So I’ve seen 4 movies since my exams ended, and instead of reviewing all of them, here are my brief thoughts on each of them:
1. The Accountant – Gavin O’Connor
It was fine. Not great, not terrible. The story follows a genius accountant who suffers from autism. He uncooks the books for corrupt organizations, and is also a badass action hero. (Some have made the connection that The Accountant is Good Will Hunting meets Jason Bourne. It kind of is, but it isn’t nearly as good as either.)
Now, when I heard that premise, I was interested to see how these 2 disparate story types would blend. They never really did. Till the very end, it felt like I was watching 2 different films.
The best thing about the film are the performances. Ben Affleck (the accountant and badass) is amazing at showing us the awkwardness that comes with his condition, particularly in scenes with Anna Kendrick (another accountant) and Jon Bernthal (another badass). Jon Bernthal, by the way, steals the show. The scenes with him might be worth the price of admission all by themselves. J K Simmons (I’ve forgotten who his character was) gives a good performance, which is completely wasted by the film, because it’s limited to one subplot that is completely disconnected to everything else.
That subplot almost ruins the entire film. One thing this film had going for it were its thrilling action sequences, and this section of the film doesn’t have any. One thing the film definitely didn’t have going for it was the exposition, where information was basically conveyed only be telling, not showing, and this subplot had a lot of exposition. It could have simply been pulled out of the film without affecting much else, and we would be left with a much better film.
2. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – David Yates
Some of my least favorite Harry Potter films were ones directed by Yates. And while I enjoyed Fantastic Beasts a lot more than Order of the Phoenix (Yates), it was nowhere near as good as Prisoner of Azkaban (Alfonso Cuaron).
And that’s kind of how I feel about this film. It was good, I enjoyed it, but I was looking for more than just ‘good’.
Here’s the rundown: magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) comes to New York with a box full of fantastic beasts, which escape. The rest of the film is about how to find them.
The film does a lot of stuff. There’s a main team of 4 characters dealing with the primary mission, there’s the American minister for magic, there’s Colin Farrell as a mysterious auror (the best performance in the film). there’s a politician and his sons, there’s a church of anti-witchcraft bigots, and there are the beasts. In the background, there are rumblings of Grindelwald’s rise to power, and the theme central to his ideology, that of how the wizarding community should deal with muggle (I don’t like saying nomadge) bigotry, is central to the film, along with the theme of animal treatment.
In doing all this, nothing gets the time or depth it deserves, and everything is only mildly enjoyable (there is one character with some depth, but revealing their identity would be a spoiler). I suppose Rowling introduced this many elements because she’s used to having an entire novel to flesh them out. But compared to the other major magical film this year, Doctor Strange, which had 6 characters and one central theme, this pales.
But I’m excited for the rest of the series. There’s easily enough here to support 5 films, and I suspect Grindelwald could end up as a better villain than Voldemort.
Also, the scenes with the bowtruckle were really sweet.
3. Arrival – Denis Villenueve
Please, please watch this film. It’s in theaters now, and you’ll absolutely want to discuss it once you’ve seen it, like I do. If my word isn’t enough, it’s in IMDb’s top 100 right now.
Aliens (heptapods) come to Earth in weird spaceships. Humans try to communicate, to figure out whether they come in peace, but the languages are fundamentally different, so they recruit the world’s leading linguist Louise (Amy Adams) to learn their language while teaching them ours, along with a scientist (Jeremy Renner), because of course you need a scientist.
This film is beautiful, but what’s more important is that it’s science fiction. Like, proper sci-fi, the kind you only get around once every year. The kind that takes one central idea and ratchets up the tension, leading up to a final reveal, and leaving you thinking about its core philosophy.
That final reveal, if you really think about it, and I highly recommend you do, will blow you mind and break your heart a few different ways at once. It is so astonishing that if someone were to tell you that X information was given initially and Y was what we found out through the reveal, you wouldn’t believe a film could give us X while concealing Y for so long.
That said, I can’t love it as much as something like Her or Interstellar, and that is because of the core philosophy I mentioned. It is a sci-fi concept I have seen before, and didn’t like it then either, as it weakens certain elements of the rest of the story. A lot of people love that idea, however, and you might too. Most importantly, the idea will stay with you, and you’ll want to talk about it.
4. Kubo and the Two Strings – Travis Knight
This is my favorite animated film of the year. I haven’t seen Moana yet, or The Red Turtle, but I can still say this with confidence, because it just doesn’t get as good as this.
