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.

ALL OF US ARE DEAD (2022) – KOREAN ZOMBIE THRILLER IS DEVASTATINGLY HAUNTING

All of Us Are Dead (Korean: Jigeum Uri Hakgyoneun; lit. Now at Our School) is a South Korean coming-of-age zombie apocalypse horror streaming television series. It stars Park Ji-hu, Yoon Chan-young, Cho Yi-hyun, Lomon, Yoo In-soo, Lee Yoo-mi, Kim Byung-chul, Lee Kyu-hyung, and Jeon Bae-soo. The series mostly takes place at a high school in South Korea as a zombie apocalypse suddenly breaks out and threatens the safety of the students. A failed science experiment results in a local high school being overrun with zombies, and the trapped students struggling to survive. With no food or water, and communication cut-off by the government, they must use equipment around the school to protect themselves in the midst of a battleground or they will become part of the infected. This is basically the outlier plot of the show. But what makes it different is that it is more of a coming-of-age story, where students are forced to leave their childhood behind much sooner than they expected.

The story is nothing special – because his son is being bullied, a science teacher at a Korean high school creates a virus designed to give strength but instead turns his son , and later his wife into a flesh-eating zombie. He keeps testing, even doing so on laboratory mice at the high school, where one sleepy girl who wanders into the room, gets accidentally bitten by the lab rat and slowly turns into a zombie who later starts infecting the whole school. The situation spirals out of control and ends up affecting the whole city and possibly South Korea in potential future seasons. It begins as do most zombie thrillers – with a rogue scientist and a curious idiot. Zombies in AOUAD (All Of Us Are Dead) share the same flesh eating traits of their George A Romero and Walking Dead brethren but also have some of the characteristics from their 28 Days Later relatives – i.e. to be able to run really fast.

However, AOUAD is different in terms of how the zombie bites/virus affects different people. A majority are obviously turned into flesh eating zombies but a select few become hum-bies (or half human/half zombie) – these have the cravings of a zombie along with super smell, super hearing and super strength but also retain a higher brain allowing them to think and interact with humans. Sadly the three people who we see getting these powers, turn out to be extremely annoying and frustrating thus making these powers utterly useless. One is an extreme asshole, who is a bully at school, another is a girl who has been bullied to an extent that she wants to end her life but instead becomes powerful and last is the class president who is an integral part of the human survivors group but only seems to use her special powers to say “RUN” every time the shit hits the fan.

While it follows all the traits of the zombie dramas and does complete justice to the genre, at the core of it, AOUAD talks about the regressive culture of bullying. The purpose that the creator creates the virus in the first place is to give his son the confidence. Reason, the poor chap is a shy boy who has been brutally bullied in his school. The aim is to give him the rage so he could protect himself. It is about a father who wants his son to be strong but ends up creating a monster of a situation. And it’s not just him, but several other suffering bullying in the school.

The 12 episode show has more to present than just violence, zombies, flesh, and blood. While bullying is the main conflict, the background of the show is richer. There are conflicts that are personal. Be it the choice to go out and find a missing friend or save their own lives. Or be it watching their dear one turn into zombies and also hitting them at one point. Amid all of this, there is a deep social commentary. Lee Yoo-mi plays a girl who comes from the privileged class, one that lives in a plush society. She believes she deserves the biggest and the first share of everything, because she is upper class. She makes fun, rather insults a boy who belongs to the have nots and is studying on welfare funds. But at the same time she is also a victim of bullying too. But that doesn’t make her any empathetic or less greedy.

Park Ji-hu and Yoon Chan-young get the maximum screen time. The chemistry they share brings a layer of coming of age to the show. There is love but unsaid and they don’t even realise that. The complexities due to the same increase and creates a love story amid the apocalypse. But it never geos overboard and that is what is good. The two actor are amazing. Cho Yi-hyun as Nam-ra goes through a complete transformation. She is one of the strong one mentioned above and she has to portray a range of emotions. Not just as human, she also has to fight the half zombie in her and bring those emotions on her face. The actor does an effortless job.

The story of All of Us Are Dead is a violent, brutal story where the classmates of Hyosan High School’s Class 2-5 slowly watch their friends and teachers turn monstrous and do horrible things to one another. Its large cast (which eventually sprawls to include people from all of Hyosan) allows it to focus on what, specifically, is lost in such a disaster, and what is worth preserving. Through character-focused writing and a strong focus on how its cast relates to each other, All of Us Are Dead never loses its focus on people — even after they turn to zombies.

Students and teachers are rapidly infected. Some are cowardly and unwilling to help. Students who realize what’s happening (this is — thank God — a show where people know what zombies are, and even name-drop Train to Busan but somehow are dumb enough never to hit the zombies in the head) begin to suspect their friends who may have been bitten. Emergency personnel succumb to the horde. The plague spreads. It is a show that brings out the best and worst of humanity. Many incidents are extremely tragic and stay with you even after the show is over. However, the show fails in one aspect is the extremely annoying main villain played by Yoo In-soo. He is one of the leading causes of the zombie virus to be created – one of his victims was the son of the scientist who created the virus. Not only that, he also ends up plaguing the entire survivors’ group right to the very end due to his odd inability to never die no matter how many limbs are shattered. For a 12 episode show, with so many zombies to contend with, a super-powered zombie who causes havoc relentlessly is quite exhausting especially in the final episodes where he causes the death of a beloved character.

The survivors group is full of different characters – basically stereotypes of every high school class – there are the nerds, a lovable fat boy, the spoiled princess, the dashing tall guy who has girls vying for his attention, the shy but brave young lad who has a secret crush on his childhood friend but doesn’t tell her and a few oddities sprinkled here and there. Nam On-jo (Park Ji-hu) serves as a narrative protagonist who bands together with her childhood friend Lee Cheong-san (Yoon Chan-young), her crush Lee Su-hyeok (Park Solomon), and the aloof overachieving class President Choi Nam-ra (Cho Yi-hyun) among other classmates to fight zombies and school bullies alike. Director Lee JQ’s choice to cast actors “unfamiliar to the audience” pays off masterfully.

The makers also ensure that the layered storytelling does not come at the cost of high-adrenaline action scenes, jump scares and well-executed VFX gore. Mirroring the title sequence, the directors slowly descend the audience into a zombie-filled reality, and the series conveys the same visually. What starts off as a brightly-lit, vividly colourful school, eventually transforms into a nauseatingly dull place with the colour saturation dialed back, as the virus spreads. When required, the filmmakers also immerse us into the zombie experience. The cinematography during the zombie-human confrontation scenes moves fast, never quite fixating on a single character, which makes for quite unsettling viewing. It is havoc heightened for the students, as well as the audience watching, as we learn along with them, who survived and who didn’t.

Though the storyline follows a core group of students trapped in high school, we are also given glimpses of a politician scrambling to escape her office; a social media influencer trying to farm the crisis for viral content; and two police officers, mismatched in their levels of courage, racing to retrieve the antidote. These different dynamics are crafted for the series to also address multiple systemic issues. With the origin of the zombie virus itself rooted in a history of bullying, the school becomes ground zero for the show to explore social class hierarchies.

Ultimately, in a genre teeming with Hollywood’s undying need to provide the perfect post-apocalyptic male-hero zombie killer tale, South Korea has bravely put forth a story of survival. Oscillating between the alive and the undead, the show makes an impact by centering the fact that endurance doesn’t always mean strength, sometimes it is born out of repeated acts of kindness.

JAY’S VERDICT

Go ahead and catch All of Us Are Dead on Netflix right now to binge of South Korea’s latest offering in a long line of addictive Television shows and Movies.

KING RICHARD (2021) – WILL SMITH SHOWS US WHY HE DESERVES AN OSCAR IN AN INSPIRATIONAL BIOPIC

King Richard is a 2021 American biographical drama film directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green and written by Zach Baylin. It follows the life of Richard Williams, the father and coach of famed tennis players Venus and Serena Williams, who were executive producers of the film. It stars Will Smith in the title role. It is a movie, which I feel shows the true talent of Will Smith – an inspirational and loving father, who pushes his daughters to reach the true heights of sporting greatness. The movie gives us a Richard Williams who somehow makes the stories of the Williams sisters — their brash, tireless, fearless near-foolishness — plausible. A Williams for whom abandonment by one’s father is a mistake not to be repeated.

“King Richard” is half sports movie, half biopic. As such, it hits the sweet spots and sour notes of both genres. Depending on your perspective, this is either an invitation or a warning. Williams, is charismatically portrayed by Smith and is overwhelming. Obstinate. Bold. Savvy. Pugnacious. Selfless in that special way that somehow veers right back around to selfishness. On the subject of Venus and Serena, who he believes will be the future of tennis, he is also absolutely correct. Which leads to another of his standout qualities: He knows it. King Richard sayeth that these women will rule the world of sports. And they do. Williams’ fearsome need to do for his five daughters what his own father denied him is King Richard’s salient dramatic spark.

There are the overwhelming external odds confronting this family which are showed in this movie. Despite hard-working parents (he’s a night guard; she’s a nurse; both are skilled tennis coaches) and sky-high dreams, those odds seem not to be in its favor. We all know how this story ends, and the movie knows that we know, but so far as this Williams family is concerned, nothing is guaranteed — even as Richard’s belief that his daughters will succeed has all the power and might of a sure thing. The movie’s portrait of Compton isn’t entirely played for sociological seriousness. It becomes something of a joke to see white men, specifically the likes of Paul Cohen (Tony Goldwyn) and Rick Macci (Jon Bernthal) — coaches who take a chance on these young women, thanks to Richard’s persistence — riding into town, getting a taste of how the other half lives, looking as pale and out of place as ponies at a horse race. The movie is driven by Will Smith’s energy and the look of emotions waiting to explode on his face, which makes you believe that this man will achieve his goal – to make his daughters two of the greatest female tennis stars in the world.

