2014 A year in review

Aren’t you bored of the multitude of all the insipid “It’s been a great year thanks for being a part of it” video montages on Facebook already? Was 2014 really that great a year? Is it really worth looking back with nostalgia? For me, personally, it was a defining year – from getting married to moving to a different country but movie-wise it was one of the most lackluster years in history of the blog lifein70mm). When a Christopher Nolan movie doesn’t automatically make its way to the top of my year end list, then it is telling of what sort of a year it has been! But looking back does have its benefits – it can surprise even the most jaded of individuals of that glimmer of happiness that released early on in the year and still sits in a special place in your heart glowing with tiny but incessant warmth. Thanks for staying with lifein70mm and thanks for letting me know that you like my reviews more than some of the most celebrated critics who write for the leading newspapers. It makes me want to see more, and write more and that is all I can ask of you!

Top 10(ish) of 2014 (in alphabetical order)

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Boyhood: Richard Linklater defies the boundaries of imagination. Just think about the commitment it would be required to shoot each year over 12 years to document the life of a boy and to tell the simplest of stories of growing up, the dysfunctional American family, and the bonds that tie us together. A movie so unique, that it can only be classified as the space that exists between a coming-of-age tale and a documentary. I have loved Linklater Before series and it is two of my favorite writing, I was really looking forward to reviewing Boyhood and even after watching it twice I am unable to pen down my thoughts on it. To say I loved it would be a gross understatement.

Finding Vivian Maier: I love documentaries and the ones that are done well are most often better than fictional stories because you don’t need to imagine that it can happen but marvel that these things did indeed happen. A writer stumbles upon a cache of old photographs from a lot that he bought on a whim at an auction, the photographs are of such high quality and tell such a vivid story of the life in the 60s that the writer is pulled into the intrigue of the artist who took these photographs and he documents his search in this documentary. One of the most beautiful and poignant documentaries I have ever seen and images that will stay with you a lot longer than the duration of the film. Vivian Maier’s rise to posthumous fame is incredible. She even gets a mention in the opening credit of this year’s best comedy on television Selfie alongside Freda Kahlo and her self-portrait.

Gone Girl: Nobody does dirty sick and twisted quite like David Fincher. To take what was essentially airport fiction and to turn it into a catharsis of a marriage is laudable feat. This movie features the best use of voiceover I have ever had the pleasure of watching and when done in the breathy voice of the enchanting Rosamund Pike it takes creepy to a whole new level. An enormously enjoyable and infinitely rewatchable movie with one of the best soundtrack this year.

Haider: Vishal Bharadwaj, Shahid Kapur and Shakespeare’s Hamlet are a potent combination. Setting the movie in Kashmir should have been a staggering achievement in storytelling, but by wavering on taking a stand, Bharadwaj ends up with a technically beautiful and intensely acted movie which stumbles a little with its plot. This could have easily ended up as a disappointment for me had it not been for Shahid Kapur and Tabu. I accord this movie half a spot on the top 10 to be shared with a movie down the list.

Kick: I know there will be many of you who will be shaking your head in dismay at the inclusion of this movie in this list. But this was the only 100 Cr movies this year that had any modicum of entertainment value. It takes the histrionics of Salman to make nonsensical an art form. With the gorgeous Jacqueline Fernandez by his side the king khan takes us on an adrenaline rush that was unmatched this year.

Mardaani : I dislike Rani Mukherjee with a passion that is only matched by my dislike of Aamir Khan but in Pradeep Sirkar’s able hands Rani turns in what is one of the best performances of her life. A skillfully crafter thriller with a very unusual and non-stereotypical antagonist, a movie with a message which it delivers masterfully without hammering it on your head; this was the perfect example of a movie which India needs. If ever there was a need for sequels then this is a movie that richly deserves it.

