Burning Movie Review: A mysterious triangle

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Even though you sense a brilliance as the film ends, you can’t help but feel the weariness

The title of the Korean-language film, Burning (Beoning), has a significance that you only realise when the film warrants you to. Before the real meaning of ‘burning’ comes out, you get to envisage fire as it is perhaps the first thing that would come to your mind when you think of ‘burning’. Director Lee Chang-dong sets two different contexts. Lee Jong-su (Yoo Ah-in), in one of the scenes, reminisces about an agonising incident from his childhood where his father coerced him into burning down the clothes of his mother. In another lengthy sequence, Ben (Steven Yeun wears a smile throughout for this character to suggest a strange, evil person inside him that works so well) reveals his plan of setting fire to one of the greenhouses near Lee Jong-su’s home. This makes Lee Jong-su search for all the greenhouses he could find near his home before hearing a mysterious revelation from Ben that he already torched one thereby leaving Lee Jong-su perplexed. Finally, treading this slow-paced mystery, you reach a point when Lee Jong-su, whose girlfriend, Hae-mi (immersive performance lent by Jeon Jong-seo), has gone missing, is burning with anger and ends up killing the suspect and setting the car on fire with the dead suspect lying inside it.

Burning, based on a short story by Haruki Murakami, is thought-provoking and mysterious. Hae-mi’s character is closed-book. Her act of pantomime while having dinner with Lee Jong-su is enigmatic. When Lee Jong-su visits her home, she calls her cat but there is no cat to be seen which leaves him thinking that she is calling an imaginary cat. There are moments when she is emphasising upon the search for the meaning of life. There is ambiguity about Ben too as to what his relationship with Hae-mi is all about. Lee Jong-su keeps receiving a phone call but the person on the other end keeps mum. A sort of mystification always surrounds the lead characters of the film. But the film feels humdrum at different stages. The snail-paced storytelling doesn’t help either. Even though you sense a brilliance as the film ends, you can’t help but feel the weariness.

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Someone Great Movie Review: A dull take on love, relationship and break-ups

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The film tries to be too cool with everything that it is doing. But the more it does so, the more irksome it gets.

Jenny (Gina Rodriguez) is sitting alongside a stranger and is emotionally revealing to her that her 9-year-long love relationship with Nate (LaKeith Stanfield) just ended. The stranger, though listens to all of that, abruptly stands up and walks away leaving Jenny clueless. She reaches out to her best friends Blair (Brittany Snow) and Erin (DeWanda Wise). She is moving to a different city and wants to have a blast with her friends for one last time before they all move on with their lives. Netflix’s Someone Great has a clichéd story that even 90 minutes of run-time makes you feel like it is too long. It is so annoying that all you would be thinking is – “Come on, get it over with!”.

It sort of gives you an opportunity to take a peek into the lives of Jenny and Nate. You get to see how the bond between them grew stronger and eventually how the fallout happened. But these scenes are so short-lived that you hardly get attached to these characters and never actually get to feel Jenny’s affliction. But this is the only character whose life is shown a lot more than that of Blair and Erin. And Gina Rodriguez has acted tremendously well. So, after a prolonged depiction of her dejectedness of having broken up with her long-time boyfriend in combination with Gina’s great performance, you do understand her feelings of wanting to reunite with her boyfriend.

Then, there’s Erin neglecting her girlfriend before finally saying, “I love…” and her girlfriend responding back in an instant saying, “I love you too”. This is designed to be a touching scene. But, Erin’s love-life hasn’t been given any emphasis. So, you can’t expect anyone to be moved by this. Blair’s relationship with her boyfriend is full of pretence. Therefore, you would have already figured out that this would end too. And so it does! Moreover, Blair’s relationship with her boyfriend hasn’t been given any significance. You don’t really care whether they get along well or not. Brittany Snow’s weak performance doesn’t help either.

