Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The 40 Best Films of 2013

This was a pretty good year for cinema. Plenty of commercial biggies and indie/world cinema titles. It's silly to make a top ten list because there were about 40 terrific films that ought to be watched by any self respecting film buff. Here they are:

40 - Computer Chess

Director Andrew Bujalsky's wonderful and highly original little film channels the retro style of the 80's with dry humor and deadpan sarcastic bickering between nerds fiddling with computers. This is pretty much tasty dessert for geeks who love cinema. 

39 - Escape from Tomorrow

Randy Moore's bizarre, surreal, entertaining sci fi film is about a family which goes to Disneyland and gets sucked into an otherworldly conspiracy. It's also landmark guerrilla filmmaking - it was shot secretly in Disneyland. Roger Ebert handpicked it for his film fest before his death.

38 - Simon Killer

Director Antonio Campos is going for a new experimental type of filmmaking much like Shane Carruth. Simon Killer is a straightforward psychological drama twisted into something more bleakly complex than it is. And it was quite bold of the him to have a completely unsympathetic character as the protagonist. Definitely a filmmaker to keep an eye out for.

37 - Warm Bodies

50-50 director Jonathan Levine (pardon my pun) resurrects the zombie genre from the dead with this zom com. It's a cool indie that takes a spin on the many tired tropes of both zombie films and romcoms. Plus it's got a superb soundtrack, and Levine makes the film look good despite its tiny budget.

36 - The Broken Circle Breakdown

Director Felix Van Groeningen's Belgian drama takes the subtext and non liner style of Blue Valentine and makes it even darker. The film also has a killer soundtrack to boot. 

35 - New World

Starring the legendary Choi Min Sik the protagonist of Oldboy, and directed by Park Hoon Jung who wrote I saw the Devil, New World twists, turns and spasms into giddy thrills as characters leap from one shade to the other. Full review here

34 - Captain Phillips

Unlike the other Somalian pirate film A Hijacking which was a slow-burn drama that focused on the psychological aspect of incident, Paul Greengrass’ film is a full on pulse pounding action thriller that is sort of a United 93 meets Zero Dark Thirty. Make no mistake — Greengrass gets better with every film and this is the most hair-raisingly fun thriller of the year, and despite its two-and-half-hour run time it whizzes by like a bullet.

33 - Trance

Though not as great as Shallow Grave, Danny Boyle's return to the thriller genre was a blast from start to finish, with shiny mirror based cinematography from Anthony Dod Mantle. And as always, Boyle picks the best fucking soundtracks. 

32 - Prisoners

Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve has emerged as one of the most fascinating and consistently solid filmmakers of our generation. Prisoners does something different early on to bring a new twist to the serial killer genre. Hugh Jackman's solid performance buoys the film's questions on the basics of morality, guilt, law and justice. Full review here.

31 - Is the Man who is tall happy

Michel Gondry and Noam Chomsky got together and made a movie. Magic happened.

30 - A Touch of Sin

Jia Zhangke’s A Touch of Sin is a bleak and powerful film that sheds light on the ferociously dehumanized state of modern China. The scene in which the protagonist uses three cigarettes as incense sticks to pray is easily the most hilarious and scathing shot of the year. 

29 - Ilo Ilo

A great first film from director Anthony Chen who won the Camera d’Or at Cannes. It tells the story of a family in Singapore that is struggling to deal with the country’s brutal financial crisis. The film commands exceptional acting and nuanced detailing and signals a major talent's arrival.

28 - Spring Breakers

Enfant terrible Harmony Korine's Spring Breakers seemed like a guilty pleasure with hot Disney chicks. It turned out to be a stunningly well made neon nightmare that I like to describe as Dostoyevsky in a bikini. Full review here.

27 - Inside Llewyn Davis

The Coens' first genuinely depressing movie has a ton of things that any struggler in a big city can relate to. Oscar Isaac's performance, the soundtrack and the ginger cat are enough to warrant multiple viewings over the years to come.

26 - Behind the Candelabra

Steven Soderbergh's (apparently) last film had terrific performances from Michael Douglas and Matt Damon as Liberace and his boyfriend. The studios refused to release the film in theaters for being 'too gay', and I can only say they'll be known to me as 'too stupid'.

