Wonder – A Review

Wonder Movie PosterStephen Chbosky directs Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson, Jacob Tremblay and Izabela Vidovic in Chbosky’s second adaptation of a NewYork Times best seller in Wonder. Previously Chbosky directed his own novel “Perks of being a wallflower”.  Wonder is a novel by R.J Palacio.


The story of Wonder focuses on August “Auggie” Pullman, a 10-year old who’s been home-schooled by his mother Isabel played by Julia Roberts. Auggie is not like other 10-year olds he has facial deformities which cause people to stare at him and make cruel jokes. The story focuses on the first year at middle school where Auggie, where he crushes the science tests and makes new friends. Julia Roberts is wonderfully restrained as Isabel and Owen Wilson as Auggie’s father Nate is perfectly complementary as he brings a lightness to the proceedings. Izabela Vidovic as Auggie’s sister is also brilliant in her supporting role. Jacob Tremblay who blew the audiences away in 2016’s Room is beyond brilliant in this movie. You feel every emotion Auggie feels. You feel your eyes well up when the other kids are mean to Auggie and he retreats to his room and puts on his Astronaut helmet and you feel a catch in your throat when Auggie makes friends and experiences things that any normal 10-year old should. The other stand out for me is Noah Jupe who plays Jack Wills Auggie’s best friend – this kid is destined for stardom there is a natural ease about him and he lights up every scene he is in.

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The thing that stood out for me with Chbosky’s Perks was the sensitivity with which he treated all his characters. Given that he was adapting his own novel you’d expect him to do a fantastic job. But it is testament to Chbosky’s commitment to telling organic authentic stories that he incorporates the small details that make the movie stand out. The moment Jack Will’s mom tells Jack about why it is important for him to take Auggie on the tour of the school is why R.J.Palacio wrote the novel in the first place. The story telling from the different points of views, the focus on kids more than the A-list adults and the natural ease with which the kids seem to come alive on screen is a rare gift. Most talented directs have a maxim – never work with kids and dogs. Chbosky is the exception he seems to extract the best out of the kids and also Daisy the dog. Every single scene delivers an emotional punch without being manipulative.

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In an almost faultless movie the Miranda story seems a bit of a throw-away. It is a wonderful story arc no doubt – but what might have been greatly fleshed out in the novel itself seems a bit contrived and rushed on screen. But even this minor misstep is overcome by the conversation Miranda has with Auggie.

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Do not miss this for anything in the world! In a world full of bad news this is 113 minutes of pure unadulterated joy and innocence. We all deserve a good cry once in a while, especially when they are tears of happiness.


Florence Foster Jenkins – A Review

Stephen Frears directs Meryl Streep, Hugh Grant and Simon Helberg in the biopic Florence Foster Jenkins. Florence was a New York socialite, the founder of The Verdi Club and a patron of the music scene in the city. Florence’s record The Glory of the Human Voice was chosen by David Bowie as one of his top 25 vinyl possessions and Florence was also laughed at by many who dubbed her the women with the worst singing voice. Frears having previously tackled aging divas with Helen Mirren in The Queen and Judi Dench in Philomena is the perfect choice to bring to the big screen the life of this enigmatic artist and who better than Meryl Streep to play her.


We all know the basic premise – Florence Foster Jenkins had an unusual singing voice and in comparison to traditional classically trained musicians she sounded terrible. The trailers have masterfully built up the anticipation of just how terrible did Florence sound especially how will Meryl, who has a better than average singing voice as witnessed in Mama Mia! and Into the Woods, take on the bad singing. From the opening sequence you are waiting for her to dive into her singing and it does happen, the anticipation builds. You see Florence play the angel of inspiration with a  golden harp and the Viking Valkyrie in stage productions and you still waiting on bated breath to hear her sing the first note. It it not until Simon Helberg as Cosme McMoon ( Howard from The Big Bang Theory) is selected as the pianist to assist Florence that you are rewarded to the truly atrocious singing. It is so bad that with every progressing note you are overtaken by a fit of giggles, as the notes get more off key so do the guffaws – you are no longer politely sniggering into your palm, I was howling both with laughter and the stitch in my side from trying to stifle the laughing. Meryl is masterful! You see her earnestly try to sing and the looks of surprise from Cosme as sounds that cannot possibly be human come out of Florence’s mouth. For Florence it might have been natural but it must take an exceptional amount of talent to be this bad on purpose and no one but Meryl could have taken this on. She makes you feel bad for Florence – about her delusions of grandeur but also about her naivety and innocence about the whole thing.

