Velai Illa Pattadhari 2: A Movie That Struggles To Justify Its Existentence

Velai Illa Pattadhari 2: A Movie That Struggles To Justify Its Existentence

Look, if there is one saving grace to this movie, or to most mediocre movies he finds himself in from time to time, its Dhanush. Like Ranbir Kapoor in Bollywood, this man can do no wrong when it comes to his on screen work. Behind the scenes, however, the measure of quality is poles apart.
Velai Illa Pattadhari 2 is a sloppily put together, unfocused mess of a film which is moderately enjoyable owing to its lead’s unyielding charisma. Explaining the plot of the film would be one the biggest undertakings I’ve had in recent memory. The film’s B-plots include everything from launching one’s own start-up to taking on the prejudice of a rich businesswoman to stopping illegal theme parks from being constructed to losing a job to dealing with your nagging wife and so on and so forth. The multiple B-plots which try to serve as many demographics as possible fatally cripple the film in one very important aspect of screenwriting; the film has no primary story.

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Under a gigantic layer of the unpalatable hip-hop infused score by Sean Roldan which ushers in Raghuvaran’s return, the film chips away at one’s need to watch a film with a coherent narrative and focuses on the many bright colors and loud noises which have drained most audience’s patience with masala potboilers. Dhanush, whose previous work on the page was the surprisingly refreshing Pa Paandi, pens a story whose plotting and beats are lost under a host of admittedly humorous dialogues. These jokes aren’t wholly original (nagging wife and lost opportunity jokes are rarely effective) but the eye catching packaging it comes as a part of makes for some wholly entertaining moments.
As the film gets into the meat of the matter, it rarely focuses on anything substantial. There is a distinct lack of flow from scene to scene as plot points are left to hang out to dry with no discernable effort to weave them into the overall narrative. Antagonists come and go, resolutions are haphazardly stitched together and Raghuvaran the character acts as a savior to one too many people while the film forgets to adequately illustrate his competence and drive.

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I had a sinking feeling in my stomach when I first heard that screen legend Kajol was being cast as the primary antagonist of this film. There is something laudable about ambitious casting and Kajol is an actress who is highly capable of pulling off most roles with aplomb but my fear of this being an exercise in gimmickry used to mask serious deficiencies in plot were laid bare within the first few minutes. While the original VIP had an entertaining dichotomy between the protagonist and the antagonist with both starting their lives on the work force at varying circumstances but with similar goals, the sequel fills itself with contrivances to justify character motivations and actions.
With Soundarya Rajinikanth at the helm, one would not be fault to expect a film with a certain degree of technical finesse. Her previous work 3 has a distinct style to it. But VIP 2 is aggressively bland with its visual packaging. The cinematography is flat throughout and a few slow-mo fight scenes are in no way redeeming. The excellent fight choreography and spatial awareness the original had are sorely lacking and when these flaws are combined with the aforementioned score, the recipe for a forgettable venture has been executed to a tee.

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Through all these downsides, the film is rarely boring. For the lack of a better phrase, there are just way too many things happening on a constant basis. The film’s plot hopping antics make for entertaining viewing even though it lacks a sense of deftness. The film self-awareness combined with its effective self-deprecation make for popcorn entertainment which is funny as you watch it but will quite easily slip away as soon as you step out of the hall.
Films starring Dhanush are rarely unwatchable. When compared to his contemporaries, Dhanush is one of the very few big name actors who takes chances with his films while trying to essay universally relatable stories. The man has proved his mettle as a producer, actor, singer, writer, and most recently as a director. This creates a swirl of expectation when one sees his name stamped on a film. And as almost all of our beloved artists are guilty of, they always have a dud in their repertoire. VIP 2 is Dhanush’s most recent.

