The Irishman : A Scorcese Batch Reunion Gets Hijacked By Pacino.

Martin Scorcese needs no introduction in the world of Cinema, nor do Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci. If you’re inclined to think that a movie that featured all these names on the title card should’ve been named The Italians, you wouldn’t be entirely in the wrong, considering the collective cinematic history of these gentlemen and their ethnicities too, if I may. While De Niro and Pesci were part of Scorcese’s cinematic textbooks on the workings of the Mafia on more than one occasion, Pacino found himself being part of the most iconic films on the mob ever, The Godfather Trilogy, along with De NiroDe Niro and Pacino did face off again on screen in their prime in the magnus opus of that other master of urban thrillers, Michael Mann. That’s Heat I’m talking about yeah and plotwise, De Niro gets his cinematic revenge here in The Irishman, so to speak. Now, who would’ve thought that these stalwarts would come together to make history – or so we are told – in what is being marketed as almost a swansong, on a streaming service, the home video entertainment of our times. I’m not being elitist when I say that I’m absolutely cool with Adam Sandler doing originals for Netlfix but when you add Scorcese to the list, I must say, I I do have my reservations. Is Netflix getting bigger by the year or is Scorese diminishing himself here, I can’t but help wonder. I do binge shamelessly on Netflix but I’m a bit old school too I guess. But then again when you realise that despite the kind of original work he had to his name, it took a remake to win Scorecese that elusive Oscar of his, nothing should come as a surprise to you about the man and his work anymore.

The Irishman, in keeping with the tradition of Scorcese gangster movies, relies on first person narrative tell the story. And that story being that of Frank Sheeran and his buddy Jimmy Hoffa. The film, we have been told, is based on a book I Heard You Paint Houses, about Sheeran’s life and times as a mob enforcer incognito. De Niro plays Sheeran and Pacino plays Hoffa, a union activist with links to the mob and Pesci plays Russel Buffalino, who happens to be the certified mobster, of the three lead characters. Hoffa disappeared in the mid 70s and the movie explores Sheerans claim in the book that he had executed Hoffa on behalf of the mob. This tale obviously presented Scorcese with ample material to explore his favorite themes and when you find out that the movie  is his longest at 200 odd minutes, you know the man has indulged himself here. The film tells a story that spans across three timelines which brings us to the much talked about digital de-ageing of the lead actors. Pacino looked the youngest of the trio and no de- ageing software could hide the fact that De Niro kicks like the old gentleman he is, but it works. In an interesting twist, there’s digital ageing at work too, we get to see a much older Domenick Lombardozzi, whom I saw most recently, playing his age in Mrs.Fletcher. Maybe deepfake just got legit here thanks to Netflix, for all I know. A time when digital versions of your favorite actors star in roles and attain immortality in digial Valhalla is not afar, if you ask me. The Irishman apart from being the most CGI laden of all Scorcese films ever is also his most political one to date. Had this movie come out in the ” pre-post truth ” era, it would have raised more brows than it did today, considering the tantalising suggestions it makes about a most pivotal moment in American political history as we know it. But I guess the internet has beaten Scorecese at the shock factor game, he should just try sticking to his usual routine of blood and gore next time maybe. At the core of the film are the themes of loyalty and  redemption, rather the lack thereof. The moral compass of the film, i felt was the character of Sheeran’s daughter and it explores the dynamics of the relationships the three main protagonists had with her.

