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Terminator Salvation May 30, 2009

Posted by Sai in English, Movies, Reviews.
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The wait has been long but the payoff isn’t exactly what I hoped for.

Unlike the previous films where John Connor is being chased by robots, this time he is doing the chasing. His mission is to save Kyle Reese (his would be or had been dad) while also trying to destroy Skynet. Somewhere in all this, a new character called Marcus Wright also plays an important role.

Despite all the similarities in structure (almost felt like a remake of its predecessor) and flaws, I still enjoyed Terminator 3 because it still played like a Terminator film. The tension, the excitement, characters that you wanted to care for and a little bit of humor – the elements were all there.

But Terminator Salvation is a different film (written by T3 scribes John Brancato and Michael Ferris). It moves away from the formula and tries to tell a different story, though the goal is to still save a human being from the machines. While the tale is fine, the film does not engage us on an emotional level. You don’t really feel connected to the characters or root for them. You sit there and wait to figure out what its all about and thats it.

The visual effects are quite remarkable and that is the real USP of this film but the action, though exciting, isn’t comparable to previous films because you don’t really care much for the protagonists and therefore, there is no real tension.

Christian Bale (The Dark Knight) is fine but doesn’t impress. Anton Yelchin (Star Trek) is the only actor in the film who seems human enough to relate to (as is the little girl). Helena Bonham Carter (Fight Club) and Bryce Dallace Howard (The Village) are wasted. Sam Worthington gets the biggest and most interesting part in the film.

Director McG (Charlie’s Angels) succeeds in creating some great visuals but this film lacks soul. If you love the series for the action and visual effects, you might like this a bit. But if you were expecting more from this one, you will be disappointed.

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Angels & Demons May 23, 2009

Posted by Sai in English, Movies, Reviews.
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The follow-up to The Da Vinci Code is another thriller involving the Church, riddles and a symbologist – a middle aged male version of Nancy Drew who happens to solve crimes better than the cops.

The main constituents of the team are the same. Director Ron Howard returns and writers David Koepp and Akiva Goldsman adapt Dan Brown’s novel for the screen. The results are also relatively similar. A middling attempt that delivers in some aspects and disappoints in others.

Except for the setting, this film is a thriller with all the familiar elements. Compared to its predecessor, it is less confusing. However, it doesn’t really matter because the plot is simple enough to figure out without the details. And that is where this is a lesser film than The Da Vinci Code (which had its own flaws), in which the details and the mystery were more important than figuring out who the bad guy was (as is the case here). Tom Hanks isn’t any better this time around but Evan McGregor and Stellan Skarsgård provide good support.

If you are looking for a conventional thriller in an unlikely setting, this is a good match. If you are looking for something more, this may not be it.

Star Trek May 14, 2009

Posted by Sai in English, Movies, Reviews.
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While the Wolverine failed to start the summer with a bang, Star Trek makes up for it with its heady mix of action, humor, drama and space mumbo jumbo in what is a thoroughly entertaining reboot/sequel/prequel/requel (you will know what I mean when you see the film).

Now, I am no Trekkie. I have seen a few episodes of the television show when I was younger and found it to be campy fun but I don’t recall much. So, my evaluation of this film is practically comparison free.

What I loved about this film is the way director J J Abrams (M:i:III, Lost) and his writing team (Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, who have also written Abrams’ M:i:III, Michael Bay’s Transformers and its upcoming sequel) have managed to reboot the series while still connecting it to the previous installments – a novel idea that is possible only for a series like this one (again, you will know what I mean when you see the film).

The effervescent young cast is impressive. Chris Pine (Just My Luck) makes a charming Captain Kirk and Zachary Quinto (Heroes) is effective as Spock. Zoe Saldana (who coincidentally played a Trekkie in The Terminal) plays the xenolinguist Uhura and is involved in a suprising romantic angle.  Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) provides some humorous moments as Scotty. Also featured are Eric Bana (Munich, Hulk) as the evil Captain Nero, John Cho (Harold of the Harold and Kumar movies) as Sulu, Anton Yelchin as Chekov and Karl Urban as Bones. If you’ve been following the buzz, you would also know that the original Spock, Leonard Nimoy, is also part of the film.

There is a lot of action in this film and all of it is very well done. The visual effects are first rate. There are some complaints from the fans about the production design of this film but I did not find it to be particularly inadequate.

If you are scientifically inclined, be warned that the science in this film will not “compute”. Despite the risk of finding some of the material silly, this is an entertainer that you wouldn’t want to avoid unless you are allergic to space adventures. And no, you don’t require any prior knowledge of the series to enjoy this (although a little bit of info can improve the experience).

The Dark Knight July 19, 2008

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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.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull May 25, 2008

Posted by Sai in English, Movies, Reviews.
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Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Harrison Ford team up once again to bring us another adventure in the life of Henry Jones Jr. This time he is old. The year is 1957. The KGB is involved. A crystal skull with mysterious powers is in the middle of things. The genre-defining formula is firmly in place. The action is thrilling. The humor matches expectations. This escapist adventure is an enjoyable ride that isn’t far off from its predecessors.

Harrison Ford gets a chance to have some fun again at his age and he takes it with both hands. Karen Allen has been the best female performer of the series by far and she still has the same spark. On the other hand, Cate Blanchett is terribly miscast and sticks out like a sore thumb. The surprise for me is Shia LaBeouf. I didn’t mind him in Disturbia and Transformers but here, he is quite impressive as Mutt Williams. John Williams’ score also plays its part in elevating the thrills.

After watching this film, there was one thought that kept coming back to me. There is one primary difference between the Indy films and others in the genre. That difference is Steven Spielberg. There are three things that define this series for me – the thrills, the humor and the pace. Spielberg and his team do a masterful job of executing the thrills while maintaining the rapid pace and keeping the audience entertained. Whether you like the movie or not, you have to praise these guys because it is quite difficult to achieve this (and not many films can match this quality).

In my mind, the plot has never been a strong point in the series and it still isn’t. The supernatural/paranormal/spiritual/occult aspects of the plot have defined the series, so don’t expect it to get realistic now. When I first saw Raiders of the Lost Ark, I was extremely unhappy with the climax. And then there was human sacrifice, pulling the heart out of a human being and eating monkey brains in Temple of Doom. Some aspects of these films can bring down your final evaluation of them but they are still very entertaining and this one is also like that. Without spoiling it for you, I will say that one of the early rumors about the plot is true.

If you’ve enjoyed the first three films, you should like this as well (unless you’ve had enough of the formula and don’t care to see it repeated). Expect to have fun and you should be thoroughly satisfied. Burden this film with high expectations or comparisons and the experience will not be as good.

P.S. I wouldn’t mind another film in the series as long as Spielberg helms it.

Rush Hour 3 January 16, 2008

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Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker (who was overpaid for replaying the only role that he has in the last decade) reteam with director Brett Rattner to deliver the third film in the Rush Hour franchise. The film made some money at the box office but was far less successful than its predecessors. Did I hear someone add “thankfully”?

The plot is all too familiar. An assassination attempt on a Chinese ambassador brings Chan and Tucker together to investigate. A little slapstick, some mildly funny scenes, a few Chan style action sequences, a couple of good looking women on the screen, a bit of travel, a lot of boring interludes and finally the bad guys are done away with.

Simply put, this is quite a boring endeavor if you’ve seen the first two films. I really couldn’t recollect much of the film an hour after I saw it. Yes, I laughed a few times and its always nice to see Jackie Chan’s action sequences but the material is too familiar and repetitive despite the six year gap. Watch it only if you are a big fan of the series (or if you are on a long flight as I was).