Space Force – Season 1: TV Review

Netflix's Space Force Season 1 TV Show Review | AVForums

Space Force is a Netflix original comedy series, created by the same group of people behind The Office and Parks and Recreation. The series is a satire of President Donald Trump’s unveiling of a new branch of the United States Military, Space Force. The story follows Mark Naird, played by Steve Carrell, a four-star Air Force General who, after his promotion, expects to be put in charge of the Air Force. However, in response to POTUS’s tweet announcing Space Force, Naird is put in command of the new branch. The show is about his and his staff’s lives as they attempt to fulfil the promise of Space Force. The show has been highly anticipated, and stars Steve Carrell, John Malkovich, Ben Schwartz, Jimmy O. Yang, Tawny Newsome, Diana Silvers, and Lisa Kudrow among others. It was created by Carrell and Greg Daniels.

I had a very measured level of anticipation for this show. The cast and creators have set themselves a very high bar, and, while the trailer and premise are pretty good, I didn’t want to get ahead of myself. Having seen the show, I’m really glad I did that; not because it’s bad, but because my measured expectations were absolutely met.

Season 1 of Space Force is pretty good no matter which way I slice it. I’ve seen a lot of articles calling it a little less than that, which brings me back to measured expectations. It’s a very different show from the aforementioned mega-hits of Greg Daniels Incorporated. It is a workplace comedy, so you could argue that the fundamentals come from the same place, but the size and scale of Space Force, not to mention a slight production budget hike from a mockumentary style, gives it a definitively different feel. The characters and their quirks are still the main sources of comedy, but we’re not in Pawnee anymore.

It’s a pretty damn well performed show. Malkovich, Yang, and Newsome are pretty great and consistently funny throughout the season. A combo of nice writing and really very good performances from those actors ended up giving me a laundry list of characters that, without having the most depth or development in the world (possibly excepting Malkovich, who’s character is of a slightly higher order), were always good for the laugh and plenty likeable. Ben Schwartz never anything but awesome and hilarious, and this is no exception to the rule (which, in case it was unclear, is that Ben Schwartz is awesome and hilarious). Then we come to Naird himself, which is a slightly more complicated situation. Carrell is the most notably strong performance the whole way through. My slight issue comes up when the question becomes one of the character’s consistency. Naird in episodes 1 and 2 is a very different character from Naird in the last 8 episodes of the show. He starts as a seemingly irrational, not particularly intelligent guy, not unlike the POTUS he serves, whose comedy comes from his incompetence. That character changes, for the better, it should be said, after the second or third episode of the show. He becomes a much better man, smarter, more sincere and well-meaning as the season progresses. One could chalk that down to character growth, but it came with little to no trigger. It was strange, for example, in the second episode, to act like a complete idiot in the control room but then have him come home and help his daughter with Trig, which I don’t even understand. Again, the change is good, but inconsistent from a writer’s perspective. Speaking of his daughter, Naird’s family life is one of the weaker aspects of the show. Not all of it’s poor; the fact that we have no idea why Lisa Kudrow is in prison is kind of hilarious, and bits of his interaction with her are good, but are, on the whole, underdeveloped. That having been said, the show is capable of good sincerity, a lot of coming between Naird and Mallory (Malkovich’s character), whose relationship over the season is nicely done.

One other crucial aspect which I thought was pretty cool was the largely tangential way they deal with Trump. It would’ve been easy for them to make Trump jokes the whole way through, the whole series being based on something The President did. While there is some POTUS-dropping in there, there wasn’t really much more than there had to be, and I for one was really impressed with the way they handled him and his rhetoric. Using the conflict with the Chinese at the end, for example, as indicative of a categorically dumb-ass testosterone-driven approach to foreign policy and the military, was a lot more subtle than it could’ve been, and I for one was pretty impressed with the way they dealt with Trump as a character.

All in all, I enjoyed Space Force. It’s not the holy grail of comedy television, which I think those disappointed probably expected going into it, but it’s a solid foundation, considering an ending that begs for a second season. Something to keep in mind as well is that both The Office and Parks have comparatively poor first seasons. If we’re in for a similar trend, Space Force will be a glorious show one day. For now, Season 1 was pretty good, enjoyable, solid entertainment, and enough to get me excited for more to come.

– Aman Datta

Aman’s Score – 71/100                                                                Aryamaan’s Score –

12 Years a Slave: Film Review

12 Years a Slave | Reel ThinkingOne of the most highly regarded films of the 21st century, 12 Years a Slave is a Best Picture winning film, adapted from a book of the same name by the subject of the film: Solomon Northup. The film follows Solomon, a free black man in the Northern territories of the United states, a couple decades before the civil war. Solomon is lured further south under false pretences, kidnapped, and sold into slavery where he remains for 12 years, separated from his wife and family. The events of the film are a true story, as detailed in book, 12 Year a Slave, by Solomon Northup. Northup is portrayed on screen by Chiwetel Ejiofor. The cast also includes Lupita Nyong’o, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Brad Pitt, Michael Kenneth Williams, and many more. The film was directed by Steve McQueen, and adapted to the screen by John Ridley.

I want to start by stating unequivocally that 12 Years a Slave is one of the best films I’ve ever seen. I haven’t done much research into the exactness of the historical representation of Solomon and his story, but something about the way the story is told makes it ring with authenticity in a way that I don’t know many biopics have matched. His story is visceral and stinging with injustice, aided in the way his character, historically accurate or not, is constructed. Ejiofor is sublime, just show-stopping, as the educated, principled man dropped into unthinkable circumstances. He had a way of giving every emotion its fullest effect throughout the film, which ranged straight through to a level of shock and horror that razes your heart to the ground. He also brought this interesting…schtick to the character, and it was aided by the writing, pf course, which we’ll get to in a moment, which was that even in his subjugation, he demanded a certain amount of respect. It was a sticking point that drove his conflict with Paul Dano’s character, which, again, we’ll get to in a moment. It added up to an unforgettable performance, that provided an image of Solomon that one was eager to commit to.

