Review: The Counselor

Brad Pitt and Michael Fassbender in Ridley Scott's The Counselor.
Brad Pitt and Michael Fassbender in Ridley Scott’s The Counselor.


Thelma & Louise feels like a long time ago.
Rating: *

The Counselor is a blow to our senses. And our expectations. I certainly didn’t expect a shoddy two-hour motion picture from either Ridley Scott or screenwriter Cormac McCarthy.

Michael Fassbender plays the titular Counselor who gets in over his head, and indulges in a drug trade that involves a shady man called Reiner (Javier Bardem) even though another shady man named Westray (Brad Pitt) warns him not to. Phew!

This trade of course is defied by the brutal Mexican drug cartel, who have become a go-to nemesis in most crime films involving cocaine and gangs.

There seems to be a message in this film. Go down the bad path, and bad shit will happen to you.

Surely, there could have been an easier way of telling us that instead of making this incomprehensible mess. The Counselor, being a Ridley Scott film feels more like a Tony Scott film. There’s that slickness in editing and cinematography, that Ridley generally ignores, and Tony embraces. Sadly, the dialogue is nowhere close to either of their creations.

Screenwriter McCarthy has visited the wrong aisle in the library. Instead of taking dialogue that is as conventional as a Tarantino film, the monologues sound more like George Bernard Shaw or even Shakespeare. While explaining greed, one of the key characters, Malkina (Cameron Diaz in a nightmarish role) says:

“I suspect that we are ill-formed for the path we have chosen. Ill-formed and ill-prepared. We would like to draw a veil over all the blood and terror that have brought us to this place. It is our faintness of heart that would close our eyes to all of that, but in so doing it makes of it our destiny. But nothing is crueller than a coward, and the slaughter to come is probably beyond our imagining.”

Even when I was 100 minutes into the film, I thought Scott would pull away from the misery by adding one of two thrilling set pieces. None of which happens.

Review: Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters

Brandon T. Jackson, Logan Lerman and Alexandra Daddario in Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters
Brandon T. Jackson, Alexandra Daddario and Logan Lerman in Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters

What on Olympus is happening?
Rating: *

It is with a heavy heart that i write this review for Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters. Hollywood has chosen the blind eye on this potential book-to-screen fantasy franchise. The first Percy Jackson film was in all ways a miraculous entertainer. It took itself serious only when it needed to. Chris Columbus’s Percy Jackson: Lightning Thief is far better than the Thor Freudenthal sequel.

When Ghost Rider 2 made a mockery of itself, we didn’t care. But, when Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters becomes consumed in the world of bad decisions, you tend to twitch. The boy who recovered the stolen lightning is now the second best in Camp Half Blood. He’s a daredevil but at the same time, he’s rusty. But, one thing we all know is that he is the chosen one.

When Percy (Logan Lerman) lock horns with Clarisse (Leven Rambin), the daughter of Ares, you start wondering if the two would fall in love, the same way he and Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario) fell in love in the predecessor. Oh, speaking of Annabeth, she is present throughout the film. But, she isn’t taken seriously either. All she does is stand in the background and cheer for Percy. And having seen her in True Detective, I cannot watch her play a teenager anymore.

The first film boasted a good cast – Sean Bean, Pierce Brosnan, Steve Coogan, Rosario Dawson, Catherine Keener and even Uma Thurman. None of whom return in this 100-minute long debacle.

CGI takes a nose dive in this film, and I’m coming to think that South Indian films have better CGI. There is a Greek monster (dubbed as the Colchis Bull) which is shown to be a golden mechanical bull. Also, the Greek god, Kronos is a two-dimensional drawing in red and black.

The acting is wooden. The humour is parch. The overall experience is somber. If there are plans of making a third part, a lot of work needs to be done.

Review in 140 words or less: Trance

Trance movie, Danny Boyle, James McAvoy
Blurred Lines: James McAvoy in Trance.

Boyle’s Foil
Rating: *

Trance is a film that’s destined to leave you confused. It’s not long until you realize that Danny Boyle has hijacked your mind, and has ultimately robbed you from a good film.

