Tuesday, December 17, 2019

6 Underground (2019) - Review

6 Underground is a bombastic Bay-hem born out of Michael Bay's creatively bankrupt brain that violates your visual and auditory sensors to the point of numbness.

I can't call 6 Underground the worst movie of the year, but certainly the worst utilization of talent and budget. The cast could have led or supported any other movie much better, but in 6 Underground, people just yell and quip (lamely) for two hours straight. The plot is thinner than a strand of hair, with the only saving grace of the production being its stunts department. They did their best to use practical driving and parkour effects, but Michael Bay's 10 cuts/second made me dizzy and somewhat nauseous.

In the age of good blockbusters (e.g., all the Marvel movies), 6 Underground has a much harder time meeting anyone's expectations. Maybe 25 years ago, the Bay-hem was fresh and appealing, but in 2019, Netflix's 6 Underground is a 2/10 at best.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Irishman (2019) - Review

Martin Scorsese came under a lot of scrutiny for claiming that Marvel (and all the other comic book) movies are not cinema. I myself found it impossible to find a definition of, let alone make one up for cinema. But I'm quite certain about one thing; Martin Scorsese has been delivering masterpieces one after another since early 1970's. Human creativity and ingenuity is finite and everybody reaches their plateau at some point, but the quality of Scorsese's work hasn't dropped yet. Irishman might even be his best work to date!

Irishman tells the life story of Frank Sheeran (the narrator) from late 1950's to early 2000's. The movie is based on a book written by Frank's lawyer who documented his retelling of his life and interactions with real people who played somewhat significant roles in American history. Whether this narration is reliable or not is beyond anybody's comprehension. The historians have not reached a consensus on what actually transpired with regards to this story, and there is no objective truth. What we see, however, is a deeply grounded story of an outsider's journey in a foreign land: an Irish man who works at the front line of Italian Mafia in New York and Philadelphia and his dealings with a political figure of Dutch and German origin.

How much of it is true? I really don't care! I care that I witnessed 50 years of one person's life in a span of 3.5 hours. I had the privilege of spending time with fascinating characters who I could understand, sympathize, and sometimes despise. The acting, music, visuals (even the de-aging effects), cinematography, and the edits were top-notch! I highly doubt if anybody could have done a better job (even by the smallest margins).

I just have high praise for a magnificent viewing experience that made me care about the characters, with a story that made sense, and pacing that was a joy from beginning to end. Building up expectations is only going to lead to disappointments, but in all honesty, Irishman was the best movie of the decade for me. I would happily give it a 15/10!

Friday, November 1, 2019

Terminator: Dark Fate (2019) - Review

Besides "I'll be back" and "hasta la vista, baby", perhaps the other memorable quote from the Terminator franchise is: "There's no fate but what we make". But the underlying message of the latest entry, Terminator: Dark Fate, is that regardless of what these characters do (or make), the fate is still going to be the same!! Let me elaborate:

As shown in the trailers (no spoilers), there is a terminator and a guardian sent from the future to fight over someone's life. This plot device had been used in four of the previous five Terminator movies. The only 'supposed' novelty of Dark Fate is that it ignores Terminator 3-5 and goes on an alternative timeline that branches out of Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Regardless of continuity (whether Terminators 1-5, or 1-2 and then Dark Fate), the fate of humanity remains the same: robots rebel against humans sometime in the future. It only may get delayed, but seems inevitable... In that very future, even though the robots have the upper hand, they still send a machine back in time to kill a human who might end up being important on day. In response, human rebels send a guardian back to protect that individual.

As someone who used to be a fan of the franchise, I have recently realized that the logic makes no sense - at least the plot of the five out of six Terminator movies (i.e., all except for Salvation). Why the robots, who are dominating in the battlefields, need to change anything in the past? From their point of view, the status quo must be perfect! Why do they (i.e., robots) need to take a proactive role in this scenario?

Those highly intelligent robots must be familiar with the butterfly effect! With the smallest change, the robots may cease to exist. At best they may eradicate a troublesome human leader, but worst case, is that their domination might end..  It would have made much more sense if humans decided to rewrite the past and sent someone (whether machine or human) in the terminator role to change/terminate the timeline, and then the robots (i.e., SkyNet or Legion) sent a guardian to protect/guard the chain of events leading to their supremacy!!

Now back to Dark Fate: I went to see this movie with great enthusiasm. The first two entries in the franchise (logic aside) are masterpieces in my opinion. In particular, Terminator 2 is (or maybe was... need to sleep on it) one of my favourite movies of all time. In T2, Arnold (T-800) was an unstoppable bear sent to protect John Connor from a fast and elusive wolf, T-1000 or the mercury man - played by Robert Patrick. Dark Fate, does a good job of replicating T2's animalistic dynamic between the guardian and terminator. The terminator is of the Rev-9 model (Gabriel Luna) and is more like a Jaguar with unlimited stamina, can leave a copy of himself behind, and instead of mercury, perhaps 'tar' could be the substance that you associate it with. The guardian, Grace (Mackenzie Davis), is almost as relentless and strong, but can only operate in short bursts - very much like a video game character that has a special move and you need to replenish it before it can be used again - and also moves like a fast feline predator (I'll let the reader pick the animal).

These two characters match up really well, and make a few memorable scenes, particularly their confrontations in the first act. Throughout the movie, the fight choreography was fast, smooth, and beautiful to watch. More positive comments can be said about Linda Hamilton's return as Sarah Connor and the always impressive Arnold Schwarzenegger. Their limitless charm is on full display. The pacing of the movie is good too. I only looked at my watch once, and it was after 1hr 45mins - only 15 minutes before the credits started rolling.

Overall, Dark Fate is an entertaining movie, but my gripes are with overuse of computer-generated images (CGI), and the flaws in the plot of endless attempts at sending guardians and terminators back in time, with a seemingly unavoidable fate. I'm also disappointed in the marketing team for overhyping James Cameron's involvement. Has Cameron become creatively bankrupt? Is he out of fresh ideas? Is he going to repeat and contradict himself from now on? I wish Cameron and the studio stop milking this cash cow before it reaches the very last drop... The cast, budget, and choreography should have been utilized to build a new franchise (rather than rehashing this old story). In case of staying with this old Terminator story, Salvation was the freshest idea that we had. Showing how the future pans out is much more interesting than yet another foolish attempt at rewriting the past.

At the risk of sounding redundant (much like this movie), Dark Fate's biggest sin was to tarnish the reputation and impact of Terminators 1 and 2! All it does is reaffirming that this loop or vicious cycle (or dark fate) is inevitable; the gender and race of characters might change, but the roles stay the same. So... why care at all? Clearly there will be sequels, but they will become void one day when the a new war between humans vs. machines begins.

As an entertaining Fast and Furious clone, Terminator: Dark Fate is a 6.5/10.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Joker (2019) - Review

Joker, the movie, is very much like a detailed sculpture that was crafted by a true master craftsman. I've been reflecting on what I experienced for almost a day now, and find myself still peeling layers and identifying new ways to interpret the film. From this perspective, I dare call this sculpture a masterpiece. But for sure I don't want to have this sculpture in my living room... or even see it again!

First, let me preface this review by saying that I am a hardcore fan of the Batman mythology and hence, better-versed in the history of Joker than the general public. I have read most (if not all) of the seminal Joker stories, and consider The Killing Joke (by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland) and Mad Love (by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm) to be the top two defining character studies. One thing that both have in common is depicting the Joker's chaotic thought process vividly. A key quote from the Killing Joke, by the Joker, is: "if I'm going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice!". The Mad Love also shows how Joker fabricates different stories in order to manipulate others - in that particular case, his mark was his psychiatrist, Dr. Harleen Quinzel who later transformed into Harley Quinn. Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight also adopted this in Joker's characterization. Case in point: "You wanna know how I got these scars?"

I initially had an apprehension towards the 2019 movie thinking that the "multiple choice" aspect of Joker's past is going to be lost with a movie focusing solely on the character's origin. While the movie covers one cohesive story line, it makes the viewer question what part of it was real and what was in Arthur Fleck's mind. His name even could be a sad joke, implying that he was just a fleck of little to no significance.

The Arthur in this story is a mental health patient who laughs uncontrollably when he gets emotional (happy, sad, nervous, or stressed) and lives with his ailing mother, Penny. He earns a living as a party clown working for the HaHa agency in the rougher parts of Gotham City. After the city cuts down the budget on social services, Arthur is left without professional support and access to his medication.

On one bad day (referring to the theme from The Killing Joke), Arthur is fired from the agency for taking a gun to a children's hospital - a gun that maybe a colleague gave it to him or maybe he bought it himself... On a train ride, three businessmen pick on Arthur. He kills two of them in self-defence and chases after the third one on an empty train and catches up with him in an empty station to shoot him in point blank. The murders are reported in the press in the following days - some call it an abhorrent crime by a serial killer, and some call it vigilante justice by the disenfranchised...

The two other plot threads that we follow before the third act are the romantic relationship that Arthur establishes with his neighbour, and also the information about Arthur's parentage and childhood. The final act takes a leap of faith in how Arthur instigates a revolution in the city, but again, we are just seeing what Arthur sees.