There’s a strong, straightforward drama coursing through the heart of the movie, the predictable but satisfying narration of the underdog story arc — in sum, the stuff that makes sports movies such reliable vehicles for tear-jerking, riveting storytelling. The world of tennis, and the prejudices that come with it, proves a key ingredient. Here, it is a world beset with stereotypes that have a twinge of satire, as during a succession of scenes in which every one of Venus’ white competitors storms off after losing, like an entitled brat. The country clubs with their pools and high-end burgers, the Rick Macci tennis camp, the home the Williams are given to live in while they train: all of it stands in, not inaccurately, for the whiteness of the entire sport, the ease with which money is both a barrier and an expectation. It’s into these spaces that we get King Richard asserting himself as, well, himself, armed with brochures about his daughters, finessing his way into meetings with the best coaches in the country, all the while holding the reins of his daughters’ images and careers. Despite its well-worn triumphant narrative, King Richard proves convincing at giving credence to the idea of Williams as a fact already stranger than fiction — the kind of man you can’t help but feel is a real character, in the everyday-life sense of that phrase: a one-of-a-kind guy, hard to reproduce.

The children — Tunde (Mikayla Lashae Bartholomew), Lyndrea (Layla Crawford) and Isha (Daniele Lawson), along with Venus and Serena — lead highly structured, intensely monitored lives. (A disapproving neighbor calls the authorities, convinced that Richard and Oracene are being too hard on the girls.) This is partly protective, a way of keeping them away from what Richard ominously calls “these streets” — a menace represented by the hoodlums who harass Richard and the girls during practice sessions — but it also reflects his temperament and philosophy.

He likes slogans and lessons, at one point forcing the family to watch Disney’s “Cinderella” to teach the importance of humility. “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail” is one of his favorite mottos. There is nothing haphazard or sloppy about “King Richard,” and it succeeds because it has a clear idea about what it wants to accomplish. The script, by Zach Baylin, is sometimes unapologetically corny — if you took a drink every time the Williams sisters say “yes, Daddy” you’d pass out before Venus won her first junior match — but the warmth and verve of the cast make the sentimentality feel earned.

In the best Hollywood tradition, “King Richard” stirs up a lot of emotion while remaining buoyant and engaging. It’s serious but rarely heavy. Richard’s advice to his daughters when they step out on the court is to have fun, and Green takes that wisdom to heart. This one’s a winner.

JAY’S VERDICT

Watch King Richard for Will Smith’s power-house performance and for an inspirational story of the Williams’ sisters.

COME AND SEE (1985) – SOVIET WAR FILM SHOWS THE TRUE HORRORS OF WAR

Come and See (Russian: Idi i smotri) is a 1985 Soviet anti-war film directed by Elem Klimov and starring Aleksei Kravchenko and Olga Mironova. The film focuses on the Nazi German occupation of Belarus, and the events as witnessed by a young Belarusian partisan teenager named Flyora, who—against his mother’s wishes—joins the Belarusian resistance movement, and thereafter depicts the Nazi atrocities and human suffering inflicted upon the Eastern European villages’ populace. The film mixes hyper-realism with an underlying surrealism, and philosophical existentialism with poetical, psychological, political and apocalyptic themes.

The movie shows the true colors of war – the horror and suffering are brilliantly brought out among the actors

In 1943, two Belarusian boys dig in a sand-filled trench looking for abandoned rifles in order to join the Soviet partisan forces. Their village elder warns them not to dig up the weapons as it would arouse the suspicions of the occupying Germans. One of the boys, Flyora, finds an SVT-40 rifle, though both of them are seen by an Fw 189 flying overhead.

The next day two partisans arrive at Flyora’s house, to conscript him. Flyora becomes a low-rank militiaman and is ordered to perform menial tasks. When the partisans are ready to move on, the partisan commander, Kosach, says that Flyora is to remain behind at the camp. Bitterly disappointed, Flyora walks into the forest weeping and meets Glasha, a young girl working as a nurse in the camp, and the two bond before the camp is suddenly attacked by German paratroopers and dive bombers.

Flyora is partially deafened from the explosions before the two hide in the forest to avoid the German soldiers. Flyora and Glasha travel to his village, only to find his home deserted and covered in flies. Denying that his family is dead, Flyora believes that they are hiding on a nearby island across a bog. As they run from the village in the direction of the bogland, Glasha glances across her shoulder, seeing a pile of executed villagers’ bodies stacked behind a house, but does not alert Flyora.

The two become hysterical after wading through the bog, where Glasha then screams at Flyora that his family is actually dead in the village; resulting in the latter attempting to drown her. They are soon met by Rubezh, a partisan fighter, who takes them to a large group of villagers who have fled the Germans. Flyora sees the village elder, badly burnt by the Germans, who tells him that he witnessed his family’s execution and that he should not have dug up the rifles. Flyora, hearing this, then attempts suicide out of guilt, but Glasha and the villagers save and comfort him.

Rubezh takes Flyora and two other men to find food at a nearby warehouse, only to find it being guarded by German troops. During their retreat, the group unknowingly wanders through a minefield resulting in the deaths of the two companions. That evening Rubezh and Flyora sneak up to an occupied village and manage to steal a cow from a collaborating farmer. As they escape across an open field, Rubezh and the cow are shot and killed by a German machine gun. The next morning, Flyora attempts to steal a horse and cart but the owner catches him and instead of doing him harm, he helps hide Flyora’s identity when SS troops approach.

Flyora is taken to the village of Perekhody, where they hurriedly discuss a fake identity for him, while the SS unit, accompanied by Soviet collaborators surround and occupy the village. Flyora tries to warn the townsfolk as they are being herded to their deaths, but is forced to join them inside a wooden church. Flyora and a young girl are allowed to escape the church, but the latter is dragged by her hair across the ground and into a truck to be gang raped. Flyora is forced to watch as several Molotov cocktails and grenades are thrown onto and within the church before it is further set ablaze with a flamethrower as other soldiers shoot into the building. A German officer points a gun to Flyora’s head to pose for a picture before leaving him to slump to the ground as the soldiers leave.

Flyora later wanders out of the scorched village in the direction of the Germans, where he discovers they had been ambushed by the partisans. After recovering his jacket and rifle, Flyora comes across the young girl who escaped from the church in a fugue state and covered in blood after having been gang-raped and brutalized. Flyora returns to the village and finds that his fellow partisans have captured eleven of the Germans and their collaborators, including the commander, an SS-Sturmbannführer. While some of the captured men including the commander and main collaborator plead for their lives and deflect blame, a young fanatical officer, an Obersturmführer, is unapologetic and vows they will carry out their genocidal mission.

Kosach makes the collaborator douse the Germans with a can of petrol brought there by Flyora, but the disgusted crowd shoots them all before they can be set on fire. As the partisans leave, Flyora notices a framed portrait of Adolf Hitler in a puddle and proceeds to shoot it numerous times. As he does so, a montage of clips from Hitler’s life play in reverse, but when Hitler is shown as a baby on his mother’s lap, Flyora stops shooting and cries. A title card informs: “628 Belorussian villages were destroyed, along with all their inhabitants“. Flyora rushes to rejoin his comrades, and they march through the birch woods as snow blankets the ground. That is in a summary the whole film but the film is so much more than that.

This 1985 film from the Soviet Union is one of the most devastating films ever about anything, and in it, the survivors must envy the dead. The film’s beginning itself is with an ambiguous scene, as a man calls out commands to invisible others on a beach. Who is he? Who is he calling to? Why is he fed up with them? It’s revealed that he’s calling out to children who have concealed themselves among the reeds. They are playing games of war, and digging in the sand for weapons concealed or lost during some earlier conflict.

The film follows Flyora for its entire length, sometimes pausing to look aside at details of horror. He doesn’t see everything. In particular, there’s a scene where he and the girl, separated from the army unit, return to his family farm, where he expects a warm welcome. There is nobody there, furniture is upturned, but it seems they’ve just left. A pot of soup is still warm. He suddenly becomes convinced he knows where they’re gone, and pulls her to run with him to an island in a marshland. Then she sees a sight that he doesn’t.

Such a departure from his point of view doesn’t let us off easy. All he sees is horror, and all he doesn’t see is horror, too. Later Florya finds himself in a village as Nazi occupiers arrive. There is a sustained sequence as they methodically round up all the villagers and lock them into a barn. The images evoke the Holocaust. As he’s shoved in as part of the seething crowd, Florya’s eyes never leave the windows high above the floor. By now his only instinct in life has become to escape death. Parents and children, old people and infants, are all packed in. Florya scrambles out a window and watches as the Nazis burn down the barn, its locked double doors heaving from the desperation inside. This is a horrifying scene, avoiding facile cutaways and simply standing back and regarding. I would suggest Come & See is all about sight and the eyes – the eyes depict so much more – horror, cruelty, desperation, fear and coldness of death.

I have rarely seen a film more ruthless in its depiction of human evil. The principal Nazi monster in the film, S.S. Major Sturmbannfuhrer, is a suave, heartless beast not a million miles distant from Tarantino’s Col. Hans Landa. He toys with an unpleasant little simian pet that clings to his neck. He is almost studious in his murderous commands. His detachment embodies power, which is the thing Florya never for a moment possesses throughout the movie. It is possible that Florya survives because he is so manifestly powerless. To look at him is to see a mind reeling from shock.

