Friday, January 18, 2013

Movie Review: Les Miserables

Sometimes a great cast, superb performances, grand production design and brave direction still doesn’t make a great movie, and Tom Hooper’s much hyped Oscar bait Les Miserables falls smack in the middle of that category. It doesn’t help that Russell Crowe’s singing voice sounds like a bunch of geese in excruciating pain.

Based on Victor Hugo’s 19th century novel of the same name and coming after the three hundred gajillion film, TV and Broadway adaptations, Les Miserables is a fascinating failure that implodes at nearly each and every bombastic live song performance. As Hooper’s camera juts in and out of the actors’ nostrils, he mercilessly whips the performers to sing live on the set – a stunning feat that exudes glory with enormous talents like Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathway, newcomer Samantha Barks but stabs your eyes and ears each time the likes of Amanda Seyfried and Crowe show up and clumsily assault their own vocal cords. The only respite in the unbelievably long two and a half hours runtime is courtesy of the excellent Sasha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as scheming innkeepers – the two seem to have entered the movie set right after filming Sweeney Todd, a noticeably finer and less pretentious play-to-feature example.

Jackman stars as Jean Valjean, a destitute man imprisoned for years for stealing just loaf of bread; after being paroled and escaping from the cops, he assumes a new name and becomes the Mayor. Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe), however, still plans on bringing the ex-convict Mayor to justice. Valjean also faces the bitter guilt of being responsible for the misfortunes of his poor worker Fantine (Hathaway) and adopts her daughter (Seyfried) as penance. The narrative splutters, chugs and falls into pit of horse dung with each song, never really flowing the way a Broadway should, neither providing the escapist entertainment a movie should. Hathaway’s ‘I dreamed a dream’ is stunning to watch of course, though not a patch on Susan Boyle’s performance of the same on YouTube. The biggest problem isn’t the ham-fisted close-up-singing as much as the horribly detailed plot – unless you have mastered the history of 19th century France, you will have absolutely no idea of the proceedings. The narrative is so dense Les Miserables could as well have been set in Bel Air and it wouldn’t have made a lick of a difference to the story. Hooper also fails to flesh out the enmity between Valjean and Javert, reducing their scenes of rivalry and conflict to something out of a Deepak Tijori-Vivek Mushran encounter.

The problem with Les Miserables is that it is an overtly elaborate production that seems grand just because the filmmakers say that it can be. As a result the overdone film becomes an underwhelming experience, a spectacle instead of being spectacular. Only a cameo of The Fresh Prince and Jazzy Jeff in French attires could have made Les Miserables a less miserable butt numbathon.

(First published in MiD Day)

Movie Review: The Last Stand

Two decades ago he wore a pair of Ray Bans and menacingly told a desk clerk that he’d be back. He’s back alright, but he’s old and rusty. Age doesn’t seem to be much of a problem though, because Mr Schwarzenegger (or his stunt double) still looks good firing a shotgun, crashing through glass doors and delivering terrible lines terribly.

Directed by Korean maverick Kim Ji-Woon who has made A Tale of Two Sisters, A Bittersweet Life, The Good the Bad and the Weird and I saw the Devil, The Last Stand exists purely as a vehicle for Schwarzenegger to slowly transition back to the big screen after a decade behind the Governer’s desk burying his sex scandal. This isn’t a big Michael Bay movie or a $200 trillion blockbuster that Arnold no doubt wants to make a return in, but a small, mostly brainless albeit fun little B-movie that brings back some of the charm of 80’s Hollywood. Whether that is a good or a bad thing depends on how much you liked Arnie’s films in your childhood.