25 - The Conjuring

Fuck this guy James Wan. Keeps scaring the liquid potty out of me over and over again. Full review here

24 - Pacific Rim

It’s not often that we get to see a large scale science fiction blockbuster movie that renders that sense of total admiration on your face.Guillermo Del Toro's Giant Fucking Robots vs Giant Fucking Monsters movie did it. Full review here

23 - Blackfish

You'll forever feel guilty about going to the zoo when you watch Gabriela Cowperthwaite's disturbing, revelatory film on the dangers of nabbing animals from their natural habitat and keeping them in captivity for our recreational purposes. Full review here

22 - The Armstrong Lie

Alex Gibney's documentary was a crushing look at the fallen Tour de France hero. The footage is remarkable, the interviews with Armstrong are disparaging. You hate the guy for lying to us, and yet in one or two instances the film manages to somehow make you empathize with Armstrong, which is what makes it a great film.

21 - American Hustle

It wasn't as funny and cheeky as the trailers made it out to be, but it certainly was a superbly acted and photographed movie about real life con artists. It was also the most Scorsese-esque film that David O Russell has ever made.

20 - Rush

Rush is a wet dream for F1 1 fans and one of the most thrilling and entertaining auto racing based movies ever made. Peter Morgan and Ron Howard not only understand the spirit of F1 but also know how to tell a compelling F1 story to people who aren’t familiar with the sport. Full review here

19 - Don Jon

Joseph Gordon Levitt’s hilarious Don Jon is the single greatest commentary piece on porn. It isn’t about porn but it’s a guy’s perspective on the necessity of porn. The film smartly clashes irony, ideals and cultural norms and brings down the accepted definitions of ‘decency’ and ‘addiction’. Plus it's a hell of a lot of fun.

18 - Frances Ha

Greta Gerwig has arrived. Noah Baumbach's film may be set in New York but the Bombay parallels are simply too obvious, and Frances Ha is really a piece of art for Bombayites who can project their own experiences onto it. It’s their own personal little film. Full review here

17 - You're Next

Just when I thought the home invasion genre had run its course along came the smart and entertaining You're Next from Adam Wingard. Another fun horror film in a year of really good horror films. Horror filmmaker Ti West's cameo as the first guy who gets killed was a cool little in joke.

16 - The Past

Asghar Farhadi's latest was exactly what I expected it to be - a domestic drama of screwed up relationships with a tinge of mystery hidden beneath the emotions. No one does this genre as well as Farhadi. The last scene from the film haunted me for a hell of a long time.

15 - The Dirties

Written, directed, edited and starring newbie filmmaker Matt Johnson, The Dirties effortlessly mashes together dark comedy, social commentary, drama, bromance and Hollywood all with a distinctly meta flavor. The film takes on the risqué subject of gun control and school shootings in America and does it in a way you won’t believe until you see it. Full review here

14 - The Congress

Ari Folman's follow up to Waltz With Bashir was an excellent meta animation film that is impossible to fully get the first time. Folman makes a damning dissection of capitalism, IP wars, internet freedom and many, many more socially relevant standpoints with his trademark off-center approach. 

13 - Sightseers

I've become an ardent fan of Ben Wheatley. After last year's awesome Kill List and now Sightseers I'm convinced he's the master of black comedy thrillers. He's got a really unique style and pretty much no one makes films the way he does.

12 - Borgman

The most fucked up movie of the year, and hence automatically the most enjoyable thriller of the year. It's not just cheap thrills though, this Dutch film offers some really dark interpretation of human nature, apart from unsettling imagery of course. 

11 - Blue is the Warmest Color

I'm not sure how true the torture stories of director Abdellatif Kechiche are, but he's exacted tremendous performances from Adele Exarchapolous and Lea Seydoux. You'll be surprised to know that the sex scenes (though super hot) are the least interesting part of the film. And it's not a lesbian drama as much as it is the story of your first heartbreak. If the Academy has any sense Adele will win the Oscar this year. 

10 - Only God Forgives

Nicholas Winding Refn is an interesting guy. He wakes up one morning, takes a shower, and decides to make a movie about fingering. And he does it – he makes a gorgeous, glorious, meditative, profoundly philosophical movie about fingering. Full review here

9 - The Great Beauty

I'm positive that when I grow up, I'll turn into the protagonist of The Great Beauty - a deliciously cynical, reflective film about time bygone, life in the contemporary world and the various crazy characters that exist in it. Director Paolo Sorrentino's movie is absolutely gorgeous to look at, listen to and experience on the big screen.

