Friday, December 12, 2014

Review: Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Two years ago the first Hobbit movie turned out to be a crushing disappointment. No one expected Peter Jackson to deliver something so lukewarm and bloated, and it was clear that cramming in three movies was never going to be the best solution for quality control. The second movie was a minor improvement, because it cut down the running time and Smaug was truly a visual and aural spectacle. It still wasn’t overall a very good movie though. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is the best of the three prequels, but that’s not saying much. And it probably feels like a better film mostly because the expectations from this movie were very low.

Five Armies picks up immediately where the previous movie left off – Smaug (once again voiced by Cumberbatch’s most excellent vocal cords), pissed off by the presence of Bilbo and the dwarves sets off to destroy Lake Town. Back in the Lonely Mountain Thorin, the leader of the group is seduced by the gigantic reserves of gold and the Arkenstone in Erebor.

It seems like the perfect setup for a huge finale – the problem is, it’s all very anti climactic. Smaug gets killed too fast. It’s quite frustrating, because we’ve been teased with Smaug’s buildup for two whole movies and he’s put down in a matter of ten minutes in this movie. The focus jarringly shifts to the Elves and the humans joining hands to attack Erebor, because Thorin refuses to give them their share of the gold. Thorin in retaliation calls a cousin and his whole army of dwarves to fight against the Elves and the men. Meanwhile Azog rounds up a huge army of his Orcs to attack everyone, making Erebor seem like a mixer grinder. It’s all supposed to be epic, and many of the ‘attack’ moments are quite rousing, but they all end in cringe inducingly limp ways. A few new creatures are briefly shown, and suddenly disappear. The Orcs organize an army of bats in various buildup scenes, and they’re taken care of off screen. It’s strange and it feels like Jackson had a lot of will power at the beginning and suddenly lost all interest in making the film.

The problems from the previous two films carry over to an even higher extent in the third film. None of those seven (or was it eight or nine) dwarves have any distinct personality, it’s impossible to distinguish who’s who, and when something bad happens to them you just can’t care. Combine that with a horrible love story between one of the dwarves and the Elf Tauriel and you have a melodramatic disaster on your hands. The trilogy’s core problem has always been the underwritten dwarves, and Jackson’s choice to constantly bring in characters, settings and the nostalgia from the previous trilogy than to make a new world here. LOTR worked because of its unforgettable characters, and it’s the opposite here. We knew in The Fellowship of the Ring itself that the dwarves ended up dead in the mines of Moria. Imagine how terrific this trilogy would have been had Jackson focused on the story of these dwarves rather than use them as placeholders to showcase the same people from the previous movies.

It’s also unclear as to whose eyes the Hobbit films are being told from. The film is called The Hobbit but it’s not about him. On one hand there’s Bilbo who is supposed to anchor the films but he’s shoved aside to bring in an LOTR element just when he gets interesting. The POV of the dwarves is nonexistent because they hardly matter. Plus there’s Gandalf doing his own thing, and the Elves too, and the humans as well, none of which is explored well enough to have any significant impact. They all just go through the motions in their green screen boxes, participating in the same narrative they did twelve years ago.

The only thing more frustrating than Jackson’s choice of telling a similar story again, is by telling it with a ton of fake looking CGI. It’s hands down, the biggest, most annoying element of these films. It’s been twelve years since the last LOTR movie and the visuals in those films look more real, more immersive than any of these films that have a threefold budget. What does work in this movie is the wonderful Martin Freeman, only because he’s the only one in the movie who seems to be in it for the story, not for the cash grab.

Gaffes aside, The Battle of the Five Armies is a harmless action movie. It’s fun in a few places and does a lot of fan service for those who’ve read the books. It’s just forgettable, but certainly unavoidable for those who’ve seen the previous five movies. Jackson treats this property as his precious, let’s just hope someone takes away the ring from him and he gets back in form with Tintin 2.    






(First published in Mid Day)

Movie Review: The Babadook

The reason why most horror movies are looked down upon (and rightly so) is that they have forgotten what the term ‘horror movie’ means. Most filmmakers don’t realize what turns a human being into a horror film buff. They assume horror means either shock or cheap thrills or gore. That is not what a good horror movie is about. What a good horror movie is about is creating a sense of unrelenting tension and uneasiness in you. Which is why the best horror movies are the ones which are more ‘creepy’ than ‘horrific’.

Films like Sinister, James Wan’s recent offerings, The Orphanage and even The Woman in Black all walked the tricky tightrope between creepy and horrific. The new Australian movie The Babadook nails both the elements to delightful perfection.

Directed with stunning precision and sensitivity by debutant Jennifer Kent, The Babadook is spine tingling hair-raising razor sharp entertainment. The plot presents itself as something very simple: a single mother (Esse Davis) who has lost her husband a few years ago has a hard time raising her increasingly disturbed kid. She lives in a fairly large house made of creaking floors, gloomy lights and dark corners. Sleep is hard to come by because her son is showing signs of sociopathic behavior. Things get even worse when she finds a children’s cutout book named ‘The Babadook’, which carries an eerie poem that warns them of a murderous Mr Babadook creeping in at night when you sleep.

The only way this scenario could transcend its clichés is by offering something more than you expect it to, and rendering the thrills in a manner that don’t feel hollow. Luckily, The Babadook does just that. There are no cheap jump thrills – the film actually feeds you the scares by making them probable (shudder). Mr Babadook himself is rather iconic – the way he moves and sounds is very satisfyingly alarming. The moment someone gets a phone call, a croaking voice says ‘Baaabaaa Dook Dook Dook’ and the rear section of whatever you’re wearing is moistened immediately.

You won’t see the ending coming, and even if you do you’re in luck – because Kent’s direction of the familiar elements is stunning. When a character is cowering in bed you know there’s something freaky above the sheets, but you can’t help squeal in fear because of the way Kent shoots the scene. When kids fall off a height she doesn’t show them dropping on the ground – the scene just cuts before you can react, thereby taking your breath away. Kent also nails the atmosphere and sound design to create constant tension in the film. She has assisted Lars Von Trier previously, so apart from the technical stuff, she’s also learned how to portray the intersection between the themes of grief and terror from the best.

