Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood: Film Review

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Quentin Tarantino’s long awaited 9th film released recently in the form of Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood. The film is set in the late 60s in front of a contextual backdrop of the infamous Charles Manson murders, where four people, including actress Sharon Tate, were brutally killed. The film follows Tate, played by Margot Robbie, but focuses on fictional characters in this historical situation; Rick Dalton, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, is a former starlet of the LA television scene whose career starts to falter as he attempts to make the transition into film. He and his dutiful stunt-double-turned-sidekick-and-best-friend Cliff Booth, played by Brad Pitt, look to turn their fortunes around as Hollywood moves full steam ahead. Aside from the incredible cast mentioned above, the film stars Al Pacino, Kurt Russell, and Timothy Olyphant among others. Tarantino was quoted as calling this film “the casting coup of the century” for having acquired a cast of such legendary acting talent. This is Tarantino’s penultimate film, before his supposed retirement.

The anticipation for this film was high to say the absolute least. Any Tarantino movie deserves attention, we don’t get too many of them too often, but with a cast like the one I just mentioned? I was running to opening night. All in all, I’d say I was maybe slightly underwhelmed. It should be understood that a massive contributing factor for that was undoubtedly the expectations I had for it. With a cast like that and Tarantino at the helm, I had a hard time not expecting something other than a masterpiece. It’s an excellent film, a fantastic film even, but I wouldn’t put it on the level of, say, Django Unchained or Inglorious Basterds. The main thing keeping it from that is its pacing. Tarantino’s not a stranger to making films close to 3 hours in length; the reason he’s never really seen criticism for that is because he does a fabulous job pacing it out. I’m used to him juggling plot lines and jumping from point to point in a narrative; it’s always been okay because the way he does it has always been engaging and maintained my undivided attention. There has to be a focus, an energy to how one does it, otherwise it risks looking aimless, and Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood does, at times, feel aimless, particularly in the first hour or so. It drags pretty hard at times during that first hour.

That’s what kept the film from the heights I was hoping for, aside from that, however, it was more or less all I expected of it. All the Tarantino schticks were in full display. Feet, lots of them, extremely well placed music, expositional cut scenes, and that strangely eccentric tone that could only be his. The violence is actually somewhat tame, until the last 20 minutes of the film at least. And I should mention those 20 minutes, quite possibly the best 20 minutes of film this year. I’m very cautious of spoilers, I don’t want to give anything away. This is a film based on the true story that is the Charles Manson murders of Hollywood in the late 60s, you wouldn’t think there could be much to spoil in a film like that. It wouldn’t be the first time, however, that Tarantino chose to put his own spin on history. Suffice it to say that he really lets the dogs out in those last 20 minutes or so, and they might genuinely be my favorite 20 minutes of film for as long as I can remember.

I have not yet mentioned the esteemed Leo and Brad duo. They were phenomenal, as per standard. Helped, of course, by some absolutely first drawer writing, Leo and Brad carry this film to infinity and beyond from an acting standpoint. They have more individually impressive scenes than I anticipated and fewer scenes together per se; doing nothing to hinder their performances. Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth are, of course, fictional characters in a situation both very real and very plausible. Leo’s depiction of an actor who can’t pull it together is a little too convincing, and Brad seemed only too happy to stand tall in the role of a deeply self-assured stunt double with a past. There was controversy prior to the film’s release about the material involvement of Sharon Tate in the film. There was a certain insinuation about the use of Robbie as eye-candy and the lack of fleshing out of her character, which an angry Tarantino responded to by referring to Tate as “the heartbeat of the story”. That was overcompensation as far as I’m concerned; Sharon Tate serves a theoretical purpose in the film as well as the importance of her context to the ending, but nothing substantially more than that. Part of the film’s thesis is this portrait of different kinds of lives that are lead in Hollywood and the contrast in attitudes and circumstances. Sharon Tate completes Tarantino’s portrait, her presence is what makes the final statement relevant, but, in terms of her character, there was very little fleshing out to be had. Robbie is strong in the moments that she has, but that’s a limited material exposure. Again, I don’t see this as a particularly villainous thing, in the end it is her presence that delivers Tarantino’s ultimately hopeful spin on history. Al Pacino and Kurt Russell are equal part window dressing, which is fair enough I suppose. The real weight is carried by Leo and Brad, who both deliver performances worthy of them.