8 - The Act of Killing

A war monger named Anwar Congo agrees to enact the killings in a faux film about a genocide he was part of. At first he and his accomplices are very pleased with what they did, but as the filming and the enactment goes on, he begins to see the horrors he's committed and begins to regret all the brutality of his past. Stunning film. Full review here

7 - The Wolf of Wall Street

How does this Scorsese guy do it? 71 years old and he’s still at the top of his game with the energy of a 22 year old. And that Leo has one hell of a funny bone. Full review here

6 - Short Term 12

I'd been hearing about Short Term 12 ever since it scored some insane buzz at SXSW and I was really pumped to watch it at MFF. It did not disappoint. Brie Larson is the breakout star of the year and a huge talent. Jennifer Lawrence has competition and she doesn't even know it yet. 


The most culturally significant film of the year, Simon Klose's docu takes a gander at the one aspect that has changed our lives, the entire entertainment industry and the way we use consumer electronics. Torrents and Piratebay define our society and culture and the film does a terrific job of traveling with the four members who made it all possible and are still fighting alone just to make all of us have freedom from the clutches of Hollywood. Naturally I downloaded this movie through ThePiratebay.

4 - Gravity

All flaws of Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity become infinitely smaller the bigger the screen you watch it on. In IMAX the film is perfect, utterly faultless. Full review here

3 - Upstream Color

The new film from Primer director Shane Carruth turned out to be even more complex, engrossing, innovative and thought provoking than his previous effort. Full review here

2 - Tonnerre

I had no idea about this movie and I walked into the screening at the Mumbai Film Fest only to kill time before the show of Blue is the Warmest Color. The brochure told me it was about the romance between a washed out rock star and a much younger girl. That didn't seem very inviting but what a film it turned out to be. A beautiful, funny, moving, tragic, devastating little love story that kicks every single one of its genre elements and cliches in the nuts. This was writer-director Guillaume Brac's debut movie, and it'd have been the best film of the year for me had it not been for:

1 - Zero Charisma

By far the best movie of 2013, a pitch dark comedy and the only movie that truly gets nerd culture and is still accessible to those who aren’t even familiar with nerds, games, metal or dungeons and dragons. Full review here

Special Mention: Safe Haven segment from VHS 2 - the most fun horror movie of the year.

Underrated films: Blue Caprice, The East, Ain't them bodies Saints

Biggest disappointment of the year: Star Trek into Darkness, To the Wonder

Discovery of the year: Brie Larson in Short Term 12

Best Actress: Adele Exarchopolous in Blue is the Warmest Color
  Runners Up: Brie Larson (Short Term 12), Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine)

Best Actor: Leo as the Wolf
  Runners Up: Hugh Jackman (Prisoners), Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis)

Best Supporting Actor: James Franco in Spring Breakers

Best Supporting Actress: Jennifer Lawrence in American Hustle

Best Movie Scenes: The breakup in Blue is the Warmest Color, The ship drag in Pacific Rim.

Best Posters:

Best Trailer: The Raid 2 Berandal teaser 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Conversation with Shane Carruth

Shane Carruth, the famously reclusive director of the ingenious Primer and the modern classic Upstream Color was in India for an event last week. I had a chance to touch the filmmaker's feet and chat with him about his filmmaking process, his opinion on mainstream Hollywood, torrents and the business model of contemporary cinema.

This piece originally appeared in Mint Lounge on Dec 21 2013, below is the full unabridged version. 

MF: The most interesting thing about you as a filmmaker is that the films that you make challenge the audiences. Primer was heavily dialogue based, it was extremely hard to follow. Upstream Color communicates mostly visually and in a lot of different non-verbal ways. Was it deliberate to make a nearly silent film after a heavily dialogue driven film?

SC: Well, Upstream Color was not a reaction to Primer being so verbose. I tried to make Primer feel as authentic as possible, that’s what made it so talky. I wanted it to feel mundane, like a journalist doing an investigation. In Upstream it was about thematic balance - the characters are affected by themes you can’t speak to, that are offscreen, that are touching you emotionally rather than verbally. I can’t have characters constantly talking about the plot. I need them to not be aware, I need them to be subjected to and affected and even erratic. The things that affect us emotionally, whether they are psychological, or spiritual, or chemical, or virtual, at no point do people usually address them, because they just don’t know, and that’s what Upstream meant to me.

