Category Archives: Movies

Remembering hobbits, misty mountains and Led Zeppelin songs

The Hobbit Gandalf

Ever since it was announced that Peter Jackson was going to bring ‘The Hobbit’ to life on the big screen, I had been waiting excitedly for it. I finally saw the first installment, ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ a couple of weeks ago. And the verdict is… Good but not as enjoyable as the Lord of the Rings movies. Let me explain why.

I’ll start at the beginning. I got into the whole Tolkien fantasy world initially thanks to Led Zeppelin songs. Being a big fan of classic rock and Zeppelin in particular, I was intrigued by the fascinating, otherworldly lyrics in songs like ‘The Battle of Evermore’, ‘Stairway to Heaven’, ‘Misty Mountain Hop’ and ‘Ramble On’ among others. And then I picked up the book called ‘The Hobbit’. Initially, the peculiar style of storytelling seemed a bit childish for my taste (the funny names of the various dwarves didn’t make it any better) but I soon warmed up to it.

At around the same time, the Lord of the Rings movies started getting released in theatres one by one. Having just read The Hobbit, it was easy to follow these movies as a continuation of the story and I absolutely loved them all. Sure, I had my preferences. ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’ was wonderful as a visual introduction to middle earth. Before that, middle earth had only existed in my imagination. ‘The Two Towers’ was great for its excellently done battle scenes. And ‘Return of the King’ was a grand finale, albeit way too long and dragging towards the end. But anyway, I loved the setting, the characters, the lines… everything! This was the first big fantasy epic that I could relate to, having not grown up on Star Wars. Also, the LoTR movies seemed a lot more real to me with a sort of historical/mythological flavour to them, as opposed to Star Wars which I always felt had way too many weird looking characters that I could never relate to. Call it personal bias or opinion, whatever.

So my expectations were sky-high for ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’. But it didn’t quite wow me like the earlier movies did. The perfect way to describe it can be encapsulated in this solitary, classic Bilbo line “… like butter scraped over too much bread”. Compared to the very detailed Lord of the Rings books, The Hobbit is actually not a difficult read. To stretch just one third of that book into a 3 hour long movie seemed a bit too much. And I could tell that I was losing interest pretty early due to the ambling pace of the first half.

‘Riddles in the dark’ with Gollum was one of the first truly interesting portions in the movie. And I did enjoy the Misty Mountains song that the dwarves sing in unison before setting foot on their adventure. But I did not care at all for that weird forest wizard, Radagast and felt that this unnecessary character introduction only ended up slowing down the plot. Not to mention, the pointless discussion between Gandalf and the other ‘elders’ of middle earth at Rivendell. My wife had the funniest observation here… in some of the scenes she said it looked like Gandalf and Galadriel were having an affair! That in itself should give you an indication of how much they have stretched out this movie beyond what was needed for a Part I of III.

Nonetheless, it was still enjoyable overall because the original story is still close to my heart. And there is no doubt that I will ardently wait for and watch the next installment in this epic series.

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Shodo Girls

Last weekend my wife dragged me to a Japanese movie and I have to say that I quite enjoyed watching it. She is learning Japanese and so naturally was overjoyed when the practically inactive Japanese embassy announced their annual film festival. The film that we decided to see was called ‘Shodo Girls’. Seemed like an interesting enough plot from the festival brochure, so thought we’d give it a try. What did we have to lose anyway? Entrance was free! I was praying for subtitles though.

The film is about a calligraphy club formed by a group of school girls in a small town on Shikoku island. The town is known for its paper mills, a fact drilled into the viewer’s brain by the oft-repeated dialogue in the film that ‘those paper mill chimneys can be seen from anywhere in town’! This particular line fits into the puzzle nicely later on by shaping the gist of the second half of the film. It starts off as a comedy. The girls are shown to be very serious about their kanji calligraphy but in their midst are 3 dorky boys who end up looking like the Japanese version of the 3 Stooges. They provide some much-needed entertainment to this club which is filled with its share of teenage girl drama and politics. Add to this, a new teacher/adviser whose quirky methods confuse and annoy the girls to no end, and you have an interesting movie.

The film is quite funny and enjoyable but does get saccharine and dramatic in parts. I greatly enjoyed seeing small-town Japan though.