You are introduced to Simon, an art auctioneer who also moonlights as a mastermind in Franck’s brawny gang of thieves. When a painting (stolen by Franck under the guidance of Simon) goes missing, all fingers point to Simon who now suffers from amnesia. Couple this with the presence of a foxy hypnotist (Rosario Dawson in her wake up call), a number of sexual references, a handful of Inception-styled mumbo jumbo, and voila! You have Trance. The film serves as a comeback vehicle for Dawson who is in need of a second chance. But, you never really realize that as Boyle has you captive. Even James McAvoy didn’t realize that.

Review: To The Wonder

Lovers in Bliss. Kurylenko and Affleck in To The Wonder
Lovers in Bliss. Kurylenko and Affleck in To The Wonder

Wonderland Beckons
Rating: *

Michael Cimino is known for his casual approach to movies. He dedicates time on the small things, gives more screen time for scenes which according to him are vital, and loves filming for more than 3 hours. But, the fact is, Cimino had a vision and fulfilled it. Whether it was the great Deer Hunter or Heaven’s Gate.

The only thing that separates Cimino from Terrence Malick is that Cimino’s films were never somber. They were full of life and you acknowledged it. You reacted to almost everything that happened in Deer Hunter. You were struck with grief when you witnessed the barbaric Russian Roulette games. You were a part of the grand wedding. You were humming “God Bless America” at the end of the movie. You don’t do the same with Malick’s films.

Malick has undergone tremendous change since Badlands, which is still my favourite Malick film. If you’ve heard about Tree of Life, you know what I’m talking about. To The Wonder is a desperate attempt to be another documentary shot by a Discovery Channel crew.

Malick may even be considered to be an evangelist. In Tree of Life, he preached existentialism and the nature of human soul. In To The Wonder, he preaches love in all of its forms. His quest to explain the beauty through long drawn shots of Oklahoma and midwestern United States as he patiently lets his characters walk into their roles. While Olga Kurylenko clearly is the star of the film, one can’t help notice Javier Bardem playing the deus ex machina – a priest undergoing a crisis of faith, who actually solves much of the film’s problems.

Ben Affleck is forever wooden, which is why I found it better when he’s not emoting much. I feel that Malick should only cast Jessica Chastain and either Brad Pitt or Sean Penn in his forthcoming ventures. When they emote, they do it without much fuss and it stands out. Rock solid. Watching Rachel McAdams try hard to emote her feelings felt like watching a game of charades.

To The Wonder may have been a 20 minute film if shot by a film student. It may have been a 150 page teen fiction if written by Nicholas Sparks, Or, it may have been a 90 minute memorable drama if directed by Woody Allen. In Malick’s hands, it’s an overly somber film that never lets the fat lady sing.

Review: The Last Stand and Bullet To The Head

Action Movie Veterans Take on Retirement

Rating: *

While dodging bullets, Arnold Schwarzenegger jumps into a diner, shattering the glass door. The owner asks him “How’re you feeling Sheriff?” to which Schwarzenegger replies “old”. It sure is an end of era. The action star openly states he’s growing old and is unable to take on the New Age of Hollywood cinema where action movies come with well-written back stories. The one-line plot is nearly extinct and it’s time for these Golden Age cowboys to hang their boots.

In comparison to Schwarzenegger who’s returning to the lead role after a very long time. his fellow action movie buddy, Sylvester Stallone is yet to find luck and has to pair up with the current roster to make a movie. Bullet To The Head has Stallone sharing screen space with Sung Kang, best known for his credible performance in the Fast and Furious franchise, especially Tokyo Drift and Furious 6.

Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jaimie Alexander in The Last Stand.
Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jaimie Alexander in The Last Stand.

In The Last Stand, Schwarzenegger teams up with a horde of current gen stars, which include Jackass star Johnny Knoxville and Thor’s Jaimie Alexander among others. There are notable stars in both films: Christian Slater and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje in Bullet To The Head, Forest Whitaker and Harry Dean Stanton in The Last Stand. But, their contributions never really help. That’s because they are there to attract naive filmgoers who think the filmmakers are gonna let these stars prove their credibility in at least one scene. Sadly, the filmgoers get fooled. Again.

Sylvester Stallone shows off his sculpted, tattooed torso in Bullet To The Head.
Sylvester Stallone shows off his sculpted, tattooed torso in Bullet To The Head.

