Friday, April 26, 2013

Movie Review: Iron Man 3

By giving the keys of a massive superhero franchise to writer-director Shane Black, Marvel have not just restored one’s faith in threequels but have also proved that going ‘darker’ isn’t the only way to make the final chapter of a trilogy. Result: Iron Man 3 is bigger, funnier and more action packed than the previous two films put together.

Robert Downey Jr, at the top of his game is back as Tony Stark, who is now battling post-traumatic stress disorder after the events of The Avengers. A mysterious fundamentalist terrorist who calls himself The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) has emerged, wreaking havoc wherever he pleases. Also making an appearance are Botanist Maya Hanson (Rebecca Hall) who also happens to be Stark’s former one night stand acquaintance, and an ambitious, formerly crippled scientist Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce). Right from the opening scene set to Eiffel 65’s Blue Da Ba Dee it is clear that this one is different from the previous two Iron Man films. Jon Favreau took things a bit too seriously in part two and Shane Black hurls the residual mess in the incinerator to bring in a swanky new coat to the franchise. Film buffs are in for a gleeful ride as Black embellishes Iron Man 3 with shades of his Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Lethal Weapon when you least expect it. He makes all the main characters in the film wear the Iron Man suit, his villains are literally iron men and yet he drives home the themes of being cocooned in a suit refined enough to remain in the backdrop rather than resorting to dark brooding Dark Knight style.

Black’s greatest strength, however, is that he understands that a superhero film should feel like a superhero film rather than making a half assed point about humanizing the man behind the mask. There is a subplot featuring a Tony Stark obsessed kid teaming up with Stark himself to kick some baddie butt, and with this Black makes the film about his fans. This could’ve gone horribly wrong like Shazaam or become a cheesy Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie from the 90’s, but Black nails it perfectly. Johnny Depp failed to make things interesting in POC 4 by repeating the same shtick of the first three films and it seems like Downey Jr has taken note - he is as hilariously acerbic as ever but adds that subtle extra layer of sensitivity that makes him an endlessly interesting watch. Don Cheadle is the perfect Danny Glover to Downey’s Mel Gibson and an amusing allusion to Hollywood shootout clichés is preceded by a cameo by Shane Black himself.

There are plenty of problems, especially in the second half. Guy Pearce is basically an extended version of Peter Weyland in Prometheus and Rebecca Hall’s role has less treatment or runtime than an item number – both characters display inconsistency and were clearly given the axe in the cutting room to make the film more about Stark. Also, one can’t help but wonder why Stark doesn’t call his friends from SHIELD or the other Avengers to help him fight the bad guy. It doesn’t matter because the goodies are plenty, biggest of which is Ben Kingsley in one of the best roles of his career – he is absolute fun and even in April he deserves to be handed the best villain of the year trophy – you’ll have to watch the film to believe this. 

(First published in MiD Day)

Friday, April 19, 2013

Movie Review: The Host

We breathed a sigh of relief when the last Twilight movie left the theaters. We thought it was the end of the horrible, terrible teen centric romantic horse manure hitting movie screens. We thought it was the end of our suffering. We thought wrong. Say hello to The Host, a new film series from the mind of the genius who came up with Twilight.

Like Twilight, the book series The Host was targeted towards lost, lonely, juvenile preteens who found solace in reading about characters who were just like them. That series didn’t sell as well, but now with the Twilight movies solidifying author Stephanie Meyer’s brand, one can expect the books to fly off the shelves. Whether the film versions of The Host would sell tickets is another thing, because, as hard as it is to believe, it is actually even more horrendous than the Twilight movies.

The story is exactly the same as the Bella-Edward-Jacob love triangle, except with an unintentionally hilarious science fiction twist. Here we have a world where an alien invasion has resulted in otherworldly beings taking over every single human’s body, thereby making the Earth a clean, fresh, and kind utopia. A small group of uninfected humans remain, who fight against the invaders and strive to continue the human civilization. One of the humans is Melanie (Saoirse Ronan) who has recently been taken over by an alien being, and is now battling with the alien to take control over her body. The Twilight love triangle in this case is two men falling in love with the two entities in the one body.

The waxy bores Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner are outdone by the trio of moldy wood boxes in The Host. Sadly The Host isn’t funny enough to warrant a guilty pleasure of a watch, but it does contain one of the most inadvertently rib tickling scenes of all time, where the two boys kiss the girl one after the other to ascertain which of the two girls they are smooching. The most saddening thing about The Host isn’t the fact that stuff like this makes millions for Stephanie Meyer, but that it is directed by Andrew Niccol, who made Gattaca, one of the greatest, most imaginative and inspiring science fiction films of all time. The only explanation for him volunteering to go behind the cameras for this movie is a sadistic alien from another planet taking over his body and mind to unleash crap into our world. 

