WftPotA: An intelligent movie trilogy about smart apes comes to an epic conclusion


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The Planet of the Apes prequel series which began with  Rise of the Planet of the Apes in 2011, followed by Dawn of the Planet of the Apes in 2014, comes to an epic conclusion with the just released War for the Planet of the Apes. Other than the unwieldy titles, there is virtually nothing to complain about in what is perhaps the most intelligent sci-fi movie series of modern times. Particularly after the disappointing remake by Tim Burton in 2001, few industry watchers could have foreseen this franchise finding new life in any meaningful way. The original Planet of the Apes from 1968 starred Charlton Heston and was based on the 1963 French novel by Pierre Boulle (he also wrote The Bridge over the River Kwai). This new series serves as a prequel, setting up the chain of events which leads to apes gaining intelligence, speech and eventually, mastery over man.

A lot of the credit for this new series goes to the husband-and-wife team of Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, who wrote the script for Rise and Dawn, while also co-producing all three films. Their achievement is surprising given their previous track record which is nothing to write home about. In fact, they didn’t even have any credited screenplays between 1997’s pulpy sci-fi horror film The Relic and the 2011 reboot of the Apes franchise. I would love to know what these two were doing during these years and how they convinced Fox to greenlight this smart and insightful approach to bringing the Apes property back to the screen. They also wrote the story/ screenplay for 2015’s Jurassic World and while that film was an outstanding box office success, it shows nowhere near the same level of attention to plot detail or plausibility as this new Apes series.

Another key factor is the extraordinary use of motion-capture and CGI technology in recent years and that too, applied at scale across dozens of characters. But mo-cap technology is only as good as the actor behind the CGI and in this case, no praise is too great for the unique talents of Andy Serkis as Caesar. Surely Serkis deserves a lifetime recognition award of the highest order for the iconic CGI characters he has brought to life over the past 2 decades, starting with Gollum in The Lord of the Rings (2001-03) and then the titular character in King Kong (2005); I am looking forward to his rendition of Baloo the bear in the Warner Bros. version of The Jungle Book which will be released in October 2018 with Serkis behind the camera as well.

War concludes the epic saga of Caesar the chimpanzee. In Rise, we are introduced to baby Caesar, whose mother was experimented on with an intelligence-enhancing viral-based drug developed to treat Alzheimer’s. Caesar inherits his mother’s intelligence and in due course, uses an improved version of the drug to enhance and free several other apes from the testing facility and also from the San Francisco zoo. After a pitched battle with police on the Golden Gate bridge, Caesar and the newly-intelligent apes escape to the woods outside the city. Meanwhile, the drug mutates and sets off a worldwide pandemic, wiping out most of humanity. Ten years later, in Dawn, Caesar and his tribe have established a settlement in the woods. But he has to deal with another ape Koba, who challenges his leadership and also triggers a confrontation with a group of surviving humans in San Francisco. Caesar defuses the conflict with the help of a sympathetic human family and the film ends Godfather-style with Caesar re-establishing his authority as the leader of the apes. War is set 5 years later and sets up the ‘final conflict’ between apes and man, as Caesar and his tribe are hunted down by a well-trained and armed militia led by a merciless colonel. One can see the influences of both Western and prison break genres in parts of the movie; and even though it’s the longest film of the trilogy, there is a strong forward momentum to the plot and the running time of 2 hours and 22 minutes does not weigh the film down.

The film also continues to explore the recurring themes of the franchise – racism, family bonds, loyalty, betrayal and revenge. Throughout the films, we are frequently left to wonder if it’s the apes or the humans who are more civilized. I had read that the third film was the darkest of the trilogy but in fact there are surprising moments of humor, particularly with the new ape character named “bad ape” and voiced by Steve Zahn. Woody Harrelson plays the ruthless colonel with an understated menace and keen sense of history and purpose, rather than as an over-the-top psycho (which Harrelson is well capable of doing!). The plot also employs the clever use of a little orphaned human girl Nova (played by Amiah Miller) who joins Caesar’s group and acts as a counterpoint to all the human brutality.