I wouldn’t call this a masterpiece. To be frank, I’m not the biggest Tarantino fan in the world. I like him a lot, he has a very distinctive style and he’s most definitely cemented himself as one of the great directors of all time, but I’m not gaga over his work (with the definite exception of Inglorious Basterds, one of the best films I’ve ever seen without a doubt). I definitely appreciate the drawn out, kind of reflective narrative style he has, one which has pervaded his work over the years and certainly pervades this one. I did find it a little unfocused at times, which annoyed me a lot more right after watching the film than it does now. The thing that sets this film apart, in my view, is the stance he seems to take at the end. I really don’t want to give anything away, so I’ll choose my words carefully. The end of the film, despite its content, conveys this profound positivity that, in the moment, you can’t decide if it feels just right or wildly out of place. You’re walking out of the theatre smiling ear to ear, you can’t possibly not after the last 20 minutes, so despite what maybe should be a sense of confusion, you feel a deep sense of satisfaction. Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood is an excellent film, worthy of all those involved, and worthy of your time.

– Aman Datta

Aman’s Score – 84/100                                                               Aryamaan’s Score –

Avatar: The Last Airbender – TV Review

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Widely regarded as one of the greatest shows ever to grace the screen, and almost universally seen as one of, if not the greatest, animated shows of all time, Avatar: The Last Airbender is a Nickelodeon cartoon show that aired from 2005 – 2008. The show takes place in a fantasy world during a time of war. This world is populated by ordinary people as well as ‘benders’, those who have the power to manipulate one of the four core elements (air, fire, water, and earth) to their will. As fire-benders dominate a 100-year war for control of all the land, the world looks to it’s avatar, one with the capability to bend all four elements, to usher in balance by defeating the fire nation. The Emmy-winning show was created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, and is often seen as one of the finest examples of storytelling ever.

I have to admit; it was surprising to me that this one lived up to the hype. I’ve been hearing for years that my life has not been complete until I have witnessed the magnificence that is this show, so when I started watching it (the process involved a swap deal in which someone else would watch The West Wing. I’d watch anything if it gets people to watch The West Wing.) I was very aware of some sky high expectations I had for it. Incredibly, I was not to be disappointed.

Avatar: The Last Airbender is an incredibly written, masterfully constructed story, made the absolute most of by fabulous characters, development, dynamics and relationships, and measured tonal shifts. I should definitely start with the characters, insofar as to say that they are incredible. I was actually somewhat off-put in the first three or four episodes by the speed, using the word family in the third episode felt premature and the writing in general was quite rushed. I found myself, however, consumed entirely by the plot and the direction of it all, which quickly blended into some of the best character arcs I’ve ever seen. Aang, Katara, Sokka, and, about halfway through, Toph, are expertly drawn characters with the correct balance between likability and flaw. So incredibly easy to get behind. Their internal dynamic is beautiful and overwhelmingly believable, comparable only to the duo of Zuko and Iroh. Iroh was probably my favorite character on the show, just by what he is, not by his journey. However, the character that undergoes by far the best arc over the course of the show, and that’s saying something because development is something done unbelievably well, is Zuko’s character. I don’t want to get into specifics for fear of spoiling the show for anyone who might watch it, but suffice it to say that by a combination of fabulous voice acting and fantastic storyboarding across the whole show, we’re looking at one of the finest examples of series character developments I’ve ever seen on the silver screen (one of, I said, for those of you about to accuse me of calling it better than The West Wing. This is an incredible show, but lets not get ahead of ourselves). While the show boasts excellent antagonist development as well, the predominant form of it is through the character of Azula. Fire Lord Ozai, on the other hand, was the only emotionally underwhelming aspect of the show in my mind. His characterization was almost exclusively through what others say, which is fine, but leads to the final, fated battle carrying less baggage than, say, a concurrent fight which I shan’t detail for the purposes of spoiler prevention. This might’ve been the point, in which case it was just a narrative choice I didn’t agree with.

A special mentioning has to go to the storyboarding prowess of this show. The creators have done such an unparalleled job of measuring the development of these characters and this story, it’s a marvel to watch. The progression is so appropriate, so measured, the themes that are touched on so well conceived on screen. Tonally speaking that shift, even within an episode, is superb. It’s a hilarious show, a fabulous sense for comic timing and the right sense of which characters and when. A lot of the credit for the progression and the characters goes to some absolutely top notch voice acting (it occurred to be while watching it that Ozai sounded like someone from Regular Show, I check the credits and what do you know, Mark Hamill himself). It says something about the quality of the show when it’s not just the lead characters that are excellent, but even the supporting characters, one episode drops in the sea, hold scenes. I’m not an expert when it comes to animation style and whatnot, but some of the visuals, more so in the later seasons, are marvelous. The other thing is it’s an incredibly consumable show, just 60 or so episodes of 22 mins each across the whole show.

Then of course comes the mythological aspect of it. In the beginning, pretty much season 1, the mythology has the potential to be a little undercooked. There’s nothing wrong with magic if the rules are precise and outlined, which isn’t necessarily the case in the first season. I don’t think that changes in the following seasons much at all, but the fact that it’s all a little flexible becomes something of a theme, what with advanced forms of bending coming into the mix. A huge problem I faced during the first season was not being able to take the plot of the show out of the context of the film. The film, of course, is famously a very large turd. It’s widely seen as one of if not the worst and most unfortunate adaptations of anything ever, which, having now seen the show, is an absolutely fair claim to make. All in all, the consistency is pretty good in terms of the mythology around it, with deviations not being hindrances to the enjoyment of the show.

