Saturday, April 25, 2015

Thrown the Gauntlet! Avengers: Age Of Ultron Movie Review

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

With a massive budget, you can either go all out and show the world your movie making chops or you can go all out and try to earn more money. When I finished watching the nearly 2 and a half hour marathon, I was wondering what Joss Whedon was aiming for. This question is extremely difficult to answer when your mind is toggling between being a fanboy and an objective voice of reason. Thats when I realized, the movie was not about impressing the fanboys or be objective, it was to throw the gauntlet down to DC and to pass the torch to the Russo Bros who can script how the Avengers take down Thanos and his Army.

The movie picks up (sort of) after the events of Captain America: Winter Soldier with Cap assembling the avengers in taking down the hydra bases all over the world. They hit the Hydra outpost in Sokovia to take down Baron Strucker and take back Loki's scepter. During their mission, they run into the Maximoff twins (Aaron Taylor-Johnson & Elizabeth Olsen) who give them a run for their money. During the raid, Tony Stark comes across a revelation which helps him jump start the Ultron program. Thus Ultron is born, goes rogue and pledges the destruction of the Avengers with the help of the Maximoff twins. The story then becomes a joy ride which takes the team from New York to Africa and finally back to Sokovia.

Story & Direction: The story had 2 facets to it - the actual movie story and the MCU story. From an MCU perspective, this movie (as expected) was a huge step forward in terms of realizing the infinity wars plotline. Further, this movie served as a stopgap for that very storyline and ensured that Thanos was not introduced too early for anyone's annoyance. At first, I felt that this movie does not have any real bearing on the MCU. However, when you break down each and every scene, you see that every step, every sub plot in the movie has a direct and immediate consequential impact to the MCU. For that hats off to Whedon and his crew for a brilliant write up. That clearly shows a great "Vision" (couldnt help it :))

From a movie story perspective, I was not very impressed. The entire movie felt rushed and didnt have the drive that the 1st movie had. This movie felt disoriented and extremely fast paced to allow audience a breather. Ultron's motives to turn rogue were not really clear to me nor where the origins of the Vision and why he was brought to life. I felt those fear memories inducted by the Scarlet Witch really had something going but that wasnt explored either. I would have rated the movie very low had it not been for the MCU storyline elegance which the movie depicted!

Joss Whedon's swansong to the MCU was commendable. He did an admirable job in directing some really cool sequences (highlight was the very 1st Avengers Assemble sequence) and some really swift camera work and direction. What I liked in this one is he managed to extract some really cool emotional performances from the entire cast which was good to see.

Visuals & Effects: For a movie of this magnitude, the VFX department needed to be spot on and by god it was! It was a treat to watch ALL the sequences. Although most of them were over the top and some were needless, but for the lover of this art (thats me), it was a spectacular feeling. I missed watching the IMAX version but I can vouch that it would have been super fun. The attention to detail was super cool. Vision really caught my eye as those effects were done brilliantly well. 3D was non-intrusive and had that immersive effect which was missed earlier.

The Cast: The entire ensemble was brilliant. Thats the beauty of having top class actors, they are really bankable and gives the makers one less area to worry about. RDJ, both Chris's, ScarJo, Mark & Jeremy all turned in some really good performances. Sam Jackson and Cobie Smulders also did a decent job.

James Spader was the perfect choice as Ultron's character. You needed a cold calculative voice to deliver that sinister trance that is Ultron and James was awesome in it. Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen struggled a bit with the accent but turned in some really nice performances as the "Enhanced". I particularly liked Olsen in the final few scenes as she really showed why he is indeed the Scarlet Witch. The minor cameos by Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle were a delight. Andy Serkis was strategically placed and would have a huge role to play in the MCU in the future.

Bottomline: Not the finest gem in the MCU, but Age of Ultron still delivers the fitting start to Phase 3 & to the Summer of 2015. Joss Whedon in an interview did concede that he might have made a bad movie and he is around 40% right. But the MCU storyline continuation bails up out and makes the rating for this movie go up! Fanboys would enjoy it.

