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.

SQUID GAME (OJING-EO GEIM) (2021) – KOREAN THRILLER IS THE BEST THING YOU WILL STREAM ANYWHERE RIGHT NOW

Squid Game is a South Korean survival drama television series created by Hwang Dong-hyuk for Netflix. The series revolves around a contest in which 456 players are chosen from different walks of life to compete in a series of children’s games. Each of them is deeply in debt and chosen for the chance to win a ₩45.6 billion prize, with a deadly penalty if they lose. The name of the series draws from a similarly named Korean children’s game. Its cast includes Lee Jung-jae, Park Hae-soo, Wi Ha-joon, Jung Ho-yeon, O Yeong-su, Heo Sung-tae, Anupam Tripathi, and Kim Joo-ryoung.

“Squid Game,” depicts a competition, in which boundless wealth is made available to whomever survives a brutal gauntlet of fatal events. These stages are borrowed from children’s playground activities, lending a certain simple irony to just how brutal they become: More than half of the competitors are gunned down, for instance, in the first stage, a version of “Red Light, Green Light” in which those who move after “Red Light” are gunned down. Completely unprepared for the fatal punishment for those who fail the round, the show begins to shock its viewers right from the beginning.

“Squid Game”

This sees more than half the competition — some 200-plus people — shot down, and “Squid Game” is hardly shy about showing blood and gore. The violence is at once eerily intimate and impersonal: While there’s a brutal frankness to the way the competitors’ lives are cut short, the shooters are masked game employees. Death comes doled out by random functionaries, about whom we know significantly less than about the game’s players. What we gradually learn, through the device of a police officer who’s broken into the system, searching for his own brother, is that they are utterly bought-in, obeying rules of their own and believing rigidly in a game they’ve worked to present with a certain baroque innocence.

This fact — that both gameplayers and gamemakers are bound by need and by a strange loyalty to the rhythms of the competition — has clean, uncomplicated lines. It’s structurally sound and seems, at a glance, clever. So does the show’s structure in its early going, as surviving players are allowed the opportunity to leave after the first bloodbath, and end up returning of their own free will because they need the money that badly. Having now seen both the harsh realities they face in the game and at home, we’re forced to reckon with the notion that infinitesimal odds of survival in the Squid Game might just be better than none in modern society where death comes to you in installments on a daily basis if you’re poor.

It is only Squid Game, though, that goes long form (over nine heavy episodes) and really focuses on the drama of the individuals, and on their active decision to compete. They choose to play. Away from the survivalist bustle of the game, one player pays to get his phone charged at a store while another has to genuflect for bus-fare. Inside that threatening world, they are — if nothing else — all equal. Or are they? Equality is never absolute. In this case it means 455 out of 456 will die. This is a view to a cull.

Squid Game centres around Seong Gi-hun (Lee Jung-jae) a compulsive gambler who has spent so much of his life looking for — and betting on — shortcuts that he’s barely moved forward. His mother needs an operation, his ex-wife is moving countries with his daughter, he has signed away organs to moneylenders who literally suck his blood. The first episode sets up his misery before introducing the gameshow mechanics of the series, and the remaining episodes compound it. He needs a win.

For all his ineptitude, Gi-hun is essentially a nice guy, something that disadvantages him in an arena uniquely suited to sadists. His fellow participants are less obviously sympathetic, but we unearth layers within each: Kang Sae-Byok (the stunning Jung Ho-yeon) is an unrepentant pickpocket but also a defector from North Korea who wants to bring her family across the border. O Yeung-so shines as an old man with a brain tumor who prefers to play rather than wait for inevitable death in the real world. One of the most compelling is Gi-hun’s brilliant friend, Cho Sang-woo (Park Hae-soo), a top student who went into high finance and is now on the run after investing recklessly in Futures.

Going deeper into Squid Game is pointless – it is the biggest smash hit on Netflix as of date and it is subject to numerous blogs, articles and reviews. Plus I don’t want to spoil the show for you beyond the first game otherwise you lose out on a wonderful show. What I want to do here is talk about poverty and death – two of the major themes of this show. Crushing income inequality – in South Korea for the purpose of this show – is just one example here but this debilitating cycle of debt, poverty and the desire to gain control over one’s own life is extremely common to countries globally. Millions of people play the Lottery globally trying to win money off horses, sports results or basically just numbers. Squid Game makes humans into horses – if you make it to the end, you are wealthy beyond your dreams but one mistake and your life is forfeit. I wonder how many people would play games of chance if those were the odds? Debt and dying daily is fine but a game to take it all or lose it all, is inhumane? Interesting how our brains work.

Now let’s discuss Death – everyone hates it. Everyone tries to avoid it – they feel wealth would allow them some sort of control over death by accessing medicines, treatments etc. But of all the things in life, death is more certain than anything else in the world. However, death is not a destructive concept as we believe it to be – instead it allows for new creation – accepting death and the end of things one day, means you do not get vain or too greedy – knowing that one day either you will be buried in the ground or turned to ashes and all that you thought was IMPORTANT in life really wasn’t. In this show, people greedy for the large sum of money and after experiencing their life outside the game realize that – each round they survive, makes them more alive than they ever have been. Even a measly meal of a boiled potato after surviving a brush with death is like a luxury.

What I enjoyed about Squid Game, aside from its concept and the fascinating portrayal of its unique characters, are the questions it raises. Especially about dying – would I participate in such a game to win such a large pool of money? Considering I am not in debt and I have a loving family, I wouldn’t. But what if I was in the shoes of those characters – facing crippling poverty, hounded by debt collectors and shamed in front of my family. When your dignity is chipped away on a daily basis, wouldn’t facing death head on make sense? The opportunity where you could win it all or be given a death caused by your own choices would seem more attractive than one could think of. I would definitely choose to participate. Wouldn’t you?

So many people – great or mediocre, rich or poor have tried cheating death and they have all failed. Great kings who built huge empires have had these crumble into dust either during their lifetime or after their deaths. The Sumerians, for eg., we all know that they were a great civilization flourishing in ancient Mesopotamia. But name one great Sumerian or their contribution and most of us don’t remember. I am sure the Sumerians thought they were the greatest of their time and now people can’t even remember one thing they did. This is the folly of thinking about your LEGACY. After you die, you are either reborn (if you follow certain religions) or you are gone for ever (if you follow other religions). Either way, this particular instance of YOU who is reading this article and thinking about watching Squid Game on Netflix, will never exist again. So why are you so serious about death or the cruelty depicted in a show when you know the life outside is worse?

JAY’S VERDICT

Watch Squid Game for the relentless fun you will have. But do stop to think over the questions it raises. It might change your life for the better.

SACRED GAMES (2018 – 2019) – NETFLIX’S HIT INDIAN THRILLER IS A GAMECHANGER

Sacred Games is an Indian Hindi language crime thriller that is based upon Vikram Chandra’s 2006 book of the same name. Having read the book I was looking forward to the seeing the show and was not disappointed, which is mostly the case when Movies or Shows are based on books as most of the book’s flavor is lost adapting it to the screen. However, Sacred Games not only manages to entertain, it brings out a new dimension to Indian Television Shows, which were usually dominated by soap operas of women in sarees getting abused by their mother-in-laws or sappy family oriented dramas which hardly has any relevance to modern society.

Sacred Games is India’s first Netflix original series and in my opinion, it comes close to retaining an “Indian flavor” while competing with some of the best original TV series globally. The plot revolves around Sartaj Singh (Saif Ali Khan) who is a troubled police officer in Mumbai who receives a phone call from gangster Ganesh Gaitonde (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), an almost mythical figure in the Mumbai underworld, who tells him to save the city within 25 days; the series chronicles the events which follow.

The show’s overview is simple and if you read just that, you’d think Sacred Games is nothing special.

