De Dana Dan

Priyadarshan’s De Dana Dan joins his fairly long list of slapstick, helter-skelter comedies that make us laugh for a scene or two, but leave us exasperated for the rest of the movie. This one had the added pain of Archana Puran Singh, Paresh Rawal and Manoj Joshi competing for the loudest-voice-on-cinema award and gunning solely for your eardrums. I might have viewed the movie as a timepass, if only the shouting and screaming didnt give me a massive headache.

The theme is similar to his previous works (Hera Pheri series, Bhagam Bhag, Malamaal Weekly) – poor guys wanting to make the quick buck and getting involved with all kinds of random characters along the way – which culminates in a massive free-for-all in the climax. Here Akshay and Sunil Shetty kidnap a dog to strike it rich and then gatecrash into Chunky Pandey’s wedding at a hotel – who is marrying to escape debtors. Then there is a whole assortment of characters from the bumbling hitman, drunk waiter, hooker, an Indo-Chinese don to an investigator and the Indian Ambassador, no less.

The Bad
Priyadarshan’s attempt at hilarity by mixing up so many characters fails completely. The usual mistaken identities and misunderstandings are garnished with Tom-and-Jerry type chase sequences – but get you to chuckle only once every half hour. Akshay tries hard in his scenes but with so many other crazy things happening, he doesn’t sound any better than the others. And most of the other lead actors – Katrina, Sunil Shetty, Sameera Reddy etc do not have much to do and seem to be just going through the motions. If you were looking forward to the chemistry of the Hera Pheri trio, they never actually come in a scene together - and there is no spark between Akshay and Sunil to be seen anywhere.

The Good
The bright points of the movie are Rajpal Yadav and Johhny Lever – their scenes are mostly funny. And Asrani still gets a few good laughs in the end.

I have a pretty high tolerance for low-brow comedy, but this was asinine even by my low standards. The first half was especially dull, and the second half has most of the screaming, so its hard to recommend anything in this movie wholeheartedly. The rain song between Kat and Akshay in the movie has also been snipped off – just in case you were planning to go for that. And if you still HAVE to watch it, just take a good pair of earbuds along.

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Movies to look out for this week

De Dana Dan [IMDB]

The usual Priyadarshan mad-cap comedy with the Hera Pheri trio and 27 other actors

Cast: Akshay Kumar, Sunil Shetty, Paresh Rawal, Katrina Kaif

Direction: Priyadarshan

Ninja Assasin [IMDB]

A young ninja turns his back on orphanage that raised him, leading to a confrontation with a fellow ninja from the clan

Cast: Sung Kang, Randall Duk Kim

Direction: James McTeigue

New in Town [IMDB]

A Miami businesswoman adjusts to her new life in a tiny Minnesota town.

Cast: Renée Zellweger, Harry Connick Jr.

Direction: Jonas Elmer

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A Christmas Carol

The Disney version of one of the most famous christmas stories, A Christmas Carol was perhaps released a bit too early to cash in on the festive season. I watched it on Thanksgiving Day though, so there was some holiday spirit. Made with motion capture and in 3D, the visual quality of the movie is terrific – the animations having a wonderful life-like quality and you easily forget you aren’t watching a movie with regular actors. But unlike Disney regulars, this movie has a few scenes which are quite scary – I am afraid the kids might take home a few nightmares after this movie.

The story hasn’t been tampered with much – on the christmas eve of 1842, miser Ebenezer Scrooge’s dead partner Marley visits him and foretells the arrival of three ghosts – of Christmas Past, Present and Future. The three ghosts show Scrooge his past, present and what could happen in the future – making him see the error of his ways. The visualization of the ghosts ofcourse has been adapted – which is where the movie becomes a little un-Disney.

The Good
Visuals are great, and appear even better if watched in 3D – but it’s not a necessarily-3D-movie. Meaning you would enjoy the movie almost as much without 3D. The motion capture technology enhances the facial expressions and body movements, so Scrooge’s frightened face looks just like an actual old man’s. But then, coming from Robert Zemeckis (maker of Back to Future, Forest Gump, Cast Away & Beowulf), technical perfection is to be expected.

