Saturday, June 30, 2007

Apocalypto: Gibson spills out guts and gore

Cast: Rudy Youngblood, Dalia Hernandez
Director: Mel Gibson
Genre: Adventure/Drama
Storyline: The peace of a tribal village is disrupted when Mayans ravage homes and take the villagers captive for human sacrifice.
Bottomline: Do you have a stomach for this?

Be warned, this, despite cuts is not for children, the faint-hearted or pregnant women.
Mel Gibson revels in fleshing out a recklessly raw, ultra-violent edge-of-the seat chase drama that relentlessly explores savagery and the dark side of an ancient civilization.

Gore fills the frames, guts spill out, lives are lost and you not just see blood on screen, you can almost smell the rotting flesh of corpses. In many ways, it’s voyeuristic – Ever wondered what a human head chewed on by a Jaguar or the insides of a Brazilian tapir would look like? Gibson shows you with fascinating detail that could make you throw up.

Certainly not the kind of movie Granny would approve of.

Yet, purely on the basis of cinematic merit, ‘Apocalypto’ is a must-watch for the unflinching passion Gibson displays in crafting and layering a rather simple story of tribals being taken captive for human sacrifice (with superstition related to the Solar Eclipse included) with heart-stopping adrenaline.

What appears to be an age-old tale begins with a quote that puts the film in the context of the world today, insinuating references to contemporary politics and the greed of man that will lead his world to destruction.

With that context established, Gibson’s approach is paradoxically two-pronged. He’s as subtle as a sledge-hammer slamming your senses with some seriously savage story-telling yet, as smooth as silk, spinning in the subtext – the lessons to learn from history.

Employing the Maya language for realism and credibility, the director manages to use the abstractness of the language we don’t understand to alienate us from the events and successfully suspend disbelief. The fact that you don’t know any of the cast makes the characters further unpredictable.

The indigenous bunch led by Rudy Youngblood consists of able unknown Mexican actors who’ve evidently worked hard on their physically exhausting roles. Add to that some painstakingly shot larger-than-life visuals and meticulously detailed production design and what you get is a triumph for cinema.

Personal tastes, factual inaccuracies and historical inconsistencies, if any, cannot take away credit due to Gibson, the filmmaker.

Stay away if you are in the mood for popcorn entertainment.

This one needs a solid stomach.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Jhoom Barabar Jhoom: Of ear-plugs and eye-candy

Cast: Abhishek Bachchan, Preity Zinta, Lara Dutta, Bobby Deol
Director: Shaad Ali
Genre: Musical
Storyline: Two of Bollywood’s Usual Suspects wait for a train Before Sunset.
Bottomline: A stage-play that pretends to be a musical

Shaad Ali’s idea of a musical is to have the same song play on loop for over 20 minutes non-stop. Okay, different variants of the title song actually.

Plus, there’s a variant of that when the film opens, another when the film is halfway through and yet another when the curtains come down, all accompanied by Bachchan doing an item sporting a double-necked guitar and costumes stolen off the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ set.
With the extended mixes playing half a dozen times in the film, no prizes for guessing why the film’s called ‘Jhoom Barabar Jhoom.’

With nearly one hour of the 132 minute-film being dominated by naach-gaana, the rest dedicated to dialogues smattered with the native tongue of South Hall – Punjabi – be warned that this is only for those in the mood for eye-candy and the title-song playing on loop.

You will pretty much predict the entire story before the first act ends. After that, you have nothing to do but wait agonisingly to be proven right, the loud soundtrack giving you not a chance to catch 40 winks. The blessed song keeps coming back.

Long-winded conversations can be interesting, like the Before Sunrise/Before Sunset series have already proved.

But wait, what’s with Yashraj’s fascination with those Richard Linklater’s films? In 1995, Aditya Chopra inspired by ‘Before Sunrise,’ made Raj and Simran fall in love over Eurorail and made them spend a night together before their train next morning. For Kunal Kohli’s ‘Hum Tum,’ Yashraj borrowed the opening sequence from ‘Before Sunset’ with a few nods to the earlier film (apart from many to ‘When Harry Met Sally’) and now 12 years after Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, Yashraj returns to churn out yet another remix of ‘Before Sunrise,’ with a touch of ‘The Usual Suspects.’