The jollier times that these girls enjoy together is perhaps the only phase which I felt was nice (Watch out for the singing and dancing that these girls do together). ‘Latina’ written on Jenny’s shirt or the ‘Feminist’ written on sofa cushion do their bit of magic as well.

The film tries to be too cool with everything that it is doing. But the more it does so, the more irksome it gets. Written and directed by Jennifer Kaytin Robinson, Someone Great is a rom-com that is a commonplace.

Made In Heaven Web Series Review: A moralising tale that remains a jejune watch

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The didactic narrative is something that prevailed throughout this series.

The series has a superb premise. Two different wedding planners are presenting their ideas of organising the wedding to a rich, affluent family to try and please them with their creativity and sign the deal. While one of them tries to woo the family with taglines like “new age royalty”, the other company called ‘Made In Heaven’ uses love and relationship as part of their efforts to bag the deal. Tara (Sobhita Dhulipala) and Karan (Arjun Mathur), representing Made In Heaven, say that the wedding is a “once in a lifetime event”. They, further, add that wedding ceremony “should celebrate the couple” and “the theme should tell their story”. Tara and Karan do go on to impress the family and end up signing the contract. Amazon Prime Video’s Made in Heaven, a web series comprising 9 episodes, is about how Tara and Karan confront complicated situations while organising wedding ceremonies and at the same time how they deal with the problems in their own life.

It is great to see different sorts of weddings being planned and I liked how a progressive and regressive mindset was being highlighted. But the depiction of challenges associated with the weddings was stretched to an extent that they seemed preachy. For instance, there’s a guy who has no problem knowing that his fiancée is not a virgin. But the complication that arises due to his parents’ disapproval takes too long to establish a conclusion. A guilty conscience starts hurting a girl, in another instance, who has slept with another man when she is already about to get married. This, again, I felt, was protracted to a point that it seemed draggy.

It resorts to teaching us some of the important issues instead of making us realise them ourselves. Karan, who is a gay, emotionally declares that “this is who I am”. We, further, get to hear dialogues like “there’s nothing wrong with being gay” and “it’s natural”. (An aged man confesses his attraction towards men when he says that he has lived his whole life in pretence. This was much more impactful where you really feel bad for that guy without having to hear in-your-face dialogues). In another scene, a group of male workers initially turn down the order given by a woman. Here, the reaction of those workers itself was enough to understand why they didn’t obey her order. But, later, these workers explain that they are not going to take orders from a ‘woman’. This did serve the purpose of depicting the ugly mentality of those male chauvinist guys but when it resorted to explanation, thinking that it might go unnoticed, it took the sheen away. Take Netflix’s Soni, for example, which subtly exhibited the sufferings of women in a male-dominated society. Even Pariyerum Perumal, one of the greatest Tamil films ever made, portrayed the divide in the society in the name of caste but never really tried to educate us through moralising dialogues and the protagonist’s anguish and agony were enough to make us feel the sufferings.

Although the didactic narrative is something that prevailed throughout this series, the performances of all the cast members were terrific. Even a cameo by Vijay Raaz was powerful.

There were little things that were non-didactic and yet were represented brilliantly. I wished the series remained so in the entirety. A father defends his son being gay in front of a throng of media persons. A mother’s disappointment is clearly visible when she excitedly asks “how’s food?” and all she gets in return is “just as it always is”. A girl looks at a syringe on the floor and slips it under the bed and the camera turns right to show her brother sleeping in his bed depicting that he is a drug addict.

Scenes involving sex were both lusty and realistic. Some of them even showed the ‘other’ side of the picture which is not usually represented in Indian movies and series (A man, while kissing Karan, asks him if he wants to marry him). And some even brought out the harsh realities (A minor girl gets raped by a rich, older man but she accepts the money from him to stay silent about it).

Tara’s character brings out the poignant feeling but her strained relationship with her husband (Jim Sarbh) has been stretched for far too long.

Nevertheless, Made in Heaven remained a wearying watch.