(First published in Mid Day)

Friday, April 12, 2013

Movie Review: The Place Beyond the Pines

Three years after the gut wrenching, brilliant Blue Valentine director Derek Cianfrance goes into ridiculously ambitious mode, and somehow ends up succeeding at the toughest portions while failing where you least expect him to. It’s a grand, massive Hollywood drama that showcases Cianfrance’s terrific artistic vision and ends up being iconic for the way it self-combusts.

Ryan Gosling, Eva Mendes, Bradley Cooper, Dane DeHaan, Ben Mendelsohn are cast in a sprawling storyline that spans fifteen years. It is difficult to talk about The Place Beyond the Pines without delving into spoilers, it is three movies in one, two of which are utterly brilliant. Cianfrance takes a whole new approach to the hackneyed father-son themes by amalgamating them with leitmotifs of fate and retribution. The first act is so well constructed you won’t believe it until you see it, the trouble is, it is so flawless that the events that succeed it pale in comparison. Ryan Gosling is one of the few actors who can effortlessly slip from toughness to vulnerability in a heartbeat, and can be interesting without actually doing anything. He uses that skill to incredible effect here. He plays a wayward motorcycle stunt driver who returns to his hometown and discovers that his onetime lover (Eva Mendes) and their infant son are now living with another man. Desperate to provide for his son, he quits his carnival job and becomes a car mechanic at a local garage, but when that turns out to be insufficient he is forced to loot banks and make his getaways using his skills as a biker.

The role sounds similar to the one in Drive but Gosling doesn’t repeat his performance here, and Cianfrance’s story takes a different route altogether. Bradley Cooper plays a cop who chases the renegade biker, he doles out his best performance to date as a conniving, remorse filled public hero. The superb Dane DeHaan rises above the material in the final third although his character is all too familiar – he played the same disturbed kid from a broken home with daddy issues in Chronicle, and he’s Harry Osborn in the next SpiderMan film. Cianfrance channels his inner Terrence Malick at times, with moody floating camerawork and otherworldly music to boot. More importantly, he doesn’t cheapen the movie by Hollywoodizing the heist and chase scenes. In the final hour Cianfrance bites off more than he can chew, he tries to say a lot without being entirely sure as to what to say. He beautifully juxtaposes and swaps the hero and the antihero in the second act, but dabbling in the same themes over and over again in the third act comes off as needless spoonfeeding. 

(First published in MiD Day)

Movie Review: Oblivion

The first question that arises after watching Oblivion is simply: who was this movie made for? It isn’t for science fiction buffs, because it is way too clichéd for them, and it isn’t for those looking for an action entertainer because it is neither action packed nor entertaining. The big budget Tom Cruise tent pole pic tries to be an epic, but ends up becoming an epic failure.

Oblivion is directed by Joseph Kosinski and is based on his own graphic novel. And just like his previous film Tron Legacy it exudes incredible, sweeping visuals with absolutely atrocious plotting and characters. Kosinski has made a number of great commercials, like the Gears of War ad, and it is a mystery how a filmmaker with such a stellar background could continually churn out good looking bad films. The writing here is just terrible, and shockingly the writing credits include William Monahan (The Departed) and Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine, Toy Story 3). The Earth has been shredded due to a war between humans and aliens. Tom Cruise and Andrea Risenborough are a pseudo husband-wife team whose previous memories have been wiped out by a mysterious corporation. They're employed as scavengers to monitor and bring back resources from the post-apocalyptic wasteland before joining the rest of the human race. Things take a turn when Cruise finds the woman from his dreams crash landing in an escape shuttle, and discovers that the world he lives in may not be the way it seems.

The plot might work as a harmless graphic novel but certainly not as a film. There is literally nothing in Oblivion that hasn’t been done and re-done before in other, better movies. Kosinski bores us by repackaging tropes from The Matrix, Planet of the Apes, Total Recall, I am Legend, Artificial Intelligence and Cruise even throws in a bit of Top Gun in there. Even those with significant patience levels will be left annoyed because the hour-long buildup only leads to a frustrating, lumbering love triangle melodrama instead of decent escapist action entertainment. By the third act Kosinski is completely clueless about what the movie is supposed to be, one moment he’s busy making a sci fi summer actioner (and failing) and the next he’s indulging in indulgent, somber Solaris and To the Wonder cocktail drama (and failing). Even Morgan Freeman, who makes an entry as an older version of Morpheus is wasted in an unintentionally funny role. The clean white and blue visuals, though derived from various video games are really pleasing to the eye, but the only real draw of Oblivion is that it puts the incredibly talented Shadow Dancer star Andrea Risenborough in the spotlight, giving us hope that she finds better films in the future. 

