X-Men : Apocalypse – A Review

Bryan Singer directs Jennifer Lawrence, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender and many others in the third instalment in the X-men reboot X-Men: Apocalypse. After basing the First Class in the 60s and the Days of Future Past in the 70s we are in the 80s now and the characters don’t seem to have aged a day since the fateful events of 10 years ago when Mystique/Raven played by Jennifer Lawrence changed the course of history by ending the Sentinel program of Bolivar Trask. This time around we are witness to events of 3600 BCE when En Sabah Nur ruled Egypt and is believed to be the first Mutant by Agent Moira MacTaggert of CIA. After lying entombed for several millennia he is accidentally awoken by Moira herself as she lets the rays of sun hit the PCB-Pyramid.

I have always vehemently defended the superiority of the X-men universe over their Marvel rivals The Avengers but I was massively disappointed by the almost cartoonish tone of the first half where Oscar Isaac who plays En Sabah Nur – or Apocalypse goes about recruiting a young Storm, Psylocke, Angel and Magneto. There are moments of brilliance when we are introduced to an incognito Magneto and the subsequent breakdown that is more Macbeth than Magneto but brilliant nonetheless. Michael Fassbender can do no wrong.

After what seemed like an eternity trying to establish character back stories the 2 line plot reaches its climax. Essentially it is Apocalypse trying to recruit mutants into fighting against the human race.

I love Olivia Munn and had high hopes of her being one of the four horsemen of apocalypse. But while she slayed as Sloane Sabbath in The Newsroom with quick wit and perfect timing in terms of dialogue delivery she is given no more than 2-3 lines. She does however wield the sword and the telekinetic “light sabre” and Lasso well. I believe this is not the last we have seen of her. Also disappointing is Alexandra Shipp as the young storm. Haley Berry was perfection as storm and to get that kind of iconic character so wrong is nothing short of criminal. Here’s hoping Shipp improves with future outings. I also feel a little cheated with how Wolverine was used – by teasing the fans with a glimpse of the adamantium claws in the trailer and what we end up getting is more stryker than wolverine. But stick around for the post-credit scenes and your disappointment will dissipate significantly when you see what is in store for the next instalment.

The high points are the introduction of Kodi-Smith McPhee as Nightcrawler who brings in the comic relief and Sophie Turner as Jean Grey the Telepathic Mutant played in the first three movies by the brilliant Famke Jansen. Jean Grey in my opinion is a criminally underused character so far and seems like Bryan Singer is about to set that straight. I am almost certain that the future instalments of this franchise are going to feature a more prominent role for Jean Grey. I say this because of the final words of Apocalypse. Evan Peters reprises his role as Quicksilver and is also a welcome comedic presence in an almost entirely grim outing.

For Fassbender, Turner and Smith Mchpee alone I would say that this is an easily watchable feature. Not the best in the series but certainly not the worst (that would be The Last Stand – which was effectively written off by Days of Future Past)

Exodus: Gods and Kings – A Review

Ridley Scott directs Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton in Exodus: Gods and Kings the biblical story of Moses and the king of Egypt Ramses, bookending a year which began with another Biblical adaptation by Aronofsky’s Noah. A Ridley Scott period piece evokes great expectation after the majestic Gladiator and here too Scott manages to present a beautifully shot and exquisitely designed period piece that is unmatched in its size and scale but it is the story and the editing where this movie gets crucified.

The story opens with Ramses and Moses, cousins who are told of a prophecy by the high priestess played by Indira Verma that on the battlefield a champion will survive and lead the people while the other will perish. When the said battle ensues –without preamble Edgerton’s Ramses is facing certain death until Bale’s Moses saves him. This makes an already jealous Ramses even more resentful of Moses while Pharaoh Seti continues to clearly favor Moses over his own son.  This is the basis of the story, the underlying motivations which drives these characters, Moses while Egyptian still continues to display a sense of moral certitude towards the slaves while Ramses believes himself to be descendant of god and acts as a tyrannical overlord who pays no heed to the suffering of the slaves. This should have been played up even more because then the audience would have been invested in the outcomes of the lives of these two individuals. But like a bored storyteller Scott relies on the knowledge of the audience and lazily keeps pushing forward to the eventual conclusion. The time lapses are also abrupt and feel rushed.

But the movie does have very strong points that prevent it from becoming an absolute bore. The scale of production is enormous, the royal city of Memphis, the slave town of Pithom are of an unimaginable proportion. The costume designs are exquisite. And while Sigourney Weaver’s talents are entirely wasted as an actress here, she is given beautiful headdresses. Christian Bale as Moses is wonderful as is Isaac Andrews who plays Malak the boy who relates the wishes of god Moses by the burning bush. There is a sense of impending calamity every time Malak and Moses converse and it is credit to the little guy to be able to convey that while talking down to Batman!