Though De Niro and Pesci do get their moments in the film that does justice to their reputation, it’s Pacino who is on a roll here – pun unintended. He is on fire and trust me, it’s not any de-ageing software at work here. His character is almost the good guy  in the story and has been written as the most dignified of the lot. Hoffa was a leader apart from many other things and Pacino truly transforms himself into one convincingly on screen and in fact the role has earned him his first Academy Award nomination in close to three decades. Pesci is almost adorable in his mobster turn for the first time but he does bring the meance from his heydays to the screen briefly , with a restraint that comes with age I guess, which also brings me to the writing by Steven Zallian. The man has an impressive resume indeed and he might very well pick up his second Academy Award this time around for his work on The Irishman. Though I have lost count of the times De Niro has played a mobster Frank Sheeran has to be his most uninteresting gangster character. I mean, considering the fact that the man played Capone with such viciousness, a young Don Corleone with such intensity and Noodles with a touch of sensitivity, Sheeran is too one-dimensional a character for the actor, i felt. Aleksa Palladino plays Sheerans first wife whom he leaves for his second, played by Stephanie Kurtzuba. Anna Paquin plays the older version of the daughter. Scorsese may have tried to portray the contrasting lifestyles and attitudes of the wives and the daughters I think. The wives are more or less oblivious to the nature of the professions of the husbands but it’s the children who are shown to be affected. Coming back to the lead characters, one could almost draw a parallel with Matt Damon’s corrupt mole of a cop from The Departed to De Niro’s Sheeran. They do what they have to do and you are not exactly sure if they are remoresful though they expect to be forgiven for their acts. Pacino’s Hoffa in the same breath is an endearing and vulnerable character, much like Di Caprio’s undercover cop in that film. At the end of the day, this film is indeed a one of a kind cinematic event on many levels and aspects and any movie afficionado worth his salt would swear by it. Scorecese and Co. may have mellowed, but they definitely havn’t lost steam.

 

21 Bridges : Boseman Bridges All Gaps In This One.

21 Bridges was exactly my kind of Cinema, the trailer said, which was why the reviews wouldn’t’ve mattered in the first place, for me that is. Manhunts and extended chases overnight seems to be quite the rage these days, at least from where I am sitting, and globally too because this film hits the screens close on the heels of the South Indian “airtight” actioner, Kaithi and yes, the visceral Asuran – in spirit. And like Kaithi, 21 Bridges too has it’s share of tributes and inspirations or just loads of plain old deja vu, if nothing else. The film reminded me most of the Bruce Willis vehicle from a decade back, 16 Blocks, in fact I’d go so far as to say that it’s almost a rework of the script with some contemporary cinematic sensibilites thrown in.

21 Bridges should have been actually called 21 bridges, three rivers and four tunnels, because that’s the whole list of what the NYPD cops shutdown to box in the bad guys in Manhattan, and hey no spoilers here because that’s already part of the trailer. Apart from other things, 21 Bridges was also a quick lesson in geography  for me and though it is indeed laden with tropes and cliches we have seen too often in movies from the genre, it does make more than a good job of holding your attention, considering. I could count at least three MacGuffins that took the tale forward at various juntcures and that’s without counting the brdges. That could indeed be a first. Untouchables had it’s bound ledger, 21 Bridges makes do with MS Excel and thumbdrives. The film ticks all the boxes right when it comes to representation, in keeping with the times and also finds space for that perennial American character, the troubled soldier, in the story. The title and the premise does give you an impression that there’s something on a Roland Emmerich scale in the wings, I mean you’re talking about shutting of Manhattan from rest of NY but the film opts for a minimalistic approach and acutally decides to focus on emotions and short but intense action sequences, which works quite well for it’s cause too, that’s to entertian the audience, ultimately. You get to see a splendidly shot on foot chase and though you do end up guessing most of the twists ahead,  Brian Kirk the director does set up some gripping scenes and manages to keep the proceedings taut through out the running time.

Holding the film together despite whatever shortcomings it has in the writing department in terms of novelty is an ethereal Chadwick Boseman who looks and talks as if he walked off a screen where  Black Panther was playing, right into this film. He redefines the term menacing in the scene where he knocks down one cop and stops his partner in his steps with a glare and a scowl. If in Black Panther it was Michael B.Jordan who stole the show with his performance opposite Boseman, here it’s Stephen James who   tries to repeat history. Tayor Kitsch is efficient in turn as a bad guy with a heart. For a supposedly trigger happy cop, Boseman actually is seen doing a lot of talking with the gun drawn, more than once. A thoroughly deglamorized Sienna Miller plays a narc who joins Boseman in the hunt for the cop killers. Throwing about orders in the middle is J.K.Simmons. Those are the most familar faces but with the amount of streaming content that you have at your disposal these days, you can’t but help feeling that you have seen every other actor on the screen in one show or the other. All things said, this one might evoke nothing more than a duh – to channel my inner Billie Eilish – from the millenials but if you’re a so-called 90’s kid, this film just might work for you. And don’t me wrong when I tell you that the best and most talked about scene from the film is that of a drone shot of a synchronised salute by a bunch of cops, it’s just a technical observation and is seen in the trailer too. Duh ?

