Thursday, May 29, 2014

Movie Review: The Raid 2

The Raid 2 was not a movie. It was a fine dining restaurant tended by a single waiter-cum-cook named Gareth Evans. Following are the events that transpired when I took a seat.

Gareth Evans: Hello sir. Welcome to The Raid 2, your one stop destination for ass kickery, mayhem and guilty pleasures.

Me: Hello. What’s on the menu?

Evans: Have you visited our previous restaurant The Raid Redemption?

Me: Oh yes, I loved it. Is this one better?

Evans: You bet your ass sir. The previous one was a tasty quick snack, this is a more expansive seven course menu. But you’ll have to wait a bit for the dishes to be prepared. I assure you it’s worth the wait.

Me: Right on. What do you recommend I start with?

Evans: We have a splendid prison fight to kick things off. It’s delicious and it’s appetizing because it gives you just a hint of what’s to come.

Me: Splendid.

Evans: We’ll follow it up with an insane rainy mud fight featuring three dozen extras.

Me: Can you do it in a single take?

Evans: Oh sure. Single takes are our specialty. You won’t believe it until you taste it.

Me: Cool. These are just the starters?

Evans: They’re meatier than most other whole courses, and you’ll be drooling for more. We’ll follow those up with two spicy items named Baseball Batman and Hammer Girl.

Me: Rad names!

Evans: They’re as awesome as their names. It’s too bad they’ll be over soon and you can’t ask for more!

Me: Do you have chase sequences? I would like to have one train and one car.

Evans: You got it sir. In fact the car chase is so good it will make you scream Holy Hastamaithun! And it’s not easy shaky cam cheating, it’s the real thing and it’s bloody good.

Me: Sounds cool. I loved Mad Dog the previous time. Can I get some more?

Evans: A different version of Mad Dog will be served, with double the butt bashing.

Me: Ok I’m gonna go ahead and order something outrageous just to see if you oblige. I want slicing, dicing, one kitchen fight, three corridor fights, four executions and six villains. And snow in Indonesia. 

Evans: You’ll get much more than all that sir.

Me: Can.. can I also have a shotgun blast to the face?

Evans: * Smiles and nods *

Me: Gasp. How much do you think the censors will chop off before you serve this menu to me?

Evans: Sir as you know ball busting is against Indian culture, but this time the censors only chopped off nudity.

Me: I’m ok with that. Bring me the food!

Evans nods and walks back, picks up a knife, and smiles devilishly while slowly closing the kitchen curtain.

(First published in Mid Day)

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Movie Review: X Men DOFP

Ah, finally. A great X Men movie. It took them long enough. First Class was fun, but it wasn’t great. Days of Future Past is great. I think it’s the best X Men movie I’ve seen. It brings back the nostalgia of X1 and the magic of X2, and makes you forget about every other movie made in the canon. 

The first X Men came at a time when the superhero genre was in limbo and no one really expected anything better than Batman and Robin. It was fresh, classy and it defied expectations. That is what Days of Future Past does – director Bryan Singer makes a grand return and cleans up the mess made by Brett Ratner (X3) and the studio (Wolverine).

The story picks up immediately after the events of the previous Wolverine film. The ‘present’ X Men are under attack by an unstoppable force called The Sentinels. To cover their asses Professor X and Magneto team up to send Wolverine back in time and change the event that help create the Sentinels. It’s a clichéd time travel plot but there’s too much fun to be had to let it bother you.

For one, the pacing is intense. There’s no time wastage and brooding - you’re thrown right into the action from scene one, and from then on it’s a non-stop marathon from one glorious action set piece to the next. Plus there’s the bonus of seeing the old X Men back in action. They’re all back – old X, Magneto, Storm, Shadowkat, Colossus, Iceman, along with the folks from the past including young X, Magneto, Mystique, Beast and a host of newcomers. But thanks to Singer’s solid direction the barrage of characters don’t feel cluttered (like in the recent Spiderman movie)  - they’re all given an emotional heft and some seriously cool action scenes.

The Sentinals eye candy is epic but that would have been useless with bad acting. The love hate bromance between X and Magneto is itself worth the price of admission. Both James McAvoy and Fassbender are pretty awesome while arguing, and Wolverine’s muted snark is as usual fun. Jennifer Lawrence continues to validate why she’s the biggest contemporary movie star by kicking ass. There’s a fantastic scene where the humans suddenly discover mutants prowling around them – it’s shot in cinema verite style and renders a really gritty layer to the sequence.

