Soul: Film Review

Soul | Disney Movies

            One of the most exciting and anticipated films of this tumultuous year in film was Soul: Disney-Pixar’s latest animated feature. Very much in the same vein as Inside Out, otherwise known as the last time Disney-Pixar blew our minds with a fascinating and original concept, Soul follows a down-on-his-luck struggling musician named Joe, who, after suffering rejection after rejection and settling for a temp job as a middle school band teacher, finally gets his break at a high-level gig in a jazz band. Things get complicated when he falls down a manhole and dies, dropping his soul in a metaphysical dimension where souls are made and developed before they’re assigned a body on Earth. With the help of one of the oldest, most stubborn souls in history, he tries to find a way to get back into his body before his big gig. The film stars Jamie Foxx and Tina Fey in the lead roles as Joe and Soul #22, as well as Graham Norton, Alice Braga, Richard Ayoade and Rachel House among others. The film was directed by Kemp Powers and Pete Doctor, the director behind Inside Out, Monsters Inc., and Up among other Pixar projects.

            This movie was more or less exactly what I expected it to be. It must be frustrating for Pixar to have set the bar so high that an extraordinary film doesn’t do much more than meet expectations, but as quality problems go, it doesn’t get much better, and the experience of watching it gets no worse. Soul is an absolutely beautiful film, yet another shattering concept and execution from arguably the most consistently excellent studios in the world. The is brilliant. The concept of the Great Before and the training program for souls is as creative as it gets, and they pepper it with little details, winks and nudges (like sending a disproportionate amount of new souls into the “self-absorbed” chamber), that ground it so firmly in the imagination. I loved the idea of the “Zone”, and how a person could get lost in it if they became too obsessed with it. There were a couple of moments of inconsistency and vagueness where the rules were maybe a touch less ironed out than they could’ve been, but they’re of the sort where to pick them out would be, aptly, nit-picking. The bottom line is the idea is extraordinary, and is up there with the best of Pixar (actually maybe it’s on par, but that’s a hell of a par).

            The concept tied into the narrative really well too, which was made the narrative interesting. The characters were decent, but a little too conceptual to have depth, particularly in 22’s case. That said, she had development (literally-but-not-really the point of the film), which felt real. I was really impressed when they take a running gag in the film, a really funny one, and make it point of emotional conflict. That’s the kind of thing you need to get right, in that moment and in terms of the film’s overall tone, and they do a heck of a job here. Soul is really funny, laugh-out-loud funny and often, without ever being forced or trying to do both at the same time. As for Joe’s character, I think the skeleton of it was great, and what we got did the job in the film really well, but he could’ve benefited from some more time to develop his relationship with music and his goals for it. It’s not that these things weren’t established, they were, I just think that the film could’ve stood to be 15-20 minutes longer to dig everything half an inch deeper. This might just be me wanting more, which is a testament to how good the film is, but I wonder if the feat of telling a story that starts and finishes while explaining and playing with the rules of a completely unique concept might be less impressive than how good the film might’ve been if there’d been just a bit more of it. Of course, these things are insanely hard to make, and it’s easy for me to sit here and be like “come up with more genius ideas.”

            The explicit messaging was maybe a little bit done, a little bit obvious, I felt the film deserved a better ending than “and I’m gonna live every bit of it,” but the manner in which that messaging was conveyed was extraordinary. I also think that that line doesn’t exactly do the films messaging justice, there’s a much less expressible layer to what the film does. The idea that a spark isn’t a “purpose,” for example, is pure gold, and there’s something more powerful in the representation of the joie de vivre or whatever name you call it by on screen that does the heavy lifting as far as messaging goes. It’s a powerful idea, and one that’s rarely been more important.

            There are other aspects of the film, like animation quality and effects, that I’m really in no position to talk about other than to say I enjoyed it a great deal (not at I’m in an actual position to talk about any of the rest of it, and yet here we are). The visual aesthetic is the kind that I ascribe to Inside Out (hence all the comparisons), which is to say extremely watchable and pleasant, and, more importantly, believable. The writing is pristine, as would be necessary to bring out the concept properly, but the syntax is just as good. It’s a whimsical watch, funny and light, making real comedy about innocent stuff, and the voice acting is of a calibre that everything works.

            I came into this movie with very high expectations, and every single one of them was met. Pixar’s only gone and done it again, damn those perfectionist bastards. I loved this film very much, and I can’t think of a better way to spend an hour and a half or so of this particular holiday season than to be reminded that the small things are important, and, with the right attitude, they can be wonderful. Please go watch Soul.

– Aman Datta

Aman’s Score – 86/100

Tenet: Film Review

Tenet (2020) - IMDb

One of the most awaited films of the last few years, and the film that was prophesied to single-handedly save the cinema industry from the global pandemic, was Christopher Nolan’s latest mind-bender: Tenet. The film finally released in India a couple weeks ago, leading me and my family to venture, for the first time in almost 9 months, to a basically empty theatre in order to give it a watch in the way that Chris Nolan would heartily approve of. Tenet is hard to pin down to a genre, but sci-fi action seems to be the closest one could get. It follows a protagonist (the only name we ever know the lead character by) as he navigates a plot to end all of time armed with a word – Tenet – and the knowledge of a time-inversion technology that reverses the entropy of people and things, making them experience time backwards. The film stars John David Washington as the Protagonist, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Kenneth Branagh, and Dimple Kapadia among others. It was written and directed by Christopher Nolan.

            Okay full disclosure: I’m writing this after having seen the film once. I haven’t watched any “explained” videos or anything like that, this is a review of a first time watch without the benefit of multiple viewings like I’ve had for Inception, for example. As such, I’m guessing there are a ton of things, little details that have undoubtedly mind-blowing implications, that completely went over my head.

            All in all, Tenet was a lot smarter than it was good. The concept and the ideas are really quite extraordinary, more or less what we’ve come to expect from Nolan’s work. The syntax of it is extremely well written, it would have to be, in order to convey the conceptual background of the film. There are some unanswered questions about the rules of inversion, just like there are some things left unexplained about the rules of dreams and limbo in Inception. It was odd to see Nolan actually fall back on a line like “don’t try to understand it. Feel it,” or something to that effect. It sort of works though, some of the realities of inversion end up being kind of intuitive, harder to explain than it is to understand. That said, there are straight up rules that go unexplained. They never really explain how the glass in the adjoining rooms with the turnstiles are able to show the two directions converging on one point (or maybe they did and I didn’t catch it), for example. All in all though, the concept was well explained and really, really cool, making consistent sense as far as the larger picture is concerned, even when you just need to accept some of the minute details.

            But there’s a serious problem with this film. Chris Nolan’s received criticism in the past for not knowing how to do rounded characters with emotional depth. Tenet is, I’m afraid, his most extreme example of that. For all the brilliance of the concept, the narrative of this film just doesn’t hold up. Kat’s character is extremely shallow and underdeveloped, and her relationship with her son, which basically the fulcrum of the entire narrative, might be the single laziest piece of relationship writing I’ve ever seen. Exactly no time is given to establishing a real connection there, save for one scene outside his school, where Debiciki, who was either badly miscast or wasn’t given enough on the page for her to work with, doesn’t come across as close to genuine. My heart needed to ache for her, and it completely didn’t. It wouldn’t have been such a massive problem if it wasn’t for the fact that the story hinges on her. The Protagonist and Neil (Pattinson) sacrifice a lot for her benefit, to keep her alive and to protect her life with her son. If they’d given her some proper depth, or if there had been some real connection between her and the Protagonist, it would’ve been fine. As it stands, however, a ridiculous weight is given to simply the existence of an unsold mother’s love and an aggressively ambiguous relationship between her and The Protagonist. What was salvaged from it was thanks to a strong performance from Kenneth Branagh; he was convincing enough as a douchebag, which made you feel for her predicament, but the relationship with her son remained superficial.