The outcome?

Preity's sagging face reflects the audience’s hopes as the film meanders along like a one-act stage play with musical flashback interludes borrowed from the Farah Khan-Sirish Kunder school of storytelling.

Bobby's inadequacy steals adjectives about the script, if at all there was one.

Screenwriter Habib Faisal’s theatre background shows. You can’t have two people talk sitting over a table for half the movie if you don’t have the lines to back this misadventure.

Abhishek’s Bling-it-like-Bachchan act would have been adorable, if not for that Amritsar-Born-Confused-Desi-in-London accent. O Blimey!? Surely Sunny Paaji was more convincing saying ‘No If, No But, Only Jat.’

You can swear that Lara is the only good thing and use some of that swearing to react to the rest of the ham-fest.

Yes, Shaad Ali has been very brave to try and do something different but not everything different is worth watching on the big screen.

Shankar-Ehsaan-Joy may have done a swell job on the music but this overdose is strictly for party animals. ‘Jhoom Barabar’ is a film you won’t mind watching on MTV with its kitschy choreography. It is a concert you won’t mind watching on stage if these very stars are performing live.

As a film, however, it’s an extremely excruciating experience… extended.

The Prestige: A simple hat-trick, well-disguised

Cast: Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman, Scarlett Johansson, Michael Caine, David Bowie
Director: Christopher Nolan
Genre: Drama/Suspense/Thriller
Storyline: Two rival magicians are obsessed over outdoing the other.
Bottomline: One helluva trick!

“Now you're looking for the secret... but you won't find it because you're not really looking. You don't really want to know the secret... You want to be fooled.”

Those lines from ‘The Prestige’ are as much about filmmaking as much as it is about magic.
‘Are you watching closely’ asks the tag line. But if you resist the multiple distractions intended to misdirect your attention and do watch it closely enough, you might find the secret early on in the film because Christopher Nolan has decided that the best place to hide something well, is in plain sight.

So it’s best to watch this beautifully crafted piece of celluloid willing to be fooled, willing to be distracted and mislead.

Based on Christopher Priest’s novel about two rival magicians obsessed with outperforming the other, ‘The Prestige’ is as much about magic as it is about obsession, jealousy and vengeance. Angier (Jackman) and Borden (Bale) are rivals trying to steal the show. Each other’s show, that is.

A knot in the plot turns the rivalry personal and each goes all out to outdo the other.
Christopher Nolan borrows a few tips from magic to style his narrative pretty much the same way a trick is performed. Given the advantage of being able to bend time and space on film, Nolan also employs his signature back-and-forth storytelling to make it all the more fascinatingly complex.

After all, a good trick is about telling a story in three acts: The Pledge, The Turn and The Prestige. A magician takes something ordinary, makes it something extraordinary, and then pulls something out of his hat, something you never saw coming (The Prestige).

The Prestige is the most difficult part of the trick because the audience knows you’re going to trick it and is watching closely. More so in a film that, unlike a stage trick, lasts infinitely longer, a medium whose construct, unlike magic, requires that you do place all your cards before the audience, just to be fair and make it more participative.

A lot of what Nolan does to the film is pure magic. Career-best performances by both Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman trying to outdo each other (both of them are equally solid), Michael Caine and David Bowie cast to make ordinary roles extra-ordinary characters and a sassy Scarlett Johansson to distract and deceive.

The quality of writing is top-notch, the editing clever enough to conceal and cinematography every bit deserving the Oscar nomination. Clearly, one of the best films of the year.

It’s only when you watch the film a second time, you realise how simple it really was.

But then, like Borden says: “The secret impresses no one. The trick you use it for is everything.”

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Sivaji: A review of reviews!

I’m not gonna take names of critics or link blogs since I just wanted to address points made in other reviews. My arguments are against criticism of the film and not against the authors. So if you think this is about your review, please don’t take this personally.

