The Great Gatsby

Emotions survive beneath the veneer of glitz and glamour

The Great Gatsby; Pic source: Wikipedia

I must confess that I picked up F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby after I got to know that the Australian filmmaker, Baz Luhrmann is adapting it for the big screen. I had not seen the earlier cinematic adaptations and knew nothing about the story. Gatsby was as much a mystery to me as he is to the other characters in the book. I made his acquantaince when I was in his adopted city, New York. I started reading the book at an airport with snow falling outside; the beauty and the sadness of the story enveloped me over the course of a seven-hour flight. By the time I reached the destination, I was in love with the book, the characters and the idea of the film.

I wondered if Luhrmann, known for his opulent and indulgent productions, be able to do justice to the story? When the initial reviews came in, I was most intrigued by this headline in The Playlist: “The Great Gatsby is a decadently empty tale of empty decadence and impossible love”. After watching the film, I can say that it’s partly true and partly not. The Great Gatsby is certainly a tale of empty decadence and impossible love… that’s what Fitzgerald tried to say in 1925, and that’s what Luhrmann has successfully managed to capture in the film. His excesses are breathtakingly beautiful and at times vulgar… we are mesmerized as well as disgusted, just like Nick Carraway, the narrator, the wall-flower in this story – he silently observes, gets seduced by the world of the rich and famous and then leaves disillusioned. The director largely stays true to the book and the theme of impossible love. That’s where I disagree with The Playlist, The Great Gatsby is not a decadently empty tale; beneath the veneer of glitz and glamour, the emotions survive. Luhrmann manages to give you both hope and despair and you’re able to empathise with and hope for Gatsby attaining his dream.

When I read the book, Fitzgerald’s characters appeared as real in 2013 as they were in the 1920s where the story is set. I had met Daisys and Toms and Jordans and Nicks in my life… but not some one like Jay Gatsby. The film manages to portray the characters in the same manner and the actors are able to draw the emotions just like the book. Leonardo DiCaprio is perfect for the role of Jay Gatsby and he delivers… he is vulnerable in some scenes and in some he shows the enthusiasm and nervousness of a boy on his first day at school. Watch out for the scene where he waits to meet Daisy after many years and the one where he tells Nick that you can relive the past… you know he is in denial and you are Nick at that time. Tobey Maguire is good as a young, aspiring writer and I wish they had done away with the whole writing a book thing with him as a narrative tool. Joel Edgerton is perfect as Tom Buchanan, an arrogant, rich bully while newcomer, Elizabeth Debicki appears cool, calm and confident as Jordan Baker, a golf player and socialite. I actually find Jordan’s character quite interesting as like Nick, she observes the lives of Tom, Daisy and Jay but remains aloof. She says something very simple that defines who she is and says a lot about the story, “I love large parties, they are so intimate; at small parties there isn’t any privacy”. Daisy is perhaps one of the most interesting female lead characters ever written; she is in love, she is emotionally torn but she is also a particular type of person that we discover slowly. Luhrmann and Craig Pearce (screenplay) have tried to balance the flippant socialite side of her with how Gatsby sees her. Carey Mulligan gives a fine performance as Daisy and looks the part with her diamond tiaras and chandelier dresses. Among the supporting cast, the most interesting part belongs to Amitabh Bachchan who plays a Jewish gangster named Meyer Wolfsheim. While the character gets limited screen time, it is an important part and Bachchan manages to carry it off with élan. Myrtle Wilson’s important character in the book gets less prominence in the film but is performed well by Isla Fisher. Jason Clarke plays her husband, George Wilson, the always drunk garage owner; once again it is an under-leveraged character, maybe because of the already long duration of the film (143 minutes).