The technical level in this series has been consistently top class, but in this third installment it’s worth calling out Michael Seresin’s cinematography, particularly in scenes at the apes’ waterfall camp and later on the beach (which recalls the iconic final moments of the 1968 original). Also, composer Michael Giacchino employs some interesting percussion to heighten the tempo in key scenes. I’d love to see both of them get Oscar nominations this year.

For anyone new to the series, I recommend watching the 1968 original followed by this prequel trilogy. Fans of the series will enjoy references to earlier films, such as the beach scene or the use of character names like Nova and Cornelius.

Spider-Man: Homecoming – Engaging characters make up for ho-hum action


The Marvel-Sony partnership prompted by the critical and commercial failure of 2014’s Andrew Garfield starrer The Amazing Spider-Man 2, seems to be paying off. Early indications are that Spider-Man: Homecoming is going to pull in box-office cash in the same range that Sam Raimi’s original trilogy scooped up from 2002 to 2007. Reaction from critics and audiences likewise has been positive.

What’s made the difference?

Firstly, Spider-Man is now integrated into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) via his introductory appearance in Captain America: Civil War last year. Audiences are have been deeply involved with the characters in the MCU for some years now. Naturally, any new character introduced into an MCU film benefits from that halo effect. And that’s exactly what was set up in Civil War; we were introduced to a teenage Spider-Man played by Tom Holland and another new character Prince T’Challa of Wakanda (aka the Black Panther), both being set up for their respective solo films. And so here we are with Homecoming successfully picking up speed in the slipstream of Civil War and Black Panther scheduled to follow suit next February. Audiences know that whenever they go to watch an MCU film featuring any one character/ team, they will get some bonus Marvel character appearances as well; in the case of Homecoming, the guest stars are Iron Man, his security chief Happy Hogan (played by director of the first two Iron Man films, Jon Favreau), Pepper Potts and Captain America appearing in some public service videos.

Second, this time around audiences don’t have to endure an entire film repeating the well-known origin story of Spider-Man bitten by a radioactive spider. Instead, we get to see the character already set up with his powers and his suit. The fun part is seeing how his mundane teenage world contrasts with the jet-setting lifestyles of the Avengers, who he looks up to and so desperately wants to be a part of.

Third, the casting this time really works:-

EVERYBODY likes (loves!) Marisa Tomei as Aunt May.

Michael Keaton’s Adrian Toomes (aka the Vulture) is the best villain in the MCU (traditionally a weak area) and the 2nd best Spidey villain after Alfred Molina’s Doc Octopus from 2004’s Spider-Man 2. While not as tragic a figure as Doc Ock, Toomes’ motivation to move into a life of crime is something one can sort of empathize with.

Peter Parker’s high school gang are all interesting characters and oh-so-ethnically-diverse; his best buddy Ned is played by Jacob Batalon, who is of Filipino origin; class nerd Michelle is played by the multi-ethnic Zendaya; love interest Liz is played by African-American Laura Harrier and class smart-ass Flash who is blond and muscled in the comics is now played by Tony Revolori, who is of Guatemalan descent.

In fact, the only character I didn’t really care too much about is Peter Parker himself. Not because Tom’s a bad actor, but perhaps because the 21-year-old actor is too good at acting as a whiny 15-year-old motor-mouth who wants everything…at one point in the film, I really couldn’t handle that non-stop high pitched voice of his as he provided a running commentary during an action sequence!

Speaking of action sequences, that was the key weak link in the film for me. While I was engaged with all the characters, the action and the fights didn’t hold my attention at all. I think it’s because the outcome is so predictable. C’mon! it’s a PG-13 film. Of course, no one important is going to die or get maimed. This isn’t Game of Thrones, right? Well, to be fair to the studio, they did try that route in 2014’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2 with Mary Jane Watson; I don’t think that movie failed because of that plot point at the end, but it’s understandable that the producers didn’t want anything really nasty to happen to any characters in this all-important reboot. And so, we end up with 3 action set-pieces which are all big-scale and spectacular, but not really gripping.