Vikram Vedha: Questioning Why You Are Who You Are Makes For Great Stories

Vikram Vedha: Questioning Why You Are Who You Are Makes For Great Stories

Vetala Panchavimshati, the collection of 25 stories narrated to King Vikramaditya by the zombie? or should I say demon? hmm.. the Vampire Vetal (Betal) rank behind The Mahabharatha as my second favorite literary accomplishment of ancient India. King Vikramaditya is tasked with retrieving Betal from the edge of a cemetery with the rule being if the noble King utters but a word, the body of Betal will fly back to the tree at the edge of the cemetery with the King having to make the journey back to said edge to recover him again.

Why would The King say anything you ask? Well, Betal narrates a story each time the king repossesses him and makes the walk back out of the cemetery. Each story ends with a moral conundrum and if King Vikramaditya does not choose to solve said conundrum whilst knowing how to, his head is set to explode into a million pieces. What a fantastic conceit on the backdrop of which 25 uniquely engaging stories were constructed back in the day. After director Upendra used this conceit and made the 26th story with his classic film Upendra, the directing duo of Pushkar-Gayatri narrate a neo-noir pseudo 27th story with Vikram Vedha.

Vikram Vedha follows encounter specialist Vikram (R. Madhavan) embroiled in Operation Hammer which has been designed to capture or kill the legendary gangster, who once sliced a man’s head in half with a sickle, Vedha (Vijay Sethupati) and his crew. Vikram’s contracted world view is put to the test as his encounters with Vedha open his mind to varying takes on morality.

If there is one thing I always scream out for when I watch movies, it is for characters to have character. I apply my own version of the Beckdale test as I ask myself “Can I describe a character in 5 sentences or more?” More often than not, this test gives me resounding answers as to how well or how poorly characters are etched in narratives. Even though the character work might require a few tweaks, this film possesses two of the most evenly matched characters I’ve seen in cinema since 95’s Heat or 08’s The Dark Knight.

Before Vijay Sethupati’s Vedha makes his almost Kevin Spacey from Seven-esque entrance into the picture, Madhavan’s Vikram and his multiple shades as a character have been established deftly. While we are shown the man as only a knight in shining armor, the film never forgets to plant a seed of doubt in the audience’s mind about Vikram’s frailties. As Rorschach from the seminal Watchmen comes to realise, a monochromatic view of the world is near impossible to justify.

Vedha helps Vikram realise this by means of three stories; each story/flashback resulting in more revelations about the near-mythical Vedha which results in Vikram exploring his own psyche and moral code. A setup so compelling needs actors of equal if not higher magnitude to pump life into it. Vijay Sethupati’s new salt-and-pepper look combined with his heavier frame help him match Madhavan’s physicality. Vedha’s character is decidedly the more interesting of the two and Sethupati does steal the film but without Madhavan playing a more than adequate foil to his eccentricities, the film would have fallen flat.

While the film worships many subtleties in terms of plot and character (which is a welcome change), it forgets to adequately explain Vikram’s motivations to listen to Vedha’s many tales. To its credit, the film has a well-rounded female cast with characters who have shades of their own. These ladies mark their territory with their limited screen time. While there are a few plot threads which would be more intriguing if explored to a higher degree, the film is already dealing with quite an intricate plot of its own through its runtime.

I don’t know how to word this intelligently every time but a specialist sharp shooting team who have storm trooper aim is just annoying in any film, let alone a good one.

While the primary theme and a romance track are catchy and vibrant, the score is overpowering. Not as bad as Baahubali’s score but not too many steps behind. But in the vein of Baahubali, the film does have a series of exceptional shots; shots and costumes that convey the mental state of the characters that inhabit them. The ominous but tender nature of the story being told is expertly conveyed by the crisp editing and shot design.

While taking a step back from the initial wave of excitement the film creates might dim a few of its merits, these dings do not discount the film being a perfect mixture of the raw materials that create a crowd pleaser and thinking man’s detective movie. It warmed my heart when I read that the filmmakers worked on scripting this idea for over 2 years before being happy with the results. Their effort is laid bare for all to see and as much as I like to nitpick, I would always recommend a film like this to a fellow human.