What Bullet To The Head promises, The Last Stand delivers – unabashed violence throughout. But, that doesn’t make The Last Stand an effective action film. Both films try to evoke nostalgia but that doesn’t help much. Both films have a well-choreographed action scene. And yes, it’s just one scene out of a movie full of potential action scenes.

Stallone and Schwarzenegger have had their successes as a One Man Army back in the 80s, but to keep up with the market, multi-starrers are the way. A lesson learnt with The Expendables films. I love Predator and Terminator: Judgement Day as much as I love Demolition Man and First Blood, and it would be a fairy tale for me to expect the same today.

Review: Parker

Jason Statham in and as Parker
Jason Statham in and as Parker

Who Am I?

Rating: *

In the midst of a crucial action sequence, Parker (played by the ever monotonous Jason Statham) stops for a moment and adjusts his suit. Taking a cue from Skyfall, Taylor Hackford has his titular protagonist jumping into the middle of action wherever it happens – on a long highway, or even in a sky rise condo. While most scenes fall bland, there’s a well-executed heist at the Ohio State Fair.

But, the rest of the film is like a chapter out of Revenge Story Writing 101. You have a setup, then there’s the ambush, and then the famous dialogue spoken by any person who has survived the ambush “I’m gonna find ’em and I’m gonna kill ’em.” It’s a shame that Parker falls prey to the incessant cliches.

The film runs dry till Jennifer Lopez shows up as the neurotic real-estate agent, Leslie Rodgers. Lopez known for not trying too hard as an actor, is actually a godsend. The role, being written out of a bar napkin, is empty, allowing the singer to milk on her character’s neurotic background to create unexpected laughs. Time and again, you may think how does an underpaid real-estate agent who’s living with her mom, get to wear flashy clothes, but that’s just how Hollywood works.

The whole movie plays like clockwork. We’re informed that Parker has a girlfriend, Claire, who is shown in small, thirty-second scenes where she’s either in the shower with him, or is escaping hitmen, or she’s on the phone, wetting her eyes out. Right when you see a connect between Parker and Leslie, Claire shows up, breaking poor Leslie’s heart.

And like every girl who has to give up, Leslie offers to help Parker which sets up the film’s climactic sequence. There are talented actors in Parker, but they are reduced to mere stand-ins. Nick Nolte plays Parker’s mentor, while Bobby Canavale, who after a memorable role as Gyp Rosetti in Boardwalk Empire, plays a cop with no role.

Jason Statham has built a career full of one man army films. And while some of them (Transporter and Redemption) are notable, the rest just don’t help at all. The film is based on Flashfire, the 19th novel in John J. McLaughlin’s Parker series. Well, unless they go for a well-written reboot, I don’t see a successful franchise.

Review: A Good Day To Die Hard

Die Hard 5
Bruce Willis and Jai Courtney in A Good Day To Die Hard.

Bad, Bald and Balderdash

Rating: *

Given that Hollywood executives look at film franchises as cows and try to milk as much as possible, Die Hard 5 aka A Good Day To Die Hard is insanity. And well before the release of Die Hard 5, the studio has already considered Die Hard 6 for the year 2015. If this is the way to go with franchises, I suggest they move to Direct-to-Video. The reason being the tireless storylines that all lead back to the first Die Hard – one good guy against a hundred baddies. The downfall began with the titling. Die Hard 4 was called Live Free or Die Hard, and the latest one is called A Good Day To Die Hard. Both sound kiddish and do not respect Bruce Willis’ action hero stature that the first three films had established.

Is it necessary to explain John McClane’s hatred towards technology in every Die Hard film. If I’m correct, Die Hard 4 was based on that. I can easily visualize the studio meeting for Die Hard 4. One executive would say “McClane hates terrorists and technology. Can we do something with that?” An anticipated screenwriter gets a spark “Imagine USA under attack by a group of cyberterrorists.” And that gave birth to the movie, coupled with a few wild stunts and some one-dimensional characters.

In Die Hard 5, studio execs have pitted McClane against USA’s most admired enemy, Russia. But, why would an US cop go to Russia? The motive would have to be strong, and they have harbored on McClane’s son, Jack. In Die Hard 4, you met McClane’s daughter, Lucy. And in the first two Die Hard films, we’ve established that John and Holly McClane have a daughter and a son. Hence, it’s obvious to introduce the son, who we come to know is a CIA operative working on an undercover mission, until Papa McClane jumps into the epicenter. All hell had already broken loose in the first two Die Hard films, and what’s left of it broke loose in the next two films, making Die Hard 5, a sober action film. There isn’t enough of anything in this film. Not enough action, not enough catchphrases, and not enough Willis.