I get pretty frustrated writing reviews for TV shows, if for no other reason than I really want to get specific and explain the greater nuances. I want to talk about Aang and Katara’s relationship and how it develops (and the painful, painful hints of Zutara), I want to talk about the dynamic between Azula, Mai, and Ty Lee, and I want to talk about how they address ideas of family and spread Iroh’s wisdom and pull off self awareness like it’s easy and a hundred thousand other incredible things about the show. Unfortunately, I’d like this review to be read and for that to happen I need to keep this as short and snappy as I can, which keeps me from getting into the detail I’d like to get into. It can’t be helped, of course. So instead of getting into all the nitty gritty, I would implore you to watch the show yourself. Avatar: The Last Airbender lives up to itself in all the ways it needed to, in an irresistibly fun, masterfully constructed “kids show” that really ought to be recognized, as it is, for the quality of animated storytelling it manages to hold in three all-too-short seasons.

– Aman Datta

Aman’s Score – 91/100                                                         Aryamaan’s Score –

Chernobyl Review

Chernobyl Review

HBO’s excellent five-hour mini-series is absolutely heartbreaking to watch. Brilliantly structured and anchored by great performances from Jared Harris, Emily Watson, Stellan Skarsgard and more, ‘Chernobyl’ revolves around one of the worst man-made catastrophes to date. The Chernobyl disaster was a nuclear accident that occurred on 26 April 1986, when a safety test went very, VERY wrong at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, near the city of Pripyat in the north of the Ukrainian SSR. This occurred largely due to the incompetence of the team, a total jerk in charge of the team and lies at the highest level of the government. Think about this this way, one of the roofs of the plant after the explosion had a radiation level of 12,000 roentgens (the unit for radiation) – twice as much as the Hiroshima bomb every hour! This level is so high that is one was to stand on that roof, in full protective gear, for 2 minutes, they would die…It was then considered the most dangerous place on the planet.

The show is relentlessly bleak but has a remarkable cumulative power. The show’s layered depiction of how an entire nation had been shaken by a nuclear event becomes more and more intense with each episode. However, my favourite aspect of the show was the fact that it wasn’t a polemic against nuclear energy, against communism in general or against Soviet Union – that would be too easy – but instead Craig Mazin’s creating is a polemic against lies. The cost of lies.

Chernobyl Review 5

When you look at the scenes of the city, nothing seems wrong. When we think disasters that take thousands of lives, we may think about some form of natural disasters, explosions, wars, but apart from the initial explosion, the screen is always so calm. You cannot see anything but death is all around. The radiation spreads and people, unaware of this, simply walk into their death. Everything may seem quiet to us but the thought of the radiation in the background haunts us throughout the series. Just the long shots of the blowing wind, the water dripping and the rustling of the leaves are enough to remind you that doom is on the horizon.

The pilot episode is one of the best pilots I’ve seen on television. The show starts off with an explosion and the rest of the episodes describe the measures taken to prevent the bad from becoming the worse. We are immediately introduced to the characters in the sphere of what happened that day: the scientists and engineers in charge of the power plant, the firefighters who run into the fire to protect those trapped inside, the scientists in charge of the clean-up and the government officials, some of whom swoop in to devise cover stories to prevent humiliation to the Soviet Union. It’s absolutely appalling to hear the true story of the event and why it ever occurred. It’s unbelievable, how low human’s can fall simply to protect their reputation.

The acting is otherworldly; Harris, Skarsgard and Watson have all, arguably, given the performance of their careers. Jared Harris, underated for so many years, plays the role of Valery Legasov, a key Soviet nuclear physicist who is the first to realize the situation at Chernobyl and is appointed in charge of the cleanup. With a great opposition from the other government officials – including David Dencik version of Gorbachev – he convinces them of his theory and counters several ticking time bombs related to Chernobyl, including the likelihood of a massive explosion, the containment of the nuclear radiation leaking across Russia, and the fact that it was headed down into the water supply for most of the country. Skarsgard plays Soviet Deputy Prime Minister Boris Shcherbina, who has for years been a mouthpiece for his government, but realizes that this catastrophe requires for him to be more. He undergoes a change of heart, understanding the unpredictability of life and one’s responsibilities towards it. Emily Watson acts as Ulana Khomyuk, a tribute to all the scientists and workers, who staked their lives to contain the disaster at Chernobyl.

