The Meg : Statham vs Huge Shark .

When Jason Statham jumps off a boat after a friend who is being pulled into the depths of the ocean by a giant prehistoric shark, another character screams not in fear but in excitement, almost echoing the emotions of any average viewer out looking for some plain old fun on a lazy weekend at the local IMAX screen. Yes, when it’s about a giant shark you have to have a giant enough screen too. If it’s in 3D, all the more better. But this is no Jaws mind you, The Meg is more Deep Blue Sea than any other shark film from our collective memory as viewers. It’s exactly how a monster film would look like if AI was asked to make one, without the discriminatory algorithms of course. People are at risk of being eaten by the shark irrespective of barriers like gender and race. Still if you do have to watch it, do that at a cinema with the best screening facilities.

There’s absolutely nothing novel about the plot simply because with such film formats you as a maker either choose between jaw dropping CGI or a moving storyline and there are no prizes for guessing what’s on sale here or you could ask Marvel to make a shark movie. Rich investor, good scientist, reluctant hero, jump scares, the movie has it all and more. It’s basically Jurassic Park set in the sea only this shark isn’t cloned. Within the limitations of the genre, The Meg tries earnestly to deliver a fun 113 minutes for the audience and much banks on the broad shoulders of Statham and his on screen persona as the tough guy with a sense of humor.The makers have tried every trick in the monster  movie handbook to keep the proceedings on screen interesting. They do get most of it right unless of course you’re at the movies with National Geographic or Science journals on your mind. Not much on screen time is wasted here. The shark doesn’t wait around much and is quick to attack and kill. Statham and his co stars too are quick with the acts of saving lives, the mandatory self sacrifices and the dumb moves which are integral to the genre.

Two of the last surviving  action heroes of our times who aren’t part of the Marvel or DC Universes , Statham and Dwayne Johnson aka The Rock have had curiously similar cinematic turns recently I’d say. Rock recently took on a giant Gorilla ,a giant crocodile and a giant wolf in Rampage. Then he saved his family from a fire in a Hong Kong skyscraper in the eponymous film. Here Statham battles a giant shark to save his Chinese friends and a whole crowded Chinese beach towards the end. Trump wouldn’t be too pleased I think but then he isn’t the one funding the films. Or he could simply ask Marvel to take a pause and let the likes of Rock and Statham to do what they do best, save the day that is, but exclusively in the USA.

 

 

Vishwaroopam 2 : A Legend, A Career Switch and Some Leftover Footage.

Kamal Hassan went silent with Pushpak back in 1987. Aamir Khan turned a hearthrob only an year later with Qayamat se Qayamat Tak in 1988. Aamir’s Dil, another regular 90’s Bollywood fare was released an year after Kamal awed us with Apoorva Sahordangal. Aamir was doing Raja Hindustani and still hadn’t earned the perfectionist tag when Kamal hit the screens with Indian and Avvai Shanmughi. His ambitions then just got too big not just for Tamil, but for the Indian film industry as a whole. Marudhanayagam unfortunately was reduced to an YouTube clip. Marmayogi never took off. Vishwaroopam too hit troubled waters with Selvaraghavan leaving , leaving Kamal to take over the reins.

Vishwaroopam 2 starts rolling with an ad for Kamal Hassan’s newly incubated political party and the rhetoric on display resonates conveniently with the central theme of the film in more ways than one. The  actual movie then starts off almost like the next episode of a TV show would from where the first movie ended five years back replete with a recap which also doubles up as the titles. The proceedings then on are too dull for a spy thriller here and when Kamal refers emotionally to an officer played by a nondescript  foreign actor slain by the bad guys in the first installment, you as audience can hardly connect. The jokes are dead even before they’re spoken. Waheeda Rahman is the notable new addition to the cast and Kamal again withdraws into the background when the yesteryear leading lady performs. The movie mostly works like a sleeping pill with occasional jolts of hyperactivity which are when the action sequences happen. You see bad guys looking out of airplane windows like kids on board their first flight. Shekar Kapur gets to relive his Digjam moments,walk around in suits that is. Andreah and Pooja Kumar do their bit nonchalantly. Anant Mahadevan is not quite sure if he’s a bad guy or a good guy. Then there is the hurried climax because even Kamal Hassan himself could’nt take it anymore I felt.