First, get this. Superstar can act. He’s proved it enough times. He does not need to prove it anymore. I had written in an earlier post how there is a rigid dichotomy between the function of an actor and a matinee idol.

While an actor is expected to change colours and showcase his artistic range, an icon is expected to consistently embody all those traits that people love about his personality and reprise them in whatever story he is a part of. Because he’s an icon, a superhero – THE reason why people go to watch that kind of cinema.

Obviously, the gratification superheroes provide is different from the kind of gratification actors provide. Sometimes, though not always, even the audience differs. We’ve always had a Sivaji for every MGR, a Kamal for every Rajni, a Vikram for every Vijay (at least, until Vikram decided to change roles from actor to icon!)

Let’s not forget that Superstar has done his share of intelligent classy cinema in the past.

Now, he’s into something more intelligent. Reaching out to a huge far-from-homogenous mass of people. We’re talking about a diverse bunch that takes the aruval out over culture, chastity, caste, class, colour, ideology, politics, religion, language, state boundaries and water among other things.

Why should Superstar reach out to this huge a mass again?

Because that’s what superheroes and icons do.

They reach out to stand up for what is right, to fight for the oppressed majority.

They reach out to assure people that no matter how screwed up and complicated life maybe, there’s always one person they can turn to.

Or, at least fantasise that there’s someone who’s gonna kick bad asses and spread hope.

The word associated with superheroes, my friends, is fantasy. The thing about the format of a fantasy, as a genre, it does not need to delve into plausibility, rational thinking, logical reasoning or what people call a “tight” screenplay.

Think fantasy again.

Think about the free-flowing Alice in Wonderland that probably gave you no idea where in the burrow it was heading.

Think Superman who turned the planet back in time after losing Lois Lane.

Think James Bond, who gets his ass covered by women who bare their ass most of the time.

Think Peter Parker, who recently blubbered when Mary Jane broke up with him.

Think Captain Jack Sparrow.

Wait a minute, Captain Jack Sparrow runs away all the time. He got fooled by a woman, got himself handcuffed to the Black Pearl at the end of ‘Dead Man’s Chest.’ When he realises there’s no way out, he goes down fighting, with his head held high.

Does that make him any less heroic? Or does the fact that Shriya saves Sivaji at the end of what was a light-hearted comic segment? Interestingly, Superstar does hop around around like Captain Jack Sparrow as he sees the train approaching and then when Shankar changes gear from the comic to the serious, Superstar stands his head held high, ready to embrace death, much like Sparrow. The point really isn’t that Shriya saved him. The point is that she was willing to die for him.

A Superstar is timeless. His age does not matter. How does Bond remain the same age when the world around him changes as suggested by technology? How many years did Peter Parker be a college kid? How many years did Superstar live in America to earn Rs.200 crores? What’s his business model? Why does Peter Parker take Mary Jane on his scooter when he can just swing around the buildings in the dark of the night? Superheroes have a comic book license that excuses them from having to answer such smartasses. Things said have to be taken for granted. That’s common sense.

To get back to the analysis, this is not just a Superstar movie.

This is as much a Shankar film as much as it is Superstar cinema. Shankar is one of those few idealist filmmakers who believe that cinema can bring in reform. After addressing capitalist educationists (Gentleman), corrupt bureaucrats (Indian), lazy-ass politicians (Muthalvan) and indifferent apathetic citizens (Anniyan), he wants to address a more basic function that involves the common man. Paying taxes. He knows most people think taxes are unfair, a “fine” for doing fine. He hates the fact that there are many among the rich who don’t pay taxes. Now, how do you make the prospect of paying taxes more attractive to the common man?

You get a brand ambassador, someone they all like, to tell them: “Listen up guys, Black money is bad. Not paying taxes is bad. We’re not a poor country. The richer get richer, the poor get poorer because the rich get away not paying tax and the poor need to keep paying for getting anything they want – starting from basic education.”
That’s a noble thought, a well-intended message, that in order to reach a mass of Superstar crazy fans needs to be said within the format of a six-song six-fight routine, with the mandatory happy ending.