I’d like to give a special mention for the technicians who worked on this ambitious film project, which in true Luhrmann style is also an over-the-top art project. Oscar winner, Catherine Martin who is also Luhrmann’s wife, takes credit for the opulent sets and costumes for which she collaborated with Brooks Brothers (Gatsby), Tiffany’s and Prada (Daisy). Simon Duggan’s cinematography is good for most parts but the fast (read really fast) camera movements make it a little unsettling for the viewers, especially in 3D. It took me some time to get used to the the film just like it did with the high frame rate cinematography used in The Hobbit. Once my eyes settled and the camera slowed down to rest on the characters, I enjoyed the use of 3D to give depth to the scenes. Another distraction that the makers could have avoided is the highly-stylized appearance of words from Nick’s journal, typewriter and narrative on the screen.

While some of my fellow movie watchers expected a more authentic 1920s style jazz, I quite enjoyed the modern interpretation with hip-hop influence in the film’s score, produced by Jay-Z and music arranger, Elliot Wheeler. The songs I quite enjoyed are Lana Del Ray’sYoung and Beautiful”, “Love is Blindness” performed by Jack White and “Back to Black” by Beyoncé and André 3000. I’d also like to mention the excellent job done by the film’s marketing and public relations team; they haven’t left a stone unturned to make it the most talked about and buzziest film this summer.

Unlike the great American novel, Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby may not be the great American film but it certainly is an entertaining one with its heart in place. Do watch it if you don’t mind playing along with the director’s over-the-top style and indulgences. 

The Great Gatsby’s famous first edition cover, illustrated by Francis Cugat;
Pic source: Wikipedia

Advertisements

The Place Beyond The Pines

Sins, guilt and redemption

The Place Beyond The Pines;
Pic source: Wikipedia

“If you ride like lightning, you’re going to crash like thunder”, a friend tells Luke. The Place Beyond the Pines opens with an impressive sequence of a local fair where we are introduced to Luke Glanton (Ryan Gosling), a stunt motorcycle driver. We see his tattooed body first – with a ship on his back, his cigarette and his partner – a motorcycle. After performing his act in a “globe of death” for the residents of Schenectady, Glanton comes face to face with Romina (Eva Mendes), a local girl with whom he had a one-night-stand a year ago. He soon discovers he has a son with Romina and decides to take responsibility for both the child and the mother. Glanton’s life of reckless abandon changes forever when he sees Romina with another man, Kofi (Mahershala Ali) at his child’s christening. It is a heart-breaking scene where nothing is said but a lot expressed… that’s the brilliance of director, Derek Cianfrance who has made a crime drama that is emotionally taxing and refuses to give an easy way out, both to his characters and the audience.

Glanton starts using his best “skill” to rob banks and riding away to safety on his trusted bike. We are treated to some stunning escape and chase sequences before we meet Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), a rookie cop who turns into a local hero. He is uncomfortable with the new developments in his life and the corruption at the Schenectady Police Department. The director makes us empathize with Cross and when we think the story is going in a certain direction, it takes a sharp turn again. The final act, though dramatic and grand, leaves a lot to be desired… but then you can have your own interpretations.

Written by Cianfrance, Ben Coccio and Darius Marder, The Place Beyond the Pines is not an easy film to watch and that’s where lies its brilliance. It is an ambitious film that explores the themes of father-son relationship, crime, remorse and redemption. Gosling delivers a brilliant performance as a brooding criminal who just wants to take care of his girl and his son. Cooper on the other hand has a more complex character and he does full justice to it. In one scene he finds himself holding a baby at a suspect’s house where they are conducting a raid; we can feel his guilt in this wonderfully written, directed and performed scene.  Eva Mendes manages to make her presence felt even while the film essentially focuses on the two male characters. Her scenes, though short, show her as a confused girl to an angry lover and later, a desperate mother.

Cinematography by Sean Bobbitt is another highlight of the film… grand shots of Glanton riding through the pines to the more intimate and disturbing scenes, everything is perfect. Music by Mike Patton is excellent, especially this hauntingly beautiful track “The Snow Angel” that you also get to hear in the film’s trailer. At 140-minutes, it is a long film but if you don’t mind movies that make you uncomfortable, then this is ticket you should buy this weekend.