The screenplay is tight – there is no slack anywhere once the ghosts appear – and on the whole it is quite thrilling. But even with this fast screenplay, the moments of tenderness in clerk Cratchit’s family or Scrooge’s nephew Fred’s toast are unmistakable and lend this movie its soul.

Scrooge’s voice is almost unrecognizable as Jim Carrey’s – and other big names like Colin Firth, Gary Oldman & Robin Penn Wright make up the rest of the cast.

The Bad
The appearance of the final ghost is a little over-the-top frankly. Looking like the grim reaper and chasing Scrooge around in London in a carriage drawn by fiery-eyed-black-horses, it caused me to jump a couple of times. Accustomed to sugar-coated Disney movies where bad things are masked in a lot of funny gags, this was a little too grim. I don’t think this Disney movie is going to be too popular with the kids

Though its an animated version of a traditional christmas tale, it lacks the joyfulness and happy nature of Disney classics like Tarzan or Mulan. While A Christmas Carol too ends on a happy note, the overall mood and cinematography of 19th century London is certainly dark. A grown up and mature Disney movie, you might call it. Its definitely worth a watch, but I cant help wishing for a more feel-good holiday movie.

3 star
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Fa Yeung Nin Wa : In the Mood for Love

In the Mood for Love is not a new movie – it was released way back in 2000. And it was nominated for the Palme d'Or (best movie) at Cannes that year and won Best Actor there. The director Wong Kar-Wai is one of the more acclaimed current directors in Hong Kong. The reason I am reviewing it now is that it is being shown as part of the Palador Film Festival* - which is showcasing some great world cinema for Indian audiences. Currently in Bombay, only Fun Cinemas in Andheri and Eros Cinema in town are screening these movies every week.

Somewhat true to perception – some of these movies are not for general consumption. I’d say watch In the Mood for Love only if you are bored with the format of mainstream Hindi and English movies. It brings a very different take on movies with it - the use of lighting, repetitive use of certain camera angles frequently and portrayal of other characters by the two lead characters. Production wise, it appears frugal as most of the movie is in a couple of cramped rooms and a lonely street corner – but apparently it took 15 months to shoot.

The movie is about two couples who move into two neighbouring apartments on the same day – a reporter Mr Chow & his wife in one and a shipping clerk Mrs. Chan and her husband in the other. We know something is a little amiss when neither Mr Chan nor Mrs Chow’s face is shown. They are always shown from their back or their voice is heard from behind the camera. Mr Chan travels for weeks for his business and Mrs Chow works late night shifts as a receptionist – leaving the respective spouses alone in their rooms and frequenting the neighbourhood noodle place for dinner. The twist comes when they realize their spouses are cheating on them – and their loneliness acknowledges each other.

The treatment of the story is very unconventional with the story moving ahead in fits and starts - sometimes just languidly watching the rain fall or making perfect smoke rings in the air. The story is set in 1962 and in quite a rundown part of Hong Kong. Nothing like the gleaming metropolis of today. And even there, minimalism in everything – the simple 4-5 sets, the limited characters (the Chans’ landlord Mrs Suen & their cook, Mrs. Chan’s boss Mr Ho and Chow’s friend Ping), the minimal dialogue and the repeated background score. I recognized the famous Spanish song Quizás, Quizás, Quizás playing a couple of times (Spanish original of Perhaps Perhaps, the title track of BBC comedy series Coupling)

What I remember most about the movie are the lead characters enacting the hypothetical interaction of their spouses – it takes a few moments for it to sink in that it was a rehearsal and not the real thing. And it will happen again and you still wouldn’t be able to catch it.

Don’t watch it for ‘timepass’ - as they call it in Bombay – its not one. It’s a completely different genre of cinema and you will appreciate it more if you have a wider view of movies than hero-meets-girl-and-they-fall-in-love-despite-differences. You can call it an acquired taste if you like

3 star

* If you are interested in such movies, you might want to check Reeload ( , the movie club hosting these shows. They are offering free dvds and workshops with filmmakers etc on membership. Its not mandatory to be a member to watch these shows

Disclaimer – I am not a member of this club and I paid full price for my tickets :)

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One of the slickest looking movies to come out of Bollywood this year, Kurbaan is worth a watch just for its high quality visuals. Rensil D’Silva and his team will wow you by their sheer technical brilliance - I cant remember the last time frames of any movie looked so good. And designer Aki Narula’s wardrobe and overall look for Kareena adds a lot to the beauty of the movie – deep kohl lined eyes and rich Indian clothes (without a single hot pants or low-cut top).

