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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Lots of extra butter on my jumbo popcorn please!

How do you describe the popcorn film? Many call it a waste of time, others call it perfect entertainment.... I like to call it one of the most popular genres of cinema. Plotlines are usually disposable, any stand-out acting is a bonus and the action on screen is usually worth the price of your popcorn. An example of one of the best popcorn films ever made is 'Con Air' - it has everything - an outrageous storyline, an awesome cast and even some above-average acting. And the action is enough to get your blood pumping every time. It is an eternally watchable popcorn flick and very few make it to that top tier! This year there are some fun popcorn films on offer and no matter what people say, if you can learn to enjoy it, there is joy to be had from a fun popcorn movie. These four stand out from the pack for various reasons for me - sometimes negative buzz can be a very good thing!

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen: Before I saw Michael Bay's Transformers in 2007, I didn't know what to expect from seeing one of my favourite cartoons as a kid brought to life on the big screen. I was surprised but understood that the material lends itself quite easily to popcorn entertainment. And nobody does it better than Bay! This year's ultimate popcorn extravaganza is undoubtedly the sequel. Releasing on June 24, 2009, this second film in the franchise will feature even bigger Bay elements  - that means huge robots and huger explosions. Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox are back - always a good thing (that's Fox to the left). Throw in Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson and about 40 transforming cars into the mix - what have you got? To use the word of the moment - yea, that's right - 'Bayhem'!

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra: When this film was first announced, my childhood memories came flooding back - this was actually happening! I had owned so many of the toys, I had religiously watched the cartoon and I had always wondered what a live action G.I.Joe would be like. It became my most anticipated film for a long time.... but with a heavy heart I am forced to include it in this year's popcorn roster. It has a 7 August 2009 release, but I came across the script for this one and I couldn't resist - boy, was it a letdown! In recent years, G.I.Joe has been such a popular comic with a serious and violent tone that I, like other fans, thought that the characters would be best served if taken seriously. Unfortunately, the filmmakers seem to have decided there's too much realism going around, so it's time for a freaky military fantasy. Imagine taking the themes of the (frankly awful) cartoon, mixing in some random comic history plus dollops of lopsided humour and you'll get a fair idea of what this film is about. But it's not all bad news - you at least get to finally see Duke (Channing Tatum), General Hawk (Dennis Quaid), The Baroness (Sienna Miller), Snake Eyes (Ray Park) and Scarlett (Rachel Nichols) on screen. The cons include Marlon Wayans as Ripcord and a horrendous plot I won't get into. Of the lot, Park is brilliant casting and in a different movie could have been special (especially since they have Christopher Eccleston as Destro, Arnold Vosloo as Zartan and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Cobra Commander)....G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra feels like such a missed chance - it's simply pure 80s nostalgia that will get me to the cinema. That and I generally love popcorn cinema, so if for right now this is the best they can do, let's see it.

Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li: After the abomination that was the 90s attempt to adapt the same video game, anything this film does will be infinitely better. Now, this film has had fanboys wringing their hands in fury since it was announced as they believe movies like this are a waste of time. And video game fans want the feeling they got while twiddling the controls without realising there wasn't much to begin with. The 1994 movie to be honest, does not deserve to be called a legitimate effort in filmmaking. For those who don't remember that atrocity starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, Kylie Minogue and a host of forgettable people, it had choice quotes like - "For you, the day Bison graced your village was the most important day of your life. But for me, it was Tuesday." Ohhhh (***shivers at the memory***). What they've managed so far is to restart the franchise following the chronology of the characters and yes, taking it a tad more seriously this go-around. You've also got Smallville's Kristin Kreuk (pic), Chris Klein, Neal McDonough, Michael Clarke Duncan, Robin Shou and Moon Bloodgood to name a few. And if this does even moderately well, you might get to see other franchise characters get their own films. Unfortunately, popcorn flicks like this are very hit or miss and this one might well be coming at the wrong time (27 February) in the middle of the economic crisis. It's pretty likely it will get a cold shoulder and the Street Fighter franchise will be back in cold storage for some more years. Only time will tell!

Dragonball Evolution: If there was another film (apart from Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li) that was cursed by negative hype long before it completed filming, it's this one. These two films were declared the worst of the year before 2009 began. It's these extreme reactions that are silly - sure, we may not like how some films turn out but watch them before condemning them. And popcorn films, I generally believe, are critic-proof or they should be because they are not made for critical acclaim - it's mindless entertainment, nothing more. That being said, I can understand some of the anger - I never watched the anime series or read the manga on which this film is based, so I cannot judge how different this film looks. Obviously, if the source material meant a lot to me, seeing a mediocre adaptation would be insulting. But a little common sense goes a long way - stick with the source that you love and don't let the adaptation take away from your enjoyment of it. Sometimes the popcorn route works, sometimes it doesn't - these films need to cater to the masses, you can't recoup $100 million from fans alone. The trailer seems okay enough (some Mortal Kombat vibes - not a good thing) and it seems to be a get-what-you-expect kind of a deal. 8 April 2009 is the date for this one.