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The show doesn’t only look at the event through s scientific, methodical perspective but through a very human, emotional lens as well.With the aid of make-up to show the impacts of the radiation, we get to experience this event through different perspectives: through the pregnant wife of a firefighter who ran into the flames of Chernobyl, a man assigned to kill the radioactive animals in the area and of course the through the lens of Legasov and Boris. Yes, this sounds blindingly depressing but Renck and writer Craig Mazin have an extremely artful approach for their production, preventing it from becoming extremely depressing. The beautiful amalgamation of the human and scientific elements makes it logical and tactile.

There are so many moments that will make you cover your eyes: the notes of despair in Harris’ voice as he works to solve a problem that may not only be unsolvable but also likely to kill all those who try. All of them face a foe that will take all those down with it.

Chernobyl marks another successful addition to HBO’s list of miniseries. It may not be as crowd-pleasing as other award winners but it is just as accomplished. Renck manages to pull out entertainment from something as dry as the physics behind a nuclear meltdown and lies, hidden by the government. The show is not only about an event but also about deception, determination, courage, intellect and lies. The last episode, Vichnaya Pamyat, is an effective combination about what happened on the day of the meltdown and the hearing for the scientists responsible. One-by-one as more and more blue cards are removed, the intensity increases. Harris’ monologue goes straight to the heart, the calmness in his voice, contrasted by the atmosphere surrounding him. The show leaves you in shock, making you understand life’s cold truth, a rewarding end to a remarkable piece of art.

– Aryamaan Dholakia

Aman’s Rating – N/A                                                                            Aryamaan’s Rating – 92/100

 

Spiderman Far From Home: Film Review

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Because Disney hadn’t taken quite enough of our money with Endgame, this summer saw the release of the actual final film of the third phase of the Marvel cinematic universe: Spiderman: Far From Home. The film takes place soon after the events of Avengers Endgame, as Peter Parker and his friends embark on a soon-to-be-derailed summer vacation around Europe. The trip goes according to plan, until a group of otherworldly elemental creatures threaten Earth, dragging in tow a mysterious defender, supposedly from an alternate reality. The film stars the returning cast from Homecoming, as well as Jake Gyllenhaal as Mysterio/Beck and Samuel L. Jackson returning as Nick Fury; among others.

I honestly thought I wouldn’t be interested in an MCU movie after Endgame. I had this great plan where I was going to phase myself out (the use of the word phase is regretted) of the audience, preserve my memory of phase 3 as it was, and make as much fun as possible of the next batch of unsuspecting Disney-patrons for not having an appreciation for the classics. It was a good plan, until they released the trailer for this damn movie. The expectations were high, after a very good first film in the form of Homecoming and a strong character base to carry it forward. Not only that, but this was to be our first glimpse of a post-Endgame world, put simply, a world without Tony Stark.

And yet Tony Stark ended up being a character in the film, within the capacity he could’ve been. Some of my favorite parts of the film are little nods to the Godfather, EDITH’s acronym, the scene in the plane where Peter’s talking random science words and fitting his arm into holographic projections, and any other scene that communicated that passing of the torch. I really appreciated the “filling of the shoes” idea that was absolutely pervasive in the film. The comedy generally landed, as per MCU standard I’d say, and the performances were generally all good. One of the performances that was really of quality was that of one of the best actors currently acting: Jake Gyllenhaal.

Now if only he hadn’t been steering a sinking ship. One of the biggest negatives of the film, and you’ll discover there are actually many, is Mysterio’s character. They actually did a fantastic job at first, with the building of a rapport between Peter and Beck in the first third or so of the film; their obvious friendship off screen came through hard and it really served the larger purpose. Unfortunately, the moment the reality of it all was revealed, in that bar scene, the film fell off the rails for me. Despite building up to that point really really well, Mysterio’s character was unfocused. His motivation was fuzzy, how long he planned on fooling everyone with his orchestrated battles, before a drone hit Thor in the head or something, is beyond me. “To make them listen”? To what exactly? There was no clear ideology or motivation that made this guy tick. Tony Stark gave his work a funny acronym. How traumatizing. Also, I’m not a huge fan of what ended up being the premise of the character’s threat. The drones felt flimsy to me, I was expecting him to be a villain but I was expecting magic and unpredictability and some kind of otherworldly force. Obviously this ended up being the illusion, but to what end? Gyllenhaal nearly manages to redeem it, but even an actor of his stature couldn’t make up for the literal production element of his villainy.