You also don’t expect good acting from horror films so it’s great that Esse Davis delivers an absolutely powerhouse performance here, perhaps one of the best of the year. A sleep deprived single mother is the biggest cliché that an actor can get but Davis is impossible to look away from. When her character veers between uneasiness, melancholy and dread, you do too. Her character is itself very well written, offering a female standpoint that is seldom explored by Hollywood. She has no friends, her closest family member has a valid reason to be distant from her, ironically her problematic son who is the root cause of the depression in her life is the only one who genuinely loves her, and there’s a ghost in the house trying to kill both of them. So how does someone like this realistically deal with such a scenario? Call an exorcist? No - Kent goes much farther than the surface. Funnily, the scenes where you don’t see The Babadook work better than the ones when you do. It’s sort of like the case in Mama, where the fear of the unknown is taken away from you the moment the monster shows up. Most fun is the book itself that is featured in the movie – it’s beautifully designed, and really really freaky.

The Babadook has been garnering acclaim during its festival rounds the whole year, so we’re lucky it’s in Indian theaters. If you waste the opportunity and don’t see this film, you’ll hear three knocks on your bedroom door at night. Dook Dook Dook. Chances are, he’s looking at you reading this review, right behind you.






(First published in Mid Day)

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Blu Ray Reviews: Godzilla and Edge of Tomorrow



Remember in Jurassic Park, where the dinosaurs appeared only for a sum total of fifteen minutes, and it was still entertaining as hell because there was non stop suspense and a sense of intrigue and discovery? Godzilla is that kind of movie. Some might be pissed because it’s that kind of movie.

As for me, I’m very glad that this is a Godzilla movie with a lot of heart, soul and a fairly decent helping of intelligence. The biggest surprise, however, is that fact that Godzilla is not just a Godzilla movie, but it is also the best Superhero movie of the summer. The 1998 Godzilla can only be enjoyed for its unmitigated awfulness. Director Gareth Edwards knows that this is 2014, and he is aware of the previous Godzilla’s problems, and he takes on this project with the passion of a die-hard fan. If you’re a Godzilla junkie, this movie is your early Diwali gift. Like in his previous micro budget film Monsters, Edwards turns Godzilla into a road trip film instead of a standard issue disaster porno. Also like in Monsters, he puts most of the monster mayhem in the backdrop of the character buildup. It’s a bold choice and although it doesn’t work as well as it did in Monsters, it’s still an interesting new direction for a summer blockbuster and you’ve got to hand it to both Legendary and Edwards for having the balls to do so.

While Godzilla's roar was terrific in a movie theater, the Blu Ray offers some seriously high visual quality. On a 40 inch TV this DVD will blow you away, especially in the halo jump sequence. None of the goodies are are great as the movie, and neither is the commentary, but it's good bonus content to have for fans of the film.

When I watched Tom Cruise in a mech suit punching aliens in the face with one hand and spraying machine gun ammo with the other, I had just one thought in my mind – why was Edge of Tomorrow marketed so poorly? Because Edge of Tomorrow is a terrific film, and perhaps the most satisfying action movie I’ve seen this year. Directed by Doug Liman who earlier made the first Bourne movie, Edge of Tomorrow is a mashup of Groundhog Day, Starship Troopers and Source Code with a dash of Minority Report. Cruise’s previous movie Oblivion was also a mashup of various sci fi films but it came across as clichéd and unoriginal. Edge of Tomorrow, on the other hand is packaged beautifully. It takes all the positive elements from the aforementioned movies and becomes a different beast altogether.

Liman also does away with the origin of the aliens – it’s a straightforward story – they’re here and they’re dangerous and they’re at war with us. The aliens themselves are uniquely designed, and although you can’t fully appreciate the CGI in 3D they’re still pretty intense. The mech suit is very cool and the characters’ movements in them display some serious attention to detail. The only thing better than watching the film in the theater is seeing it on Blu Ray. It's one of the rare films that kind of improves if you see it with your friends on home video, not just because on a smaller screen the visual quality improves dramatically but also because this has become a cult favourite.


Maleficent Blu Ray Review

'Maleficent' has amazing visuals. They're beautifully dreamy and intricate. The 'otherworldly' elements are presented with green meadows, streams and frolicking fascinating creatures. In short, some of the imagery will blow you away, even in 3D. Surprisingly, the story of 'Maleficent' isn't too shabby either – it's an interesting new take on the villain from Sleeping Beauty. I didn't think I wanted an origin story of this particular character, but when I began watching the film, I understood there was a lot of potential in fleshing out a great story.

And to her credit, writer Linda Woolverton goes pretty deep and dark, way beyond the Disney audience of kids. The reason why 'Maleficent' becomes evil is brutal – a boy cuts off her wings after giving her a poisoned drink. And the film makes no effort to hide the metaphor of rape – when Angelina Jolie wakes up in pain, she renders a relevant raw emotion. This is pretty unsettling stuff for a kids film. And I wanted more of this. It's where the disappointment begins, because after this point, the film just stops being the out-of-the-box idea that it set out to be. It becomes a generic kids film, one which even kids won't really dig because of the brutal rape scene. All they're expected to do is to gawp at the lovely CGI on display.

Directed by Robert Stromberg, 'Maleficent' feels like it was forcefully dumbed down by the studio to appeal to wider audiences. Stromberg has done the visual effects for Alice in Wonderland and some of the biggest VFX films over the past two decades. Stromberg has everything at hand, but the way he executes the story and the technology is grotesque. All his actors speak in exaggerated 'kiddie movie' tones and the narrative is all over the place. There are three pixies that are magnificently animated but are more irritating than the racist robots from Transformers. There is voiceover to overexplain the already overexplained stuff happening on the screen. Like in 'Frozen', this film tries to subvert the fairy tale tropes, but the way it does it makes it hard for us to adore the film. Unlike the haunting Lana Del Ray song accompanying it, the film is jarringly loud. The story becomes predictable soon enough, and it's a real drab waiting for the characters to do the inevitable. The cast is fine, although Sharlto Copley once again plays the same bearded crazy character from Elysium. Jolie reminds us that if anyone in Hollywood needs an evil woman with a freezing stare, she's available for work. The film is definitely better than the misbegotten Snow White and the Huntsman and the other recent fairytales trying to have an adult spin, but it surely isn't a classic.

