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The Losers (2010/I)
2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Could have been better, 29 May 2010

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Perhaps 6 stars is a bit generous, but I'm trying not to be too critical here. I've never read the graphic novel and as such cannot truly say that the movie is constrained by the graphic novel it is based on. But it IS constrained by its graphic novel roots.

The prominent problem with the film was, quite unfortunately, the direction and the main villain. Jason Patric's over-the-top, cheesy portrayal of Max - a villain who, in true comic book style, wants to start a global conflict that would end up with the United States of America in charge - was intended to be chilling but merely ends up being atrociously unbelievable. Picture this scene: A woman holding an umbrella up for Max momentarily stumbles because of a sudden gust of wind. So Max blithely pulls out a gun and shoots her in the head, all while holding a comfortable conversation with his chief henchman. Again, it wasn't too convincing - it's the sort of stuff only the best at the hamming-it-up school of acting could pull off... say someone of Stephen Lang's or Mark Strong's calibre. Jason Patric, on the other hand, falls way short.

Although, it might not be entirely his fault. The script itself is pretty bad. Picture another scene in the movie - It is a dark, rainy night. The clandestine unit that had, up to this point in the movie, blown up stuff, killed plenty of security guards and soldiers AND hijacked a chopper are now helping one of their agents scale a building. The building turns out to be a hospital. The agent jumps in through the window, removes his hood and comes face to face with his pregnant wife, held in place by two nurses, and she's about to give birth. It's supposed to be funny, but it just comes off as a very poor attempt at a joke. In fact, all of the scenes trying in vain the convey how chilling Max was in person could have been skipped. With little else happening in the movie apart from all-out-action-with-a-LOT-of-exposition, one almost feels that if the identity of Max had been kept a secret, it really wouldn't have mattered in the long run. In fact, the viewer might have even been partially intrigued. As it stands, the film has nothing new to offer.

Either way, the movie isn't quite worth watching on the big screen - on the other hand, it might have made for a fun afternoon as a rental pick. The acting, though finds feet in its protagonists. Zoe Saldana hams it up but her talent shines through in the one emotional scene towards the climax of the film - when she faces off against her father's killer. Jeffrey Dean Morgan seems to have actually lost the excellent physique he had from Watchmen (The Comedian), but seems to possess just enough charisma to carry the role. The supporting cast is adequate. However, the true star of the film was, unquestionably, Chris Evans. His comic timing was spot-on, and his physique looks impressive enough to be doing all the free-running he does throughout the movie.

In short, all this movie does is to make me look forward to Evans' portrayal of Captain America.

Iron Man 2 (2010)
17 out of 28 people found the following review useful:
Iron Man says - "all-your-base-are-belong-to-us", 22 May 2010

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The thing with Iron Man 2 is that people inevitably tend to compare it to the first movie. And there's a minor problem with that. Iron Man - in most regions - released at just the right time. People were downright disappointed with the superhero genre and it appeared to be on the brink of demise after Spider-Man 3 and the X-Men films. Batman Begins seemed to have made a mark, but it was too fleeting and insignificant to be etched in people's memories. Then came Iron Man - it was the first decent superhero movie in ages. People loved it, it spread to engulf the Box Office earnings and bingo - there was a new, awesome superhero in town. Of course, after Iron Man, there was this little film you may have heard of - it was titled "The Dark Knight." THAT took the box office by storm.

Iron Man, fortunately enough for the franchise, got bunched together with the Dark Knight and came to be fondly remembered as an audience favourite. Unfortunately, the audience has a very short memory span and tends to prize fond memories on some untouchable pedestal in their minds - high above the rest of the ordinary movies that plague our cinemas today. Even if the details of the memory itself are scrubbed out. We still prize that blurred memory and cherish it.

Iron Man was not a masterpiece. It was the first brilliant superhero movie in ages, but it was by no means a masterpiece a la The Dark Knight. It built up Tony Stark's character arc brilliantly but it got fairly anemic towards the middle and the action was all limited to the last ten minutes of the movie. Also, apart from Robert Downey Jr, little else stood out in the background. However, comparisons with the Dark Knight are not quite fair. The Dark Knight was a dark, brooding work of art that plants itself firmly in the noir superhero genre. Iron Man, however, is a light- hearted fun superhero movie - literally at the opposite end of the comic-book spectrum. So I shall compare it against the masterpiece (IMO) from the lighter side of the superhero niche - Spider-Man 2.

Iron Man 2, ultimately, shares the same fate as its predecessor. It's a solid movie, surpassing the original movie and at times has flashes of greatness, but falls short of the spark that made Spider-Man 2 so great - conflict. Be it Peter Parker's frustration with having to maintain the secrecy of his superhero identity or his sorrow at the loss of Mary Jane Watson, the conflict was what made the story interesting. On the other hand, in Iron Man 2, Tony Stark seems to breeze through his problems by virtue of his sheer awesomeness. Best friend stole my armour? No problem. I'm still awesome enough. I can beat him... eventually. Some maniac managed to recreate my armour, re-programmed all of the US Army's Droid Army? Oh well, looks like I'll have to destroy them with my awesome, awesome armour-driving skills.

