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No Strings Attached (2011)
Bland, tasteless, predictable
Two friends, Emma (Natalie Portman) and Adam (Ashton Kutcher), decide to have a pact where they would have casual sex whenever they needed it, and not bring in emotional baggage and work that goes into building an actual relationship; i.e., sex with 'no strings attached'.
This is one of three prominent movies around casual sex and 'friends with benefits' that popped up in 2011. 'Friends with Benefits' starring Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake follows a similar thread. 'Love and Other Drugs' starring Jake Gyllenhall and Anne Hathaway also apparently started out in the same vein, but developed into something between a drama around Parkinsons and a Viagara drug biopic. It was definitely the best of the three.
For the most part, No Strings Attached is bland, tasteless, and predictable. I think Natalie's a very talented actress who usually picks good roles for herself, but this one fell flat from the get go.
Loaded Weapon 1 (1993)
Visually spectacular, but slow; Gollum's appearance is the key highlight
The Lord of the Rings gang is back. This time, we are told the story of young Bilbo Baggins, how he is brought into an epic adventure that will eventually culminate in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Martin Freeman plays the young Bilbo Baggins, who is a happy-go-lucky hobbit in Middle Earth, who is enticed into a quest by the wizard Gandalf. On the quest is a small, but determined army of 13 dwarfs set to recover their rightful place/ home/ palace, Lonely Mountain, and their earnings in gold. They were driven away from this place by a fierce dragon, and nobody has been able to enter the castle since. However, the leader of the dwarfs, Thorin, has access to a key that may open up an alternate entrance.
The dragon is keenly aware of dwarfs' smells, and may be alerted, but would be unlikely to notice a hobbit; a dragon would not have encountered a hobbit, as hobbits are by nature docile and non- confrontational. This is where Bilbo comes in, but the dwarfs, especially Thorin, are skeptical about his involvement, feeling that he would chicken out and be unreliable for the mission.
I am not a Tolkien fan, and the LOTR movies were not my cup of tea, so I am not the right audience to comment on this. However, my two cents - Very picturesque directing, brilliant visual effects, and elaborate, if short action sequences litter the movie. 3D effects were really bad for me, but I think that may be more a comment on the theater than the movie - seeing as the 3D visuals were widely applauded. As brilliantly as the movie was done, it just didn't cut mustard with me. I felt underwhelmed; the movie felt too long, the plot too sparse, the characters too weak.
One exception was Gollum. The scenes with Gollum were scary, intense, and powerful. Despite the short screen time, Gollum pulled off quite an effect.
Novel sci-fi action flick; not perfect, but very gripping
In the far future, time travel is invented, but outlawed, and used only by criminal elements of society. However, in the far future, the underworld has a difficult time getting rid of bodies, which are tracked efficiently by the Government. So they come up with a creative way of disposing bodies. They send an operative, Abe, back in time (by a few decades) to monitor a group of hit men called loopers. Loopers are contractually obliged to receive masked victims from the future; they lie in wait at a predetermined hour, rifles cocked and ready to shoot. In front of them, the victim suddenly appears; the looper then shoots him down, wrap up the body and cremate him, leaving no trace.
The loopers are monitored actively by the 'Gat Men', who work under Abe to ensure that the Loopers stick to their contract. The loopers are paid princely sums, but accept an expiration date for their services in a unique way; one day, in the far future, his own self would be blindfolded and sent back in time to be executed. The looper is supposed to kill his older self, an act they call 'closing the loop'. (How that closes the loop is beyond me.) Once they execute themselves, they are retired from service with a heavy gold retirement package.
The protagonist is Joe Simmons, who has been a looper for a long time. He faces his own future self, but is overpowered. Joe begins a hunt for his older self.
Fast paced, novel, and gripping, Looper is a strong entertainer. I've always enjoyed Gordon Levitt's performances, and Bruce Willis, playing Gordon's older self, gives a strong performance himself. The story is well drafted, the action sequences are well done, and the story for the Rainman character is masterfully molded in the background.