            Branagh wasn’t the only good performance; the acting level was generally at quite a high level for a Nolan script. John David Washington does a stand-out job as the Protagonist, he gives a character that risked facelessness an honest perspective, and he’s easy to root for. Pattinson’s character probably had the most on the page as far as depth goes, and he certainly made the most of it (the last scene of him going back to join the blue team after saving the world once already, the goodbye scene, for want of a better term, comes to mind specifically as an example of his doing a great job communicating a history between him and the Protagonist he knows). Dimple Kapadia and Michael Caine do their thing well; not acting per se, but grasping the cadence of Nolan-exposition well (something Caine knows how to do pretty well by now). The only really poor example that comes to mind is Debicki, who just wasn’t given enough to work with. Her character is what drags the overall quality of this film down massively, and it’s a real shame that, given the weight her character has over the narrative, some more time couldn’t be given to providing her with some real emotional roots, particularly with her son.

            What keeps the narrative engaging, in spite of the poorer character work, is still the concept. The hooks of the idea keep the story afloat. An ever-so-slightly vague doomsday plot aside, the stakes feel real and the flow of events is extremely engaging. There are a couple flaws, some of which are actually addressed. The Protagonist even asks Neil if the fact that they were even fighting this fight meant that they succeeded. The fact is, Neil’s dealt with the future version of the Protagonist at this point, so he should definitely know they succeed, if not in so many words (ignorance is ammunition and all that. It’s actually a pretty good line, and a good idea. That and the “what’s happened has happened” line that reoccurs. Strong ideas that root the story in something). There’s also the issue of the Grandfather Paradox, which The Protagonist and Neil tackle head-on in one of the several exposition-dump scenes (the same one as the previous example, in the cargo hold on their way back to Oslo after inverting). They make it so you can understand the intent of the future, you can see that they don’t have much more by way of options, but it still feels like a little bit of a Hail Mary. Seems kind of funny that a future that figured out how to invert time couldn’t figure out space-travel. The parallel with Sator was interesting though, and I really appreciate the irony of the fact that Sator’s chosen mode of suicide wouldn’t have done the job anyway. I wish he’d done it, it would’ve been a hell of an ending, although it would’ve deprived Kat of the one modicum of depth she had in the diving woman image. I suppose the knowledge that it would’ve been ironic will have to do, but it would be a lot easier to get over if Kat hadn’t jumped the gun and shot Sator early, which is, without a doubt, the biggest issue I had with this film. The dialogue she had with The Protagonist afterwards, where she says “I knew you’d find a way,” was just infuriating. As far as she knew, she’d just destroyed all of time out of frustration. It just doesn’t demand sympathy.

            I haven’t touched on the music and the visuals much yet. The score is roughly typical of a Chris Nolan movie: beautiful in moments, overbearing often. You have to give it some credit, it certainly makes for a tone and an urgency. It does get a bit much every now and then, though. The visuals are very interesting, more interesting, I think, than any other Nolan film I’ve seen. I don’t know how hard or otherwise it might’ve been to achieve, maybe it was just reversing footage or something, I know very little about editing and visual effects, but it was really cool to see. Things like the boat that was moving backwards, against the waves, and the inverted fight sequences, etc. were really cool visuals that backed up the concept well.

            The bottom line with Tenet is something I’m going to repeat: it was smarter than it was good. The concept and ideas were up to Nolan’s standard, but the narrative elements were, on this outing, the laziest I think I’ve ever seen from him. A good cast has always propped him up when he needed it in the past, after all, a similar criticism can and has been levied against Inception. In this case, while some of the cast were able to salvage their characters, some simply weren’t. Whether that’s the fault of poorer acting or if there just wasn’t enough of anything on the page, the result is the same, and that’s this films fatal flaw. I should reiterate that I’ve just seen it the once, after a few more re-watches to solidify my understanding of the film I might have a changed view. As a general view of Nolan’s work, I’ve never been sure that a film that needs to be seen a handful of times before its understood is an example of good storytelling, no matter how brilliant the final picture is. That said, the only film to which that’s actually been applied to before was Inception, which I honestly don’t remember my first view of, and this, which I think I understood pretty well on the first time around. If that turns out not to be true, I’ll just have to update this page after once I realise.

Until then, My view on Tenet is just, once again, that it’s a lot smarter than it is good (if it ain’t broke, I suppose), and is ultimately kept from greatness by alarmingly lazy character work. That said, it is still superlatively smart and intriguing from a conceptual standpoint, and absolutely worth watching.

– Aman Datta

Aman’s Score – 77/100

The Queen’s Gambit: Series Review

The Queen's Gambit receives worldwide praise as it hits no. 1 in 27  countries | chess24.com

Netflix’s most recent surprise bombshell was The Queen’s Gambit, a limited series based on the novel of the same name by Walter Tevis and which follows the personal and professional development of a prodigious chess player by the name of Beth Harmon. The story follows Beth from her mother’s death and her placement in an orphanage to her introduction to chess by the buildings janitor and the heights she climbs to from there, challenged all the while by crippling addictions, trauma, and social discomforts. The series stars Anya Taylor Joy as Beth Harmon after the age of 13 (Isla Johnston and Annabeth Kelly play her at younger points of her life), Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Moses Ingram, Harry Melling, Marielle Heller, and Marcin Dorociński among others. The series was co-created and written by Scott Frank and Allan Scott. Scott Frank also directed the entire series.

            I read a pseudo-review in The New Yorker the other day that was written from the perspective of someone who had read the book years ago, and therefore arrived at The Queen’s Gambit with a preconceived idea about what the world Beth Harmon lived in looked like. I couldn’t claim to be coming from a similar place. I hadn’t ever heard of The Queen’s Gambit until it rocketed to the top of like every Netflix in the world. I was intrigued by a limited series starring Anya Taylor Joy, an actress I’d been introduced to in Split a few years ago and have respect for, and I’ve always liked chess, even if I haven’t seriously played for 7 or 8 years.

            It’s important to understand that this show isn’t about chess, not really. Chess is a prop, a tool through which we better understand the real draw of the narrative: Beth Harmon as a character. I submit that pretty much anyone, irrespective of their prior knowledge about chess, is in a position to thoroughly enjoy this show. She has enough about her, enough depth and more than enough of an arc, to make her development as a character fascinating to watch. Anya Taylor Joy is fabulous, charting that development in a way that feels honest and believable (credit is also very much due to Isla Johnston and Annabeth Kelley for contributing to that arc). The New Yorker article I referred to before was less complementary, mainly because of the way Beth’s character is described in the novel. That’s a fair way to look at it, and I couldn’t comment on the faithfulness of the rending, but Joy’s performance brings everything it needs to in order to make this interpretation of the character feel extremely real, and I fully expect her to get the acclaim she deserves for it. The show is actually pretty spoiled with strong performances, even from less prominent characters in the show. Thomas Brodie-Sangster is irresistible to watch, and Harry Melling and Marcin Dorociński are great, but a lot of the heartbeat of the show are made up by charactrers like Mr. Shaibel and Jolene, played by Bill Camp and Moses Ingram respectively, who act like human anchors in Beth’s more turbulent times. Ingram, who doesn’t actually have that much screen time, gives such flair to Jolene that she ends up being one of the most memorable characters. The only slight exception to the rule of strong performances might’ve been the role of Mrs. Wheatley. It was a case of miscasting, Marielle Heller didn’t do a bad job in the role that she was given, but the writing for that character was incongruent, too formal and thought out. If it was an attempt to represent the character as punctilious or something, it didn’t really land.

