Author Archives: Arjun Kharpal

The Dictator (2012) Review

Released: 16 May 2012

After Borat and to some extent the much forgotten Ali G Indahouse, a sort of mental preparation is required before you step into the cinema to watch a Sacha Baron Cohen movie. What should I expect? How far will he cross the line? Will there be two naked men rolling around together? These are all fair questions to ask. So as you sit back to the sight of a Kim Jong-il dedication, there is a feeling that you might be in for a few nervy laughs.

After the more sporadic Bruno back in 2009, Cohen needed a comeback, something that went past the spoof interviews and slapstick buffoonery. In The Dictator at least the first of these was achieved. General Aladeen is the latest persona out of Cohen’s closet, broader and more universal than his previous characters.

The plot is simple; Aladeen travels to the US (no surprise that the Americans are the subject of the jokes once more) to address the UN and promise to hold free elections in his nation of Wadiya. There is a “love” story, some backstabbing, and all of the other parts that surround any Cohen film.

But it is the comedy that we are all anticipating. How much will our sides hurt after this one? The jokes were brash, in your face and kept on firing like a well-oiled machine gun, and as usual some hit and some miss. But that is to be expected with Cohen; tasteless humour is sometimes too bland. Yet this film was clearly satirical, and some gags even required a bit of current affairs knowledge, a bit like Mock the Week but with a man dressed up as a dictator. And just to top it off, the classic inspirational “change of heart” speech at the end, which is an unashamedly obvious dig at American foreign policy.

Like in Borat and Ali G, this film is never just a one man show. Cohen is supported well from the side by Anna Faris who plays Zoey, the “love interest” in the film. Some things are better left unsaid in this relationship, but suffice it to say that through the love plot, we get a more empathetic side to Aladeen. Weapons expert Nadal (Jason Mantzoukas) is terrific, playing the all important sidekick role to the Supreme Leader.

The Dictator is a film that sees Cohen back on form with a new type of character. It is formulaic, but that does not take away from the hilarity of what is another cringe worthy but highly entertaining movie, and we wouldn’t expect anything less.

The Smoovie 2011: A Look Back Over The Year

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 5,300 times in 2011. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Happy New Year From The Smoovie

As 2011 draws to a close, The Smoovie would like to thank everyone who has viewed or even though about viewing the blog. A special thanks to those who have even followed, liked or subscribed to the blog.

Having only started in May 2011 the blog has gone from strength to strength. From film to TV to theatre, we have brought you reviews and news that we hope you have found informative and entertaining. And if not, let us know why. We are always looking for ways to improve and animate the blogosphere.

We hope you have enjoyed joining the discussions on The Smoovie and if you are feeling generous this New Year, subscribe via the bar on the right had column for updates every time a new and exciting article is published.

And on that note, we wish you a fantastic New Year, and we look forward to what 2012 has to offer in the entertainment world.

Sky Sports Cricket Commentary: A One-Sided Affair

Perhaps this article has no concern in a feature about television, but then again, for how many of us does commentary affect our sports viewing experience?

Commentary is another layer of the sport viewing experience involving some disputes, jokes, and general amusement.

The India VS Australia Boxing Day test match has kicked off, and whilst being one of the most thrilling matches of test cricket we have seen in a long time, the coverage has been dismal and definitely worthy of a duck. The blame rests on the shoulders of Sky Sports, the self-proclaimed pinnacle of sports broadcasting.

However, their coverage of the India VS Australia test is unreservedly one sided in favour of the Australians.

The match is broadcast on Sky Sports through the Australian Channel 9. The commentary panel is full of Australian greats including Richie Benaud, Bill Lawry and Ian Chappell. There is nothing wrong with their commentary ability, in fact, it is highly amusing and the banter is certainly a plus. But it biased without even an attempt to hide that fact.

There is nothing wrong with the panel itself. Benaud is a fountain of knowledge and Mark Nichols’s analysis is enlightening. They have every right to be biased, and that is what makes cricket commentary so entertaining. But it is only entertaining when there are commentators from the opposition country, who are equally in favour of their own nation, to debate with. This makes for some good fun. We all remember the playful chit chat between Shane Warne and David Lloyd during The Ashes.

Of course, the commentators cannot be blamed for the hand they have been dealt. It is Sky who have created the issues that sees the wise Ravi Shastri and Harsha Bhogle sit out of the commentary for the series. The poor coverage not only creates a lack of commentator debate, but also a new perspective that ultimately leads to poor analysis, a key aspect for an avid cricket viewer.