The Blu Ray transfer is gorgeous to say the least - it's an even better experience on the small screen in pristine HD without the jarring 3D glasses. The pack has the usual set of goodies including behind the scenes footage and commentary which is passably interesting. Although the Blu Ray is recommended not for the features but for the benefit of kids at home - after all that's the target audience.


Sunday, October 5, 2014

Nitpicking Haider


Haider was terrific. Vishal Bhardwaj continues to demonstrate why he is the most exciting filmmaker in India.

It’s healthy to judge a movie for what it is, and it’s not fair to criticise a movie for what it COULD HAVE been. But then this is VB and we’re movie buffs so nitpicking is inevitable. As Varun said, the things the film did were way more important and fascinating than the things it failed to do. But still, it would have been a BLOODY MASTERPIECE if these nuts and bolts were tighter. Coherence and consistency were missing. Lots of highs and then some abrupt lows.

So here is some nitpicking:

1) Haider's breaking point of madness was not well defined. We just see him sitting at his father’s grave in a long shot. The next time we see him he's already bald and bearded clowning in front of a crowd at Lal chowk. Hamlet PRETENDS to be mad at that stage. In this movie it doesn't come across that Haider is pretending. So on an acting standpoint Shahid didn't deliver fully in the scene, although he gets much better later on.

2) Haider's paranoia and craziness are also very surface level. Hamlet spends a lot of time talking to himself, saying crazy shit. Haider doesn't do that. Sure there is quirk, but it’s mostly forced quirk, and some of it was heavy handed too. I would have liked 15 more minutes delving into the madness descent of Haider. 

3) The lack of madness is a direct result of the sense of ambiguity being sorely missing in the film. Everything is literal and real, unfortunately. Take for example the Gravediggers ‘So jao’ sequence – it is glorious and bizarre. Until the gravediggers start pulling out guns and shooting I thought Haider was hallucinating them. That stretch before the shootout should have been much longer. It could have helped expand upon Haider’s madness, and given us a chance to wonder WTF is going on. As a film buff, the thrill of trying to figure out if something is real or not, and picking out metaphors is unmatched.

4) Incidentally those two mysterious quirky Gravediggers with guns who kill everyone in a shootout in the end, are a repeat of the two mysterious quirky Bong goons with guns who kill everyone in a shootout in the end of Kaminey.

5) The lack of ambiguity goes for the character of Roohdar as well. As pointed out by NotsoSnob, it would have been terrific if Roohdar were ambiguous, naam se, story se, barf me jam gaya and all, full ghostly. Some of the best lines in the film belong to Irrfan, and he just kills it with his eyes. 10 more minutes of an ambiguous Irrfan wouldn’t have hurt.

6) The acting is great, but most of the characters in the movie are one note. They don’t surprise. What they are at the beginning of the movie, they're the same by the end as well. That includes Tabu with her beautifully tragic tear filled puffy eyes. Why didn’t these characters have a second dimension? The element of unpredictability and surprise is what I really missed, and that wasn't the case in Maqbool and Omkara.  

7) Shazarch pointed out that the romantic song in the second half between Haider and Arshia, although fairly decent to listen to, was totally unnecessary and jarringly out of place. It kicks in right after a very tense scene. Clearly it was VB pandering to the commercial audience here.

8) They took out Hamlet's abuse towards Ophelia completely. I was half expecting Haider to force himself upon Arshia instead of serenading romantically with her in that song. Why? Because by that point Hamlet has already gone beyond romance and sympathy - he is an abusive asshole. Like in the original source material if Haider abused or raped her it would have justified Arshia losing her mind. Imagine - the one person she stood up for and loved abuses her and kills her family. It would have added more weight to her suicide. And the scene where Haider sees her dead body would have had more weight as well, because his guilt would have been tenfold.

9) In fact that section between that romantic song and Bismil is where the movie sags. It does pick up later, but I wish that portion was either tightened, or dedicated towards Haider losing it, or Roohdar. 

10) The scene where Liyaqat (Aamir Bashir) gets a phone call in his office was terrible. Very Bhandarkar way of showing that he is a 'corporate person'. Even his character could have used more screen time/fleshing out. 

11) In the end the Indian army is credited with saving a lot of people in the Kashmir floods. This was only done so because the movie mildly portrays the Indian army in negative light, with respect to treatment of Kashmiris and terrorists. The text in the end was a lame way to say 'oh don’t worry the Indian army does good things also'. Of course this is a country which can’t accept anything remotely out of the box, so VB adding that text is not surprising. And look what happened – some effete idiots revolted anyway with #BoycottHaider. 

12) The Kashmir politics ‘seems’ ballsy because they showed the Mama 2 Interrogation Center, but is actually surface level. It doesn’t give any deep insightful message about the political wrangling in Kashmir. So the text in the end about the ignominy of Kashmir due to terrorism doesn't make much of an impact (at least for me). But I may be wrong, because this bloke was offended. Perhaps it would have been better had VB just done away with explaining anything via text. Moreover the censors handed the film 41 cuts, so a lot of what was lost probably hurt the film. In any case the movie isn’t about Kashmir politics, it’s about a dysfunctional family surrounded by Kashmir politics. What the movie IS ballsy about is the extent to which VB went with the dynamics between Haider and Ghazala.

13) 'Aao na' was absent in the film. They tease the guitar strings so many times, but the song doesn't play at all. Kind of frustrating since it's such a kickass track. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Blu Ray Review: Captain America The Winter Soldier



There were a lot of problems in Captain America The First Avenger. It was way too jingoistic and far too silly to maintain its façade of seriousness. The visual effects too weren’t very interesting – they were just merely adequate. The villain was a great actor playing an underdeveloped character. And the hero was only mildly more charismatic than the guy who played Thor.

