Kung Fu Panda 3: Movie Review

Po and his exciting companions are back in the third iteration of the fun-filled Kung Fu Panda series.

Jack Black’s Po remains one of the most adorable animated characters to have come out of DreamWorks Studios and he is fantastic here as well.  As always, one of the most endearing aspect of these films has always been the clever one liners and there are an ample servings of them in this one too.

Coming to the story, we’re back in familiar waters. To keep it as spoiler-free as possible: Kai (who kinda looks like a bull?)  is an ancient foe who has been banished to the spirit realm by Master Oogway. But now he’s back with a vengeance, planning to take down the Jade Palace. Now it’s upto Po to master a secret magic to defeat Kai once and for all.

But lest I forget, we finally get to visit the much anticipated Panda village with Po reuniting with his biological father Li Shan (voiced by the wonderful Bryan Cranston). In a movie filled with so much fun and frolic, some of the best moments are the incredibly subtle but emotional callbacks to Po’s childhood and his late mother.

I also loved the music with its Chinese touch; Hans Zimmer keeps the tempo lively and even though there weren’t any standout motifs, the music wonderfully accentuates the film. The same goes for the great use of 3D, there are only a few movies out there that can justify their use of adding that extra dimension and Kung Fu Panda is definitely one of them. I dunno if this is the conclusion to the series but I’ll miss the colorful world with its cute anthropomorphic animals and the delicious food references.

If I have a minor problem with this third film, it’s only this: I would have loved for the writers to up the ante in this one, to kinda beef up the emotional aspect. But the series adamantly sticks to primarily cater to the younger crowd. Granted, the adults will enjoy this film but there’s just not enough that lingers in your mind once you’re out of the cinema.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 – Movie Review

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I’ll say this outright, The Hunger Games films have been one of the most faithful book adaptations I’ve seen. Sometimes even carrying off entire conversations verbatim from the book. And when Jennifer Lawrence emerged as Katniss Everdeen in the first movie, I couldn’t help but marvel at how accurately she was able to capture Katniss’s state of mind and body language. For this reason alone, and also the thrilling riots that the first two books were – I’d always immensely enjoyed these movies.

The third book Mockingjay, though, is a different story. For me it had always been the weakest link, with a muddled plot and not really resolving things in a satisfying manner. So when they announced that the book is gonna be split into two films as has become the norm these days – I deemed it one of the worst decision ever. And it showed, Mockingjay Part 1 was a drag and felt hollow and uneventful with no clear goal. But guess what, after watching Part 2 it hit me that splitting it may have been a wise decision after all.

Because this movie had only one goal: sell the climax.

The book never even came close to doing it convincingly. It all happens in a blur and with a lot of Katniss’s inner monologue. Maybe I didn’t give the book the kind of reflection it needed but by the end of it I was a lot disappointed to give the story any more thought.

But the movie, on the other hand, since it has got the space and time to tell a much shorter story, it allowed for these moments of contemplation to exist which really helped to bring the conflict of morality that much more effectively to the forefront. Also, even with all the action pieces and the purported 76th Hunger Games feel, when you watch this movie the only things that’ll be rattling in your mind are the people and the choices they make.

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But I did have some minor issues. One of which has plagued the book as well. Gale‘s merciless dismissal with a flick of a finger in both the book and movie for a crime he did not commit is something I’ll never wrap my mind around. Yes, the delayed bombs were his idea but holding it against him because they accidentally killed Prim is simply not justifiable in any way.

Maybe you should also know that I am and have always been Team Gale. Yep. Katniss needs Peeta, but she loves Gale. And it doesn’t help that Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson have absolutely zero romantic chemistry. It’s a pain to see these two trying to be intimate.

Anyway, back to Prim. Now her death, for some odd reason, is not mourned by anyone. I don’t remember how it happens in the book, but one moment you see an explosion killing Prim and the next moment everybody is back to business as usual. Also the last time we saw Prim was an year ago so the audience have a much lesser connect to her as well. Wouldn’t it have helped, since they had all the time in the world, to add one or more prominent scenes with Prim and how much she means to Katniss?

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There’s a reason why the Hunger Games books are not just yet-another-dystopia. Apart from the mind-boggling suspense and thrill, the books have always been about the underlying moral dilemma. How many worse things could someone do in the pretense of ‘a greater good’ that it finally starts to eat into the society? You see that with President Snow, of course, but with Mockingjay you also get to see the evolution of it with President Alma Coin (a great Julianne Moore), tyrant in the making.

