The Foreigner: The Working Man’s Taken

The Foreigner: The Working Man’s Taken

With the Chinese film market being as huge as it is and with Jackie Chan being its biggest export (sorry, Chow Yun Fat), Hollywood being Hollywood will capitalize on it. But this time around the powers that be also placed a quality filmmaker at the helm. Martin Campbell has a very specific set of skills. He will find a dying franchise and/or actor and he will rejuvenate them. He did that twice for the Bond franchise with GoldenEye and Casino Royale, he made people care about The Mask Of Zorro, and he shepherded Mel Gibson’s return with Edge Of Darkness.

Good ol’ Billy Shakes once said that when every story in the known world is condensed to its bare essence, we have all but seven unique ones. Little did we know that the story of Taken was one of those. The Foreigner (which should have been named The Chinaman going by the number of times the word is used in this film) follows Jackie Chan’s 64-year-old restaurateur Ngoc Minh Quan as he tries to uncover the identities of the men who bombed a local department store to smithereens killing his daughter. On the other end of the story, we have Liam Hennessey (Pierce “I’m Irish” Brosnan), a former leader of the IRA and present-day politician, who himself is embroiled in a deadly game of bureaucratic chess with a few members of the British Parliament and police force.

Between trying to keep his affair out of the sight of his wife and trying to obtain pardons for 40 IRA members, Hennessey is constantly pestered by the subdued and quiet Quan. Soon after Hennessey dismisses Quan and his requests as nothing more than a nuisance, Hennessey’s bathroom is blown to bits, and his car is next. All that Quan wants are some names.

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Unsurprisingly, Quan is a man with a very specific set of skills (a combination of Bryan Mills and Rambo) who is hell-bent on getting the names he needs. Like a holier-than-thou life coach would say, he is flexible with his methods but is rigid about his goals.
The film-like Quan himself is workman-like. It is not trying to be high art or even high action. Unlike Liam Neeson demolishing fools with an endless series of throat chops, Jackie Chan exhibits vulnerability, pain, and intelligence. Following in the footsteps of a CBS procedural, the movie moves from scene to scene with precision, not allowing itself too much time to needlessly dwell on unimportant things which do not further the plot.

While one needs to appreciate the movie’s adherence to pacing itself out and respecting the audience’s time, Quan’s vendetta is often overshadowed by Hennessey’s political manoeuvring, and for most of us Indians with little to no to concept of what the IRA is and how it affects the political climate between England and Northern Ireland, the film’s conflicts might come off as needlessly convoluted. With the Asian audience being its prime demographic, the movie could have done better by elaborating on and meshing the two plotlines in a more convincing way.

But we did not go into this movie for political intrigue; we went in to see the Chan-issance. And the man does not disappoint. Jackie Chan who is known for his salt-of-the-earth roots and immense commitment while acting in his unparalleled action movies is also an actor who worked on Shakespearian plays in his early years. While still performing close combat scenes with the finesse of a much younger actor, Chan’s acting is what takes center stage. Rarely do you see the lovable star sans his smile, and yet through the course of this film, Chan plays his character with pain behind his eyes and a palpable heaviness in his heart. This is unchartered territory for most audiences, but it is a performance bound to impress and hook each and every one of them.

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Going toe-to-toe with Chan is former Bond Pierce Brosnan and his merry band of Irish rogues. Most of them are given a scene to shine in, and the confrontations between Brosnan and Chan are substantially tense.
Underscoring their many tense face-offs is Cliff Martinez’s score. While not as compelling as his previous work in Drive or Only God Forgives, Martinez’s music deviates from the usual pulse-pounding loudness of a run-of-the-mill action film to help underline characters and their tribulations. And thank Cliff for his score as the cinematography is nothing to write home. As previously mentioned, the movie mimics the look and feel of a TV procedural, and does not induce a feeling of the cinematic.

And that line is what defines this film. It does not feel magnificent, and its characters are not superhuman or over-the-top megalomaniacs. To echo a previous sentiment, the movie is workmanlike. The Foreigner comes in, does his job and walks out expecting the audience is satisfied with his service – which is still the perfect prescription for a lazy weekend afternoon.