A lot has happened since that movie. The Avengers took the world by storm. Marvel is now a bigger, more confident company, and it shows in Captain America The Winter Soldier. Winter Soldier takes every single gaffe of the first movie and rectifies it with glee. This is a completely different movie, and to an extent a brave one too considering its style and themes. And it sure as hell is more exciting and better arranged than the Thor sequel. It’s also better than the hit-and-miss Iron Man 3. That’s right – Captain America has well and truly arrived and Tony Stark is going to have to make way for the shield in the Avengers sequel.

While the first movie was a sort of ‘Amurica Roxx’ episode, the new film is a paranoia thriller with a hint of espionage drama. Steve Rogers (once again played wonderfully by Chris Evans) is now digesting the post Avengers world of SHILED and trying to come to terms with his ‘present’. Things take a turn when an Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) comes aboard the team with plans to turn it into a weaponized big brother central organization. It could seem like a ham fisted attempt at echoing the Edward Snowden incident, but it sure is a lot of fun. There’s also some funny camaraderie between Rogers and his new friend Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie, who turns into something cool later on in the film). Moreover, the visual effects have taken a gigantic leap forward – some of the action set pieces are bigger than the previous movies in the canon. I won’t describe any partiular set piece, and I’d recommend you don’t see any trailers of the film either - because the action here is different, and more interesting than the other Avengers universe films.

What actually makes them interesting is that they’re placed to move the plot forward, not just for mindless eye candy – even though there’s plenty of that too. And directors Joe and Anthony Russo deserve full credit for understanding that the Marvel films need to go in a new direction. The Winter Soldier chracter is handled pretty well, even though you don’t need to be very smart to guess his identity. Comic book fans will be pleased too for the way the film sets up the foundation for future movies. The film is very good, and Marvel’s confidence proves it – they’re unwilling to move the release date of the third film, which coincides with the Batman-Superman movie. It’s Marvel vs DC, and after watching this movie I can confirm that Marvel is winning. So bring it on.

The Blu Ray render is fantastic - the visuals are mildly better than what we saw in the theater, as is the sound. There is some audio commentary from the filmmakers and a bunch of goodies including behind the scenes footage, making of featurette, deleted scenes and even bloopers. For a Marvel fan who already knows most of the trivia behind the movie it's not a big deal but for a newcomer it's a decent purchase.


Friday, August 8, 2014

Movie Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

It’s easy to be a fan of the Space Opera genre. After being exposed through childhood and adulthood with the likes of Star Wars and Star Trek one begins to wonder when the next Space Opera Adventure movie would arrive. One that isn't toned down for the kids or dumbed down for an easy cash grab.

With the arrival of James Gunn’s terrific Guardians of the Galaxy, Space Opera fans have a gigantic reason to cheer. Not only is Guardians one of the year's most exciting and entertaining movies, but is indeed the Star Wars for this generation.

Director Gunn must be one hell of a Marvel fan and comic book geek. He has followed up the half a dozen Avengers universe films and delivered a relatively unknown property with such gloriously fantastic style. A typical hack job by, say, Michael Bay, is a hollow two-hour light show pretending to be a summer blockbuster. Guardians of the Galaxy is considerably more than that.

Gunn’s film is candy for hardcore Marvel fanboys, while still managing to keep the newcomers glued to their seats. There are dozens of action sequences, all of which are kinetic and thrilling. A new creature or beautiful otherworldly space landscape is offered every five minutes, and each one is more impressive than the previous one. When the film isn't bowling you over with its awesome visuals, it serves a barrage of laughs via its extremely fun characters. Gunn had deconstructed the superhero genre in his dark comedy Super and he takes it a notch further in this film. In this day of CGI tech and glut of superhero films it's not enough to simply destroy a city at the end of the movie as a grand finale. Gunn seems fully aware of this and he treats characters more importantly than the numerous big money shots. The combination of sincere emotion, huge spectacle and a real sense of wonder and adventure is what makes Guardians so much more than a superhero movie.

We have Star Lord - a goofy but heroic human sucked into an intergalactic war; Gamora – an alien orphan assassin; Drax – a hulking badass who laughs manically; Rocket Racoon – a mean snarky raccoon with a love for firing rockets at people who piss him off; and Groot – a lovable tree like humanoid who can kick some copious amounts of ass with his branch-limbs. They’re all bizarre, completely mismatched characters, and the film milks their mismatched-ness to hilarious levels. They bicker, they fight, they punch each other in the face, but ultimately they realize that they need to stick together if they want to save their respective worlds.

The big ‘assemble’ in The Avengers was one epic scene. But in Guardians the assembly is fleshed out over the course of the movie, the conflicts between the characters timed and woven around to perfection. That gives you a chance to dive into the characters, to understand them and ultimately fall in love with them. And yet, there’s the other bonus effect of the film – The Avengers took four previous origin films to culminate into one giant spectacle, and the effect was glorious. In Guardians the starting point is on the scale of The Avengers, so good luck dousing your goosebumps.

It helps that the folks playing the heroes are so cool. Chris Pratt welds together the heroic suaveness of Indiana Jones and the goofiness of Andy Dwyer. Bradley Cooper spits sarcasm in his Rocket Raccoon – he’s pretty much the meanest superhero we’ve seen. Gamora and Drax are ruthless in their own ways. It’s so great to see these people trample over the perceived notion of superheroes having to be broody and kind hearted and overtly nice to everyone. They might be the Guardians of the Galaxy, but these guys don’t give a shit if they don’t want to. And it’s great that Marvel chose to be brave about this and offer heroes who, to quote Peter Serafinowicz in the film, are a bunch of a-holes.

The villains are equally cool - Ronan (played by Lee Pace) is pretty scary to look at, Nebula (Karen Gilan) is pure evil, and Thanos (voiced by Josh Brolin) also makes an appearance. The minor characters like John Reily as a corspman, Michael Rooker as a bandit and Benocio Del Toro as The Collector are all fun as well, and they’ll no doubt have bigger roles to play in the sequels.