PS: The Place Beyond the Pines gets its name from Schenectady, a city in the State of New York, which roughly translates to “place beyond the pine plains” in Mohawk language (source: Wikipedia)

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

We accept the love we think we deserve…

Pic Source: Wikipedia

Stephen Chbosky’s beautiful novel (1999), The Perks of Being a Wallflower, can be summed up in this one line from the book – “We accept the love we think we deserve”. Told from the point of view of a freshman year student, Charlie, it is a coming-of-age story about friendship and love, insecurities and fear, exclusion and acceptance. Last year, the author managed to do something exceptional – he adapted (screenplay, direction) the acclaimed novel to a superior motion picture. Yes, in my opinion The Perks of Being a Wallflower is one of those rare films that surpass the beauty of its much-loved source material. It is also the most ignored film of 2012 with none of the major film award shows acknowledging the film and the fine performances by the three lead actors. For me it is not only one of the best films of 2012 but also among my favourite films of all time.

Charlie (Logan Lerman) is a shy teenager who in his own words is both happy and sad. He is nervous about high-school and his only real friend committed suicide a year ago. He hates school till he meets two seniors, Sam (Emma Watson) and Patrick (Ezra Miller), who become his best friends and much more. Sam is a free-spirited girl with excellent taste in music; she is smart, beautiful but not popular because of her excesses in the freshman year. Her step-brother, Patrick is flamboyant, witty and in love with a jock from the school football team. Sam and Patrick welcome Charlie to the island of misfit toys and for the first time Charlie feels like he belongs somewhere. They understand him and celebrate him for what he is – a wallflower that sees things, keeps quiet about them and understands.

Writer-director, Chbosky makes us a part of this intimate group of friends and we find ourselves driving with them through a tunnel, listening to mix tapes and feeling infinite; drinking and playing truth-and-dare; having a crush and falling in love; sharing their disappointments and consoling them when they suffer heartbreaks. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is sincere, heartfelt and very well acted. Emma Watson manages to break free from the image of Hermione (Harry Potter series) and delivers a mature performance… for me she is no longer a young witch from Hogwarts but Sam of “Slut and the Falcon” fame (watch the trailer below to know why, or better watch the film).  Logan Lerman is also the introvert Charlie now and not Percy Jackson (which isn’t a great franchise in my opinion anyway). But the show stealer is Ezra Miller who has the smartest lines and gets to showcase a wide range of emotions. He is one fine actor who is at equal ease with a likeable character like Patrick and a disturbing one like Kevin in 2011’s We Need to Talk About Kevin. The film has an interesting cast of supporting actors including Paul Rudd as Charlie’s English teacher, Joan Cusack as his psychiatrist, Mae Whitman and Johnny Simmons as other students.

The film has an interesting soundtrack; it’s actually a mix tape with songs by various artists and original score by Michael Brook. My favourite track is the catchy song that plays in the film’s trailer also; it’s called “It’s Time” by a band named Imagine Dragons. The cinematography is nice with Andrew Dunn maintaining an intimate feel along with the 90s look for the film. Congratulations to Mr. Rudd Productions (the guys who made Juno) and Summit Entertainment (distribution) for backing this gem of a film.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is now available on DVD in the US and for digital download on iTunes/amazon. I also recommend reading the book, which is simply unputdownable.

Les Misérables

Passion. Music. Love. Cinema.

Pic source: hollywoodreporter.com

The longest running musical, seen by over 60-million people worldwide and a much loved novel by Victor Hugo… Director, Tom Hooper took on a mammoth challenge when he decided to direct Les Misérables, the film.  He retained the musical format, which makes it a very different viewing experience, but also requires a little patience. At two-hours and forty-minutes, it is a long film with a lot of singing and even more heart.

Les Misérables is nothing short of magic on big screen – it looks spectacular and has outstanding performances by all the actors, who performed their songs live on the sets and not lip-synched. It is a triumph for Hooper and his brilliant team of writers – William Nicholson, Herbert Kretzmer, Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schönberg (the last three are also behind the on-stage musical adaptation). After a spectacular start, the film does drag a bit in the second hour but the sincere and heart-felt performances by the actors keep you involved.