Kareena gives one of her better performances as Avantika, even though she has very limited dialogues and screentime. Her eyes speak for her as she goes through emotions from amusement to happiness to despair and sorrow. She reminds us why she is one of the best actresses around today. And she completely outshines Saif in the second half, where he appears to be rolling through the scenes without much effort. However Saif is in his own territory in the first half, where he is the suave, confident dude who is trying to sweep Avantika off her feet. Their chemistry is sparkling and it is not very difficult to guess that they are a real-life couple.

Kurbaan is a love story of Ehsaan (Saif) and Avantika (Kareena) set in a background of muslim terrorism. Avantika is a professor of psychology in NY university, but she is teaching in Delhi university for a semester because her dad is recovering from a stroke in Delhi. There she bumps into Ehsaan Khan, a new professor at the college and soon they fall in love. However, she gets an ultimatum to return to NY for the next semester and Ehsaan agrees to go with her to the US – after marriage. And so they land up in New York.

And all this happens in the first 15 min of the movie!

The Good
Throughout the first half of the movie, pace is quick – almost frenetic. You get the feeling you are watching a thriller rather than a love story. The background score of the movie enhances that edgy feeling. And most importantly, logic is not sacrificed as most of the characters in the movie are more realistic – and not caricaturish. What they say or do makes sense – like the FBI is not just composed of muslim-hating officers.

Acting was a positive surprise – especially from Vivek Oberoi. He was much better than I remembered, and Kiron Kher does the Afghani accent exceedingly well.
And a trivial positive - when the police try to defuse a bomb, the wrong wire is cut and things go kaboom. Not like other movies where invariably, the correct wire is cut.

The Bad
Post-intermission, the movie slows down quite a bit, but the biggest failure of the movie is its climax. The screenplay abandons all pretence of logic or reason and its all senti-drama. Kareena does very well in the acting department, but Saif just sleepwalks through the role here. Given that there were lot of expectations from his negative or ‘grey’ character’, Saif fails to get you to sympathize in Ehsaan.

Kurbaan is a more realistic movie that New York or Fanaa – but its not a Khuda Kay Liye either. What works for it is superb production values and the chemistry between its lead-actors – the spark between them is quite visible. But it is let down by the Bollywood philosophy of love above everything else. It would easily qualify for 4 stars, were I to consider only the first half. However, it loses its way significantly in the second half and the stretched climax leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

3 star
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Movies to look out for this week

Kurbaan [IMDB]

A love story set in background of terrorism in New York

Cast: Saif Ali Khan, Kareena Kapoor

Direction: Rensil D'Silva

A Christmas Story [IMDB]

An animated retelling of Charles Dickens classic novel about a Victorian-era miser taken on a journey of self-redemption, courtesy of several mysterious Christmas apparitions

Cast: Jim Carrey (voice)
Direction: Robert Zemeckis

Twilight [IMDB]

Based on the Twilight book series. A teenage girl risks everything when she falls in love with a vampire.

Cast: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson

Direction: Catherine Hardwicke

Fa Yeung Nin Wa : In The Mood For Love [IMDB]

A man and a woman move in to neighboring Hong Kong apartments and form a bond when they both suspect their spouses of extra-marital activities

Cast: Maggie Cheung, Tony Leung Chiu Wai

Direction: Kar Wai Wong
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2012 promises to be nothing more than a disaster movie – and it is exactly that. However, what works for the movie are the awesome action pieces that take your breath away. The CGI work is spectacular – you haven’t seen anything like this (not even from Michael Bay). Skyscrapers toppling, roads splitting up into canyons, the Sistine Chapel collapsing – and the piece de resistance – a plane taking off from a runaway as it cracks up behind it. I don’t remember the last time a cheesy action movie has me so exhilarated with the action scenes.

However, if you are the sort who looks for logic in every movie – please avoid this one. For it is not the most logical story every produced. The plot is something like this - as prophesied by the Mayans, the year 2012 witnesses a gigantic solar flare which bombards earth with a neutron-like subatomic particle and causes the earth’s core to start heating up. The result is a earth’s crust displacement which leads to massive earthquakes, volcanoes and tidal waves.