But Ejiofor was not the only stand-out in this film. 12 Years is arguably the strongest collective performance I’ve ever seen. Ejiofor, Nyong’o, and Fassbender, who control the last hour-and-a-half or so of the film’s runtime, are so unbelievably good, that you actually half forget about brilliant showings from Cumberbatch and Dano, who’re both incredible. Sarah Paulson, who’s only in four or five scenes in the film, is a goddamned scene-stealer next to Michael Freaking Fassbender! It’s unbelievable. Brad Pitt is in even less of the film, but makes for one of the most important characters in the story and a heartfelt-ness to match it. Every single actor on screen brings everything they have to the table, and it’s magnificent. There are two or three scenes, particularly the whipping scene (anyone whose seen the film knows exactly what I’m talking about) leave you and your heart in absolute tatters, courtesy of one of the best ensemble performances you’ve ever seen.

But this film is an all-round success, and as much credit goes, indeed, to the adapted screenplay, for which John Ridley won the Oscar. Between his and Steve McQueen’s work, 12 Years A Slave is an extremely impressive stylistic film. There are moments of visual profundity that leave you tearing your hair out (the hanging scene outside Cumberbatch’s estate is a very affecting example), and sum up to a really effective display of a kind of life. That’s a success on a slightly more intellectual level, but the film’s most prominent achievements are emotional. 12 Years fully delivers on its emotional promise, capturing the crushing grief and despair of the sin of slavery, and, the almost surprising emotion of being liberated from that life. The last scene of the film actually ends up feeling less happy as much as just generally overwhelming.

That rush comes from having been on a journey with this man, and there is no better way to describe this film. 12 Years a Slave is a journey, one of extreme emotional tension, tragedy, and growth. It’s a hard thing to write, and the weightage of the various subplots is masterful. This is the kind of film that makes someone like me feel like they’ll never write again, for want of the worthiness to construct something quite as untouchable as this.

The bottom line on 12 Years a Slave is a simple conclusion: this is one of the best films I have ever seen. It killed like a knife through the heart, hitting every emotional note exactly as it ought to have. It’s an incredible homage to Solomon Northup, beautifully portrayed by Chiwetel Ejiofor, and crafted near-perfectly in every other way possible, including an ensemble acting performance that blew anything I’ve ever seen before out of the water. It’s a viscerally emotional film, watch it only if you have the emotional bandwidth at that particular moment to deal with it. If you can, there are few better films.

– Aman Datta

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

Bad Times at the El Royale: Film Review

Bad Times at the El Royale (2018) - IMDb

2018 saw the release of Bad Times at the El Royale, a suspense thriller boasting a star-cast including Chris Hemsworth, Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Ervio, Dakota Johnson, John Hamm, Lewis Pullman, and Nick Offerman among others. The film takes place at a nearly deserted hotel on the border between Nevada and California called the El Royale during the 1970s. Four mysterious strangers check in to hotel, which turns out not to be exactly as it seems. In spite of its cast, the film was a box office flop that actually lost money against it’s production budget. It runs for 2 hours and 21 minutes, and was written and directed by Drew Goddard, probably best known for his work on The Martian and World War Z.

Bad Times is one of the most underrated films available on streaming right now. I was somewhat sceptical going into it, if for no other reason than I figured a film with such a cast would’ve made big hay if it’d been any good. The fact that I basically hadn’t heard of it wasn’t encouraging, but my brother had seen and vouched for it, and the premise seemed interesting enough, so I elected to give it a try.

I was absolutely not disappointed. Bad Times is a completely captivating suspense thriller, artfully done, extremely well performed, and some of the strongest tension-playing I’ve seen in some time in a film like this.

I want to start with the performances, which were pretty consistently top-notch. Chris Hemsworth was extremely impressive, in spite of having had what couldn’t have been more than a half hour on screen. He was totally convincing, giving off every inch of manic, basket-case unpredictability his character demanded in what was undeniably a limited amount of time to show it in. He also managed to milk every inch of acceptable creepiness out of his relationship with Dakota Johnson’s sister, which was a difficult thing to navigate. The other two stand-outs were Jeff Bridges and Cynthia Ervio, who shared almost all of their time on screen together and developed a nice chemistry by the end of it. Bridges plays a good duality in this film, he sells the soft-hearted preacher when that’s what’s necessary, and the slowly senile criminal when that’s his character. Cynthia Ervio is probably the de facto lead of the film by the end of it, a mantle she responds to well. When you think about it, hers is the only character you’re ever really rooting for, which makes the film’s end as close as it comes to the best-case scenario, all things considered. The rest of the acting is decent to good, and their helped along the way by characters who’re only as fleshed out as they need to be. They don’t overload you with information in this film, they only ever really touch on the backstories of their characters. That can prove problematic in some places, and it has, but it only heightens the intrigue here, and does enough to give the characters clarity within the context of the film, if not in any larger context.

But this is a suspense film, and good performances will only get you so far. Luckily, Bad Times is packing a thoroughly interesting plot. If I had to lay criticism, it would be that some of the dangling ambiguities aren’t taken care of, making the end feel a little strange as far as the information that’s divulged. Until you get to that point, the whole tone of the film is constant uncertainty and dread. I don’t want to say too much, I want to avoid making this a spoiler review, but I’ll say that a combination of oddly psychological reveals and unforgiving treatment of some of the characters keeps you guessing at all times as to what is and isn’t as it seems, never really dragging in spite of a nearly 2-and-a-half hour runtime. There are some standout scenes in the film, four or five of them that I can think of off the top of my head, that work wonders with very unsettling tension that you just can’t take your eyes off of.

