That Night: Film Review

That Night picture

LCA Film’s production ‘That Night’ exceeds expectations with a powerful plotline that brings forth an important message, especially for students of this generation. The short film revolves around Krish, a medical student who studies ’18 hours a day’ for his medical entrance exam, which is just in a few days. He isolates himself and cuts off all personal connections until one day something, or someone rather, changes his perspective towards his studies and life.

The conceptual arc of the film was great and the screenplay by Megh Patil (Viren in the film) was quite decent as well. At parts it was very powerful but sometimes it got a bit chalky with the syntax not always fitting well, like in Viren’s last monologue, but it definitely conveyed its message. Directed by Siddhant Gala, the film seemed to cover the shots quite well with transitions from close ups to medium shots and full body appropriately according to the tone, mood and tension in the scene. The transitions themselves, however, weren’t always as smooth and made the visuals slightly choppy.

The performances were quite good too: Prerit (Krish) brought out character and Megh (Viren), especially, justified his role quite well. Both really brought out their characters very well. The sound design by Kanishk Ajmera, cinematography by Hasan Nulwala and Art direction by Diya Gupta all added to impact of the film as a whole. However, being a first project the budget isn’t always friendly and that is quite evident in the film. Though it doesn’t take away too much from the film we believe that the short film did have much greater potential. This goes to show that a good film can be made even without the fanciest of equipment.

Honestly, I walked into this film thinking that I’d be seeing another college project type film cause it was their first project and after watching the first half I felt like yeah I was right but second half definitely proved me wrong. It definitely redeems the few negatives that the film bore. Yes, the main idea that the film revolve around has been covered in other films but with a twist at the end it delivers the message and it delivers it with authority. The twist was a very smart combination of ideas from different movies (not naming any so we don’t give any spoilers) and honestly I did guess it during the party scene but the film maintains the tension throughout. We’re surprised by the talent and potential that the group has.

All in all, yes the film is bound to have a few negatives but it definitely exceeded our expectations. It’s amazing to see what a few talented individuals with a creative mindset, a great amount of potential and quite a bit of hard work can achieve on their first adventure – an interesting narrative that brings forth a sense of empathy, a powerful message and a great twist.

– Aryamaan Dholakia

Aryamaan’s Score – 59/100                                                   Aman’s Score – 54/100

Aladdin 2019: Film Review

Aladdin (2019) - IMDb

Among 2019’s catalogue of remakes and reboots was the most recent rendition of Disney’s 1992 animated classic: Aladdin. The story of Aladdin originated in the centuries old collection of 1,001 stories, collectively referred to as The Arabian Nights. It follows Aladdin, a street rat with a giving heart, as his yearning for the local princess’ heart leads him on an adventure filled with magic carpets and genies. The original film is among the most beloved of all time. This film was a live-action adaptation, including original songs, and new arrangements of old ones, from the same team of composers. The film stars Naomie Scott and Mena Massoud as Princess Jasmine and Aladdin respectively, and also features Will Smith as the Genie, a role previously immortalized by the legendary Robin Williams.

In the past, I’ve basically told anyone who’d listen that I fundamentally oppose the idea of live-action remakes of animated content. There are things that you can do with animation that you just can’t do with a human being. The Lion King, one of 2019’s other big Disney animated-to-live-action remake, was a perfect example of trying to make realistic that which wasn’t supposed to be in the first place, and it got slammed for it. From Disney movies to The Last Airbender live action show, animated magic is magical because it’s animated. I’d rather you make a book 4 to ATLA than try to retell me the same story with human faces. On top of that, I re-watched the original Aladdin to gear up for this one, after realizing that I don’t think I’ve seen it in like an inexcusable number of years. Boy, does it hold up, and then some. So, carrying all of that incredulity on my poor shoulders, I sat down to watch the latest Disney meme of a cash-grab.

Surprisingly, I don’t think I’ve been that pleasantly surprised since I saw Easy A, and was reminded that Rom-Coms can be done damn well. Aladdin 2019 is pretty damn good, paying homage to the original and maintaining what was good about it, while adding newer spins on characters and storylines that only improve on its source material. It runs at 40 extra minutes than the original, and it uses every minute of it to develop what was already there and extrapolate from it. The Genie’s relationship with Dalia the Handmaiden, Jasmine’s aspiration to become the Sultan, and the whole character of Hakim are examples of stuff that didn’t exist in the originals, but fit really well into the newer framework, which included some re-ordering and reworking from the originals.

