Sunday, February 01, 2015

Broadway Indeed! Birdman Review

Censor Rating: R (USA), A (India)
My Score: 3.5/5

There is always a debate going on in the film fraternity - is drama/thriller cinema being replaced by comic book  popcorn flicks? Can someone who builds his/her career in a popcorn flick really provide a stellar performance on the grand stage which is the “real” cinema? Do visual effects really cloud an actor’s capability to deliver onstage or in a serious flick? You would probably have all these questions bundled up in your head whenever you step out of the theater. Well, here is a movie which takes these questions and binds them in an unexpectedly fun journey into what does an actor go through in this transition.

Birdman or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance (2 titles, both mean a lot in this movie) centers around Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton)- a superstar celebrity - who played and became famous as Birdman around 20 years is trying to salvage his career by adapting a famous short story by Raymond Carver. The movie showcases the 3 days leading upto the play hitting mainstream broadway including the previews. It shows the struggle of the actor as he tries to balance his own ego with the expectation (or there lack of) from the play. To make matters worst, one of his lead actors, Mike Shiner (Edward Norton), makes his life hell by using shady tactics to get his performance recognized. The movie focusses on the trials and tribulations of a superhero celebrity as he tries to make his mark on broadway and get the world to accept him as an actor rather than a celebrity.

Story & Direction: The story takes the comic book vs serious movie debate head on and conveys it through the eyes and mind of a washed up comic book hero. His inner fights (beautifully portrayed through his “Birdman” alter-ego) are very compelling to watch and depicts the roadblocks/hindrances that an actor faces to be taken seriously in an industry. More than external forces, the story is a journey inwards for an actor to take up a major broadway show in a big way. The script is a bit slow but has the metal to keep the audience engage on how the journey would unfold. The title of the movie (both of them) depict the exact 2 personas at play here. Initially I was not sure why there were 2 titles but was smiling at the end of it.

Easily the best sequenced movie that I have seen. Alejandro Inarritu uses an interesting style of movie making which brings out the captivating effect that a story of such nature needs. Definitely a one of kind approach that I have seen taken in recent times. The style allows the director to compensate for the slowness in the script by good flowing sequences. Editing and camera work is crisp and compliments the style portrayed.

Cast: Edward Norton and Michael Keaton both steal the show in this one. Michael’s portrayal of Riggan seems to be drawn from his real life struggles after his years of playing Batman in the late 80s but take nothing away from him, he really rules the roost in this movie delivering an amazingly complex character with ease. This year is for him to win. Edward Norton does what he does best, takes a good character and provides a really appealing performance that connects and compliments the primary character. His showing proves once again that given the role, Edward can really shine.

The supporting cast is also quite stellar and do the act of supporting really well. Emma Stone goes a decent job as is Zach Galifianakis and Naomi Watts (whom I felt could have been used more). The key to a successful movie is the right blend of talent and this movie has it. Kudos to the casting directors!

Bottomline: This isnt your typical Oscar favourite but with a subject as unique and complex as this, the movie hits the right notes and drives home the point. If you love an alter-ego struggle, you would love and understand this movie. It is a good watch and a definite Oscar contender.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Top Picks for 2014!

2014 has been an interesting year all round for the movies! We have seen some unbelievable movies, some nice revivals and some really unforgivable moments. Although I have been indifferent going to the movies by my standards, but I managed to watch a few so that I can rate which are the top 5 movie picks for 2014! Please note that I am counting down based on what I have watched in the theaters! So, without any further ado, here’s my best picks for 2014:

5. GodZilla:

Easily the best reboot of the year, Godzilla showed an awesome blend of nostalgia and modern re-imagination of the monster flick which has been famous over the years. Not only this movie completely removed the ghost of the horrible 90s Godzilla flick.

Gareth Edwards deserves full marks here for maintaining the suspense around the creature and giving us a human story whilst the monsters are duking it out on the side. Although this was the best thing about flick, it was also the worst. Maybe a bit more focus on the monster would have worked well and would have seen this movie go up my list!

4. X-Men - Days of Future Past:

X-Men - The Last Stand was forgettable. First Class was admirable. So, how do you erase your mistakes and revitalize a multi billion dollar franchise? You take on board an even more ambitious storyline from the comic books and design it with the 2 generations of X-Men characters and hope there is magic! And boy what a magical event it was! Amazing, slick direction and a grand welcome back to Bryan Singer, the helmer of the very 1st 2 flicks which started it all!

