Logan — brutal and emotional

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Coming off last year’s rather disappointing X-Men: Apocalypse, I really didn’t know what to expect from Logan. I was not too impressed by The Wolverine, so I was wary of being overly excited. After the initial buzz from the first press screenings however, my expectations skyrocketed. Fortunately, they were met and surpassed. Logan is a brutal and emotional film that encapsulates everything good about its genre.

From the very opening, the the tone is set and you immediately notice just how bloody and brutal it is. Thanks to the film’s age restriction, director James Mangold has the full freedom to go as far as the story calls for. There is excessive swearing, but it never comes off as forced; it’s natural because the situations that these characters are put in are dire. Another thing that fascinated me was that the gore was not gratuitous and was used effectively.

As far as the story goes, it takes place in 2029, some time after all X-men are dead but for Logan, Charles and Caliban. We don’t know why and how, but we are given pieces of the puzzle – throughout the film – that we need to put together in order to understand what has gone wrong. Logan is now old and tired of life, offering a service similar to Uber, until one day his car is wrecked. I’ll leave it at that, as the less you know when you go in to see it the better.

Logan never treats the audience as if we are dumb, and doesn’t spoon-feed us every single thing that is going on. Moreover, the story is told in such a masterful manner that upon leaving the auditorium, you will have seen a film with a beginning, a middle and an end—something rare these days, especially in the superhero genre. The end of the second act is by far one of the most suspenseful and shocking ones I have seen in a long while. The entire movie is intense and doesn’t let you get distracted even for a second, you’re glued to the screen.

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Hugh Jackman as The Wolverine | 20th Century Fox

A big contributor to that, apart from the fantastic direction and cinematography, is the acting. Almost everyone gives an exceptional performance (save for Stephen Merchant, who is a hit or miss) but the standouts are, as you might have expected, Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart. The former is harrowing as the guilt and tiredness from Logan’s long life is taking its toll on him, while Stewart gives an incredibly nuanced performance with exquisite subtlety. Dafne Keen is quite stellar as well, even if she doesn’t play the most likable of characters. What she does in her action scenes is commendable.

While the film’s explored themes have definitely been dealt with before, it has its own spin on them to make them thought-provoking: are corporations too unregulated? Where should a line be drawn? Does good always win or does evil overpower it sometimes? Is immigration a solution to some problems? Do you choose yourself or should you go out of your way to help the others? These and many other questions are asked but you don’t always get a straight answer. Rather, you need to make up your own mind about it.

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Dafne Keen as Laura | 20th Century Fox

It is deeply emotional as well. Even though it is based on a comic-book, it isn’t of the type ‘let’s save the world.’ Instead, it’s  much smaller and, therefore, a more personal film about dealing with loss and illnesses, moral dilemmas, and explores the line as to when your actions are justifiable and when you’ve turned into a monster.

Not burdened by the task to set up a plethora of sequels and prequels, the director has crafted an impeccable film about what it means to be human and how far we are willing to go for those we care about. Logan doesn’t cut away from the horror that one may inflict upon others, and effortlessly scrutinises the motivations behind its characters’ decisions. Combine that with the brutal, but exceptionally executed, action scenes and you end up with a film that elevates the superhero genre.

Rating:    8.5/10

Doctor Strange — the world is a hoax

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The sixth comic-book film this year just hit the screens worldwide, and it’s called ‘Doctor Strange’. After three major disappointments (‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’, ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’, ‘Suicide Squad’) that were a mesh of blandness, incoherence and a lot of generic CGI, I am glad to say that ‘Strange’, even with its shortcomings, is the third best superhero movie to come out in 2016.

The plot revolves around Stephen Strange, a doctor known for his flawless track record, but with a horrible attitude. We are quickly introduced to the way he interacts with others and his lavish lifestyle. It is all fun and games until one day Stephen crashes his car and cripples his hands. After Western medicine fails him, he is referred to a place in Nepal where it’s promised that he will be healed and accomplish great things.

It is an origin story, it seems familiar but has enough quirks and peculiarities to positively differentiate it from the rest. Strange is not unlike Tony Stark in the sense that he is a rich philanderer used to thinking that he is the centre of the universe. However, his sense of humour is much drier and more sophisticated than Stark’s. Benedict Cumberbatch is nothing short of remarkable in the role, as he imbues it with charisma and likability even if Stephen might come off as a blighter at times.

