Movie Review: Amazing Spider-Man2

I am a sucker for superhero movies. I rarely ever dislike them. So, my reviews are unabashedly biased in their favour. More often than not.

But this time, that’s not the case. Because Amazing Spider-Man is not really a super-hero movie. It’s a Romtion movie. I am not sure if I am coining a new term. But what I mean is that AS-2 is a romance drama disguised or wrapped up as an action movie.

Why do I say so?

A big part of the movie is dedicated to Peter’s estranged (and non-existent) relationship with his parents who left him at his uncle/aunt’s doorsteps, his maturing relationship with Aunt May, his on and off and on and off romance with Gwen Stacy, a confused friend (Harry Osborn), a distraught fan (Electro/ Max) and life in New York. Somewhere in there is a bit of a thriller plot about what’s really going on at Oscorp, the power politics, the hidden secret projects, a dying Norman Osborn, and so on. And somewhere towards the end, are a few well choreographed action sequences. And a mechano-Rhino.

Should that matter?

Not quite. A the Dark Knight taught us, Superhero movies can be as much about heroic action as they can be about the internal conflicts, the moral tussles and great character depth.

Is AS-2 that then?

No. The movie drags on for most part.

So, what went wrong?

While Peter’s story has always been the conflict between his personal sacrifices and the greater good, one wonders whether the construct is stretched too thin. Next, the adversaries. In the spiderman arc, most of his archnemesis have a human side too, whether its Otto Octavius or Norman Osborn. So is the case of Max/ Electro this time. However, unlike the other instalments, Max does not ring a strong connect this time round, and his self-obsessed insecurity complex works only because Jamie Foxx desperately tries to pull it off. Jamie Foxx is wasted as Electro, even as he shines as Max. Harry Osborn on the other hand is blah, at the best.

Andy Garfield, I think, is a finer spiderman, with a little more of the spidey charisma and humor quotient than Tobey Maguire. And he plays the conflicted yet responsible Spidey very well. Emma Stone seems continuously clearheaded about not having too many expressions, but is probably still an improvement over Kirsten Dunst in the looks department. Jamie Foxx, in his effort to make Electro credible, makes a worse caricature of himself than Suniel Shetty. Dane DeHaan shows promise as Harry, only to make it a rather unfulfilled one by the end of it as the new Green Goblin.

One expects long shots and droolworthy action sequences. And when they are there, they are as good as any that you’ve seen. But they are fewer.

The editing leaves a lot to be desired.

And before I forget, James Jonah Jameson has no role this time. How could you Webb?

 

Net net – the movie did not work for me. Slower pace, confused positioning on the dark side for a rather clean super hero, lack of action, and not so awesome electric adversaries.

 

 

Movie Review: American Hustle

As a child, my trips back to my native village involved a 2 hours+/ 40+kms leg on the narrow gauge train connecting the railhead of Darbhanga with the interiors of Darbhanga and Madhubani. On this leg, there would be vendors selling eatables that I’d not find elsewhere. Like – 12 masala 13 swaad (12 spices 13 flavors). It was a collection of 13 candies (the tiny hard candies, the most famous of them being the orange candies that most of us would have had as kids) – with the first 12 being individually flavored and colored, and the thirteenth being a mixed flavor (almost the equivalent of garam masala)!

I watched American hustle with a lot of expectations. The star cast seemed intriguing, and so did the setup. And the movie is 12 masala 13 swaad.

This year’s oscar battle now has two stark black comedies. Set in the 70s, the movie about two cons, Bale and Adams, caught and further enlisted by FBI agent Cooper, to bring down several congressmen, mayor and the mafia. Lawrence plays Bale’s wife (referred to as the Picasso of Passive Agressive Karate) in an interestingly complex marriage. Because thats what they do. They fight and they fuck.

AH1The movie is hilarious, and the drama perfect. The actors are brilliant. The cinematography realistic. The script average. There are many flaws, but they don’t matter so much, when the entertainment value is so high.

Renner is the Mayor, of italian descent, who is trying to do a lot for New Jersey, and Bale and Cooper set up a sting operation to nab him and others. How this entire operation unfolds, and what it means for the Adams – Bale relationship, the facades of each character, and the layers underneath that, the unfinished ice-fishing tale,  the conclusion- thats what its all about. Its a savory delight, and you have to relish it.