The themes of ambiguity and unreliable narration make it much in line with Joker's personality and chaotic mind. The audience is left questioning how much of it was real, and how much of it was actually happening in Joker's mind. One clue that I'm certain was not accidental was two clocks (one in the asylum in the very beginning of the movie, and one at the HaHa agency) showing 11:11 - the exact time that many people make a wish upon noticing.  Is it all wishful thinking inside Arthur's mind? Was he at the mental hospital the whole time? Or did most of it actually happen? Well... a good Joker story keeps it multiple choice!

Joaquin Phoenix's acting is certainly Oscar worthy. The pain in his eyes, the laughs (from crying laughs to the one that was actually genuine), the body language to the the way he ran, are all going to be studied by acting students for many years to come! Todd Phillips is also deserving of all the praise that he's receiving for his masterful direction. He was a writer and producer on the film as well!

It might be obvious from all the praise that I consider this film a masterpiece and worthy of a 10/10 score! However, it was an uncomfortable experience and I may never watch it again. I only recommend it to true fans of the character, and those who appreciate a finely crafted character study (although very disturbing).

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Rambo: Last Blood (2019) - Review

As a life-long fan of Sylvester Stallone, I was very much excited for the supposed last entry in the Rambo franchise. What seemed to be an analogue to Logan (2017 - Wolverine's swan song) , turned out to be a cross between Taken and Home Alone!

The movie picks up almost a decade after the fourth film with John Rambo breeding horses in his father's ranch. We are quickly introduced to the two other residents on the ranch: a family friend (a middle-aged Mexican woman) and her niece, who is seemingly Rambo's god-daughter. The young girl is about to leave town for college, but before getting too far from her hometown, despite Rambo's warnings she decides to go on a road trip to Mexico to meet her long-lost biological father .

The god-daughter meets and gets rejected by her absentee father, and later that night, is abducted by the cartel and forced into prostitution. Cue in the plot from Taken where the old man goes to save the young girl... After the rescue operation, the cartel is looking for retaliation and they decide to attack Rambo at his home. The last 30 minutes of the movie is split between Rambo setting traps, followed by the cartel facing violent deaths.

The plot is thin and derivative, and the characters are poorly developed. John Rambo does not change much compared to the previous movies - the only bit of development comes from a short monologue by Rambo explaining how his love for his god-daughter changed his outlook for a while... The characters are also either extremely evil in case of the cartel members, or portrayed as heavenly angels (i.e., the god-daughter and her aunt). Worst of all, the pacing is slow too. The 89-minute runtime felt much longer...

I've been a fan of both Rocky and Rambo franchises, and have a lot of respect for Sylvester Stallone and how he started from zero and made himself the powerhouse that has been for the last four decades. Despite this favourable bias, I only recommend watching this movie to hardcore fans once it hits the streaming services.
I give Rambo: Last blood a 5/10.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood (2019) - Review

Quentin Tarantino's ninth movie is a love letter to Hollywood and filmmaking. Tarantino the director is at his very best in constructing beautiful long shots and getting the best performance from his actors. Tarantino the writer, however, has written a fan fiction with inconsistencies, non-organic tonal changes, and unearned subversion of expectations.

Leonardo DiCaprio plays the character of Rick Dalton, a former A-list TV actor who is past his prime and has been relegated to guest appearances as the villain in other TV shows. His loyal stunt double, Cliff Booth - played by Brad Pitt, has his destiny tied to Dalton's star power. Besides these two fictional character, the rest are real people acting or residing in Hollywood in 1969.

The first 90 minutes out of the 161-minute runtime of the movie is very much about how movies and TV shows were (and still are) made, rise and fall of fame, and the struggles of show business. As a life-long fan of movies, I very much enjoyed this part and I simply couldn't get enough! Not tonally, but spiritually, it was similar to Coen brothers' Hail, Caesar from 2016. DiCaprio was phenomenal acting as an actor on a production (very meta!), and how he dealt with an identity crisis. Brad Pitt also made me believe he had been a stunt performer all his life! As the trailers have shows, there are short appearances by other prominent Hollywood figures from 1969 (including Bruce Lee, Roman Polanski, and James Stacey).

The latter hour of the movie transforms from a character study to a horror film when Brad Pitt's character visits the Spahn Movie Ranch after giving a ride to a member of the Manson family. The horror and thriller aspects reach their peak with Manson's disciples trip to Hollywood. This section is where the tone changes unexpectedly with a rather long narration by Kurt Russell.  What was disorienting most about this narration was the fact that Kurt Russell had appeared earlier as a stuntman, and really had no reason to be the omniscient narrator 90 minutes into the movie!

We also spend a few minutes looking at Margot Robbie (acting as Sharon Tate), watching a Sharon Tate movie! It's bordering on spoilers territory, but inclusion of Sharon Tate in "Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood" did not contribute to the plot one iota other than subverting an expectation near the end!

Tarantino has expressed in interviews that he was a huge fan of Sharon Tate in his childhood, and this gives the impression that he simply wanted to write a fan fiction to appease his teenage self. I'm sure almost everyone has created scenarios about their childhood celebrity crushes in their minds. Of course, only an infinitesimal portion of us have the power and resources to make a movie based on the fan fiction. Quentin Tarantino is among that select few...

The movie's high points are its actors' performances as well as the beautiful shots of Los Angeles. Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood is still a pretty good film, but I'd rank it seventh out of the nine that Tarantino has made (above Hateful Eight and Death Proof), and give it a 7.5/10.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Spider-Man: Far from Home (2019) - Review

Calling the last five years a Spider-Man renaissance would be an understatement! Tom Holland's rendition stole the show in Captain America: Civil War in 2016. We saw his solo movie - Spider-Man: Homecoming - in 2017.  It was followed by Spider-Man's major role in Avengers Infinity Stone and Endgame, and now we have the character again in Far from Home. In addition, alternative versions of the character starred in the magnificent PS4 game and also the spectacular genre-bending Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse in 2018... In this particular (and rare) situation, too much of a good thing is still good!

Far from Home picks up a few months after Avengers: Endgame and shows the world in the aftermath of that event. Considering the huge personal toll of those events on Peter Parker, our hero needs a vacation more than ever, and luckily, his school is going to take the class on a tour around European. Keeping up with the spirit of the comic books and every prior portrayal, Spider-Man can never have an easy time and something needs to go wrong... The emergence of the "Elementals" in Europe makes Nick Fury draft Spider-Man into action to assist Quentin Beck - the stranger from another Earth! Beck or "Mysterio" is indeed a mysterious character with mind-bending powers. His full set of abilities manifest after the 75-minute mark, and in my opinion, this film's portrayal of those powers blows everything that comics and cartoons had done in the past right out of the water - this by itself is a truly commendable feat to make live-action more fantastical than animation!

Since this review is intended to be spoiler-free, I'll avoid discussing the plot twists, which may not be too surprising to those familiar with the lore, but even for them, there are still quite a few pleasant surprises! Once the twists were fully revealed, I saw parallels with Iron-Man 3 and Batman Forever, but as always, Marvel and Kevin Feige take escapism to its highest level and give the audience a truly fun and pleasant experience. There are also two after-credit scenes that give you a different perspective about the film and somewhat warrant a second viewing...

Taking a step back from this particular movie, I never saw any part of myself in Spider-Man (even as an idealized fantasy); hence I never wanted to be him. But he is a great character that I always enjoyed; whether it was the cartoons or the video games. Going back to something I had written in the past, a good protagonist is someone that you either want to be, or be with (not necessarily in a sexual way) - better say spend time with... Tom Holland gives the best live-action portrayal of that character, and the fact that we can still enjoy that many appearances of the Spider-Man within the last four years is a testament to how great his interpretation is!

Going back to this particular movie though, it was a solid a 9/10!

Friday, June 28, 2019

Good Omens (2019) - Reivew

The TLDR review of Good Omens mini-series: zany comedy, bromance, biblical!

It is rare in Hollywood when the writer of a book gets to adapt it to screen. Neil Gaiman, who co-wrote Good Omens with Terry Pratchett, is continuing his conquest of the small screen (after the fantastic American Gods) with another societal commentary with dark comedy undertones in the mini-series co-produced by Amazon and BBC.

The story starts at the Garden of Eden when Crowley, in his snake form, tempts Eve to take a bite from the forbidden fruit. We all know that the fruit of knowledge came with a hefty price, which was exile from heaven. To help them survive on vicious earth, Aziraphale, the guardian of Eden's east gate, gives Adam and Eve his flaming sword for protection. The show sets its tone when Crowley the demon and Aziraphale the angel (masterfully played by David Tennant and Michael Sheen) stand by the walls of Heaven and debate whether they acted according or against their nature; that is, did the demon actually perform a good deed for Adam and Eve by offering them the fruit of knowledge? Did the angel actually doom humanity by giving them the flaming sword?... These moral questions continue on throughout the rest of the show, particularly in the fantastic episode three, where we see how the angel and demon became best friends during the 6000 year biblical history.

Aziraphale and Crowley are merely ambassadors of their respective head offices on earth. Heaven and Hell are of course at constant battle, which may come to an end soon with the birth of Satan's son, the Anti-Christ. Aziraphale and Crowley have grown fond of life on earth, hence, want to prevent armageddon at all costs. They keep a close eye on Anti-Christ -- ironically named Adam -- and constantly ask us whether there is such a thing as absolute good or absolute evil? What is the role of nature versus nurture? Are we supposed to understand every plan or should we accept "ineffability" of the Almighty's plans? As I mentioned, the show is strongly rooted in biblical mythology, but does not take a religious stance with regards to its underlying message.

