The Light Between Oceans -Beautiful scenery and beautiful acting in this melodrama

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Michael Fassbender stars as Tom Sherbourne and Alicia Vikander as his wife Isabel in DreamWorks Pictures poignant drama THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS, written and directed by Derek Cianfrance based on the acclaimed novel by M.L. Stedman.

I learned something about myself in watching the melodrama The Light Between Oceans, and that is that my perspective watching Western movies has changed after watching so many Indian films.  I only got a little misty at the very ending.  It was meant to tug at my heartstrings, but it didn’t affect me very strongly.  (Meanwhile, the friend with me who has an adopted son, cried through most of the second half.)  The film is beautifully shot.  It’s gorgeous scenery, and I can’t find fault with the excellent acting of Michael Fassbender and Alicia Virkander.  It just felt a little flat to me.

Michael Fassbender plays Tom Sherbourne, a veteran of WWI who thinks spending months alone working on an island as the lighthouse keeper sounds wonderful.  He’s looking forward to peace and quiet.  Just before he leaves for the island of Janus, he meets the vivacious Isabel.  Isabel has lost both her brothers to the war, and there’s a quick reference to the lack of available men.

Tom and Isabel write to each other, and after knowing each other hardly at all, decide to get married.  The only way she could even visit the Island of Janus is as the wife of the lighthouse keeper.  I liked the romance portion at the beginning of the film.  Tom is reserved and numb from the war, and Isabel brings joy and life back to Tom.

the-light-between-oceansThey arrive at the island after their wedding at night, and her first time seeing the beautiful small stark island is the next morning.  I read a really cool way that the director, Derek Cianfrance, captured that initial wonder.  He blindfolded Alicia Virkander and so she didn’t see the island herself until she came out of the little house.  The awe and amazement at her surroundings is completely real.

Isabel suffers two miscarriages, made all the more difficult in that they are completely alone on the island when they happen.  The look on her face when she realizes she’s about to lose the second baby is really wrenching.

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Isabel is in deep depression, when Tom spots a boat off the island containing the dead body of a man, and a wailing infant.  Isabel convinces Tom to let them keep the baby, and present it to everyone on the mainland as their own.

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The melodrama comes when on a visit to the mainland, Tom comes across the mother of the baby.  He can’t live with himself that Rachel Weisz thinks her baby died with her husband.

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All the actors here were great.  Rachel Weisz plays the bereaved mother stricken with grief, and it was nice to see Australian actor Bryan Brown as her father.  Veteran Australian actor Jack Thompson also has a nice small role as Tom’s boss.

Michael  Fassbender and Alicia Virkander are two Oscar caliber actors who completely give their all to these parts.  The acting in this film is top notch, and the cinematography is gorgeous.  It’s that the plot is maybe too slight.  My friend called it an extended Hallmark card — although it did make her cry.  It’s based on a popular book, that I could see would make an excellent book group discussion book.  Would you go to live on an island where you’ll be alone with a husband you barely know?  Would you keep a baby that isn’t yours the way they did?  Who is a real mother — the biological mother, or the mother who has raised a child for 4 years?

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I loved the director, Derek Cianfrance‘s first film Blue Valentine with Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams.  I haven’t seen his second film, also with Ryan Gosling, The Place Beyond the Pines, but he excels at wrenching dramas about characters that feel like real people.  I can’t put my finger exactly on why this melodrama, The Light Between Oceans, didn’t completely satisfy me.  And again, I wonder if it’s because I’m used to so much more story and wrenching emotions in the Indian melodramas I’ve been watching.  But, glancing at the Rotten Tomatoes score and top critics’ views on the film, I’m not alone in my dissatisfaction.

Still, I love both actors, and I loved seeing them literally fall in love on screen.  The couple are now together in real life.

Four stars out of five for the stellar acting and beautiful cinematography and score.

Alicia Virkander won the Oscar for The Danish Girl, but run, don’t walk, to see her in the excellent Sci-fi film Ex Machina.  Now THAT is a fantastic film.

Baar Baar Dekho – I do love Time Travel Romance movies, but this one isn’t the best example

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I am a total sucker for time travel romance stories.  I absolutely love that story telling device, and I was really excited when I saw the trailer for Baar Baar Dekho because I don’t remember ever seeing it in an Indian film.

