Logan – A Review

Image result for loganJames Mangold reteams with Hugh Jackman for the Wolverine swansong Logan. Loosely based on the Old Man Wolverine comics this marks the end of one of the most iconic superhero portrayals ever. Patrick Stewart returns for the final time as Charles Xavier. Mangold previously directed Jackman in The Wolverine, the Japan based chronicle of the slicey superhero.

The story is set in 2029, it sees Logan driving a Limo, ferrying people between the southern border between USA and Mexico. Logan is saving up to buy a boat, the Sun-Seeker to escape with Charles who is old and suffering from some non-descript degenerative disease. An Albino mutant by the name of Kalibaan is their only other companion in a desolate, abandoned factory compound they call home. There are hints at some sort of mutant apocalyptic event which wiped out all mutants a few years ago and now no new mutants are being born. This is about as dark and gritty as any superhero movie has ever been. Things are really set in motion when Gabriella played by Elizabeth Rodriguez (Diaz from OITNB) contacts Logan asking for help to get to a place called Eden, North Dakota. Enter nefarious cyborg Pierce played by the towering Boyd Holbrook. Holbrook has a menacing presence, but is almost bond-esque in terms of villains. Suave, witty and sarcastic yet pure evil.

Related imageDafne Keen plays Laura, a mutant with powers similar to Logan’s. What follows is escape from Mexico to Los Angeles and onwards to North Dakota. As with every X-men movie the plot landscape is richly layered and varied. There is an evil doctor involved, there is a huge plot of genetically modified food which has made it impossible for any mutants to be born which kind of gets a little bit lost in all the action. In many ways this movie comes full circle, we see a kindly couple who take care of Logan on their farm in the first wolverine movie, here too there is a wonderful couple who take in Logan, Charles and Laura for the night. Logan was born in Alberta Canada and here too the young mutants are trying to escape to Canada.

Image result for logan

The fight sequences are fantastic and a good marriage of the dusty westerns and the mad max fury road grandness. The camera work by John Mathieson is some of the best work seen in a superhero movie outside of Nolan-verse. There are parts where it would have served the movie’s pace better had some scenes been shorter, especially the casino seizure event and the farm scene.

Image result for logan

Stephen Merchant as Kalibaan is very effective, he bring a sense of comic relief when he nags Wolverine like he is his wife. Dafnee Keen as Laura spends most of the movie mute but is exceptionally terrifying with her action scenes. Boyd Holbrook is amazing as Pierce and I am hoping the climax doesn’t mark the end for his character as he would an amazing addition to the X-men universe. Patrick Stewart as Charles Xavier is as effective as ever. His old man rantings are as heart-breaking as they are effective. Not only is this Logan’s swansong, it is also Charles’ and what a wonderful professor X he has been. Hugh Jackman was, is and will always be Wolverine. His physicality, his personality and everything he brought to the Adamantium infused superhero is in my opinion one of the most complete characterisation ever. This role offers Jackman a lot more in terms of sinking his teeth into the character than mere growling and ripping bad guys apart. You see him broken, tired and ready to give up.

Image result for logan final scene

Superhero movies are not meant to evoke strong emotions, but that final scene as Laura lays a cross on its side to represent the X nearly made me well up. Watch this movie because it might simply be the best marvel superhero movie ever made. Watch it as a thank you to Hugh Jackman who has been most faithful to Logan and it would be impossible to imagine anyone else ever being able to fill his shoes. I saw this on a wednesday night to a full house with an actual applause at the end.

Advertisements

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)

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.

2013 – A Review

Pop that bubbly and kiss 2013 good bye and bring out those notepads to make the resolutions for 2014! I am not the sorts to make resolution and even unlikely to keep one all through the year. But 2013 must be an exception to that rule and what I am hoping is a turning point for me. Back in jan 2013 I made a resolution to write about every movie I saw and as a result I started my blog. Since its inception the blog has generated 4600+ hits and given me many a joy as a result.

There were many highlights like when Ashok Banker posted my review of his 8-part Ramayana series on his facebook page! That was the push I needed to convince myself that I was onto something good. But even before that the blog’s very first post was a fresh and refreshing movie which has continued to be the benchmark against which all other movies I saw this year were compared to – Kai Po Che.

