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 –

Raat Akeli Hain: Film Review

Raat Akeli Hai - Wikipedia

After various overrated, poor and even awful releases by Netflix, it has finally released a movie that is watchable. The movie boasts a powerful cast and revolves around a cop, charged with the task to investigate the murder of a powerful landlord on his wedding night. The film adds a decent noir edge to a gripping ‘whodunnit.’ These films never fail to fascinate: a story that builds up a smart guessing game over who the murder culprit might be, always stimulates and entertains. ‘Raat Akeli Hain’ does stimulate and entertain, steering away from mainstream Bollywood thrillers by creating an old-world suspense drama by catering to a contemporary audience. Now when you say this, for some reason, the new definition of catering to a contemporary mindset means a dark, noir feel to the movie with a lot of violence and brutality, which I don’t always understand but it with content like ‘Paatal Lok’ it does seem to be working and this film follows the same pattern. However, there are certain aspects that pull the film down.

Honey Trehan gives his directing debut with this film and does quite well with it. The style in which the movie is shot is an interesting amalgamation of various directorial styles, which somehow seems to work. Though the film follows a completely different storyline and a darker approach, there is quite a clear comparison you can draw to the Daniel Craig-starrer ‘Knives Out’ – just Bollywoodized a bit. The mood of the film is set right from the opening scene: a long shot of a car and truck on an isolated highway, lit only by their headlights, no dialogues and two murders – suspenseful and evocative. However, with a runtime of 2hrs 29 minutes, the film tends to drag and sometimes feels devoid of the thrill factor and takes away the curiosity, the excitement of knowing who committed the murder in this ‘whodunit.’

Trehan has done an impressive job in aligning the audience’s perspective with Jatil’s, as we see the case through an outsider’s persepctives allowing us to solve it with only whatever we see, sharing his discoveries and confusions. At times we know things that Jatil doesn’t and at times Jatil knows things that we don’t. These small, clever turns refine the relationship the audience shares with the protagonist and eventually the film.

The screenplay by Smita Singh (Sacred Games) scores well on unpredictability but tends to digress at bits like the ‘love track,’ which makes the film drag. Her writing rolls dark secrets, forbidden passions and a great amount of suspense topped with some well choreographed violence. Smita Singh has done well introducing various characters throughout the film, especially highlighting all the dysfunctional members of the family, with each one of them having a valid reason to kill, creating interesting layers to this ‘whodunit.’ But with having so many characters each one isn’t justified. The characters don’t all have enough substance for the audience to invest in them or their hidden motives. A more tightly bound screenplay would’ve definitely elevated the film. In a gritty crime mystery movie of this kind, the climax is the scene most important scene but in this film it seemed relatively sudden and convenient, which otherwise had great potential.

 Jatil Yadav (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), the protagonist, is a grumpy but sincere cop who is looking to get ‘hitched’ but the tough, sharp officer has been marked by curious contradictions – he’s been rejected by girls, his skin colour and how his mother caused a change in his name during his board exams. Though every character isn’t built with a lot of detail, the cast has definitely justified their roles. The film has a lot of powerful performances by Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Radhika Aapte and the definite standout, Ila Arun. All three of them deliver remarkable performances, the quality you’d expect from them. Shivani Raguvanshi, Shweta Tripathi, Padmavati Rao, Riya Shukla, Ila Arun, Aditya Srivastava, Swanand Kirkire, Nishant Dahiya and Tigmanshu Dhulia have all justified their roles that seemed to be only written for them. However, the film doesn’t depend on one or two particular actors, it doesn’t give Nawazuddin Siddiqui the indulgent, heavy dialogues he’s known for but only a simple role with conviction, the same is for Radhika Aapte as well.

All in all, ‘Raat Akeli Hain’ was a much-needed addition to Netflix’s arsenal. It isn’t a technical masterpiece and does have a few negative aspects but it was definitely an interesting watch. The ‘who did it’ is enough to hold your interest throughout the film, though it feels a little dragged-on. If I could think of one phrase to describe it, it’d be a dark, noir Bollywoodized version of ‘Knives Out.’ There’s nothing upsetting about the film, it’s set to delivering one task and it delivers it well. It is definitely one of the better offerings Netflix have delivered, especially considering different OTT platforms have been releasing some powerful, incredible movies and series.