Die Hard 5 in a few ways reminded me of the 2012 action film The Cold Light of Day where Willis played a retired CIA agent who is soon killed and his son (played by Henry Cavill) fights till the end. There’s the aging father figure who still likes to take a shot, there’s the courageous son who likes to play with fire, and there’s a menacing antagonist who just wants to kill everyone.

The action in Die Hard 5 is juvenile when compared to the first two films. One defect can be less body count. And with Die Hard 6 in the loop, god save the victims of John McClane.

Review in 140 words or less: A Thousand Words

Eddie Murphy can talk only A Thousand Words.

Don’t you dare open your mouth!

Rating: *

For someone who grew up watching R-rated action comedies, it is hard to accept that Eddie Murphy has moved to PG-13 movies. It is harder to accept that his new film, A Thousand Words features him talking only the said thousand words.

Murphy relies on visual gags such as weird facial expressions and obscene hand gestures to do the trick. But, that doesn’t help in  bringing in humor. It was last year’s action comedy, Tower Heist that brought him back to the spotlight. Murphy got his groove on and the nation was talking about his comeback.

Sadly, A Thousand Words derails his journey.

Foot Note: A Thousand Words promises humor to a certain extent but, delivers below that.

Review: Friends With Kids

Adam Scott and Jennifer Westfeldt in Friends with Kids.

Where Is This Going?

Rating: *

In Friends with Kids, a title similar to last year’s Friends with Benefits, writer-director and actress Jennifer Westfeldt tries to juggle several mundane characters and inane situations, thinking it would resemble a Lawrence Kasdan film, in this case, The Big Chill. That’s when I found out that Jake Kasdan is one of the film’s producers. Friends with Kids also stars four actors from Bridesmaids, last year’s hit comedy. So, technically, Friends with Kids is a Bridesmaids reunion.

Adam Scott and Jennifer Westfeldt play the lead roles as two best friends who consummate their friendship for a baby. Mary Kay Place anyone? Then, there are your Bridesmaids stars, Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Jon Hamm and Chris O’Dowd, who make up for the friends of these friends. Of these, it’s Hamm who lags behind, bringing his Mad Men antics to the table and proving nothing to them or to us.

Just when you think everything is boring, Westfeldt introduces Megan Fox as a possible girlfriend to Scott. As the film progressed, I noticed how much Kasdan’s classic has been ripped to shreds by Westfeldt who tries to drag you to the epicentre of the “friends face-off”. This face-off involves a war of words that ends with the scene, and continues in another scene, in another setting.

Wiig, Hamm and Rudolph are truly the auteurs of the film. You saw them have fun in Bridesmaids and you thought they would do the same. Get ready to be disappointed.

Review: The Grey

Liam Neeson in The Grey.

Dances With The Wolves

Rating: *

Joe Carnahan’s The Grey is a mix of J.J. Abrams Lost and the “survival of the fittest” theory. A group of oil drillers are stranded in Alaska after a plane crash and they have to survive a nasty blizzard, hunger, frostbite and a pack of grey wolves. This film is based on the novel Ghost Walker by Ian MacKenzie Jeffers.

The Grey stars your action movie “go-to” guy. No, we’re not talking about Bruce Willis or Nicholas Cage, we’re talking about Liam Neeson. Taken may have suited his badass hero avatar but films such as Unknown, The A-Team and Clash of The Titans don’t enhance his reputation. These films needed protagonists who are more agile, more invulnerable. Neeson doesn’t deliver in the cited examples and neither does he in The Grey.

Carnahan adds more character to the wolves and not to the humans. We saw a similar occurrence in John Carpenter’s sci-fi horror classic, The Thing. But, that was where it all began – the eighties. Carnahan deviously lets his actors deliver metallic emotions, ensuring that the focus goes to the wolves. Sadly, the carnivores don’t bring much to the table. What more can you expect from prop animals?

Carnahan highlighted in a press conference that The Grey is about a man’s interior struggle for survival and brought in Christian messages to support him. Upon watching the film, I doubt that.