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Raju Gari Gadhi 2: When Your Movie Can’t Justify Its Title, It’s Bound To Suck

Raju Gari Gadhi 2: When Your Movie Can’t Justify Its Title, It’s Bound To Suck

Before we get to work here, I want to ask the makers of this movie two questions:

1. Who is Raju Garu in this movie?
2. Where is his Gadhi (room)?

Without answers to these two most basic of questions, director Ohmkar writes and directs a spiritual sequel to his previous hit Raju Gari Gadhi. Sure, there’s nothing in a name, but it’s not something you’d expect from any fine filmmaker.

Also, as a disclaimer to all my brothers who intend to watch this one with their lady loves hoping for scared arm-clinging, kindly leave those thoughts at the door as this movie is a rooster (avoiding the C word here) blocker.

Holding the biggest selling points (Nagarjuna and Samantha) back for the first half of the movie are its trio who supposedly put the “comedy” in horror comedy, Vennela Kishore, Shakalaka Shankar and Ashwin Babu. The men are inexplicably booted out of their houses for wanting to go into business by opening a beachside resort. They take the ass-kicking with a smile as their resort is frequented by only two sets of people – light bright supermodel types or “fat” ones who are comedy fodder. And lest you forget – neither the men nor the women have any characters written for them.

Because there are no other men to be found around these parts, a female spirit haunts them when they express their masculine urges. Be it over Skype or by watching Sunny akka’s videos or by taking pictures of a woman with her consent, none of them will be spared the wrath of this woman scorned. Terrified at the prospect of losing their customer base and their business, they approach the ‘roided out superhuman brother of Rajinikanth in Chandramukhi, Rudra (Nagarjuna).

Rudra is amongst many things, A Mentalist. A highly educated man of science, Rudra casually asks his many adoring fans (who are the Commissioner of Police and priests for some reason), and in turn, the viewers, to abandon logic and reason in his introductory scene. Sadly, I did not. To my dismay, the movie showcases Rudra’s abilities with a painfully constructed 5-minute sequence. After the audience has been assured that Rudra is the baddest-ass that ever assed, the film resumes as Rudra attempts to uncover the secrets of who is haunting the resort, why she is haunting it, and what she has to gain from doing so (these are straight from the movie).

*Sigh*

Alright, I’ve been nice to this movie enough. Simply put, watching this one is like eating at McDonald’s – it seems fine on the surface, but for the love of God, do not ask what’s in it. So if any of you is an audience member looking to kill a couple of hours at the movies by switching off the analytical left of your brain, be Ohmkar’s and Rudra’s guest, but if logic, storytelling and good cinema are what you seek, be MY guest.

Movies like this one are what I dread when walking into cinemas. They have almost every problem I see with archaic cinema pretending to be modern and socially aware. This is a film that suggests that men should never look at women “in the wrong way” while constantly and gratuitously movieing one of its major female characters going for the very thing it advocates against. Believe you me, this is no self-referential art-house movie asking complex questions of its audience by subverting genre tropes.

While that is my ding against the moviemakers and their crass, self-serving commercialization, every other issue that arises with this film is solely attached to its story. This is a movie that implies Rudra can walk into a room and literally see every event that has occurred there, but cannot solve a suicide without sleuthing around for evidence. The film’s character-writing fares no better. Samantha’s unsubtly named Amrutha is designed to gain maximum sympathy from the audience by having a dead mother and loving father, topping law colleges, dressing “appropriately” and not having friends (be it, girl or boy). This might seem nit-picky but choices like this perpetuate the myth that only a “decent” girl and her plights need to be cared for while women who don’t fit this mold are primed for objectification.

In addition to its inconsistencies in the story and the characters and their powers, the movie’s technical values are disappointing, too. Its bland look and feel affect it to such a degree that jump scares are rarely effective, and when that is combined with needlessly loud background scores and Nagarjuna and Samantha sleepwalking through their roles, the film becomes a task to get through.

The only good excuse for watching this film would be that you are in movie class and have been tasked with watching It Follows, Chandramukhi, The Mentalist and Lens for some ungodly reason and are trying to save up on time. Chronicle your experiences of watching this incomprehensible exercise in moviemaking while screaming at the screen for reusing shots and asking why the almighty Rudra did not end the movie at the halfway mark to spare your intrepid soul.

