Review: Batman v Superman

There is no doubt that DC’s superheroes are some of the most popular in the world. Whereas most had never heard of Black Panther, Deadpool or even Thor and Iron Man till the films made them famous, almost everyone knew or had heard of Batman and Superman and considered themselves fans. With this footing, it would seem perfectly sensible to assume DC has a headstart on Marvel that they would make full use of. Alas, their newest film, the rather lazily titled, “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” does little to push DC ahead. This writer, although a longtime fan of DC comics, believes that at this moment, Marvel is clearly crafting the better superhero film universe.

Director Zack Snyder’s “Batman v Superman” begins with an operatic retelling of the Wayne murders: young Bruce witnesses his parents’ death, falls into a cave, sees a swarm bats etc. the whole rigmarole. It is probably a fifteen–minute section of the film solely targeted to help the audience make a particular scene later in the film — specifically tailored for those unaware that Bruce’s mother’s name is Martha.

The films feels, for lack of a better word, unwholesome. There are somethings it gets right: a bunch of well–choreographed fight sequences involving Batman1, Snyder’s signature zooming in on Superman in mid–air, and good use of scale — when a tiny Superman cracks wide a skyscraper thousands of times his size, you really feel the impact. If only the story carried the same weight.

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Thoughts on Spectre — this should open a new world for the Bond franchise

Perhaps I am late to the party, but Spectre only released this week where I live and, naturally, I watched it on the first day. It is James Bond after all. In short, I loved the film, but I decided it was worth taking a moment to pen some extended thoughts here.

Spectre is the twenty–fourth film in the Bond franchise, this time not based on Ian Fleming’s book but stemming from a screenplay by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, John Logan and Jez Butterworth — Pruvis and Wade are regular Bond writers who returned to edit Logan’s original script. Before we go ahead, first of all, this is not strictly a review. And there are spoilers.

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“Civilisation” — Nature diaries, part 4

Nature diaries is an ongoing collection of five short films, often not spanning more than three minutes in length, which explore select ideas in a raw and organic, yet subtle, manner. These are shot entirely handheld and in natural light, with no setup whatsoever.

This means I need to be prepared when something is happening, not after the fact; and this often leads to some funny situations: since I enjoy photographing everything, people start to think I do this because I am excited by it, and they are right. But they fail to realise why I am excited by it: it is not that I have never seen that thing before (I probably have) but because every time I look at it, I see it as a new work of art.

I photograph roads. Sometimes I spend several minutes rooted to one spot trying to capture the graininess of a road or the wave white lines running along it in an artistic manner. This is construed as my awe with roads because I have not seen such roads before.

On the one hand this is outrageous and, if anything, shows the other person’s complete lack of knowledge of globalisation; but, to me, this proves to be very entertaining. This was what I experienced when I set out to film for the fourth part of the Nature diaries collection, titled “Civilisation”.

And that was understandable. Why would anybody pick up their camera and film a random street? The obvious conclusion drawn was something like, “he hasn’t seen such streets where he comes from”. (Guess what, even if I come from Tristan de Cunha, I still have internet access these days.) But what most failed to see was the composition(ally?), photographically, geometrically rich few seconds or simply a fascinating synchronisation in things.

But that is not all I hoped to capture here. Smaller things come into the picture: juxtaposing cycles with motor vehicles, chronicling the darker, graffiti-ridden side of an otherwise beautiful city, organisation, people in the very middle of their everyday lives, always looking for something interesting to do or say, the hustle, the calm, the shady, the sunny, the dreamy, the extraordinary and the same old white picket fences everybody still craves.

Here is the final result:

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(P.S. When I started off with the nature diaries, I only had ideas for four parts which means I am open to any topic you can pick for the fifth and final installment. Do take a look at the entire collection as of now to get a better idea as to the kind of topics we explore through Nature diaries.)

Film review: “Lake Tahoe”

One of Fernando Eimbcke’s earlier feature films, Lake Tahoe, almost disappeared from mainstream cinema alongside some better known films that came out that same year on the international stage (The Dark Knight, Iron Man, Quantum of Solace, Indiana Jones: the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull).

That is something very unfortunate, because Lake Tahoe, at the very least, is a stark contrast to all these big budget commercial works in that it is truly a work of art.

Despite what many might argue is an excruciatingly slow, somewhat motionless film, I believe that that is exactly where Lake Tahoe’s strength lies. Right from the very first, lengthy, action-free still that opens the film, Mr Eimbcke’s intention is pretty loud and clear.

Screenshot courtesy of Slant magazine

As I can recall off-hand while I pen this review, the entire film is shot more like a series of carefully thought, beautifully composed photographs with a single moving subject right up to the point where the camera starts rolling in a dolly alongside Diego Cataño’s disturbed teen on his way to a mechanic’s.

The film literally begins with a bang. Juan has hit his car onto a light pole. And for every passing moment then on, we give ourselves to Mr Eimbcke’s patient story-telling. One mechanic shop to another; one person to another.

EVERY FRAME ACTS LIKE A PLAYGROUND LETTING [EIMBCKE’S] ACTORS BECOME PAWNS IN THE DIRECTOR’S INVESTIGATION OF LIFE.

Back home, our protagonist, Juan’s, mother is depressed, having locked herself in the bathroom. Joaquin, Juan’s younger brother, in his tent, is perhaps most oblivious to their father’s passing if his scrapbook right at the end is no indication.

Every incident in this story of life itself is designed to teach Juan something about his on-going attempt to face his father’s death. At first he refuses, tries to get away, but that is not an option, and he learns that very gently, almost as if only Mr Eimbcke’s wide shots could.