The movie’s opening shot, involving bale’s comb over, is a quirkily funny moment which sets the context for whats coming our way. Bale is in good form throughout the movie, having put on a significant amount of weight and a paunch to fit the role. Amy adams is delightful as Edith/ Sydney, and brings oodles of deceit, sexiness and vulnerability to the character. I haven’t seen silver linings, so this was my first real exposure to Jennifer Lawrence. And boy of boy! Is she brilliant in this one? She is a rockstar in this movie, and probably some of the most hilarious moments of the movie ride on her. Renner and Bradley ooper are good foils, but are heavily overshadowed by the three in top form.

The other piece thats near perfect is the contextual setting, right with the get ups and the hotels and the neighborhoods, to the language and the dialogues. The incident was semi-ready-made, but the treatment is what makes the movie is a joy. There seems to be a new trend in the US where the revisit to the retros is the new new. Probably given a shot in the arm by Mad men.

What did not work for me is the oversimplified plot and the corresponding plotholes. Some of the con jobs that are pulled off are too simplistic. Makes you wonder if the folks at the receiving end were that naive back then. Maybe. Maybe not, because the focus of the movie seems to be the stylistic narrative, the subtle and not-so-subtle humor, definitely not the script.

The movie does keep you glued and thoroughly entertained, and one can see why it would be one of the favorites for the oscars. Enjoy it. And while I saw the screener version (and hence the uncut version), I am sure the deleted scenes from this movie wont affect the movie as much as the deleted scenes of Wolfie did.

Movie Review: The Wolf of Wall Street

Wolfie! Wolfie! Wolfie! Wolfie!! Woohoo!

Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) simplifies the uberpaced life on the wall street by showing how to create a pump-and-dump “trading” business  with a bunch of no-gooders, and in the process, snorting his and many others’ way to a big money, decadent lifestyles, wine women drugs and glory.

The story of Jordan Belfort is out there, in his own words, for those who want to read it. The penny-stock-broker-swindler-sales-guru, has been the subject of two movies now, and is the inspiration for many, I’d think. His was a life of excesses. And hence, it makes for great storytelling. The exaggerated sex, drugs and money – its all interesting. Its an anti-hero, and like most sinful guilty pleasures, there is joy in rooting for the perceived villain who seems to be winning all the time. In a way, Belfort represents our own deeper darker desires.

Back to the movie, the stamp of Scorcese is there, and the movie is undeniably funny almost all throughout. The narration in some of the serious moments of movie can make you fall off the chair, especially scenes like the one where Jordan crawls to his car after ODing on Lemmons 714. The cast is super-awesome, with Donnie (Jonah Hill) worth a million bucks, and Max Belfort, Brad, Rugrat and others adding to almost every scene’s worth. Matthew McConaughey in a short cameo is great fun.

DiCaprio pulls off another oscar-nomination-worthy performance. Though, I often got a feeling of a repeat. A feeling that I had seen this act before. That over-emphasized dialogue delivery, those expressions. I didn’t see anything new.

The best thing about the movie is the clarity with which each of the part-characters is developed. You can’t but not notice how the decadent soullessness of Jordan and Donnie is different from that of others like Rugrat, Pinhead, Chester and Brad.

The downer of the movie is its length. At a full 3 hours, with about 150 minutes of drugs, profanity, and zoned out conversations, there are several times when the movie seems to be stretching thin. The dragged out relationship with Naomi, the multiple identical looking scenes on the trading floor, etc. slow the movie down. There is also an overdose of the overdose. The drugs seem to be the central prop running throughout the movie. Naomi could have been a good counterfoil, but she is not.

The chopped off scenes might have made me understand the movie a little differently, but nevertheless. Wolfie is shameless fun to watch, and Belfort is that poster that you’d want to but will never put on the wall.

I’d go with a 4 on 5 for this one.

 

 

Movie Review: 47 Ronin

To say 47 Ronin is good – would be wrong. TO say 47 Ronin is bad – wouldn’t be right either.