The film depicts brutality and is occasionally very realistic, but there’s an overlay of muted nightmarish exaggeration. The swamp that Florya and Glasha wade through, for example, has a thick gelatinous top layer that seems like a living, malevolent skin. There’s a sequence in which Florya becomes involved with some cows who will become food for starving troops. The eventual death of the beast is told in a series of images that mirror the inexorable shutting down of life. The cow’s life was doomed one way or another, but these suggest how utterly incomprehensible death is to the cow. The nightmare intensifies after Florya is too near an artillery bombardment and is deafened. The sound becomes muted, and there is a faint ringing, which makes the reality of sound frustratingly out of reach for him. I cannot describe the famous sequence at the end. It must unfold as a surprise for you. It pretends to roll back history. You will see how. It is unutterably depressing, because history can never undo itself, and is with us forever.

The anguish is captured brilliantly as one scene shows it where Florya’s inconsolable anguish at being deserted by his surrogate family boils to a breaking point when he accidentally steps on a nest of eggs, killing the tiny birds in a glimpse of nature made horribly grotesque by his unavoidable human brutality. It’s this violent and immediate style of detailed poetic storytelling that grips you and drags at your senses with an inescapable urgency of survival. Klimov’s precise use of graphic symbolism will steadily increase to a fever pitch in the film’s stunning postmodern climax where a backward moving collage collapses Hitler’s Pandora’s box of death and the war that determines Florya’s survival.

JAY’S VERDICT

If you truly want to experience a “war film”, experience it through Come and See. It is a movie which will shock you in more ways than one and isn’t that what war truly is?

ETERNALS (2021) – PREPARE FOR ETERNAL BOREDOM IN THIS #DIVERSITY SNORE-FEST

Eternals is a 2021 American superhero film based on the Marvel Comics of the same name. It is the 26th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). The film is directed by Chloé Zhao, of Nomadland fame. As with most Marvel films, this one has an ensemble cast with even Angelina Jolie and Salma Hayek joining some Television actors in a snorefest of a movie.

In short, Eternals is a story of immortal guardians charged with overseeing an Earth in perpetual evolution. Over thousands of years it tells a tale of selfless observation, where the journey, not the destination is everything. Sounds deep? It isn’t. Plus, it isn’t short either at 2.5 hours – made worse that we need to sit through extremely slow sex scenes, a wooden actress who was paid only for one expression and unnecessarily gay and non-binary characters forcibly changed to meet Americans desire for diversity for diversity’s sake and for the actors themselves to engage in virtue-signalling.

In 5000 BC, ten superpowered Eternals—Ajak, Sersi, Ikaris, Kingo, Sprite, Phastos, Makkari, Druig, Gilgamesh, and Thena—are sent by the Celestial Arishem to Earth on their starship, the Domo, to exterminate the invasive Deviants. The last Deviants are apparently killed in 1521, when the group’s opinions differ over their continued responsibilities and relationship with humankind. Over the next five hundred years they mostly live apart, waiting for Arishem to tell them that they can leave. The problems of the movie start with the Eternals themselves – firstly, the gender and sexuality changes just for the sake of it, which doesn’t allow any comic book fan to identify with the characters. Second, Eternals have never been the most popular Marvel creation, hence staying true to the characters would have atleast allowed some loyalists to enjoy the movie.

The obvious examples – just to fit in the star power Salma Hayek brings – Ajak who was male apparently went through a sex change operation right before the movie – it could be that he was possibly “confused”. Next up is Kingo, who spent centuries in Japan learning the ways of the Samurai, and is one of the most skilled swordsmen on the planet. In the present day and age, he has parlayed his skills into becoming a major action film star in Japan – now that is as per the comics but here we see him played by a Pakistani actor portraying an Indian Bollywood star and one of the worst Bollywood song-dance sequences ever shown on screen since The Big Bang Theory tried to make Raj dance. My question is Kingo, would have been portrayed by someone Japanese right? Diverse enough? So why the need to destroy all that comic book history and change the ethnicity?

And then Phastos becomes gay just to serve his corporate overlords who knows that sells as a lot of people in Hollywood would not miss the chance to jump on the virtue signalling and hashtag bandwagon by claiming it to be some sort of trail blazing moment, in a movie which would otherwise be forgotten in the dust bowl of history.

Then Sprite who is alternatively boy/girl, becomes a young girl (because apparently there weren’t enough women in the Eternals team). Makkari who is a man – the son of Verona and Mara becomes a black woman who is also deaf. Why? No clue but the diversity advocates are probably orgasming right now. Thena and Ikaris made sense in the casting and though portrayed by bored actors, atleast the casting was loyal to the comic books. Druig’s background was Soviet – Ivan Druig the name. But apparently Ireland has been part of Russia and we never knew it so it makes sense that he speaks with an Irish accent.

So the obvious flaws with the casting aside, why Chloe did you have to choose actors with such wooden expressions – Gemma Chan who literally has two expressions she brings to the movie. Angelina Jolie seems bored and wishing why she isn’t in Asia adopting more kids. Richard Madden does what Richard Madden does best – stoically stand aside when scenes call for more emotions to be displayed. Kumail Nanjiani, despite the poor casting as Kingo, was fun and brought his Silicon Valley humor to the role although, I wonder why more Indians haven’t brought out hashtags at his valet Karun Patel, who was quite lovable in a movie not worth loving. Although the stereotypical Indian accent should have annoyed a few woke people out there. Plus in a world where being offended by everything is the norm, why didn’t we see a few twitter battles that an Indian valet was serving a Pakistani master? Just a few things for the crazies of twitter to think about?

The action sequences are not bad but the villains are these unidentifiable alien monsters which do not allow you to feel sympathy and nor do they pose a real threat to the Eternals. Without a real threat, the Eternals are their own worst enemy it seems. There may be some DC hat tips apparent in Ikaris with his power of flight and heat vision overkill (Superman wannabe?), but he is much more than the sum of those parts – he is also wooden. Likewise, Sersi exudes a quiet calm which defines her emotionally and otherwise and allows Gemma Chan to show love,anger, frustration, happiness, sadness and shock with one single expression.

Bill Skarsgard draws the short straw here as Kro, the main villain, who is short changed on screen time and robbed of any build up. Aside from the fact that creating a dilemma for immortals is problematic, villainy in any conventional sense feels superfluous. Ultimately, Eternals is a vast movie on an infinite canvas, populated by immortals who struggle to maintain connections either between themselves or with the audiences. The movie suffers from a lack of wit, excessively diversified characters for the sake of it and confuses the audience as to its purpose – is it a Marvel entertainment blockbuster which people can enjoy or is it a movie defined by its kowtowing to brainless Twitter arm-chair Social Justice Warriors?

JAY’S VERDICT

Watch it just to have something to talk about with friends who get offended for no reason and who have a habit of virtue-signalling just for them to shut up for a minute.

KINGDOM (2019 – 2021) – KOREAN ZOMBIE THRILLER IS A HIT

Kingdom is a 2019 South Korean political period horror thriller streaming television series, created and written by Kim Eun-hee, available on Netflix. It is set in the 16th century three years after the end of the Imjin War. Kingdom takes place in a fictional, medieval-inspired Joseon Kingdom and blends political thriller and elements from zombie horror. The story follows Lee Chang, the Crown Prince of Joseon, who attempts to investigate the mysterious illness recently afflicting the King, only to find himself caught in the middle of an epidemic turning the dead into mindless, man-eating monsters; while trying to save the kingdom from the plague, he must also stop his political opponents from seizing the throne. The background to the story, was three years after the famous “Battle of Unpo Wetland” near the city of Sangju during the Japanese invasions of Korea, where 500 Korean soldiers, led by Governor Ahn Hyeon, defeated an army of 30,000 Japanese invaders. Unbeknownst to the common people, this victory was achieved by using an herb known as the “resurrection plant”, which transformed the diseased villagers of Sumang into ferocious zombies; after the battle ended, the zombies were executed and buried in secret.

Binge-watching requires a few things. A couch, or a comfy bed, for one thing. Some snacks at the ready, as well. But the one thing you must have is a considerably large chunk of time, a commodity that grows more precious by the day in today’s hyper-connected gig economy. In such a situation, the show we watch must hold our interest right from the start – Kingdom works brilliantly in that aspect. Even with English subtitles, it is engaging with the right mix of horror, intrigue and suspense. The first season of Kingdom, Netflix’s first original Korean series, quickly gained a small cult following hungry for more of its gruesome charms. At only six episodes, it doesn’t suffer at all from the frustrating phenomenon known as “Netflix bloat,” and it finishes on a cliffhanger so big you’ll be genuinely shocked when it ends.

The show begins, as does any political thriller, with rumors – of the death of the king of Joseon, who hasn’t been seen outside the palace walls for more than a week. Flyers appear tacked up in Hanyang, announcing the king’s death and calling for the immediate crowning of the prince, Lee Chang (Ju Ji-hoon). However, those inside the palace claim the king is not dead, merely sick, but his affliction has turned him into something monstrous.

Meanwhile, citizens in a small town in the southern province unknowingly contract the disease ravaging the king and die suddenly, but that night they all rise again as zombies, hungry for human flesh and these zombies aren’t your George A. Romero or Walking Dead zombies – these seem to be the ancestors of Usain Bolt and run super fast. The crown prince sets off from the palace to help the people in need, but when he discovers the truth of the disease, he teams up with a physician (who has a constipated look on her face throughout the show), a mysterious warrior, and his personal guard to fight the spread of the disease while also trying to stop a coup from overthrowing his claim to the throne back home.