Season 1 begins with Sartaj Singh who is a troubled Mumbai Police inspector who seeks validation from a police force he hates for its corruption and is in the midst of a separation from his wife. He receives a phone call from Ganesh Gaitonde, a notorious crime lord who has been missing for 16 years. He tells Sartaj to save the city in 25 days, beginning a chain of events that burrows deep into India’s underworld. On his journey, Sartaj is helped by Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) officer Anjali Mathur; flashbacks detail Gaitonde’s origins, and how he became Mumbai’s crime lord. The first season follows Sartaj as he tries to uncover clues about Gaitonde’s past and learns about a connection between Gaitonde and his father.

In season two, Gaitonde’s story continues in flashbacks while Sartaj tries to find answers. Sartaj discovers an ashram to which his father once belonged, and learns about their apocalyptic plans to create a new, conflict-free world. Gaitonde’s meeting with Khanna Guruji, how he became part of the ashram, and his activities with them are depicted in flashbacks. Also explored is how Gaitonde was deployed in Kenya by Kusum Devi Yadav – a RAW officer who tries to keep Gaitonde’s archenemy Suleiman Isa alive so she can capture and kill Shahid Khan, a dangerous extremist who turns out to be Sartaj’s cousin and harbors a plan (with the ashram) to wipe out India.

Based on the overview alone, the show doesn’t seem to be warranting a view – but you couldn’t be more wrong. The show delves into several aspects of the Indian society that most foreigners would not even understand from a first glance. It focuses on India’s diverse society and the simmering mistrust and hostility between Hindus and Muslims within the society. It looks at the rampant poverty that drives young men towards the criminal underworld and the corruption among the politicians and police which forces people to depend upon a greater presence that no one has ever seen – God.

A great comment in the show is made by Ganesh Gaitonde (played superbly by Nawazuddin Siddiqui) – “Hindu hotel se apun seekha ki dharam ke naam pe janta ka kitna chutiya banaya ja sakta hai.” (I learned working at the Hindu Hotel, that in the name of religion how you can fuck with people’s minds and make a fool of them). There is an amazing scene within the show, where we see Ganesh Gaitonde as a poor immigrant in Mumbai, working in a Hindu hotel – a small hotel, which serves strict vegetarian food. Its customers are strict vegetarian Hindus who believe that even the touch of a person who consumes meat/eggs/fish can desecrate their piousness and purity. The owner is oppressive who steals his employees’ wages and beats them for trying to etch out a living to supplement their measly income. Ganesh Gaitonde, who gives him a pure Hindu lifestyle beginning with eating chicken (despite being hired for being the pure son of a Hindu Brahmin priest) and then bringing the bones of the chicken he ate and mixing it with the rice meals for the customers. When the customers discover the bones, their rage at their religion being desecrated, beat up the owner of the hotel while Ganesh quits the work, understanding a deep insight into Indian society – that if you play it well, you can make people do anything in the name of religion and it can open the doors to wealth, power and prosperity on the backs of people who are fooled by the drug called religion.

Another dialogue shows the continuous struggle within India’s youth, to, on one hand be religious and god-fearing individuals like their parents before them and their lack of trust in divine intervention due to the constant corruption, hopelessness and degradation of humanity around them – “Bhagwan ko maante ho? Bhagwan ko l*nd farak nahi padta” (Translation – Do you believe in God? God doesn’t give two fucks about anything). Now this comment shows how Indian society despite the dominant role of religion within it, is also losing hope as despair, tragic events and being constantly let down by the democratic apparatus, and wonders if God actually cares? If he doesn’t care, then why believe and pray to him? If evil is never punished, then what is the point of being good?

The show has many unique characters – Ganesh Gaitonde, the son of a poor Brahmin priest from a village in India, who comes to Mumbai, having murdered his mother for adultery; Sartaj Singh, a Sikh police officer, who is reeling from the collapse of his own marriage and disliked within his own police force for being a cop with morals, disgusted by the corruption that swirls around him; Bunty, a woman-beating, Islamaphobe, Hindu gangster who worked for Ganesh Gaitonde and Anjali Mathur, a feminist RAW agent who teams up with Sartaj. However, some of the best characters are supporting – Sartaj’s constant buddy Constable Ashok Katekar, who also has some of the best dialogues within the show and Ganesh Gaitonde’s transgender lover Kukoo, who also highlights the plight of the transgender (or Hijara) community in India. If you read the book, Kukoo doesn’t have a big role to play but in the show her role is changed, as the show isn’t just about the book. It is about the relevance of the characters within Indian society.

The show looks into the darker side of India, underneath the shining, growing exterior. The political corruption, the degradation of poverty and the toxic atmosphere created by religious beliefs form the core of the success of the show – the second season also looks at the pseudo-holy men who brainwash spiritually thirsty individuals into a life of sin and moral corruption. To conclude, I would focus on another of the show’s dialogues that stayed with me – “Hindustan jab Hindustan nahin bana tha tab se politics ki macchi ko dharam ke tel mein fry karte hue aaye hain.” (Translation – Even when India was not India, since then, people have been frying the fish (politics) in the hot oil of religion) which is true as since the time of the British rule, when divide and rule politics helped keep India in chains until 1947, when India and Pakistan were created due to the toxic rhetoric among Hindus and Muslims sowed by the British and nurtured by Indian and Pakistani politicians.

JAY’S VERDICT

Watch Sacred Games to delve into the crazy, roller-coaster that is India and if you are a foreigner watch it to learn how India is more than a land of snakes, palaces and spices.

BRESTSKAIA KREPOST (FORTRESS OF WAR) (2010) – RUSSIAN WAR FILM HITS HARD

Fortress of War is a 2010 Russian-Belarusian war film based on the June 1941 defense of Brest Fortress against invading Wehrmacht forces in the opening stages of Operation Barbarossa, Nazi Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union during World War II. Events are narrated from the perspective of 15-year-old Sasha Akimov, centering on three resistance zones holding out against the protracted German siege.

What I enjoy about Russian war movies, is that they are gritty and show the actual suffering endured during the war by both sides instead of the Hollywood take where a single broken down tank can fight off an entire SS Regiment (Read: FURY). The Fortress of War focuses on the Fortress of Brest-Litovsk, a fortress that the Germans expected to take in one day but took almost a week, due to the heroism of the defenders.

The film opens on Saturday, June 21, 1941. Sasha Akimov, a 15-year-old musician, and his older brother, Andrey, whose parents were killed in the Spanish Civil War, are serving in the 333rd Rifle Regiment of the Red Army at the Brest Fortress. Elsewhere, a commissar, Yefim Fomin, discovers he is unable to bring his family to Brest due to a shortage of train tickets. Another officer, Gavrilov, continues to express concern about the readiness of the fort’s defenses should an attack come, despite warnings from his friend, officer of the NKVD Special Department Lieutenant Vainshtein, about an imminent war with Germany. That evening, the fortress loses power due to sabotage by German commandos.

The next morning, at 3:58, German forces invade the Soviet Union. The fortress is subjected to heavy bombardment by German artillery and Stuka aircraft, killing many Soviet soldiers and civilians. At 6:30, German infantry attack the fortress, capturing hospital staff and patients, many of whom they kill. Fomin takes command of the defenders around the Kholm Gate, while Gavrilov rallies the defenders around the Eastern Fort. Elsewhere, NKVD border guards under command of Lieutenant Kizhevatov, repel a German sortie into the fortress and Vainshtein thwarts a German commando’s attempt to undermine the defense of the 132nd Independent NKVD Convoy Battalion barracks. As the siege commences, Sasha finds himself stranded in one of the barracks. During the fighting for the East Fort, Junior Lieutenant Andrey Akimov (brother of Sasha) is killed while destroying two Panzer IIIs with a 45mm anti-tank gun, helping Gavrilov repel a German attack.