A person we are introduced in the beginning and set up to think is important is Christine (played by Rachel McAdams). She is a friend, and maybe something more, of Strange and is a doctor as well. McAdams is absolutely great at impersonating her character; it is a shame she so underutilised as later in the film, her reactions to certain events are priceless and relatable.

Chiwetel Ejiofor and Tilda Swinton, who play Mordo and The Ancient One respectively, are also solid in their roles, even if Swinton is a bit one-note at times. Both their characters are especially well-developed throughout the film, especially Mordo. Mads Mikkelsen who plays the antagonist in the story does a good job and, as  with Cumberbatch, has great comedic timing.

‘Doctor Strange’ works best when it doesn’t try be different from other superhero films, but when it just “is”. The brief moments of the director’s greatness (the horror) are fantastic, but are too scattered to become memorable. Derrickson has a phenomenal way of incorporating the comedy into the story. There are no flat one-liners thrown right and left, but instead wry humour that showcases Dr. Strange’s personality. It never feels forced or out of place. In fact, the director relies on visual comedy more as opposed to hope that the script is funny. That being said, the film is surprisingly darker than your run-of-the-mill Marvel flick. It somehow strikes the perfect balance between wit and gravity.

There are no two ways about it, the most mesmerising part of the film are the visuals.. They are almost completely unprecedented, perhaps only ‘Inception’ and ‘The Matrix’ cominganywhere near the innovative ways the visual effects are used. You see cities folding and unfolding, multiple universes — all sorts of imaginative concepts. The 3D feature makes use of those by having a tremendous amount of depth and realism, even though in the context that’s a relative term. Moreover, the entire IMAX screen is filled for half of the film, which is a big positive as it immerses you into the action. Usually, I steer clear of the format and opt for places with 2.35:1 screens and Dolby Atmos, as most films are letterboxed in IMAX due to the aspect ratio and that irritates me. However, this is one of the cases where the extra height is used to enhance the experience: it shows the grandeur and scope of the film in the best way possible.

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The most enjoyable moments are when you see how Strange interacts with the people surrounding him; his wittiness and character traits are the most riveting aspect of the movie –  not the otherwise awe-inspiring fights to save the world.  Ultimately, the film struggles to decide what it wants to be:one about Strange and the way he copes with his crippled hands; one about his process of honing the craft of magic; or  one about how he applies it in order to defeat the villain.

As far as the villain and the third act are concerned, these are the two places most people could find fault. The film sticks with the old third act taking place on the equivalent of a Helicarrier over the city. It is anticlimactic and the multitude of events are somewhat disjointed. Some of what occurs after the second act doesn’t make sense, but as The Ancient One said, ‘it doesn’t have to’. After all, we are watching a film about a doctor who becomes a sorcerer, suspension of disbelief is expected.

‘Doctor Strange’ is flawed, but it might just be more enjoyable than every superhero movie that came out this year. To be such, it certainly needs to be special, and that it is.

Rating:8.5 out of 10

Suicide Squad — a disappointment

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As one of my most anticipated films of 2016, it’s safe to say Suicide Squad had a lot to live up to! It seemed like it would be the stepping stone for DCEU, after the abomination of a movie that Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was. The teaser trailer was spectacular. The first trailer was very good as well. Then, for some reason, Warner Bros. went in a completely different direction with the second trailer. Even though I found it alright, it wasn’t as captivating as the other two; as it seemed like the generic blockbuster. Suicide Squad was supposed to be unusual, distinctive and crazy. Unfortunately, it was none of these.

The movie follows Amanda Waller as she assemblesa team of extremely dangerous prisoners, because she feels the world needs to have a contingency plan if the bad version of Superman comes down to Earth. Followed by a million intros for the characters, coupled with a most obvious choice of music for each of them.Subsequently, they are sent to fight the belly-dancing Enchantress trying to destroy humanity by building ‘a machine’. That is the entire plot: a bunch of crazy, self-absorbed individuals without superpowers (most of them anyways) have to fight this extremely powerful witch and her plain-obvious CGI brother. There’s no second act or plot development.

Harley Quinn, Diablo and Deadshot are the only characters with some barely perceptible character development. Everyone else was either pointless (Boomerang, Slipknot, Katana), or contradicting in their beliefs (Waller). With Harley Quinn we get some flashbacks about how she becamethe way she is; but even those are equivocal and scarce, as they are too short to figure out exactly what’s happening.

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The main problem with this film is that we are supposed to believe these characters are the most dangerous people on the planet! However, throughout the film we never really get a sense of this – save for, possibly, Harley. On a number of occasions, we are told they are ominous – although we are never actually shown how.