Meryl is very ably supported by her doting husband, a failed Shakespearean actor St Clair Bayfield played by Hugh Grant. Grant was lured out of retirement by Frears by the script and he is marvellous in this role. There are more layers to Bayfield than meets the eye at the outset. His devotion to Florence is complete but he is not without his flaws and towards the end you are left questioning if they really are flaws at all. Simon Helberg is unrecognizable as the soft spoken and delicate Cosme McMoon who is a stark contradiction to how he plays Howard Wolowitz on the hugely popular The Big Bang Theory. Here Helberg makes no eye contact, talks in dulcet tones and is constantly in a fit of giggles. Being the 1940s there are mere hints at McMoon’s sexuality and it is dealt with deftly. Alexandre Desplat is the other supporting character who does well to lift the story with his skilful background score. Where I found the movie lacking was in the character actors who played the bit parts but were curcial to the proceedings. Nina Arianda as the showgirl Mrs Agnes Stark and Rebecca Fergusson as the mistress Kathleen are beautiful to look at and while not particularly bad they are less than believable in their roles. Perhaps a little more time devoted to their character would have helped.

That minor misstep aside what really shines is the story and how Frears slowly unravels it. You find out a little bit about each of the characters slowly as the story progresses. You are given an insight into Florence’s backstory, her idiosyncrasies, her penchant for dressing in outfits laden with feathers and sequins, and her delusions of youth and grandeur as she dresses up and dances awkwardly while performing at Carnegie Hall.

There is no way this is not going to be Nomination number 20 for Meryl Streep because she is incredible as Florence Foster Jenkins and she manages to make you fall in love with the New York socialite with the worst singing voice every. There are plenty of laugh out loud moments and sweet tender moments that tug at your heart strings. A beautiful devoted romance between Streep and Grant and a stellar turn by Simon Helberg. Try not to scour the internet for Meryl’s singing as Florence Foster Jenkins – let yourself be surprised in the theatre and trust me you will be doubling over with laughter when you first hear the sounds!


Avengers Age of Ultron – A Review

Joss Whedon directs the second chapter of the Marvel superhero multiverse in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Robert Downey Jr, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Jeremey Renner, and Scarlett Johansson return along with new stars like Elisabeth Olsen, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and James Spader.

Because I hated the first Avengers move my expectations going into this were abysmally low and that is perhaps why I came off more impressed than I expected. While there are still plenty of gaping plot holes but there is a lot more done in terms of a worthy villain, a plausible catastrophe-in-waiting and in terms of character development with respect to the hulk and especially black widow and Hawkeye.

The gang is busting up some shady looking eastern European mobster who seems to be using Loki’s sceptre in some form of weapons development. After a scene reminiscent of Nolan’s Inception where blurry blobs fight other blurry blobs we are introduced to the Maximoff twins Wanda and Pietro Aka Scarlett witch and Quicksilver. RDJ aka Tony Stark is shown a vision of what future looks like which set off a series of events which will lead to the downfall of the avengers and the possible annihilation of the human race.

Recovering the Sceptre Stark goes about trying to uncover its secrets and sets in motion the Ultron project – where robot proxies of iron man will do the dirty work instead of the avengers having to go in and fight the good battle themselves. I find this to be a very interesting point of view where the heroes are weary of the burden of having to be the saviours of humanity. But what transpires splits the avengers with every single one of them turning against Stark as he sets of a rise of the machines, every AI-enthusiasts worst nightmare ( did you know that Elon Musk aka real-life Tony Stark has paid 10 million to stop AI from turning against humanity?)