By the end of June 22, the Soviet defenders are divided into groups: one force under Fomin defending the Kholm Gate, a second force under Gavrilov defending the Eastern Redoubt, while Kizhevatov defends the 9th Frontier outpost, along with a group of civilians and Vainshtein holds on to the barracks of the 132nd NKVD Battalion. The next day, fighting continues for the fortress and Sasha makes it to the Kholm Gate. An I-16 Soviet fighter aircraft of the 123rd Fighter Aviation Regiment is shot down over the fortress and the pilot is rescued by Fomin’s men. He reveals that the Red Army is retreating toward Minsk and Fomin realizes that the men must leave the fortress or die.

On June 24, Sasha leaves the Kholm Gate to alert the other pockets about Fomin’s plan for a breakout. While Sasha finds the 132nd has been overrun and Vainshtein dead, he manages to deliver the message to Kizhevatov and Gavrilov. That night, a breakout is attempted by all three remaining groups but is driven back by the Germans, suffering heavy losses. The next morning, realizing he can’t properly defend them, Kizhevatov reluctantly orders the surviving civilians (including his own wife and daughter and also Sasha) to vacate the fortress during a cease-fire.

On June 26, the Germans drop a massive bomb on the fortress, causing great damage. The Germans quickly move to eradicate the surviving pockets. The defenders at Kholm Gate are forced to surrender and Fomin is immediately executed by a German firing squad, as a Jew, a communist and a commissar. Gavrilov orders his remaining men to attempt to break out individually. Kizhevatov and his surviving men manage to regroup in the barracks; Sasha returns to meet them there. After ordering Sasha to take the regimental colors and remember the truth about the defenders, Kizhevatov takes a machine gun to cover his men while they attempt a breakout. The breakout fails and the remaining defenders, including Kizhevatov, are killed as Sasha manages to escape.

Years later, an elderly Sasha pays tribute to memorial of Brest Fortress, accompanied by his grandson, to remember the good days and memories of the life before the Nazis took everything. The movie pays tribute to almost 10 million Soviet soldiers who died fighting on the Eastern Front during World War II and the millions more who perished as civilians or deliberate victims of the Nazi invasion.

The battle sequences are intense and brutal – they don’t feel movie-like but rather extremely real and primal. The film features very impressive cinematography. Many of the scenes contain snippets of action which are familiar from other war films – plane being shot down and pilot bailing out, desperate soldiers making a foolhardy charge and so on. Yet there is a freshness and originality about the way these scenes are framed and shot. The dialogues however are another story – extremely cheesy and cliched at times. Most Russian war movies, I have seen do not glamorize war, although they certainly romanticize themes of love of country and people, along with self-sacrificing heroism, that are usually treated with more cynicism in Western productions and Fortress of War is no different.

JAY’S VERDICT

Watch if you enjoy a good war film which shows the actual brutality of war instead of black and white, good vs. evil struggle which rarely shows the true picture.

THE MANY SAINTS OF NEWARK (2021) – THE SOPRANOS PREQUEL THAT NO ONE ASKED FOR

The Many Saints of Newark (marketed with the subtitle A Sopranos Story) is a 2021 American crime drama film directed by Alan Taylor and written by David Chase and Lawrence Konner. A prequel to Chase’s HBO crime drama series The Sopranos, it takes place during the 1960s and 1970s in Newark, New Jersey. The film follows a violent gang war from the perspectives of mobster Dickie Moltisanti and his teenage nephew, Tony Soprano, in the midst of the city’s 1967 riots.

The problem with The Many Saints of Newark is that it doesn’t really know whose story it is telling – Anthony Soprano? Hardly does much in the movie except following his uncle everywhere and giving free icecream to neighbourhood kids. Dickie Moltisanti? Alessandro Nivola plays him well but his character isn’t fleshed out. Race? Black characters come up but no one can identify with them as we rarely see any having a major role in the hit show that preceded the movie, so you keep asking, why are they important to this film? The Race Riots could be shown but they hardly had a major impact on Tony’s upbringing that one again asks why?

We do get to see a young Silvio Dante, Paulie and Pussy who again have no real storylines and hardly any interaction with Tony. Ralph Cifaretto and Jackie Aprile don’t really show up but if one remembers the show, it was always stressed how Tony and his young crew were strong upcomers. The movie suffers from the fact that the show preceding it was a work of art – plus most of the people who would want to watch the movie are fans of The Sopranos and thus would be extremely pissed if the movie made any errors depicting beloved characters.

There are a lot of characters who didn’t need to be cast – Ray Liotta as “Hollywood Dick” Moltisanti and Salvatore “Sally” Moltisanti, twin brothers, is one example. Hollywood Dick is Dickie Moltisanti’s father, and recently married to a young girl from Italy, who later becomes Dickie Moltisanti’s lover once he murders his father. Again, dull additions to a movie where everyone keeps waiting for more of a proper origin story.

One of the casting choices is a real success and that’s Michael Gandolfini, who does very well to fill the shoes of his father’s role. He brings Anthony Sopranos, nervous laughter, temper and cunning in his teenage role. However, the story doesn’t belong to him either and thus, we never get to see him shine. Vera Farmiga does well bringing the younger Livia Soprano to life but John Bernthal is wasted as Johnny Soprano. Corey Stoll as Corrado “Junior” Soprano is solid but again feels like another wasted character in this crazy medley.

All in all the movie is good to stream on your laptop but any real Sopranos fan is going to be disappointed. Any other viewer would just be confused by the number of characters without any meat. This is a movie, that would have been a great success as a Television Show as it would allow the characters to grow and bring their own charm to the Sopranos.

JAY’S VERDICT

Watch for a little bit of the nostalgia if you’re a Sopranos fan like me – but Antony Soprano has faded to black and he ain’t never coming back.

THE TERROR (2018-PRESENT) – AMC’s HORROR ANTHOLOGY IMPRESSES AND ENTERTAINS

The Terror is an American horror drama anthology television series. The series is named after Dan Simmons’s 2007 novel, which serves as the basis for the first season. It premiered on March 25, 2018 and the second season, subtitled Infamy, premiered on August 12, 2019.

The first season was developed by David Kajganich and is a fictionalized account of Captain Sir John Franklin’s lost expedition to the Arctic in 1845–1848. Featured in the cast are Jared Harris as Captain Francis Crozier, Paul Ready as Dr. Harry Goodsir, Tobias Menzies as Commander James Fitzjames and Ciarán Hinds as Franklin (both of HBO’s Rome fame).

It’s an adaptation of Dan Simmons’ 2007 bestseller about the imagined fate of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, which went missing along with 129 crew in 1845 as Sir John Franklin led them in a search for the fabled North-West Passage through the Arctic. Now, the tale of two ships and their men trapped for two winters in unyielding pack ice, bored, isolated and made increasingly paranoid and unstable by the uncertainty of rescue, makes for entertaining viewing. It also takes liberty of having a supernatural creature stalk the already paranoid and exhausted men.

Tobias Menzies as James Fitzjames, Ciarán Hinds as John Franklin 

Season 1 begins with a title card informing us that Sir John Franklin’s Arctic expedition was never seen again. In the opening sequence, James Ross is speaking to a Netsilik man in a tent who encountered the expedition’s last survivors, under the leadership of Captain Francis Crozier, and informs Ross they were being pursued south by a creature called “Tuunbaq” and are now “dead and gone.” Four years earlier, in September 1846, Captain Sir John Franklin’s Royal Navy expedition aboard HMS Erebus and HMS Terror are attempting the first crossing of the Northwest Passage in the Arctic Archipelago. The expedition runs into difficulty when a collision with an iceberg damages Erebus’s propeller. Francis Crozier, captain of the Terror and second-in-command of the expedition, becomes concerned about becoming stranded in the pack ice above the Arctic Circle through winter, and recommends to Franklin that they shift all men from Erebus to Terror and steam south aboard Terror to avoid becoming trapped in winter ice. Franklin overrules Crozier’s concerns and presses the expedition further west in the belief that the ships can complete transit before the onset of thick ice. Before the ships can reach open water, however, they become frozen and trapped.

