THE CONQUEROR SERIES BY CONN IGGULDEN (BOOK REVIEW) – TRANSPORT YOURSELF TO THE WORLD OF GENGHIS KHAN AND THE MONGOLS

Connor Iggulden is a British author who writes historical fiction, most notably the Emperor series and Conqueror series. In 2007, Iggulden became the first person to top the UK fiction and non-fiction charts at the same time. His series “Conqueror”, covers the Mongol Empire created by Genghis Khan – Iggulden covers Temujin’s humble beginnings and the background which resulted in him growing from Temujin to the man who would soon become Genghis Khan.

The narrative follows the early life of Temujin, the second son of Yesugei, the khan of the Mongolian “Wolves” tribe. His father is attacked by assassins and soon dies from his injuries. Yesugei’s first bondsman, Eeluk, assumes control of the tribe. Fearing the sons of the former khan may contest his leadership when they reach adulthood, Eeluk banishes Temujin’s family from the tribe, leaving them to fend for themselves on the harsh Steppes. The expectation was that Temujin’s family would perish in the unforgiving winter, but Temujin, along with his mother Hoelun, his four brothers Bekter, Khasar, Kachiun, Temüge, and his baby sister Temulun, survived against all the odds, albeit in poverty. In an argument over food, Temujin kills his older brother Bekter, much to his mother’s anguish.

After a few years of trading with other wandering families, the family establish a small home. But the Wolf tribe return to the area, and advanced riders, sent by Eeluk to ensure the family had perished, capture Temujin. He is taken back to the tribe where he is tortured, and kept in a pit, in preparation for a ritual murder. He is freed by Arslan and Jelme, father and son wanderers who joined the Wolves after looking for Yesugei, whom Arslan owed a debt. They join Temujin and his family and begin a new tribe, accepting other wandering families into their protection. Temujin assumes the role of khan.

Temujin returns to the Olkhunut to claim his wife Borte. Shortly after, Borte is captured by a Tartar raiding party (in real, Borte was kidnapped by the Merkits and not the Tartars). Temujin and his brothers chase down the captors and murder them, recovering Borte. The small army retaliates with repeated raids on Tartar camps. The Tartars respond by sending armies to crush the new menace. It is then that a Chin emissary approaches Temujin with an offer from Toghrul, Khan of the Kerait. Temujin joins his small fledgling tribe with Toghrul’s, and leads a joint army to advance on the Tartars. It is in the following battle that Temujin begins to show outstanding tactical abilities, as the Mongols ease to victory. Upon interrogating a Tartar prisoner, Temujin learns that the leader of the Olkhunut conspired with the Chin to lead the Tartar assassins to his father. He also learns that a massive Tartar army is advancing into Mongol lands.

Temujin returns to the Kerait, then travels to the Olkhunut tribe, where he murders the khan in his ger and assumes leadership of the tribe, and takes them back to join the Kerait. The Mongol alliance prepares for battle, when they are joined by the Wolves. Temujin and Eeluk agree to settle their feud upon victory over the Tartars. Under Temujin’s faultless leadership and strategy, the Tartar army is crushed. As the battle ends, Temujin and Eeluk fight, with Temujin emerging victorious. He claims leadership of the Wolves and takes the warriors back to the Kerait. Fearing an inevitable challenge to his leadership, Toghrul sends assassins to Temujin’s ger. The attempt is unsuccessful, and Toghrul is banished out of the unified tribe. Temujin proclaims himself khan of all Mongol tribes and bestows the name Genghis upon himself.

The book does deviate from some historical characters – Genghis’s childhood friend, blood-brother and eventual rival Jamukha is missing from the narrative. But it provides us with ample understanding of the hardships endured by the great conqueror Genghis and whose early life influenced his brutality in the future.

The next book in the series, The Lords of the Bow, covers the uniting of all Mongol tribes under one banner and led by the Great Khan – Genghis. It takes on the Mongol conquest of the Xi Xia kingdom and the war against the Chin, by-passing the Great Wall of China. The following summer sees the tribes gathered, waiting for Genghis to lead them where he will. They are anxious to be off, but he is determined to wait for the Khan of the Uighur to show up with the five thousand soldiers he wishes to have. While stuck in one place, the new Nation becomes impatient and tempers flare. In one incident, Genghis’ brother Khasar is forced to defend his honour against the sons of a lesser Khan. He is helped by the young Tsubodai, who is rewarded later in the book. In this book, we are also introduced to Genghis’s great general Tsubodai, the great strategist responsible for many of the Mongol Empire’s great victories.

The entire Mongol nation then begins to march southwards, to take the kingdom of the Xia. Facing them is the arduous crossing of the Gobi desert. Having crossed the desert the Mongol hordes attempt to take the kingdom of Xi Xia, the Mongols inexperience in siege craft shows when they are held at bay by the walls of Xi Xia, the division between the kingdom of Xi Xia and the Chin empire is also highlighted at this time. Eventually the Xia kingdom capitulates and Genghis wins a princess of the city as his bride as well as many other spoils of war. From this point on, there is tension between Borte (Genghis’ first wife) and Genghis’ second wife., Chakahai Also highlighted in this book is Genghis’ estrangement from his eldest son Jochi (whose legitimacy Genghis doubts) and the strife within Genghis’ family that this estrangement causes, especially between Jochi and his brother Chagatai.

The Mongol war strategies are also introduced in this book and some great battles especially the battle of Badger’s Mouth (also known as the Battle of Yehuling).

Bones of the Hills focuses mainly on the Mongol invasion of Islamic Central Asia, the war against Shah Muhammad II of Khwarezm and his son Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu and the brutal massacres at Urgench and Merv. Although relations between the Mongols and the Khwarezm were initially cordial, Genghis was angered by a series of diplomatic provocations. When a senior Mongol diplomat was executed by Khwarazmshah Muhammed II, the Khan mobilized his forces, estimated to be between 90,000 and 200,000 men, and invaded. The Shah’s forces were widely dispersed and probably outnumbered — realizing his disadvantage, he decided to garrison his cities individually to bog the Mongols down. However, through excellent organization and planning, the Mongols were able to isolate and conquer the Transoxianan cities of Bukhara, Samarkand, and Gurganj.

However, in the book, Iggulden proceeds stating the Mongols were outnumbered by the Shah’s forces. This could be because sieges and massacres are less exciting than the underdog turning the tables on a bigger and slower foe. Bones of the Hills also brings about the rivalry between Jochi and Chagatai to the forefront. Genghis Khan, continues to treat Jochi badly and the rift between father and son continues to widen. This finally results in Jochi rebelling and taking his Tuman north, until he is hunted down by Subotai, who being his friend, also is frustrated with his Khan’s stubborness. Ogedai becomes the heir to Genghis Khan, setting up the premise for his story to be told in the next book of the series.

The Mongol Empire in 1227 at Genghis Khan’s death

In the next book, Empire of Silver, Genghis’s tough and canny heir, Ogedai, is on the verge of becoming the new Khan. Inexplicably, Ogedai has delayed his coronation to complete a project many deem a folly: the building of Karakorum, a magnificent city amid the wild plains. His decision emboldens his arrogant brother Chagatai to violently challenge him, leaving their noble sibling Tolui caught between them. Yet even as they clash, the Khan’s armies extend his reach farther than ever before, into southern China and across the rugged mountains of Russia to the vulnerable heart of Europe, where the most courageous warriors the West commands await the coming onslaught.

It also brings in a new character, Batu Khan, a son of Jochi and made a prince of the nation by Ogedai Khan. Batu, being a grandson of Genghis, is given titular command of the army under Subotai sent to conquer Kievan Rus and the European kingdoms by Ogedai. Though Subotai is in overall command and the main tactician, the entire army is incorrectly labelled as the Golden Horde of Batu Khan.

The attack on Europe was planned and carried out by Subotai, who achieved his lasting fame with his victories there. Having devastated the various Russian principalities, he sent spies as far as Poland, Hungary, and Austria in preparation for an attack into the heartland of Europe. Having a clear picture of the European kingdoms, he brilliantly prepared an attack nominally commanded by Batu Khan and two other princes of the blood. While Batu Khan, son of Jochi, was the overall leader, Subotai was the actual commander in the field, and as such was present in both the northern and southern campaigns against Kievan Rus’. He personally commanded the central column that moved against the Kingdom of Hungary, and likely gave detailed instructions to his subordinates.

The book also brings about the end of the stories of Genghis’s brothers – Khasar (dying of boils), Khachiun (dying due to gangrene in the mountains) and Temuge (being killed for rebellion). Great generals such as Jelme and Jebe also disappear without too much written about them. However, it does bring up the sons of Tolui, Mongke, Kublai, Hulegu and Arik-Boke as key characters to unleash in the next book. It also brings up Baidur, son of Chagatai and Guyuk, son of Ogedai, who accompany Subotai on his great trek west which ends in Hungary, after the sudden death of Ogedai, forces Subotai to return to Karakorum with his great army.

Conqueror, focuses on the short reign of Guyuk Khan, a weak Khan and the subsequent ascension of Mongke Khan, a strong but brutal Khan in the mold of Genghis himself. Mongke sends Hulegu to carve out a Khanate for himself in the lands of the Middle East and Kublai to subdue the Song dynasty in China. Arik Boke rules the homelands of Mongolia. The book covers the destruction wreaked by Hulegu and sack of Baghdad. It also covers Kublai’s strategic mind and that he was a kinder ruler than the Mongol Khans before him. At the end, Mongke’s death at the hands of an assassin (artistic license apparently), unleashes a civil war between Kublai and Arik-Boke, with Kublai emerging victorious. But, what the book doesn’t cover is that since Ogedai’s death, the Mongol Empire was essentially split into various Khanates and not one united empire as it had been during the time of Genghis and Ogedai.

JAY’S VERDICT

Read Conn Iggulden’s Conqueror series and be transported into the world of Mongols – immerse yourself the strategic genius of Subotai, the all-conquering spirit of Genghis Khan and the barbarism of Hulegu.

THE CASE AGAINST INCOME TAXES – WHY IT IMPOVERISHES THE PEOPLE

An income tax is a tax imposed on individuals or entities (taxpayers) in respect of the income or profits earned by them (commonly called taxable income). Income tax generally is computed as the product of a tax rate times the taxable income. Taxation rates differ by type or characteristics of the taxpayer and the type of income. The tax rate may increase as taxable income increases (referred to as progressive tax rates). The tax imposed on companies is usually known as corporate tax and is commonly levied at a flat rate. Individual income is often taxed at progressive rates where the tax rate applied to each additional unit of income increases.

For most of human civilization, we did not presuppose taxes being based on factors such as a money economy, reasonably accurate accounts, a common understanding of receipts, expenses and profits, and an orderly society with reliable records instead of taxes on wealth, social position, and ownership of the means of production (typically land). In the early days of the Roman Republic, public taxes consisted of modest assessments on owned wealth and property. The tax rate under normal circumstances was 1% and sometimes would climb as high as 3% (3% being classified as high sounds hilarious in today’s Canada or EU) in situations such as war. These modest taxes were levied against land, homes and other real estate, slaves, animals, personal items and monetary wealth. The more a person had in property, the more tax they paid. Taxes were collected from individuals.

The inception date of the modern income tax is typically accepted as 1799. Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger introduced income tax into Great Britain in his budget of December 1798, to pay for weapons and equipment for the French Revolutionary War. So basically as with most problems of the modern era, it all began in “Great” Britain.

The US federal government imposed the first personal income tax on August 5, 1861, to help pay for its war effort in the American Civil War (3% of all incomes over US$800). This tax was repealed and replaced by another income tax in 1862. It was only in 1894 that the first peacetime income tax was passed through the Wilson-Gorman tariff.

Soon income tax caught on, all around the world, and before you knew it, those with the least to pay were sacrificing proportionally ever more out of their salaries and wages over time, a sacrifice to the finance gods who paid pretty little in the way of taxes of any kind, let alone income. The rich and powerful – the owners of tech giants, large conglomerations and wealthy families – pay very little in terms of income tax.

But what if we got rid of income tax altogether? Income tax doesn’t really pay for government services federally. So why do we, the 99%, even need to pay it? Isn’t it just punishing people for earning? In Canada, for example, average rents in Toronto are around CAD $2500-3000 in downtown. On top of it, if you pay around 35% out of your income, after paying for rent, you are barely left with anything to feed yourself and your family as due to inflation, grocery prices are sky high.

Economist Henry George argued back in 1897 that income tax actually reduces people’s incentive to earn income. He said that taxes on income and even profit distorts economic activity and encourages off-shoring for those wealthy enough to be able to afford to pay people to hide the rest of their gains, forcing a greater burden of tax on those least capable of paying. He also claimed property tax punishes owners for improving or maintaining the quality of the establishment.

The implementation of an income tax system is very complex, especially when trying to regulate the rich and the corporations. So complicated in fact that an entire industry exists to simply monitor and control the system. The government must enforce every line of the tax code, for example in the US the IRS requires 90,000 tax accountants. Another part of the same industry of tax accountants consults the big corporations and the rich on ways how to exploit tax policies’ loopholes. Tax evasion and deceitful avoidance favors the wealthy as they are the ones able to pay for costly tax ‘advice’. As legendary investor Warren Buffet has been known to say, it is unfair that his secretary pays 30% in taxes while his accountants manage for Buffet to only have to pay 17% on his income.