The rogue AI-bot is voiced by James Spader and I have no shame in admitting that I giggle like a little school girl every time Spader speaks. And especially when Ultron tilts its head when speaking “down” to the Avengers you know IT IS James Spader. Through curious turn of events the voice of Jarvis – Paul Bettany comes to life as Vision and this is where the plot made no sense.

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why would Ultron a Machine with the ability to traverse the internet try to create an android using human cells infused with Vibranium? And why not spend the time it takes to create this vision and transfer Ultron’s consciousness into the Vision be spent on creating more clones of the AI-bots to fight in Ultron’s army? Why are the marvel super-villains so patently stupid? Also once the plan to create a meteor like big-bang which would wipe out the entire human race is unveiled – how exactly does Ultron think he will be able to spawn and spread? I am guessing the big-bang would destroy the internet as well?

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The problem with marvel franchise is that it takes comic-book stories which were written in 80s and continues to push forward with the outlandish theories which make no sense in today’s world. A director of Whedon’s talent must find ways of bringing this forward into the 21st century. They rely on self-deprecating humour to overcome the inherent ridiculousness of the source material.

With Age of Ultron however they try to make inroads into the other neglected aspects of the storytelling, fleshing out the back stories of Black Widow via flashback and visions of what she fears and introducing to the secret side of Hawkeye’s domestic bliss and his out-of-place ness with the avengers in general. Also the romance between Bruce and Natasha is a welcome relief to the general Bayhem of NYC and Sokovia blowing up.

All in all this movie defies the curse of the sequel and ends up being the better movie in the avengers multiverse with the introduction of many many interesting characters and more importantly character development of existing ones.

Watch it for decent action, almost plausible end-of-world scenario and marvel’s coming of age. finally they don’t spend half the movie going into everyone’s back-story and get on with the task of saving the world


Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) – A Review

Alejandro Inarritu directs Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Edward Norton and Naomi Watts in Birdman or The unexpected virtue of ignorance set in the world of New York’s Broadway theatre and tells the story of a washed up actor in a Mise en abyme setting.

Riggan Thompson played by Michael Keaton is a once-famous actor known for his starring role as the Birdman-the superhero in 3 movies. Long gone are the days of box office successes and adoring masses and Riggan finds himself irrelevant and artistically unsatisfied and decides to adapt a well-known and much respected playwright’s show for Broadway which needs him to find a suitable actor to fill the playbill after the current actor is injured in an accident while on set which Riggan believes was caused by him. In walks Edward Norton’s Mike a much loved theatre darling with a raging ego and a surety in his craft which seems to threaten Riggan. What enfolds is the backstage and preview shenanigans as Riggan tries to put together a show which a part of him says will resurrect him in the world of performing arts while the other voice nags at the back of his head. The cast is supported by Naomi Watts who plays Mike’s wife/partner and Andrea Riseborough who plays Laura Riggan’s girlfriend and co-actor. Emma Stone plays Sam, Riggan’s daughter and Zack Galifianakis who plays Jake Riggan’s lawyer and backer of the show, these two play a very understated but crucial supporting role which keeps this story moving forwards.

I had a major challenge with Innaritu’s Babel and found it to be an incoherent mess with a background score that was at odds with the story telling. Here too Innaritu seems to be working at a schizophrenic pace and creates an atmosphere that is so claustrophobic that it almost becomes too much to bear but then as the story starts taking shape and things start becoming a little clearer you start to appreciate the atmosphere and the almost off-beat drum score which seems to be reflecting Riggan’s state of mind and it comes together in sync only towards the end when Riggan delivers the climax at the end of his opening night. Michael Keaton is brilliant as is Edward Norton, their back and forth and their uninhibited exhibitionist portrayal of the insecurities, the vanities and the delusions that make up an actor is what carries the film. The Birdman alter-ego sequences are a genuine suspension of belief as you question yourself what the hell is actually going on and Innaritu doesn’t dumb it down for the audience to make them realize that Riggan isn’t telekinetic but plain delusional.