And the world is not caught unawares – an Indian scientist Dr Satnam makes the discovery in 2009 itself and the world powers ultra-secretively prepare for this armageddon. However, calculations are wrong and things start going kaboom a month before schedule ….

The Good
As I have already waxed eloquent, the disasters are breathtaking to watch. There is not a moment’s respite and the action just keeps on coming – the first half especially.
And there is not much else to recommend in the movie

The Bad
As is the bane of this genre, dialogues are extremely cheesy, especially towards the end. And while all the world is collapsing around us, we are made to sympathize with the family of John Cusack and Amanda Peet – without much explanation as to why they are the chosen ones. You can predict from a mile which ones from the group are going to make it are which ones aren’t. And Jimi Mistry (the Guru) is atrocious as Dr. Satnam – he really grates on your ears – but thankfully he has just a 3 min sequence.

Even though it is almost two and half hours long, 2012 has enough bangs to keep you entertained for most of the journey. So if you are in the mood for a mindless apocalypse movie, this is just the thing for you.

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Movies to look out for this week

Tum Mile [IMDB]

Two ex-lovers separated 6 years ago meet again in Bombay on the fatal night of 26th July 2005

Cast: Emraan Hashmi, Soha Ali Khan

Direction: Kunal Deshmukh

2012 [IMDB]

An epic adventure about a global cataclysm that brings an end to the world and tells of the heroic struggle of the survivors.

Cast: John Cusack, Amanda Peet, Chiwetel Ejiofor

Direction: Roland Emmerich

Aao Wish Karein [IMDB]

A 12-year old boy who has a huge crush on a 23-year old girl, is granted a miracle and he becomes a grown up man overnight

Cast: Aftab Sivadasani, Aamna Sharif, Johny Lever

Direction: Glenn Baretto
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The Informant!

The Informant! is one of those quirky cool movies that only Hollywood can produce (any such movie here would probably result in burnt theatres and hundreds of court cases !!). Its based on a real story and the disclaimers before the movie sound like this

... some characters are composites and dialogue dramatized.
So there.

With that cheeky introduction, The Informant! starts off with Mark Whitacre, President of Bio-Products division at Archer Daniels Midland, an agri-business giant. He has an all-american family with wife Ginger and two kids, a big house and plans to build a horse stable. But soon it transforms into a corporate spying story as Whitacre turns into an informant for the FBI, first alleging sabotage by japanese rival Ajinamoto Co - and then price fixing of lysine (an amino acid) by his own employers.

(I didnt make it up! There is - or atleast was - an Ajinamoto Co in Japan)

But just as you are settling down to watch a gripping corporate crime story like The Insider, you are distracted by some inane tangential comments made by Mark Whitacre –

When polar bears hunt, they crouch down by a hole in the ice and wait for a seal to pop up. They keep one paw over their nose so that they blend in. Cuz’ they’ve got those black noses. They’d blend in perfectly if not for the nose...
So the question is - how do they know their noses are black? From looking at other polar bears? Do they see their reflections in the water? And think, “I’d be invisible if not for that.”
That seems like a lot of thinking for a bear.

This and many other random utterances cause you to start doubting Whitacre himself – is he the white hat he claims to be? And credit to director Steven Soderbergh (Ocean’s Eleven series, Erin Brockovich), he doesn’t for a moment let you know what is coming at the end of the movie. Not to mention, his handing of the potential serious drama is highly humorous and tongue-in-cheek.

Which maybe does a little disservice to Mark Whitacre himself – irrespective of his personal failings, he did help the greater good by his whistleblowing deed. Matt Damon is absolutely fantastic as the slightly overweight, middle-aged Mark Whitacre. His role as the erratic corporate whistle-blower has already generated oscar buzz.

Apart from a slightly slow middle segment, The Informant is a great watch. Its got a limited release in India, with a few shows at PVR and single shows at Fame & Fun Cinemas. So probably you are going to have to take a few pains to watch it – but its well worth your time.

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2 States

This is going to be a more personal review than usual – mainly because I could so identify with the challenges of cross-state marriages – I had one myself.