While the show sets up a possible sequel, it is still a self-contained story with fantastic acting by the leads and a phenomenal soundtrack (well, all Queen's songs). My only gripe is with some of the computer-generated images that look outdated for 2019, but the story is interesting enough that the CGI does not distract at all.

Good Omens is a solid 9/10!

Friday, May 31, 2019

John Wick 3: Parabellum (2019) - Review

John Wick and the highly stylized world of suave assassins and sophisticated murderers have not lost their appeal yet! Actually, the deep lore of this universe is ripe for the picking in future instalments of the franchise. Needless to say that John Wick Chapter 3 is not a dramatic movie with a touching story, but a purely entertaining experience with new genre-defining standards for stunt work.

The movie picks up mere minutes after the previous chapter with John Wick (Keanu Reeves) on the run from all the assassins in New York - who are interestingly a significant portion of NYC's population. Winston (played by the incomparable Ian McShane), the manager of the Continental Hotel in New York, declared John exocmmunicado from the guild, but gave him an hour head start. Once the grace period is up, a bounty of $14 million is placed on his head and goes up by the hour.  John reaches out to different factions of the guild, who all still operate under the supervision of the High Table, and cashes in all the favours they owe him in an attempt to buy in more time...

As I mentioned, it is not a deep story and can be simply summarized as 'John Wick fights to save his life'. But the visual spectacle of Keanu Reeves going through hordes and hordes of increasingly tougher enemies is a sight to behold. Very much like Mad Max: The Fury Road, it is a cinematic experience that needs to be seen on the big screen. Stories of John Wick and Mad Max may not make the best and most rewarding reading material, but they saturate your visual sensory channels in the most pleasing way!

My two minor gripes with John Wick Chapter 3 - Parabellum are the following: i) John's reason for wanting to stay alive was thin and was not really necessary to express in the first place, and ii) some of the fights in the last act dragged on for a little too long and desensitized me to the stylized violence - maybe it was just too much of a good thing... But these two minor issues aside, John Wick chapter 3 "has served and it will be of service" to the fans of the genre.

Hats off to Keanu Reeves for his dedication to the craft, and Chad Stahelski - the director - for the magnificent visual experience. Despite minor flaws, it was a 10/10 for me.
Si vis pacem, para bellum! 

Monday, May 20, 2019

Game of Thrones - S08E06 Recap and Review

SPOILERS follow...

Picking up from sacking and burning of Kings Landing, we catch up with Tyrion and Jon Snow who are visibly shaken and in shock. Queen Daenerys finally lands on the ground with Drogon in the background taking off shortly, giving the image of Daenerys spreading her wings. She addresses her unsullied and Dothraki soldiers and tells them that the conquest of Kings Landing was just the beginning, and she plans to 'liberate' every city and kingdom on the map. Jon Snow is not quite comfortable with these sentiments, but as a man of his word, he does not dare question his queen. Tyrion, though, takes off the hand-of-the-queen pin and throws it away in disdain. Daenerys is of courses offended by this insult, and orders her unsullied soldiers to take Tyrion to a cell (rather than burning or executing him right there, which she should have).

Jon visits Tyrion in the cell. Both are concerned with the mental state of their queen. Jon is in love with Daenerys and is also loyal to her by oath. He remembers Maester Aemon (a Targaryen by blood) of the Nights Watch and his quote of "love is the death of duty". Tyrion flips it around and says sometimes "duty is the death of love". This wordplay, along with a reference to Sansa, is enough to turn Jon against Daenerys. He goes to the throne room and meets up with Daenerys. She is walking towards the Iron Throne and examining one of the thousand sword hilts that formed the throne; this image is an exact recreation of a vision that Daenerys had back in season 2... Jon voices his concerns with Dany's "liberation agenda", but she tries to convince him that they (the Targaryens) know best... Jon tells her that she is and will always be his queen and then proceeds to kiss her. Daenerys suddenly pulls back in horror and we see a knife piercing her heart. Jon's duty to the realm made him end the life of the woman he loved.

Drogon shrieks and comes to his mother's side. He nudges Daenerys hoping to wake her up, but soon realizes that it's too late... He contemplates burning Jon (or Aegon Targaryen VI), but decides against it and instead melts the iron throne with his fire breath. Maybe he sensed the Targaryen blood in Jon and couldn't bring himself down to executing him considering the fabled blood connection between Targaryens and dragons... Drogon grabs Daenerys and flies away, hopefully to Volantis where the red priests and priestesses believe in her and might be able to bring her back to life...

We catch up with an unkept Tyrion, supposedly months after the death of Daenerys, as he is escorted by Grey Worm to the dragon pit. All the lords and ladies of the big houses are there to decide the future of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros. Tyrion takes the stage and says that the most important qualification for being a king is having a good story (and not benevolence, governance experience, or a competent track record...). Among all the people we know -- including Jon Snow the rightful heir who was thought to be a bastard for most of his life and served as the Lord Commander of the Night's Watch, who once died and came back to life to lead the war against the undead, or Arya Stark the master assassin who travelled the world and then single handedly killed the Night King -- Brandon Stark (or Bran the Broken)  is the person with best stories, and hence, he should be king. Bran's character development in the show included being thrown out the window in the very first episode, and from that point on has only been a plot device for flashbacks, In the books, Bran is a point of view character, so we get to hear his inner thoughts to some extent. But in the show, he has been merely an empty vessel. Even a few episodes ago, he said that he was not human anymore... Only a storage device for keeping the past history...

Tyrion asks Bran the Broken if he will accept the crown, and Bran responds "why do you think I came all this way down here?" (or something equally stupid to that effect). Starting with Samwell Tarley (whose proposal of a democracy was rejected a few minutes earlier), everybody pledges fealty to Brandon Stark. The only house that refuses to accept Brandon Stark as king is the Stark house. Sansa says that the North had been independent for thousands of years and it deserves to be independent again, to which Bran gives a nod. This logic applies to the six other kingdoms as well, as they all had been independent until 300 years ago when Aegon 'The Conquerer' Targaryen united all of those kingdoms. Hence, this was a legitimate enough reason for all the other lords to ask for independence as well. Moreover, why should they accept a member of a separatist house (or the citizen of a foreign country) as their new king? Wouldn't citizenship be a necessary requirement for ruling the united kingdoms? Obviously the plot armour is thick enough, and nobody bats an eyelash.

Bran the Broken is dubbed the King of the Six Kingdoms (Seven minus the Winterfell) and forms his small council (or cabinet) with Tyrion as the Hand, Bronn the sellsword as the Master of Coins, Sir Brienne (who had pledged to protect Sansa till her death) as the new Lord Commander of the King's Guard, Samwell Tarley as the Archmaester, and Sir Davos as the Master of Ships. Like an office sitcom, they gather to bicker and banter with one another about whether to rebuild the brothel or fund the navy. Bran the Broken decides that his top priority is wargging into (or hacking into the brain of) Drogon rather than concern himself with the boring chores of ruling the realm... Considering Bran's ability to see the past, present, and future, and also controlling animals and humans, I wonder why he did not do anything to stop Daenerys from burning all the innocent citizens of Kings Landing in the previous episode? Was it all part of his plan to become the king in the end? Is he any better than Daenerys who was accused of being a power hungry tyrant?

The show ends with a montage of Arya sailing to west of Westeros on a ship with a direwolf figurehead, Sansa wearing a weirwood themed robe and crowned Queen in the North, and Jon Snow (whose real identity did not matter at all during the whole show) arriving at Castle Black. He finally pets Ghost (his direwolf) and then rides with the wildlings beyond the wall. Is he fleeing from Castle Black to finally live a normal life with the wildlings, or is he just escorting them to their now-safe lands? This is left to interpretation by the viewers.

Final Words:
After the showrunners (David Benioff and D.B. Weiss) had lowered my expectations gradually with each episode of season 8, my disappointment is only moderate! Daenerys' extreme change of character in the last episode made no sense. She was not a merciful ruler, as she executed anyone who refused to bend the knee and refused to forgive mistakes, but neither was Ned Stark - the epitome of morality in the show. Daenerys was a pragmatic ruler for 71 (out of 73 total episodes of the show), and then suddenly turned into a blood-thirsty tyrant. Even Emilia Clarke (the actress playing Daenerys) thought it came "out of f**king nowhere" (according to this interview). Isaac Hempstead Wright (the actor playing Brandon Stark) was also caught off guard by the plot and thought Bran becoming king was a prank (see this article). The actors who embodied these characters for almost a decade know them better than almost anybody (except for George R. R. Martin who knows them better), and yet, these plot points did not make sense to them either, let alone us the viewers... I'd give this episode a 4/10.

I have been a fan since Day 1, and read all the books back in 2011. So, I consider myself in (at least) the 95th percentile of the fans who know more than enough about this universe. The poor execution of this final season (from illogical character changes to #woke agendas and thick plot armours saving all the major players till the end), ruined the whole show for me. There are also many plot points that were left unanswered, including but not limited to Children of the Forest, the Azor Ahai prophesy, the three heads of the dragon, the spiral shapes that white walkers left behind, and many more... Game of Thrones was a 10/10 for me, but these last few episodes knocked it down a couple of points to an 8/10.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Game of Thrones - S08E05 Recap and Review

SPOILERS follow...