Mahanubhavudu: OCD Is Funny Only Until The Film Becomes Tone-Deaf

Mahanubhavudu: OCD Is Funny Only Until The Film Becomes Tone-Deaf

One of my favorite pastimes is trying to see how well movie titles align with the movies themselves. For example, a concise movie title would be Srimanthudu. A viewer goes in knowing that this is a story of a rich man while also gleaning that he learns valuable life lessons from the poor (because the 99% pays for your movie tickets damn it!). An example of a needlessly vague title which conveys little to nothing about the movie or its characters would be Masala. While this emotion is not an indictment of the movie itself, the title conveys precious little about the movie one is about see except for the fact that it’s a masala movie (though most aren’t sure if that’s a good or a bad thing).

In my eyes, Mahanubhavudu is in a league of its own. While not as vague a title as a Temper or a Hyper, it anoints its lead as a Mahanubhavudu from the outset itself. So let us jointly indulge in my pastime as I review my latest trip to the cinema hall while checking to see if this movie is one Mahanubhavudu’s mahakatha.

We are introduced to Sharwanand’s Anand with the movie hammering his unique condition home. Director Maruti Dasari made his mark on the collective consciousness of the public with a quirky character (who had flaws in his ability to make and hold on to memories) in his previous project Bhale Bhale Magadivoy. Dasari doubles down on his niche by bequeathing Anand with a mix of (what the movie calls) Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and germophobia. That’s the backdrop on which Dasari conjures up scenarios where never-been-kissed Anand falls in love with Meghana (Mehreen Pirzada).

Unlike Nani from Bhale Bhale Magadivoy, Anand wears his condition like a metaphorical badge on his sweater-covered chest. He proudly declares that he has an OCD and that that helps him be the best programmer, driver, lover etc. After complying with Anand’s proposal and convincing her father of his worth via a fight scene, Meghana chooses to break up with him after realizing what this movie’s version of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder actually entails. The rest of the story follows Anand’s travel to Meghana’s palleturu (look at paragraph one for reasons) and his attempts at wooing her back after doing nothing wrong in the first place.

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Dasari has a clear handle on one of the two primary aspects of this story. He displays a clear command on how to set up comic scenarios and have them pay off. However, he gradually loses his understanding of his story’s primary conceit, OCD. Using his main hero’s DISORDER and heroine’s dad’s heart attacks to propel the plot, the writer/director adds the quality of malleability to debilitating health conditions and his lead actress’ character.

From a personal standpoint, the larger issue I have with this movie is its handling of a person with a genuine medically certified disorder. From insinuating that a person with disorders shouldn’t aspire for a normal life with normal people to implying that Anand’s mother, who raised him from birth mind you, feels distanced from her son by not wholly understanding his condition and does not help him procure treatment, the movie steps into one landmine after another, with each explosion opening up a whole new mushroom cloud of issues which envelop the movie.

I might be going off on a serious tangent here, but this bothers me to such a high degree because I have friends who struggle with debilitating mental disorders every day but still strive for a normal life. They have been diagnosed with depression, anxiety, PTSD and so on. I, myself, came very close to contracting one of these disorders. In a country that rarely talks about mental health, movies like this that trivialize something so serious are most definitely cause for concern. As an example, the movie implies that an OCD germophobe will be cured of his condition by the power of love and being thrown in a wrestling pit full of sand. This is in line with someone convincing an asthmatic person that the power of love and inhaling smoke from a tailpipe will solve his issues instead of genuine medical treatment. To quote The Donald, “Sad”.

Navigating this minefield to good effect is leading man Sharwanand. The man who proved his credentials as an actor’s actor with his many memorable turns in movies like Prasthanam and Engeyum Eppothum (Journey) shines once again as Anand. While it’s not the most nuanced of performances, he singularly manages to string the audience and his co-stars along on the bumpy ride his vehicle has on offer. Mehreen Pirzada and Nassar fill out the token roles of woman in ethnic and conservative village dad whose body thinks heart attacks are adequate responses to situations happy and sad, respectively.

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In addition to nonchalantly picking off scenes form Khushi, Swades and his previous project, the movie has songs and choreography accompanying them that leave a lot to be desired in the originality department. In the spirit of staying sterile, the movie’s look is littered with multiple instances of lighting equipment dotting the background. Someone convinced moviemakers that this was a good idea, and that person needs to sleep with the fish.