It’s not all gloom and doom though! There are moments when the humour works, and these scenes are wonderful – if not far too negligible . The actors do their best with the lines they have. Most of the so-called villains throw one-liners, and just a few of them land. The music score (not the soundtrack) also has some curious cues, which work when put into practice. The soundtrack, on the other hand, is awful in its usage! Whenever on, it is overbearing, distracting and even unpleasant. It serves only to prevent one from becoming entirely acquainted with the characters, and tells you how to feel too insistently.

The action is as memorable as the editing is abhorrent! Half the time you are lost, due to the bad geography and constant cuts. In addition, the film doesn’t flow – the chronology is all over the place and there is no consistency.

The Joker was heavily featured in the ad campaign, however, we only see fleeting glimpses of him during the film itself. Turns out it wasn’t so that we are amazed by the end result, but because there isn’t much of him in the film. He pops up every once in a while for 30 seconds in either a flashback or as a deux ex machina. On that front alone, I was truly disappointed!

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Suicide Squad is non-refutably a box-office success, for now at least. Nevertheless, due to rushed decisions, it feels like two films have collided into one; just like Fantastic Four. It is not as bad but has more flaws than strengths.

In conclusion, it’s entertaining enough that you won’t fall asleep, but do not come with high expectations, otherwise you will be let down. I am sure Warner Brother will try to fix the film for the Blu-Ray release, by including a lot of the missing scenes shown in the trailer; however, as this is the second time this year they have done so, isn’t it becoming a pattern?

Rating: 4 out of 10 stars

 

Independence Day: Resurgence — a redundancy 


Twenty years ago, we saw a stupid but fun and energetic film called Independence Day. Now, two decades later we get a redundant, repetitive and incoherently bloated sequel that barely works.

Independence Day: Resurgence opens with something reminiscent of a prologue that shows what has changed since the aliens lost the battle with us. It is promising at first but it quickly degrades to a by-the-numbers popcorn flick that is as non-memorable as it can get. By the time you get to the parking lot you have forgotten about it.

The script is so poorly written there’s no clear direction in which the film is headed. Not only does it try to follow a gazillion characters but it also fails to make them relatable save for a few that have more or less something that resembles depth. The first film worked because you cared about what’s going on and whether or not the protagonists will make it, a sense of danger. Here, about thirty minutes into the film you know everyone will make it out alive and well.

Most of the actors do as well as they can considering what abhorrent lines they have to deliver; 80% of them are predictable, cringe-worthy and clichéd. Liam Hemsworth is as boring and unimpressive as ever. Apart from the occasional charisma, he’s not interesting. He plays the same character the same way in all of his movies. Jeff Goldblum is good but hardly has any screen time. Maika Monroe was a nice surprise as it was her that I was invested in the most. She also proves to have range. There are far too many actors to talk about but most of them are just there, with no purpose.

The plot is all over the place. There’s no clear structure and it tries to be so many things it fails to be any of them. It wants to be a film about the outcome of saving the Earth and how the human kind unites to get stronger. It also tries to be mysterious but ends up being ridiculous. In addition, it tries to follow the path of many blockbusters with global destruction and yet it’s not convincing as the CGI is not commendable despite the budget. Oh, it tries to be a comedy as well, and perhaps, that is where it almost worked. I did have a couple of laughs, especially in one scene where a few people on a boat are getting drunk as apocalypse ensues but an opportunity strikes them. Sadly, more often than not I laughed at the movie, which is not what the filmmakers would want.

The most disappointing part was the ending for two reasons, the first one being the convenient deux ex machina. It undermines the supposed danger that the aliens pose to our planet and makes everything a bit too convenient. The second reason is the very ending–it begs for a sequel as it ends on a cliffhanger which I don’t think will be green-lit.

Some good could be found from time to time. Its cinematography is beautiful for the better part of the film but at some point the framing gets bizarre, uncomfortable even. At first it has epic scale, however, that quickly gets monotonous. The action is well-handled as well though sometimes I lost track of who was who in a fight.

Independence Day: Resurgence is an unnecessary sequel with no heart, point of existing, or smart characters, that feels as hollow as an empty watering pot.

Captain America: Civil War — a visceral character study

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Marvel films used to be plain fun. That was phase one. The goofiness started disappearing as time passed and then the Russo brothers made a close to a masterpiece movie with The Winter Soldier. They don’t disappoint. Nor did I expect them to.