The premise is as cringe-worthy and outdated as they come and the whole movie feels like Fast and Furious: Arnold Edition. The FBI fumbles its plans to move a dangerous Mexican crime lord (Eduardo Noriega) who manages to escape in a specially modified Corvette by driving at 200 mph without headlights towards the Mexican border. The only thing that stands between him and the border is a sleepy Texan town led by its Sherriff (Schwarzenegger) and an arsenal of guns. The majority of the movie spends its time going over its checklist of ‘Make Arnie fire a gun’, ‘Make Arnie hurl a one liner’, ‘Make Arnie a sympathetic hero’, ‘Make Arnie say Son of a bitch’ etc. Plonked in together are a bunch of lame subplots involving the Sherriff’s young deputy (Zach Gilford) who is bored of his job and a man in jail (Rodrigo Santoro) who was in a relationship with the Sherriff’s other deputy (Jamie Alexander). Writer Andrew Knauer also wastes too much time investing in the FBI operative (Forest Whitaker) and his deputies who spend the entirety of the film looking at computer screens, talking on phones and walking around to give the impression of tension in the air.

There is decent amount of action although the gratuitous gunplay and headshots seem out of place in the light of Aurora and Sandy Hook. It seems like Kim Ji Woon was put up as a puppet by Hollywood because there is absolutely none of the craft, humor and panache found in his earlier films. The ‘comedy’ is basically Arnie making fun of his own age, and while that worked to an extent in The Expendables 2, here it feels like a sly old man being self-deprecating to get hugs from young girls. The Last Stand is ultimately strictly for Schwarzenegger fans, and even most of those would be disappointed with this lackluster effort.

(First published in MiD Day)

Movie Review: Broken City

Despite a strong cast of Mark Wahlberg as a beat up cop and Russell Crowe as a scheming politician, Broken City is derivative, meandering and obsolete from start to end. Director Allen Hughes, who made the excellent The Book of Eli two years ago fails in trying to dole up a modern story involving capitalism, vanity, corruption and murder in NYC and ends up with a hot mess that comes off as a stoner version of the TV series The Wire.

Wahlberg stars as Billy Taggart, a cop who is saved from imprisonment by the Mayor (Crowe); years later as a private detective Billy is asked by the Mayor to take pictures of his adulterous wife (Catherine Zeta Jones). Naturally, nothing is as it seems and the murder of the wife’s lover leads Billy to a much bigger conspiracy spearheaded by the Mayor. Stitched together is an absolutely inconsequential plot point of Bill’s girlfriend (Natalie Martinez) that neither adds anything to the story nor is the least bit interesting to look at, apart from Martinez’s eye popping body. There is also Barry Pepper as an electoral candidate for the Mayor’s post and Jeffery Wright as a cop who seems to curiously side with and antagonize Billy as he pleases.

Hughes and writer Brian Tucker heavily borrow elements from A Perfect Murder and Sidney Lumet’s films, particularly Serpico as Wahlberg’s NYC cop fumbles from the script’s one problem to another. He pitches in his standard issue no nonsense performance while Crowe does a villainous version of the same overweight silver haired bespectacled avatar he had in Inside Man and Body of Lies. It all ends with a predictable twist that was all but given away in the trailers. The biggest twist of the film, however, is the fact that such an obsolescent script was in the prestigious Black List in 2008. 

(First published in MiD Day)

Friday, January 11, 2013

Movie Review: Gangster Squad

The majority of Hollywood products exude style over substance, but sometimes there is so much style that it just works in the film’s favor. Gangster Squad is one such instance. Directed by Ruben Fleischer who made the hilarious Zombieland, Gangster Squad is a mishmash of The Untouchables, Goodfellas and Hoodlum and seems like a creamy resultant puree after tossing the three films into a mixie. It’s got an incredible lead cast of Senn Penn, Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, some outstanding  production design that evokes the Noir-soaked 1940’s Los Angeles, glorious shootouts, eye popping cinematography, cops vs gangsters  – the works.  With all of that thrown in, theoretically the film should be a classic – it fails to be one but still succeeds in being an entertaining albeit forgettable action movie.