However, while I enjoyed the movie, it has its own flaws. My friends raved about the movie and heralded it as groundbreaking. I don't think I would go that far. The time travel rules established in the movie are clumsy at best. The truly great time travel movies generally stick to their own rules and make sense in some manner. Here, it seems to have superficial thought at best. The future self is affected by the actions done on the current person. In one sequence, the older self is trying to flee, but the Gat men are actively torturing the current self as this happens. They wound the person, and the older self gets a corresponding scar; they cut off limbs and the future self physically changes accordingly. This was a wonderfully horrific sequence, and built on to a gripping tension, but it just doesn't make sense. If such drastic changes are made, then the entire future life has to be affected... in this case, the implication is that the guy's future doesn't change at all even through something drastic as amputation.
But if you can stop your thoughts from frowning at the logical inconsistencies, the Looper is a strong entertainer.
Thattathin Marayathu (2012)
Simple, cute inter-religion love story; but nothing special
Hindu youth Vinod has a chance encounter with Aisha, niece of a powerful Muslim political leader, Abdul Khader, and falls in love. The movie starts mid-story, with the hero being jailed for trespassing into Abdul Khader's property to see Aisha. The story unfolds as narrated by Vinod to the Sub Inspector. The soul of the movie is how Vinod explores his feelings for Aisha, and tries to see how she would fit into his life. The style of narration is the revised, youth-centered, casual form that is becoming increasingly popular in Malayalam movies; it's the shifting of gear to a new era.
However, as far as the plot goes, it is simple, cute, and pleasant, but not novel. There is absolutely nothing new in the story. I have been getting rave reviews about the movie, and went in expecting something fresh. It's not. It's enjoyable enough, but simply doesn't have enough content.
Taken 2 (2012)
Not as good as the original, but not awful either
Bryan Mills' life seems to have taken an upswing after the events that unfolded in the 2008 hit 'Taken'. He has a better relationship with his ex-wife and daughter, his career seems to be picking up better, and he seems happier than he seemed in the beginning of Taken. However, the relatives of the villains he took out in France plans to take revenge. This plan comes to fruition once Bryan brings his family to Istanbul for a vacation. Bryan and his wife are kidnapped, and he has to instruct his daughter to locate him using improvised plans and improbable mental calculations.
When I first heard that the movie was around Bryan talking his daughter through to tracking him down, I was disappointed. Taken was a highly improbable, but thoroughly gripping movie about Bryan's shoot-up- everyone-and-follow-the-body-trail-to-his-daughter strategy of investigation, and Liam Neeson is able to portray the hidden bad-ass like few others. But pushing the action to the daughter just took my interest down by several notches. Also, the reviews I got from friends were very negative. But I have to say that I enjoyed the movie well enough. It didn't have the pace or grip of the original movie, but it does decently well on its own. It's not a brilliant movie, but it doesn't qualify as a bad movie. It's worth a watch. (Hey. not making sense doesn't make it a bad movie, does it?)
One nitpick - The first poster I saw for 'Taken 2' had the tag-line "They want revenge. They chose the wrong guy". No, if they want revenge, they definitely chose the right guy. They can't call for revenge against Bryan Mills and choose someone else to target. But I think that would be a decent premise. You know, some group of radicals are taking up revenge against a common man for... I don't know, something petty like cutting the villain off at an intersection. The villains mix it up and accidentally targets Bryan Mills for revenge. Of course, among rapidly piling bodies, they find out too late that they bit off more than they could chew. They can call it "Taken 3: MisTaken". Hollywood - consider that one a gift.
Upside Down (2012)
Beautifully done, unique concept; but ultimately senseless
The romantic/ fantasy/ sci-fi movie is set in an alternate universe where the protagonists' planet is subject to a unique phenomena called dual gravity. There are two distinct societies; one living 'Down Below', a poor slum-like area, and another living 'Up Above', rich, prosperous city-like area. These worlds are connected via a building from a corporate giant 'TransWorld'. Matter from Up Above and matter from Down Below are affected by opposite gravitational forces. People from one society can look up and see beyond the clouds to see the other world. The story is about Adam, an orphan from Down Below, who has been meeting with Eden from Up Above in secret trysts since childhood. This is strictly forbidden in their worlds and authorities respond to one such meeting using guns which result in Eden falling down (up?) to her apparent death. Adam also loses his surviving relative because of this incident.