 

 

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood : Tarantino’s Tribute To Tate.

This is not a review, simply because it’s impossible to review a Tarantino movie in the conventional sense of the term, no matter what the critics might tell you and then there’s also the conflict of interest factor, me being a self-confessed fan that is. Tarantino indulges, like no other filmmaker but he is celebrated world over like no other too. You have to be a movie buff to appreciate the kind of cinema that Tarantino makes, I feel because this is a guy who started making movies out of pure love for the medium and draws his obsessions and inspirations from all kinds of Cinema, from what’s branded B- Grade to relatively unknown Italian action movies to forgotten Hong Kong flicks from yesteryear, to speak of a few. When you see an actor in a Tarantino movie, you know that he wrote the character with that particular actor on his mind and that the actor was part of some little known TV show or a movie with a cult following from yesteryear that Tarantino grew up watching. Everything has a reason and a reference in a Tarantino movie which you could almost always trace back to some other movie or a show. Legends and lores are galore amongst fans about Tarantino’s uncredited works from his days as a writer and even after his turn as a writer-director. The “Silver Surfer” bit from Tony Scott’s Crimson Tide is what comes to my mind first when I think about one such tale. Pulp Fiction remains the movie that defines him as a filmmaker the most and that’s where you start if you’re discovering Tarantino just now, if you ask me. You will either end up a fan or dismiss him entirely, this, you can be absolutely sure of.

In his 9th film, Tarantino indulges like never before. Considering the fact that the premise of the film is all about what Tarantino loves the most, movies, actors and Hollywood, he hasn’t digressed much. Yes, he pays ode to himself in more scenes than one but in many ways this is a new Tarantino too. Set in the fag end of the sixties, 1969 to be precise, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is primarily a tribute from Tarantino to Sharon Tate, who was brutally murdered by members of the Manson family on the fateful night of August 9th, 1969 in her home, in cold blood. Tarantino uses two characters to tell this story, an actor who is at a crossroads in his career played by Leonardo DiCaprio and his stuntman, played by Brad Pitt. They’re to Once Upon A Time In Hollywood what C-3PO and R2D2 were to Star Wars. They have absolutely nothing to do with the central plot but are the devices through which the story develops rather flourishes here. DiCaprio’s Rick Dalton is Tarantino’s favorite toy in this film. An actor at a crossroads in his career, trying to reinventing himself to stay relevant and not forgotten, Dalton gets most of Tarantino’s attention in the film. Dalton shoots for spaghetti westerns playing the bad guy and Tarantino uses it as an excuse to squeeze in a mini western right in the middle. Tarantino experiments with just the camera in the age of CGI and the shots where the camera tracks and pans during takes and retakes in the film inside this film are displays pure of craftsmanship. Cliff Booth played by Brad Pitt on the other hand is the quintessential embodiment of “Amercian Cool”. He is unperturbed by any situation or intimidated by any individual. He comes with a mythical backstory too, like most Tarantino heroes and is an enigma. Then there is Margot Robbie playing Sharon Tate and I’m having a hard time figuring out who Tarantino’s new muse is, Robbie or the late Tate. Unlike the fictional Dalton who is literally riding into the sun on screen as far as his career is concerned , Tate whose life ended tragically and mindlessly is discovering fame and elusive success. This has to be the most delicate and touching portrayal of a character, rather a person in any Tarantino movie to date. A slew of other actors too make an appearance in roles that would be otherwise reserved for extras only because it’s again, a film by Tarantino.