It’s animated in stop motion, and is one of the most beautiful films I have ever seen. The epic fantasy adventure is a story about origami, a story about music, and a story about stories.
Hanzo was a samurai warrior who set out on a quest to obtain 3 powerful magical items, and is opposed by a nefarious villain and falls in love with a beautiful woman.
Kubo and the Two Strings starts after that.
Kubo (Art Parkinson) is the son of Hanzo, and sets on a quest for the same 3 items along with a monkey called Monkey (Charlize Theron) and a beetle-man called Beetle (Matthew McConnaughey). The Moon King (Ralph Fiennes) and his daughters (Rooney Mara) oppose him on his quest.
This quest is different. It’s more aware of the storytelling tropes it’s going through, and thus focuses less on the action and more on the drama, which there is a lot of. Monkey and Beetle aren’t goofy kid-friendly characters, but complex, funny and crucial parts of the story. Theron and McConnaughey are perfect for their roles.
Art Parkinson is great as Kubo. Kubo is a storyteller, and gets to say badass lines like “If you must blink, do it now”, and Parkinson has the kind of power in his voice that’s required for this. Kubo tells stories through origami figures that he manipulates through his guitar-ish musical instrument, which looks just as awesome as it sounds.
It’s not flawless, as there were moments where the film held back on visual awesomeness, cutting away from scenes before they’d had their full impact. But it’s an amazing movie that I highly recommend you watch.
These are the movies I want to watch in the coming months, with their Indian release dates.
September 2: Don’t Breathe, directed by Fede Alvarez. The premise, where a bunch of youngsters break into the house of a blind old man, who happens to be a badass, is interesting.
September 9: Sully, directed by Clint Eastwood. It’s the first major film shot almost completely in IMAX, and features airplanes and Tom Hanks.
September 16: The Shallows, directed by Jaume Collet-Serra. Another interesting premise, about a girl who needs to cross a not-very-wide body of water, easy enough except there’s a shark.
September 23: The Magnificent Seven, directed by Antoine Fuqua. A western starring Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke and Vincent D’Onofrio.
September 30: MS Dhoni: The Untold Story, directed by Neeraj Pandey. Sure, nothing about this sounds exciting, but the director made A Wednesday, Special 26 and Baby.
October 7: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, directed by Tim Burton. It’s basically Tim Burton’s X-Men, with Eva Green taking on the “Professor X” role.
October 14: Inferno, directed by Ron Howard. Yes, I liked the novel. In fact, I generally like Dan Brown’s novels. Really. Unfortunately, the adaptations have been disappointing.
October 21: Keeping Up with the Joneses, directed by Greg Mottola. A spy comedy starring Jon Hamm and Zach Galifianakis. This could be even better than last year’s “Spy”.
October 28: Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, directed by Karan Johar. I don’t know. Could be the next MNIK, could be the next SOTY. Good cast, though. Fawad Khan was amazing in Kapoor and Sons.
November 4: Doctor Strange, directed by Scott Derrickson. Benedict Cumberbatch. Tilda Swinton. Rachel McAdams. Chiwetel Ejiofor. Mads Mikkelsen. Magic. Marvel.
November 11: Rock On!! 2, directed by Shujaat Saudagar. I cannot overstate how hyped I am for this, but Shraddha Kappor? Really? That’s like casting Megan Fox in a sequel to Mission: Impossible.
November 16: Arrival, directed by Denis Villeneuve. “Realistic alien invasion movie” might sound like an oxymoron, but once you watch the trailer, you realize these guys really mean it.
November 23: Moana, directed by Musker and Clements. A lot of the hype comes from there being a Disney Princess of colour, but I didn’t believe it would actually be good until I saw the trailer.
By far the one I’m looking forward most to is Doctor Strange, since the heavy hitters such as Moonlight, Manchester by the Sea and La La Land are probably not coming out till November.
Neither Hell or High Water nor Kubo and the Two Strings released when they were supposed to last month, so it’s not a good idea to get one’s hopes up. Still, it looks like 2016 might just redeem itself.
Pixar is most people’s favorite animated movie studio (the only competition being Studio Ghibli), and the reason commonly given is that its movies are good not just for children (generally considered animation’s primary demographic), but for all ages. For someone like me, though, someone for whom animation is simply another way of storytelling with no age bounds, it should come as no surprise that Pixar isn’t just my favorite animated movie studio, but my favorite movie studio, period. (Sorry, Marvel, you’ll have to be content with number 2.)