Poster & Videos Copyright: Marvel Studios

Saturday, April 04, 2015

For Paul: Fast & Furious 7 Review

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

The latest instalment of one of the longest running franchise came on the screen this weekend. However, the excitement was bit subdued for me as the film marked a delay because of the untimely and tragic passing of Paul Walker - one of the cornerstones in the franchise. The production was re-organized so that his passing would be handled in a dignified and respectful manner. The finished product was a surreal combination of nostalgia, fast paced action and a final salute.

Furious 7 continues the franchise storyline from the events of the sixth movie where we see Han's character killed off by Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham). Deckard is the big brother of Owen Shaw, the character which was the main protagonist in Fast & Furious 6. The action shifts to Los Angeles where Shaw, who apparently is a seasoned black ops, is hunting down Dominic Toretto and his team one by one. He is even chased by covet Ops team led by Frank Petty (Kurt Russell) who offers a deal to bring in a hacker named Ramsey for her computer tracking program called the "God's Eye" in exchange for them using the Eye to find Shaw. Dom accepts and then the story is set in motion which takes the team from Caucasus Mountains to Abu Dhabi in search of the Eye.

Story & Direction: The writing must have been impacted big time surely because of the tragedy. That showed in the story flow for sure. However, I would not really hold them to it. Of course the screenplay and script in general had a lot of flaws but the fact they handled the moving on of the character so well after 50% into production, it is commendable on how well they have handled the transition. Having said that, the over the top action sequences were a treat to watch (Although a little short of physics concepts). But all in all, I would say that the writers did a fantastic job in handling the story post the passing of Walker. They could have killed his character off (the easy way) but they choose to give him the farewell he so richly deserved.

James Wan was a new addition to the Furious 7 family and he did a pretty decent job in handling the flick. It was a tall ask from the beginning but his direction and set play direction was spot on. However, the combat sequences were a big miss as he choose an up close and personal approach rather than a pan out approach to filming the action. In 3D, it was really difficult to concentrate and focus on what is going on. That decision, Mr Wan, backfired big time. However, a special mention for the bus sequence - simply breath taking and how appropriate to see Paul do his thing in that scene.

Visuals & Effects: The VFX used in this movie is nice and crisp and to the point. They have not really tried to over compensate for the fast paced action sequences nor they have done any compromises. They used Walker's brothers to stand in and finish his scenes and those look almost as if he is standing there. The effects and thrills are also really brilliant but seem to be led down by the aggressive camera movement & the 3D effects (again something which was not necessary for this franchise). I havent seen the IMAX version but have heard the Abu Dhabi supercar sequence is really awesome and the Rousey - Rodrigues fight sequence is pretty hardcode.

The Cast: Barring the people that were killed off in the previous movie, everyone made a return. Although Jordana Brewster (Mia) had a limited role in the movie, she still managed to turn in a good bit of acting around. Michelle Rodrigues was nice and Ludacris and Tyrese Gibson have shown an awesome chemistry and put off some really funny scenes in the movie. Surprisingly, Dwayne Johnson has a very small role in the movie but still gives his best in the space he has. Finally, Jason Statham as Shaw is the perfect bad guy and shows a good range of action and style. A special mention for Kurt Russell who does a fine job as the head of the Covet Ops team.

Vin Diesel was his emotional best in the movie. You could see a stark difference in the movie and make out those scenes where Paul had passed away. This was an extremely difficult movie for Diesel but his bromance with Walker was given a fitting conclusion. As for Paul I say this, you were the strength of these movies and you will always be.

Bottomline: For any fan of the franchise and Paul Walker, this movie is a definite see. The franchise has moved on from those racing flicks to more intense familia style action movie. The makers have done a phenomenal job in paying homage to one of the most central actors in this series and that shows in your hearts and your eyes when you leave the theater watching Paul Walker drive off into the sunset.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Style of a Con-Man! Focus Movie Review

Censor Rating: R (USA), U/A (India)
My Score: 3/5

Heist movies depend a lot on the twists involved along with the pace and quality of actors on display. For me the pace is really important. Thats why a movie like Now You See Me worked well (if you minus the very last scene). Some movies just depend on style of the acts along with the execution of the material available. The only different in getting an awesome and a good product is to have "Focus" on the right qualities!