The thing that made me most skeptical going in, particularly about this film, was the casting. Aside from Jafar, who I think it’s unfair to expect a human being to be able to do, and I can’t think of anyone who could embody the animation on that one, they do a bang up job. Naomie Scott is fantastic. I wasn’t sure at the very beginning, but she grew into it in a big way, doing arguably the best job acting-wise and performing the hell out of Speechless, the original song for this film that helped add the sorely needed feminist angle to her character. Massoud isn’t as good, but he’s more than passable, and bring out everything that needed to be brought out with Aladdin’s character. It’s a hard one, but he does a solid job, all things considered. The biggest worry for me was Will Smith’s Genie. Robin Williams’ Genie is one of the most iconic characters in cinema, and to Will-Smith-ify that felt weird going into it. But he does an incredible thing; he’s very respectful to Williams’ portrayal, keeping a lot of the spirit, while definitely Will-Smith-ifying it, which lands well and emotionally commits you in its own way. Williams’ Genie is untouchable, but Smith’s done something amazing with the way he’s added his own signature to it. Even the impossibility of landing Jafar’s character without Jonathan Freeman, which they don’t manage to do, is softened by the slightly different spin on the character. Nowhere near as good as the Jafar we all know and love, but that it wasn’t a train-wreck is goddamned commendable.

The music was fine; I was really impressed with Speechless, particularly the way Naomie Scott did it. A Whole New World didn’t quite capture the magic of the original, and Will Smith’s voice isn’t as suited to some of his songs as Williams’ was, but it evens out to enjoyable for sure. The visuals were pretty impressive; it was definitely easy on the eye. It’s kind of hilarious to think this movie was directed by Guy Ritchie, of whom my favorite works are films like Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch. He’s done a really good job, though, so it all worked out, as long as we all ignore a lot of the whitening of Arab-Indian culture, which, to be fair, is equally if not more present in the original.

It’s far from perfect, the writing is clunky in places, and the dance sequences are a lot less impressive than in the original. But it’s a marvel to me that, a day after watching the original, which I love, I saw this and liked it a whole lot. It almost feels strange; strange that there are two versions of the same story that I can just like a lot, without feeling like this one cheapens the original. I prefer the original, by quite a bit, but damn if this movie isn’t a great time. This is exactly how these remakes should work, maintaining the spirit of the original, while adding small elements to make it feel fresh and unique. It helps when you choose the right story; The Lion King and The Jungle Book didn’t work because when the animals aren’t cartoon, they’re animals, who have a lot less range than a 2-D animation. Aladdin 2019 doesn’t come close to falling into that trap, and I’m continually overjoyed to think about the fact that I get to just enjoy both versions of this wonderful story. I tip my hat to Disney and the production team; this was an exception to my beliefs about the potential of live-action adaptations for animated classics.

– Aman Datta

Aman’s Score – 75/100                                                      Aryamaan’s Score –

Da 5 Bloods: Film Review

Spike Lee's new movie Da 5 Bloods is out on Netflix. Like all his ...

Da 5 Bloods is the newest addition to Spike Lee’s acclaimed body of work. It follows the story of four African American Vietnam War veterans, all part of the same squad, as they return to Vietnam in present day to recover the remains of their leader, who died in the war, as well as the treasure they illicitly hid their back in the day. Along the way, they’re forced to confront many demons, theirs and others, that affected them during the war and after. The film is written by Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo, and was directed by Spike Lee. It stars Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis, Isiah Whitlock Jr, Mélanie Thierry, Johnny Nguyen, and Chadwick Boseman among many others, adding up to a large ensemble performance.

Da 5 Bloods is a pretty fantastic film. I’d say it was a bit of an uphill battle; it had a rocky start and some stylistic choices I wasn’t too keen on, though, nothing particularly out of the ordinary for Mr. Lee. I wasn’t too bothered by the slide-show at the beginning, in fact, I thought it covered the context, especially in the time of its release, in a pretty efficient way. I wasn’t a huge fan of the change in aspect ratio and filter across timelines. Obviously they had to do something to indicate where they were in the narrative, but the wartime parts of the film had a kind of home-video thing going on with the cinematography that I felt was a little out of place. It didn’t end up being a massive problem, especially considering the proportion of screen time that had on the film, but it was an example of an ever-so-slightly off-putting stylistic choice. That technical discomfort didn’t last long, however.

