Sunday, January 05, 2014

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty: Movie Review

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

Sometimes, simple subject movies make a major impact in the way you live your life. Last year’s Life of Pi, for instance, was a fairly simple subject movie about survival and believing in hope. It showed that whatever we do in life, we should not lose hope and that miracle (not the magical kinds) can happen to people who choose to believe in themselves. I was searching for a similar movie this year. Finally, I found one closest to this theme - The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty.

So, who is Walter Mitty? He is someone stuck in a mundane job. He is someone who thinks of reacting in one way under a situation but does not do so. He is someone who daydreams (or zones out) occasionally to escape into his world where he is the king, the hero, the stud. In other words, Walter Mitty is in everyone of us. With a premise as simple as finding the photograph which would grace the cover of the final issue of this magazine, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty focuses on its principle character as he goes through a variety of adventures in order to get the photograph titled “The Quintessence of Life”.

Story & Direction: By no way, this movie is like the Life of Pi. By no means, is this movie perfect. Storywise, it is very simple. But where this movie shines is in its narration. The screenplay is amazing in this movie. Barring the pace, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie which conveys a very elegant sentiment - Life is all about living it and not just dreaming about it.

After initial hiccups with The Cable Guy and Zoolander, Ben Stiller hit his stride with Tropic Thunder which established him as a top quality film maker. With Walter Mitty, he provides a perfect balance of comedy, mesmerizing locations, a fluent story  and some really meaningful dialogues. This movie is clearly his best works as a director.

Visuals: I added Greenland and Iceland to my bucket list while I was watching the movie. Simply beautiful locations and graceful camera work truly provides a nice movie experience which aids in the story telling.

Cast & Direction: Ben Stiller shines in his role as Walter Mitty. Being the director, he was accurately aware of what is expected from the character and delivers a nice performance which captured my imagination. Kristen Wiig also does a nice job as his love interest. Sean Penn has more of a cameo role with just a couple of actual scenes. However, he delivers the most memorable scene in the movie which ironically talks about the moments of life that need to be lived rather than captured. Truly enjoyed it.

Bottomline: Walter Mitty 's secret life might not be for everyone but for those who can relate to it would find that "Life" can derive meaning as you live it. It isnt a perfect movie but it does convey the sentiment and makes you think about the Quintessence of Life. It conveys that “don't dream your life... Live it”.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Review

Censor Rating: PG-13 (USA), U/A (India)
My Score: 3.5/5

This needs admission – story telling isn’t every director’s cup of tea. Most of them take help of CGI and/or action sequences to compensate for their lack of storytelling ability. After watching the 5th Tolkien movie, as if there was any doubt, it is to be said that Peter Jackson is one of the best in story telling on the biggest canvas.
Desolation of Smaug is the continuation of the Hobbit saga which debuted last winter. It literally starts off from the final scene of the The Unexpected Journey with Thorin and the dwarf gang along with Bilbo and Gandalf make their way towards Erebor aka The Lonely Mountain as they attempt to take back their home from Smaug – a dragon who made a brief appearance in the final frame of the 1st one. The story also captures the events leading up to the rise of Sauron and the emergence of the eye. What follows is a spectacular series of events leads up to the group's encounter with Smaug.

Story & Direction: The Unexpected Journey was an interesting but slow start to this new trilogy. To be fair, this was never meant to be a trilogy (it was a 2 movie thing) but finances always trumps logic due to which you end up making movies which have some slow and/or dull movements in order to make a trilogy. The 1st movie had loads of them. Peter had taken a lot of time building up the story focusing on character & plot development. Although personally I enjoyed it but I have to admit that it wasn’t engaging. Thankfully, Desolation of Smaug is every bit engaging and interesting – far better than its predecessor. At a runtime of 162 mins, it still a lengthy movie but considering that this is Peter Jackson with Tolkien material, you should be expecting a long movie.

Peter Jackson has done a terrific job of narration and has really improved the quality of the movie compared to the 1st one. The way he has handled and stitched the 3 plot points together in this movie really speaks volumes of his understanding of the source material. I just hope that he maintains the tempo and delivers an even higher quality product to successfully conclude this trilogy.