The wonderful world of Tintin

I love Tintin. I always have. It was my favourite comic book growing up! I remember our local library in Madras, India had loads of Tintin books that we used to borrow over and over again. I swear I have read through each of the 24 adventures numerous times. The thing that I love most about Herge’s art is the fact that his drawings are so realistic and vivid. Whether it is a night scene at a harbor showing a drug smuggling ring in operation or Tintin and his faithful dog Snowy hijacking a steam train across the Wild West, the stories really keep your attention. Reading a Tintin book to me is like watching a movie. I remember that I used to love Herge’s drawings so much that it inspired me to create my own comic book, though of course it was no way as good as the original. But I used to draw a lot as a kid, quite nicely if I may add. And it was largely inspired by Herge.

Last year when Steven Spielberg came out with a Tintin movie I was very excited. And it turned out to be a really entertaining watch, though it didn’t quite compare to the wondrous world showcased in the books. But nevertheless I was happy that characters like Tintin, Snowy, Captain Haddock and the Thompson twins were once again in the public eye after several years. Some people were discovering these characters for the first time and others like me were reliving their childhood memories. Watching the movie made me miss the books. So I went out to a local bookstore and bought a Tintin comic book, ‘Tintin In America’. I also chanced to notice this book titled ‘Tintin: Herge & His Creation’ by Harry Thompson. Quickly flipping through it, I saw that it had chapters on every single of the 24 adventures. It was not new… first published in 1991, but nonetheless I decided to buy it.

I have just finished reading this book and it is a fantastic read! The author starts at the very beginning in the early part of the 20th century and describes Herge’s childhood in a conservative family in Brussels. Georges Remi was his real name and he started drawing Tintin for the national newspaper Le Vingtieme Siecle and later a publication called Le Soir before bringing out the books that we know now. The book wonderfully chronicles his journey from the 1930’s to the 1970’s and talks in detail about what went behind the making of each and every adventure. The author also throws light on how major happenings like World War II, Nazi fascism and the Cold War influenced Herge’s thinking. The Shooting Star in particular is one book for which Herge was unfavorably judged after the war. The author even talks about how the characters developed as the stories went on. Tintin’s dog Snowy talks a lot in the early adventures but not so much later on. Captain Haddock’s personality also changes as the years go on. There are several other fascinating aspects concerning the attention to detail that Herge gives to each of the adventures. But I will not spoil it for future readers by discussing them here. All I can say is that for serious fans of Tintin, this book is a real treasure to read through.

Movies of the past year or so

Okay, first post of 2012… Happy New Year to all!

Thought I would take a look back at all the new movies I watched over the past year. Seeing as the Golden Globes is tonight and Oscar season is coming pretty soon, now is a good time to do this extremely subjective exercise. :p So anyway, without any delay here goes…

Oh by the way, the first few movies on this list actually came out in 2010 but only got released here in 2011… whatever.

You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger

This was quite interesting throughout, with the various eccentric characters going through their relationship drama for the amusement of everyone watching. But it wasn’t exceptional or anything. Good for a one time fun watch. Rating: *** (3 out of 5 stars)

Dhobi Ghat (Mumbai Diaries)

This was as artsy as I have seen Aamir Khan get, with a lot of help from his wife Kiran Rao who takes writing and directing responsibilities. Good flick but slow-moving and shows a lot of Bombay which my wife enjoyed thoroughly as she loves the place. Rating: ***1/2

Black Swan

This was both fantastic and terrifying at the same time. Some scenes here could fit in well in a psychological thriller or horror movie which is why I had to pre-warn my parents while at the same time recommending it wholeheartedly. Rating: ****1/2

The King’s Speech

We had to check this one out after seeing so much hype being generated in the media. At the end of it (and this is an unpopular opinion) I felt it was good but lacked a certain something. It was as though the transition from stuttering buffoon to perfect speaker happened a little too quickly or something. Rating: ****

127 Hours

This movie ambled along nicely until the point James Franco’s character gets stuck between those rocks and then it was just scary as heck. Very realistic (well, based on a true story) depiction of what happens when you get into a life and death situation out there in the open. Rating: ***

Rango

Went to see this one after hearing good things about it from SA’s resident movie critic Barry Ronge. But boy, was this a bad choice or what?!! It started out okay and then it just went on and on into pointless sequences. Then at some point you just stop giving a shit about the story or plot. I felt that Johnny Depp(‘s voice) was wasted on this one! Rating: *