Technically, the movie is fabulous. Be it the CGI, the camerawork (I did spot a couple of shaky-cam moments, but thankfully they don’t permeate the entire film), and not to mention the amazing score by James Newton Howard! He breathes life and desolation in equal parts and even though I missed the return of Rue’s Theme (which never fails to move me to bits), he more than makes up for it with some new engaging themes.

It’s always a sad thing when something comes to an end. The Hunger Games, for me, will always be a special experience with the movies doing the books ample justice. But I guess I have to thank Suzanne Collins for it all.

I’ll leave you with this invigorating piece of music that features in both Mockingjay movies. Jennifer Lawrence does kill with her voice, doesn’t she?

SPECTRE: Movie Review

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When you go to see a James Bond movie, you don’t get to ask certain questions. Like, how is it that props like sofas and nets are always present at the right spots to break his fall from heights? Or, why are the roads in Rome so vacant when our hero is in a car-chase but filled with traffic just moments after? Or even, why does Bond have to bed every woman that comes his way?

This is not to say that the Bond movies have always been about high-IQ and logic, and we should be able to let all of these remarks slide. Because the man in question – James Bond – is above all of this, and we can forgive little plot slips as long as we are entertained. And he is entertained. So scratch my last question, with all the stress and hard-work he puts himself through, it’s only natural to need to have a release once in a while. Right? Right?

Well, even with all of the glitz and the glamour and the adrenaline-pumping action, Spectre still doesn’t rise up as a worthy installment in the franchise. And certainly not a worthy successor to the amazement that was Skyfall. Halfway through the movie, I realized that I had seen this movie before in countless forms. The screen play was getting so generic and predictable, I actually yawned. And not just that, the script is just so similar to the recent Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation that I seriously wonder how nobody saw it. In any case, what pulls the movie down is the lethargic writing. There is nothing that screams creative or innovative in the script, and even though the movie might leave you oddly satisfied at the experience, it never gives you the high.

There’s one thing I liked most in Skyfall and that’s the introduction of a humane angle to Bond. Putting him through emotional tight spaces that he’s not accustomed to. Thankfully, that endeavour continues in Spectre as well and we get an inkling of his past through the antagonist (Christoph Waltz playing Ernst Stavro Blofeld, the mastermind behind Spectre), who I should say was menacing, but not enough. The one to beat is Andrew Scott (playing Max Denbigh, a vile British Government official), whose creepy smile is something not very easy to get over. (If you didn’t know, he’s the same guy who plays Moriarty in BBC’s Sherlock)

The rest of the cast including Daniel Craig, of course, are spectacular in their respective roles and make the movie eminently watchable. Lea Seydoux as Dr. Madeline Swann, the Bond girl this time is interesting in that she challenges James and makes him see a different side to himself. And she also proves to be quite resourceful herself, even saving Bond’s ass in one fight. The other highlight is the thumping score by Thomas Newman, which the movie never lets go.

Spectre starts off stunningly with a massively mounted opening sequence in Mexico City, a MacGuffin for our Bond. But it never really takes off from there and insists on staying content with being just-another-Bond-movie. You do get some thrills and a world tour, but there’s nothing to make you want to sit through the movie again.

The Walk – Movie Review

There are three things that need to be mentioned with regards to The Walk that impressed me a lot –

  1. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s impeccable French accent.
  2. The ultra realistic visual effects.
  3. Clever use of 3D

Having followed Joseph since his Mysterious Skin days, it’s delightful to see him blossom into this mature and endearing actor that he is. One can’t help but marvel at how precise he is in everything he does. And also how versatile. If he makes you believe that he really is this free-spirited, funny and ambitious French lad who wants to walk a high-wire between the two Word Trade Center towers, then it’s entirely up to the way he wears the character he’s playing. You don’t see Joseph Gordon Levitt, you see Philippe Petit.

Then talk about the visual effects. The WTC buildings do not exist today, and yet anyone who sees the movie would find it difficult to believe that everything you see is computer generated. And it’s not only about the buildings, but about the view from the top too. New York City does look absolutely spectacular from that height and getting that bird’s eye view had really been a special moment.

Now a word about the 3D. You know how the usage of 3D has become a fad now-a-days. Every one wants to do 3D even when it adds zero to the film experience. Not to mention the dark hue the movie takes under those glasses. But this movie was destined for a 3D experience. In fact, don’t watch the movie unless you’re wearing your 3D glasses! It’s that good! When was the last time you jumped from your seat because something from the screen came out at you?

