Saturday, May 31, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Well, it has been 19 years since the Last Crusade, 27 years since the franchise began. They probably did not plan this far out, like what Lucas did for The Star Wars saga. Releasing the first three, then another three. This is quite easily the most awaited movie of the year so far, The Dark Knight being the next one. For all I care, I would totally stick around if they made two more Indiana Jones installments. To put things straight right at the start, I do not know why people are giving this film such a hard time. I mean, have they forgotten what Indy is all about? Have they not seen the previous three? All of which were logic defying in their own special way? No one expects logic from an Indiana Jones movie. It's supposed to be fun, full of non-stop action and adventure, and with Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, the magical combination of Spielberg, Lucas, and most of all, Ford, have struck gold. Real gold!

The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is probably the first of a brand new series of Indiana Jones films. Having turned down a script from the amazing Frank Darabont, questions were already being asked about how David Koepp's script could out-do one by Darabont. Frank Darabont is credited with films like The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, and surely Koepp's script had something in it that rose above Darabont's.

The film is set in 1957, 19 years after The Last Crusade which brought the discovery of the Holy Grail. To say that the storyline of the fourth Indy movie is a surprise would be a mistake. One probably saw something like this coming. Although I wont give the whole thing away, for the record, it is bizarre, like all the previous ones. Think Area 51, which happens to be the warehouse where everything kicks off. It is also the same warehouse which we saw last in the closing credits of Raiders of The Lost Ark. Read : Ark of the Covenant being put away in a wooden crate!

Unlike all the previous films, this one kicks off with opening credits without anything significant happening in the background. They do have loud version of Elvis's Hound Dog playing all the while. It does get you in the mood. And the gophers. I swear they looked like they were going to be appearing throughout the movie! Apart from that, the film looks the same as the older ones. I dont know how they did it. Even Ford looks like he just returned from his Holy Grail discovery trip with his father and started running around in search of the Crystal Skull. Its nostalgia in its highest level. Whether it is the secret passages or insects, or the fight sequences or the snakes, its all reminiscent of the old Indy.

The casting is perfect. I hated that annoying little kid from The Temple of Doom. Shia Labeouf, the new kid on the block with hits like Disturbia and Transformers under his belt, plays Mutt Williams - a greaser. He repairs bikes as a profession, school dropout, combs his hair at the drop of a hat, fiddles with his penknife, and drives a mean looking bike! Ray Winstone gives us some laughs, but you just know what's going to happen to him by the end of the movie. Cate Blanchett is a whole other story - She's flat. Right from the outfit she's wearing to her acting. She's flat, and in some strange way, hot! There's just something about her that is so bad that she actually owns her role. Karen Allen is just there.

The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull will not go down well with Indiana Jones fans of the present time. Word of advice - Suspend your belief, step into the theater expecting full throttle action and adventure, like all the previous movies. C'mon, guy blocks a cannon head with a stone and it blows its face up? That's an Indy movie for you. I cannot get why people dont like this. I loved it!

8/10 overall.
You ain't nothin but a hound dog, cryin all the time..!!

ext up - The Happening.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Jannat - In Search of Heaven.

The best thing about a Mukhesh Bhatt release is that no one expects much from it. And more often than not, his films turn out to be quite entertaining. He is also credited with having launched budding directors in this new age of Bollywood (Recall : Anurag Basu). Jannat is the directorial debut of Kunal Deshmukh, and among all the flops that have come out of the Indian hindi film industry this year, Jannat happens to be a huge surprise.

Jannat has two parts to its story. The former set in India, the later in South Africa. Essentially, like most Bhatt films, it is a love story. However, its main storyline deals with betting and match fixing in the cricketing world. Arjun, the character portrayed by Emraan Hashmi, is a man with, what he calls, a 'sixth sense'. He is a master predictor of cricket matches. He becomes a bookie and soon gains attention in the eyes of underworld don Abu Ibrahim, who buys arms and ammunitions with the money he makes from betting on cricket matches. Torn apart by his love for the girl of his dreams, Zoya, and his greed for money, Arjun is left with making a choice between living a normal hard-earned life and an easy, yet deceiving one.