Limitless

Limitless was great! It is basically about a failing writer who tries out a new drug which transforms him into this superhuman performing machine. This results in both good and bad consequences and that’s where the movie grabs your attention and doesn’t let go. Rating: ****

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

I thought this was an awesome sequel but apparently I am in the minority (as usual). Anyway, it was very entertaining and Johnny Depp once again delivers. Rating: ****1/2

Source Code

Read the plot for this one online and found it interesting enough to check it out. I’m so glad I did. This movie was pretty edge of the seat throughout. It really kept my attention until the end credits! Rating: *****

X-Men: First Class

Another superb movie! Anything to do with 20th century world history, Cold War tensions, Nazi Germany etc. automatically make me sit up and take notice. Here, the origins of these superhuman characters are beautifully showcased over a backdrop of those aforementioned world events. Truly first class. Rating: *****

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

The preview for this one was so deceivingly amazing that I was absolutely mad to find out what a clunker it was! The trailer makes it look like the movie is all about space exploration, NASA and such but it ended up being yet another ‘fast and furious’ type big muscle, no brains flick. There’s even a dumb bimbo as lead female character to put the final nail in this coffin. Rating: *

Delhi Belly

Delhi Belly seemed like Aamir Khan’s salute to Quentin Tarantino. It’s an action-packed slapstick movie that I would not have ordinarily expected out of Bollywood. But we’re talking about Aamir here of course, an actor who seldom wanders anywhere near the mainstream. Overall, good but a little silly. Rating: ***1/2

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows: Part 2

I am going to be completely biased here, sorry. Since I am not really a big Potter fan and only watched this after being dragged to see it by the wife, I found this one pretty boring. Strangely enough, I remember enjoying Part 1 more. Rating: **1/2

Super 8

This looked totally fascinating from the preview and to be quite honest, I think I went in with false expectations. I was waiting to see a movie about unidentified alien spacecrafts, hushed government intelligence, Rosewell New Mexico and the like but instead got a children’s flick closely resembling E.T. It was not bad but I didn’t find it exceptionally intriguing either. Rating: **1/2

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Enjoyed watching this one all the way through. It’s a story about science and animal testing backfiring on human beings. Rating: ****

The Help

Loved this one! I think it has Oscar written all over it! Viola Davis and especially Octavia Spencer give stunning performances as black housemaids in 1960’s America in the white-dominated southern state of Mississippi. Rating: *****

Contagion

This is a movie that is both interesting and scary because it portrays such a realistic picture of what would happen in the event of a global pandemic. Definitely not a feel-good flick but worth a watch for sure! Rating: ****1/2

The Adventures of Tintin

I grew up with Tintin comic books. So I knew I had to go see this one for sure before it left the theatres. And I thoroughly enjoyed it! It is action-packed, suspenseful and entertaining. It is pretty much everything a Tintin fan would expect from a movie version of the comic book. The only thing that was difficult to digest here was the fact that during numerous instances Tintin and Haddock get away without getting shot. And the bad guys always have terrible aim. But anyway, a willing suspension of disbelief is necessary I suppose. Rating: ****1/2

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

Heard many people raving about this one and decided to check it out. Was not all that impressed. The scenes in Russia are generally well shot and keep your attention but everything else felt overblown. Seeing Tom Cruise rapple down Burj Khalifa with hardly a scratch or driving down Mumbai’s streets at full speed despite plenty of pedestrians in the way was quite amusing. Also, there is a shot panning through a vast expanse of Dubai desert with symmetrically placed camels littered through the landscape. Not to mention signs in kannada language in Mumbai?? Quite ridiculous and un-researched on Hollywood’s part. Rating: **

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

This was another one my wife dragged me to but I actually enjoyed it! I haven’t seen the first movie and have only heard about the books. But this movie is not only fast-paced, it is witty. And the whole setting of late 19th century, early 20th century England is nicely done. Rating: ****

So all in all, a decent bunch of movies with a few stinkers thrown in. If forced to pick a favourite for the year, I would say X-Men: First Class. Thanks for reading.

X-Men: First Class – A terrific ride!

X-Men: First Class

Finally watched ‘X-Men: First Class’ last night. And it was truly first class! I remember watching the first two movies in theatres during the early part of the 2000’s. At the time I had no idea what the heck X-men was. I only went ‘cos my college roommates were going. I liked those movies but was not completely floored by them or anything. They looked like any other science fiction/superhero American film to me. But I have to say now that this new prequel really did bowl me over!