Now, of course, we just have to talk about those post credit scenes. I actually saw a lot of inconsistencies with Nick Fury’s character in the film, which was triggering me until the last credit scene at which point I was saying “that explains it” and “what the hell” at the same time. I was actually really annoyed by that last scene. As far as I’m concerned, that was a sad, dumb gimmick, meant to produce a laugh, and ended up cheapening the plot of the movie. Nick Fury wasn’t even there, and that cheapens any weight his character gave to any situation he was involved with in the film. I absolutely cannot explain that decision for the life of me. As for the mid credits scene: that was bold. I’m definitely stressed out about it, and as annoying as it is to me, that just shows me that I’ve committed to this character and that I’m on the edge of my seat to find out what happens next. I do, however, take issue with the tonal shift. As an audience member, the MCU isn’t where I go for Black Mirror-esque thematic warnings about our trust in digital evidence. I was a lot more bothered by it just after walking out of the theater; having ruminated a little I’m pretty okay with it, but it’ll all depend on where they choose to go from here.

All in all, I think it’s safe to say that I was underwhelmed by this film. I’ve done a lot of stressing on the negatives here, partly because the negatives ended up forming a larger part of the fabric of the film than the positives. I liked Peter and MJ, a lot. Holland and Zendaya’s chemistry is pretty strong, and I generally appreciate MJ’s character, which I was a little concerned about after the first film. Little moments of good comedy and quality writing aside, however, the bottom line for me was that Far From Home was a slightly lazy film. It didn’t feel the need to hold all that many strings, there wasn’t a whole lot going on. The strings it did hold were largely undercooked, with the possible exception of the Tony Stark-less element. It was a such a disappointment, especially after Beck was so well done for the first 40 minutes (Gylllenhaal wearing the glasses was a moment. It was). But the conclusion here for me isn’t a great one. After so long backing up popularity with a greater degree of quality than most hugely popular pieces of entertainment media lacked (in the important places anyway) it would be a real shame if Marvel started getting complacent, and that’s what this film was: complacent.

– Aman Datta

Aman’s Score – 68/100                                                                           Aryamaan’s Score –

Stranger Thing Season 3: Review

Stranger Things Season 3 Review - 2

Soooo Worth the wait!!

Action and terror are perfectly balanced against comic relief and well-timed character moments. 

It’s almost a year after season 2 that season 3 came out. But it was sooooo worth the wait. Stranger Things season 3 is all it promises to be and more… It encapsulates all the features of a 80s horror movie and delivers a powerful, funny, frightening story polished with the loads of nostalgia. Once again, our quirky cast of misfits (children and adults) is confronted by an impossible foe, which is now aided by mortal allies. Against all odds they must band together and save the planet. We helplessly cheer for them, laugh with them, cry with them. By the end of this season, they become family.

The Duffer Brothers have modeled this season to perfection, probably my favourite one (yet?). The first episode simply serves to catch up on all the characters in the show, with almost no mention of the ‘upside down’ at all. After this, every episode has at least one HOLY SHIT moment (and I mean is he/she going to die or not HOLY SHIT). With the children growing up, the changes that they go through are brilliantly incorporated. Cleverly written, their dating lives serve to be immensely entertaining. Well, by dating lives I mean kids who’ve just realized how much fun it is to make out. I couldn’t stop smiling when I saw Hopper trying to cope with Eleven’s dating life. There are numerous instances where this is so smoothly incorporated as relief from the dark horrors of the upside down. I want to talk about this so much more but don’t want to give out spoilers.

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Young love has taken over Hawkins and the young lovers have so much to enjoy at the new Starcourt Mall. We meet so many new characters; Mayor Klein (Carey Elwes), a cunning politician and Robin, a funny, intelligent co worker of Steve’s at Scoops Ahoy! Trust me, you can’t not like her. We get to know Lucas’ sister Erica much better and few others…

There are so many questions that come up while watching this season. How do you balance a D&D group when everyone suddenly has a girlfriend? How do you keep a girlfriend when you’re in middle school? Will El make it out of this season? Will Dustin get his teeth?

Action and terror are perfectly balanced against comic relief and well-timed character moments. Steve and Dusin’s bromance has been kicked up to a whole new gear. The kids are growing up. Tensions are building (between humans and humans, between humans and beasts, between the kids and adults, between adults and adults and between the children themselves – that’s what you get when you want a spoiler free review). Basically there’s so much to look forward to but it never seems uncomfortable cramped. Everything flows in perfect tempo (Thank God it wasn’t hurried like the last GOT season). The suspense and tension increases in a steady gradient from episode 1 to 8. One of the few T.V. shows that has a brilliant start and maintains its high quality right to the end…

Stranger Things Season 3 Review - 1

My favourite aspect throughout the show was that it always plays to its strengths: allowing each f their character (old and new) to shine separately. Each one of them are focused on allowing us to connect with everyone of them. The characters are divided throughout much of the season, but it all takes place over a very short span of time, and none of it feels forced. There were so many times where I shouted, “Why aren’t you telling your friends or the adults!” There’s a reason various characters are off on their own adventures together, unraveling this new mystery all at once but in different locations, finding different pieces of a puzzle all fitting in when they come together. And oh what a moment that is – Hopper foot stamps right in front of the screen and I jumped.

