Thursday, October 9, 2014

Blu Ray Reviews: Godzilla and Edge of Tomorrow



Remember in Jurassic Park, where the dinosaurs appeared only for a sum total of fifteen minutes, and it was still entertaining as hell because there was non stop suspense and a sense of intrigue and discovery? Godzilla is that kind of movie. Some might be pissed because it’s that kind of movie.

As for me, I’m very glad that this is a Godzilla movie with a lot of heart, soul and a fairly decent helping of intelligence. The biggest surprise, however, is that fact that Godzilla is not just a Godzilla movie, but it is also the best Superhero movie of the summer. The 1998 Godzilla can only be enjoyed for its unmitigated awfulness. Director Gareth Edwards knows that this is 2014, and he is aware of the previous Godzilla’s problems, and he takes on this project with the passion of a die-hard fan. If you’re a Godzilla junkie, this movie is your early Diwali gift. Like in his previous micro budget film Monsters, Edwards turns Godzilla into a road trip film instead of a standard issue disaster porno. Also like in Monsters, he puts most of the monster mayhem in the backdrop of the character buildup. It’s a bold choice and although it doesn’t work as well as it did in Monsters, it’s still an interesting new direction for a summer blockbuster and you’ve got to hand it to both Legendary and Edwards for having the balls to do so.

While Godzilla's roar was terrific in a movie theater, the Blu Ray offers some seriously high visual quality. On a 40 inch TV this DVD will blow you away, especially in the halo jump sequence. None of the goodies are are great as the movie, and neither is the commentary, but it's good bonus content to have for fans of the film.

When I watched Tom Cruise in a mech suit punching aliens in the face with one hand and spraying machine gun ammo with the other, I had just one thought in my mind – why was Edge of Tomorrow marketed so poorly? Because Edge of Tomorrow is a terrific film, and perhaps the most satisfying action movie I’ve seen this year. Directed by Doug Liman who earlier made the first Bourne movie, Edge of Tomorrow is a mashup of Groundhog Day, Starship Troopers and Source Code with a dash of Minority Report. Cruise’s previous movie Oblivion was also a mashup of various sci fi films but it came across as clichéd and unoriginal. Edge of Tomorrow, on the other hand is packaged beautifully. It takes all the positive elements from the aforementioned movies and becomes a different beast altogether.

Liman also does away with the origin of the aliens – it’s a straightforward story – they’re here and they’re dangerous and they’re at war with us. The aliens themselves are uniquely designed, and although you can’t fully appreciate the CGI in 3D they’re still pretty intense. The mech suit is very cool and the characters’ movements in them display some serious attention to detail. The only thing better than watching the film in the theater is seeing it on Blu Ray. It's one of the rare films that kind of improves if you see it with your friends on home video, not just because on a smaller screen the visual quality improves dramatically but also because this has become a cult favourite.


Maleficent Blu Ray Review

'Maleficent' has amazing visuals. They're beautifully dreamy and intricate. The 'otherworldly' elements are presented with green meadows, streams and frolicking fascinating creatures. In short, some of the imagery will blow you away, even in 3D. Surprisingly, the story of 'Maleficent' isn't too shabby either – it's an interesting new take on the villain from Sleeping Beauty. I didn't think I wanted an origin story of this particular character, but when I began watching the film, I understood there was a lot of potential in fleshing out a great story.

And to her credit, writer Linda Woolverton goes pretty deep and dark, way beyond the Disney audience of kids. The reason why 'Maleficent' becomes evil is brutal – a boy cuts off her wings after giving her a poisoned drink. And the film makes no effort to hide the metaphor of rape – when Angelina Jolie wakes up in pain, she renders a relevant raw emotion. This is pretty unsettling stuff for a kids film. And I wanted more of this. It's where the disappointment begins, because after this point, the film just stops being the out-of-the-box idea that it set out to be. It becomes a generic kids film, one which even kids won't really dig because of the brutal rape scene. All they're expected to do is to gawp at the lovely CGI on display.