Now that I’ve dealt with the physical aspects of it, let me talk about the movie’s heart. Philippe Petit is a wonder, no matter how you cut it. What he attempts and achieves tells a lot about human capability if only one sets their mind onto their goal. To know that he had spent 6 years of his lifetime just to prepare for “le coup” as he calls it, all the spying and research and planning, it absolutely blows my mind. This man had a simple but deadly goal, to walk a rope between the two tallest buildings of the time. A walk of 140 feet, 110 stories above the ground! Just how much confidence, courage, dedication and peace of mind one needs to possess to even attempt something like that, I cannot say. But we cannot deny the fact that he is an inspiration for everyone of us out here. We may never reach the heights he did, but we all can implement his ideals in our own way.

Don’t miss this one.

The Martian – Movie Review

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Mark Watney may hate disco music with all his heart, but I think I have finally come to appreciate Commander Lewis’ love for it. I mean, it sounds perfectly groovy. And probably the best music to have when you’re stuck on a lonely planet like Mars. Just saying.

I guess with NASA announcing that they’ve finally found water on the red planet last week, it can only spell serendipity for the film. Just as well, because this is the most fun space movie you would have seen in a long while. You might not walk away from the theater with a heavy heart – like what Gravity and Interstellar do to you – but you will have had a great time nevertheless, watching the travails and comedic outbursts of Mark Watney, the man destined to be remain in history as one of the coolest protagonists ever.

The Story:

Well the story is pretty obvious by now I suppose. In the not so distant future, on one of NASA’s manned missions to Mars named ARES 3, a heavy sand storm hits the base jeopardizing their return to Earth if they don’t abort immediately. But then, just as they are making their way to the Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV), a stray antenna hits Mark Watney and he gets carried over by the storm. The other members, deeming him dead, leave the planet. Only, he’s alive and kicking, a truth that will shake NASA and subsequently the whole world. With four years for the next manned mission to Mars that could rescue him, fast depleting food and water-  how is this guy ever gonna survive? That is something best seen on the screen.

You may check out my in-depth review of the novel that discusses the story in more detail :

The Martian – Book Review

The Analysis:

First off, I think they nailed the casting. And at least for me, a lot of them were familiar faces.

  • Commander Lewis (Jessica Chastain) was none other than Murphy Cooper from Interstellar!
  • Johannsen (Kate Mara) is Zoe from House of Cards.
  • Martinez (Micheal Pena) was that funny guy from Ant-Man.
  • Mitch (Sean Bean) is Boromir from LOTR! And also the first one to die in Game of Thrones!
  • And Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is…well he’s Matt Damon!

And I know that Irrfan Khan was supposed to play the role of Venkat Kapoor, but unfortunately due to scheduling conflicts with a Bollywood film of his, they had to cast Chiwetel Ejiofor and had to tweak his name to Vincent Kapoor (LOL!) so that now he’s half-Hindu and half-Jewish. But I’m not really pissed as Chiwetel is indeed a very competent actor and brings across the required intensity to his role.

And you couldn’t have imagined a better Mark Watney than Matt Damon. Period. He brings just the right amount of brilliance and smart-assery that’s required for the role. And I was eagerly waiting for all the f-bombs, to be honest, but they did cut back a lot as I think they wanted to maintain that PG-13 rating. But I did really miss that one final “F*** you, Mars” when he’s facing the red planet from the orbit in the end.

The movie also scrapes over most of the science stuff, as expected. Books are different as they have all the time in the world to explain and establish concepts, but in movies you can’t stop to explain all the time. And I think they did strike a fine balance. The set work is fantastic, and The Hab and Rover were really well done. As are the sweeping vistas of Mars.

If I have one concern with the movie is that it never really made me feel the gravitas of the situation that Mark is in. The book does it considerably well. But in the movie, somehow, you believe that this guy has the chops to make it out alive. Maybe it’s because of the inherent optimism that runs through the movie and maybe it’s because they missed to include one of the biggest problems that Mark Watney faces i.e the huge storm on the way to Schiaparelli Crater. So yes, like I said before, this is not a heavy movie. There are problems, and our hero solves them, one after the other. And was the epilogue required? Probably not. But my sister did say that she would have killed the writers had they ended the movie where the book did.

Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials – Movie Review

Well as they say, there’s a day for everything. And today, for the first time ever I saw a movie without having read the book first! Just as well. Because when it comes to this series, the movies are definitely better than books. Yes you heard me right. When I read the first Maze Runner book, I did like the premise but everything else fell flat for me – the characterization, the pacing, everything. But the movie corrected a lot of those mistakes and actually turned out be quite fun. So when the sequel The Scorch Trials was announced, I was ready to watch it without reading the book as I had an inkling that this would surely be the superior experience out of the two.

Now I don’t know if I am right or not, but the movie was actually pretty good!

The Story

We pick up right where left off at the end of the first movie. After the maze trials, Thomas and his friends along with Teresa are brought on-board a safe-house run by a man called Jansen (the audience immediately recognized the actor, as he’s none other than Aiden Gillen who plays Petyr in GoT). He tells the kids that they’re in safe hands now and finally out of reach of W.C.K.D (that’s pronounced Wicked, an evil group that captures kids immune to the Flare virus to harvest the cure out of them). But nothing seems to be as it appears. A secret is discovered, which takes our protagonists out into the open. What is the Flare virus? Who is on whose side? And how do you tell the good people from the bad? This forms the crux of the film.

The Analysis

I am not sure what the Flare virus actually does to people, but this movie plays out like an episode right out of ‘The Walking Dead’. People affected by the virus behave like zombies and a bite will infect you as well. But with that aside, I have to say that the movie mostly succeeds in keeping you glued to your seat till the very end. There’s very little character development and people we already know from the first film don’t do anything that’s too surprising. But I welcomed the introduction of new characters, especially Giancarlo Esposito playing Jorge, a character that’s right up his alley. The new girl Brenda was quite good too and we actually spend quite a lot of time with her than Teresa.

Hollywood has now become a master of creating something out of nothing and making it seem like it’s all real so let’s just say that the Visual Effects are good! I mean, the maze did really look magnificent in the first movie and here it’s the city-in-ruins that gets special mention. Everything feels organic. The background score was okay too, and very good in some parts.

If I have a problem with the film it’s only that the emotional graph is not maintained very well. Now this may have been something that’s carried over from the books, but you never quite reach the emotional high in the climax as the action insists to jog back and forth. (Remember that final scene in Catching Fire where Katniss shoots an arrow into the dome? How electrifying (pun intended) was that!) Stuff like that goes sorely missing here but still it’s not too bad. The final scene does make you want to watch the next movie, so that’s good enough.

*Images sourced from foxmovies.com

A tribute to James Horner: My top favourite musical scores of his

I was saddened this morning to hear of James Horner’s untimely death. A double Oscar winner, he was an extremely talented musician who gave us such memorable scores in Titanic, Avatar, Braveheart, Apollo 13 and many other movies. For some reason, the sinking scenes from Titanic have been lingering in my mind since this morning ever since I heard the news. How ironical that he had to die in a plane crash, of all things.

Truth is, we have lost one of the greatest composers of the contemporary times. The man whose sweeping orchestral scores literally poured life into many a movies.

Unfortunately, I have not heard all of his music, but these are some of my absolute favourites of his. Stuff that I always carry in my smartphone.

1) Rose’s Theme – Titanic

Titanic is one film that catapulted James’ popularity among the movie goers. “My Heart Will Go On” is probably the most recognizable song ever. It is just perfect in every sense. But if you’re looking for something more haunting, the hum version of this song called ‘Rose’s Theme’ is one I always settle down with in loop. Just brings back all of those emotions…the sea..the ship…Rose…

2) The Destruction of Home Tree – AVATAR

This is such a powerful score that it never fails to move me to bits whenever I listen to it. Coming at a very crucial moment in the film, it perfectly underscores the action and the destruction and the agony that follows afterwards. A masterful track, my favourite bit starts from 4:10 and up until the very end.

3) A Kaleidoscope of Mathematics – A Beautiful Mind

I absolutely love this track! The way it starts off, marvelously building up intrigue. Then seguing into the more somber notes.

4) For The Love of Princess – Braveheart

I remember looking for the score as soon as I watched the film, me being a sucker for sweeping violins! This one takes on epic proportions midway and makes for an amazing listen. I love the kind of mixed emotions this one evokes in me.

5) A New Nervous System – Bicentennial Man

One usually remembers this movie for Robin Williams, he was a fantastic actor and I still cannot digest that he is no more. And James Horner as usual imbues such delicately soulful music into this film that perfectly compliments the humanoid robot’s emotional journey through the film. The below is one glorious example.

6) Rooftop Kiss – The Amazing Spider Man

A track that sounds very simple but is beautiful in its own right. A very soothing track.

RIP James Horner. You music will live on.