            Aside from that, the writing was of a very high standard pretty much the whole way through; meaningful dialogue and the aforementioned developmental arcs that were done extremely well. The other technical elements were part of what made the show unique. The show’s heavily stylised, but managed to avoid being in your face about it. The whole 60s aesthetic was done really well, down to the wallpapers and the solid colours. Between that and a supremely underrated score and soundtrack (not so prominent that it would be the first thing you’d think of when you think of the show, but good enough to make my brother interested in watching the show solely based off of what he could hear while I was watching it in the other room), the atmosphere they create for the series is extremely watchable, even in the bleaker of circumstances onscreen. They make the chess really interesting, dynamic and hitting all the right dramatic notes. It’s cool to watch as a viewer, although I felt like they could’ve, in moments, done a little more to indicate when a game was going well and when it was going more poorly. A lot of times it was blatantly obvious from the acting, but the example that comes to mind is the first half of the first game Beth plays against Harry Beltik, where the facial expressions weren’t doing enough to give away who was in control (where, for instance, in the second half of that game, the camera angles and the score make it pretty obvious that she’s screwing him and good). But, aside from the competitive parts, there’s an air of wonder they give to the game which I was a big fan of. Anytime Beth saw the pieces on the ceiling had a Lucy-Pevensie-walking-backwards-through-a-wardrobe energy to it, kind of wonderful to watch.

            I really hope they don’t make a second season of this show. It worked as a limited series; it had great characters, and it dealt with important things like addiction and support systems and it dealt with them well. That’s what I mean when I say that the show isn’t about chess, chess is just the shiny object. The show is about her addiction, her struggle with it, and how people like Jolene and Mr. Shaibel and Benny and Harry and Townes are like anchors in the face of waves. And it’s because of those anchors that chess works for her, that’s why she beats Borgov. And that should be it. The story was told incredibly well, but there’s no good way to go from here. She’s climbed to the top of the chess world, and to give her a regression in terms of her progress with her addiction for the purpose of a second season would rightly ring forced. The ambiguities that remain, like the exact nature of her relationship with Townes and some details regarding her parents, are maybe best left to ambiguity. Give the audience something to play with in their minds. As it stands, The Queen’s Gambit is a fantastic series that absolutely lived up to, and exceeded, its current hype. I do hope they let it lie well.

– Aman Datta

Aman’s Score – 84/100

Standing Up, Falling Down: Film Review

Standing Up, Falling Down (2019) - IMDb

  New on Amazon Prime, Standing Up, Falling Down is a dramatic comedy starring Ben Schwartz and Billy Crystal. The film follows Schwartz’s character, Scott, a struggling 30-something year old comedian who’s just moved back in with his parents after 4 years of eating it in LA. It centres around the friendship he forms with his dermatologist, a reasonably successful and comfortable man with a past filled with regret and sadness. Schwartz and Crystal are the leads, supported by a cast including Grace Gummer, Kevin Dunn, and Eloise Mumford among others. The film is directed by Matt Ratner, and written by Peter Hoare.

            This film was a very pleasant not-so-surprise. My expectations were pretty high the second I processed the idea of Ben Schwartz and Billy Crystal sharing a screen. I’m a massive fan of both of these actors; at this point I’ll watch really anything that Ben Schwartz is in, and Billy Crystal has, of course, had his place in legend cemented for decades now. It felt, right off the bat, like a perfect meeting of experienced charm and the rising star, and I was excited for it.

            Standing Up, Falling Down exactly met those expectations. It’s not a loud film, everything it does it does in understated and relaxed ways. The writing is great, but never in a way that makes you drop what you’re holding. There’s an authenticity, a very real schtick to it, which sparkles in its own way when it needs to and feels as unforced as possible when it doesn’t. Not noticeably extraordinary on its surface, but really sensitively crafted in its quietness. It’s aided in that authentic undertaking by plenty of first-rate performances. Ben Schwartz is excellent, he’s always been hilarious, Jean-Ralphio is still one of the funniest characters in TV history for me, and a lot of that came from his playing of him more than the writing on Parks and Rec. Here, though, Schwartz showed off some real acting chops. His character ultimately has much more dramatic depth than comic relief (drama really is the dominant genre in this film as a whole) and he sells it really well. He’s really well cast in general, you can tell that he knew how to put himself where Scott is in the film, and he brings a quality of acting that I just hadn’t seen form him before. It’s good to know he has that, and hopefully this will launch another part of his career. I’m glad that, during the stand-up scenes, they didn’t go overboard on showcasing any comedy God-like talent. In the scenes where he sucks, he sucks, and there isn’t much more to it, no other way they could’ve reasonably done it, but in the scene at his hometown stage, where we finally see him make an audience laugh, I’m glad they kept his talent in that moment to a realistic level. It made the thing just feel very real, he wasn’t Robin Williams, but he was nice, pretty funny, showing potential, not a finished product, and that felt very true to the spirit of the film.

            Billy Crystal is wonderful in this film. Speaking of his dear friend Robin Williams, he brought a quality to the screen that was part of what made Robin stand out, a kind of melancholy and sorrow with a depth that could only come straight from the soul. He’s another example of perfect casting in this film, he brings everything he needs to bring to the table; the right amount of funny, the right amount of brokenness, and the right amount of support and wisdom for a character like Scott. He’s got this twinkle in his eye that lends to likability, which he weaponize and turn into great sadness when he needs to, bringing to mind one particular scene that had me tearing up. He’s a special actor.

            But something I’d like to highlight about this film is the supporting cast, which next to the two leads, do a splendid job holding scenes and enhancing everything about the film. Grace Gummers and Kevin Dunn are great as Scott’s sister and father. They aren’t complex relationships, but they’re subtly and sensitively done and really well performed. It’s some of those little things that are done really well that make the film all the more pleasant. Nate Corddry is really effective as Marty’s son, despite not actually having that much to say he manages to bring out a dynamic, and it’s just done very well (but I might be biased, seeing as I know Corddry from Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. Gotta love the Sorkin alums). I’d also shout out Nathan James and Hassan Johnson, who contribute a large part to a scene that really anchors the film, who again only have a couple scenes. I think anyone who sees this film will agree with me in saying that Ruis (David Castañeda) deserves his own movie, and possibly a spin-off TV show, charting his rise to become ruler of the known universe, and even John Behlmann, whose character is the definition of functional, gives him life when he gets his chance. All the supporting cast make themselves feel felt in this film, the mark of a strong collective performance.

            All in all, this was a great film that brought a lot of interesting emotional ideas across in wholesome, heartfelt ways. The tone of this film is what makes is remarkable, remarkably unremarkable (I cringed writing that line just as much as you cringed reading it). It just sort of sits there, unobtrusive, as these people live their lives. There’s something wonderfully authentic about it, something that makes this place and these people feel so real. The cost of that authenticity is the chance to make it remarkable, and that it is not. It’s just nice and relaxed, a lightly funny, pensive experience, that I enjoyed a great deal. I appreciate that they left it more or less unresolved, leaving room for the story to go north or south as it might or might not. There was a nearly audible shoulder-shrug. An “and it goes on,” of sorts.

            It’s been a little while since I’ve written a review, and I’m glad this was the one first one back. Standing Up, Falling Down is on Amazon Prime India (and maybe other countries, you’d have to check). I’d strongly recommend giving it a look, it’s a sweet, wholesome, unobtrusively emotional film; a good time that hits every emotional note it aimed at.

