Friday, August 08, 2014

Guardians Of The Galaxy



Rating : 7/10
Release Date : 8th August, 2014
Time : 121 minutes
Director, Writer : James Gunn; Co-writer : Nicole Perlman (based on the Marvel comic by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning); Music : Tyler Bates
Starring : Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldhana, Dave Bautista, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Djimon Hounsou, John C Reilly, Glenn Close, Benicio Del Toro




What saves this film is its jaunty, retro music-loving hero, Chris Pratt, the hair- raising antics of Rocket, the raccoon and the overall excellent sense of humour, refusal to take itself too seriously. Otherwise, for someone who hasn’t read the Marvel comics and isn’t familiar with the characters or the set-up, it can be quite confusing, too many things to absorb.



Chris is picked up by an alien spacecraft shortly after his mother passes away. He is next seen, all grown up, a Ravager (kind of like a scavenger, hunts things down for a commission), searching for an orb. And suddenly, you find everyone wants that orb. Soon, there is a bounty on Chris’ head and he is being chased by various people including his mentor, Yondu (Michael Rooker), a very green creature, Gamora (Zoe Saldhana), a raccoon named Rocket (Bradley Cooper) accompanied by a tree with superpowers (Vin Diesel), a dangerous type of character, Ronan (Lee Pace), Thanos (Josh Brolin), someone even Ronan fears, A hulk named Drax (Dave Bautista), The Collector (Benicio Del Toro), and the protectors of a planet named Xandar, the Nova, led by Glenn Close. Whew !




The advantage of so many new characters is there isn’t a dull moment. Each, even if featured briefly, has some unique quirks which stay with you. And the central ones, well, Chris refuses to be separated from a mix tape made by his mom, Drax speaks like a walking thesaurus, Rocket knows more than a thing or two about fighting and Gamora, well, she is quite green at dancing (but willing to be trained), while Groot seems to have a rather limited vocabulary.



Its quite amazing, the conceptualization of the sets, the action sequences – you would think by now you’ve seen it all but they still do manage to surprise you, make you gasp in awe. Ronan’s ship, the Dark Aster and the way its blockaded by the Nova, or the prison break by our dashing hero and his friends, in particular stand out. The soundtrack is really good, suits the characters and the tempo of the film. Chris Pratt really stands out as the hero of the film, tackling everything with innate breeziness and quite hilariously, his dance moves.



So, the beginning of yet another successful, superhero franchise from the almost never-ending repertoire of Marvel comics, not that I'm complaining. I went in with very low expectations but came back delighted. Looking forward to the next one !

Into The Storm



Rating : 7/10
Release Date : 8th August, 2014
Time : 89 minutes
Director : Steven Quale; Writer : John Swetnam; Music : Brian Tyler
Starring : Richard Armitage, Sarah Wayne Callies, Matt Walsh, Max Deacon, Nathan Kress, Alycia Debnam Carey, Jeremy Sumpter, Arlen Escarpeta, Lee Whittaker, Kyle Davis, Jon Reep




What a giddy, exhilarating, roller-coaster ride this is, as the makers, through some fantastic special effects, do exactly what the title promises…



An assorted rag tag crew of people find themselves caught up in a small American town, facing a tornado. Or two. Some, like Matt & his crew (Sarah, Arlen, Jeremy, Lee), are actually chasing it down, trying to capture it through the eyes of their camera. Some, like thrill seeking buddies, Kyle & Jon, are just seeking an adrenalin rush and millions of YouTube hits. And some, like Richard, just want their town and his kids, Max & Nathan, safe. Alycia, playing Max’s childhood crush, also looks suitably scared in the few scenes she has.




Havent seen Twister, which I think had a similar theme, but this one, thanks to what technology allows now, in terms of special effects, is really something else. Especially given the camera angles chosen, you get almost a first person account of what its like to be right in the middle of a storm, watching the destruction, the havoc, the sight of cars, houses, buildings, entire airplanes tossed around like confetti. Its really some experience, and you feel awed, once again, by the power of nature.



They invest just enough time in the characters so that we begin to care for them, wish them to be safe and unharmed. There are some plotlines developed – Max, at the urging of his younger brother Nathan, finally walking up to Alycia, his childhood crush, and conversing with her. Max & Nathan, and their issues with their father, Richard, after the death of their mom. And Matt, who only seems to care about his camera coverage, goes around being the biggest p**ck, bossing over everyone in his team, threatening to fire them, including Sarah, who is trying her best to spot a tornado for him, but her best just isn’t good enough for him. Having relatively unfamiliar persons, not known stars, play the parts also adds to the charm and the slight unpredictability of the film.