Following Missandei's death and learning that her advisors plotting against her, Dany is clearly shaken. She scolds Tyrion for his loose tongue and making too many mistakes. The only person who could have consoled Dany was Jon, but he instead walks out after just saying hello, and hence, makes Dany feel worse... I wish I knew what Kit Harrington (Jon's actor) had done to the writers of the show. It seems they have an agenda to ruin Jon, who was the hero of the story until the previous season, and portray him as the most useless and insignificant character.

Within the campgrounds, Tyrion keeps defying his queen and frees his brother who was recently captured by the unsullied. Tyrion makes Jamie promise to persuade Cersei to surrender the throne and flea the city. The viewers of the show know how unlikely it is for Cersei to accept that proposition; the fact that Tyrion doesn't know his own sister is mind boggling to me.

Besides Jamie, we also see Arya and the Hound sneak into Kingslanding while Dany's army are lining up outside the gate. When all the pieces are in their rightful place on the chessboard (from Dany's unsullied and Dothraki to Cersei's Golden Company and the Iron fleet), we suddenly see something penetrate the clouds making a hole for the sun to shine, and descend towards the sea... It's Dany riding Drogon who is ready to set the whole Iron fleet on fire. Euron Greyjoy shoots Scorpion arrows at Drogon, but Dany has learned her lesson from the previous encounter and knows how to dodge and take out the enemy without taking damage. The dragon also blows up the gate and kills the Golden Army troops lined up in the front. The battle seems to be over, and we hear the bells ring as a sign of the city's surrender. But suddenly Dany decides that surrender is not enough, and the whole city (military and civilian) has to pay for Missandei's death and maybe also for her own hardships earlier in life. Dany and Drogon set the whole city on fire and destroy most of the Red Keep (the king's castle). At this point, Cersei, Qyburn (hand of the queen), and the Mountain realize that they have lost and need to escape and save their lives.

On the grounds, we see Arya and the Hound in the Red Keep. Hound pulls Arya aside and asks her to reevaluate her vendetta lest she becomes like the Hound. Seems the words land well with Arya, and Arya thanks the Hound after calling him by his first name, Sandor. They go separate ways, and we see Hound run into Cersei's entourage. Sandor 'The Hound' Clegane challenges his older brother, Gregor 'The Mountain' Clegane, to a duel. Cersei runs to the lower levels of the castle and lets us watch the much anticipated Clegane Bowl. Our friend, the Hound, takes the upper hand in the beginning, but the Mountain is an undead zombie and there is no killing him with natural means. As a poetic climax to the Hound's revenge story, he tackles his brother off the ledge and both jump into the fire. This is a poetic ending since it all began when the Mountain pushed the Hound into the fire when they were children. This incident had scarred the Hound for life (physically and mentally).

Jamie also manages to find a way into the castle. He has to go through Euron Greyjoy first, but a few stab wounds are not enough to hold Jamie back from finding his way to Cersei. The twins / romantic lovers have an emotional reunion, and try to find a way out. All the exits are blocked with debris though, and the dragon is tearing down the castle. Cersei cries and says she doesn't want to die. Jamie holds her and says nothing matters but them. They seemingly die in each other's arms under the ruins of the castle.

We catch up with Jon, who has a crisis of conscious and looks to his left and right with utmost confusion. The least valuable player of season 8 decides to gather a handful of his followers and get out of the city. Arya is also on the grounds. The most lethal and fearless assassin in the land is also shellshocked. She runs from a few stampedes, dodges debris, and drags people with her to their deaths!

From a filmmaking point of view, these stampede scenes and the scale of dragon attacks are simply marvellous. But I was bored looking at Arya running away from a different stampede every few minutes. Instead of showing debris, rocks, and stampedes, perhaps more character development with other characters would have been useful... This was the only episode this season that I looked at my watch hoping that it would end sooner.

I am seriously losing faith in the writers (David Benioff and D.B. Weiss) and their ability to conclude the series the way it deserves. The books spent a lot of time justifying each character's actions and motivations. In this season, though, characters turn on a dime. Dany is an empathetic leader who wants to free people from tyranny, and then in a split second, decides to burn them all. Arya, for the second time, becomes a scared little girl despite years of training as a faceless man.  Jon, the pragmatic hero of the story, has turned into a bumbling idiot whose absence from the scenes wouldn't change the plot one bit. Or Tyrion, the smartest person in the realm, also becomes an emotional fool who doesn't have a goal or a plan.

I read that George R. R. Martin (the author of the books) had given the showrunners an outline of how he wanted to end the saga. As we all know, the journey is almost as important as the destination. The show may take us to that destination, but so far, I'm disappointed with the route that they have taken us on in the last few episodes. Despite the impressive shots and spectacular filmmaking, I'd give this episode a 7/10.

Game of Thrones - S08E04 Recap and Review

SPOILERS follow...

The episode starts with saying goodbye to the fallen heroes of the battle of Winterfell. The mourners hold a wine-filled wake for the lost and party the night away. After sufficient libation, Jamie and Brienne take their relationship to the next step and spend the night together. As a result, Sir Brienne is not a girl anymore... Dany also talks to Jon and asks him not to share his true identity (Aegon Targaryen VI) with anyone, but Jon insists that he cannot lie to his sisters. Later, Jon gathers Sansa, Arya, and Bran under the redwood tree, and after asking them to swear secrecy, he nods to Bran to tell Sansa and Arya how Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen were married and hence, Jon is the true heir to the throne. I get Jon being as honourable as Ned Stark and not being able to lie, but I don't consider this act "not lying". It was basically voluntary disclosure of irrelevant information. Moreover, if the identity of Jon Snow had given him title to a land or position, then I could see how the burden of a lie could become too cumbersome for him. But as a bastard with no entitlement, why did he need to overshare and set a crisis in motion?

The next day, the forces set for Kingslanding: Dany and the unsullied by sea, and Jon's army on foot. Once Jamie hears the news, he decides that he needs to be with Cersei and turns his relationship with Sir Brienne to a one night stand - which breaks Sir Brienne's heart. Another former couple, Sansa and Tyrion, also say goodbye to one another. Sansa's last words to her former husband are Jon's secret (which she had sworn to protect). I don't understand Sansa's angle here. Is she trying to sow the seeds of mistrust between Jon and Dany? Or is she just trying to weaken Dany's claim out of spite? Or maybe she wants these two remaining Targaryens to eliminate each other at the same time? Sansa has become too Machiavellian just for the sake of being Machiavellian and no other logical character or plot-driven reason.

The saddest and most anti-climactic goodbye was between Jon and Ghost, his loyal direwolf. Jon simply nods at Ghost and asks Tormund to take Ghost with him north of the Wall. After all Ghost had done for that ungrateful piece of excrement, couldn't he pet the poor direwolf at least once??

On Dany's ship to Kingslanding, Tyrion leaks Jon's secret to Varys, the self-proclaimed martyr of the realm. While these two are still discussing Dany and Jon's claims to the thrones, Euron Greyjoy attacks the fleet from his hideout. He kills Rhaegal the dragon, drowns most (if not all) of Dany's ships, and takes Missandei hostage.

Once Dany's unsullied army regroups, they walk to the gates of Kingslanding to give Cersei one last chance to surrender. Cersei knows that Dany's dragons are not hard to kill and also that most of her army are dead after the battle of Winterfell. Thinking that the odds are mostly even, she refuses to surrender, and in order to send a message, she orders the Mountain to behead Missandei. Missandei's last words were "Dracarys", which mean fire in High Valeryan. The episode ends with Dany furiously walking towards her camp.

This episode was a return to the earlier format of plotting, scheming, and playing games for the throne of the Seven Kingdoms. As I mentioned above, characters' actions and Jon's in particular (insisting on sharing the "secret" and leaving his allies behind) were frustrating, and didn't make much sense. But still, as a form of escapism, the show still manages to hold the viewer's attention and keep them invested in the characters and plot. I'm concerned about how the show is going to end, but I'd like to keep an open mind... This episode was a solid 8/10.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Game of Thrones - S08E03 Recap and Review

SPOILERS follow...

This episode on its own was breathtaking (literally). It was 82 minutes long, and I checked my watch a couple of times fearing that it would be over soon (and hoping it would last longer). The showrunners (in the video below) broke down the episode into three genres: suspense, horror, and action, each taking almost a third of the runtime.

Humans had four factions: Dothraki on their horses, the unsullied on foot, the Northeners within the walls of Winterfell, and Dany and Jon with their two dragons camping outside and waiting to ambush the Night King. Whoever came up with the attack strategy, decided to put the cavalry in the frontline (instead of flanks or behind the enemy) and placed the infantry behind them. Medieval historians consider this the worst strategy, which is why the Dothraki are decimated within seconds. Dany, seeing her Khalasar (Dothraki army) dead, decides to go against the initial plan and take her dragon to the offensive line. Jon of course follows her, and these two dragon riders spend almost the first hour of the episode in the air playing hide and seek with the Night King in the blizzard. Other characters are fighting to death to protect the living. Although, none of the A-list characters (whose names appear in the credits) is harmed except for Lord Friend-Zone himself - Sir Jorah Mormont. In the end, when all hope is almost lost, Arya (the ninja assassin) saves the day by stabbing the Night King in the chest with a Valyrian steel dagger.