– Aman Datta

Aman’s Score – 76/100

The Trial of the Chicago 7: Film Review

The Trial of the Chicago 7 - Wikipedia

            The latest from legendary writer-turned-upstart-director Aaron Sorkin is The Trial of the Chicago 7. The film is based on true events that took place surrounding the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, specifically those of violent riots that occurred during that time. The story is that of the Chicago 7, the group of men charged with inciting the riots in Grant Park and other locations which turned violent, and the subsequent trial. An all-star cast list includes Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen, Yahya Abdul-Matten II, Frank Langella, Mark Rylance, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jeremy Strong, John Carrol Lynch, Michael Keaton, and Alex Sharp among others. The film was written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, who wrote the screenplay 14 years ago. This is only his second time in the director’s chair.

            I’m somewhat cautious of how I want to describe this film. The reason for that caution is that I’m very cognisant of my intense, unyielding bias for the brain that bore this film. Aaron Sorkin is my favourite writer in the history of the known universe. I think he’s better than Shakespeare. Anyone who knows me, and I figure there’s a decent chance anyone who does specifically isn’t reading this review for fear of the tangent I could go on, would be able to describe my apostle-like reverence for this man’s work. The aspects of my admiration are many, but, in its shortest form, I love his point of view. I love the way he paints the world, romantic and good, where there exist people, however few, that are simply hardwired to do the right thing (anyone who wants to fight with me about whether or not his representation of politics or media is naïve and hopelessly idealistic is welcome to. Be prepared for an in-depth distinction between idealism and romanticism). The best thing to have ever been on a screen, for me, is a show called The West Wing, which was created by him and written by him for 4 years. If you haven’t seen it…you really, really should. When it’s not rosy valentines to public service, it’s a shockingly nuanced character study of non-heroes (think The Social Network, which is still his best big-screen work). Either way, he’s simply the best dialogue writer in history, and I could go on, and on, and on, and on about how much I love his work.

            Which is why I was worried I’m going to go overboard. Then I remembered that this is my site, and I can write whatever I want. Seriously though, this is an incredible film. Naturally the writing is superlative. I mean, it’s about as close to perfect as you can get. The actors have done a great job; Sorkin dialogue is well understood to be a beast unto itself, but he’s supported by a cast that knew what they were signing up for. Eddie Redmayne and Sacha Baron Cohen are both fantastic as Tom Hayden and Abbie Hoffman, playing off each other so incredibly well. Frank Langella is absolutely repulsive, which is to say he hit it out of the park. Mark Rylance was brilliant when he needed to be, a couple particular moments in the court (and at least one out of it) come to mind. Yahya Abdul-Mateen might’ve been the strongest single performance, as Bobby Seale, and the strength of his performance might’ve been matched by one or two particular scenes for Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Even Michael Keaton shows up for his relatively very small part. I’d say Jeremy Strong was the weakest of them performance-wise, there were moments when he fell slightly flat, but even he had a few great moments (the Grant Park riot scene being chief among them).

            One of the things I read most in the reviews leading up to the film’s release was that the film might’ve been better if someone other than Sorkin had directed it. This was only Sorkin’s second film as a director (the first was Molly’s Game). I’m not going to pretend that there weren’t moments where his inexperience showed, which manifested mainly in some rougher transitions (particularly one sort of inexplicable fade to black), but, on the whole, I actually thought he did more than just direct it adequately. Again, there were moments that were indicative of someone who hasn’t necessarily done this ten times before, but I think you can chalk those up to learning curves that you need to sort out at some point. Aside from those few moments, the film actually has a brilliant pace and flair about it. He’s a fan of heavy intercuts, and my God does he make them work. The opening sequence that introduced all of the characters, the depiction of how things got out of control at the second protest, every second of the court scene, were all examples of moments where Sorkin brought his own directorial flair to the table, and his sense of rhythm for his own words was a sight to see. He even really nailed the riot scenes, which I was expecting to be the source of the problem (I don’t think you could find a scene with half that much action in it in anything he’s ever done before). I also want to touch briefly on the representation in this film, because Sorkin gets hung all the time with claims of naïve, giddy idealism, which was something I read going into this film as well. Now, I take some amount of issue with that under normal circumstances, but I’d actually point out that, for  this film, I’m not sure where one would locate the giddiness. There are tweaks to how things actually happened in the courtroom, Richard Schultz was not seen to actually display the conscience he did in the film after Bobby Seale was gagged in the court (his was declared a mistrial, but only after he remained bound and gagged in court for three days) and the reading of the names of the dead was done, but earlier in the trial, and to much less dramatic effect as it was in the movie. Beyond that, the facts about the ruling being overturned are, well, facts. But, in the face of the judge and the tediousness of getting a fair trial, this couldn’t be called The West Wing by any stretch. This film’s not about everything working out, it’s about good people, lots of points of view, and an ideological tug-of-war at the gates of a potentially oppressive government.

            And that’s an important thing to talk about, the ideological personification that this movie looks to achieve. There are a lot of characters, and they’ve all got things to say and do, but the heart of this movie is the conflict between Abbie Hoffman and Tom Heyman. Arguably the best scene in the film (arguably, there are a couple others that give it pretty steep contest) is when the built up anger and contempt between Abbie and Tom finally gives way, and they decide to voice their issues with each other. Tom makes some pretty salient points about Abbie’s approach to revolution, but only as salient as those that Abbie makes about Tom’s, and the mutual respect that comes from that disagreement is wonderful. In a lot of ways, that’s also the point of this movie. On the stand for conspiracy were four individual groups of people that had their own individual ideas about revolution and protest, each of whom practiced their ideas in their own ways. As much as anything else in this film, I was fascinated by the understated cage-match of progressive ideologies on display. If there was one point of ever-so-slight issue, it would actually be that, for no character, does it ever go deeper than the ideological level. This movie doesn’t have a Jesse Eisenberg as Mark Zuckerberg, it doesn’t have a character that you get to understand the deeper gears of, because the ideological conversation takes precedence, maybe rightly so, over character depth. With such a large ensemble, and so many points of view to put across, the characters become mouthpieces for their ideas. That’s fine, it’s what this movie needed, but it’s a level of depth that I think a film like The Social Network had which this film didn’t. Hard to say if that makes it better or worse, the two films had very different purpose. I’ll put it in an update to this review once I’ve seen this movie 87 more times.

            I think I’d be doing a disservice in not mentioning this film’s place in time. Never have I ever seen such a topical film. That they filmed this before the pandemic, before the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, is downright spooky. I mean it. How to protest and why we do it is a conversation long overdue, in America and the rest of the world, and the parallels to present day couldn’t be more poignant. There’s something familiar about Julius Hoffman and his brand of incompetency, something familiar about a spiteful government, and there’s definitely something familiar about how the protests turned, how the police behaved. Given the context, there’s a largeness to this film that’s hard to articulate. In interviews, Aaron Sorkin has described how this is a film about today, that takes place in 1968. If it’s not absolutely clear what that means, you need to watch this movie. If you’ve got an opinion about the innumerable protests we’ve been seeing, you need to watch this movie. Honestly, it goes beyond that. If you live in 2020, you really oughta be watching this movie. Boiled down, this is an incredible film, far and away the best of the year, and one of my new favourites of all time. I think. Like I said, just gonna have to watch it another 87 times to be sure.