What was fun about the action scenes was all the showcasing of all the tech that Tony Stark had built into Peter Parker’s suit. The suit AI (F.R.I.D.A.Y.), a female version of J.A.R.V.I.S. seemed a bit too good to be true, even more intelligent that J.A.R.V.I.S., it seemed to me!

And to round off the complaints, I still dislike the mismatched fonts of the movie title.

By now, anyone who’s been to a few Marvel movies knows to wait back for mid-credits and post-credits stingers. Well, there are two in this movie. The first stinger sets up a potential villain for the sequel, a criminal named Mac Gargan who becomes the Scorpion in the comic books. The 2nd one is really cheeky joke, eliciting appreciative laughter from the audience in the theatre.

And so, we have a Sony back on track with the Spider-Man franchise, with more than a bit of help from their ‘friends’ at Marvel/ Disney. Fans can only hope that this success could fuel a similar partnership between Marvel and Fox to resurrect the Fantastic Four franchise (although Marvel boss Kevin Feige has assured reporters that the possibility is beyond remote).

We still have one MCU film to go this year – the ‘buddy road film’ Thor: Ragnarok releasing in November, featuring Thor and the Hulk forced into mortal combat in an alien coliseum.

Next year, there are no less than 6 Marvel films! Three are MCU films from Disney – Black Panther (Feb), Avengers: Infinity War (May) and Ant-Man & the Wasp (July). The other three are mutant films from Fox – X-Men: The New Mutants (Apr), Deadpool 2 (June) and X-Men: Dark Phoenix (Nov). Oh, the joy!

When directors remake their own movies, part 2 – McCarey and the Affair


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A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a comparison between Yasujiro Ozu’s A Story of Floating Weeds and his own remake of the film, named Floating Weeds two decades later.

Today, I’m sharing my thoughts about Leo McCarey’s 1939 classic Love Affair and his even better known remake An Affair to Remember from 1957.

The 1939 original featured superstars Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer. Ms. Dunne had recently acted in the hit screwball comedy The Awful Truth opposite Cary Grant. Mr. Boyer had just appeared as the gangster Pepe Le Moko – one of his most famous screen roles – in the film Algiers (a remake of French film Pepe Le Moko). Love Affair was a critical and commercial success, getting nominated for 6 Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Story, Best Actress (Irene Dunne) and Best Supporting Actress (Maria Ouspenskaya).

In the film, Charles Boyer plays well-known French playboy Michel Marnet, who has been recently engaged to an heiress and is on an ocean liner making a transatlantic trip to New York. On board, he meets a beautiful and witty American night club singer Terry McKay, who also has been recently engaged. She is well aware of Marnet’s reputation, but perhaps because of his recent engagement, she considers it ‘safe’ to spend the evenings having dinner with him and engaging in a fair amount of light-hearted flirting. Their snappy dialogue and smart one-liners was very typical of romantic films of that era.

About 20 minutes into the movie, the ship has a brief stopover at the island of Madeira, off Portugal. Michel goes ashore to pay a visit to his grandmother who has been living on the island for several years; on the way up to her house, he bumps into Terry and invites her to tag along. I think it’s brilliant how the scriptwriters wove this act into the story and made it (in my opinion) the emotional cornerstone of the film. This is where the flirting transforms into love. It seems that everything at grandma’s place conspires to make this change happen (mainly in Terry’s mind) – the peaceful surroundings, Michel’s warm and affectionate relationship with his graceful and gracious grandmother, the chapel on the grounds which Terry briefly steps into with Michel and finally grandma’s not so subtle hints to Terry that she’s the one to make an honest man out of her Michel. The chapel scene in particular is almost magical – the lighting and the music seems to give a sort of spiritual endorsement to their relationship.

At the end of the ocean crossing, they decide to give each other 6 months to consider their future together and promise to meet at the top of the Empire State Building. Unfortunately, Terry has an accident on the way and Michel waits at the top in vain – this is the scene that Sleepless in Seattle paid homage to more than 50 years later with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. Eventually, the Terry and Michel are reunited in a tearful, happy ending with the famous lines spoken by Terry “I was looking up, it was the nearest thing to heaven…you were there” and then less romantically, “If you can paint, I can walk; anything can happen, don’t you think?”