Taxation exists to prevent inflation so some form of it will always be required to provide stability, but there are countless better ways to do it than taking away badly needed funds from people already struggling to pay their bills. The federal government does not need people’s taxes to pay for anything, so why are we handing over hard-earned income to be destroyed when we could be spending it? Or saving it. Or paying off debts. In the current climate, with wages stagnating or in some countries even going backwards, it makes little sense to take money away from people already struggling to pay their bills for the sake of an almost permanent deficit.

Some argue that for those in the lower middle class and lower classes, an earnings tax may be a financial hardship. Others believe that income tax is a violation of a citizen’s individual freedom. An income tax that gets progressively more burdensome the more money you make reduces the incentive to work harder and be productive the higher you move up the ladder.

Albeit differently implemented, income tax is present everywhere throughout the world. Low personal income tax countries such as the US and Japan promote their highly consuming economies through low personal rates but limit their colossal corporations through a high corporate rate. Scandinavian countries, Belgium and France need abnormal tax revenues to finance their government expenditure and social benefits. Places like Ireland, Poland Hungary and the Slovak Republic stimulate their much needed development by attracting investment with low corporate taxation.

Lately, pure tax economists argue that a consumption tax is superior to an income tax because it comes closest to attaining the so called “temporal neutrality”. Although impossible in reality, a tax would be considered to be temporal neutral if it did not alter spending habits, change behavior patterns or affect the natural allocation of resources.

An income tax creates a discrepancy between the value of a person’s work and what they actually receive (disposable income). This is weighs on the economy because it causes people to work less and pursue more leisure activities than would otherwise be the case if income taxes did not exist. The barrier created by income taxes also produces fewer saving because capital is taxed. This reduces investment, discouraging innovation and ultimately contributing to a lower standard of living when compared to a pure consumption tax. A well planned consumption tax is more neutral and does not affect the allocation of resources as dramatically as an income tax. Taxes are only assessed on any income that is consumed (spent on goods, services, etc.) while not taxing savings. This eliminates any deterrent to savings and actually would encourage people to save more, increase available capital, and ultimately produce a more solid, robust economy.

Taxation makes individuals across the world into modern day serfs. We get what’s left over in our paychecks after the federal government has taken its share. That means the fruits of our labors belong first to our government. Countries like Canada, claim that it is to maintain a welfare state that such exorbitant taxes are levied but with raging inflation and lack of rent control, people live paycheck to paycheck just to survive the month. A country as blessed in natural resources such as Canada along with a small population, can always seek to build its income from its other sources. Lowering taxes is a good start but eliminating them would ensure that the dream many dream of, migrating to a new country, would remain one that could eventually come true.

This is even truer for emerging economies like India, where the Government provides no benefits for the tax payers and a large percentage of the population do not pay taxes and the burden of the tax hits salaried individuals the highest. A rethink of taxation is the need of the hour going forward. The world is in a fragile state post-Covid and the horrors of the Russo-Ukraine war still being inflicted. The world economies must do away with income taxes and make sure corporate income taxes are levied properly and fully and the rich and the powerful do not escape being taxed on their unequal share of resources. Only then can true and equal opportunity to build a better life, be provided to all men and women and not just the sons and daughters of the already wealthy.

WHAT SUN TZU WOULD NEVER DO – THE RUSSO-UKRAINIAN WAR ASSESSED THROUGH THE ANCIENT CLASSIC

Anyone who has been following the news lately has not been immune from hearing about the Russo-Ukrainian War, which although having begun in 2014, after the Ukrainian Revolution and the seizure of Crimea, escalated rapidly in 2022, with Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. In 2021, Russia began a large military build-up along its border with Ukraine, amassing up to 190,000 troops and their equipment. On 21 February 2022, Russia recognized the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic, two self-proclaimed breakaway quasi-states in the Donbas. The next day, the Federation Council of Russia authorized the use of military force, and Russian troops promptly advanced into both territories.

Now the reasons for the war, aren’t going to be discussed. There were Western provocations and there were some insane theories only justified in Putin’s head. That’s not the point of this article. Anyone who has ever read anything about strategy, has definitely come across the great classic – The Art of War, written by Sun Tzu, an ancient Chinese military strategist whose comments on war and strategy still resonate strongly in the modern era. Sun Tzu was one of history’s finest military tacticians and analysts and his teachings and strategies formed the basis of advanced military training for millennia to come. The book is divided into 13 Chapters – obviously it is too extensive to discuss in detail. However, what I am trying to do, is assess the Russian war strategy in Ukraine against the principles espoused by Sun Tzu and assess why it is a war characterized by massive blunders.

I am going to look at some of Sun Tzu’s most apt statements regarding the conduct of warfare and see if the Russian Armed Forces paid heed to these or not.

“Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move fall like a thunderbolt.”

A major mistake made was that Putin informed Ukraine where his forces would attack and even mobilized in a slow and cumbersome manner. There was no great deception or disguised plans – anyone and everyone knew what would be coming. This was a major error, as it allowed Ukraine to prepare traps and to build up resistance. It also allowed Ukraine’s allies in the EU and the US, to prepare a vast array of sanctions to wage economic war against Russia. This ensured that the war if not won quickly would be a massive drain on Russian resources.

“The worst strategy of all is to besiege walled cities.”

Let’s redefine as having to conduct siege warfare against any city. In a city, in close urban combat, defenders have an advantage that few can last out against many. You need numerical superiority to overcome a city’s defenses – mobile warfare doesn’t work. Had Russians read the history of their own defenses against Nazi Germany in Stalingrad, they would have by-passed such cities to destroy Ukraine’s military forces. Instead they attacked Kiev, Kharkiv and Mariupol, the last of which resulted in the defenders holding up in the Azovstal Steel Works. Kiev and Kharkiv were massive failures. Urban combat in modern days is a meat grinder – tanks and armored vehicles are of not much use in closed settings where a single soldier with AT weapons could carry out a deadly ambush and choke major roads and lanes. Artillery turns buildings into rubble but it also means, more hiding places for the defenders. If your army is set up for short wars (like the Russian Army), it needs to take out military targets and by-pass cities. Once supply lines are closed off and the threat of reinforcements eliminated, a city can fall.

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself, but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

The entire war was fought on assumptions instead of cold hard facts. No one in Putin’s inner circle, carried out a simple analysis – what are Russia’s actual strengths? Will Ukrainians defend their country aggressively? Have the Ukrainians upgraded their defensive capabilities since 2014 when Crimea fell? Is the Russian Army prepared for an offensive on multiple fronts? Are the logistics set up to endure economic sanctions and a long grinding war?

From the goal of the war to his own army’s strengths and weaknesses, Putin and his cronies got it all wrong. After the Covid pandemic, there was little enthusiasm for war even in Russia – especially against Ukraine who most Russians have close ties with (which were destroyed as the war progressed). What was the objective? To eliminate Nazis? An army cannot accomplish such a vague objective? There was no endgame – we liberate Donetsk and Luhansk and then we stop or we take Kiev and then we negotiate – no. Just vague aims and grandiose goals of rebuilding the Soviet Union without their old power. Just like Hitler’s Nazi Germany got it wrong when they invaded the Soviet Union, Putin’s Russia underestimated Ukraine’s resolve to defend their motherland.

What is apparent in Ukraine – on both sides – is not just an ability to continue to resist, but an astonishing ability to persist. In what has become a grinding war of attrition with high numbers of casualties on both sides, neither combatant appears ready to throw in the towel. But in this scenario, as an aggressor, for Russia this achieves nothing.

“Military tactics are like water. For water, in its natural course, runs away from high places and hastens downwards. So, in war, the way is to avoid what is strong and strike at what is weak.”

Again, like I mentioned earlier about avoiding cities – here the Russian military commanders made several mistakes. Attacking a well-defended city like Kiev was a massive mistake and that too with few parachute regiments. Artillery is a supporting arm – however, for the Russian Army, everything supports their artillery. Artillery is excellent at pounding strongholds or suppressing enemies – as a primary arm, it also destroys what you seek to capture. Cities and villages made into rubble turned every corner into an ambush zone for Russian armor.

Warfare needs to be flexible to maintain the initiative – the Russian Army has showed itself to be highly inflexible in terms of how it conducts the warfare. Firstly instead of full mobilization right from the beginning, where it would have had 6 months to prepare the next lot of conscripts, it classified a full-scale invasion as a “special military operation” thus, meaning reserves could not be tapped or trained well. Second, it bombed cities and random targets without destroying the enemy’s ability to strike back – which means expensive munitions were wasted against targets of no strategic importance. It resembled Hitler’s V1 and V2 rocket attacks on London – of no military consequence whatsoever.

“There are five essentials for victory: He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight. He will win who knows how to handle both superior and inferior forces. He will win who’s army is animated by the same spirit throughout all it’s ranks. He will win who, prepared himself, waits to take the enemy unprepared. He will win who has military capacity and is not interfered with by the sovereign.”

So let’s take on this dictum, one at a time. Putin did not assess his own army and country’s mood for war when he decided to move forward. He did not take Ukrainian will to resist, their army being supplied with advanced weapons and the response of the EU and the US to his invasion. Thus, had he been a good strategist, he would not have attacked Ukraine at a time when not only was his enemy ready for him but also his own country and army were unprepared for the difficulties of war. Next, Putin took on the gamble because on paper, the Russian Army seems to be a juggernaut surpassing Ukraine’s reserves in tanks, planes and artillery. However, most of the equipment was Soviet-era and unfit for active combat. Plus, there were not enough trained personnel to man the equipment they had. Destroyed tanks can be replaced but trained crew-men cannot easily be replaced.

Next we talk about the spirit of the army – the Russian army didn’t really know what they came to Ukraine for. If they were liberators, why did the Ukrainians resist so fiercely? If they came to kill Nazis, then where were they and how to eliminate them? On the opposing side, the Ukrainian army was filled with the spirit of resistance and defending their motherland – one simple goal – to resist and fight back invaders. Thus, on the third point, Russia failed too. Then, we talk about being prepared and waiting to take the enemy unprepared – here too, as mentioned earlier, Putin did not try to utilize an element of surprise. He caught only his own army unprepared asking them to wage a war on a broad front against the second largest country in Europe after Russia itself. Plus, having warned Ukraine for almost a year and then a slow and chaotic mobilization on Ukraine’s borders, made sure that the Ukrainians would not be caught unprepared.

Last, they would win who has military capacity and are not interfered with by the sovereign. Though Russia had the military capacity on paper, the capacity that could be brought to bear quickly was small and was not taken into consideration. Plus, an army with conscripts, mercenaries and proxy soldiers is not an army with strict discipline and control. Also, untrained soldiers means NCOs cannot take on day-to-day decisions and senior commanders are needed for even minor decisions thus, the high casualty rates among Russian generals which is usually unheard of in modern combat. In terms of interference, Putin made similar mistakes like Hitler and continued to micro-manage military strategy while having no clue about the same – being a spy and being a general are not the same.

“There is no instance of a country having benefitted from prolonged warfare.”

Modern warfare is expensive. Each bomb and missile thrown at the enemy needs to have a ROI (return on investment) associated with it. Add to that economic sanctions resulting in your economy not being set up to support prolonged war. Though oil and gas are plenty in Russia, it lacks the industrial capacity for high-tech missile components and microchips which are the bread and butter of modern weapons. The modern army is efficient and needs to move fast and accomplish its goals quickly otherwise the burden of supplying it becomes an enormous expense. With the invasion having gone on for more than six months, the war has no real end in sight and huge quantities of ammunition and equipment have been used up and reserves are not up to the mark.

For example, the Russian military relies on artillery to destroy enemy formations: Russia’s fondness for the “god of war” dates back several centuries and Russian tactics still emphasize artillery as a decisive instrument for destroying enemy formations, while maneuver units handle mopping up the survivors. While self-propelled artillery vehicles can accompany troops on offensive maneuvers, in general the Russian military now seeks to keep the enemy at arm’s length from its frontline positions so that the artillery can blast enemy troops without hitting friendly forces.

Moscow has long been wielding more and bigger guns as a means to compensate for its forces’ qualitatively inferior training. Whereas Western militaries increasingly use artillery to launch precision strikes against enemy positions, the Russian army still values large-scale area bombardments with overwhelming volumes of firepower. However, a weakness of Russian artillery is its centralized command-and-control structure, which makes it difficult for frontline troops to request fire missions. This results in an enormous wastage of shells against a broad area and cannot be utilized to aid swift movements.

Vladimir Putin’s use of inaccurate data often undermines his decisions. Putin’s wishful thinking about the power of the Russian military is reflected in his apparent expectation that it could conquer Ukraine with only 150,000 military personnel. This is significantly less than the 250,000 soldiers in the Ukrainian armed forces and far off the ratio of offensive to defence forces traditionally needed for a successful campaign – 3:1. Putin seems to have decided to launch the invasion based on the expectation that Ukrainian citizens would surrender without a fight and their political leaders would run away. Clearly, the data he drew on was deeply flawed.

At the beginning of the full-scale invasion, the Russian military entered Ukraine in marching columns rather than combat formations. The Russians’ assumption that they would not face resistance caused them to suffer huge losses in the first few days of the war, forcing them to withdraw from the Kyiv, Chernihiv, and Sumy regions. The inadequate training and incompetence of Russian military personnel – combined with the strict hierarchies in which they operated, which left officers incapable of acting on their own initiative – meant that they were unable to quickly coordinate advances deep into enemy territory. The Russian military responded to these failures by reverting to tactics based on artillery barrage fire: it launched massive artillery strikes on Ukrainian positions that lasted several hours, clearing the way for offensives involving infantry and armoured vehicles. The Russians mainly used this tactic – which resulted in more territorial gains than any other approach – in eastern Ukraine, where they concentrated more than half their forces.