Set in the nineteenth century France, Les Misérables begins with a man named Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) being released from a prison after serving a nineteen-year sentence for stealing a loaf of bread. He is marked as a dangerous man with a life-long parole, which he breaks and is pursued by a law-obsessed policeman, Javert (Russell Crowe). While Valjean gets a second chance to turn around his wretched life, a beautiful factory worker named Fantine (Anne Hathaway) is doomed after her co-workers find out about her illegitimate child. The film spans two-decades and we are introduced to numerous characters including Fantine’s daughter, Cosette (played by Isabelle Allen as a child and Amanda Seyfried as an adult); Cosette’s greedy care-takers, Madame and Monsieur Thénardier (Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen); Thénardier’s children, Éponine (Samantha Barks) who is as old as Cosette and the young street urchin, Gavroche (Daniel Huttlestone); Marius (Eddie Redmayne) who loves Cosette and is also a student revolutionary along with Enjolras (Aaron Tveit). It is a great ensemble cast and I cannot point at one actor who did not live up to the characters they portrayed.

Pic source: Wikipedia

The film opens with a prisoners’ song, “Look down” where we see hundreds of famished prisoners pulling a ship to its dock, while Javert supervises them. It is a grand visual with the sea, large ships and so many wretched souls including Valjean. The film strikes the perfect balance between real emotions and a magical setting, which is almost unbearably sad at times. The costumes, the wigs and make-up, the production design and cinematography are all first-rate and make it a spectacular viewing experience. The music is from the stage musical (lyrics – Herbert Kretzmer; music producers – Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schönberg) with an additional original song, “Suddenly” that is about Valjean finding Cosette and the sudden change in his life. It is performed beautifully by Hugh Jackman who is simply brilliant in the film. My other favorite songs in the film are Fantine’sI dreamed a dream” in which Anne Hathaway confirms her Oscar shot; young Cosette’sCastle on a cloud”, which has a haunting melody; the revolutionaries’ “Do you hear the people sing?”, which is still playing in my head and Valjean’sWhat have I done?” Apart from Jackman and Hathaway, I loved what the two little kids brought to the film. Isabelle as Cosette looks exactly like the famous portrait by Emile Bayard from the original edition of the book and Daniel as Gavroche is the star in the last forty-minutes of the film. Special mention for Aaron Tveit who plays Enjolras with so much conviction that you almost forget to look at Marius.

Les Misérables is made with passion, love and hope, which is visible on-screen. It may not be the most entertaining film you’ll see this year, but it is everything that great cinema can offer a true film-lover. If you like musicals then do not miss it on the big screen.

Watch this great video about the actors singing live while filming:

 

And here’s Fantine’s heartbreakingly beautiful “I dreamed a dream”:

Zero Dark Thirty

The Best Film Of 2012

Source: rottentomatoes.com

How do you make a thriller that’s more than two-and-a-half hours long; keeps the audience in a constant state of tension, despite them knowing what’s going to happen next? Ask director, Kathryn Bigelow and screen-writer, Mark Boal – the Oscar winning duo who are all set to be contenders again after their win in 2010 for The Hurt Locker.  Zero Dark Thirty is easily the best film I have seen in 2012 and to put it mildly, it simply blew my mind.

Zero Dark Thirty spans a decade, following a team of CIA agents whose job is to find the world’s most wanted man, Osama Bin Laden after the 9/11 attacks and gather intelligence on any more acts of terrorism planned by Al Qaeda. The film focuses on one CIA agent, Maya (Jessica Chastain) who gets obsessed with one lead and despite many setbacks, stays firm on her trail to catch Bin Laden. We first meet her as a young agent, sent to the field (read Afghanistan and Pakistan) in 2001 where she’s visibly disturbed at the way detainees are tortured for information. We see her character’s growth over the course of the film as she stands her ground and is instrumental in creating history.