Kalank Movie Review: Almost 3 hours of tedium!

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I survived (Somehow). That’s all I can say after an excruciatingly painful watch and a tiring experience.

Kalank deserves a rap on the knuckles for the kind of restlessness it leads you into. Having sat through the first half-an-hour of the movie and endured the colossal boredom, I wasn’t surprised that I started going into the state of slumber. There’s a big announcement in a dramatic way as to who’s the father of one of the protagonists and who’s his mother as the film nears the intermission (Something that turns out to be a child’s play as you would have precisely predicted it much sooner than they actually reveal). And there’s some sort of romance building up in the midst of India-Pakistan partition issues that hardly move you. The biggest of all problems is that the screenplay is structured in the Indian soap opera style! I didn’t walk out of the cinema hall midway. I had made up my mind to check just how badly it all unfolds in the film.

The story is set in Lahore during the time when India was on the cusp of Independence from the British and the birth of Pakistan was on the cards. The film shows the glimpses of conflict between the followers of Hindu and Muslim religion which ultimately result in indiscriminate killings in the end. Director Abhishek Varman’s focus is more on the lives of a Hindu girl Roop (Alia Bhatt) and a Muslim guy Zafar (Varun Dhawan) and how this affects the people related to them.

Call it inspiration. Or, an attempt to use elements from hit films or even a TV series. This jejune film does have elements that make you hark back to some of the greatest films or series but that doesn’t work in its favour. Do you want a bit of Ridley Scott’s Gladiator sort of action? You got it! You see a strong and muscular Zafar involved in bullfighting. Be ready to witness one of the greatest CGI work in this sequence (pun intended). If you wanted to get a feel of that iconic “My heart will go on” sung by Celine Dion for Titanic or Ramin Djawadi’s haunting main title theme for Westworld, Kalank’s background score by Sanchit Balhara and Ankit Balhara gives you modified versions of the same. In fact, when the teaser of this film was released, film critic Raja Sen tweeted saying that it has ripped off the theme music from the TV series The Flash. And Bollywood also has its very own to look up to. So, you do get to recall Shah Rukh Khan’s famous train scene from Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge as Alia Bhatt, who has boarded the train, shouts out to Zafar and he runs to hold her hand in a dramatic fashion and get onboard. The more this film tries to make this film interesting, the more it plummets miserably.

Brace yourselves. Almost every lead actor has an “intro” song too. The unnecessary and not-going-well-with-the-mood-of-the-film songs were probably meant to give you a sigh of relief and give some respite from an otherwise stodgy collection of scenes in this film. But that doesn’t save the film either.  A ‘special’ mention to a song where Roop has turned up at the brothel of Bahaar Begum (Madhuri Dixit). Roop wants to take singing lessons from Bahaar Begum and actually starts singing to a great perfection along with her in the first meet itself (It looked like Roop did not really need singing lessons at all). Outside of this Brothel, Zafar hears the voice of Roop and is mesmerised. Zafar meets Roop on her way out and leaves an impression on her just like that! And there blossoms a romance (actually, tries to blossom).

Not only the relationship between Zafar and Roop fails to bloom, but the not-so-moving tale of Dev Chaudhry (Aditya Roy Kapur) and his ailing wife Satya (played by an affecting Sonakshi Sinha in her short stint) also does not go well.

A grim-faced Sanjay Dutt as Dev’s father is terrific but does not have much to do in this film.

Well, then what did I really like in this film? I got to know that Lahore city is known as Lohaaron Ka Sheher (City of blacksmiths) and this is how it got its name.

I survived (Somehow). That’s all I can say after an excruciatingly painful watch and a tiring experience.

Delhi Crime Web Series Review: A tense and heartrending portrayal

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Richie Mehta has done a marvellous job to depict a brutal incident in an engrossing way.

