The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Watching one of your all time favourite books transformed into a spectacular adventure that mirrors almost every word gives you a real kick and a half. ‘The Hobbit‘ is a book that reads like a live adventure and is so engrossing that the reader is made to be a part of the band of hunters seeking their goal. I felt every bit of the adventure in this novel and when Peter Jackson announced that this one small book would be transformed into three movies, I knew his attention to detail would be impeccable. I watched the first part ‘The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey‘ in December 2012 and I found it a bit too slow. It dragged on a bit too much and lacked the punch that the novel held. Maybe Peter Jackson’s attention to details was a bit too much here, I thought.the desolation of smaug - the hobbit

Come April 2014 and I get my hands on a fine HD quality print of the second part in the series ‘The Hobbit – The Desolation of Smaug‘. And I forgive Peter Jackson for all his trespasses in his past movies ’cause the second part really took off and made my day. It’s not about the action, but the environment and mood that the director creates. It’s so full of classic adventure, yet you do not feel tired of it. It’s fun, it’s suspenseful and above all it’s entertaining. While darker and sombre in its mood, ‘Desolation of Smaug’ is a wonderful tribute to the creative landscape of Peter Jackson and the beauty of the New Zealand wilderness where this has been shot. The cast is up to speed with the vision of the novel and bring to life J.R.R. Tolkien‘s journey from the Shire to the Lonely Mountain.Smaug

Never a dull moment, the epic adventure ends abruptly with the viewer asking for more. I definitely can’t wait to watch the final version of this trilogy. One of the highlights of this movie was Smaug. In line with the title, Benedict Cumberbatch does away with his Sherlockian finery and through the wonders of motion capture, gets into the guise of the dragon. It’s cold, it’s hammy, but it’s wonderful watching the tete-a-tete with the thief Bilbo Baggins. And it’s Sherlock vs. Watson here, if you know what I mean.

Action weekend

It was an action fest at home what with four back-to-back movies thumping out heavy soundtracks with bullets, missiles and men whizzing around air, land and water, oh and there was a lady kicking ass too.

G.I. Joe Retaliation

G.I. Joe Retaliation
G.I. Joe Retaliation

Guns, guns and more guns and then there was The Rock (Dwayne Johnson). You can’t deny the fact that this guy has incredible screen presence and is the action star of our generation. Brute force and calculated risks are his forte as he takes on Cobra Commander in this much improved version of the film franchise. While Part 1 was disappointing, specially the Cobra Commander sequence with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, I kind of like Part 2. There were quite  few extravagant fight sequences but that was all that kept the movie going with its wafer thin plot. I didn’t mind this. A good fun ride with thespian Bruce Willis making a guest appearance and some very fine villains. This was a sort of a reboot fo the franchise with the old guard wiped out in the opening sequence. Lets see what more the new GI’s have on offer in the future. One thing – it’s gonna work only with Roadblock (The Rock).

Man of Steel

Man of Steel
Man of Steel

The only Superman movie not to have his name in the title, “Man of Steel” has Christopher Nolan‘s stamp as a producer and Zak Snyder‘s dark and brooding over-the-top atmosphere. The movie started off with a bit of a yawn, I nodded off in between, but caught up with some heavy duty fighting as General Zod began wringing earths defences like a rag doll. This movie has it’s moments and I am with the producers and writer’s on this one as they removed the campyness that I so despise in superhero movies. Overall, a good nod to this genre of movies.

World War Z

World War Z
World War Z

Brad Pitt fights zombies. That would have been the one line brief to the makers of this movie. The movie builds up with a standard hero-with-family-tries-to-save-world premise and somewhere in the middle when you have Brad Pitt’s UN investigator begin his search for a vaccine, then you have a fast paced narrative with interesting set-pieces. I now know why Israel builds its great barrier wall with Palestine. It’s to keep out the zombies. This scene where the zombies try to infiltrate Jerusalem was the most cinematically entertaining part of the movie. Otherwise I would relegate this one to standard action fare. Has it’s moments but a fair view.

Kick Ass 2

Kick Ass 2
Kick Ass 2

This movie didn’t need Jim Carrey’s poor sense of judgment and holier than thou attitude to denounce itself. There are some movies that do not need a sequel, where the sequel only waters down the character. This is one such. All the good work done with the first movie somehow comes undone here and looks over the top. I loved the first installment, this one just doesn’t work as it tries hard to be a continuation. Over-the-top can look good, as it did in the first installment, but here it just falls flat and seems contrived.