DOFP gave a chance to the producers to re-invent the tone and characters of the movie so that they can make more money. The ensemble (both generations) was managed brilliantly and it was a visual treat specially that super awesome slo mo sequence of QuickSilver taking out prison guard. That remains the best sequence of 2014 in my books!

3. Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes:

The only non comic book sequel this year which really was a hard hitting tale of 2 colonies fighting and surviving against each other. The only thing which puts a different spins on things is the fact that one of the colonies are actually a group of highly evolved apes! Andy Serkis’s brilliant performances seemed to have brushed off on others in this movie as each and every one of the mo-cap actors played their part in the flick. Interestingly, the story was the most common one that you see in the movie but the beauty of the direction in this shows that even the most common storyline can be thrown into the mix of an interesting setting.

Matt Reeves did a fantastic job in getting the essence of the characters out and extract good performances from everyone apes and human alike in this movie. This could have easily the Number 2 in my life if not for the fun factor that came with the actual Number 2!

2. Guardians Of The Galaxy:

What do you do when you have a crazy comic book and need to do 2 things, make it into a movie and set it up in the Marvel Cinematic Universe? You give a call to James Gunn. The most fun movie of the Summer, Guardians of the Galaxy was a fun ride which grossed a lot of money at the box office and set the tone of new phase in the MCU. I honestly never had so much fun at the movie theater this year.

Chris Pratt was really cool and so was Zoe Saldana. Although the single scene presence of Thanos gave MCU something to work with, the highlight of the movie was the chemistry between the animated characters voiced by Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper. Groot and Rocket were amazing and Dave Bautista showed that he can actually perform at the summit!

1. Gone Girl:

Might be surprising for a few but honestly this movie was the best one that I have seen this year. Amazingly complex with awesome twists and turns, Gone Girl is a emotional drama which turns psychotic in no time. The conflicts in a relationship exhibited from both sides (husband’s and wife’s) culminating in roller coaster ride of thrilling events which sees you root for both sides as you go along.

David Fincher has that knack of selling just the right notes with his movies and this one is no different. It was weird to not see the movie make the Best Picture list but David got his nod. Ben Affleck has re-done himself post Argo and delivers a strong performance. But Rosamund Pike won my heart and respect in her performance as the wife. I sincerely hope that she wins it this time!

There you have it folks. Although there are a few notable absentees, this is purely what I feel should rule your DVD collection this year!

Wishing you a very Happy New Year 2015!!!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Concluding Chapter! Hobbit: The Battle of 5 Armies Movie Review

Censor Rating: PG-13 (USA), U/A (India)
My Score: 3/5

Epic movies are the most difficult genres in any industry. There is a lot of expectation around it and the skillset required to pull off the scale of production is extremely rare. Peter Jackson has the requisite skillsets to do just that. His journey of Middle Earth began when he was a nobody. In the late 90s, he embarked on a process of film making which has reached its definitive conclusion this December. Like all its predecessors, the end was fitting tribute to the world that is middle earth. Only an average movie goer would disagree with this statement.

With Guillermo Del Toro attached to take this journey instead of Peter Jackson, things were really looking good for these movies. Del Toro’s style would have been a treat to see. It would have been his take of Middle Earth. When creative differences saw him opt out, Peter Jackson stepped in and showed us the journey of Bilbo Baggins along with 13 Dwarves and Gandalf the Grey to the lost kingdom in the Lonely Mountains with only one aim - To get back the kingdom from the Dragon resting there. When we last left Middle Earth, we saw the dragon getting out of the mountains and heading to the nearby village to cause havoc. Battle of the 5 Armies focusses on conflicts between Man, Elf, Orcs and Dwarves as they try to get a share of the treasure left behind in the Mountains.

Direction & Story: Lets face it, The Hobbit was not a 3 movie book. It was always a 2 movie book. Monetary decisions always outweigh the creative ones and we saw the movie stretched. Stretching results in a slow pace script which in turn makes the movie boring. The 1st movie was exactly that. However, the pace recovered a bit in the 2nd movie but the same problem came back to haunt this movie. For the average movie goer, it was a really slow movie.

Peter Jackson’s vision of such movies is amazing, but after watching more than 15 hours of his work, you tend to predict the camera movement and the landscape choices. I can honestly say that I would actually tell what would happen in terms of camera work given the scene! Now that Middle Earth journey has concluded, I hope Peter Jackson moves on with a different style of movie making which would rejuvenate my interest.

Visuals & Effects: Top of the line effects have become the bare minimum expectations you have with such movies. And yes, there is absolutely no disappointment. The details which have been carved out are amazing and create a surreal experience as you follow the adventures. The makeup effects are awesome as well. The basic camera trickery to create a Halfling and dwarf always leaves me in awe! The climax has the best effects which money has to offer and should not be missed (in other words, please keep your focus on till the end).