In a year of 100 crore plus blockbusters which required as many aspirins to overcome the headaches they caused there were little indie gems ( can’t believe I am using the word Indie in the indian cinematic context!) which made the year a lot more bearable.

Summarized below are my top 10 picks , my bottom 5 and the 3 biggest disappointments. This is not the whole catalogue of movies released in 2013 – just the ones I made an effort to go watch, there are still Oscar heavy hitters like 12 years a slave, August Osage County , The Wolf of Wall Street  which I am yet to watch and review.

Top 10 : (in alphabetical order) top 10

Bombay Talkies : a first of sorts where 4 mainstream big-name directors came together to present 4 short stories which celebrated the 100 years of Indian Cinema. Each story holding its own and neither director trying to one-up the other  but rather trying to tell an earnest story. Incidentally this is also one my most shared reviews and some people commented that they didn’t immediately see the connect I made between the four stories but did definitely agree afterwards.

Fukrey : A serious rib-tickler thanks to the antics of Choocha and Bholi Punjaban. And featuring the song of the year “Ambarsariya” this one was the most surprising as we went in expecting very little and came out clutching our sides which hurt from laughing out loud. A comedy that did not depend on physical gags and potty humor – my pick for the best comedy of the year!

Gravity : the opening 12-minute sequence is an experience that cannot be compared to any that we have had in theaters ever. A trip to space that we had only imagined so far but was brought life in glorious IMAX by the visionary Alonso Cuarón. Sandra Bullock should trade in her Oscar for best actress for blind side and ask for a new one for this one.  The magic of cinema as it was meant to be.

Go Goa Gone : A zombie movie made in india? You have got to be kidding me! And no Ramsay-fication of the same? Get out of here! This was a close second to the comedy of the year pick. Again went in with very little expectation came out with goosebumps from the gross zombies and a hurting jaw from all the laughing.

Kai Po Che :  I hate Chetan Bhagat and his brand of Indian-English Lit. but to take his story “3 mistakes of my life” and to make it into a sensitive, humorous and realistic tale of friendship, politics and redemption is not mean task.  This introduced us to 3 promising actors and redeemed a director after his overrated RockOn debut.  My personal favorite of the year, and a movie that will only get better with time.

Madras Café : this almost made it to the most disappointing because of the over simplification and the lack of cloak and daggers that I wanted from a smartly crafted and a beautifully shot political thriller. But I cannot take away from the fact that sujoy ghosh made a smart movie with believable performances from 2 of the worst actors.

Prisoners  : comparisons to Zodiac and Se7en are always going to bode well for any movie in my book and this dark and violent thriller about a man on rampage after his little girl goes missing is something that still gives me the chills when I recall the look of abject hatred on Hugh Jackman’s beautiful face. My pick for the best ensemble acting of the year, Jackman, Melissa leo, Paulo dano, viola davis, maria bello all bloody brilliant and I don’t hate Jake Gyllenhall anymore!

RamLeela :  This one is a controversial pick I know. Many people have written off Sanjay Leela Bhansali as a director more consumed with erecting humungous set pieces and working in monochromatic mode than concentrating on the story and character development. I disagree, and strongly at that. RamLeela , a Shakespearean adaptation of Romeo and Juliet set in rural Gujarat between warring clans of Rajadi and Saneda and a opulent multi-hued visual spectacle is the best Bhansali has done in years. This is devdas and HDDCS good. Most definitely the best soundtrack of the year with every single song a win in my book. Give it a watch without preconceived notions against Bhansali and you will be happier for it.

Rush :  Nothing – the answer to the question what can Ron Howard not do? To a person who detests Formula one this was definitely one of the best sporting movies ever made. The rivalry between Niki Lauda and James Hunt captured beautifully without playing the sympathy card for either of the protagonists. Daneil Bruhl turning in one of the best supporting acting all year. Beautifully shot, exquisitely scored – this was a highlight of the year without a doubt.

Ship Of Theseus :  The redemption of Bollywood in its 100 years of existence which has been marred by either blatantly plagiarized Hollywood fluff or story-less superstar billed histrionic orgy. Ship of theseus took a Grecian paradox ( had people googling what the hell a paradox is ) and turned it into poignant moving cinema which proved to the masses that you don’t need a small country’s GDP-equivalent budget or big-name stars to make a beautiful and technically adept movie. You need a brilliant director, a strong script and absolute dedication to your craft. Karan Johar rightly said – this movie makes every other filmmaker feel inferior. This should have been India’s entry to the Oscars’ foreign language category.

