Tuesday, November 6, 2018

House of Cards - Final Season

One of the first 'binge' tv experience sensations is back for one final bow. It remains highly bingeable, but the void left by Frank Underwood's absence cannot be ignored. Considering the ending, I wish they had not made this final season at all.

The first five seasons of House of Cards centred around Francis (Frank) and Claire Underwood's unquenchable thirst for power. In line with the other shows in the golden age of TV, Frank and Claire were antiheroes who served worse people their comeuppance. They lobbied and backstabbed (figuratively and literally) their way to the highest office in the US. They were the ultimate power couple, not in the romantic sense, but in being equal and highly capable partners going after the same goal. Season five ended with Frank deciding to take a backseat role - as he thought that it was where true power lied - and abdicated his presidency to his wife and vide president, Claire.

Kevin Spacey's transgressions in real life became public while season six was in production. Instead of cancelling the show, which I wish they had done, the producers wrote him off and set season six shortly after Frank Underwood's funeral. As a way to punish Kevin Spacey (the actor), the writers decided to attack Frank Underwood, the very fictional character that they had created and championed for the previous five seasons. In season six, multiple women share their experiences with Frank and imply his impotence. Others also refer to him as the stooge who was controlled by Claire (the evil puppet-master) this whole time. This dissonance (how they presented Frank in the first five seasons vs. the final season) was hard to take.

The other sin that the writers committed was transforming Claire from an antihero to an outright villain. The antihero is not a good person necessarily, but has a somewhat noble goal, and fights foes that are more evil than him/her. In case of Claire, the people she was butting heads with were not as evil as she was, and she had no goal other than pursuit of power (out of spite for others).

The other issue that this season had was trying to draw parallels from reality but they were nothing more than poor copies, rather than deep metaphors. The Shepherd siblings (surrogates for Koch brothers),  compromising material on the president, Russian collusion, and Gardner Analytics (read Cambridge Analytics) are just a few examples. In this case, I don't blame the writers for failing to imagine something more absurd than the current political climate, but those reference were plain lazy. Not having these poor copies would've served the series better. Worse than that, was the fact that these plot threads did not have a resolution at the end.

Speaking of the end, without any spoilers, it was one of the worst series finales that I have seen in recent years. The revelations in the last 15 minutes of the show did not make any sense (considering the characters we had come to know in the last six seasons), and it left the audience in a more uncertain place than the first episode of the season. In other words, if the audience is supposed to come up with their own conclusions and write their own endings, then why watch season 6 in the first place? The audience will be better off not wasting their time watching those eight episodes, and just imagine a conclusion to the Underwood saga after what they had seen in season five. In fairness, the last season was easy to watch back to back.

As a completely unnecessary season, with lazy and inconsistent writing, I give it a 1/10 (which is 10% more than it really deserves).

Thursday, October 18, 2018

First Man (2018)

Beautiful vistas, good acting, fascinating subject matter, but a slow and nauseating movie-watching experience!

Landing on the moon was perhaps the biggest human achievement of 20th century. You would hardly find somebody who doesn't know who the first man on the moon was, and what statement he made when he took that small step for a man, but a giant leap for mankind.

First Man follows Neil Armstrong's journey throughout the 1960's and shows his rise from a test pilot to the most celebrated astronaut of all time. The journey was filled with personal losses, sacrifices, trials and tribulations.

Ryan Gosling brings in his usually focused, yet cold and detached persona to the movie. I watched some interviews with the real Neil Armstrong that were filmed after the moon landing. I found his personality to be modest and somewhat cheerful, which is not the same as Gosling's personification. But I'm sure Gosling and Damien Chazelle (the director) have done their background research diligently, and what they depicted in the movie is perhaps accurate to that point in Armstrong's life.

Cinematography of the First Man is simply breathtaking! It takes you to that claustrophobic cockpit with Armstrong and co on their flight to the moon. This faithful depiction also makes you feel every bump and shake, and this 'virtual reality' made me somewhat nauseous! That said, the cinematography is surely a contender comes the award season this year.

In addition to the eerie and melancholic characterization of Armstrong and his wife, and the nauseating flight scenes, the pace of the movie was slow with no payoff. Ending the movie with a dark feeling and no payoff is quite disappointing considering that the story ends with ultimate climax in human history (i.e., landing on the moon)!

Fans of cinematography will appreciate the film, but the other aspects of the movie were underwhelming and below my expectations. But for the beautiful shots, I'd give it a 6.5/10.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

A Star is Born (2018)

Hollywood has been telling this fairy tale since 1937 with the first rendition of A Star is Born (or 1932's What Price Hollywood). It is an archetypical showbiz story that has resonated for many decades, and will certainly stay relevant in the decades to come.

The title tells us that the movie is about the birth of a star, but it fails to disclose that one star falls while the other rises. Bradley Cooper plays the role of Jackson Maine, a burnt out, alcoholic, pill popping, rockstar with an ever-growing case of tinnitus. After a gig, while he's trying to sink his sorrows in the bottle, he hears Ally's (Lady Gaga) performance of La Vie en Rose. Ally's raw talent is a jolt of electricity that resuscitates Jackson's passion for music. He holds Ally's hands and takes her with him on tour, asks her to perform and write music. Jackson's resurgence doesn't last for long though, as he fall deeper down the spiral of drinking and taking drugs.

