X-Men : Days of Future Past – A Reivew

Bryan Singer returns to the X-men universe to direct X-Men: Days of Future Past after having directed X-men and the X-men 2 and then handed over the reins to Brett Ratner who according to most nearly killed the franchise ( I had no such problems with The Last Stand though) . Armed the cast from the present-day X-men universe and the younger versions of the same characters introduced in Matthew Vaughn’s brilliant X-Men: First Class and with a crisp script by Simon Kinberg, Singer undoes a lot of the dead-end story arcs that Ratner took  with Last Stand.

The movie is set in the future where the mutants are under attack from an army of Mutant Machines dubbed The Sentinels invented by a man named Bolivar Trask played by the amazing Peter Dinklage. The Mutants must band together to time travel and stop the events that lead to these unbeatable machines from being made in the first place. Singer does not dwell on introducing the various mutants and their powers like Whedon does in the Avengers universe. We are thrown summarily in the midst of an ongoing battle with a Vegas-sized buffet of Mutants to choose from and are asked to go along for the ride as the mutants become familiar and their powers self-explanatory.  This is easily where Singer and Kinberg could have wasted precious minutes and possibly alienated a already super-hero-fatigued audience, instead they drop hints and several nods to those loyal to the franchise to know and get familiar with the universe. One scene in particular had me laugh out loud ( and probably be one of the first ones in the theatre I was in to react ) was that of Wolverine walking through a metal-detector.

Unlike the previous movies which focused primarily on Xavier and Magneto this one focuses more on Raven/Mystique. Jennifer Lawrence as the young Mystique is quite phenomenal; however a tad more humor on her part would have just been the most perfect thing ever.  Hugh Jackman gets the loudest reaction from the audience and deservedly so – he is the embodiment of Wolverine I cannot think of another actor playing him physically or physiologically. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender once again prove why they are the perfect choice to take on the roles of Xavier and Magneto that Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian McKellen – the two stalwarts have made their own.

Newton Thomas Sigel mans the camera and does a fine job of transitioning between the apocalyptic future and the 70’s. the production design on these  big-budget apocalyptic movies are pretty standard but by straddling the 70’s John Myre faithfully recreates the era and actually does a better and more believable job than the X-Men : First Class. Of Particular note is John Ottman who dons two caps – those of being the editor and the music composer. As the editor Ottman does a fine job of chopping of whatever possible flab there was to deliver a concise and coherent story with a fairly consistent time-travel story arc. As the music composer he goes the route of Hans Zimmer with the big booming  sound pieces that have come to be the staple of the action/thriller genre. Not that it distracts from the action but nothing particularly original.

This is the super hero movie of the year! You cannot afford to miss it as every X-Men movie in itself is very good but this one while playing homage to all its predecessors manages to stand on its own and still chart a new path forward by undoing the ending of Last Stand. All the tenses get turned on their head as the has becomes had and the he gets becomes will he get? This is an intelligent movie which does not compromise on the entertainment aspect and still does not dumb it down for the audience.  Watch it as the Future and Past of the X-Men universe collide and result in a big bang that will rewrite where the series goes from here.

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Hawaa Hawaai – A Review

Amole Gupte directs his son Partho and Saqib Saleem in Hawaa Hawaai. Taking on the themes of rural poverty, child labor and the growing socio-economic divide in the country the movie is ambitious to say the least. But it is this ambition which is the undoing of what could potentially have been a wonderful movie.

Gupte makes many a directorial choices which had me cringing at the cheesiness or laughing out loud at the sheer ridiculousness of certain situations. After a visually stunning opening sequence underscored by a “roshesh-like” song  we are jarringly moved from the idyllic rural surroundings to the claustrophobic environs of the dharavi slums. This move is perhaps one of the very few good decisions Gupte makes where he does not rely on a paint-by-numbers narrative and leaves the symbolisms to be deciphered by the audience.

Once in Mumbai it all goes belly up. Arjun Harishchandra Waghmare played ably by Gupte’s son Partho is working as a waiter cum cleaner at a tea vendor’s stall. After a grueling first day when he asks permission to leave, the vendor asks him to wait around because the business is about to pick up. In comes Lucky Bhargav skating coach extraordinaire played by the Over the Top Saqib Saleem. Partho is immediately mesmerized by a pair of inline skates. The desire to own and ride a pair of skates is immediate and not entirely believable – had they showed a few days pass by with Arjun seeing the kids perform all sorts of stunts it would have made more sense – but sadly Gupte or his editors decided that was way too much time to spend on developing the central theme of the movie.