The plot makes you want to search for Brian De Palma’s name in the credits – post World War 2 the ex-boxer drug and casino racketeering kingpin Mickey Cohen (Penn) has set his sights on expanding his empire and running the entire East coast himself. The police are in Cohen’s pockets and there is little that the law can do to stop him. Enter Good Cop Josh Brolin as Sgt John O'Mara who is assigned by his chief (Nick Nolte) to put together a secret police squad to eliminate Cohen and his viral mafia operation. O’Mara assembles an Ocean’s 11 style team of a Dirty Harry-esque Robert Patrick, a technology expert (Giovanni Ribisi), a pretty boy (Ryan Gosling), a classy detective (Anthony Mackie) and a rookie (Michael Pena). Bugging Cohen’s house and learning of his operations becomes easy, but unfortunately so does one of the squad members falling in love with Cohen’s girlfriend (Stone).

Fleischer effortlessly nails the pacing and the satirical bits but at some parts Gangster Squad is amusingly corny – our heroes escape a spray of bullets over and over again like 80’s Bollywood stars. Our heroes also have wives and girlfriends unintentionally reminiscent of Karishma Kapoor and Raveena Tandon in Andaz Apna Apna. Gosling and Stone share an incredible amount of chemistry but the flirtatious encounter between them makes you expect them to suddenly apparate in front of two dozen dancers and break out into a Jeetendra song. It’s all pulpy as hell, and even downright sloppy at times when O’Mara belts out paeans on law and justice, thankfully most of the mess is offset by its superb editing and fun characters. Fleischer frustratingly doesn’t devote much time to the camaraderie between the Squad members despite making a badass villain out of Penn. What we ultimately get is fun enough junk.

(First published in MiD Day)

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

42 Most Anticipated Films of 2013

It's that time of the year again to schedule your calender and arrange for your movie ticket funds.

I, for one, am looking forward to consume a hell of a lot of cinema this year. The Thor and Iron Man sequels should hopefully be fun, as would the 300 prequel and Tom Cruise's Oblivion. But below are 42 of my most anticipated titles.

42 - REC 4

The original [REC] by Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza redefined the zombie horror genre with tense, atmospheric, raw found footage thrills. They followed it up with the more action packed [REC 2] which nicely built up a twisted mythology and [REC 3]: Genesisis a quasi-prequel made by Plaza that jumps both forwards and backwards in time, and leads up to Balaguero’s finale [REC 4]. The final fifteen minutes of the first [REC] were by far the most frightening images captured on film, and it remains to be seen if the finale lives up to its expectations.

41 - The Place Beyond the Pines

After taking Cannes by storm in 2010 with the heartbreaking Blue Valentine, director Derek Cianfrance reunites with star Ryan Gosling in a Drive-esque story of a motorbike stuntman who gets embroiled in a crime. The film also stars Hangover’s Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes and Ray Liotta.

40 - Kill Your Darlings

Based on a true story, Daniel Radcliffe stars as Allen Ginsberg sucked in a bohemian lifestyle with legendary writer Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs. Somewhere in the waves of artistic  anarchy, a murder goes wrong. 

39 - No

Gael Garcia Bernal stars as an executive who created an ad campaign that dethroned Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1988. No has already earned rave reviews at film fests and is Chile’s entry for the foreign language Oscar.

38 - Reality

Director Matteo Garrone makes a return four years after his magnificent crime thriller Gomorrah with a tragicomic story of a fishmonger who slowly descends into madness after participating in the Italian version of Big Brother. 

37 - Only God Forgives

Drive director Nicholas Winding Refn and Ryan Gosling reteam for an ultraviolent and gory Thailand-set crime thriller. The posters have shown Gosling's face at the wrong end of a fist, perfectly encapsulating the plot of a Bangkok cop serving justice to a mafia boss using his hands in a boxing ring.

36 - Lesson of the Evil 

Takashi Miike has an unusual record of making films faster than you can blink, and an even more unusual record making every one of them exhilarating and shocking. His latest is a slasher film that revolves around a Japanese school teacher who doles up a sadistic plan to eradicate bullying in the country's schools - by murdering some of the kids' parents.