One of the most commendable things about the film was way it balanced perspective. It really felt like almost every point of view, with respect to the Vietnam War, and more generally, was brought across and represented in some capacity during this film. Obviously it’s content heavy for the American perspective, but the moments of sympathy towards the Vietnamese were compelling enough to bring the point out: that there were no heroes, only victims. Unusually, an example of really well placed translated text as subtitles. That you can actually understand the words to both sides in, for example, a shouting match over a chicken in one of the most potent scenes of the film, makes the conflict feel even more senseless and traumatic. Between that balance, and the reminder as to the role African American people have played throughout the country’s history, fighting for rights that didn’t have, as it was put in the movie, the film is a pretty impressive catalogue of intellectual and identity representation, both topical and reminiscent.

But intellectual commentary and representation doesn’t make a film so much as a documentary. Luckily, Da 5 Bloods puts together a thoroughly engaging narrative, taking you on a real journey with its characters. I will say that most of the Bloods are pretty much one-dimensional characters, with the exception of Paul, there aren’t more than three things to be said about most of them. On the flip-side of that, Paul is a really good character, who gets the hell performed out of him by Delroy Lindo, who probably deserves an Oscar Nom for this. The stylized fourth-wall-breakers only feel out of place for a second, before he starts talking, and he consistently humanizes a real douche of a character. He’s the representative of the Trump-mindset, and he does it brilliantly, getting every inch of irrationality, aggression, and stubbornness out of the writing. The narrative is propped up by incredibly artful tension, though it should be said the tone shift is slightly sudden, you’re expecting it pretty much from the minute you hear the words ‘land mine.’ Chadwick Boseman is good in the relatively small yet important role he has. Between that and the writing, you’re definitely convinced about the source of the story. Jonathan Majors is arguably the second-billed here, his relationship with Paul is definitely the most interesting parental conflict, and the rest of the Bloods, as a collective, do very well, though individually their characters could’ve done with some more meat.

All in all, I really enjoyed Da 5 Bloods, a lot more, even, than I think I was expecting to. It’s not exactly a war movie so much as it’s a movie about a war, covering the morals and the collateral of an inexplicable conflict, and the personal struggle of a group of men on a quest to honour their leader, and get what is theirs. It’s topicality is more than tangential, it makes it’s point well, and it’s heart-pumping enough to keep you engaged the whole way through. This is a very good film.

– Aman Datta

Aman’s Score – 83/100                                                         Aryamaan’s Score – 82/100

JoJo Rabbit: Film Review

Image result for jojo rabbit

JoJo Rabbit, written and directed by Taika Waititi, is a topical comedy about a young boy living in Nazi Germany near the end of the second World War. Along with his imaginary friend Adolf, JoJo does his best to serve is country and his Fuhrer, until he finds that his mother has been harbouring a slightly older Jewish girl in the attic. JoJo Rabbit stars Scarlett Johansen, Sam Rockwell, Rebel Wilson, and Stephen Merchant alongside Waititi himself as Adolf Hitler as supporting characters to Thomasin McKenzie and Roman Griffin Davis.

I was completely unsure what to expect going into JoJo Rabbit. To be fair, it’s about a boy whose imaginary friend is Adolf Hitler with an Australian accent, so who would know what to expect. My reaction was altogether mixed in a way that can actually be split chronologically.

The first half hour or so of the film is quite awful. Awful to the extent that I was regretting go for it to some extent. Very few jokes landed, the rest fell very, very flat, and there was nothing interesting about the story or the characters involved. Once you got over the inherent funniness of a day-camp for Nazi kids (which was really funny for sure but only really lasted a couple minutes), it was unfunny offbeat and cheap, without a lead character, or any supporting characters, that I had a compelling reason to commit to. The whole rabbit thing was a little weak in its attempt at sincerity, and the only comedy was coming from the situation, which wasn’t enough to keep it going for long.