Why is the happy ending so important?

Kamal Hassan could afford to die in ‘Indian’ and ‘Nayakan’ because he’s an actor. An actor becomes immortal when he dies in a film. People give him a standing ovation. A Best Actor award. But, a superhero is reduced to a mere mortal when he dies in a movie. Which is why Shankar and Mani Ratnam knew they had to keep him alive in ‘Thalapathy’ and ‘Sivaji,’ no matter what the odds against them were.
It’s not a compromise. It’s common-sense. It’s what people go to fantasies for. To see their hero kick butt.

So why is Sivaji among the most memorable Rajnikant films ever despite a rather weak romantic track?

Oh, let’s think about that critically slaughtered romantic track again. There’s clearly a shift in Superstar’s philosophy. From ‘Thou Shall Choose Who Loves You Over Who You Love’ (that emerged in Valli and continued till Baba… Listen to Dippu Dippu:
thaedi cheLLum kaadhaL/kaadhaliLLai nanbaa/uNmai kaadhal soLLava/
naLLa kaadhal enbadheNNa/thaedi vandhey kaadhalae) to ‘Best To Live With Who You Love Than What You Get.’ (Kadachavangaloda Vaazhradhoda Pudichavangaloda Vaazharadhuthaan Santhosham).

A complete volte-face.

Why? I guess it is to make Superstar contemporary from being a pragmatic chauvinist to a die-hard romantic because Shankar’s brand of idealism needs a romance to die for. Colour is such an important part of the South Indian’s psyche. Shankar exploits that complex inherent in his audience by having their icon endorse their ‘Fair and Lovely’ aspirations. ‘Velai Thamizhan’ (mentioned in the Style song) is part of that fantasy of the dark-skinned man’s obsession over fair and lovely maidens from Mumbai (starting from Nagarrth Khan known as Khushboo, Rishibala Naval a.k.a. Simran Bagga, Namrata Sadanah a.k.a. Nagma, Jyotika Sadanah and now Shriya Saran). Shankar turns that sentiment into a feel-good fantasy by coating it with the comic treatment and then making the girl say that the dark colour is the best part of their favourite hero. He’s trying to tell them that even if by some miracle they do manage to turn fair, it’s still ‘coool’ to be dark.

Let me get back to the observation with which I started this piece. Stars or Icons are known to consistently embody all those traits that people love about their personality and reprise them in whatever story they are a part of.

Not all the traits Superstar has been known for are politically correct.

Now, Superstar has been criticised by politicians and health activists that he has glamourised the Cancer stick. Superstar, in his last two outings, has tried to make amends – Biscuit in Chandramukhi and Chewing Gum in Sivaji. Superstar’s heroines, over the years, have often been dependents – college students or village belles, often being slapped by the hero. This sort of unabashed chauvinism might not work in the 2000s and in an attempt to make it progressive, Shankar gives us a middle-class working woman. It’s also contemporary because finally, the woman is an equal with who Sivaji shares his life and secrets, and she’s also capable of saving him.

Yes, she’s still the meek submissive lover but hey, things can’t change overnight in Tamil cinema.

I was amazed at the focus of Shankar’s screenplay (I hated his character mix in Anniyan!). He begins Sivaji with the classic Flashback structure, establishing the intentions of the protagonist in the very first three scenes. At the airport, we know he’s come to settle down in India with the line-up of girls waiting to snare him. At the get-together later, we know he wants to get to the root of poverty that he has seen (the beggar at the crossroads sandwiched between the scenes of his arrival and his declaration of intent) – empowering through education.