While on the subject of unusual popcorn films this year, I think I need to get started on an exhaustive list of Hollywood must-sees for 2009. Should be interesting - there are a wide variety of interesting films on offer. I'm still catching up on my must-sees of 2008, so the sooner the better with this list I think. Watch for that next!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

What could have been....

As promised these are two films that should have been something else, but wound up being missed opportunities. Why are these two in this list and not in the turkey parade? Read on to find out...

The Spirit: Anyone who loves comics will tell you Frank Miller is a visionary. Yes, he is but is he a filmmaker? A co-directing credit on Sin City is not enough to convince me - not when Robert Rodriguez is your backup. Sin City may be one of the greatest comic adaptations but not all comics can make the transition. The Spirit is a beloved comic by another visionary, Will Eisner, Miller's mentor in many ways. By virtue of having its origins in the 1940s, a lot about the character is outdated. Miller figured that by keeping what he loved about Eisner's stuff and adding some Sin City aesthetics, he could make a watchable film. Unfortunately, this movie will be a hit only with those who love the 1960s Batman and The Green Hornet - it wears over-the-top like a morning jacket and campiness like a badge of honour. Was it a wasted effort? Not if it taught Miller that he has a lot to learn about filmmaking. Is it something that would make Eisner roll over in his grave? Not really but it is a hollow attempt and the great man deserves so much better.

Punisher: War Zone: The good news is that it is the best of the three attempts at bringing The Punisher comic book to life. The bad news is that a comic come to life can sometimes lose something in the translation and some cheesiness and crazy action can creep in as well as shock factors that do not work. The violence is for the first time Punisher worthy and Ray Stevenson is Frank Castle - no two ways about it. Unfortunately, director Lexi Alexander clearly chose to not portray the material in a serious vein and she plays everything straight only in a comic fantasy sense. It just felt lacking in the writing and those finishing touches that bring disparate elements together in a eclectic mix of comic book entertainment. Feels like a missed chance!

Why aren't these two called turkeys? Because they aren't - they are weird, outrageous almost-okay below-par films that might be cult classics in the making. They show that comics on film can be approached in so many different ways. And without so many different ways of looking at films, where's the fun?

Egad! What were they thinking?

Yes, that's right - how can i talk about the best of 2008 without naming the worst of the year? However, I will make two lists so that it is not a blanket condemnation rant on all below-par films. I will highlight the ones which ones are awful not matter which way you cut it in this list. In the next, I will highlight those that had massive potential but in the end were probably missed opportunities. 

And the turkeys are:

The Happening: He was once dubbed the next Spielberg but after 'The Happening', he may be lucky to be the next Paul Verhoeven. There's no doubt M. Night Shyamalan has genius hiding inside but he seems to be unable to tap it any more. I have cut his films more slack than many - in fact, I believe 'Lady in the Water' was his first real misstep. He probably did it because it was like a passion project and that's fine for a one-off. With this film, I am convinced Shyamalan either needs to take a break from writing his own stuff or collaborate with somebody so that his ideas can take the best shape possible. The good - I like the strange B-movie feel and unpredictability of it. The bad - everything else; special mention of Mark Wahlberg showing unusual talent in the scene in which he converses with a plant. The concept of plants fighting back against the human race, though outrageous, was workable - if it had more of a 'The Day of the Triffids' vibe as opposed to Shyamalan's idea of a campy horror-comedy. All in all, Shyamalan has lost most of his hard-earned cred! Time for introspection, pal!

Righteous Kill: If you had told me a year ago that I would be including a film starring both Robert De Niro and Al Pacino in a worst film list, I would have said, 'never in a million years', 'impossible' or 'when hell freezes over' - maybe in that order. That day is here and it is a sad one indeed. Simply put, this film is badly written by Russell Gewirtz and director Jon Avnet doesnt do it any favours. These legendary actors should never work together again unless they are provided with material that matches their talent. Their reunion is a lacklustre affair that feels like a paycheck film with phoned-in performances. Righteous Kill has an awful narrative that switches between a boring by-the-numbers plot and incredibly stilted characterisation. A waste of time, money and most importantly, talent!

Max Payne: The name says it all! As farcical as video game adaptations tend to be, Max Payne does not even rise to the level of a guilty pleasure!  "I believe in pain," says Mark Wahlberg as the title character. Boy, does he ever! Two of the year's worst films both star Wahlberg and one can only hope that the flicks looked better on paper than they do on screen. John Moore is more than a little competent but the film feels hollow and weak. It has a nice atmospheric feel and cool special effects but the so-called story does not feel like anything resembling a narrative. It fails to be remotely interesting for more than two minutes at a stretch. Definitely one of the worst movies of the year!