On top of being a fast-paced horror epic in historical garb, Kingdom mirrors the disastrous mishandling of the 2020 pandemic with such withering irony and pitch-black humor that it seems to be riffing on headlines you read five minutes ago. Picture a nation gripped by political chaos that finds itself afflicted by a plague so new that no one understands its properties yet – those who know are in exile or are using it for their own benefits. Its ruler is a demented senior whose underlings use his decline as camouflage for their own agendas. People turn against each other, medical experts operating on the scientific method study the pandemic and present their latest findings to officials at every layer of government but are met with indifference, stupidity, self-interest, and pandering to higher-ups. Things keep getting worse. The body count rises. There’s no end in sight. If anything came close to mimicking the Covid Pandemic, it is this – atleast on TV as on the big screen we had the eerie Contagion before this.

Kingdom starts in the royal palace at night. An underling is commanded to slip a bowl of blood through the crack under the red curtain of the king’s sleeping quarters. We hear guttural grows and animalistic shuffling and scratching. Then the underling gets yanked under the curtain by the king, who has become a flesh-eating ghoul subsisting on servants and peasants. We soon learn that the king’s inner circle has been keeping his condition a secret and presenting their own schemes as the king’s wishes. The main focus of their treachery is Crown Prince Lee Chang (Ju Ji-hoon), the king’s son and anointed successor. The Queen Consort (Kim Hye-jun) is pregnant with the king’s child; if the prince gets killed or imprisoned, her baby will assume the throne and allow her and the traitorous Chief State Councilor, her father, (Ryu Seung-ryong) to run things on the infant’s behalf.

The prince and his bodyguard Mu-yeong (Kim Sang-ho) travel to a remote province to investigate reports of a strange disease that’s been spreading at the border, and meet two physicians, Seo-Bi (Bae Doona) and Yeong-Shin (Kim Sung-kyu), who have been researching a phenomenon that they identify as the undead sleeping during the day but waking up at night craving human flesh. It’s here that Kingdom distinguishes itself as more than a rehash of the usual elements. This is a story about a pandemic that could be contained with minimal deaths were it not for the selfishness and thickheadness of the people running the country. Its real villains are authority figures who fail the people they’re supposed to protect (starting to sound familiar?). What makes Kingdom stand apart from other zombie thrillers is its spooky prescience. Like all zombie stories, it’s a moral tale about society imploding because of a “disease.” And it’s about the choices the uninfected make to ensure the survival of their loved ones and civilization as a whole (or protect their own interests).

In Kingdom, doctors study a new disease’s victims, separate fact from speculation and rumor, and come up with suggestions that they believe will slow the infection rate. Then they present what they’ve learned to functionaries and military people, who thwart, ignore, or undermine them. When the doctors figure out that flesh-cravers have to be locked up to prevent them from biting the living, they’re laughed at, which of course leads to a zombie attack. One of the same men who ignored their advice tries to blame them for the carnage and jail them. When the doctors figure out that the zombies hibernate during the day, they recommend reducing the zombie population by beheading and burning them in their sleep. They’re told that this is an impossible request because, according to faith, a dead person enters the afterlife with the same body they had when they passed on. After a long, increasingly desperate argument, the authorities offer a compromise: They’ll burn the bodies of the peasants, but bury the nobles.

These scenes are as agonizing as they are appallingly funny — not just because we know from watching zombie films that certain things just aren’t done, but because we’ve seen our heroes putting in hard work only to have it ignored by fools. Men and women of reason keep getting kneecapped by laypeople who are in thrall to “gut feelings,” or who cling to existing laws, customs, and rules because they can’t accept that the world they once knew is gone.

True to science, the heroes also learn that, like all diseases, this one mutates in response to human countermeasures, changes in climate and terrain, and other factors. Which means that what was true last week might change, necessitating a shift in tactics — and a new round of conversations with officials who belatedly accepted the last set of observations, and believe that a change in the pandemic’s narrative must mean that the doctors didn’t know what they were talking about the first time. The application of basic science to nightmare imagery lets Kingdom continue into a second season after reaching a satisfying stopping point at the end of season one.

The show is pretty dense, but it’s so exciting, and, at only six episodes, the plot moves swiftly as the characters find themselves deeper and deeper in trouble. Think Game of Thrones meets The Witcher meets the good bits of The Walking Dead. If that’s not enough to convince you, here is a list of cool things this show has in it: Sick swordfighting (it’s set in the 1600s, so not everyone had guns or knew how to use them yet). People in cool hats (all the costumes are amazing). People shooting flaming arrows at stuff. People galloping horses through city gates and immediately yelling a dire message at other people. A hilarious one-sided romance. Some truly gross undead special effects.

So what more do you want – plenty in it for the intellectuals who enjoy dissecting a show and plenty more for us fun-loving folk who just enjoying watching a new show which promises action, thrills and horror in equal amounts plus a fresh story which is hard to find.

JAY’S VERDICT

Go watch Kingdom and relieve yourself from the abject boredom of the usual fare on Netflix and have something new to discuss about zombies.

THE HAUNTING OF BLY MANOR (2020) – NETFLIX’S HORROR MINISERIES IS A HIT

The Haunting of Bly Manor is an American gothic romance/drama streaming television miniseries created by Mike Flanagan, and released on October 9, 2020 by Netflix. It mostly acts as an adaptation of the 1898 novella The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, but also includes other elements either based on James’ other works or created for the show; it is also the second entry in Flanagan’s The Haunting anthology series, acting as a follow-up to 2018’s The Haunting of Hill House. It features much of Hill House’s crew and some of the same cast, but the two series’ narratives have no other connection.

There are 9 episodes, which will be described briefly and then we can proceed with the discussion about the show. Episode 1 begins in Northern California, 2007, where a woman attends a rehearsal dinner for a wedding. There, she tells the story of an au pair, which dates back to 1987 in London. American native Dani Clayton is hired by Henry Wingrave to look after his niece and nephew in their manor in Bly. Dani arrives with the cook, Owen, and meets the children, Miles and Flora, the housekeeper, Hannah Grose and gardener Jamie. Flora warns Dani not to leave her room at night, but Dani ignores this. She finds many talismans spread throughout the manor, one of which belongs to the previous au pair, Rebecca Jessel, who allegedly killed herself. Hannah describes the talismans as a protection for Flora. She sees a man on the parapet. When Dani stumbles on The Lady of the Lake’s talisman, she is locked in Flora’s cupboard by Miles. She sees a spectre she has seen repeatedly in a mirror in the closet. Dani is let out a few hours later and notices muddy footsteps. When she follows them outside, she sees Miles and Flora staring at her from their windows.

Episode 2 begins when Dani tells the children that while she forgives them for locking her in the closet, she does not believe their story. In a flashback to his days in prep school, Miles exhibits increasingly erratic behavior—picking fights, killing small animals—and he is expelled. It is suggested that Miles wanted to be expelled, as he holds a letter from Flora that says “Come home.” In the present, Dani makes the children do the house chores, giving Hannah and Jamie a break. Dani has a panic attack when Flora tries on a pair of broken glasses she finds among Dani’s things. Miles acts unnervingly adult-like toward Dani, which creeps her out. While playing a game of hide-and-seek, she discovers a photo of Rebecca and her lover. Her lover is the same apparition she saw on the parapet, and he appears again. Miles falls unconscious and the ghost grins eerily at Miles.

A flashback to a year before reveals that the ghost whom Dani saw earlier is Peter Quint, who works with Henry and meets Rebecca Jessel when she interviews for the au pair position. They begin a relationship. Flora gifts Rebecca the doll she made of her. Peter becomes possessive of Rebecca and jealous of Rebecca’s interactions with Owen. The photo that Dani found is revealed to have been taken by Peter in the off-limits wing of the house, and that Hannah disapproved of their relationship. In the present, the police fail to find Peter on the grounds. Assuming Peter is alive, the adults deduce that Peter may not know Rebecca is dead and may be stalking the grounds. Flora is found by the lake in the morning, staring at Rebecca’s ghost. At story time, Miles presents a story about puppets who forgot their maker and mocked him. They receive a call and learn that Owen’s mother has died. Dani has a panic attack once again and screams as she sees the same spectre appear before her.

In flashbacks, Dani is engaged to her childhood friend Edmund. One night during a date, Edmund realizes Dani does not want to marry him and the two fight in the car. As Edmund exits the car angrily, a truck runs him over and kills him. A traumatized Dani sees Edmund’s spectre for the first time at the hospital and plans to leave the country without telling anyone. Edmund’s mother gives Dani Edmund’s glasses before she leaves. At Bly Manor, Dani joins the house staff at a bonfire after Owen’s mother’s funeral. Jamie initiates a traditional remembrance of the deceased, “throwing bones into the fire”, but Dani does not participate. Dani and Jamie fall in love. Dani later awakens in a drunken stupor, but Flora notices the faceless doll in her dollhouse. The children prevent her from seeing a white-clad female spirit wandering the manor. After putting the children to bed, Dani burns Edmund’s glasses.

Hannah flashes back and forth between events at different points in time, some real and some imaginary: the day she interviewed Owen for the cook position; the night of the bonfire when he offers to take her to Paris; and the time of Rebecca’s employment at the manor, when Hannah caught Peter stealing from the Wingraves. One night, Peter is killed by the “Lady in the Lake”, the faceless white-clad ghost who tracks mud into the house. Reincarnating as a ghost, he discovers he can possess Miles. Hannah sees Miles speaking to Peter. Peter then possesses Miles and shoves Hannah down the well, killing her. Dani arrives at the manor after, revealing that Hannah was killed right at that moment and has unwittingly been a ghost since Dani’s arrival. The episode ends at the bonfire, where Hannah agrees to go to Paris with Owen, only to see him toasting her goodbye as he leaves with Jamie.