There is however a problem of pacing as the initial preview pieces take way too long to establish the plot points that they need to and it takes forever for the story to pick up steam, and for a movie under 2 hours it is criminal. But this is easily overcome by the dark humor and the brilliant commentary on the state of the movies today. A number of important arguments are made in the due course of natural conversations between the characters, the most relevant ones are about the cultural genocide where everything is driven by the superhero franchises and the big weekend opening numbers and the conversation that Sam has with Riggan who seems to be holding onto a romantic’s notion of what it means to be culturally relevant and to scoff at social media without understanding the power it provides and the need for its existence. It is here that the movie really succeeds. Emanuel Lubeziski’s work behind the camera is frenetic and filled with the same anxious energy that Riggan seems to possess and it takes you in to the actor’s headspace and the way he utilizes every nook and cranny of the St. James theatre it just opens up the world that exists both front and back of the stage.

Watch this movie if you want to get an insight into what drives actors, the big stars and the burnt out ones alike. What it for an incredible and unrelenting 2nd and 3rd act where Michael Keaton, Emma Stone and Edward Norton all shine bright and luminous. Michael Keaton just moved to the top of my list of actors who should take home the gold on 22nd February.

Blue Jasmine – A Review

Woody Allen directs Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine a story of a rich socialite wife whose life quickly unravels after her husband is arrested by the feds for financial frauds and then kills himself.

Woody Allen for me is a dichotomy for me – he is one of the most prolific directors with over 70 movies in his 49 years of film making who writes apparently the most amazing women-centric roles that the who’s who of Hollywood vie for desperately.  While accepting the Cecil b demile award for woody Diane Keaton waxed eloquent about how great woody is and even the amazing Cate Blanchett apparently waited for the call from woody. Despite all of this I cannot stand his movies. I found midnight in Paris to be an atrocious self-indulgent mess of a movie. I have never been able to enjoy a woody Allen movie and it is not because I do not enjoy neurotic, wordy, witty screenplay – I enjoy that kind the most. Take Aaron Sorkin, Scorsese or even Tarantino for that matter I enjoy all their wordy banter immensely but Allen’s not so much.

Much like most of his other movies here too the screenplay seems to want to be a lot more than it really is. With the alternating timeline story telling Allen tries to give us a sneak peek into the like of Jasmine French then and now with a wealthy socialite wife who has fallen on hard times and is Xanax popping jazz referencing ticking time bomb of a psychiatric nutjob.  The movie is shot beautifully with a soft goldenish hue to every scene and it is only enhanced when the camera zooms in on the visage of Blanchett who is unraveling before our very eyes as she alternately pops vodka and pills.

Off the cast Blanchett is Fantastic as she is known to be and here in the challenging role of alternating between a vapid New York socialite and a down on her luck widow who loses everything and moves in with her sister in San Francisco. Blanchett really digs her heels in this role and it is one of her best performances. No one quite does a breakdown like Blanchett does and it takes me back to the days of the amazing “Notes on a scandal” where she facing a very public breakdown orchestrated by the equally brilliant Dame Judi Dench. Here too she is ably supported by Sally Hawkins who specializes in these sorts of roles where she plays the women without much but still making the most of her life. Alec Baldwin in a brief role as Jasmine’s husband leaves a lasting impression.

The problem I have with Allen’s stories is that they are simple tales that need to be told simply but he tends to drag out the stories a tad too long and with an unsatisfying end. However that being said Blue Jasmine is probably my favorite Woody Allen movie that I have seen and most of it is due to the beautiful and talented Miss Blanchett.  Also the background score with the jazz notes is a little more satisfying this time around than most of the other times that I have heard the familiar strands being played in Allen’s movies.  “Blue Moon was the song that was playing when Hal swept me off my feet…. “I love it every time Blanchett says that line with such conviction that you believe her neurosis.

Watch it for what is possibly the Oscar winning role for Cate Blanchett and what it because even with his faults Allen is still one of the most prolific director who if for nothing else is a gift to MAN-kind for continually casting beautiful women in starring roles with stories that are written around them.