MF: You are the director, the writer, the lead actor, the cinematographer, the music composer, the editor of your films. Is it a conscious decision to do all these things? Is it because you want to be in complete control of your film, or is it because of budget constraints.

SC: Oh it’s a bit of both actually. When I first started Upstream I didn’t know any filmmakers, so I couldn’t have even gone to somebody even if I wanted to.

MF: You’d made Primer before that, I’m sure you had a few offers coming in after that hit the circuit?

SC: Well, there were offers, but the people I was meeting, they were not filmmakers. They were producers, studio guys. When I decided to make Upstream it was basically to go and do it in my home state of Texas and not tell anybody that we were doing it. Also when I know a scene, and I know how it’s gonna work and what the music is meant to sound like, it becomes really difficult for me to explain to somebody else what it should be like, so I decide to do it myself, and do it exactly the way I need it. It takes me a little bit longer to finish the film but it just works.

MF: But do you tend to lose your objectivity sometimes because you’re the boss of everything?

SC: Yes, and that is a real danger, but I think it’s a necessary one. The thing is, as an audience member the material that I really enjoy in cinema is from films that seem ‘singular’. I want to be challenged by a film to interpret it in some way. And once I have gone through all this work to figure it out, I want to know that there’s a mind behind it that orchestrated this movie. What I don’t want to find out is that there were ten writers, with many more drafts – that’s not meaningful to me. Not that it can’t be meaningful, but I like things to be from one mind as an audience member, and as a filmmaker I tend to go that way as well.

MF: The music in Upstream is so perfectly placed, and it’s so organic. How do you approach the score? Do you compose your music while making the film, or after shooting it?

SC: While writing it actually. I pretty much had the full score before we started shooting Upstream. It just helps cos I have a scene in my mind, and I’m writing it, and if I can get the music, it makes it in some way more real, and makes me more confident that we can execute it the way I imagined it.
What happened with Upstream is when we began production and I started accumulating imagery, I got this sense of tactility during post production. This is how filmmaking is I guess, in some ways it’s deficient, in other ways it sells. The music didn’t need to inform the audience of anything other than the subjected experience of the characters. In fact halfway through production I made a mistake and the music was communicating to the audience something that a character couldn’t know. A lot of films do that, I’m not sure what the term is…

MF: ‘Spoonfeeding the audience’?

SC: Yeah exactly. And once I learned that, I had to get rid of half the music and make new stuff. Some of it happened while filming, some of it while editing.

MF: I must confess that I watched Primer through torrents, I hope you won’t sue me for this?

SC: Not at all, I support torrents, it’s a great social technology. A lot of people saw Primer the same way, and I’m happy that they did.

MF: Upstream Color had quite a radical release. It released on demand just two weeks after hitting theatres. Do you see a major change in the way movies will be released in the future? Do you think the distribution model will change soon?

SC: Oh yes. I’m not smart enough to know what the new model will be like, but yeah like right now a film exists in the US as one distribution model, and then in the UK and here in India as totally different models. That’s obviously gonna go away once the channels are in place, culturally we’re ready for that. Interesting question, though. Do you go to the theatre often?

MF: I don’t actually. Apart from attending film screenings I almost never voluntarily go to the theatre. Except when there’s something like Gravity playing in theatres I’d rather pay to watch a film at home on my computer or TV or tablet.

SC: That’s how I feel too. I know a lot of people love to go to the theatre. But I’d love to see theatres adapt to the people instead of the other way round. At this point I feel like I’m being challenged to come to a theatre. I don’t really know what it’s like here but ..

MF: It’s pretty bad here.

SC: (Chuckles) Ok .. I mean it’s just not an easy prospect to go the theatre, and be forced to watch ads, and even most of the films aren’t so great. I think there’s nothing more satisfying than downloading a movie, watching five minutes of it, and going ‘NOPE that’s not for me I’m outta here’. When you go to a theatre and pay all that money and… well… it’s just not a very pleasurable experience.

MF: Thanks to the internet a lot of good indie movies, yours included, and even some smaller Hollywood films that aren’t marketed by the studios get a lot of appreciation and the audience that they deserve. Do you think at some point in the future the Academy awards will become irrelevant and internet’s word of mouth will actually decide a film’s success and failure?

