV patient on screen & in the way he presents his agony, his lack of belief in the American healthcare system, his resolve & confidence as a businessman who dares to go against the FDA, he shines making his Best Actor Academy award so much deserving
  • Jared Leto, in a completely different role from what his reputation would make him seem, comes up with a great show! The scenes involving him & McConaughey – when McConaughey snides him for what he is are comical crackers and later, when he respects, protects him & feels for him are emotionally hard-hitting
  • The film’s editing & dialogues deserve a special mention. It is quite challenging to present stuff when different types of events happen around the protagonist but the slick & seamless editing of Martin Pensa takes care of overcoming that challenge
  • The camerawork suits the film’s theme and pace & so do the non-chaotic soundtracks. The friends & the doctor who doesn’t shy away from asking her bosses the tough questions are practically sketched and add to the authenticity of the presentation
  • The climax stands out & the note at the end of the film is inspiring given what is shown is based on a true story
What Doesn't?
  • More than being a negative, this is a guidance warning. A film that deals with a HIV patient cannot be without a few scenes to show us why he got it. This one too has a few
With a good mix of comedy & emotions and performances of a lifetime from two of its lead actors, the film has everything in it to be an inspiring tale of how a man on his death bed fought against a wrong system.

In a Nutshell - An AIDS patient says Fuck you death!

Two Line Reviews - #493

Movie: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)

Plot: Attempting to beat boredom with frequent fantasies of him embarking on adventures is a way of life for an employee of a journal. When the forces that are (read a job-crisis for him and a fellow mate, an unexpressed love & an act of humiliation he is subjected to by a colleague) join to put him on a search trail, he inadvertently takes to a real life adventure extending from Greenland to Iceland to Himalayas, thereby finding his lost self!

What Works?
  • Hollywood is loaded with some famous feel-good self-realization stories & this one is definitely worthy of mention in any such list. Ben Stiller’s narration makes the viewer empathise with the protagonist and root for him when he sets on his trail
  • Ben Stiller, as Walter Mitty, presents the  ‘meek & helpless as a worker, hopeless as a  flirt & gritty self-esteemed sincere person’ character wonderfully well & the characters who accompany him – His co-worker, the disgusting & disrespectful merger manager & the love of his life – bring purpose to the film
  • The cameo played by Sean Penn is not to be missed. His role gets mentioned all through the film but he doesn’t get introduced till the climax (like Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now) but makes his  mark in one wonderful poetic scene involving him, Ben & a snow leopard!
  • The picturesque beauty of places across the earth are captured vivdly  by Stuart Dryburgh’s camera & makes one want to pack her bag to visit the snowcapped mountains, the green lawns & the cold seas!
  • The purpose of existence of anyone who works sincerely doesn’t go unnoticed & this message is conveyed brilliantly throughout the film ending with the proverbial director’s punch at the end
What Doesn't?
  • Any fantasy ride will have its share of crazy moments & this one has a few as well. Some may liken the day-dreaming Stiller’s character is shown to do to being childish
An inspiring  feel-good adventure ride that showcases how opening up & following one’s inner voice can offer magical experiences which otherwise would stay & get buried as mere fantasies

In a Nutshell: Unravels a Sweet Secret

Two Line Reviews - #492

Movie: Lee Daniels' The Butler (2013)

Plot: Cecil Gaines works his way through to become the butler-in-chief at The White House & an account of the various important events to have occurred over the course of Eight Presidential terms he serves is presented, right from the place where the decisions were made, through the eyes and voice of The Presidents’ Butler. Also given is a peek on the characteristics of the Presidents who had held office over the Butler’s tenure.

What Works?
  • Lee Daniels & Danny Strong have combined to present not just the story of a Butler ; They have used it to present a story on the US Presidents & their political decisions from a perspective viewers are not familiar with, and they have succeeded in narrating it in a bio-pic style
  • Forest Whitaker comes up with an award worthy performance (It is a surprise why he didn’t get a nomination for it at the Oscars this year). The obedience, respect and loyalty to work his character shows is awe-inspiring
  • Differing ideologies over generations & the change in Afro-American mindset over the years is presented in a gripping fashion through the characters of the Butler’s son played with fire by David Banner. Oprah Winfrey too wins our hearts with her respectable portrayal of Cecil’s wife
  • The film’s costumes are worth a mention & a gradual transition in fashion as the years roll over is subtle yet observable
  • The perspective based screenplay is aided by the sharp dialogues & the confrontation scene at the dinner in the Butler Home is the high point in the film
What Doesn't?
  • The casting involves quite a few big names & not enough justice gets done to all of them
  • Eight Presidential terms is too broad a timeframe to be loaded into a film & that shows with the shallow depth offered to most of the Presidents

The film is definitely worth a watch for the fresh point of view from which decisions made at the White House are discerned. Where it lacks a bit is the depth to which it goes into each of those events.

In a nutshell: Provides fresh angle to known history