We all know what happens in the end with Bin Laden getting killed in a Seal Team Six operation in May 2011; but the build-up to that finale is what makes this film brilliant. For ten-years, not only Maya’s patience is tested but the audience is put to test too as the director puts together all the pieces slowly. She makes you re-live the horrors of the terror attacks around the world, staring from 9/11 to London to Islamabad, Saudi Arabia and the Camp Chapman suicide attack in Afghanistan. With his brilliant screenplay, Mark Boal depicts the frustration that the CIA operatives feel after every terrorist attack and their failed attempts to capture and kill the top brass at Al Qaeda.

Jessica Chastain is brilliant as Maya and this could very well be her shot at all the best actress trophies next year. From a nervous new recruit to a determined agent with nerves of steel, she plays the part perfectly. In the supporting cast, Jason Clarke as another CIA agent, Dan is very good and like Jennifer Ehle’s character (CIA agent, Jessica) you think there will be a romantic angle between him and Maya. However, the film-maker does not shift her focus a bit and it is all about getting the job done. Joel Edgerton has an interesting cameo where he plays the squadron team leader who leads the final attack on Osama in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

Cinematography by Greig Fraser; editing by William Goldenberg and Dylan Tichenor; music by Alexandre Desplat are all perfect. The film comes together as a well-researched docu-drama and a brilliant thriller that keeps your heart pounding hard. Do not miss watching this one on the big screen.

Life of Pi

In Lee we trust…

Pic source: Wikipedia

When I first started reading Yann Martel’s Booker prize winning novel, Life of Pi, I left it after a few chapters. It was slow and the author spent a lot of time describing the young protagonist’s religious and spiritual discoveries. I re-visited the book after a few years and it was different this time. I was patient initially but then the book started working its magic… Pi’s unbelievable journey became most believable and I connected emotionally with the 13-year old boy and his sole companion on a life-boat, a royal Bengal tiger called Richard Parker.

The book was called un-filmable not only because of the technical challenges but because the way the story plays out; there are large portions where nothing significant happens and how do you keep expressing what a boy is feeling. However, master filmmaker, Ang Lee brought it alive on the big screen and in a way one couldn’t imagine. Life of Pi is not only visually stunning but is a deeply moving film that despite all the technical wizardry is far from the usual holiday blockbusters.

For those not aware of the story, Life of Pi is about a 13-year old Indian boy, Piscine Molitor Patel aka Pi, from Pondicherry (now Puducherry) who is born a Hindu but is also Muslim and Christian. He believes in God and sees a kind soul in everyone… even wild animals. He loses his family in a ship-wreck and finds himself in a lifeboat with some cargo from his father’s zoo – a zebra, an orangutan, a hyena and a tiger. The rest of the story is about his amazing journey, survival and faith in God.

David Magee has successfully adapted the novel into a balanced screenplay that does not let the first part of the book slow down the film but still lets us relate to Pi’s belief system. Lee keeps things simple without over-doing the emotions. He does however uses special effects and 3D to create a magical setting that invites you to get lost in the middle of the ocean like Pi. Claudio Miranda’s cinematography is stunning – from the opening sequence in the zoo to the calmness of the ocean, this is the best looking film since Martin Scorsese’s Hugo last year. Michael Danna’s background score is beautiful and reminds you a bit about his earlier Indian outings like Monsoon Wedding and Water. Among the actors, Suraj Sharma as Pi has done a fine job for a debutant and shows great promise as an actor. Tabu as Pi’s mother is as graceful as ever but I wish she had a few more scenes. Like her, other actors including Gérard Depardieu, Adil Hussain, Rafe Spall and Irrfan Khan have small roles but all just right. The real star of the film however is Richard Parker, the computer generated tiger. He is so real, so majestic and so beautiful; like Pi, you develop a bond with him and feel disappointed with his indifference.