There are three things that you expect from a Samurai movie –

1. Major philosophical discourse about pride and honour. Check.

2. Lots of high quality sword fight sequences. Not Check.

3. High quality art of war kinda strategy. Not check.

So, 1 on 3. That should be bad. What makes it worse is the unwanted element of Tengu (demon) forests and shapeshifting witches. And a Keanu Reeves who’s shuffling with Matrix part trois and Constantine. He talks in a laboriously husky voice, and an air of mystique. Not required.

ImageSo, in short, the movie doesn’t quite deliver what I had expected it to deliver. And hence, it’s a bad movie.

So, what makes me take a somewhat neutral stand? The production values are slick. Some of the cinematography is top class. The short but sweet action sequence towards the end is very well done.

The movie is long. There is no need for you to go for the 3D version on this one.  I would recommend that you skip this one. If you want an alternate recommendation, I’d go with 13 Assassins, or Red Cliff.

Movie Review: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Ben Stiller- you surprised me on this one. Excellent performance. Absolutely wonderful.

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In a simple way, the movie is an underdog story of sorts. Look at it another way, its a movie of self discovery. Walter, a negative asset manager at the Life magazine, is a witty, charming, world saving guy, all in his head. In reality, he is a general nobody, who has a habit of zoning out at key moments into the secret life. That is, until he finds himself on a journey to recover a negative, the number 25, that must be the cover of the last edition of LIfe.

Ben is astoundingly brilliant as Walter, and adds a level of comic timing and maturity to his role that i haven’t associated with him so far. For me, he has always been a bit of a goofball, who does movies like Meet The Fockers, or A Night At The Museum. SLOWM is not a goofy comedy. Its a pleasant and nice movie, with some hilariously comic moments that are not antics backed, but are script and screenplay backed. However, the part that impressed me more is when Walter Mitty is being the real Walter and not the subconcious one. Down to his pocket notebook, where he keeps his expenses, or replies in a matter of fact way that he chose Yemen as his route because of the $84 airfare.

The rest of the cast is fairly average, with the exception of the three minutes of Sean Penn. “When I like something, personally, myself, I stay in it. I find the camera to be a distraction.” The love interest, the sister, the mother, the colleagues, the transition manager, etc etc etc. – all of them are strictly average. But, such is the towering presence of Ben Stiller in the movie, that you dont mind these props.

The movie has some breathtaking cinematography. If there was ever to be made a case for Greenland, Iceland and Afghanistan as a tourist destination, this movie is one. Some of the shots are breathtaking. And the shots of Iceland before the eruption of the volcano are picture perfect.

Its a taut, nice and fluid movie, and and an immensely enjoyable one. A heartearming tale. I would go with a 3.5 on 5 for this one. Go watch it.

Zero Dark Thirty – Entertaining Without Being SuperHeroic

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I  had a lot of apprehensions about watching this movie. For one, I was afraid of super-heroics. Second, it could a little too loaded on the American vantage point, and how they’ve figured out everything too easily, and hence, a little too biased. Third,  if neither of the above, then a boring docu-drama. Fourth, making it seem too either too profound or too easy.

My point is that there are so many reasons I may not have liked the content of the movie. And with all those apprehensions, the movie was sitting comfortably on the queue, giving space to the others. (Note: The last Oscar movie pending for me is Amour after this. And I still think its between Lincoln and Argo. Though Argo may win because of overcompensation)

Last night, the biwi insisted, and I agreed to take the plunge.

The movie runs for about two and a half hours (which is long), but is not boring. It’s very well paced, except for the probably the first five ten minutes as your mind settles into the rhythm. Watching a serious movie at home is different from watching it in a theater. Home has too many distractions to offer. Including the typical neo-urban habit of checking twitter, email ad facebook updates. So, does that mean score one for ZDT? Yes.

The movie, thankfully, doesn’t do too much of either of the problems I might have had. It shows the evil side of the pursuit, as well as the personal side. The tortures, the loneliness (“do you have any friend?” moment), the contrived judgement calls, the references to Iraq WMD fiascos. It’s detailed to the extent of being a documentary, heroic enough to seem like a victory, and yet does not go too crazy. It does not glorify anything, apart from the need for the job to be done. It’s a single minded (almost entirely fact based) retelling of the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, and Maya’s (Jessica Chastain) focused pursuit of the most dreaded terrorist, with that one solitary important lead. The approximations make you wonder if it really happened, and whether one fine morning, we won’t again see a videotape of Osama Bin Laden. And therein, to me, is the biggest success of Katheryn Bigelow and Mark Boal’s work.