Baar Baar Dekho is the first feature film by director Nitya Mehra.  She has worked as the Assistant Director for Ang Lee (Life of Pi) and Mira Nair (The Namesake).   The film also has some high powered producers – Karan Johar and Farhan Akhtar.

The beginning of the film is a beautiful montage sequence showing how Sidhartha Malhotra and Katrina Kaif’s characters had been friends from childhood, and were like an old married couple by the time they became engaged.  In fact Katrina uses that exact line in her proposal to Sidharth.  We might as well get married then!

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Sidharth isn’t sure he’s ready for marriage, with a possible huge career change on offer to teach at Cambridge.  He hates the huge wedding that Katrina’s family has organized and is just overwhelmed.  (I love Ram Kapoor as Katrina’s dad!)  He and Katrina have a huge fight about moving to England right before the wedding, and he downs a whole bottle of champagne.  When he awakes, suddenly it’s two days later and he’s on his honeymoon.

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The next time it’s two years, and then suddenly it’s 2034 and he’s 46!  The look of the future in this movie — the technology and the clothes and the aging makeup were all top notch.  I was fascinated by the familiar and yet not familiar future that Mehra presents.

Gradually Sidharth gathers that this journey through time is supposed to teach him something.  Show him the highlights of his future life, and where he went wrong.  And he’s allowed to repeat a day, Groundhog Day style, to get it right.  Rather than Clarence the angel from It’s A Wonderful Life, we have the Rajit Kapoor as the priest (pandit??) who performed the engagement and then wedding ceremony, who keeps popping up in the future.  “It’s about the small moments in life.”

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The problem is that the film beats us over the head with this message, and the film drags.  It’s two and a half hours long, and would have been a better movie if it had been tightened up.   The other problem for director Mehra is that the whole movie rests on the shoulders of actor Sidharth Malhotra.  He’s okay (and God knows he’s pretty to look at), but I couldn’t help comparing him to the much better actor Domhnall Gleeson in About Time.  Sidharth also didn’t have the caliber of Bill Nighy to play off in this movie either.  Katrina Kaif was fine, I have no complaints with her, but the rest of the supporting cast could have been a step up (I did like Rajit and Ram Kapoor, though).   Sidharth spends much of the movie with that confused face of his.  It’s a bit of stretch that Sidharth is playing a brilliant mathematician absent minded professor.

So it’s a swing and a near miss.  It has some things I really liked, like the fantastic soundtrack.  I stayed all through the end credits Kala Chashma Baadshah song.  And I loved the production style in the future.  That was really cool.  There just didn’t feel like there was enough there there.  I am looking forward to director Nitya Mehra’s future films.  She’s got a spark of something to her, and I want to see more.

Three stars out of five.

Hell Or High Water – Finally a movie for adults

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This has been a long summer of disappointing super hero movies and so on.  Finally, in August, we get a movie for adults.  A nearly perfect movie, in fact.  Hell or High Water has a 98 rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and near universal acclaim from the top critics.  And with good reason.  From the very first moments, you’re sucked right in.

Chris Pine (Toby) and Ben Foster (Tanner) are brothers.  They rob a small bank in a beaten down little Texas town in the morning right as the bank is being opened.  But strangely, they only want the loose money in the drawer, and have no interest in bundled money or opening the main safe.

The brothers drive back to a farm and bury the car in a pit dug by a backhoe.  While the robbery seems amateurish, this is obviously carefully planned.  And they hit more small bank branches.  Tanner (Foster) is the more impulsive brother and we learn that he’s recently come out of prison.  Their mother has died, leaving the land to the two brothers.

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Jeff Bridges is Marcus Hamilton, a Texas Ranger about to retire.  His deputy is Alberto (Gil Birmingham), half Comanche and half of Mexican heritage.  Jeff Bridges was brilliant in this.  He’s old and crotchety, not looking forward to retirement at all.  The robbers aren’t stealing enough money to interest the FBI, but Marcus is intrigued with the puzzle of the multiple robberies, and takes his deputy on the road to track them down.