So there’s it an action weekend that threw up quite it’s share of entertainment.

 

How much do you weigh?

Emily Blunt’s free spirited catch phrase sums up this light and lovely movie that leaves behind a wonderful feeling on an exhausted heart and mind. ‘Wild Target‘ is a nice small film that leaves you smiling all the way with its simple but heart warming tale of an assassin and his relationship with a would-be victim. Wild Target

Bill Nighy‘s cold assassin and Emily Blunt‘s free spirit are a match made on the city streets and countryside of England. It’s a sight to see the cold as steel Nighy give in to his feelings and do a double-take when it comes to Blunt. She is Blunt in her beauty and vivacity and makes no bones on who she is against the calculating hard-as-nails killer.

The movie has it share of stars who add their own touch to this madcap caper of a movie but I loved the intensity with which the two leads with opposing characteristics literally beat the heat of bullets and a sinister mom who pops in whenever she feels like but in the end proves that mommy knows best as far as her sons profession is concerned.

A day when I faced some personal heat and tried to digest soemthing edible, this was a welcome experience that left me a bit lighter. “How much do I weigh?” Maybe I should have Miss Blunt ask me that now.

‘Earth’ enware

How acceptable is honesty when all that you believe in can be challenged and can be taken head on. ‘For the greater good’ can be a selfish term even though it may involve the fate of the masses, cause the greater good can only be defined by one and passed on. ‘The Man from Earth‘ is a powerful statement to these themes and continues to haunt me even as I blog.The Man From Earth

Life and death may be two sides of the coin but there is a grey area mysteriously explored in ‘The Man from Earth‘. The film takes place in a living room (yes, all one and a half hours of it, except for a few outdoor shots right outside the living room). But hang on to every word, every expression, every exclamation and you are bound to be rooted to your seat without a cup of black coffee to keep you company,

The protagonist is John Oldman, a professor who is packing up and moving to an unknown destination. His colleagues, who include anthropologists, archaeologists, biologists, historians and a psychiatrist stop by to say their final goodbyes when the professor breaks the news that he is actually a prehistoric caveman man who has been on earth for thousands of years. From here on the evening takes on a mysterious turn as the professors first jokingly and then with rising alarm quiz the professor about his past.

The conversation is turned on its head with some powerful revelations that shake the very foundation of the faith of the professors in their knowledge and culture. There are dark undertones to the conversation as it gets uncomfortable as the evening wears on and the professor keeps packing up his stuff as he prepares to leave. Never has a conversation in a movie been as gripping and stimulating and the script leaves you breathless as you wait for the next verbal intellectual bombshell to be thrown at you. Is it fact? Is it fiction? The mystery just gets deeper as darkness falls.

Based on a short story by Jerome Bixby, ‘The Man from Earth’ features an ensemble cast of faces you may have seen in passing in movies and television serials. David Lee Smith is the protagonist and plays the part to convincing perfection with the right level of subtlety. No melodrama, no shocking screeches… it’s a gentle but anxious approach to solve the riddle of Professor John Oldman’s life.

Is it worth speaking the truth when it supposedly defies logic? With an ending that reflects the smooth twists and turns that the conversation takes, this movie has a mortality rate that outlives its running time by a long long way. To top it all the song ‘Forever‘, written by the director Richard Schenkman, that plays at the end credits reflects the beauty of the landscape of the movie. This movie may have been an underdog when it compares to the big budget flicks, but it is a movie with a unique heart and a cryptic mind.

Ode to Wych Kaosayananda

Why would anyone ever make Ecks vs Sever,

while adding the title ‘Ballistics’ forever;

Featuring the international cast of Banderas and Liu,

along with a director who will never ever get his due.

They shoot, maim and they kill,

and we keep watching as we foot the theatre bill;

The monologues sound more like something that rhymes with ‘tart’

In this writer’s structure the donkey came after the cart.

Me act natural, me act deep,

That’s what old Antonio is saying in his sleep;

Me act cat, me act bitch,

That’s Lucy’s swan song and the last time she gets rich.

Who is Ecks? Who is Sever?

Will I get to know this ever,

I am getting euthanised by those flashing images,

Hey, that’s just Antonio and some bobbing cleavages.

Wych Kaosayananda – that’s the director’s name,

I know its a mouthful that you’ll forget all the same;

He would do well as Jigsaw’s next 3D victim,

Or the ‘Human Centipede’s’ next escapade up someone’s rectum.