Life of Pi is not a crowd pleaser but is a cinema lover’s delight, just like Hugo. Some people are not happy with the film’s end but I wonder what else Ang Lee could have done? Those who have read the book may find the end more agreeable than those who haven’t in my opinion. There is a question at the end of the film… ask yourself that, see what answer you get and you’ll know if the film worked for you or not.

 

The Dark Knight Rises

A Fitting Finale

The world is not known for equality… there are the haves and the have-nots; there are the rich in pent-houses and there are the homeless; there are the Michelin starred meals and there are deaths due to hunger. We live in this world everyday and it is more apparent in a country like India. There is latent anger in a large number of people towards this inequality and financial disparity. We have heard and read about the Occupy Wall Street protest movement in New York, where the activists are protesting against greed, corruption and economic inequality. Closer home, Anna Hazare stages regular protests against corruption which brought the Government almost to its knees. What if this anger takes a violent form; moves from protests to terrorism? A storm comes and attempts to change the world order, creating complete chaos… The question actually may not be ‘what if’ but ‘when’. Christopher Nolan’s third and final installment in the Batman trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises takes us in the middle of one such attack that threatens to destroy the financial system and the world as we know it. Similar thoughts were brought up in the first film, Batman Begins (2005) as we understood the motives of the League of Shadows and its leader, Ra’s al Ghul. Unlike the earlier films where the city of Gotham is under threat and faces a few attack; in this film Nolan lets Batman’s city burn and destruct by the hands of a terrorist, Bane who aims to restore the balance in the world by destroying it, and particularly the Gotham city. The film’s tone and the conflict is captured in this one scene where Selina Kyle or Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) tells the billionaire, Bruce Wayne or Batman (Christian Bale), “There’s a storm coming, Mr. Wayne… when it hits, you’re all going to wonder how you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us”.

Bruce Wayne faces the biggest challenges in this film, both at the physical as well as emotional level. The film is set, eight years after the events in The Dark Knight, where Harvey Dent is hailed as a hero who gave his life for the city of Gotham and Batman labeled as his murderer and a hero gone rogue. Bruce lives the life of a recluse until the clouds of war start looming again and his friend, Commissioner James Gordon (Gary Oldman) faces the masked terrorist, Bane (Tom Hardy). He realises that his city needs Batman again and his company, Wayne Enterprises needs a strong person to lead it and save its potentially dangerous defense assets. Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), an environmentalist and a business woman shows hope for both Wayne Enterprises and the troubled soul of Bruce. Apart from the Batman film regulars like scientist and President of Wayne Enterprises, Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) and Bruce’s butler and father figure, Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine); we are introduced to a young police officer, John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who senses the danger his city is in, much before everyone else.

John Blake and Miranda Tate: http://www.thedarkknightrises.com

Amongst the cast, everyone is pitch perfect and Christian Bale once again shows his versatility as an actor; he is the strong, the invincible Batman and also the broken Wayne. Michael Caine brings emotions to the forefront while Gordon-Levitt adds freshness to the series. Marion Cotillard is enigmatic and beautiful as ever; a little bit more of her would not have hurt. Tom Hardy as Bane looks and behaves like a monster; he is not like the maniacal Joker and comparisons with Heath Ledger (who played Joker in The Dark Knight, 2008) are unfair. It’s a pity we get to see Hardy’s face only once in the film. The bright spark in the film however is CatwomanAnne Hathaway has done a fantastic job with the character; she is witty, unpredictable and kicks a**.

Christopher and Jonathan Nolan’s script links back to many elements from the earlier films and closes many loops. The film does slow down in the middle but does not get boring. There are many predictable moments but an equal number of small and big surprises. Batman’s new air-borne vehicle, the Bat is beyond cool and so is his Batcycle. Spectacular special effects and scenes of destruction make your jaw drop and there are many moments that make you nervous. Hans Zimmer’s music is good and the Bane chant pumps up the tension. At about 164-minutes, it is a long film but I am not complaining.