I still cannot understand how these guys make this film work. It has dozens of characters and storylines weaved into it and yet each character got enough screen time and developed. Moreover, this is a Captain America movie, not Avengers 2.5 as one would think when counting the amount of people in it. There was so much that could have gone wrong and yet nothing did.

Perhaps, it’s because the directors have history with sitcoms. There, you need work with an ensemble cast and need each character to have their subplot, not unlike here. You have Captain America, Iron Man, Black Widow, Scarlet Witch, Ant-man, Spiderman, Falcon, War Machine, Black Panther, and a plethora of others. They are all fleshed out.

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The action is hands-down one of the best things about this movie. I had some gripes about it in The Winter Soldier, mainly because there were too many cuts. Anthony and Joe Russo have surely listened to some of the few criticisms people had with it. In fact, they even went out and got the directors of John Wick, David Leitch and Chad Stahelski, to help them as second unit directors. The end result is action with such phenomenal choreography and energy to it that following films, not just Infinity Wars, have to live up to. Everyone talks with great enthrallment about the 17-minute airport sequence, and for a good reason. This is the best one in a Marvel film to date. No, it’s on par with the best action scenes in the history of film.

The plot is really well thought-out and everything makes perfect sense. However, what’s refreshing is the fact that if you rip all the superhero elements away, you still have a very human and personal story that is emotionally investing and as a viewer you care about everyone.

Instead of destroying yet another city, causing damage for tens of billions of dollars, the film is built around the aftermath of such events. After Sokovia, there has been a lot of controversy as to whether superheroes should have the freedom to act whenever they like, or come under the umbrella of an international oversight panel which will decide what they do, where they’ll go, etc. Personally, I was—and still am—divided and didn’t know where I stand. Everyone has their own opinion on the matter and stands by it.

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Throwing one-liners that rarely land isn’t what the Russo brothers do; neither is creating a drab film that no entertainment value to it. What they excel at is telling a great, enticing story commingled with smart dialogue and jokes that work while having a grounded and gritty tone. The witty comments thrown around are spot-on and sound like actual lines that people would say in real life.  The directors devote enough time to have every character do something prominent (although I can never have enough of Scarlet Witch) because there are always people who have gone to see the film because they want to see their favourite, even if he or she has little screen time. This appeals to the general audience as well as to the comic-book lovers.

Captain America: Civil War is a refreshing take on the superhero movie where emotions are more conspicuous than explosions and overused tropes of the genre. It is quintessentially about guilt, agony, revenge, betrayal and friendship.

Rating:

9 out of 10 stars

Here is my video review:

The Huntsman: Winter’s War — Annoyingly Inconsistent

the-huntsman-winters-warSnow White and The Huntsman was a passable film. The script was kind of bad but what made up for it were the wonderful cinematography, visual effects and, most notably, its production design. It was also consistent. Now, four years later, we have a new film in this franchise and one less Kristen Stewart.

To be perfectly honest, The Huntsman is not as bad of a film as most critics make it out to be. It is true that there are more flaws than strengths here but if you simply switch off your analytical part of the brain, which is quite difficult, you could enjoy the film. I know I certainly didn’t hate it. However, I didn’t love it either.

Winter’s War is not only a sequel to the 2012 film but also a prequel. Meshing the two in one sounds confusing because it is. The events take place sometime after Snow White but also before as it tells a different story. I said it was confusing, right? Chris Hemsworth reprises his role as Eric/ The Huntsman and does a good job. Actually, outside of his Marvel films, he has never really has a hit. Blackhat was flat out terrible and did accordingly at the box office and In The Heart of The Sea, albeit a good film, also failed to meet expectations.

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Here he, more or less, resembles Han Solo; he is just as witty and awesome. In fact, I am wondering why nobody’s considering him for the standalone Han Solo film. He has the chops, and looks, to do great. He was the comic relief of the surprisingly dark film and the only thing he didn’t nail was the accent. It was supposed to sound Scottish but every now and then will change. This is part of the inconsistency I mentioned earlier.

Jessica Chastain is also very good here but has the same problem Hemsworth has–her accent constantly changes and takes you out of the movie. Her character is a bit flat as her motivations are not particularly clear or logical. While I loved her in Interstellar and didn’t think she did a good job in Crimson Peakquite enjoyed her portrayal of Sara.