In June 1847, after a winter stranded in the ice, the ships Erebus and Terror remain stuck. Franklin sends out parties to find leads (open water passages) through the ice. The party that treks east finds nothing, but the party heading to the west travels into dangerous territory and accidentally shoots an Inuit man, mistaking him for a polar bear. During the chaos, a massive, unseen creature kills their lieutenant, Graham Gore. The surviving men from the expedition to the west return with the wounded Inuit man and his companion, an Inuit woman. The man is a powerful shaman without a tongue to speak and the woman is his daughter, and he communicates that after his death she must control the “Tuunbaq.” After the Inuit man dies of his wounds, the crew apologize to the woman, whom they call “Lady Silence” because she refuses to speak to them, for killing him. Until now, it’s the elements that have mostly been the cause of terror in the show.

The crew bury the Inuit shaman in the sea through a hole in the ice, and Lady Silence sets out alone on foot to return to her people. In a flashback, we see that Franklin and Crozier had once been friends, but in England Franklin had denied Crozier permission to marry his niece. They angrily debate their crews’ future and disagree sharply about Crozier’s suggestion that they send out a party on foot to seek help. Franklin joins a group of armed Royal Marines who have set a hunting blind for the creature, but it ambushes the group, killing a marine and Franklin, who drowns after the creature tears off his leg and tosses him into the same hole where the British had buried the shaman. Crozier later sends out a party across the ice to seek help, despite the protests of James Fitzjames (now captain of Erebus). Alone in an igloo, Lady Silence hears the creature outside and finds that it has left her a seal carcass to eat.

By November 1847, as the creature continues to kill members of the British expedition, the crews of Erebus and Terror begin to consider it supernatural. Cornelius Hickey leads an unauthorised expedition to abduct Lady Silence, bringing her back to the ships in the belief that she is controlling the creature. When Hickey disputes his punishment during a debriefing, Crozier orders him subject to a more severe lashing than his fellow abductors, ordering him to be “punished as a boy” (whipped across the buttocks rather than the back). An increasingly alcoholic Crozier announces to Terror’s crew an opportunity to transfer to Erebus due to Terror’s precarious location on a fault in the ice, and all but ten of Terror’s crew depart for Erebus.

The Erebus’ naval surgeon’s mate, Dr Goodsir, speaks with Lady Silence in an effort to learn her language, but has little success learning about the nature of the creature. Crozier becomes temperamental as his liquor supplies run out, and sends his first lieutenant Edward Little to pilfer bottles of whiskey from the private stores of Fitzjames aboard Erebus. The creature, revealed as a polar bear-like creature with vaguely human facial features called the “Tuunbaq”, attacks Terror and pursues her ice master Thomas Blanky up one of the ship’s masts, mauling his leg so severely that it later requires amputation. The men manage to wound the creature with a cannon and it flees, and Lady Silence escapes during the commotion. Crozier resolves to go sober, delegating command of both ships to Fitzjames while he suffers through alcohol withdrawal.

January 1848 finds the ships still trapped in the ice. Now in charge of both Terror and Erebus, Fitzjames plans to abandon the ships and lead the men back to civilization on foot. Blanky advises him to soften the blow of this news, so he organizes a carnival on the ice, reasoning that it will deplete the food and drink they will need to carry. Goodsir discerns that the poorly-soldered tins of food on the ships are giving the men lead poisoning and attempts to warn the Erebus’ surgeon, Dr. Stanley, who replies he has a “plan”. After weeks of withdrawal, Crozier recovers in time to visit Fitzjames’ carnival, and is disturbed by the breakdown in naval discipline. Crozier announces the plan to travel south overland to Fort Resolution, but is interrupted by a mentally unhinged Dr. Stanley, who traps the men in the carnival before setting fire to himself and the tents, killing himself and many other men including the two other doctors Dr Peddie and Dr MacDonald, leaving Goodsir as the last surviving surgeon left in the expedition.

On April 22, 1848, Crozier gives the order to abandon both ships. The men soon depart on foot, and a patrol, including Crozier, Fitzjames and Terror’s Sergeant Tozer, discovers that the party Crozier had sent ahead of them was massacred only eighteen miles from the ships by the Tuunbaq. Crozier, wanting to keep morale high, chooses to keep this from the men, along with the knowledge of the lead poisoning learned from Goodsir. After the crew reach King William Land, Hickey becomes aware of the bad tins and begins plotting a mutiny along with Tozer. While hunting for game, Hickey, Lieutenant John Irving, and petty officer Thomas Farr, come across a hunting party of friendly Netsilik, who provide Irving with seal meat. Hickey then murders both Irving and Farr.

Off-screen, Hickey lies to another hunting party, telling them that Irving and Farr were murdered by the Netsilik; the other party kills the Netsilik family in retaliation. After they return to camp a fog rolls in, stoking the men’s paranoia about a surprise Netsilik attack. Hickey and Tozer open the camp’s armoury and distribute weapons without Crozier’s permission. Crozier has Goodsir conduct an autopsy on Lieutenant Irving, sees that he had recently eaten seal meat, and deduces that Hickey was responsible for the deaths and is planning a mutiny. He sentences Hickey and Tozer to hang, but the Tuunbaq, provoked by the Netsilik massacre, returns and attacks the camp. The Tuunbaq kills many men, but is wounded by a Congreve rocket fired by Fitzjames. In the chaos, Hickey and Tozer rally the mutineers, steal supplies and a sled, and disappear into the fog.

Hickey sets up camp and murders one of his own men, William Gibson. Goodsir, abducted by Hickey’s men, is forced to cut up Gibson’s body so that Hickey and his men can use it for cannibalism. Crozier and his remaining men become malnourished and ill of lead poisoning, with many dying as they continue south. Fitzjames cannot bear the pain and is euthanized at his own request. Blanky’s leg stump becomes gangrenous, and he volunteers to sacrifice himself by luring the Tuunbaq away from the rest of the survivors. In the process, he accidentally stumbles across the Northwest Passage just before the Tuunbaq finds and kills him. Later, Hickey’s men ambush Crozier. After they kill one of his men, Crozier surrenders, instructing Little to take charge and lead the remaining crew south.

Crozier is brought to Hickey’s camp and, knowing that Hickey’s men will eventually eat him, Goodsir poisons himself in an attempt to poison the entire group except Crozier, who eats the unaffected soles of Goodsir′s feet. Hickey reveals that he killed the real Cornelius Hickey and has been impersonating him on the expedition in an attempt to escape England, and subsequently sabotaged the crew’s efforts to return. The Tuunbaq returns, killing Tozer and most of the mutineers. Hickey cuts off his tongue in an attempt to control the creature, but it kills him before an injured Crozier manages to kill the creature, which had become weakened by the poisoned bodies.

After being rescued by Lady Silence, Crozier learns that the rest of his men, including Little, have died. He adapts to the Inuit way of life. Following Inuit custom, Lady Silence, whose name is revealed to be Silna, is exiled for having “lost Tuunbaq.” When members of a British search party led by Ross land two years later in September 1850, Crozier conceals himself from them and instructs the Inuit leader to tell them that everyone from the expedition is dead, that there is no Northwest Passage, and that they should not return. After eavesdropping on the conversation, Crozier departs to hunt seal.

Season 1 depresses the viewer more than it scares. The dynamics and characters of those in charge and of those they command are impressively dense and detailed. Franklin and Crozier’s relationship – its bonds and its strains – are gradually illuminated via flashbacks to pre-expedition times. One hardly need the horror element that is soon introduced into the mix. In some ways, the tension actually dissipates with the advent of a monstrous bear-cum-angered-Inuit-spirit. Once the creature starts tearing exploratory parties to pieces, there is focus and legitimacy to the fears of the trapped men. But it is surely the sprawling and deepening nature of these fears that provides the true horror for us all.

