Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Transformers: The Dark of the Moon (2011)

I have always thought that Michael Bay is like the Manmohan Desai of Hollywood. His movies focused on entertaining you at all costs and critics love to hate him. Take the first Transformers for instance. I loved that film. I thought it was an excellent mix of humour, action, visual effects and packed just enough human drama and plot to make me want to suspend disbelief quite wholeheartedly. He is the king of masala movies in Hollywood. Films like The Rock and Armageddon continue to entertain millions around the world even today. 

However, he too has his share of misfires and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen was arguably his greatest folly (Pearl Harbor being a very close second). Loud, convoluted, thoroughly pointless and at times, offensive, it was a headache inducing 3 hour disaster that just refused to end. It emphasised strictly on visuals and there too, opted for mere excess rather than further innovation. Therefore, I had reservations about the second sequel, particularly when they had the gall to use the title of a Pink Floyd album. Nevertheless, I found myself outside a theatre today at 9:30 a.m. surrounded by a sea of adolescents eagerly fighting their way through the lines for tickets to the first show. And much to my surprise, it was worth the effort.

The story starts in the 1960s when a Cybertronian ship crash lands on the dark side of the moon triggering the Space Race for its recovery. Cut to present time, Sam (Shia LeBeouf) has graduated, is frustrated and looking for a job. He has a new girlfriend Carly (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley) who works to restore an antique car gallery owned by millionaire Dylan Gould (Patrick Dempsey) who also is on the Board for an MNC named Accurate where Sam gets a job. In another part of the world, the Autobots and Capt. Lennox (Josh Duhamel) find a piece from the wreckage of the Cybertronian ship at Chernobyl which leads to the discovery and recovery of Sentinal Prime (Leonard Nimoy) on the ship along with a powerful new technology with frightening implications. At the same time, the Decepticons are moving. The pieces are set. The pawns are in place. Let the action begin!

There are four new additions to the cast: Patrick Dempsey, Leonard Nimoy, Frances MacDormand as the National Intelligence Director and John Malkovich as Sam's eccentric boss at the company. In terms of plot, the film goes back to the basics and provides a plotline similar to the first film but constructed on a much larger scale. The film is a vast improvement over Revenge of the Fallen simply for the fact that it benefits from a more coherent and whole plotline that is just enough to make you want to disregard the various plotholes. Michael Bay directs the film with a steady hand and manages to keep a better leash on its monstrous length and visual excesses.

Of course, as always, there is no characterisation worth talking about. There are a few smart lines here and there. Most of the actors sleepwalk through their roles like in the first two films. Turturro thankfully is far less annoying here. Dempsey's charming, villainous act not only looks effortless, but also probably is. Frances MacDormand is wasted in a minor role. However, Leonard Nimoy is exceptional as Sentinal Prime and brings the requisite amount of dignity to the character. Also, John Malkovich is wonderful in a minor role as he is allowed to run rampage and do what he does best. But that's all him rather than any effort from the writers. I have a sneaking suspicion that they left his parts in the script blank and allowed him to fill them up as he thought fit. Huntington-Whitely is a suitable replacement for Megan Fox and, like her predecessor, looks devastatingly gorgeous and acts very little.  

Visually, however, the film is nothing short of spectacular. I hate 3D technology fro the bottom of my heart as it is mercilessly exploited by strudios for better weekend grosses. However, Michael Bay makes exceptional use of the technology making Transformers: Dark of the Moon, the one film after Avatar and How to Train Your Dragon that I would recommend watching in 3D rather than 2D. The sheer depth and scale the technology adds here is tremendous and thankfully, Bay compensates for the colour saturation in terms of the lighting sufficiently to prevent 3D from dampening the experience.

In terms of the effects, the film thankfully focuses on not just bigger and more numerous action sequences, but also more interesting ones. Not since Transformers has a movie made me marvel and gasp this much at the action sequences. The detail with which the scenes are constructed and the use of slow motion at the appropriate moments adds much to the visual appeal of the film. The climactic battle is long, maybe a little too much. Nevertheless, the camerawork, the conceptualisation of the visual effects and the choreography of the action sequences is fantastic enough to make it well worth your time. In terms of pure action, the bridge chase sequence in the pre-interval portion is truly inspired stuff. Thankfully, the sound work this time is kept in check such that the metal crushing doesn't induce headaches.