Tarantino’s adoration for Sharon Tate as an actress and a person is more than evident from the way he has written and portrayed the character. Tarantino loves performers the most, and one gets an impression that he has the utmost respect for Sharon Tate the actor and he takes the effort to vouch for it before his audience five decades after her passing. The only reason Tarantino made this movie was to travel back in time and put the Manson Family on trial for their horrific act, I feel. Cliff Booth ultimately turns out to be the personification of the rage that Tarantino harbors for the members of the Mansion Family for what they did to Tate. Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is a true artist’s reaction to a thoughtless act which brought an end to the life of another artist with stars in her eyes, literally. This is revenge, and Tarantino metes it out like he knows best too. Then there’s the controversial Bruce Lee bit, surprising too because Tarantino obviously reveres Bruce Lee and paid him tributes in his Kill Bill movies in the past. The argument that Bruce had to take a beating to establish Booth’s physicality doesn’t hold water for me because that doesn’t quite explain the almost satirical take on the martial arts legend considering Tarantino’s history of fascination with the legacy of Lee. Personally I feel that it’s Tarantino in an introspective mood, demystifying his own personal heroes, and I wonder if the Weinstein fallout has anything to do with it.

Avengers – Endgame : Well, All’s well That Ends well OR Where I Rant Incessantly Around The Bush.

All good things must come to an end we’ve been told, unless of course you’re an Indian politican, just to put things in perspective from a desi vantage point. Turns out, the Avengers are no different, despite all their collective powers. The past decade and this one could be hailed as the age of the superhero in Hollywood thanks especially to Marvel’s inexhaustible repertoire of characters with superhuman skills, out to save the world and fight their inner demons too. Marvel broke ground with Iron Man and hasn’t looked back since. MCU, they called it, and we nodded in agreement. Marvel delivered some of the most memorable characters in pop culture today thanks to some great collaborators behind and in front of the camera. The boundless avenues that technology opened up in terms of CGI too played a huge role in bringing these more or less uncaped heroes – except for Thor and Dr.Strange – and their worlds to the screen exactly in ways they were envisioned in the comic books originally. But at the core, Avengers work for us an audience for the very reason why Seven Samurai or The Magnificent Seven or Guns of Navarone worked. That and Robert Downey Jr. , I think. There’s that part of our soul that craves to be be saved, literally and figuratively. It’s the very same part, religions have built their instituitions upon since time immemorial. There’s something fascinating about a hero, and all the classic ballads and myths have told tales of awe-inspiring heroes in all cultures and civilizations across the globe. Stan Lee was one amongst the many new age Homers, and one who stands tall too.

I’ve never attempted to review an Avenger movie ever but I’ve indeed shared my thoughts on the random Marvel film and this is not a review either. When it came to the Avengers, I was always at a loss of words, but not exactly because I in awe though. Now that Marvel has ominously bucked the tradition by doing away with the post credit scene, I thought I’d follow suit too. The first Avenger movie piqued interest globally for obvious reasons. I mean, who would’nt want to watch their favorite superheroes come together to save the world? Copyrights and licensing deals did keep Spiderman from joining the party for a while but Iron Man, Hulk, Thor and Captain America did a good job at the box office in his absence so much so that he wasn’t missed much. The fact that we had enough Spiderman reboots to last a lifetime is something I’ve briefly pondered over here and was a factor too, from an audience’s perspective. Personally, I had something akin to a withdrawal syndrome, starting with Age of Ultron. All I could recall about Avengers at one point were crumbling skyscrapers and huge spaceships that were crashing down on big cities. The jokes helped much, I do admit.