SC: Oh yes. I think that’s already true. Take for example Kubrick – he was never awarded an Oscar, I think maybe a technical one for 2001. He’s still considered as one of the greatest filmmakers. I think even Orson Welles was never recognized by the Academy. I think these things are very temporary. There are films that came out ten years ago, that made hundreds of millions of dollars, and they’re just not relevant any more. Everything’s a campaign, how can you know what is true outside of the cloud? I’m not gonna win an Oscar, that whole system is certainly not anything that I understand.

MF: Based on your two films it’s really hard to figure out who you are inspired by. Some people compared Upstream to Malick’s films, but that is clearly not true. Which films or filmmakers are you really inspired by?

SC: Well it’s not like I seek out really obscure films or pieces of art, I just have a compulsion to do things a certain way. One of the several other movies that inspired me to try to make a film is Coppola’s The Conversation – I just watched it again a week ago, and it never stops being inspiring. There’s also this Neil LaBute very small budget independent film called In the Company of Men – that movie in particular enthralled me with the fact that the whole film was just a couple of guys talking on the screen and it could still carry dramatic tension. I realized this is a possibility, and that you have to respect the attention of an audience.

Alejandro Amenabar made this wonderful film called Agora that has Rachel Weisz as a philosopher mathematician in 4th century Roman Egypt. It shows different religions jockeying for power on the streets of Alexandria - it’s quite beautiful and it’s a topic I always wanted to address.

MF: A few months ago you’d said that you don’t want to pursue A Topiary any longer. Is that still the case or have you changed your mind?

SC: Oh I don’t think I can pursue it any more.

MF: Damn it.

SC: I know, I know, I really would like to, but I haven’t been able to raise any financing for it.

MF: There’s a scene in Upstream where the lead character is editing some sci fi movie on her computer, is that a scene from A Topiary?

SC: Yeah, I’d developed about 30 minutes of test effects shots, and the footage you see is from those tests.

MF: The whole of the internet wants to know this - what was your connection with Rian Johnson’s Looper?

Oh I met Rian a little bit before The Brothers Bloom, we became friends and he saw what I was doing in the effects shots for A Topiary. He had an idea in Looper where there was this certain concept that he wanted to do where internally what it would be like for somebody to have their memory erased. And it had to do with something washing in and washing out and that things would change as the current was moving. We talked a lot about what that would look like and we came up with a few concepts and I was going to take a stab at doing that. My solution didn’t gel with the studio, they were doing all of their effects through their process and here I was, this outcast, and it was basically having to build this entire effects company over here when all their effects were over there. In the end it was just like let that company figure it out and Rian decided not to have an effect in those scenes anyway. So it was a bunch of talking but it didn’t really materialize.

MF: Given a chance will you ever make a big budget commercial Hollywood film?

SC: Wow no I can’t even imagine that.

MF: Have you received any offers lately for a mainstream commercial film?

SC: Ummmm (Long pause) .. no I haven’t. Even the people that I know are successful, they don’t get calls where somebody says ‘here’s the offer’. It’s more like ‘hey so and so is interested in you doing this film, what do you think?’ And you have to come in and say the right things, and get to know each other, and get to the scripting etc etc. With me, it’s just that they don’t want me, and I don’t want them, so there’s never that initial conversation to begin with.

MF: Since you’re in India I have to ask - have you ever watched any Indian films?

SC: Oh no I haven’t, it’s one these things I’m embarrassed about. In the US we are this myopic country and I’m definitely part of the problem. What would you recommend?

MF: There’s a film called Ship of Theseus, it’s made a young independent filmmaker. It’s an interesting, intellectually stimulating film, quite different from the song and dance style Bollywood is known for.

SC: Interesting. Let me write this down.  

MF: I know you’re notoriously secretive about your projects, but let me take a chance. What are you working on next and when can we see it?

SC: I’m writing something called The Modern Ocean, and it’s about modern transport ships pretty much fighting each other on the high seas. There are pirates, sniper rifles but emotionally and from a filmmaking standpoint it shares its DNA with Upstream.

MF: I really hope it’s not going to take nine more years until we see it?

SC: (Laughs) Me too, I mean I can’t afford to wait that long. I’ll finish that soon. 

