Friday, September 28, 2012

Movie Review: Resident Evil Retribution

To give you an idea as to what sort of a movie Resident Evil Retribution is, I must mention that in one scene, Michelle Rodriguez absorbs a whole magazine of machine gun bullets, and slowly excretes them out of her fingers. Such is the subtle brilliance of Paul WS Anderson’s latest Milla Jovovich annual salary.

It’s hard to call Resident Evil Retribution the worst movie of the franchise because apart from the first one, every subsequent film has been terrible in its own unique way. But one thing is for sure - those who thought that the franchise couldn’t possibly get worse than the previous entry Afterlife are in for a jaw dropping surprise. What’s more, it comes in 3D that guarantees your eyes turn as red as the zombies’ pupils in the movie. 

The ‘story’ picks up immediately after the events of Afterlife, where Alice (Jovovich) is bracing for an epic gunbattle from a horde of Umbrella Corp soldiers swooping down from helicopters to shoot the shit out of everything. Turns out that Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory from the second movie) is now blonde, bustier and is being controlled by the big bad corporation to eliminate Alice. After about 90 minutes of Alice shooting the shit out of everything to remain alive, we are told that Umbrella in fact needs Alice alive for her help – the point where you reach out for a shotgun to shoot the shit out of Anderson.  In any case logic and common sense doesn’t matter because in the final act Anderson just gives up on his own movie and proceeds to borrow scenes from James Cameron’s Aliens.

The only decent bit in the film is the slow motion opening sequence played out in reverse, and you begin to wonder if the fifth Resident Evil movie has something new and interesting to offer. All those hopes are quickly dispelled when the sequence just repeats itself and Jovovich breaks the fourth wall and droningly recites all the boring bits from the previous four movies as if they matter. It would be a spoiler to mention how the characters of Michelle Rodriguez, Guillory and Oded Fehr return despite dying earlier in the franchise, but the explanation makes the Punar Janm concept from 80’s Bollywood movies seem more believable. 

Without a doubt, we would get at least two more sequels and the goodwill that Anderson garnered from the excellent Event Horizon will continue to recede. In fact Anderson has made a bad enough film to confirm that the Rage Virus from 28 Days Later originated in a movie theater playing Resident Evil Retribution.

(First published in MiD Day)

Friday, September 21, 2012

Movie Review: Dredd 3D

In an industry dominated by a glut of remakes, reboots, sequels, prequels and spiritual successors, the rehash of Judge Dredd seemed like a very bad idea on paper. Add in the 3D and the lopsided grin first look of the film and it seemed like a disaster in the making. Surprisingly, Dredd 3D defies all kinds of expectations to blast through its 90 minutes and even makes us long for a sequel.

Dredd works so well mostly because it is written by Alex Garland, who is slowly approaching the geekdom levels of Joss Whedon - he wrote the cult hit novel The Beach (which was bastardized by Hollywood) and also the movies Sunshine, 28 days later and Never let me go. Garland and director Pete Travis bring back the gritty violence and the deadpan humor found in the Judge Dredd comics, a far cry from the horribly cartoonish 1995 Sylvester Stallone movie.
We’re introduced to a sort-of-post-apocalyptic-dystopian-futuristic New York City where tens of thousands of crimes occur every single day. To keep things under control are Judges – Robocop style law enforcement officers with cool motorbikes and handheld guns. Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) is handed the task of evaluating a rookie (Olivia Thirlby) and he takes her to a high rise building crime scene where a couple of guys were skinned alive and tossed from an unknown floor balcony. The routine investigation turns into a nightmare as the building locks down and a drug lord sends out a horde of gangsters to shoot down the two cops. Dredd is left to blast his way through the various floors, with only his trusty voice-commanded handgun at his disposal.
The premise sounds a bit like The Raid Redemption but know that Garland began work on the movie much before that film was made. Comparisons to the Indonesian film are inevitable and it’s easy to dismiss Dredd for its lack of Silat martial arts, however there are enough bullets and droolworthy slow-mo gunplay to compensate. Cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle’s expressionist super slow-mo 3D camera gives an effect that can best be described as a splash of ice cold soda on your face. All the coolness is contrasted by the mega hot (in a slightly disgusting way) Lena Heady as Mama the psychotic drug lord who makes you forget about Thirlby’s clichéd, irritating video game side character.
Naturally the best thing about Dredd 3D is its constrained single location, and it makes the film a hell of a lot more exciting than most of the big CGI overloaded Michael Bay cringefests. Karl Urban never takes off his helmet but is still more expressive than 99 percent of the actors out there – it helps that he hurls one liners with the clanging deadpan style of Munnabhai Sanjay Dutt. A lot of the humor in ­Dredd seems self-referential, in one scene a goon talks about cops in the city being like meat grinders, which may or may not allude to the way reboots are made nowadays to pave a ways for a franchise. If a sequel is indeed made, I’ll be the first in line to watch it.