Years later, he catches a glimpse of Eden in a TV channel and learns that she is alive. He concocts a plan to meet up with her by joining TransWorld and sneaking visits Up Above. He does this by attaching heavy metals from Up Above to his body - allowing him to counter his natural gravitational pull and walking upside down (which would be right side up in Up Above). He learns that Eden has lost her memory after her fall, and he tries to get her to remember him.
The movie is spectacular. The visual effects of the other world 'Up Above', especially the outdoor scenes, are beautifully rendered. The indoor sequences are also masterfully crafted - seamlessly integrating Up Above and Down Below in the same frames. It can be a bit distracting as we are not used to such visuals, but it is undoubtedly unique.
However, the movie calls for a very specific audience - You have to have a basic understanding/ appreciation of the science of gravity or you may not follow some of the narration, but at the same time, you can't be too involved in science, or you may be hung up on how ridiculous the explanations provided are. They try to explain the dual gravity rules by saying that these are two planets which are perfectly in sync with one another. Simply put - gravity does NOT work that way. Planets are not selective about which matter they exert gravity on. Also, there's a case of selective scaling - The worlds are sometimes close enough to fall from one to the other in a matter of seconds; but at the same time are far enough to accommodate entire mountains. Also, this world has climate - clouds and rain that just do not make sense in the context of the given scenarios. You have to like Science, but be willing to overlook errors of such basic nature. Overall, it is an experiment in showing an impossible world in a unique setting. In this, they succeed.
Aptly violent, dark and gritty reboot
The new and improved take on the British comic book character, Judge Dredd, is part of an elite squad of law enforcers in the post apocalyptic world of Mega-city One. He is a motorcycle riding Judge, authorized to act as judge, jury and executioner, dispensing retail justice on the move. Judge Dredd is one of the top agents, set to evaluate new recruit Cassandra Anderson, a psychic on her first day on probation.
They pair up to investigate a gang execution of three dealers, brutally skinned alive and tossed off a high rise building. The building is in control of drug lord Ma-Ma, who is bringing the hot new drug 'slo-mo', which slows down the user's perception to 1% of normal; so the users will experience life in slow motion, while the drug is in effect. When Dredd and Anderson pick up a key suspect, who is likely to testify and bring down Ma-ma's operation, she shuts down the building and starts an all-out war against the two Judges before they can communicate with headquarters.
The action is superb, the effects are brilliant - especially how the slo-mo drug effects are shown - and the tone is befittingly dark. Karl Urban is perfect for the title role - serious, to the point, fastidious, methodical; a far cry above Stallone's 1995 interpretation. The movie is graphically violent, though, so I think it may appeal to all.
I loved the movie; it was one of the best action movie experiences I've seen in recent times, but I have to nitpick. Firstly, the drug, slo- mo... Slowing down time to 1% normal is just waaay too intense. 1 percent normal would mean that one minute of time would be perceived as one and a half hour. That is far slower than the effects shown. I know that's a weirdly specific point to nitpick on, but that just bugged me. And I have an even more specific nit to pick on - the policing rate. Dredd tells Anderson that the Judges are so understaffed that they can only effectively monitor less than ???% of violent crimes in the city. With such an alarming rate, I would expect any organization to have lower entry thresholds for new recruits. But apparently, they still restrict recruits to extremely stringent standards. I know... Silly nitpicks, but somehow, these things bothered me.
Another issue - not a nitpick this time - was the 'talking villain syndrome', the contrived plot device that has the villain talking with the hero before killing him, giving him ample time to escape. While we have accepted this as standard fare for action movies, Dredd takes this bit to comic levels. The extend to which it was used here (in one instance) would have fit a Scary Movie franchise more than a serious film.