Friday, December 20, 2013

Movie Review: Dhoom 3

In 1987 a masterpiece called Hard Ticket to Hawaii arrived in theaters. Its story chronicled two Playboy models sent undercover to Hawaii to bust a diamond racket and battle a mutant snake. In one scene the villainous smugglers send a hitman who overtakes the hero’s jeep on a skateboard while standing on his hands. “That guy must have smoked some Heavy Doobies”, the hero remarks. Then the Skateboard Man pulls out a shotgun and an inflated blow-up bikini doll appears suddenly in front of the hero’s jeep, adjusts his ponytail and takes aim. The hero rams the jeep onto the Skateboard Man who flies into the air along with his doll, and the hero reaches out into the dashboard, pulls out a rocket launcher and shoots the Skateboard Man in mid-air. And then he shoots his doll too.

I had to enlighten you with this information, because the entirety of Dhoom 3 is a three hour long version of this scene. And like Hard Ticket to Hawaii, Dhoom 3 is legendarily stupid, ridiculously over the top, unbelievably hammy and so hilariously terrible, cheesy and contrived it's non-stop fun. Director Vijay Krishna Acharya’s Tashan flopped back in 2008 because, believe it or not, it was way ahead of its time. Had it released today, in the post Rohit Shetty-Prabhudheva 100 crore era, it’d easily have made a few hundred crores. Acharya has been given a second chance, a humongous budget and he really lets his imagination go berserk with some Heavy Doobies:

Aamir Khan makes his entry by running vertically down a building, with currency notes flying everywhere and BGM that sounds like ‘We want chocolate we want chocolate’. 

Abhishek Bachchan makes his entry by breaking through a concrete wall in an auto rickshaw, then jumps over rooftops in the auto and then does Tom Cruise’s Mission Impossible 2 bike stunts with the auto.

Katrina Kaif makes her entry by doing a Marky Mark Good Vibrations style five minute long aerobics striptease workout as an impromptu audition for an Indian circus act in Chicago.

Really, Dhoom 3 is Dhoom to the power of 3. It’s 27 times as ridonkulous as Dhoom in every department. The longer it runs the more preposterous it gets, and you can’t help but admire it for what it is. The action sequences were most certainly conceived during a drunk chor-police game that Acharya played with his toys one night. You get Aamir Khan driving a bike that turns into a boat that turns into a submarine that turns into a bike. You get Bachchan Jr tailing Aamir’s bikeboatmarine while clinging on to the rope ladder of a helicopter. You get Uday Chopra wearing a Captain Jack Sparrow costume and chasing Aamir on a BMW in random corridors and ripping through product placement posters.

And don’t you dare think there is no ‘substance’ in the movie. Prepare to have your mind blown – the villain in the film is not Aamir Khan, but banks. Yes, Dhoom 3 is a social commentary on the postmodern world being afflicted by the tyranny of bankers. It’s deep stuff. In one scene a wicked man looks at the camera grimly and tells a destitute common man 'We are bankers. We understand the world of money'.

And since this is a Dhoom movie you get a ginormous buffet of bad acting, cheesy romance, dreadful songs and plot holes so big you could drive Van Damme’s Volvo trucks through them. It’s not fair to take pot shots at Uday Chopra because he’s the only genuine element in the film – all of his jokes are self-referential. Bachchan Jr doesn’t do much more than grimace a couple of times and walk around extremely determined. With her back perpetually arched, midriff perpetually bare and dialogue perpetually corny, Katrina comes off like a parody of an action movie heroine.

But Dhoom 3 will be remembered for being the point where Aamir Khan gleefully took a piss on all of the accolades he’s ever received for being a good actor. He clearly worked extremely hard on his muscles but every dialogue he utters magically produces ham hocks around the screen. In the film he’s either a) Too serious, and hence unintentionally funny or b) Completely barmy, and hence unintentionally funny. Aamir is a good dramatic actor, and a great comedic actor, but is not a commercial action hero. Someone needed to tell him to lighten up a bit, this is a Dhoom movie after all.

You may have predicted all of the above things, but nothing will prepare you for the barn burning ‘twist’ just before the interval. You can see it coming, but you desperately wish and pray for that to not be the case. But it does come, and you’re left groaning in defeat, wrapping your face with as many palms as you can find. It’s the kind of stuff you’d see in Hard Ticket to Hawaii and the twelve other films by the director Andy Sidaris, all twelve of which are available in a single DVD pack for $4. 

(First published in Firstpost)

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Man of Steel Blu Ray

Man of Steel had a tough tightrope to walk. It had to beat the candyfloss nature of 80’s and 90’s blockbuster cinema, and transcend the overload of the modern dark gritty origin story and the humanization of the superhero. The only solution to this problem was by pairing Nolan and Snyder, and when the film hit theaters it worked on some insane level, because Nolan excels at constructing superheroes by stripping away their morality and immortality, and Snyder is the master of deconstructing the superhero genre.