– Aryamaan Dholakia

Aryamaan’s Score – 69/100

Harry Potter: Franchise Review

Harry Potter (film series) | Harry Potter Wiki | Fandom

I’m dispensing of the introductory paragraph for this one (hopefully Aryamaan won’t notice), because I really couldn’t bear to have to dumb the plot down to two or three lines, and I’m sort of assuming everyone knows exactly what I’m talking about anyways.

It is entirely reasonable to suggest that I have never loved any narrative medium, nor as has any narrative medium had an influence over my life, as much as the Harry Potter books. I know that some iteration of those feelings will be echoed by many of the people reading this; mine was one of many, many minds that was raised and moulded by this story. If I trace back my life, and look for the key moments that have defined my relatively short 18-odd years, I can say, with little hesitation, that the moment I first picked up the first book, just 6 years in, was the most influential decision I ever made. That, in its briefest form, is what those books are to me.

Considering that weight that the story carries for me, the film adaptations were naturally a very important part of my childhood as well. That said, upon re-watching the films alongside the books for the God-knows-how-many times now, I’ve reached the same conclusion that I came to many years ago: the movies exist for the purpose of providing some amount of schema and visual/sonic context for the books.

Plot-wise, it’s difficult for the films to do much more than detract from the foundations of the books. With the exception of the last film, where the reinterpretation of the Battle of Hogwarts pretty damn cool in its own right, the divergences from the books and their plots are almost blanket-ly detrimental. There are countless examples of those divergences and exclusions that make the plot problematic in the films, to the extent that I’m actually not a hundred percent sure how someone who’s only seen the film would follow along properly. There was never, for example, a Grindylow in Lupin’s office in the 3rd film, so it’s gotta be a little strange for that to be Lupin’s test for Harry in Hallows Pt. 1. But those are the nitty gritty, the kind of blanks that are easy enough to fill in subliminally. The real problems crop up when, in the third film ( actually arguably one of the best films of the series, we’ll get to that later), they never actually reveal the connection between Remus, Pettigrew, Sirius and James and the Marauders, which is, like, kinda frickin essential to the plot. I had to reveal that to my brother, who, after having seen the films like a million times with me but never having read the books, was completely oblivious to why Harry’s Patronus was a stag. I’m also not a thousand percent certain why someone who never read the books would’ve been that torn up about Dobby; he’s in almost all the book after the second (except for the third), but is never seen after the second film until Hallows Pt. 2. The worst one is the way they treat the exploration of Voldemort’s character in the sixth film, which is traded up the river so easily and quickly for the sake of pubescent hormone-raging in that film.

There are countless further examples, but, on a more universally pervasive level, the real problem with the films is exposition. Full concepts and rules in Harry Potter lore are given one line of explanation, and then never referred to again. It works for someone whose read the books, because he/she already knows the rules. Someone like my mom, on the other hand, still doesn’t really understand what the hell that whole prophecy was about. On the subject of the prophecy, it’s a goddamned shame that the chapter of the Order of the Phoenix after Sirius dies, in Dumbledore’s office, when Dumbledore talks about the humanity of feeling pain and the value that pain has, was basically left out of the film entirely. One of the most important extracts of writing in my entire life. But I digress (as I knew I would, and am frankly impressed with myself that I haven’t done more of). The largest issue with the films ends up being a completely insufficient time for exposition. In fairness to them, it’s a film medium, and so time is absolutely of the essence. It’s unrealistic to expect them to encapsulate everything, but that argument gets a little weaker when they add a whole thing to the first task of the Triwizard, and cut Ludo Bagman entirely from the movie (not to mention the exclusion of Bill Weasley till the seventh film, and Charlie Weasley never seemed to exist). I get that they need to sell tickets, but they accentuate the visually exciting more than is strictly necessary in my opinion, and a lot of that comes at the expense of plot and development that is definitely present in the source material, but they choose not to explore in the films.

And so, it would have to be said that, as standalone narrative pieces, I don’t see how the films could hold water. But, for me at least, the films don’t serve that purpose. What the films do well, extraordinarily well, I should say, is manage to be so visually strong and convincing that they provide me with an anchor for when I read the books.