With this huge array of characters and landscapes the universe created in Guardians is vast. Marvel continues to close the gap between the Avengers and the Guardians, and it’s insane to think of what we’ll get in the future. It’s not often that we get adrenaline, heart and humor rolled into one cohesive, iconic epic. And once the film is over, you’ll know the fun has really just begun.






(First published in Firstpost)

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Blu Ray Review: The Lego Movie



This movie cannot be quantified in a simple review because it is one of the most enjoyable films I have ever seen. There are Batman, Superman, Gandalf, Dumbledore, Wonder Woman and Shaquille O Neal fighting together in this film. And Bert Macklin is the hero who leads them all. Superman and Green Lantern are voiced by Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill respectively. The former superhero is too cool to hang out with the latter. This is one of the, if not the most gorgeous film ever made. The animation is groundbreaking - the Lego Characters move in Lego motion, and they have different frame rates than their backdrops.

There is a Lego ocean in the film and it’s a landmark in CGI. The ocean is a vast collage of blue Lego blocks that flow individually to give the illusion of water. Insane. The film is so engrossing, imaginative and supercharged it feels like being inside a Lego game that a kid is playing with. You won’t believe this until you see it. Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the makers of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and 21 Jump Street are comedy geniuses. They really get hipster culture and are the only filmmakers to have internet memes and hipster culture jokes instead of pop culture references that are found in most movies. 

Lord and Miller are also the kings of satire. The self-parodying comedy of the film is bone crushingly hilarious. The film has a song titled ‘Everything is awesome’ that pokes fun at generic pop songs in kids’ films, and it slowly, somehow becomes catchy in itself. This film has a severely awesome resolution of the centuries old hero-villain conflict that you will never see coming. Despite the constant laughs, the dazzling visuals and the thrilling action the film’s greatest strength is its charming, surprisingly deep and thoughtful story.

On Blu Ray the experience is still amazing. The quality of the animation is top class and the transfer from film to DVD is stunning. If you liked the film in theaters the animation on Blu Ray on your TV will blow you away even more. The special features include director and star commentaries, behind the scenes outtakes and a cool little 'bricks eye view' of Emmet's adventures. Well worth the price. 


Friday, July 18, 2014

Review: Begin Again

Back in 2006 John Carney gifted us the super romantic Once. The film went on to win an Oscar for best song and turned people (read: me) into weepy romantics with its winningly moving tone. Eight years later Carney is back with Begin Again which, surprisingly, is also brilliant despite Carney jumping from his indie roots to the mainstream space.

Begin Again follows the same structure of Once where two broken people meet over music and develop a strong bond, unsure of whether it’s love or infatuation, or sheer coincidence. In this case Mark Ruffalo is superbly cast as a drunken, divorced, down and out formerly famous music producer who gets fired from his job, and meets the ultimate musician and ticket to recovery in the form of Keira Knightley. The two jam over the music they create and tumble into each others’ lives, often reflecting over their pasts. Yes it’s the exact same formula as Once, but it sure as hell is beautifully played out.

This film is gorgeous. It’s pure unadulterated romance. Not manipulative romanticised bullshit like Nicholas Sparks, but real romance. There's also a tinge of dysfunctionality thrown in, and both aspects are fleshed out extremely well. Whether you’re on a date, or watching it with friends, or seeing it alone, Begin Again lifts you up and sways you around. A large credit credit goes to the awesome soundtrack that ranges from bittersweet chords to Arcade Fire style hipster pop-rock. The songs themselves are scattered throughout the film like in a Bollywood movie, but they serve a purpose within the narrative. I’ll leave it to you to discover why the songs were placed in the film, but I can tell you it’s a fun, and a rather hilarious plot device.

The swell writing and direction would not have mattered without the excellent cast. Ruffalo continues to prove his range, and he just disappears into his character – he’s hilarious in the funny scenes, and likable in the tough ones. It’s ballsy of him to not be a movie star and be a character instead. Knightley, who isn’t known much for her acting chops exudes one too many emotions at times but is still pretty good, even relatable. The people in this movie are real, not contrived 'movie people'. It's what makes the film honest and organic. The film also does a good job of not being preachy about relationships, and ends on the most perfect note. Seeing it once is just not enough, so by the time you’re done reading this I’ll already be at the movie theater, ready for the experience to begin again.






(First published in MiD Day)

Saturday, July 12, 2014

10 Reasons why you should watch Dawn of the Apes

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is, quite simply, one of the best, if not the best film I’ve seen this year. So instead of a review I’ll give you ten quick reasons why you should rush to your nearest theater to catch it.

1) The sequel improves over the already decent Rise of the Planet of the Apes in every single way. It looks better, is written with much more nuance, directed with much more confidence and even cast better.

2) This is not just a cash grab Hollywood sequel. There is actual character development in the film, and at most times it doesn’t even feel like a Hollywood blockbuster – it is much more than that.

3) The motion capture CGI is a technological breakthrough. Every drop of water on every follicle of hair on the apes is stunning. Their eyes are mesmerizing. Their movements and the level of realism are jaw dropping. They’re in fact much more real than actual reality.

4) There has never ever been a character like Caesar in cinema. This is a CGI anti hero who commands more screen presence and expressive nuance than the human actors in the film. To think that a computer graphics rendered entity is better fleshed out than actual actors is mind boggling.

5) The film is more about the apes than about the humans. But this is not a national geographic documentary – this is a stunning character based drama that somehow manages to make the apes interesting.

6) In a movie featuring apes there is actual conflict between the characters. Conflict between the apes, between the apes and the humans, and between the human themselves. The friction between Caesar and his lieutenant Koba is epic.

7) There is a good dose of action. But there is a bigger dose of emotional plotting as well. You feel for the apes. A couple of scenes could even make you cry, and you won’t believe you’re wiping your tears for apes.

8) Matt Reeves’ direction is glorious to behold. His control over the material is solid.