The crew behind this deserve a special pat on the back for giving us ringside seats for the sheer power of a storm, the havoc a giant tornado can create. The pace of the film is tight, never lets up, an adventure to be definitely experienced on the big screen, and, just when you think you’ve seen it all, they manage to surprise you once again..

Friday, August 01, 2014

Hercules



Rating : 6/10
Release Date : 1st August, 2014
Time : 99 minutes
Director : Brett Ratner; Writers :Ryan Condal, Evan Spiliotopolous (based on the Radical comic character by Steve Moore); Music : Fernando Velazquez
Starring : Dwayne Johnson, John Hurt, Ian McShane, Rufus Sewell, Aksel Hennie, Ingrid Bolso Berdal, Reece Ritchie, Joseph Fiennes, Rebecca Ferguson, Irina Shayk, Tobias Santelmann




Thankfully the film doesn’t focus on the twelve labours of Hercules but more on life after. And there is a team, its not just a one man show. And there is some great action, super sequences using knives, clubs, arrows, spears and even bare hands. Dwayne Johnson, in the title role, somehow, manages to make it seem just about believable…



Dwayne is now a mercenary, fighting for gold, along with his team Rufus (his childhood friend, great with knives), Ian (a spear-wielding seer), Aksel Hennie (doesn’t speak much but a human battering ram), Ingrid (an Amazon, arrows are her thing) and Reece (nephew, story-teller and marketing guy). Dwayne is preparing for a quieter, retired life on an island, still haunted by nightmares of his murdered wife (Irina) and kids. And there arrives his next mission



The king of Thrace, John Hurt, via his daughter (Rebecca), seeks his help to defeat a warlord, Tobias, who is laying waste to the land using a mix of sorcery and an army of centaurs. The reward is Dwayne’s weight in gold but everything isn’t what it seems.


There is a dark, grim feeling about the entire film, which made the whole experience heavy rather than entertaining but other than that its well made, has us rooting for our hero(es) and feeling for them when they fall. Like any action adventure film must, there are quite a few jaw-dropping set pieces sprinkled liberally through the duration. The pace remains tight, despite the few moments of introspection and intrigue.



With such films, almost as much as a good script, you need characters who are believable and this film does a great job of populating the central characters with a very believable group, who provide a perfect foil to The Rock’s central, hulking hero. If he had to train for six months for the role, you can well imagine what he looks like in the film !

Lucy



Rating : 7/10
Release Date : 1st August, 2014
Time : 90 minutes
Director, Writer : Luc Besson; Music : Eric Serra
Starring : Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Min-sik Choi, Amr Waked




This is similar to the central premise of Bradley Cooper’s Limitless but is better because a) it goes further in exploring the logical train of thought b) it stars the delectable Scarlett Johansson


Morgan Freeman’s gravelly voice informs us, while lecturing a class, that humans use only 7%-8% of their cerebral capacity. Dolphins, apparently are the only species that use more. And he speculates, along with his students, on what could be the scenarios if we did end up using more…



Scarlett, in the titular role, tries to deliver a suitcase to a drug-lord, Min-sik Choi. And then things go wrong. He makes her an offer she cant refuse, getting her and a few others to be drug mules for a new drug, CPH4. But when the drug accidentally leaks in her stomach, she is able to use more and more of her brain, and is determined to seek vengeance and also help humanity, with the help of Morgan Freeman.



The film, apart from being thought provoking, is also a visual treat. Stunning montages of the animal kingdom, nature at its best, human history punctuate Morgan’s lecture and in one particularly scintillating sequence, Scarlett travels through time, visiting some spectacular scenery along the way.


The more important aspect, though, is thinking about what would actually happen if we began to use more of the neuron connections inside us. Unlocking memories, controlling radio waves, magnets, metallic objects, other humans, decoding their secrets with merely a touch…its all quite mind-boggling (pun intended) and beautifully shown.



Scarlett, of course, is simply amazing. Runs the whole gamut of emotions, being coquettish, scared, matter of fact, in control (even when driving at high speed on the wrong side of the road in Paris), angry, vengeful with consummate ease. She keeps us hooked all the way through, slipping into skin of her character effortlessly. The end was a little tame, kind of neither here nor there but wouldn’t really want to quibble.



I’ve always been a huge fan of high-concept films like this one. Add Scarlett in the mix and the panache of Luc Besson as a director, and you cant really go wrong !