Though marred by manufactured controversy the first Vishwaroopam  was more or less a good watch where Kamal the star actually gave space to the story being told. But then he did that in Hey Ram too. He actually tried to say something relevant and sensible with the Afgan leg of the movie. In Vishwaroopam 2 there’s nothing left to say. Yeah, there’s a twist but you don’t really care after five years. The man’s vision and ideas are too radical for the Indian commercial film format one can’t but help feel. Still he thrives in that space with hits and misfires in equal measure. He went bersek with Aalavandhan and then turned social commentator in Virumandi. His Dashavatharam was underrated I feel so was Anbe Sivam, two works at the extreme ends of the cinematic spectrum.  Anbe Sivam infact held a mirror to his political leanings. Vishawroopam 2 was never meant to be  but when you have enough footage leftover from your first movie to almost make a second one, why let it go down the drain, especially when it might help as an overlong commerical to take the cause of your political aspirations forward.

Mission Impossible – Fallout : Tom Cruise Falls Out, Gets Knocked Down, But He Gets Up Again. And Again. And Again.

Wake up in Belfast. Lose Plutonium in Berlin. Get grilled in Rammstein. Do a HALO jump in Paris. Crash a party, literally. Kill a bad guy. Catch up with an old flame. Ride a motorcylcle fast. Kidnap an old foe. Cool your heels in London. Chase a bad guy on rooftops. Fly to Kashmir. Chase a helicopter in another helicopter. Hang from a cliff. Defuse a couple of bombs. Save the world. Brood and have nightmares when you are not doing any of the above. In an alternate cinematic universe, it would take a bunch of superheroes in capes and latex to do all that in a single movie. Doctor Strange couldn’t get around like that. It’s impossible you’d say but that’s precisely why Ethan Hunt, aka Tom Cruise exists. James Bond ain’t got shit on him. Sorry, no not even Daniel Craig. Tom Cruise pushes the limit like only he can in the sixth Mission Impossible film and he takes us on a ride again. He says it’s impossible but you know it’s not but you still let him do that to you, tell you it’s impossible for the sixth time I mean. This is where I stop bickering, and ask you to go, sit back and enjoy the action.

Tom Cruise teams up with Christopher McQuarrie again and you can see why he trusts the writer-director. If you want to know what I am talking about watch the first Jack Reacher movie and then the second, the difference shows. McQuarrie knows his action movies. He is the John McTiernan of our times, I’d say. In the follow up to his fifth MI film, Mcquarrie starts from where he left off in Rogue Nation but reaches back even farther from the series for whatever drama he can manage to squeeze in between the brilliant action sequences. In this movie Tom Cruise does a bit of everything he has done in the past MI films, call it homage. The bike stunts are reminiscent of the John Woo MI, so were the cliff hanging scenes.Rogue Nation had a great bike chase too. Jumping out of planes are almost a regular fixture in all the MI films I guess. The car chase in the vintage BMW reminded me of Ronin for some reason, which is touted as the best car chase movie since Bullit. The movie takes a leaf out of the Marvel handbook and tries a hand at self depreceating humor just so the MI series props doesn’t get too old on the viewers. There’s more than one reference to men in rubber masks and the bad guys teases Hunt time and again with the MI disclaimer , “should you choose to accept it” . Cruise on the other hand has a new line, “I’ll figure it out.”

In addition to Cruise, Ving Rhames is the longest surviving actor of the series and is joined by Simon Pegg again as the ever loyal tech-support team to Hunt’s stunts. Alec Baldwin has turned believer from his Rogue Nation days in Fallout and has handed the responsibility of giving a hard time to Hunt on behalf of the very system he works for, over to Angela Basset. That’s where Henry Cavill comes in. Hammer he is you’d agree to Cruise’s scalpel as Basset puts it, considering the stuff he gets to break. Rebecca Ferguson reprises her role as the MI6 agent. Jeremy Renner had date clashes. Michelle Monaghan returns again as mostly memories and a bit more. The movie hints that when choosing life partners, people should look within their own professions, just for practical purposes entirely, like a day where you have to defuse bombs and strangle people too. All of these does not matter really because all you are going to remember are the action sequences. They are special because Tom Cruise has taken the pain to deliver them himself. The helicopter chase and the rooftop jump are my top picks but I loved the car and bike chases too. This might not be the greatest action movie ever but it’s indeed one of the best ones in the series though for some reason the first one remains my favorite or is it the second.Or the fifth maybe? Yes, I can’t make up my mind. How about you?