That’s my two cents on Ballistsic – the max my brain allows,

The box office returns match the number above;

I would advise watching it too,

When you have no backup plan in the loo.

Damme good!

‘There’s somethin’ strange, in the neighbourhood, who you gonna call? – Jean Claude van Damme.’ If Ghostbuster’s was still the international flavour of the season, the anthem every Belgian would be singing while walking the streets of the hometown of the ‘Muscle from Brussels’ would be this.JCVD

Jean Claude Van Damme has been Belgium’s biggest export till Kim Klijsters took away that tag by going love-all with the US Open centre court audience, and he has had a hard fought career roundhouse kicking his way to the top of Direct-to-Video stardom. Not to take away from the fact that he has been a part of successful mainstream Hollywood franchises and individual action movies that have cemented his place as the go-to guy of the non-squint-eyed variety (I am not being racist here, its Hollywood dammit).

There is no ballet in the action sequences he executes, nor memorable one-liners that would tickle the bad guys to no end. Here is an out-and-out action star who’s main competitor in the ’80s and much of the ’90s was a certain Steven Seagal.

Until Death‘ was the first Van Damme movie that gave a glimpse of what he was capable of in terms of lending credibility to his character as someone who could make it to the Oscar podium someday. A totally uncharacteristic performance from the slam-bang goings-on in the Direct-to-Video market, this movie did go the same way, but received wider acclaim as time wore on. And then there was JCVD.

JCVD, an acronym for Jean Claude Van Damme, is the story of a washed up Van Damme who is stuck with direct-to-video releases in the international market, with no brain actioners that manage to just keep the fires burning. This semi-autobiographical film, though fictitious in nature, places Van Damme playing himself in a situation that he could very well have experienced had things gone out of hand in the near past. Director Mabrouk El Mechri, was himself a fan of the Van Damme school of Martial Arts, that brought Bloodsport, Hard Target, Double Impact the respect they deserved in a saturated end of millennium action genre market.

As Van Damme fights a custody case for his daughter in JCVD and fights battles against creditors, he gets back to Belgium for one last try at finding himself as an actor who could relive some past glory. In familiar territory, he gets to meet his fans who stop him to pose for pictures, reminding him of the huge international star he was.

Popping into a post office to withdraw some cash, more as a last resort, he runs into an actual robbery happening and from then on a comedy of errors leads to Van Damme being the main suspect in this robbery that turns into a hostage situation à la ‘Dog Day Afternoon‘ except that there’s no cross dressing lipstick smeared Lothario waiting at the other end.

JCVD turns into a dark comedy infused with Shakespearean intent where the character breaks the fourth wall and directly addresses the audience. This is Van Damme’s finest hour, as in the midst of the hostage situation he launches into a monologue that would make Ian Mackellan‘s Old Vic renderings as impressive as Magneto’s raised eyebrow in each franchise event of the X-Men series.

I felt sad for Van Damme. Here was an action star who ruled the global action box office and was now reduced to being rejected by his very daughter for being a laughing stock of an actor. Two images strike the heart – Van Damme’s rejection by his daughter and the redemption that takes place when she claims him back when he is truly down and out. Watch his face when these events occur. With all due respect to JCVD, it would roundhouse kick every other Oscar emotion that Sean Penn ‘Milk’ed to the brim, and knock the hat off The Last King of Scotland.

Mabrouk El Mechri is a true fan – a fan who knows what this star is worth. Van Damme’s second lease of life, what with the glowing critic reviews, has extended his stay on the dramaction zone where he need not do any more cameos on series like ‘Friends’ and can command himself to opt out of ‘Expendables‘. He is no more the expendable, but a force that can reaffirm his export quality status for Belgium.

Deadgirl – A heavy body count

Picture this – you come deadgirlacross a girl in the darkest corner of a basement in an abandoned psychiatric hospital. The girl is tied up, shorn of all her clothes, on a hospital gurney with a dazed look in her eyes. What do you do?

Deadgirl‘ starts off from here. A movie from the heart of mid-state suburban America, this movie makes no statements about its small origins, what with its unknown cast and minimal production values that are unhindered by some telling cinematography and the staple diet that horror films run on – visual prosthetics with a lot of blood, pus, torn faces and disemboweled bodies.

Deadgirl‘ has a cringe-worthy subject within its running time and this comes in the form of the immortality that the supposedly ‘Deadgirl‘ in the basement possesses. You know where this is going.