For all its symbolism and grave themes, The Dark Knight Rises entertains and is a fitting finale to the best Batman story ever told on screen.

PS: Read my post on how Nolan made me a Batman fan here.

PPS: Do look out for the ‘Man of Steel’ (new Superman film) trailer with The Dark Knight Rises

The Amazing Spiderman

New Spidey works…

Pic source: Wikipedia

The masked vigilante is back… with similar story elements and emotions that we have seen earlier. However, director Marc Webb’s reboot of the successful Spiderman franchise does not fail to impress. Written by James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent and Steve Kloves, The Amazing Spiderman re-tells the story of a teenager becoming a superhero in an engaging manner. Apart from the director, credit goes to the film’s lead actor, Andrew Garfield for making us forget the old Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) and becoming a good Spidey. Garfield is extremely good with emotions (as we have seen in his earlier film, Never Let Me Go) and he makes it is easier for the audience to empathise with Peter Parker. Whether it is the nervousness in front of the girl he likes or the frustration related to his long-lost parents or the guilt related to a dear one’s death; the actor makes it all convincing. Looking at his earlier work, I was not sure if he’d be good with action but he does well; and the dash of humour is refreshing as he teases and plays with his enemies.

Along with the same basic story about Peter Parker’s journey from a reclusive student to a responsible hero; The Amazing Spiderman gets its villain also in the same fashion as earlier films. A science experiment to help humanity goes wrong and we get a new villain called The Lizard, played by Rhys Ifans. The Lizard does what the usual villains in Spidey films do but he is not that menacing as the Green Goblin was in the old Spiderman. The action sequences are also less in the film and you are left asking for more. Some of the sequences are very well shot and you are given Spidey’s perspective as he jumps from heights. While the film is shot in 3D, it doesn’t add to the film, apart from the scenes where depth is required, which are good.

Another big change in the film is Peter Parker’s love interest; instead of Mary Jane, we get to meet Gwen Stacy, played by Emma Stone. Like Garfied, Stone also does full justice to her role and makes you forget Kirsten Dunst who played Mary Jane in earlier films. Gwen is intelligent, strong headed and fearless; casting Stone was perhaps the best decision for the makers.

Indian actor, Irrfan Khan’s much talked about role in the film as Dr. Ratha is nothing more than a cameo. While Dr. Ratha’s character is important to the story, there is surprisingly less attention paid to him. One does not know what happens to him after a point in the film but I don’t think anyone cares except for the Indian audience.

Overall, The Amazing Spiderman is an enjoyable film but is surely not the best superhero film we have seen this summer. Definitely watch it for a good time at the movies, but do not expect a lot; I guess that is left to the sequel. In true Marvel style, a teaser to the next film is left in the middle of the end-credits; so do not leave the theatre immediately after the film ends.

Viewing recommendations:

Spidey fans in the UK can enjoy the film at Odeon which has more IMAX screens in the country than any other cinema chain. For more information on ticket and viewing options check the The Amazing Spiderman 3D at Odeon web page. In India, choose a good theatre for 3D; PVR in my experience is better and have got lighter 3D glasses and if you have an IMAX screen in your city, go for it.

Brave

Not the best from Pixar

Pic source: Wikipedia

Brave is the first fairy tale style film from Pixar and the first film from the animation studio to have a female lead character. The film’s trailers looked great and I was curious about the adventures of the red-haired Scottish princess. However, I left the theatre disappointed. Directed by Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman, Brave is the weakest Pixar film I have seen (seen all except Cars & Cars 2); the animation is nice and there are great visuals, but the real problem with Brave is its weak script (screenplay: Mark Andrews, Steve Purcell, Brenda Chapman & Irene Mecchi). The story is new but does not seem fresh; it is predictable and does not pack a punch.