The 1957 version features Cary Grant and Deborah Carr. At this time, Cary Grant had already been a superstar for two decades and Deborah Kerr too was at her peak with mega-hits like From Here to Eternity and The King and I earlier in the decade. The film was shot in colour of course and was made with a much bigger budget than the original. With a much-loved story and two famous leads, it was a guaranteed hit. It also went on to garner 4 Oscar nominations, although these were all in the less prestigious technical categories.

McCarey kept it simple and went for a remake that was almost identical shot-for-shot and line-for-line (he used the same script as the original); one key change is that Cary Grant’s character becomes an American, Nicky Ferrante. The main difference between the two films is the way the characters behave and this alone gives the remake a very different tone from the original. For instance, in the final scene, Deborah Kerr takes out her handkerchief and wipes Cary Grant’s tears, before wiping her own. In 1939, there were no tears from Charles Boyer (he would have been too macho to cry!). This is perhaps representative of the difference between the 2 versions – Charles Boyer was the epitome of suave and Irene Dunne was as sassy as they came in the 1930’s. Their screen personas in Love Affair were consistent with how romantic leads interacted with each other in those days – lots of witty dialogue and repartee. Although Cary Grant had an equally suave and debonair screen persona, he and Deborah Kerr are less poised, more expressive and seem more vulnerable in the remake. Was this because the director asked them to be so, or was it just the more informal film making style of the 50’s showing through? I’m not sure, but I do know that this made the 1957 characters more relatable. The only exception to this is grandma Janou – Maria Ouspenskaya delivers a far more touching and impactful performance in 1939 compared to that of Cathleen Nesbitt in 1957.

So, overall I prefer the 1957 remake, but script and the scenes are identical between the two films, the viewer is able to focus on the actors/ characters and each film is enjoyable in its own way.

When directors remake their own movies, part 1 – Ozu and Floating Weeds


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I recently finished watching Criterion Collection’s Yasujiro Ozu double header – his 1934 B&W silent film A Story of Floating Weeds and the 1959 colour remake, simply titled Floating Weeds. Watching them back-to-back marked the first time I had done so with a movie and its remake. It gave me the opportunity to compare and contrast the two works; how changing times and social mores, the film maker’s own experiences over 20+ years and the availability of new film making technology affected the way the telling of the story changes over time.

The plot, as with all Ozu plots, is simple. A traveling Kabuki troupe, led by a veteran actor (these itinerant actors are the “floating weeds” of society) returns to a small town after a gap of several years. As they settle in for a few weeks of performances, it is revealed that the actor’s old lover and their illegitimate teenage son live in this town. The actor has stayed in touch with the mother over the years, even providing for the son’s education, with the boy believing him to be an uncle. During the troupe’s off hours, he slips off to relax at their house, reminiscing with his ex-lover and trying to build a bond with the young man. But on this trip, the lead actress in the troupe is his mistress and when she finds about his secret ‘family’, she sets out to disrupt their harmony. This is a typical Ozu gendai-geki (family drama), and as with all his films, it is about inter-generational conflict – frequently passive – and the consequent fragility of the nuclear family, itself a relatively recent 20th century import from the West.

The 1934 film is fat-free. Ozu, always an economical director and a master of ellipsis, is particularly spare at this early stage of his career. He doesn’t show every event on screen. The viewer is allowed to fill in what has happened between one scene and the next. Also, the fact that it’s a silent film (there are occasional dialogue cards) means that there is no time wasted on long-winded conversations. All this makes for a brisk running time of 86 minutes.

The 1959 remake is identical in terms of structure and plot, but differs in form. The setting is changed from the countryside to seaside. And of course, there’s dialogue – they end up saying a lot more to each other than they did in the original film – making for longer scenes and a longer movie of 119 minutes. There is colour and interestingly, I found it to be a more vivid palette than in Ozu’s other colour films; is this because Ozu worked with a different cinematographer Kazuo Miyagawa and not with his regular guy, Yuharu Atsuta? I can’t say, as I’ve only seen Miyagawa’s B&W films (Rashomon, Sansho the Bailiff and Yojimbo).