From the very first scene where we see a mother getting separated from a son at a Nazi death camp in Poland in 1944, the movie just completely grips you and doesn’t let go; keeps your attention till the very end! Of course, the fact that I am a major history buff did help. This movie is filled with mid-20th century references like the Cold War and the Cuban missile crisis as well as actual footage of JFK’s speeches. And though the Holocaust is a very dark and morbid topic, I always find it completely fascinating when it is featured in films and covered well. So, this movie just seemed to have it all… fast-paced storytelling, excellent acting, interesting historical references, varied geographical locations and foreign languages. Except for Kevin Bacon, it has a list of relatively unknown actors (at least for me) but they all do such a stellar job! Particularly Michael Fassbender who plays Erik/Magneto.

I may now go back and watch the X-men trilogy again. That’s the good thing about prequels if they are done well. They make you re-discover the original films and put the whole storyline in order. In some way or the other, we are all generally suckers for sequence and chronology. No wonder that this prequel business has hit the big time!

As for ‘X-Men: First Class’, 100% recommended!

The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas

I have a sort of morbid fascination towards films centered on the Holocaust. ‘Schindler’s List’ and ‘The Pianist’ are two of my all-time favourite movies. When I heard about this one, I had immediately put it on my wish list of movies to watch. After not being able to find it in any local rental libraries, I finally bought it sometime back and watched it. It is an absolutely stunning and heart-wrenching film about how the family members of a German Nazi officer get personally affected by the atrocities happening around them.

It starts with the Nazi officer being posted to a concentration camp and the accompanying family has to live in the housing quarters nearby. The family includes his wife and 2 kids, a boy and a girl. The kids have to leave their friends behind and find it difficult to adjust to this new life in a strange new place. The boy in particular has a difficult time coping, being the younger one and is always bored and itching to explore the new surroundings. The girl finds it easier, especially after getting caught up and brainwashed in Nazi propaganda by a teacher who home-schools both kids. So, while the girl is putting up racist posters in her room and following in the footsteps of her dad, the boy tries to hide from his worried mom and sets out exploring in the wooded area nearby. He soon finds the concentration camp and makes friends with a Jewish boy of similar age on the other side of the barbed wire fence. This is the first interesting person he has met in this boring new place, so the German boy is delighted. He spends some time every single day with this Jewish kid and even secretly brings him food from home. The conversations he has with this boy are very interesting and often touching. They show the innocence and curiosity of these little boys who are caught in a nasty web of discrimination that they have little control over. There is another character, an elderly Jewish gentleman, who works for the family doing odd jobs around the house. He is shown as a likeable, patient man who doesn’t hesitate to crack a smile on his weathered face despite being unfairly treated by almost everyone around him.

The movie has a powerful ending that would leave a lasting impact on the minds of anybody watching. The Nazi general doing his duty for the country, the wife who doesn’t approve completely of her husband’s job, the earnest young brainwashed daughter who is clueless about wrong and right, all get affected by the actions of the young boy who does the unthinkable and makes friends with a Jew. This really is a great film worth owning!

Rating: 5 / 5 stars.

The King’s Speech – Very good but lacking a certain something (Beware of spoilers here!)

I was curious to see this movie not just because of all the hype, critical acclaim and Oscar nominations it has received, also because Colin Firth is in it. I really enjoyed his performance in the Bridget Jones Diary movies. Anyway, the film begins with Prince Albert the Duke of York, played by Firth, attempting to make a speech on behalf of his father, King George V. He stutters and stammers and ultimately gives up, to the utter dismay of the crowd as well as his wife Elizabeth, played by the stunning Helena Bonham Carter. So she takes him to a speech therapist called Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). The whole movie is about how the therapist cures the duke and would-be king of his speech impediment.

The movie is filled to the brim with witty dialogue and comedic scenes. I also really liked the direction and photography; there is a crisp, cool blue tinge that is present in almost every shot. But somehow overall, it felt like something was missing in the movie. My wife agrees with me on this. The movie is quite funny but it seems to lack a bit of substance. The transition from a horribly stammering duke to a perfectly enunciating king is too quickly shown, without completely revealing all the techniques that may have gone into the therapist’s lessons. Logue tries out certain established techniques on ‘Bertie’ (both go on first name basis during the therapy sessions which provides much material for laughter) but the duke is still visibly struggling with the lessons. And then all of a sudden it is time for the important final speech in the movie and the duke (now King George VI) does splendidly well, in the presence of Logue helping him with motivational sign language right in front of him in the same chamber! I don’t know… I just don’t buy this rapid improvement that happened perfectly in time for the final credits! It is almost as if the director and crew said “Ohh it’s almost 2 hours! We have to wrap this thing up!”

