Godzilla Review

Godzilla (2014)

bhaskar chanda godzillaHaving seen this latest Hollywood blockbuster, I’m having trouble understanding why anyone would be disappointed in this movie. Unfortunately, I’m also having trouble understanding why anyone would find it amazing. And yet, many of the reviews I’ve read are polarized in this way. Me, I enjoyed it well enough–for a doomsday flick, it hits all the right notes plot-wise while delivering some of the best broad scale special effects I’ve ever seen. And yet it sorely lacked a human element that would have taken it beyond the cheap thrills into a place where I really cared about these characters and what was happening to them. Directed by newcomer Gareth Edwards and penned by equally unknown Max Borenstein, Godzilla approaches one of the most iconic movie monsters through the eyes of Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) and his son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Supporting roles are played by big names, including Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen, Sally Hawkins, Juliette Binoche, and David Strathairn, and while the performances are solid, the screenplay never quite lifts any of them above basic Hollywood formula. But you know what you’re getting into at this point with this kind of film, as long as your expectations aren’t too high, you’ll have a fun if forgettable time. 3.5/5 stars.

Transcendence Review

Transcendence (2014)

bhaskar chanda transcendenceI won’t be the first reviewer to express my disappointment in what could have been a glorious film but ended up a clunker. The directorial debut of the cinematographic genius behind Christopher Nolan’s best work, Transcendence combines an intricate and interesting premise with the proven talents of Johnny Depp, Cillian Murphy, Paul Bettany, Rebecca Hall, and Morgan Freeman and still comes up short. While vastly different tonally, Transcendence is destined to be compared to Spike Jonze’s 2013 film Her, a critical darling, Oscar-nominee, and similar meditation on AI. But where Her was an exercise in control and elegant storytelling, a small but well-made vehicle navigating gracefully through an ocean of big ideas and age-defining questions, Transcendence is a muddled mess, a Titanic of a movie that gets caught in the ice and drowns in its own ambitions. Depp plays Dr. Will Caster, the world-renowned expert on artificial intelligence who hopes to achieve singularity by creating an all-encompassing intelligence in touch with the broad spectrum of human emotion. When he is attacked by Luddite terrorists, his wife (Hall) and best friend (Bettany) attempt to save him by injecting his consciousness into his own experiment, where he becomes all-seeing, all-knowing, and all-powerful. The film is to be commended for attempting to conceive and create a world where these events are possible, but in the end so many opportunities are missed that it’s hard to appreciate the successes achieved. 2.5/5 stars.

 

Mistaken For Strangers Review

Mistaken For Strangers (2014)

Directed by Tom Berninger, featuring Matt Berninger, Tom Berninger, Aaron Dessner, Bryce Dessner, Bryan Devendorf,  and Scott Devendorf.

bhaskar chanda mfsTom Berninger’s Mistaken For Strangers is so much more than your average, run-of-the-mill rock doc–it’s a generous and vulnerable contemplation on family, success, and happiness, and a bold statement about what music documentaries are for. The premise is simple: Matt Berninger, frontman of indie smash hit and critical darling The National, invites his brother Tom to come on the band’s largest tour yet as a roadie. An aspiring filmmaker (if he aspires to anything at all), Tom brings his camera along in hopes of making a documentary based on his impressions of a ten-year-old band as their popularity is soaring. What follows is a profoundly funny and touchingly sincere portrait of two brothers as different as different can be. Amongst beautifully captured clips of performances in exotic cities and cameos by celebrity fans, we get to go behind-the-scenes of behind-the-scenes and see Tom’s fumbling in both of his duties, as a roadie and as a filmmaker. He asks bemused band members inane questions, or instructs them to pose and recite goofy phrases he’s come up with. The result, while perhaps not being the performance-minded rock and roll saga many National fans might clamor for, in the end manages to capture the similarities between the two brothers and the art they create. In many ways, Mistaken For Strangers is a film equivalent of a National album–it’s shabby and unglamorous and as it turns inward, it doesn’t hide from the dark. 4/5 stars.

Dallas Buyers Club Review

bhaskar chanda dallasDallas Buyers Club (2013)

Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, screenplay by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack, starring Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Jared Leto, Griffin Dunne, Steve Zahn, and Dennis O’Hare.

One of the strongest contenders in this year’s Oscar race is Jean-Marc Vallée’s latest masterpiece. Loosely adapted from the real life story of Ron Woodroof, the film tells the story of a promiscuous drug addict and homophobe who contracts full blown HIV/AIDS in in the mid 1980s. All but killed by AZT, the only FDA-approved AIDS medication on the market, Woodroof starts smuggling non-toxic alternatives which have yet to be approved in the states, and eventually sells them to other patients for profit. The picture is one part complex character study and one part chilling indictment of the FDA and the pharmaceutical industry. McConaughey plays Woodroof with captivating detail and overflowing intensity, having lost 47 lbs for the role. Jared Leto is also pitch perfect as Rayon, a transgender patient who eventually warms his way into Woodroof’s heart. While the film will most certainly be passed over for the Best Picture Award (Twelve Years A Slave is viewed as more important and Gravity as more technically impressive) but it nevertheless is a captivating and gut-wrenching film which sends a vital message to American and international audiences, and it will probably pick up at least an acting award or two–and will definitely deserve it. 5/5 stars.