Nightcrawler: The Renaissance of Jake Gyllenhaal continues unabated. After last year’s top-10 lister Prisoners Gyllenhaal returns in this dark comedy about a man with a drive to succeed and an absolute lack of moral inhibitions. Taking the world of 24-hr breaking news cycle and making a social commentary on what drives the people who blur the lines of journalistic ethics to feed the public greed for sensationalized news or perhaps even the paparazzi fueled celeb-obsessed culture of ours.

Pride: A quiet and unassuming British movie about the coming together of two opposing factions of the society to achieve a common goal. With the playbill stacked with the who’s who of the British cinema this is a complete treat to watch. Sensitively handling the subject of labor strike and the rise of the gay rights movement and the eventual pride parade, this movie has many high points and many standout stars. This reminded me of the underappreciated The Boat that Rocked/Pirate Radio or maybe that was just because Bill Nighy was in both and I love Bill Nighy!

Queen: I know at the outset I said the list was in alphabetical order just so that I don’t have to rank all the movies. But if I were to rank them I am more than certain that Queen would be my 2014 topper. I have not seen a more honest attempt at story telling than this story of a simple girl from Rajauri who gets dumped just before her wedding day and decides to go on her honeymoon by herself, on a  journey of discovery and revelations which up to this point were the tightly held domain of male dominated road-trip movies. Kangana Ranaut is spectacular as Rani – the eponymous Queen and with Amit Trivedi’s brilliant music this movie is an instant classic. I cannot wait for what Vikas Bahl has to offer next and I hope he continue to be this honest about his story telling, because the results are fantastic.

The Imitation Game: as mentioned earlier it was hard to choose between Haider and this one as both movies had their merits (stand out performances by the leads) and its pitfalls. But when a story this important is being told, it almost doesn’t matter if there are a few minor glitches. Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing is incredible and does well to show the vulnerable side of his (and Turing’s) genius. In that final scene towards the end after undergoing chemical castration, Cumberbatch’s performance breaks my heart and you feel for Turing who suffered such indignation at the hands of the society he gave so much to.

X-Men : Days of Future Past:  Of all the multi-super hero universes out there ( the avengers, the justice league and the X-men) the X-men feel the most organic, they don’t feel like a money grab where you throw a wide variety of superheroes together in an all-you-can-eat style buffet. With the foundation that was laid with a very strong X-men First Class the return of Bryan Singer at the helm righted the wrong of X-men: The Last Stand by essentially rewriting the timeline and setting it up for future adventures. Having perhaps the best assemblage of young Hollywood talent in form of McAvoy, Fassbender, Lawrence, Hoult I have tremendous faith that the Superhero franchise is far from dead. Bring on the apocalypse I cannot wait!

The Bottom 3 (In alphabetical order)

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Bang Bang: to take two of the most beautiful human beings ever created and to turn them into absolutely unwatchable crap is the claim to fame for Bang Bang. An official adaptation of Knight and Day, this vapid movie should have never been made. Its stupidity was a new low for Bollywood.

Singham Returns: I stayed away from Singham despite people claiming how it was a good-masala-movie with very good acting. But being married to a Kareena-aficionado has its pitfalls. After a surprisingly good Kick my faith in the ability of 100cr movie to be bearable was renewed. But it was dealt a deathly blow with this loud brash and crass attempt at storytelling.  Rohit Shetty is the Michael Bay of Bollywood and I am staying as far away from his exploding cars as possible.

The Amazing Spider-man 2: I loved Marc Webb’s directorial debut 500 days of summer and I loved the Andrew Garfield as the amazing Spiderman. If you bring these two together and throw in Emma Stone I am bound to be excited. But alas that excitement was misplaced and I no longer look forward to any more spidey adventures.