Arjun and his gang of friends (again no time spent in establishing how they came to know each other and how they formed such a bond) use their considerable talents to come up with a pair of skates to realize Arjun’s dreams. What follows is a series of incoherent rants between Lucky and his great American Keeda brother about how passion means more than earning a decent livelihood (sermons delivered from the balcony of a sea-facing apartment).  Also there is this off-tangent plot about a drunken rich kid running over lucky while he tried to protect his skating students and how he lets the kid go because his sister is earnest upon her return from outside the country and most importantly HOT. From here on it follows a fairly predictable plot of championing the underdog. All the choices Gupte makes story-wise do not feel original with a hint of Iqbal (a brilliant movie) or bhaag milkha bhaag (a forgettable affair)

In all this disappointment there are two stand outs for me – Neha Joshi who plays Arjun’s mother is brilliant and feels very real with her demeanor and carefully understated portrayal and Anuj Sachdeva who while minimal in his presence on screen makes an impact without needing to shout from the rooftops.

The film tries to force moral issues down your throat with a sequence that juxtaposes shots of kids rummaging through garbage to kids taking rickshaws to school, kids selling gajaras at signals to kids performing science experiments in school. It tries to highlight the plight of the farmers but seems dishonest in doing so. I had huge hopes in terms of the sensitivity and maturity in portrayal of children’s issues from the man behind Taare Zameen Par but here nothing seems to be further away.

The Amazing Spider-man 2 – A Review

Marc Webb directs Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone in their second outing as the masked crusader Spider-man in the Amazing Spider-man 2.  The problems which plagued an otherwise fun first movie are addressed here with the introduction of Electro as the main antagonist to Garfield’s Spidey. However Webb now has a problem of plenty with the introduction of Harry Osborne AKA The Green Goblin and also the much rumored Rhino.

I have been a champion for Webb’s work after falling head over heels in love with his directorial debut 500 hundred days of summer. I even loved his first outing directing The Amazing Spiderman which a lot of critics outright panned. But here my feelings for both Webb and the Web-crawler aren’t as strongly positive and that has a lot to do with the story telling. Ever since Nolan directed the Dark Knight trilogy he reshaped the superhero genre with a greater emphasis on story telling than on the razzle dazzle and that is squarely where the movie fails – that and the editing.

The movie feels like 2-3 different movies which Webb was juggling with and the end result is a half-baked effort which sees neither to conclusion. There is the usual tongue-in-cheek Spiderman dry wit, then there is the electro-funk music and explosions extravaganza that is more befitting a Bay or a Snyder and then there is the mopey-weepy rom-com Spiderman more suited to Raimi’s third outing.

Andrew Garfield is still strong as both Peter Parker and Spider-man and gives very little to complain about. My problems lie with Webb’s injudicious use of Garfield on the screen – sometimes there isn’t enough of him on the screen and at times there is perhaps a little too much. Emma Stone makes me go Jim Carrey once more – I mean can she do no wrong? As Gwen Stacey she is funny, witty, charming, and disarming with those big blue eyes and that laugh and those bangs and that cute little nose of hers… wait what were we talking of again? Oh yes the movie – she is brilliant.

Jamie Foxx as electro is ineffective if you ask me – he brings nothing special to the screen in either his Max Dillon or Electro avatar and is mostly over the top. even the writers attempt at giving electro a backstory is merely an unnecessary distraction.  Sally Fields who had reigned in the histrionics she is so known for lets them loose here and is mostly cloyingly annoying. The revelation for me however is Dane DeHann who as Harry Osborne channels the young Leonardo DiCaprio from Romeo+Juliet and The Beach and is talent to watch out for in coming years. I had mentioned about his striking resemblance in the Place beyond the Pines.

Hans Zimmer and the Magnificent Six (that sounds like a superhero tag team to me) including Pharrell Williams provide the background and music. Zimmer’s work is always fantastic for me and here too he does quite well but the whole electro vibe does tend to go overboard at times. The songs are lovely too but this somehow doesn’t feel like the movie for it. Perhaps Webb goes back to doing something similar to 500 days of summer again and treats us to some magnificent music.

To be honest the superhero fatigue is starting to show and it is about time someone reinvents the genre again. I have my hopes in Singer and his X-men but only time will tell. As for The Amazing Spiderman 2 watch it for Emma Stone. And also for Andrew Garfield who still is a better Spiderman than Tobey Maguire ever was. And if you are a fan of the comic books I am pretty sure there were some massive easter eggs left in there towards the end to figure out what is to happen in 2015.