Visuals & Effects: As it is expected, visuals are top notch with an excellent attention to detail. Coupling that with amazing location really gives a medieval feel to the movie which is vital in conveying the tone of the flick. 3D is also used well but this movie would be even more spectacular if viewed in IMAX. Special mention of the “barrel rider” sequence which is the best one I have seen this year. It was great fun and a novel idea for an exciting adventure ride in any amusement park.

Cast: The cast was extended in this one with Orlando Bloom returning as Legolas, Luke Evans as Bard and Evangeline Lily as Tauriel. Benedict Cumberbatch has also been added as the voice and face (through mo-cap) of Smaug the dragon and Necromancer, a mysterious sorcerer. All of them do a decent job and provide a natural performance. Benedict really shines in dialogue delivery as Smaug. He is a real talent no matter how he is in a movie!

From the original cast, Ian McKellen (Gandalf), Richard Armitage (Thorin) and Martin Freeman (Bilbo) deliver excellent performances and really look the part. I especially liked Martin Freeman’s conflicting Bilbo act in which we see the ring taking him over.

Bottomline: Desolation is definitely better than Unexpected Journey. The plot has come together very well and is aptly supported in tempo. I can feel that Peter Jackson is turning on the magic similar to how he did in the LOTR trilogy. There are some dull moments which if properly taken care of in the final movie can provided an amazing conclusion to another brilliant trilogy which is definitely a collector’s item!

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Hammered Down! “Thor: The Dark World” Movie Review

Censor Rating: PG-13 (USA), U/A (India)
My Score: 2.5/5

The sequel is always difficult to deliver. You need to understand what elements of the 1st movie need to be retained, what has to be reworked and what has to be introduced without disturbing the balance of the movie. If you top this dilemma with the fact that you are about to make the 8th movie in a “Cinematic Universe”, the bar gets set a lot higher. That’s when you start tripping out as you are unfortunately caught between 2 aspects – continuing the universe and continuing the individual story.

Thor: The Dark World falls precisely in that very same gap which is created when the creative team strives to achieve continuity on both sides. I admit that such a thing has not been attempted before in any form of franchise but then you reach a stage where you are expected to balance the expectation of the fans, producers, production houses and the comic book fanatics!

The movie continues and deals with the aftermath of Loki’s antics in New York (The Avengers). Thor has become more mature and has been fighting to achieve peace in all 9 realms after the bifrost has been repaired. During this time, Jane Foster ends up in London studying the connection between the realms and stumbles upon some material called the “Aether” which is locked away by Thor’s forefathers due to its dangerous origins. This material is essentially stuff which the dark forces use to gain control over all realms. This awakens the dark forces aka dark elves who go behind Jane for it. Thor steps in and what ensues is a good old fight between good and evil!

Story & Direction: From a Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) story perspective, I found this movie to be the actual beginning of Phase 2. It really shows off the plans which Marvel have to offer in the large scheme of things right upto Avengers 3 which comes out sometime in 2017. So, this movie initiates that thread really well. It picks just those aspects which are essential at this point to convey the path which the MCU would take. However, the writers compromise the quality of the sequel while telling the story of Phase 2. This, for me, was a letdown. The screenplay seemed rushed at places and there were a lot of new elements exposed very quickly with almost zero development (apart from the main villain).

Alan Taylor has a good experience with such material. His Game Of Thrones work has been remarkable and he succeeds in giving this movie the same level of detail and tone. The movie does feel dark – at times. Considering that this is his 1st real big scale production, he does a decent job.

Effects & Visuals: As we have come to expect from MCU, visuals and effects were top notch. The action sequences were simple and straight forward. Again, my biggest complaint is the use of 3D which felt useless and not of any value add. Seriously MCU guys, pls rethink your 3D strategy!!

Cast: The stand out performance in this one has to be of Loki aka Tom Hiddleston. This is his 3rd movie playing Loki and he has improved in each and every movie. Watch out for some mischievous fun!

Chris Hemsworth gives a more mature performance as Thor. He has also improved well in his portrayal of the Demi God. Natalie Portman also does a good job so does Kat Dennings who gets an extended role courtesy her “2 Broke Girls” fame. Anthony Hopkins is delightful as ever!

