Also check out my reviews of the latest Hindi films at annavetticadgoes2themovies.blogspot.com

Saturday, December 17, 2011

REVIEW 22: MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: GHOST PROTOCOL

Release date in India:
December 16, 2011
Director:
Brad Bird
Cast:
Tom Cruise, Paula Patton, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Anil Kapoor   


Uh oh! If a star of Anil Kapoor’s stature had played a role as small as this in an Indian film, he would have been respectfully credited for a “guest appearance”. Unfortunately, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol is a Hollywood film, and so Kapoor’s name comes rather high up in the credits although he appears in a barely-15-minute portion of the film pretty much towards the end. He looks handsome and makes an impression, but it’s hard not to feel short-changed at the microscopic duration of the role, particularly after having seen him play such a central character in the hit international teleseries 24.

But that’s just one of the many things I found disconcerting about the fourth film in the MI series. The last half hour of the film is set in Mumbai but it’s laughably evident that the actual time spent shooting there was very little. And so, limited shots of Mumbai’s streets are interspersed with shots of other places pretending to be Mumbai. But the mismatch between the real and the fake Mumbai is so glaring and the research is so poor (I think I even saw some signage in Kannada) that it’s irritating.

You may argue that authenticity is not the hallmark of films in the MI genre. But action is, isn’t it? MI4 has its share of well-executed stunts, but they’re not as much as we’re used to expecting from this impossibly crazily fun franchise. Sadder still, the pacing of the film slows down considerably towards the second half, making Ghost Protocol the least exciting film of the series.

The story is as convoluted and incredulous as usual. IMF Agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) has been assigned by the US government to infiltrate the Kremlin and recover details of a rogue Russian official nicknamed Cobalt. Hunt’s team for this daredevil mission includes agents Jane Carter (Paula Patton) and Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg). They’re close to completing the task when the Russians are alerted to their presence within the Kremlin, and as they escape, someone triggers off an explosion in the complex, leading the Russians to believe that the US is on an undeclared war against them. To reduce escalating tensions between the two countries, the US government officially disavows the IMF, but unofficially instructs Hunt to track down Cobalt. Without the support of the organisation, with limited equipment and information at hand, Hunt & Co set off on a transcontinental adventure that covers the UAE and India to stop Cobalt before he sets off a nuclear war, no less.
The action scenes right at the start are impossible – but of course – and hugely entertaining. The tricks used by Hunt and team to break into the Kremlin are vintage MI, combining ingredients that keep us both amused and thrilled. But the pace and the director’s imagination seem to slow down considerably as the story progresses. We all know that films of the James Bond, Die Hard and MI series require a suspension of disbelief. The trick for the director is to keep the stunts coming at the audience at such an unrelenting pace, that we don’t have the time to think. Unfortunately, in the hands of Brad Bird (critically acclaimed director of animation films, here making his live action debut) Ghost Protocol gives us too much time.
The sequences shot in – and on – the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building situated in Dubai, are completely awe-inspiring. The portion where Cruise is shown running and crawling across the exterior of the building is particularly stunning! But there’s not enough where that came from.  
Cruise is cute as usual, and amazingly agile especially considering that he’s 49. Patton fills out her clothes very well, and sure knows how to throw a mean punch. The deserts of Dubai look striking under cinematographer Robert Elswit’s eye. There is a nice little emotional twist thrown in involving Hunt’s wife. And the film retains the series’ trademark sense of humour and willingness to laugh at itself. So yes, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol is fun in parts, but MI has done better before.
Rating (out of five): **3/4
Release date in the US:
December 16, 2011       
MPAA Rating (US):
PG-13 (for sequences of intense action and violence)
CBFC Rating (India):
U/A  
Language:
English


Sunday, November 27, 2011

REVIEW 21: THE IDES OF MARCH

Release date in India:
November 18, 2011
Director:
George Clooney
Cast:
Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Evan Rachel Wood, Marisa Tomei, Paul Giamatti, Jeffrey Wright