The first good thing about Jannat is that it has a solid storyline. Whether it is the childish, yet well defined love story, or the complexities of a man who is clearly suffering from some obsessive compulsive disorder or other. Then there is the cricketing world and underworld bit. This is one of the most original and well written storylines to come out of Bollywood this year so far. When it comes to being effective, it achieves that in its entirety in its two hours and twenty minute running time. With everything from the mention of a cricketer turned comedy show host, to the murder of a coach at the World Cup, the storyline is the strongest point of the movie.

The music is not as good as one expects it to be. Judai being the pick of the lot. However, the version sung by Kamraan Ahmad is not there in the film. Zara si is just okay. Characteristic of a Bhatt film. Rupam Islam's hindi singing debut is noticeable, although missable. The song is too similar to the songs of his band, Fossils. The background score is very good. It gels in very well with the pace of the film.

Emraan Hashmi, apart from having earned the tag of 'serial kisser', happens to be a freakishly good actor. The versatility of the roles that he has done clearly shows that. From being a wife-thief, to an undercover agent, and now a simple man with quite a serious mental disorder. He is like what his dad states in the film - 'A compulsive liar'. And in order to get himself out of any situation, he does what is characteristic of him. He lies some more. Newcomer Sonal Chauhan is okay, making the transition from a sweet and bubbly Mumbai girl to a sexy bar dancer in South Africa. She does look quite anorexic in certain scenes, but as a whole she looks great. Javed Sheikh, as Abu Ibrahim is cold. Effective. Vishal Malhotra, as the sidekick serves the humor quotient well. The lad has come a long way from hosting Disney cartoons on Doordarshan.

Bollywood's only great film this year happens to Jodhaa Akbar, with Mithya and Shaurya being the other two 'good' films. Race might be a commercial success, but it is a highly frustrating film. Even Bhootnaath failed to click. Tashan is a no brainer! In a year when Bollywood is churning out flop after flop, Jannat serves as a breath of fresh air. Although far from heavenly, Jannat has a lot to offer at a time when cricket is on the lips of almost every Indian (Read : The IPL).

The IPL has come to a stage when it gets boring to sit down and watch an entire game. Do yourself a favor, grab a Jannat ticket and spend two and a half hours in an air conditioned theater watching a film which redifines all the 'Ishtyle' and 'Pharmoola' that Bollywood has been coming up with off late.

7/10. Worth it!

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Chronicles of Narnia : Prince Caspian.

In 2005, when The Chronicles of Narnia : The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe came out; I found myself introduced to a brand new epic tale. The film is probably one of the best when it comes to adaptations from children's epic novels. With recent failures in the form of The Golden Compass(Bad. Very bad. Absolute waste of time), and The Order of the Phoenix(700+ pages in 2hours and 15minutes? No, thank you), it is high time we got to see a real epic children's movie. I haven't read any of the novels by C.S.Lewis, however I have read that there are similarities in his and J.R.R. Tolkien's writing. With Prince Caspian, the second installment in the series, a saga which has been compared time and again with The Lord of the Rings, the journey could just be beginning.

Prince Caspian, probably the blandest of all the Narnia novels, starts off 1300 years after The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe when it comes to Narnian timeline. In the real world of the Pevensie children however, merely a year has gone past. Prince Caspian, the rightful heir to the throne of the Telmarines is forced to flee because of his corrupt uncle, King Miraz, who is trying to steal the throne from him. Caspian blows the ivory horn given to him by his professor when, while fleeing, he chances upon Narnians in the jungle. The horn, in turn, summons the Pevensie children - The Kings and Queens of Old, back to Narnia, to aid the young Prince in a fight to obtain the throne which his rightfully his.