9) Michael Giacchino’s music is hair raising and powerful. Even in the big dramatic scenes, or in a scenario where there is a lot of noise, the music is subtle, which makes it sort of unique.

10) This is clearly the best sequel since The Dark Knight, and dare I say, as good. It’s best enjoyed in 2D, on the biggest possible screen that you can find.

(First published in MiD Day)

Friday, July 11, 2014

Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

When it was announced that Hollywood was rebooting Planet of the Apes, no one had any interest. No one wanted to see an action movie featuring monkeys. It looked truly stupid in Tim Burton 2001 movie and there was slim chance of improvement. But then Rupert Wyatt’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes came along, and it turned out to be a surprisingly well made film. It wasn’t just an origin story, it was a layered, and at times moving film with an ape named Caesar as the (anti)hero.

And if you liked the first film, and thought there was no need of a sequel, or assumed there was no way a sequel could be any better than part one, I have five words for you: prepare to be blown away.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is an incredible, astonishing achievement. The easiest, laziest simile to describe it would be to say it is the best sequel since The Dark Knight, but it IS that. It rendered in me the same maddening, crystalline pure cinematic thrill as that movie. You don’t need to read anything else about the movie before you see it, but proceed further to know why I need Caeser’s poster and director Matt Reeves’ autograph at the earliest.  

Generally a Hollywood sequel is an attempt to steal some money from your wallet – there is little effort involved in the filmmaking and tons of money thrown in marketing. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is not that kind of a sequel. This movie was made by a bunch of ballsy people who decided to give you a special moment at the cinema.

Right from the opening scene featuring a close up shot of Caesar’s eyes, it becomes clear that this is not a standard issue action movie. It’s different in style and tone compared to its predecessor, and there is a tense, powerful surge of emotion throughout its narrative. The first fifteen minutes feature no dialogues – director Reeves weaves through the narrative smoothly, establishing that it’s been ten years since the previous film, the humans are dead, and the Apes have colonized the world. We follow Caesar’s life as the leader of the apes. We’re introduced to the other characters in his colony like his son River, his lieutenant Rocket, his advisor Koba, his friend Maurice and Rocket’s son Ash. I remember these characters and their names, because that’s how attention grabbing this film’s narrative is.  

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There is plenty of great, gritty action, but a hell of a character based journey to get to it. The script by writers Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver and Mark Bomback contains rich, emotional character development, and actual conflict between the characters. Conflict not just between the humans and apes, but between the apes themselves as well as within the humans. Every single character in the film, be it ape or human, carries weight. And the sum total of the weight falls upon the shoulders of Caesar. There is social commentary and political themes in the film garnished so well you’ll start to wonder why this movie about apes is so smart and layered. If that doesn’t shock you enough, I’ll have you know that a scene featuring a father and son ape will move you to tears. Big manly tears.

That feat would never have been possible without the insane special effects by Weta. I don’t recall the names of the humans in the film, but I can tell you what every ape in the film looks and sounds like. The motion capture is so incredibly detailed the apes exude more nuance than the human actors. When an ape character feels betrayal, or loss, or anger, or pain, you feel for the ape. Caesar’s ascension in this film is epic, to say the least. There are many shots of Caesar that feel iconic, and Andy Serkis who plays Caesar in a mocap suit gets the subtlest of simian moves dead on. Watch the behind the scenes YouTube videos of the movie and you’ll know Serkis’ performance in this film is the reason why the Academy needs to revise its rules on Oscar nominations.

The human actors are impeccably cast too – Jason Clarke feels completely natural as the bridge between the apes and the humans. Whether it’s Gary Oldman or Keri Russel or Kodi Smit-McPhee, none of the actors seem like ‘actors’, they all serve a purpose in the story and they’re embellished into the film rather than ‘acting’ in it. The terrific CGI, direction and acting are only elevated by the immersive sound design and Michael Giacchino’s haunting music that makes the dramatic scenes subtly powerful.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is better than its predecessor in every single way. It’s a truly great science fiction film, and certainly one of the best motion pictures of the year. It reminds you why you go to the theaters to see movies, and convinces you that the future of summer blockbusters is in Reeves’ good hands.






(First published in Firstpost)

Friday, June 27, 2014

Movie Review: Transformers Age of Extinction


If you thought Michael Bay has lost his touch, fear not, because Transformers: Age of Extinction has all the elements that made the first three films memorable. And I’m not talking of just the misogyny, racism or the blonde butt shots. I’m talking of literally every single plot element.

The story of Transformers 1 – an American kid struggles with parental issues regarding his love life, discovers a robot in his house, and joins the fight against evil robots who desperately want an otherworldly object, and then take over the Earth for an unexplained reason. The film ends with the city being smashed to smithereens. The battle seems to be over once and for all. But it actually isn’t. 

The story of Transformers 2 – an American kid struggles with parental issues regarding his love life, discovers a robot in his house, and joins the fight against evil robots who desperately want an otherworldly object, and then take over the Earth for an unexplained reason. The film ends with the city being smashed to smithereens. The battle seems to be over once and for all. But it actually isn’t. 

The story of Transformers 3 - an American kid struggles with parental issues regarding his love life, discovers a robot in his house, and joins the fight against evil robots who desperately want an otherworldly object, and then take over the Earth for an unexplained reason. The film ends with the city being smashed to smithereens. The battle seems to be over once and for all. But it actually isn’t.

The story of Transformers 4 - an American kid struggles with parental issues regarding her love life, discovers a robot in her house, and joins the fight against evil robots who desperately want an otherworldly object, and then take over the Earth for an unexplained reason. The film ends with the city being smashed to smithereens. The battle seems to be over once and for all. But it actually isn’t. 

And don’t you worry about the action – like in the previous three movies there are long, contrived and unnecessary chase scenes. Like in the previous three movies, there is no way to make out which transformer is fighting whom. There is a bit more personality to the Transformers this time because they’re voiced by celebrities, but rest assured, you care about none of them. The dinobots are a nice addition, but you need to wait for two excruciating hours for them to show up. Don’t worry about the lead’s acting either, Mark Wahlberg makes Shia LeBeouf and even his own turn in The Happening seem Oscar worthy.