Firstly, the Harry Potter films stand as the single greatest casting achievement of all time. Almost every single character, down to Seamus Finnigan, is cast perfectly. I’ve played this game with many people in the past, and the only real example of a miscast in the whole frickin series of 8 films, including what must be hundreds of main and supporting characters, is Bonnie Wright as Ginny Weasley, and even that only becomes a thing in the last three films, when she starts needing to have chemistry with Daniel Radcliffe (absolutely no disrespect to Ms. Wright, she does a good job with it, I only mean to say that Ginny’s character strikes as the largest discrepancy between the character in the books vs. films). Examples I used to consider on that list but no longer do include Quirrell and Fudge, right up until I realized that’s ridiculous, they’re both good, especially Fudge. And that’s an unprecedentedly low rate of miscast; I haven’t taken into account the perfection of other pieces of casting, from the Big Three to Professor Sprout to Sirius to Lupin to the Malfoys to…goddammit every single character’s casting is perfection. I’d strongly encourage anyone whom has an argument for someone being poorly cast to reach out to me, I’d almost love to be convinced that they made at least some mistakes, as of right now, I can’t find any. I used to think Michael Gambon’s Dumbledore was perfect. The more I think about it, he lacks some of the gentleness and collectedness of his character, but which is made up for by the image of Richard Harris, leading a sort of combination of the two to form in my head when I read the books.

And faces are not the only visual aspect they’ve aced in these films. The visuals of settings, to Hogwarts and the grounds, to the Ministry, to the Burrow, to…once again, pretty much every single location. They imbibe them with the right kind of magic, a magic that gives the reader a reference when the time for that most wonderful reread comes around. Not only taking into account locations, it’s a mighty thing to realize that these films have given me an image of what magic looks like. The other great triumph is a musical one. Beginning with John Williams in the first two films and ending with Alexandre Desplat in the last two, the music across the length and breadth of this franchise is spectacular; exciting when it needed to be, and breath-taking when that was what was called for. The quality extends far beyond Hedwig’s theme, the tune most would probably identify with the series. Watch the films again and pay attention to the sheer weight that the scores of these films carry, how they lift the scenes into a place that justifies them, makes them worthy of the magic they portray. It is a testament to the quality of the artists working on these films that Hogwarts is, in my mind, to some extent, what they’ve shown it be, and that it’s difficult to read scenes from the book without the image in my mind being scored by the music I know to be appropriate to it from the films.

I should touch, briefly, on the ups and downs in quality the films go through over the decade it took to make them all. The first two are, arguably, in the running for the least good of the series. Their tone is childish, an inevitability given the age of the characters, especially given what would follow in the story, but nonetheless rendering them somewhat lower on the totem pole of the series. They’re far from bad films, but their standing is not unlike those of their book counterparts: they serve a developmental function to facilitate what comes later. Really enjoyable for the nostalgia and the innocence, but not amazing compared to what comes later. The Prisoner of Azkaban, despite being a film I’ve cited here for lack of accuracy more than, I think, the others, is arguably the best of the films, directed by the one and only Alfonso Cuaron to take its place as one of the most faithful (in its broad strokes, its only real crime is the Marauder’s omission). One of the best films, and, debatably, one of the best books. But this is a film site, so let’s not go there.

The fourth film is probably the second-least faithful to the books, and is probably on the weaker side of the films overall. It’s a little slow and generally doesn’t exactly smash the bits it needs to smash. If not for the strength of the resurrection scene, this would be regarded as a much poorer film. The fifth is pretty great. It’s the shortest of the films, despite being based on the longest book, but still manages to be pretty damn faithful to it (although the exclusion of that Harry-Dumbledore scene post Sirius’ death is just not okay), thanks perhaps in large part to the casting of the incredible Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge. The sixth film is a little tragic, because it’s probably the best book, but arguably the worst film. It just completely misses the point, giving the lion’s share of importance to teen romance and diluting the importance of Voldemort’s character study and completely disregarding the politics of Scrimgeour’s visit to the Burrow, etc. To make matters worse, Harry and Ginny have sub-zero chemistry, making for a lot of awkward silences rather than heartfelt romance. Some of it is comedic, and it’s inarguably the funniest of the films, but, considering the quality of the sixth book, it’s more than a little bit sad to see it so reduced. Hallows Pt. 1 is a film that I appreciate now as I’ve grown older and can acknowledge development as essential to a plot that anyone cares about. It doesn’t blow anything out of the water, and maybe slightly underwhelms compared to the first half of the book, but it’s far from bad. It’s hard to deny, on the other hand, that Hallows Pt. 2 is the best of the films. It’s an interesting thing, because the 8th film deviates quite a bit from the books. But, unlike some of the other deviations in previous films, the vast majority of the changes work really well, and justify themselves as a reimagined Battle of Hogwarts. The thing this film misses the most is something it couldn’t realistically have had: Harry’s internal monologues during the scenes at Shell Cottage with Ollivander and Griphook, and after seeing Snape’s memories in the pensive (as well as what followed, including a justification as to why he wouldn’t have met Ron and Hermione afterwards. It makes sense that they’d have done it in the film, because without Harry reasoning with himself as a justification, it would’ve seemed heartless for him not to have said goodbye). Aside from that more or less inevitable drawback, however, the last film is as fitting a finale as any, with some of the best music, visuals, and original additions to the literary foundations as compared to any of the other films.

