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Watchmen March 14, 2009

Posted by Sai in English, Movies, Reviews.
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I was left with mixed feelings after watching this film. The Watchmen universe is intriguing. I haven’t read the graphic novel but I could sense that there was a lot that was left out of the film, especially the back stories of the characters that seemed to be very interesting. I wasn’t bored as I know some will be in the 166 minute film. I particularly enjoyed the visuals but I can’t say I that I fell in love with the film. It worked fine as a sort of a mystery film set in an alternate world but I am not going to recollect this film with fondness. I think I am getting ahead of myself. Lets backup a little.

Watchmen is considered by many as the greatest graphic novel (12 issues) ever and was also one of the Top 100 novels listed by Time (the only graphic novel to be on the list). Many thought that it was probably never going to be filmed due to the difficulty of bringing this rich and deep world to the screen in limited time (without considering the legal troubles it had to eventually face) but director Zack Snyder (300) and his team persevered and did what many famous directors before him could not. If you’ve got wind of the hype, you’ve probably heard all this and were just as excited as me to watch this.

Snyder and his team have certainly not failed. The film is well directed, carefully detailed and provides a superior visual experience. The cinematography and visual effects are assets and Snyder makes interesting use of the soundtrack. But the film is really about the characters, their conflicting moralities and crazy lives. This is the most interesting aspect of the film and it is the one thing could make me read the graphic novel but it is also the one thing that gets sacrificed due to the limits on screen time (yeah, 166 minutes ain’t enough).

However, the film isn’t very successful here. The characters that really play well in the film are Rorschach (played by Jackie Earle Haley) and The Comedian (played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and the actors playing them are the only ones that impress. In the Watchmen universe, Dr Manhattan (played by Billy Crudup) is the most important character and he says a lot of things that we probably need to think about but as a viewer, my mind was mostly focused on trying to understand everything rather than thinking. This character didn’t really work for me in the film. Malin Akerman as Silk Spectre II and Patrick Wilson as Nite Owl II are also somewhat bland though they get considerable screen time.

This film isn’t for everyone. Those who wander into theaters thinking of this one as a superhero movie with lot of action will be disappointed. A long and serious look at life through the subtext in a fantasy crime mystery might just not be the thing that you were looking for. Whether this film is about hope or the depths to which we need to plumb to get it is not clear enough to me. As a film, Watchmen wasn’t particularly absorbing. This convoluted tale of twisted crime fighters might not be for those who haven’t read the graphic novel.

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The Dark Knight July 19, 2008

Posted by Sai in English, Movies, Reviews.
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The most awaited movie this summer finally arrives in theatres. Film geeks have been churning out post after post on the blogosphere awaiting its arrival and the phenomenon isn’t going to stop post-release. Almost every critic worth his salt has raved about it. If you thought Batman Begins was super, wait till you watch The Dark Knight. It meets all the expectations and then some.

A question that everyone is asking themselves is whether this is the best superhero movie ever. Before you go there, you might want to ask yourself if it is a superhero movie. Batman was always one of the most identifiable superheroes because he didn’t have real superpowers. In his two Batman films, director Christopher Nolan (who has dabbled in noir more often than not) has employed a dark tone and a lot of logic to make Batman feel very real. He continues that in this film, making it feel like a crime thriller more than a superhero movie. If we still were consider it a comic book superhero film, I’d say it tops my list (and that of so many more).

The film is centred around three major characters. Harvey Dent, the white knight of Gotham, who provides people with the hope that he can change things for the better. Batman, the dark knight of Gotham, whose work seems to have worsened the crime in the city. And finally the Joker, a psychopathic killer who terrorizes the city with his own crazy, unpredictable but believable motives for doing so. Will the white knight take Gotham forward? Will the Joker ruin Batman and Gotham? Can the Batman still stay incorruptible?

The screenwriters (Jonathan and Christopher Nolan, who’ve worked together on Memento and The Prestige) devise this film to take forward the story of Batman and Gotham. The film isn’t about superheroes. It is about criminals and crime fighters and how they affect each other. It is about the emotions, the motives, the psyche. It is about rules. It is about those who live by them and about those who follow none. The remarkable screenplay is driven around these ideas and not around the villains or their dumb ideas for world domination or the action sequences. Newer situations and conflicts are created, ensuring that the movie doesn’t feel repetitive (and that is always a problem for sequels). Everyone has a good reason for their actions. Everything is as realistic and logical as it has ever gotten in a comic book film. Christopher Nolan (Batman Begins, Following, Insomnia) created a successful reboot for a dead franchise and he takes it a step further this time. His contribution to the film – the detail, the tone, the vision, the execution – is superlative.