The episode is full of heart pounding moments, and instead of recapping each plot thread in detail, I'd like to rank the players in the game:

Most Valuable Players (MVPs):
Arya Stark: Well, obviously! She is the one who tells god of death "not today". All those years of training in Bravos with the Faceless Men finally paid off. She took down many of the White Walkers, then hit her head on the ground and changed character (maybe she was concussed?) and became a scared little girl. Until Melisandre reminded her of their previous meeting and also Syrio Forell's teachings (her Bravosi swordmaster who taught her to say "not today" to the god of death in the first place). Arya snuck up on the Night King and delivered the killing blow.

Lady Melisandre of Asshai: She showed up just before the battle to light up Dothraki's swords (Arakhs as called in the books). Later she lit up the trenches, and most importantly, gave the pep talk to Arya; maybe it was Melisandre who cured Arya's concussion too. She also saluted Beric Dondarrion as he gave his seventh life to save Arya.

Most Heroic Deaths:
Jorah Mormont: He fought all night and gave his all to his Khaleesi. He first led the cavalry (the Dothraki army) and as one of two or three survivors of that attempt, managed to show up in the last second to save Daenerys from the undead (after she was pulled down from her dragon). He took a dozen stab wounds but kept on fighting until the death of the Night King to protect Khaleesi. His last words were "I'm hurt".

Theon Greyjoy: As I had predicted in the season premiere, Theon was on his redemption path and he killed tens of the undead protecting Bran Stark while Bran had warged into the ravens. He died attacking the Night King

Lyanna Mormont: The 12-year old lady of the Bear Islands fought a giant and stabbed him in the eye with dragon glass. She was a fan favourite since her first appearance, and she went out like a true warrior.

Least Valuable Players:
Daenerys Targaryen: She broke the strategy and flied her dragon cluelessly in the blizzard for 70% of the episode. Then, in her attempt to save Jon from the undead, she landed her dragon on the ground and got attacked by the undead. Jorah Mormont had to give his life to save Daenerys.

Jon Snow: He also spend 70% of the episode with Dany, and in the rest, he ran from cover to cover ducking ice dragon's fire. He was about to run to the dragon without any plans and get incinerated that Arya killed the Night King and all the undead went down with him. Jon was supposed to be the most heroic character of the show and probably the promised prince or Azor Ahai who ended the Night King. I don't mind that it was Arya who fulfilled that prophecy, but I wish Jon has been a little more useful in the battle. Maybe at least killed the ice dragon or one of the Wights.

This would've been a pretty good movie, let alone an episode of a tv show! I was on the edge of my seat for 80% of the episode (except for the second horror act, where Arya was hiding from the undead in the library reenacting Jurassic Park's kitchen scene). As a standalone episode, I give it a 10/10. But considering that only three episode remain, I'm worried about how they would end the whole series, and whether they'd manage to answer all the remaining questions (e.g., What about the Lord of Light? Are the Children of the Forest all dead? What was the significance of this whole zombie plot to the overarching political game of thrones?)

Friday, April 26, 2019

Avengers: Endgame - Review

Mini Review:
We finally get to see the one out of 14,000,605 scenarios that Dr. Strange saw in Infinity War! Endgame was pretty much a series finale of the Infinity Stones saga with fan-service galore. It drags out a little, but overall, it is a satisfying movie experience and a must see for all MCU fans.

Full Review (spoiler free):
The film picks up days after the events of Infinity War, and the remaining Avengers need to regroup and decide on possible courses of action. The tensions are high and the characters that we have spent the last 11 years (since 2008) following, need to make one last play to bring half the population back. What was shown in the trailers and the post credit scene of Captain Marvel only cover the first 30 minutes of the movie. The rest must be seen with as little background information or expectation as possible!

So, without covering the plot, all I can say is that each Avenger grows and copes with the situation differently over the course of the movie, but at the same time, stays consistent with the characterizations developed over the last decade. You root for all the players in the Endgame, and everybody - literally every body - gets a money shot with the spotlight shining right over them! As a comic book movie, you need to leave realism at the door, but having said that, the plot makes sense! The only issue that I had was with certain moments that dragged a little. For example, knowing what is at stake and how easily things can get undone in a matter of seconds, some of the characters still procrastinated and delayed making the last push after 99% of their individual assignment was done. What's the point of lingering on and contemplating about a trivial issue when all you need to do is just push a button??? Those questions don't go anywhere, and you can muse about life after you pushed the button too!!!

That frustration aside, which could have reduced the three-hour run time by at least 20 minutes, the rest of the movie flies by and you find yourself next to those characters right in the midst of the mission. There are many moments where I pumped my fists with joy and excitement. Fewer instances of heavy-handed virtue signalling exist, but they are not distracting.

All in all, I don't think the ending would be polarizing, as I expect most audience to come out happy. Considering that it was like a series finale, many may hypothesize about more satisfying conclusions, but it was Kevin Feige and Russo brothers' story, and I have the utmost respect for their creativity!
I'd give Avengers: Endgame a 9.5/10

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Game of Thrones - S08E02 Recap and Review

SPOILERS follow...

The episode picked up with Jamie Lannister's trial at the great hall of Winterfell. Daenerys stated how much she had been anticipating to come face to face with the King Slayer (her father's killer) and how she had fantasized about retribution. Jamie, however, did not defend his actions nor did he apologize. Tyrion's plea for his brother's life was immediately shut down (considering his previous record of showing blind spots towards his family). But it was Brienne of Tarth's turn to come to the rescue. Brienne might actually harbour some romantic feelings toward Jamie considering their rather long history: Jamie once saved Brienne's honour and paid a rather hefty sum for his chivalry by losing his right hand (which was his greatest strength as a swordsman). Jamie also once opened up to Brienne about his concept of honour and why he killed the mad king even though he was under oath to protect him as a member of his KingsGuard.

Sansa Stark, due to her complete trust in Brienne, voted in favour of Jamie. Other than Brienne's testimony, perhaps Sansa's actions were fuelled by her power struggle with Daenerys in trying to establish who the alpha was in Winterfell. Daenerys treated Sansa's ruling as just a vote on her council, and then turned to Jon Snow for his opinion. Jon said they could use any additional soldier that they could get.

Daenerys, clearly shaken by Sansa's power play, went to have a private conversation with her and extended an olive branch. After dissecting the issue, Sansa disclosed he skepticism regarding Daenerys and how she might be manipulating Jon. But Daenerys claimed the contrary and confessed that it was she who was blinded by her love for Jon! Sansa and Daenerys seemed to have reconciled for a second, but their disagreement over the North being independent or a part of the seven kingdoms put their peace on hold.

Speaking of putting things on hold, Jon avoided Daenerys for much of the episode. He was clearly shaken by the news that he, Aegon Targaryen VI, was the rightful heir to the seven kingdoms... Daenerys finally caught up with him in the Winterfell crypts, next to Lyanna Stark's statue, where Jon told his lover and aunt of his recent findings. Daenerys' first impression was of mistrust for another pretender to the throne, but it seemed that their feelings for one another was deep enough to get over this hurdle. This conversation was caught short by a call to the wall...

The other characters also tried to celebrate their potentially last night of life in style. Arya consummated her relationship with Gendry, and on another front, Tyrion, Jamie, Brienne, Podrick Payne, Tormund, and Davos drank wine next to the fireplace. Besides Arya becoming a woman, the other "empowering" moment was when Jamie granted Brienne's wish of becoming a knight of the seven kingdoms (which was also the title of this episode). As for ranks of chivalry and knighthood, "Dame" is the appropriate title for a female knight, but the writers decided to use "Sir" instead. If Brienne identified as male, then Sir would be the right rank, but she doesn't... If virtue signalling was any higher in Westeros, they might have called Daenerys and Cersei kings!

Wrap up:
Similar to the season premiere, we got another "calm before the storm" episode. The show tried to position all the secondary characters in the right place before the big war. We witnessed some dramatic conversations (a la earlier seasons), but no action. Considering the fewer number of episodes in the final season, audience may expect more progression after watching on third of the season (2 out of 6 episodes), but I actually didn't mind it. Even the slower episodes of Game of Thrones are still much better than anything else that is, or has ever been on TV. I'd give it an 8.5/10.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Game of Thrones - S08E01 Recap and Review

The wait is finally over and Game of Thrones is back on the air after a 20-month wait!

SPOILERS follow.

First, a recap:
Season 7 ended with a one-sided truce between team 'Daenerys, Jon Snow, and Tyrion' and Queen Cersei Lannister in the fight against White Walkers. After the negotiations, Daenerys and Jon Snow consummated their relationship (aunt and nephew) and set off to Winterfell where Sansa, Arya, and the rest of Stark banner-men were waiting for them begrudgingly. Perhaps more enthusiastically, Samwell Tarly and Bran Stark were there too and planning on informing Jon Snow of his true lineage. Sam had discovered in the Citadel records that Lyanna Stark was legally married to Crown Prince Rhaegar Targaryen, and Bran had time-travelled to the moment of Lyanna giving birth where she asked Ned to protect her son, Aegon Targaryen VI, no matter what. Sam and Bran pieced together their information and deduced that Jon Snow was the true heir to the kingdom of Westeros... Last but not least, we also know that the Night King has broken the wall with the help of his ice dragon and is getting ever closer to Winterfell...