– Aman Datta

Aman’s Score – 90/100

The Boys – S2: TV Review

Having literally just seen the final episode, the time has come to review the second season of Amazon Prime’s smash-hit 2019 series The Boys. The show has climbed do a different level of popularity since the relatively surprise-nature of the success of its first season. For those unacquainted, however, The Boys is something of an anti-Marvel; it takes place in a world where “supes” are celebrities, and are thusly at the beck-and-call of their corporate overlords, doing good only to sell a brand, having no regard for collateral damage at best, and legitimately sinister intentions at worst. The show follows a group of vigilantes, nicknamed “The Boys”, as they attempt to expose the Supes and the company that controls them. This is a spoiler review for the 2nd season of The Boys. If you haven’t seen the second season, or the first for that matter, please turn back. We’ve got plenty of reviews.

The Boys (TV Series 2019– ) - IMDb

My level of excitement for this season can’t possibly be over-stated. I loved the first season, absolutely adored it. I wrote a review for it at the time, which you can read if you’re interested in why, but the bottom line is that I was a massive fan of this show when its first season dropped, and I’d been keeping my ear to the ground for over a year about the second season. By the time early September came around, I’d just finished my season 1 re-watch and was ready to go.

I feel like my anticipation for this season is a pretty good segue in to the main controversy that met Eric Kripke and the rest of the creative team behind the show, namely the fact that season 2 was released in a staggered way. The first 3 episodes were dropped at once, and the remaining 5 were released on a weekly basis, which took a lot of the fanbase by surprise and resulted in a wave of backlash. Honestly. I find the reaction some people had to this release pattern really pretty childish. To prefer binging is perfectly fine, and it’s just as fine to say it, but to show hate for a show that you like because it’s not being released in the way you’d prefer is kind of ludicrous. Personally, I’m in the camp that says weekly releases is the best way to watch TV. It doesn’t work for every show, the episode that you get each week needs to be interesting enough to hold your attention and maintain your interest week after week, but if you’ve got a show that can do that, among which The Boys definitely is one, then it adds a level of sustained suspense and anticipation that adds to the show, not to mention the fact that it’s probably a good exercise in some amount of patience for us. You don’t need to agree with that, but some people went pretty far in showing their displeasure, and I respect Kripke’s doubling down on the decision and chastising his fans for giving it negative reviews for that reason. Also, it really shouldn’t have been a surprise, they mentioned the staggered release in every piece of marketing I saw beforehand.

It’s a challenge to asses this season as a whole having just seen the finale, so I think I’ll sort of take it thread by thread as they lead up to the finale. I want to start, as all things should, with The Deep, whose existence is basically the most schadenfreude shambles in the history of the world. His whole storyline with the Church of the Collective was hilarious, I loved the Scientology parallels, even though it didn’t actually add up to much. My guess is we’ll be seeing more of his supposed teaming up with Maeve to take down Homelander in the next season, hopefully, although anything would’ve been worth it for Patton Oswald as the gills and the last moment where they take A-Train back instead. Frickin priceless. I also want to take a moment to acknowledge Frenchie. I’ve always held great love for Frenchie, he was always second favorite of The Boys, to Butcher, but I loved him still. Someone I spoke to about it pointed out a lack of development for him, a lack of an arc, and while that’s a fair observation, Frenchie is a rare character in that he has, in spite of having no arc, an incredible depth. It’s like he’s already been through a great arc, before the show, and we get the final product right off the bat, full of emotional depth, and his episode, you know the one, is arguably one of the high points of the whole show. His only real growth is alongside Kimiko, who started the season off really well and then sort of fell by the wayside and wasn’t given an awful lot to do. They actually had some stand out moments (the scene in the church, the first time Frenchie actually gets pissed at her, comes to mind), but they were all C or even D stories until the ‘Girls get it done’ scene in the last episode, which was extremely cathartic (if possibly not the greatest fight choreography in the world, they were basically just kicking her).

Stormfront was a cool character to throw into the mix, I’m glad she’s out of the picture now though, I doubt she’d have kept for more than a season. Ultimately her role, aside from being an evil Nazi, had a lot more to do with Homelander’s growth than anything else Aya Cash did a really good job though, and she was an essential piece to this season’s puzzle. Homelander had a fantastic season. There’s a brilliant irony in the most powerful man in the world’s biggest weakness being a need to be loved, and Antony Starr plays the struggle so. Frickin. Well. Seriously, this is a character who could do anything he wanted (including what he did to show it in the last episode. He could, so he did), but he won’t just wipe out anyone in his way (or at least not quite that bluntly) because in the end he needs people to love him. One of the best paying threads of this season was Homelander’s weird…genuinely caring paternal side for Ryan. One of the things that last episode did so incredibly well is making you feel for the guy. I was not expecting the scene at that Vought restaurant to go the way it did, nor the scenes after it, because it finally came across that Homelander’s intentions with Ryan were kind of for real. You’ve got to wonder, had Homelander had the opportunity to raise Ryan on his own, if Ryan would’ve actually turned out to become a sort of anti-Homelander of his own accord. If Homelander is the way that he is because of the way he was raised, I see great tragedy in the idea that Homelander might actually have solved his own problem by raising Ryan the way he wishes he was raised. Antony Starr continues to be fantastic in debatably the best performance of the show.

Of course, it is debatable, a debate caused solely by the existence of Karl Urban. Butcher’s last episode of this season was unbelievable. In terms of the season as a whole, he had great development parallel to Hughie (although I’m not certain about some of the directions they took Hughie later, more on that later). The big revelation, of course, was the thing with Becca. There was a lot of Becca-hating done after that episode released. I think the bottom line is that she was probably right in that moment, no matter how frustrating it might be. She had the measure of Butcher’s character, much better than we gave her credit for. Would you honestly have put it past Butcher to straight up kill the kid at that point? One could argue that Becca ought to have gone with Butcher, and then bet on the kid’s likeability to get through to Butcher eventually. Cameron Crovetti, the kid who plays Ryan, might’ve been one of the unsung heroes of this show. He did as good a job of selling his likeability as he possibly could’ve done, and, given that he’s just a good kid, Becca might’ve taken the risk that Butcher would come to recognize that about him. All in all though, I definitely see why she did what she did, and Butcher’s actions in the first half of the last episode are evidence of that. Butcher’s actions in the second half of that episode, however, tell a different story. I really wish we could’ve seen Becca with The Boys for longer. We never really saw her talk to Hughie, for example, and I just wish we had. Killing her was the absolute right decision, and they couldn’t have done it in a more heartbreaking way. That whole scene, in the woods, was almost perfect. It might’ve helped that there wasn’t much by way of dialogue, this show’s Achille’s Heel (more on that later), but such as it was, it was brilliant. There were so many dynamics at play in that scene, so much happening internally for every character on screen, and it was made what is was by Karl Urban’s extraordinary performance.

I’m a little confused as to what to say about Hughie and Starlight. I was a big fan of what they chose to do with Hughie’s character up until the second last episode. I generally wasn’t a massive fan of that episode, for a lot of reasons that I’ll get to next, but suffice it to say that I think that whatever emotional development that ought to have been happening with Hughie felt kind of mishandled. The porn metaphor was really stupid, an example of nonsense juvenility that occasionally plagues the writing of the show, and it just led to a poor representation of a very genuine internal struggle (we’ll call it the Hawk-Eye effect). His thing at the conclusion of the season was really vague. I don’t really understand what “stand on my own two feet” means in that context. Okay that’s maybe not fair to them, I do understand more or less what they’re saying, but its implications could be kind of out of character for Hughie, outside of what I’d call a reasonable arc. My confusion stems from the fact that I don’t really understand if this sudden need to strike out from the group is as drastic a character change as it could be, or if it’s actually something more understated. Starlight had a decent season all around, save for a couple examples of poor dialogue, either in the writing or the delivery. I don’t think I understand her decision to go back to The Seven after all of it, I don’t think it makes a ton of sense. The “let the assholes steer” bit is the sort of thing that sound nice enough on the surface, but makes very little sense when you think about the fact that she could be jumping ship and fighting Vought outright from the outside. Do they really still need an inside man? I guess we’ll find out.