But the situation changed after the US provided Ukraine with M142 HIMARS – mobile multiple rocket launchers that the Ukrainian armed forces used to destroy more than 50 Russian ammunition stores in just a few weeks. This severely inhibited the delivery of ammunition to Russia’s artillery units, thereby reducing the intensity of the shelling in several areas and slowing the Russian advance in eastern Ukraine. Logistics are also a traditional weak link in the Russian army. The Russian military’s logistics were so poorly organized that many units simply could not reach their destinations. There are many causes of such disorganization – Ukrainian forces’ operations to disrupt Russian logistics, corruption and negligence in the Russian army, the indolence of Russian generals, and so on.

The Pentagon estimates that up to 80,000 Russian soldiers have already been killed or wounded in the war. Now, this could be an exaggeration especially as most of the information comes from gung-ho Ukrainian estimates. However, even if not 80,000, the death toll has been high. Russia has also sacrificed a colossal amount of equipment, including more than 1,700 tanks (equivalent to 65 per cent of its pre-war inventory); 4,000 armoured vehicles; and 200 aircraft (which again, though exaggerations from Ukrainian sources, point towards high numbers). For example, in a single battle in Bilohorivka in May, Russia lost almost 1,000 soldiers and nearly 100 pieces of equipment while trying to cross the Siverskyi Donets River.

One of the main reasons why Russian forces have incurred huge losses is that the Kremlin prioritises political goals above military objectives – as one could see in Izium and Severodonetsk. The capture of Severodonetsk became a political goal simply because it was the last city with a large population in the Luhansk region. The Kremlin wanted to seize the city as proof that it controlled the entire region. However, the operation had limited strategic value and required the Russians to weaken their positions on other fronts.

Thus, as we see, the war is one, Sun Tzu would be ashamed of a strategist. Not only is it being fought for the wrong reasons, it is also being fought poorly. The only winner in this war is death and a good leader would forego his ego and try to bring the war to a swift conclusion. Sadly Putin has shown himself to be a poor strategist surrounded by sycophants. Non-adherence to Sun Tzu’s dictums has already predicted the loser of this conflict. It is now for time to decide, whether anything can be salvaged or not.

THE GRAY MAN (2022) – NETFLIX ACTION THRILLER IS ENTERTAINING BUT PREDICTABLE

The Gray Man is a 2022 American action thriller film directed by Anthony and Joe Russo and is based on the 2009 novel of the same name by Mark Greaney. The film stars Ryan Gosling, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jessica Henwick, Regé-Jean Page, Wagner Moura, Julia Butters, Dhanush, Alfre Woodard, and Billy Bob Thornton.

So the first thing one can say about The Gray Man is that it is fast-paced – apparently The Russo Brothers were told that they needed to keep rushing during the film if they wanted Netflix funding to continue. The movie begins as does every great spy/assassin thriller, with a man who doesn’t really want the job but it’s his only chance for redemption. We see Sierra Six (as apparently 007 was taken)- Ryan Gosling, who may not have played a superhero (yet) but he gets closer than ever in this movie- being recruited by a CIA biggie, while he serves out his sentence for killing his father to protect his younger brother. So this lays the foundation that Sierra Six has a strong moral code apparently.

We next see Sierra Six, as a seasoned assassin, on a mission in Bangkok working with fellow CIA Agent Dani Miranda (Ana de Armas) to assassinate a target suspected of selling off national security secrets. He is unable to do so stealthily without harming civilians and attacks the target directly, mortally wounding him. Before dying, the target reveals that he worked in the Sierra program too as Sierra Four, and hands Six an encrypted drive detailing the corruption of CIA official Denny Carmichael, who is the lead agent on the assassination mission.

As Sierra Six gets suspicious and refuses to tell Carmichael that he received an encrypted drive and sends the drive to ex-Sierra program handler Margaret Cahill in Prague. Carmichael hires mercenary Lloyd Hansen, an ex-CIA Agent kicked out of the agency for his sociopathic tendencies, to track down Six and retrieve the drive. Hansen does so by kidnapping Fitzroy’s niece Claire, forcing Fitzroy to authorize Six’s murder by the extraction team. However, Six kills them and escapes. Frustrated, Carmichael sends his subordinate Suzanne Brewer to oversee Hansen and keep him in line. Hansen keeps Claire hostage in a mansion in Croatia, where he has based his operations. Hansen also puts a bounty on Six’s head to attract mercenaries and assassins to hunt him down. Six heads to Vienna to find Claire’s pacemaker’s serial number from Laszlo Sosa, but Sosa betrays him for the bounty. Six escapes just as Hansen arrives with his team, and is rescued by Miranda. Miranda’s reputation is in tatters following the Bangkok mission and she initially plans to bring him in to salvage her career at the CIA. Six convinces her to drive him to Cahill’s apartment in Prague, where she decrypts the drive, which reveals the extent of Carmichael’s corruption on behalf of a mysterious benefactor working for a shadow government. Hansen sends several teams of assassins to Cahill’s home, and the terminally ill Cahill blows up her home to give Six and Miranda a chance to escape.

Six is arrested and handcuffed in the square. A shootout in the streets of Prague follows and Six escapes on a tram. A long chase and gun battle ensues, and Six is saved by Miranda, in Cahill’s bulletproof car. The two infiltrate a hospital to track down Claire through the wireless signal broadcast from her pacemaker. The mercenary “Lone Wolf” – Dhanush as some Sri Lankan Ninja who steals the drive from them, knocking them out, and brings the drive to Hansen. Six and Miranda follow the pacemaker to Hansen’s base. Miranda creates a distraction while Six infiltrates the mansion and rescues Fitzroy and Claire. Fitzroy is mortally wounded as they flee and sacrifices himself in a failed attempt to kill Hansen. Miranda knocks out Hansen’s men, but Lone Wolf narrowly escapes. He defeats Miranda in a fight but gives her the drive, having become disgusted with Hansen’s willingness to kill children and his lack of morals.

Hansen manages to take Claire hostage and drags her into a hedge maze. After a standoff, Hansen lets go of Claire and fights with Six. Before Six can kill him, Hansen is shot and killed by Brewer, who tells Six that she plans to pin Carmichael’s actions on Hansen in order to gain leverage over him. Furthermore, Brewer pledges Claire’s safety but only if Six continues to work for the CIA. Six and Miranda are forced to co-operate in the cover-up, where ultimately no action is taken against Carmichael. After the debriefing at the CIA headquarters, Miranda threatens to kill Carmichael if any harm comes to Claire. Six escapes custody and frees Claire, who is being held at a secret location.

MCU juggernauts Joe and Anthony Russo share directing duties, promising splashy stunts to take advantage of the ludicrous budgets Netflix drops for such star-studded projects. Despite all this, The Gray Man fails to be solidly fun. Instead, it feels like a mixtape, pulling bits from a bunch of much better, much more daring action movies, to create a medley that is mediocre at best. There are instances of different movies which are scattered throughout the movie. Like Suicide Squad, Six (Gosling) is a “hardened criminal” who is let out of prison to go on top-secret assassination assignments for a shady government organization. Like The Bourne Identity, this highly trained assassin falls out of the organization’s good graces when he botches a hit to save a child bystander. Like the Bourne franchise or Black Widow, he goes on the run to preserve his life and bring the shady organization down. Like John Wick, a huge bounty is put on his head, sending a swarm of killers on his tail. Like Léon: The Professional, he’s trying to best the baddies while protecting a young orphan girl (Julia Butters) from harm. She was “Taken” by a mercurial mercenary (Evans), so Six and his “particular set of skills” are on a mission to get the girl, save the day, and limp off into the sunset, maybe with his pretty female colleague (de Armas).

There are plenty of fight scenes, but the actual fight choreography is frequently uninspired hand-to-hand combat. The Russos seem to know these sequences fall flat; as if to distract us, the editing is especially frenetic, bounding from location to location without concern for visual flow or spatial geography. This turns several fight scenes, including a sprawling, city-smashing car chase, into an illogical blur. In terms of the cast, Chris Evans is wicked fun as a mustachioed villain. Like his MCU bud Chris Hemsworth in Spiderhead, Chris Evans seems to relish the opportunity to slide into a baddie role. If you loved him as the lusciously sweatered, duplicitous douche in Knives Out, you’ll appreciate his distinctive turn as Lloyd Hansen, a gleeful killer with the trash ‘stache of a Boston cop and the casual wear of a Wall Street dirtbag. Sadly, the dialogue repeatedly lets him and the rest of the cast down.

While Evans’ manic energy makes some of his rougher lines go down smooth enough, Gosling and de Armas stumble in their cool posturing, trying to find the fun in bickering over keyboard typing and gun-throwing etiquette. Their chemistry is likewise lackluster, making the will-they-won’t-they of their edged flirtations more frustrating than fun. Gosling’s slow-burn performance is smothered by all the smoke, explosions, flickering lights, and clamorous cutting. Where his cool-as-a-cucumber Six should play as a slick foil to Evans’ volatile villain, the film is too caught up in its flashy visual confetti to dig into character. Anything below a big gesture is lost in the fray.

JAY’S VERDICT

Watch the movie to for the sensory overload – it’s a bit like being trapped inside a first-person shooter challenge being played by a 16-year-old gamer – The Gray Man is undeniably entertaining.

NOPE (2022) – SAY HELLLLLLLLL NOPE TO JORDAN PEELE’S SCI-FI DOWNER

Nope is a 2022 American science fiction horror film written, directed, and co-produced by Jordan Peele under his Monkeypaw Productions banner. It stars Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, Steven Yeun, Michael Wincott, and Brandon Perea, the film follows two horse-wrangling siblings who attempt to capture evidence of an unidentified flying object. Sounds good? It isn’t. The movie’s title tells you all you need to know about watching the movie. Should you watch it? NOPE.

Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” was a masterpiece – a movie which provided chills as well as made you think deeper. “Us” suffered from several flaws but was still bearable. “Nope” is in a class of its own with the worst plot and acting I have seen in quite a while. Daniel Kaluuya looks bored out of his mind, Keke Palmer’s job description apparently was to mimic every stereotypical portrayal of black women possible within the same character and Steven Yeun seems to be wishing for Negan’s bat to his head (like it was in the Walking Dead). Brandon Perea is just a lone latino who believes in UFOs and there is no backstory for any of the characters.

Nope fails because it doesn’t know what its goal is – is it to scare audiences? Is it to make them think? Because it fails in all these aspects. Boredom is a far stronger emotion during the movie. In terms of making audiences think, it does succeed if the goal was to make audiences question their life choices and why they decided to watch this dreadful movie in the first place. Yes, there are those on online review boards, who have decided that just because the movie is by a black director and has a diverse cast, it doesn’t have any flaws. Judging the quality of a movie is based on its entertainment value or its ability to make you question. If it does neither then its just a bad movie no matter who the cast is.

In terms of the UFO/Alien creature who sucks up humans but cannot digest metal, there is nothing special or scary about a creature (*Warning Spoilers) who resembles a jellyfish when fully open and a flying saucer when closed. The humans in its digestive tract could have been a horrifying scene but that too is left to imagination. Back stories for the characters are missing whereas Get Out provided us a rich history to understand characters better and resonate with them. Even “Us” made the characters stronger than “Nope”. Not only has Nope bored me to death, it has also made me get annoyed at the sight of horses (who I love).

The initial backstory of the chimp going berserk and attacking live audiences is a tribute to Siegfried and Roy and the exploitation of animals for human entertainment but this alien creature doesn’t raise those comparisons as it looks more like a machine than a creature. Even the entire backstory about Steven Yeun’s character doesn’t amount to anything as the alien devours him and his entire audience without any time for questions to be asked. Nope could have been a good movie had it eliminated these flaws and focused on thrilling audiences instead of trying to do everything Jordan Peele envisioned. The acting is average at best and if you are scared of this alien then the Alien franchise or Predator series is not for you. In terms of visual effects, you can go on Youtube and check out jellyfish videos to have a better sense of awe rather than wasting money streaming this.

JAY’S VERDICT

Enter the world of Nope at your own risk. Boredom and utter bewilderment await any man/woman brave enough to watch this.

Stop – don’t watch this movie…

THE NORTHMAN (2022) – ROBERT EGGERS DELIVERS HYPER-VIOLENT VIKING VENGEANCE BRILLIANTLY

The Northman is a 2022 American epic historical action thriller film directed by Robert Eggers. Based on the legend of Amleth, the film stars co-producer Alexander Skarsgård, Nicole Kidman, Claes Bang, Anya Taylor-Joy, Ethan Hawke, Björk, and Willem Dafoe. The film is heavily influenced by Norse mythology. It demands audiences deconstruct overbearing patriarchal values, masculine heroism, and the folly of revenge by pulling viewers through extreme devotion to familial honor.

In AD 895, King Aurvandill returns to the island of Hrafnsey after his overseas conquests, reuniting with his wife, Queen Gudrún, and his heir, Prince Amleth. To prepare Amleth for his eventual ascension, the two participate in a spiritual ceremony overseen by Aurvandill’s jester, Heimir. The next morning, Aurvandill’s bastard brother Fjölnir murders the king, raids his hillfort and carries away Gudrún. Amleth flees by boat, swearing vengeance.

