Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Blu Ray Review: The Lego Movie

This movie cannot be quantified in a simple review because it is one of the most enjoyable films I have ever seen. There are Batman, Superman, Gandalf, Dumbledore, Wonder Woman and Shaquille O Neal fighting together in this film. And Bert Macklin is the hero who leads them all. Superman and Green Lantern are voiced by Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill respectively. The former superhero is too cool to hang out with the latter. This is one of the, if not the most gorgeous film ever made. The animation is groundbreaking - the Lego Characters move in Lego motion, and they have different frame rates than their backdrops.

There is a Lego ocean in the film and it’s a landmark in CGI. The ocean is a vast collage of blue Lego blocks that flow individually to give the illusion of water. Insane. The film is so engrossing, imaginative and supercharged it feels like being inside a Lego game that a kid is playing with. You won’t believe this until you see it. Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the makers of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and 21 Jump Street are comedy geniuses. They really get hipster culture and are the only filmmakers to have internet memes and hipster culture jokes instead of pop culture references that are found in most movies. 

Lord and Miller are also the kings of satire. The self-parodying comedy of the film is bone crushingly hilarious. The film has a song titled ‘Everything is awesome’ that pokes fun at generic pop songs in kids’ films, and it slowly, somehow becomes catchy in itself. This film has a severely awesome resolution of the centuries old hero-villain conflict that you will never see coming. Despite the constant laughs, the dazzling visuals and the thrilling action the film’s greatest strength is its charming, surprisingly deep and thoughtful story.

On Blu Ray the experience is still amazing. The quality of the animation is top class and the transfer from film to DVD is stunning. If you liked the film in theaters the animation on Blu Ray on your TV will blow you away even more. The special features include director and star commentaries, behind the scenes outtakes and a cool little 'bricks eye view' of Emmet's adventures. Well worth the price. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Review: Begin Again

Back in 2006 John Carney gifted us the super romantic Once. The film went on to win an Oscar for best song and turned people (read: me) into weepy romantics with its winningly moving tone. Eight years later Carney is back with Begin Again which, surprisingly, is also brilliant despite Carney jumping from his indie roots to the mainstream space.

Begin Again follows the same structure of Once where two broken people meet over music and develop a strong bond, unsure of whether it’s love or infatuation, or sheer coincidence. In this case Mark Ruffalo is superbly cast as a drunken, divorced, down and out formerly famous music producer who gets fired from his job, and meets the ultimate musician and ticket to recovery in the form of Keira Knightley. The two jam over the music they create and tumble into each others’ lives, often reflecting over their pasts. Yes it’s the exact same formula as Once, but it sure as hell is beautifully played out.

This film is gorgeous. It’s pure unadulterated romance. Not manipulative romanticised bullshit like Nicholas Sparks, but real romance. There's also a tinge of dysfunctionality thrown in, and both aspects are fleshed out extremely well. Whether you’re on a date, or watching it with friends, or seeing it alone, Begin Again lifts you up and sways you around. A large credit credit goes to the awesome soundtrack that ranges from bittersweet chords to Arcade Fire style hipster pop-rock. The songs themselves are scattered throughout the film like in a Bollywood movie, but they serve a purpose within the narrative. I’ll leave it to you to discover why the songs were placed in the film, but I can tell you it’s a fun, and a rather hilarious plot device.

The swell writing and direction would not have mattered without the excellent cast. Ruffalo continues to prove his range, and he just disappears into his character – he’s hilarious in the funny scenes, and likable in the tough ones. It’s ballsy of him to not be a movie star and be a character instead. Knightley, who isn’t known much for her acting chops exudes one too many emotions at times but is still pretty good, even relatable. The people in this movie are real, not contrived 'movie people'. It's what makes the film honest and organic. The film also does a good job of not being preachy about relationships, and ends on the most perfect note. Seeing it once is just not enough, so by the time you’re done reading this I’ll already be at the movie theater, ready for the experience to begin again.

(First published in MiD Day)

Saturday, July 12, 2014

10 Reasons why you should watch Dawn of the Apes

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is, quite simply, one of the best, if not the best film I’ve seen this year. So instead of a review I’ll give you ten quick reasons why you should rush to your nearest theater to catch it.

1) The sequel improves over the already decent Rise of the Planet of the Apes in every single way. It looks better, is written with much more nuance, directed with much more confidence and even cast better.

2) This is not just a cash grab Hollywood sequel. There is actual character development in the film, and at most times it doesn’t even feel like a Hollywood blockbuster – it is much more than that.

3) The motion capture CGI is a technological breakthrough. Every drop of water on every follicle of hair on the apes is stunning. Their eyes are mesmerizing. Their movements and the level of realism are jaw dropping. They’re in fact much more real than actual reality.

4) There has never ever been a character like Caesar in cinema. This is a CGI anti hero who commands more screen presence and expressive nuance than the human actors in the film. To think that a computer graphics rendered entity is better fleshed out than actual actors is mind boggling.