The second season takes place on the west coast of the United States during World War II and centers on the Japanese folklore of bakemono, “an uncanny specter that menaces a Japanese-American community from its home in Southern California to the internment camps to the war in the Pacific“. It is titled The Terror: Infamy and excels its predecessor in both quality and emotional depth.

Season 2 begins with a fresh examination of fear set against an entirely different historical backdrop. From new showrunners Max Borenstein and Alexander Woo, “The Terror: Infamy” studies the horror felt by Japanese-Americans who saw their own country turn against them during World War II. “The Terror” remains a thoughtful story of human nature, more haunting in its honesty than its ghosts.

But there are ghosts. “The Terror: Infamy” starts with an eerie sequence where a Japanese-American woman (Yuki Morita) in a soft, white kimono walks down a dock toward the ocean and ends her own life. Masayo’s unnatural movements before doing the deed speak to more than a simple sadness haunting her, and further evidence of supernatural interference quickly starts to stack up. At her funeral, Chester Nakayama (Derek Mio) tries to take photos for the family, but the developed prints show blurry faces next to clear ones. What’s happening is unclear, though its sinister nature is obvious.

Chester lives with his family on Terminal Island, a few miles south of Los Angeles and just off the coast of California. He and his father, Henry (Shingo Usami), are fishermen, but Chester wants more. He’s in love with a Spanish-American student named Luz Ojeda (Cristina Rodlo), and he can’t fathom why his immigrant mother, Asako (Naoko Mori), and father choose to remain confined to one small swath of the big wide world, especially after traveling so far for the pursuit of freedom. Henry and Chester sit at the nearby military base, a giant clock is perched above their heads, so when the sirens start to sound and the Navy men begin running to their posts, there’s no mistaking what’s about to happen: The war has come home, though that phrase takes on a whole new meaning for the Japanese-American population uprooted from their lives and shipped off to internment camps.

These camps serve as the predominant setting through the first six episodes, and yet it’s impressive how much movement is created, both through forward narrative momentum and various disparate locations. Much of “Infamy” is grounded within the Nakayama family, but supporting characters are built out and a sprawling cast is well-utilized. As a yurei, or spirit, plagues Chester during his quest to prove himself as an independent man, bouts of seemingly madness create gruesome scenes that can’t be simply explained away — unless you believe in Japanese folklore.

Season 2 dives headfirst into the kaidan genre of Japanese literature, creating new ghost tales exhumed from mythic philosophy. Relying on such cultural touchstones is a respectful gesture to the very real suffering of the interned immigrants, as well as an affecting source of terror, even if the latter doesn’t compare to the distress felt by the former.

“The Terror: Infamy” works best when it invests in the natural drama of its characters, rather than the supernatural. The horrors of the trauma of Japanese-Americans forced into living in camps, are scarier than the ghosts that haunt them. “The Terror” Season 2 can feel overly studious, with the supernatural horrors mixed in to keep you from spending each episode researching what really happened through Google. But through all the edifying, “Infamy” never forgets the human cost, or ignores the horrifying possibilities of what can happen when compassion is set aside out of fear.

The show begins with the residents of Terminal Island are haunted by a series of mysterious unexplained deaths. Chester, a Japanese-American man, learns that his Mexican girlfriend Luz is pregnant and contemplates his future. The men of Japanese ancestry are arrested after the news breaks that Japan has attacked Pearl Harbor. An evacuation order is given for the residents of Terminal Island who are to be held in internment camps following the Pearl Harbor attack. Chester wants to leave with Luz but is later arrested after a local resident reports him to the FBI. Luz decides to join Chester after telling the FBI agents that she is carrying his child.

Chester and his family start to settle into life in the internment camp. Some of the residents believe that a bakemono is responsible for the events that have transpired. Luz meets with Yuko who is a posing as a midwife at the camp to assist with her pregnancy, but she is unaware that Yuko harbors a strong interest in her unborn twins. Furuya is arrested for assault and tells Chester that he wasn’t responsible for his actions and that something had possessed him. The camp’s children discover Furuya’s body the next day in the nearby woods after Yuko kills him. Chester then accepts a translator job with the army and departs the camp.

Chester is stationed in Guadalcanal where he works with the U.S. Army. While on assignment to locate a missing sergeant, Chester uncovers a secret code on a belt of a dead Japanese soldier. Believing he may be haunted by a Yūrei, Chester takes pictures near his camp and closely examines them. Yuko possesses an MP named Nessler and forces him to jump from a watchtower, killing him. Major Bowen believes that Nessler was drunk from contraband sake and orders a crackdown in the camp. Luz is heartened by Chester’s letter and thinks about what life would be like when they have a family of their own. Asako takes Luz to see Dr. Kitemura after she goes into labor, which leads Yuko to possess Nurse Hasegawa so she can assist with her birth. But after a difficult birth, the twins don’t survive.

The Japanese Americans are forced to undertake a humiliating exercise that divides the community. Luz, stricken by grief after the tragedy, is forced to make a choice that has her leave the camp. Chester returns home to his family, only to find that Luz is gone. Henry and Asako are faced with a difficult decision. The Nakayamas have been torn apart, and Chester searches for the person he believes can help, even if it means taking drastic action. A tuberculosis outbreak in the community forces Amy to act, though she’s caught between doing what she’s told and doing what’s right.

And so it goes…I won’t be giving out the whole story as that would ruin it for you. The supernatural horror of Infamy comes mostly from an otherworldly antagonist named Yuko (played by Kiki Sukezane), who is introduced in the first episode. She’s an unsettling yet frustratingly vague menace. Is she a ghost? A demon? Is she a culturally specific villain who requires a basic familiarity with Japanese folklore, or is she more of a typical, vengeful spirit? Even the Japanese words that the older characters use to describe her shift, utterance by utterance—obake, yuurei, youkai, bakemono—as they try to figure out what she is.

Kiki Sukezane as Yuko

Beyond issues of taxonomy, Yuko’s powers are inconsistent. In some scenes, she appears only as a creepy interruption, while at other times, glimpses of her cause characters to go insane or hurt themselves. And yet, it is hard to take Yuko seriously when it’s unclear how she fits into the story or how she can affect the characters. Even when the series develops her further, Yuko primarily inspires speculation and confusion—an effect that dampens, rather than amplifies, the show’s horror.

In sharp contrast to its treatment of Yuko, Infamy renders the internment in painstaking detail, as if to suggest that this is what should really scare audiences. The forced relocation and detention of 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II was shameful, and Infamy depicts the many indignities an entire community suffered. Beyond the educational sort of horror offered by Infamy’s faithful rendering of history, there is another, more subtle kind of danger that the show reflects on: the danger of forgetting. Various story lines interrogate both personal and communal notions of home, legacy, and memory. The presence of Yuko suggests the show’s Japanese Americans feel haunted by the country they left behind.

In this way, Infamy may evoke a recognizable dread in the Japanese American communities whose past it depicts. For them and for others, the contours of this history may be too familiar for the show to inspire an emotion as shocking—or as alien—as terror.

Yuki Morita as Masayo Furuya

JAY’S VERDICT

Watch The Terror to understand that the ghosts and monsters within us are worse than all the supernatural terrors one can create.”

F9 (2021) – LATEST IN THE FAST AND FURIOUS SERIES LEAVES LOGIC AND PHYSICS IN THE REARVIEW

F9 (also known as F9: The Fast Saga and internationally as Fast & Furious 9) is a 2021 American action film directed by Justin Lin. The film stars Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, John Cena, Nathalie Emmanuel, Jordana Brewster, Sung Kang, Michael Rooker, Helen Mirren, Kurt Russell, and Charlize Theron. In F9, Dominic Toretto and the team come together to stop a world-shattering plot headed by Toretto’s brother, Jakob.