I think one reason behind the box office failure of this film might’ve been some of the stylistic unconventionalities that it employed. From a visual standpoint, there’s a lot going on with very solid, loud colours that I actually find cool but I can easily see interpreted as a little disorienting for some. It’s also got a seriously Motown-oriented soundtrack, much of it even delivered by Cynthia Ervio herself . Once again, I found it really cool, but I can see it not being everyone’s taste.

All in all, I have to put this down as one of the most underrated suspense thrillers streaming at the moment. It’s got intrigue, enough to keep you keenly interested throughout the film, makes extremely good use of tension, and happens to have a really cool premise. It felt a little bit like Murder on the Orient Express in a way, just less overdone and maybe more obtrusively sinister. And, in my opinion, more interesting in its plot (but that might have something to do with the overdone-ness of that film). Bad Times is a good time, and I think it deserves a much higher place of esteem. It’s currently streaming on Disney + Hotstar, and I’d recommend you give it a try.

– Aman Datta

Aman’s Score – 81/100                                                                     Aryamaan’s Score – 76/100

Tag: Film Review

Tag (2018) - IMDb

Based on a ridiculous true story, Tag is a 2018 film sporting an all-star cast about a group of friends who maintain a 30 year-long game of Tag during the month of May, and the insane methods they use to make each other ‘It’. A group of 5 friends believe very dearly in the idea that you don’t stop playing because you get old, you get old because you stop playing. In an effort to maintain their youth and their connections to each other, these friends go to ridiculous lengths to tag each other for one month every year. The film stars Jeremy Renner, John Hamm, Ed Helms, Jake Johnson, Hannibal Burress, Isla Fisher, Rashida Jones, and Thomas Middleditch among others. Tag is absolutely based on a true story, more specifically, off of an article in The Wall Street Journal, written by a man who followed some of the men on one particular journey to tag a friend.

For some reason, I wasn’t particularly excited to see this film. I knew about it when it came out a couple years ago, and it had been on my radar then, but the time passed and it never got watched. It’s not that well reviewed, so it sort of slipped out of my mind without my noticing. I gave it a shot yesterday and was more pleasantly surprised than I’ve been about a comedy film in a long time.

Tag is frickin awesome. I loved this movie, a lot, for a couple of main reasons. Reason number one has to be the premise. It doesn’t immediately strike you as particularly cinematic. Tag isn’t the most exciting game in the world, all things considered, and, while watching John Hamm chase Ed Helms up and down a street would’ve been undeniably entertaining, it only would’ve lasted ten minutes before I would’ve been ready to change the metaphorical channel. How naïve of me. This movie takes Tag to a stratosphere never before seen by man, and it’s unbelievable. I mean it, the lengths that these guys go to keep the game alive are hilarious, and it’s made so exponentially funnier when you realize this movie is a true story. I’ve only had time to do some rudimentary research, you’d better believe I’m gonna do more, but from what I’ve seen so far, an alarming amount of this movie is based in reality, and I love it.

But the situation couldn’t claim to be the only source of comedy. The ensemble cast of this movie is spectacular, performing the hell out of every inch of it. It’s because of some of their performances, via a pretty incredible medley of chemistry and comedic flair, that the history between the characters in this film feels so authentic. Seriously, there’s a sense of familiarity that every character interaction gives off that I just absolutely love about this movie. It’s because of that familiarity that some of the more thematic substance of the film lands, if not with unprecedented poignance then at the very least with something more than an average slapstick comedy. To be fair, they keep the real-ness to a low insofar as they can until pretty late in the film, and there are some conflicts in that area that don’t necessarily get resolved, although that might be more intentional than not.

From a technical standpoint, this is a hard one to judge. Strong characters, in the context of the story of this film, require tactful writing just as much as an expert performance, so I’d have to rate that aspect of it pretty high. Visually it’s nothing special, but it’s easy on the eyes, which is realistically all that’s visually asked of a movie like this one. Aside from that, it’s not a technically conceived film. I’m hesitant to call it slapstick. I know I already have, but a lot of the comedy comes from the characters and their situation, right alongside the physical Tag-centric stuff. Either way, it’s not higher cinema, nor is it trying to be.

I’m still hung up on the truth behind the story. Again, there’s more research to be done on my end, but whatever I have read would suggest to me that there are things that happened in real life that might just be crazier than what we see in the movie. Something about the fact that this is based in reality, more than most biopics are, adds to the spirit of this film. I just loved it. Sometimes it’s just awesome, and it’s actually not much more complicated than that. Absolutely hilarious, compelling when it needed to be, and oozing with a familiarity and authenticity in their characters and their relationships that I loved. This is a hugely underrated film that I guarantee will give you a hell of a good time.

– Aman Datta

Aman’s Score – 80/100                                                             Aryamaan’s Score –

10 Things I Hate About You: Film Review

10 Things I Hate About You (1999) - IMDb

10 Things I Hate About You is one of the most iconic and beloved romantic comedies of all time. The film is a modern rendition of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew. The film follows a whipishly intelligent and wholly non-suffering teenage girl who is uninterested in the trappings of conventional femininity. Her attitudes put her sister in a dilemma, however, when her father instates a rule: she can’t date until her sister does. The film stars Heath Ledger, Julia Stiles, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Larisa Oleynik, Alisson Janney, and David Krumholtz among others. It was released in 1999 after which it has taken on another life as one of the most beloved teen movies ever made.