After seeing a glimpse of him in Captain America 2 I had doubts about the X-Men version of Quicksilver. Surprisingly, the best part of Days of Future Past is Quicksilver. I’m not going to spoil anything, but there’s a sequence where Quicksilver demonstrates his power – it’s hilarious and it’ll blow you away. Unfortunately Quicksilver goes away too soon, I wish they’d used more of him. A minor complaint I have with this film is the chief villain Bolivar Trask is mostly inconsequential. Peter Dinklage is fine in the role but we’re never told why the character hates mutants and why he’s executing his plans.

I could have awarded this movie four stars, I really wanted to. But I have to subtract half a star for one big reason. The 3D. It’s awful. It’s one of the worst examples of 3D I’ve ever experienced. It’s The Last Airbender level terrible. I’m not sure whether this was the problem with the movie or the glasses or the theater I watched it in, but I’d recommend you see the movie only in 2D, or don’t see it at all. It’s sad that irritating 3D gets in the way of a good movie. I wish I could send Wolverine back in time to stop 3D movies from being made.

(First published in Mid Day

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Movie Review: Godzilla

Are you expecting a sequel to Transformers featuring a blaring parade of CGI razzle-dazzle with shots cutting every two seconds? Are you expecting a sequel to Pacific Rim where Kaijus constantly battle against one another? Are you expecting just another dumb hollow tentpole blockbuster where the only point is smashing New York to smithereens?

Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla is not any of those kinds of movies.

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.

We have a young Lieutenant (Aaron Taylor Jonhson) stuck on the road with his scientist dad (Bryan Cranston) who is obsessed with finding ‘something secretive’ in Japan. Turns out they do end up finding that secret and all hell breaks loose. That’s all you need to know about the story, and the lesser trailers you’ve seen the better. The rest of it is a collection of clichés including the worried nurse wife, the kid in danger, the daddy issues, the works.

But it’s how well Edwards uses the clichés in the film that will surprise you. A crazed overemotional scientist? Believable, because it’s freaking Bryan Cranston playing the character. Military procedures? Immersive, because Edwards stages the scenes with some seriously impressive knack of building tension. Our young hero is the expressive and likable Aaron Johnson and not Shia Le Beouf so you do tend to give a few shits about what happens to him. And when the big guy finally arrives he literally stomps upon every cliché and complaint of yours with his ginormous foot.

No seriously, Godzilla’s entry is epic. I had a surgical stent in my body while watching the film and I still clapped and cheered loudly when Gojira showed up. He’s fucking huge. He’s a badass mofo. Edwards knows that Godzilla is the guy to cheer for, not be mindlessly afraid of. He turns the monster into a superhero in a rather awesome scene where introspective Japanese scientist Ken Watanabe exclaims ‘Let the monsters fight!’

And the battle scenes are terrific. The scale is massive, the CGI is super detailed and the Kaiju artwork is really fucking cool. The 3D isn’t the best, but the super wide shots are superbly choreographed to show how puny humans are, and you’ll get the best experience in 2D. There’s a sequence involving a freight train that’ll leave you frothing, and the military halo jump seen in the trailers is even more amazing on the big screen.

There’s absolutely no comedy in the entire film because it’s not trying to be a comedy. The tone remains consistent – pure tension from start to end. If you want unnecessary irritating rubbish in your summer blockbusters, Gareth Edwards has got something to say to you and smarmy hacks like Michael Bay: Kreeeaaarrghhhh.

(First published in MiD Day)

Friday, May 2, 2014

Movie Review: Metro Manila

Most times a movie has to walk the tricky tightrope between sensitivity, action, pacing, character development and social commentary. They’re all movie clichés and most movies jumble all of these elements up and they become horrible and clumsy afternoon soaps. But in some movies like Metro Manila, it all just clicks perfectly. 

A Filipino movie with British producers, Metro Manila is a neat little drama-thriller that brings a quietly artistic taste of poverty, sacrifice and desperation to a sub-genre that is disinterested in pandering to the clichés of those very elements. Screened at last year’s Sundance Film festival, Metro Manila is a thinking man’s drama thriller with a simple plot: after a factory closes down and his family is on the verge of poverty, a Filipino farmer named Oscar (Jake Macapagal) leaves his village to look for work in the city. Manila isn’t very kind to him and after a string of setbacks he finally lands a job as a guard in an armored truck company. Things look rosy on the surface but Oscar soon realizes that his chance encounter with his employer and partner Ong (John Arcilla) may be more that meets the eye. 

The film is a dark and frequently depressing tale of the ways in which acceptable violence can be expected in normal life, and it's not shy about exposing the frustrating truths about life after military service in major countries. Oscar is an ex army cadet, but has no means to support his pregnant wife and two kids despite serving his own country. We ride along with these characters and their desperate and self-destructive days, as Metro Manila makes a few stabs about the imbalance of society, the allure of easy money and the lengths to which anyone can go to earn a few coins of currency. 