So in closing, I quite enjoyed it but yet see it as a slightly overrated movie with twelve Oscar nominations and several other awards.

Black Swan – A story about psychotic career obsession (SPOILER ALERT!)

Last night my wife and I went to see the Oscar-nominated movie, Black Swan. What a horrifically amazing portrayal of what goes on behind the scenes in ballet theatre groups! Actually, this movie could easily pass for a horror film. There are plenty of scenes that are extremely difficult to watch and you have to cringe in an attempt to avoid seeing what the lead character is spiraling down into. Really, Natalie Portman has done a splendid job getting into the mind of the pressured, high-strung and very obsessive ballet dancer, Nina. The movie exposes the dirty politics and unhealthy competition that often exists behind the scenes but never comes to the forefront on stage. Vincent Cassel brilliantly plays the questionable ballet teacher who takes sexual advantage of Nina’s vulnerability and yet also pushes her to do better. One of my other favourite characters was the one played by Mila Kunis, of ‘That 70’s Show’ fame.  She has a very friendly and personable air about her which is unfortunately seen as a threat in Nina’s petrified, disturbed and borderline insane state of mind. I should not forget to mention Winona Ryder’s contribution here. Although she has a shorter part to play in the story compared to the main characters, she has given a wonderful performance as the angry ‘has-been’ washed out ex-ballet queen. Overall, it is definitely worth at least one watch if not more! I commend the director for wonderfully building up the tension right from the first shot and slowly taking it all the way to a climax of drama and paranoia, all inside one mind: Nina’s. What I thought was going to be a straightforward movie (dare I say chick flick :p )about a ballet group and their petty fights turned out to be a psychotic mind thriller that had me longing to see puppies and daisies and happy faces once again.

Indian Cinema of a bygone era

I spent my teenage years entirely during the liberalization-swept 90’s and I think partly because of that I seemed to have missed out on a considerable amount of Classic Indian cinema.

In the 80’s I was too young to have strong interests of my own and pretty much watched anything my parents showed me, which ended up being just a handful of very well-known Hindi, Tamil or English films at the top of the heap. So we were generally not a family that watched a lot of movies. I’m not trying to blame my parents here or anything. It is just the way things were. I was into other creative hobbies like drawing and painting and they encouraged such talents more than say, making sure I caught up on the essentials of Indian cinema. Also, at home growing up there was generally a culture of avoiding films with too much violence or sadness. And that rules out plenty of so-called ‘essentials’ that I missed. As far as I can remember, Comedy and Romance seemed to be much more acceptable genres in my parents’ eyes.

With the advent of satellite television in India in autumn of 1991, I was a goner! I remember we were among the first families on our street to get a connection in January of 1992 and my attention was quickly diverted from anything Indian to the likes of Bob Newhart, The Wonder Years, CNN and MTV. Even though I was still fairly well clued in to the latest movies during the 90’s, I don’t remember ever catching up to classics such as Mughal E Azam, Zanjeer, Pyaasa or Yaadon Ki Barat. I have watched Sholay though, but the ones I have seen are too few and far between.

Anyway, suddenly this past weekend I found myself getting back into the mood of rediscovering or rather discovering for the first time, classic films of Indian Cinema. This was mainly my wife’s fault as she was showing me her sizeable collection of old Hindi film songs and I realized that I hadn’t heard many! So we went out on Sunday and bought copies of Zanjeer, Baton Baton Mein, Golmaal (the original one) as well as a few Raj Kapoor classics such as Awara and Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai. I’m pretty sure I have seen the RK ones though, albeit a long time ago. I’m really curious to watch Zanjeer in particular because I have never really given Amitabh Bachchan the time of day or tried to understand the hype of ‘Angry Young Man’ and ‘Greatest Bollywood Actor of all time’. Aamir Khan has really been more of the ‘greatest actor’ of my time. But maybe it is time to go down memory lane and experience the classic era.