I’ve actually only just seen this movie. Seriously, up until Thursday, 10 Things I Hate About You was one of those films that’s been on your list forever but you haven’t gotten around to for, you know, years. Of course, my girlfriend was only going to have that for so long, and so 10 Things I Hate About You was finally put in front of me.

I really, really enjoyed it, which wasn’t a huge surprise to me. Considering the cast and its reputation, my expectations were pretty on point. 10 Things I Hate About You is one of those movies that serves as a reminder that teen movies can be done not just right, but well. It’s hilarious; really intelligent and witty in the right places, while at the same time achieving a kind of emotional sophistication that films like Ferris Bueller’s could only try to reach. To be fair, that emotional sophistication comes from not trying too hard. 10 Things doesn’t go crazy trying to OD on emotional backstory to create the illusion of depth, it just kind of sprinkles it in a way that feels a little more authentic. I’m not saying it’s a character study of anybody, but it does a really good job of telling me just enough about the characters to make me care about them as more than just archetypes, without doing the only thing that was wrong with a movie like Ferris Bueller, which is tonally a very similar movies (I see a lot of mood-parallels to the guidance counsellor and principal scenes in those two movies), which was try to heap more emotion onto a lighter storyline than it could take.

This movie launched the careers of a lot of really good actors. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, whose just too likeable not to commit to onscreen, is an example of someone who basically got famous around this movie (and obviously 3rd rock). Julia Stiles is another, and, while I haven’t seen much of her work, other than the Bourne movies, she was one of the film’s two big breakout stars. Again, haven’t seen much of her, but she’s pretty great in this movie. The biggest name on this list, however, and one of the main points of intrigue with this film is, of course, Heath Ledger. Ledger is probably best known for delivering arguably (and, in my opinion, definitively) the single greatest performance of all time as the Joker in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. Of course, before he was the Joker, he was a heartthrob, and I’ve gotta say it was kind of spooky to see him not in makeup. He owns it hard though, and while it is really distracting to see him in retrospect of The Dark Knight and Brokeback, it’s a testament to his range that he’s as good as he is in this film. I don’t want to harp to long on this, but it just has to be said that Heath Ledger was one of the most talented actors in history, and the reality is he mightn’t have made it to a position where he could do what he did without this film, so for that we have only to be grateful. Okay, I’ll stop now.

There’s really not much more to say about this film. It’s just a lot of fun, really funny, easy to watch, and with a pretty cool emotional and conceptual foundation to it. The whole Shakespearian element is cool, and a lot more applicable to a modern time than the ending of the play it was based on. All in all, 10 Things I Hate About You is just a really enjoyable hour and a half that gives you plenty without asking much of you. My biggest complaint was that Alisson Janney didn’t have more of a role, but, to be fair, it would’ve been around the time of this movie that she was shooting for The West Wing, so it’s not really a complaint when I think about it. 10 Things I Hate About you joins Easy A and The Half of it as recent reminders to me that teen movies can be absolutely fantastic.

– Aman Datta

Aman’ Score – 77/100                                                               Aryamaan’s Score –

There Will Be Blood: Film Review

There Will Be Blood

Paul Thomas Anderson’s ‘There Will Be Blood’ tells a nightmarish tale of greed and envy set against the backdrop of the Southern California oil boom of the late-19th and early-20th centuries. The film is a brilliant and gorgeous exploration of America’s two pillars: oil and religion, through the eyes of Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) a not-so-nice oil entrepreneur. It follows his story of success and his damnation by navigating through rich, intense scenes filled with a myriad of interesting characters and some stunning cinematography that conjures an infernal for the audience to get lost in.

The dialogue-free opening scene, set against a buzzing background score, creates a powerful introduction to the film that hooks the audience almost immediately. It takes almost 11 and a half minutes for the first dialogue to appear, but there’s no compromise in the level of entertainment that the scene provides. The audience is stuck almost immediately. In the first scene itself, the film establishes the overarching theme: American capitalism, which it goes on to highlight throughout. There will be only one winner; and for there to be a winner, there must be a loser. Hence, there will be blood. Oil and blood.

The writing is masterfully done. The characters, the dialogues capture the essence of the plot, the story perfectly. Plainview’s character is intriguing if that’s the correct word. Following the death of a man in the first scene, Plainview takes the man’s child as his own but also blends whiskey into the child’s milk just to stop the balling. The adoption is compassion and calculation. The child eventually grows to become Plainview’s partner, H.W. (Dillion Freasier). But he eventually loses interest in him after H.W. loses his hearing in an accident. Plainview essentially lacks humanism. He hates all met, and therefore himself. He is solely driven by the greed of money as he sucks it out of the Little Boston community. The film is like watching an inescapable natural disaster: you know it isn’t going to end well but it’s the foreshadowing by the so many scenes of terror, poignancy, ruthlessness and echoing whispers that you can’t help but wonder what’s going to happen that would make the story go that way.

Anderson has done brilliantly in his role. The film is more than Plainview buying lands and setting up minefields in Little Boston, it is not a story that says less about the materialistic gains but more about the constant tension and lies behind it. It is what roils beneath the surface, the iceberg beneath the ocean. As Plainview’s ventures grow, he gets into escalating feuds with a young preacher named Eli Sunday (Paul Dano), the God to his Mammon and he replaces his ‘son’ H.W. with his half-brother (Kevin J. O’Connor), a relationship which is no more desirable. The film inherits a constant intensity, a constant tension while exploring the early days of the oil industry – the danger, the mystery, its limitless possibilities – with Daniel and his men scratching the surface of the Earth with primitive tools as if chefs trying to cook Beef bourguignon with just spoons and knives. When they finally scratch through and find what they’re looking for it results in a catastrophic gushing of oil that is eventually set ablaze and wreaks destructions.