The actors – each one deserves credit – Millie Bobby Brown (El), Finn Wolfhard(Mike), Gaten Matarazzo (Dustin), Caleb McLaughlin (Lucas), Noah Schnapp (Will), Sadie Sink (Max), David Harbour (Hopper), Winona Ryder (Joyce), Joe Keery (Steve), Maya Hawke (Robin), Natalia Dyer (Nancy), Charlie Heaton (Jonathan) and Dacre Montgomery (Billy) have each done superbly, justifying the impeccable plot for this show. Each one of them connect with you. The characters are brilliantly developed and even old ones are given more depth, allowing us to look at them through a new perspective. Billy… oh Billy.

Sure, there are some stretches of plausibility and unrealistic or unpractical moments (where you’d go like why couldn’t they just do that!) but you cant argue with that. The story turns out to be brilliant striking chords with its action, humour and emotion.

All in all, Stranger Things 3 is more than a worthy watch. It is exciting, heartbreaking, and sometimes scary; a perfect balance. The finale is one of the best episodes of a T.V. show I have seen in a long time, complete with action-packed visuals, the funiest moment in stranger things (EVER!) and a couple of surprises along the way. It was extremely powerful, leaving me all teary-eyed by the end. But no need to worry. Though it would’ve been a fitting end to the series, it is almost certain that there will be a new season. Not all ends are tied, wait for the post-credit scene at the end…

Some doors are always left open in Hawkins…

Stranger Things Season 3 Review - 4

P.S. El gets to wear much better clothes this time and she manages to pull of everything.

– Aryamaan Dholakia

 

Aman’s Rating – 80/100                                                                      Aryamaan’s Rating – 89/100

Yesterday: Film Review

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This summer, we were introduced to a world where no one remembers The Beatles. Yesterday, directed by Danny Boyle and starring Himesh Patel, Lily James, and Ed Sheeran, tells the story of a struggling musician from Suffolk, England who, having been involved in an accident after all of the electricity in the world flicked of for 12 seconds, wakes up to realise he’s the only person, as far as he knows, who remembers that The Beatles ever existed. He makes the most of his memory, performing the legendary tunes of the Gods of music and passing them off as his own. His career skyrockets in a matter of months, completely transforming his life.

I cannot really explain the extent to which I was anticipating this film. Seriously. I absolutely freaked out when I saw the trailer for it months and months ago, and my anticipation did not die. I have to make clear my love for The Beatles. My love is real, so my opinions on this film are likely to be tinted heavily by my love for the music in it, which I’d argue is very much the point of the movie.

From a filmmaking standpoint, this was a decent effort. There are some things that were done that annoyed me, most notably the existence of the character of Rocky. I felt he was absolutely unnecessary, providing no comic relief that couldn’t have been offered by the characters already on screen, and almost always at the inappropriate time. Which was a shame, because I felt the script had its fair share of comic relief on its own. It’s a funny film, but moments of sobriety that could have and should have been more impactful were much less so because of some odd decisions in terms of when to inject humor. It doesn’t completely shade over the serious moments. I really appreciated Jack and Ellie’s love story, I thought it was well written and done sweetly, with just the right amount of innocence. Himesh Patel’s performance is average, far from bad just unspectacular, while Lily James was much stronger. Ed Sheeran was pretty good actually, he had a much larger role in the film than I might have expected. The most interesting performance, for me, was Kate McKinnon in the ordinarily stock role of the money-obsessed, conniving, corrupting music agent. Her character is weird, almost self aware in that she seems to speak subtext. She says out loud things that aren’t ordinarily said in those particular situations, and McKinnon has delivered the lines in such a way that it feels almost like she’s reading out thought bubbles. It’s a little strange for some time, but it ends up being a really interesting, funny take on a character that feels like exists in any and all films about music these days.

I didn’t take offence, as I know some have to an understandable extent, at the more or less complete lack of interest in explaining the sci-fi components of the film. The phenomenon that leaves the world without The Beatles, as well as some other slightly significant things (a feature that I kind of liked, it made the whole thing feel a lot less specific) is never understood. You’re never told why Jack, along with two other complete strangers, are the only people in the world, seemingly, who remember anything. Sci-fi fans will be up in arms, as perhaps they are entitled to be. However, as far as I was concerned that wasn’t really the point of the film. In fact, you learn quickly that the point of the film isn’t even really The Beatles (a sad realisation for me, you can imagine). The Beatles, the lights flicking on and off, these are means to an end that is telling the story of a meteoric rise, and the things that come with it, and a decade-old unrequited love. This is undoubtedly a feel good film, there’s no obvious antagonist or anything. You dislike McKinnon’s character, of course, but she’s not focused upon enough to be the antagonist of the film.

