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Capsule Reviews

 | Capsule Reviews |

  BY Gautam Valluri and Anuj Malhotra

X-Men: First Class | Matthew Vaughn, 2011, USA

Every summer there is one big hollywood blockbuster that is touted as the great superhero movie of the year. X-Men: First Class happens to be that movie this year. The second of the X-Men prequels that are built around the two intriguing threads that formed the story drivers of the X-Men trilogy- the first being the mysterious origins of the mutant named Wolverine and the second being the supposed friendship between Professor X and Magneto and the origins of the establishment of their two mutant parties.

Casting Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy in the lead roles is perhaps the best thing director Vaughn did to the film. Both actors share an intense chemistry and portray the characters as the younger versions of Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian McKellen but without copying their mannerisms directly. The supporting cast features an array of talented actors: Oscar nominated Jennifer Lawrence (Winter's Bone), Nicolas Hoult (About a Boy), Rose Byrne (Two Hands) and Zoe Kravitz (Daughter of Lenny Kravitz) all playing legendary heroes from the X-Men mythology. Rounding up the great ensemble is an almost resurrected Kevin Bacon taking the role of the film's main antagonist.

Though the story is exciting and the film carries a good sense of humor, it falls apart in several places. The soundtrack of the film is just annoyingly noisy and instead of enhancing the ongoing visuals, it only provides a massive headache. The visual effects are dominated by a majority of undercooked computer-generated imagery. There is an instance in the film when Fassbender's Magneto lifts up a submarine from the sea which is just laughable and the poor CGI work doesn't do anything to prevent that.

Perhaps, the makers of the film intended it to be a "Batman Begins" to the X-Men series of films but they spend too much time trying to tie references to the original trilogy. This includes the origins of how each of the characters got their cool names- it seems it was the result of a bunch of young mutants naming each other.

If you've watched the film once and were impressed by it, give it another viewing and it will clearly fall to pieces. This is a one time watch. -GV

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
 | Rob Marshall, 2011, USA

The fourth in the Pirates trilogy! The suits at Disney realized that with the copius amounts of returns that the originally intended Pirates trilogy generated, they should not kill their little golden goose.

Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush return as Captain Jack Sparrow and Barbossa in what seems to be the beginnings of a new trilogy. Missing in action are Orlando Bloom's William Turner and Keira Knightley's Elizabeth. Taking their place is a new love interest, this time for Ol Jack Sparrow- Penelope Cruz playing the role of female pirate Angelica and an old flame of Sparrow's. 

The film is a welcome departure from the excessively complicated imagery of  At World's End. The budget though is almost the same but On Stranger Tides turns out to be a slower and more focussed piece of work with lesser characters to follow. What is most noticeable is the evolution of Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow over the course of the anthology. In "The Curse of the Black Pearl", he portrayed the infamous captain as an eccentric yet intelligent character. This seemed to swing more towards the eccentric side as the series progressed. One can see a clear difference between how Jack Sparrow speaks in the first film and in the recent most installment. 

The film presented in eye-popping 3D fails to impress though its visual grandeur. It seems director Rob Marshall was playing safe while trying to fill into Gore Verbinski's rather large shoes. However, he manages to bring some focus to the plot which is a skill Verbinski clearly lacked in the earlier films. - GV

Transformers: Dark of the Moon
| Michael Bay, 2011, USA

One of the greatest atrocities of our generation is that Michael Bay continues to make films. The last (hopefully) in the Transformers trilogy doesn't do anything different than the first two. Shia LaBeof returns as the idiot Sam Witwickie who is friends with the shape-shifting good-guy machines, The Autobot Rebels. He gets a newer, hotter girlfriend this time. Supermodel Rosie Huntington-Whitley replaces hottie Megan Fox as Sam's love interest. Apart from mysteriously changing attire between cuts and wearing impeccably combed hair in the middle of the world ending in slow motion, she doesn't do much else.

The film is just painful to sit through as the Autobots battle the Decepticons over 3 hours of non-stop metal collisions and such. Surprisingly, this sheer waste of $195 million features John Malkovich, Frances McDormand and John Turturro in its cast. Is Bay doing an exchange program with the Coens? Who's to say? - GV

West is West | Andy DeEmmon, 2010, UK

The sequel to Damien O'Donnell's 1999 tragicomedy masterpiece East is East is just a bad excuse to convert a great film into a terrible franchise. The sequel lacks the cheeky spirit of the original and indulges in nothing more than stupid stereotyping and exoticization of the Pakistani way of life in the 1970s. Aqib Khan replaces Jordan Routledge as Sajid, the alter-ego of writer Ayub Khan-Din. Where Routledge played the character as a reclusive and cheeky young boy, Khan playing the slightly older version makes him look like he is retarded. The film is boring, unwatchable and a sheer waste of time and production money. There are better films to be made on the south asian community of the UK and there are many unfilled stories by Hanif Kureishi waiting to be adapted.