Neerali : Get A Grip, You Will Not.

Everyone’s in danger these days. You, me, everyone we know are potential lynch victims at the mercy of a share button. In such times, what would it take to make a decent thriller movie, I mean one that would actually make the viewer push his own fears back and edge closer to the edge of the seat by the minute, much like the fate of the character portrayed by Mohanlal in his latest, Neerali. In his first outing on the big screen since the much publicised makeover to play a younger version of himself in the upcoming Odiyan,  which saw him losing some weight and undergoing a purported botox treatment, Mohanlal plays a gemologist who for no fault of his own finds himself between a rock and free space, so to speak. The movie was hit by a barrage of negative responses online right from the day of it’s release which was quite surprising given the huge army of fans the actor has at his disposal on the social media. The producer quickly came out in defence and the movie which was initially marketed as a thriller turned a family entertainer over the weekend in the ads. Now, I am not blaming anyone here, it was entirely a personal decision which had me watching the movie. It was one of those cases where you were told something was so bad that you actually wanted to know for yourself how bad it actually was.

Mohanlal himself had vouched that he said yes to the movie because it was something that was never attempted in Malayalam Cinema. Now that I am done watching the film, I can say for a fact the nothing like this has been attempted in World Cinema. The director has to have a thing for Probability Theory and Murphy’s Law. I mean what are the odds of a gemologist who chills with his colleagues on the steppes of Mongolia, taking a trip to Cochin from Bangalore to meet his wife who is in labor, in a run down pickup truck with his company driver ? Probable ? Okay, I’ll give you that. From then on, everything just goes wrong not just for the characters, but the viewer too. Murphy’s law on speed indeed. When they’re not shown dangling between life and death in the pickup perched precariously at the edge of a cliff, Mohanlal’s Sunny and Suraaj Venjaramood’s driver Veerappa are seen singing songs, sharing personal anecdotes, consoling each other and cracking jokes. We are also fed regular doses of nostalgia in terms of songs and scenes from yesteryear to drive home the fact that Mohanal and Nadia Moidu are being paired after eons. Every woman in Sunny’s life has a crush on him because he’s played by Mohanlal and Sunny being Sunny gives us and Veerappa a brief lecture on the psychological disorder that possessivenes is. Another intriguing character in the film is a suicidal monkey who haunts the viewer long after he has left the movie hall. Notable was the scene where Mohanlal tries to hypnotise the monkey which actually holds a mirror not just to the state of the minds of the characters but the audience too at that point. The director was definitely trying to say something there, which reminds me of another creature, a beetle that makes ominous appearances in the movie, more than once.There is also a parallel storyline involving a bunch of young aspiring criminals who are on the trail of Sunny and Veerappa. But halfway down the movie the director and the writer seems to have deciced that it’s a story for another day and another film.

The “new” Mohanlal looked visibily uncomfortable early on and something was clearly amiss. This was most evident in the scene where the mandatory M.G Sreekumar song came on. Any Malaylai worth his mundu and meesha would recognise the fact that their favorite actor is not all there. Being a self confessed fan I have a fan theory of my own about this new look.Mohanal is a known practioner of Ayurveda and has been known to go on retreats from time to time. More than the fans, the man himself must be having a hard time to come to terms with the botox injected cheeks and it shows on screen too. Maybe we will get used to this, like we did with the change in his voice in the mid 90s. The Veerappa character of Suraaj is a Tamilian which is to give credibity to his back story where his inter caste marriage left his wife dead and him disabled at the hands of his wife’s family. That’s overreaching considering the recent developments in our own state.But to be fair to the writer, I guess the honor killing in our own backyard maybe wasn’t yet news when he put pen to paper.Honestly these thoughts are irrelevant in a film thats so ridden with potholes that the audience just gives up their sense of logic and surrenders entirely to the whims of the director early on. But the one question still haunts me, why monkey why?