Sky have already had numerous problems with cricket coverage, particularly on Sky Go, their online player, that allows one to watch Sky TV from one’s computer, providing one has the subscription. Yet Sky was unable to broadcast the recently finished India VS England matches from India on Sky Go due to a dispute with The Board of Control For Cricket In India (BCCI). Bearing in mind that Sky Go is a key selling point for Sky, this is a highly embarrassing and disappointing for the digital TV provider.

We cannot throw all the blame on Sky since some must go to the BCCI for this faux pas. However, the one aspect that Sky Sports has full control over is their studio pundits. So far, Shaun Udal, Vikram Solanki and Ian Harvey have been in the seats for this current India and Australia series. They are English, English, and Australian respectively. Though it is punditry of a relatively high standard, there is still no balance to the proceedings.

But alas, there is solace in the form of spectators and here Sky Sports get one thing right in showing the playful exchanges between the Australian fans and the blue clad “Swarmy Army”. If only this exchange could happen in the commentary box.

Read more Smoovie Features here

What Is A “Christmas Movie”?

Christmas Eve, no better time to be sieving through the draws of DVDs, scrolling through the menus of Sky Anytime, browsing the pages of the TV guide, or if you’re feeling daring, buying a film from Box Office, in order to compile that perfect playlist of films for 25 December.

Christmas Day is a special day for family, giving thanks, and of course, watching films. There is tense anticipation, speculation as to what will feature on the box. But whether it is a classic like The Wizard of Oz or a cheesy romcom like Love Actually, everyone finds something to feast their eyes on, even after eating a dozen mince pies.

But what kind of movies are “Christmas movies”?

To start with the clichés, those films that couldn’t be more Christmassy even if they hit you in the head with a Christmas tree. How The Grinch Stole Christmas slips easily into this category, it has even got Christmas in the title. Definitely a funny seasonal comedy based on the famous Dr Seuss poem, with Jim Carrey playing the green Grinch. And I’m sure with minimal effort at all, one can recite a litany of Christmas based films.

A few golden oldies always make an appearance on the Christmas film list, but we aren’t complaining following the yellow brick road, or seeing the legendary James Stewart conquer his trials in It’s A Wonderful Life. It gives us that warm, fuzzy feeling inside.

At this time of year, we definitely cannot forget the genre that girls love, and guys pretend to hate, the romcom, films that strike a jingle bell note with everyone. A taste of British always goes down well as Hugh Grant is the man to turn to for a large helping of cheese in Bridget Jones’s Diary and Notting Hill. Even comedies that lend themselves to the sillier side of the genre such as Knocked Up or The 40 Year-Old Virgin are a delightful addition to any Christmas list.

Moving past the obvious seasonal flicks, is there space for other films even if they have nothing to do with Christmas? Do the likes of Scarface or Saw have a place on the prized playlist?

The answer is quite simply, yes. The choice of film is one thing, but the experience counts even more. Christmas is one of the few times a year in this rapidly moving world of ours, where the family come together, and film watching plays a significant part in that. After indulging in some Christmas cuisine and making your way to the sofa in a booze induced stumble, the classic Christmas movies may not be everyone’s cup of mulled wine. Perhaps the latest film on Box Office or DVD tickles your fancy. Maybe you want to attempt a Lord of the Rings marathon with the extended editions. Whatever your choice, the film doesn’t have to be even remotely related to Christmas, just as long as it is a film you all enjoy.

When your back end touches the sofa and you are sat around the TV with your loved ones, soak up the vibe, and let the Christmas spirit run through you, even if the battle for Middle Earth is occurring as you do so.

What are your favourite Christmas movies?

The Hangover: Part 2 Review

RELEASED: 26 May 2011

Wedding approaching fast, raise your drinks up, cue hip-hop music, shot of the city lights and blackout. Sound familiar? The only difference between The Hangover Part 2 and its prequel is the number 2. There is a reason you don’t make a sequel to a film like The Hangover, that being the impossibility of ever creating something fresh from a very specific structure.

This time around it is the dentist Stu (Ed Helms) getting ready for his wedding, but instead of Vegas, the Wolfpack head on over to Thailand for the wedding.