35 - Twelve Years a Slave

After the superb Hunger and the extraordinary Shame director Steve McQueen and Michael Fassbender are back together for a drama, this time joining forces with Brad Pitt, Benedict Cumberbatch and Paul Dano. I don't even need to know the plot to be excited about it.

34 - Simon Killer

The guys who made 2011's brilliant Martha Marcy May Marlene are back with another weird story revolving around disturbed youth - a college kid escapes to Paris after his long-term girlfriend leaves him, and he becomes romantically involved with a prostitute. However, things are not as innocuous as they seem on the surface and soon strange, twisted stuff begins to emerge.

33 - The To Do List

Aubrey Plaza blew my mind last year with the smart and hilarious Safety Not Guaranteed. The trailer for The To Do List promises an entertaining comedy, Aubrey assures you that it isn't another lame valentine's day movie with an all star cast - it's in fact a real romantic comedy with blowjobs, rimjobs, cunnilingus and back doors.   

32 - Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

Everyone's favourite bloke Joseph Gordon Levitt has joined the original cast, and the producers of this movie don't even need to market it to bring in droves of audiences. Hopefully Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez won't give in to studios and turn it into 3D.

31 - The Wolf of Wall Street

The fifth collaboration between Leo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese is set in the grimy world of corporate banking and clandestine stock exchange chicanery. The film is written by Boardwalk Empire creator Terence Winter and the supporting cast includes Jonah Hill, The Artist star Jean Duajardin and  Matthew McConaughey.

30 - Asghar Farhadi's Next

Having made masterpiece after masterpiece for nearly a decade now including the Oscar winning A Seperation, Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi for the first time ventures out of his home for a Paris-set drama. The film was originally supposed to star Marion Cotillard but now has Berenice Bejo (the girl from The Artist) in the lead role. Plot details remain scarce at this point, the only thing revealed is that it is an 'emotional socio thriller' and co stars Une Prophet actor Tahar Rahim. 

29 - Before Midnight

The story of Jesse and Celene continues 18 years after Before Sunrise and 9 years after the previous movie Before Sunset - Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy all return for what may be the big finale set in Greece.

28 - Mood Indigo

Michel Gondry made a superb return to form last year with The We and the I, and his latest is a trippy, whacky love story that involves the inventor of a cocktail-mixing piano falling in love with a girl who has a water lily growing in her chest. Starring Audrey Taotou and The Intouchables actor Omar Sy. 

27 - Breathe In 

Director Drake Doremus stormed into the scene with the heartbreaking Like Crazy, the man is back with another doomed love story - a foreign exchange student (Felicity Jones) arrives in a New York town and alters the lives of her hosts' family forever by falling in love with the man of the house.

26 - The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

The first movie failed failed to live up to its humongous expectations, largely thanks to the disappointing 48 FPS and an overlong runtime, (not that it dented its box office - it has made a billion dollars already). Hopefully Peter Jackson would offer something new and exciting in part two, in which we'll finally set our eyes on Smaug the dragon voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch. 

25 - A Hijacking (Danish)

Hailed in its reviews as a stunning thriller, this Norwegian/Danish docu-drama follows the real life hijacking of a Norway freight boat by Somalian pirates and the backstage military planning to negotiate with the pirates to free them.

24 - Captain Phillips

The other Somalian pirates thriller is a Hollywood production directed by Paul Greengrass starring Tom Hanks as the captain who was held hostage. Going by Greengrass' track record of the Bourne movies and United 93, it is safe to expect a watertight action thriller with a large helping of shaky cam.

23 - To The Wonder, or One of the Goddamn Terrence Malick Films

For a guy who is known for making a movie every fifteen years, Terrence Malick is unusually busy right now with as many as five films up his sleeve. The only one that has surfaced is the trailer of To The Wonder, which stars Ben Affleck and Rachel McAdams, and features plenty of his trademark dreamy nature shots. The only thing known about the plot is that a man on the verge of a divorce falls for a friend from his childhood in his hometown.  