Sacred Games : S01 | Netflix

Sacred Games by Vikram Chandra, Shantaram by Greogory David Roberts and Maximum City by Suketu Mehta are three books which were published few years apart at the dawn of the millenium and all three of them have a common central character, that being Mumbai. Mehta and Chandra coincidentally had collabroated on Mission Kashmir too. Apart from Sacred Games, the rest could safely be called non-fiction with Shantaram treading a thin line between fiction and reality. But then any story about Mumbai is a genre in itself, magical realism meeting Mario Puzo, if I may. Shantaram was the one book that I looked forward to being made into a movie and if I am not wrong Mira Nair was supposed to do one with Johnny Depp in the lead. That never took off I guess. Sacred Games to be honest was a difficult read, in terms of the sheer number of pages it ran into and was a slow burner  but it had all the makings of a potential gangster drama, in the hands of the right filmmaker. Ram Gopal Varma was fresh on the heels of his take on the Mumbai gang land with Satya and Company and looked  the perfect candidate in those days, now not so much. So it was only natural that one of his early collaborators who went on to make a distinct name for himself in India and globally, Anurag Kashyap turned out to be the one who brought Vikram Chandra’s magnus opus-as it would be touted now- to life on the screen finally, and how. It’s also a landmark in terms of the fact that it’s the first Indian Netflix Original.The book was a critical success, commercial not so much back then and given the hype and rave reviews  Season One has generated thanks to Kashyap and Co. , I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a revived interest in the book itself and offer some consoloation to the author towards the cause of the unrecouped original million dollar advance by Harper Collins.

Ganesh Gationde, the surreal character who is a hero, a villain and a victim simultaneoulsy needed a Nawazuddin Siddiqui to be elevated to greatness as one of the most memorable characters ever written.Back when I read Sacred Games, Gaitonde did not have a face. Now, I cannot imagine anyone else but Nawazuddin as Gaitonde. It’s his destiny as an artist, I can’t but help feel. Consider this, it took Vikram Chandra around ten years to write the book.He travelled to Bihar and attended Bollywood parties as part of the writing process.The book was released in 2006. Nawazuddin Siddiqui made one of his early screen appearances in a minor role in Anurag Kashyap’s unreleased Black Friday in 2004. Little did Siddiqui or Chandra know that their creative talents would come together and were fated to take on Netflix by storm decades later.This will go down as Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s greatest role ever and the man scorches the screen every second he’s on it.When he is not on, his voice over holds sway over the audience. Sartaj Singh, a cop, the other central character in Sacred Games interestingly had made an appearance in Vikram Chandra’s earlier novel, Love and Longing in Bombay, I am told. Saif Ali Khan brings Sartaj Singh to life here and delivers a performance that is a testimony to the fact that Bollywood is a jungle where even the most talented artists could get lost for eternity. Anurag Kashyap has rescued Khan here from that jungle, so to speak, who has shown in the past that in the right hands, he could give the best in the business a run for their money. He plays Sartaj Singh with such depth and sensitivity that he has transformed himself completely into the character. Even his silences tell the audience stories here. Most notable is the scene where he meets constable Katekar’s wife. Katekar played brilliantly by Jitendra Joshi is an endearing character and is Sartaj’s sidekick, as the genre would have it. Radhika Apte is a no-nonsense intelligence officer who is far removed from the female cop characters we have come across on Indian screens. Luke Kenny, a familiar face on Channel V of yore is seen as an assassin here. Jatin Sarna makes  an impression as Bunty, Gaitonde’s man. Rajshri Deshpande plays a different kind of gangster’s wife here, quite unlike anything that we have seen on Indian screens before. Kubra Sait is Kukoo the primary love interest in Gaitonde’s life, a character already being talked about in the media. Every other actor from Neeraj Kabi to Shalini Vatsa to Geetanjali Thapa lingers in your psyche as the characters they play. Vikramaditya Motwane and Anurag Kashyap have co- directed the series with Motwane working on the Sartaj timeframe of the story and Kashyap on the Gaitonde origins. The decision was right on the money given the fact that the urban landscape is where Motwane’s stories have flourished till now in contrast to the hinterlands that we are now familar with in Kashyap’s films.