The 1959 story takes place in contemporary times and this means it is a more ‘open’ society, more explicit about illicit relationships and sex. For example, there is a sub-plot involving 3 actors from the troupe who trawl the town looking for female company. One of them tries unsuccessfully to flirt with a barber’s daughter. All three eventually end up at a bar and make the acquaintance of a couple of seasoned prostitutes – one with bad teeth and loud manners, but a genuinely friendly demeanour; the other is attractive, but cold and mercenary in her behaviour. All this is missing from the 1930’s original and while it’s entirely realistic and the scenes are interesting, it seemed to me to be an unnecessary – almost crass – distraction.

It’s not just the behaviour of these side characters; even the main characters seem simpler and more likeable in the original. In the 1959 version, they are all ever so slightly meaner, more calculating, more worldly wise. I don’t know if this is just a natural reflection of the times, or the choice of actors or something specifically called out by the director.

All the above comparisons may imply that I prefer the original and overall, that’s true. But I do appreciate the remake for the superior visual impact delivered on screen through the use of colour and the improved production design and set decoration, resulting from a larger budget.

The one consistent aspect of both films is Ozu’s famous ‘tatami shot’ technique, with the camera placed on the floor and shooting at the level of the actors’ waist. Ozu’s camera almost never zooms or pans. He doesn’t use fancy transitions like wipes or fades to go from one shot to the other, always a simple cut. Also, the opening title/ credits section is always shot against the backdrop of a sack cloth. Ozu never changed his style throughout his career and so, watching his movies with its familiar actors, settings, tight framing and geometric composition is cinematic comfort food for his fans.

So this story, brought to life in these two films separated by more than two decades of changing social standards, by the use of colour and sound and with a different set of actors, is still recognizable as having come from the hands and mind of the same creator. With Ozu, the focus is always on people and their relationships, on the fear of loneliness and on the poignancy of living and loving and growing old.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2: fun characters, fun music, fun scenes


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James Gunn returns as writer-director for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 this week and from what Marvel Pictures head honcho Kevin Feige recently said, Gunn’s work on the sequel has earned him a place in the brains trust of the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe); this is the core team who are responsible for building the ever-growing interconnected body of films which started with Iron Man in 2008 and now encompasses 15 films with 7 more to come by May 2019.

Gunn brought a new dimension to the MCU with the first GotG film in 2014; these characters were known only to Marvel fanboys and so, unencumbered by preconceived audience expectations, the studio was able to experiment with a different look (a brighter colour palette) and tone (a self-aware comedic sensibility, more violent, edgier language) compared to the previous Marvel films. And of course, there was the ‘Awesome Mixtape’ of 70’s tunes, a risky approach which paid dividends in spades and really brought some of the scenes alive.

In Vol. 2, Gunn builds on those successes with a bigger budget – using a fresh batch of music from the ‘Awesome Mixtape 2’, he goes for a more ambitious audio-visual experience (including a couple of intricately choreographed set-pieces) but most importantly, he continues with the character development, fleshing out some key characters, not just Peter Quill, but also Yondu, Nebula, Rocket Raccoon and introducing interesting new ones like Mantis and Ego.

Stand-out characters

Of course, all the 5 members of the GOTG team are appealing in their own way and we know that Chris Pratt and Zoe Saldana as Star-Lord and Gamora respectively are effectively the romantic leads with the most screen time. But all credit to the director and to the visual effects teams for elevating the other 3 members (2 of whom are CGI) and ensuring they are more than just comic relief. Outstanding voice work by Bradley Cooper makes us forget that we are empathizing with a bunch of computer pixels arranged to look like a talking raccoon. Likewise, Dave Bautista as Drax, while mostly serving as comic relief, also provides one of the strongest emotional beats to the film in the scene where he sits on the steps of Ego’s palace with Mantis and reminisces about his daughter. And of course, Baby Groot is oh-so-cute in every single scene and has 3 significant set-pieces in the film – one is the opening title sequence, the second involves his attempts to steal a new ‘head fin’ for Yondu and the last has him trying to set off a powerful explosive device.