Friday, July 25, 2014

Kick



Rating : 3/10
Release Date : 25th July, 2014
Time : 146 minutes
Director, Co-writer : Sajid Nadiadwala; Writers :Rajat Aroraa, Chetan Bhagat (remake of the Telegu film of the same name); Music : Himesh Reshammiya
Starring : Salman Khan, Jacqueline Fernandez, Randeep Hooda, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Mithun Chakraborty, Saurabh Shukla, Vipin Sharma, Archana Puran Singh




Most Hindi films suffer from the curse of the second half where they begin to unravel tragically. Not this one. This spirals out of control midway through the first half itself. It has everything – a hot babe, a love triangle, good locations, action, drama, hammy tear-jerking sequences, some very loud, unnecessary songs, a Robin Hood-ish, super-heroish character whom no one can recognize thanks to a eye mask, slapstick char-anna wala humour – everything, except a story despite 4 people claiming credit for the same.



The opening premise arguably even had potential. That of an intelligent, hyperactive guy who goes through life looking for kicks. No 9-5 job can hold him down, wealth accumulation is not his concern, he just does whatever provides greater excitement. Gets his friend married off despite powerful mom-in-law’s protests. Beats hoodlums molesting girls but only after beating the passive onlookers first. Then romances Jacqueline, who is quite eye-catching in the film, especially in one 2 minute dance sequence much later. All seems to be going smoothly, but then, just for kicks, I suspect, arrives our eye-masked crusader. Arrives supercop, Randeep Hooda. And an OTT but quite riveting villain, Nawazuddin Siddiqui.



Caricaturish parents (all three, Mithun, Archana, Saurabh), security guards who refuse to carry guns despite an imminent threat, cops who do carry guns but refuse to use them, a London double decker that magically arrives in what is supposed to be Warsaw for an extended chase sequence, the hero-cop-villain who, in the spirit of Bruce Willis’ Unbreakable, refuse to bleed or scratch despite severe pummelling…the list just goes on…and on…the action bits were quite average, nothing not seen before, the romance along predictable lines and the songs very, very ordinary.



I can hear the Salman Fan Club booing…going “Sallu Bhai doesn’t need a story” or “Our hero is above minor things such as logic”, and given the crores this and his previous films have raked in, I can readily accept the argument. My only thought is “What If ?”…what if you could combine his charisma with a great, super story. Tab kitna maza aata ! There is another unbelievable twist, right at the end, and it seems even Randeep is unable to hold himself back then, breaking out into very credible giggles, saying something along the lines of “Kuch Bhi !!”. My sentiments exactly !

Friday, May 23, 2014

X-Men : Days of Future Past



Rating : 7/10
Release Date : 23rd May, 2014
Time : 131 minutes
Director : Bryan Singer; Writers : Jane Goldman, Simon Kinberg, Matthew Vaughn; Music : John Ottman
Starring : Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Halle Berry, Nicholas Hoult, Anna Paquin, Ellen Page, Peter Dinklage, Shawn Ashmore, Omar Sy, Evan Peters, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen



This one has it all…great set-piece action sequences, super visuals, enough logic to keep you engaged and some good one-liners for that all too important dose of humour to prevent things from getting too dark or heavy


In a bleak, dark future, humans have created Sentients…machines which ruthlessly hunt down and destroy mutants. Humans aren’t doing too well either, with only a few left, who control the machines. One way to prevent this scenario is to go back in time, to when the Sentient program is green-lit, and prevent it from ever getting off the ground. But this will have to be done quickly, before the Sentients discover the last remaining bunch of mutants in the present…



The core of X-Men’s appeal lies in mistrust between humans and mutants and the two approaches used by mutants to combat this, typified by Magneto’s (Michael Faasbender) ‘Fear is the Key’ kind of shock and awe approach vs the Professor’s (James McAvoy) more inclusive, Win-Win style, ‘Mutual Benefits’ one. The short-term expediency of the former is balanced against the longer-term sustainability of the latter. Its this battle which keeps us hooked for most of the second half, as Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), the messenger from the future, has to find a way for both of them to see common ground as time quickly runs out.



One of the most delightful moments of the film though is when Quicksilver has to rescue the others from a tight spot while attempting to extricate Magneto from the Pentagon…that entire rescue sequence is just excellent, deftly executed with generous helpings of humour. Mystique’s (Jennifer Lawrence) powers are always visually exciting and Magneto ensures an almost literally over-the-top spectacle in the grand finale.



There is a feeling of déjà vu as you watch the film, though…the Sentients idea coming close conceptually (though not executionally) to what we saw in the Matrix and the whole idea of the travelling back in time to change the future coming from Men In Black 3. Also, logically, if the Professor can read minds and help alter them using his powers, wouldn’t it be a lot simpler for him merely to change the minds of the hawkishly inclined humans ?


In any case, I found it a interesting that questions like this are raised in your head while you watch the film…amongst all the action, the special effects, the laughter, these more fundamental queries are probably a sign that the film makers have found a way to make you care…for the characters and for the overall plot…and isn’t that a good thing after all ?