Bottomline: As a strict sequel, Thor: The Dark World falls well short of expectations and does too much too soon. As a Phase 2 movie, it is bang on and provides the fans just a good start to the next set of movies. There is a mid-credit scene in this one which gives a great feel of next year’s movie! In other words, Thor 2 is not the movie which deserve, but it is a movie that we needed right now. One time watch!

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Out of this world! Gravity (IMAX) Movie Review

Censor Rating: R (USA), A (India)
My Score: 4/5

You can make a movie on anything. In fact, I believe that the exact same story can be reused and made into a movie provided that the presentation and/or the creativity exhibited in the movies are different. A simple story of a man walking down a street and interacting with the people around him can be a great movie if made with the level of creativity that can keep the audience engaged. Today, I saw a similar concept wherein a very basic survivor story was taken up in a radical environment and the result was a spectacular IMAX 3D experience.

Gravity is the story of Dr Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) who is with Mat (George Clooney) in space repairing one of the communications satellite when disaster strikes causing their space shuttle to be destroyed. Stone and Mat are the only 2 survivors who have lost communication with Earth and now floating in space have to find a way back to Earth. What follows is a series of events which leave the survivors sourcing for faith and courage.

Story & Direction: In my opinion, the story is a pretty ordinary one. It’s a typical underdog-in-adverse-environment storyline. An astronaut with a troubled past placed in a scenario where survival is the ultimate goal is a very simple storyline. However, what makes the difference is the way the story is told.

Alfonso Cuaron is a brilliant film maker with some great critical acclaims in Harry Potter 3 and Children of Men. He knows his art and that is exactly what is on display in this movie. The direction is top notch in this one with some really great camera movements which I have seen in a really long time. The cinematographer also deserves top credit here. The use of IMAX camera and 3D is amazing and breathtaking especially during the thrill scenes.

Visuals & Effects: Some top quality effects are on display in this movie. I am not a big fan of 3D. However, the blend of IMAX and 3D really makes this movie one of the best ones that I have watched since a long time. It truly reminded me of the immersive Avatar experience. It is that good. The way Alfonso used the floating nonchalant items in space really shows how even the most inconsequential aspect/prop can be used to create that 3rd dimension/immersive effect!

Cast: If you truly want to make a movie which involves only 2 cast members, George Clooney and Sandra Bullock are safe bets. Clooney in his typical style delivers a cool, calm, collective performance with top notch dialogue and emotional deliveries. Bullock on the other hand provides a more gritty performance with some nice emotional range shown.

Bottomline: Creative direction blending with visual effects and POV camera is what makes this movie stand out in its 91 mins of runtime. Alfonso makes very few movies with this one coming out 7 years after his last one. This one is easily his best film yet. From a technical perspective, this movie is the best one that has made full use of the capabilities of IMAX and 3D experience. For a complete IMAX “believe” experience, I would recommend that you catch it!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Full of Adrenaline! “Rush” Movie Review

Censor Rating: R (USA), A (India)

My Score: 4.5/5

Movies about real life sporting rivalries are a rarity nowadays. Such movies are really difficult to be depicted on the silver screen as they often deal with multiple plots, characters and their equations. Filmmakers can easily make a mess of some really good source material which, in real life, really plays out wonderfully well. So, when I heard that there is a movie, made by Ron Howard (DaVinci Code, Apollo 13, Beautiful Mind), starring Thor aka Chris Hemsworth and is based on one of the great formula 1 fights between Hunt and Lauda, I sincerely hoped that justice should be done to such a tricky picture. After sitting through the 2 odd hours flick, I came out appreciating the sport as well as the art of film making.

James Hunt and Niki Lauda rivalry is one of the most engaging ones of the 70s. In fact, it defines the mood of Formula 1 in the 70s. Gritty, Competitive, perfection, this rivalry had it all. The movie follows this tussle between the 2 greats right from their Formula 3 days upto the epic 1976 season which saw a rollercoaster ride between the 2 champions. Both characters were literally opposites of each other but still seem to have 1 common goal – to be the best in Formula 1. This goal, fueled by each other’s success becomes the corner stone of this rivalry and is also the main focus of this movie.