Marvel kept throwing the one-two punch at the viewers, the hard right hook with the Avengers and the soft left jab with the solo hero outings. But I can’t but help feel that even Robert Downey Jr. could’nt have saved Iron Man 4, if there would’ve been one. Captain America I know only from the Marvel films and his first solo outing was more interesting and engaging than I expected and Chris Evans does deserve some credit for evolving the character into someone who could hold his own on screen beside the effervescent Robert Downey Jr.’s, Iron Man. Mark Ruffalo was an interesting Hulk before Marvel decided to use him exclusively for comic relief in his blown-up CGI avatar though the Edward Norton Hulk remains a personal favorite right behind the Eric Bana one. The next A-list Avenger Thor was more than safe with Chris Hemworth but I’m not quite sure what to make of his “deconstructed” version in Endgame though, I’m expected to laugh I guess. The Black Panther was raved about but when it came to the final showdown, he was merely a set piece, again something which I have pondered on elaborately in the past. Johanssen’s Black Widow and Renner’s Hawkeye are the non-superhero presences alongside Don Cheadle in the Avenger’s inner circle.  Then out of the blue literally came Captain Marvel with a dubious gender history, who is most probably the least interesting but most powerful Avenger who could’ve saved the other Avengers the trouble and Marvel the twenty odd films only if she was’nt busy dealing saving lives “intergalactically”. Yes, of course I have’nt forgotten the Guardians, again of Galaxies. And then there’s Nick Fury aka Samuel.L.Jackson who’s basically handling HR for the Avengers. Okay, now if I’ve missed anyone that’s indeed deliberate because the last time I tried this hard to recall names was at my Chemistry exams and I’m exhausted. The Marvel lineup today could give the Periodic Table a run for it’s money.

If you have watched all Marvel films before Endgame you know that this super villain Thanos has wiped out half of the Earth’s living beings with the snap of his fingers including a few Avengers. Iron Man is floating somewhere out there in deep space and tries this emotional farewell speech bit on you early on but you know that he’s not going go die just yet, but nice try Russos. Like I said, at least for me, there hasn’t been any real emotional investment in the fate of the Avengers post the first film where the gang got together. When Thanos appeared I couldn’t accept him, as a viewer. Maybe it was the corny CGI and how they managed to pull it off despite all the financial and creative resources at their disposal is beyond me. As for characterization, for a franchise that relied heavily on realistic origin stories and real world scenarios for its heroes, here was a made to order super villain who looked like a huge un-chewed Boomer gum strip, ridges intact. He accelerated the disconnect which had already manifested in me. Yeah I know, this is how he was in the comics too but don’t feed me that just yet please. It’s the Marvel Studios not Comics is it not and they have taken more than a few liberties to make sure that it’s not just hard core comic aficionados who walked in to the movie halls religiously when every other Marvel movie was released. To be fair to the Russo Brothers, they have earnestly tried to nullify the effects of every inevitable cliche that was bound to appear on screen for the Avengers to succeed in their mission to save the planet and bring back the lost heroes. The greatest feat is the fact that the director duo have managed to give every hero who’s been a part of every Marvel movie till now at least a second of screen time in this final outing. Marvel tries to make up for the lost cause of feminism in their films in a brief mid battle sequence where all the female superheroes join together to try and bring down Thanos. Obviously, they still haven’t gotten over Wonder Woman, the movie which helped DC stay in the reckoning for a bit more longer in the superhero movie game. In this age where you could trigger wars and genocides with a random share on social media, the success of the final film in the current phase of a franchise as huge as MCU is hardly surprising. Well, in a world where a Marvel film ends without a post credit scene, you have little options but to wake up to the realities around you. Now that Thanos is gone and the Night King is dead, looks like I’ll have to make do with the Indian Parliamentary Election results.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Glass : MCU, M. Shyamalan’s Cinematic Universe.

I had gushed over Split a while back and was looking forward to Glass ever since M.Night Shyamalan, who would have been just another friendly neighborhood Manoj had his parents chosen not to cross the Pacific, dropped hints towards the end of Split that he was building his own superhero universe, minimalistic of course. Considering the fact that every other big studio is battling for box office supremacy in the genre these days, wouldn’t blame Shyamalan if he felt driven to explore his core competencies in that context too. He has but gone on record to state that he indeed had three films on his mind when he wrote Unbreakable all those years back. Though I cannot recall any indications of the sort right now from Unbreakable I’ll take his word for it. If the man’s debut feature is still not good enough for the Hollywood elites to acknowledge his genius, they atleast should  acknowledge his sheer confidencen given the fact that he has churned out a superhero movie universe franchise in no time with almost zero CGI. Well, at least not with the Marvel or DC kind of mind numbing CGI.