So it’s natural that I’m excited as hell for the newest Pixar movie, The Good Dinosaur, which releases in 3 days (and before you ask “But isn’t it already out?”, let me remind you that I live in a country known as India, the kingdom of eternal lag). And what better way to express my excitement (and frustration) than to rank the first 15 movies by this relentless masterpiece-producing machine? Okay, maybe there are better ways
Let’s start with the lesser Pixars. Do not fear, this land is free of spoilers.
15. Cars 2: Well known for being the only bad Pixar movie, Cars 2 doesn’t exactly fit the heading of The Good, but I really wanted the 3 equal parts distribution, so you’ll just have to deal with it.
Of the 4 recurring Pixar directors, John Lasseter is my least favorite, and this is a big part of the reason why. The reason behind the success of Cars was its mix of warmth and nostalgia, but someone apparently thought that it was the exhilarating car chases, and the same someone also thought that Mater being Cars‘ most beloved character meant that it would be a good idea to have him headline the sequel. Wrong on both counts. The visuals were really the only good thing about this movie.
14. Brave: Now we get to the good movies, though not even close to Pixar’s usual level. Brave is the story of Princess Merida and her relationship with her parents, specifically her mother. There are quite a few things this movie does well. One is Merida herself. She is way more of a complex and independent character than most fairy tale princesses, and I, consequently, like Brave more than most fairy tale movies. Another thing the movie handled well was the relationships between characters. And the action looked fantastic as always. My only real gripe with the movie is, unfortunately, a rather big one. In being a fairy tale, the movie takes a direction that makes it a lot more childish than the first few minutes suggest, and the conclusions to some very well set up threads are handled entirely through metaphors. It just didn’t deliver on its promises.
13. A Bug’s Life: And here we have another Lasseter. Among all the lesser Pixars, this movie’s flaws are usually the most easily forgiven because it was one of Pixar’s earliest features. The movie, inspired by the Aesop fable The Ant and the Grasshopper, has Kevin Spacey in the lead role, so it certainly has that going for it. The story is simplistic, but works because it succeeds in creating a likable hero, a palpable threat, a strong supporting cast, and in the meantime, has a lot of fun. It fails to rise to Pixar standards for the simple reason that not a lot of effort has been put into the plot itself, leading to cliches, predictable plot twists and sentimentality. It ended up being too straightforward for its own good.
12. Monsters University: Following up Monsters, Inc. was never going to be easy, so of course they made a prequel instead. And while, as anticipated, it didn’t live up, it still stands as a good movie in its own right. All the necessary ingredients are present: the humor, the charm, and the reason anyone really cared about this movie – getting to see Mike and Sully again. This time, they are college students, still learning their craft, and more importantly, they’re not friends yet. Not even close. So when circumstances force them to work together, shenanigans ensue, and everything’s great, except, and here’s why this is one of the lesser Pixars, the movie has no surprises whatsoever. You realize within the first half hour that this is a underdog-team-sports movie and then you see the formula laid out before you over the next hour-and-a-half. That’s not a deal-breaker, but we’re talking Pixar standards here, and those are some really high standards.
11. Cars: Three Lasseters in just five movies, see what I mean? Not that he isn’t a visionary in terms of animation or anything, just that he’s not the best director around.
Cars is a movie about an arrogant racecar who learns a lesson in humility during his stay in a small town. And while, like the movies listed above, it too suffers from being a bit formulaic, there are a lot of things about the movie that make up for that. We have the exciting race scenes, very well animated, we have the offbeat, fun characters and the thing that really stands out in this movie in my opinion, is the way it makes you feel like you’re there, in that small town, and evokes warmth and a nostalgia for an experience you may never even have had. That, in a nutshell, is why I put it at the top of my lesser Pixars list.
Well, I’ll continue with #10-#6 tomorrow, and I’m reeeally going to go against popular opinion there. At the very least, all the movies I’ll be writing up on will be great, so there’s a lot to look forward to. Have fun!
I Recommend: Everything Pixar has done except Cars 2 is worth a watch, and since I believe they’ll have learnt their lesson and Cars 3 will be good, even Cars 2 isn’t a complete waste of your time. Ideally, one should watch the whole Pixar filmography in order of release, because they add a lot of easter eggs, and because the animation gets progressively better, so every movie is refreshing.
This movie is beautiful! Sorry, I usually try to reserve statements like the one I just made till the end of the review, but I couldn’t help myself.
Ben and his sister Saoirse live in a world of Irish folktales and folk songs. When forced to separate from their family, They embark on a long journey back home when they encounter Irish versions of fairies turning into stone, waiting for a beautiful rendition of the Song of the Sea, a song that possesses the power to not only put feelings into stone, but to pull a reviewer back from a self-induced, indefinite hiatus.