Okay, now off to the new season:
We witness the arrival of Daenerys and Jon Snow, along with Dothraki and the Unsullied, and two fully grown dragons to Winterfell. Many shots in this episode mirror the very first episode of Game of Thrones (S01E01), as the showrunners describe below, we see a royal army, reunion of old friends, excitement of young children, and uneasy alliances.

One of the things that this show does so magnificently is making the audience care about the characters (a perfect example of a post that I had written earlier). Of course, through prolonged exposure and experiencing thick and thin with these characters, some of them may feel like family. The embrace between Jon Snow and Bran, and his reunion with Arya later, made me feel I was seeing my own relatives! Jon's (or Prince Aegon the sixth) dragon ride date with (his aunt) Daenerys was very sweet and touching as well (no pun intended)! The fact that Jon was riding the dragon named after his father (Rhaegal after Rhaegar) as well as Drogon (named after Khal Drogo) flaring his nostrils at Jon were nice touches! In Jon's defence though, he didn't know of his blood relationship with Daenerys at that point. He later meets up with Samwell Tarley in the Winterfell crypts, where Sam tells Jon that he is the true king of Westeros. Jon's first reaction is worrying about how Daeneyrs may perceive this new information as treason...

Farther north, we see Beric Dondarrion and Tormund Giantsbane running into one another at an  abandoned Night's Watch castles where they discover the body of Ned Umber spiked to the wall - courtesy of the Night King. They set the undead boy on fire and save him from the misery of becoming a White Walker.

The last thing we see in the north is Jamie Lannister's arrival. Bran Stark (the three-eyed raven, who lost the use of his legs after Jamie pushed him down the tower in the very first episode) had been waiting to welcome his "old friend" near the gate. Jamie's first reaction was a mix of shock, remorse, and fear. I can't wait to see them interact next week.

The show took a detour to King's Landing to catch up with Queen Cersei. She now has the Golden Army (without elephants though, damnit!) and Euron Greyjoy's ships. Euron demands to cash in on the favours that he has done for the Queen so far, and Cersei obliges reluctantly. While Euron was paying a visit to the Queen, Theon Greyjoy frees her sister, Yara, and they set sail to Iron Islands. Theon, however, wants to go to Winterfell and perhaps pay off the remainder of his debt to Starks and fully redeem himself.

That was it for this week... What a fantastic comeback! I had goosebumps for most of the 54-minute runtime of this episode. I know it's gonna get better from now on, with grander fights and more horrific deaths, but still, this was a 10/10 for me!

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Shazam! (2019) - Review

Latest DC Extended Universe (DCEU) movie is an action-comedy that seemingly won over the critics (91% on Rotten Tomatoes) but is their least ambitious film yet.

The movie's main inspiration came from Geoff Johns' backup stories in the New 52 Justice League comics (i.e., a quarter of each volume) from 2012 - 2013. As a fan of DC comics and Geoff Johns' writing, I enjoyed reading Billy Batson's story. But perhaps that story was better served in small doses (similar to the backup entries in Justice League comics). 

The movie attempts to bring a lot of laughs and heart, and in my opinion, succeeds more in the latter than former. Billy as an orphan searching for his birth mother, goes through a self-discovery journey that has an emotional payoff in the end. But the comedy was underwhelming - as with most highly advertised comedies, all the funny parts had been shown a thousand times in trailers and tv spots before the movie went on screens. 

The other flaw was the dissonance between Zachary Levi's Shazam and Asher Angel's Billy Batson. These two actors are playing the same character as Billy is the alter ego of the Shazam. However, their personalities were completely different. Billy Batson is a cynical and serious 14 year old who's scarred by abandonment issues, while Zachary Levi's portrayal is a happy-go-lucky goofball who doesn't have a serious bone in his body... Both characters are likeable, but they are not the same! Shazam is a young boy in an adult man's body, while Billy is an adult in a young boy's body.

I should give props to other characters though, particularly Dr. Sivana (Mark Strong), as they were played by actors who were born to play those roles. 

Overall, the movie had heart but not much spectacle. In that regard, Aquaman was a better movie (funny and full of heroics). I'd give Shazam a 7.5/10.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Captain Marvel (2019) - Review

The 21st entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) works like a cog in a well-oiled machine. It doesn't add much the lore, but it's a connective tissue and gives you your fix until Avengers Endgame comes out.

The movie starts with Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) as an elite warrior among the Kree - an alien race - with no recollection of her past. The first act (out of the traditional three-act structure) establishes the relationships and dynamics that the titular character has with the rest of the Kree (fellow soldiers and their leader: the Supreme Intelligence). A mission gone slightly wrong brings Carol Danvers to earth in the year 1995. In this second act, she meets Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and somewhat figures out her backstory. The movie concludes with Carol Danvers' transition into Captain Marvel and winning the climactic battle.

The whole movie is an easy-watch, and time flies by (i.e., excellent pacing, which was the third pillar in my taxonomy). The second act is the strongest as it has some heart and humour, and hits the nostalgia factor (Nick Fury in the mid 90's!). But the rest is a generic cookie-cutter comic book hero introduction (with all the doubts and hero's acceptance of their power and responsibilities).

The biggest flaw of the movie is within the main character. Carol Danvers or Captain Marvel is supposedly suffering from amnesia, and she doesn't remember who she was before joining the kree. In the beginning, she is this stoic, no-nonsense soldier that acts a lot like the Terminator (i.e., a robot). As the movie goes on, she pieces the puzzle together and figures out how she got there, but she still remains the robotic soldier. Frankly, the T800  (Arnold Schwarzenegger's character) in Terminator 2 had more character development (started as a robot, and almost became human by the end). But she is still likeable, and the rest of the cast (protagonists and antagonists) work well too.

If it was the first movie in a new cinematic universe, it probably would havee failed to attract much attention. But as the 21st entry, it certainly entertains fans of the MCU (myself included). I'd give it a 7/10.

After Life (2019) - Season One - Review

Ricky Gervais starred in, wrote, and directed a show about himself, but not the globally successful comedian, but as if he was a small town journalist who had picked love over career.

Fans of Gervais (a group that also includes yours truly) will enjoy After Life, since it is very much like an extended interview with Gervais himself. His character, Tony, has recently lost his beloved wife to cancer, and now has nothing else to live for. He works for the local newspaper and has to cover trivial affairs of a small town (e.g., water stain on a wall that resembles a celebrity). Tony is too smart for his own good and could have been a big shot journalist, but picked this life to have the freedom to enjoy more time with the love of his life. Now that his wife has passed on, he has lost the will to live.

Of course, the show is not this dark and nihilistic till the end. The journey that Tony (Gervais' character) goes on to find a new meaning of his life (manifested through his interactions with the social circle around him), is truly beautiful!

If you're a fan of Gervais' comedy and world-view, then After Life is a must watch and a 10/10.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Polar (2019) - Netflix Original - Review

A comic book movie with hyper stylized violence that brings to mind Kill Bill (2003-4) and Shoot 'Em Up (2007)... What's not to like?

Mads Mikkelsen stars as Black Kaiser, an aging assassin who is two weeks from retirement. His agency owes him $8 million, but instead of paying up their debt, they make the grave mistake of trying to eliminate him. What ensues is a two hour non-stop battle. The film is well made, and the pacing is just right. Again, viewers need to set their expectations to a comic book movie, not an artistic film.

The cast were great, except for Vanessa Hudgens who over-acted her scenes. It was like watching a highschool play where the lead is trying way too hard to impress.

As a genre movie, Polar easily earns a 9/10!

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Red Dead Redemption II (2018) - Video Game Review

The best video game of all time! Nuff said!

A prequel to the original game from 2010, excels in every regard on top of an already perfect game. Acting, storytelling, and computer effects don't get any better than this. I acknowledge that it is a slow burn. It took me 70 hours to finish the game and some of the more fun side activities. The first 20-25 hours were at a slower pace. I have heard from some gaming personalities that they felt the game was pushing them away with a friction force. Again, I concede that it is a slow burn. Also, for fans of the original game, accepting Arthur Morgan as the protagonist may take some time.

I, however, had complete trust in Rockstar games and the Houser brothers to offer another masterpiece. Red Dead Redemption II is their magnum opus (up to this point at least). I am also a fan of the Western genre, so I admit that I was biased.

The game has received countless perfect 10 scores from the game media and 97% score on metacritic. I also echo their opinion and give it a 10/10. Red Dead Redemption II is a game that I will revisit and relive again and again.

Black Panther (2018) - Review

Black Panther is a significant cultural breakthrough in the comic book genre, but besides that, the characters and effects are seriously lacking!

It is yet another superhero origin movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe; so, you can expect the tried and true formula to be replicated again: the hero is recovering from a tragedy (loss of his father in this case), finds his stride and puts on his costume, but then is challenged by an antagonist that is a carbon copy of our hero. This is the same plot that we have seen in Iron Man, Ant Man, and Dr. Strange. Seems Marvel is going with the old adage of if it ain't broke, don't fix it. And, well... it works!