Bradley Cooper, the lead actor, director, screen writer, producer, songwriter, and editor, shines and gives a career best performance. He is magnificent as the burnt out rockstar (with a surprisingly good musical performance for an actor). The movie's script makes you care about these characters, believe in the organic growth of their relationship, and sympathize with their struggles. The cinematography makes you feel you're on stage with these stars. The pacing is also excellent as the 136 minute runtime of the movie flies by.

As for the other cast members, Lady Gaga is phenomenal as the insecure ingenue who grows more confident and comfortable in her own skin. Sam Elliot, although somewhat underused in the movie, adds the final magic touch that elevates to movie to another level.

This was one of the best movies of 2018, and undoubtedly will receive numerous nominations come the award season. If it isn't already obvious, A Star is Born was a 10/10 for me.

P.S. A Star is Born is inevitably going to be compared with La La Land (2016), the other Hollywood fairy tale musical. They both depict the rise of a star in the entertainment industry, and also show the difficulties of surviving in such environments. But that is where the similarities end. The characters, struggles, story beats, and even the musical genres are significantly different from one another.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Destination Wedding (2018)

What happens when two nihilistic and bitter intellectuals are stuck together for a weekend in a strange new place, and forced to celebrate a happy couple's nuptials? Destination Wedding paints that picture for you in a hilariously smart fashion!

Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder had starred in three other movies before this one. So, it goes without saying that they have great chemistry. Reeves plays an advertising executive, while Ryder is a lawyer specializing in civil and social injustice issues. Both are incredibly smart, and at the same time, cynical of the world. These two end up sitting next to one another on their flight to the destination (for a wedding, as the title suggests), have adjacent hotel rooms, and are put on the same table at the wedding. They repel one another cause they are basically the same! Cherry on top is the fact that Winona Ryder's character was engaged to the groom a few years back. And, the groom is Keanu Reeves' estranged half brother.

A bit shorter than 90 minutes, the whole movie focuses on these two characters, their conversations and witty banter. You see other actors in the background, but they don't have speaking roles. Victor Levin, the movies' director and screen writer, needs to be commended for his brilliant dialogue, beautiful long shots, and making a film that may not work on the paper - particularly in the era of superheroes and audiences with possibly the shortest attention spans in history.

I loved the dialogue, acting, and the whole movie as a device for the screenwriter to express his world view! I give the movie a 10/10 for this bold effort.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)

Bigger, louder, flashier, and more brutal than the predecessor, Chapter 2 delves deeper into the league of assassins. It's a well-made movie with nice practical effects and choreography, but at the same time, the great number of head-shots might make you numb halfway through the movie.

If you have seen the first John Wick movie in 2014, you'd have a pretty good expectation of the action, style, and the deep and detailed universe that the movie is set in. Events Chapter 2 start just a few days after the end of the first film and show how the titular character is trying to wrap up loose ends. But as it seems that the movie is about to slow down, a blast from the past hits John and pulls him back in.

The best part about the movie is the rich universe that it has created; from the Continental hotel to the tailors and sommeliers! Ian McShane particularly shines as the manager of the New York branch. Of course Keanu Reeves is great as well. His dedication to the stunts is somewhat comparable to Tom Cruise's. Other than these two, other supporting characters were not memorable, or even at points they were really annoying (I'm talking about Ruby Rose's character).

The story is interesting and compelling. It builds on what we saw in the first movie. Here John is not as sympathetic has he was there, but still he is the classic hero that you root for. As I mentioned, everything is super-sized in this instalment. However, too much of a good thing may not necessarily be good. As I mentioned earlier, the body count is so large that the fight scenes lose their allure.

Overall, it's a very entertaining and well-made movie. Fans of the first film should definitely watch it. I'd give it an 8.5/10. I am also curious to see where they will take the character for Chapter 3.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Oscar Results (2017)

Out of the 12 categories that I predicted, I got 10 of them right. I missed the best original screenplay - which no one thought would go to Manchester by the see - and best director. Saving grace is that Damien Chazelle, who had my vote, ended up winning. So overall, I'd like to say my score was 10.5/12 - which was better than last year!

My Vote
Best Picture


Hacksaw Ridge

Hell or High Water

Hidden Figures

La La Land


Manchester by the Sea


Hacksaw Ridge

La La Land
Manchester by the Sea


Best Actor
Casey Affleck – Manchester by the Sea
Andrew Garfield – Hacksaw Ridge

Ryan Gosling – La La Land

Viggo Mortensen – Captain Fantastic

Denzel Washington – Fences

Best Actress
Isabelle Huppert – Elle

Ruth Negga – Loving

Natalie Portman – Jackie

Emma Stone – La La Land
Meryl Streep – Florence Foster Jenkins

Best Supporting Actor
Mahershala Ali – Moonlight
Jeff Bridges – Hell or High Water

Lucas Hedge – Manchester by the Sea

Dev Patel – Lion

Michael Shannon – Nocturnal Animals

Best Supporting Actress
Viola Davis – Fences
Naomie Harris – Moonlight

Nicole Kidman – Lion

Octavia Spencer – Hidden Figures

Michelle Williams – Manchester by the Sea

Best Original Screenplay
Hell or High Water

La La Land

The Lobster

Manchester by the Sea
20th Century Women

Best Adapted Screenplay


Hidden Figures


Best Animated Feature Film
Kubo and the Two Strings


My Life as a Zucchini

The Red Turtle

Best Original Score

La La Land



Best Original Song
La La Land (Audition)


La La Land (City of Stars)
Jim: The James Foley Story


Best Cinematography

La La Land