Flashbacks reveal that Henry was having an affair with his brother Dominic’s wife Charlotte before their deaths and is Flora’s biological father. After deducing this, Dominic cuts ties with Henry, reasserting himself as Flora’s father and forbidding Henry to contact the family. Dominic and Charlotte travel to India in an attempt to save their marriage, but are killed there in an accident. In the present, Henry drinks heavily and refuses to answer Dani’s calls when Flora behaves strangely and sleepwalks. At night, he calls the manor hoping Flora will answer but hangs up when anybody else does. Flora repeatedly “dream hops”, flashing back to the past in dreams about Charlotte and a faceless boy ghost in her room. She speaks to Rebecca’s ghost, who visits her at night and is the cause of these occurrences. Dani ends up seeing Rebecca and Peter’s ghosts. As she tries to flee with Flora, Miles knocks Dani unconscious.

In flashbacks, Peter learns the mechanics of being a ghost at Bly Manor; he is able to possess the living temporarily, but can do so permanently if he is invited. If a ghost remains in Bly Manor for too long, they will lose their face along with their sense of self. As a ghost, Peter convinces Rebecca they can be together forever if she invites him to possess her. Rebecca agrees but Peter walks into the lake in her body, drowning her and rendering her a ghost as well. Rebecca is horrified and feels betrayed but Peter convinces her that using the same method, they can permanently possess Miles and Flora, letting them start new lives together. In the present, the two ghosts and the children take Dani to the attic while the ghosts enact their plan. The children let the ghosts possess them permanently. When Hannah calls out to them, Peter, as Miles, leads her to the well where he killed her, forcing her to accept that she is a ghost. Flora reveals that she and Rebecca only pretended to carry out the possession and Rebecca’s ghost is still separate. Dani once again attempts to escape with Flora but is attacked by the Lady in the Lake.

Centuries ago, the owner of Bly Manor, Willoughby, dies, orphaning his two daughters, Viola and Perdita. Viola marries their distant cousin, Arthur Lloyd, to Perdita’s chagrin, who has feelings for Lloyd. After having a daughter Isabel, Viola falls ill with a lung disease. She refuses her last rites, insisting she “will not leave”. She becomes bitter and angry as her disease worsens, and she is isolated from the family, frequently searching for her daughter. Perdita, no longer able to tolerate her sister’s worsening condition, smothers Viola to death and marries Arthur herself. Viola’s spirit is trapped in a chest in the manor, filled with dresses and jewelry she bequeathed to Isabel. Arthur’s finances dwindle and, at risk of losing the house, Perdita opens the chest, hoping to sell Isabel’s inheritance to keep them afloat. Viola’s spirit kills Perdita. Finding Perdita’s corpse, Arthur fears the chest is cursed and sinks it into the lake on the property before leaving with Isabel. Viola becomes the Lady in the Lake, searching the manor for her daughter at night, and killing anyone in her path, as well as trapping those who die on the grounds. Her memory fades along with her face over the centuries.

The final episode begins as Viola drags Dani by the throat, she is intercepted by Flora. Flora reminds Viola of Isabel so she takes Flora to the lake to drown her. Dani saves Flora by letting Viola’s ghost permanently inhabit her body, releasing all the previously trapped souls that had died in the house over the centuries. Henry returns to Bly Manor to raise the children as his own; Owen and Jamie find Hannah’s body in the well. Dani and Jamie leave for America to start a life together. After five years, Dani starts to see Viola’s reflection and worries her appearance may harm Jamie. During their visit to Owen’s restaurant in France, he reveals that Flora and Miles do not recall the events at Bly Manor and only have happy memories. Dani wakes one night with her hand around Jamie’s neck. Not wanting to risk Jamie’s life, Dani returns to Bly Manor and drowns herself in the lake, taking Viola’s place. The storyteller, now revealed to be a middle-aged Jamie, ends the story and enjoys the wedding reception of a now grown-up Flora, with Miles, Owen, and Henry. Back in the home she shared with Dani, Jamie waits by the door, hoping to reunite with Dani’s ghost, who watches over her as she falls asleep.

So, now that we have covered the episodes, let’s review the show itself. It is brilliantly played out and I feel it has more of a balance between horror, suspense and calm. The characters are well fleshed out and very strong backgrounds provided for even the minor characters which feels like an engaging story being read out to you and it is one which draws you in. The show has a creepy vibe to it without it being over done. However, being a Netflix show, it does have its usual stupid “essentials” – a show set in the 1990s having a lot of diversity especially for a stuffy aristocratic family and a lesbian romance to keep the LGBT bandwagon quiet and to avoid new hashtags popping up. Besides that, the show is fascinating enough and has a rich mix of history, scares and romance – to satisfy people who enjoy different genres.

JAY’S VERDICT

The Haunting of Bly Manor is an excellent entry into the Haunting anthology and a must watch for people who enjoy the horror genre. Fast-paced, thrilling and exciting – go watch it now!

NO TIME TO DIE (2021) – THE NAME IS BOND, “WOKE” BOND

No Time To Die, which for the sake of typing I am going to refer to as NTTD in this post, is a 2021 spy film and the twenty-fifth in the James Bond series. It is the last featuring Daniel Craig play the 007 we enjoyed for such a long time. Sadly, if the woke brigade have their way, it seems like the last time we will see a proper James Bond again. In this film, Bond, who has left active service with MI6, is recruited by the CIA to find a kidnapped scientist, which leads to a showdown with a powerful adversary.

In the past, a young Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) witnesses the murder of her mother by Lyutsifer Safin in a failed attempt to murder her father Mr. White. Madeleine shoots Safin, but he survives. She flees onto a nearby frozen lake and falls through the ice, but he rescues her. In the present, after the capture of Ernst Stavro Blofeld, Madeleine is in Matera with James Bond. Spectre assassins ambush Bond when he visits Vesper Lynd’s tomb. Though Bond and Madeleine escape the assassins led by Primo, he believes she has betrayed him, despite her pleas, and leaves her.

Five years later, the MI6 scientist Valdo Obruchev is kidnapped from an MI6 laboratory. With M’s approval Obruchev had developed Project Heracles, a bioweapon containing nanobots that infect like a virus upon touch and are coded to an individual’s DNA, rendering it lethal to the target and their relatives but harmless to others. Bond has retired to Jamaica, where he is contacted by the CIA agent Felix Leiter and his colleague Logan Ash, who ask for Bond’s help in finding Obruchev. Bond initially declines, but after Nomi, an MI6 agent and his successor as 007, tells him about Project Heracles, Bond agrees to help Leiter, over Nomi’s warnings not to interfere.

Bond goes to Cuba and meets Paloma, a CIA agent working with Leiter. They infiltrate a Spectre meeting for Blofeld’s birthday to retrieve Obruchev. Still imprisoned in Belmarsh, Blofeld uses a disembodied “bionic eye” to lead the meeting and order his members to kill Bond with a “nanobot mist”, but it kills all the Spectre members instead, because Obruchev had reprogrammed the nanobots to infect them on Safin’s orders. Bond captures Obruchev and rendezvouses with Leiter and Ash, but Ash, a double agent working for Safin, kills Leiter and escapes with Obruchev.

Moneypenny and Q arrange a meeting between Bond and Blofeld in prison to try to find Obruchev. Safin visits and coerces Madeleine to infect herself with a nanobot dose to kill Blofeld, as she has been in contact with him since his imprisonment. When Bond encounters Madeleine at Blofeld’s prison cell, he touches her and unknowingly infects himself before she leaves. Blofeld confesses to Bond that he staged the ambush at Vesper’s tomb to appear as if Madeleine had betrayed him. Bond reacts by attacking Blofeld, unintentionally causing the nanobots to infect and kill him.

Bond tracks Madeleine to her childhood home in Norway and learns she has a five-year-old daughter, Mathilde, who Madeleine claims is not his. Madeleine tells him that when Safin was a boy, his parents were murdered by her father on Blofeld’s orders. Having avenged them by killing Blofeld and destroying Spectre, Safin continues his rampage with Ash and their entourage in pursuit of Bond, Madeleine, and Mathilde. Though Bond kills Ash and his thugs, Safin captures Madeleine and Mathilde.

Q enables Bond and Nomi to infiltrate Safin’s headquarters in a missile base, converted to a nanobot factory, on an island between Japan and Russia, where Obruchev is mass-producing the Heracles technology so Safin can use it to kill millions of people. Bond kills many of Safin’s men while Nomi kills Obruchev by pushing him into a nanobot vat. Madeleine escapes captivity while Safin releases Mathilde. Nomi takes Madeleine and Mathilde away from the island; Bond stays to open the island’s blast-resistant silo doors. He calls in a missile strike from HMS Dragon to destroy the factory, then kills Safin’s remaining men, including Primo.

Safin ambushes Bond, shooting him several times and infecting him with a vial containing nanobots programmed to kill Madeleine and Mathilde. Despite his injuries, Bond kills Safin after a fight and opens the silos. Speaking by radio with Madeleine, Bond tells her he loves her and encourages her to move on without him. Madeleine confirms that Mathilde is his daughter as Bond says goodbye. Missiles hit the island, destroying the nanobot factory and killing Bond. At MI6, M, Moneypenny, Nomi, Q, and Tanner drink in Bond’s memory. As Madeleine takes Mathilde to Matera, she tells her about her father, James Bond.