Set in a Scottish kingdom, Brave tells the story of Princess Merida (voice: Kelly Macdonald) who wants to be the mistress of her own fate. The headstrong princess is an accomplished archer and is a daddy’s girl (Billy Connolly as King Fergus); her mother, Queen Elinor’s (Emma Thompson) attempts to teach her the ways of the royalty amuse as well as irritate her. The mother-daughter relationship and Merida’s acts of defiance are the best part of the film; one can relate to her as she struggles to be understood by her parents. Merida is likeable but somehow there is not enough done to make the audience connect with her emotionally. The resolution to the big problem she faces seems rather simple and yes, there is the usual ‘moral of the story’ that makes the film a bit preachy in parts.

Coming to the animation, one cannot really question Pixar in this department. There are beautiful forest sequences and the aerial views are breathtaking; water is shown beautifully and appears real. However, the use of 3D does not add to the film’s rich visuals, the way it was done in Dreamworks’ Scottish inspired outing, How to Train Your Dragon. I wish Merida had more spunk like Princess Fiona (Shrek); there were more surprises in the story with a better climax; and more pop culture references (like Madagascar 3) to keep the adults engaged.

It is summer time and Brave is a good option for kids but unlike other Pixar gems, this one does not really shine for adults.

Madagascar 3 Europe’s Most Wanted

This one’s not to be missed…

Pic source: Wikipedia

Our favourite animals are back and as the film’s title, ‘Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted’ suggests they are shaking up things in Europe this time. For those unfamiliar with the series, it follows the adventures of four zoo animals from New York who accidentally get shipped to Madagascar in the first film; crash land in Africa while trying to get back to NYC in the second one and make an impressive journey through Europe in the latest film.

Madagascar 3 starts in Africa where Alex the lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) and Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) once again decide to get back home – the Central Park Zoo. They go to Monte Carlo to join the Penguins who can fly them in their specially assembled aircraft (if you’re not following what the Penguins are doing in Monte Carlo and where did the aircraft come from, do watch the earlier films). All doesn’t go as planned and the large group of animals is chased by a maniacal animal control officer, Captain Chantel DuBois (Frances McDormand). Their plane crashes again and they take shelter in a train carrying circus animals. Here we are introduced to Stefano the sea-lion (Martin Short), Gia the jaguar (Jessica Chastain) and Vitaly the tiger (Bryan Cranston), amongst others. The film has a lot of excitement and moves at a fast pace (editing: Nick Fletcher); there are thrilling chase sequences and a lot of other action, with Europe’s iconic landmarks in the background. While the love angle between Melman and Gloria moves forward, the real mush comes from the love at first sight story between King Julien the lemur (Sacha Baron Cohen) and Sonya the bear (Frank Welker). Their romance is one of the highlights in the film, which also has an elaborate circus sequence inspired by Cirque du Soleil.

Apart from the fantastic animation (Dreamworks) and great use of 3D, Madagascar 3 has some great writing (Eric Darnell & Noah Baumbach). There are the usual character driven lines that make you laugh, especially Marty, King Julien and the Penguins; but the real winning moments are subtle and at times not so subtle references to the European culture. For example, we are informed about the French working culture that requires work for only two weeks a year! Then there is Frances McDormand’s rendition of ‘Non, je ne regrette rien’ (No, I have no regrets) that has special significance for the French – it was sung by Édith Piaf in 1960 as a dedication to the French Foreign Legion (seems master composer Hans Zimmer loves the song; he included it in the Inception soundtrack too). I was also surprised with a smart reference to the Rita Hayworth poster from Shawshank Redemption. So many interesting tidbits make the film more engaging and enjoyable for the adults while the children enjoy the animated action.

Directed by Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath and Conrad Vernon, Madagascar 3 is a must watch film this summer in 3D.

I am also looking forward to Ice Age: Continental Drift in 3D that releases on July 13. Folks in the UK can enjoy the film at Odeon which has more IMAX screens in the country than any other cinema chain. You can find more information on ticket and viewing options on Ice Age Continental Drift 3D at Odeon web page. In India, Mumbaikars can enjoy it at IMAX Big Cinema in Wadala and in Delhi I am going to try PVR Director’s Cut soon.