To sum this up, let’s look back to paragraphs one and two. Does the movie deserve its title? In a weird way, it does. The character of Anand is hounded by irrational, uncaring and self-serving idiots in every moment of life. To me, he is a man who manages to overcome insurmountable odds and build a life for himself by dealing with a disorder and people who barely care about his condition. He is a Mahanubhavudu indeed.

Only, the movie that chronicles his story does not do justice to his unwavering will. While it’s funny and breezy, its lowbrow look at the plight of many people is disheartening, to say the least.

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Chef: 3 Michelin Stars For The Actors, None For The Film

Chef: 3 Michelin Stars For The Actors, None For The Film

One of the primary complaints most moviegoers have is the lack of good snacking options at the cinemas. Try as they might, local multiplexes with their 5 flavors of popcorn and “wide” range of cuisine from the nachos (Doritos) of Latin America to the samosas of Indian streets can rarely satisfy the many foodies – who have been spoilt by choice – who frequent their establishments. I am one such soul who is so unsatisfied by cinema food that I’d much rather save my money and use it to buy the tickets to the next new release.

Unlike for most films, I went into Chef with a solitary expectation. And unlike my many film-going experiences, I wanted to buy something to eat from the concessions stand. My only caveat being, the food showcased in the film had to be so mouth-watering and easy to the eye that I would gorge on those nachos by tricking my mind into thinking that the scrumptiousness of the food shown on screen could substitute for their taste-bud-burning blandness.

Sadly, what I got on screen was a Rotzza. While most of you will be able to decipher what a Rotzza could be (if you’ve eaten the equally uninspired Birizza) and infer the quality of the film through it, to all the others who can’t, please read on.

Chef, based on Jon Favreau’s quiet and personal 2014 film which was sandwiched between Cowboys And Aliens and The Jungle Book, follows the story of Roshan Kalra. A customer-punching, son-ignoring, wife-estranging man with an inexplicably short fuse that the film inexplicably wants its audience to connect to with the least bit of setup. After clocking a reasonable man in the jaw for criticizing his work, Roshan is future endeavored. Heeding the advice of his co-worker, he takes this as an opportunity to reconnect with his son by visiting his ex-wife’s picturesque abode in Cochin. As the next set of you may have guessed, the 90 minutes of runtime following this 20 minutes of setup is dedicated to Roshan’s son Armaan working with his old man helping to exorcize his (Roshan’s) demons while rekindling his passion for cooking.

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Simple premises like this one sometimes make for minimalistic yet deeply fulfilling films. But Chef the film, unlike its lead character, is not worthy of its three Michelin Stars. To use the movie’s Masterchef jokes against it, it takes a lean breast of chicken and gazes at it with intent for the longest time, admiring its simplistic protein-filled potential. Suddenly, however, the movie realizes that all of its adoring gazes have come to naught as it has yet to properly marinate and eventually cook the fine dish that breast of chicken had the potential of being.

So in a very limited amount of time, the film attempts to achieve this unenviable task with a weird set of forgotten sub-plots and under-cooked characters that are specifically designed to appeal to the primal and not the cerebral. The resulting dish is tender and heartfelt in parts, while being cold, curt and rushed in others. Don’t you dare make the mistake of criticizing Roshan K, though – you might be in for a beating.

Bursting onto the seams and scenes with his surprisingly appealing dad-bod and dad jokes (playing it Saif… okay, I’m sorry) is star Saif Ali Khan. In between talking about his nose for food and chronicling his struggles on the streets after eloping with his one true love – food – the other Khan creates a character most of us have seen a million times before but never tire of. Again, he appeals to the primal and not the cerebral. He is a troubled man who rarely realizes what’s best for him but knows the value of a good day’s work. He is a man who teaches his child lessons in territories most modern parents are terrified to venture into. While he is a complete numbskull when it comes to growing and evolving personally (every single one of his decisions is made for him), Khan infuses the character with enough of his personality, ease in front of the camera and Dil Chahta Hai-inspired inside jokes to keep the audience hooked to his arc of redemption.