Almost all of that changed as soon as the girl showed up. Her relationship with JoJo was far and away the most interesting thing about the film, elevating it to a new place. Seriously, it’s like someone flipped a switch. The jokes started landing and landing hard, his relationship with his mother got more interesting and important to the story, and JoJo’s character himself finally had a decent conflict for the film to then become about. I should emphasize on the sudden landing of the humour because suddenly the film was hilarious. More importantly, it then became a film about anti-semitism; that predisposition mixed with a childish innocence and desires. That thread takes on a much more real life in the film, making for a lot of wonderfully sweet moments and the heartwarming development of a completely natural, wholesome, and a slightly heartbreaking, relationship.

I don’t know that I was expecting it to be as heartfelt as it was. Thor: Ragnarok, Waititi’s most notable other work, kind of gave me impression that there was going to be a significantly limited amount of actual emotional expression, but I was very much mistaken. Griffin Davis delivers a pretty great performance during the second half of the film, carrying it for sure alongside McKenzie. There’s a very innocent, childish uncertainty about the regime he’s under, which doubles for an actually relatively sophisticated depiction of the internal struggle of unlearning. The growth of his relationship with a young Jewish girl, from thinking she has horns in her head from all the mind control powers to feeling an innocent love for her, is a wonderfully sweet thing to witness, aside from the humor. Parallel to that, his dynamic with his mother is something to watch as well. Johansson definitely deserved as Oscar nomination, delivering on a pretty complex character who’s essentially trying to mother two children in this film.

The humor, on the other hand, ranges from dark to a little adult actually. This is by no means a kids film. In moments the film strays away from everything and turns pitch-dark. I shouldn’t go into too much detail, don’t want to spoil, but there were a few moments during scenes with JoJo and his mother where I was actually curious as to why a shot or two lingered on her shoes. Anyone who’s seen it knows exactly what I’m talking about. That revelation actually led to a pretty big plot-hole in my eyes; for the period of time after, I’m not entirely sure how Jojo just kind of…survives? Like how they don’t seem to ever run out of gas in Zombieland, this was a plot point that they didn’t really address. There seemed to be quite a bit of time between that and the eventual climax. I’m stepping around the slight plot twist because I didn’t add a spoiler warning on this review, so anyone whose seen the film hopefully knows what I mean.

Whether or not I recommend JoJo is a complicated question with an uncomplicated answer: yes, I do. However, be prepared for an unspectacular opening. They turn it around, in rather spectacular fashion, I might add, but the first half hour or so of the movie is actively not good in my opinion. It really does become something a little bit special though, affirming, even. All in all, JoJo is a fun, hilarious, and at the same time sweet and innocent film about Jewish persecution at the hands of the Nazis in Germany during the second World War. Ever did I imagine writing that sentence.

Edit: Post the Oscars, and this film winning best Adapted Screenplay, I ought to mention that the film is adapted from a book called Caging Skies. I wasn’t pleased about the Oscar win until I read about Caging Skies and realized that the book is very different from Waititi’s deeply creative spin on the original story. It definitely deserved that Oscar.

Second Edit: I’ve just had the chance to rewatch the film some months after I wrote this review, and my thoughts on the first half hour or so of the film have softened considerably. I still think it gets better as it goes on, but it doesn’t start off in nearly as bad a shape as I recall. I’ve upped my score.

– Aman Datta

Aman’s Score – 83/100                                                                     Aryamaan’s Score – 82

The Last Days of American Crime: Film Review

The Last Days of American Crime (2020)

No, just no. Netflix’s next instalment in its action film arsenal turned out to be more disappointed than expected. Set in the near future when America has become a police-run state, the film takes place a few days before the introduction of a law that would prevent any citizen from committing any crime. Looking at this time period as an opportunity a group of criminals decide to commit the ‘last crime’ that will happen in America.