It’s not even a “heinous” crime. It’s “insanity”. An apt way of putting things into perspective by Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) Vartika Chaturvedi (Shefali Shah). She is heading a criminal investigation to find out the 6 men who raped a woman on a moving bus. Delhi Crime, Netflix’s web series, directed by Richie Mehta, is an unsettling portrayal based on a real incident that shook the whole world. It was not only the gangrape that called for immediate investigation and protests in India’s capital city. The insane manner with which she was tortured was much more painful to even imagine (the details of which I am in no mood for reiterating as I am already in shock after watching this series and it’s going to be days before I can actually start thinking that I can get by in this cruel world).

The series not only takes potshots at the lack of alertness on the part of some of the police officers, which many argue is the major cause of crimes taking place, it also brings into purview how some of the honest cops put in their heart and soul into the investigation process. Vartika finds out that a male police officer is high on weed while on duty at a checkpoint on the road and replaces him with a female officer Neeti Singh (played brilliantly by a believable and empathetic Rasika Dugal). Neeti goes on to restrain a vehicle doing an illegal ivory trade. Vartika makes a good point that this is the reason why more women police officers are needed. That does not mean that there aren’t any good male cops around. A police constable, involved in this investigation, has no time to buy medicine for his wife. Another police officer readily accepts the order to travel a long way for capturing one of the rapists as his whereabouts come to light but the officer expresses his tiredness as he sighs wearily. Another cop, whose wife has come to police station carrying a lunchbox out of concern, has no time to eat food, let alone eating along with her. Even Inspector Bhupendra Singh (Rajesh Tailang), who is closely working with Vartika, has back pain but keeps going to help fast-track the investigation (Bhupendra’s respect for Vartika and the understanding between them is exhibited with perfection).

You feel the indignation rising inside you when one of the prime suspects gets caught and he, after tense interrogation, confesses that he committed this crime and adds that he has no regrets on doing so. But you also see that these rapists do have fear of their family. They try to commit suicide inside the prison fearing what would their family do when they get to know about their son being involved in this crime. One guy, apprehended by the police, tries to swim across a pond in order to get away from the police officers after being caught. But, when the police officer yells at him saying that what he did on that bus would be told to his mother, he stops right there, says that he will cooperate in this case and pleads to them not to reveal any of this to his mother. It is strange to see that someone, who loves his mother so dearly and does not want her to know about his stupid act, can go on to do horrible things to another woman.

One of the most impactful scenes is the one where the victim comes to her senses in the hospital and agrees to narrate the whole story for official records. She went through something so disastrous and inhuman. So, when she, with what strength she can gather, speaks with a low volume and tells everything to an official person (who is, again, a woman), it starts upsetting you. This official person, somehow, writes down the complete story controlling all her emotions.

It is agonising to even watch something terrible like this happening to a woman. Andrew Lockington’s music enhances the intensity with which the series proceeds and Richie Mehta has done a marvellous job to depict this brutal incident in an engrossing way.

Us Movie Review: Creepy and horrific

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You feel the thrills. You get scared. But you are not terrified to an extent that would make your heart pound faster.

There’s a cloth with blue-coloured circles of the same size. The clock displays 11:11. There are similar looking bluish public toilets on a beach. A flock of white birds are taking off for a flight together. The reflection of a girl on the mirror or the presence of twin girls in a beach creates an eerie picture. Such is the brilliance of Director Jordon Peele that as he creates an air of strangeness and unknown factor in Us, the ‘similarity’ in different scenes seem haunting. And then the moment comes when the tunnel-dwelling döppelgangers, who look exactly like the ones living above the ground, are standing outside Wilson family’s home. On seeing the döppelgangers, one of the family members utter, “It’s us!”.

Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong’o is terrific in this character) stays close to her son Jason (Evan Alex) and daughter Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph). Her phone call to the police is of no use as they never arrive. Her husband Gabe (Winston Duke), who acted as if he is unfazed by these döppelgangers, is now worried sick. The Wilson family now have four people inside their home who look like them but cannot talk except for the one who looks like Adelaide (When you get the reasoning behind this towards the end, it is shocking). From here on, the creepiness takes hold of the narrative. Jason’s lookalike has a burnt face underneath the mask. Zora runs away on to the streets as her lookalike goes after her wearing a smile. Gabe confronts his counterpart on a motorboat. There’s another family who does not even get a chance to face their counterparts as they get killed as soon as they open their door.

You feel the thrills. You get scared. Michael Abels’ music does the trick too. But you are not terrified to an extent that would make your heart pound faster. Jordon Peele’s debut film Get Out is an epitome of horror and can make you jump out of your skins. Call it a sophomore slump or something else, his second feature film Us isn’t as horrific as Get Out.

It looks like Jordan’s forte is in writing thriller or horror scenes. The interactions between the members of the Wilson family, before their encounter with döppelgangers takes off, are supposed to be funny. But they never seem so.

Even though there is a considerable slump felt as the movie nears its end, the feeling of fearsomeness is kept intact throughout.

Shazam! Movie Review: Rekindle the inner child

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Shazam! is all fun and frolics.

Billy Batson (Asher Angel), a 14 year old boy, runs upstairs, reaches the terrace, jumps from the edge of the terrace screaming a magic word Shazam!, transforms into an adult, muscular superhero Shazam (Zachary Levi) wearing red outfit with cape and flies away in the night sky (Such a visually appealing scene). He has been chosen as the new champion by a wizard (Djimon Hounsou) to confront the evil powers. But, being still a teenage boy, he deals with the “supervillain” Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong) in his own childish ways that make for jovial and funnier scenes in the midst of serious pursuit.

Director David F. Sandberg’s Shazam!, which is based on a DC Comics’ character, has a familiar plot that is bolstered by a great concept. Instead of an adult, a kid gets to be a superhero. He finds the stick of the dying, old wizard, who transfers the power to Billy, as “gross”. When he says out loud a magical name, his physical appearance changes and he looks like an adult. But his mental state still remains the same i.e of a teenage boy. This turned out to be really interesting as the movie progressed. It was like a dream-come-true moment for a kid who experiences magical powers. He could only think of flying like Superman. He randomly charges the smartphones of people. He goes out in the streets brandishing his abilities and taking selfies with people. He takes away boxes of beer from a shop, takes a sip and finds it to be “gross” (anything Billy does not like, it is gross). He goes inside the shop again and replaces them with packets of chips. His foster brother Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer) gets him to test all the different abilities of a superhuman he has ever come across and posts them on social media. Such scenes rekindle your inner child. I could remember Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse where the lead character is, again, a teenage boy and his experience with his new-found abilities look funny (Did I cross over to Marvel Cinematic Universe? That was unintentional).

Like Billy, other characters, who too are mostly kids, make up for hilarious instances. There’s Billy’s foster sister Darla (Faithe Herman) who gets “uncomfortable” by the “silence” and keeps talking all the time. There’s a foster brother who is a video game freak and yells all of a sudden while playing busily. There’s another foster brother who keeps a stern face and nods as a means of saying “hi” to Billy. Even Freddy, who gets to experience the superpowers himself, jokes around in front of an evil monster saying that it’s the first supervillain he is going to fight with.

Billy’s pursuit of finding his real mother is entertaining as he goes about making fake calls to police officers and tries to get the residential address where his mother might be living. But when he gets to know the reason why she left him, it does not come off as a big surprise or does not really cause a huge impact.

While talking about DC Comics, you can’t leave out Batman and Superman. Shazam! does pay a tribute to these iconic characters (Wow! moment when that happens) that have lived with us for many years.

A man dressed as Santa Claus, who is horrified by the sight of evil monsters and superheroes fighting them all off, snatches the mic from a television reporter on the street and shouts, “It was f***ing crazy man”. Yes, I went crazy too witnessing this super adventure. Shazam! is all fun and frolics.