The social commentary doesn’t come across as heavy-handed thanks to great performances from the leads, especially from Arcilla who plays the unreliable partner. Although not without a few melodramatic missteps and a handful of predictable moments, the film is quite intense, and not ‘Hollywood’ in any discernible way. Director Ellis also reduces the dramatic quotient to a minimum with subtle electronic music and minimalist photography. He also gets brownie points for sticking to his convictions and making an authentic Filipino film to showcase a side of the world we aren’t very familiar with. This one is a mix of a convectional action drama with the atmosphere of his horror thriller The Broken, and it sure will net the filmmaker a few new directing gigs. 

If Filipino movies were as good as Metro Manila I suspect their industry would have stayed afloat. And if this movie manages to get a wider audience through the internet, it can only be good for both the audiences and the industry. It’s up to Hansal Mehta and his star Rajkumar Rao to deliver a decent Hindi remake now.

Movie Review: The Amazing Spider-Man 2

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is much better than the first movie. 

But then we need to get into semantics, because the first movie was absolutely awful and unwatchable. This one is bigger, more colorful and more action packed, but those three things are never enough to make a film amazing.

Some things about The Amazing Spider-Man 2 made me very glad – the new costume, the improved special effects and the humor. The shots of Spidey flying through the city look really cool, and on the big screen a couple of these sequences are quite breathtaking. In the costume, Spidey himself is hilarious and cocky, just the way he is supposed to be. In Sam Raimi’ss films Tobey Maguire was a terrific Peter Parker but a very bland Spider-Man. In this reboot Andrew Garfield is an ok Parker but a terrific Spidey. He mocks and plays around with the villains, his phone ringtone is the Spiderman song, and he hitches rides for free by simply grabbing on to moving vehicles. Electro shows up earlier than expected, and his showdown with Spidey is supercharged eye candy. When Spidey zooms through the skyscrapers to catch a Russian ruffian (Paul Giamatti), you believe there’s finally a fun superhero film that isn’t in the dark-brooding zone. Soon enough, your hopes are quashed to oblivion as the ‘story’ kicks in.

Nothing in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 matters. There are three villains in the film and you could remove any of them and it wouldn’t affect the film. You could replace any of the villains with different villains and it wouldn’t affect the film. You could remove every single subplot within the film, and it would probably have a positive effect in the film. A few deaths and injuries are shown and none of them are surprising or heartfelt because nothing feels as if it’s on stake.

At this moment I have plenty of questions for director Marc Webb. In a genre where the villains are far more interesting than the hero, why would you not pay attention to building their characters? Did you not learn anything from Spider-Man 3? In an era that makes fun of movies like Batman & Robin, why would you make a movie that harks back to those laughably horrible movies? Rhino talks in a loud fake Russian accent and hams. Electro talks in an overtly emotional tone and hams. Green Goblin talks in an overtly villainous tone and hams. Spidey keeps seeing the ghost of Gwen’s dad, who hams just by looking at you. Aunt May also shows up for a subplot that doesn’t make any sense. Peter Parker is supposed to be a genius and he learns about batteries from a YouTube video. Spidey is thrown around power pylons so as to make them sound like the song ‘itsy bitsy spider’. Electro is supposed to be the centerpiece of the film, and his ‘motives’ for turning into a bad guy are so unbelievably lame it’s shocking. You’ll have to listen to the Electro theme song to understand how close the film comes to Batman & Robin.

The film is written by the magician duo of Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman who have been responsible for Transformers and a ton of other sci fi films that have terrible writing but somehow still make money. It’s like the studios have figured out a holy combination of marketing bombardment and Orci and Kurtzman’s collection of cheap thrills. Webb, being a music video veteran and the writers set out to make a string of music videos packed to look like a movie. The structure of the entire film is simply this: big action scene, followed by a pop song to the backdrop of Peter Parker-Gwen Stacy bittersweet romance. The first two times it’s nice to look at, but it happens over and over and over again until you stop caring.

We’re told about Peter’s parents in a manner that attempts to stun you with its mystery, but the mystery is so predictable you’re stunned for the wrong reasons. In a similar manner we’re told about the future of Spidey movies and the Sinister Six, but nothing more than what we learned from the trailer. Dane DeHaan might be a cheesy Green Goblin but he’s an excellent Harry Osborn, only because he’s played the same role in three earlier movies. There’s a wonderfully creepy scene where Harry meets his dying father. It’s a rare character moment, and I wish the whole film slowed down and focused on more of these. It’s what made Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 one of the best superhero films of all time.

(First published in MiD Day)