Cast: What can I say about the cast which already has not been said? The cast makes the movie come to life and although the script is to be blamed for the slowness and boring points in the movie, the caliber of the actors on display saves the scene and keeps you interested. Martin Freeman and Sir Ian McKellen are brilliant and engaging to watch. However, this movie, in particular, belongs to Richard Armitage. His portrayal of the conflicted Thorin takes the cake and really shows the rise of a hero in chaos. Luke Evans is a treat to watch as well. Bit disappointed to see Benedict Cumberbatch’s presence to be limited to just a couple of scenes (I didn’t know this as I haven’t read the book).

Bottomline: In my opinion, the 2nd movie will always remain the best in this trilogy. The movie tried to emulate the grand finale that was The Return Of the King. To some extent, it did succeed but the fundamental mistake of stretching the material led to it falling short of becoming the best movie in this trilogy. It is a delightful watch for those who want to take one last trip to Middle Earth and relive the exploits of a little Hobbit who played a key role in the changing balance of power in Middle Earth!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Interdimensional! Interstellar Movie Review

Censor Rating: PG-13 (USA), U/A (India)
My Score: 3/5

Epic directors have a knack of making epic movies. There is no doubt about it. Let it be Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson or James Cameron. They have the vision to try a huge flick with a nice big budget and a phenomenal ground breaking story line. Some of those movies take the highest mark at the Oscars, some stay in my personal DVD collection as movies that could have made it but fell short. Now, I will be adding Chris Nolan to that list of directors who try epic and challenging movies - because now he has the reputation of ducking out a hit when required.

Having said that, when I left the movie hall, I had mixed feelings of what I had witness for 169 minutes. I was speechless to describe what I truly felt. It was not the surreal experience as the Dark Knight series nor was it an enhancing experience as the Inception. It was something that felt right but incomplete at the same time. It was comprehensive yet ridden with potholes. Finally, I knew what I felt as I dwelled on that strand of thought for a day - falling short of a cracker of a movie!

Interstellar has Matthew McConaughey as Cooper, an ex-NASA pilot, who is living with his kids and father in law and working as a corn farmer in a world ridden with life threatening issues. His daughter, Murph, stumbles upon a “Ghost” in her room which is caused due to shifts in gravity giving him clues that takes him to a secret NASA facility. There he comes to know about a mission to go through a wormhole to another galaxy to find a planet where to sustain the life thereby bringing the most apt dialogue in the movie into context - “Mankind was born on Earth but it was never meant to die there”. Cooper along with Dr Brand (played by Anne Hathaway) and a couple of other scientist undertake the exploration in an attempt to find a habitable planet. The movie essentially kicks off a race against time as Cooper tries to find a world before his existing world collapses.

Story & Direction: Honestly speaking, I liked the concept and the story line. I was pretty much hooked on. However, surprisingly, the Nolan brothers lost the plot in the pacing of the movie. The movie was draggy and was spending time explaining things which werent really required to be explained but missing out on the parts which needed a proper explanation! Having said that I did catch the vibe and vein of the movie and was really amazed by the bold approach taken by the writers. The content was a brave one but extremely complicated (Inception was a cake walk compared to this movie). Even if we assume for a sec that the science behind it is extremely true and believable, the writing could have easily been compressed and still would have made the movie watchable.

Never doubted the directional skills of Nolan and again he exemplifies that he is the wizard of Direction of his generation. His use of the canvas which is the screen is really nice and the space/other planet scenes are mind blowing. Whatever he screwed up in his writing, he overcame it in his direction and timely camera movement. He has the natural vision and talent to pull off complicated material and he just proves that with Interstellar.

Visuals & Effects: Considering that this was a sci-fi genre movie, the effects were top notch and were perfect in terms of keeping with the tone of the movie. The production designer has done his homework really well and the amazing visuals of Iceland fill up the screen the movement the team lands on that “planet”.

Cast: When I saw the cast of the movie, I was really excited and concerned of how Nolan was going to make them fit. After the movie, I can safely say that the casting was spot on. The stand out for me in this movie were of-course Matthew McConaughey who is carrying a good acting form recently along with Jessica Chastain and Anne Hathaway. However, a special mention of Mackenzie Foy who does a super job as the young Murph.

Another few notable mentions are of Matt Damon in his surprising cameo, Michael Caine in his ever so present portrayal of Dr Brand and Casey Affleck who I left was a bit wasted but still held his own as Tom (Cooper’s son).