The first, and only complaint I have, is the sudden start to the movie. The journey of the Pevensie children back to Narnia, although shown wonderfully, when, while in a subway, they get taken back to Narnia, comes way too quickly. There is hardly any time spent in the real world here, unlike in the first part, where there are glimpses of the ongoing war and the journey is more drawn out. There should have been a little more detail with the Pevensie's in the real world. That would have made the journey back even more interesting.

That aside, the movie moves fast enough. With simultaneous shifts early on between Prince Caspian, the Telmarines, and the Pevensie's, there is a lot of attention to detail. Lucy's dream of meeting with Aslan is particularly well shown, where she imagines the jungle to be what she remembered it as, with the dancing trees and flowers, unlike the 'more savage' Narnia of present. Highly detailed, and it just shows us beautifully the connection between Lucy and the great lion.

There are an array of new characters in this movie. Ben Barnes who plays Prince Caspian could have been better. His accent however, promises better things in the future installments. From cynical dwarfs to a swashbuckling mouse, every new character gets more screen time than any character except Harry has ever gotten in a Harry Potter movie. The pick of the lot being Reepicheep the mouse, voiced brilliantly by Eddie Izzard. You will find similarities between him and Puss in Boots from Shrek 2. Both, Errol Flynn'ish in there portrayals. Whether it is jumping up at being called cute, as if it is insult, or darting into an army of human soldiers, Reepicheep is bound to capture the hearts of everyone. Cannot wait to see what they do with him in the upcoming films.

The Pevensie children are all back.William Moseley, Anna Popplewell, Skandar Keynes and Georgie Henley playing Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy respectively. The younger two play there part well. Moseley is good, and you'll know why he was once considered for playing Harry Potter once you see this. Popplewell however, is bland.
The White Witch, played by Tilda Swinton, has a small cameo here, and is as icy as ever. The other, very integral character is Aslan. Although he doesn't appear till the very end of the movie, there is a definite air of expectation around him. Everyone is waiting to see Aslan again, powerfully voiced by Liam Neeson. And the roar. What a roar! Enough to awaken the trees to wreak havoc through the Telmarine armies, enough to send ripples through the lake.

The war sequence is brilliant, with some of the best visuals I have seen off late. As is the square off between King Peter and King Miraz. Very well choreographed. With a very engaging background score, Price Caspian runs to two hours and fifteen minutes, keeping you interested throughout the length of the feature. I do have an objection to the song near the ending. It was really cheesy.

Following up the great The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is difficult. But, Prince Caspian does justice to that. Keep aside the fact that you are seeing a bunch of children killing people in a magical world since, after all, it is a children's epic. There isn't much emphasis on the killing part anyways. Thankfully, more importance is given to how Lucy brings the dead back to life with her potion.

The Chronicles of Narnia : Prince Caspian is a good film. Its a pity, however, that director Andrew Adamson, who has made this and the previous one will not be returning to direct The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the third in the series. It is often seen that such series' lose their lustre if they undergo a change of directors.

8/10 overall. Loved Reepicheep more than anything else in this movie. Worthy follow-up to a saga going great guns!!
(Next : Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull)

Friday, May 9, 2008

Speed Racer.

It was a huge surprise when the Wachowski Brothers, after making two cult favorites - The Matrix and V for Vendetta, announced that they were going to make a live-action movie based on the widely popular cartoon series Speed Racer. Somehow no one expected them to shift gear from making such mature art-films to a cartoon adaptation. After running after people like Shia Labeouf, Elisha Cuthbert, and Keanu Reeves, they ended up with Emile Hirsch, Christina Ricci, and Matthew Fox. Replacements who are given a huge responsibility to bring the cartoon to life.

Before walking into the theater one must bear in mind that it is a cartoon adaptation. No one expects this to be groundbreaking cinema by any means. It is not an attempt at making a cult classic. To start off with, after watching it one will realize that the movie is aimed at audiences aged between 5 and 10. No one would ever expect the Wachowski's to come up with a film aimed at children. But, they have. It doesn't fail. But it doesn't succeed either.