While predictable to some extent, ‘Deadgirl’ uses an uncomfortable situation exacerbated by unmitigated violence that reflects the helplessness of the victim while making the viewer sorry for and then repulsed by the very same victim. It is a conflict that makes it hard to watch as the movie goes on and the perpetrators of violence are almost made sitting ducks against an immortal force of nature that may be of supernatural or other-worldly origins.

The ‘almost’ twist in the end, while predictable does not leave a lasting impression but justifies the irony that the movie is based on. Directors Marcel Sarmiento and Gadi Harel may not be auteurs in the horror genre, but they do have the knack for bringing out a cringe worthy subject in as laid back a way as possible. I am a horror buff but it takes a really strong movie to intimidate me and ‘Deadgirl’ did not do that.

‘Deadgirl’ is not a statement making film, unlike ‘A Serbian Film‘ which according to its director was actually a film that had a patriotic Serbian undertone. That makes me wonder what the Serbs are going to do next. Make Slobodan Milosevic’s corpse immortal and go on giving him enemas till he skips the border into Transylvania to join some blood letting marauder of virgins and they happily skip and jump across borders covering every nation under the UN.

‘Deadgirl’ is not pretentious – that I will give, but when you have the lead character in this film looking like Edward Cullen with a sullen face waiting to perhaps sink some fangs into every soft tissue he finds, you can’t help but get some ‘Twilight‘y goose bumps that keep growing with the introduction of some High School Musical like scenes of male bravado and female cheer of the same. Don’t be mistaken, you still need to be well overage to watch this movie. Leave ‘Twilight’ for the animal activists waiting to picket some cruelty to werewolves thing.

Dabangg – More bangs for your buck

An Indian campy film never looked, sounded or felt so good. Take a bit of Sergio Leone‘s early Westerns, mix them with a bit of the Sippy brothers kitsch of the ’70s, get a psychologist to transcribe the dreams of every living BIMARU (Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, UP for the uninitiated) villager and bring in a director willing to pitch the same to a star who makes hay when he caters to the front-benchers in every single screen hall in small town India. BTW, the director needs to be influenced a bit by the Hollywood pulp films of the early ’90s and sticking with Hollywood, he better have watched a lot of Ernest Goes to Camp and the rest of the series.

Dabangg poster
Dabangg poster outside the Rex Theatre on Brigade Road

The above is the surefire recipe for Dabangg that seems to have done wonders for a whole lot of sagging careers in Bollywood. Being from deep down south India, with a Bollywood IQ akin to a sherpas knowledge of the Deccan Plateau, I can vouch that I did enjoy nearly every frame of this movie.

Salman Khan hams it to the brim as the goofy Chulbul Pandey alias Robinhood Pandey – a corrupt UP village cop who lives for action and makes sure that the rest of the crowd die laughing at his antics. The action is shamelessly lifted from south Indian cinema (especially Tamil cinema) but in the hands and also the feet of Salman, it finds a worthy inventor who can find all the right moves without any lab trained stunts. I have always been willing to give this guy a bit of leeway when it comes to his acting or his life. No matter what he does, there is a charm in his hilariously choreographed mimes that would definitely break the fourth wall in a Marcel Marceau interpretation.

Dabangg is Salman Khan all the way. From the wickedly written dialogues with a whole lot of tongue in cheek moments to the incredible action sequences, one of which actually sees Chulbul’s shirt ripping off like the Incredible Hulks’, you have Salman masterfully controlling the  screen time with the right mix of eye-popping pop action and slapstick devilry that would make Dada Kondke turn in his grave with his naada intact.

It does help that the film is held together with a strong script and editing that makes it easier for the director Abhinav Kashyap to bring together a motley set of characters who hold their own in whatever short scene they have in the film. Arbaaz Khan, as Makkhi Pandey the no good step brother of Chulbul, gets an unusual amount of screen time based on the fact that he is the brother of the star of the film and he also happens to be the main Producer of Dabangg. Malaika Arora Khan completes the family affair in this film by creating an ideal item number that works with a catchy tune and with the right amount of oomph from the Khan lass.

Sonakshi Sinha in her debut as the heroine in the film, does make a huge impression and she has it in her to make it big. Her beauty completes the kitschy feel of the movie and she stands out as an ideal foil to Sallu Bhai’s tamasha’s as Chulbul. She does have her lines in dialogues that drew whistles and shouts of appreciation from the 10 PM crowd that thronged the Gandhi and the balcony seats of the single screen Rex theatre on Bangalore’s Brigade Road.