22 - Don John's Addiction

In this comedy Joseph Gordon Levitt makes his directorial debut and stars as a modern day porn addicted Don Juan who receives a reality check and attempts to be less of an asshole to women. Also starring Scarlett Johansson and Julianne Moore. 

21 - Sightseers

Director Ben Wheatley grabbed us all by the balls with the awesome Kill List in 2011, and thanks to that movie he not only built a tremendous cult following but also scored a $150 million super secret sci fi epic called Freak Shift. Out of nowhere he also pulled out Sightseers, a black comedy thriller that had critics at film festivals frothing at their mouths. 

20 - The East

Director Zal Batmanglij lived up to his cool surname with the excellent indie thriller Sound of my voice last year. His writer and star Brit Marling is back in his new movie about a private detective infiltrating a mysterious cult attacking major corporations. Quite like in Sound of my voice, the hero finds his loyalty tested thanks to the cult's charismatic leader. The film also stars Ellen Page.

19 - The Grandmasters

Presumably named after its own director Wong Kar-Wai, The Grandmasters is an ultra-ambitious super duper slick action movie about IP Man, the guy who trained Bruce Lee. If the star cast of Tony Leung and Ziyi Zhang doesn’t impress you, then this trailer certainly will. It remains to be seen how well Kar-Wai handles action, since his forte is very strong character based dramas.

18 - The Nymphomaniac

The master of apocalyptic themes and horrorous sex scenes Lars Von Trier is back, this time with Shia LeBeouf in the lead role. The only plot point known at this point is that LeBeouf had to actually have sex on set for the movie.

17 - Warm Bodies

Director Jonathan Levy made me cry like a little baby in 2011 with the cancer comedy 50-50, his latest is a Zom-Com, a comedy in which a zombie falls in love with a human. Starring The Beast from X Men First Class and Teresa Palmer.

16 - Her

Spize Jonze's latest is a weird science fiction parable of how technology isolates and connects us all, in a story of a man (Joaquin Pheonix) who develops a romantic relationship with his computer's operating system. The film is Jonze's first movie since Where the wild things are and co stars Rooney Mara, Samantha Morton, Olivia Wilde, and Amy Adams.

15 - Welcome to the Punch

Welcome to the punch is a thriller about an Icelandic crime lord who arrives in the US after a botched heist, only to team up with a London detective who had been chasing him to uncover a large conspiracy. The film stars the James McAvoy and Mark Strong – Eran Creevy’s script was part of the famous Brit List. 

14 - Room 237

Tailor-made for film critics and ravenous film buffs, Room 237 is an intriguing experimental documentary that dissects and explores the dozens of theories and the hidden meanings in Stanley Kubrick’s film The Shining. The film is directed by Rodney Ascher and has received insane buzz around the festival circuits with some reviews claiming it to be a fanatical, wonderfully freaky and at times hilarious analysis.

13 - This is the End

The nature of the plot and the tone of the film is simply this: Seth Rogen and his gang star as Seth Rogen and his gang in this apocalyptic comedy where the motherfucking world ends. Either the film could be the most hilarious thing ever put on screen or an indulgent mess of self flattery, co starring James Franco, Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride and Craig Robinson as themselves.

12 - Man of Steel

It took a Chris Nolan and three of his Batman films to breathe life into the decaying superhero genre and resurrect the Superman franchise. Director Zach Snyder and Nolan team up for the suitably dark and melancholy Man of Steel that may finally make us forget Bryan Singer's horrible 2006 movie with Kevin Spacey.

11 - Star Trek Into Darkness

Benedict Cumberbatch as a villain in JJ Abram's Star Trek sequel? Sold. MOAAAR LENS FLARES!!!! 

10 - Pacific Rim

Giant Fucking Robots. Fighting Giant Fucking Monsters. Rocket Punch. From director Guillermo Del Toro. That is all.