Right from the word Go, Speed Racer is hugely dependent on its visual effects and sound, which are both considerably good. Background music is like the cartoon itself. The title track is kept on hold till the closing credits. The whole movie is shot in front of a bluescreen it seems. Except for scenes inside a house, or in a garage, everything is CGI. The races are what attracts one most to the movie. They get your adrenaline pumping. Its like Fast and the Furious, animated. And that itself is the biggest let down. Its too much eye-candy, and less movie.

The film itself is too long to be a children's movie, stretching to over two hours. The first hour and a half is quite boring. Too much politics and stock market. The stylization, like the cartoon itself, is very good. It is what keeps one interested for the whole length of the movie. There is too much detail when it comes to the plot, too less character development. Only Speed seems to be important. One forgets that there are others in the movie as well. There are really too many sequences which try to be funny, with Speed's little brother Spritle and his chimpanzee Chim-chim. Only one, right at the end, succeeds.

Matthew Fox is the one who stands out in this wannabe artsy adaptation. He has great screen presence. He's lost a lot of weight it seems, and he has never looked better. John Goodman, Susan Sarandon play the parents well. Christina Ricci is a treat to the eyes. She looks years younger than she really is. Roger Allum plays the villain, Royalton. He's vicious with his dialogues, the cartoon element adds to the viciousness. I dont know why they'd want Shia Labeouf to play Speed Racer because he is too tall. There is no doubt about his talent though. Emile Hirsch, however, fits the bill perfectly. Although he still is growing as an actor, his casting as Speed Racer is perfect.

Speed Racer is a film with a million and one flaws from the starting itself, where instead of concentrating on the race, there is more attention paid to showing the history of the characters. An efficient technique, if only they did it well. Someone will have to explain to me how Spritle and his little chimpanzee survived in the dickey of the Mach 5 when the car was travelling at over 300miles per hour. Racer X seems to be the only character who doesn't do anything cartoonish, which is a good thing. He's cool.

The last quarter of an hour is what saves the film. The Grand Prix race is breathtaking. An old fashioned Colosseum-style stadium, the track and the race itself, with the efficient use of flashbacks, is a treat to watch. The last fifteen minutes is when the Wachowski Brothers got down to being themselves when making a movie. It is perfectly made. From the roar of the crowd, much like what we saw in the Quidditch World Cup Final in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, to the flash of the cameras, it just clicks.

Speed Racer, minus all the adults talking about the stock market, minus Spritle and his annoying chimpanzee hogging the screen time, minus 20 minutes, probably would have been something better. If they ever make a sequel to this, they'll have to put a lot of work into it. If you watch this, remember that it is based on a cartoon and that is exactly how it is made. Like a cartoon. That done, you might just like it by the time it ends.

Good visual effects, good music. Otherwise just a 5.5/10 in my book. Expected better. Then again, it is based on a cartoon.
(Next Week - The Chronicles of Narnia : Prince Caspian)

Monday, May 5, 2008

Lars and the Real Girl.

Its quite amazing that so many independent films release at Film Festivals, are appreciated wholeheartedly by everyone around, yet fade away so quick. Most of them go unnoticed. No one, apart from the people who saw them at the festivals themselves, ever hear of them. Some however, get noticed to the extent of being recognized by the Academy Awards. Lars and the Real Girl is one such film.

Starring Ryan Gossling, who perfectly plays the lead role of Lars, a man peculiar in his mannerisms and in his interactions with others around him, this film strikes upon a certain mental delusion that people often suffer from due to neglect or lack of a proper upbringing. Certain times, such a delusion is brought about due to close interaction with a person who suffered from a similar illness, which is the case here. Lars lives alone. He does not interact much with people, especially females. Hence, he is scared of his sister-in-law who tries to get him to break out of his shell.