The plot broadly involves the male protagonist reuniting with his team to scuttle an evil conspiracy and smash everything in their way to shards. It conjures up gravity-defying stunts and electromagnetic mayhem that, in the pursuit of thrills, inevitably falls prey to the law of diminishing returns.

We start off with a flashback, where in 1989, Jack Toretto–father of Dominic and Jakob–participates in a late model race, with his sons working in the pit crew. Dom argues with rival racer Kenny Linder about his dirty tactics. During the race Linder’s car clips Jack’s bumper, causes his car to hit a wall and explode, killing him. After the race, Dom is arrested for nearly beating Linder to death with a wrench. While serving his sentence, he recalls that Jakob had worked on their father’s car the day he died and concludes that Jakob killed their father. Upon release, Dom confronts and challenges Jakob to a race, forcing him to leave town when he loses.

In the present, two years after the confrontation against cyberterrorist Cipher, Dom is retired and raising his son Brian with his wife, Letty Ortiz. Roman Pearce, Tej Parker, and Ramsey arrive with news that, shortly after capturing Cipher, Mr. Nobody’s plane was attacked by rogue agents and crashed in Montequinto, Central America. Dom agrees to help them after realizing Jakob is involved and so begins the story. The mission is new, the tropes are old. The film takes them literally off the road and (in the case of a couple of the combatants) into outer space.

The action is unabashedly bonkers – cars drive through exploding landmines (somehow the cars of Dom’s crew never succumb to anything) and over precipitous cliffs and often come out in one piece -and the fraternal animosity around which the plot is built is overly contrived.

One scene alone is enough to explain the insanity. A vehicle is stuck between two rock faces. As it slips towards the ground, it dangles over a landmine. The occupant, a Mr. Roman Pearce, wriggles out of the car in the nick of time. The landmine blows up. The automobile soars into the air and the mangled heap comes crashing down on Roman who has just escaped the blast. Or so it seems.

Roman emerges unscathed from behind the billowing fumes. Tej asks: “How the hell are you not dead?” That is exactly the question that you, too, will be tempted to ask on a number of subsequent occasions to a number of the other characters caught in similar life-threatening situations. But this is Fast and Furious. So, no questions asked!

Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej Parker (Ludacris) wonder at one point why they have emerged from so many dangerous missions without suffering so much as a scratch. Maybe we are not so normal, one of them concludes. Are you suggesting, Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) interjects, that you two are invincible? As the two hunky siblings whose muscles are far more expressive than their faces battle it out – one does everything in his power to protect the world, the other to control it – the film throws logic – and caution – to the wind.

It turns into a veritable family affair. Dom’s little curly-haired son Brian also pops up now and then to underscore the power of a domesticated Dom. Fast And Furious isn’t only about fights and fitful muscularity. It is also about two brothers and one sister trying to mend the ties that snapped several decades ago in tragic and fiery circumstances.

Fast And Furious 9 holds nothing back. Crashes and explosions continue unabated as a multiplicity of other characters, expectedly, jump into the fray. Dom has to reckon with two other adversaries – unflappable cyberterrorist Cipher (Charlize Theron) and “spoilt rich prick” Otto (Thue Ersted Rasmussen), who believes that the world is run by men of his ilk. But Dom has plenty of active assistance available, notably from hacker Ramsey, who, despite never having learnt to drive, takes control of a massive truck carrying an electromagnet that sends vehicles in its path into wild flips and flops. If you still haven’t got it, do not ask questions.

The anything-goes spirit that Ramsey, Tej and Roman bring to the table is a perfect commentary on Fast And Furious 9. These characters are human equivalents of the Pontiac Fiero fitted with a propulsion engine. They walk into bizarre situations with doubts in their minds but quickly, and merrily, shrug them off as the action engulfs them.

Tej says to Roman, “If we follow the laws of physics, we’ll be fine… it’s all science and math.” Take that with a fistful of salt and go along. Yes, the ride is dizzyingly bumpy and boggles and numbs the mind by turns. The changed times have had some impact on Fast And Furious 9 – the women are no longer mere props. The men still do most of the heavy lifting, but the girls, too, get their moment in the sun. Be it Rodriguez, Brewster, Emmanuel or newcomer Anna Sawai, none of them is a mere appendage. So basically #metoo makes an appearance in a movie series not known for deviating from the formula.

F9 promises everything that the Fast & Furious series has always delivered – guns, cars, trucks, tanks, hot women and muscled hunks with one facial expression to share between them, but goes one further now bringing a car into outer space. If the Grand Theft Auto video game series had a film counterpart, the F&F series would be it. Cheesy dialogues and Dom’s memeable recitations of “family” and “La Familia” are ubiquitous as usual.

JAY’S VERDICT

It is a movie meant for the big screen and that’s where you need to watch it. However, as with any F&F movie, do remember to leave logic and science outside the movie theater or else you’ll be asking questions no one has answers to.

THE DJINN (2021) – SUPERNATURAL HORROR FAILS TO ENTERTAIN

The Djinn is a 2021 supernatural horror starring Ezra Dewey, Rob Brownstein, Tevy Poe and John Erickson (be impressed with that star cast whoever they are). The movie was released in certain theaters but was then released video-on-demand. However, what impressed me about the movie was not the scares but rather young newcomer Ezra Dewey who played a mute young asthmatic boy stuck in a small apartment with a Jinn quite convincingly.

The movie’s plot is simple enough to explain and borrows on one of Islamic mythology’s supernatural entities – Jinn – like humans, they are created with fitra, neither born as believers nor as unbelievers, but their attitude depends on whether they accept God’s guidance. So they could be either good or bad.

In the fall of 1989, Dylan, a mute and asthmatic young boy and his father Michael move to a new house. In one of the rooms, Dylan finds a dusty mirror and an old book containing instructions for summoning a djinn and having it grant the summoner’s wish. The book states that at one hour before midnight, the summoner must place three drops of blood in a lit candle’s wax and make their desired wish in front of a mirror; the djinn will grant the wish at midnight if the summoner has the required strength of will, but the wish may cost the summoner their soul. Dylan does not tell Michael about the book.

On that night, Michael leaves Dylan at home for his job as a host at a radio station. Dylan takes the opportunity to set up the ritual for summoning the djinn, and he uses sign language to wish that he is able to speak normally. However, it seemingly fails as nothing happens. As he is taking a shower later, the djinn manifests as a cloud of smoke, and after a series of strange events occur, Dylan finds out that the djinn has transformed into a humanoid figure (based on the picture it saw in a newspaper clipping) and is searching for him. After knocking the djinn unconscious (Bravo!), Dylan finds that he is unable to escape the house or contact anyone for help.

While hiding from the djinn, Dylan reads through the book again and learns that the djinn is subject to the laws of physics while in the human world, manifests in the form of dead people, and can be banished by blowing out the candle after midnight; he tries and fails to do so due to the time being before midnight. Dylan hears Michelle’s voice begging for help, and finds that the djinn has manifested as a monstrous version of Michelle. Dylan evades the djinn’s attempts to capture him. A flashback reveals that Michelle had shot herself in the opening scene of the film; Dylan was unable to call out to her due to his muteness, and has felt guilty about her death ever since.

At midnight, the djinn confronts Dylan. Dylan prepares to blow out the candle when the djinn begs Dylan not to make it go away in Michelle’s voice, while holding a knife behind her back. Dylan does not fall for it and blows out the candle, successfully banishing the djinn. Dylan later comes to terms with his guilt about Michelle’s suicide in a dream and accepts that nothing could have been done about it.

On the next morning, the djinn manifests again and in a terrifying turn of events, transfers Michael’s ability to speak to Dylan, rendering Michael unable to speak and rolling on the floor, before returning to the book and causing Dylan who can now speak to be full of regret for his wish.