Speed Racer: I was a big fan of the anime series as a kid but I'm pretty sure the main reason I liked it then was because I was... well, a kid. What stood out for me when I was walking out of the cinema after Speed Racer was the fact that the concept does not age well. As a film aimed solely at kids, it is impressive - it is a multi-hued tapestry of live action, CGI and various cartoon elements. In other words, if the Wachowski brothers wanted it to feel completely like a cartoon come to life, they succeeded. Unfortunately, in striving for something different, this film fails to connect enough with the audience. Many claim this material should never have been adapted or the approach should have been serious, I would respectfully disagree. Thinking about it, there are very few films that scream: 'never should have been made'. I think even the below-par ones have something to teach us, even if it is what not to do when making a movie. The Wachowkis can feel good that in an industry that is suffering for lack of originality, they have gone out on a limb and experimented. It may not have worked but that doesn't mean they shouldn't have tried!

Babylon AD: I would love to rip director Mathieu Kassovitz apart for this travesty but I think in this instance he is not at fault since his original concept was a good one. In fact, the director himself termed it awful after developing the film adaptation for five years. So what happened? 20th Century Fox, that's what! Kassovitz said they interfered so much that not a single scene was filmed the way it was written or the way he wanted. In fact, they cut 70 minutes from the film to make it family friendly. Fox right now is the worst studio in business and Babylon AD is a good example - just because Vin Diesel is involved, the studio made it a point to create a mindless mess. And one can only feel bad for Kassovitz for having his name on it. Even Diesel should rue this missed opportunity to create something different from what he usually does. Fox Studios badly needs a management overhaul!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

My top films of 2008 (subject to change)

 Yes, most best film lists are highly subjective or bandwagon influenced and even highly controversial. However, having seen as many films as I could and being an ardent Hollywood enthusiast, I've picked the favourites from the ones Ive seen - this will keep changing because there aren't enough days and logistical opportunities in a year to see all of the films Ive wanted to see. 
  As I experience more, I will share my experience with you - the blogosphere. Without further ado, here they are:

(in no particular order)

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: There are very few filmmakers who, just by virtue of having their name on a film, act as a guarantee of singular vision and a level of outstanding quality that most others struggle to find. I always thought David Fincher ought to be on that list - and with The Curious Case of Benjamin Button the proof is there for all to see. If 'Seven', 'Fight Club' and 'Zodiac' did not convince you, this movie definitely will. Based on the strangest of premises - the story of Benjamin Button, a man who starts aging backwards with bizarre consequences - this film manages to stay compelling throughout its nearly three-hour runtime. This is Brad Pitt's finest performance to date and he is matched note for note by one of the finest actresses working today, Cate Blanchett. I never expected to like this film but I found myself getting drawn in more and more with every scene. That is truly the mark of an outstanding film! It is thought-provoking, epic, surreal and dramatic while always managing to draw empathy as the narrative unfolds - this is the type of film that excites, inspires and showcases why it is so important for filmmakers to stay off the beaten track.

Slumdog Millionaire: Danny Boyle outdoes all of his earlier efforts including '28 Days Later', 'Sunshine' and 'Trainspotting' for this unique offering that is a rare glimpse at India as it exists or more particularly Mumbai. The dramatics and suspension of disbelief kick in for the story of Dev Patel but the film doesn't lose its pacing. It loses some points for some unnatural dialogues and delivery of those lines along with muddled accents here and there from the protagonists but I guess maintaining as much English as possible was necessary for mainstream appeal. The battle to maintain authenticity but run with English whenever possible is a tightrope walk and it is here that the movie loses ground. The love story also gets a tad boring and disloyalty to the Vikas Swarup novel may worry fans. However, it captures the soul of that work and this is without doubt a top movie on my list because no Hollywood film has been able to do anything remotely close to what this one has done. The emotions and the feel of the movie are gripping and the camera work is exemplary. A story that hits home and makes you remember it - an A+ effort! 

The Dark Knight: For a detailed review, click here Without doubt it is one of the movies that defined 2008 and redefined the superhero genre. I actually liked it more the second time I watched it. Heath Ledger gives a mind-blowing performance that will live on in whispers in LA for years to come. Oscar talk for a comic book movie - egad, what has the world come to? The Dark Knight stands tall in the genre as one of the best comic book films ever made. Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Aaron Eckhart, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman and Maggie Gyllenhaal make it a wonderful and thoughtprovoking must-see flick. Quite simply, it is impossible to talk about 2008 without mentioning this very special movie.