The key ingredient of NTTD is it shows two battered human beings threatening to break. Yes, it’s beautiful to look at, with luminous cinematography and thrilling kinetic action. But it thinks a little deeper than the surface gloss of a superficial action romp, holding its gaze on stuff that earlier Bond films didn’t think to show. Where does James Bond go when the film is over? What’s he like on vacation? What’s James Bond like when he’s having fun? NTTD includes Bond movie staples like gravity-defying car chases, ridiculous doomsday weapons and vast brutalist hideouts full of henchmen with silly facial tics to mow down. And it continues the many through-lines from Skyfall and Spectre. NTTD shows Bond living a life away from the banging and crashing, allowing Craig to display more than just a stern look cinched into a suit. We know from previous Bond outings that Craig is utterly assured as the suave secret agent, but we also know from his theater and television work that the man can act. And we know from Knives Out and Logan Lucky that he’s funny.

This unconstrained Bond can be romantic, playful — hell, even a bit camp. At times he’s practically goofing around. Then he’s deeply vulnerable. Then he’s back to business. There’s more than a holster under the tailoring, there’s a rounded human being. This transition from the “blunt instrument” of Casino Royale to a fleshed-out character comes thanks to the people around him, the men and women he loves and respects. Lashana Lynch does well but to all those wanting to see a female Bond, the entire concept is dreadful. Why not create a fresh agent?

A strong female character with her own story without wanting to claim 007’s legacy – woke doesn’t mean using female characters instead of male. It means allowing more roles to be developed for women instead of just reimagining male characters as female. Hopefully Hollywood has sense enough not to indulge in the same but sadly as we see with most new Amazon, Disney or Netflix shows and movies – LGBT and female rebooted movies, even if they don’t make sense – is the trend to make money on these days and since in the end, money is what is worshipped in Hollywood, we can wait for the day to cringe at a female 007 – Jamie Bondie – perhaps who is also a lesbian as apparently every Netflix female character is these days. Anyways, let’s say adieu to one of the best actors to play James Bond – Daniel Craig, and hope Tom Hardy or Idris Elba replaces him. A real 007 fan can hope.

JAY’S VERDICT

Say goodbye in style to Daniel Craig in his final outing as James Bond, even though it isn’t his best.

RED NOTICE (2021) – NETFLIX ACTION THRILLER FALLS FLAT

Red Notice is a 2021 American action comedy film written, directed, and produced by Rawson Marshall Thurber. Dwayne Johnson, who also served as a producer, stars as an FBI agent who reluctantly teams up with a renowned art thief (Ryan Reynolds) in order to catch an even more notorious criminal (Gal Gadot). With such a star-studded cast, you would expect stellar performances but sadly you would be mistaken. It’s a pity as I was hoping for much more from this movie.

Johnson plays John Hartley, an intelligent FBI profiler (terrible casting there since Johnson looks anything but a profiler for the FBI – perhaps a door smasher for the FBI SWAT team) who locks up famed art thief Nolan Booth (Reynolds) (Ryan Reynolds not realizing he isn’t playing Deadpool) only to end up framed for the same crime and thrown in a prison cell with Booth. It turns out both of them have been played by the Bishop (Gal Gadot), a femme fatale art thief (resembling a pretty mannequin at a posh Italian apparel store) bent on stealing all three of Cleopatra’s mythic golden eggs to sell on the black market. The ensuing cat-and-mouse game leads the characters to exotic locales like Bali, Rome, and Argentina, though these backdrops are not explored by the characters or even shown much on-screen beyond title cards announcing the location.

While the plot — reluctant partners teaming up to take down a common enemy — is nothing new, the chemistry and charisma of the film’s leading men make the tired setup feel fresh. In an amusing scene, Reynolds loudly outs Johnson as a member of law enforcement in the middle of a Russian prison cafeteria, much to Johnson’s chagrin. After the two make a daring and improbable escape from prison (involving tough Russian guards who cannot hit a single thing even with a heatseeker), they’re grateful for a change of clothes — until Johnson finds out that all there is for him to wear is a sparkly sweater that says “Gotta Dance.” These and other moments where the two stars playfully antagonize each other are among the film’s more entertaining moments. Perhaps this should come as no surprise given Johnson’s past success playing the ‘straight man’ to an off-the-cuff partner. However, Reynolds does explore homo-erotic humor with Johnson, a little too much, where instead of being funny it comes off more like – “just come out of the closet already!!”.

The same cannot be said of the scenes they share with Gadot, who delivers a performance almost as wooden as a Bavarian forest during winter. Most of Gadot’s time on screen is spent kicking, tripping, and otherwise incapacitating the men of “Red Notice” to get what she wants. Her character is able to outwit and even outfight Hartley and Booth with minimal effort (bizarre but it’s what sells these days), whether intercepting a phone call from an INTERPOL Inspector or pretending to be the warden of the gulag they’re locked up in. Also, why are con artists, also excellent martial artists, weapons experts and capable of taking out multiple enemies? Why aren’t more of them auditioning for the now open 007 role?

Booth and Hartley both have backstories about how their fathers led them into their respective career paths. The most we learn of Gadot’s “Bishop” comes from a twist revealed in the final minutes of the film, and even that fails to give any real insight into her motivations. If anything, Gadot’s character is less developed than Inspector Das, a minor character played by “Umbrella Academy” alum Ritu Arya who is another diversity hire considering how she is wasted in the film and one can only guess why she was hired in a role that has no meat. Together they form a triumvirate of stereotypes: the lawful strongman, the cunning jester and the femme fatale. Constant rug-pullings complicate this equation, though not in any genuinely surprising ways — the performances are too sleepy and perfunctory to pull off the film’s many tricks and double-crossings with any flair or umph. And then there’s the script, which turns Reynolds into a cursed generator of lame quips.

Red Notice belongs to that action-comedy genre where the writing is never taken seriously. If you look at the story, it’s pretty much that age-old template of twists that is now very familiar for the audience. For a heist movie seemingly planting the seeds for a franchise in the vein of “The Mummy” or “National Treasure” movies, there’s no sense of discovery, no anticipatory thrills as our heroes find and connect the clues. Uninterested in world building or creating any sense of stakes, “Red Notice” is merely an expensive brandishing of star power — only the stars haven’t got it in them.

JAY’S VERDICT

Gadot’s performance aside, “Red Notice” is a passable film. Does it have complex characters? No. A compelling, original story? Not quite. Go in with the mindset of seeing your favorite actors play action-hero versions of themselves while delivering a few exhale-worthy jokes, and you won’t be disappointed

SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS (2021) – MARVEL’S LATEST IS BETTER THAN THE ETERNALS AND THAT’S ABOUT IT

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is a 2021 American superhero film based on Marvel Comics featuring the character Shang-Chi. Produced by Marvel Studios and distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, it is the 25th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is the first Marvel Studios film with an Asian director and a predominantly Asian cast.

Around one thousand years ago, Xu Wenwu discovers the mystical ten rings which grant immortality and godly powers. He establishes the Ten Rings organization, conquering kingdoms and toppling governments throughout history. In 1996, Wenwu searches for Ta Lo, a village said to harbor mythical beasts. He travels through a magical forest to the village entrance but is stopped by guardian Ying Li.

The two fall in love, and when the Ta Lo villagers reject Wenwu, Li chooses to leave with him and they have two children, Shang-Chi and Xialing; having found love, Wenwu abandons leadership of his organization and locks away the Ten Rings and the power and immortality it grants. When Shang-Chi is 7 years old, Li is murdered by Wenwu’s enemies, the Iron Gang. Wenwu dons the Ten Rings once again, massacres the Iron Gang, and resumes leadership of his organization. He makes Shang-Chi undergo brutal training in martial arts, but does not allow Xialing to train with the others so she teaches herself in secret. When Shang-Chi is 14, Wenwu sends him to assassinate the Iron Gang’s leader. However, Shang-Chi runs away to San Francisco and adopts the name “Shaun”.

In the present day, Shang-Chi works as a valet with his best friend Katy, who does not know about his past. They are attacked on a bus by the Ten Rings, who steal a pendant that Li gave to Shang-Chi. Shang-Chi flies out to meet his sister, fearing that the Ten Rings will go after her matching pendant from Li. He reveals his past to Katy, who insists on helping him. They find Xialing at an underground fight club in Macau, which she founded after escaping from Wenwu at a young age. The Ten Rings attack the fight club and Wenwu arrives to capture Shang-Chi, Katy, Xialing, and her pendant.

They are taken to the Ten Rings’ compound, where Wenwu uses the pendants to reveal a mystical map leading to Ta Lo. Wenwu explains that he has heard Li calling to him and believes she has been held captive in Ta Lo behind a sealed gate. He plans to destroy the village unless they release her. When his children and Katy object, he imprisons them. The three meet former actor Trevor Slattery, whom the Ten Rings imprisoned for impersonating Wenwu, and his hundun companion Morris, who offers to guide them to Ta Lo.

The group escapes and goes to Ta Lo, which exists in a separate dimension with various Chinese mythological creatures. They meet Ying Nan, Li’s sister, who explains the history of Ta Lo: thousands of years ago, the village was attacked by the soul-consuming Dweller-in-Darkness and its minions, but was saved by a Chinese dragon called the Great Protector who helped seal the Dark Gate to the Dweller’s world. According to Nan, the Dweller-in-Darkness has been influencing Wenwu to believe Li is still alive so that he will open the Gate. Shang-Chi, Xialing, and Katy join the villagers in training and preparing for Wenwu’s arrival, using outfits and weapons crafted from dragon scales.