Story & Direction: Its really difficult to concentrate on 3 key aspects (both characters, Formula 1 culture, 1976 season) while still trying to keep pace in a movie. Further, to give each character its own screen time so that the audience feels and gets to know that individual is also the key so as to understand the spirit of the climax. Writer Peter Morgan nails it in all the departments providing a high quality output that unfolds at the right pace. Personally I liked the way the 1976 Formula 1 season is depicted paying homage to all the key aspects along with the behind the scenes look at what goes on in the pitlanes. The only complaint which I can have is the lack of focus on the Hunt’s and Lauda’s personal life after the initial setup.

Ron Howard is a master in terms of handling big movies which is evident in his resume. Although I was skeptical if he would be able to maintain the pace/tempo that the movie of such nature demands (after witnessing the Dan Brown movies), eventually I think he got it right in bringing the rivalry perfectly well onto the silver screen. The usage of actual race footage along with the filmed one was done really well and helped in engaging the audience. Personally I would have been super pleased had he covered the dog fights between the 2 more elaborately. For me, the last hour of the movie are a joy to watch, specially that I am a hardcode Formula 1 fan.

Effects & Visuals: The camera work was really well done and kept the audience at the edge of their seats. The immersive nature of the effects also works in hooking the audience to the pace of the movie. The blend of real life and reel life footage was done so well that it provided a seamless experience. Full marks on this front!!

Cast: The key for this movie to work was the casting of Hunt and Lauda. For me, both were done superbly well. This is the 1st time that I saw Chris Hemsworth without a hammer to keep him company. The guy has talent and that is in full display as the playboy, flamboyant, gutsy Hunt who drives the wheels of any car that is given to him. To compliment him, we have Daniel Bruhl who plays the ambitious, calculative and disciplined Niki Lauda. This guy really does justice to the emotions that Lauda expresses and the relationship which he shares with his wife and Hunt himself.

The support cast does a descent job but outside the character of the wives, none of them have any significant screen time which is understandable.

Bottomline: A strong Oscar contender from the start for a rich form of movie making. The flick does have its movements but comes out on top in terms of pace, perfection and guts. For Formula1 lovers, this movie is a perfect way to relive and celebrate the Hunt-Lauda 1976 season battle. The brilliance of Ron Howard along with good strong performances from Chris and Daniel are the key reasons why you should go watch this flick!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Claws All Out! The Wolverine Movie Review

Censor Rating: PG-13 (USA), U/A (India)
My Score: 3.5/5

For the past 12 years, the XMen series has been entertaining us with some rather unique brand of movie making. It was seen as an inspiration that superheroes apart from Superman, Batman can work on the silver screen.  But after telling 3 awesome, 1 ok and 1 downright weird stories, does the universe has more incredible stories to tell?

The Wolverine follows the titular character to an unusual place – Japan. This aspect of the comic books was always intriguing to fanboys who loved the idea of the adamantium claw vs the samurai sword showdown. The blend of Japanese style of action with the brute force action approach was also something which was evident in the comics which had achieved some decent amount of success.

The movie takes off a few years after the events of XMen: The Last Stand. Ridden with anger and guilt over killing his one true love, Logan has become a recluse who is tracked down by Yuiko who is a close aide of Yashida, a Japanese billionaire. Yashida recalls that during the Nagasaki bombing, it was Logan who had saved him from the blasts and wishes to repay him with a very unusual gift – a gift which Logan has been longing for ever since the events of The Last Stand – the gift of mortality.

Story & Direction: Being the 6th movie in the franchise series, the story needed to deliver otherwise it would have become another run of the mill adventure which was appreciated only for its VFX. Thankfully the story was solid. It took the character out of its comfort zone, out of reach of the usual characters which we have come to see. It also played on the emotional side of the character and handled the aspect of moving on from the events of The Last Stand. It played the “fish out of water” concept pretty well while staying true to the comic book storyline. The screenplay did slow down at a few places and had some needless scenes but the key sequences were gripping enough to keep you from losing interest.

James Mangold has an impressive resume and that showed in this movie. Capturing the essence of Japan while still staying focused on The Wolverine is a difficult thing to do and James pulled it off incredibly well. The action sequences were nicely choreographed and were blended well with the story.

Action & Effects: The classic wolverine fights were back!! Blending them with Japanese Samurai and Yakuza fighting style was a treat to watch. The Silver Samurai action sequence though was rushed and needed to be more elaborate as it was an iconic showdown. The special effects were decent with no complaints in any of the sequences. The bullet train sequence (see video above) was top notch.The 3D was used effectively but was something that could be done without.

