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The Taking of Pelham 123 August 3, 2009

Posted by Sai in English, Movies, Reviews.
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Director Tony Scott’s remake of the 1974 thriller starring Walter Matthau (titled The Taking of Pelham One Two Three) is a stylish update that introduces the film to a new generation but doesn’t do much else. I watched the original a few years ago and like that film, this is a simple thriller that has nothing special. It is fun while it lasts but isn’t something that will stay with you.

An NYC subway train is hijacked by a group of criminals, the head of which calls himself Ryder. He threatens to kill the passengers unless his demands for a ransom are met within the next hour. A subway dispatcher, Walter Garber, finds himself in the middle of the chaos, negotiating with Ryder. He has to use all his skills to keep Ryder from killing the passengers. But how does Ryder plan to get away with the money? Is he really after the ransom or something bigger?

The major difference between the original and this update is that the actors in the original help raise the film to a higher level while the actors in this one do no such thing. John Travolta’s character is in sharp contrast to Robert Shaw’s in the original. He overdoes his part. His mad man act is quite familiar by now and it irritates more than a little. Denzel Washington is a suitable choice and he plays it right but I’d definitely prefer Walter Matthau any day.

Scott (True Romance, Man on Fire, Deja Vu) and writer Brian Helgeland (L. A. Confidential, Mystic River, Man on Fire) have all the ingredients to make a watchable thriller and they do but this one does not distinguish itself from its predecessor much. Scott adds some more action and a laptop with a webcam and internet connectivity to reflect the time but there isn’t much incentive for viewers who have seen the original to drag themselves to watch this.

This isn’t a film that you’d need to run to the theater to watch but it should make for entertaining viewing on a lazy day at home.

P.S. If you don’t mind watching a film from the seventies, the original is a better choice.

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Up [3-D] June 11, 2009

Posted by Sai in English, Movies, Reviews.
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Pixar have a winner on their hands yet again. Up is a magical film that appeals to both kids and adults, moreso the latter category.

Up is the story of Carl Fredricksen, a 78 year old balloon seller who has dreamt of taking part in a great adventure all his life, along with his wife Ellie. Following her death he becomes a recluse. When a situation threatens to leave him without his house, he decides to float away in it using an array of balloons. In the process, he inadvertently takes aboard a stowaway. Together, the odd couple embark on an unforgettable adventure to Paradise Falls.

As is usually the case with Pixar, this is a tale that might not sound very enticing when you look at a trailer or read a plot synopsis. However, director Pete Docter (Monsters, Inc.) and screenwriter Bob Peterson (Finding Nemo) ensure that the experience is enchanting.

There are so many beautiful moments in this film. The best of them being the montage featuring the life of Carl and Ellie. Such a beautiful piece told in a simple but elegant manner and set to a wonderful theme composed by Michael Giacchino (Ratatouille, Star Trek, Speed Racer). It makes you wonder how most romcoms and family films fail to capture us in this manner. Are these genres that the best filmmakers avoid? Is there a bankruptcy of ideas? Are studios settling for formula fare even when there is scope to do better?

The beautiful landscapes in the film are unlike anything that I’ve encountered before in an animated film and the 3-D version enhances the viewing pleasure. The fact that I haven’t seen too many 3-D films also makes it more fun to watch it in that format but the experience of the film should be just as good in 2-D.

Interestingly, there are no shock-for-amusement in-your-face gimmicks just because this is a 3-D film. The makers ensure that you are not distracted by such gimmicks, which by now have become boring, and manage to keep you absorbed in the film. This is a welcome change.

As is the case with Pixar’s previous work, this is a must watch film even for those who are not particularly enticed by the thought of watching an animated film or a family film. This film will appeal to all categories of viewers, especially those who are tired of talking animals. Highly recommended!

P.S. Partly Cloudy, directed by Peter Sohn, is the short film preceding Up. It has a novel plot and is executed well but doesn’t measure up to its recent predecessors.

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.

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

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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).

X-Men Origins: Wolverine May 2, 2009

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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.