The performances throughout the film are brilliant, to say the least. Paul Dano, Kevin J. O’Connor, and Dillion Freasier have all given justice to their characters. The standout, however, is definitely Daniel Day-Lewis as Plainview. His performance truly deserved the Oscar. Like his previous roles (as in Gangs of New York or Lincoln) he has created another iconic and original character. His voice is coarse and deep while still maintaining a form of precision. From his weathered body to his pale eyes, his character that lacks humanism, Daniel Day-Lewis has perfected it. You should not have any doubts that will lead you to question what his character is: he is literally something that has climbed out of the hole.

The beautiful cinematography by Robert Elswit is beautifully complemented by the eerie, haunting, and powerful background score by Jonny Greenwood, which elevates this film even further.

The only downside, for me, in this film was the final act, the end of the film. Yes, there are many who’d argue saying it was a worthy end to a brilliant film but I personally don’t agree. It felt a bit rushed towards the end as if Anderon suddenly loosened his grip. Multiple sub-plots and psychological developments are brusquely ended. I just wish the film could have taken those 15 more minutes to do justice to what would’ve been an absolute masterpiece.

However, all in all, Anderson’s film is still no short from an extraordinary piece of art. ‘There will be blood’ indulges itself in pleasures that are unapologetically aesthetic while it excites, disturbs, stimulates, and shocks the audience but still leaves its interpretation to us. You should not miss it.

-Aryamaan Dholakia

Aman’s Score –                                                                                       Aryamaan’s Score  – 86/100

Blockers: Film Review

Blockers (film) - Wikipedia

Honestly, I didn’t walk into this film with too many expectations. I thought it’d be another typically comedy with where parents try to interfere with their child’s sex life with weak punches and stereotypical jokes. But ‘Blockers’ definitely proved me wrong. I was surprised with a pure, light-hearted and genuinely happy movie that just makes you smile from start to end. The movie is filled with gags, amazing physical humour, pratfalls, and moments that will make you laugh, hold your head and go ‘Oh shit!’ and maybe even shed a tear, all while keeping a huge smile on your face.

The film revolves around 3 teenage girls (who’ve been best friends since the first day of school): Julie (Kathryn Newton), Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan), and Sam (Gideon Adlon) who make a ‘sexpact’ i.e. to have sex with their partners on prom night. Julie has a longtime boyfriend, Austin (Graham Phillips). Kayla has no boyfriend and picks out her target seemingly at random from the cafeteria: Connor (Miles Robbins), the Chef, for his habit of cooking a wide variety of drugs into food and Sam picks out a nerdy boy Chad (Jimmy Bellinger), though she’s attracted to another – Angelica (Ramona Young). Their parents: Julie’s single mother Lisa (Leslie Mann), Kayla’s father (John Cena) and Sam’s biological father Hunter (Ike Barinholtz) set out on a beer-filled mission to stop them from completing this mission. The rest, you should really watch the movie and enjoy.

Director Kay Cannon (who wrote the ‘Pitch perfect’ movies) does well in her directorial debut by always maintaining an amiable and high-spirited feel throughout the film. She allows the actors a lot of room to cut modestly loose, which makes it an even more enjoyable watch. Yes, the movie is shot in Chicago that might as well be a studio lot, with attractive houses that is middle-class only to Hollywood but, honestly, it really doesn’t affect the rhythm of the film.

The screenplay writers, Brian Kehoe and Jim Kehoe, could surely have worked harder, for example, to find another excuse for the parents to find out about the plan rather than Julie leaving her laptop open, but those are only a few specific scenes that result in a riot of unfortunate beer-filled events, brilliant slapstick comedy and John Cena crying. The writers have definitely achieved their purpose: the film is not meant for the audience to use their brains while watching, it is meant to make the audience happy and that’s exactly what it did. The film had feel that is similar to when you watch a film by Jude Apatow. But instead of the children being the source of comedy on this journey of finding the emotional truth in erotic experiences, the film focuses more on the parents, who provide majority of the comic relief in the film.

The children don’t have many comic dialogues apart from Kayla and Connor, who has this distinct way of describing his drugs. Julie and Sara are both delightful, Chad plays his nerdy self until he starts singing and Austin is charming throughout the film. The performances of all 3 parents are the pillar over which the film stands. Hunter is a laughter riot, the eternal youth as he tries to fit in among the teenagers while Lisa, played with comedic willfulness, is the stereotypical mother whose character is built around her backstory – an ambitious college student, who got pregnant early, lives as a single mother and tries to prevent her daughter from following the same fate. Barinholtz and Mann play their roles wonderfully but the stand-out is definitely John Cena as Mitchell, the heft, built, disciplined athlete who tucks in his t-shirt and wears his phone pouch around his waist but is also a dewy-eyed sentimentalist who cries easily. Watching him in every scene was so much fun. Right from the first scene when the three parents drop their daughters for their first day of school and Mitch gets emotional. With his emotional and sweet side, he is also the centre of physical humour in this film.

Apart from the main cast, the supporting actors did provide a few laughs as well. Kayla’s mom Marcie (Sarayu Blue), Sam’s mother Brenda (June Diane Raphael) and her stepfather Frank (Hannibal Buress) plays a small role in the plot of the movie and an even smaller role in the comedy. But Austin’s parents (Gina Gershon and Gary Cole) provide a much larger role in the comic relief in the film. Their raunchy sex life, rather, plays a larger role in the comic relief in the film.