Bottomline: Interstellar could have been an epic movie and the best one Nolan ever made. However, it ends up being one of those movie which would end up on my “fell short” DVD collection. Nolan’s attempt at mixing emotions and science is appreciable but just does not get it over the line for me. Me, being a Nolan fan, this is a big admission. However, what the script screws up in potholes covers up in brilliant direction and casting. A visually stunning piece which could have been much more than just a one time watch!!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Intriguing Twists! Gone Girl Movie Review

Censor Rating: R (USA), A (India)
My Score: 4.5/5

The genre of plot twisting psychological dramas is a very niche one. Its been a while since I have had seen a movie of that level of style and speed. In fact I do not recall enjoying any movie after Trance (The Danny Boyle film) which had such a high degree of plot twists and character turns. That all changed last night when I finally managed to catch a show of Gone Girl.

Gone Girl, based on a novel of the same name by Gillian Flynn, is a story about marriage. One anniversary morning, the husband Nick Dunne (played by Ben Affleck) does his morning chores and comes back home to find his wife (Amy Elliott Dunne  played by Rosamund Pike) missing. He calls the cops and participates in the investigation. However, as the story progresses, the real truth about their marriage is relieved and the real intentions behind her disappearance are unfolded in front of the media and the entire town.

Story & Direction: I have not read the novel prior to watching the movie. So, the canvas was completely blank as far as I was concerned. Gillian Flynn, the author of the book who also wrote the screenplay, obviously knew the material well and was able to present the exact chemistry of emotions and affections that we needed to have with the characters at the right moment, in the right amounts. Since the plot is really twisting and turning, without letting out any spoilers, all I can say is that your allegiance towards the primary characters in the movie change as the script moves forward. That shows some really brilliant writing and content control.

Ever since Zodiac, David Fincher has set an industry standard in terms of movie making. In Gone Girl, there is no disappointment with some really nice direction, intrigue building, staying close to the source material and some really snappy editing work. Although the movie is a long 149 minutes, the intervening of the scenes makes it a seamless experience and an enjoyable one. Barring a couple of misplaced loud background scores, the movie gels well together.

The Cast: For a movie so complex and twisty, you need to have some strong cast members to support the suspense. Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne portrays the right blend of anger, frustration, relief that is expected of a man in his situation in the movie. Ben has really come back with a bang after some really forgettable years and shows his best performance since Argo.Personally, I feel his venturing into Direction has given him the edge in acting that is commendable and grounded. Batman V Superman cannot come early enough!!

Rosamund Pike is the most interesting, rather surprising, choice to play Amy. However, as it turns out, she was the most surprising factor in the movie providing us with her best performance till date. Personally I was amazed at the depth of character she could portray. It was a nice change of pace for her and clearly something she can build on.

Tyler Perry, Neil Patrick Harris and Carrie Coon should have special mentions as their additions seemed weird but supplemented the husband wife relationship portrayed throughout the movie!

Bottomline: A near perfect movie by the best director in the business currently. Gone Girl exemplifies the very nature of a complex American marriage system and shows how delusional perceptions can be. This is surely an Award contender and I will be surprised if it does not garner any accolades in that area.

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Noisy! - Bad Neighbors: Movie Review

Censor Rating: R (USA), A (India)
My Score: 2.5/5

Fun movies are really hard to come by. When you think about it, making people laugh is an extremely important and difficult part of the movie making business. There are some awesome movies like the Cornetto Trilogy and then there are the pathetic ones like the “Focker” flicks. Finding the right balance is the key which makes a comedy movie tick. Bag Neighbors belongs in an area which falls in between these 2.

The precise of the movie is pretty simple. Just-Become-A-Parent couple Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne are the usual couple coping with a life which involves having a child to take care of. Their lives are spiced up when Zack Efron and his Fraternity move next door and cause mayhem. What follows for roughly 2 hours is a game of cat and mouse. Each side has their movements and the finale is something which we would already know.

Direction & Story: Storywise, it seems just a run of the mill one involving 2 parties trying to go all out smart each other as they progress in their regular lives. Honestly, this movie isn’t really about the story. The screenplay and dialogues are the real key to such movies. The writers have tried to take advantage of Seth Rogan’s excellent comic timing and delivery by mashing up some really good dialogues and sequences.

That’s where the writing begins and ends. There are a lot of scenes added which don’t make sense. The way some scenes are linked together just confuses the natural flow of the movie. Planning wise, it looks haphazard.

Nicholas Stoller has a decent direction resume whose highlight is “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”. Those directorial trails can be seen in this movie. However, overall the movie looked unplanned. Nicholas knows how to execute his screenplay but doesn’t seem to have the charm to make it interesting.