 

Bottom 5 ( In alphabetical order)

bottom 5

B.A. Pass : what promised to be a sensual Noir film ended up being a one-note repetitive mess which went no were and failed because the director was more consumed by trying to make a stylized movie which tried to touch upon every cliché possible rather than to make a simple story told in layers.

Bhag Milkha Bhag : the trailer set the pulse racing with a buffed up Farhan Akhtar running with a tyre tied to his waist against the stark ladhak landscapes. What was promised as a sporting bio-pic ended up being a boring meaningless mess. I had  such high hopes and I was left clutching at straws trying to find any redeeming factors about this movie.

 Chashme Baddoor : how can you take a Farooq Sheikh and Deepti Naval classic and butcher it so that it bears no resemblance to the original movie from which it was adapted from.  Chashme Baddoor is how.  

Dhoom : 3 : I knew this was going to be bad – but so bad that I had to take notes for my review! Every single thing about this movie was an absolute stinking turd. The only saving grace? The world now is in on the secret I knew for years! Aamir Khan is a conman who in guise of perfectionism is a hack who has only gotten lucky with a few good films and is essentially a worthless actor.

Satyagraha : Amitabh is good the rest is bad and Prakash Jha is  quickly become a tiresome director to sit through and when the new channels rehash the same political conundrum the nation is going through better than a national award winning director there is something definitely wrong with the movie.

Biggest Disappointments:

disappointment

 Lunchbox :  the end product failed to live up to all the hype surrounding the release of the movie and the hue and cry that followed afterwards when this movie was not selected as India’s official entry to the oscars. sure it is a cute little story but it did not live up to the potential that it held and ultimately the biggest disappointment for me for the year.

Man Of Steel : Snyder sullied the name of Nolan by making this mess of a movie. The perfect choice for superman Henry Cavill was not given enough to do in the movie which was more Snyder & Goyer  and less Nolan (chris and jonathan both) . a BIG disappointment all around.

 Nautanki Saala! :  the rising star of the last year Aayushman Khurana fails to entertain and the movie overall is just a giant mess. Less than catchy tunes and a story that had the potential but fails to deliver is the reason why this movie makes it to my list of big disappointments.

 

So there you have it – I wish I had seen more movies this year than I did and that is a resolution I am certain to make for 2014 and as a result more reviews to write and read. I will try to add more variety than just movie reviews and there is an exciting prospect under development which when accomplished I will be very very very happy to share with all!  Here is wishing all you readers of my blog a very happy new year and good luck with those resolutions! Make a resolution because it feels great at the end of the year when you sit down to look at what you have accomplished!

 

 

Prisoners – A Review

Denis Villeneuve directs a stellar star cast of Jake Gyllenhaal, Hugh Jackman, Maria Bello, Terrence Howard, Viola Davis Paulo Dano and Melissa Leo in Prisoners a dark and brooding tale of the kidnapping of two little girls and the aftermath that follows.

Villeneuve who directed the critically acclaimed Incendies the 2011 Canadian entry to Oscar under the foreign language category, creates a dark and depressing atmosphere that begs to ask the question how many creeps can one town hold. The story written by Aaron Guzikowski weaves a suspenseful drama that has you constantly holding your breath, biting you fingers and alternating between the edge of seat to the back of it with your eyes covered in horror.

Jake Gyllenhaal revisits the same playground that he made such an impact on in David Fincher’s Zodiac with his detective Loki character but gone are the clean cut boy scout good looks and mannerism instead he is more reminiscent of Viggo Mortensen’s character from Eastern Promises with his tattoos and the nervous tick of eye-blinking.  Hugh Jackman is rage personified as the father who has lost his daughter and the one viable lead suspect is let go because the police cannot bring charges on him.  Paulo Dano plays that creepy suspect who rides a RV that was parked near the house just before the girls disappeared.

Terrence Howard and Viola Davis play the parents of the other girl who gets abducted along with Jackman and Maria Bello’s daughter.  In supporting roles Howard, Davis and Bello are all very good but the surprise comes in the form of Melissa Leo who plays Dano’s Aunt. Just wait for the Third act of the movie to have your Jaws drop and you will know why Leo is known to sneak in award worthy performances when no one expects her to.