All in all, ‘Blockers’ comes of as an undeniably pure film. The film is not meant to be good cinema; the whole point is to not think so much and simply enjoy the film. Of course it’s predictable and everyone knows what will happen in the end but it’s the journey that makes the film such an enjoyable watch. Kay, Brian and Jim have taken a common premise of an old farce that meets with new traditions and ideas and made it into something fresh and exciting. You may sit back and listen to a few stereotypical jokes but they’re choreographed in a way that make it much more enjoyable. Trust me, I entered thinking it’ll be another typical comedy that will try too hard to be funny but it turned out to be a movie which doesn’t try hard at all but will still guarantee a smile throughout – an absolute delight to watch.

– Aryamaan Dholakia

Aman’s Score – 74/100                                                                Aryamaan’s Score – 71/100

Westworld: Season 3 – Series Review

Dolores' Westworld future after Season 3 finale discussed by ...

This review contains spoilers for all seasons of Westworld.

The third season of HBO’s Westworld aired its season finale yesterday at the time of writing. Westworld is a science fiction series set in the not-so-distant future, and follows the story of a species of robots called hosts, built to be the playthings of conscious humans, and their struggle to free themselves from their artificial reality. The third season of the show begins with the leader of the hot revolution from Season 2, Dolores, having managed to escape from Westworld undetected. The story of the third season involves her actions aimed at tearing down a world-order that eerily resembles a reality she’s more familiar with. The season stars a full returning main cast including Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton, Ed Harris, Jeffrey Wright, Tessa Thompson, and Luke Hemsworth among others. Season 3 also introduces a character called Caleb Nichols, played by fan of the show Aaron Paul. Westworld is created by Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan, and has already been renewed for a fourth season.

I want to say first that the idea of this season is fantastic, getting much closer to the unbridled genius of the first season than the second season ever got close to doing. The parallelism between the real world and Westworld, in the way that humans and controlled and limited within their own narrative loops, determined by forces beyond their control, is really clear and more than a little bit potent. On a conceptual level, this season challenges the idea of free will and agency to a degree we haven’t even seen on Westworld before, much less any other source of media. The symbols and parallels are numerous; from the ways in which a person’s story is mapped out for them by a system’s calculations, to the frozen state “outliers” (another word for “defective”) people are placed; the season looks to point out that people are just as devoid of agency as the artificial intelligence they created to pleasure themselves by controlling. Conceptually, in the context of the two seasons that have gone before, this is an amazing idea that had an incredible amount of potential.

And yet, somehow, season 3 didn’t quite hit the heights that season 1 did, thanks mainly to a rushed and convoluted execution of the aforementioned brilliant idea. For the life of me, I can’t understand why they possibly chose to shorten this season. Could it seriously have been a budget problem? For HBO? It’s either that, or the Nolan and Joy have tragically miscalculated the amount of time that was required to deliver this season in a satisfying way.

I would say the first half or so of the season is pretty great. Certainly, the first two or three, and arguably the fourth episodes, were fantastic. It set up the concept and a pretty fascinating situation for the characters, particularly Dolores and her God-knows-how-many copies. Caleb was an interesting enigma, Serac was a cool, enigmatic villain, Rehoboam was an interesting construct (maybe not as interesting as the Maze, but at least more so than The Valley Beyond). Halores’ whole identity crisis was interesting, even before we knew exactly who was in there, and Bernard teaming up with Stubbs had some promise of intrigue. At that point, the lack of a certain Man in Black and Maeve’s motivations getting a little repetitive at this point were the only two things that were at all indicative in a decline in storytelling mechanics, and only the former was instantly noticeable.

It was around the halfway mark that things started to get murky. The real problem was, inevitably the pacing. You just can’t cram a story like Westworld, it’s too nuanced and detail-specific to get vague with, which is what the last few episodes did. The enigma of Caleb Nichols was kind of…unsatisfyingly resolved. I don’t think this is a product of the actual content of his past, I liked the memory-editing and all it represented as a parallel to the mechanics of Westworld, but something about the way it was brought across felt kind of bland. His importance in the scheme of Dolores’ plan was kind of unexplained. They suggested, with the use of one scene in the season finale, that he was chosen because he wouldn’t participate in the raping of a bunch of host women during a training session in another park. I get what they’re saying, but to introduce those training sessions and that instant in the space of ten minutes to answer a question that’s persisted throughout the season is a little inadequate. Dolores’ motivations and plans were really vague as well. Why she waited until the absolute last moment to reveal that her intention wasn’t as simple as “kill-all-the-humans” is a mystery to me, the way I see it, she could’ve avoided a lot of fighting with Maeve and, frankly, Bernard, if she’d just been a little forthcoming about what it was that she wanted. Her “death” (the finality of which remains to be seen) was actually one of the best scenes of the season, and had a real poetic beauty to it. It didn’t exactly make up for the murkiness of her character for the rest of the season, but it was a nice homage to her character throughout the course of the show thus far.

The most irritating aspect of this season was, however, the way it treated characters like Bernard and William. The Man in Black was basically a non-player this season. When he was in the episode, he was never a main storyline, constantly side-lined in favour of everyone else on screen, with the only possible exception of Bernard and Stubbs. If the last episode and, more specifically, the end credits scene, is any indication, then we can probably prepare to see a lot more of them in the next season (in host form, in William’s case).

Even Serac ended up being kind of a let-down. I wish they’d focused more on his and his brother’s similarities to Ford and Arnold as creators of a controlling reality, instead of having him eventually be subservient to the system he created. Again, a great concept for an antagonist, one whose rhetoric even makes some amount of sense, but poorly executed when it all came down to it.