The biggest Disappointment of 2014 was hands down Interstellar. It is not that Interstellar was a particularly bad movie; it’s just that I have come to expect a certain level of intelligence from Nolan and the choice of Matthew McConaughey thoroughly baffled me. While the science in the movie was fascinating and accessible at the same time, the stoner drawl of McConaughey and Hans Zimmer’s obnoxious soundtrack were entirely off-putting.  Hopefully, this is only law of averages and Nolan can get back to doing what he does best this will just be something he will look back and laugh while scratching his head thinking what the hell was I smoking when I offered this role to McCoughMyName.

There you have it! 2014 all wrapped up with a bow on top. Here’s to 2015 and a wonderful year at the movies. Do write to me and let me know what you think of my assessment of the year 2014 at the movies, if you agree or disagree or have a suggestion for me to watch. I will be back very early on in 2015 with a review of a much-anticipated Birdman and many more exciting movies to come. Happy New Year!

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The Imitation Game – A Review

Morten Tyldum directs Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley in the Alan Turing Biopic The Imitation Game. Turing was a man of immense genius, one whom Winston Churchill credited with the “single greatest contribution to ending the second world war”. Turing along with other cryptologists at britain’s Bletchley Park broke the German Enigma machine’s code effectively ending the war by laying bare the german communication to the allied troops. Tyldum has based the movie on a script by Graham Moore who adapted the book by Adrew Hodges.

The movie opens in 1952 with Turing in prison for questioning on the suspicions of being a soviet spy.  Cumberbatch’s voice over asks us to pay attention and asks us the question “am I a national hero, a criminal or a spy”. As it turns out Turing wasn’t a spy and the events that led to his arrest had very little to do with espionage but more to do with his homosexuality which in the 50s was still a punishable offence in Britain. The movie keeps flitting between the periods of 1952 when Turing was arrested, the war time 1939-1942 and the formative years of Turning at a boys school where he was bullied and harassed for being different.

Benedict Cumberbatch plays Alan Turing, Kiera Knightley plays Joan Clarke, Matthew Goode plays John Hughes and Mark Strong plays Menzies.  I am as big a fan of Sherlock star Benedict as the next Cumberbitch (fans of Cumberbatch are known as cumberbitches) but to me he is the worst and the most obvious choice to play the irascible genius as he has played the same character in Sherlock and as Kahn in Star Trek. The performance does nothing unexpected or exciting. There are moments where Cumberbatch shines but they are far too few to warrant a Oscar win or even a nom as most punters are betting. Kiera Knightley as the only woman cryptographer has a role that is underdeveloped. She is chosen to join the team at Hut8 but her parents refuse and then Turing manages to deceitfully get them to agree and she is off to Bletchley but up until the point where they are engaged never once is Joan seen in Hut8 and instead seems to be whiling her time away with the other women at Bletchley intercepting the encoded messages. It is a befuddling tangent of storytelling at best.  Goode plays the cool, suave yet genius John Hughes in a performance that is reminiscent of his Ozymandias from Watchmen. The problem with these castings is that they are lazy and almost a stereotype of the kind of roles these otherwise brilliant actors are known to play. I would much rather have Goode or even Ben Wishaw play Turing but they aren’t big enough names to attract top billing unfortunately.

Graham and Tyldum do well to go into the most significant aspects of the story of Turing’s life, the arrival at Bletchley, the approval for building Christopher by going over the commanding officer and directly to Churchill, the eventual breakthrough, the debriefing, the arrest of Turing for public indecency, the chemical castration. But these events become mere checkpoints that the director and the cast tick off while hurtling towards the conclusion. There is no finesse when it comes to any of the above mentioned plot points, for instance the approval for Christopher is not only Turing’s effort but that of the entire team at Hut8 and the arrest and the interrogation that follows, which forms the opening scene of the movie is ended abruptly and Nock who is handling the investigation is handed a newspaper confirm that Turing is sentenced for Indecency a charge that he, Nock was fighting against. Also as with most biopics the closing scenes which list out what happened with the characters after the events in the movie this one does so as well. But rather than the half-hearted attempt of bullet-pointing how Turing was given a royal pardon if they had only ended it with the statement Gordon Brown made which was best summed up as “ we are sorry, you deserved much better”.