He forgot the golden rule of politics: you can go to war, send the country to the brink of ruin … but never f*** the intern.
Who is “he”? Aha, I will not tell! George Clooney’s latest directorial venture The Ides of March is a political drama based on a screenplay by Clooney, Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon, adapted from the play Farragut North by Willimon. It stars Clooney as Pennsylvania governor Mike Morris hoping to get the Democratic Party nomination for the next US presidential election. He’s a decent fellow who hates giving in to the political manoeuvring that’s inevitable if you wish to play the game. But don’t nice guys finish last? Well, not if they have on their team a campaign manager as brilliant as Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and his genius media secretary Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling). The film revolves around Stephen, a hard-as-nails operator who is more naive than he imagines, and is with Governor Morris because he genuinely believes in him.
Nothing, however, is as it seems in this seemingly sedate film with storms incessantly brewing below the surface. Like Clooney’s earlier directorial outings, The Ides of March too is a mood piece. Watching it is like being in a spacious art gallery. You don’t see actual movement on the canvases, and yet you are aware that there’s a world of motion out there beneath those brush strokes. There’s drama minus surface melodrama. And as usual, the cast is impeccable.
In Crazy, Stupid, Love earlier this year, when Gosling took off his shirt for the first time before his girlfriend, she involuntarily exclaimed: Oh my god, that looks like Photoshop! Right you are, girl! This man seems too hot to be real. Yet he overcomes the hurdle that great looks can sometimes be, to deliver a performance in this latest film that’s restrained and touching.
But the air-conditioner in the hall where I watched The Ides of March was not effective enough to handle a film starring both Gosling and Clooney. The veteran actor-director’s HQ (hotness quotient) rises every year even as the furrows on that brow deepen and the hair gets grayer. Clooney with his undeniable good looks, easy charm and command over the craft is perfect for the part of the quintessential good guy whose instincts rebel against mucky politics. Another star who lends great dignity to advancing years is Marisa Tomei whose age-enhanced face is such a delight to the eyes. Playing the ingratiating-and-terse-by-turns political reporter, Tomei reminds us once again that Hollywood has not given her her due in terms of roles despite her memorable Oscar-winning performance in My Cousin Vinny (1992).
The film’s primary strength is its amazing cast. Their performances and the film’s atmosphere of intensity are further enhanced by cinematographer Phedon Papamichael’s extreme close-ups and the production design which favours greys, browns and beiges, building up to the inevitability of cold cynicism in the filthy world of politics.
If there is a flaw in the film, it is the somewhat simplistic and contrived nature of the ending. After a series of neat and unpredictable twists, I thought Morris capitulated to circumstances more easily than I’d have expected, and the change in Stephen’s public demeanour (from smooth-talking charmer to openly harsh cynic with the press) did not quite fit. So yes, the finale of The Ides of March is a tad underwhelming and feels a little bit like the writers weren’t sure how to wrap it up. But before the end there is an entire film with incredible actors … and that film is a compelling watch!
Rating (out of five): ***1/2
Release date in the US:
October 7, 2011             
MPAA Rating (US):
R (for pervasive language)
CBFC Rating (India):
A
Running time:
100 minutes approximately
Language:
English


Photograph courtesy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Ides_of_March_(film)

Saturday, November 12, 2011

REVIEW 20: THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN: THE SECRET OF THE UNICORN (3D)

Release date in India:
November 11, 2011
Director:
Steven Spielberg
Cast:
Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig


“Blistering barnacles” and “thundering typhoons”, an ageless hero, his alcoholic associate and canine best friend … I can go on about the reasons why I’ve always enjoyed Tintin. Earlier this year, after resisting the temptation for months on end, I even bought myself the 21 DVD set of animated Tintin films. I can’t claim to be as much of a Tintin expert as the little fellow I met in the lift right after this film’s Delhi premiere, but I’d say I know the boy reporter from Belgium rather well. Which is why it’s such a joy to report back to you that I really had a good time watching this film!
Directed by Spielberg, The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn draws on all the Tintin books created by the Belgian artist Herge, though it is primarily based on three of them: The Crab with the Golden Claws, The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham’s Treasure. It’s a performance capture 3D film that has used actor Jamie Bell to create the character of Tintin, Andy Serkis (Gollum in The Lord of the Rings trilogy) for Captain Haddock, and Daniel Craig a.k.a. James Bond as the evil Ivan Ivanovitch Sakharine.
The film starts with Tintin and his dog Snowy ambling through a marketplace when our hero’s eye falls on a model of a ship called the Unicorn. As soon as he buys it, he’s accosted by a stranger desperate to buy it from him. The ship is later stolen from Tintin’s flat, sending him off on a series of adventures that take him from the ocean to a burning desert, all the way to a port town in Morocco and back home. Along the way he befriends Captain Haddock and briefly encounters Bianca Castafiore whose glass-shattering singing voice is familiar to all Tintin buffs.
Spielberg’s film is a humorous and suspenseful action adventure filled with high-adrenaline fights and chases, snappily edited by Michael Kahn and further elevated by John Williams’ music. 3D adds to the gasp-worthiness of The Secret of the Unicorn with cars racing towards us, the ocean threatening to splash out at us, and those planes and cranes hurtling around as if they may just lop off our heads. In some scenes the film does suffer from the usual dimness that is the bane of 3D films, but I’m not going to crib, considering the pluses the third dimension offers.
Some of the human beings in this film marvellously match up to Herge’s colourful world. Serkis’ Captain Haddock especially took my breath away because he feels like an entirely live human being, not the product of performance capture, and looks precisely like the Haddock of the books. I’m not sure why Spielberg chose to make him sound Irish, but I swear on all those billions of blue blistering barnacles, he seems like he just rose out of Herge’s two-dimensional pages and ballooned out into a whole, live man! The other remarkable characters are the film’s main villain Ivan Ivanovitch Sakharine and the pirate Red Rackham.
Disappointingly though, the least appealing players in the film for me were Tintin himself and Snowy. Quite in contrast to Haddock’s lively and dynamic face, Tintin appears strangely flat and a tad expressionless. I’m not sure whether this is the fault of technology or Jamie Bell’s acting, but it took away some of the joy of watching this otherwise delightful film. Another downer is the fact that Snowy is not as central to the proceedings as you’d expect. We also don’t get to know the dog’s thoughts as we do in the books, which is a pity because I’ve been curious all this while about how Spielberg would handle that.
Still, the overall impact of this film is positive, energetic and thoroughly entertaining. Unlike James Cameron’s visually revolutionary Avatar, the technological milestones crossed by The Secret of the Unicorn don’t overwhelm the plot. In the past, I’ve found myself wondering why directors bothered with performance capture when they could just as well have opted for live action, but here the technique somehow manages to capture the look of Herge’s art work more effectively than a regular film might have. Considering the quantum of modern technology that has been invested in this film, it’s also lovely to see that Tintin’s cellphone-less, computer-less world comes across in the film as timeless, yes, but not dated at all.
The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn was released in October in Europe – where Tintin is traditionally strong – after which it’s come to India six weeks before the US release. The idea has been to create worldwide hype before taking it to the moneyed audiences in the US, a country where Herge’s comics never achieved the popularity they did elsewhere. If this film fares well at the box office, co-producers Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson plan two sequels. Rarely has a film’s ending been such an unabashed ad for a follow-up as it is in The Secret of the Unicorn. So here’s my wish list for Parts 2 & 3 if they happen: I want Tintin to look more real, I want Snowy to think or speak, I’d like Thomson and Thompson to have more verve and chemistry, and oh how I’m waiting to meet Professor Cuthbert Calculus! Fingers crossed for Steven and Peter!
Rating (out of five): ***1/2

PS: Don’t miss the opening credits and look out for the tribute to Herge in the very first scene

Release date in the US:
Scheduled for December 21, 2011    
MPAA Rating (US):
PG (for adventure action violence, some drunkenness and brief smoking)
CBFC Rating (India):
U without cuts
Running time:
109 minutes
Language:
English


Photograph courtesy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Adventures_of_Tintin_(film)

Saturday, July 16, 2011

REVIEW 19: HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART 2 (3D)

Release date in India:
July 15, 2011
Director:
David Yates
Cast:
Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Alan Rickman, Ralph Fiennes, Maggie Smith, Helena Bonham-Carter, Julie Walters, Tom Felton, Jason Issacs, Michael Gambon