So when you see the thousandth explosion, the millionth shot of a talented actor selling out for a cash grab (Stanley Tucci in this case), and the tease of a fifth installment, make sure you stand and recite the Gospel words: Michael Bay is God. Michael Bay forever.






(First published in Mid Day)

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Movie Review: Edge of Tomorrow

When I watched Tom Cruise in a mech suit punching aliens in the face with one hand and spraying machine gun ammo with the other, I had just one thought in my mind – why was Edge of Tomorrow marketed so poorly? Because Edge of Tomorrow is a terrific film, and perhaps the most satisfying action movie I’ve seen this year.

Directed by Doug Liman who earlier made the first Bourne movie, Edge of Tomorrow is a mashup of Groundhog Day, Starship Troopers and Source Code with a dash of Minority Report. Cruise’s previous movie Oblivion was also a mashup of various sci fi films but it came across as clichéd and unoriginal. Edge of Tomorrow, on the other hand is packaged beautifully. It takes all the positive elements from the aforementioned movies and becomes a different beast altogether.

Cruise stars as a major with no combat experience thrust right in between a war against aliens, and somehow wakes up a day earlier every single time he is killed in action. We’ve seen this plot structure before but never executed this way. Edge of Tomorrow feels like a very enjoyable video game in hard mode. There’s no time to waste here – we’re put right inside a war on the beach that feels like the opening minutes of Saving Private Ryan. And the scene plays out in different perspectives throughout the film because the protagonist keeps returning constantly and trying out various routes to survive. That way the whole film is one single two hour long giant action set piece, and it’s entertaining as hell.

The film is based on the manga ‘All you need is Kill’ and thankfully the film is less Hollywood and more Jap manga both in style and plotting. There are neither love story clichés nor saccharine orchestra music to sentimentalize issues. This is a hardcore action film that reminds you why we started going to theaters to watch action movies. You walk into this film expecting some mayhem, you’ll get a gigantic serving of it along with smart plotting and even clever humor. The editing is insane and there’s no time to breathe, as Cruise’s character keeps getting killed in various, at times hilarious ways and the film leaps forward in time seamlessly. Not to mention the amazing production design that really nails the large scale war scenes.

Liman also does away with the origin of the aliens – it’s a straightforward story – they’re here and they’re dangerous and they’re at war with us. The aliens themselves are uniquely designed, and although you can’t fully appreciate the CGI in 3D they’re still pretty intense. The mech suit is very cool and the characters’ movements in them display some serious attention to detail.

Cruise gets a lot of hate for his off screen antics but you gotta appreciate his acting talent and his love for sci fi. Moreover this is an original sci fi movie, not a sequel or a remake, and a damned good one at that. Plus there’s a delightfully muscular Emily Blunt who wields a sword and keeps appearing in a Yoga pose dozens of times in the film. I’d be more than happy to keep dying over and over again to witness that sight.






(First published in MiD Day)

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Movie Review: The Raid 2

The Raid 2 was not a movie. It was a fine dining restaurant tended by a single waiter-cum-cook named Gareth Evans. Following are the events that transpired when I took a seat.

Gareth Evans: Hello sir. Welcome to The Raid 2, your one stop destination for ass kickery, mayhem and guilty pleasures.

Me: Hello. What’s on the menu?

Evans: Have you visited our previous restaurant The Raid Redemption?

Me: Oh yes, I loved it. Is this one better?

Evans: You bet your ass sir. The previous one was a tasty quick snack, this is a more expansive seven course menu. But you’ll have to wait a bit for the dishes to be prepared. I assure you it’s worth the wait.

Me: Right on. What do you recommend I start with?

Evans: We have a splendid prison fight to kick things off. It’s delicious and it’s appetizing because it gives you just a hint of what’s to come.

Me: Splendid.

Evans: We’ll follow it up with an insane rainy mud fight featuring three dozen extras.

Me: Can you do it in a single take?

Evans: Oh sure. Single takes are our specialty. You won’t believe it until you taste it.

Me: Cool. These are just the starters?

Evans: They’re meatier than most other whole courses, and you’ll be drooling for more. We’ll follow those up with two spicy items named Baseball Batman and Hammer Girl.

Me: Rad names!

Evans: They’re as awesome as their names. It’s too bad they’ll be over soon and you can’t ask for more!

Me: Do you have chase sequences? I would like to have one train and one car.

Evans: You got it sir. In fact the car chase is so good it will make you scream Holy Hastamaithun! And it’s not easy shaky cam cheating, it’s the real thing and it’s bloody good.

Me: Sounds cool. I loved Mad Dog the previous time. Can I get some more?

Evans: A different version of Mad Dog will be served, with double the butt bashing.

Me: Ok I’m gonna go ahead and order something outrageous just to see if you oblige. I want slicing, dicing, one kitchen fight, three corridor fights, four executions and six villains. And snow in Indonesia. 

Evans: You’ll get much more than all that sir.

Me: Can.. can I also have a shotgun blast to the face?

Evans: * Smiles and nods *

Me: Gasp. How much do you think the censors will chop off before you serve this menu to me?

Evans: Sir as you know ball busting is against Indian culture, but this time the censors only chopped off nudity.

Me: I’m ok with that. Bring me the food!

Evans nods and walks back, picks up a knife, and smiles devilishly while slowly closing the kitchen curtain.






(First published in Mid Day)

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Movie Review: X Men DOFP

Ah, finally. A great X Men movie. It took them long enough. First Class was fun, but it wasn’t great. Days of Future Past is great. I think it’s the best X Men movie I’ve seen. It brings back the nostalgia of X1 and the magic of X2, and makes you forget about every other movie made in the canon. 

The first X Men came at a time when the superhero genre was in limbo and no one really expected anything better than Batman and Robin. It was fresh, classy and it defied expectations. That is what Days of Future Past does – director Bryan Singer makes a grand return and cleans up the mess made by Brett Ratner (X3) and the studio (Wolverine).