It’s difficult to talk about all you want to talk about in a franchise review. 8 films is a grand undertaking, and there’s so much more to chew on than what I could possibly do here. I think what’s above is an attempt at a much more general review of the franchise as a whole (hence the name), without having the opportunity to get into too many specifics. What I do want to end on is just a note of thanks to the creators and everyone involved with these films on every level. They had their drawbacks, and, as I said, I don’t really see how the films stand without the books, but that’s not what these films are for me. In a world where bad to unwatchable film adaptations of beloved book series are nearly as common as film adaptations of beloved book series, it is an incredible thing that these filmmakers have done to provide such an anchor for the books. Casting aside decisions about plot points and continuity, the Harry Potter films made an intangible contribution to the way I experience the books, embodying fully the magic, wonder, and sense of poetic beauty that could only exist in my mind before I saw them. For irreversibly benefiting the way I imagine the most meaningful and important story that has affected my life, I have nothing but immense gratitude for everyone involved with these films, and they will continue to be an essential part of my favourite thing in the world.

– Aman Datta

The Vast of Night: Film Review

The Vast of Night - Wikipedia            The Vast of Night is an Amazon Prime original film, written and directed by first and only time director Andrew Patterson. The film, a sci-fi mystery thriller, is in many ways an homage to The Twilight Zone. It takes place in the late 1950’s, and centers around a switchboard operator in the small town of Cayuga, New Mexico, and her local radio host friend, as they discover an audio frequency which leads them down a dark and suspenseful path. The runs for an hour and a half, and stars Sierra McCormick and Jake Horowitz as Fay and Everett, the two protagonists.

Whoa. This was one frickin hell of a movie. Almost everything about it was absolutely spectacular, crafted to the tee with expertise and the kind of spooky, mysterious flair that makes it a perfect tribute to its source material (I say, not having seen any of The Twilight Zone).

The first fifteen minutes of this film are extraordinary. Sorkin himself couldn’t have written the hook of this film better, with quick, funny, stichomythic dialogue that, if you already know the film’s a sci-fi, would have you wondering if you clicked on the wrong film on Prime. We’ll be getting into how this film revolutionizes what a sci-fi film can be in a minute, but the first fifteen minutes are so brimming with flair and charisma, so incredibly engaging and pulsating, that you’re sold on this film before there’s even a real semblance of a plot. The credit goes to a combination of absolutely scintillating writing, a tone, visual and otherwise, that makes the situation convincing (that of a small town, everyone-knows-everyone atmosphere), extremely good characters, and the performances to match them. You fall for Everett and Fay and their whimsy and fast-talking charm straight away, and a large portion of credit goes to Horowitz and McCormick, who give them such life and vibrance in their portrayals. They’re brilliant the whole way through, but the job they do in those first fifteen deserves singling out for their contribution to a sequence that hooked its audience, sold its characters, and flowed smoother than…something that flows really smoothly, in a shockingly short amount of time.

Then the plot starts to get underway, and the film turns into something different. The Vast of Night is an unbelievably unique addition to the body of work that’s classed under the genres of “Sci-Fi” or “Thriller”. It’s a ponderous thriller, keeping away from visual excitement and choosing to tell a really suspenseful story through a really compelling lens: this small town community, where the fate of anyone affects the fate of everyone, and where strangeness has the tendency to be explained away. Everett and Fay are an intensely compelling face for that perspective, which comes through really well and makes that aspect, the narrative perspective, really unique in this genre. It was, perhaps, that perspective that drives the film’s focus on simplicity. Patterson and Co.’ve done an amazing job working with the tension and intrigue of the plot, but, unlike most films of this kind, they keep it pretty strictly simple. There aren’t a lot of questions Everett and Fay are presented with, nothing especially complex or confusing. There’s a focus there, “what is that?” is the only real conflict of the film, and the intrigue and mystery remains just as intense, possibly more, as a result of that. What isn’t simple is ambiguous, which escalates the same effect even further. There’s an extent to which, as a modern audience member, there actually isn’t much to be surprised by from the plot of this film. There are only two real explanations to what 1) the noise is and 2) what the hell is in the sky, so what’s really there to be so confused about? The answer to that isn’t to do with the content of what you see, which is simple. This film is an example of how, when simplicity is executed to near perfection, it can be just as if not more compelling than something complex and dense. In that sense, it is something of an antithesis to this genre, to which this film deserves to be a game-changer.

