Pirates 4: On Stranger Tides – review

Regarding my review of the latest edition of Pirates of the Caribbean, I found a review of the movie online – and it does a far better job discussing the movie than I do. From the review:

Though amusing at times, the wild adventures of loopy pirate Sparrow are now merely bland and predictable.

Go read.

Pirates of the Caribbean 4: A Review

Meh. That’s my first reaction.

This is part 4 of a movie franchise that’s based on a theme park ride, remember – and by now I imagine the creators have run out of new elements to introduce. So: there’s Jack Sparrow (“with a ‘Captain’ in there somewhere”), there’s Barbossa, there are other ‘interested parties’, all in a mad rush to find the Fountain of Youth. Along the way, there are sea creatures, there’s a supernatural ship, and a romance sub-plot that begs the question: why?!

Does any of this sound familiar?

Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightly are gone, but there isn’t anyone who ‘fills’ the spots that they held. Instead, there’s Penelope Cruz, who’s role in the movie seems tenuous. She has appreciable screen time, mind you – but does she play a significant part? I’m not so sure. And then there are a bunch of other characters who are all present and who all fill the screen – but it’s not much coherent there either.

All in all, it’s just a movie where it seems like we’ve already seen it before. To the extent, that even the customary funny scenes involving Sparrow sometimes seem off color. It’s not a bad movie – it’s just not a good one any more, after three movies before this along the same lines. Go watch it if you have the time, but don’t put off that other important thing just to watch this.

Meh. Yeah, that’s still my reaction.

Of Science Fiction, and James Cameron

I often have a problem with many science-fiction / fantasy movies. It’s not that I cannot identify with technology or ideas that are far removed from what we are used to on present day Earth – it’s just that more often than not the stories are not consistent in their own worlds.

For example, I’m sure you have encountered movies where a principal character is found in a tight spot, with no apparent way to wriggle out unscathed. You wonder how in the world the story moves forward without having the character dead / compromised – and then the character pulls out a ‘special power’, that either no one knew the character capable of, or that violates what a ‘normal’ character would be able to do.

Why that inconsistency, in the movie’s own set of rules?

I think one of the reasons Harry Potter is such a successful franchise is that Hogwarts and the magical universe is incredibly well defined in terms of what is allowed and what is not. Everyone has certain powers, and such powers have well defined limitations. When the author needs to add capabilities that are apparently undefined, she makes a point to give a background – before the power is used by a character – whereby the rules and limitations of that power are defined. It’s complex and rich – and also very self-consistent in its own universe.

That’s my point of view – that good fantasy / science fiction should be self-consistent in its own rules and laws. I usually don’t find too many takers to this – most people around me are often lapping up a movie, while I smirk and shake my head.

And then I find this, from a biography of the director James Cameron:

One of the rules the T-1000 [from the movie Terminator 2: Judgment Day] had to play by was that it could turn into a knife but not a gun, a limitation revealed when the character passes through the bars of a mental institution, but its pistol gets caught. As Cameron saw it, the T-1000 could harden portions of its [liquid metal] mass to form edge weapons and stabbing weapons, but it couldn’t convert part of its mass into a complex machine involving separate, detached pieces or make gunpowder to launch projectiles. It was important for Cameron to show the audience the character’s restrictions. […] “In science fiction you have to have rules and you have to state them, and you have to play by them,” Cameron says. “Somehow it makes the fantasy more real, by adding complexity.”

Perfect, is what I say.

And then we had, of course, Terminator 3, involving another liquid metal character capable, this time, of this:

Using the same logic as before (using ammunition or fuel, along with fire), are you surprised that Cameron neither wrote nor directed it?

Avatar

As expected from James Cameron, Avatar is an epic. Visually stunning, great details, sweeping landscapes and breathtaking scenery – it’s all there. It’s a pretty decent movie too, I’d say.

It seems, though, that James Cameron conceived the project 15 years ago, but could not go ahead due to technological restrictions. Really, Mr Cameron – 15 years? Which part?