I really like Edgar Ramirez but the trailer itself wasn’t all that exciting to be honest. I really didn’t have too many expectations going into the film but it turns out that it didn’t even meet them. The plot did have quite a bit of potential though: the government is preparing to launch a signal that would jam the citizen’s brains if they were contemplating breaking the law. This period before the initiation of the signal results in chaos, disorder and anarchy: people are running about, robbing shops, banks, parading with guns in their hands – sort of like ‘The Purge.” While everyone makes plans to move to Canada, one criminal, Graham Bicke (Edgar Ramirez) decides to pull off on last ‘great heist’ in American history. So he partners with a member of a rich crime family and his girlfriend to pull it off. Instead of focusing on things like what thoughts qualify as crime activity in this dystopia like would piracy count? Lying? Stealing a pencil from your friend?  Or even looking at it through the lense of a heist film, with some great inspiration like “Money Heist” out there, the film is all over the place. It sort of tried to mix ‘The Purge,” “Minority Report” and “Money Heist” but failed.

The film, directed by Olivier Megaton, never really captures the audience’s interest. The possible hype that was created before the film starts is lost quite soon. Megaton brings in his ‘chaotic’ action style similar to that of his famous ’15 shots of Liam Neeson jumping over a fence” scene from taken, which doesn’t really aid in grasping the audience’s interest. The screenplay and the score nowhere aid the poor direction of this film.

The film had a decent cast with Edgar Ramirez, Michael Pitt and Anna Brewster but what I don’t get is all of them are South African who make an attempt to speak in an American accent and the film is set in South Africa showing no reference to the film being set in America. The screenplay did almost nothing to bring up their characters either, with Graham simply staring seriously at the other characters cause we literally can barely hear it and Shelby Dupree (Anna Brewster) simply keeps breaking down cause she loves him but her feelings are only based in one fling? In the bathroom? Doesn’t really make much sense to me.

Well, with the lack of a story I thought the action sequences could possibly bring up the movie but it was simply an infinite number of machine guns being fired at the characters. That’s pretty much it. There were expenses car chases where the cars didn’t do anything exciting except character shooting at each other. The heist itself provided less ingenuity and again was simply the robbers firing machine guns in the air and yelling cuss words. There isn’t much that we haven’t seen any film before, and have seen much better in those.

For me, the one redeeming quality in this film (spoilers ahead – not exactly cause she’s the one narrating) was the twist that Shelby was actually the mastermind the real lead behind this whole story. Only if the movie justified her character some more, it could have possibly made it a better film.

Based on the 2009 comic book by Rick Remender and Greg Tocchini, the story held up a lot of promise but the film didn’t utilize any of it. There was so much more that the film could’ve looked into, instead it was simply loaded with mediocre car chases, guns and sex. All in all, the film was incoherent. The film stretches out for about 2 and a half hours and watching in one sitting is an ordeal (Point Break reference – a much better Edgar Ramirez movie for those interested) in itself. There are just a lot of clichés: the film offers little that we haven’t already seen, still, it is currently at number 4 on Netflix India’s top movies.

– Aryamaan Dholakia

Aryamaan’s Score – 47/100                                               Aman’s Score –

Freedom Writers: Film Review

Amazon.com: Freedom Writers: hilary swank, patrick dempsey, la ...

Freedom Writers is a film about the true story of a group of at-risk teenagers and their teacher, Erin Gruwell. It follows Gruwell’s relationship with these teenagers, from the beginning of their freshman year of high school, to near the end of their sophomore year. In that time, the classroom changes from an atmosphere of hostility and divisiveness, to one of respect and mutual acceptance. The film is based heavily in fact, portions of the film having been taken, verbatim, from diaries written by Ms. Gruwell’s students, who adopted the nickname “The Freedom Writers,” hence the name of the film. Ms Gruwell and many of her students now run The Freedom Writer’s Foundation. The film stars Hillary Swank as Erin Gruwell, Patrick Dempsey, Imelda Staunton, and a host of young actors, including April Hernandez Castillo, Mario, Jaclyn Ngan, Jason Finn, Deance Wyatt, and many more. It was written and directed by Richard LaGravenese.

This is a spectacular film. I didn’t know an awful lot about the film’s reputation before seeing it, but even still, I could kind of get a sense for what it’s essence was from reading a two-line description. Freedom Writers is an addition to what is starting to feel like a genre of film: the teacher-changes-his/her-students-lives-and-the-whay-they-choose-to-live-their-lives genre, which, when I think about it, actually has a much greater number of films in it than I realized. For that reason, the main criticism of the film that I’ve seen is predictability and formulaic structure, hence the extent to which could have the film “figured out” from a two sentence blurb on IMDb. But Freedom Writers rises above its formula. I think the amount of the film that’s based in fact is what sets it apart from the surface-level glance one could take at it. The story of Erin Gruwell and her resolve to change the world-views of her students is a deeply moving, affecting narrative, to which this film is a heartfelt homage.