Directed by Robert Stromberg, 'Maleficent' feels like it was forcefully dumbed down by the studio to appeal to wider audiences. Stromberg has done the visual effects for Alice in Wonderland and some of the biggest VFX films over the past two decades. Stromberg has everything at hand, but the way he executes the story and the technology is grotesque. All his actors speak in exaggerated 'kiddie movie' tones and the narrative is all over the place. There are three pixies that are magnificently animated but are more irritating than the racist robots from Transformers. There is voiceover to overexplain the already overexplained stuff happening on the screen. Like in 'Frozen', this film tries to subvert the fairy tale tropes, but the way it does it makes it hard for us to adore the film. Unlike the haunting Lana Del Ray song accompanying it, the film is jarringly loud. The story becomes predictable soon enough, and it's a real drab waiting for the characters to do the inevitable. The cast is fine, although Sharlto Copley once again plays the same bearded crazy character from Elysium. Jolie reminds us that if anyone in Hollywood needs an evil woman with a freezing stare, she's available for work. The film is definitely better than the misbegotten Snow White and the Huntsman and the other recent fairytales trying to have an adult spin, but it surely isn't a classic.

The Blu Ray transfer is gorgeous to say the least - it's an even better experience on the small screen in pristine HD without the jarring 3D glasses. The pack has the usual set of goodies including behind the scenes footage and commentary which is passably interesting. Although the Blu Ray is recommended not for the features but for the benefit of kids at home - after all that's the target audience.


Sunday, October 5, 2014

Nitpicking Haider


Haider was terrific. Vishal Bhardwaj continues to demonstrate why he is the most exciting filmmaker in India.

It’s healthy to judge a movie for what it is, and it’s not fair to criticise a movie for what it COULD HAVE been. But then this is VB and we’re movie buffs so nitpicking is inevitable. As Varun said, the things the film did were way more important and fascinating than the things it failed to do. But still, it would have been a BLOODY MASTERPIECE if these nuts and bolts were tighter. Coherence and consistency were missing. Lots of highs and then some abrupt lows.

So here is some nitpicking:

1) Haider's breaking point of madness was not well defined. We just see him sitting at his father’s grave in a long shot. The next time we see him he's already bald and bearded clowning in front of a crowd at Lal chowk. Hamlet PRETENDS to be mad at that stage. In this movie it doesn't come across that Haider is pretending. So on an acting standpoint Shahid didn't deliver fully in the scene, although he gets much better later on.

2) Haider's paranoia and craziness are also very surface level. Hamlet spends a lot of time talking to himself, saying crazy shit. Haider doesn't do that. Sure there is quirk, but it’s mostly forced quirk, and some of it was heavy handed too. I would have liked 15 more minutes delving into the madness descent of Haider. 

3) The lack of madness is a direct result of the sense of ambiguity being sorely missing in the film. Everything is literal and real, unfortunately. Take for example the Gravediggers ‘So jao’ sequence – it is glorious and bizarre. Until the gravediggers start pulling out guns and shooting I thought Haider was hallucinating them. That stretch before the shootout should have been much longer. It could have helped expand upon Haider’s madness, and given us a chance to wonder WTF is going on. As a film buff, the thrill of trying to figure out if something is real or not, and picking out metaphors is unmatched.

4) Incidentally those two mysterious quirky Gravediggers with guns who kill everyone in a shootout in the end, are a repeat of the two mysterious quirky Bong goons with guns who kill everyone in a shootout in the end of Kaminey.

5) The lack of ambiguity goes for the character of Roohdar as well. As pointed out by NotsoSnob, it would have been terrific if Roohdar were ambiguous, naam se, story se, barf me jam gaya and all, full ghostly. Some of the best lines in the film belong to Irrfan, and he just kills it with his eyes. 10 more minutes of an ambiguous Irrfan wouldn’t have hurt.

6) The acting is great, but most of the characters in the movie are one note. They don’t surprise. What they are at the beginning of the movie, they're the same by the end as well. That includes Tabu with her beautifully tragic tear filled puffy eyes. Why didn’t these characters have a second dimension? The element of unpredictability and surprise is what I really missed, and that wasn't the case in Maqbool and Omkara.  

7) Shazarch pointed out that the romantic song in the second half between Haider and Arshia, although fairly decent to listen to, was totally unnecessary and jarringly out of place. It kicks in right after a very tense scene. Clearly it was VB pandering to the commercial audience here.

8) They took out Hamlet's abuse towards Ophelia completely. I was half expecting Haider to force himself upon Arshia instead of serenading romantically with her in that song. Why? Because by that point Hamlet has already gone beyond romance and sympathy - he is an abusive asshole. Like in the original source material if Haider abused or raped her it would have justified Arshia losing her mind. Imagine - the one person she stood up for and loved abuses her and kills her family. It would have added more weight to her suicide. And the scene where Haider sees her dead body would have had more weight as well, because his guilt would have been tenfold.