And as a matter of fact, most of my friends did too – they chose their own partners, usually from a different community. Infact, I am scheduled to attend one wedding next month. And it doesn’t seem abnormal at all, does it ? Choosing a life partner is hard enough, without having to ensure that she speaks Oriya or Gujarati or whatever your mother tongue is !

Plus, isn’t the arranged marriage crowd a minority now ? You would think so if you went through my friend list :)

Unfortunately, there is a vast part of the country that is still very uncomfortable with the idea – if not horrified by it - as characters in the book are. They still cant wrap their head around the idea of a guy choosing his own girl, let alone happily accepting a daughter/son-in-law from a different part of the country. I don’t have to look further than my own first cousins for it. Its more pronounced in certain communities I think - whose sense of culture is very strong and all-pervasive. And so author couldnt have set his novel in two more apt communities than the Punjabis and Tamils.

The story is a simple (almost made for a movie) story – Punjabi boy meets Tamil girl and they fall in love. They want to get married, but only with their parents blessings. However parents need a bit more convincing than “I love him/her”. And when would-be-in-laws come face to face with each other – sparks inevitable fly – which jeopardizes things even more.

What made the book really enjoyable for me was the setting of the movie and the leads – they fall in love while studying in IIMA – and their courtship has a delightful current of humour throughout. Ofcourse, I am not even remotely hinting to be as funny as leads of the book, but given the backgrounds of me and my wife, it touched a chord somewhere. And again, like the book couple, we had more than our share of disagreements over wedding arrangements (thankfully getting parents to agree for the wedding was easy) – but getting two completely different cultures to appreciate each others rituals and customs is one head-bursting exercise !!

The book is priced at less than a multplex tickets cost (Rs 95). And it’s a good 3-4 hour read (I confess I am a fast reader, so you might take a bit longer). But highly recommended for a happy read all the same

PS – If you like the idea, here is an account of a similar wedding, condensed to a blog post and much more humorously written -
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Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani

If you guys watched All The Best, you remember how Sanjay Mishra steals the show in it with his “Just Chiiiiiilll” dialogue ? Or Amit Mistry in the movie 99 ?

Something similar happens to Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani – after the movie you remember Prem’s dad Darshan Jariwala in the movie more than anyone else (unlike the famous dialogue of the movie itself).

The movie, is not much ‘Ajab’ as the title suggests – it’s a story of a good boy who loves a girl, but cant bring himself to tell her. And when he is about to confess to her, turns out she loves someone else. So the good boy decides to help them get together, while remaining silent about his own feelings. Ofcourse, the good boy has a bunch of loser friends who adore him and do little else. And, the movie ends in a punchup climax with a with comic villains just like Andaz Apna Apna.

The Good
Clearly, this movie is not to be watched for its intriguing storyline. However it can be watched for its two leads – Ranbir and Katrina. Ranbir has the ‘goofy-yet-adorably-cute’ expression down to the pat – there is no one who can come close to him on this count. And Katrina owns the angelic-yet-cheerful-happy face. Together they really look good – their attire and camaraderie, especially in the songs is really cool in all senses of that word.

Then there is Darshan Jariwala. While he is usually irritating as the ‘khadoos’ dad in movies (like Life Partner), he is the same here – but with a very refreshing comic touch. His scenes are the best written in the movie – esp his singing scene.

And Upen Patel does pretty well in the comic role – which was unintentional on his part I am sure 

The Bad
The publicity designer of the movie is to be lauded in packaging this movie as a slick cartoony romantic comedy. It certainly piqued my interest – which is why I chose the movie over others in the weekend. But they are just the attractive packaging – there is nothing in the movie that would connect to a shred of reality. The setting is a fictional town that resembles Ooty and the hero is a do-gooder without ‘any complaints or demands’. Not to mention, with no goal in life.

I guess I am being exceedingly critical in demanding reality from a movie which is clearly inspired on ‘Andaz Apna Apna’ – so lets look at the movie through those lenses. Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani definitely does have it laugh-out loud moments, including some zany sequences when Prem goes to work. But overall, it fails to keep up the whacky comedy levels and gets needlessly senti in more places than required

And the songs are atrocious – they break in the story flow and don’t fit the overall light movie theme at all.

Overall, its a timepass movie, that has its moments, but it sits in an uncomfortable place between whacky comedy and a serious love story.

