Rangoon – A Review

Image result for rangoon movieVishal Bhardwaj directs Kangana Ranaut, Shahid Kapoor and Saif Ali Khan in Second World War based Rangoon. Bhardwaj and Kap00r teaming is always exciting and Bhardwaj extracted perhaps Saif Ali Khan’s best performance in Shakespeare’s Othello adaptation, Omkara. But it is Kangana Ranaut who is the one woman tour de force who carries the movie on her lissom shoulders.

 

Kangana plays a Bombay based action heroine Miss Julia, the star of Rusi Billimoria’s production house. Saif Ali Khan plays the Howard Hughes inspired Rusi Billimoria. Similar to the starlets of the west who perform for the soldiers fighting at the front, Miss Julia is whisked off to the Rangoon border to boost the morale of the soldiers at the request of the hindi-shayari spewing Major General Harding. Sergeant Nawab Mallik is entrusted with Miss Julia’s safety on the journey to Rangoon. Shahid Kapur plays the sergeant who in the stunning opening sequence was captured by the Japanese forces and held as a POW.

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What follows from there on is a weak story line which is compensated to a fair extent by Kangana’s brilliant acting, fantastic camera work and surreal virgin landscapes. There are parts where the CGI work shows, but in the rest of the scenes it is seamless. The songs are hummable and the performances on the songs elevate it several notches. In particular Bloody Hell, Tippa and Mere Piya Gaye England are fantastically crafted. Overall the production value and the attention to detail is commendable.

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Kangana is fantastic! She mixes a femme fatale like beauty with a vulnerability that demonstrates the full range of her repertoire. It is her innocent child like demeanour that makes her dancing in front of the Japanese soldiers for dear life believable and endearing. Every frame she is in, she fills it up with light and life. Her interaction with the japanese soldier they are holding as captive is one of the absolute highlights of the movie, remniscent of her interaction with Taka in Queen. Shahid Kapur is restrained and able in the supporting role to Kangana. Saif Ali Khan’s performance grows on you as you realise the kind of control he wields on Kangana and how subtly he plays it. Richard McCabe who plays Major General Harding hams it up to the nines and begins to grate on you after a while.

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While Vishal Bhardwaj does a fine job of recreating a bygone era and extracting the best from his actors, eventually it is the script that lags and slows up proceedings. The editing does the movie no favours either and as the end result the movie suffers. The INA sub-plot and the eventual climax seem more like an afterthought than the driving force.

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Go for the visuals and for Kangana’s mesmerizing turn as Miss Julia. When the history of Bollywood is written, Kangana will be touted in the same vein as Madhuri Dixits and Madhubalas, not only gorgeous but immensely talented and capable of carrying an entire movie on their own.  Mildly entertaining overall this one is a must watch only for Kangana and the beautiful landscapes.

 

Kubo and the two strings – A Review

Image result for kubo and the two strings posterFirst time director Travis Knight directs the vocal talents of Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey and Art Parkinson in the animated feature film Kubo and the two strings. A young boys adventure to find the mythical armour that would protect him from his grandfather the moon king who killed the boy’s father and left his mother a mere shadow of her former self.

 

This is an animated movie but by no means a children’s tale. The opening line “Blink now if you must” gives us a precursor of the dark things to come. We are introduced to Kubo a precocious little boy who takes care of his mother who suffers from memory lapse ever since she smashed her head while trying to escape her sisters and her father the moon king. During the day he goes into the market of a village near by and earns a living by telling fantastical tales of a legendary warrior Hanzo. The tales he tells come alive with the origami creatures he creates and the music of his Shamisen. But Kubo must return to his mother in the cave they live in before sundown, one day Kubo stays out beyond his curfew and that’s when all hell breaks loose. His evil twin aunts voiced by Rooney Mara attack Kubo and his mother comes to his rescue and tell him to go find the mythical magical armour to protect him from his aunts and his grandfather.  On this quest Kubo is joined by a Monkey voiced by Charlize Theron and a Samurai Warrior trapped in the body of a beetle voiced by Matthew McConaughey. What follows is a journey interspersed with action and humour.

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The action is dark and violent and probably not suitable for the little ones and the humour is crisp, dry and perfectly timed and again more suited for a more mature audience. There was a particular joke which after it landed took me a second to get it and had be laughing for a solid few minutes after it. The writing is seriously brilliant. The myths and legends of Japanese folklore are woven into the narrative seamlessly. The animation is spectacular especially the origami bits. The evil twins are truly terrifying with their porcelain masks. The one aspect where the movie suffers is the pacing. In parts the story seems to drag slowly and in others it seems to be in a rush to conclusion. For instance the scene with the giant skeleton seems overlong and the final scene seems rushed to conveniently conclude the story. But it is offset by the brilliant reveal of the true identities of the monkey and the beetle and how wonderfully that plot point is handled.

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This year hasn’t necessarily been the most spectacular for animated features. With the exception of Pixar’s Finding Dory the genre has been mostly lacking. Dreamworks is developing silly Trolls script to fuel a toy franchise. Laika studios has thankfully stepped up to the plate and delivered a compelling and adult focused animated feature length film. If for nothing else watch it for the spectacular origami magic sequences and stay for Regina Spektor’s rendition of Beatle’s  classic “While my guitar gently weeps” as the end credits roll.

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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.