Sacred Games is a case of art-imitating-life-imitating-art.The timing of the show could not have been more perfect, considering the central theme it deals with and the times we live in. In the Mumbai of Chandra, Kashyap and Motwane, the good guys are not that good and the bad are not exactly evil. The city decides the fate of the individual.Delhi, the power centre is no match for Mumbai, it’s a different world altogether, a character reiterates that in a line he speaks. Sacred Games explores the underbelly of Mumbai where agents of politics, businesses, movies and religion are indulged in a constant process of evolution in a struggle for power and control. Gaitonde is almost Forrest Gump here with major incidents that shook the nation in the past couple of decades proving turning points in his life as a career gangster. Even someone as dreaded as Gaitonde is a pawn in the hands of the people in power, politically. Motwane and Kashyap have successfully brought in an element of suspense and maintains it without losing their grip on the aesthetics of the tales being told. The series is particulary critical about the past governments who were in power when incidents which changed the country forever occurred. Sacred Games is what happens when an irresistible force in the entertainment industry like Netflix meets a filmmaker with immovable vision and outlook. Kashyap and Co. have come out all guns blazing here and have delivered a world class piece of entertainment. Looking forward to the next season and I think I’m going to revisit the book again.

 

 

Straight Outta Compton to Unsolved : Coincidences In The Age of Machine Learning and A Brief History Of Rap Music.

In these times when you search for something online and an ad for the very same thing that you searched for pops up on your Facebook Timeline the next day, it’s hard to believe in coincidences.So I had my suspicions when Unsolved debuted on Netflix a few days after I had watched Straight Outta Compton, but I shook them off ultimately as within my humanly possible powers of deduction I could not find any logical links between the two events and I made peace with the possibility that I had indeed been a benefeciary of a genuine coincidence.Straight Outta Compton told the tale of the rise of hip-hop as we know it and how it changed the lives of a couple of youngsters and the music industry altogether.Unsolved was about the untimely and tragic demise of two of the most influential proponents of the genre, Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G., whose lives , art and deaths were intertwined for eternity.

Ice Cube,Eazy E and Dr. Dre who joined ranks to form N.W.A were pioneers in the genre who spoke to the world through their music.These were angry young men who used art to hit back at the oppressive system, especially the policing.In terms of the politics it represented, ‘Gangsta Rap’ was the new rock music. F.Gary Gray traces their initial days, fallouts and the eventual disbanding in Straight Outta Comtpon.It also gives us a glimpse of the business of hip hop music. Ice Cube, portrayed by his real life son comes across as the one with a business acumen that’s second only to Dr.Dre’s in the group.He bails out of N.W.A early on, over financial differences with the rest of the members.Eazy E is a tragic figure who trusted the wrong person and later succumbs to a terminal disease, on the verge of a reunion. Dr.Dre who went on to mentor many big names in the business today is the most ambitious of the lot. N.W.A ran into trouble with the police on a regular basis for the politics their music blared.They were banned by radios but they had already captured the imagination of a generation of music listeners which reflected in their records sales and their ultimate success. Music was a way out for these boys and they believed in themselves and their art when most of the world refused to address them as artists.True to the politics of the artists it portrayed, Straight Outta Compton was also in the news for being snubbed by most major award ceremonies including the Oscars.

