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X-Men Origins: Wolverine May 2, 2009

Posted by Sai in English, Movies, Reviews.
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Wolverine was one of the most interesting characters in the X-Men (movie) universe, apart from Magneto. So, the poor early reviews didn’t dampen my spirit and I marched on to the theater to watch a prequel that is looking to relaunch this series in a different direction.

From the very first scene onwards, this film didn’t feel like an X-Men movie. I hoped that it is only due to the nature and setting of the introduction but I was wrong. So, if you are planning to watch this film, dismiss all expectations about watching another X-Men movie because this one feels very different.

An acclaimed director he may be but Gavin Hood (Tsotsi, Rendition) is no Bryan Singer (X-Men, X2: X-Men United) and I don’t think he is an appropriate choice to helm an X-Men movie. Now, the film does have some great locations and a few nicely executed action sequences but it doesn’t work as a whole. Singer did some really cool things with the depiction of the mutants but Hood does nothing of that sort, save for the action.

Hugh Jackman, who really sold us on the Wolverine character in the earlier films, isn’t as impressive here. But I don’t blame him. There isn’t the scope to do that. He isn’t the Wolverine that we’ve come to love. He is just an angry young mutant and that’s about it. Considering that he is a producer as well, maybe he does deserve some of the blame. Liev Schreiber, who gets a considerable amount of screen time, is amply hateworthy as Sabretooth. I liked what I saw of Ryan Reynolds at the beginning of his film but his role is quite limited.

The basic storyline isn’t bad but the screenplay by David Benioff (The Kite Runner) and Skip Woods (Swordfish) doesn’t manage to flesh it out convincingly and the film ends up in no man’s land.  The best part of the film is the manner in which they manage to connect Wolverine’s origin story with the original X-Men series.

Another gripe I have with the film is the use of Deadpool. My interest perked up when I heard about the character and what he could do. It is hard to create great supervillains but with all the powers that Deadpool had, I was hoping for more and was terribly disappointed in the end. Deadpool enters the film really late and goes away quite quickly (and very easily for an indestructible mutant).

While the film isn’t exactly a disaster, it certainly is a disappointment. If you are a huge fan of the series, you will probably watch this anyway. If you’ve seen the other X-Men films and are still mystified about Wolverine’s origin, you should watch this for answers. If your interest in X-Men is only marginal, you can safely skip this one.

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.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button February 19, 2009

Posted by Sai in English, Movies, Reviews.
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David Fincher’s much talked about film has quite an intriguing premise. What would happen if someone had to live life backwards? Born as an old man, the film’s protagonist Benjamin Button grows younger as time progresses and the film tracks the major events in his journey from life to death. This is more or less a fictional biopic of a character based on fantasy.

A role such as Button’s requires an actor to adapt to old age as well as young, focus on body language and make the audience root for him. Brad Pitt does all this with aplomb though I fail to see how I could evaluate part of his performance without being able to differentiate between effects and reality. The other important character in the film that evolves with Button is his love interest, Daisy, admirably portrayed by Cate Blanchett. Another splendid actress, Tilda Swinton (Michael Clayton, Burn After Reading), plays the British woman who has an affair with Button in another interesting passage of his life. Despite the presence of such capable performers, the relatively unknown Taraji P Henson holds her own and grabs your attention as Button’s foster mother.

This is, without a shred of doubt, a very very well crafted film. With Fincher (Seven, Fight Club, Zodiac) at the helm, you expect nothing less. There is a lot to love in this film. Most of all, the magnificent visual effects. You wonder throughout the film about how they managed to make Brad Pitt look the way he does in the film. The outstanding visuals are aided by the superlative production design (Donald Graham Burt) and cinematography (Claudio Miranda).

The hard work put into the making of this film translates beautifully onto the screen. There is so much in this film that one can recall vividly even after many days; whether it is his affair with British woman or his outing as a sailor or Daisy’s accident. However, visuals aren’t always enough. Eric Roth (Forrest Gump) weaves a competent screenplay but it lacks moments that would make it memorable. At the end of the film, I asked myself if it conveyed anything particularly insightful about life through the living in reverse device. Nothing stood out except the attempt to depict the similarities between the beginning and the end of life in both physical and mental terms.

The 166 minute film isn’t particularly entertaining in terms of humor and thrills. It clearly isn’t for everyone but where I was watching, silence prevailed and everyone seemed to be thoroughly involved. At times you couldn’t even chew your popcorn without distracting those around you. Despite the novel premise and the interesting life that Button leads, this film falls short of being great. Watch this if you would for the premise, visuals and effects.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army August 3, 2008

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Once upon a time, there was a war between humans and some sort of mythical creatures. An unstoppable Golden Army of mechanical soldiers was created to destroy the humans. However, before this decimation occurs, a truce is formed and the army is sent to cold storage. Humans live in the cities and the creatures roam the forests. But the humans forget their duties and piss off Prince Nuada. He comes out of exile to destroy mankind by invoking the Golden Army. His twin sister disagrees and runs away with a part of the crown needed to take control of the army. Since Nuada surfaces somewhere around present day New York, Hellboy and his friends are laced with the task of stopping him and his Golden Army.