There’s no denying that the film isn’t an emotional roller coaster, it never gets particularly uncomfortable. Some might see this as weak plot writing, but I’d argue that the simplicity might be the point. The music, which is incredible, of course, is in this sense mirrored. There is a little bit more reference to source material here, or maybe my mind is seeing a pattern where none exists. The Beatles’ music is infamous for it’s simplicity, they hit exactly the right note with only as much moving around as is needed. This film is a little bit of the same. The story is told sweetly and gently, in a way that won’t hurt anyone. Maybe there’s a cue being taken there. The matter of The Beatles themselves is, of course, unavoidable. They do one wonderful thing, which I won’t detail here for to avoid spoilers, but suffice it to say that there’s a little surprise in there that is just so satisfying to a Beatles fan. Himesh Patel’s singing is a little below average for me; on songs like Yesterday and I Want to Hold Your Hand he’s very very good but there are some tracks where he’s not smashing it for me. But, again, I’d argue that that might be part of the point. One of the ideas of the film is that, ultimately, he’ll do.

All in all, this is a fun film. Something I haven’t found a place to mention just yet is the direction. There’s something understatedly stylistic about the film, something quirky without being obviously so. Danny Boyle’s seemed to be the right hands to put this film in in my opinion, giving it just the right amount of flair without it becoming overbearing. It’s an easy watch, and one you’ll walk out of pleased that you walked in. Simple and sweet, much like the music of the Lords of Music that colour its soundtrack, Yesterday is a lovely summer watch.

– Aman Datta

Aman’s score –  74/100                                                                     Aryamaan’s score –

Annihilation: Film Review

Annihilation Film Review

Annihilation delivers a stunning addition to the sci-fi genre. The film revolves around a team of 5 women, each with a different skill set (biologist, physicist, geologist, paramedic and a psychologist), who are sent to investigate a strange meteor that is altering its surrounding environment and eventually Earth. Writer and Director Alex Garland (somewhat adapting a novel by Jeff VanderMeer) takes this typical sci-fi plot and elevates it, converting it to a journey full of tension and terror. Lena (Natalie Portman) is a biology professor mourning the death of her husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) – a soldier presumed KIA. After about a year, he returns with no memory of what happened and eventually falls into a coma. Wanting to understand what happened to her husband, Lena volunteers to be part of the squad going in to investigate the phenomenon.

The first few shots of the film seem similar to the 2016 sci-fi movie, Arrival. However, as the film progresses, Garland beautifully molds together mutated beasts, gruesome human remains and advanced aliens with sensitive themes such as depression, grief and self-destruction. When one decides to watch a sci-fi film, they walk in expecting laser guns and superficial action sequences. But annihilation adopts a more plot heavy approach. There’s an unnerving chill about the horror that lies ahead because we’re never really sure what form it will take.

The end of the movie as well, brilliantly shot, with powerful twists leaves the audience with a lot of questions. There’s a lot in the movie but it never manages to seem overstuffed or incongruously meshed together.

The one aspect that especially stands out are the visuals. It would definitely pass as a ‘drug movie.’ Adopting dark and bright colour scales, the environment inside area X creates a beautiful balance between magical and horrifying. One may or may not like the lot but the visuals will be definitely be enjoyed by everyone. The scenes in the village inside area X and the lighthouse on the beach are nothing less than gorgeous. The stand-out factor lies in the ability of the movie to transition between beautiful landscapes to the most gruesome images human remains. The visuals itself ensures an enjoyable watch, probably going to be dubbed as ‘trippy shit.’ The insidiously effective background score assist the brilliant visuals to deliver the complete package.

The actors do a decent job, nothing out of the ordinary; however justify the story and visuals. Portman leads strongly with a fiercely compelling presence but the highlight for me was Tessa Thompson as a self-harming physicist Josie, giving a slow, quietly heartbreaking performance, poles apart from her portrayal of Valkyrie in the MCU. Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gena Rodriguez and Tuva Nuvatny make impactful impressions in small roles as well.

Yes, the film does tend to drag at times but a an enjoyable spectacle nonetheless.

All in all, Annihilation promises a good watch, definitely not a waste of 2 hours. Annihilation, while reminiscent of other sci-fi and horror films, remains an unusual proposition for a studio. It’s scary at times but then also contemplative and opaque and the intriguing ending will prove divisive. Garlands continue his success after Ex-Machina with the impactful annihilation. Though the film may not be enjoyed on a theatre screen (barring China) it will shock, fascinate and haunt audiences, whatever screen it’s watched on.