Unsolved deals with the lives and deaths of Tupac Shakur and Christopher Wallace aka Notorious B.I.G. Wallace and Tupac were contermporaries in work and by a strange twist of fate ended up on the wrong sides of the East Coast- West Coast rivalry. They had contrasting approaches to music too. Tupac was again heavily political in his lyrics. Biggie on the other hand was known as a storyteller.Both of them were close to their  mothers who were strong influences in their lives.Tupac was gunned down in a drive by shooting in 1996 and the next year Biggie was killed in a similar shooting.Unsolved traces the attempts of the law enforcement personnel involved to solve these murders.To date, the murders remain unsolved and the show has dual narratives, one from the time of the murders and the other from the investigation launched by a Federal Task Force in response to a lawsuit filed by Wallace’s mother against the LAPD.The show tells us how the events affected the lives of the people who investigated the murders too.The task force follows every lead and also try to gather informaiton from the investigations by the troibled cop, Russel Poole who ended up an outcast amongst his colleagues for the stands he took.

Suge Knight, the record producer is one looming figure who appears in both Straight Outta Compton and Unsolved. An extremely influential player in the business at the peak of his career, Knight has a presence in all the theories that are in circulation, related to the deaths of Tupac and Biggie.He was also charged for allegedly threating F. Gary Gray, the director of Straight Outta Comptoon because he was unhappy with the way he was portrayed in the film.Knight was riding alongside Tupac on that fateful night and still there are conspiracy theories afloat that implicate him in both murders.There are also people who believe that the investigating agencies were worried more about saving their own faces rather than solving the murders as it turned out that some of the cops were on the payroll of the music moguls, when they moonlighted as secuirty for the artists. Tupac was 25 and Biggie was 24 when they were slain in the streets.The fame, success and influence they garnered across the globe in their short lives is only surpassed by the mystery that shrouds their deaths.

Sanju:The Review.

Sanjay Dutt and Rajkumar Hirani vouched early on that Sanju would not glorify the troubled life of the actor.It is indeed true.But what they did not tell you is that they would be justifying his actions, whilst not holding anything back about his controversial career and life in general.Only a storyteller like Raj Kumar Hirani could have pulled this film off and one has to admit that he has made an interesting affair of it.Sanju is an emotionally engaging film for an unsuspecting viewer by a brilliant director who has made a biopic on the life of a collaborator and friend as he knew him.That’s how i saw it.It’s the Sanjay Dutt, Hirani has sat down with.Hirani films have always been a weird breed ,so to speak.They’re not sleazy at all by bollywood standards but you get to hear quite a few balatkari jokes too.I am not complaining, trust me.In here too is an extended dialogue sequence which uses wordplay for laughs.Yeah, there are quite a few laughs for a biopic on a person who has had a fair dash of tragedy in his life.

The movie focuses on his debut days and then moves on to his addiction days and then to his troubled days with the law.It steers clear of any references to Sanjay Dutt’s relationships with his colleagues in the Industry. Hirani and obviously the Dutt family had one agenda with this film, that’s to try and erase the stigma that the TADA allegations brought down upon him.The biographer character played by Anushka Sharma could very well be Hirani himself.Now that I have watched the film, I cant but help feel that the biopic should actually have been on Sunil Dutt.The man has led an exemplary life as an actor and a politician.The only time he had to bow was again for his son.But then there are people who believe that his son had to pay for his political stands too.If Anjan Srivastav is who I think he is, Hirani has thrown a political punch for his pal.Sanju spends most of its time telling the tale of Sanjay’s relationships with his father and his friends, who are portrayed as strong influences in his life, for good and for bad.Paresh Rawal functions as Sunil Dutt and Manisha Koirala is Nargis.Vicky Kaushal is the most endearing character in the film and in Dutt’s life, says Hirani and we want to believe him too. In fact Kaushal’s character is what Hirani uses to his heart’s content to hook and bait the audiences throughout this movie and he is immensely successful at that.

This movie is unlikely to be loved by the media as it indulges in more than a fair share of media bashing, unabashedly.There is a whole song at the end that basically is a message to the media that Baba doesn’t care anymore.Next to friends, the media is held responsible for making things difficult for the star.But then, when has the media spared anyone ? And when you are the self confessed king of bad choices the media is even more interested.For all his Khalnayak image in the popular imagination Sanju Baba ultimately turns out to be a privileged kid with a heart of gold who refused to grow up.Still the underprivileged, destitute, disadvantaged masses who makes up most his fan base in a country like ours, loves him for just that. And Hirani punctuates it like he knows best.