Bridges as Marcus constantly teases and torments his deputy Alberto as they’re driving and as they stay overnight in motels.  He reminded me so much of my elderly uncles from Oklahoma and Missouri.  Not malicious, but decidedly not politically correct, and not realizing when the racist “jokes” can really hurt deeply.  This is Alberto’s boss, and his long time friend, but Marcus can be a bit much to take at times.

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Ben Foster as Tanner is the wild card.  He makes some impulsive decisions that escalate matters considerably.  Chris Pine was so fantastic in this.  His pretty boy looks led to roles like Princess Diaries 2 and Prince Charming himself in Into The Woods (he was so good in that!).  But I think, at heart, like Brad Pitt, he really wants the character roles.

I won’t spoiler any more of the plan, but Chris Pine is playing a divorced father of two sons.  Bridges as the Texas Ranger figures the robberies are to get enough money for a particular goal.  He just can’t figure out for what.  There’s a fantastic scene where Pine and Bridges go head to head towards the end.

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Can’t recommend this film highly enough.  It’s a caper movie crossed with a Western.  Bridges, Foster and Pine at the top of their acting games.  I hope Jeff Bridges gets a supporting Oscar nomination for this one.  He’s that great.

Four and a half stars out of five.

Chris Pine also had a really interesting part in the post-apocalyptic movie Z for Zachariah with Margot Robbie and Chiwetel Ejiofor.  It was at Sundance last year, and it’s worth a watch. It’s included with Amazon Prime Video currently.

 

Laaga Chunari Mein Daag – There’s nothing like a good cry

screen-shot-2012-02-02-at-10-53-07-pm-1Laaga Chunari Mein Daag [My Veil is Stained] is an old fashioned type of melodrama, and I ate it up with a spoon.  I hadn’t had a good cry watching a movie in quite awhile, and there’s nothing I love more than Ranishek.  There’s something about their jodi that I just adore.  I don’t know if it’s how tiny she is, and how tall he is, and how he looms over her protectively.  Abhishek Bachchan is just swoony paired with Rani Mukerji, and especially so in this film.

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This film also passes the Bechdel test spectacularly.  Rani plays the older of two sisters who grow up in Benares on the banks of the Ganges.  They live in a big ramshackle old house with a father who is too ill to work (Anupam Kher) and a mother who’s struggling to keep the family afloat financially (Jaya Bachchan).  Konkona Sen Sharma is Chutki and is still in school, whil Rani Mukerji as Badki realizes she needs to find work to take the pressure off her mother.

screen-shot-2012-02-02-at-3-56-49-pm Rani goes to Mumbai, and since she had not finished school and cannot speak English, she has trouble finding, and keeping any job.  When her father is hospitalized and she calls home, Jaya in exasperation quarrels with her on the phone and tells her she can’t come home.  In desperate straits, she becomes a high class escort with the name Natasha.

Okay, this part was a bit far-fetched as while she is duped into losing her virginity, she somehow easily becomes a high-fashion wearing high class escort with the help of a friend.  She sends money home to her family to pay for her father’s medicine as well as to put her sister through college.

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She is the mistress of an executive who makes her an “event planner” or some made up position and travels to Zurich with him on a conference.  That’s where she meets Rohan, an attorney, and they have a magical day together.

Away from her normal life as a courtesan, she can imagine that she’s just a girl on a date, but reality calls her back.

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Her sister surprises her by just showing up at her apartment as she has a new job in Mumbai after completing her MBA.  Konkona has her own romantic storyline with the creative director at her office played by Kunal Kapoor.  (I do love Kunal and Konkona together.  They were great in Aaja Nachle, too.)  Rani has done everything she can to hide her true profession, but her sister’s wedding brings everything to a head.  Jaya, her mother doesn’t want her to come home as people will talk.

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What I loved was that when Rani’s sister learns the truth, she realizes the sacrifices she made on the family’s behalf.  She doesn’t judge Rani at all, and insists she come home for the wedding.  And that’s when Rani finally gets her happy ending with Abhishek.  It’s so wonderful, because she’s so afraid what he would think if he knew, but he knew all along and loved her anyway.  The tears started when Rani’s sister accepted her, and just poured down my cheeks in the final scenes.