The film starts by feeling more like a series of photographs interspersed with long black screens during which the viewer is left to visualise the film the way they want to, supported only by a continuing audio. Every frame acts like a playground letting his actors become pawns in the director’s investigation of life. This is truly something that has to be seen.

But the film, just like life, is also made up of small things: Hector Herrera’s talented portrayal of Don Heber letting go of his dog, Sica; or, in better times, Heber and Sica sharing a bowl of cereal in synchronisation; Lucia’s missing the concert; David’s Bruce Lee obsession; and the fridge, which, seemingly like everything else in Juan’s life, is broken.

Screenshot courtesy of Bryan Schutmaat

Lake Tahoe is not a film to be missed. Between Baz Luhrman’s heavily CGI-dependent The Great Gatsby which decided to take its own path away from the book, and Martin Scorsese’s brilliant The Wolf of Wallstreet, Lake Tahoe definitely leans towards Wolf…’s organic tone making it a match to these much newer films for any connoisseur. As for Gatsby itself, now that we mention it, nobody who has actually read the book can be satisfied with the film that looked like Mr Luhrman’s own creation.

The only thing nagging me was the film’s title. Lake Tahoe — or water itself, for that matter — has little to do with this film, so where does the title fit in except for that obscure reference to a Lake Tahoe bumper sticker Juan’s aunt had sent them and that his father hated. I suppose some things are truly rhetoric devices even in films.

To formally sum it all up: Tahoe is a moving, captivating film that only demands you give a lot more of your time to it than you would expect. It deserves a good 4/5 because, at times, it left me wanting an ever so slightly inconspicuous camera presence in the hall.

Sometimes, you realise a camera is there, other times, you are pulled into a vortex of uncanny, yet appealing, film making, like when Mr Eimbcke makes you watch Juan sitting still in a car and turns off his camera when the traffic lights turn green, or when he does that again every time somebody closes the car door.

This is one of those films you end up loving or hating with a passion. I, for one, loved it.

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Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn

A long thirst well quenched!

On 11/11/11 Tintin released here in India and I soon realised there was hardly any movie I had waited so eagerly to watch, ever. I first came across Tintin as a kid of very few years of age and—like so many others around the globe—found it impossible to leave the fandom. A few years later, I wished I could watch Tintin on the silver screen. This was in the last millenium. Today, that wish came true!

Now this is not a review or a critique, merely my thoughts on the Spielberg-Jackson venture which few, if any, expected to be bad. First things first: I shall try to go in order.

The characters have eyes!

Alright I had noticed this in the trailers. Something had seemed wrong. A while later when I took out one of my Tintin cartoons from my collection, I realised that Herge drew the characters with mere dots for eyes.

Tintin happens to be blue-eyed. While this does not spoil anything and while Jackson was right in deciding to go for stop-motion animation as opposed to a live action film, what disappointed me was that all the pivotal characters were not present.

To be precise, Prof Calculus is absent

That is right. Cuffbert Calculus is absent. What was Spielberg thinking? Perhaps, now that I look back at the film, I see Calculus would have hardly fit in; but Steven Moffat is one of those writer-geniuses who I’m sure could have worked out a plot to fit Calculus into it.

Snowy was entirely animated and some actors (Craig and Serkis) happen to play two characters and the entire thing comes out flawlessly. I could not think of a better substitute for Bell to play Tintin.

To me, Jamie Bell was an unheard of actor. I never knew him before The Eagle. I later recognised him in Jumper when I watched it a second time on television; then in the more recent Jane Eyre. In fact, I had no idea the boy was in King Kong (2005) either! Well, I will not say much now except that Man on a Ledge is a film I await.

Andy Serkis’ accent, Thomson and Thompson

Now Serkis’ accent (for Capn Haddock) was as new as actress Kim Stengel, who plays the Captain’s favourite, Bianca Castafiore. I have heard to (got accustomed to) Haddock’s voice in the animated films and the rolling of the R’s in the films seemed a tad difficult to put up with, but the smooth performance by a man whose face is, unfortunately, often hidden from the camera (Remember Gollum?) made it truly likeable.

That said, Moffat’s mixing up Herge’s three stories (The Crab with the Golden Claws, The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham’s Treasure) was brilliant. It was nice that, while I could identify almost all bits and pieces from the three stories, I was waiting to see where he has deviated from one to add stuff from another.

British comedians Simon Pegg and Nick Frost make a remarkable detective duo. Although I did feel they had put on a little weight from the comics to films, they were quite the lovable characters Herge meant them to be.

The Original Comics

Perhaps it was right then, as Herge put it, that Spielberg alone could bring Tintin to the screen while doing justice to the original comic works. This was back in the 1980s when Speilberg was to have met the Belgian writer but could not as he passed away just that week. Herge’s widow gave Speilberg the rights and over two decades later the director seems to have put it to good use. At least I thoroughly enjoyed it.

What I wish to see are few: the opening train sequence from the animated films and the Tintin theme music from those shows seemed to have become the norm among all Tintin fans and I expected to see that in the film; but, like Ccalculus, perhaps we will have to wait for a second part. Or perhaps, unlike the Professor, these will never come?

Time will tell. In the meanwhile, perhaps I will go again the coming week! All in all, the characters got a whole new dimension of theirs (no pun intended) and it was a pleasure to watch. I only hope Peter Jackson will not delay too much in bringing out the sequel.

And I hope it releases first here. Again.