Aryamaan Dholakia

Aman’s Rating – N/A                                                                            Aryamaan’s Rating – 72/100

 

Rocketman: Film Review

Image result for rocketman

The second big rock and roll biopic of the last two years took the form of Rocketman, the biopic of legendary British artist: Elton John. Spanning from his childhood to his comeback out of a drug abuse rehabilitation centre, Rocketman tells the story of Elton’s rise into the music industry, his struggles with his family, his history with drugs and drink, and his process of overcoming deeply troubling personal issues in order to cement himself as a legendary performer and one of the most successful artist of all time. The film stars Taron Egerton as Elton John, as well as Richard Madden, Bryce Dallas Howard, and Jamie Bell among others. The film, in which Egerton sings every song as Elton, has been received well across the board from critics and fans alike.

Going into this film, I was very conscious of trying to avoid comparing it to Bohemian Rhapsody in my head. The two films are fundamentally so similar, not just in the fact that they both tell the stories of two absolute music legends, but equal part in terms of the content of those stories. I also went into the film not especially familiar with Elton John’s music. Of course I’d heard Tiny Dancer and Your Song, but they’d rarely been the centre of my attention. Can You Feel the Love Tonight was the only song whose lyrics I knew, which I bring up to highlight the most key difference between the way I received this film and Bohemian Rhapsody: Freddy Mercury’s story was one I knew fairly well; Elton John was just a well known name to me. As a result, Rocketman was a sort of educational experience for me. Not only did I learn about Elton’s journey, with which I was completely unacquainted until now, but I was given an in in terms of his music. The man has some wonderful music, the lyrics for which, and this was something I learned through the film, weren’t written by him.

The film, all in all, was decent. It’s got an interesting narrative style: the story is told as a reflection in the situation of a rehab facility, which ended up working for me but teetered very close to the edge of coming across convoluted at times. The film is a lot more of a musical musical than I was expecting, which makes for some really kind of ridiculous moments but I chalk that down to the genre. Where the inconsistencies come from, however, doesn’t really change the fact that it makes for a slightly strange watch at times, as well as taking a little away from the potency of the narrative. Taron Egerton is phenomenal, truly, both in terms of his depiction of Elton as well as in terms of his renditions of Elton’s music. I saw Egerton in an interview talking about what Elton John has meant to him in his life and describing his love for the man. Perhaps it is only armed with that information that it was very visible to me that Egerton was playing a man he idolized, and he absolutely did not waste his chance, delivering a spectacular performance. He doesn’t steal the show, however, with a full ensemble cast producing wonderful performances one after another. Richard Madden is strong as John Reed, the textbook music-agent-who-screws-the-guy-over man in the story, and Bernie Taupin, possibly my favorite character, is portrayed with incredible poise by Jamie Bell. Dynamics and relationships are cultivated well overall, and, while a strong honorable mention must be given to Bernie and Elton’s relationship, the heaviest emotional payoff is most certainly the dynamic between Elton and his parents. Excellently cast and performed, Elton’s parents are the underrated carriers of a lot of the baggage of the film through the main emotional turmoil of the film.

And that’s what’s interesting about the film to me. The story is all about a man’s desperate search for genuine love. The idea is intimated throughout the film as a direct motif often enough, and rejection by his father, the insincerity of his mother, and the betrayal of his lover leave him dependent on drugs and alcohol. There’s a line in the film, which of course I can only hope to paraphrase, “Real love is hard to come by, so we learn to do without.” The depiction of Elton’s drug abuse and emotional struggles are an aspect where the film takes a lot of risks, commendably so considering its subject is alive and kicking. Obviously it’s difficult to say how much sugar-coating of the facts occurs in this kind of film, as is allegedly the case with Bohemian Rhapsody, but it has been well publicized that Elton John’s was reasonably detached from the writing and conception process. If that’s true, it would make a certain amount of sense; the film isn’t shy about delving deep into the depths to which Elton fell in his life. The result of that, aside from adding up to an emotionally compelling portrayal, makes his eventual return to full, sober form is as fulfilling a payoff as it could’ve been.

All in all, it’s a good film, with some inconsistencies and odd choices keeping it from being a great film. There is one other goal the film achieves, however, in a fashion that I think deserves special mention. Rocketman is a very openly, obviously, and unapologetically gay film. This is good on its own, open gayness on screen is a massive step in the right direction in terms of equal portrayal on screen. One thing I was worried about, however, was the threat of a tokenistic plastering of homosexuality on screen, done for the purpose of a self-righteous bid of pro LGBTQ+ showing, drowning out the main idea of the film which is Elton’s story. The film, however, falls into no such trap, dealing miraculously and masterfully with the subject. Elton John’s homosexuality is a topic that is raised and dispensed with in a breath, after which it is a constant feature without being pointedly so, and that to me is exceptional. In the end, normalisation and acceptance is progress, and the way this film manages to champion homosexuality without that championship being the focus is, in my opinion, a triumph in representation of LGBTQ+ on the big screen.

– Aman Datta

Aman’s Score – 68/100                                                                Aryamaan’s score –