All in all, I was pretty disappointed by season 3. The show has always been complicated, but I don’t think one could ever have accused it of being particularly vague or frustrating before. Again, the concept is incredible, and might’ve come close to the first season if it hadn’t been rushed in 8 episodes (still not clear on why that would be). There have been some who’ve suggested that Westworld needs, well, Westworld, to be as good as it used to be. I’d like to believe that isn’t true, thy managed to squeeze out a hell of an idea without the horses and pistols of the old West. The problem was not the lack of dirt, frankly, it was an interesting change of pace for the show that worked pretty well. The problem was time, specifically not having enough of it, and a subsequent rush job on the exposition and revelations that felt inadequate, unsatisfying, and lacking in emotional impact in comparison to reveals in previous seasons.

All of that having been said, I’m pretty optimistic for the fourth season. The end credits scene with William and Halores was amazing, and it hinted at the actual host vs. humans war that could break out if Halores prints enough hosts to challenge Caleb and his “new world order.” As for whatever the hell was going on with Bernard, it’ll hopefully translate to more screen time next season. As long as they don’t try making an 8 episode season again, we should have reason to get pretty excited.

– Aman Datta

Aman’s Season 3 Score – 82/100

Star Wars: The Clone Wars – Season 7 Review

Star Wars: The Clone Wars (TV Series 2008–2020) - IMDb

This review contains spoilers for season 7 of Star Wars: The Clone Wars 

The eagerly anticipated conclusion to the Clone Wars animated show, which was prematurely cancelled when Disney took over Lucasfilm in 2012, aired today on May the fourth, Star Wars day, of 2020. Largely seen as the best Star Wars content out there, the show takes place after the events of Episode II until a concurrent point in the chronology to Episode III, a little over 3 years of previously unexplored timeline. Season 7 was a shortened season, like season 6, and contained 3 larger story arcs. It saw the return of Ashoka Tano, the most beloved character not to feature in the main films (a voice-over in TROS notwithstanding), her reunion with her former Jedi Order, and the events that ran parallel to The Revenge of the Sith. Star Wars: The Clone Wars was helmed by the prolific Dave Filoni, and saw direct involvement from George Lucas.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars is the best star wars out there. I believed that before Season 7, and I’m damn sure of it now. The unfortunate reality of the prequels was not just that they weren’t very good (with some exception given to Episode III), but that they were that bad given the resources of the lore they had at their fingertips. The situation was so inherently cool: hundreds and thousands of Jedi at the height of their powers, defending the galaxy in a war. Had it been executed better, the conceptual footing would have helped the prequels well outdistance the originals, but, alas, George Lucas isn’t half as good a director as he is a creator. Luckily, Dave Filoni stepped in to tell 6 seasons worth of some of the best stories in the Star Wars universe, with some of the undisputed best characters and plotlines the universe had to offer. The day it was cancelled was a dark day in Star Wars history, and the day it was announced to be making a comeback one of the brightest.

I’ll dispense a little more quickly of the first two arcs, we all know why we’re here. I really enjoyed the first arc, the ‘Bad ‘Batch’ episodes, where Anakin and Rex teamed up with the Bad Batch to go after Echo, a Clone who died in a previous arc during season 4. It was great, it had every element the series is famous for: Anakin being awesome, the Clones being awesome, camaraderie, humor, action, and adventure. I’d say the first arc was a more or less standard Clone Wars story, and I was delighted. The second arc was a slightly different story. I understood the need for an arc of that kind, Ashoka needed to be reminded of some sense of her duty to others and the idea of the Martez sisters was a pretty conceptually strong way to do it. In its execution, however, the second arc of the season dragged hard. The quality of the Martezes began and ended with the idea of them, thanks to some poor writing and some voice acting that wasn’t per this show’s standard level of quality. The story itself wasn’t super interesting, littered with some seriously skewed decision making and poor pacing that amounted to the arc being worth Ashoka being pretty cool again from time to time and not a lot more. It served its purpose, however, and it ended with Ashoka being approached by Bo Katan and the remaining Deathwatch. It was time for the Siege of Mandalore.

The Siege of Mandalore was a 4-episode arc. If you cut those episodes into one film, which I’d imagine they’re fairly likely to do at some point, it would be the best Star Wars movie ever made. Prove me wrong.

The last four episodes of this show where the best Star Wars content of all time. It was just beautiful. Extremely cinematic, by the way, not just because of the original theme at the beginning, which is why I say they’ll probably release this theatrically at some point. The animation was beautiful, a cut above anything that’s been done to this point on this show. But stunning visuals wasn’t what we were there for. Those last four episodes told an incredible story, parallel, for the most part, to the events of Revenge of the Sith. Episode 9, the first of the arc, met every expectation and anticipation any of us had with respect to Anakin and Ashoka’s reunion, heartbreakingly short with all the feeling it could squeeze out of the few minutes it lasted. From the new lightsabres to the paintjob on the clones, it was potent in all the ways it needed to be. The easter eggs and call-forwards were much appreciated as well, the fact that Shakh Ti’s death, something that only happens in the deleted scenes of Episode III, was hinted at, as well as a quick look at Kanan Jarrus in the opening narration. More than anything else, it felt heavy. It weighed with all the memories and shared experience we’d had with these characters over the course of 7 seasons, and even more having shared some more experience after.

The second episode had Maul in all his glory. The Star Wars community owes a great deal to Sam Witwer, the voice actor whose work in bringing Maul back to life in more ways than one has been nothing short of miraculous. That’s the episode with the most stand-out writing out of all of them, with the anticipation of what was to come higher than ever. It was also the episode of the best action, and, arguably the best visuals, including arguably the best lightsabre battle in the show, a motion-capture battle that brought Ray Park, Maul’s original actor, back into the fold in a beautifully fitting way. It’s like Filoni can’t stop himself from satisfying fans. This might be a good time to bring up the music and scoring, which was other-worldly the whole way through. The second episode was also the one where they started running concurrent to Episode III, which was extremely interesting. It added a really interesting flavour to it all, as well as adding to the canon of events that happen in the film. We see Obi-Wan’s hint at disapproval about Anakin’s killing of Count Dooku, and we see his unease about Anakin’s assignment from an angle that we didn’t get to see in the film. That also starts the sense of dread. We always assumed the show would end with Coruscant under attack, not running alongside those events. We know where that thread leads, and the dramatic irony is intense. The confrontation between Ashoka and Maul is electric and intense, and it added up to arguably the best stand-alone episode of the arc.