9 - Prisoners

Hugh Jackman stars as a small-town carpenter who takes law into his own hands after his young daughter and her best friend are kidnapped and the police fail to find them. The plot isn't the big selling point as much as the fact that it is directed by Dennis Villeneuve who made the masterpiece Incendies in 2010.

8 - Rush

Directed by Ron Howard, Rush chronicles the bitter rivalry between glamorous Formula 1 drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda in the 70's, leading up to the famous 1976 Japanese Grand Prix that decided the championship. The film stars Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl, and is written by Peter Morgan who was responsible for the screenplays of Skyfall, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Last King of Scotland and The Queen.

7 - The World's End

Edgar Wright's big finale to his 'Blood and ice cream trilogy' reunites Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and the pack of Paddy Cosdine, Martin Freeman and Eddie Marsan. The apocalyptic comedy may or may not be better than Seth Rogen's This is the End but it sure as hell bring Wright back in the spotlight after the failure of Scott Pligrim. 

6 - Upstream Color

Shane Carruth's follow up to his indecipherable cult favourite Primer is an even more bizarre science fiction story of a man and a woman who fall in love but become entangled in the life cycle of an ageless organism. If that doesn't make much sense, have fun dissecting the gorgeous trailer.


Four years in the making, TPB-AFK is a documentary about The Pirate Bay and its founders - chronicling the birth of the website in 2003 all the way through to 2013 covering the numerous court cases. Director Simon Klose received financial support from various anonymous groups on the internet and major broadcasters including the BBC, a remarkable feat for a film that will be released online for free.

4 - Stoker

With a resume that reads The Vengeance Trilogy, Thirst and I'm a Cyborg but that's ok, Korean maestro Park Chan wook makes his English language debut with Stoker - a strange tale of a man (Matthew Goode) who after his brother’s death moves in to stay with his niece (Mia Wasikowska) and her mentally unstable mother (Nicole Kidman). The trailer does a good job of setting up the suspense without giving too much away.

3 - Gravity

Alfonso Cuarón’s long gestating science fiction movie stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as two astronauts stranded in space. Gravity is supposedly an ultra-ambitious mostly-silent film and is being made with some allegedly revolutionary technology that is more immersive than anything we’ve seen before. As per Guillermo del Toro, “they are absolutely pushing a new boundary in filmmaking, completely mind-blowing”. Perhaps like in Cuarón’s Children of Men this film will be a bunch of shots digitally stitched together to look like one continuous take. The plot itself is very intriguing – two people floating in space after their shuttle is destroyed, leaving them tethered to nothing but each other and spiraling out into the blackness with a slackening supply of oxygen.

2 - Elysium

It's been three years since Neil Blomkamp exploded in our faces with the stunning District 9. His latest is an even more visionary and ambitious futuristic science fiction action thriller starring Matt Damon as an ex-con who rises up against a villainous corporate empire to save mankind. If that gun and mech assisted hand in the above pic is anything to go by, we're in for some heavy duty entertainment.   

1 - Snow Piercer

After having made precisely three incredible films Memories of Murder, The Host, Mother back home, South Korean director Bong Joon Ho takes on a big budget science fiction actioner by collaborating with fellow countryman Park Chan Wook. Snow Piercer is based on a popular French graphic novel and is set in a future where an experiment to stop global warming has gone awry and the only human survivors on the planet are the ones on a train that cuts through the snow engulfed Earth. The film stars Chris Evans, Jamie Bell, John Hurt, Tilda Swinton, Ed Harris and South Korea's Song Kang-ho. 

Honorable Mentions: Danny Boyle's TranceSide Effects (Supposedly Steven Soderbergh's last film), Kick Ass 2 starring Jim Carrey, The Great Gatsby with Leo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire, Ridley Scott's The Counselor

Guilty Pleasures: GI Joe 2, The Tomb (starring Schwarzenegger and Stallone), Passion (de Palma's Lesbian drama with Noomi Rapace and Rachel McAdams),