Despite these issues, the movie gets all my thumbs up. Hope they get to make a sequel and keep the franchise running.
Life of Pi (2012)
Excellent visuals. The best 3D visuals since Avatar
The tale of Pi Patel, an Indian boy who grew up in a zoo in Pondicherry. The movie is shown as narrated to an author interested in penning his adventures. The main focus is on Pi's incredible journey from India, where he lost his parents and older brother in a violent storm. They were headed towards Canada to sell off their animals and start a new life, but a horrific storm wiped out the entire crew. Pi is stranded alone on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger named 'Richard Parker'.
The core of the story is how Pi manages to co-exist with Richard Parker in the harsh environment of the Pacific, with limited supplies, no help in sight, and unpredictable weather.
The movie is an artistic delight. Fantastic visuals (The best use of 3D visuals since Avatar), amazing storytelling, good plot-line, and compelling camera-work. The narration was largely visual. With only one human survivor, the story couldn't be pulled through conversations. I expected a voice-over accompaniment throughout the movie, which would have been the easy way out. However, it went without the voice-over, like the 2000 movie Castaway - and this allowed the audience to drink in the vast emptiness and loneliness that perseveres through the movie.
The story was interesting, but straightforward. This is possibly why the twist at the end of the story took me completely by surprise. I won't give out spoilers, but a subtle twist that leaves something ambiguous puts an entirely different shade to the whole experience. And that escalates the story from a good one to a truly excellent one.
Resident Evil: Retribution (2012)
Yet another Resident Evil movie
The apparently ageless Milla Jovovich returns as the ex-Umbrella Corporation employee, Alice, who has fought against her evil company and their zombie weapons for 4 movies in the past.
The last installment of the franchise had Alice facing an endless horde of enemies in copters in a cliffhanger ending. Retribution continues from there, with Alice getting captured and interrogated in a top secret, bottom dwelling facility.
The T virus, which has mutated almost the entire race of humans into extinction, has gone out of control, and the erstwhile villain, Wesker, seeks Alice's help in fighting human extinction. He arranges a rescue team who will break into the facility and get Alice's hive.
This is the plot; or as much of an excuse for a plot you can get. The truth is that the Resident Evil franchise stopped creating plots by the end of the first movie and now markets acrobatic zombie sequences tied together by one common character.
For a movie that is almost exclusively full of action sequences, it falls short compared to the previous installment. The scale of ridiculousness, however, is maintained, despite sequences featuring Nazi zombies. And these Nazi zombies ride bikes, cars, and use guns/ rocket launchers, etc in a marked departure from the average zombie who just walks slowly with arms outstretched.
The movie ends on another cliffhanger, promising an even better plot less string of action sequences for the next movie.
Movie on alcoholism... well made
Mohanlal stars as Raghunandan, a narcissistic genius and philosopher who hosts a show called 'Show the Spirit', where he uncovers and unmasks political and authority figures through well crafted interviews, with the help of thoroughly researched background checks.
He is also a compulsive alcoholic who has a shattered family life, his wife having divorced him earlier due to his drinking. However, he shares a healthy relationship with her and her current husband. But his constant alcoholism and air of superiority makes him obnoxious and irritating.
The movie is about him realizing how addicted he has become to alcohol and how he decides to move away from it.
The movie's not perfect - The show 'Show the Spirit' in its shown format is just surreal; there is no real incentive for guests to come and participate in it simply to be ripped apart. Since the show is said to be a huge hit, any potential guest should be aware of what they're in for.
Another issue is that there is no evidence to the claim that Raghunandan is a genius. It is shown that everyone accepts this premise, but there is nothing exceptional in what he says/ does that would allow us to buy in to the claim.
Alcoholism is portrayed very well, down to the the righteous indignation and lack of awareness of the extent of addiction. But the climactic experiment (I'm not saying what it is) is simply unrealistic. But overall, still a good movie. Very well made and with excellent, realistic performances all around.