I loved the designs of the vehicles, weapons and the sets the first time (production design by Nathan Crowley). They are even better here. Wait till you see the Batpod in action. I was totally blown away by its introduction in the film. The action sequences are also much better this time around. The Joker’s makeup is very natural and the extended lips create a great effect. But the best part is the visualization of Two Face. It could scare the shit out of many.

Christian Bale continues his wonderful work (I especially like what he does with his voice for Batman) in the role that opened many doors for him. The late Heath Ledger brings the Joker to life in a delightful performance. Aaron Eckhart is well cast as Harvey Dent and he very much feels like someone whom people can instantly like and put faith in.  Maggie Gyllenhaal is a suitable (many will say better) replacement (for Katie Holmes) for the part of Rachel Dawes, who is caught between the two knights (no, it isn’t a perfunctory love triangle). Michael Caine as Alfred Pennyworth and Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox play their supporting parts to perfection while Gary Oldman as James Gordon is just as convincing and even more integral.

Now, after all the praise the question still remains. Should you watch it? The answer isn’t a resounding yes. If you’ve liked Batman Begins and have caught a whiff of the hype, you’re probably going to see this (if you haven’t already) irrespective of my opinion. But there are others who didn’t like that film much. Some found it too dark. Some found that the action or entertainment wasn’t enough. Others found it complex. Maybe they expected a popcorn movie and ended up with something else. If you are one of those, I wouldn’t particularly push you to watch this.

P.S. As I eagerly await Nolan’s sequel to this film, I prepare myself to understand that it will be hard to top this. So, anything that is at least close to matching the original is good enough for me.

Wanted July 3, 2008

Posted by Sai in English, Movies, Reviews.
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What a rush!

Sexy. Supercool. Awesome. Funtastic. These may be apt one-word descriptions for this film.

Pointless. Also another apt description.

Russian director Timur Bekmambetov (Night Watch) delivers an extremely stylish, visually inventive action thriller. Wanted is the tale of a nobody who finds out that he is the son of a dreaded assassin. He is recruited by the Fraternity, a secret organization of assassins founded a thousand years ago, to kill a rogue assassin who murdered his father. After gruelling training sessions, he is finally ready for the job. But is he really ready? What surprises await him (and us)? Can he complete the job?

Frankly, I knew I was going to love this film after the first chase sequence. And if anyone is not having fun by that point, chances are that they will not enjoy this film.

This film is full of sensational (not to mention impossible) action sequences that have been composed brilliantly and executed even more skillfully. The action choreographer, the visual effects team and the director deserve all the praise they can get. Bekmambetov’s ingenuity is visible throughout the film and this film could have been a big dud without him.

James McAvoy (Atonement, The Chronicles of Narnia) hardly struck me as an action hero but he delivers. He makes a smooth transition from an accountant to an assassin, making both of them believable. Angelina Jolie makes this film even more sexier than it already is and it is always wonderful to watch Morgan Freeman.

The film isn’t for everyone though. Remember, it is based on a graphic novel series (written by Mark Millar with art by J. G. Jones) and there can be a lot of things that could be considered silly (if bending bullets seems preposterous, wait till you hear about the ridiculous Loom of Fate). But this film doesn’t intend to be realistic and Bekmambetov makes sure that you realise the film’s distate for the laws of nature in the first ten minutes.

The film may have scant respect for logic but it does have enough in its plot to keep your mind occupied. It may be incessantly violent but it has been made with great imagination. It may be a wet dream for guys who lust for sexy action films but it is also art. It may not find favor with everyone but it will make money and it will be imitated. It may be construed by some as an inconsequential forget-me-soon summer movie but it is not and it will stay with me for a long time.

Those who want something “sensible” can go elsewhere but those who feel low on adrenaline should definitely watch this.

The Incredible Hulk June 26, 2008

Posted by Sai in English, Movies, Reviews.
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Another superhero film to whet our appetite before we can get to see what we really want to watch this summer, The Dark Knight. The Incredible Hulk isn’t anywhere as entertaining as the biggest blockbuster of the summer so far (Iron Man). But it is a watchable superhero film.

Louis Leterrier (The Transporter) directs this film written by Zak Penn. The screenplay gets a nice balance between angst and action and Leterrier handles the film well enough but it lacks the special something to make it worthy of a sequel. The film starts off nicely with Dr. Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) in a foreign land, searching for a cure and hiding from his enemies. As you’d expect, he can’t hide for long as the audience is waiting to see the Hulk. So, he is found, the Hulk appears and the film is on. On his heels are General Thaddeus (William Hurt) and Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth).

