Sunday, May 25, 2014

Movie review | X-Men: Days of Future Past

More than a decade ago, Hugh Jackman travelled through time in "Kate & Leopold", playing a 19th-century duke who finds love in modern-day New York.

Jackman (as Wolverine) does it again in "X-Men: Days of Future Past", this time in reverse, going back to 1973 to prevent the invention of robot Sentinels that decimate the X-Men in the future.

No spoilers here but it's the perfect opportunity to showcase both the younger and older selves of Professor X and Magneto -- and introduce a few interesting mutants -- in the battle against the humans.

As the latest in the movie franchise, "X-Men: Days of Future Past" had its task cut out. Sequels have a hard time matching expectations anyway and this one even more so -- a large cast, an elaborate plot, concurrent storylines -- but director Bryan Singer does a really good job.

A particularly fine Matrix-like sequence takes part somewhere in the Pentagon, when Wolverine, the Professor and a speedy teenager take on the guards while trying to spring the young Magneto from a high-security prison (he's accused of assassinating JFK).

The teenage mutant (Evan Peters) gets all the brownie points, performing with panache in a time-freeze that's the highlight of the movie. Watch him eat a burger in this ad and you’ll get some idea.

Also impressive is Jennifer Lawrence as the shape-shifting Mystique. She's no prop here as she takes on the villain (Peter Dinklage from Game of Thrones), the guy who’s building the Sentinels.

As sequels go, "X-Men: Days of Future Past" has no yawn-inducing moments. Dazzling visual effects, more than a few laughs, and some crackling chemistry. The lead cast definitely had fun making it (if you go by the Blurred Lines reference).

I go with four out of five stars for a sequel that's still as entertaining as the first "X-Men". Waiting for "Apocalypse", the next film in the series.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

"Of Love and Other Demons" (1994) by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

On her 12th birthday, the daughter of the Marquis of a Colombian seaport is one of four people bitten by a rabid dog. She's the only survivor.

In a town racked by superstition, people begin to suspect she's a demon and a young priest is brought in to exorcize her.

"Of Love and Other Demons" - translated by Edith Grossman - is the story of Sierva Maria in a Gabriel Garcia Marquez world where fact and fable are inextricably yoked together.

This 1994 novel is not as famous as his other works but is a masterpiece nevertheless. Now to watch the movie adaptation.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Movie Review: Godzilla (2014)

Are you planning to watch "Godzilla" this weekend?


For a giant reptile used to crunching his way through skyscrapers, Godzilla gets precious little screen time in this 2014 reboot of the film franchise. And he's fat -- looking more like a grumpy teddy bear who's had one too many McDonald's happy meals.

Instead, all the action is hogged by a pair of mutant creatures with inbuilt GPS capabilities who pick San Francisco as their dream destination to mate and make a million monster babies.

To thwart their parental urges, British director Gareth Edwards relies on a young soldier (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), his nuclear scientist dad (Bryan Cranston), several heroic Americans, one Japanese scientist and hordes of dispensable humans - the ones who usually meet a bloody end in disaster movies.

There are some good destruction sequences in CGI (including one on the Golden Gate bridge), but those are few and far between in a movie that plods through the first 90 minutes, focusing on revealing how all those decades-old nuclear tests were cover-ups for attempts to kill the creatures.

Boring, boring, boring. The slow build-up makes the 1998 Hollywood version of "Godzilla" seem like an Oscar winner. And that’s high praise. Give me an overdose of burning buildings, close shaves, death-defying stunts, apocalyptic thrills, monster mayhem. Why else would I watch "Godzilla"?

Director Edwards said he tried to recapture the style of film classics such as "Jaws," "Alien" and "King Kong."

"All that spectacle and amazing imagery is kind of pointless if you're not invested in caring about the characters that are affected by it," he told Reuters in an interview.

The problem is there are too many good actors in the film but they don't do anything. I never really cared about what happened to their characters. "Godzilla" has its moments but he should have stomped around a bit more.

Two out of five stars for this monster disappointment.

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Movie Review: The Amazing Spider-Man 2

I am not really a fan of superhero franchises (especially reboots) so I went to watch the "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" with few expectations. Turns out the film's not so bad. Yes, you have Spider-Man; the girl Spidey loves; and three villains. So what's new, apart from better visual effects.

Andrew Garfield as Spider-Man is a lot more likeable, charming and funnier than Tobey Maguire ever was in Sam Raimi's "Spider-Man" trilogy. Garfield's Spidey-suit fits like a glove and his New York twang complements the webbed superhero's new-found sense of humour.

Enter Electro, a nerd-turned-villain-whom-you-feel-sorry-for, and all Spider-Man has to say about his new high-voltage adversary is “Yo, Sparkles.” The two square off -- at Times Square -- for what is possibly the best action sequence in the movie.

Not to forget Emma Stone (my favourite young Hollywood actress) as Gwen Stacy. When not flashing her million-dollar smile, Spidey’s spirited girlfriend is almost the brains of the operation. Well, almost. Must admit Garfield and Stone have some good chemistry going.