And it is only because of that near-perfect execution that this film works. Check Andrew Patterson’s IMDb page, and this film is the only thing you’ll find. The fact that a first time director could pull something like this off is baffling. It’s so visually striking, capturing the juxtaposition of a cozy, familiar town on a spooky and mysterious night, making you feel both and be aware of both at the same freaky time. The editing choices are marvelous. Long, nearly ten minute shots work so well when they’re used in the right places, just as quick, almost intense cuts make the penultimate scene with the old woman so. Damn. Good (really, such a well put-together scene. It was breathtaking). Added to that is an extremely expertly done score. It’s just fantastic, picking up on the tone of the scene perfectly and giving it creepy or Christmas-y vibes exactly when that’s what’s necessary. I personally found the to-and-fro with the retro television setup was a little gimmicky, but that was what helped to nail down the Twilight Zone effect, and it didn’t mar anything, so I don’t think I’d complain about it.

And, when it’s all over, there’s an interesting idea they choose to leave you with, those that are put in your head by the old lady, and kept there by the mysterious effect of those foreign words on people who, it would at least seem, have already seen what there is to be seen. As such, the mysteriousness persists, because the old lady’s ideas bring up questions that we didn’t have before, and the ambiguity that Everett and Fay leave behind stays with you well after the credits have rolled.

All in all, I was more than sufficiently blown away by this film. It comes back down to that idea of simplicity, weaponized by perfect execution to make for one of the most compelling, intriguing, and mysterious sci-fi films I’ve ever seen, and a remarkable film all around. I can only hope that Andrew Patterson does not choose to hang up his Final Draft account, because I’ll be first in line for whatever this guy does next. In the meantime, I could not recommend The Vast of Night highly enough. An absolute game-changer in the world of science fiction filmmaking.

– Aman Datta

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

Snowpiercer – Season 1: TV Review

Snowpiercer: Official Trailer | TNT - YouTube

Mid May saw the release of the Snowpiercer television series: a series adaptation and reinvention of the concept originated by Bong Joon Ho’s 2012 film by the same name. Following the same premise as that film, Snowpiercer is set 7 years after the governments of the world attempt to halt global warming by releasing a freezing chemical into the atmosphere, leading worldwide temperatures to drop to well below inhabitable levels, freezing the world over. What remains of humanity is preserved on a train called Snowpiercer, a marvel of engineering that runs on perpetual energy. However, tensions rise as the class system takes its shape, and the resources of the train are skewed towards the upper class passengers, leaving the passengers in the rear of the train, “the tail”, with barely enough to survive. Revolution ensues, but is halted after a murder up-train forces the governing powers to enlist the help of the leader of the rebellion, a former homicide detective, in restoring order. The series stars Daveed Diggs, Jennifer Connelly, Mickey Summers, and Alison Wright among others. It is understood to be a completely different universe from that of Bong Joon Ho’s film.

My expectations for this series were quite high. I’m a big fan of the original film, which I’d strongly recommend to anyone who hasn’t seen it. It’s brilliant; an incredible narrative premise, and an utterly fascinating ideological commentary on class, impeccably made and brilliantly performed. Considering that level of quality in its source material, the Snowpiercer series had a lot to live up to.

Ultimately, I’d say it absolutely lived up to that expectation. The Snowpiercer series is a classic case a story that gets better as it goes along. I watched this as it aired weekly (still the best way to watch things, in my opinion), and, after the first few episodes, it seemed like they had chosen to settle for 70% of the depth and density of the film. As the series goes on, however, that number goes up, as longer plays for character arcs over the whole season start to come good and how. I’d still say the film is a better individual piece of art, it has an urgency and a kind of mystery about it that maintains a much higher level of exhilaration throughout, a level that the show doesn’t hit until the last episode. But it’s a trade-off, and in exchange for that urgency and mystery, we get the benefit of a much deeper and more thorough look into the very unique world of Snowpiercer, and, as a result, we come to understand a much more pensive, detailed version of the same ideas, those of the injustice of a capitalist system and the nature of human power systems, sacrifice, and even some ideas that the film never gets a chance to address, like the chaos of what happens after you win, and how difficult change really is.