(First published in MiD Day)

Friday, April 5, 2013

Movie Review: The Call

The most unsettling things about watching The Call is neither its clichéd Hollywood twists nor the sheer lack of originality, but the fact that it is directed by Brad Anderson, one of the most strikingly original indie filmmakers in Hollywood. If you’ve seen Buried, Phone Booth, Cellular, Gothika, then you’ve seen the entirety of The Call.

A surly mishmash of thriller, horror and unintentional comedy genres, The Call stars Halle Berry in yet another role that questions the mental stability of her agent. Jordan Turner (Berry) is a 911 call operator who receives a call from a panic stricken teenager (Abigail Breslin) who has been kidnapped and held in the boot of a speeding car by a child killer. Turner is tasked with heroically helping the kid escape, while simultaneously juggling her repressed memories of the last time this had happened. The tones of Cellular and Buried are fused to an unholy mess as the two protagonists try and outsmart the villain who zips the car cross country through freeways.

Anderson, who made a name for himself with incredibly smart, nuanced, creepy and finely detailed films such as Session 9 and The Machinist completely eschews logic, believability and fun with a host of hare brained plot points. The kidnapper drives a bright red car making himself the exact opposite of the nondescript silent killer he is supposed to be. The kidnapper also constantly manages to murder people in broad daylight just aft of the highway without being seen. The police are shown zooming around in choppers and cars with flashy cuts yet they fail to locate the position of the phone and even miss spotting a bright red car on a highway. It all leads to a clumsy finale that suddenly changes gears from a cop chase thriller to Silence of the Lambs style horror, except without the innovation and class of that movie. Worse, the filmmakers confuse shock value with torture porn as the film becomes an increasingly ugly watch - a little girl is stripped off her clothes and the killer is shown doing degrading things. Why the creative team felt this would entertain crowds or stand out as a fine piece of filmmaking remains a mystery.

(First published in MiD Day

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Movie Review: Jurassic Park 3D

The first reaction of watching Jurassic Park on the big screen after so many years is sheer awe, for the fact that even after twenty years, the special effects in the film look better than ninety percent of effects-heavy films made today. It is a testament to Spielberg’s incredible vision and Stan Winston's creative genius that revisiting the dino park after two decades still gives you goosebumps.

Like last year’s Titanic, Hollywood throws in another landmark film in the 3D factory for a re-release. Is Jurassic Park 3D a selfish cash grab by the movie industry? Absolutely. Is it worth the trip to the theater? Only if the theater has an IMAX screen. The average young moviegoer would probably enjoy the cheap thrill of T-Rex's teeth snapping at him through the glasses. But the hard truth is that there aren’t any scenes in Jurassic Park that truly benefit from the 3D - depth of field is the most important factor for creating a good 3D scene and this film has very little of it. Back in 1993 Spielberg chose to revolutionize the special effects industry by making stunningly lifelike dinosaurs run around, but his shot compositions consisted of flat images, so turning them into 3D doesn’t really add anything great to the experience.

Those who saw the film two decades ago went home carrying dozens and dozens of great memories of the film, it is literally one the greatest visual spectacles anyone has ever set their eyes upon. Sadly you’ll be hard pressed to find even one extraordinary moment that is improved by the 3D conversion. Again, this isn’t because the animatronics and CGI look dated – the effects are still utterly fantastic. There are a couple of mildly fun scenes, like the T-Rex’s entry by causing ripples in the glass of water, and the stunning vistas of the fictional Isla Nublar island. The one scene that comes closest to actually being better in 3D is the one where the Tyrannosaurus chases the jeep, as seen through a rear view mirror that says ‘objects in the mirror may be closer than they appear’. The bad news is that the lush, colorful imagery of Jurassic Park is turned dim, dull grey due to the 3D. This was inevitable, because remastering the film for 3D meant readjustment of the contrast and saturation, the 1993 color grading would not bode well with today’s digital screens. Overall your enjoyment of the visual thrills would depend on how much you dig to see a shirtless Jeff Goldblum in 3D.

If you discount the 3D, re-watching Jurassic Park on a giant screen is highly recommended. No amount of Blu Ray content on massive high def home TVs can come even close to what the real stuff offers. Watch it, give yourself a chance to realize the film’s greatest strength isn’t the VFX, but the superbly crafted characters who talk hokum science and argue the merits of defying god and nature by creating dinosaurs without sounding the least bit corny.

(First published in MiD Day)