The cinematograph by Dariusz Wolski is spectacular and one scene in particular during the exodus had be gasp out loud at the stark beauty of the landscape – I thought to myself this must be Deakins – and that comparison is praise enough. The fight sequences and the panoramic shots of Memphis, Pithom, and the red sea are all brilliantly shot and looked beautiful and clear in 2D. The music by Alberto Iglesias is quite and complementary for the most part but at certain points he gets injected with a bit of Zimmer and it goes overboard but it does well to underscore the action sequences.

Scott has made it known publically that he wanted to make a movie on a biblical story based on plausible scientific explanations. He tries to espouse those theories to justify the plagues of Egypt and it gets repetitive. Had he spent less time with the multiple plagues of Egypt and more time developing the characters of Moses and Ramses and focusing more energy on the undercurrent of jealousy it would have been a better story. There is however a 4 hour final cut of the movie which hopefully does this and I for one will be watching that because even with its flaws this is a movie that isn’t shy from taking a stand and making commentary, the scene at the end of the exodus between Moses and Joshua speak of the conflict in the middle-east at present. This is a sandal and sword movie done intelligently and that is reason enough to want to watch it.

Ship Of Theseus – A Review

Anand Gandhi directs “Ship Of Theseus” based on a story he wrote which is based on a Grecian Paradox which was first explored by Plutarch as “whether a ship which was restored by replacing all and every of its wooden parts, remained the same ship.” This has been further explored by many other philosophers most notably by Thomas Hobbs as “what would happen if the original planks were gathered up after they were replaced, and used to build a second ship. Which ship, if either, is the original Ship of Theseus?”

To take such a high concept philosophical paradox and to translate that into a story about identity, belief and Organ Donation and while doing so still managing to get a rousing applause from the audience at 1 am in the night on a Wednesday is a thing that is unheard of in the world of Indian film making. But that is exactly what Anand Gandhi has achieved. Perfection.

The story follows three individuals, an Egyptian photographer who relies on the sounds to take photographs because of her vision impairment, a Jain monk who opposes clinical testing on animals and refuses medicine produced by the companies violating the animal cruelty act and a money minded share broker who is content in life with making money and being compassionate to only those nearest to him.

In each of the stories the protagonist is in need of an organ. The photographer is in need of eyes, the Monk is in need of a liver due to an ailment and the share broker is in need of a kidney. To reduce the movie to being that about organ donation would be an over simplification of the central message of the movie, it is not the organs that are the planks of the ship that is the human body but rather the ideology, the thought, the belief which form the planks of the ship that is the human soul, the consciousness, the overall being of an individual. How Gandhi draws parallels to the planks being replaced is done in the most unassuming of ways and it takes time to wholly soak it in.

While the story is brilliant it would be rendered artsy and moody in the hands of an incompetent cinematographer. Pankaj Kumar frames each shot like it is a work of art, there were audible gasps during the wide panoramic shots in the story of the Monk. Kumar transitions beautifully from close ups to wide open spaces with mountains and snow and rivers to the chaotic city life to tranquil country sides with lush greenery to narrow and claustrophobic slums to that brilliant tracking shot of the streets of Stockholm. I despise hand held camera because it is very off putting but here for the very first time the hand held camera work in certain scenes actually adds to the tension and texture of the moment in storytelling.

The background score by Naren Chandavarkar and Benedict Taylor is the perfect accompaniment to the overall mood of the story it never overpowers the narrative and allows the visual artistry to achieve its crescendo by enhancing the sensory experience.

Of the actors the Photographer played by Aida El-Kashef and the Monk played by Neeraj Kabi are brilliant with Kabi undergoing a drastic physical transformation. The rest of the cast is also brilliant with a special mention to Vinay Shukla who plays the young lawyer intern and Sohum Shah who plays the final protagonist

I had read about Ship of Theseus and how the other film makers who saw the movie felt incompetent by the mastery of the Gandhi’s craft and I thought that is a little dramatic but after seeing the movie I can only say that every single one of those hyperbolic reactions to this is justified. I personally have not seen a more accomplished piece of film making.

See it because even with the movies that I loved the most I was rarely speechless but with this I was rendered utterly speechless and in awe of what Anand Gandhi had created. Watch it for the compelling story the stunning visuals and the pinnacle of film making in Indian Cinema.  Anand Gandhi Take a Bow Sir!

This HAS got to be India’s selection to the Oscars for the foreign language film.  It is a film that is universal in its message and a film that every Indian should be proud of and support. Please go watch this in a theatre near you and support people like Anand Gandhi to get a wider distribution