Years later, Amleth lives as a berserker with a band of Vikings. After an attack in Gardariki, Amleth encounters a Seeress in the temple of Svetovit; the Seeress predicts that Amleth will soon take revenge on Fjölnir, and that his path is intertwined with a Maiden-King. Amleth learns that Fjölnir was overthrown by Harald of Norway and lives in exile in Iceland. Posing as a slave, Amleth sneaks aboard a ship. He encounters a Slavic woman named Olga, who claims to be a sorceress. They are taken to Fjölnir’s farm, where he learns his mother has married Fjölnir and bore him a son named Gunnar.

One night, Amleth encounters a magician who facilitates a spiritual dialogue between Amleth and the late Heimir, revealed to have been murdered by Fjölnir. He then tells Amleth about Draugr, a magical sword at the Gates of Hel. Amleth enters a mound and obtains the blade after fighting the undead Mound Dweller. He hides it upon return to the farm. The next day, Amleth is selected to compete in a game of knattleikr against another farm. The game turns violent and Gunnar is almost killed, but Amleth saves him. As a reward, Fjölnir’s adult son, Thorir, grants him overseer duties and allows him to choose a woman.

During the evening celebrations, Amleth and Olga make love; they promise to overcome Fjölnir together. Amleth kills several of Fjölnir’s men, and Olga mixes their food with fly agaric, a potent hallucinogen. The ensuing chaos and the suspicion that the Christian slaves are behind the killings allows Amleth to enter Fjölnir’s house. He meets his mother, who reveals that she was originally taken into slavery and that Amleth’s conception was the result of rape. She reveals that she wanted Aurvandill and Amleth dead; she tries but fails to seduce Amleth. Enraged, Amleth kills Thorir and steals his heart.

Gudrún reveals Amleth’s true identity to Fjölnir, and calls for him to kill him. Fjölnir threatens to kill Olga, but Amleth offers to trade Olga’s life for Thorir’s heart. After a severe beating, Amleth is released from his restraints by a flock of ravens. Olga rescues Amleth and the two escape by boat. Amleth has a vision and discovers that Olga is pregnant with twins, one of whom will become the Maiden-King prophesied by the Seeress. Fearing that his children will never be safe, Amleth decides to kill his uncle and jumps overboard, despite Olga’s pleas.

Back at the farm, Amleth frees the slaves and kills most of Fjölnir’s men. While searching for Fjölnir, Amleth is attacked by his mother and drives Draugr through her heart. Gunnar attacks Amleth, stabbing him repeatedly in the back before Amleth kills him. Fjölnir, discovering his wife and son dead, tells Amleth to meet him at the Gates of Hel—the crater of the volcano Hekla—to resolve the conflict via holmgang. At the volcano, Amleth and Fjölnir engage in a fierce swordfight; Fjölnir is decapitated, and Amleth is fatally wounded. As Amleth lies dying, he has a future vision of Olga embracing their twin children, before a Valkyrie appears to carry him through the gates of Valhalla.

Eggers uses slicker aesthetics and broader emotions, played out over a grander scale, with his familiar interests in the inherent weirdness that courses through ancient mythology. This isn’t a prototypical hero’s journey replete with a dashing royal, however. Amleth occupies a different, harsher kill-or-be-killed era where no higher honor can befall a king than to die by the blade. In the world of “The Northman” we’re all just rabid animals occupying flabby sacks of human skin. The only obligations we have are primal: to avenge one’s father, and to defend one’s mother and kingdom. For example, one of the best and most vicious sequences in the movie involves Amleth and a band of skin-clad Vikings, covered in bear-pelt headdresses, edited with razor-sharp clarity, sees the pack methodically rampaging a village for kills. The elaborate tracking shot accompanying the scene feeds the camera’s delirious appetite for flesh with bodies bathed in blood, and the bone-chilling macho screams emanating from insatiable men. One shot, recalling the 1985 Soviet antiwar flick “Come and See,” finds a burning house filled with wailing villagers as a backdrop to Amleth’s unflinching gaze into the camera. Unlike Klimov’s film, this isn’t the image of a boy horrifically marked by war. This is a savage and defiant man fueled by conflict and gore.

A defining aspect of this movie is “rage” – at its most primal. “The Northman” is the kind of movie where even the mud has rage; it is a visceral film filled with codas to the inescapable darker regions of nature: animal, elemental and the harshest of all, human. David Lowery’s “The Green Knight” will probably serve as an all-too-easy comparison for many. But “The Northman” operates on a different emotional spectrum and is much less boring while trying to achieve the same. This is a story of blind ambition stretched toward morally flawed ends in a world that prizes such malleability. That doesn’t mean these flawed characters don’t see themselves on the side of right. A virtuous anger fuels Amleth as he destroys his victims in his quest for revenge.

The last act is a slog, composed of a couple false endings hoping to attain a poetic plain. The final showdown between Fjölnir and Amleth, in the mouth of a volcano, in fact, is somehow anti-climactic. Certainly, the scene aims to explain the ways a hero’s journey, the expectation of fulfilling one’s destiny, no matter the consequences, carries a toxic burden, but the sentiment doesn’t translate in the overstated molten chaos. Amleth inhabits a world whose operating principle is cruelty. Driven less by plot than by a succession of intensifying moods, these films dig into historical moments when the boundary between the human and the supernatural felt especially thin. Archaic forms of belief are treated not as superstitions, but as ways of understanding scary or inexplicable facets of experience. The witches and mermaids are as real as anything else.

JAY’S VERDICT

Watch The Northman for a high-octane action thriller where violence and vengeance reigns. If you are whiner regarding what you consider “toxic masculinity” then do avoid.

THOR – LOVE AND THUNDER (2022) – WOKE THOR IS A DOWNER DESPITE INITIAL PROMISE

Thor: Love and Thunder is a 2022 American superhero comedy film based on the Marvel Comics character created by Stan Lee, produced by Marvel Studios and distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. It is the sequel to Thor: Ragnarok (2017) and the 29th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). The film is directed by Taika Waititi, who co-wrote the script with Jennifer Kaytin Robinson, and stars Chris Hemsworth as Thor alongside Christian Bale, Tessa Thompson, Jaimie Alexander, Waititi, Russell Crowe, and Natalie Portman.

In its essence, it is a direct sequel to Thor: Ragnarok but unlike Ragnarok which was fresh and brought a humorous element to the Marvel superhero, Thor: Love and Thunder makes him super-woke and fails in both humor and plot as it tries to squeeze in a LGBTQ agenda, like many other failing Netflix shows and movies to appease a single minority while ignoring what truly attracts audiences – entertainment. In Thor Love and Thunder we are given it all – homosexual aliens, a female Thor who while wielding Mjolnir gets the suit and flying abilities while poor Captain America got none of that in Avengers: Endgame. But hey, virtue signalling is how these Hollywood makes its money as LGBTQ sells these days just like sex used to and the weirder your agenda, the more attention it grabs.

The movie’s plot won’t be discussed as you can probably get it anywhere on the internet and the movie is an extremely short one so it’s not worth the effort. Basically Thor is raising hell with the Guardians of the Galaxy and he has a mixed relationship with his axe Stormbreaker, still yearning for his hammer Mjolnir and Jane. However, Jane who has Stage 4 cancer gets Mjolnir which turns her into feminist Thor. Then there is a new villain called Gorr who is called the God Butcher due to his vendetta against all Gods (Christian Bale who looks like Voldemort with too much sun screen and no dental plan). Gorr kidnaps all the children of New Asgard and Thor, female Thor, the alcoholic Valkyrie (played by a bored Tessa Thompson) and Korg who was super funny in Thor:Ragnarok but is unfunny and dull in Love and Thunder and whose most important job is to be a virtue signaler for the LGBTQ community (basically which Valkyrie already achieved by being a lesbian but guess it wasn’t enough for Marvel or basically anything these days).

The CGI is dreadful – Marvel’s second phase has been horrible when it comes to CGI. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness was iffy at times, Ms. Marvel’s new light construct powers don’t look great (just like the show), and She-Hulk could use loads of improvement (basically by not existing). Due to flat lighting, iffy shot composition, and shoddy set design, many of the various backdrops have no depth to them in Thor: Love and Thunder. They immediately stand out and are very easy to spot. It ends up looking no better than a cheap greenscreen or worse.

The movie’s humor sucks compared to Thor: Ragnarok. The first hour of the movie ends feeling like an endless train of jokes more than anything else. It comes off as if Taika Waititi is throwing things at the wall and seeing what sticks. Even the entire Guardians of the Galaxy feel like they’re only there for a gag so that the director can rush them out of his film. Also it really feels as if they have no real role or powers until Thor comes in and attempts one of Van Damme’s iconic splits. The last time we saw Thor, in 2019’s Avengers: Endgame, he’d decided to join Guardians of the Galaxy for some spacefaring adventures in the wake of Thanos’ defeat. But the God of Thunder totally outclasses his new allies, making him seem like an overpowered video game character as he crushes their enemies and leaves the Guardians looking a bit useless.

Christian Bale provides an incredible performance as Gorr, no doubt. But what the character needed was far more time on screen. For one, his backstory held back for no reason. In the comics, he loses his mother, then his wife, and then his children, thanks to starvation. That’s some heavy trauma to carry, which would have made his snap far more believable. He does touch the Necrosword, which then starts to corrupt him, but intensifying that backstory could have worked better. In theory, it would have also led to more scenes with his daughter, making the end of the movie hit harder. His name is Gorr the God Butcher, and throughout the whole movie, audiences actually only see him kill one God. It makes the threat feel far less impactful, and he never truly feels like a danger.

The entire idea behind Gorr is to explore the concept of putting faith in a higher power. What happens when that higher power doesn’t exist, or worse, simply ignores you? Past the opening scene of the film, that theme is almost entirely dropped. It was a thematic thread that should have weighed heavily on Thor; what does he mean to the people who look up to him? Are Gods even worthy of love and praise given all they don’t do? In the comics, Thor comes to realize that the answer is no—causing him to become unworthy of Mjolnir. This eventually leads to Jane being the one to pick it up next, though it clearly played out in a far simpler fashion in the movie.

Next up is the plot and the writing itself which lacks coherence. The story is filled with plot conveniences or questionable continuity gaffes. One example is in how the group’s visit to Omnipotent City goes. Their reasoning for the trip is for them to gather a group of Gods to help in their crusade against Gorr. However, not only do they quickly make up their minds that the Gods won’t help them, but Valkyrie then suddenly becomes obsessed with Zeus’ lightning bolt. There’s absolutely nothing even hinting that the weapon is particularly special in any way or how it could give any specific advantage over Gorr. All it ended up doing was giving Val a weapon to use and then conveniently being there for Thor when he lost Stormbreaker later in the movie.

Then there are inconsistencies in continuity when it comes to Thor’s abilities—all so that the plot can get from A to B. For one, how can Zeus’ lightning bolt function like the Bifrost? Also, since when can Thor just temporarily grant his powers to groups of people, using another God’s weapon no less? The writing needed the story to advance in a certain direction, and the writers could have used more time to smooth the journey out so that it all felt more organic and not rushed. Also, Thor certainly found out where Eternity was pretty fast for a location that no one has theoretically made it to up until this movie.

Finally, Russell Crowe’s Zeus – one word – UGH. Firstly the accent which was grotesque and would have led all Greeks to choke on their olives. Second, he wielded the most fake Thunderbolt one could have imagined. Third, as the leader of all Greek Gods, couldn’t they have chosen an actor with some sort of physique as he looked more like the CEO of Kentucky Fried Chicken rather than the Greek God Zeus. Lastly, the mid-credit introduction of his son Hercules got more laughs from the audiences than anything else. Zeus in the DC universe looked like a badass but as with everything else, Taika Waititi turned him into a clown.

Zeus portrayed by Russell Crowe in Marvel
Zeus portrayed by Sergi Constance in DC

JAY’S VERDICT

Watch Thor: Love and Thunder if you are a Marvel addict and can’t miss anything they make even the Phase 2 crap currently being offered. Avoid if you are watching a Marvel movie for the first time.

THE BLACK PHONE (2021) – ETHAN HAWKE SHINES IN PSYCHOLOGICAL HORROR THRILLER

The Black Phone is a 2021 American supernatural horror film directed by Scott Derrickson and stars stars Mason Thames, Madeleine McGraw, Jeremy Davies, James Ransone, and Ethan Hawke. The Black Phone is about a child who after being kidnapped is able to communicate with the former captives of his abductor. The movie is based on the short story of the same name written by Joe Hill.

The movie begins in 1978, a serial child abductor nicknamed “The Grabber” prowls the streets of a Denver suburb. Siblings Finney and Gwen Blake live in the area with their abusive, alcoholic father. At school, Finney is frequently bullied and harassed. He has a friendship with a classmate, Robin, who fends off the bullies. One of Finney’s classmates, Bruce, is abducted by The Grabber. Gwen, who has psychic dreams much like her late mother, dreams of Bruce’s kidnapping and sees that he was taken by a man in a black van with black balloons. Detectives Wright and Miller interview Gwen but struggle to believe her claims. The Grabber abducts Robin, as well as Finney days later. Finney awakens in a soundproofed basement. On the wall is a disconnected black rotary phone that The Grabber says does not work. Later, Finney hears the phone ring and answers it. Bruce, unable to remember his own name or who he was when he was alive, tells Finney about a floor tile he can remove to dig a tunnel to escape. The Grabber brings Finney food and leaves the door to the basement unlocked. Finney prepares to sneak out but is stopped by another boy on the phone called Billy. He explains this is a game that The Grabber plays, and he is waiting upstairs to attack Finney with a belt if he leaves the basement. Billy instructs him to use a cord Billy found to get out via the basement window. While climbing Finney breaks the bars on the window, preventing him from climbing back up. Gwen dreams of Billy being abducted and confides in her father about what is happening.