There is a surfeit of bad guys -- Dane DeHaan as Harry Osborn (although a gaggle of teenage girls next to me were of the opinion that James Franco was “definitely” more drool-worthy in the role); Oscar-winner Jamie Foxx as Electro; and Paul Giamatti in a blink-and-you-miss-him bit as a Russian henchman/Rhino avatar.

There were some unintended laughs as well. In a crucial bit towards the end, when Gwen is falling from a clock tower and Spidey is trying his best to rescue his lady love, a child’s voice piped up in the darkened cinema hall -- “Papa, woh mar gayi?” (Dad, did she die?) -- Applause and laughter rang out, not quite the effect director Marc Webb intended for the scene.

All in all, a good effort. "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" may not be that amazing, but then there’s nothing like popcorn, cola and a good yarn to beat the heat in New Delhi. I go with 3 out of 5 stars for this webbed sequel.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

For Delhi, it's just not cricket | Guest post by Jo Winterbottom

It's a beautiful sunny morning – crisp and just chilly enough for me to need a sweatshirt over my cotton jumper. I'm ready early, about 6.30 a.m., because I don't want to keep my driver waiting. He's taking me to watch his church team play cricket at India Gate and I can't wait.

[Photo by David Castor via Wikimedia Commons]
Anthony and I have been to IPL matches together and regularly discuss India's – and England's – performance on the world stage. But I've never watched his team play – and this is my last chance before I leave India for good and a new job in the United States.

I've packed my towel and a cushion so that I'll be comfortable sitting on the ground and I have a book with me too, just in case I don't have the stamina for three hours of play. Anthony arrives dressed in tracksuit and trainers instead of the smart jeans and crisp shirt he usually wears when he's working and we set off in my car for India Gate, where they plan to play.

India Gate is a huge green area in the centre of New Delhi, the site of the memorial to India’s unknown soldier. At its centre is the monument, a massive sandstone arch designed by the British architect Edwin Lutyens and a legacy of empire that has been, like so many other colonial hangovers, absorbed into modern India’s culture. Around this arch fan out wedges of green grass and trees which eventually are bounded by a four-lane roadway that is the hub – and sometimes the congested heart – of political and business life in Delhi. It reminds me of London’s Hyde Park, which plays host to cricket and football matches, live music concerts and Speakers’ Corner, where anyone can stand on a soap box and address the public.

At this hour, at India Gate, there are only a few people around, joggers, someone doing push-ups, and a few groups of men limbering up for games of cricket. Our team gravitates towards a stretch of bare ground that we’ll use as the wicket, near a couple of shady trees where rucksacks are dropped. A couple of the men are wearing white cricket trousers but for the most part, they are in tracksuits and trainers or jeans and t-shirts. Our stumps are in a variety of sizes and our ancient bat is bent at the end. For these are not wealthy Indians out for a day’s relaxation. These are Delhi’s workers – drivers, office assistants, even some night-shift workers who have come here straight after their shifts.

It’s a special day in another way, too, as Anthony has a brand new bat, a birthday gift from his wife, Georgina, and his children. Mark, his eldest son, is here to play with the team and has the makings of a very talented fast bowler and a handy batsman too. The bat is still in its plastic wrapping as Anthony and a couple of team members use it for practice swings.

By now, the sun is just starting to dry out the dew on the grass. The teams are standing around, sizing up the opposition and talking tactics. There’s lots of laughter too, as these men all know each other from the church. Several come up to me and introduce themselves, shaking hands and thanking me for letting Anthony come on previous Saturdays to play in the team. I laugh with them and say it’s my pleasure, surprised that they would expect a boss to dictate hours without thought for the employee’s commitments.

With the opening banter and team hugs over, we are all anxious to get started. Some of these guys have jobs that start in a couple of hours so they will have to bat early. Anthony wins the toss for his team and decides to bat. He’s opening batsman and will be using his new bat. As he’s limbering up at the crease, the siren sounds. Wah-wah-wah-wah. We see a white police jeep trundling over the dewy grass towards us. The loudspeaker is saying something in Hindi, too complicated for my very basic understanding, but even I can get the drift. Everyone is still as they listen to the message. Stop playing.

The jeep pulls to a halt a couple of yards from us and we walk over to find out what they want. The two policemen in the jeep are speaking in rapid Hindi and Anthony is listening, his face telling me the news I don’t want to hear. I catch a couple of words, some in Hindi and some in English. Not a playground. Closed. And then they leave, their jeep slashing bright green tracks in the dewy grass, to deliver the same damp message to another group of would-be players nearby.

India Gate used to be open to the public every day, attracting crowds of Indians, many of them without access to any other large open spaces. Here they would go boating, walking, romancing and of course play cricket, the national obsession. But around December 2012, the area was closed off. In early March, we saw people walking the paths of India Gate again and the ice-cream sellers and balloon vendors coming back. The previous weekend, Anthony’s teams had played a match unhindered.

New Delhi police said that was a mistake.
"It's not permitted, it is not a cricket ground," Deputy Commissioner of Police in New Delhi S.B.S. Tyagi told me by telephone. "Three years ago, maybe, but things have changed. We don’t allow any function, no gathering for political purposes," he added.

It's not just cricket that makes it different from Hyde Park.

(Write to Jo at

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