Wenwu and the Ten Rings arrive and attack. Wenwu overpowers Shang-Chi and forces him into the nearby lake, then attacks the Gate with the rings. This allows some of the Dweller’s minions to escape, and the Ten Rings join forces with the villagers to fight them. Shang-Chi is revived by the Great Protector, which leaves the lake to battle the minions. Wenwu and Shang-Chi fight once more and Shang-Chi gains the upper hand but chooses to spare Wenwu. The Dweller-in-Darkness escapes the weakened Gate and attacks Shang-Chi. Wenwu saves Shang-Chi, bequeathing him the rings before being killed by the Dweller-in-Darkness. Shang-Chi, the Great Protector, Xialing, and Katy manage to kill the Dweller-in-Darkness. Afterward, Shang-Chi and Katy return to San Francisco, where they are summoned by the sorcerer Wong to Kamar-Taj.

Shang-Chi is a better representation of Asian heritage compared to some of the earlier stereotypical representations we have had to endure. However, as a movie, it does suffer from an over-reliance on CGI and that the story is predictable where a young Asian kid was trained from childhood to be a genius martial artist which is a storyline that has been over-utilized in Hollywood. Simu Liu as Shang-Chi is decent if not anything exciting. Awkwafina is basically the same as in all her movies – loud and bewildered by everything around her and somehow despite not being trained since childhood like Shang-Chi and his sister, is an expert archer which is an oddity. Meng’er Zhang is again a good choice playing Shang-Chi’s tough and constipated younger sister (I am guessing she isn’t constipated but it’s hard to tell as the look on her face reminds one of only that). Tony Leung however is great as Shang-Chi’s dad and has a sense of loss and toughness around him, thus, playing his role as the leader of the Ten Rings quite well. What impressed me about the movie, is not the acting but the martial arts scenes which are extremely well-shot and engage the audience. The CGI dragon is a bit over-done and you do crave more for the real-world martial arts rather than the CGI filled fight with soul sucking monsters.

JAY’S VERDICT

Compared to The Eternals, Shang-Chi and the Ten Rings, is worth checking out. The humor is dull but overall if you enjoy martial arts, it is a worthy entry to the MCU.

DUNE (2021) – DENIS VILLENEUVE’S SCI-FI EPIC REINVENTS THE GENRE

Dune (titled onscreen as Dune: Part One) is a 2021 American epic science fiction film directed by Denis Villeneuve. It is set in the far future, it follows Paul Atreides as his family, the noble House Atreides, is thrust into a war for the deadly and inhospitable desert planet Arrakis. After many failed endeavors to portray “Dune” on the big screen, Denis Villeneuve takes a shot at depicting the complex and imaginative world of Paul Atreides and Arrakis. The novel by Frank Herbert, which has sold over 20 million copies, was deemed as one the “greatest science fiction books ever written.” The film runs two hours and 35 minutes long, covers only half of the 800 page novel.

In the year 10191, Duke Leto of House Atreides, ruler of the ocean planet Caladan, is assigned by the Padishah Emperor Shaddam Corrino IV to replace House Harkonnen as fief rulers of Arrakis. Arrakis is a harsh desert planet and the only source of “spice”, a valuable substance that extends human vitality and is critical for interstellar travel. In reality, Shaddam intends to have House Harkonnen stage a coup to retake the planet with aid of the Emperor’s Sardaukar troops, eradicating House Atreides, whose influence threatens Shaddam’s control. Leto is apprehensive but sees the political advantages of controlling the spice planet and forming an alliance with its native population, skilled fighters known as the Fremen. The Fremen have special suits that collect and recycle water in their bodies, as well as specific ways of walking through the sand to steer clear from the enormous sandworms that occupy parts of the desert.

Arrakis holds many dangers, with its uninhabitable desert landscape, the fierce desert-dwelling Fremen, and massive, destructive sandworms. Despite these troubles, Arrakis is a valuable possession, as it holds the key to interstellar travel— spice. Whoever controls Arrakis controls spice, thereby placing them in a position of immense power. It is over this last issue that fighting breaks out to determine who will be in control. The movie follows the story of Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet), as he moves to a new planet where the threat of war lingers in the air. Paul is the son of Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac) and Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), from the noble House Atreides. In the beginning, Paul is troubled by nightmares and visions that lead his mother to believe that he is gifted, so she begins to train him in the ways of the Bene Gesserit, an ancient school of mental and physical training mostly for women.

In his visions, he sees a mystery fremen woman (Zendeya) that seems to be connected with his fate on Arrakis. The vision scenes are very slow-motioned and vague, filled with drapes and deep icy-blue eyes. The visions shift between Paul’s potential destinies, anywhere from greatness to failure. The Fremen believe that one day, a gifted messiah that they refer to as the Lisan Al Gaib will come to free the Fremen and take them to the promised land. Upon the Atreides’ arrival on Arrakis, Liet Kynes (Sharon Duncan-Brewster) serves as the planetary ecologist of Arrakis. She begins to notice things about Paul that lead her to believe that he might be the Lisan Al Gaib. Lady Jessica and the Bene Gesserit also have reasons to believe that Paul is the messiah that they have been waiting for.

Dune stands out for its emphasis on sound design, music and imagery. The imagery is fantastic and transport the viewer into a whole new world. The music is captivating and immerses you into a completely different state of awareness. Known for crafting cathartic epics, Villeneuve stuns you in each and every frame, commanding your unflinching attention. His detailing and scale is awe-inspiring. The legendary Hans Zimmer’s score captivates your senses. Filmed for IMAX, Dune is every bit an immersive visual masterpiece. Chalamet fits the mold of Paul who is in a place of power without awareness of how to use it and Rebecca Ferguson as his caring, yet authoritative mother works well. The film also does an impressive job incorporating all of the nuances of “Dune”’s complex universe. The film requires lots of exposition: the witchlike behavior of the Bene Gesserit, the prophecy of Muad’Dib, the brooding threat of the Harkonnens, and the secretive ways of the Fremen. However, Zendaya is wasted (which isn’t saying much) and barely speaks throughout the movie.

Dune deserves to be more than a single movie. Truthfully, if this franchise gains legs, it has enough source material that it could be transformed into a nine or ten movie long series to parallel some of the greats like Star Wars. “Dune” relies heavily on its visuals to gravitate viewers towards the film. Images of sandstorms, desert cities, and high-tech space ships are compelling. Villenevue infuses this imagery with a more human aspect, like continuous images of Chani (Zendaya) within the desert landscape looking back at the audience. Unfortunately, the marketing of the film geared too heavily toward Zendaya’s character, whom we only get to meet at the end of the film (meet is too strong a word here). If you’re watching Dune for Zendaya then please don’t. Also if you’re watching any movie for Zendaya, then your opinion doesn’t matter much as it is. Dune is a brilliant movie and makes you crave the sequel.

JAY’S VERDICT

Dune is a masterpiece that makes you thirst for the sequel – an amazing experience worth watching

FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS (2006-2011) – A MASTERPIECE WORTH BINGEING ON

Friday Night Lights is an American sports drama television series developed by Peter Berg, that is inspired by the 1990 nonfiction book by H. G. Bissinger, which was adapted as the 2004 film of the same name by Berg. The series is about a high school football team in the fictional town of Dillon, a small, close-knit community in rural West Texas. The series features an ensemble cast, led by Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton, who portray a high school football coach Eric Taylor and his wife Tami Taylor, a high school faculty member. The rest of the primary cast includes characters associated with football and high school.

In brief, since I don’t want to ruin the show for you, I will provide you an overview of the show’s story as a whole. Aside from Coach Taylor and his family, the show explores the lives of the Dillon high school football players. In the pilot, Coach Taylor’s protege and star quarterback Jason Street (Scott Porter) suffers an in-game spinal injury that ends his football career. He faces life as a paraplegic. At first, Street struggles with these disabilities and the upturn of his life. Gradually, he copes with his new reality. Lyla Garrity (Minka Kelly), his girlfriend, undergoes her own changes, making a transition from a Panthers cheerleader to a Christian youth leader.

Street’s injury allows sophomore Matt Saracen (Zach Gilford), who is quiet and reserved, to become the Panthers’ starting quarterback. He eventually dates the coach’s daughter, Julie. Saracen’s father is serving as a soldier in Iraq, so he is the sole caretaker for his grandmother Lorraine Saracen. Saracen receives little help, except from his best friend Landry Clarke (Jesse Plemons). Star running back Brian “Smash” Williams (Gaius Charles) works to get a college football scholarship. Fullback Tim Riggins (Taylor Kitsch) struggles with alcoholism and complicated family problems. His older brother Billy Riggins (Derek Phillips), while not his legal guardian, serves as Tim’s caretaker. Tyra Collette (Adrianne Palicki) stars as a town vixen who wants to leave Dillon for a better life. Involved with Riggins, Tyra eventually develops a complicated relationship with Landry Clarke.

The fourth and fifth seasons shift focus to the East Dillon Lions, now coached by Eric Taylor. The fourth season introduces several new characters, including Vince Howard (Michael B. Jordan), a talented athlete who has never played football before, but he rises to stardom as the team’s quarterback. Luke Cafferty (Matt Lauria) is a running back and is romantically with Becky Sproles (Madison Burge), a beauty-queen hopeful who has complicated family issues; Becky also develops a deep relationship with Riggins. Jess Merriweather (Jurnee Smollett), an East Dillon student who works at her father’s restaurant and cares for her three younger brothers; she briefly dates Landry and has a relationship with Vince; and shows aspirations of being a football coach. Hastings Ruckle (Grey Damon) is introduced in the fifth season, a basketball player turned football player, who serves as a receiver for the Lions.