Wright and Miller speak to an eccentric man called Max who is staying in the area with his brother. It is revealed Finney is being held in Max’s basement, of which he is unaware, and The Grabber is his brother. After an agitated exchange with The Grabber, where he tests Finney’s honesty, he makes it seem as if he would have let Finney go. Finney speaks to another one of his victims, Griffin, on the phone. Griffin shows Finney a combination to a lock and informs him The Grabber has fallen asleep upstairs. Finney sneaks upstairs and unlocks the door but The Grabber’s dog alerts him to Finney’s escape. Finney flees down the street but is recaptured. Upset over his failed escape attempt, Finney answers the phone to hear another victim, a boy called Vance whom Finney was scared of. Vance informs Finney of a connecting storage room he can escape through if he breaks a hole in the wall and exits through the freezer on the other side of the wall. Finney creates a hole with a toilet tank cover and enters the back of the freezer only to discover that the freezer door is locked. The phone rings one more time with Robin at the end of the line. He comforts Finney and encourages him to finally stand up and fight for himself. He instructs Finney to remove the phone receiver and pack it with the dirt he had dug up to use as a weapon.

Gwen dreams of Vance’s abduction and discovers the property of The Grabber. She finds the house and contacts Wright and Miller. Max realizes Finney is being held in the house and rushes to the basement to free him, but his brother kills him with an axe. The police rush to the house Gwen found but find it abandoned. In the basement, they find the buried bodies of The Grabber’s victims. The Grabber attacks Finney with the axe, but Finney manages to trip the Grabber with the cord, causing him to fall into the tunnel Finney dug, where the Grabber breaks and traps his ankle in the window bars placed at the bottom. The ghosts taunt The Grabber over the phone before Finney breaks his neck with the phone cord, killing him. Finney distracts the guard dog with meat from the freezer and escapes the house using the combination he learned. Finney exits the house across the street from the gravesites where he reunites with Gwen and the police rush to the property.

Some of the creative decisions taken by Derrickson make for a truly unique and visceral viewing experience, and nothing embodies that better than those grainy Super 8 flashback sequences featured in the film, which bring to mind the disturbingly hellish snuff videos of 2008’s Sinister, also directed by Derrickson. What differs however from Sinister and is praiseworthy in its own right, is how the same method was effectively employed in two different movies to elicit completely different emotional responses from the audience. True, the overall creep factor is present in both scenarios, but what they are trying to achieve couldn’t be more different from each another. Where one is used to horrify audiences and go through horrifying experiences like the victims (Sinister), the other is used as a tool of hope to give clue about how the kidnapping victims were taken and where Finney was, ultimately leading his sister to find him (The Black Phone).

Violent high-school encounters, ugly domestic disputes and abuse hurling adolescents are all commonplace in 1970s America or it so feels from the film. The world crafted by Derrickson feels so immersive and real, that you can almost feel the grime under the fingernails, the dried bloodstains on the curb. Aesthetically, it’s not too dissimilar from David Fincher’s Zodiac. The pacing is pitch perfect, giving us the audiences, enough and more time to connect with the story’s characters and understand their motivations and why they do the things they do. The performances across the film are simply phenomenal with the clear standouts being Mason Thames, Madeleine McGraw and of course, Ethan Hawke. Thames and McGraw’s relationship, as brother and sister, is simply beautiful to behold and their chemistry is undeniable. Now, what can be said about Ethan Hawke? The veteran actor is certainly a treat to watch here. He is diabolical, utterly terrifying but at the same time very human and not some overwhelming force of nature or anything supernatural. It’s not over-the-top nor is it understated. His performance has the right amounts of all the right elements, and that’s what makes it work.

Hawke’s Grabber is characterized by personality reversal. His faking disposition towards being jolly flaunts animated mannerisms and a high-pitched voice. It’s eerily childlike, hitching itself to a suggestion of trauma-based age regression behavior, and juxtaposing with the adult-like profanity and maturity with which the kids speak. But the zany harlequin act is fleeting, leaving Finney at the mercy of a total change: a husky, deep tone of voice and unforgiving, violent demeanor. It’s in these moments where Hawke flexes his performance and versatility. His villainy is unpredictable and volatile. He expertly tiptoes a dissonant line of sprightly youthfulness and depravity. Switching on a dime, and with a mask covering the lower half of his face for most of the film, his acting relies on body language and the emotive flickers of his eyes. Hawke, having played “good” characters in his past roles was understandably reluctant to take on a negative role but his performance is perfect and couldn’t have been acted out better.

JAY’S VERDICT

The Black Phone works as a thriller that manages to pack equal amounts of scares and substance. Watch for Ethan Hawke’s brilliant turn as The Grabber.

THE LOST CITY (2022) – LOW-KEY ENTERTAINER DOESN’T DISAPPOINT

The Lost City is an action-comedy released in 2022. It stars Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum as a romance novelist and her cover model, who must escape a billionaire (Daniel Radcliffe) and find the lost ancient city described in one of her books. The film co-stars Da’Vine Joy Randolph, with cameo appearances by Brad Pitt and Stephen Lang.

The movie’s plot involves Dr. Loretta Sage (Sandra Bullock) who writes romance-adventure novels centered around a fictional heroine, Dr. Angela Lovemore, and her romantic interest, Dash McMahon (played by Channing Tatum). To promote the latest book on Lovemore, her publisher, Beth Hatten, insists that Loretta embark on a book tour with Alan Caprison, the book’s cover model for Dash, despite her reclusiveness since the death of her husband.

After a disastrous start, mostly due to the popularity of Alan’s Dash persona, Loretta is taken by Abigail Fairfax (Daniel Radcliffe), a billionaire who realizes that Loretta based her books on actual historic research she did with her late archaeologist husband. He discovered a lost city on a remote Atlantic island and is convinced the Crown of Fire, a priceless treasure, is located there. When she declines to help decipher an ancient map to the treasure, Fairfax, fearing an active volcano will destroy the site, chloroforms and takes Loretta to the island.

Alan, who is secretly enamored with Loretta, witnesses her kidnapping. He recruits Jack Trainer (played by Brad Pitt), a former Navy SEAL turned CIA operative, to meet him on the island and coordinate a rescue. Jack, with no assistance from Alan, breaches Fairfax’s compound and frees Loretta, but is shot in the head before they can make it to the airport, forcing Loretta and Alan to escape into the jungle and their crazy adventure begins.

As a Jungle movie, it can be compared to The Jungle Cruise starring Dwayne Johnson. However, the movie succeeds despite the simple plot as unlike Jungle Cruise, it plays to the strengths of its actors and doesn’t take itself seriously. Sandra Bullock plays characters with a proverbial stick-up-their-butt quite well, only to be swept away off her feet by the guy she never liked (The Proposal anyone?). Channing Tatum basically looks pretty and dumb as he always does like in the Jump Street series. Brad Pitt comes, is awesome and then dies, similar to his cameo in Deadpool 2. Daniel Radcliffe still is hard to accept in anything but Harry Potter and especially not as a villain. However, despite the predictability, the actors bring entertainment in large doses including Da’Vine Joy Randolph as Beth Hatten, Loretta’s publisher, who is responsible for most of the laughs in the movie.

We also have Oscar from The Office, playing the caricature of a random Hispanic man and is neither funny, nor to be taken seriously in his comments about being friends with a goat. Channing Tatum is funny by accident through his dialogues and his interactions with Sandra Bullock is the real reason for the success of the movie including a hilarious leech scene. Tatum also doesn’t disappoint his female fans by taking off his shirt and pants whenever it is possible. Channing Tatum is great casting for a role like this on several levels; not only does he look like he belongs on the cover of a romance paperback, he’s also an actor who understands his own appeal and has proven time and again that he isn’t afraid to play it for laughs.

Sandra Bullock is composed and serious but ends up loosening up due to the situation around her. Together with Tatum, the pair exude fun and a sense of affection that’s easy to get caught up in.

The movie has some wonderful locales and hilarious scenes and is a good movie to enjoy after a stressful day at work. Beyond that if you are trying to analyze the movie in some deeper sense, please stop. Now. The Lost City has no layers and it’s not supposed to have one. It has one job and it does it well – to entertain. The actors, despite the presence of two Oscar winners and Harry Potter, know this as well and don’t go beyond what is needed. The movie does have its share of cliches with the damsel in distress narrative although with the damsel being 15 years older than the hero trying to save her. Regarding the villain, there is a lack of seriousness about Daniel Radcliffe as a villain – even with a gun, it’s hard to see any real threat emanating from him. Radcliffe is the only element of the movie that doesn’t work quite as well as the rest.

“The Lost City” isn’t an especially unique film; its premise draws on countless adventure movies. Its punchlines are recognizable from a distance as the volcano dominating the remote island where most of the story takes place. But this familiarity offers a sense of comfort and which is why the movie succeeds. The makers of the movie deliver an undeniably charming romantic romp. This is a movie you watch in the theater, with popcorn, then again and again on streaming, with a glass of wine. Ultimately, “The Lost City” is interested in ticking all the boxes viewers’ demand head on. It does so in a somewhat obvious way, but with an amount of care that’s sure to ensure repeat viewings.

JAY’S VERDICT

Go watch The Lost City – a decent entertainer and a light-hearted silly movie which doesn’t try to be anything else.

RANG DE BASANTI (2006) – COMING OF AGE MOVIE THAT MADE BOLLYWOOD GROW UP

Rang De Basanti (literal translation: Paint it Saffron ) is a 2006 Indian Hindi-language drama film written, produced and directed by Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra. The film features an ensemble cast consisting of Aamir Khan, Siddharth, Atul Kulkarni, Soha Ali Khan, Sharman Joshi, Cyrus Sahukar, Kunal Kapoor and British actress Alice Patten. It follows a British film student (Alice Patten) traveling to India to document the story of five freedom fighters of the Indian revolutionary movement. She befriends and casts five young men in the film, which inspires them to fight against the corruption of their own government.

In London, film student Sue McKinley finds the diary of her grandfather James, who served as a Colonel for the British Raj in the 1930s. James oversaw the capture and execution of five Indian freedom fighters – Chandrasekhar Azad, Bhagat Singh, Shivaram Rajguru, Ashfaqulla Khan, and Ram Prasad Bismil – and has written in his diary about his admiration for their revolutionary spirit in spite of working for the British Empire.

Inspired by the revolutionaries’ story, Sue decides to make a film on them and travels to India, where she searches for actors with the help of her friend Sonia, an international studies student at the University of Delhi. Amid a string of unsuccessful auditions, Sue meets Sonia’s friends: Daljit “DJ” Singh, Karan Singhania, Sukhi Ram and Aslam Khan. She immediately decides to cast them in her film, with DJ as Chandra Shekhar Azad, Karan Singhania as Bhagat Singh, Aslam Khan as Ashfaqulla Khan, and Sukhi Ram as Shivaram Rajguru.

DJ, Aslam, Sukhi and the spendthrift Karan, who is the spoilt son of political businessman Rajnath Singhania (played by Anupam Kher), are carefree and cynical about their futures in India and of India’s future as well, and while they easily get along with Sue, they remain uninterested in working on a film expressing patriotism towards India. Tensions arise when Sue casts the boys’ rival, the right-wing Nationalist party activist Laxman Pandey as Bismil. However, over the course of working on the film, Pandey grows closer to the others including Aslam who he disliked in the beginning for being a Muslim. Sue also begins a relationship with DJ.

The group is devastated when their friend Ajay Singh Rathod, a flight lieutenant in the Indian Air Force and Sonia’s fiancée, is killed when his MiG-21 jet malfunctions and crashes. The government attributes the accident to pilot error, blaming Ajay for being a rash pilot and closes the case, but Sonia and her friends refuse to accept the official explanation, remembering Ajay as a skilled pilot who died while steering the plane away from crashing into a populous city. They learn that the corrupt Defense Minister, Shastri, signed a contract importing cheap parts for MiG-21 aircraft in exchange for personal favors. Karan, however, is severely jolted when he realizes that his father, Rajnath was involved in orchestrating the deal.

Galvanized against the corruption of the government by their efforts working on the film, the group organizes a peaceful protest at the India Gate war memorial, but the police arrive and violently break up the demonstration with Ajay’s mother going into a coma. Laxman realizes that his senior party official, Raghuvir Mishra, was in league with the government officials ordered the police to stop the protest and becomes disillusioned with his own party. Inspired by the revolutionaries, the group decides to take action themselves and they assassinate Shastri to avenge Ajay’s death, while Karan confronts and murders Rajnath.

However, their plan backfires as the Indian media reports that Shastri was killed by terrorists and celebrates him as a martyr. The group decides to publicly clarify their intent behind the assassination, and take over the All India Radio station after evacuating its employees and alerting Karan’s friend Rahul, who works there and is live at the moment. Karan goes on air and calls out the defense ministry’s corruption to the public. The police and Anti-Terrorist Special Forces arrive at the station under instructions to kill them. Sukhi is shot dead, while Aslam and Laxman are killed by a grenade and DJ is severely injured. DJ reunites with Karan in the recording room as the latter finishes his public statement, and the two of them get killed together.

News of the boys’ death enrages the public, spurring a wave of demonstrations against the Indian government with the Indian youth across all states of India beginning protests and demonstrations against the rampant corruption. Ajay’s mother awakes from her coma. The film ends with Sue describing the personal impact of meeting the boys and working on the film, while the deceased boys are seen in an afterlife-like state meeting a young Bhagat Singh in his family garden.