Lars purchases a life size doll, often termed as sex-dolls, and treats it as a real person. As odd as the situation might sound, it is sad. What he merely thinks he does not get in real life, love and comfort from people, due to his own fear of fellow humans, he gets from the doll. In time, the entire town, small in its size, learns to treat the doll as a real person. All this in order to, perhaps, help Lars break free from his delusion. The care which his brother and sister-in-law have for him is really touching. Played by Paul Schneider and Emily Mortimer, these two people are the closest thing Lars has to a family.

The film is very simple in what it wants to portray. The kindness of human beings in order to help one of their own. Initially it is shock and awe. Disbelief. Mistaken madness. In time it turns to love, care, and simply the sacrifice one makes to help another. This is shown beautifully in Lars and the Real Girl. Perhaps the most caring of the lot, the character of Lars' sister-in-law. Emily Mortimer, the great actress that she is, gives a gem of a performance, no less than that of Ryan Gossling. Other commendable performances include that of Patricia Clarkson, who plays the psychologist who tries to learn what exactly is wrong with Lars, and helps him become more comfortable in the presence of others. Kelli Garner, playing Margo, a cherry-sweet girl, who seems to be in love with Lars but can never say it because he shuns her aside every time she tries to get close to him, will make you smile with her screen presence.

Lars and the Real Girl, though dealing with a very complex subject, is simple in all the right ways. Whether it is giving CPR to a cute brown teddy bear, or the tension which is often present between two people who are interested in each other when they shake hands, it speaks out quietly, yet it is clear. It does not take much to care for a friend, a brother, or a colleague. Caring for another is one of the simplest things one can do in one's life.

8/10. This is lovely. Simply beautiful. Everything about it is perfect. The performances, the music, the setting. Everything. Watch this. You will not regret it.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Wristcutters - A Love Story.

Wristcutters is a little known film directed by Goran Dukic and loosely based on Etgar Keret's short story "Kneller's Happy Campers". It stars familiar faces like Patrick Fugit, best known for his role as a rock-music writter in the breakthrough film Almost Famous; and Shannyn Sossamon, from a Knight's Tale. Wristcutters is truly one of the most odd, yet most pleasant movies I have seen in a very long time.

It shows us a strange afterlife way station reserved for people who have committed suicide. They live here, much like people living on earth. It is like a normal place. However, it lacks bright colors, smiles, flowers, and all that makes a place look lively. Just when you thought you had escaped it all by killing yourself, you land up in a place that makes you want to kill yourself again. But you dont, only fearing a place devoid of much more.

Wristcutters succeeds without even trying. It is just too simple. To understand, to believe, to lose yourself with its flow. The story is simple enough. Zia, a 20-something who committed suicide by slashing his wrists after his girlfriend, Desiree, left him lands up in the afterlife where he becomes friends with Eugene, a Russian rock singer who's entire family has committed suicide. On learning that Desiree has killed herself too, the two set out to find her, in turn coming across Mikal, a girl who claims she is in the afterlife by accident, and is searching for the people in charge.

Through the course of the one and half hours, the story takes a couple of turns. All realistic though. There was hardly anything in the movie that was predictable. The whole dull setting adds to the feel of the movie, which predominantly is very morose. The only bit of bright color we see comes from a matchstick at the station of the Angels. Yes, there are Angels too. Watch out for the miracles. It is like they say,"A miracle will only happen when you least expect it to. When you dont even think about it." The bit of music 'bad music' in the movie is really good with a Russian bloke singing "Through the roof and underground' with the lead characters singing along, out of tune, whilst in the car whose headlights dont work. The music is all over pleasant. Simple acoustic guitar solos, or the mouthorgan, maybe some piano. As simple as it can get. The acting is very down to earth. Tough roles really, because you cant even smile. Your face has always got to be straight. The acting is effective. Very well done.