Beyond these 5, James Gunn manages to give sufficient space to develop the characters of both Yondu and Nebula who return with larger roles that fill out their back story.

Among the new characters, French actress Pom Klementieff makes quite an impact as the empath Mantis and rising Australian thesp Elizabeth Debicki chews up the scenery as the high priestess of the Sovereign race.

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Visuals and songs perfectly matched

Complex battle scenes fought in three-dimensional space are the order of the day in scifi blockbusters these days. Although all the different moving parts in these battles can now be pre-visualized and choreographed using 3D computer models, it still takes a degree of skill to make the scene comprehensible and entertaining. In GotG Vol. 2, director James Gunn shows off this skill in abundance, not just in terms of visual imagination, but also in the juxtaposition of those visuals against a superb collection of 70’s songs. My favourite scenes are:-

  • Battling the inter-dimensional beast/ title sequence – Mister Blue Sky by ELO: Accompanying what James Gunn describes as “the most hugely insane shot I’ve ever done” at the start of the film, the song powering the scene puts a smile on your face and gets your feet tapping.
  • Arrival at Ego’s planet – My Sweet Lord by George Harrison: This song really showcases the power of Ego (Kurt Russell) and what he has created on his lush and gloriously beautiful planet.
  • Yondu takes revenge – Come a Little Bit Closer by Jay and the Americans: Revenge is sweet, especially if it can be choreographed to music while the main characters walk through the mayhem in majestic slo-mo!
  • Battle at Ego’s planet – Wham bam shang-a-lang by Sliver: Reminiscent of the way in which Beastie Boys’ Sabotage punctuated the attack on the USS Yorktown space station in Star Trek Beyond, this little known song is the perfect choice to herald the start of climactic battle scene.
  • Ravager funeral – Father and Son by Cat Stevens: Given that the main theme of the story is father-son relationships, this funeral scene which takes place to the tune of Cat Stevens’ tear-jerker song forms the perfect coda for the film.

After the movie ends, stay back for not 1 or 2, but 5 mid-credits stingers.

I know critics are not giving this one as high ratings as the first movie, but it’s normal for critics to be disappointed and it’s so difficult to break new ground with a sequel and still give audiences the familiar elements they have come back for (yes, we know Empire Strikes Back is an exception). I’ll look forward to seeing these adorable “rogues with hearts of gold” in GotG Vol. 3 at some point of time in the future and as part of the larger Marvel ensemble in Avengers: Infinity War next summer.

Best film winners at the Japanese Academy: Our Little Sister


In October 2014, I had written a bunch of posts about contemporary Japanese films which I’ve loved watching (and feel like re-watching). All have won or been nominated for best picture at the Japanese Academy awards – Welcome Back Mr. McDonald (1997), Spirited Away (2001), The Twilight Samurai (2002), Hula Girls (2006), Departures (2008), Confessions (2010) and Tokyo Family (2013).

I’ve just watched another film to add to that list, Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Our Little Sister (2015). The 54-year-old Kore-eda is emerging as one of my favourite Japanese directors, with memorable family dramas like Still Walking, I Wish and his Palm d’Or nominated 2013 film Like Father, Like Son. Each of these films explore relationships involving parents, children/ siblings which are affected by death or separation.

Our Little Sister is the story of the 3 young Koda sisters, who live together in a quaint old house they have inherited from their grandmother, in the seaside city of Kamakura just south of Tokyo.

As the film begins, we are introduced to the middle sister, Yoshino who’s just spent the night at her boyfriend’s place. She wakes up early and gets back home in time to wake up the tomboyish younger sister, Chika. We then meet the strict older sister Sachi, who is the proxy ‘mom’ in the house. As the three sisters settle down for breakfast and banter, we realize they have just received news that their father has passed away. Through the conversation we understand the background, how he divorced their mother to marry another woman and then when the 2nd wife passed away, he moved to remote Yamagata prefecture in the North and married a 3rd time. Now with his death, he leaves behind the 3rd wife and a daughter from the 2nd marriage. This daughter is the subject of the movie title.