If Unbreakable was ultimately a  philolosphical take on comic books at large, Split was far removed and was more of a catalogue of everything James McAvoy was capable of, as an actor, apart from being Shyamalans  magnificent return to his arena, that being the  psychological thriller. Shyamalan deflty combines the elements of both these movies, apart from the characters, obviously,  in Glass. What helps Glass the most is the pace at which the story progresses. In a stark departure from his signature style, no time is wasted building up the elements of suspense in Glass. Shyamalan’s sense of humor is intact too, which helps. While every other celebrated filmmaker out there has reinvented the most loved superheroes of our times with origin stories, Shyamalan has taken those superheroes, stripped them bare of their capes and tights and placed them on a couch in a shrink’s office, literally, rather than on a battlefield. If the Marvel and DC movies had a troubled soul, Glass would be it. In Unbreakable, he explored the dynamics of a superhero- supervillain relationship, so to speak. Here, in Glass it’s about the balance of power and order, utlimately.

James McAvoy is  back at what he does best and the Oscar snub hasn’t dampened his spirits it seems. This time around he has to share screen time between the other two Shyamalan favroites, Bruce Willis and Samuel.L.Jackson. Willis’s character is the most one-dimensional character of the three and this could be one reason why Spencer Treat Clarke makes a return here as a makeshit Alfred to Dunn’ Overseer avatar. Willis’s character inadvertently owes it to Samuel.L.Jackson’s Elijah ultimately for the discovery of his own abilities and is the reason why I felt he is one dimensional if not for the presence of his anti-hero counterpart, Mr.Glass. To borrow a borrowed line from another  pathbreaking superhero movie, all Glass is trying to say to Dunn is, “You complete me”. Glass is the most moving character in this film though he is supposedly the mastermind supervillain. Shyamalan who has made a return to reckoning after being lost in cinematic oblivion for a while, I feel has actually turned a nose up at the big studios who are busy dishing out superhero movies on hughe budgets, by making a couple of films in the same genre on a shoestring budget. Or maybe he’s just doing penance for The Last Airbender and After Earth.

The Equalizer 2 : The Equalizer With New Bad Guys.

Denzel Washington is a favorite. So when he took on the Russian Mafia with DIY tools at the local home improvement retailer in the first Equalizer movie, I enjoyed it. He remains a favorite and that’s the sole reason why I didn’t mind watching him do it all over again in The Equalizer 2. Having said that, I’m not too sure I’d look forward to a third Equalizer movie unless  Antoine Fuqua comes up with maybe an Equalizer origin story, with Denzel Washington of course. You don’t go to a Denzel movie necessarily to watch him go all Jason Statham on his opponents, you already have Statham doing that. You just want to see him do another John Q, another Training Day, another Remember The Titans. There was even a movie where he chased a bad guy lying paralysed in a hospital bed. But I guess it’s that era cinematically where every actor either joins the MCU or finds a franchise of his own.

The Equalizer of 2014 banked on an element of surprise where you as a viewer was curious to see Denzel in an out and out action role which involved more physicality than what he displayed even in his frequent collaborations with Tony Scott. Here in the sequel Antoine Fuqua uses the same tropes as he did in the first. The only major difference being his change of career as an online ride for hire who does’nt hesitate to beat the hell out of his riders for a better rating. If McCall was helping a co-worker in the first, it’s the troubled neighbor kid who is in bad company that he helps out this time. He is still reading but not as much as he used to. There’s more of incoherent globetrotting vigilantism but, which could take a toll your reading habits, there. You expect each of these encounters to turn into the main narrative but they end up as minor amusements mostly. When McCall finally gets going it’s for the sake of his former colleague who was introduced in the first film. Pedro Pascal who made a name for himself in Game of Thrones and Narcos is a notable addition to the cast.The climax of the film is set in a coastal town hit by a hurricane which probably is supposed to hold a mirror to the truth that climate change is but it mostly served to remind me of Hurricane Heist.