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Emily Blunt is an odd case in this film. While I swear this woman is capable of playing anything, I don’t really believe the role of Freya was the best choice for her. Frankly, I think it would have been much better had Blunt and Chastain’s role been reversed. While the latter managed to be believable, I reckon Emily would be a better fir for a warrior as she nailed her scenes in Edge of Tomorrow and Sicario.

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Finally, the most interesting and drawing character, Charlize Theron is just made for this role. Indeed, she can also play all sorts of roles but Ravenna is where she’s really remarkable. She brings so much to the character and wearing these gorgeous gold and black dresses (gowns?) and is stealing every scene she’s in. What disappointed me was that she is not in the film nowhere near as much as the trailers suggest.

The trailers were partly the reason the film was predictable. What was supposed to be a shocking reveal in the end of the film was shown in all three trailers and barely, if at all, had any emotional impact. Also, they are a bit misleading. They led me to believe that this was more about the two sisters and less about the Huntsman, and in all fairness though, this would have made a much more enticing film.

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When it comes to the film as a whole it feels incomplete, rushed and a bit tedious. Even though there is plenty of action, and one fight scene in particular stands out as it has only sound effects and no music, The Huntsman is a bore for people who expect more story. As I said, it is spoiled far too much in the trailers. I didn’t have high expectations of this film, but it was underwhelming.

Winter’s War is directed by Cedric Nicolas-Troyan who was the visual effects supervisor of the previous instalment. This is his first feature film and for a first-time director he has done a respectable job. While the film fails on script level it is simply stunning to look at; the cinematography and production design are just as phenomenal as they were in Snow White and The Huntsman. Nonetheless, I feel that this film has a reduced budget as the visual effects at times are a bit spotty when it comes to exteriors. Other than that I don’t really have a problem with them. One memorable moment is when the two queens go face to face with each other and start fighting. There are quite a few interesting and imaginative ways in which the powers of Freya and Ravenna are used.

Although The Huntsman: Winter’s War might not be as good as the previous film it has a stellar cast and, mostly, opulent visuals that almost make up for the terrible script. Moreover, some inconsistencies make the film convoluted and it is as though the director and the writers couldn’t agree on which part of the story they should focus on so what we get is an overly complicated but not exactly appealing movie.

Rating:

5 out of 10 stars

SPOILER SHOT(THIS IS MY FAVOURITE PART OF THE FILM):

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The Divergent Series: Allegiant — an intricate continuation

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Divergent was criticized for being formulaic. Insurgent was criticized for being too reliant on CGI and simulations while telling no intriguing story. Now it is Allegiant’s turn to be scrutinized. But is it a let down like Insurgent was or has it improved on it?

The Divergent Series: Allegiant picks up right where the previous film left off with everyone headed towards the wall. However, it quickly turns out no one is allowed to leave Chicago until Evelyn (Naomi Watts) says so. She has become the new leader and she sets new rules.  Meanwhile, Tris is reluctant to stand by her as she does not approve of her methods and she Four, Cristina, Peter and Caleb decide to explore what’s beyond the wall.

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The director, Robert Schwentke, has listened to the criticism about Insurgent to some extent. He ameliorates upon the previous instalment and the end result is a surprisingly entertaining film—as long as you don’t dig deep into it. The visual effects and action sequences are well-realized and some are quite innovative and refreshing.

When it comes to character arcs, we have more or less the same people in beginning, and in the end, of the film. Some change and some don’t but overall, there is not much development. Tris is still the only girl who can save the world and Tobias/Four is still the person she’s in love with. Both Shailene Woodley and Theo James do a commendable job portraying their characters. Naomi Watts and Octavia Spencer are both spectacular in their roles. Jeff Daniels comes in as David and is terrific as he is in everything. Miles Teller as Peter is the same hypocrite he was before, and remains that way by the end of the film, but he is good. What was really disappointing was Ansel Elgort’s horrible acting. I regret telling you this but all his talent somehow evaporated and he is expressionless here.

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 Allegiant leaves the viewer satisfied once he gets out of the theatre but also despondent to an extent. Having seriously diverged from the source material, the film leaves you wondering what will happen in the next one considering there is nothing left from the book for Ascendant. The announcement that Schwentke will be stepping down the director’s chair for, allegedly, being too tired of filming so much in a year is quite alarming.

All in all, The Divergent Series: Allegiant is an improvement over Insurgent. Nonetheless it falls into its own trap by trying too hard to be complex and ends up being an enjoyable but forgettable flick.

Rating:

3.5 out of 5 stars