The premise isn’t particularly interesting (not to mentioned the flawed culmination) and the script isn’t a gem either but what pulls this film through is the vision of writer-director Guillermo Del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth). He picks out a story that allows him to stay true to the Hellboy mythology but also provides him with the scope to fill the film with wondrous visuals.

The strongpoint of both Hellboy movies is the exploration of the characters and their conflicts with an undercurrent of humor. The scenes depicting the humanlike aspects of these paranormal crime fighting creatures works really well in both films. Hellboy, Liz, Abe and even the newly introduced Klaus kept me happy. The conflict for these supercreatures is still the same. They are trying to fit into the world they inhabit and help but despite their efforts humans continue to reject them.

If you are put off by weird creatures, crazy insects and a lot of gunk, you might not like the Hellboy universe. Otherwise, I believe this is a worthy successor (in fact, it is a bit better) to Hellboy and will be liked by most of those who enjoyed the original.

P.S. Some critics have pointed out that the plot of this film is quite similar to that of the third film in the Mummy series that released this weekend. Judging by the savage reviews of that film, this would be a much better watch.

Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D July 26, 2008

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Based on the 1864 Jules Verne novel of the same name, this is a 3D film (also playing in 2D) starring Brendan Fraser. Fraser plays Trevor Anderson, a scientist of some sort manning a lab that might soon be closed down. His brother, a Vernian (apparently someone who believes that the center of the Earth is exactly as Verne described in his book), has been missing for a few years now. When some clues regarding his possible whereabouts emerge, Fraser goes in search for his brother along with his nephew (you need a kid in this sort of movie) and a mountain guide (a girl, as you might have guessed). Then, obviously, they fall down (yes, to the center of the Earth, which they find to be as Verne describes) and the rest of the film is about their adventures as they try to find a way out.

There is nothing particularly interesting or imaginative in the way that this film has been made. The makers know their target audience and they fulfil their duties in trying to appeal to them without trying to innovate. This formulaic adventure has a few laughs and some not-so-new thrills where the protagonists almost get killed (dodging a dinosaur, a ride through a mine where a part of the track is missing, escaping carnivorous plants and so on).

The 3D format is definitely the film’s USP. Since, there aren’t too many films made in this format, it always has an appeal. That said, the makers could have surely come up with better ways to use it.

This is a simple-minded adventure that should appeal to the kids and adults looking for something that their inner child will appreciate. Remember that the 3D format considerably enhances the film’s impact and it might not be worth watching in 2D or on DVD.

Hancock July 5, 2008

Posted by Sai in English, Movies, Reviews.
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I was conflicted before watching Hancock. Who wouldn’t want to watch the undeniably charismatic Will Smith playing a superhero (you even wonder why it didn’t happen earlier). However, the talk of reshoots followed by the lack of enthusiasm from critics brought down my interest level in the film. The makers maintained that the film did something very different with the superhero genre and I wasn’t so sure. So, I went in with lowered expectations. After watching the film, I can say that the makers weren’t fibbing.

Smith plays a superhero with a bad attitude and inept interpersonal skills. He helps people like all superheroes must but he has a drinking problem and a penchant for destroying public property. One day, the unpopular hero saves a publicist who wants to better the world. He sees the good in Hancock and tries to improve his image.

What I like about this film is that it feels unlike the comic book superhero movies that we have seen (and liked) in the past. It is not about a lovable superhero. It is not about saving the world. It is not heavy on action. It doesn’t even feel like it is set in a fantasy world. It is really a film that has humor, drama and some surprises.

Screenwriters Vincent Ngo and Vince Gilligan are aiming to bridge genres but the attempt isn’t perfect. Director Peter Berg (The Kingdom, The Rundown) renders a film that feels a bit disjointed (I will keep away from discussing some of the flaws to avoid spoilers). The film could have been better but it does entertain and I’d say it was worth the price of admission.

One of the primary reasons that it works is Will Smith. Smith is the perfect choice for this role because he is one of the few actors that can pull off a film in any genre. Though the film doesn’t allow you to love him all that much, he still is Will Smith and you can’t get enough of him. Charlize Theron (Monster, The Italian Job) and Jason Bateman (Juno, Arrested Development) are well cast and they manage to impress as well.

This film is a decent summer diversion but expectations can mar your experience. Just don’t think of it as a superhero movie. Think of it as a non-serious partly-dramatic entertainer headlined by Will Smith and you might enjoy it like I did.