Raghu Dixit’s and Armaan Malik’s surprising ineptitude at the music department is unassumingly compensated for by Padmapriya Janakiraman and Svar Kamble. With an understated performance conveying depth and emotion through her deep eyes, the utterly gorgeous Janakiraman acts as the antithesis to many a modern leading lady. Her calm demeanor, a product of the many lessons life taught her, acts as the offset Roshan’s character requires.

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My only hope for Svar Kamble is that he doesn’t go down the Darsheel Safary route by starring in needless child-oriented films as this young man has some real talent that can be mined by some good filmmakers.

Talking about mining some potential, notice how I have rarely if ever spoken about the primary prop of the film – food. The movie’s palpable insincerity comes from the fact that it is rarely focused on its food and showcasing Roshan’s talents. He chops a few onions, kneads some bread and makes some spaghetti, but Roshan’s Michelin Star-winning brain refuses to come up with delectable dishes that would be devoured by your eyes.

The two reasons I can come up for this glaring omission are, one, the film is unsure if it wants to be a celebration of all things food or a celebration of all things Khan the actor can bring to a film; and two, the unfocused camerawork that focuses only sparingly on the food at hand. Be it Roshan’s childhood favorite Chandni Chowk Ke Chole Bhature or the second coming of culinary passion, the Rotzza, the movie brushes Roshan’s and his crew’s culinary achievements to the side nonchalantly.

This creates a discord. The movie can stuff montage after montage of Roshan working with his son, but without seeing them explore the culinary world together by cutting, slicing, flambéing, sautéing, dicing, frying and so forth, you cannot get invested in their attachment and growth. When the film cannot be bothered to have its characters earn their arcs, it seems a tad ambitious to want to make the audience care about the story it has to tell.

After watching the original Chef, I made it a point to learn the name of the man who was responsible for those stunning dishes. Tasting chef Roy Choi’s food has been a specific goal on my bucket list ever since. Even though this film dropped the names of the chefs who masterminded the dishes in it, I couldn’t care less about remembering their names as I walked out of the cinema.

The Lego Ninjago Movie: Well, You Ran The Joke Into The Ground

The Lego Ninjago Movie: Well, You Ran The Joke Into The Ground

Right, so this weekend I’m reviewing three films. The first one is a remake and the last one is a sequel to a film that saw the light of day in 1982. The one in the middle is a spin-off from the inexplicable LEGO cinematic universe. These are the times that the one snooty friend of yours who mocks you for watching films (the derivative entertainment medium of the proletarians) while reading high literature gets a few chips stacked in his/her favor.

Before we get into the meat of the matter here, let’s outline what we have going in terms of plot and characters. A random white kid walks into a store filled with artifacts which are curated by JACKIE CHAN!

Okay, this movie earned a brownie point just for letting me look at Jackie Chan’s salt-of-the-earth smile again. I mean, how could anyone not like him? No reasons. I thought so.

Here, the kid expresses his detachment with the world by equating himself to a broken LEGO piece. Mr. Liu fixes the boy’s LEGO man and narrates an old wives’ tales written by a group of eight, directed by a trio, produced by six and edited by a five-some. This orgy of ideas, critiques and no focus leads to the story of one Lloyd Garmadon (Dave Franco), son of evil Lord Garmadon. Evil Lord Garmadon (Justin Theroux) wants to destroy the city of Ninjago for some unspecified reason whereas Lloyd and his group of Planeteer-inspired ninjas (remember Captain Planet?) with the aid of their Master Wu (Jackie Chan Role Deux) make it their life’s work to stop Lloyd’s dad who strangely resembles Aku from Samurai Jack.

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While dissecting this movie and its plot, I’d like to direct your attention to the myriad of pop culture references I’ve used and deliberately avoided while describing the movie’s basic plot thread (note the derivativeness) as I want the folk who dare watch this film have a unique experience of their own which is no ruined by a pop-culture savvy show-off like moi. That being said, this film stumbles out of the starting gate as its galloping legs are immobilized by two Nunchuk shots it can’t recover from.