Madras : If I Made This Film, Rajnikanth Would Work With Me Too

Madras : If I Made This Film, Rajnikanth Would Work With Me Too
Madras is a 2014 Tamil drama film written and directed by Pa. Ranjith. It stars Karthi, Catherine Tresa, and Kalaiyarasan. The film follows the journey of two rival political gangs as they attempt to take control of a wall in the heart of their community. No need to check what you just saw, you read that right.
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I am a huge believer in the fact that great stories can come out of the most forgotten of settings. Tamil cinema, in general, works in stories of the downtrodden more often than not. I for one am not a huge fan of most of those films. They somehow seem reductive and have an insular point of view when it comes to their themes and message. A handful of movies break this stereotypical portrayal of the poor/lower middle class and Madras is one of those films. For me, it joins an illustrious company that includes the extremely excellent Aadukalam, Subramaniapuram, and a few others.  
Why does Madras rise above its peers?
For one, it takes its time building its characters. I know Karthi is the big name lead man of the film but the film itself rarely moves into hero-worshipping territory as it offers ample screentime to Kalaiyarasan’s character. The dynamic shared between the duo and the equal importance of both characters to the story at large is fantastically realized. The film is so well narrated and sucked me into its world so well that for the first time in a long time, a film made me gasp at the screen when a certain pivotal moment was set in motion.
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Pa. Ranjith stages tense scenes and fuels love stories like few others can. I am a huge believer in the quality of Kabali because of it. The chemistry Radhika Apte and Rajnikanth shared in that movie served as the highlight and emotional crux of the film. A person who understands that a little moment of chemistry forms the basis of romance is rare in the cinematic world. The instances of Kabali’s wife addressing him like a friend would, advising him about his clothing choices as he moves up in the world and treating him as an equal formed a formidable pairing.
Madras boasts of such eloquently executed moments of chemistry between the lead pair. The small joys of fighting with your significant other, showing weakness around them, involving one’s significant other in one’s decision making process etc show much more chemistry than any duet ever will. Kudos to the writer/director for his nous.
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What stands head and shoulders above all the other brilliant parts of the film is the narrative on a whole. It’s films like these that have made me believe in any premise humanly conceivable. I remember the day I watched Aadukalam and joking to myself “A movie about rooster fighting. This’ll be rich” and now it’s one of my favorite films of all time. This film is about taking control of a wall. The narrative takes over from the premise and offers up a wholly three-dimensional view of the world that lower-middle class citizens occupy whilst not pandering to the demographic itself. It’s a risky high-wire act and the film pulls it off admirably. Lest I forget, the commentary made about politics, which is seemingly broad stroked, is scathing and though provoking.
The narrative is laced with a smart score, the characters are given consistent motivations to keep their behaviour up while never dropping off with logical outcomes, the shot selection, and sequencing is exquisite, the film never sacrifices on style even though the subject matter could carry the film on its able shoulders, there is just so much to like from the opening shot of the film. Yes, the film does suffer from a singular wholly unrealistic fight scene but that is a small price to pay to watch a film that could not be described by no adequate metaphor.

Lens: A Movie of Two Halves (Originality and Cliches)

Lens: A Movie of Two Halves (Originality and Cliches)

Lens is a 2017 Tamil thriller written and directed by Jayaprakash Radhakrishnan and stars Jayaprakash Radhakrishnan, Anand Sami, Ashwathy Lal and Misha Ghoshal. This film has one of the mot interesting premises I’ve ever heard. One man commands another to watch his suicide live on Skype. Failure to do so would result in the former leaking the internet history of the latter. DAMN!

All I knew about the film before walking into the cinema was that logline. I was intrigued to the highest degree and prepared myself for a super tense and taut thriller. Does the film deliver on its initial promise? Yes and No, in that exact order. The film has an exquisitely fun first act. We have an everyday tech dude having Skype sex with a random woman. We have creepy antagonist guy who tricks the tech guy into thinking he’s another horny girl and lures him into the primary plot of the film. So far, so good.

AND THEN.

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What begins are a thought proving setup about the dangers of the internet quickly devolves into some ham-fisted commentary about the evils people indulge in over the world wide web.