There’s just a little bit more to say. I want to, first, point out the gaping problem with this show in general. They really need to find better writers for the dialogue. A little too much of the dialogue (and I’m singling out dialogue because the broad-strokes, storyline writing of the show is fantastic) is really quite average to below-average. It’s clunky, it crosses the line to juvenile at times (that porn metaphor really bothered me), and all of that would be fine if it wasn’t as regular as it is. Again, the bigger picture writing is fantastic, but the syntax really needs some punching up. I don’t know how many people have seen the Honest Trailer for the first season, but the insinuation that the show was basically written by those teenagers Maeve saved from a bus in the first episode is a little too accurate in moments.

Obviously, there’s a lot I haven’t been able to mention. These TV reviews are a lot tougher than film reviews because there’s so much more I’d like to say. I want to talk about Maeve and Elena, about MM being underutilized (of which him not being mentioned in this review is a decent metaphor), and how this show almost made me stop drinking milk, but there isn’t space for everything. Hopefully I’ll be able to give more time to stuff that when season 3 comes out, and it’s all more developed. The season finale did a lot to tie up loose ends, but there’s plenty to wonder about going forward. For example, just who, what, where, when, and why is Victoria Neuman? I figured it was the bald girl at Sage Grove who was blowing people’s heads off, not Neuman, so unless there’s some identity theft going on, those are threads we’ll hopefully see more of. Obviously, I can see Neuman becoming the next lead villain, maybe with Hughie as an unwitting antagonist to The Boys? That could be good. I guess we’ll have to wait and see. In the meantime, I think it’s safe to say that this was a phenomenal season, and I can’t wait for more, as soon as they can get it to us.

– Aman Datta

Aman’s Season 2 Score – 86/100

I’m Thinking of Ending Things: Film Review

‘I’m Thinking of Ending Things’ is a great film about the perplexities of human nature, filled with Kaufman’s originalities but will definitely take some time to percolate.

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Before I say anything, it’s important to know that this film is an ACQUIRED TASTE. You have to venture into the world of Charlie Kaufman before watching this film. It’s one of those films where you’d literally rub your eyes to understand what’s happening cause it seems like nothing but everything is happening at the same time, and this feeling will last throughout the film.

There’s really no other way to describe this film other than Kaufmanesque; the meaning of this would vary from person to person: for some it may be positive, for some it could be ‘what the hell is going on?’ but for me, personally, it’s pure genius but only and only if you have previously ventured into Kaufman’s world. Kaufman is a screenwriter and filmmaker who has his own, extremely unique style, which for some may make no sense but for others it’d be an indulgence, quickly evolving into an addiction, to get lost into his perplexing, distressed world; a world that offers a realistic depiction of human emotions in the most abstract way possible. As like Kaufman’s previous ventures too, ‘I’m Thinking of Ending Things,’ is an acquired taste, which if you understand and immerse yourself in will prove hugely entertaining. Yes, this film may not be Kaufman’s best but it is definitely a great piece of art.

The film revolves around a young couple, Jake (Jesse Plemons) and his girlfriend who ‘might be’ named Lucy (Jessie Buckley). After a quick montage of a lonely house, we’re introduced to Lucy who, after dating for six weeks, is ‘thinking of ending things’ with Jake. For majority of the film, the couple finds themselves on possibly the strangest road trip through a snowstorm toward the farm Jake’s parents live. But the real deal awaits them when they arrive at the house. You have to really immerse yourself, paying attention to each line to understand what the film is trying to tell you or rather trying to make you feel. In ‘I’m Thinking of Ending Things’ the effects arrive before our understanding of their causes. The writing, the atmosphere, the performances all create certain emotions, evoke curtain thoughts: we know exactly what we’re feeling, but we have absolutely no reason why and that suspense that’s created is what keeps you glued to the screen.

The film is perplexing to say the least. As far as we can guess at the beginning, we are in Lucy’s head, if that’s what’s her name. The conversation through the car ride largely revolves around Lucy’s interests and background. She seems to be studying physics, or painting, or gerontology and despite not being interested in poetry she suddenly recites a touching lyric she claims to have written herself. The exchange is strange to say the least but the somehow this ambiguity, this confusion brings forth the inner desires or anxieties of human nature that we seem to project. At times her peacoat is pink, until it becomes blue, every character seems to have some inconsistency, some quirky trait that eventually ends up being uncomfortably creepy, even the dog. The movie is full of questions (all of which aren’t quite answered): are those around us simply mirrors of our own narcissism, what do we actually desire from life, what are we scared off, are these fears simply created by the mind, are we even real to one another? Honestly, it’s just not that easy, it’s too complicated to simply put into words.

If you thought the road trip was ‘weird,’ the graph just seems to accelerate from there on, exponentially. Jake’s parents (Toni Collete and David Thewlis) grow older and younger every time they enter a scene, the dog’s peculiar movements(?), the awkward table-talk, the random interruptions of the of the scenes of the old janitor in the school, the dead lambs in the barn everything creates a certain sense of ambiguity, augmented by the camera movements, Molly Hughes’ strange production design and jay Wadley’s soft but intense score  which slowly, eventually begins coming together as the movie progresses but is never really completely answered. All this along with Lucy finding herself so puzzled so often creates the sense that possibly her perspective isn’t the one we should trust, maybe she’s the odd normality in a crazy world because she’s faking her thoughts. This foreshadows the end but doesn’t ever give out anything.

This film is possibly Kaufman’s most daring yet creative piece of work yet (not his best – still a ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’ guy) and just goes to show how films can be parasites that sit at the back of our minds and infect it with emotions and sometimes misleading ideas that shape our thoughts and ideologies. The amount of detail that he puts into his films – from the change in colour of Lucy’s peacot to the animated pig, the awkward camera angles, the blood streamers in the almost poetic ballet in the school gymnasium and the fake ‘old’ makeup – is really highlighted in this film. There’s a lot of stuff going on in the film in terms of symols, metaphors and plethora of stylistic devices which would be great to sit and analyze (but I guess not in this review).

The cast is nothing short of brilliant. Jesse Plemons and Jessie Buckley play their characters, entangled in this abstract mystery, with great care, detail and trickery, forcing the audience to believe their innocence but then leaving just enough room to doubt their intentions. Toni Collette and David Thewlis brilliantly bring out an almost disturbing feeling among the audience with their awkward actions and their strange dinner table conversation. There’s great amount of thought before the delivery of each line and the credit goes equally to the actors and Kaufman.

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All in all, ‘I’m Thinking of Ending Things’ is a great film about the perplexities of human nature, filled with Kaufman’s originalities but will definitely take some time to percolate. Yes, the film does tend to drag a bit by continuously introducing new questions in each scene without providing any answers whatsoever but you cannot deny the fact that it is a great example of Kaufman’s pure genius. If you aren’t completely pre-invested in watching the movie you may find it difficult to watch it in one sitting but it’ll constantly exercise your brain, trying to look at the smallest of things in search of answers. The details really stand out and combined with the writing there’s an unusual sensation where you feel certain emotions towards the characters and the plotline, without really knowing why and that is the unique feeling I was drawn by. I personally am a huge fan of Franz Kafka and his oppressively strange and nightmarish style of storytelling. From him, we’ve developed the adjective of something being ‘Kafkaesque’ and I won’t be surprised if we soon have a new adjective in the dictionary: Kaufmanesque.