(First published in MiD Day)

Movie Review: Moonrise Kingdom

In Moonrise Kingdom, Wes Anderson successfully combines the tragic, quirky and the cute in what is probably his best film to date and easily one of the best movies of the year. The film seems like a Roald Dahl story alive on screen, but one that Anderson has created all by himself. 

Set in 1965, the film introduces us to two 12-year-old kids Sam and Suzy (Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward) who decide to abandon their damaged childhoods and run away from their broken homes to stay on their own little kingdom by the sea. Anderson, with his trademark idiosyncratic darkly comic, yet gently affecting balance takes us through the kids’ backstories, their parents, and a vast array of the people connected to them (Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, Frances McDormand, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton). Thrown in is a convenient thunderstorm that might jeopardize the search for the runaway kids and heighten the tension. 

There are many, many moments in the film that leave a lasting impression, which only Wes Anderson could come up with - one of which is a hilarious lightening strike, and another where a scout kid delivers a pep talk in a tree house while a section of the house suddenly falls off. The final frame is actually the best in the film, I won't be surprised if posters of this scene make their way to the walls of millions and millions of film buffs' bedrooms.

In the band of precocious kids in cinema, Jared Gilman as Sam Shakusky is a highlight. Complete with glasses and a complete lack of regard for his camp scout master, he is the quintessential orphan who learns that to survive the world he has to adapt to growing up faster than his peers, often at the expense of others. His approach to life is both funny and moving, and Gilman plays it perfectly. 

Suzy is a similarly broken, socially rejected kid who would rather leave her home than have her parents constantly lie to her. Hayward is top class and she reminds one of a younger Emma Watson. The huge supporting cast is very strong, blending understated comedy with frank drama. And even though the film is about the two kids, the uncomfortable ‘grownup problems’ are wonderfully played out. Anderson brings every conflicting emotion to the screen with style, making Moonrise Kingdom a strange, cute, forlorn trip to the depths of what it is to be young, muddled, with a crush on someone exactly like you. Not to mention Alexandre Desplat’s beautiful music that serves as your guide to a delightful stroll through the mind of a heartbroken child. 

(First published in MiD Day)

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Barfi - Not a Review

For those who are still reeling from the forced banality of Ek Tha Tiger but have room for a film that actually makes you feel something, may I recommend Barfi? Because Barfi is sweet without being sappy, funny without being corny, romantic without being schmaltzy. It’s perfect – just like the little ancient Indian treat that melts in your mouth.

To think that the gentleman who made Murder made Barfi boggles the mind. The film is refreshing not only for its gentle comic touches but for director Anurag Basu's refusal to overtly sentimentalize the protagonist’s physical disability. Homages are a plenty, there’s a splash of Chaplin, a dash of Jean Pierre Jeunet and a whiff of Blue Umbrella, but what really sets Barfi apart is its tender and engaging narrative that can make the most heartless and cynical prick smile. That Ranbir Kapoor is a fine actor is obvious; that he makes bold script choices is an understatement (no A-Lister would’ve taken Rocket Singh and Barfi); but here he totally owns the role of a deaf mute, delivering a colorful, heartbreaking performance that raises him way above the plasticky Khans and the Kumars. 