Once he lays down the agenda for the film, he gets to the other objective of the protagonist – his search for a life partner, an epitome of everything Tamil. He then addresses the social problem of families being so fiercely protective of their space with a strict regard for boundaries that they don’t encourage the courting ritual. Romance needs healthy grounds to blossom. And since at the basic level, marriages in India are about the union of families than just two individuals, he shows us how one family manages to woo the other through a light-hearted comic segment (not all of which I approve – certainly not the bit where Thalaivar goes red with chillies and washes it down the basin graphically but Shankar has always loved to show us what’s gross). This track is smartly paralleled with the protagonist’s efforts to build the college facing hurdles with the ground realities of red tape that leads to corruption… that further escalates politics. He shows us the rich have become too powerful to take on. No matter how much money you have, they can still pull you down and leave you penniless. It doesn't get tighter than this.

At the interval block, his twin intentions of getting the right girl and building the college are the lowest point. Things can only get better from here and as that coin turns, so does his fate and Shankar flips mode from reality to fantasy. Now, this is the part we’ve been waiting for. The part that Shankar absolutely revels in. The part that puts Sivaji in the list of his most memorable films.

We see Rajni fight his way back, like in Annamalai, like in Padayappa, like in Baasha, he gets his chance to payback… Line for line, coin for coin… “Kooti kazhichu paaru, Kannakku Seriya Irukkum… Yenkitta Kannakku Pesuraanga. Yedu Vandi!”

Now, all those films were about personal triumph, this one is a little larger than that. It’s about a triumph for the society, issues are large and complex and they need to be simplified with comic book storytelling. The villain needs to be someone you hate with all your guts and having a despicable soft speaking scum is a nice touch. After all those Perarasu films, I was turning deaf with all the yelling.

Settling a score is what most films have been about. And seriously, who does it better than Superstar. What makes Sivaji memorable is that it also plays out like a Best of Rajni compilation. It has features his best looks, get-ups, gestures, dialogue delivery, plot-devices and also enriches his existing repertoire of style, facilitating a connect with the Rajni we know from the past to the Superstar he has become to what he could be – the reformer, a Sivaji (the actor par excellence) who could also be MGR (the messiah).

Entertainment has never been so explosive. The last act is pure dynamite. Climax as its orgasmic best if you’re a Rajni fan. Something that works like a charm especially because of the extended foreplay in the slightly flawed first half.

To Shankar’s credit, even those stray scenes of mediocrity are salvaged by a classy Vivek whose timing in Sivaji is probably a career-best. Jalra has never made itself more audible during a one-man orchestra in concert.

Now that I’ve taken my critic’s hat off, Thalaivaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!!

Friday, June 15, 2007

Three's a Crowd

Suderman reads between the lines of the third-term report cards of Spider-Man, Shrek, Pirates, Danny Ocean and friends.

Spidey found himself tied up in multiple knots. Shrek has some serious thinking to do about family planning. The Pirates have come a full circle at World’s End. And, Danny Ocean and team have turned number 13 into a lucky charm.

No matter what critics have said, box office figures only seem to further encourage the high-profile class of 2007 to come back again for yet another term. The universal appeal of these unforgettable characters have transcended megabytes of hardcore criticism from all around the world and reached out to a starved lot of loyalists.

True, the ‘triquels’ this year have been a mixed bag. But these films have more in common than you would think – ‘more’ being the key word there.

Considering that none of these four were designed as a trilogy (three films broken down into first, second and third acts) and yet had ambitions of creating a franchise (more adventures of the same guys), the function of the first part was to introduce you to a bunch of people you would fall in love with and package the film around a set of values that would define the world they are set in.

If Spidey was about celebrating the superhero by showing us the human face of the person behind the mask, Shrek, an anti-thesis to fairytale stereotypes, was about creating new ones to further the fantasy of the underdogs. If Pirates was designed to capture the free-spirited happy-go-lucky old-world charm in a bottle of rum with Captain Jack Sparrow onboard as a mascot, Ocean’s was Soderberg’s way of unwinding with the boys and rewinding to the spunky sixties – to an era of good old-fashioned heists.

Sam Raimi, Andrew Adamson, Gore Verbinski and Steven Soderberg successfully brought alive on screen characters who are timeless – a comic-book superhero, a fairytale stereotype turned on its head, a comic hero born out of pirate-lore and a retro bunch of good-looking, smart-thinking, well-dressed-up robbers.