At the funeral, the three sisters meet their 13-year-old half-sister Suzu. Her calm demeanour and impeccable manners during some awkward funeral scenes immediately make an impression on the Kodas. As Yoshino says, “she’s got it together!” On the other hand, they are not particularly reassured by the overwrought widow who is so reluctant to greet the mourners at the funeral that she attempts to pass this responsibility onto Suzu. As the sisters board the train to return home, Sachi makes an impromptu offer to the young girl to come stay with them at Kamakura. The sisters are delighted when Suzu agrees.

And so begins the story of Suzu’s new life with the three sisters, settling into her new school and meeting others in their small circle of friends and relatives. The film doesn’t have much of a plot, but is really an examination of these young individuals, how their interconnected lives now expand to accommodate this shy but likeable newcomer.

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I liked how the 3 sisters’ personalities/ preferences are brought to life in small ways, like the different styles of their funeral dresses, or their food preferences – Sachi likes healthy food, Yoshino likes drinking and Chika eats everything! The youngest, Chika is the most uncomplicated of the lot, too young to have been scarred by their parents’ breakup or to have experienced heartache in a personal relationship. She enjoys the simple things in life – mostly involving eating and hanging out with her equally uncomplicated ex-mountaineer boyfriend (who innocently offers to show his toe amputations while they’re all eating breakfast!). Sachi, being the oldest, has the strongest memories of their father and greatest anger for being abandoned by him; his departure not only robbed them of a father but also caused their mother to have a breakdown and abandon the daughters, forcing Sachi to grow up overnight. She therefore resents Suzu’s mother for being the woman who caused this disruption. But the irony is that Sachi herself is in a relationship with a married man, the doctor who works at the same hospital where she is a dedicated and highly respected nurse.

Young Suzu who has settled well into the new town, picks up on Sachi’s pent-up feelings and worries that she will be blamed for being the daughter of the woman who disrupted their childhood. But Sachi’s natural maternal instincts take over and she assures Suzu that her place is here with her three sisters. The two go up to a solitary hilltop spot overlooking the town and yell out their anger and frustration at their respective parents. As Suzu cries on Sachi’s shoulder, united in love and pain, Sachi becomes both elder sister and proxy mother to Suzu.

The film ends as it begins, with a funeral…of a kind and motherly restaurant owner Ninomiya, whose place the girls frequented. As they reflect on life and death, the 4 sisters walk along the beach and enjoy their time together.

The film was a big success at last year’s Japanese Academy awards, snagging Best film and Best director awards. Teenager Suzu Hirose won Newcomer of the Year for her portrayal of ‘little sister’ Suzu. Haruka Ayase was nominated for Best Actress for playing the oldest sister Sachi.  Masami Nagasawa and Kaho both received nominations for Best Supporting Actress for playing the middle and younger sisters Yoshino and Chika respectively. I feel that this is the most accessible and light-hearted of the 4 Kore-eda films I have watched so far and definitely recommend it to anyone interested in contemporary Japanese drama.

Logan: Jackman signs off Wolverine on a high note


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Hugh Jackman debuted the Wolverine character in 2000’s X-Men, which also kicked off the sustained and successful run of Marvel characters on film. Seventeen years later, he is retiring the character in Logan, the third standalone Wolverine film and the 7th time he has played the clawed mutant (besides 2 cameos).

What’s different this time and why is everyone praising the film? Director and screenwriter James Mangold was given a lot more freedom by the studio, which included allowing it go violent/ R-rated, in keeping with the nature of the character (we can thank 2016’s Deadpool as well, which gave Fox the confidence to approve an R-rated comic book film, realizing it wouldn’t affect box office income).