Watching Lens, to me, feels like an exercise in checking in on your own perversions and nothing else. Not what you and I put out there to the world to seem “normal” in our circles but what we do in dark shady corner of our homes assuming no one is watching us. When left to one’s devices with the added bonus of consequence-free existences, human beings are capable of very dark things. Lens as a film attempts to explore that side of things. My concerns lay with how the film does its exploration.

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The film’s intriguing premise sorely lacks character work required to fill it with personality. The film works as a cautionary tale to the most “technologically illiterate”. I’m not going to sit here on a high horse and call myself a tech guru but I would also like to assume that I would have a few fail-safes if I were to indulge in unsavoury activities. Movies have rarely been able to understand the complexities of technology, let alone the real dangers it actually poses to humanity. A randomly named fake account can only keep your activities private to a very small degree if you do not take the most minimal of precautions to use a browser that masks your IP or at the very least turn your Chrome browser to its inbuilt incognito mode. Little things like this bug me as much as fake typing/hacking as portrayed by multiple “tech savvy” films.

Coming back from that extremely distracting tangent, the film suffers from possessing wholly one-dimensional characters. Yes, one needs to the message across while making a socially conscious film but the message coming off the film has been drilled into our collective heads for the longest time. The film Sivaji has an offhanded joke made about this exact phenomenon and that film happened in 2006. So, again, apart from a compelling premise, the film does not have much going for it.

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I do not mean to belittle the plight of a person who is unwillingly involved in a scandal via an unlawful breach of privacy, but there are ways to tell this story without being hammy. One of the characters is named so awfully and is written to be so sympathetic that it took me out of the film entirely.

“Good guys” needn’t always be perfect to the extremes and there are better ways of dealing with breach of privacy than locking yourself in a claustrophobic space. This film rubs me the wrong way because, in our so-called modern society, we teach our young ladies that people who commit crimes against them are the ones who need to be ashamed as the ladies themselves aren’t in the wrong.

Conceding to the fact that each and every person deals with grief differently, a film is a work of fiction. One does not need to perpetuate an “old wine in new bottles” version of the age-old perception that women need to hide and feel inadequate when confronted by crimes against them. As a small change, I would have liked this film so much more if she lived her life with her head held high even after a traumatic incident (BECAUSE IT WAS NOT HER FAULT) and was killed because of additional acts of evil the society forced upon her which she could not physically escape from. A variant of the bland societal commentary this film has on offer could have been excessively more impactful.

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I do give props to the whole crew of this film for trying something fresh and talking about a topic most people rarely would but all I ask for is some technological literacy and research when one attempts to make a tech-centric film. Because, I swear to God, I could have ripped this film to shreds for some of the idiocy it has going on.

Pa. Pandi: Old People Can Be Fun Too (It’s About Damn Time)

Pa. Pandi: Old People Can Be Fun Too (It’s About Damn Time)

Pa. Pandi is a 2017 Tamil drama film written and directed by Dhanush and stars Rajkiran, Prasanna, Chaya Singh and Revathi. The film follows the life of a 64-year old man as he attempts to reconnect with himself after a lifetime devoted to building a family and a career.

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I just will not understand why the film’s title was changed from Power Pandi to Pa. Pandi. I know there is a reason to it but I choose to not acknowledge it.

This film was one of the most refreshing ones I’ve seen this year. Refreshing doesn’t mean balls to the wall spectacular, it does mean its thought process and primary plot are both innovative for the Indian film industry (for the most part). As an audience, we have been subjected to frail old people who are literally shown to be on their death-beds the second they hit their 60s as a cheap way to garner empathy. This film has a few bits of that but let’s talk about that later.

I was in my chair thinking this would be another one of those pandering bore-fests but the plot takes a hard left turn midway through the first half and takes an even harder lefter turn by the end of the first half. The film grabbed me by the collar of my shirt and said “You think you could predict me? Not today sunny. This old man has a few tricks up his sleeve”.