Thanks to perfect casting, these memorable, adorable characters banked on the charming personas of some very fine actors – Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Johnny Depp, Keira Knightley, Orlando Bloom, George Clooney and Brad Pitt. By the end of the first installment, the lines between the actors and the characters they were playing, were blurred. With the success of the second, it was proven to the makers that the first wasn’t a flash in the pan.

Then came the summer of 2007, and the stage for the third act – the acid test for any franchise. Had the characters indeed become legendary that people would come back just to see them do their thing? Going by the box office success, maybe they have.

Let’s examine the plot-lines of the third installments again. Spidey had to fight the evil within him but there were two villains too many for MORE conflict. Shrek just had to deal with the prospect of responsibility and kids but the makers ensured they accommodated everyone from the first two parts – that’s everybody from the telephone directory of fairyland – for MORE entertainment. Pirates just had to bring back Captain Jack Sparrow from World’s End but the producers packed enough crooks in it to spoil the brawl, all for MORE action. And, Oceans 13 had to come up with something MORE difficult to pull off. The word is ‘more’.

“People want more of it? Let’s give them more of the same thing,” seems to be mantra and the plot just an excuse to unleash more of the same set of values that the franchise is built around.

Which is why the critics have had a problem while fans queued up to meet their favourite heroes again.

If the triquels have taught us anything this summer, it is that a film belonging to a franchise is like a re-union or an alumni meet.

You already know the guys, their friends and family. You aren’t there to judge them anymore.

You already know who they are and what they do. You just want an opportunity to catch up with their lives, their adventures. You want to feel good about having them around. The more the action, the more the fun, the better the re-union.

Besides, they are not just entertainment anymore. They are company. People need people.

What better people to turn to, in regular intervals, than your favourite heroes going about their lives, inspiring you to do good and bringing cheer to your life. And, not just during those 100 plus minutes, but for days after they sign off as they make you wait in anticipation till they’re back again – with a brand new excuse, another pretense of a plot – just to make you happy.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Pirates of the Carribean - At World's End: What was I drinking?

I’m not sure if I watched the movie after an excruciatingly long hectic day or if the latest installment should be taken with a pinch of salt, lemon and Tequila shots.

Remember those Santhoshi Maa/ Kali Maa/ Amman films where devotees in need of a miracle pray to the Goddess and she obliges, striking down the bad guys with lightning and thunder. Pirates 3 actually gets into that league, only on a multi-million dollar scale. Only that here Kali Maa becomes Calypso, the Amman for the pirates.

Now, I’m reasonably savvy Pirates fan. I was sure I would like this film. I even had my list of predictions after watching the second part closely for about four times. I had predicted that Will Turner was gonna die trying to keep his vow, clearing the way for Jack Sparrow to get Elizabeth, especially because Will has nothing much to do in the first two parts apart from brandishing his sword every ten minutes. Killing him would give his character some dignity, I thought. I thought that the magic dust or the ring he steals from Tia would've saved Jack Sparrow and the Black Pearl from the Cracken.

No surprise then that I’m really disappointed with this lets-make-it-up-as-we-go narrative written under the influence of barrels of stale rum. Because this version doesn’t bother connecting the second part with the third except for basic facts like Jack Sparrow is dead, Will Turner has made a promise to free his Dad from Davy Jones and the East India Company is cracking down on pirates.

What about the questions we want answers for? What happens to Jack Sparrow after he marches towards the Cracken with a sword in hand and gets swallowed? How did he end up in what looked like Wachowski Brothers’s Matrix set, with the animation department testing out the Agent Smith multiplicity trick on Jack Sparrow going nuts? Why was he carrying that jar of dust in the last episode when it served no purpose?

After all that build-up towards the end of the second part when the pirate’s friends team up to bring Jack back, all we get is a anytime check-in/check-out Davy Jones Locker that can be accessed by winners of a primary school combination puzzle contest.

If people who die can come back alive anytime with no problems at all, why all that sword-fighting and double crossing?