The atmosphere created is tense and eeiry and you tend to feel empathy towards the character of Dylan. Dylan comes across as a very capable kid and manages to evade the Djinn for far longer than any adult might be able to in such a tiny apartment. The movie is unnerving but ultimately falls flat because of the limited storyline. A bit of background about this particular Djinn would have helped too as it seemingly came out of nowhere and then had a several different abilities but was unable to see at times.

JAY’S VERDICT

Watch The Djinn if nothing else’s is on TV – it’s cheap, fast-paced horror which offers a few good scares but has nothing much plot-wise.

JUNGLE CRUISE (2021) – EMILY BLUNT AND DWAYNE JOHNSON ON A CRUISE TO NOWHERE

Jungle Cruise is a 2021 fantasy adventure film starring Emily Blunt, Jack Whitehall, Jesse Plemons, Paul Giamatti and since the movie is set in a jungle, Hollywood’s go-to-guy for action in the jungle, Dwayne Johnson. The movie’s plot is simple with the captain of a small riverboat taking a group of travelers through the Amazon in search of the legendary Tree of Life. The movie works to an extent because of Johnson and Blunt’s on-screen chemistry and a comical villainous turn from Jesse Plemons.

In the 16th century, Don Aguirre leads Spanish conquistadors to South America to search for the Tears of the Moon, a mythical tree whose petals cure illness, heal injuries, and lift curses. After many conquistadors die, a local tribe heals the survivors with the tree petals. The tribal chief refuses to reveal the tree’s location, and Aguirre stabs him and destroys the village (typical right?). The dying chief curses the conquistadors, making them immortal and unable to leave sight of the Amazon River. The jungle recaptures anyone attempting to escape and absorbs them into it.

In 1916 London, Dr. Lily Houghton’s (Emily Blunt) Tears of the Moon research is presented by her brother, MacGregor (Jack Whitehall), to the Royal Society, claiming that the tree’s petals could revolutionize medicine and aid the British war effort. The Houghtons request access to a recently acquired arrowhead artifact. Lily believes it, along with an old map, is key to locating the tree. The society denies the request, believing the tree is a myth and female scientists are inferior. Lily steals the arrowhead, narrowly evading Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons), a German royal seeking the tree to help Germany win the war and speaking English with a dreadful German accent.

In Brazil, Lily and MacGregor need a boat and a guide to lead them down the Amazon. We are soon introduced to Paul Giamatti who is utterly wasted in this movie and is instead paid to speak in a dreadful Italian accent for his part as a greedy, cowardly river boat owner. They choose Frank Wolff (Dwayne Johnson) instead for obvious reasons, a riverboat skipper who offers cut-rate jungle cruises embellished with faked dangers and corny puns and oh who also has a pet jaguar. Frank initially declines, believing it too dangerous and that the tree is a myth, but reconsiders seeing the arrowhead. Frank steals back his repossessed boat engine, and he and the Houghtons depart. Joachim attacks them in a German submarine (basically out of nowhere) but the group escape and journey downriver (of course, they do. Broken ass wooden boats usually always beat U-boats).

Inside Frank’s cabin, Lily notices photos and sketches of modern inventions, as well as maps, drawings, and research on the Tears of the Moon. She accuses Frank of seeking the tree, but he insists he gave up long ago. A “cannibal” tribe captures the group but it is another of Frank’s faux dangers, which he claims he was unable to call off in time. Lily is furious and now doubts his trustworthiness. The tribal leader translates the arrowhead’s symbols, revealing the tree location and that it only blooms under a blood moon. Meanwhile, Joachim locates the conquistadors petrified inside a cave and diverts river water to free them, after he offers to lift their curse if they retrieve the arrowhead; the Spaniards attack the tribe and fatally stab Frank. Lily flees with the arrowhead. As she crosses the curse’s boundary, the jungle drags the pursuing Spaniards back.

To the Houghtons’ shock, a fully revived Frank is found the next morning. He reveals his real name is Francisco, and he is one of the conquistadors who were on a noble quest to save Aguirre’s gravely ill daughter. When the Spaniards attacked the natives, Frank defended the village. After years of fighting, Frank trapped the conquistadors in the cave where they turned to stone. He then spent centuries searching for the tree to lift his own curse. Well you were promised fantasy and you got it! The problem with the movie is the excessive CGI. After a while, even Dwayne Johnson looks like he has been made to walk and do stuff through CGI.

Lily and Frank continue on to a waterfall. They release a submerged stone structure that has a passageway. Meanwhile, Joachim captures MacGregor, forcing him to reveal Lily’s location. Frank, Lily, MacGregor, the Germans, and the Spaniards all converge on the tree. They learn the arrowhead is actually a heart-shaped locket containing a gemstone. After placing the gem and locket into the trunk, the dormant tree blooms under the blood moon. A fight ensues, during which Lily recovers one petal. MacGregor kills Joachim, and Frank crashes his boat to block the river, turning himself and the Spaniards into stone. Lily, realizing her true feelings for Frank, sacrifices the petal to lift his curse. Frank, who wanted to end his life, decides to continue living to be with Lily. The moon casts one last beam and a single petal blooms, allowing Lily to take a petal with her so that her research can proceed but World War 1 still manages to slaughter millions and the the Second World War would kill more, so it’s evident, she didn’t do a lot of good research on it.

Upon their return to England, the Royal Society offers Lily full membership, which she rejects. Lily shows Frank all of London and teaches him to drive an automobile. Yes, instead of getting to work on a miracle cure through the petal to save “humanity”.

Jungle Cruise fails because it tries to incorporate too much into it. CGI pets? Check. Spanish conquistadors and German U-boats? Check. Blonde hottie? Check. Lovable hulk? Check. Lastly, I understand Disney wants to appear “WOKE” now but MacGregor needs to be gay? I mean do you need to squeeze virtue signalling in even in a movie set in 1916? However, not all is bad and the movie does have its funny moments. But it’s all too little. Though Blunt and Johnson’s chemistry is quite refreshing it doesn’t save the movie. For example, how is a Doctor of Botany, such a good fighter (Emily Blunt)?

JAY’S VERDICT

Watch Jungle Cruise on Disney+ if you enjoy movies that don’t make much sense and you enjoy the 19th century to be woke.

THE WHITE TIGER (2021) – ARAVIND ADIGA’S NOVEL ADAPTATION FALLS SHORT OF EXPECTATIONS

The White Tiger is a 2021 drama film written and directed by Ramin Bahrani. The movie is based on Aarvind Adiga’s 2008 novel of the same name. The movie, like the book, provides a darkly humorous perspective of India’s class struggle in a globalized world as told through a retrospective narration from Balram Halwai, a village boy. In detailing Balram’s journey first to Delhi, where he works as a chauffeur to a rich landlord, and then to Bangalore, the place to which he flees after killing his master and stealing his money, the movie examines issues of the Hindu religion, caste, loyalty, corruption and poverty in India but where the book had humor and dug deeper into Indian society’s issues, the movie scrapes the issues only at the surface.

The movie stars Priyanka Chopra as Pinky and Rajkummar Rao as Ashok and newcomer Adarsh Gourav as the protagonist – Balram Halwai. Adarsh Gourav as Balram is aptly cast and Rajkummar Rao does well too as Ashok. However, Priyanka Chopra’s take on Pinky comes off as annoying and she plays a bigger role in the movie than in the book (probably to pitch to her feminist fan following, her role is strengthened greatly), which is not a good idea as it reduces the humor which made the book so successful. She and Rajkummar Rao also have an exaggerated American accent which doesn’t seem genuine.

