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!!!

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!!