Firstly, the story. This is a fairy tale, so a lot of magical problems find magical solutions here, but all of that magic always represents human emotions, and this allows the movie to explore themes of depression, separation, anger and loss in a very subtle way. The idea at the heart of this movie is the question of how to deal with emotions that we don’t want, and through the course of the story, we get to see different characters with their own ways of dealing with pain. It manages to be a children’s story on the surface while exhibiting unexpected depth and darkness to the more experienced eye. It’ll have you bursting with joy one moment and sorrow the next.
Secondly, the music. The songs in this musical are a crucial part of the story, which helps because when someone starts singing, it doesn’t feel like a track was just switched on. The songs fit organically into the movie. Also, they aren’t a way of telling the story (like Frozen or Les Miserables, for instance), but are actually songs being sung by the characters in the movie. This makes them a lot more effective, ensuring an organic experience. And they are really well sung. So much so that it didn’t bother me that a few of them are in Irish.
And most important of all is the animated storytelling. It’s what sets the movie apart. I strongly believe that no medium of storytelling is superior to any other and each medium has its own ways of conveying the story. Now imagine if storytelling simply meant conveying the events taking place in a story. Then reading “A man walks into a bar”, watching an actor walk into a bar, pretending to be said man, and watching a sequence of images illustrating the event would be equivalent. But words can play with metaphors, and depict feelings in a way videos can’t, movies have scores to enhance the experience, and comics can do creative stuff with coloring and panel placement. And Song of the Sea just happens to be the first animation movie I’ve seen which utilizes animation to its benefit. Most CGI movies are simply trying to be as close replicas of live action movies as possible, and over time, as VFX technology improves, they’ll become irrelevant. Not this one.
Summing up, Song of the Sea deserves every accolade it got, and even those it didn’t (looking at you, Oscars).
I recommend: Just watch it already. If you like animation, well, I’m not the only one telling you this one of the best animated movies of 2014. If you don’t, this holds the potential to bring you to the other side. Expand your horizon. Unless you saw The Secret of Kells and didn’t like it. No point watching this one then.
Madagascar, Dreamworks Animation’s second-longest running movie franchise (behind Shrek) gets a spin-off featuring the four secret agent penguins. And no, the plot of this movie isn’t directly related to the spin-off TV series, The Penguins of Madagascar.
Now you may wonder why a comedy movie franchise would have comic relief characters. But you shouldn’t, because the penguins are awesome. So it doesn’t matter.
Three little penguins find an egg, and in the process of making sure the fourth penguin sees the light of day, realize that they would make awesome secret agents. Years later, immediately after the events of Madagascar 3, they decide to break into Fort Knox for some snacks and get caught up in a mission to save all of Penguinkind from losing its cuteness at the hands of a certain disgruntled octopus. Also on the same case is another team of four super-spies, the North Wind, led by, well, I can’t tell you his name because it’s classified, but he’s played by Benedict Cumberbatch, the dude who also plays Sherlock in Sherlock, so there’s that. One of the penguins faces an inferiority complex, another develops a crush and another’s ego gets shattered. But that’s not really important.
As you’ve probably guessed by now, this movie has plot twists that don’t make sense, a threat that doesn’t make sense, characters that don’t make sense, and a lot of other stuff that doesn’t make sense. Also, it has no emotional core, and the moments of doubt and triumph lack weight. Luckily, the movie knows that and spends very little time with these trivialities. What’s important here is the jokes.
And jokes you’ll find aplenty. The humor in this movie is incredibly witty, absurd and self-referential with a lot of jokes on spy thriller tropes. And yet the movie itself is a spy thriller, and has appropriately exciting action sequences to show for it. Also, the pace in this movie never lets up and I never felt the lack of heart. The action is really well animated, especially in a scene where the four protagonists are falling from an airplane without parachutes, though not for the lack of them. Apparently, Captain America: The Winter Soldier has made that a trend.
In conclusion, Penguins of Madagascar is a hilarious movie, but it is just that, so those looking for depth might want to look elsewhere. I suggest Christopher Nolan movies and the Pacific ocean.
I recommend: Watch the Madagascar movies (which are more of a complete package with both heart and humor), and if you like the Penguins enough to think you can handle an hour and a half of them, go for it. This won’t leave a lasting impression, but that hour and a half will be one hell of a time. Let’s just hope Minions is as good as this.