I should start by tipping my hat to the quality of performance that is consistent in the film. Hillary Swank is pretty amazing, but the buck absolutely does not stop there. All of the actors who play children in her class, only a few of which are mentioned in this introduction, do a great job, and it is in large part due to their efforts that the oftentimes verbatim narratives of the students in the class are sold as authentically as they are. The fact that Imelda Staunton played Dolores Umbridge at the same time as this one (Order of the Phoenix came out in the same year) is awesome, and she’s maybe only slightly less effective here (only cause her performance as Umbridge is unimpeachable). Patrick Dempsey was good, but maybe slightly mismanaged. One of the few things that I felt wasn’t handled right was Erin’s marital issues. It wasn’t developed enough to get an audience to commit to it, but it was featured enough to frustrate me about that underdevelopment. They couldn’t seem to decide if it was a sideshow or not, which made me unsure about how I felt about its inclusion. While I’m on the topic of things that were mismanaged, I’ll say that some of the details that were left like there was some glossing over. Bits of it happened too fast, like how not even 30 seconds were dedicated to a whole food-market they set up to raise money to get Miep Gies in to talk to them. It emotionally paid off, and big time, which was decidedly the point, but they made some it seem maybe a touch easier than it probably actually was.

But the thing is, it was, actually. I wouldn’t ever claim to know everything there is to know about the true story, I’ve done a relatively rudimentary level of research, but from what I’ve been able to gather, this film holds quite tightly to facts, and even verbatim. All of the diary entries from the film were taken from actual diary entries written by Gruwell’s actual kids, which is what enhances the power that this film has. There’s a very honest, authentic tone about everything in this film, and it comes from the truth that it’s based on. A lot of the scenes and sequences, even some of the cornier ones like the toast for a change scene, all absolutely happened, and that truth behind the story is what makes it so affecting, even if the plot is what some might call typical. It’s kind of hard to pin something that’s true as typical, it actually happened.

And I love what it says. This film is a love letter to the power a teacher can have, and the way people’s lives can change if they’re treated with respect. In today’s world, where conflict is as ubiquitous as social media, is there a more appropriate idea? The ways in which we can reach people, and the effort that can be made to reach out to them? I was extremely moved by this film, and I think I would even go as far as to say that I have another addition to the conversation of my favourite films. It goes out on a limb, unafraid of naivety because, again, this actually happened, and the people involved have since started a foundation that has attempted to recreate it in as many classrooms as possible, and they’ve been doing it for over 20 years.

I really think as many people should see this film as possible, as a source of catharsis. If you’ve seen it and enjoyed it, I’d recommend a French film called Entre Les Murs, which is similar in its premise and it’s basis in reality. That one has a slightly more intellectual focus as compared to Freedom Writers. Freedom Writers, on the other hand, is a beautiful, heartfelt, and meaningful true story, emotionally affecting and uplifting in equal measure.

– Aman Datta

Aman’s Score – 87/100                                                             Aryamaan’s Score –

Betaal: TV Review

Betaal - Wikipedia

Among so many brilliant shows and movies like Kingdom or World War Z, “Betaal” is Bollywood’s first entrant into the zombie genre but it doesn’t really live up to expectations. With “Kingdom” incorporating a unique macro perspective with an intriguing political storyline, “World war Z” telling the story from a wider canvas and “Train to Busan” relying on hitting the emotional chords, these shows and films really elevate the zombie genre from its stereotypical action thriller persona. However, ‘Betaal’ does nothing but reinforce it.

The show revolves around a greedy contractor trying to open up a sealed tunnel in a forest to construct a highway but little does he know that the tunnel has been blocked because of an old tribal curse. A tribal village attempts to stop the contractor, saying that if the curse were broken it would bring death and destruction upon all, but the contracting, ignoring all their warnings, goes and hires a military squad named CIPD to get rid of the villagers. Once the squad clears the tunnel, after killing all the villagers, they allow the ‘English, well dressed, emotional and red-eyed’ undead to return and wreak havoc on human existence.