"Focus" centers around Nicky (Will Smith), an old timer con artist, who runs into an aspiring con artist Jess (Margot Robbie) as his apprentice but makes the mistake of getting romantically involved with her. The movie pans out across 2 major scene-sets, one in New Orleans during the Superbowl XVII and the climax at Buenos Aires (set three years later) and put at center the clear work of Nicky as he and his team (along with Jess) pick apart wallets, cards, watches and what not during the Superbowl and get involved in a high stakes climax. After a disastrous couple of years, we see Will Smith back at what he does best - smooth talking style. 

Story & Direction: The key elements of the story have been handled very well. The premise during the 1st scene-set is well set and defined which makes its execution very fast paced and engrossing. However, the writers do sacrifice the pace to develop extended back stories for Jess and Nicky. Although it can be argued that it was crucial for the story, the fact remains that it slowed down the movie more than my liking. I just wish those moments could have been handled in a different way. One of the best piece of writing and execution I have seen is the gambling scene during the Superbowl - it simply took me by surprise. However, the 2nd scene-set was very predictable and had the end not provided the twist which was required, I would have left the movie hall with a lot of frustration at what could have been a brilliant movie!

The directors (Glenn Ficarra & John Requa) did a very smart thing in this movie - they oriented their style to that of Will Smith. This part really worked in this movie and was one of the crucial factors in executing those pacey and/or intense scenes in the movie. As touched upon earlier, I loved the gambling scene and in part the directors (who were also the writers) have to be given credit for the work. Their work is commendable but could have been more zippier as was the need for such time of movies. 

Visuals: Again, the camera work was reminiscent of classic Will Smith movies. It had the same style, appeal and swagger which is known to be in his movies. Further, the editing of crucial scenes was nice and covered the story telling aspect of the movie brilliantly well. In fact this was one of the points I really liked in the movie.

The Cast: It looked from the onset that it was a re-launch vehicle for Will Smith and as you would have noticed in my review till now, all points towards that very aspect. Made for Will Smith, the movie showcases his acting chops and screen presence along with the swagger and style of typical Will Smith movies. It looked like a pretty save movie for Will Smith considering that the last 2 years and could signal a career revival (as if he needed one) for the 46 year old actor. He was given a nice complimenting actress in Margot Robbie who played her part. Robbie who is 22 years younger to Smith is looking a hot new talent and has taken her work from Wolf of Wall Street further ahead in this one. If this is the chemistry involved, then I am super excited for next summer's Suicide Squad which has Smith as Deathshot and Robbie as Harley Quinn. Its going to be an interesting ride.

Bottomline: If you are a Will Smith fan, watching this movie is a no-brainer. He has announced himself back into the scene with a very "back to basics" performance. This is his movie through and through. Lovers of Heist movies would also like this movie but might be put off by some serious lack of pace in some scene. I would say this is a one time watch.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Artificially Intelligent!! Chappie Movie Review

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

Its never content but the style that truly delivers a robot movie. We have seen a fair bit of them over the years. A robot action movie genre is not new. So, filmmakers have to constantly reinvent re-style their content to make people take notice and "yeah this is a different movie". Chappie attempts to get the "Wow factor" into the content but falls prey to the oldest problem - drama.

Confused? Even I was. The movie has all the components to succeed. A Neill Blomkamp movie set in an alternate future in his favorite town of Joberg revolves around AI (conscious) which is implanted into a Droid Robot which was damaged beyond repair during a police operation. Dean Wilson (Dev Patel) develops the AI as an internal project and infuses it into the robot when he is taken hostage by a street gang who have a debt to settle and voila! Chappie (Sharlto Copley) is born. Chappie is trained and groomed by the gang of thugs and develops into quite a character while Dean is distracted by the antics of Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman) who wants to replace the robot scout program (developed by Dean) with one of his own. What follows is a tale which spirals out into drama (make that melodrama) and action of the modest quality.

Story & Direction: Normally I do not focus on multiple aspects of writing. But this movie showed me that you have to concentrate on ALL aspects in order to deliver a brilliant story. Character writing is amazing in this movie. The character of Chappie which is the cornerstone of this film is written amazingly well. The innocence, charms and emotions are bang on and are a treat to watch. However, the outline story just falls apart as the movie progresses. When you would expect a character driven story quickly becomes a story driven character resulting in the final 3rd of the movie pace up really quickly and not provide any form of logic and/or reasoning. It was sad to see the movie fall away honestly. It didnt have that crescendo moment.