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Rajkiran deserves a huge deal of praise for being badass, empathetic, warm and charming all at the same time. I want to go into specifics of things he does which show all these attributes but… experience it for yourselves and enjoy it.

I had a great deal of fun with the comedic elements, Rajkiran’s performance, the lead character’s outlook towards life, his story and struggle, the reverence shown towards films etc. So many good things at play here. I almost forgot to throw in some praise towards the impeccable score the film possesses. I want to keep the plot a secret because I would like for every reader to watch the film for themselves and be as surprised as I was. The contingent of the audience who were in their golden years loved this film because of the respect it shows to them without pandering to them. You know how basic films act as wish fulfillment to the average teen or young man or middle-aged man, this film works as wish fulfillment for their parents and grandparents.

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All this praise is not to say that the film has no flaws. It does. The first 20 minutes are quite wonky when compared to the third act’s flourish. Dhanush’s direction is not quite as assured. The pacing is slightly off. The film does devolve into playing to the crowds in a few instances because that sells tickets I guess. The son and daughter-in-law are slightly underwritten. They have their moments of character but they are few. All this and a tiny bit more bones I want to pick with this film.

I don’t want to bog anyone down with any more negatives because I felt positively happy as the end credits started to roll. I had a good time at the movies and I’m fairly positive most others will too. Dhanush takes his time and directs genuinely emotional moments between wholly engaging characters. He shows older people the respect they deserve by making them smart, capable and downright hilarious.

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Dude, the film has a one-liner spouting, ass-beating grandad who isn’t an over-the-top crime lord or drug dealer or a cop. Seriously, think about how fun that sounds.

After a slew of the run-of-the-mill, guilt-inducing nonsense, it’s just a breath of fresh air when a film comes along and takes a stand on the right end of the debate.

OVERALL SCORE – 3-5-stars

Kanchivaram: A Film About Goals, Obstacles, and A Flawed Main Character

Kanchivaram: A Film About Goals, Obstacles, and A Flawed Main Character

Kanchivaram is a 2009 Tamil period-piece drama film written and directed by Priyadarshan. The film stars Prakash Raj, Shriya Reddy, and Shammu along with a host of other character actors. The film follows the life of a silk weaver in, pre-independence India, whose singular goal in life is to be able to drape his daughter in a silk saree for her wedding.

Aaron Sorkin once said, and I’m paraphrasing here, “To have a compelling story, you need to have a character, show what the character has, show what the character wants and show the obstacle that’s keeping the character from getting what he wants. The tougher the obstacle, the better the payoff”. This simplistic analysis to good storytelling rings true throughout one of the better character dramas one could watch. Being part of an Indian household, I know how important silk sarees becomes when certain occasions arise. The value those pieces of clothing hold are measured by the meticulous craftsmanship put into them. Those sarees look so fantastic because of the hard working men and women who weave them with painstaking accuracy.

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This film explores the life of one such weaver. The film has masterful visual storytelling combined with exceptionally nuanced performances. The characterizations are rich and the conflict our main character finds himself in, seems easy to get away from for a modern audience but those conflicts are insurmountable for a man coming from his time in history. The film makes up for its lack of oomph in the dialogue department with a kinetic story.  That’s not to say that film glosses over important aspects of the narrative, far from it. It knows how long scenes need to be and sticks to that principle time and time again. Lingering is not the preferred form of narration here. It is an applause-worthy feat when such quick leaps in story progression still leave the audience with an emotional center to hold on to.

The film has a nearly claustrophobic setting of a small town in the Madras province where everyone knows everyone else and this, amazingly, just adds to the intrigue. There is no action that goes under the radar and there is no word said that goes unheard. The film, while a story of a man’s quest to give his daughter the best wedding ceremony possible is also the story of how the association of silk weavers came to India. There is a lot of talk of communism, the second world war and so many events which are prescient at the time that ground the film in reality. One can always make an argument that this was a real-life folktale that was brought to life by plays put up by the revolting weavers. I truly appreciate such attention to detail put into a film where selling its authenticity is as important as selling its story. The lighting, production design and score play huge roles here as well.