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There’s also a fantastic cameo in the film by Hema Malini who plays a famous courtesan in Benares.

Yes, it’s a big melodrama, but it’s a Yash Raj Aditya Chopra produced melodrama so I loved it.  And Ranishek.  You just can’t beat swoony Ranishek.

Four stars out of five.

Stop Violence – Prithviraj as Satan, for me as mindblowing as Colin Firth playing a gangster

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Can you review a movie when you watched it without subs and didn’t understand a single word?  (OK, I’ve watched enough Malayalam movies that I know illa means “no”, but that’s basically all I can get.)

 

Prithviraj is a fantastic Malayalam actor who has I think over 100 movie credits, and he’s only 33.  I’ve seen him in several romances and intense dramas, and in interviews I can tell he is a quiet, reserved, serious kind of person.  When I reviewed the medical drama Ayalum Njanum Thammil, someone suggested I should watch Prithviraj in Stop Violence, one of his very first films back in 2002 when he was only 19 and a notable negative role for him.  NINETEEN!  One my sons is nineteen, so it’s that much more incredible to me.

The entire movie Stop Violence is available on Youtube and ErosNow, but without subtitles and there are no subtitle overlay files I could find.  Just from watching his entrance scene, I had to watch the whole thing.  I even checked MyIndiaShopping.com to buy the DVD, but the DVD release doesn’t seem to be available with subs either.  I read the Wikipedia summary of the plot, and figured, heck, it’s mostly action, I’ll just try it without subtitles and it’s under 2 hours.

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I’m so glad I did.  Yes, the movie is a B-movie crime flick by a debut director who likes splashing fake blood around — a lot.  But Prithviraj commands the screen from the first moment he appears.  Look at that intense stare and that snarl on his mouth!  Someone told him to grow a beard so he would look older.  His character is named Saathan and he wears a “666” necklace that he fondles menacingly all the time.  I didn’t realize at first that his name is literally Satan!

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Stephen (Vijayaraghavan) is both a corrupt cop and the leader of a gang, and Prithviraj is his right hand man and enforcer.  Stephen sends Prithviraj to kill a rapist, and Angel’s (Chandra Lakshman) first glimpse of Prithviraj is watching him fling acid into the face of his victim.

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Angel has to take refuge with her cousin (? I think?) who is a female gang don, because Angel’s been raped, is pregnant and has been kicked out of her nunnery where she was a novice.  I was told this is not a fantastical plot but based on the real life rapes of some nuns in Kerala.  Prithviraj is sent to be their bodyguard.  Not completely clear all the relationships without subs, but that’s what I gathered.

There’s actually a scene where Angel is praying in a church, and Prithviraj hesitates to cross the threshold, and when he does all the candles blow out.  Yep, Satan!

Prithviraj delights in teasing and tormenting the naive Angel.  There’s a chemistry there, and she has a dream about him coming into her room one night.  Psych!  It’s just a dream.

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Prithviraj’s Satan has this thing, where he chews razor blades, I think with paan, and then spits razor blade pieces and red pulp into his enemies’ faces.  At one point, Angel thwarts him in his intimidation of someone who owes Stephen money.  He’s kidnapped the guy’s baby, but Angel gives it back to the mother, so he spits razor blades into Angel’s face.  Then tenderly picks them off after she just stands there and takes it.  He picks the razor shards off her face tenderly, which she feels as if he’s kissing her.  Oy.

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Prithviraj as Satan is falling under Angel’s spell, and he wants to reform, but Stephen won’t let him out.  Angel is let back in to the nunnery and Prithviraj visits her one last time.  To confess to her that HE is the one who raped her!!  I asked a friend who speaks Malayalam to translate that one last scene, and Prithviraj doesn’t even ask for forgiveness, just wanted her to know he was the cause of all her misery.  (And she doesn’t know that he confessed to the Archbishop so she can return to the church.)

Then he confronts Stephen on a railroad track and won’t let go so that both are killed by an oncoming train.  There was a HUGE splash of blood onto some goon cops who had jumped out of the way that made me laugh out loud.  Prithviraj was so intense in his death scene, and the director went a bit crazy with the fast flashing back and forth between the faces and then all that blood!