The first hit comes in the form of the film being a part of this self-deprecating cinematic universe. While the original Lego Movie and to a lesser extent The Lego Batman Movie had a sea of built-up history and purity of intent to work with to create their jokes, worlds, and characters, this film suffers from being a wholly recent property that many a person has little to no bond with. There are no Batmen or Supermen or Saurons or Voldemorts. What we are left with are a bunch of interchangeable supporting characters and a plot which that can be classified as an abominable fusion of Star Wars and Kung Fu Panda.

As the movie rubs its shins and tries to play through the pain, a swift second shot immobilizes it completely. The Lego Universe works by endlessly poking holes at overused movie clichés and tropes. Think of it as a film written by the good people at Cinemasins or Honest Trailers. For this to work, the nit-picking needs to be on point while also having a wholly original take on an age-old story. The movie has neither. The jokes come off as clunky rehashes of the first film without any of Lord’s or Miller’s creative sparkle, and the conflicts presented lack any semblance of depth.

While my taking a kids’ movie animated by Lego blocks so seriously seems a tad insensitive, I’d like to point out that the first film had clarity of narration with its real life and animated conflicts aligning perfectly onto each other like a couple of Lego pieces clicking into place. This movie, while being a good distraction to the tiny tots of the world, rarely tries to use the world it has created for itself to any level of effect.

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Stepping away from those paragraphs of analytics, the movie does have a stellar voice cast to bolster its sagging narration. Justin Theroux doing his best Will Arnett impression is combined with the rapidly rising Dave Franco. They deliver belting lines to make their undercooked conflicts of not being able to catch and throw while inexplicably being able to build mechs seem more epic. The interchangeable supporting cast serves their purpose well while Jackie Chan is back doing his brand of self-referential comedy again, and each moment of him trolling his students by offering up a series of red herrings and overly vague life lessons is reminiscent of the martial arts masters of yore.

The animation bringing these characters to life, while not overly inventive, is passable at best. Gone are the days of endless sight gags, and even if the world is rendered better than in the previous iterations, it lacks a sense of wonder and unpredictability that the previous movies of this series had on offer.

The film has one of the most forgettable scores of any big-budget film I’ve seen in a while. A random series of “eastern”-inspired sounds masquerades as the score so much so that I was expecting some character to start humming Om for good measure just to fill out all avenues of Asia.

And therein lies the problem with The Lego Ninjago Movie. While The Lego Movie and The Lego Batman Movie cannibalized the film industry they were a part of to make their properties entertaining, The Lego Ninjago Movie needed to go the Tarantino route and learn to take inspiration from the brand of hokey Eastern cinema it is trying to ape. Reviewing largely unfunny comedies is a task for both the reviewer and the reader as both are trying to understand why a film failed at its primary goal of being a light-hearted romp.

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Simply put, The Lego Ninjago Movie is derivative of its predecessors and is not a whole new avenue of filmmaking. Need proof? We have a laser pointer instead of super glue, the moral standpoint of the power being within you and the extremely uninventive name of Ninjago which is unsurprisingly the catchphrase of its characters – Ninja Go! A Vanilla Ice cameo with him singing Go Ninja Go Ninja Go might have put a wider smile on my face and added to this film’s enjoyability, but as it stands, the comical overuse of the Wilhelm scream and a few well-placed zingers are the only things I found chuckle-worthy in this one.

Blade Runner 2049: Sit Back, Relax and Admire Excellence

Blade Runner 2049: Sit Back, Relax and Admire Excellence

As I walked out of Blade Runner 2049 and performed my usual ritual of looking up at the big screen one last time before I exited the hall, I had to ask myself a few questions before framing the review in my mind. Some of those questions being: how influenced am I by the original and its near-mythical status? Are the ideas I’m going to be expressing in my review mine alone or are they implanted into me by the many voices in the cinema hall callously throwing their opinions around?

What started here slowly morphed into me asking some deeper questions of myself. Are any of my ideas or my identity a product of my environment or a product of who I am internally? Can any of us ever really know the answer to that question? And am I going to rate this film higher because it transported me to a state of questioning my humanity/identity or am I rating it higher because it deserves it?

See what good sci-fi does.

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To paraphrase Leo Dicaprio in Inception: Once an idea is introduced, it morphs and builds but can never be wholly eliminated. And to quote V: Ideas are bulletproof. Blade Runner 2049 is an amalgamation of many such ideas that are bound to create existential crises in those brave enough to wither its slow first half.