I should expand a bit, and give more weight to the extent to which the urgency of the show does increase impressively over the season’s run. An issue I heard people express as the first few episodes were dropping was that it felt less like an adaptation of Snowpiercer and more like a sort of glorified cop show with a more interesting but ultimately incidental premise. That lasts the first couple episodes, maybe even the first half of the season, but I’d argue that that period of time is essential to laying the ground work for the principal characters. Andre Layton is a really, really interesting man character for the series, with just as much emotional complexity, and, after 10 hours, more likeability than Chris Evan’s lead ever had in the film. That likeability comes not only from the extra time on screen, but the work of Daveed Diggs, who is really fantastic in this show, really embodying the constant contradiction of an unadulterated desire for equality and justice. He’s likeable, emotionally complex, given his past in the tail, and really well performed off paper. I can’t think what more could possibly be asked for. As good, if not better as a character, is Melanie Cavill. Again, the acting chops of a really strong principal cast brings to life a deeply complicated character in Melanie. She represents the realism of trying to maintain humanity, a really interesting ideological blend with Layton, and has her own emotional depth to with it. Hers might be the most compelling character situation of any character in either the film or this series: she’s the literal unsung hero, fighting with every ounce of her wits to keep the train running and order, enough of it for the human race to be prolonged. It’s an almost neutral position, but from a place of real heart. The oxymoron writes itself, and that internal conflict makes her the best character on the show. But, as I’ve said many times, a really good film or show needs a supporting cast that pulls more than just their weight, and this show has them. Mickey Summers’ growth in the character of Bess Till is excellent, matched by the Folgers and LJ, the only actual villains in the show. Even Alison Wright’s character, Ruth, who annoyed the crap out of me for the vast majority of the show, more than serves her narrative purpose, presenting the necessary, however irritating, ideological aspect of Wilford’s deification. All of these characters are excellent, in the writing, dynamics, and performances.

But all of that would be a lot less meaningful if they didn’t add up to a narrative that does the premise justice, which it absolutely ends up doing. After spending most of the first half of the season playing cops and robbers and working to deliver justice to a murder, the narrative arc of the season turns to the meat of the idea of the Snowpiercer, the rebellion, and the survival. The regularity of high-stakes, life and death level suspense suddenly spikes hard, and the characters that the show spends so long setting up for you start being put in situations that do justice to the point of this premise. The show becomes about rebellion for Layton and the tail, about the burden of carrying human survival on her back for Melanie and the engineers, and about seizing power for the Folgers and first. That’s no longer the slightly thin whodunnit of the first half, that’s narrative content worthy of Snowpiercer.

Not only are the suspense and stakes that much higher, they maintain the mystery. Having seen the film, I had the sense that I could predict at least some of what was to come. As the last two episodes came and went, I realized how wrong I was. The last two episodes of this show are what justify it as an entirely different storyline from the film, a different universe from the film. I want to try to keep this from being a spoiler review, so I won’t go into too much detail, but the last two episodes go in a direction that having seen the film doesn’t really prepare you for. There are things you know, things you can guess based on the film that remain true, but the last two episodes, especially the last half of the last episode, do something to expand the universe of Snowpiercer in a way I certainly didn’t predict, and make me so excited to see where they’ll take this extremely exciting narrative line in the next season.

All in all, I was very pleased with the first season of Snowpiercer. After reading about production roadblocks and stalling, I was somewhat trepidatious, and, even after the first few episodes had dropped, I was resigned to the expectation that they were settling for less with this series. I was wrong, they turned it around, and what started out only ‘half-decent’ grows into itself in a big way. The film is probably a better standalone piece of art, if only because of that urgency that I mentioned before, but they do a decent job of mimicking that urgency in the last few episodes, as well as putting forward a fascinating, deep look into the nuances of one of the most interesting fiction premises out there. The first season of Snowpiercer is worthy of the lofty reputation of its source material, and I for one am extremely excited for its second season.

– Aman Datta

Aman’s Score – 79/100                                                   Aryamaan’s Score –