The part about a larger / technologically advanced group invading a smaller / underdeveloped group? Or the underdogs winning, despite being backward? Those are not very new, are they?┬áThe only interesting portion was where the hero can ‘transform’ into other forms – and even that is not new (remember Jonny Quest, the Animorphs series?). Which part did you really uniquely conceive, Mr Cameron?

Nevertheless, the movie is good. It’s probably not going to be as big as Titanic, because where the Titanic had an off-the-beat storyline, Avatar has a predictable routine. Villains invade, insert a spy, spy gets involved with locals, feels for them, and finally goes against his bosses to fight, and win, for his new friends. Predictable storyline – with only the species changed. Even where the film had a chance to deviate from the routine and have some twists, it chose not to.

And then there are the stunning 3D effects. When Cameron talks about new technology to create something special, I am inclined to believe him – the movie is a must watch if only for the stunning Digital 3D and visual details.

If you’re sitting on the fence trying to decide whether you want to watch Avatar – let me decide for you: go watch. You won’t be disappointed. (No promises on the 2D version though – make sure to get to the 3D theater.)

‘Angels and Demons’

Watched the latest Tom Hanks starrer Angels and Demons today. For the uninitiated, this is a film based on a novel by Dan Brown, whose most famous book is The Da Vinci Code, which was also made into a film starring Tom Hanks. Both movies feature the same principal character, symbologist Robert Langdon.

The books are in fact in the reverse order, where Dr Langdon is introduced in Angels and Demons and then goes on to the mysteries of The Da Vinci Code, but the film makes several allusions to the fact that Dr Langdon has already had brushes with the Church, which is possible only if he has already messed with The Da Vinci Code. This is interesting, because I remember the trailers specifically mentioning, “Before the Da Vinci Code, were Angels and Demons”. Hmm.

It’s actually a pretty good film. At least, I thought it was better than The Da Vinci Code (DVC). Of course, DVC had the disadvantage of being a very complicated novel, with many subplots featuring bits and scraps of history, tradition and rituals, and it was much more difficult to cram all that information in a movie. Angels and Demons does not suffer that condition, as the essential plot is simple and hence easier to port to the big screen.

The plot, of course, features an ancient group of scientists and intellectuals, called the Illuminati, that the Church apparently tried to suppress, and how the 400 year-old organization has reared its head in retribution in the present day and age. It makes for an interesting film (and indeed an even more interesting read), and the bits of history that are true are really intriguing. And of course, the story telling is good too.

What I did not like was the large deviation from the plot in the book. More so, the deviations are such that they don’t seriously affect the plot if you look at the overall storyline, which begs you to ask why those deviations were necessary.

Anyway, a good film nonetheless, and yes, do go ahead and watch. In addition to a taut thriller, there is interesting history being told as well as the film progresses.

But, as with The Da Vinci Code, do read the book as well, preferably before you watch the film. As you can imagine, the history being told and the relationship of the Church to the Illuminati are much more detailed in the book, and it will make it that much more interesting to watch the movie.

Go, enjoy.

Reel vs. Real

I watched the recent movie ‘A Wednesday’, on how a ‘common man’ takes up the onus of cleansing his society of crime and terror. It’s a gripping tale, and one worth watching. Yes, do go watch if you can.

But, in context of today’s Mumbai[1,2], and my post yesterday where I talked about how I am amazed by Mumbai’s resilience, a line from the movie struck me very strongly:

We are not resilient by choice; we are resilient by force.

Chak De!

Finally watched Chak De! India today.

I’d heard for a long time that it’s a good film, yes, but more – that here was a film that focussed on a sport other than cricket; surprise, surprise even more, here was a film that focussed for a change on women’s sport in India.

Yes, it’s about all of these. But in the end, it’s about neither of these. Not Hockey. Not Women’s Sports.

It’s about playing for your team, and putting the team above everything else.

And yes – it’s a wonderful film indeed.