The humour is more crass, the storylines for each character become a lot less individual, and the result is something not too pleasing. The roles are reprised from the first instalment: ringleader Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu with a special affinity to sex workers, father to be Doug (Justin Bartha) who plays an insignificant part in the antics of the sequel, and last but not least, Wolfpack creator Alan (Zach Galifianakis).

It is the latter who manages to break through the sterility of the film with the awkwardness that characterised his role in part one. Twisting words and providing inappropriateness of the highest order, Galifianakis is the source of much of the comedy. The high point is definitely his relationship with the cigarette-smoking monkey, wearing a Rolling Stones denim jacket, reminiscent of Galifianakis and the baby from part one.

Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) makes a welcome appearance as camp and eccentric Chinese mobster. The high-pitched drug addict warrants a few chuckles from his attire alone, making a criminal transaction in a hoody and cravat. In a Fast and Furious-esque moment, Chow gains sexual excitement from a thrilling car chase. Nothing too surprising, but still funny.

But ultimately, The Hangover Part 2 lacks any zest that characterised the first film. There are moments of complete doziness, where the film falls asleep, filled by characters that waste screen space like the drug dealer or Paul Giamatti’s undercover cop chatacter. Even Mike Tyson is there just for the sake of making an appearance.

The film ends on a familiar note, with the slideshow of the night’s pictures. It is like watching part one, stripped of the vitality, humour, and relationships that made The Hangover the barrel of laughs that it was. Just as the gang forget their night, The Hangover Part 2 is a truly forgettable film.


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Black Swan (2011) Review

RELEASED: 21 January 2011

As 2011 draws ever closer to an end, The Smoovie wants to looks back at one of the most magnificent, raunchy and refreshing films of the year. Coming off the back of critically acclaimed The Wrestler (2009), promising and exciting American director Darren Aronofsky flaunts his stuff with Black Swan.

Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) is a highly talented ballerina in a company headed by Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel), and becomes excited by the prospect of filling the role of Queen Swan, now vacant due to the ended career of Beth Macintyre (Winona Ryder). But Lily, fresh from San Francisco, joins the troupe, and Sayers must battle with the newcomer in a complex relationship full of sexual tension, schizophrenia, and madness. It all gets very psychological.

Black Swan is a master class in directing, provided to us courtesy of Aronofsky. The handheld single camera filming takes us right to the heart of the ballet, to where the battle for one’s inner desires takes place. It is terrific stuff, filled with thrilling and pretty gory moments. Aronofsky is able to render self-inflicted face stabbing as artistic. The attention to detail is quite frankly sublime, from the ritual of reinforcing the ballet shoes, to the consciousness of Sayers controlling her eating in the quest for perfection.

And Aronofsky has a knack for bringing out the best of his actors. You only have to think back to Mickey Rourke’s role in The Wrestler and his subsequent Oscar nomination. Portman has everything that you want to see from a role of this complexity: struggle with her inner demon, passion for the girl she can’t have, and a rollercoaster display of emotions from the plain angry to the sensuously erotic. Barbara Hershy veers between obsessively coddling to creepily demonic at times, in a truly harrowing portrayal of Nina’s mother that no doubt contributes to her mental issues. Even Kunis, whose most notable roles are in sitcoms and romcoms, gives us a truly respectable performance, especially in handling some of the risqué material.

Black Swan pirouettes and glides across the screen to a conclusion that is most fitting, and even if it does not reach “perfection” as Nina so brilliantly does, it gets very damn close.

Bill Murray Joins Coppola’s New Movie

Roman Coppola’s new movie, an extensively named A Glimpse Inside The Mind Of Charles Swan III, has gained three new talents. Bill Murray, Patricia Arquette and Mary Elizabeth Winstead have hopped on board the project which already includes Charlie Sheen and Jason Schwartzman.

Plotwise, the film centres on a famous, rich and successful graphic designer, who, after splitting up with his girlfriend, finds his life spiralling out of control.

I know you’re thinking, “who are those two girls?” Arquette is perhaps best know for her role in TV series Medium and has recently signed up for Glutton, directed by her brother David Arquette. And Winstead? She recently starred in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.

The other actors I’m sure need no introduction. Bill Murray was nominated for an Oscar for Lost In Translation, directed by Roman’s sister Sofia. Murray has a plethora of films behind his name including the iconic Ghostbusters. Schwartzman is reunited with Murray after the two co-starred in Rushmore.

