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.

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Review: American Hustle

Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, Christian Bale and Jennifer Lawrence in American Hustle.
Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, Christian Bale and Jennifer Lawrence in American Hustle.

John Connor’s Big Con
Rating: ***

A running joke in my movie group was that Christian Bale, who plays a con man in American Hustle is in fact a Connor – John Connor of Terminator: Salvation. In David O. Russell’s new film set in the late 70s, Bale plays Irving Rosenfield, an old school con artist who has found success, but is still thirsty for more.

This brings us to Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) who joins Rosenfield’s con gang as Lady Edith Greensley, a fake British aristocrat. Adams has had her fair share of memorable performances but American Hustle (much like David O. Russell’s earlier film, The Fighter) travels to a land far away from her girl-next-door image. Here in American Hustle, she is the pot of gold – the reward everyone wants.

Justifiably, she buries herself underneath low-cut gowns and really (and I mean really) high heels. With all that glitz and makeup, one may wonder whether Adams was going to a Farrah Fawcett party and took the wrong bus.

Rosenfield’s guilt trip begins with Mayor Carmine Polito, a legit man, living a decent life, who is sweet talked into taking a bribe. Jeremy Renner is a fine candidate for the role of Mayor Polito. With two Oscar nominated roles in his kitty, this is cake walk for Renner.

The problem with American Hustle begins with Richie DiMasso, a young FBI agent (played by Bradley Cooper) who wants to be famous for pulling off the biggest intelligence operation ever. There are a couple of scenes that provide us little information on the life and times of DiMasso, which of course could have been avoided.

Much like Argo, American Hustle tries to become a personal battle than a political thriller. The success of ABSCAM isn’t the real deal, Rosenfield’s survival is.

He’s a con artist, and he helps FBI pull off a scam. But, what makes Rosenfield a common man is his estranged, neurotic wife (played by Jennifer Lawrence). She explains in one scene “you can’t divorce me because you fear I’ll talk about your illegal activities.”

That’s right, Rosenfield. You’re whipped for life!

American Hustle is a star-studded seventies crime comedy that bears plenty of resemblance to the Martin Scorsese mafia classic Goodfellas. There are the voiceovers (one each for Bale, Adams and Cooper), the constant usage of classic rock and jazz music, and of course Robert De Niro as a mafioso.

American Hustle is an old-fashioned, unapologetic, commercial cocktail prepared in Russell’s trademark style. It’s clever, funny and sometimes over the top. But, that’s the joie de vivre in watching a David O. Russell film.

Review: Before Midnight

Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in Before Midnight.
Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in Before Midnight.

Spectacular!

Rating: ***** 

The Most Hated Film Critic rates Before Midnight as 2013’s best film.

Trilogies have become a staple today. Every Hollywood film is released with plans of a trilogy in mind. When Before Sunrise ended with the promise of the lead characters – Jesse and Celine – agreeing to meet six months later, we thought they will meet six months later.

Nine years later came Before Sunset, the sequel that told us what happened to the characters created by Richard Linklater and Kim Krizan. Jesse did turn up six months later, but Celine didn’t. You can see Ethan Hawke as Jesse trying to hide his disappointment when he narrates the event. This of course is Hawke’s credibility as an actor. In fact, the Before trilogy showcases a string of memorable performances that none of his other films did.

With Before Sunset, director Linklater gave another open ending, but this time we weren’t sure what to choose. The third film Before Midnight takes place nine years later and answers your questions about the second film.

Films set in exotic locales like Greece or Italy tend to be a postcard from the filmmaker. But, Before Midnight does not fall prey to that. It’s a story about a couple with differences trying to get along. The film is shot in the same way, not paying heed to the enchanting locations or the people. The film is selfish. It’s only about them.

What impressed me the most was the maturity in both characters and that they would give anything to go back to the summer of 1995 so they won’t have to wait this long to unite.

Jesse and Celine are a couple now. They have adorable twin daughters, whom we will meet briefly. Why should we have to? This is a selfish film. We are here only to watch what happens to them and not worry about the kids.

The couple continue to have their disgruntled arguments about politics, science, sex, love, family and even mortality. More amusing are the conversations they have with others. The centrepiece of the film is a dinner conversation between four couples – all in the different stages of life.

Linklater tries to draw you towards the anti-climactic argument which does unravel their nine-year long union. Given that it is a well-written scene, you may wonder if it adds value to the characters.

Before Midnight should be on everyone’s must watch list. It’s the best in the trilogy and the best this year.

It closes the story arc. It celebrates the art of dialogue. It celebrates life in your forties. It is made up of emotions you’d feel at that age. It is in fact telling you to go forth and say what’s on your mind. Would you much like these characters wait this long to reunite?

Review: Prisoners

Hugh Jackman, Prisoners 2013
Hugh Jackman in Prisoners.

Hollywood Dad Goes On A Rampage
Rating: ***

Definition of Hollywood Dad: The paternal character who sets out to find justice on his own through vigilantism and hence falls prey to the law.