So, above I have provided an insultingly short overview of an amazing show that is raw and emotional to the core – a show which allows the cast to impress us with some amazing performances topped by an episode in Season 4, called “The Son” where Zack Gilford, who plays Matt Saracan, gives a powerhouse of a performance. Even the most unemotional of viewers, will feel a strange warmth stir within them when they see that episode. I still believe it is an insult to the field of acting, that Zack Gilford did not win an Emmy for that.

But it’s not just Matt Saracen who draws you in – the story of Jason Street, the star QB whose life changed after a football injury leaves him a paraplegic. From having it all to building his life up again, there is something real in that character which makes you root for him. As Coach Taylor says in one of the episodes to Jason Street – “You lift everyone up around you”. Jason Street had every reason to give up but his courage and his will not to be defined by a life-altering injury inspires you. Even a character like Tim Riggins who is a womanizing drunk, has so many real raw moments where you respect him and his talent. Smash Williams was a fun character who also gave it all to succeed. But what I enjoy the most about the show is how even side-characters like Buddy Garrity, Saracen’s grandma, Landry Clark (Jesse Plemons), Tyra Collett and Julie Taylor all have such well-developed storylines. Even the villain JD McCoy who annoys you right from the beginning, has a well-defined arc.

FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS — “Always” Episode 513 — Pictured: Michael B. Jordan as Vince Howard — Photo by: Bill Records/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank

But the true centerpiece of this masterfully crafted show has to be the power couple – Coach Taylor and his wife Tami Taylor. Both play their roles magnificently throughout the five seasons and I would say it is one of the most realistic portrayals of a healthy and strong marriage on television. It’s not all perfect but they communicate, they sacrifice and they endure. Kyle Chandler’s portrayal of Coach Eric Taylor is brilliant – inspirational but not cringy; caring but not sappy – not only does he motivate his on-screen teams but also motivates the viewers – especially someone like me, for whom American football makes no sense and calling it football sounds silly when you run around with the ball (bladder) most of the time. But Coach Taylor and FNL made me enjoy it and actually root for the fictional Dillon Panthers.

JAY’S VERDICT

Friday Night Lights is the show to stream if you’re looking for an engaging drama to watch with your partner

300 (2007) – THE HISTORICAL ACTION MOVIE THAT MADE MILLIONS OF MEN ALL OVER THE WORLD ASHAMED OF THEIR BODIES

300 is a 2007 American epic historical action film based on the 1998 comic series of the same name by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley. 300 depicts one of the greatest last stands in world history – where 300 Spartans (and about 6700 Greeks) fought a million Persians (about 100,000-150,000 by modern estimates) at the Battle of Thermopylae.

The plot revolves around King Leonidas (Gerard Butler), who leads 300 Spartans into battle against the Persian “God-King” Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) and his invading army of more than 300,000 soldiers (a million or whatever when the story is being told). As the battle rages, Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) attempts to rally support in Sparta for her husband. The story is framed by a voice-over narrative by the Spartan soldier Dilios (David Wenham). Through this narrative technique, various fantastical creatures are introduced, placing 300 within the genre of historical fantasy. And fantasy it is, not only for showing six-pack abs on every Spartan but also for depicting the Persians – who were the greatest empire of that age – as in-bred, alien creatures with womanly attributes. The racist depiction of Persians has been condemned by Historians and Iranians alike but hey, it’s a just a Hollywood action-fantasy-historical drama right?

300 is faithful to Miller’s plots and drawings. “300,” reflects the book almost panel-by-panel. It leans so heavily on CGI that many shots are entirely computer-created. The movie involves a legendary last stand by 300 death-obsessed Spartans against a teeming horde of Persians. So brave and strong are the Spartans that they skewer, eviscerate, behead and otherwise inconvenience tens of thousands of Persians before finally falling to the weight of overwhelming numbers. The lesson is that the Spartans are free, and the Persians are slaves, although the Spartan idea of freedom is not appetizing (read Agoge).

Aside from the six-pack abs, the movie presents other scenes of impossibility. Look at the long- shots of the massed Persians. There are so many they would have presented a logistical nightmare: How to feed and water them? Consider the slave-borne chariot that Xerxes pulls up in. It is larger that the imperial throne in the Forbidden City, with a wide staircase leading up to Xerxes. Impressive, but how could such a monstrosity be lugged all the way from Persia to Greece? I am not expected to apply such logic, I know, but the movie flaunts its preposterous effects.

And what about Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) himself? He stands around eight feet tall – which sounds improbable. He towers over Leonidas (Butler), so we know his body isn’t really there. But what of his face? I am just about prepared to believe that the ancient Persians went in for the piercing of ears, cheeks, eyebrows, noses, lips and chins. The Spartans travel light. They come bare-chested, dressed in sandals, bikini briefs and capes. They carry swords and shields. At the right time, they produce helmets which must have been concealed in their loincloths. Also apples. And from the looks of them, protein shakes. They are very athletic, able to construct a towering wall of thousands of dead Persians in hours, even after going to all the trouble of butchering them. When they go into battle, their pep talks sound like the screams of drunken sports fans swarming onto the field.

Anyways, once we are done discussing the oddities in the movie – let’s come back to the racism. Spartans as we all know were tough warriors, probably the greatest of their time but they created no real empire outside of their city-state. Persia under Xerxes, was a super-power, a vast empire that stretched from the outskirts of modern day India to Turkey and Egypt. An empire, which had many magnificent cities and works of art – truly a cultural sight to behold in that day and age. So it feels rather odd that they are reduced to grotesque monsters and demons. However, the movie accentuates the skills of the Spartans while playing down those of the Persians. Even a shower of tens of thousands of arrows, that literally blot out the sun, can’t kill a single Spartan with just one shield each.

The film is framed as a saga related by the storyteller Dilios. It is this mythic conviction that underpins the film’s failings and informs its successes. Chief among the latter stand the Spartans themselves, Butler and co. sporting as much muscle as a bouncers’ convention and offering a convincing portrayal of a Spartan crack troop. Fighting in nothing more than underwear, helmet and shield, there are more six-packs on show than at a male strip club, but they largely manage to convey hard-assedness rather than homoeroticism. The Spartan battle formations and fighting styles are entirely accurate, and some of the battle choreography ranks among the finest committed to film.

Zack Snyder makes us believe that these Spartans really could dispatch 100 inferior men apiece, and still have the energy to run a marathon afterwards. Crucially, Butler convinces as a leader of men, bellowing orders, wisecracking or bolstering confidence as the occasion demands, leading from the front and laying out several battalions’ worth of the enemy. Leonidas — noble, stubborn and deadly when roused — may be not be complex, but Butler has the conviction and charisma needed to carry it off.

So the movie begins, with a retelling of Leonidas’s upbringing and his participation in the Spartan Agoge. Once he manages to survive the wolf and the winter cold, he is shown teaching his own son (who appears more like a normal boy than the young Leonidas). Xerxes, on the other hand, commands a vast force and moreover has at his disposal a number of gigantic beasts (elephants which are 3 times bigger than a normal elephant and trained battle rhinos), real and legendary, along with weird claw-handed giants whose job is to decapitate underperforming generals. He arrogantly sends word to Sparta, demanding of Leonidas some token form of submission: a tribute of earth and water. Leonidas refuses, kicks the Persians’ emissary into a well, and slaughters the rest of the messenger’s entourage too, apparently reckoning that, in the richness and fullness of time, their non-reappearance back in the Persian camp will tell Xerxes all he needs to know.

Yet a corrupt cadre of Spartan priests (the Ephors), given to slobbering loathsomely over beautiful dancing girls, tries to tell Leonidas that the time is not propitious for Sparta to go to war. These hideous misshapen old men (a wonder how they work for Sparta as we were shown earlier, misshapen or weak children were thrown off the rock in Sparta) – are in the pocket of Sparta’s most duplicitous and corrupt politician Theron, played by Dominic West.

Leonidas ignores the wishes of the Ephors who demand that Sparta not go to war during the festival of the Carnia but Leonidas, finds a loophole (post an extremely raunchy love making session with his queen) and takes 300 soldiers as his personal bodyguard towards the pass of Thermopylae. What follows is a visual treat for any action movie lover – wave after wave of Persian soldiers are slaughtered against the Spartan phalanx. As all seems lost for Xerxes, a Greek called Ephialtes – a disformed, hunchback – tells him a way to outflank the Spartans and hit them from behind (something we can tell, Xerxes preferred, considering the way he is portrayed in the film).

So the Spartans are finally surrounded and massacred, but not before Leonidas has made the God King “bleed” with a spear throw which just misses Xerxes’s heart (historically no record of that happening but many other things didn’t happen either). And thus, the movie ends, with all of Sparta going to war against the Persians and giving thanks to Leonidas and the brave 300 (ignoring the other 7000 who fought with them), for allowing them all to assemble at the battlefield of Plataea. The difference between the Spartans and the Persians throughout the movie couldn’t be more stark – literally a game of shirts vs. skins. Leonidas and his 300, probably just came out of Gold’s gym before they fought the Persians. Plus with ripped muscles, enhanced by CGI, they look like gods in comparison to the boy-loving Athenians or the disfigured Persians.

The action sequences are brilliant but the dialogues are cringy and the depiction of the Persians is downright racist and false. The movie however, has become a cult film due to how it made millions of men feel about their bodies – even the fit ones. When you see the perfection of Leonidas and his 300 – it’s hard not to renew your gym membership or take out those rusty 20 pound dumbbells, lying unused in your cupboard.

JAY’S VERDICT

Watch 300 for the mindless slaughter of men and recreate one of the most famous last stands in history. Just remember that it is a work of fiction based on a true story and you’ll enjoy it a lot.

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