The result is a very satisfying film, filled with plenty of blood-soaked violence and more importantly, with vulnerable characters who we care about. The first hour and a half is so engaging that one doesn’t realize the time going by. We are introduced to aged and decrepit versions of the invincible characters we have known since 2000. Professor X (played by 76-year-old thesp Patrick Stewart) now in his 90’s and is losing his mental faculties, spends most of the day in a drug-induced stupor. Wolverine’s healing ability is fading (he’s over 140 years old, in case anyone’s still counting) and he has been reduced to earning his living as a limo driver  (driving an uber cool Chrysler stretch)! With no new mutants born in the past quarter century, the X-Men have died out and have become a sort of urban myth, good enough only to feature in comic books. We also meet an intense, mute child Laura (newcomer Dafne Keen, daughter of British actor Will Kean and Spanish actress Maria Fernandez Ache), who is on the run from a bunch of heavily armed bad guys, led by the cybernetically enhanced Pierce (played with great flair by a charismatic Boyd Holbrook). What we get when they all come together is a road trip/ chase movie, featuring a good mix of action, poignancy and some dry humor.

Wearing its R-rating on its sleeve, Logan allows Wolverine fans to see him in his famous ‘berserker rage’ mode more than once. But he’s not the only one. The scene in the first act in which Laura explodes into action and reveals her capabilities is shocking in its violence and intensity. Even Wolverine is stunned. There is another great ‘armrest gripping moment’ at a casino when we get a glimpse of why Charles Xavier’s mind is classified as a weapon of mass destruction.

At the other end of the spectrum, I really liked how the second act brings our heroes in touch with regular people, in this case a family who invites them to dinner. This reminded me of a similar scene in Avengers: Age of Ultron in which we find that Hawkeye has an entire family hidden away on a ranch. I feel that this sort of interlude helps to humanize the superheroes and brings the audience closer to them.

The third act was the weakest part of the movie for me, simply because it featured the obligatory action showdown between the good guys and the bad guys, with not much else. Perhaps the only unpredictable part of this formulaic sequence was what would happen to Wolverine at the end.

Before watching the movie, I had read all about how it plays out like a Western. Mangold has previously directed an excellent Western called 3:10 to Yuma, a remake of the 1957 classic. Even his 1997 breakout film Cop Land can be seen as a sort of modern-day Western with Stallone’s quiet, unassuming sheriff unexpectedly coming up trumps in a final showdown against the corrupt cops living in his town. True enough, all the visual cues in Logan are straight from a Western – the characters look weather-beaten and a lot of the action takes place in sunburnt, dusty locations. And of course, there is the overt reference to the famous 1953 Western Shane, the purpose being to establish the parallels in the relationship between the gunfighter and the boy in Shane and Wolverine and Laura in Logan. Frankly, I thought that this part of the script was a bit heavy-handed, especially when the girl spouts the entire dialogue from the closing moments of Shane, having watched it just once in a hotel room previously.

I also had my usual issues with that ‘home video’ look of night time scenes because of the use of digital cameras, which tend to capture a lot of information (very useful in low light conditions), but can create a ‘flat’ look devoid of texture. DP John Mathieson has used the Arri Alexa camera which is very popular and usually produce a very film-like effect, especially when combined with Panavision lenses (like you see in Mad Max: Fury Road or Rogue One), but am not sure what low-light combo was used here and why some of the night scenes look so terrible. Given that the film takes so much inspiration from Westerns and from Shane in particular, how cool would it have been to have shot it in real film to mimic the glorious Technicolor of Shane.

Considering that the movie is set in 2029, there isn’t much that appears futuristic about it. The only indications are the driverless trailer trucks on the highway and the reference to tigers being extinct.

Overall, it’s a very powerful movie and a wonderful way to end a trilogy, especially one that started so unpromisingly with the universally panned X-Men Origins: Wolverine in 2009. The X-Men films spin off into new directions now, with new teams coming up in Josh Boone’s X-Men: The New Mutants and Joe Carnahan’s X-Force. There will also be another entry called X-Men: Supernova in Bryan Singer’s continuing series featuring James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender and Jennifer Lawrence as the younger versions of Prof X, Magneto and Mystique. But it looks like this is the end of the road for Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart’s characters…and they should both feel proud of signing off with a bang.