Gran Torino: Clint Eastwood has still got it... not that the man ever lost it! He has a wonderful flair for direction and has produced some of the most memorable films of recent times. Gran Torino is another fantastic addition to his repertoire. He is in front and behind the camera on this one - the story of a disgruntled Korean war vet who befriends and acts as mentor to a young Hmong teenager in a changing neighbourhood. Eastwood chose to go with actual Hmong teenagers as opposed to professional Asian actors and the difference is stark. Even though there are some cliches in the script, the naturalistic feel of the narration makes it real and gritty. Eastwood's acting is amazing yet again - he is able to make you empathise with a very unlikable character and that is not easy to do. Ability to tell a great story time and time again - yup, that's Clint all right!

Iron Man: A left field choice no doubt and a controversial one as well given that it means having two comic book films in a top film list. This one however deserves it. Iron Man is the perfect yin to The Dark Knight's yang. A new A-list star is born and his name is Robert Downey Jr. Comic book cinema has rarely been as fun to watch or as intelligently written as this one. Loyalty to comic roots is an amazing bonus as well. The spirit of the character has found the best portrayal possible and director Jon Favreau is one of the main reasons for it. A supporting cast that includes Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeff Bridges and Terrence Howard is just the icing on the cake. Yea, comic book flicks are here to stay!

Vicky Cristina Barcelona: Many say that a filmmaker as prodigious as Woody Allen is incapable of continuously producing films of enduring quality and that he is not the man he once was. And yes, like people his filmmaking has evolved with the times. However, the joy of the Woody school of cinema still exists and Vicky Cristina Barcelona is a great example. I was entranced and touched by the storytelling in a manner singular to an Allen film. Like the title suggests, the three biggest characters are Vicky (Rebecca Hall), Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) and Barcelona. And each of them brings something unique to the table over the course of one extraordinary summer. Every performance and dialogue is so wonderfully nuanced that you are lost within the narrative - aided by a wonderful setting and great work from the cast, especially Javier Bardem and Penélope Cruz. It was one of my top films the second I finished viewing it.

Milk : After experiencing the wonderful storytelling of Milk  I simply had to include it in this list. Gus Van Sant's true story of California's first openly gay elected official, Harvey Milk, is widely acknowledged as a masterpiece that should not be missed. Sean Penn received a Screen Actors Guild award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role for his portrayal of Milk. On receiving the honor for the biopic, Penn said: "As actors, we don't play gay/straight ... we play human beings. This is a story about equal rights for all human beings." And he could not be more right - this film touches on a subject that cinema has not tackled enough. Poignantly narrated, Milk's tale is every bit as moving as so many better known shapers of human history. If you are able to keep an open mind and enjoy embracing different types of movies, don't miss Milk !

Frost/Nixon is a dramatic retelling of the post-Watergate television interviews between British talk-show host David Frost and former president Richard Nixon. Featuring an outstanding turn as Nixon by Frank Langella and supported by Michael Sheen as Frost, this film from Ron Howard has everything going for it. The back and forth between the actors is stunning to watch and Langella channels Nixon in an convincing manner.  Definitely destined to be another classic piece of cinema!

WALL·E: Okay, i admit it, I find it extremely difficult to create a top flick list in a Pixar release year and not include their offering. But 2008 was different because of WALL·E - it would make the top film choices of any single year in which it was released. Written and directed by Andrew Stanton, the man who created 'Finding Nemo', this is a new classic that transcends its genre and provides insightful commentary on the world we live in and the future of mankind. Pixar is batting a thousand and is showing no signs of slowing down. And the fact that they created this classic using the least amount of dialogue possible means that this is truly a unique piece of cinema. Thank God for Pixar!

Revolutionary Road: Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet reunite after a long time for Revolutionary Road, a film that impressed me much more than the one they are most famous for. Based on the novel by Richard Yates, the movie manages to capture the spirit of that work using powerful acting and a well-crafted screenplay to analyse the terminal angst that is able to pervade the soul of a 1950s couple. In spite of its period setting, the flick is an extremely relevant work and one is able to empathise to a great degree with the narrative. Both DiCaprio and Winslet show their evolution as actors by delivering Oscar-calibre performances. Director Sam Mendes has created a very important offering for modern cinema!

We are in the middle of economic recession and there is an increasing division of interests among so many forms of entertainment and yet I believe, despite what many may say, that this has been a great year for film. Those of us who have a deep passion for the medium should feel lucky to experience such times.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Lists ahoy!!!!!

Yes, the year 2009 is here, fan boys and that means we are overloaded with hundreds of film lists from the best to the worst and everything in between. Im not usually a list person but this New Year is a time for experimenting so Im gonna foray into listing. Watch this space for cinema lists coming your way!!


  If you've found yourself here, this means you either are in search of good film writing or you typed an unusual search string in Google or maybe your name is Vineeth. Whatever the reason, welcome to my movie mind on the web! This is where I put all those hours of movie reading and watching to good use! I promise more insightful commentary and less fanboy ranting!
  So sit back, grab some popcorn and let me hear those rants!!!