I don’t know how much of a hand Abhinav Kashyap would have had in conceptualizing the various styles used in this dramatic action campy film. From the buzz in the media it looks like Abhinav Kashyap may have been short changed for the credit or there may be truth in the fact that the Khan’s had a prominent role to play in helping conceptualize and build the tempo of the film. Whatever the argument they did give the audience a lot to laugh about as they in turn laugh their way to the bank (a Trojan horse could not hold all the money that this film is gonna earn).

RIP – all the deceased criminals on screen. They served their purpose especially the evil and vile Cheddi Singh played by the surprisingly inventive Sonu Sood. There are a whole lot of comical encounters within the film that only serve well when watched, so I am just shutting up here.

The Expandables

No, that’s not a typo in the title of Sylvester Stallone‘s tribute to ’80s machismo. While a commendable effort to get in such a star cast, there is still that grey area where you feel that the director hasn’t done complete justice to some of the stars in this relaunch vehicle and could have expanded upon quite a few scenes and roles. I am not complaining. The dearth of good action movies helps create a refreshing space for ‘The Expendables‘ to complete its act.The Expendables

Every excuse for CGI and other computer generated images, explosions and stunts, more adaptable to the video game universe, have now entered the action movie genre and this passes of as an out and out action thriller. In the midst of this action drought ‘The Expendables‘ does come, as the cliche goes, as a breath of fresh air. The wisecracks are there, the fights are raw and hard, the weaponry is heavy (and when I say heavy, I really mean it, what with torsos getting torn apart in a hail of artillery fire from a hand held big gun).

The opening sequence sets the tone for the movie and the characterization of the cast. You immediately know what Dolf Lundgren‘s role is gonna be in the movie as he rashly goes about what would be as natural to him as his morning ablutions. The story arc is standard action genre. Bunch of mercenaries hired to overthrow dictator in banana republic, but a shadowy evil power calls the real shots and tries to outwit and outmuscle everyone including our heroic mercenaries who are helped by a hot Latino damsel in distress. There, I summarized the script for you in a sentence. That’s how compact an action script can get, more compact that describing the features on your Tata Nano.

Now for the star cast, no doubt this is a cast that eats, sleeps, breathes and dreams action. Stallone, Statham, Jet Li, Randy Couture, Lundgren, Terry Crews – all form the main action cast of the mercenaries. Mickey Rourke makes an almost cameo appearance, and Bruce Willis and former Governor Schwarzennegger make and extremely cameo cameo appearance. There was a lot expected from the Stallone, Willis, Schwarzennegger scene and it did not disappoint. The tongue-in-cheek lines delivered with the classic expressions that these actors have templatized for themselves, from dead-pan(Stallone) to smirk (Willis) to grin and chomp (Arnie boy), I would have definitely liked to see an extended scene for these trio in a single frame.

The Expendables ranks high on the babe meter. Charisma Carpenter has enough of charisma to light up an already explosive situation and so too does Gisele Itie who takes a particular liking to Stallone’s Barney Ross. The laughs are brought in more by the action, and their defence budget would sure have given our very own Finance Minister Pranab da, serious statistical nightmares. Watch out for Jason Statham’s run-in with his ex-girlfriends current boyfriend on the basketball courts. The ball jokes hold here, so too does Terry Crews big gun in the concluding action sequence. Crews, who had nothing much to do till then, still doesn’t have much to do here, but his loaded gun act (and I mean this literally) is a hard bargain for any gun wielding hero to follow.

David Zayas as the banana republic President does a Noriega in a simplistic cliche ridden role that’s not too bad. Zayas is a much better actor, having seen him in ‘Dexter‘, but he does hat is required of him without any fuss. Eric Roberts, who is undergoing a renaissance in his career that at one stage seemed relegated to the B-film brigade, performs an almost stereotyped role that he has successfully executed in his last few films – that of a cheesy, greasy, slimeball, with very little emotional quotient – all this delivered with his middle-age pretty boy image intact.

So, overall I give ‘The Expendables’ a thumbs up. But, there could have been more for Stone Cold Steve Austin and after hyping his role in the movie, I almost missed him totally. Austin does deserve better than this. The movie did end up being a bit of a tight fit as it seemed that the producers wanted to squeeze too much in 100 minutes. That may have let down the movie a bit, but with its worldwide success I am sure the sequel that’s supposedly already in the works could be bigger and hence longer (nothing sexually suggestive here) and of course definitely better than this. I am praying that this is the renaissance and resurrection of the action genre, what with Predators and a whole lot of other spin-off’s from the ’80s and ’90s making a comeback. Keep praying.