I think this is a fan made trailer, but it gives you a taste of what the movie is like:

 

There’s a fun movie within a movie reference, as the gang all watches Satya on TV together at one point, and the very end has the movie poster for Saathan’s story slapped onto a wall.

If you’re a Prithviraj fan, I’m not saying you need to watch the whole thing, but you should watch at least a clip or two to see how a nineteen year old Prithviraj commands the screen in one of his very first movies.  (I’ve tried to mark the video above at his entrance, about 11 minutes into the film.)  It was such a trip to see him in such a negative role.  For me, who had never seen Prithviraj like this, it was like watching Colin Firth be a mafioso goon in Mean Streets.  Mindblowing.

Two and a half stars out of five, being generous just because Prithviraj was intensely awesome.

 

 

Thenmavin Kombath – My first Mohanlal Malayalam film!

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I absolutely adored the romance in the classic 1994 Malayalam film Thenmavin Kombath (At the Top of Sweet Mango Tree).  It was my very first Mohanlal film, and came highly recommended by Margaret at Don’t Call It Bollywood.

I was confused at the beginning of the movie exactly what Mohanlal’s relationship was to the man he was traveling back from market with, and the woman he both referred to as sister and mother.  I finally figured out that Mohanlal was the key servant retainer of this farm owned by Sreekrishnan Thampuran and his sister, and had lived at the farm since he was 4 years old, away from his own family.  The relationship lines were blurred, as Mohnalal viewed the sister like his own sister, and as the woman who raised him.  Sreekishnan is like a brother to him.  The unclear lines of the relationships and the confusion is very pertinent to the plot and the misunderstandings that follow.

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On one of their trips to take their farm produce to sell in town, Sreekrishnan agrees to let a singer performer and her older uncle have a ride on their cart.  But Mohanlal doesn’t know that, and gets into an argument with the spitfire young woman (Shobhana).  It’s a total hate-to-love romance, which is my catnip!  On the way home, they are separated from the others and get lost together in the cart in a forest.  They’ve traveled so far that they’ve crossed a border and Mohanlal can’t speak the language of the inhabitants, but Shobhana can.  She is able to get directions, and agrees to help Mohanlal if he gives her a kiss, but she says that in the language he doesn’t understand.  He keeps asking all the villagers that phrase to try to figure out what she is saying to him, and gets into big trouble!

Later, as they’re on their way home, he overhears a woman asking her young child for a kiss with the same phrase, and my absolute favorite scene of the whole movie happens.  It’s like a lightning bolt hits Mohanlal!

The first half is just wonderful as their romance develops, but the second half deals with the drama of what happens when they return to the farm and the insular village.  The problem is that Sreekrishnan wants to marry Shobhana, so Mohanlal backs away.

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It was great to see  Sreenivasan (who I have seen in Traffic) as the villainous servant that sets in motion all the horrible things that befall Mohanlal.

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Mohanlal was very good in this, but he didn’t blow me away.  I know this isn’t his most famous role.  I saw him in Janatha Garage in the theater opening night, even if he was dubbed for the Telugu.  I really loved Shobhana in this film.  She’s such a spitfire!

Really enjoyable film with a great romance.

Four stars out of five.

Janatha Garage – Mohanlal and Jr. NTR are a perfect match in this action family drama

1468570544-1707Janatha Garage (I think it translates to People’s Garage) is writer/director Koratala Siva’s third feature film, and his first collaboration with Jr. NTR.  I loved Siva’s previous blockbuster films, Srimanthudu with Mahesh Babu and one of my favorite Prabhas films, the fantastic Mirchi.  Malayalam superstar Mohanlal returns to Telugu films after a cameo appearance 2 decades ago.  Janatha Garage was filmed in both Malayalam and Telugu, and released in both languages.  I find it really interesting the cross promotion, because the film also includes Malayalam star Nithya Menen as the second heroine, in her first collaboration with NTR.  Samantha Prabhu is the first love interest, a star in Telugu and Tamil Cinema.