5) The film is more about the apes than about the humans. But this is not a national geographic documentary – this is a stunning character based drama that somehow manages to make the apes interesting.

6) In a movie featuring apes there is actual conflict between the characters. Conflict between the apes, between the apes and the humans, and between the human themselves. The friction between Caesar and his lieutenant Koba is epic.

7) There is a good dose of action. But there is a bigger dose of emotional plotting as well. You feel for the apes. A couple of scenes could even make you cry, and you won’t believe you’re wiping your tears for apes.

8) Matt Reeves’ direction is glorious to behold. His control over the material is solid.

9) Michael Giacchino’s music is hair raising and powerful. Even in the big dramatic scenes, or in a scenario where there is a lot of noise, the music is subtle, which makes it sort of unique.

10) This is clearly the best sequel since The Dark Knight, and dare I say, as good. It’s best enjoyed in 2D, on the biggest possible screen that you can find.

(First published in MiD Day)

Friday, July 11, 2014

Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

When it was announced that Hollywood was rebooting Planet of the Apes, no one had any interest. No one wanted to see an action movie featuring monkeys. It looked truly stupid in Tim Burton 2001 movie and there was slim chance of improvement. But then Rupert Wyatt’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes came along, and it turned out to be a surprisingly well made film. It wasn’t just an origin story, it was a layered, and at times moving film with an ape named Caesar as the (anti)hero.

And if you liked the first film, and thought there was no need of a sequel, or assumed there was no way a sequel could be any better than part one, I have five words for you: prepare to be blown away.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is an incredible, astonishing achievement. The easiest, laziest simile to describe it would be to say it is the best sequel since The Dark Knight, but it IS that. It rendered in me the same maddening, crystalline pure cinematic thrill as that movie. You don’t need to read anything else about the movie before you see it, but proceed further to know why I need Caeser’s poster and director Matt Reeves’ autograph at the earliest.  

Generally a Hollywood sequel is an attempt to steal some money from your wallet – there is little effort involved in the filmmaking and tons of money thrown in marketing. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is not that kind of a sequel. This movie was made by a bunch of ballsy people who decided to give you a special moment at the cinema.

Right from the opening scene featuring a close up shot of Caesar’s eyes, it becomes clear that this is not a standard issue action movie. It’s different in style and tone compared to its predecessor, and there is a tense, powerful surge of emotion throughout its narrative. The first fifteen minutes feature no dialogues – director Reeves weaves through the narrative smoothly, establishing that it’s been ten years since the previous film, the humans are dead, and the Apes have colonized the world. We follow Caesar’s life as the leader of the apes. We’re introduced to the other characters in his colony like his son River, his lieutenant Rocket, his advisor Koba, his friend Maurice and Rocket’s son Ash. I remember these characters and their names, because that’s how attention grabbing this film’s narrative is.  

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There is plenty of great, gritty action, but a hell of a character based journey to get to it. The script by writers Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver and Mark Bomback contains rich, emotional character development, and actual conflict between the characters. Conflict not just between the humans and apes, but between the apes themselves as well as within the humans. Every single character in the film, be it ape or human, carries weight. And the sum total of the weight falls upon the shoulders of Caesar. There is social commentary and political themes in the film garnished so well you’ll start to wonder why this movie about apes is so smart and layered. If that doesn’t shock you enough, I’ll have you know that a scene featuring a father and son ape will move you to tears. Big manly tears.

That feat would never have been possible without the insane special effects by Weta. I don’t recall the names of the humans in the film, but I can tell you what every ape in the film looks and sounds like. The motion capture is so incredibly detailed the apes exude more nuance than the human actors. When an ape character feels betrayal, or loss, or anger, or pain, you feel for the ape. Caesar’s ascension in this film is epic, to say the least. There are many shots of Caesar that feel iconic, and Andy Serkis who plays Caesar in a mocap suit gets the subtlest of simian moves dead on. Watch the behind the scenes YouTube videos of the movie and you’ll know Serkis’ performance in this film is the reason why the Academy needs to revise its rules on Oscar nominations.

The human actors are impeccably cast too – Jason Clarke feels completely natural as the bridge between the apes and the humans. Whether it’s Gary Oldman or Keri Russel or Kodi Smit-McPhee, none of the actors seem like ‘actors’, they all serve a purpose in the story and they’re embellished into the film rather than ‘acting’ in it. The terrific CGI, direction and acting are only elevated by the immersive sound design and Michael Giacchino’s haunting music that makes the dramatic scenes subtly powerful.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is better than its predecessor in every single way. It’s a truly great science fiction film, and certainly one of the best motion pictures of the year. It reminds you why you go to the theaters to see movies, and convinces you that the future of summer blockbusters is in Reeves’ good hands.

(First published in Firstpost)