Jessica Chastain starts of as an unlikely choice for being the centerpiece of this movie, but she is top grade. It’s very difficult to not come out of this movie and not root for as a top choice for best actress. The others needed to be good/adequate, and they all are. Jason Clarke is impressive though.

The ending makes you feel a little cheated, but its bound to happen in such movies. And as I mentioned, the movie is not really about heroics.

If you have time this weekend, do enjoy this one. I won’t go out on a limb supporting this for best picture like I would for Lincoln. But it’s a super fine movie. Loved it.

Where do I rate it? Probably, a 4 on 5.

 

(Image source: Boingboing.net)

Movie Review: Lincoln is intense, awesome, and gripping

When I started watching Lincoln this weekend, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. All I knew was that the movie was centered around the Thirteenth Amendment – which led to the abolition of slavery of colored folks/ blacks in America.

The movie starts with a scene from the civil war, somewhere after the Emancipation Proclamation signed by Lincoln and his famous  Gettysburg Addressthat we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth. And quickly jumps forward to the point where Lincoln has been re-elected (1865) and his first term is nearing an end. It is at this stage that he decides to pursue the passing of the Thirteenth Amendment in the House of Representatives with all his energy, strength of character and conviction, and guile behind it.

The movie does a brilliant job of representing the three facets of Lincoln – the President, the lawyer, and the personal family side. The quality of reasoning, as you’d witness in some of the scenes (with Seward, Stanton, Stephens, Yeaman, Beasley, and others) can  be appreciated way better when you notice the next moment of deep agony and self doubt he has as a father and a husband. The iron hand that deals with the matters of the nation is as weak as any father’s hand when it comes to a quasi-rebellious son who wants to enlist. His relationship with his wife Mary is handled delicately, yet adequately. Daniel Day Lewis brings to life one of the most respected historical figures for not just America, but across the world. As Grant observes – By outward appearance, you’re ten years older than you were an year ago. To which Lincoln replies – Some weariness has bit at my bones.

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There is a scene where the attack at Fort Sumter has started and after an inordinately excessive amount of shelling the Fort still is holding up. Waiting for the final confirmation to arriveStanton Is all worked up. And that’s the moment Lincoln chooses to launch into another of his trademark stories. Stanton – “I don’t believe… that I can bear … to listen to another one of your stories right now!” Ah! The moment.

The other standout performances in the movie – Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens is funny as well as deeply relatable. The scene where he holds himself back while absolutely humiliating Wood and Pendleton– “How can I hold that all men are equal, when here before me stands, stinking the moral carcass of the gentleman from Ohio, proof that some men are inferior, endowed by their maker with dim wits, impermeable to reason with cold pallid slime in their veins instead of hot red blood…. So low and flat that the foot of man is incapable of crushing you!”

Stevens sums up the story – “The greatest measure of the nineteenth century, passed by corruption, aided and abetted by the purest man in America”. I was hoping that the movie won’t conclude the way it did, for I did not want to be reminded of the folly of men that leads to assassinations.

The screenplay and dialogues are absolutely impeccable. While the creators might have had it easy with several documented records of what was said on several occasions (speeches and what nots), it’s thir ability to create those moments and the set pieces that lead to those conversations. What elevates the movie further is the acting and the camera work. I am reminded of Side by Side,  and I have a feeling that this movie is shot on film, and not on digital. All the actors have pulled out their finest – Sally Field as the mother, David Straithorn as Seward, Joseph Gordon-Levitt in that tiny role as Bob, James Spader as Bilbo and Bruce Mcgill as Stanton.

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As the preacher said, I could write shorter sermons but once I start, I get too lazy to stop. – Lincoln to his Cabinet

I can go on and on and on about why should watch this movie. But the short of it is that you MUST WATCH this movie. This is the kind of movie that gets my 5* rating.

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