Narrating a story while making me ask questions of myself is director Denis Villeneuve’s ambitious follow up to 1982’s Blade Runner. His film beings with Ryan Gosling’s K going about his job eliminating obsolete Nexus-8 replicants – the film acknowledges non-fans of the original by explaining basic vernacular such as replicants and Blade Runners – one such replicant is the imposing and engaging Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista).

As a quick synopsis that doesn’t ruin much of the film (respecting one of my favorite director’s wishes here): K’s altercation with Morton leads him on a trail of discovery. He begins to question his purpose and the true power the old Nexus-8 models possess when not being oppressed by their human masters. Aided by the undying faith of his holographic girlfriend Joi, K sleuths around the desolate landscapes of 2049 Los Angeles aiming to discover his purpose and the specifics of his origin while masquerading these intentions by pretending to comply with his superior’s orders of finding and eliminating an anomaly amongst replicants.

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While the story itself is excessively engaging owing to every scene and interaction working as an excessive yet carefully crafted piece of a beautiful mosaic, the enduring impact Blade Runner 2049 left on me as a viewer is to the questions it dares to ask while employing me to find my own answers to those questions.

However, my experience with this film is wholly mine. I am not blind to the fact that the film’s pacing akin to films of a bygone era is bound to put off many a viewer. Neither filmmaker or filmgoer is at fault here as cinema had evolved multiple times since 1982 and a film that chooses to ape it’s predecessor’s futuristic neo-noir styling falls short at the exact same avenue.

As mentioned above, the film has a wealth of ideas, themes, and morals to offer up in exchange for patience. Blade Runner 2049 adds onto the singular thematic conflict of “what it means to be human?” put forth by its predecessor by deftly navigating between the evils of surrounding yourself in a lonely echo chamber, the beauty of sentience and how once achieved it can never be rolled back, the palpable fear of humans and their penchant for rejecting new avenues of evolution for fear of being replaced, the urge to be a part of a cause while still preserving the need to feel like you’re not just a disposable soldier and so forth with the highest of ease and care. My thanks go to the (forgotten heroes) writers for crafting a narrative that never falls like a deck of cards when one plot point is pulled for deeper investigation.

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The words, however, are only as good when the mouths speaking them are bringing their A-game. Ryan Gosling’s steely yet pained determination coupled with a rejuvenated child abandoning (why do you do this Harrison, first Star Wars and now this?) Harrison Ford are tailor-made for this film. Gosling’s desires, outbursts, and actions have a bit of the mechanical attached to them and that there is clever direction as it helps in selling the reality of his conflicts.

Ford’s Deckard is infinitely more engaging this time around but overshadowing both leading men is relative newcomer Ana De Armas as Joi. Playing a much-advanced version of Scarlett Johansson’s Samantha in Her, De Armas grounds the film by ironically adding the most humanity to a film while being the least human character. While Jared Leto is quite interesting in his limited time on screen, his right-hand woman Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) steals scenes she’s in by mirroring K’s conflicts by possessing all of the same desires with none of the humanity.

Capturing these conflicts and deeply personal stories is 13-time Oscar nominated visionary cinematographer who primarily dictates modern cinema’s visual language, the incomparable Roger Deakins. Bolstered by the impeccable work of the production design crew, the film’s eerie dystopia feels as if it is not quite far away. There is not much I can say here in terms of praise except if Deakins does not win his first Oscar this year for this hypnotically shot gorgeousness, I will start a riot.

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Going hand in hand with the visual spectacle is the score composed by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch. The iconic original score composed by Vangelis’ is incorporated and improved upon in leaps and bounds by the duo who synthesize unromantic, cold notes of music to mirror the desolate landscape and its characters with calculating precision.

As most of you may have noticed, this review is neither too funny nor is too high in references to pop culture. Simply put, staggering intelligence like the one presented in this motion picture is what stops me from doing so. It dawns on me that I’m yet to achieve a level of narrative, visual, musical or performing standard with any of my personal works as this film and its crew attains with every frame. All I can do is sit back with quiet admiration while applauding its brilliance and learning from it.

Denis Villeneuve quite simply goes on with his work by adding another great film to his enviable repertoire. Philip K. Dick is looking down from the heavens above appreciating what his work has led to.