P.S. Before you try watching this film, I’d recommend watching a few other Charlie Kaufman films other wise it really won’t make sense. Another director who has a slightly more similar but more subtle style is Yorgos Lanthimos and I’d definitely endorse watching a few of his films if you enjoyed this one.

By Aryamaan Dholakia

Aman’s Score: N/A Aryamaan’s Score: 79/100

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Community: TV Review

Watch Community Season 1 | Prime Video

Community is a sitcom that ran from 2009 to 2015 and was set at a Community College in Colorado called Greendale. It centres predominantly around a group of 7 students at the college, who eventually became known on the show as The Greendale Seven, and the college faculty, as they navigate their dynamics and relationships in while together at Greendale. The show stars Joel McHale, Danny Pudi, Donald Glover, Alison Brie, Gillian Jacobs, Yvette Nicole Brown, Jim Rash, Ken Jeong, and Chevy Chase among others. Community is also the original claim to fame for Rick and Morty co-creator Dan Harmon, who created the show and served as Showrunner for all except the 4th season. Other notable names who worked on the show include The Russo Brothers (famous for indie projects such as Avengers Infinity War and Endgame) and Justin Lin (of the Fast and Furious franchise). The show is incredibly well acclaimed in spite of middling ratings, and laboured under behind-the-scenes drama after the 3rd out of its 6 seasons.

            Watching this show had been a long time coming for me. Weird as it was to be watching a golden age NBC show that had nothing to do with Greg Daniels and Michael Schur, I’d been looking forward to seeing Community for a hell of a long time. Whether or not it was worth the wait sort of depends.

            The first three seasons of this show are pure gold. It’s just Dan Harmon at his best: unbelievably witty and sarcastic, observational, smart comedy. There’s a meta-ness to his writing that’s obviously gone on to become a larger pop-culture phenomenon with Rick and Morty, but which was evidently birthed here. I like it better, if I’m honest. I’m a fan of Rick and Morty, I think it might be the funniest show on television right now, but the total utter lack of character development and continuity beyond the first two seasons takes away from the overall experience for me. Okay, I’ve been harsh. It’s not that that show has no character development, in fact, I’d argue the first two seasons do an incredible job of cementing characters into the conceptual quasar that is the show’s premise. It’s from that point on that the show kind of gets drunk on its own cleverness (which, to be fair, it’s pretty damn clever), and sort of phones in on its characters. Still a legendarily funny show, but not more than that. Community is kind of like that, but reeled in a decent amount. There are issues of inconsistencies (Britta’s character is probably the most butchered over the course of the show) and conceptual indulgences that detract from what the show could be, but it does keep some semblance of reigns on those pesky dramatic elements, keeping it coherent enough to give the comedy strong basis in the story.

            My God is it funny. The average episode is hilarious enough; some of my favourites are when Harmon decides “you know what? I’m gonna mock a genre today” and proceeds to use the show to parody tropes from a laundry list of genres from Noirs to Post-Apocalyptic-Warzone movies. It’s genius, so frickin funny, and it really paid to have directors the likes of the Russos and such when it came to capturing the cinematic-ness of Paintball or Ab-atman. It adds up to three seasons of a show that, for all its character inconsistencies and lack of scale in terms of the plot, ends up feeling larger than it was, a charismatic  juggernaut of comedic television.

            Then came the gas-leak year. You know, it wasn’t as bad as its reputation. For those who aren’t familiar, season 4 of the show is referred to as the Gas-Leak year. This is because, as a result of behind-the-scenes drama involving harassment and conflict between Dan Harmon and some of the writers and cast members respectively, Harmon was fired as showrunner, and that season was produced without his direct involvement. It’s seen to be the undisputed worst season of the show. That’s probably true, depending on your holistic opinion of the last season, but I will say that it didn’t disappoint to half the extent it was advertised; the benefit of low expectations, I suppose. It missed a certain edge, an intelligence that comes as part of a package deal with Dan Harmon. And, as the season wore on, it started using past plot development in ways that were perhaps less artful than the way Harmon would’ve done, the Darkest Timeline arc most notable among them.

            My seasons 5 and 6 opinions are mixed. On one hand, at least half of season 5 is arguably up there with as good as the show ever got, including a ridiculous number of competitors for best episode. The trouble is, the other half of season 5 doesn’t hold much more water than season 4, and I can’t even begin to make up my mind about season 6. It never felt like it took itself seriously anymore (or at least to the extent that it ever took itself seriously), and, while the new characters they introduced were pretty great in their own right, it felt like too much too late for me to commit to anyone, or anything, that happened. I think I actually really liked Elroy, for example, but he was introduced so late, and with the show literally running on auxiliary power (I’m told Yahoo couldn’t afford real electricity) that it didn’t feel memorable. The same goes for Frankie and, to a lesser extent, Professor Hickey: good characters that might’ve been welcome a couple seasons ago, but instead felt like they were being forced into existence to fill the hole left by Troy, Shirley, and Pierce. Realistically, the show never recovered from Donald Glover’s departure. Troy and Abed (in the mor-ning!) were the heartbeat of it all, and it was never the same afterward. The chopping and changing also meant that, by the time the last episode rolled around, the show was more or less unrecognizable as what it started out as. It was a sad thing that, by the last episode, I didn’t have as much left for the characters as I’d hoped.

            So it’s a topsy turvy ride. I maintain that the first three seasons are solid gold, but the decline after that is hard to deny. When you add it all up, there’s an element of tragedy, considering what could’ve been if not for behind-the scenes-drama. That having been said, if you took the first three seasons, the first half (and some change) of the fifth, and maybe the last three episodes, you’d be looking at one of the smartest, funniest, and, at times, wholesome comedy shows you’ll ever see.

            I’m not going to go through every character, I’d still be writing this if I did, but I do address a few specific things. If this show contributed anything to the cumulative goodness of the world, it was Troy and Abed. My new favourite double act of all time, and a beautiful mix of wholesomeness and comedy. Abed’s probably my favourite character in the show, but I do contend (as does Dan Harmon, as I found out while reading up about it) that the show never recovered from losing Troy. What they do to Britta’s character is very unfortunate, although it was kinda hilarious. Jim Rash delivered the pretty much undisputed best performance out of all the cast as the Dean. Troy and Britta’s relationship was one of the most weirdly handled things I’ve ever seen on a screen. Its development wasn’t bad at first, but it was like the writers were scared of committing to it. I think I’m for Jannie? But I honestly don’t know anymore.

            I think the show is best explained in short by none other than the creator and showrunner of all non-gas-leak years: Dan Harmon. The following is a quote, an excerpt from the actual last line of the whole show. It’s not a spoiler, it’s a summation, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything so fully encapsulated in my life. It goes: “Dice not included, some assembly required. Lines between perception, desire, and reality may become blurred, redundant, or interchangeable. Characters may hook up with no regard for your emotional investment. Some episodes too conceptual to be funny. Some too funny to be immersive, and some so immersive they still aren’t funny. Consistency between seasons may vary. Show may be cancelled and moved to the internet where it turns out tens of millions were watching the whole time. May not matter. Contains pieces the size of a child’s oesophagus.” If I may add my own, it’s an hilarious bowl of fun with some genuinely meaningful moments sprinkled in there. We still haven’t gotten what we were promised though. 6 seasons and a movie.

#andamovie.

– Aman Datta

Aman’s Score – 85/100

An Education: Film Review

An Education - Wikipedia

An Education is a film set in 1960s London and follows the story of a 16-year-old schoolgirl, her heart set on Oxford, and the way her outlook on her future change when an older man takes a liking to her. The film essentially launched Carey Mulligan’s career, earning her an Oscar nomination for her leading performance. It also stars Peter Sarsgaard, Alfred Molina, Dominic Cooper, Rosamund Pike, and Emma Thompson, and was adapted from Lynn Barber’s memoir by Nick Hornby, acclaimed scribe of About a Boy and Brooklyn.