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Movies to look out for this week

Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani [IMDB]

The movie is about a boy who is madly in love with the beautiful Jennifer and his crazy mis-adventures that follow his quest

Cast: Ranbir Kapoor, Katrina Kaif

Direction: Raj Kumar Santoshi

Jail [IMDB]

'Jail' is the story of a common man who is living a dream life, till he lands up in prison for unknown reasons

Cast: Neil Nitin Mukesh, Mugdha Ghodse, Manoj Bajpai

Direction: Madhur Bhandarkar

The Informant! [IMDB]

The U.S. government decides to go after an agri-business giant with a price-fixing accusation, based on the evidence submitted by their star witness, vice president turned informant Mark Whitacre

Cast: Matt Damon, Eddie Jemison
Direction: Steven Soderbergh

The Rebound [IMDB]

In New York City, a single mom captivates her new neighbor, a much younger man.

Cast: Catherine Zeta-Jones, Justin Bartha

Direction: Bart Freundlich
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Julie & Julia

Watching Julie & Julia was a great culinary experience – it makes you really hungry by the time you finish the movie – and you are inspired to give cooking a shot if you haven’t done it already !! However, more than just a collection of gourmet shots, Julie & Julia works very well in cataloguing the life of its two protagonists – blogger Julie Powell and celebrated cook Julia Child.

Connected by only their love for food – and nothing else (they never meet), the movie tells you how a bored clerk in Manhattan decides to take up the challenge to cook all 524 recipes of the famous 1961 cookbook Mastering The Art of French Cooking - in 365 days and blog about it. It was the first ever book on French cooking in English and revered as the one which opened up the world of French cuisine to Americans. The story of celebrated food blogger Julie Powell

However the main ingredient of the movie is the story of how a bored wife of an American diplomat in Paris in the 1950s, takes her own passion for food to the next level by graduating from the Cordon Bleu, no less – after becoming enamored with French cuisine. And how she spends eight years of her life co-writing a French cookbook ‘for servantless Americans’. The story of the famous chef Julia Child

Based on Julia’s memoirs “My Life in Paris” and Julie’s book “Julie & Julia” – the movie is an easy watch, especially with the delicious food on display, but also a look at two love stories. Julia and her husband Paul Child and the slightly lesser Julie & her husband Eric. Paul and Julia’s chemistry is a treat to watch – Julia with her effervescence and joy of life and Paul as the quieter and slightly bemused husband. Theirs is a story that deserves a movie by itself maybe

Eric is also the supportive husband when Julie starts her blog – infact he is the one who suggests it. But unlike Julia Child, who is a gem of a person, Julie Powell isnt that likeable. Though the makers have tried to brush up her image trying to make her look adorable and cutesy, she was completely self-absorbed, narcissist - and ‘a bitch’, as her best friend says. It is unfortunately, the ethos of a blogger, who is driven to channel all his thoughts and energies into writing on a blog, leaving out little for anyone else around them. And then hoping to get that all important recognition in the way of comments.

It is also questionable whether she was just using Julia Child’s name to get famous – but that suggestion is never touched upon in the movie.

One of the complaints I have about the movie was its squeaky cleanliness. Apart from one fight between Eric and Julie, it was a little too fairy-talish about the effect of such an all-consuming-passion on their marriage. Similarly, although Paul Child was a really loving man, not once is he shown to be at odds with his wife’s activities – especially since this was before the time of women’s liberation. But then again, his wife did cook some fabulous food ...

The other irritant was Julia Child’s high octave voice and her joie-de-vivre. It seems amusing at the beginning of the movie, but by the end, it’s a little grating. I know it is exactly how the real life Julia Child was – and the makers of the movie are just being faithful to her persona, but it feels a bit overdone.

By the way, Julia Child was all of 6ft 2 in and it’s a marvel how they made a 5 Ft 6 in Meryl Streep appear so tall !!

Its different from your regular cinema – and you don’t have to be a foodie to appreciate it – but its not quite a masterpiece. What works for the movie is Julia & Paul in Paris – they are quite magical together. But the movie slows down a bit towards the end and at feels longer than its 123 min runtime – but it also works up a great appetite for you. So when we got out of the movie – the first thing we did was to make a beeline for a great continental dinner – even though it was only 7.30 pm !!

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