I guess it can safely be said that the world right now is divided into two types of people: those who’ve read the Harry Potter books and those who’ve not. And right now, my world, my friends and my social circle are divided into two sets of people: those who’ve already seen Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 and those who’ve not. If you’ve not read the seven books, do get a quick prĂ©cis of the story so far from an earnest friend or a reliable website before you enter a movie hall for the grand celluloid finale. And even if you are a total Potter nut who (like me) has read all seven books twice over and seen the seven films that have preceded Deathly Hallows 2, may I suggest a quick revision?
We left Harry, his friends Hermione and Ron in The Deathly Hallows: Part 1 with the knowledge that three of the seven Horcruxes – vessels for the evil Lord Voldemort’s shredded soul – had been destroyed, and that there were four to come. The Deathly Hallows 2 begins with the trio in their quest for the fourth Horcrux in Gringotts bank. Beyond this, I’m not giving you much of the story because this review would get too long if I tried. Let’s just say that the final film remains faithful to J.K. Rowling’s book and though it compresses so much of what we read to fit its 126 minutes running time, director David Yates has still done a good job of wrapping it all up for us Pottermaniacs.
As you know, the last book of the series has been split into two films, one of which we saw late last year. Does the final film match up to the concluding chapters of the final book? No it does not. That’s not entirely Yates’ fault though, it’s largely a factor of the medium in which he’s working. No one could have possibly translated 100% on to film, the richness of Rowling’s imagination, the depth of the visual imagery she conjures up through her words or the intricate detailing in every tiny element in the books, right from the origins of the names she’s given her characters to the mythological creatures she’s resurrected for her tales. But despite the constraints intrinsic to the film medium, Yates has done a fine job.
The director has wisely assumed that everyone watching Deathly Hallows 2 knows what’s gone before. Imagine how long this film would have been if he had tried to explain Albus Dumbledore’s relationship with his brother, their befuddled sister, Luna Lovegood’s eccentric nature, Neville Longbottom’s particular reason for hating Voldemort and Bellatrix Lestrange, Platform Nine and Three-Quarters or Harry’s son’s fear of being assigned to Slytherin House. You’ll find it all in Hallows 2 without any idiot-proofing. And one of my favourite moments in this film, as it is in the entire book series, is when Harry kneels down on that curiously named station platform to whisper to his son: “Albus Severus, you were named for two headmasters of Hogwarts. One of them was a Slytherin and he was probably the bravest man I ever knew.”
The acting honours in this film, as in the entire series, must go to the wonderful Mr Alan Rickman who has done a superb job of playing the seemingly cruel Professor Severus Snape with pasty-faced stoicism, aided by a gifted make-up artist. On the downside, I think the make-up team should have done a better job of Harry, Ron and Hermione 19 years after Hogwarts (good work on Ginny though). What I also missed in this film is the crackling chemistry between Rupert Grint (Ron), Emma Watson (Hermione) and Daniel Radcliffe (Harry) that peaked in that one nude vision of Harry and Hermione that Ron had in Deathly Hallows 1. Perhaps I was expecting too much. After all, this story is primarily about Harry, Snape and Voldemort, the three lonely boys whose widely differing choices shaped their very different destinies. But I must confess that the 3D did not add much to the spectacle for me, and while the ultimate battle between Voldemort’s army and Harry’s forces is a visual marvel, it’s still not everything I had imagined it to be. No doubt the special effects are excellent and the production design admirably re-creates the atmospheric settings … but the end result was a lot of people running helter skelter and what seemed like fireworks flashing repeatedly during soulless crowd scenes that drew no emotion from me, thrown in between the more crucial and certainly better executed fights between the main players.
The most poignant part of this film is when Harry dips into Snape’s memory and discovers the truth behind the teacher’s motivations for all his actions from Books1-7. Equally well explained is the confusion over Voldemort’s wand and why it was not answering to him – kudos to Yates for his effective handling of perhaps the trickiest part of the book series. Ron’s mother Molly (Julie Walters) makes the briefest of appearances in this film but oh how I loved that moment when she turns on Bellatrix and yells: “Not my daughter, you bitch!”
The likeable lead trio have matured remarkably sweetly through the years that we’ve seen them grow up before our eyes, and the supporting cast remains intimidatingly talented … Let me curtail my urge to go on and on, and conclude by telling you that Bellatrix’s death is every bit as satisfactory as I had hoped it would be; those moments when Harry enters a gradually weakening Voldemort’s mind are as disturbing as I’d imagined; Voldemort’s snake Nagini is both spectacular and terrifying to behold; and although I’ve read and re-read this line in the book, I still couldn’t help but smile when Dumbledore tells Harry towards the end: “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” C’mon Ms Rowling, you can’t be serious about ending it now! How about a prequel or any-other-kind-of-quel please?
Rating (out of five): ***1/2

Release date in the US:
July 15, 2011
MPAA Rating (US):
PG-13 (for some sequences of intense action violence and frightening images)
CBFC Rating (India):
U/A without cuts
Running time:
126 minutes
Language:
English


Photograph courtesy: http://tinyurl.com/65wlrkf (wikipedia)

Friday, July 1, 2011

REVIEW 18: TRANSFORMERS 3 (3D)

Release date in India:
June 29, 2011
Director:
Michael Bay
Cast:
Shia LaBeouf, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Frances McDormand, Leonard Nimoy, Peter Cullen, John Turturro, Josh Duhamel, Patrick Dempsey


I’m seriously risking certain family relationships with this review. The children’s gang who watched Transformers 3 with me are flummoxed by my reaction to it. One of my teenaged friends even said to me in an affectionately patronising tone, “Ammama, just because you don’t get it, doesn’t mean that it’s not the coolest film ever.”

Well then, all you teenagers reading this review: be warned that this is a critique by an Ammama (a form of address for an aunt or elder sister in Malayalam) and not by a fellow teen.