            I’d been meaning to watch this film for quite a while, and finally got down to it yesterday. I’d heard a lot about it, mainly about Mulligan’s performance. And yet, despite all I’d heard, I somehow had the wrong idea about the tone of this film. The premise of the film sort of paints its own picture; one of grittiness and burn-out-syndromes. Or, at least, that was what I envisioned when I read the premise. I assumed it was going to project a warning in what we’ll call a Beautiful Boy kind of direction.

            But that wasn’t the film I saw. We’ll get to the messaging in a minute; while remarkable, it wasn’t as large a surprise to me as compared to the tone of the film. From a very interesting opening sequence, the film’s pulse is a lot lighter, more innocent than I saw coming. It’s really funny, and genuinely has you guessing in moments about whether or not her decisions aren’t completely valid. This might be a result of other films I’ve seen that cover similar thematic material, but I wasn’t expecting to be as sold as I was in the early stages about on the potential positives of what she was doing. It’s impressive writing, and two particularly strong performances from Sarsgaard and Mulligan, that make this film very watchable, very easy to digest, and give it a plausible balance between the impending assumption that something’s about to go horribly wrong and the innocent play of the story. It amounts to a tone that, far from bringing the gloom I anticipated, actually allows for some intellectually sound whimsy, balanced very well with the more intense, reality-check scenes (one in particular comes to mind, with much credit to Molina).

Of course, a warning is a component of what this film communicates. Jenny makes mistakes, real ones, and she suffers very real consequences for them, but there’s a larger idea that comes across in her character. She’s not a burnout, she never was, and she doesn’t become one over the course of the film. The bad choices she makes are hers, but there’s an argument that’s made about the point of education, and the way the future is, for want of a better term, marketed, to young people. The fact that Jenny, the intelligent and sound of mind young woman that she is, would turn to an older man, this older man specifically, and the life of colour that comes with him, over the alternative that’s presented to her, the supposedly dull, unexciting life that follows an education, is a reflection of the fact that we spend entirely too much time focusing on the product, the end result when we talk to our children about school and education in general, the ideology brought out exceptionally well via Molina’s performance, and not nearly enough time answering the question “why?”. Possibly my favourite moment in the film is near its end, when Jenny sees her teacher’s flat (played by Olivia Williams), and the real end product of it all is revealed to her. It’s a really potent point, and, as someone who just finished up with the high school system, it’s something that could stand to be mentioned more along the way.

All of this is achieved a result of some real heavy lifting from a fantastic cast and crew. The opening sequence, which demanded a certain amount of animation, really stood out for me as a mood-setter. The performances are great all-around. Obviously special mention must go to the two leads, particularly Mulligan, but Alfred Molina and Rosamund Pike are fantastic as well. Molina actually lands the emotional centre of the film, a scene outside Jenny’s bedroom near the end. And, as is almost always the case, the quality of the performances compliment the quality of the characters on the page, and for that we have a fantastic screenplay from Nick Hornby to thank.

All in all, a fantastic film. An Education hits all the right emotional notes, lands its comic relief when it needs to, does it at an expert enough rate to maintain a tone for a thoughtful coming of age film (as opposed to simply a PSA), and makes a subtle point in an unsubtle way. But, aside from the intellectual idea put across here, I was also really appreciative of another point of communication for this film, specifically, the way they address making mistakes. It’s a refreshing thing to see, in a modern world that condemns even the smallest mistakes, a film that chooses to forgive its character at the end, and remind the audience that no mistake, however large, necessarily defines any person entirely. The depiction of that is a tad rushed; a flaw in the design, but not one that sinks a very sturdy ship. An Education is a fantastic film that I’d recommend to anyone.

– Aman Datta

Aman’s Score – 84/100

Project Power: Film Review

Project Power (2020) - IMDb

‘Project Power’ is Netflix’s latest addition to the its action movie arsenal after “The Old Guard.” It definitely doesn’t do better than its predecessor but with the film boasting a large budget, a phenomenal cast and a brilliant concept it did definitely entertain. What upset me the most was that it had a huge amount of potential, but it didn’t completely justify it. For a film that revisits the frequently explored idea that human beings aren’t working at full capacity – Lucy and Limitless – the film comes across as being desperately in need of more fun.  Yes, some scenes were conceived extremely well and I did geek out a couple of times – like when Art went all super saiyan – but the film that could’ve had so many highs and lows was largely flat. Visually the film was nothing less than joyous to watch but with a more tightly knit screenplay, it could’ve definitely been a powerful beginning to a new franchise of films. For those who thought this as a replacement for Wonder Woman 1984 or Black Widow would have to dial down their expectations a bit.

Set in New Orleans, the film revolves around a mysterious new drug that can give humans superpowers for 5 minutes. These superpowers can range from super strength to being covered in fire or even invisibility – all obtained from animals. The pill is manufactured by a corporation run by ‘Biggie’ (Rodrigo Santoro) whose motives aren’t really made clear. The lives of three characters, Art, Frank and Robin, collide in an attempt to stop this organization. Art (Jamie Foxx) was a soldier on whom the drug was first tested on. Now, his daughter has been captured by the same organization due to Art’s latent powers passed down to her. He is on a mission to get his daughter back. Robin (Dominique Fishback) is is a lowly, teenage peddler of the pill who needs the money and one of her customers is a cop, Frank (Joseph Gordon Levitt), who takes the same drug he’s trying to eradicate from the streets.

While the concept of the film is extremely interesting, the film is unfortunately filled with multiple action movie clichés. The protagonist is the typical strong and silent type who can somehow stand toe-to-toe with super powered individuals and of course he has his good-hearted sidekick who is coincidentally named Robin. In lieu of getting a some dark, socio-political themes, which I was expecting, the screenplay by Mattson Tomlin (also the writer for the new Batman film) goes down more of the typical superhero entertainment route that pays homage to various comic boom super heroes from Johnny Storm to the incredible Hulk.

Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman with Michael Simmonds (DOP) have done really well with this project creating some gorgeous scenes and smooth action sequences – at least until it all becomes a CGI slugfest. From a technical standpoint – the film is gorgeous. There’s some neat choreography with thumping sound effects that really allow you to immerse yourself into the film. The bright colours of the sets and the breathtakingly realistic visuals when someone grows bones out of his body simply add the film. But even with all this, you just cannot get over the clichés that have been crammed in, which cause to lose interest at times.

The three performances by Jamie Foxx, Joseph Gordon Levitt and Dominique Fishback are what save the film. Jamie Foxx, possibly the most talented man in the world, gives a solid performance as always. There are very few actors that can be as versatile as him, bringing their same level of performance to every genre. Joseph Gordon Levitt too does what he always does, he’s absolutely amazing every time I see him on screen. But it’s Dominique Fishback who was actually the standout for me in the film.

All in all, “Project Power” never revs up enough but takes comic book clichés and adds it to a gritty co-thriller with some stylish visuals that will make for a good movie-night and honestly, that’s what it’s all about. Yes, it has a few negatives and a lot of clichés but the action sequences (especially Joseph Gordon Levitt’s Bank chase scene), the sound effects, visuals and performances will ensure you have a great time. The film appears to be trying to critique the superhero culture but yet undermines it in the same light. The film doesn’t match up to Netflix’s recent action film releases (barring “The Last Days of American Crime”) like “Extraction” and “The Old Guard” but it is definitely an enjoyable watch.

– Aryamaan Dholakia

Aryamaan’s Score – 66/100 Aman’s Score –