All over, Wristcutters is a short, sweet film to watch when you're feeling down, bored, and disgustingly depressed. It guarantees a smile on your face by the time it ends. If you can tolerate simplicity in its full, like good 'bad music', prefer seeing someone as pretty Shannyn Sossamon smile at the end of it all, watch Wristcutters. It will make your day.

Loved it. Wont rate this. Just a smile. A pleasant one.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Iron Man - The Element of Cool!

Iron Man is one of the lesser known Marvel Super Heroes, especially for us, living in India. To most of us, his past is unknown. With a sense of humor one rarely gets to see in a superhero, Iron Man is something of a revelation, deviating from the normal "Saving the World" type of Superheroes. With the coolest outfit one could ever lay eyes on, Iron Man is merely the beginning of a Trilogy that could as well be remembered for a long long time to come as one of the best comic book to celluloid adaptations ever made.

Actor/Director Jon Favreau, along with a stellar cast of superstars who have been absent from the big screen of late, have come together and made something top notch after the recent spell of disappointing superhero movies made(think Ghost Rider, Fantastic Four 2, Spiderman 3). With the likes of Robert Downey Jr, Jeff Bridges, Terence Howard, and Gwyneth Paltrow, Iron Man is the first big hit to come out of Hollywood this year.

Iron Man stays true to its comic book, telling the story of billionaire industrialist Tony Stark who devises the idea of a man covered in metallic armor after he is captured by Afghan terrorists. Upon his escape, Stark improves upon his design. And in order to stop 'under the table' sale of his weapons to terrorist groups by his business partner, Obadiah Stane, he becomes the man in the gold titanium alloy suit, named Iron Man by the press.

Certain sequences in the film are highly detailed, some others not so much. It suffers from a spot of bad editing, and it really wouldn't have been bad if it were extended by 10-15 minutes. It is entertaining enough to hold anyone's attention for 15 more minutes. Guess we'll have to wait for a Director's Cut for that. In the theatre, it has a modest running time of 2hours. Broken into two parts, the introduction and the origin. The former being more detailed than the later.

One of the first things one will notice about Tony Stark is his amazing sense of humor. Robert Downey Jr., who is at the peak of his career at age 43 has an undeniable flair when it comes to playing a man who is full of himself and cracks jokes at the drop of a hat. He doesn't even have to try. Its a flawless performance. He acts the part, and boy oh boy does he look the part! Even Gwyneth Paltrow plays her part well as Stark's assistant, Pepper Potts. She looks better than ever. There is a magnificent amount of chemistry between the two which will be something to look forward to in the upcoming movies. Terence Howard and Jeff Bridges are just there, portraying the sidekick and villain respectively. Fair enough, though I would have liked Howard to be given a bit more screen time.

One, very integral part of the movie was the making of the original suit. Shown till the last detail, it was just a treat to watch the testing and assembly of the suit. And once again, even this contains a fair amount of humor. You really dont expect such a lot of humor in a superhero movie, but by the end of it, one realizes that that exactly is what Tony "Iron Man" Stark is all about. He isn't your average superhero. He is as much the khaki professional as he was before he become Iron Man. He did not get transformed accidentally by being bitten by a spider, neither did he descend from space. A little similar to Batman, he chooses to become someone different. Someone who can change things. Unlike most others, he isnt gifted with super powers. Wait till the last scene of the film for deviation, and an amazing piece of rock music in the closing credits along with concept art from the making of the film.

Iron Man ranks right up there with the likes of Batman : Begins, Spiderman 2, and Superman Returns(which, I think is grossly underrated by critics) when it comes to being a comic book adaptation. And it adds a dose of coolness to the genre of superhero movies. Whether it is the miniature arc reactor/pacemaker on his chest or the part French-cut beard he keeps, Robert Downey Jr. will be best remembered as Iron Man. Iron Man, who can take phone calls while flying through the skies with two fighter jets on his tail. Now, thats what I call cool!!

Great start to a promising Hollywood Summer!!
8/10 overall. Great background score. Loved the suit. Cannot wait for the sequel!
Next Week : Speed Racer)