The third episode was called Shattered, which was apt. We can call this the ‘Order 66’ episode. Not a ton to say about this one other than the music in the first half was unbelievable, and goddamned effective. Remember the sense of dread I mentioned? It was pouring out of your ears at that point, building up until the moment it happened. It was heartbreaking. It was shattering. The music, pulled straight out of Episode III, was pure perfection for the anticipated moment, and the visual of Ashoka spinning and deflecting the clone’s blasts after Rex, fighting the command, ordered her dead, was enough to have my heart out of my throat and on the couch next to me. It was as close to perfect as it’s possible to be. I should add that another really interesting parallel to Episode III was a scene which was actually in Episode III, and continued after the film’s scene cut away, in which Mace Windu said the reasonably recognizable line: “I sense a plot to destroy the Jedi.” Seeing Ashoka come in to the immediate aftermath of that conversation, to be shooed by the ever-arrogant Mace, and to have been so unbelievably close to telling them about Maul’s prediction, was just indescribable. It was genius storytelling, weaving what we knew and what we didn’t know together to add intrigue and heartache for how differently it could’ve turned out. Maul’s Silence-of-the-Lambs-eque restraints was an interesting piece of Mandalorian tech which I feel like we might see more of when they novelize the Old Republic through Project Luminous. Maul’s release by Ashoka, and his terrorizing of the Clones was another really cool and dark sequence from another contender for best episode in this whole damn show. Rex’s removed inhibitor chip was a relief, even though anyone whose seen Rebels knew that was going to happen. Speaking of which, I’m curious as to how Wolff and the others who were with Rex in Rebels got their chips removed. A story for another time, I suppose.

The final episode was probably the most action packed of all of them. It had some of the most consistently heart-pounding sequences, as Ashoka and Rex did their best to fight their way off of the ship without killing anyone. Maul didn’t have any such grievances, pulling the whole hyper-drive down using the force (a really cool image). The rest of this episode was essentially an action sequence, a good one, where Ashoka and Rex were helped by R7 and Cheep-Cheep to escape a crashing ship. It was high-intensity, clever stuff, but some part of me wished they’d get that part over with so we could see more of the aftermath of it all. After a point, the action felt a bit overdone, especially the few times Ashoka couldn’t reach Rex’s fighter. It was still blood-pumping, stuff, with Ashoka and Rex alone fighting off like a hundred clones without killing anyone. Moments of it were incredible (particularly when Ashoka used the force to move her lightsabres to cut a hole in the ground. These are techniques in the force that I’ve always wanted to see used by never really witnessed before), but my only criticism of the whole arc is that they could’ve saved 3 or 4 more minutes to show us something of Obi-Wan and Obi-Wan and Yoda, maybe, after settling into their respective exiles on Tatooine and Dagobah. It might’ve been nice to see, maybe, where exactly Maul ran off too and went into his own hiding. The ending we got was great, there was a wonderful poetry in the Clone’s graves, Jessie’s right at the front, and Ashoka dropping her lightsabre in that moment. The cut to however much time later, where Vader picked up that same lightsabre, the one he’d given Ashoka the last time he’d seen her, and assuming she was dead, was exactly as cold and sad as it needed to be. It was a fitting end; an end to a story that was fundamentally about Anakin Skywalker and his padawan.

The Clone Wars is the best Star Wars, there’s just no question about that now in my opinion, and Ashoka Tano one of the best characters. Thank God for Dave Filoni, seemingly the one man who can bring one of the most divisive fan-bases in the history of the world together with the ideas in his head. I used to say this before, and it’s never been more true now: you don’t really know Star Wars until you’ve seen the Clone Wars. There is depth and nuance to so much that goes on in this universe, so much more than is observable in a film franchise that, frankly, has gotten it wrong more than it’s got right. I’d implore any and all Star Wars fans who haven’t seen this show to watch it as soon as humanly possible. We know we haven’t seen the last of Ashoka Tano, she’s reportedly going to be seen in the live-action-flesh in the second season of The Mandalorian, played by Rosario Dawson (again, not actually confirmed but heavily rumoured), at a time in the chronology when she should be with Sabine Wren, looking for Ezra (characters from Rebels, the show that followed the Clone Wars and the show I’m gonna go start rewatching the second I’m done writing this). Ashoka aside, Dave Filoni is guaranteed to continue his occupation of making quality Star Wars content. We can only wait and see what he does next. I’d like to take a second to thank the cast and crew of The Clone Wars, who, for almost 15 years now, have endeavoured and succeeded in telling the best Star Wars stories to be told this far. As far as voice acting goes, Ashley Eckstein, Tom Kane, Matt Lanter, James Arnold Taylor (a serious contender for the Best Obi-Wan, which is, like, crazy), and Dee Bradley Baker among others. Please take a bow. Dave Filoni, please take a bow. Oh, and George Lucas? This had made things right. Take a bow sir.

And so ends the best Star Wars out there, right up until Filoni does his next between-films animated show. We have only to wait.

– Aman Datta

Aman’s Score(s):

  • Overall Series Score – 84/100
  • Season 7 Score – 85/100
  • The Siege of Mandalore (last four episodes) Score – 95/100