Between The Magnificent Seven remake and Equalizer 2 Denzel Washington did two movies that are more “Denzel Washington” than the ones he has done in the recent past. Fences was directed by Denzel himself and was a success commercially and critically, Roman J. Israel Esq not so much. Movies like The Equalizer might be necessary to keep Denzel the star in the reckoning but as a viewer from the other side of the globe it’s his acting chops rather than his Karate chops that I’d pay my money for. Nevertheless the man doesn’t disappoint in any of his avatars.

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.

 

 

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?

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.

Black Panther: A Cynic Goes To The Movies.

For the longest time, i was divided about Black Panther and hence this outdated post.In this age where we desperately seek political correctness in every gesture of ours in the public sphere, more out of a need to avoid scrutiny and instant blacklash-thanks to the keypad-happy social media hawks- rather than out of actual commitment to a cause, the cynic in me of course sat up with cocked ears when the cash registers at Marvel started to ring again thanks to T’Challa and his solo outing.DC did cash in on feminism to save their sinking ship a while back.Now, its unfair to compare Marvel’s dream run with DC’s sputtering starts and stops but just dont tell me that the executives at Marvel never considered the moolah a movie like Black Panther could rake in, for obvious reasons.Yeah it’s true that  Black Panther’s been around for a while and cinematically as well as  socially this is the best of times for Panther to hit the screens, too.In the same breath, when a movie like Detroit sinks without trace and when Get Out wins best screenplay at the Oscars over Three Billboards at Ebbing, Missouri, to me at least it’s a bit like Trump restoring American economy by asking Apple to shut its plants in China.Enough with allegories and bushes to beat around,let’s get down to brass tacks.

Black Panther has it’s moments but to me personally, as a superhero movie, more specifically an MCU movie it ranks behind many other movies that came before it in terms of sheer entertainment value.You can’t deny the fact that it is the most talked about Marvel movie ever because of the theme and the politics it brings to the screen and ultimately to the minds and hearts of the audience.It showcases African culture with an elegance and a level of sophistication never seen before in Hollywood.Wakanda, the hidden kingdom is the African Utopia and analogy to what Africa could have been if not for the Scramble for Africa by the colonial powers.One would be tempted to call it an exaggeration but might want to reconsider given the fact Birr, the currency of Ethiopia ,an African country that was never colonised by the imperial powers trades  at 27 odd US Dollars in forex.Black Panther by design was destined for box office success as a Marvel movie with its predominantly black cast and an African American director and if i may, the targeted audience.Tell me that never came up in a boardroom discussion.That’s again the cynic in me i guess and my intention is not to undermine the efforts  the writers and the director here.The only other movie that comes to my mind  where I had a hard time choosing whom to root for between the hero and villain was Infernal Affairs which was later remade into The Departed.Michael B.Jordan elevates his character to immortality when he chooses death over bondage like his ancestors and Chadwick Boseman can only look on, literally.

What worked for me more than what i saw on the screen is what i heard,Kendrick’ Lamar’s All The Stars with SZA to be specific.The song has a video that’s as much a visual treat as the movie.The soundtrack of the film is outstanding and has an all star lineup, pun unintended.I wouldntve written what i did if it wasn’t for the music.No Marvel movie experience is fulfilling unless you sit throuh the end titles patiently for the post credits scene.Here you are in for a suprise of sorts when you see Bucky Barnes walking out of a Wakandan huts amidst calls of White Wolf by a bunch of Wakandan Kids.Honestly i dont expect Marvel to come up with another Black Panther solo film for many reasons and if it does happen and generates the kind of rave this one does, I just might admit that the world has changed for good.