There’s not much to say about Sheen, oh, apart from the whole going crazy thing. This will be Sheen’s first film project since departing (not so peacefully) from hit sitcom Two and a Half Men. Since that fateful day, Sheen went on a hit and miss tour of ramblings called My Violent Torpedo of Truth/Defeat is Not an Option. The actor has also confirmed his participation in new TV show Anger Management.

The film is currently in production and set for a 2012 release, although the date is still unclear.

Lumumba (2000) Review

RELEASED: 27 September 2000 (Belgium)

With Black History Month approaching it’s finale, we thought it would be a good idea to take a look at a film about Patrice Émery Lumumba, the first Prime Minister of the Congo, and the key figure in Congolese independence from Belgian colonial rule. Don’t start yawning because this isn’t the epically long biographical type of film, but instead, Raoul Peck delivers a wonderfully inspirational movie, but that doesn’t mean it’s without problems.

Lumumba tells the tale of a man with the dream of an Independent Congo. The film opens with this man, Lumumba, heading towards his ominous fate. Bodies are chopped up and thrown into the fire. It’s almost as if Peck is saying,  “welcome to the independence struggle”. From this point we are taken back to the beginning of the story, from Lumumba as a beer salesman. Well, everyone has to start somewhere. Russia and the US get involved (as usual) and then there are even more issues.

First piece of advice before watching Lumumba, do your homework because this movie doesn’t offer a comprehensive history lesson. Much of this has to do with the pace of the film which progresses very quickly. One moment Lumumba is selling beer and next minute he is PM of an independent Congo, but the build up seemed to be simple, lacking the gusto that it needed. The result was choppy with seemingly pointless interjections like the scenes with Lumumba and his wife, the latter receiving scanty airtime, and their relationship did not develop, nor did it really kick off.

Having said that however, Lumumba had enough power to see it through and the fantastic cast is to thank. Eric Ebouaney’s representation of Lumumba is moving as he delivers an array of defining speeches even as the power slips from his grasp. He stands defiant in a room full of army officers with guns may we add. Certainly a gutsy thing to do. Conflicts with military head Joseph Mobutu (Alex Descas) and President Kasa Vubu (Maka Kotto) are electric, clashing ideologies and personalities, all the things that lead to a civil war. Descas is sadistic as the power hungry future dictator and Kotto is perfectly diplomatic in contrast to the extremity of Lumumba and Mobutu. The balance, the struggle, and the tension are excellent.

Visually, the film hits home hard. Peck knows how to create that shock factor, especially when capturing the execution of Lumumba and his two compatriots. The gunshots reverberate through the deadly silent woods and not only are key figures dead, but Peck captures an atmosphere of pessimism and suppression, devoid of any hope, confirmed by the figure of dictator Mobutu sitting on a throne-like chair.

There is something bittersweet about the message of this film. We are drawn in by the inspirational figure of Lumumba, his tenacity, vigour and passion. But at the same time, we can’t be comfortable by the promise of a dictatorship that looms at the end of Lumumba, especially as we have been on a journey through the hard fought independence of the Congo.

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Don Johnson Joins Tarantino’s Django Unchained

Quentin Tarantino is busy doing what he does best, assembling fantasy casts full of surprises for his films. The latest project in the Tarantino world is Django Unchained, a film based on Sergio Corbucci’s 1966 movie Django.

Don Johnson is the latest addition to a cast that boasts the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson. Who is Don Johnson I hear you ask? A quick trip through TV history to the 80s is where Johnson’s best known role as James Crockett in hit detective drama Miami Vice can be found. And now he is in a big Tarantino film. Score! Johnson will play villainous plantation owner Spencer Bennett.

Christoph Waltz who won an Oscar for his role in Inglorious Basterds, is reunited with Tarantino for Django Unchained, as is Stacey Sher who collaborated with the director on Pulp Fiction. And lastly, Kurt Russell who has replaced Kevin Costner in this upcoming film, rekindles his link with Tarantino after the two worked together on Death Proof.

Major plot details are unclear as of yet, but the film follows liberated slave Django (Jamie Foxx) and bounty hunter Dr King Schultz who cross Bennett whilst in search of a bounty, but they end up being stabbed in the back by him.

It is all set up for something potentially quite bloody. But we expect nothing less of Tarantino. With a stellar cast and a top notch director at the helm, this film has great potential.