At first glance, Betaal seems like an interesting web-series but it soon looses it’s grip on the story and so does the audience. In fact the introduction scene is quite brilliant, I was hooked immediately but as soon as the old woman jumped through that red dupatta (drapes?) of hers, I knew it was going to be like every other one of Bollywood’s typical attempts at a horror film. I’d even say that the first episode wasn’t all bad at all: a lot of positives but eventually it lost any hold it had. Following the first episode, the remaining squad members and the contractor’s family seek refuge in an British barrack, hiding from the undead British ‘army of the dead.’

The show does have some decent jump scares and grotesque deaths but it simply isn’t enough to hold its own. At some points I even found myself laughing as the protagonist was facing certain death and that didn’t make the show any more attractive to me. The ‘zombies’ weren’t scary either: their red eyes make sure that they’re far from it and coupled with their matching red coats and their smiles, nah, I’m sorry but it doesn’t work. But that’s not all, the undead seem to have negotiation skills and even emotions where one ‘zombie soldier’ calls out to another for help because he’s ‘in pain?’ Oh and they can be killed by fire or a mixture of turmeric, salt and ashes – seriously? (Indian dragonglass from GOT?) Some instances are simply common sense though. Commander Tyagi (Suchitra Pillai) undergoes a trauma/shock after entering the tunnel first and when she is rescued she’s different. She loses her mind, yes that can be reasoned out by the shock but her hair turns white almost immediately and no one even seems to care about this development at all! Her following scenes in the British barracks do add a nice touch but it’s purpose of adding an element of fear in the show is simply taken away cause of the lack of attention to these details.

Apart from that, I felt that the show tried to cram in too much for its 4-episode runtime. At times it focuses on blending in Indian mythology with the storyline and then switches to evoke patriotism by bringing up the Revolt of 1857 and the Jalianwala Bagh Massacre. Sometimes they focus on using eccentric dialogues that seem extremely misplaced for the scene and setting they’ve been spoken in or they rely on forced cuss words to carry the dialogue in the scene. Among all this the show forgets to bring forth what is most important for this series – evoking fear.

Contrastingly, the performances aren’t all that bad at all. Vineet Kumar does well as Vikram Sirohi but could’ve possible got to the next gear in terms or emotion and intensity. Jitendra Joshi does well to portray a corrupted contracter and Syna Anand does well as his daughter. Aahana Kumra and Manjiri Pupala justify their roles as well but it is simply the screenply that lets their performance down.

One of the most important aspects for a horror film or series is the sound mixing and this is one field where the series actually does really well in. The production design and makeup is quite good too but it isn’t anywhere enough to hold the show up on its own.

Betaal as a web series did seem to have a great amount of potential but it didn’t deliver what was promised. The show incorporates so many clichés throughout the stories that the viewers lose interest very quickly.  The foundation was quite strong but it was simply the matter of not only looking at the details like the bright eyes of the undead and their matching red outfits but even thinking about the obvious things like Tyagi’s hair colour, zombies negotiating with the military, they crying in pain or Joshi’s contractor arguing with the zombie; they simply get the viewers confused rather than scared. The length of the series, however, helps the shows purpose. If you have nothing else on your watchlist, you can easily watch this show in one sitting. Though it may not deliver what it promised, you could pick it up cause it will definitely provide a few decent jump scares and even a few laughs.

– Aryamaan Dholakia

Aman’s Score –                                                                    Aryamaan’s Score – 50/100

Predestination: Film Review

Predestination (2014) Phone Wallpaper | Moviemania

Predestination is a sci-fi time-travel movie, based on a short story called “All You Zombies” by Robert Heinlein. What precisely the films is about is difficult to explain properly without spoiling, well, all of it, so, in the vaguest of terms, Predestination is about a temporal agent, whose search for a terrible criminal leads him to a time paradox that comes to define his life. It’s a mind-bending film, conceptually a kind of cross between The Adjustment Bureau and Looper, the exact purpose of which I think one could only speculate on. The film stars Ethan Hawke and Sarah Snook, and is directed by the Spierig Brothers. This is a spoiler review, and this is a film that’s worth not having spoiled. Please do not read further if you have not seen the film.