The story is about as uncomplicated as it can get, and the music, visuals and Ranbir’s performance are there for us to simply soak-in. In a simultaneously hilarious and tragic flashback we’re told of Barfi’s parents and the origins of his name. Fast forward two decades and the lad, whose lack of speech is compensated by a large heart and ability to effortlessly make everyone smile. Barfi falls for a girl, but there are complications, and not just the ones in basic communication. Meanwhile Barfi goofs around with the cops and becomes closer to his autistic childhood friend. To tell you any more of the story would be robbing you of the fun, but don’t expect a ham handed Bollywood style kitschy ending to the whole thing.

The film is a treasure trove of lovely moments, every minute packed with something to adore - whether it’s Barfi offering his invisible heart to Ileana and placing it at her feet, or failing clumsily at robbing a bank, or grabbing his autistic friend and driving off a trolley on the railway track. One scene in the rain where Barfi realizes that he’s just not good enough to marry the girl he likes ensures there’s not a dry eye in the theater. The only real bit of bother is the second half of the second half which feels slightly stretched; also there are moments post interval when Barfi becomes a wee bit predictable, but the writer-director tells his tale so well that familiarity becomes unimportant. 

Basu seems to possess a masterly gift for visual composition – we saw a bit of his artistry in the horrid Kites and Life in a Metro and in Barfi Ravi Varman’s camera seems to have a life of its own. The imagery in the film is not just pretty, it’s achingly beautiful. The other technical marvel is Priyanka Chopra who manages to not ham through her scenes – Basu focuses so frequently on Priyanka’s face in close-up that she sticks like a lens to your eye. Pritam, known for being the Ulhasnagar of music directors silences all his critics with some truly great music that can offer deep rewards to those who surrender to the film’s bittersweet tone. Ileana makes a welcome entry to Bollywood – she’s lovely and talented enough to not seem ridiculous in a white wig and makeup. Perhaps she could be the anti-Asin.

Too Long, Didn’t Read: Barfi is a brilliant, entertaining movie – lovingly old fashioned, always fun and often very funny. And heartbreaking. Go watch.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Movie Review: To Rome With Love

To Rome With Love can best be described as Tourism Porn, where writer director Woody Allen creates a lovely two hour long commercial for the great capital of Italy and invites you to visit. Beyond that, the film is a thin, mostly shallow and semi humorous ensemble comedy. It’s not the best Woody Allen picture, but is still a fun enough watch.

Going with the tradition of his previous few films, Allen rounds up a great cast including Jesse Eisenberg, Alec Baldwin, Penelope Cruz, Ellen Page, Greta Gerwig  and Roberto Benigni, and the ensemble is good enough to overcome a flimsy, slightly clichéd story.  Even the characters are quite familiar – the lovesick men and the quirky, slightly neurotic women, and Allen himself as his usual self. In a Roman hotel, a prostitute Anna (Cruz) mistakenly walks into the bedroom of a newlywed man (Alessandro Tiberi) who is forced to make her pose in front of his relatives as his wife. His real wife (Alessandra Mastronardi) meanwhile, in search of a salon finds herself on a movie set and is hit on by a famous Italian actor. Somewhere else a girl (Greta Gerwig) tells her live in boyfriend (Jesse Eisenberg) about the arrival of her sexually charged man-eating actress friend (Ellen Page), while the ghost of his future self (Alec Balwin) stands around him as the sneering voice of reason.  In another place, a retired opera director (Allen) finds the perfect opera singer in his daughter’s father-in-law, but it turns out the man can only sing well in the shower. Elsewhere, a boring everyday man (Roberto Benigni) suddenly becomes a chick magnet celebrity and the paparazzi hound him to ask mundane questions. All of this works as a breezy mélange, but not so much as a cohesive, intelligent story.

The subplot about the showering opera singer, though fun, is straight out of an episode of Flintstones (Barney sings in a bathtub). The Benigni subplot is the best among the lot, not just because it is funny but also because it is heartbreaking . Allen doesn’t really bother to tie up all the stories into one big conclusion, so it feels like a bunch of (pretty looking) short stories slapped together. This is no Midnight in Paris or even a shade of Annie Hall but Allen manages to squeeze in two or three outstanding scenes and fun banter on sexual politics in and out of marriage. Baldwin, with his raspy voice is at his best and gets to hurl the best lines of the movie. Not quite unmissable, but To Rome with Love has some nice moments, and would be best enjoyed on DVD over a glass of wine.

(First published in MiD Day)