American Made: Maverick Is A Smuggler Now? Oh No!

American Made: Maverick Is A Smuggler Now? Oh No!

There is a trend emerging in the world of cinema. While Bollywood continues to be enamored with Dawood Ibrahim, his cohorts, his sister and his rivals, Hollywood is busy milking the life and times of Pablo Escobar and his drug cartel for their movies and Netflix shows. Following the herd, director Doug Liman, the man behind Edge Of Tomorrow, The Bourne Identity and Swingers, picks up the true life story of Cuban cigar smuggler turned CIA enlisted mole turned drug mule turned money launderer turned CIA secret operative Barry Seal as the basis of his latest project.

The ageless wonder Tom Cruise essays the role of Barry Seal as we follow his life and times from 1978 to 1986. The last line from the previous paragraph works as an adequate description of the plot of a film which takes Seal and the audience on a wild ride which seems too crazy to be true and is peppered along the way with humour, more information than you’d want to know about flight mechanics and Cruise’s enduring charm and smile.

American Made is a movie somehow boosted and hindered by Cruise’s presence and the Seal’s story. The film, while being set smack-bang in the middle of the most tumultuous time in US history and being fuelled by stupidly high amounts of cocaine, neither becomes a brash, uncompromising look into a world of men with lax morals like The Wolf Of Wall Street was, nor falls into the category of paint-by-numbers biopics where filmmakers attempt to justify a man’s descent into a shady world with unconvincing motives. American Made stays in the cushy position between the two extremes snuggled up next to The Big Short.

Coming in at a conservative runtime of 117 minutes and using ’80s-era non-widescreen filming and projection techniques, the film separates itself from its contemporaries with its look, feel and color palette. The frames seem slightly grainy, the colors are a wee bit saturated and the exposition dumps come as droves of unintelligible jargon to aid the movie in keeping its runtime low. While the movie uses crude animation to make these big piles of expositing seem palatable, the story being told and the details it needs to cover necessitate that the film uses conventional story-telling techniques from time to time, and that leaves a chink in the film’s goodwill armor.

The aforementioned armor of goodwill is built and held together by the levity and likability Tom Cruise brings to his role as Barry Seal. While never as complex and intelligent as a Walter White, Seal, as portrayed on screen, is a man of simple tastes and needs. He’d rather fall asleep than cheat on his wife with random women; he wants to fuel his insatiable need to have the finer things in life by earning truckloads of money, he wants to listen to the men who’ll keep his family fed initially and the men who’ll keep him alive eventually. Seal is a simple man who knowingly does a terrible thing sporting a smile worth a million bucks.

While committing the cardinal sin of not having Tom Cruise run in this film – I mean what sort of god allowed that to happen – Doug Liman uses every other aspect of what makes Cruise a bankable star to its fullest extent. Films and performances like this one are when I gladly forgive Cruise for his less than stellar turns in The Mummy or Jack Reacher and follow good old Maverick as he glides along the skies in a movie whose entertainment quotient drops below Top Gun owing only to its lack of quotable one-liners and homoerotic beach volleyball scenes.

While adequate, the supporting cast can rarely upstage Cruise. The supporting cast member could be playing Pablo Escobar or a lingerie-clad wife – the viewer’s focus stays on Cruise and Cruise alone. If there is one aspect of the film Tom does not overpower, it is the excellent cinematography reminiscent of films of a bygone era. Employing some distinctive techniques which result in some excellent and tense shots, cinematographer Cesar Charlone (who shot the inimitable City Of God) creates a lush portrayal of the world the film inhabits. In a narrative that rarely offers any room for you to breathe, it’s shots that linger for a few seconds over stoic backdrops that offer you some respite from the breakneck pace.

When the movie does not even do you the service of slowly winding down, and sticks to paralleling Barry Seal’s meteoric rise to and crushing fall from being the richest man in a Podunk town in Arkansas, it checks the final box on the list to make a wholly enjoyable crime-drama-entertainer. The film rarely affords you any time to question its story or characters or their actions. All it wants to do is quickly tell a tight-knit entertaining tale bolstered by a charming leading man without putting much heed into things like emotional centers and sloppy tearful melodramas. And at that, it succeeds in spades.