I made a note to see this movie because of Ethan Hawke, whose reputation for choosing interesting films precedes him. Boy, was this no exception. Predestination is a pretty fantastic sci-fi original, part of a lengthy list of time travel movies that leave their audiences frantically googling explanation videos and timeline diagrams. Hawke is fantastic in it, but, the maximum amount of credit has to go to Sarah Snook, whose performance as Jane/John is pretty spectacular.

Of course, they’re both playing the same character, which is around the part that the wheels fall off this review. I’ve thought long and hard about it, and the conclusion I’ve come to is that trying to figure out the origin of the time paradox of Jane/John/Barkeep’s existence is a waste of time. I give a lot of credit to the writers for the simplicity of the actual revelation. In its essence, this actually isn’t that complicated a story, it just presents certain ideas in it that blow the proverbial mind. The idea of someone impregnating themselves is pretty batshit on its own, but, when it comes down to ease of following the story, it’s not that hard, mostly just a conversation in a bar, which is arguably the biggest challenge in telling a story like this one. I also felt like the hint-dropping was pretty well placed. It wasn’t that it was predictable; it wasn’t that simple, firstly, and, secondly, predictable carries too negative a connotation when it comes to storytelling for me to use it here. It was told in a way that made me ask the right questions. So, when the time came to reveal the mysteries and ambiguities, I was a half-step ahead and could feel the reveal as a suspicion I had, thanks to clues they’d laid for me. It was immensely satisfying.

There are parts of it that are left ambiguous. The older Barkeep, or the supposed Fizzle Bomber, said that killing him would only perpetuate the cycle. Despite that warning, Barkeep empties a pistol in him. Are we to understand that he does indeed become the Fizzle Bomber? His device didn’t decommission, so he theoretically could’ve done, and that was certainly the foreshadowing. There was also a line from Robertson, one which kind of rationalized allowing the Fizzle Bomber’s paradox to continue. Of course, his reasoning is in line with what the older Fizzle Bomber himself said, that killing those people leads to others being saved. That line of thinking took me to a place where I wondered if there are more layers to this paradox, ones that the story doesn’t cover. Robertson’s character, for example, is an unknown entity at this point, as are the 10 other temporal agents Barkeep referred to when John first jumped back in time. What if they were all some form of copy, a Jane/John of a different time, working to continue the paradox? It would be a little bit. It would be a little…villainous, if their entire organization revolved around perpetuating the Fizzle Bombing in an effort to save lives further down the line. Come to think of it, a lot is left unexplained about the origins of time travel, which might hold the answer to some of these questions. Personally, I like that we’re not sure. It’s a lot more fascinating to envision a much deeper paradox.

But then there’s the rudimentary matter of what it is that this film is talking about. I’ve read a small variety of theories, and no one can seem to get together on what this film is about. It seems theorizing is about as much as anyone can do, with a film as ideologically complex as this one. My analysis is long, but it sums down to a cycle of a person’s self-view: hating then loving yourself. There’s a lot of emphasis on revenge, and finding the person who ruins your life. When that person turns out to be you, you start to look at yourself and your past differently. It’s a good theory with plenty of evidence, but I’ve seen equal amounts of evidence (like maybe the title) supporting ideas of inevitability and nihilism. Obviously this isn’t a story limited to any one theme, but the field is wider than most, and I guess any way you choose to settle it with yourself works just as well.

I thoroughly enjoyed Predestination. It’s one of the better entries to a genre that I like and respect a lot. I liked it better, for example, then Looper (though admittedly I don’t know that I was old enough to properly appreciate Looper when I saw it), and it has a lot more emotional depth than, say, Inception (though not nearly as well made across the board). That’s the other thing I don’t think I’ve covered enough: the emotional sophistication of this movie. The time travel semantics aside, this is ultimately a love story, and a deeply felt one at that. Sarah Snook deserves enormous recognition for her showing in this film, and the writers, for encasing that love story in a genuinely thrilling sci-fi mystery that does more than provide intellectual stimulation. Though it certainly does that. I’d strongly recommend this film to anyone, though I’d warn you to be ready to give this film the attention it deserves and demands.

– Aman Datta

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