Roger Deakins arguably among the best working cinematographer in Hollywood is a genius behind the camera. With his masterful eye the tree barks and the snow tracks take on a life of their own. The movie is richly marinated in darkness and Roger uses every available blimp of light masterfully, the candle lights, the low incandescent bulbs, all throw lights that jump of the tried and creased face of Jackman to show a man driven insane by rage. The close up shots of the characters are unnerving and leave you in need of a shower because of how dirty it gets.

This is a slow meandering story that goes to places that you don’t expect it to. There are twists and turns that will shock and surprise you.  Hugh Jackman is in top form and Dano turns in a creepy performance that has you alternating between hating him to feeling sorry for him and Melissa Leo continues to surprise with her choice in picking roles that really allow her to sink her teeth into and turns in a fantastic performance that in any other year would be getting all the buzz for supporting role. Denis Villeneuve makes his Hollywood debut in fine form almost reaching the greatness of Zodiac and Mystic River. This is a movie not to be missed under any circumstance.

The Wolverine – A Review

James Mangold directs Hugh Jackman in his 6th outing as the Adamantium –clawed superhero in The Wolverine. This movie explores Logan’s time spent in the Second World War serving the American troops and being held captive in Japan during the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

After the happenings of the X-men Last stand Logan is distraught at the loss of Jean Gray and living in a jungle with grizzly bears. There is a red-haired Yukio played by Rila Fukushima who seems to be tracking Logan at the behest of Yashida, the soldier who Logan saved when the Americans dropped the atom bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Yashida is dying and has requested that Logan return to bid farewell to the man whose life he once helped save. Logan is quickly pulled into the world of the Japanese mob the Yakuza and The black clan Ninjas.

The pacing of the first half of the movie is slow moody and melancholic with just one massive action sequence and it works to a great degree more than most super hero movies that try to meander into the origins/backstory territory. The stark cold landscapes of rural USA and the old world/ modern clash of present day japan are framed beautifully. The action sequence on the train is relentless and could have done with some editing. Hugh Jackman has said that this was the Wolverine movie he had always wanted, and with the first half of the story I would agree with him.  the second half with multiple unresolved storylines and the constant crossing and double crossing gets tiresome after a while.

Hugh Jackman as Wolverine is the best he has been as the titular character, a better suited person cannot be imagined to play the wolverine both physically and also physiologically. Jackman went from looking old and haggard in Les Mis last year to looking buff and all veiny in The wolverine and he looks as good as ever. Rila Fukushima as Yukio is also very very good with her mix of bad assery and a tongue in cheek humor. Tao Okamoto as Mariko the heir apparent to Yashida industries leaves a lot to be desired, she does vulnerable well but in other scenes she is too one dimensional to have any real impact or connection . Svetlana Khodchenkova as the Viper is either woefully underutilized or almost entirely unnecessary, when she plays the viper she has this femme fatale vibe that verges on comical but when she plays the doctor she carries a hint of danger that could have had more of an impact if she didn’t do the whole skin shedding act towards the final minutes.

The cinematography by Ross Emery is very good and it captures the contrasts of Japan perfectly.  The music by Marco Beltrami is pretty solid too mixing the drums and strings to evoke a very typically oriental experience while still managing to deliver a blockbuster worthy score which accompanies the adrenaline fueled action sequences.

The movie has been garnering mixed responses with most people complaining about not enough action in the movie and a lot of the samurai/Ronin references, my problem with the movie is a little different the samurai bits are the best in my opinion, had they taken the viper out and just had Khodchenkova play a evil doctor with no mutation it would have been more effective.  The Adamantium Silver Samurai towards the end seems like an afterthought whereas it is actually central to the theme of the movie, the action sequences are too long and the Yakuza angle seems to be a wasted opportunity.  Where the movie succeeds is in the contemplative nature of wolverine as he struggles to go back to being a soldier that he once was. The flashbacks of Famke Jansen as Jean Gray also work but they are maybe a little overused.

Overall I enjoyed this Wolverine movie a lot more than 2009 origins story, this is Jackman at his best playing the clawed mutant superhero.  I’ve always enjoyed the Marvels X-men universe more than the marvel’s Avengers universe and I seem to in the minority atleast when it comes to the movies. And once the credits roll please stay put and wait for 2 minute long teaser for X-men days of future past.  Trust me you will be surprised.