The film is driven by the superb performances of all the cast members led by Aamir Khan and including Alice Watten performing in her first Bollywood film. The movie gave a realistic portrayal of changing sentiments and values of the youth of India as many moved towards adopting Western cultural traits. It also showed the growing divide between India’s Hindus and Muslims and reconciling them both in the background of a united freedom struggle. The movie manages to mix key Bollywood masala elements with strong sentiments regarding patriotism, coming-of-age and friendship. The strong script and performances is also supported by a fantastic soundtrack composed by A.R Rahman of Slumdog Millionaire fame.

The movie succeeds as it weaves historical facts with contemporary themes and characters, thanks to Mehra’s smart writing and direction that draws you instantly into Rang De Basanti’s absorbing plot, which flits smoothly from past to present. With a cleverly scripted non-linear style of narration, Mehra takes the audience on an inspiring journey of self-discovery and courage while rekindling the fiery spark of passion for and pride in one’s homeland, which for many of India’s MTV Generation was a forgotten part of history. As he blurs the line between the past and the present, the protagonists literally and figuratively breathe the essence of the braveheart revolutionaries who laid down their lives for the nation during India’s freedom struggle against the oppressive British Raj. 

A Famous Quote from the movie – “There are only two ways to live your life – one to endure whatever is happening to you or to take responsibility to change”

Every once in a while a movie comes along that makes us question our commitment to our country, makes us ashamed about our indifference towards the horrors that exist within the country, opens our eyes to the corruption, red-tapism and injustice that is prevalent in the system, and urges us to break down these walls to stand up for what’s right. Rang De Basanti is that kind of a film. It instils in us Indians, as citizens of the country, a sense of pride, joy and a feeling of purpose and responsibility to our motherland beyond the divisions of castes, religions and backgrounds.

JAY’S VERDICT

One of the best films to come out of Bollywood, the movie shines in all spheres – acting, direction, music and plot. Go watch it if you never have.

WHY INDIA’S NEUTRALITY IN THE ONGOING RUSSO-UKRAINE CONFLICT IS THE RIGHT WAY FORWARD

The Russo-Ukrainian war in 2022 can be pitched in several ways – The Right against The Might, The Democracies versus The Autocracy, The NATO versus Russia or a David versus Goliath scenario. But reality is far from such simple categorizations. A war which has been destructive for Ukraine, crippling for the Russian economy and devastating for a world just barely recovering from the scourge of the Covid-19 pandemic. A war that has exacerbated the problem of rising food prices, devastated economies reliant on oil imports and caused another curtain to descend between the West and the East, if not Iron but atleast one of perhaps Stone. After 113 days of the war, the hope for a quick resolution is out. Both sides have failed in achieving their goals – for Russia, the hope for a swift “Anschluss” sort of victory evaporated on the gates of Kiev; for Ukraine, the idiocy of their President believing in NATO led attack on Russia caused him to instigate their volatile neighbor further and has resulted in a war that has caused the deaths of thousands of Ukrainians, made millions homeless and sent their country back to the stone age.

This long dreary war which is now in danger of losing the world’s interest, is made worse by ideological differences preventing peace talks. Alliances are being formed, reminiscent of 1914 Europe. The over-expansion of the NATO is the primary reason for this war but the so-called liberal news agencies of the West like NY Times, Al Jazeera (an opinionated biased mouthpiece of the Qatari regime), The Guardian or BBC will not report both sides equally and instead of informing the public as they ought to, would rather give their opinions and push their agendas and those of their Governments. In today’s world, we have come to accept that this what the media does. However, the NATO itself isn’t the point of this article – that would be covered in a future article. This is about the different players playing their own games in this devastating war. It is about one nation which enjoys strong relations with both Putin’s Russia and the EU although its relations with the NATO boss, the USA are a mixed bag when we we look at history. Let us talk about India and it’s refusal to condemn Russia and join the Western sanctions.

India abstained from UN votes to outrightly condemn Russia for the invasion of Ukraine. The world’s largest democracy refusing to join the struggle of democracies versus autocracies seems like a huge blow. But it is never white or black when it comes to geopolitics. India’s relationship with Russia and before that with the erstwhile Soviet Union has been of genuine friendship. When the US backed Pakistan during the Indo-Pakistani war of 1971, it was the Soviet Union that supported India. During its wars and skirmishes against Pakistan and China, India has been reliant on Russian weapons and equipment heavily. India and the Soviet Union/Russia share strong cultural cooperation treaties as well. Russia acts as a bulwark against rising Chinese expansion and aggression in Asia. So let us try and understand why India does not condemn Russia and why among the general public in India, the support leans towards Russia and not the NATO.

India’s dependence on Russian weapons and equipment – India relies heavily on Russian made weapons and equipment for its Army, Navy and Airforce. Though India is pushing more and more towards indigenization of its weapons production, it is still a long way off. India imported goods worth $6.9 billion from Russia in 2021 – mainly mineral oils, fertiliser, precious stones, and nuclear technology. Its exports to Russia stood at $3.33 billion, ranging from pharmaceutical products to tea and coffee. Although India has begun to diversify its weapons portfolio and build up its own arms industry, Russia is the source of around 50 per cent of the weapons used by the Indian armed forces. Russia not only supplies, but also exchanges technology to produce this in India, which the USA and the EU refuse to do. Also, the mixed relations with the US and the US/NATO policy of arbitrary sanctions on anyone who opposes/disagrees with them, makes them an unreliable ally for weapons import.

Hypocrisy of the West on sanctions and “supporting” Russia – A major reason why the EU and the US is unable to win over most of Africa and Asia in their struggle against Russia in Ukraine is their blatant hypocrisy. American led wars which caused more destruction and damage than the Russian war in Ukraine, were unsanctioned and aside from a few words from a few liberal politicians, there was no exodus of corporations leaving the US in “outrage” or sanctions on the US economy. The deep Indian strategic empathy toward Russia is rooted in India’s post-colonial heritage, a strong and understandable anti-Western sentiment that is largely the consequence of British colonial rule. Even European criticism for India buying discounted oil from Russia has been ignored or thrown back at Europe claiming that Europe still buys more Oil and Gas than India from Russia, thus asking the logical question that do only Indian payments for oil to Russia fund the Russian war machine?

Non-Alignment is India’s historical foreign policy – Since the time of Prime Minister Nehru, India has adopted a strong non-aligned policy. It refuses to align itself to any bloc or strategic alliance. Only recently has it agreed to part of the QUAD which is more of an agreement of cooperation than a military alliance and that too due to the increasing Chinese aggression. India has never supported the NATO, an alliance that should have been ended after the Soviet Union collapsed but rather has expanded eastward relentlessly setting itself in Russia’s traditional zone of influence. Also, for India, the EU and the US are unreliable allies as these did not sanction or condemn China, when it attacked Indian positions in the Galwan Valley in Ladakh. As India was strong enough to inflict equal, if not more casualties on the PLA, further incursions were prevented but there was no action from either the US or EU in support of India. A “terrorist” state like Pakistan has been funding cross-border terrorism and militancy in India since the 1950s but still gets funding from the US despite a plethora of evidence supporting the case to stop the same. Thus for India, the war in Ukraine is a European issue with nothing to do with India.

Economic self-interest – Just like most European nations, the US, China or Russia, India looks first at India and its people. American sanctions on oil from Iran and Venezuela have forced India to take the opportunity for heavily discounted oil and gas from Russia. It is basic economical logic that you make the best deal for yourself and applies to people and nations. If Venezuelan oil or Iranian oil comes into the market, India might even stop importing Russian oil especially since Ural crude is difficult to refine. It would even result in a fall in oil prices. But sadly it is not to be. Even the rise in global food prices is partially due to the Western sanctions – true, there are no sanctions on food grains from Russia but why shouldn’t they use it as a weapon when their country has been crippled by European and American sanctions? Wars are not won by ethics and despite the cruelty of that statement it holds true and Russia has a leader willing to be cruel to achieve victory. For India, there is nothing to gain and a lot to lose from sanctioning Russia.

JAY’S OPINION

In the first instance, India’s public neutrality toward the Russian invasion is driven fundamentally by its concerns vis-à-vis China and Pakistan. New Delhi sees both of these states as immediate and enduring threats, and it believes that preserving its friendship with Moscow will help to prevent deepening Russian ties with China and to limit Russian temptations to build new strategic ties with Pakistan. Both China and Pakistan desire closer ties with Russia than India feels comfortable with. Consequently, New Delhi aims to minimize Moscow’s proximity to both of its rivals. Toward that end, it has concluded that studiously avoiding any open criticism of Russia offers it a chance to arrest the tightening Sino-Russian embrace while preventing a new dalliance between Moscow and Islamabad, both of which undermine India’s core interests. Russia is viewed in India as having been a sturdy friend of India’s going back to 1955, when Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev publicly declared Moscow’s support for Indian claims over Jammu and Kashmir (when the West was either neutral or opposed in comparison). And the Soviet Union wielded vetoes in the UN Security Council on India’s behalf on six occasions (and Russia could be called upon to do so again in future crises) – another reason for a reform of the UN Security Council. Keeping Russia on side through its veto-wielding prerogatives thus remains an important consideration that reinforces India’s reticence to criticize Russia, even when its behaviors are judged to be deplorable and on occasion undermining India’s vital interests.

Although India has begun to diversify its arms purchases away from Russia during the last two decades, Russia still remains a critical—and, in fact, a highly desirable—source of weapons for India. This is because Russian weapons are usually cheaper in comparison to their Western counterparts, at least as far as their initial costs go, and they are often just as good, for India’s operational needs. Moreover, Russia alone, again in contrast to the West, is often willing to provide India with the high-leverage strategic technologies that others will not, has pursued the co-development and coproduction of advanced weapons systems to include their manufacturing in India, and does not burden India with excessive end-user constraints, thus making India’s defense relationship with Moscow even more valuable for New Delhi, like in the case of the BrahMos supersonic missiles. The bottom line, therefore, is that India would be unwilling to break the defense supply links with Russia, even if it could procure comparable weapons from alternative Western sources, because Moscow offers it important technological and political benefits which the EU and the US, do not.

Lastly, as one Indian scholar put it, “an aggressive Russia is a problem for the United States and the West, not for India. [The] North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) expansion is Russia’s problem, not India’s. India’s problem is China, and it needs both the United States/the West and Russia to deal with the ‘China problem.’”

India’s current struggle to find a pathway that avoids criticizing Russia despite its aggression in Ukraine highlights a larger underlying reality: the unyielding importance accorded by India to protecting India’s interests in its international decision-making. India’s enduring goal remains ascending to the international stage as a great power but without committing to any entangling alliances along the way, thus finally taking heed of Indian strategists like Chanakya (the Indian Sun-Tzu). This ascent is best assured under conditions of peace in the presence of multiple, competing power centers that can be leveraged by India to derive benefits for itself amid their mutual rivalries. Given this aim, neither unipolarity nor any bipolarity that involves a strong Indian antagonism toward one of the poles serves India’s interests: the former creates few incentives for the dominant power to assist India’s rise, and while the latter may induce one great power, such as the United States, to support India in its competition with a close rival such as China (which is also opposed to India), Washington’s asking price may be too high and may involve forms of entrapment in an alliance of servitude that the EU is in currently in the form of the NATO, that India should to avoid to the extent possible.

DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS (2022) -A THRILLING EXPLORATION OF THE MULTIVERSE IN MARVEL’S LATEST OFFERING

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is a 2022 American superhero film is the sequel to Doctor Strange (2016) and the 28th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). The film was directed by Sam Raimi and stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Stephen Strange, alongside Elizabeth Olsen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Wong, Xochitl Gomez, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Rachel McAdams. It is one of the main films in the second phase of the MCU post-events of Endgame.

This instance of Doctor Strange however, seems more like a film dedicated to the Scarlet Witch rather than Doctor Strange himself. The movie begins with America Chavez and a version of Stephen Strange being chased by a demon in the space between universes while searching for the Book of Vishanti. Strange is killed and Chavez accidentally creates a portal that transports herself and Strange’s corpse to Earth-616, where that universe’s version of Strange rescues Chavez from another demon with help from the Sorcerer Supreme, Wong. Chavez explains that the beings are hunting her because she has the power to travel through the multiverse.

Recognizing witchcraft runes, Strange goes to consult with Wanda Maximoff for help but realizes that she is responsible for the attacks. After acquiring the Darkhold and becoming the Scarlet Witch, Maximoff believes that controlling Chavez’s powers will allow her to reunite with Billy and Tommy, the children she created during her time in Westview (In WandaVision). When Strange refuses to surrender Chavez, Maximoff attacks Kamar-Taj, killing many sorcerers. Chavez accidentally transports herself and Strange to Earth-838 while Maximoff uses the Darkhold to “dream-walk”, taking control of her Earth-838 counterpart, who lives a suburban life with her own Billy and Tommy. A surviving sorceress sacrifices herself to destroy the Darkhold and break the dream-walk. Enraged, Maximoff forces Wong to lead her to Mount Wundagore, the source of the Darkhold’s power, to reestablish the dream-walk.