Producer Leslee Udwin announced at last year's International Film Festival of India that a third installment is in the works, titled "East is West". I hope to god that such a thing never sees the light of the day. - GV

Stanley Ka Dabba | Amol Gupte, 2011, India

It is definitely liberating to see that Gupte was allowed to commit his freestyle rap to the big screen – a commercial revelation. It is also interesting that images shot on the touted 7D and then colour-corrected enormously hold up well upon projection – a technological revelation. But accomplishments of distribution and then exhibition aside, the one success no one can deny the film is that it successfully sets up an male-ego issue between its two protagonists – the student Stanley and his teacher – based on the most rudimentary of questions : who gets the bigger lunch-box to school? The glutton that the teacher is, forces Stanley and his group of friends to look for new spots on the school campus to hide and then conduct their lunch in. When the teacher, humiliated by an entire week’s inability to locate the group of boys and hungry, finally catches up with them, he says to Stanley: ‘You are just a beggar who shares from his friend’s lunch-box. Have you ever brought any of your own? Do not come to school till you get your own lunch.” It is a ridiculous premise, ofcourse; but appreciable, when other films refuse to commit themselves to issues any smaller than world domination, religious identity, the whole education system, dirty politics and anti-terrorism propaganda. Of course, there is the obnoxious twist near the end which explains Stanley’s inability to bring his lunch-box on a daily basis and show us how genuinely miserable the kid’s life is – but really, it is not as if the kid, with his pubescent confusion and awkward bouts of envy upon spotting his female teacher with her boyfriend, needs anymore misery. - AM

Adaminte Makan Abu | Salim Ahmed, 2011, India

It is the film of a content man. A film, perhaps, even of a devout man – the sort of film that is critic-proof, for it does not make its essential set of tenets open to any sort of discussion. It harbours an infallible, almost militant conviction in the plausibility of its own lead-protagonist’s central ambition – to fulfill a religious pilgrimage. No character in the film is really ‘negative’, apart from an estranged son who is talked about in McCarey’s 'Make Way for Tomorrow' terms – the ensemble cast is essentially a picture of moral supremacy – everyone is ready to help the lead character out, whether spiritually or monetarily – that he refuses each of these offers is supposed to be a symbol of his eternal earnestness. Which is what is perhaps, interesting about the ‘goodness’ featured in this particular film, that unlike a lot of other films about ‘good people’, it is not manifest through his own nobility, but through others’ rather pointed reverence of it. Because we never see him do anything specifically ‘good’, but because others always keep talking about how ‘good’ he has been – his virtuousness assumes a mythical level. The central conceit is ofcourse, noble enough : spirituality lies not in the fulfillment of a cause, but in a persistent devotion to it. Simple enough.

Delhi Belly | Abhinay Deo, 2011, India

In the case of this film, various oddball physiological alterations point at the progress of the story, character arcs and the general circumstance within the universe of the film – as the film is spent, one of the three lead characters acquires a stomach bug (the eponymous) as a result of which, his body convulses into positions depicting extreme gastronomic discomfort; the other develops a general limp, and the third, after a failed death-by-strangulation attempt, grows a croak. The facial make-up is also particularly essential here, and there has rarely been a film in the recent mainstream where there is so much to ‘see’ – over the course of the film, the faces of the characters are deposited with sweat, expressions of extreme discomfort, a bandage across the forehead, varying stages of facial hair, jheri-curls (and later, a bald shaved head), geek glasses, a black eye that swells into a rust-coloured lump, a bruised mouth, and eventually, powdered concrete and varnish. Physiognomy is the acting performance, for from beneath the layers of cosmetics, the actor’s face only remains a set of contours. Physiognomy is also, uniquely, the narrative, because just like in all other ‘comedy-of-errors’, commoner-getting-embroiled-in-criminal-scandal films ( a la Ritchie), the three naïve protagonists get involved in a smuggling racket and invariably, are caught and then harmed. The harm, ofcourse, is all physical and the level of injury to their respective selves (progressively higher as the film moves) is a direct indicator of how far into the film we are. Ofcourse, once you get past what is immediately visible (the aforementioned) and what is immediately audible (the umpteen cuss-words branded as the language of the youth), there is not much more in the film: but then again, what more can one expect of a pop-phenomena?

Hanna | Joe Wright, 2011, USA

At best, this is a mix-tape, a ‘best of’ collection, multi-generic thriller which has chase sequences set to the choicest Chemical Brothers tracks; at worst, it presumes its central concern is crucial enough for the audience to patiently bear its genre-transgressions. On its way to its profound twist in the end, the film is a surveillance thriller, then a paranoid thriller, a fish-out-of-the-water satire, paranoid-tourist comedy, a family road-trip comedy, a chick-flick, a bildungsroman, a revenge drama, a father-daughter schlock, and a sci-fi horror. Eric Bana does a great Liam Neeson and Cate Blanchett assumes the evil government agent employee who must extinguish the corroboration  of her inhuman crime – but ofcourse, a flashback reveals that the stakes here are not as inhuman as science allow them to be, and that there is a personal history involved. Clearly, someone on the crew must have been reminded clearly of Frankenstein with the plotline, but then, unless you are an unnaturally talented directorial hand (which Wright is not, he is talented in sparing measures), you have to choose between subway action sequences shot in a single-take, multiple chase sequences set inside a ship yard, the female protagonist doing a Chloë Moretz and profound statements on the fickle nature of creation – Wright grudgingly makes that choice. Bring on the Chemical Brothers.