Don't get me wrong here. Robert Downey Jr is still the most... well... awesome pick to play Iron Man. The fact is Robert Downey Jr IS the main strength of the entire film - his interaction with other characters is what lifts the film and gives it wings. His chemistry with Gwyneth Paltrow is fantastic. His kinsmanship with Don Cheadle is sufficient enough to pass muster - they look like two friends who've recently exchanged some harsh words, which is as it should be. In short, Robert Downey Jr seems to have made the role his own. He is Iron Man. The suit and him are truly one.

The supporting cast is top-notch as well. Samuel L Jackson just raised Nick Fury's bar on my Marvel meter of awesomeness. Scarlett Johanssen seems to have fit into the Black Widow role like a glove. She looks quite fetching in latex and her stunt scenes are very well choreographed. Her physicality is realistic, especially where she punches through an entire goon squad in a corridoor in front of Tony Stark's flustered bodyguard. Comic book fans might be a bit disappointed with her American accent, but then again, Natasha Romanov IS a super-spy fluent in several different languages - it makes sense that she's a bit more discreet in the movie. Mickey Rourke is believable as Ivan Vanko (Whiplash) and seems menacing at the best of times. Jon Favreau is delightful as Happy, Tony Stark's happy-go-lucky bodyguard.

But the actor who truly challenged Iron Man in his own movie was unquestionably Sam Rockwell. He was a revelation in Moon, and is a delight to watch here too - his flustered evil corporate honcho act is a stellar performance and seems to be more of a villain than Whiplash himself.

The Iron Man armour(s) look amazing and the CGI is brilliant too. In short, the second movie delivers as much as the first... and more.

PS: Watch out for the Easter Egg at the end of the movie credits. There's only one word that can describe the awesomeness of that scene, at least for a Marvel comics fan - Mjolnir.

8 out of 22 people found the following review useful:
There's only one word for it - "Fun", 21 May 2010

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The problem with us, as viewers and critics of cinema, is that we demand too much. We want too much, we ask for too much and (ridiculously enough) we demand that we be disturbed by what we view at a fundamental level. The demand for meaningful, noir movies with dark themes has been so great since The Dark Knight that I've grown sick and tired of people whining and nitpicking tiny little threads in the tapestry that forms a movie.

Basically, what I'm trying to say is that I don't demand much from a movie. There's three things I do ask for though, and justifiably so - solid acting, splendid direction (within which I include cinematography, editing, screenplay and other things to do with guiding the actors and the scenario to make a visually striking scene) and a nice story. I definitely don't go to movies like Prince of Persia expecting a dark, brooding tale filled with passion and gore. The games - at least the ones that I've played - have come close to taking themselves WAY too seriously, but the fact is that they're just loads of fun.

The thing about video games is that we'll always like them better than the movies. It's the human brain - we're conditioned (via video games) to think that WE are in charge. WE control the fate of the main character. WE control his parkour moves. WE control whether he merely flees a fight or engages with the enemy in a brutal hack-and-slash fight. And that's definitely not going to happen in a movie. What we're watching is the vision of another human being - how he/she would play the game. How he/she would watch the story unfold.

Ultimately, I just don't remember having this much FUN watching a movie. It reminded me of times past when we merely used to enjoy a movie instead of demanding it provoke us to feel, sometimes at great expense to the senses a la Hostel. Don't get me wrong. The Prince of Persia does have feeling - it's got solid chemistry between the leads and brilliant acting. (SPOILER: For instance, the scene when Gemma Arterton lets go of Jake Gyllenhal's hand while hanging off a cliff. She doesn't do it with calm serenity or with a smiling face. She screamed, she pleaded and showed a very human vulnerability that is completely atypical of a Hollywood blockbuster). The Prince of Persia also has its fair share of beautiful CGI (yes, I actually love this fascinating new technology) and fan-tribute scenes that hark back to the games. Yet, it holds its own ground in terms of storyline and the direction that the story takes. It explains how Dastaan (Jake Gyllenhal) came to be, and how he chances upon the strange dagger that seems to have some elusive mystic power which in turn alludes to a much more powerful and devastating secret. The scenes in Persia are fantastic and the city the Persians invade (Alamut) looks inviting enough.

However, the film does have its fair share of flaws. The dialogue could do with a lot of work and the film does try to cram everything into the script - from ostrich races to snake attacks in the desert to an assassin's creed style chase. However, the film does have its high points too - the fight between the Sudanese knife thrower and the Hassansin blade-thrower was sheer awesomeness. The camera angles do get a bit frustrating during the parkour scenes, but the parkour does justice to the game so it's all fair.

Either way, Prince of Persia is a fun, fun ride... especially on IMAX. You just have to open your mind and it'll remind you of a long-gone era where fairy tales were just like their namesake - feel-good stories with happy endings that made you wish you were a part of their world rather than the one you live in. Also, Disney might be a tad disappointed if they want this to be the Pirates replacement franchise... mainly because it lacks the main spark that made Pirates tick - an overtly eccentric and humorous character, called Jack Sparrow. While the tax-hating merchant seemed like a cue in to be some sort of Jack Sparrow replacement, his cheesy dialogue completely took the humour out of his short appearance.

PS: As far as the discrimination against Persians is concerned, I'd say the depiction of Persians was fair - they are shown as a civilised empire that while resting on the glory of its conquests, also knows how to show mercy. Again, if you can't get past the obviously Caucasian cast, well... bully for you.