Guardians Of The Galaxy *** 1/2
Dir: James Gunn
Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Batuista, Karen Gillan, Vin Diesel (voice), Bradley Cooper (voice), Lee Pace
Adapted from the Dan Abnett-Andy Lanning run on one of the lesser known Marvel Comics’ titles, James Gunn’s space-opera spectacular proves to be a whole lot of fun. It’s fast, it’s loose, it’s frenetic and it’s funny. Very funny. But it never really descends into a hammy joke-fest with Gunn maintaining a delicate balance between the action and the humour throughout, with some nice little character bits thrown in for good measure.
The movie will definitely make a star out of Chris Pratt, for his portrayal of Peter Quill, the Star-Lord (a title he’s bestowed upon himself). Peter’s something of a Han Solo, a (space) gun for hire. He also finds himself as the nominal leader of a bunch of misfits as they go about trying to save the universe from the wrath and destructive power of Ronan, the Accuser (Lee Pace). The rest of the team consists of the green-skinned assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and the hulking Drax, The Destroyer (WWE wrestler Dave Batuista, surprisingly good) who is seeking revenge for the murder of his wife and daughter, as well as a wise-cracking, angry, gun-toting genetically modified raccoon (voiced wonderfully by Bradley Cooper) and his companion, Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), a walking tree. Groot is only able to say three words – “I am Groot” – but Diesel is able to wring a lot of mileage out of those three words.
The ensemble cast works terrifically with and off each other. Also making their presence felt is Doctor Who’s Karen Gillan, in a small but effective role as Ronan’s murderous henchwoman and Michael Rooker, as Yondu, a deadly blue-skinned rival and ex-partner of the Star-Lord. This delightful confection is topped off with a brilliant soundtrack consisting of some super tracks from the ’70s and the ’80s. Watch it.
Cut to chase: Fast, loose, funny and just plain fun.
Singham Returns ** 1/2
Dir: Rohit Shetty
Starring: Ajay Devgn, Kareena Kapoor, Amol Gupte, Zakir Hussain, Anupam Kher
A perfectly fine movie is nearly ruined by its climactic final 30 minutes. The course of action adopted by our hero cop, Singham (Ajay Devgn) to bring justice to a corrupt politician (Zakir Hussain) and a fake godman (Amole Gupte, enjoyably over-the-top) is not only implausible but also downright dangerous in the message it sends out to the undiscerning masses.
Nevertheless, there is much in the movie to enjoy. There is nothing new in the plot (tough, incorruptible cop takes on the might of a corrupt system) which pretty much travels unswervingly to its expected denouement without any real surprises or twists. However, director Rohit Shetty plays it straight (unlike most of his oeuvre) and the gritty feel that he and his regular cinematographer Dudley bring to the movie and to their depiction of Mumbai gives Singham Returns an unexpected sense of gravitas. Combine this with tight direction, effective stunts and action sequences (a Shetty speciality), punchy dialogues, good performances and unexpected, low-key bits of humour the movie keeps your attention almost throughout. The romantic angle with Kareena Kapoor is unnecessary but it still works with the leading lady looking fine and bringing her comedic skills to the fore.
If not for the disappointing last half an hour I would have rated the movie even higher.
Cut to chase: Surprisingly tight cop action drama let down by its finale.
Dir: Jon Favreau
Starring: Jon Favreau, Sofia Vergara, Emjay Anthony, Scarlett Johansson, Robert Downey Jr., Oliver Platt, John Leguizamo, Dustin Hoffmann, Bobby Cannavale
This is a predictable but sweet little tale of Carl (Jon Favreau), a head chef of a successful restaurant who’s lost his mojo. He rediscovers it during a cross-country trip in a food truck accompanied only by his young son, Percy (Emjay Anthony) and his best friend and assistant Martin (John Leguizamo). It also carries a lot of parallels with writer/director/star Favreau’s own Hollywood career. Favreau burst onto the scene with Swingers, a small independent character driven film written by and starring himself but then soon moved on to directing mainstream, big-budget studio productions like Elf and Iron Man. This success may have filled up his bank accounts but there was probably a part of Favreau which yearned to go back to his creative roots (at least that’s what we gather from Chef) and to do something different and new.
Ironically, in serving up this small but tasty meal, Favreau has called in a lot of favours from his Hollywood amigos like Robert Downey Jr. (whose career was revitalised with Iron Man) and Scarlett Johansson (also an Iron Man alumnus) for small but key roles. Despite this Hollywood star power on display the movie still manages to retain a small, indie feel. Favreau is clearly passionate about his subjects – food and creativity – and that passion certainly comes through, especially in the scenes involving culinary preparations. Also effective are the small, quiet scenes between Carl and Percy, where the father and son learn life lessons from each other. Plot-wise, Carl’s introduction to Twitter by Percy has major repercussions too. However, while the animated tweets that follow are amusing initially, Favreau overdoes them a little bit as the movie unfolds. On the plus side, the soundtrack, which includes some terrific New Orleans jazz and Miami Cuban salsa tracks, is superb.
Chef isn’t a six-course meal but it is still full of interesting flavours.
Cut to chase: A small but tasty meal.