Now that I’m done with that caveat, let me just say I think Transformers: Dark of the Moon a.k.a. Transformers 3 is quite a bad film. I remember enjoying the special effects in the first instalment of this series and even its quasi-philosophical/religious undertones. How could one ignore the allusion to the battle between the good angels and the forces of the fallen angel – the evil rebel Lucifer – while watching the story of Optimus Prime and the one who strayed away from the right path, Megatron. But it’s Part 3 now, I’m no longer so overwhelmed by those cars, trucks and other sundry everyday machines repeatedly transforming themselves into gigantic robots, so I need something more. Unfortunately, the “something more” that Transformers 3 offers is just more chaos and one new super-glam Barbie.

Let’s go over the story once. Fans of the franchise would clearly remember that in the first Transformers film, Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) is an American teenager leading a normal teen’s life when he buys a car and discovers that it’s not a mere automobile but a mega-robot which can transform itself into the vehicle at will. In flashback we are told about the robots from the planet of Cybertron, the battle between the Autobots (the good guys) and the Decepticons (the bad guys) that destroyed Cybertron, the descent of both groups on Earth in search of the All Spark which is the object that was responsible for creating their alien robotic race, and so on.

In Transformers 3, the Autobots continue their strategic alliance with humans … well actually with Americans, but as we all know, that’s the entire human race in Hollywood’s book. Sam – now a disgruntled college graduate without a job – discovers through a series of developments that the Decepticons are planning to steal Earth’s resources and use humans as slave labour to rebuild Cybertron. We are told that a Cybertronian spacecraft manned by Optimus’ senior Sentinel Prime had crashed into the moon many decades back and that was what prompted US President John F. Kennedy to kick off America’s mission that sent Neil Armstrong to the moon. There’s a connection to the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in the story that I will not describe in detail. But the gist of Transformers 3 is that in present-day America, Sam Witwicky and Optimus Prime once again take on the task of saving Earth from the Decepticons.

It’s all very clever at one level, but the manner in which the story is told is plain downright immature. Besides, there is so much plot confusion that at one point it seemed like everyone was shouting and attacking everyone else without quite knowing why. I mean, if the Decepticons intend to use humans to rebuild their planet, wouldn’t it make sense to conserve humanity? And yet, before any provocation is thrown in their paths, they start running riot in Chicago, ripping buildings apart, and killing every man and woman in sight.

I can see why Shia LaBeouf would want to be a part of this silly enterprise. After all, it’s this multi-million-dollar-earning series that has made this youngster an international star. But it beats me why Oscar winner Frances McDormand or hotties Josh Duhamel and Patrick Dempsey were willing to join the cacophony. Model-turned-actress Rosie Huntington-Whiteley replaces Megan Fox as Sam’s girlfriend. Ms Whiteley looks delectable in a white shirt and nothing else in an early scene in this film, but seems incapable of moving the muscles in her face. If director Michael Bay was looking for a mere hot bod for that role, why on earth didn’t he think of someone like swimsuit model Brooklyn Decker (Just  Go With It) who is beautiful, has a fabulous figure and … wait for it … CAN ALSO ACT!

For me, the selling point of the first film was the imposing Optimus Prime behind whose metallic facial features I could visualise a ruggedly handsome man. Sadly, Transformers 3 does not have enough of him. Equally sad is the fact that the film makes a mere token bow to femininity – the robots are probably genderless but they sure as hell all sound like human males and there’s a passing glimpse of a female Autobot. What the film does have in good measure is the wonderful and well-chosen Leonard Nimoy (Mr Spock from TV’s Star Trek) who lends dignity and strength to the voice of Sentinel Prime.

Any sci-fi action adventure treads a fine line between being profound and being silly, depending on how effectively it coaxes the audience into a suspension of disbelief. Unfortunately, Transformers 3 falls way past that dividing line into juvenile territory. The film clearly intends to send out messages about the conservation of resources, basic goodness and honesty (which Optimus exemplifies) and certain political issues that are of universal concern. It is no doubt making a statement on alliances with evil forces (I’d like to believe that’s a reference to the inevitably self-destructive nature of America’s tie-ups with known perpetrators of terrorism in its war against terror). There’s also a condemnation of political and diplomatic opportunism here (the Decepticons’ human partner-in-crime teams up with them because he is convinced that they will be victors, not because he feels they are right). A well-meaning storyline, sequences of awe-inspiring action and special effects do not add up to good cinema. Seriously man, please lay this franchise to rest!

Rating (out of five): **

Release date in the US:
June 29, 2011
MPAA Rating (US):
PG-13 (for intense prolonged sequences of sci-fi action violence, mayhem and destruction, and for language, some sexuality and innuendo)
CBFC Rating (India):
U/A
Running time:
151 minutes
Language:
English


Photograph courtesy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transformers:_Dark_of_the_Moon