The film is different from other origin stories because it only hints at the origins in flashbacks without explaining too much (much like the Bourne films). The main premise is that Hulk is looking for something to cure him of his condition and there are others who are on his tail to capture him for their own diabolical needs. Of course, there is also the customary love interest (Liv Tyler) and this role isn’t particularly interesting. One wishes there was more humor because the tempo starts to drop a bit in the midsection. The climactic battle has a couple of nice moments but doesn’t exhilarate enough.

After Robert Downey Jr., we’ve got another respected actor turning superhero. The role is right up Edward Norton’s alley but I enjoyed Tim Roth’s turn as Abomination better. Norton also contributed to the screenplay but was refused credit by the WGA.

Leterrier has said that there is 70 minutes of additional footage waiting for the DVD release meaning that the studio got its way. It could result in a somewhat better film on DVD in the future. Or maybe not. Either way, I’m not terribly interested to check it out.

If you enjoy superhero movies, this is not a bad watch and apparently it is much better than Ang Lee’s 2003 flop that prompted this early reboot. If you are not the kind who wants to watch every superhero film out there, wait for The Dark Knight or even Will Smith’s Hancock.

P.S. Don’t get too excited by Tony Stark’s appearance on the trailers. It is just a plug for the Avengers movie and he doesn’t appear on screen for more than a few seconds.

Iron Man May 3, 2008

Posted by Sai in English, Movies, Reviews.
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Everyone is familiar with Superman, Spiderman and Batman. A lesser known superhero from the Marvel universe makes his debut on the silver screen to deliver a rollicking start to the blockbuster season. In making his biggest and best film, director Jon Favreau (Elf, Zathura) delivers a thoroughly satisying superhero film.

Tony Stark is a charming, suave ladies man who also happens to be a genius running a weapons company. When he is on a trip to Afghanistan, demonstrating the latest weapon in his arsenal, he is captured by terrorists who want him to replicate it for them. Tony escapes by creating a suit of armor from what is available. When he comes back, Tony decides to put his talent to good use. So he perfects the suit of armor and becomes Iron Man. And then he uncovers an evil villain who he must stop.

It might not seem terribly thrilling the way I’ve summarized it but then it is really the presentation which makes this film what it is. Favreau and his writers (apparently two separate teams – Mark Fergus & Hawk Ostby who co-wrote Children of Men and Arthur Marcum & Matthew Hollaway) get the right balance between the story, humor, action, effects and charm. Also, the fact that Iron Man is more a hero with super equipment than super powers makes him more identifiable. Some predictability does creep in but you hardly care when it is so much fun. Favreau finds the right tone to appeal to audiences looking for blockbuster entertainment as well as those looking for more sensible fun. There isn’t a dull moment in this one and though the movie doesn’t have a ton of action you don’t miss it.

And Robert Downey Jr makes you wonder why most superhero movies don’t have an actor of his calibre and at least half his charm. After all they need to be super. Once you see Robert Downey Jr in this role, you can’t imagine anyone else in it. He just hits the correct notes with everything. Gwyneth Paltrow is also a delight in her role as Miss Potts, Stark’s secretary. Both these actors get some superb lines, especially in their scenes together and their banter is great to watch. Jeff Bridges (The Big Lebowski) and his bald pate suit the role of Obadiah Stane well. Terrence Howard plays a supporting role in preparation for a future as War Machine (and the post-credits sequence hints at the Avengers too).

In the past superhero films have lacked in certain aspects of their appeal for various audiences. Some were too dark for a few folks (Batman Begins), the pacing seemed slow in some (Superman Returns), some just didn’t have enough appeal for those who have grown out of their teens (The Fantastic Four) and some superheroes even cried (Spiderman 3). But this film overcomes such shortcomings to cater to almost everyone with the right blend of the major elements required for an entertaining motion picture. It is exciting and well-paced. It has a lot of humor and some really cool effects (especially those used in depicting Tony’s lab and the design process). There is just enough action and a touch of romance too. With a well-constructed screenplay, a capable helmer behind the screen and talented performers in front of it, this motion picture manages to keep the audiences glued to their seats.

I hadn’t hoped I would enjoy this film even half as much as I did. So, my recommendation is simple. Go and watch it. Soon!

P.S. The sequel comes out Summer 2010.