The new Superman story needed to lose its red underwear without becoming an all too serious and depressing guilt ridden drama. It did get polarizing reviews with in my honets opinion it was pretty much the best possible Superman movie you could get in this day and age.

Six months after its theatrical release the film arrives on DVD and Blu Ray with some interesting goodies. Whatever you say about the wanton destruction found in the final act, you cannot fault the film’s imagery and its brought out to glorious detail in 1080p. The handheld camerawork really shines on Blu Ray and the fight sequences become much more vivid and clear in the transfer. The post converted 3D nearly killed the movie but it’s really a pleasure to watch the movie in gorgeous 2D on your TV. The colours, textures and audio are absolutely top notch, giving you as close a cinema experience as possible.

The extra features include a segment that runs for half an hour and delves into how the movie tried to put a new spin on the myth of the Superman – it’s fun for those who liked the film and there’s even Michael Shannon in on the footage. One other segment features the stuff that went into the creation of the action in the film. That part is a bit of a mixed bag because it gives you details on the stunts and not so much on the incredible CGI shown in the film. There is actually a five minute long segment called Krypton Decoded and another one called Planet Krypton that wafts over the work that went into the prologue. Those not interested in the CGI can check out the animated short that commemorates Superman’s 75th year. The most interesting featurette is a commentary on the second disc that runs about three hours and takes you behind the scenes of the production, sadly without giving you any info on the 2015 Superman-Batman film.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Movie Review: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

It’s December again and it’s time to return to Middle earth. A full year has passed since the disappointment of An Unexpected Journey, and Peter Jackson offers a mixed bag yet again. The good news – The Desolation of Smaug is much better and more exciting than the first Hobbit film. The bad news – it still is a lacklustre and hollow movie compared to the original Lord of the Rings trilogy.

The biggest criticism of the first Hobbit movie was that it took too long to get going. It seems like Peter Jackson listened to this complaint and fixed the problem this time around. The Desolation of Smaug gets into action in less than five minutes and it is thankfully briskly paced. The action scenes, despite resembling cut scenes from video games are fun as well - one featuring the dwarves floating downstream in barrels is beautifully choreographed. Moreover, while the first movie was just an adventure comedy for kids, the second chapter is more of a horror movie. There are dark forests, bottomless chasms, spiders, werewolves, Necromancers, disgusting Orcs and much more cool scary stuff to keep things interesting.

Best of all, the dragon Smaug is absolutely terrific; a landmark in computer graphics and Benedict Cumberbatch’s sneering booming voice gives you the goosebumps. If the LOTR films were memorable for Gollum, the Hobbit movies will be remembered for Smaug. When Smaug brushes off the gold coins covering him and stands up showing his entire form occupying the entire screen, it really makes your jaw drop. The tete-a-tete between Bilbo and Smaug when they meet for the first time is as exhilarating as the riddle chat between Bilbo and Gollum from the first movie. You need to wait for two whole hours before Smaug shows up but he really is worth it.

There are plenty of problems. Yet again Jackson crams in too many subplots about underdeveloped characters. When I watched Fellowship of the Ring I came out knowing the names of every character that appeared in the film. I’ve watched two Hobbit movies and I still don’t exactly know how many Hobbits or dwarves are there in the team, and I can’t name more than two of them. One of the dwarves gets a totally unnecessary and half assed love story, and there’s a lot of cringe inducing schmaltz that just pops in and out in during the tense sequences. The film is repetitive and an hour too long. The mid segment featuring the ‘humans’ is dull and boring - it totally destroys the fun of the mayhem in the first hour, and the wait for Smaug to make his entry becomes tedious. Legolas makes a return in a ham fisted Bollywood style love triangle. The final scene is a tad infuriating because just when there’s an epic buildup and you expect an epic showdown with Smaug, the screen cuts to black, telling you to come back next year.

None of those problems matter because The Desolation of Smaug is going to make a lot of money anyway. Every self-respecting fan of Tolkein, Jackson and Middle Earth is going to show up in theaters to watch this film and the next one. It’s time to accept the fact that Jackson sacrificed quality for an extra billion dollars in box office and just enjoy the computer generated awesomeness of Smaug on a big screen, in 2D. 

(First published in MiD Day)