Neill Blomkamp does an awesome job in terms of direction. His directing chops were never a cause of concern and were one of the primary reasons I decided to watch the movie. I wasn't disappointed at all. Completely upto the mark and what I expect from Neill. I cannot wait for his version of the Aliens franchise.

The Cast: The story just does not make use of the super ensemble which was there at their disposal. However, Sharlto Copley as Chappie in mo-cap and voice delivers an amazing performance. His mannerisms and expressions (most of it digital though) supplement the character development and really shows off how great the character writing was. Another notable mention should be of the South African singers Yolandi Visser & Ninja who do a decent job but not a meaty role in this one for the former.

Hugh Jackman's character is weird but he tries to do a honest job. Dev Patel's character had the strength but somehow his performance was bland to taste. Sigourney Weaver was a pure waste in this movie!!

Bottomline: The movie attempts to show intelligence but feels artificial. It falls prey to the melodrama which the climax never demanded. I loved watching this movie specifically for Sharlto Copley but was frequently looking at my watch and scratching my head as it neared its end. Would wait for a world tv premier for this!

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Tailored to Taste! Kingsman: The Secret Service Movie Review!

Censor Rating: R (USA), A (India)
My Score: 3/5

Spy movies have always had their charm. With amazing gizmos to amazing action,
they tend to have it all. The Bond series was high on gizmos but relatively low on action whereas spy thrillers like Jason Bourne was more about the combat but less on the gadgetry. For people like me, who like the best of both worlds, there was something missing. After leaving the theaters yesterday night, I was happy that someone finally provided me with the formula which will help me enjoy both the gizmos and the action associated with spy movies!

Kingsman: The Secret Service, based on Mark Millar’s “The Secret Service” graphic novel series, is a completely british spy comic caper which deals with a typical but yet not so typical story of a coming of age young spy. The movie deals with Harry Hart aka Galahad (played by the ever so talented Colin Firth) who nominates his ex-prodigy's son as a new addition to Kingsman - a super secret service organization above Mi6, alongside handling a serious international threat posed by Richard Valentine (Samuel L Jackson). The movie’s fluidic nature handles and touches the more cliched part of ALL spy movies that we have seen till date yet giving the genre a more fresh spice of something different!

Story & Direction: Story wise, the source material is an interesting one indeed. Matt Vaughn along with Jane Goldman do a good job in translating the comic book into a nicely paced action spy movie. Although the writings and story logic has its flaws, those are compensated by the awesome camera moves and direction which allows for a fun ride. The writing is bit weak during the start but it picks up towards the end.

Directionwise, I would say it was a wise decision by Matt Vaughn to give up his chance to direct X-Men Days of Future Past for this one. This is a completely different genre and needed someone with the kind of skill which Matt possesses to pull it off. Plus the added British factor contributed to him making a cheesy yet not so cheesy action flick which takes a potshot at all Bond movie scenarios with its own unique comic flavour.

Visuals & Action: Technically the movie was awesome. Although the camera work was a bit too vibrant for my taste, the visual fluidity was enough for me to have a nice time during the entire length of the movie. I need to give a special mention to the amazing choreography of the Church massacre scene and a nod to Colin Firth for an amazing effort!!

Visually, considering the resources at hand, the movie was a treat and covered all the bases in terms of effect. If I have to nitpick, the final product could have been brushed up a bit prior to delivery :)

Cast: When the casting was announced, I looked at the sheet and went “Really? Colin Firth in an action movie?”. I was made to chew my words. He is simply brilliant in the movie. He has the acting chops now he got them rounded up with those slick moves and action/intimidation skills. Another notable mention is Mark Strong and Michael Caine who also dish out nice performances.

Sam L Jackson! An unrated actor who has done some phenomenal work throughout the years! He delivers again big time in this movie. The disappointment for me though was the young actors Taron Egerton and Sophie Cookson. Although they played their part but they missed the spark which you would need for actors in such a movie. A hat tip to Mark Hamill though :)

Bottomline: A perfect start to my summer here (yes this movie released late!). Kingsman provides the action from a Bourne movie with gadgetry from Bond while still keeping its original take on spy genre. Its a definite watch for people who would love some classic British spy movie with a fresh take.

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!!!