What doesn't work is the character of T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman), or the Black Panther himself. He is depressed by the weight of the world on his shoulders, seems to be constantly constipated, and is simply boring. The movie also ignores the development of the character in Captain America: Civil War. T'Challa is hundred times more interesting in Civil War or in Avengers: Infinity War. The antagonist, Killmonger (played by Michael B. Jordan), has somewhat genocidal goals, however, his character arc is better developed, and he captured the attention better whenever he was on the screen.

Besides the character development issues, the computer effects were another weak point of the movie. Particularly, the last fight scene between Black Panther and Killmonger next to the underground trains was as primitive as a PlayStation 2 game circa early 2000s.

Going back to an earlier post that I had about the three pillars of a good movie, Black Panther fails in the first dimension, but story logic and pacing are done well. Bottom line, the film left me desire for more, and for that I give it 4.5/10.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018) - Review

Six short stories by the Coen brothers that make everyone (well, at least me) envy their creativity and smooth flow of story telling!

Trying to stay spoiler free, these six stories take you for a ride with each protagonist for a few hours up to a couple of days. I am a huge fan of the Western genre, so, the escapism was much appreciated. Besides, the protagonists were interesting enough that I enjoyed my time watching them. The stories were dark and some anticlimactic. Also switching from one point of view to another every 20-25 minutes may be a little cognitively taxing. However, Joel and Ethan Coen are masters of their craft, and it is always a pleasure experiencing one of their stories.

If it is not clear already, I loved this masterpiece and I give it a 10/10! Although, I acknowledge that this work may not appeal to the majority of the audience the way it did to me.

BlacKkKlansman (2018) - Review

The true story of an undercover African American police officer in Ku Klux Klan is stranger than fiction. The premise of this story is fascinating, and the boldness of that officer defies expectations and beliefs. The movie's message is that KKK is a racist organization, and race prejudices of the past are still with us today. These, sadly, are facts that are widely known already...

I also found some of the matters were handled heavy handedly. Again, we know that those issues from 60's and 70's are still persisting. Putting today's political slogans (e.g., build a wall, and make America great again) in the mouth of David Duke - the leader of KKK - is a little too on the nose. Okay, we get what Spike Lee (the director) was trying to say. But the overemphasis on these parallels felt like Spike Lee was trying to force feed his message.

I personally subscribe to liberal views, however, I raise this issue because I prefer nuance in story telling. For example, George Orwell's Animal Farm was a social commentary on its contemporary socio-political situation and Marxism in particular; however, the allegories were used delicately and hence, made a stronger impact.

Props to acting and soundtrack, however, the movie neither entertained nor informed. I'd give it a 4/10.

The Favourite (2018) - Review

The Favourite is a (somewhat accurate) historical drama that relies more on its style than substance.

Yorgos Lanthimos, the director, certainly made a movie unlike anything else out there. From the camera angles to music and wardrobe, everything is unconventional. The acting is perhaps the most traditional aspect of the movie, and is of course of highest quality. I do not consider Lanthimos an auteur as I still do not see occurrence of similar patterns in his movies. However, his movies are different. Difference doesn't make it a masterpiece though.

The movie is about the rise of Abigail Masham (Emma Stone) and  the fall of Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz) in the court of Queen Anne (Olivia Colman). I liked the camera angels that Lanthimos chose to reflect to status of the players in their pursuit for power (or favour). In the beginning, when Abigail was on screen, the camera was almost at knee level and it was looking up. With her rise, the camera gradually moved up to the (classic) shoulder height.

The other unconventional touch was the music, which made me nauseous. At points, there was just one instrument (violin in one instance, or a church organ in another) playing aggressively, which almost deafened the dialogue between the actors.

Overall, the acting was superb, the pacing was okay, but the story was predictable, and the music was unsettling. Similar to Roma, if it weren't for 10 Oscars nominations, I would have quit the movie (maybe just because of its musical score). It is a borderline good movie though, and I'd give it a 6.5/10.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Roma (2018) - Review

Alfonso Cuaron wrote, produced, directed, shot, and edited the story of his family's live-in maid from his childhood. This semi-autobiography compares and contrasts the lives of people from different social classes in early 1970's Mexico City.

Roma is a very slow film. The first hour and a half of the 135 minute runtime goes at a snail's pace. It shows the day-to-day routines of a working class maid and the upper middle class family (or as the Mexican call them, the rubios) that she works for. Shopping, eating, cleaning, children playing, adults driving and going to work are activities that are too boring for a youtube vlog, let alone a cinematic experience...

The lives of these two groups hit road bumps around the same time (in the last hour of the movie), and it shows that life is not easy, regardless of social class. The problems are of course different, but as Kurt Cobain once said: "nobody dies a virgin ... life f**** us all".

I would have quitted the movie many times over, but soldiered on only because it had received 10 Oscar nominations! I acknowledge that the movie was beautifully shot. The same still frames would have looked amazing at a museum though. I also enjoyed how Cuaron compared and contrasted the lives and problems of the two classes, but the same comparison could have been done in a two-page article.

I have a hard time giving a score to Roma. As mentioned, it is slow (particularly in the first hour and a half), and the beautiful shots and social commentary could have been presented elsewhere to greater effect. But having forced myself to watch till the end, I respect the director and actors (particularly, Yulitza Aparicio who truly deserves her Oscar nomination based on some of her scenes in the last hour of the film). This is one of those situations where you enjoy the destination despite the boring and steep journey. Of course, that is what life is, but I prefer to escape from the daily challenges when I'm watching a movie.

Some filmmakers called it the best movie of the year or decade, but to me, it was a 7/10 at best.

Punisher (2019) - Season 2 - Review

The second (and probably last) season of Punisher is a punishment to viewers who liked Jon Bernthal's portrayal in the second season of Daredevil and also Punisher season one.

The first three episodes of this season felt like a proper continuation of the show. Frank Castle had got full closure on his personal tragedy in the conclusion of season one, and starts season two moving from one city to another trying to fill a void.

Frank makes an attempt to adjust to his new life, but maybe that is just a little too boring for him. When he notices a young girl (named Amy/Rachel) being chased by some gangsters, he decides to become an active participant (i.e., seeks trouble). This type of trouble suits Frank Castle well, and that is where the season peaks.

The show opens up the scope in episode four and brings in all the side characters. It is from that point that becomes an entirely different thing. More specifically, in a show named 'Punisher', the titular character only gets 25-30% of screen time, and the rest is spent on Agent Madani, Curtis, and Billy Russo's weird relationship with his therapist. Besides the side characters, the show is counting on the 'old veteran and teenage girl pairing' that worked so well for Logan and The Last of Us. Unfortunately, Frank's relationship with Amy/Rachel (or whatever the name of that teenage girl is), did not come close to those exemplars in any shape or form.

If you pick a Batman comic book, you can expect to see Batman on at least 70% of the pages (sometimes more). The side characters and villains take at most 30% of the book - not more! Going with this expectation of the genre, it is truly frustrating to see that season two of the Punisher has become an ensemble show that gives equal screen time to all the side characters and villains. If the name of the show was Avengers, or Friends, then I'd be fine with that approach.

As much as I liked the first season (and also Punisher's introduction in Daredevil), the latest season of the show left a bitter aftertaste; hence, I give it a 3/10 (for the 30% of the time that Punisher was on screen).

P.S. I am a fan of Jon Bernthal's interpretation of Frank Castle; however, I wish he'd speak with his regular voice. He is either grunting and growling - which make you miss the incantations and stylish wordings of Sylvester Stallone - or, he is whispering with gravitas that make the dialogue almost inaudible.

Green Book (2018) - Review

A dramedy - based on a true story - that focuses on a road trip of an odd couple. It is a smooth ride, and sometimes thought-provoking.

Tony Lip - played by Viggo Mortensen - is an Italian-American that checkmarks all the items on the list of stereotypes. He works as a bouncer at a club, and is always looking for another gig to make ends meet. Mortensen is a master of his craft, and fully immerses himself in the role. The other member of this odd-couple is Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali's character), an African-American musician, who has three doctorates and speaks eight languages fluently.

These two clash on multiple fronts, from skin colour prejudices of the time to their personal cultures and upbringing (blue collar vs. white collar). Along the journey from northern to southern states, both characters feel more like misfits as they go from one city to another, and they only find comfort in the presence of one another. More specifically, as the (semblance of) tolerance of general public fades, the bond between Tony Lip and Don Shirley strengthens. This juxtaposition is where the film shines most!

I can't say it's the must-see movie of the year, but it sure was a good film that was worth the time. I give it 9/10.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Venom (2018) - Review

An uninspired movie filled with computer generated images (CGI), that is merely an okay watch!

After Sony loaned Spider-Man - its crown jewel comic book property - to Disney, it had to settle for side-characters from that universe. Venom, a member of Spider-Man's rogue gallery, is not a standalone character in my opinion, but Sony gambled on Tom Hardy, and the box office data shows that they won (with over $850 million gross worldwide as of the writing of this review)!

The movie revolves around the alien Symbiote (the black goo that gives a human host super powers) family that want to take over the earth. As the trailers show, there are a few Symbiotes in play, and that makes the movie a little too heavy on CGI.