The story picks up immediately after the events of the previous Wolverine film. The ‘present’ X Men are under attack by an unstoppable force called The Sentinels. To cover their asses Professor X and Magneto team up to send Wolverine back in time and change the event that help create the Sentinels. It’s a clichéd time travel plot but there’s too much fun to be had to let it bother you.

For one, the pacing is intense. There’s no time wastage and brooding - you’re thrown right into the action from scene one, and from then on it’s a non-stop marathon from one glorious action set piece to the next. Plus there’s the bonus of seeing the old X Men back in action. They’re all back – old X, Magneto, Storm, Shadowkat, Colossus, Iceman, along with the folks from the past including young X, Magneto, Mystique, Beast and a host of newcomers. But thanks to Singer’s solid direction the barrage of characters don’t feel cluttered (like in the recent Spiderman movie)  - they’re all given an emotional heft and some seriously cool action scenes.

The Sentinals eye candy is epic but that would have been useless with bad acting. The love hate bromance between X and Magneto is itself worth the price of admission. Both James McAvoy and Fassbender are pretty awesome while arguing, and Wolverine’s muted snark is as usual fun. Jennifer Lawrence continues to validate why she’s the biggest contemporary movie star by kicking ass. There’s a fantastic scene where the humans suddenly discover mutants prowling around them – it’s shot in cinema verite style and renders a really gritty layer to the sequence.

After seeing a glimpse of him in Captain America 2 I had doubts about the X-Men version of Quicksilver. Surprisingly, the best part of Days of Future Past is Quicksilver. I’m not going to spoil anything, but there’s a sequence where Quicksilver demonstrates his power – it’s hilarious and it’ll blow you away. Unfortunately Quicksilver goes away too soon, I wish they’d used more of him. A minor complaint I have with this film is the chief villain Bolivar Trask is mostly inconsequential. Peter Dinklage is fine in the role but we’re never told why the character hates mutants and why he’s executing his plans.

I could have awarded this movie four stars, I really wanted to. But I have to subtract half a star for one big reason. The 3D. It’s awful. It’s one of the worst examples of 3D I’ve ever experienced. It’s The Last Airbender level terrible. I’m not sure whether this was the problem with the movie or the glasses or the theater I watched it in, but I’d recommend you see the movie only in 2D, or don’t see it at all. It’s sad that irritating 3D gets in the way of a good movie. I wish I could send Wolverine back in time to stop 3D movies from being made.






(First published in Mid Day

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Movie Review: Godzilla

Are you expecting a sequel to Transformers featuring a blaring parade of CGI razzle-dazzle with shots cutting every two seconds? Are you expecting a sequel to Pacific Rim where Kaijus constantly battle against one another? Are you expecting just another dumb hollow tentpole blockbuster where the only point is smashing New York to smithereens?

Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla is not any of those kinds of movies.

Remember in Jurassic Park, where the dinosaurs appeared only for a sum total of fifteen minutes, and it was still entertaining as hell because there was non stop suspense and a sense of intrigue and discovery?

Godzilla is that kind of movie.

Some might be pissed because it’s that kind of movie. As for me, I’m very glad that this is a Godzilla movie with a lot of heart, soul and a fairly decent helping of intelligence. The biggest surprise, however, is that fact that Godzilla is not just a Godzilla movie, but it is also the best Superhero movie of the summer.

The 1998 Godzilla can only be enjoyed for its unmitigated awfulness. Director Gareth Edwards knows that this is 2014, and he is aware of the previous Godzilla’s problems, and he takes on this project with the passion of a die-hard fan. If you’re a Godzilla junkie, this movie is your early Diwali gift.

Like in his previous micro budget film Monsters, Edwards turns Godzilla into a road trip film instead of a standard issue disaster porno. Also like in Monsters, he puts most of the monster mayhem in the backdrop of the character buildup. It’s a bold choice and although it doesn’t work as well as it did in Monsters, it’s still an interesting new direction for a summer blockbuster and you’ve got to hand it to both Legendary and Edwards for having the balls to do so.

We have a young Lieutenant (Aaron Taylor Jonhson) stuck on the road with his scientist dad (Bryan Cranston) who is obsessed with finding ‘something secretive’ in Japan. Turns out they do end up finding that secret and all hell breaks loose. That’s all you need to know about the story, and the lesser trailers you’ve seen the better. The rest of it is a collection of clichés including the worried nurse wife, the kid in danger, the daddy issues, the works.

But it’s how well Edwards uses the clichés in the film that will surprise you. A crazed overemotional scientist? Believable, because it’s freaking Bryan Cranston playing the character. Military procedures? Immersive, because Edwards stages the scenes with some seriously impressive knack of building tension. Our young hero is the expressive and likable Aaron Johnson and not Shia Le Beouf so you do tend to give a few shits about what happens to him. And when the big guy finally arrives he literally stomps upon every cliché and complaint of yours with his ginormous foot.

No seriously, Godzilla’s entry is epic. I had a surgical stent in my body while watching the film and I still clapped and cheered loudly when Gojira showed up. He’s fucking huge. He’s a badass mofo. Edwards knows that Godzilla is the guy to cheer for, not be mindlessly afraid of. He turns the monster into a superhero in a rather awesome scene where introspective Japanese scientist Ken Watanabe exclaims ‘Let the monsters fight!’

And the battle scenes are terrific. The scale is massive, the CGI is super detailed and the Kaiju artwork is really fucking cool. The 3D isn’t the best, but the super wide shots are superbly choreographed to show how puny humans are, and you’ll get the best experience in 2D. There’s a sequence involving a freight train that’ll leave you frothing, and the military halo jump seen in the trailers is even more amazing on the big screen.

There’s absolutely no comedy in the entire film because it’s not trying to be a comedy. The tone remains consistent – pure tension from start to end. If you want unnecessary irritating rubbish in your summer blockbusters, Gareth Edwards has got something to say to you and smarmy hacks like Michael Bay: Kreeeaaarrghhhh.






(First published in MiD Day)