The Cast: A Rogen vs Efron setup was a really cool idea which works to a large extent. However, the kind of depth shown by Rogen isn’t really echoed back by Efron and this is where the movie goes for a toss. The Rogen-Byrne chemistry, interestingly, is the highlight of the movie for me. Rose is a really nice actor who shows that she can pull off comedy. Her emotional side is lacking though which seemed forced.

Seth Rogen is good in whatever he does. He knows his strengths and weakness and works accordingly to those. He tries very hard to carry the movie on his shoulders.

Zac Efron does a decent enough job but cant really match up Rogen’s pedigree. The kid can act but he has a long way to go before he can really match up a good comedy movie. Dave Franco, fresh from “Now You See Me”, also does a decent job but feels underutilized.

Bottomline: If you want to have a good laugh for 80% of the movie, just go and watch it. The movie has some good situational comedy and dialogues. As a package, it looks like a better sequenced Jackass movie. It doesn’t have the awesomeness that “This is the End” (Rogen’s release from last year) had. Go have a good laugh and come out smiling.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Amazing Spiderman 2: Movie Review

Censor Rating: PG-13 (USA), U/A (India)
My Score: 3/5

Recently, production houses have taken up a trend of creating their own cinematic universe. With a lot of source material to choose from, Marvel set a very profitable trend by setting the Avengers universe. Looking at their financial gain, a number of other houses also looked at their own purchased material and have begun “assembling” their universe. Fox have begun with their own version of the X-Men universe whereas WB has finally took the jump by combining Batman & Superman into a single movie. The 1st studio out of the blocks on this is Sony with their own universe centering around the Amazing Spiderman.

The Amazing Spiderman 2 (AS2) continues from the events of the 1st movie where Peter gets into a relationship with Gwen Stacey despite promising her dying father of not getting involved with her. In parallel, he also tries to find out what was the exact reason why his father left him at Aunt May’s doorstep. AS2, in essence, rides on this emotional rollercoaster while making things interesting by introducing a host of villains. The movie provides a good premise for exploring the endurance and emotional aspect of the central character while developing the backstory which is essential for the the entire universe to function going forward.

Story & Direction: With the focus on expanding the universe, nowadays the story has 2 parts to it. Part 1 centers around the backstory which will form the basis for future movies whereas part 2 is the main storyline which drives the movie for roughly 2 hours. In this movie, part 1 has been setup quick decently with the nice blend of suspense and curiosity. Part 2, on paper, is really good but it falls short of being great as the screenplay does drag on at crucial points in the movie.

Character development is poorly handled in this movie which is one of big reasons of failures. Electro origin is rushed and the character itself had a number of flaws whereas Harry Osborn’s character could have been brilliantly handled but was again rushed in order to suit the formation of the universe. Rhino is literally nonexistant but I sense that the character might play a major role in future movies.

Marc Webb has quite literally embraced the fact that “with great power, comes great responsibility”. From a direction perspective, Webb is spot on with amazing thrill sequences and nice camera work which covers the entire canvas whilst keeping the focus on the action at hand. With 500 days of Summer, Webb has shown his flair for covering emotional sequences with a very subtle touch.  The same is seen in the many sequences that you find in this movie, specially the one at the climax.

Visuals & Effect:Top notch is the word that came to my mind when I started writing this section. The quality of effects is really good and for the 1st time, I am regretting at not experiencing the movie in 3D IMAX. Special mention of the action sequences as they stay true to the “spidey” nature of the character. Classic example of this is the above clip sequence!

The Cast:The movie really has an amazing mix of talent that really raises the bar of performance for a comic book movie. This clearly shows that production houses understand the importance of performance rather than just investing in special effects. The stand out performer in this flick has to be Dane Dehann who really delivers an awesome portrayal of Harry Osborn. The kid has talent and it comes out in full view in this movie. Really amazing to watch.

I was bit disappointed with Jamie Foxx in this movie. Although he tried his best, but I felt he tried too hard to convince people of being Electro. Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone have an amazing chemistry which really holds the emotional scenes together. Garfield is a smart act and has tremendous potential to excel in his career. Emma Stone delivers a reliable and strong performance. Sally Field and others do give a levels of performances.

Bottomline: The Amazing Spiderman 2 had the potential of being “The Avengers” of the Sony’s cinematic universe but it fails to impress due to some glaring plotholes and poor character development. Its an amazing thrill ride for those who love spiderman and would want to be part of the action. I just hope the conclusion to this trilogy is just as amazing as the visuals in this one are!