Gordon Brown’s ending remarks on the apology are how I felt about the movie myself. This is no doubt a honest and fine attempt at telling the life of perhaps the most influential figure in modern history. His pioneering work set the pace for the advent of computing in the right sense, his work at Bletchley saved 14million lives, his entire contribution was shrouded in secrecy and he was mistreated by the society because of his“different-ness” , it was his “different-ness” that saved the very society. But because of the towering nature of his contributions and the fantastic life that he lived which could serve as an inspiration to so many his story deserved to be told in a better fashion than a run of the mill biopic which is nothing but a Oscar-bait being distributed by the Weinstein brothers. Don’t miss this movie because even if mis-cast Benedict Cumberbatch is a treat to the eyes and ears both and Alan Turing’s story is the one that must be told over and over again till someone gets it right. And after you have seen the movie go read up on the life of this genius who changed the world for the better and still got nothing in return from it.

August: Osage County – A Review

John Wells directs a director’s dream cast including Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Margot Martindale, Abigail Breslin, Ewan McGregor, Benedict Cumberbatch, Juliette Lewis, Chris Cooper and Julianne Nicholson in a script adapted by Tracey Letts based on his original material written as a play for the stage in August: Osage County.

The story unfolds as Beverley Weston played by Sam Shepard hires a house keeper to take care of his sick wife Violet Weston played by the magnificent Meryl Streep. Bev goes missing and then is found dead. This brings his and Violet’s three daughters together to come and support their mother in grief and attend the funeral.

Meryl Streep gets a nomination every time she descends on the silver screen and there are enough detractors out there who feel she is over rated or over-loved if there is such a thing. To them I say watch this movie and then come talk to me. She is in a form which very few actresses can ever hope to reach. This is the peak of her performance. As the cancer stricken, pill popping, dementia ridden Violet Weston, she is vicious with her insults and barbs and acidic comments on all those gathered at the lunch table. She is  rude and callous one moment and in need of our sympathies at the very next as you can see the years of hard living, a tough childhood a far-from-ideal marriage and the betrayal she feels at the hands of her daughters who have all moved away. Take it from an ardent Streep lover – this is Meryl at her absolute best. Having seen blue jasmine starring Cate Blanchett (who I love as well) is the betting favorite to take home the trophy but if there is any justice in the world then the battle of the psychotic breakdown should land in the favor of Meryl Streep.

A strong supporting cast carries the movie along onto a different level altogether once the pace has been sent by Streep. Roberts with her return to the screen with a meaty role really digs her heels in as the eldest daughter of the Weston household with a rebellious teenager for daughter a husband with whom she is going through a separation, a dead father and a mother who is quickly losing her wits about herself Roberts take upon herself to steady the ship. The lunch table brawl between Roberts and Streep is the stuff of cinematic legends it is raw, high adrenaline and heartbreaking at the same time. Margot Martindale as Violet’s sister with a deep secret is smashing in her turn as Mattie Fae. Martindale and Cooper’s outburst over their son is brilliant as well. This is a movie packed with so many moments that it is impossible to pick your favorite my top three would have to be the lunch time brawl, the midnight spade-attack and the lets all break things.

The screenplay is so cleverly written that it surprises you at every turn of the story. The story of the plains is anything but a plain story, it is a multi-layered multi-faceted tale of a dysfunctional family the likes of which have not been seen on the screen. It is a fantastically intertwined tale of such hopeless despair that there would seem like there is no way out yet the story lifts itself with such light moments as the one where the three girls share in their mother’s childhood story of her crush which while still ends up being heartbreaking gives you hope that the family will still pull it together and somehow survive. But bear in mind this is not one of your happy endings stories this is a fast unraveling of a messy family drama with top notch performances which leave you in awe of entire ensemble cast who put on a stellar show.