9) In fact that section between that romantic song and Bismil is where the movie sags. It does pick up later, but I wish that portion was either tightened, or dedicated towards Haider losing it, or Roohdar. 

10) The scene where Liyaqat (Aamir Bashir) gets a phone call in his office was terrible. Very Bhandarkar way of showing that he is a 'corporate person'. Even his character could have used more screen time/fleshing out. 

11) In the end the Indian army is credited with saving a lot of people in the Kashmir floods. This was only done so because the movie mildly portrays the Indian army in negative light, with respect to treatment of Kashmiris and terrorists. The text in the end was a lame way to say 'oh don’t worry the Indian army does good things also'. Of course this is a country which can’t accept anything remotely out of the box, so VB adding that text is not surprising. And look what happened – some effete idiots revolted anyway with #BoycottHaider. 

12) The Kashmir politics ‘seems’ ballsy because they showed the Mama 2 Interrogation Center, but is actually surface level. It doesn’t give any deep insightful message about the political wrangling in Kashmir. So the text in the end about the ignominy of Kashmir due to terrorism doesn't make much of an impact (at least for me). But I may be wrong, because this bloke was offended. Perhaps it would have been better had VB just done away with explaining anything via text. Moreover the censors handed the film 41 cuts, so a lot of what was lost probably hurt the film. In any case the movie isn’t about Kashmir politics, it’s about a dysfunctional family surrounded by Kashmir politics. What the movie IS ballsy about is the extent to which VB went with the dynamics between Haider and Ghazala.

13) 'Aao na' was absent in the film. They tease the guitar strings so many times, but the song doesn't play at all. Kind of frustrating since it's such a kickass track. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Blu Ray Review: Captain America The Winter Soldier



There were a lot of problems in Captain America The First Avenger. It was way too jingoistic and far too silly to maintain its façade of seriousness. The visual effects too weren’t very interesting – they were just merely adequate. The villain was a great actor playing an underdeveloped character. And the hero was only mildly more charismatic than the guy who played Thor.

A lot has happened since that movie. The Avengers took the world by storm. Marvel is now a bigger, more confident company, and it shows in Captain America The Winter Soldier. Winter Soldier takes every single gaffe of the first movie and rectifies it with glee. This is a completely different movie, and to an extent a brave one too considering its style and themes. And it sure as hell is more exciting and better arranged than the Thor sequel. It’s also better than the hit-and-miss Iron Man 3. That’s right – Captain America has well and truly arrived and Tony Stark is going to have to make way for the shield in the Avengers sequel.

While the first movie was a sort of ‘Amurica Roxx’ episode, the new film is a paranoia thriller with a hint of espionage drama. Steve Rogers (once again played wonderfully by Chris Evans) is now digesting the post Avengers world of SHILED and trying to come to terms with his ‘present’. Things take a turn when an Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) comes aboard the team with plans to turn it into a weaponized big brother central organization. It could seem like a ham fisted attempt at echoing the Edward Snowden incident, but it sure is a lot of fun. There’s also some funny camaraderie between Rogers and his new friend Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie, who turns into something cool later on in the film). Moreover, the visual effects have taken a gigantic leap forward – some of the action set pieces are bigger than the previous movies in the canon. I won’t describe any partiular set piece, and I’d recommend you don’t see any trailers of the film either - because the action here is different, and more interesting than the other Avengers universe films.

What actually makes them interesting is that they’re placed to move the plot forward, not just for mindless eye candy – even though there’s plenty of that too. And directors Joe and Anthony Russo deserve full credit for understanding that the Marvel films need to go in a new direction. The Winter Soldier chracter is handled pretty well, even though you don’t need to be very smart to guess his identity. Comic book fans will be pleased too for the way the film sets up the foundation for future movies. The film is very good, and Marvel’s confidence proves it – they’re unwilling to move the release date of the third film, which coincides with the Batman-Superman movie. It’s Marvel vs DC, and after watching this movie I can confirm that Marvel is winning. So bring it on.

The Blu Ray render is fantastic - the visuals are mildly better than what we saw in the theater, as is the sound. There is some audio commentary from the filmmakers and a bunch of goodies including behind the scenes footage, making of featurette, deleted scenes and even bloopers. For a Marvel fan who already knows most of the trivia behind the movie it's not a big deal but for a newcomer it's a decent purchase.