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The film’s central character played by the always amazing Prakash Raj is one of the best depictions of a man punching above his weight class I’ve ever seen. His face is a canvas for emotions and the pain behind those world-weary eyes is there for all to see. His actions are perfectly motivated and even though some things he does may look stupid, we have to stop and realize that this is a pretty “average joe” of a man. He has his bounds and boundaries even though he wants those shackles broken. His thoughts are always influenced by the world around him and he is always learning and growing. There is a part of me that thinks he might have been a greater man than he eventually ends up being if he had not made promises that were too big for his britches. The supporting cast around him are just perfect and one can hardly find any fault there.

My only gripe about the film is with two specific subplots. I know why they’re there but something about how it’s narrated just leaves me wanting a bit more.

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That being said, this film might leave a few of you in tears but it will most definitely leave most of you moved. This film is not about how many twists and turns it can throw at you. But it is about how well a fairly predictable story is told.

It’s not what it’s about but how it’s about it. (quoting Roger Ebert)

OVERALL SCORE – 4.25-stars

Please LIKE, SHARE, FOLLOW AND COMMENT and let me know your opinions about the film.

Rambling About Maanagaram (2017)

Rambling About Maanagaram (2017)

Nutshell Ramble

A taut and mostly gripping story which uses the narrative style of hyperlink storytelling to its full potential.

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Full Ramble

Maanagaram is a 2017 Tamil crime-drama film written and directed by Lokesh Kanagaraj. It stars Sundeep Kishan, Shri, Regina Cassandra, Charle, and Murugadoss. The film follows the oft-intersecting lives of its four engaging lead characters over the course of a day in the city of Chennai.

I need only make one argument as to why this film works on multiple levels. That would be, the warm applause the film received as the end credits rolled. Almost everyone in my 150 people strong hall were thoroughly entertained by a truly well-made piece of cinema. There was a breath of fresh air and an uncanny nuance in the way the film’s story unfolds. The film boasts of one of the most compelling prologues one can watch. I would personally love to sit myself down, once the film comes out on home video, and study that prologue over and over again. The writing is so crisp and to the point, that one need only spend upwards of two minutes with each character to understand their personalities in the course of the aforementioned prologue.

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The attention to detail is exemplary. The score is fitting and every song except one (you’ll know which one it is when you watch it) complement the film in a glorious way. The undercurrent of the film, even though prevalent, is smoothly done. The story of the film takes center stage always. The film is so confident with its material that it gives away its moral by the 60% mark of its running time. The film knows that it has the audience at the palm of its hand.

It is bloody fantastic.

The ride the audience is taken on by the film might be its crowning achievement. There are so many cogs at work as the narrative unfolds. I recollect watching the film at specific points and thinking to myself “Come on, please don’t get stupid now. You’ve been so good”, and the film delivered at every one of those instances. The film wants the audience to have a good time and it offers them complex characters with shades of gray to empathize with. The amount of praise I can heap on a film like this will surely take more than a 500-word writeup.

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The performances are to the point, the morals are spouted out without being heavy-handed, the moments of suspense are dripping with tension, the dark sense of humor the film has and the method the film uses to get it across is something one can watch in only the top 10% of all films ever made. The one part of the film that just vaults it over everything else is how unpredictable the plot is. There are rarely any predictable plot threads and the film revels in revealing them to the audience while enjoying those revelations itself.

This is not to say that I have no gripes with the film. I do. The pace drops at a few points and there is also the ill-timed song I mentioned earlier. Some of the characters are a bit one-note sometimes and a certain romance track might not carry the weight the film thinks it does. But these are damn near unnoticeable when one is enjoying the film to the degree I was.

My friend and I started googling for more information about the film instead of having a conversation over dinner once we sat down at the table. If that doesn’t tell me that I have enjoyed this film to no end, nothing else will.

OVERALL SCORE – 4.25-stars

Please LIKE, SHARE, FOLLOW and COMMENT and let me know your favorite films of the hyperlink genre.

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