Having not seen other critic favourites such as 12 Years A Slave, Nebraska, All Is Lost and American Hustle, I come to think if Prisoners could be 2013’s best motion picture. If the 150-minute run-time was trimmed by at least 10-15 minutes, it would have received an extra star or maybe two – the highest honour this blog can offer.

The last mystery film that kept me emotionally charged the way Prisoners did was probably Roman Polanski’s Ghost Writer. Both dramas are excellently penned. While the latter was adapted from a novel, Prisoners is an original screenplay.

I can relate to Keller Dover, the character played by Hugh Jackman in this mystery drama. He’s a family man who enjoys deer hunting with his son, whom he grooms to be like himself, just the way his father groomed him to be. “Plan for the best, prepare for the worst” this line of dialogue plays an integral role in the film. Dover finds out that his daughter has been kidnapped, and much like most Hollywood dads, he goes in search for her by following the lead suspect – a young man named Alex Jones, who supposedly has the IQ of a 10-year old.
The lengths he goes to pump the truth out can be compared to the torture scenes in Zero Dark Thirty. But, that sums up director Denis Villeneuve’s motive. He wants to depict – the lengths any man would go to find his daughter. Classic Hollywood dad!

Halfway through the film, you find yourself rooting for Dover, hoping he is able to extract the truth. That’s when screenwriter Aaron Guzikowski introduces a twist in the tale, which breaks upon you like a guilt trip. Perhaps Mr. Guzikowski was waiting to trap you in all that guilt.

The plot twists confuse you infinitely. This film is worth the conversations you are bound to have afterwards. That’s when you put the pieces together and find out what Prisoners is really about. In fact, the story is never completed. The ending scene is a prime example to this – Detective Loki (what’s with the Asgardian name?) stands in the cold, wondering whether that whistling sound was real or not. Does he find out where the sound came from? Do the characters realize their mistakes? The film ends abruptly leading us to make our own endings.

While Jackman has shown us that he is an entertainer, Prisoners has him displaying something we’ve never seen before. He doesn’t emote the way Wolverine does. He emotes the way a real man would. The melancholy that sweeps him, the abstinence we feel when he’s broken, everything makes him a fine choice for an Oscar nomination.

Jake Gyllenhaal sure seems to have come a long way from Donnie Darko or even Brothers, the forgotten drama that also starred Tobey Maguire. But seriously dude, what’s with that delusional blinking? It’s like you’re on coke all the time.

The picture I painted at the start of this review may be deceptive by now. Do I love or hate this movie? The three-star rating doesn’t mean I’ll watch this movie a thousand times. Prisoners will be a rare watch for me again. Not because it’s average, but because the next time I see it, I’ll view it in a different way, much like the way we all felt about Skyfall or even Inception. The film joins the ranks of other thrillers such as Gone Baby Gone, and even Frozen River, another fine film that starred Melissa Leo, who plays the cocky, yet amusing character in Prisoners.

Prisoners draws a fine line between good and evil. And till the third act, we much like the characters in the film believe that we’re doing the right thing. But, what happens in the end, is an unwashed sin.

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 in 140 words or less: Dead Man Down

Dead Man Down movie still
Dominic Cooper and Colin Farrell in Dead Man Down.

Big Time Neo Noir Wannabe
Rating: ZERO

Dead Man Down is another thriller that tries to be a neo noir. In fact, the film is shot under cloudy skies and flickering light bulbs just to be characterized as an aesthetic neo noir. In fact, the characters behave one-dimensional just to reveal later that it was a setup. In fact, there is a woman who yearns to be identified as a femme fatale. In fact, I was bored at the beginning of this movie.

When watching a film like Dead Man Down, you have to keep some humour handy, so that when the film runs dry, you’ll be well ready to make fun of it. You wait till the end for the film’s best scene and well, you just keep waiting. There are no memorable scenes. That’s the sad reality of today’s cinema.

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: Stand Up Guys

Christopher Walken, Al Pacino in Stand Up Guys
“Let’s shoot some birds.” Chris Walken and Al Pacino in Stand Up Guys

Are We There Yet?
Rating: ZERO

I’d love to watch Christopher Walken, Al Pacino and Alan Arkin share screen space any given day. Which is why Stand Up Guys was on my must watch list. But, Stand Up Guys clearly isn’t their movie. It seems to have been made from scribbles taken from the notebooks of various filmmakers – Judd Apatow, Quentin Tarantino, Guy Ritche to name some.

The film never really comes close to what you may have expected. That is the sad reality of this 90 minute mishmash directed by Fisher Stevens, whose acting career can be easily forgotten. Younger audiences who are used to the Apatow humour will probably laugh at Pacino after he’s admitted to the hospital in a very compromising situation.

The film’s plot involves an aging criminal Valentine who’s released from prison, and unites with his old partner in crime, Doc. Only, Doc has been asked to kill Valentine, or else Doc will die too. This forms the crux of a painful drag where we’re introduced to minor characters and forgetful scenes.

Given the stars who have a lot of mileage, Stand Up Guys is a let down. Given the crew who have possibly never worked out of the indie circuit, Stand Up Guys is a holler. And given the anticipated murmurs in the theatre, Stand Up Guys is a rip-off that does injustice to our beloved idols.

 

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.