While searching for help, Strange and Chavez are apprehended by Earth-838’s Sorcerer Supreme, Karl Mordo, and brought before the Illuminati, a group consisting of Mordo, Peggy Carter (an alternate of Captain America), Blackagar Boltagon, Maria Rambeau (an alternate for Carol Danvers as Captain Marvel), Reed Richards (interesting to Jim from The Office showing up), and Charles Xavier (for a potential crossover with the X-Men franchise). They explain that through reckless use of their universe’s Darkhold in an attempt to defeat Thanos, Earth-838’s Strange triggered a universe-destroying “incursion”. After defeating Thanos, the Illuminati executed their Strange to prevent him from causing more harm. Mordo believes that Earth-616’s Strange is similarly dangerous, but Maximoff reestablishes her dream-walk at Mount Wundagore and arrives in her Earth-838 counterpart’s body before they can pass judgment. She kills all of the Illuminati except Mordo, whom Strange subdues before fleeing with Chavez. The two escape with help from the Earth-838 counterpart of Strange’s ex-fiancé, Christine Palmer, a scientist working with the Illuminati.

Strange, Chavez, and Palmer enter the space between universes to find the Book of Vishanti, which is the antithesis to the Darkhold, but Maximoff appears and destroys it. She then takes over Chavez’s mind, using her powers to send the others to an incursion-destroyed universe. Strange defeats the destroyed universe’s Strange, who has been corrupted by his universe’s Darkhold, and uses it to dream-walk into the body of his deceased counterpart on Earth-616. With Wong’s help, Strange saves Chavez from Maximoff as she tries to take Chavez’s powers, and encourages Chavez to use her abilities. She transports Maximoff to Earth-838, where she sees Billy and Tommy recoil from her in fear while crying for their real mother. Maximoff relents and uses her powers to bring down Mount Wundagore, simultaneously destroying all copies of the Darkhold throughout the multiverse and apparently sacrificing herself in the process. Chavez returns Strange and Palmer to their respective universes.

Sometime later, Kamar-Taj is repaired and the surviving sorcerers, joined by Chavez, continue training. Strange develops a third eye as a result of using the Darkhold and dream-walking into a corpse. In a mid-credits scene, Strange is approached by a sorceress who warns him that his actions have triggered an incursion that he must help fix. Strange follows her into the Dark Dimension.

Now all in all, this instance of Doctor Strange is entertaining – it also has some real moments of horror which were missing from the MCU and this seems like a movie wanting itself to be taken seriously. However, the true driver of the movie is Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch – who shines in both the emotional moments as well as the terrifying moments. She along with Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow have been the stand-out female casting within the MCU and are perfect examples of good casting decisions. Brie Larson as Captain Marvel was dreadful however and the less we see of her the better. Anyways, coming back to the Scarlet Witch, who finally get to see exploring the full extent of her powers – Elizabeth Olsen truly proves she can deliver as both a Superhero and a Supervillain.

The Illuminati were dreadful though being destroyed by the Scarlet Witch in a matter of seconds. But it was interesting to see a different take on the superheroes we love so much in the MCU. Wong is brilliant as the sorcerer supreme as always but seems to always lean more towards comic relief than as a serious performer. Rachel McAdams as Christine Palmer is acceptable if nothing more. America Chavez is nothing great and to be honest could be played by just about any teenager. The concept of the multiverse which is explored in this movie is fascinating and would be enjoyable albeit tad confusing if brought up in the upcoming Marvel movies. Now, at last we come to Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange. I don’t know why but he still seems like a supporting character in this movie even though the movie is solely about him. Perhaps, the fact that the Scarlet Witch outshines him in every exchange or even Wong when it comes to humor. Hopefully a more individualistic movie would allow us to see Doctor Strange in his element once again but I guess it can’t get more individualistic than a movie bearing the character’s name.

JAY’S VERDICT

Be prepared to be entertained in this brilliant follow-up to Spider-Man No Way Home by Marvel – two entertaining movies back-to-back seems to hint that the future of MCU is in good hands.

DEATH RACE (2008) – CARS AND BLOOD FLOW FREELY IN THIS JASON STATHAM ACTION FLICK

Death Race is a 2008 American dystopian action thriller film written and directed by Paul W. S. Anderson. It stars Jason Statham, Tyrese Gibson, Ian McShane, and Joan Allen. The premise is straightforward – in 2012, the collapse of the US economy and the subsequent increase in crime rates leads to the rise of privatized prisons. One such prison is Terminal Island Penitentiary, whose warden, Claire Hennessey, earns profits from broadcasting “Death Race”, a vehicular combat racing series (a kind of vehicular gladiator combat), on the internet. Throughout the season, Terminal Island inmates battle each other in specially modified cars on a track cut into the grounds, with the goal of winning their freedom.

One racer, who has achieved a cult-like status – Frankenstein – a masked racer who has won 4 out of the 5 races needed to gain his freedom and has to wear a mask as his face is disfigured from the numerous crashes he has been in, is nearing the finish line, pursued by his rival Machine Gun Joe. His navigator, Case, reports that all of his defensive equipment has malfunctioned. Against her protests, Frankenstein refuses to let Joe finish first. Case ejects herself out of the car just before Joe destroys it as it crosses the finish line. Meanwhile, industrial worker and ex-con Jensen Ames ( played by a dour and tough Jason Statham) struggles to support his family. When the steel mill he works at is closed, he returns home to his wife Suzy and their new-born daughter, Piper. A masked assailant knocks him unconscious. Jensen wakes up with a bloodied knife in his hand, Suzy dead nearby, and policemen storming into his home and arresting him. He is sentenced to life imprisonment, while Piper is placed in foster care. His last memory of the assailant is when the assailant showed him the finger gun before leaving.

Six months later, Jensen is transferred to Terminal Island Prison. Hennessey’s right-hand man Ulrich calls Jensen to her office. She tells him that Frankenstein had died from the injuries he received at the end of the previous race, and offers to let Jensen go free if he drives Frankenstein’s car to win one more race. Jensen accepts the offer and meets Frankenstein’s maintenance crew consisting of Coach, Gunner, and Lists; they explain to Jensen that Hennessey wants him to become Frankenstein to rebuild the profits and audience of “Death Race“, which has halved since Frankenstein’s “disappearance“.

On the first day of the three day race, Jensen meets Case (a model playing a prisoner and succeeding at neither). During the race his vehicle’s defensive equipment again mysteriously malfunctions. Jensen is distracted and blindsided by Joe when he sees Pachenko perform the same finger gun gesture at him as the masked assailant, causing Jensen to realize it was Pachenko who killed his wife. Jensen confronts Pachenko and attacks him after the race – prompting Pachenko to admit Hennessey ordered him to frame Jensen, so she can have a replacement for Frankenstein. On the second day, Jensen threatens to eject Case unless she tells the truth about the malfunctions. Case admits she sabotaged Frankenstein’s car to keep him from winning and leaving Death Race, in exchange for her release papers.

Jensen then makes Pachenko’s car slam head-on into a concrete barrier, and exits the car to break Pachenko’s neck. He and Joe then collaborate to destroy a multi-weapon tanker truck added to boost ratings which Hennessey had unleashed to destroy the remaining drivers. By the end of the second race day, all racers except Jensen and Joe are killed. Hennessey orders Ulrich to plant a bomb underneath Jensen’s car in case he wins, knowing she can always find another person to impersonate Frankenstein. Jensen, who has realized Hennessey never intended to let anyone win their freedom from the start, approaches Joe after the race, suggesting they talk.

On the final race, Jensen and Joe collaborate again, destroying and driving through a weakened wall. Hennessey activates the bomb, not knowing it was removed and disassembled by Coach. She orders helicopters to pursue, though Jensen jumps out of the car as Case takes his place. Case is captured while Joe and Jensen escape on a freight train. Hennessey later opens a present sent due to record-breaking ratings, finding it to be the bomb she planted on Jensen’s car. Coach detonates the bomb, killing Hennessey and Ulrich. Six months “and 2000 miles later“, Joe and Jensen, reunited with Piper, are shown working in Mexico as mechanics, and are soon reunited with Case. End of story. Not much in there? Well there isn’t supposed to be – it’s a Jason Statham movie. It however gives you a lot of blood and guts thrown up on screen, hot women prisoners who seem to have gone from Love Island to a prison bus and a lot of fist-fights and excellent car-on-car action.

Death Race is not a movie you analyze – it is a movie you watch after a stressful day at work and your brain literally wants to rest but it’s too early to sleep. The plot is thin and the characters even thinner but it is a decent B+ entertainer. Jason Statham may never win an Oscar but if there was an award for a great action star, he would be there at the top. Death Race is what would happen if Fast & Furious came with a A rating before all the “La Familia” shit that Vin Diesel spews.

JAY’S VERDICT

Jason Statham entertains in this no-hold’s barred prison car race and paves the way for multiple direct-to-DVD sequels. Don’t watch the dreadful sequels but take a chance on this one.

THE SOPRANOS (1999 – 2007) – ONE OF THE GREATEST TV SHOWS EVER MADE

The Sopranos is an American crime drama television series created by David Chase. The story revolves around Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini), a New Jersey-based Italian-American mobster, portraying the difficulties that he faces as he tries to balance his family life with his role as the leader of a criminal organization. These are explored during his therapy sessions with psychiatrist Jennifer Melfi (Lorraine Bracco). The series features Tony’s family members, mafia colleagues, and rivals in prominent roles—most notably his wife Carmela (Edie Falco) and his protégé/distant cousin Christopher Moltisanti (Michael Imperioli). The show isn’t about the mafia or the family in my opinion – it’s about people and their vices – Greed, Selfishness, Violence, Self-interest, Brown-nosing, Ignorance and Racism is seen in their most fleshed out forms in David Chase’s masterpiece. If The Wire is about Cops, Addicts Gangs and Politicians, The Sopranos manages to compress even more entities within itself.

The show is also one of the most critically acclaimed and awarded dramas with 21 Emmys and 5 Golden Globes to its credit. About the plot, I will be touching briefly but the show has hundreds of fan blogs devoted to it and better writers than me have commented on the same and critically analyzed this masterpiece. But I wanted to go through the characters themselves and maybe we look at these characters and see a bit of ourselves or people we know in them. Now you might say, Oooooooh, wait a minute, most of us aren’t Italian American but it’s not what we are trying to see here – it isn’t about ethnic background but rather the vices or flaws which permeate us all and don’t care if we are Italians, Americans, Germans, Indians, Algerians or whatever. Now let me touch upon the Seasons briefly before going into the characters – Sopranos ran for 6 seasons – the first season introduces Tony Soprano. When Tony Soprano collapses after suffering a panic attack, he begins therapy with Dr. Jennifer Melfi. Details of Tony’s upbringing – with his father’s influence looming large on his development as a gangster, but more so that of Tony’s mother, Livia, who is vengeful, narcissistic, and possibly psychopathic – are revealed. His complicated relationship with his wife Carmela is also explored, as well as her feelings regarding her husband’s cosa nostra ties. Meadow and Anthony Jr., Tony’s children, gain increasing knowledge of their father’s mob dealings. Later, federal indictments are brought as a result of someone in his organization talking to the FBI.

Tony’s uncle Corrado “Junior” Soprano, who controls his own crew, orders the murder of Brendan Filone and the mock execution of Christopher Moltisanti, associates of Tony’s, as a reprisal for repeated hijackings of trucks under Corrado’s protection. Tony defuses the situation by allowing his uncle to be installed as boss of the family (following the death of previous boss Jackie Aprile from cancer), while Tony retains actual control of most dealings from behind the scenes. Corrado discovers the subterfuge, after talking to Livia and falling for her subtle manipulation, and he orders an attempt on Tony’s life. The assassination is botched and Tony responds violently, before confronting his mother for her role in plotting his downfall; she appears to have a psychologically triggered stroke as a result. Junior is arrested by the FBI on charges related to the federal indictments before Tony gets a chance to murder him in retaliation.

Season 2 begins with new characters like Jackie’s brother Richie Aprile who is released from prison and proves to be uncontrollable in the business arena, siding more with Junior than Tony, despite the fact that Tony is the acting boss of the family after Junior’s arrest. Richie starts a relationship with Janice, Tony’s sister, who has arrived from Seattle to take care of their mother. “Big Pussy” returns to New Jersey after a conspicuous absence.

Christopher Moltisanti becomes engaged to his girlfriend Adriana La Cerva, despite his past abuse. Matthew Bevilaqua and Sean Gismonte, two low-level associates dissatisfied with their perceived lack of success in the Soprano crew, try to make a name for themselves by attempting to kill Christopher as a favor to Richie, even though he didn’t ask them to. Their plan fails and Christopher kills Sean, but Christopher is critically wounded. He manages to recover after surgery. Tony and Big Pussy locate Matthew and kill him. A witness to the murder goes to the FBI and identifies Tony, but later retracts his statement. Junior is placed under house arrest as he awaits trial. Tensions between Richie and Tony form the main plot of the season.

In the third season, we are introduced to one of the most entertaining Sopranos characters – the return of the ambitious Ralph Cifaretto, having spent an extended period of leisure time in Miami. He renews a relationship with Rosalie Aprile, the widow of Jackie Aprile Sr. With Richie assumed to have joined the Witness Protection Program, Ralph unofficially usurps control over the Aprile crew, proving to be an exceptionally dexterous earner. While Ralph’s competitive merit would seemingly have him next in line to ascend to capo, his insubordination inclines Tony not to promote him and he instead gives the promotion to the unqualified but complacent Gigi Cestone, causing much resentment and tension between him and Ralph.

Rosalie’s son Jackie Aprile Jr. becomes involved with Meadow and then descends into a downward spiral of recklessness, drugs and crime. Tony initially attempts to act as a mentor to Jackie and encourages him to stay in school, but he becomes increasingly impatient with Jackie’s escalating misbehavior, particularly as Jackie’s relationship with Meadow begins to become serious. A.J. continues to get in trouble at school — despite success on the football team — which culminates in his expulsion and his parents considering sending him to military school.