There is a minor misstep in direction which has generated a fairly interesting conversation on the internet. It is rumored that Roberts wanted to get the lead nom over Streep so she arm-twisted the Weinsteins who in turn put pressure on Wells to add a final scene focusing on Roberts instead of cutting to credit after Violet breaks down in the arms of her house keeper. And to be honest it would have been a more satisfying end if the movie ended as originally intended by the screen writer Tracy Letts with Violet broken down and leaving the audience to grapple with the questions of what will happen. And whether the daughters will return or whether Violet will survive on her own or will she not. Focusing on Roberts is a faulty move and could have been avoided.

The cinematography by Adriano Goldman beautifully captures the darkened out Weston household and in those long tracking shots of the Oklahoma plains does magic to capture the stark and unremarkable landscape to evoke a sense of helplessness that envelopes the central characters of the narrative. Stark yet beautiful.  The score by Gustavo Santaolalla is subtle and does not invade the dramatic space to tell us when to feel what – it is a competent partner to the most potent of storytelling and only really makes its presence felt in one moment when nothing is spoken and family is driving back from the doctors. The Kings of Leon song which plays at the credit scene “Last Mile Home” should have earned the rock band a nomination for original song but it curiously didn’t.

Watch this movie because this is Meryl Streep at her absolute best. This should be reason enough for anyone to want to watch the movie but it is not the only reason the movie provides. If you are not swayed yet watch it because it boasts a supporting cast the strengths of which are rarely on display. Watch it because it is a fantastically written and a brilliantly directed film. Did I mention already WATCH IT FOR MERYL STREEP!

Star Trek : Into The Darkness – A Review

J J Abrams delivers the second in his reboot of the iconic Star Trek series after the surprisingly well received 2009 entry. With Star Trek – into the Darkness Abrams enters LOST like territories where bonds are formed, friendships strengthened and not everything is what it seems.

Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Alton Yelchin, Simon Pegg all return onboard the USS Enterprise to boldly go where no man has gone before. Chris Pine as Captain James Kirk is in top form as he mans a mission to go searching for the rogue terrorist John  Harrison played by the amazing Benedict Cumberbatch . Zachary Quinto as the half-Vulcan half-Human Spock is dead on with his pan faced humorless objective first officer of the USS Enterprise. While his delivery is straight faced he elicits the most laughs. Benedict Cumberbatch delivers each syllable in such devilishly delicious measured baritone that you want to do nothing more than just hear him speak at length. Simon Pegg continues the magic he created in the first movie with his hilarious portrayal as Scotty the first engineer of the Enterprise.

There is a lot of action and for once I cannot find anything to complain about the use of 3D. The Visual effects are top notch and the different sceneries created are believable. The music by Abram’s long-time collaborator Michael Giacchino helps add tension and excitement to the first half and elevates it several notches above average sci-fi adventure fare.

I am not a trekkie so the world created by Abrams is my only reference outside of big bang theory references and few casual articles. As with every Iconic series reboot there are those who will find offense with this movie as well and I read several reviews which had prepared me to believe I was going to be very disappointed. I read one review which crucified Abrams for trying to Nolanify the world of star trek by trying to go dark. I summarily debunk both those reviews as I felt there to be no references to Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy except that this featured a dreaded villain whose only motive was destruction.

Abrams may never pass the acid test that the hard-core trekkies expect to put him through but what he has done is bring a ground breaking series to the future and introduce a new audience to the wonders that the sci-fi genre holds.

 The movie isn’t without problems, the first half while fast paced and exciting loses the steam in the second half. The second half of the second half felt like a different “Episode” but in the context of a feature film just feel a little jarring and over long. The actors are perfectly cast and breathe a new life into roles that birthed legends who still continue to enjoy fanatical followings. I personally enjoyed it more than Iron Man 3 so I’d recommend you don’t miss this movie.