At the end of the day, Transformers: The Dark of the Moon is nowhere as bad as its nonsensical title suggests. Sure, it is just as silly, overstuffed and excessive as you would expect from a Michael Bay film. The film won't win the franchise new fans. However, the fans of the first have reason to rejoice. It is a vast improvement over its immediate predecessor and is a throughly entertaining and engrossing ride from start to end. Its eye popping visuals are mounted on a plot which is just about strong enough to hold it all together. I can't say it won't insult your intelligence. However, I can say that you will probably forgive it for that.

Rating: 3.5/5

P.S.: (minor spoiler) I do think the climax and basic plot line is "borrowed" from Doctor Who: End of Time, Megatron being the Master and Sentinel being the Rassilon. What do you think Jason?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Shaitan, X Men: First Class and West is West (2011): A Mixed Bag

Due to a lack of internet facilities, updating the blog has proved to be a little difficult. But anyway, three movies of interest released last week. Here’s what I thought of them:

Shaitan: Despite Indian critics raving about it, I think it was a rather weak film, especially so by Anurag Kashyap’s own self-imposed standards. He is a film maker that boasts of realism and novelty in his works and Shaitan had neither of these. In terms of plot, it was essentially inspired by the Akshay Kumar starrer Khiladi mixed with Cruel Intentions and several other poorer Hollywood teen drama movies. 5 over-privileged, debauch kids decide to stage a kidnapping to extort money from their parents and in the process, bite off way more than they can chew. Sound familiar? Also, it was laughably unrealistic particularly in the post-interval portions. The characters lacked depth and the film has a judgmental tone that is shockingly illiberal. Not everyone who has sex, is promiscuous and indulges in drugs are repressed maniacs with a propensity for violence. Nevertheless, it was stylistically classy and well-executed. The soundtrack is excellent and the photography is brilliant in certain portions with interesting use of light and shadow. There was also some experimenting in the story telling by Bejoy Nambiar, who shows promise as a director. The performances were strong but the one stand out performance was that of Kalki Koechlin. Overall, this is perhaps the weakest of Kashyap’s films since No Smoking.

Rating: 2/5

X Men: First Class: With Layer Cake and Kick-Ass, the one thing Matthew Vaughn proved is that he is one of the most stylish storytellers today. Here, he attempts to resuscitate the fledgling X Men series and while he fails to restore its glory in its entirety, he is successful enough to make us hunger for more. The prequel begins with providing us with the origins of Eric Lensherr (Michael Fassbender), a Nazi concentration camp survivor and Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), a privileged and brilliant Professor specialising in the study of mutations at Oxford. When the CIA stumbles upon a plot to start World War III by the sinister Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), it recruits the two mutants to find others like themselves and save the world from destruction. While the film is suave and stuffed with immense amounts of cool, it lacks the substance and spirit that could have taken the series to the next level. The story suffers for the sake of style and there is little character development worth talking about. The only exception to the character of Eric Lensherr which benefits from a fantastic performance from Michael Fassbender who plays the powerful but damaged Magneto to perfection. Overall, this is a good but not great movie. A superb cameo from Wolverine though.

Rating: 3/5

West is West: A considerably improvement over East is East, this film was entirely different in substance and tone taking a much more serious approach than the first film. It is less crass, lewd and doesn’t play to the galleries like East is East did. Here, Jahangir Khan a.k.a. George (Om Puri) takes his last born Sajid (Aqib Khan) to his homeland in Pakistan to make him acquainted with his roots. In so doing, he confronts his first wife and the family he left behind 30 years ago leading to hilarity and poignancy in equal measure. Written with great wit and uncharacteristic amounts of intelligence, the film depicts the alternate culture and life in the Orient without mystifying or demonsing it. Its non-judgmental tone and emphasis on symbiosis is laudable. The humour is plenty in supply and works brilliantly in a lot of places. The verbal sparring between Pir Naseem and Sajid are some of the best written portions of the film. The director also does a remarkable job of contrasting Sajid’s journey of self-discovery with:George’s journey of re-discovery which involves facing his past. The performances of Om Puri, Ila Arun and Nadim Sawalha are simply outstanding. Ila Arun particularly pitches in a powerful and haunting act. Only one flaw: set in 1976, the film lacks a strong sense of time and place, which could have elevated the film to another level. Nevertheless, this is a thoroughly entertaining and insightful film that should not be disregarded.

Rating: 3.5/5