And where’s all the fun gone, mate? But for one 'That's my peanut' joke, the first half takes itself so seriously that I found myself dozing off, at least twice. Calypso? What? Is there a Chosen one too? Council of pirates?? What was that again? Was that welcome drink at the premiere laced? Was I drunk? Or was the second half going to feature Jedi knights fighting with light-sabers? And, why is Jack Sparrow swinging around so much like Spider-Man?

Or maybe it would’ve been more interesting to watch Karibbean Kallarai Theevu that would’ve opened with the mass execution scene where a little boy probably sang “Paapa Paadum Paatu” with the crowd of prisoners joining in the chorus as sidekicks run up to Beckett to give him the news, “Baas, avanga paatu paaduraanga” as Beckett replies: “Molam naa Adikiren.”

Or when the pirates pray to Calypso saying “Aatha, Suyaroopathey kaatu aathu” as Tia Dalma grows up like Gulliver… And No, I’m quite sure I wasn’t watching ‘Dude, Where’s My Car’. (Remember this scene in that whacko movie when a bystander father makes sure his son doesn’t get to see the giant woman’s panties?)

Okay, I reserve further comments until I watch it the second time on Sunday afternoon. I still find it difficult to believe the disaster it was, especially since the last half an hour was so good.

Shrek The Third: Bring it on

Cast: Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy, Antonio Banderas, Justin Timberlake, Julie Andrews, John Cleese, Rupert Everett
Directors: Chris Miller, Raman Hui
Genre: Animation/Adventure
Storyline: Shrek has to convince a reluctant high schooler to be King, after King Harold passes away.
Bottomline: A perfect hat-trick!

Not many movies make you want to be an animated character, just so that you could enter their world and be part of all the action. The Shrek franchise is now officially no more like a trip to the movies where a meaty plot is mandatory. It’s more like a party you go to catch up with old buddies. You end up having a good time anyway. You not only get to meet characters you have always liked, you meet some that you met last time around and some new admissions.

The anti-thesis to classic fairytale stereotypes, in its third installment, continues to be a celebration of the uncool. For the benefits of those who have never been to the party, this is the world where the ogre is the great guy and Prince Charming is actually the chap harming innocents.

A little similar to ‘Asterix and the Vikings’ plot-wise, Shrek 3, is about the journey Shrek (Mike Myers) makes along with Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) to convince Artie (Justin Timberlake joins the voice-cast), the butt of all jokes in high school, to be the King of Far, Far Away after Fiona’s father King Harold passes away. If it was Sean Austin as the metrosexual Justforkix playing reluctant warrior in ‘Asterix…’ here it is Justin Timberlake as Artie who seems to under-prepared for his new role as King. The boy has a confidence problem.

So, to the cue of feel-good music (the film surely knows to take a dig at itself), Shrek delivers the “You-know-who-you-really-are, who-cares-what-people-think” speech that has now become a tradition of the franchise, just to remind you about the core values the films stand for.

With that formality done, Shrek sets out to do some good old fairytale hero-bashing with all help from the bra-burning brigade of Fiona, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White and Queen Lillian (doing a nice little Charlie’s Angels reprise), the underdogs Artie, Gingerbread Man and Pinocchio, and the regulars, Donkey and Puss in Boots.

To add to that motley, there’s the wizard Merlin who creates a little confusion between the rival “annoying talking animals,” the three little pigs, the big bad wolf, talking trees, blind mice, Mrs. Dragon Donkey and her kids (part Donkey, part dragon), Prince Charming, Rapunzel, sidekicks Captain Hook, Lancelot and Cyclops and a whole bunch of Artie’s high-school bullies and cheerleaders. Whoa!

In spite of this huge a cast, director Chris Miller (who had been a part of the story department of Shrek and had headed it in Shrek 2) seems to have no problem in harnessing the characters together with a clear-cut sense of purpose, as he mixes contemporary pop culture references with fairytale mythology to keep the punchlines coming in at regular intervals with an extended climax to accommodate everyone.

If the franchise continues getting bigger with every episode, with Shrek 4 announced and slated for 2010, we know what to expect. Less story. More fun.

Bring it on.