The Season 4 of The Sopranos, shows us more of one of the New York Five Families- New York underboss Johnny Sack becomes enraged after learning Ralph Cifaretto joked about his wife’s weight. The tensions between Ralph and Johnny Sack become one of the main stories of the season. We also see chaos brought on by Paulie, by ratting about Soprano business to Johnny. Tony and Ralph invest in a racehorse named Pie-O-My, who wins several races and makes them both a great deal of money but ends up becoming a major plot point later in the story.

Following the death of Bobby Baccalieri’s wife, Janice pursues a romantic relationship with him. Bobby is initially reluctant to move on, but after an incident with his kids and Anthony Jr. trying to summon his deceased wife’s ghost, he becomes more receptive to Janice’s advances. Christopher’s addiction to heroin deepens, prompting his associates and family to organize an intervention, after which he enters a drug rehabilitation center. Adriana’s friend Danielle Ciccolella is revealed to be undercover FBI agent Deborah Ciccerone-Waldrup, who tells Adriana the only way for her to stay out of prison for heroin distribution at her bar is to become an informant. Adriana reluctantly agrees and starts sharing information with the FBI.

Carmela, whose relationship with Tony is tense due to financial worries and Tony’s infidelities, develops a mutual infatuation with Furio Giunta. Furio, incapable of breaking his personal moral code and that of the Neapolitan mafia, clandestinely returns home to Italy. After Tony’s former mistress calls their home, Carmela throws Tony out. Tony decides to quit therapy, thinking he isn’t making any progress. He thanks Dr. Melfi for all her help and they part amicably. Stuck in a deadlock over a deal with the Lupertazzi family, Tony is approached by Johnny Sack with a proposal to murder Carmine.

Season 5 brings with it a string of new characters including Tony’s cousin Tony Blundetto, who simultaneously along with other mafiosi, is released from prison. Among the others released are former DiMeo crime family capo Michele “Feech” La Manna, Lupertazzi family capo Phil Leotardo, and semi-retired Lupertazzi consigliere Angelo Garepe. A power struggle in the Lupertazzi family spills over and forms the basis of this season’s plot.

Season 6 gives us a much darker Sopranos with several major characters departing permanently. It also covers Tony being shot by by a senior Corrado “Junior” Soprano and his subsequent recovery. Tensions also continue between Phil Leotardo and Tony leading to a subsequent war between the factions. However, it brings to a close several arcs within the show and ends in one of the most divisive series finales in Television history.

There are so many vivid and complex characters on The Sopranos, that it is impossible to discuss them all. But we are going to as these characters represent the worst of humanity and at times the best. We have fascinating minor characters, like Vito Spatafore, who comes to the forefront of a whole season as a hardcore Mafioso who is also gay and hiding it from his fellow “manly” gangsters or even characters like Beansie Gaeta who got turned into a paraplegic by Richie Aprile due to Richie’s ego and temper issues. Not to mention characters who aren’t even in the mob like Arthur Bucco or his wife Charmaine or Hesh, the Jew, who knew Tony’s father. As we can’t discuss all or even 20% of the Soprano characters, let’s choose a few – Corrado “Junior” Soprano (Tony’s uncle and temporary Boss of the Soprano family), Livia Soprano (Tony’s mother), Carmela Soprano (Tony’s wife) and Antony “Tony” Soprano himself.

Firstly, Corrado “Junior” Soprano displays some of the worst instincts of any criminal – egoistical, greedy, insecure while retaining some of the most useful ones like cunning, ruthlessness and pragmatism. However, his worst instincts cause his reign as Boss to be as short as it could be and his ego and greed, result in other mistakes. However, him and his nephew Antony Soprano retain a love/hate relationship throughout the series culminating at the end where Corrado meets a lonely end, suffering from Dementia and alone in a nursing home. His chance at a healthy relationship is ended due to his ego and masculinity taking a hit, when his nephew finds out he is great at Cunnilingus and pleasing his woman, and hence since he goes down on a woman, he must be a “fag” – an old school Mafia belief which has little or no logic behind it but it is the world they live in. He could have been great but was undone by ego, greed and insecurity.

Second, Livia Soprano, the mother figure but anything but a good mother. A master manipulator and a textbook narcissist – her own issues and world views are all that mattered to her. An extremely controlling woman who was like an “albacore” around her husband Johnny Boy’s neck (a malapropism made famous during a flashback episode). Livia, angered by Tony selling her house, even manipulated her brother-in-law Junior Soprano into calling a “hit” on her son Tony. A woman who spread no joy and only really loved her kids when they were part of her little power trips. A huge influence on Antony Soprano’s behavior throughout the series.

Third is Carmela Soprano, the wife and the enabler for all of Antony’s evil deeds. Someone who claimed to be a good Christian and hated Tony’s womanizing ways but despite speaking against the Mafia wife role she was playing, enjoyed the perks it brought her like cars and coats and a fancy house. Even when she left Tony, she came back soon enough – like a moth to a flame, she could see no other life for her. We see many such characters in regular day to day life – people who are with those who hurt them and abuse them or are inherently evil but cannot sever ties and keep returning to these people maybe due to it being their comfort zone or because they are attracted to the thrill of such relationships. A hypocrite and a snob, even treating Charmaine like a servant when she and Arthur took a contract for catering at the Soprano residence.

Fourth is the big daddy himself – Antony “Tony” Soprano – the main reason for the show’s success. Here is a man, tall and big and a “tough guy” but as the show reveals, an insecure, deeply damaged and an extremely selfish man. His insecurity is seen in several episodes whether it be about his weight, his intelligence, his “athletic prowess” or his ability to fight (seen when he felt insecure after his surgery and had to assert his dominance by beating up a young jock member of the crew just to prove he was still strong). Antony Soprano had two redeeming qualities though – his love for his kids and his love for animals, especially horses (sorry the second one is an inside joke which The Sopranos faithful would enjoy). He basically had just the one redeeming quality. He has learned manipulation from his mother and has an explosive temper (something shared by almost every character in the show). If you are looking to see Michael Corleone style calm and cool mafiosos in The Sopranos, you might not find one. Even the calmest – Carmine Lupertazzi lost his temper at the golf course when egged by his son. So, The Sopranos is not like The Godfather but that is what makes it so damn good – it’s completely different and it doesn’t romanticize the notion of a gangster but rather shows the flaws in these people.

JAY’S VERDICT

Shows you need to see before you die is something said quite often but The Sopranos is literally a show you need to see before you die. Allow yourself to be taken over by the “Ooooooohs” and the “Madonn’s” in this thrilling ride.

THE BATMAN (2022) – A MOVIE THAT IS LOYAL TO THE TRUE ESSENCE OF BATMAN

The Batman is a 2022 American superhero film and a reboot of the Batman film franchise. This reboot brings in Robert Pattinson as Bruce Wayne/The Batman alongside Zoë Kravitz (Catwoman), Paul Dano (The Riddler), Jeffrey Wright (Lt. James Gordon), John Turturro (Carmine Falcone), Andy Serkis (Alfred), and Colin Farrell (The Penguin). The movie is directed by Matt Reeves. As a movie it shows a much younger and rage-filled Bruce Wayne compared to the Bruce Wayne portrayed in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy.

On Halloween night, Gotham City mayor Don Mitchell Jr. is murdered by a man calling himself the Riddler. Reclusive billionaire Bruce Wayne, who has operated for two years as the vigilante Batman, investigates alongside the Gotham City Police Department (GCPD). Lieutenant James Gordon discovers a message that the Riddler left for Batman, but commissioner Pete Savage berates him for allowing a vigilante to enter the crime scene and forces Batman to leave. Soon after, the Riddler kills Savage and leaves another message for Batman. The movie sets itself apart from previous Batman movies, by focusing more on the crime-solving skills of The Batman rather than his prodigious fighting skills.

Batman and Gordon discover that the Riddler left a thumb drive in Mitchell’s car containing images of Mitchell with a woman, Annika Koslov, at the Iceberg Lounge—a nightclub operated by the Penguin, mobster Carmine Falcone’s lieutenant. While the Penguin pleads ignorance, Batman notices that Selina Kyle, Annika’s roommate and close friend, works at the club as a waitress. Batman follows Selina home to question Annika, but Annika disappears, so he sends Selina back to the Iceberg Lounge to search for answers. Through Selina, Batman discovers that Savage was on Falcone’s payroll, as is district attorney Gil Colson. Selina shuts off communication when Batman presses her about her relationship with Falcone.

The Riddler abducts Colson, straps a timed collar bomb to his neck, and sends him to interrupt Mitchell’s funeral. When Batman arrives, the Riddler calls him via Colson’s phone and threatens to detonate the bomb if Colson cannot answer three riddles. Batman helps Colson answer the first two, but Colson refuses to answer the third—the name of the informant who gave the GCPD information that led to a historic drug bust ending mobster Salvatore Maroni’s operation—and dies. Batman and Gordon deduce that the informant may be the Penguin and track him to a drug deal. They discover that Maroni’s operation transferred to Falcone, with many GCPD officers involved. Selina inadvertently exposes them when she arrives to steal money. As the Penguin flees, Selina discovers Annika’s corpse in a car trunk. Batman captures the Penguin but learns that he was not the informant.

The Batman in this movie, is a vigilante who works with the cooperation of the police, who project a bat-sign into the sky, with a bright light, as a call to him and a warning to evildoers who anticipate him swooping in. Yet, as he lands on a subway platform and lays low a gang of young miscreants, made up Joker-style, who are assaulting an Asian man, the victim is also struck with fear and pleads with the Batman not to hurt him. The Batman describes his uneasy role as an avenger—indeed, he says, as vengeance itself—in a voice-over that holds out hope that the superhero will be endowed with at least an average level of subjectivity and mental activity.

Batman and Gordon follow the Riddler’s trail to the ruins of an orphanage funded by Bruce’s murdered parents, Thomas and Martha Wayne, where they learn that the Riddler holds a grudge against the Wayne family. Bruce’s butler and caretaker, Alfred Pennyworth, is hospitalized after opening a letter bomb addressed to Bruce. The Riddler leaks evidence that Thomas, who was running for mayor before he was murdered, hired Falcone to kill a journalist for threatening to reveal embarrassing details about Martha’s history of mental illness. Bruce, who grew up believing his father was morally upstanding, confronts Alfred, who maintains that Thomas only asked Falcone to threaten the journalist into silence, and planned to turn himself and Falcone over to the police once he found out the journalist was murdered. Alfred believes that Falcone had Thomas and Martha killed to prevent this.

Selina tells Batman that Falcone is her neglectful father, and decides to kill him after learning that he strangled Annika because Mitchell told her that Falcone was the informant. Batman and Gordon arrive at the Iceberg Lounge in time to stop her, but the Riddler kills Falcone as he is arrested. The Riddler is unmasked as forensic accountant Edward Nashton and incarcerated in Arkham State Hospital, where he laments about failing to kill Bruce. He does not realize that Bruce is Batman, whom he idolizes and took inspiration from when targeting the corrupt. Nashton believes that Batman was working with him, but Batman rejects him sending him into a rage. Searching his apartment, Batman learns that Nashton has stationed car bombs around Gotham and cultivated an online following that plans to assassinate mayor-elect Bella Reál. The bombs destroy the breakwaters around Gotham and flood the city. A shelter is set up in an indoor arena, where Nashton’s followers attempt to kill Reál but are stopped by Batman and Selina. In the aftermath, Nashton befriends another inmate (who appears to be The Joker), while Selina deems Gotham beyond saving and leaves. Batman aids recovery efforts and vows to inspire hope in Gotham.

The Batman is dark…not just in how the story is portrayed but also in how the movie looks like. Extremely dark and extremely long but it is a good tale and pulls in the viewers. The villains are interesting and new – Colin Farrell portraying Oswald Cobblepot/The Penguin and transforming completely into it. One thing The Batman franchise, barring Ben Affleck’s take, that the actors chosen as villains all seem to shine – Paul Dano’s Riddler, Tom Hardy’s Bane and the best of them all – Heath Ledger’s Joker. Zoë Kravitz as Selina Kyle / Catwoman is also much better than Anne Hathaway’s take or Michelle Pfeiffer’s in Batman Returns. Halle Berry’s version shouldn’t be discussed at all. The Penguin in this movie is sort of finding his feet and not the crime lord of Gotham he is supposed to be, as yet. Dano’s take on The Riddler is intriguing and threatening albeit a little whiny at times.

Last but obviously not the least, Robert Pattinson as The Batman himself – the question we were all asking – will he be able to do it? The short answer – yes. His take on The Batman, shows a much more younger Batman who brings the aspect of repressed rage within him out during his fights. He is a Batman who is still finding his footing in Gotham City and slowly growing into his vigilante role and becoming a Dark Defender of his city despite all its flaws. A definite upgrade on Ben Affleck’s dreadful and dreary portrayal but still not as good as Christian Bale in the Dark Knight trilogy. But all signs are good and it looks like Robert Pattinson will be able to handle the big weight on his shoulders. Matt Reeves portrays Batman as he ought to be – more of a crime fighting sleuth than a rich brawler with fancy gadgets. The first take on Batman was good and fans are eagerly awaiting his version of The Dark Knight – a sequel which blows away its predecessor.

JAY’S VERDICT

Watch for Batman as he ought to be – fans of the comics will not mind the long running time but could be a bit slow for neutrals.

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