Cast: Boosting of an all Japanese cast, the performances were ok. The casting was clearly done keeping in mind that Hugh Jackman was to dominate over them. The movie is essentially a Hugh Jackman show. It encompasses his range of emotions and shows the humane side of the character which has always taken center stage in the XMen series. With Famke Janssen putting in a special appearance, the chemistry between the 2 was nice and showed the emotional side of the story.

Special mention of the cameo appearance from 2 of my favorite characters in a post credit scene which really ties up all the movies together (but leaves some interesting questions unanswered) and makes us look forward to next year’s feature – XMen: The Days of Future Past!

Bottomline: The story is the real winner in this one. For the 1st time, the movie has concentrated on the emotional side of the character rather than the action that comes with it. What doesn’t really work is the pace of the screenplay and the lack of support from the other characters in the movie. However, the movie does try to stitch up loose ends (even those that have been created by the really disappointing The Last Stand) so that the next feature coming out next year seems inline with other movies in the series. They have made some interesting storyline decisions in this movie. It would be interesting to see how that works with next year’s film! 

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Monster Clichés! “Pacific Rim” Movie Review

Censor Rating: PG-13 (USA), U/A (India)
My Score: 2/5
Monster movies always are a joy to watch. I am amongst the very few who enjoyed the really cheesy Godzilla movie when it came out in India.  The blowing up of buildings, the devastation which the creature leaves behind is a fun ordeal to watch for the 2 odd hours that the flick is on. Now, if you add to this, giant Transformer like robots, it would really be an exciting match up which any fan boy would look forward to. The only way you can ruin the experience is by adding melodrama and emotions to it.

Set in the near future, the movie boosts of a link between dimensions which gets created in the Pacific Ocean through which “Kaiju” monsters emerge to claim Earth as their own. Humans respond by building huge robots terms as Jaegers to fight these monsters. To pilot these Jaegers, 2 humans are connected to it through neural link. Initially, humans tend to win but as more and more Kaijus appear, Jaegers don’t seem to be a force which could compete. The movie follows the exploits of the last remaining Jaegers as they attempt to get rid of the Kaijus and the portal that brings them to Earth.

Direction & Writing: The premise of the movie is centered on full blown action between Kaijus and Jaegers. So, in terms of this expectation, the story is simple and straight forward with some predictable occurrences. What lets down big time is the screenplay which is painstakingly slow and drags on with extremely predictable dialogues and cheesy scenarios. In fact, the 1st half was completely without any Jaeger-Kaiju action apart from the opening sequence which is really frustrating and irritating. Pace/action picks up in the 2nd half and has its spectacular moments but those are far and few between.

Guillermo Del Toro stamps the movie with his style of movie making. The visuals and the direction are stunning and really enjoyable. What surprises me is that the screenplay is penned by Del Toro!! Not really expected such a thing from him. Having said that, the saving grace of the 2nd half is his camera sense and visual thrills which are still top notch stuff.

Visuals & Effects: Imagine the visual effects of Transformers and Cloverfield/Super 8 messed up into one. Now multiply that by 3 which will give you the awe factor of this movie. Amazing effects coupled with amazing Jaeger and Kaiju designs are a hallmark of the movie. All the Kaijus which emerge look completely different but have the same anatomical structure which shows that a great deal of time has been spent designing them. Likewise for Jaegers. On the 3D aspect, the movie suffers from post production conversion syndrome which is not really needed.

Cast: Boosting of an international cast which includes Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba and Rinko Kikuchi, acting is decent but not something to write home about. The 1st half is all about emotions and compatibility but because of cheesy writing, their acting is funny rather than serious. Del Toro’s lucky mascot Ron Perlman also has some scenes in this and is really cool in it. Charlie Day and Burn Gorman provide some comic relief and perform the pivotal scenes decently.

Conclusion: The movie is full of monster movie clichés and cheesy scenarios/dialogues which tend to take the shine off the surreal action towards the 2nd half. The movie by no means is a perfect movie and is far below Del Toro’s writing standards. But with Godzilla and Transformers 4 coming up next year, this movie serves as a good precursor to it. One time watch purely for the action and carnage!