I have never been a fan of Tom Hardy, but I have two positive things to say about his performance in Venom: i) I got to understand him in this movie without the need for subtitles, cause his mouth wasn't covered (see Bane in Dark Knight Rises, Mad Max in Fury Road, and his character in Dunkirk), and he was speaking with a North American accent, and ii) he was unintentionally funny. I say unintentionally, because I think Hardy, as a supposed character actor, wanted to show the internal struggle between his character (Eddie Brock) and Venom (the Symbiote), and he was constantly fighting with himself.

Bottom line, it's a somewhat humorous movie and an easy watch for a Sunday afternoon. I'd give it a 5.5/10.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Aquaman (2018) - Review

A fun ride from beginning to end! Aquaman is visually stunning, particularly the underwater scenes. The story is rather predictable, but I think is completely fine. Not every comic book movie needs to push the boundaries of the genre.

We had seen Jason Momoa's Aquaman in Batman v Superman (2016), albeit briefly, and also in Justice League (2017) before. Props to Zach Snyder for this inspired casting. It is obvious that Momoa loves every second of being in the role.

The events of this solo movie happen after Justice League (2017), and we also get to see Arthur Curry's (aka Aquaman) origin story in a series of flashbacks. The main story is adapted from Geoff Johns' Throne of Atlantis story arc from the comics, which might be familiar to hardcore DC fans. I think the main beats should be predictable to non-fans as well...

The movie's colour palette, costumes, and visuals are the best that I've seen in DC movies. James Wan, the director, should be commended for the spectacles as well as the pacing of the movie - it hardly wastes any time on non-value added expositions. The film borrows from a myriad of genres, including adventure (with homages to the Indiana Jones series - set pieces as well as the puzzles), horror (the end of second act), and of course comic book action. There are some slow motion shots that make you feel you are looking at a cover of a comic book (with all those heroic poses). Speaking of action, the fight choreography is top-notch. This interview with the director made me appreciate it even more:

In short, Aquaman is a beautiful and entertaining movie, with likeable protagonists, that helps you escape from your daily routine. I'd give it a 9.5/10!

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Bad Times at El Royale (2018) - Review

A fantastic cast of characters in the hands of a writer/director who doesn't know the difference between homage and imitation, led to one of the biggest wasted potentials of the year (even before Creed II).

The poster itself was enticing enough for me: the promise of that star-studded cast in a movie set in the 70's... It had all the makings of a classic. The first 30 minutes out of the 140-minute run time was actually well-made. The characters were meeting one another for the first time, and the audience had no idea about the characters' intentions. One by one they were ravelling, and it was interesting to see your expectations subverted. After the first act, style and substance both took a huge dip.

Some of the characters were evil, just for the sake of being evil. And, some were virtuous, just for the sake of being virtuous. There was no character development whatsoever - it shouldn't be confused with what I said in the previous paragraph about the intentions. You may know what a person wants, but the movie fails to tell you why or how they came to want that particular outcome. 

Overall, I think my time was wasted. I would've given it 6/10 (because of the cast and the first act), but one factor makes me deduct two points and that was the over emphasis on the singer. Nobody has come to that movie to hear 15 minutes of soul/church solos by one of the characters.

Bad Times at El Royale translates to bad times for the audience as well, and I give it a 4/10.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018) - Review

It's truly rare when something exceeds your expectations, particularly when you've already had high expectations because of all the hype. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is one of those cases!

At the time of this review, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse has won the Golden Globes and many other accolades. Critically, it has scored 87% on Metacritic, 8.7/10 on IMDb, and 93% on Rotten Tomatoes. The story is known to comic book fans, as it is an adaptation of the spider-verse saga from the comics. The execution, though, is absolutely breathtaking!

Using 3D models on 2D panels, incorporating a hand-drawn pig (i.e., the Spider-Ham) in a 3D space, the drop in frame rate every now and then, and recreating the look and feel of vintage comic books from 1960's and 70's (blurred edges and dotted textures) make this movie look different from everything else that has ever been done before! And, these are just the stylistic choices. The visuals that the movie delivers - while avoiding any spoilers - make you think that you have experienced a trip to the multiverse!

The story is not flawless, but I found myself grinning for the majority of the movie (mostly in the first half). It definitely deserves the Oscars, and I just hope that the creators pay as much attention to detail in the inevitable sequels.

Again, it's not flawless, but nonetheless, it's a masterpiece worthy of a 10/10 score!

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Mary Poppins Returns (2018) - Review

Continuing on with Disney's not-so-perfect track record for sequels, Mary Poppins does make a comeback in a step-by-step retread of the original that ends up trailing in every aspect.

The original Mary Poppins came out in 1964, and was the technological marvel of its time; it used the sodium vapor process - a yellow screen technique - to superimpose live action onto animation. It was the first live action Disney movie nominated for an Oscar in best picture, and the incomparable Julie Andrews won the best actress award (over competition from Audrey Hepburn's role in My Fair Lady). Sherman brothers also well-deservedly won two Oscars for best song and score for their timeless masterpiece.

After 54 years, Mary Poppins returned in 2018. Emily Blunt in the titular role is the highlight of the movie, although, I was not a big fan of her accent - wish she had used her own regular English accent rather than the gimmicky one that is supposed to be reflective of the time. Blunt has stated in the interviews that she based her character on the books rather than Julie Andrews' portrayal. Emily Blunt managed to pull off the more strict personality that she was aiming for, but whenever she smiled, the drill-sergeant facade fell down and she showed a sweet and giddy little girl. Maybe that was intentional... The dissonance was confusing to me though.

The rest of the movie is just a copy of the original. Lin Manuel Miranda is a lamplighter that substituted for Dick Van Dyke's Bert the chimney sweep - with an equally ridiculous cockney accent. Other copied elements are: an animated sequence, a cruel banker as the antagonist, a visit to one of Mary's wacky relatives, a sad slow song that's supposed to be profound, a choreographed street dance with 20+ dancers, and a dramatic resolution to the conflict at the 11th hour.

Other than the subpar imitation of the original, perhaps the biggest sin of Mary Poppins Returns (2018) was the forgettable music. As I left the theatre, I found myself humming the tunes from the 1964 original rather than the movie that I had just seen!

I hope Disney does a better job if they want to make more sequels to Mary Poppins in the future. I'd give it a 6/10, although it deserves a lower score, just because Mary Poppins Returns made me reminisce my childhood memories from the original.

What Makes a Good Protagonist?

After the release of James Bond's first movie, Dr. No (1962), critics attributed the success and popularity of the Bond character to one simple assertion: men want to be him, and women want to be with him.

I think that statement could be applied to determine the appeal of other characters too. I have a minor amendment or clarification to add: wanting to be with a character may not necessarily be romantic or sexual. I would like to consider it as spending time with the character and chatting over coffee or drinks.

I have found myself rooting for protagonists that were nothing like me (neither their physical appearance, nor their personalities), but they could have been fun people to hang out with; hence I found their characters appealing. Deadpool is an example that comes to mind in demonstrating this point: I don't think the majority of the fans want to be Deadpool or see themselves in Deadpool's character with his hundreds of psychological issues. I also don't think that the fans desire Deadpool in a romantic way. However, he's one hell of company to share a drink with and hear his stories. In other words, audience wants to be with him (in a social setting). Other examples out of the left field could be E.T., R2D2, C3PO, and so on...

What I'm trying to say is: if a character looks, sounds, moves, and acts like me (or in a way that I aspire to), then great! I'd want to be that character and would be able to see myself in them. But if the character has a different skin colour, gender, sexual orientation, religion, height, weight, dietary preferences, favourite colour, or whatnot, I can still root for them as long as they are cool characters that I'd want to be with (whether socially or romantically).

P.S. This post follows up on another opinion piece about the three pillars of a good movie or tv show.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Creed II (2018) - Review

The Rocky, or better say, Creed saga continues with an underwhelming entry to the series by wasting the high nostalgic potential that it had.

Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) starts the movie by becoming the heavy weight boxing champion of the world, while Rocky Balboa is sitting ringside. The happiness doesn't last long, as a blast from the past hits them hard in form of an exiled Ivan Drago - the Russian boxer from Rocky IV who brought Apollo Creed (Adonis' father) to an early demise. Rocky, however, had avenged Apollo by defeating Ivan in Russia. After Ivan's defeat by Rocky (in Rocky IV), Ivan was shunned from the society and was forced to seek refuge in Ukraine. There, Ivan trained his son Viktor and made a 'mean machine' out of him. Viktor sees Rocky and Creed as the reason for his family's misery. So, he wants to right the wrongs done to his father...

Creed II had me excited by the promise of another chapter in the endless vendetta between Drago and Creed/Balboa family. The movie, however, failed in a major way in my opinion. Going back to an earlier post that I had about the three pillars of a good movie, Creed II made me dislike Adonis Creed's whiny boring character (i.e., the protagonist), and root for Viktor Drago (i.e., the intended antagonist). Viktor was the underdog who was a victim of circumstances and was seeking glory and recognition.

Tessa Thompson returns as Creed's love interest. The focus on her singing career and her performance before Creed-Drago match felt forced in the plot of a boxing movie. Has anybody ever watched a sports movie in the hope of seeing the rise of a struggling singer (regardless of gender)?

The saving grace of this whole movie was Sylvester Stallone. He owned every second of screen time that he had. It's sad that he said goodbye to this role of a lifetime.

Overall, this was a mediocre movie at best. I give it a 5.5/10.