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Expectations were extremely high with this director, and with this star studded cast.  I think having Mohanlal and Jr NTR in a movie together is brilliant.  They were fantastic together, and frankly look like they’re family.  I’ve only seen Mohanlal in Thenmavin Kombath (review soon) and NTR in the fantastic Yamadonga.  The theater five minutes from my house had the film on two screens for the premiere, and pretty full crowds.  It was fun to be there the opening night and hear the whoops and hollers for NTR’s first entrance.  (My ticket seller wasn’t used to Telugu films – “That will be $8…I mean $20”.)

The first half of the film chronicles the creation of Janatha Garage (the people’s garage).  Mohanlal not only fixes cars, but he fixes the problem of anyone who comes to him.  When his brother and his wife are killed by one of their enemies, Mohanlal gives the orphan infant to the mother’s family saying that he will have nothing to do with the boy, as they wish.  And as young Anand grows up, his family don’t even have a picture of his father in the house.  They just tell him his parents died in an accident.

Jr NTR as Anand is like a cross between Captain Planet and DJ Khaled with his flowers (“I love you.  I like that.”)  This movie has a Message with a capital “M” and that is environmentalism.  Anand is all about green spaces, planting trees, and against pollution and over development.  Srimanthudu had a similar message with Mahesh Babu riding his bicycle everywhere.  There’s one fight sequence where he lectures the goons on the forces of nature raining down earthquakes and tsunamis on them.  He’s no pacifist environmentalist — at all.  When a park is set to be demolished, he threatens the developer and the MLA – “The MLA will die, I mean, because of lack of oxygen if the trees are destroyed.”)

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Anand (NTR’s) love interest is his cousin (Samantha Prabhu) and that was a little squicky for me because it seemed like they’d been raised as sister and brother.  He meets Nithya Menen early in the film – and scolds her for things like setting off firecrackers for Diwali creating air pollution.  Nithya becomes part of the group of friends with NTR and Samantha.  One of my two favorite songs is NTR with Samantha in the Apple Beauty love song.  He’s really fantastic dancing in this one.

Anand goes to Hyderabad to study Environmental Science, and has a run in with Mohan Lal’s son who has joined forces with the family enemy, the evil developer.  NTR hears about Janatha Garage, and Mohanlal hears about his good deeds.  Rather than confront him for the dust up with Mohanlal’s son, he asks NTR to join the Janatha Garage to carry on his work.  Mohanlal had been in an “accident” and the doctors had warned his family that he should stop and not have stress.

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Neither realize that they are nephew and uncle.  But they have a natural affinity.  They both just want to help people.  In Hebrew, we’d call it Tikkun Olam – Repairing the World, which encompasses the environment and good deeds.  It’s just that NTR knocks heads together to fix things as well as plants trees.

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One of the best fight sequences has NTR coming to the aid of a government clerk who is ready to commit suicide rather than sign off on shoddy plans for a hospital.  The builder has threatened his family, and he comes to the Janatha Garage for help.  He’d been turned away by the others at the garage after Mohanlal got out of the hospital, but NTR resurrects the true mission of the garage by helping him out — and inspiring his co-workers to view the clerk as the true hero.

Koratala Siva has set up an emotional family drama to punctuate the action.  Mohanlal has the son who rejects his way of life and joins the enemy camp.  He also has the son of his heart, NTR, who he doesn’t even know is his true long lost nephew.  And there is a very dramatic scene when Anand’s family finds him at the Garage, and forces him to choose the girl he loves or Janatha Garage.

The songs are mostly very good, and NTR’s dancing is great.  Kajal has a really fun item number in the second half — the very catchy Pakka Local (Strictly local girl).

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Jr. NTR has lots of charisma and screen presence, and his dancing and fight scenes are great.  NTR is looking much more fit than his Yamadonga days, but he’s not as playful as he was in that film.  Srimanthudu had more moments of levity than does Janatha Garage.    Mohanlal is predictably excellent as the sort of do-gooder don of Hyderabad, with tough fights in the first half, and anguish over his wayward son in the second half.  One thing that could have been better is the villain is more smarmy than scary.  The romance elements are not the focus of the film at all, and take a back seat to the male family relationships and the action.

An enjoyable flick, even if it dragged a bit in parts, and especially fun to see Mohanlal and Jr. NTR act together.  They make a perfect pair.

Three and a half stars out of five.