The movie’s plot follows that of the book to a great extent – In 2010, entrepreneur Balram Halwai is shown writing an email to the Chinese premier Wen Jiabao, who was visiting Bangalore then, requesting a meeting, and relating his life story. He states his belief that the Indian underclass is trapped in a perpetual state of servitude, like chickens in a chicken coop. Balram was born in a rural village in Gaya district, where he lived with his grandmother, parents, brother and extended family. He is a smart child but is forced to leave school in order to help pay for his cousin’s dowry and begins to work in a teashop with his brother in Dhanbad. The short depiction of rural life, hits hard and shows a lot of the societal issues plaguing India. While working there he begins to learn about India’s government and economy from the customers’ conversations. Balram describes himself as a bad servant but a good listener and decides to become a driver.

After learning how to drive, Balram finds a job driving Ashok, the son of one of Laxmangarh’s landlords – however in the movie, only two are described – the Mongoose and the Stork. He takes over the job of the main driver, from a small car to a heavy-luxury described Honda City. He stops sending money back to his family and disrespects his grandmother during a trip back to his village. Balram moves to New Delhi with Ashok and his wife Pinky Madam. Throughout their time in Delhi, Balram is exposed to extensive corruption, especially in the government. In Delhi, the contrast between the poor and the wealthy is made even more evident by their proximity to one another.

One night Pinky Madam takes the wheel from Balram, while drunk, hits something in the road and drives away; we are left to assume that she has killed a child. Ashok’s family puts pressure on Balram to confess that he had been driving alone. Ashok becomes increasingly involved in bribing government officials for the benefit of the family coal business. Balram then decides that killing Ashok will be the only way to escape India’s Rooster Coop – Balram’s metaphor for describing the oppression of India’s poor, just as roosters in a coop at the market watch themselves get slaughtered one by one, but are unable or unwilling to break out of the cage.Similarly, Balram too is portrayed as being trapped in the metaphorical Rooster Coop: his family controls what he does and society dictates how he acts.

After killing Ashok by bludgeoning him with a bottle and stealing the large bribe Ashok was carrying with him, Balram moves to Bangalore, where he bribes the police in order to help start his own taxi business. Just like Ashok, Balram pays off a family whose son one of his taxi drivers hit and killed. Balram explains that his own family was almost certainly killed by Ashok’s relatives as retribution for his murder. At the end of the film, Balram rationalizes his actions and considers that his freedom is worth the lives of his family and of Ashok. And thus ends the letter to Jiabao, letting the reader think of the dark humor of the tale, as well as the idea of life as a trap introduced by the writer.

The movie captures several themes including Globalization, the rich-poor divide, casteism, Hindu-Muslim animosity, poverty and individuality. This individuality though appreciated in societies in Europe and the Americas, is frowned upon in most Asian societies. Hence Balram’s characterization as a “White Tiger”, an animal that comes once in a hundred years. The movie captures a lot of what made the book successful – a humorous way of looking at India’s societal problems but its failure lies in deviating from the book just to give Priyanka Chopra’s character a meatier role. It does pander to white audiences by having all of them speak fluent English which ruins the impact of the movie’s main focus – the divide between the rich and the poor.

JAY’S VERDICT

Watch it if you enjoy Poverty Porn. Especially hard hitting for white audiences – us Indians sadly wouldn’t be perturbed by the movie as most of us have accepted the ills plaguing our society.

1917 (2019) – A VISUALLY STUNNING WAR DRAMA SHOWING THE HORRORS OF THE GREAT WAR

1917 is a 2019 British war film directed and produced by Sam Mendes starring George Mackay and Dean-Charles Chapman in starring roles. The plot seems simple – two soldiers are given seemingly impossible orders to reach 1600 soldiers of the 2nd Devon battalion, who are about to launch an offensive against the Germans, who lie in wait for the attack by preparing an ambush with artillery. The two soldiers – Lance Corporal William Schofield and Lance Corporal Tom Blake, must go across “No Man’s Land” to warn Colonel Mackenzie of the Second Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment and call off the attack. What follows is a beautifully shot movie which captures the horrors and the futility of war and in this particular case, the Great War.

On 6 April 1917, aerial reconnaissance has observed that the German army, which has pulled back from a sector of the Western Front in northern France, is not in retreat but has made a strategic withdrawal to the new Hindenburg Line, where they are waiting to overwhelm the British with artillery. This would result in heavy casualties for the British troops on the line, who think the Germans are in retreat. In the British trenches, with field telephone lines cut and lines of communication destroyed, William Schofield, a veteran of the Somme, and Tom Blake, are ordered by General Erinmore to carry a message to Colonel Mackenzie of the Second Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment, calling off a scheduled attack the next morning that would jeopardize the lives of 1,600 men, including Blake’s brother Joseph, a lieutenant with the Devonshire Regiment.

Schofield and Blake cross no man’s land to reach the abandoned German trenches, passing a ditched British tank, but Schofield injures his left hand along the way. In an underground barracks, they discover a tripwire set by the Germans, which is promptly triggered by a rat; the explosion almost kills Schofield, but Blake saves him, and the two escape. They arrive at an abandoned farmhouse, where a German plane is shot down in a dogfight with Allied aircraft. Schofield and Blake save the burned pilot, but the pilot stabs Blake and is shot dead by Schofield. Schofield comforts Blake as he dies, promising to complete the mission and to write to Blake’s mother. Taking Blake’s rings and dog tag, as well as Erinmore’s letter, he is picked up by a passing British unit.

A destroyed canal bridge prevents the British lorries from crossing, and Schofield chooses to walk through the lines. He uses what is left of the bridge to cross alone, and comes under fire from a sniper. Exchanging shots, Schofield wounds the sniper and advances, whereupon he and the sniper shoot each other simultaneously; the sniper is killed, while Schofield is struck in the helmet and knocked out. He regains consciousness at night and finds the town in flames. He discovers a French woman hiding with an infant. She treats his wounds, and he gives her his canned food and milk from the farm. Despite her pleas, Schofield leaves, after hearing the chimes of a nearby clock and realizing that time is running out. Encountering German soldiers, he strangles one to death and escapes pursuit by jumping into a river. He is swept over a waterfall before reaching the riverbank. In the forest, he finds D Company of the 2nd Devons, which is in the last wave of the attack. As the company starts to move toward the front, Schofield tries to reach Colonel Mackenzie.

Realising that the trenches are too crowded for him to make it to Mackenzie in time, Schofield goes “over the top” and sprints on the open battlefield parallel to the British trench line, just as the infantry begins its charge. He forces his way in to meet Mackenzie, who reads the message and reluctantly calls off the attack. Schofield then finds Joseph, who was among the first wave and is bloodied but is unharmed. Schofield tells Joseph of his mission and that his brother Tom has died, passing on Tom’s rings and dog tag. Joseph is deeply upset about his brother but thanks Schofield for his efforts. Schofield asks to write to their mother about Tom’s heroics, to which Joseph agrees. Exhausted, Schofield sits under a nearby tree, looking at photographs of his wife and children.

What is brilliant about the movie is the direction and a visually stunning technical achievement. The movie is shot and edited to appear as a single take, every camera movement is intelligent and serves a purpose as the film unfolds. The story itself keeps you gripped to your seats and the performances of the two young leads Dean-Charles Chapman and George MacKay are engaging to say the least. The cinematography is mesmerising, choreographed and executed to perfection around the horrific elements of war. Some of the frames are visually breathtaking, and demand to be revisited to absorb everything they have to offer.

JAY’S VERDICT

Watch 1917 now to be transported to the horrors of World War I and be thrilled by the brilliant direction of Sam Mendes and the thrilling performances of the leads.

WRATH OF MAN (2021) – JASON STATHAM PUNCHING HIS WAY IS ALWAYS A THRILL RIDE

Wrath of Man is a 2021 action thriller film directed by Guy Ritchie, who teams with Jason Statham again after 16 years and the fourth collaboration between the two, with Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch and Revolver before it. Jason Statham stars as Patrick Hill or “H”, who starts working for an armored truck company called Fortico Security.

After being commended by the superior Terry for his references, he is introduced to Bullet (Holt McCallany), who nicknames him “H” and oversees his training. H gets off to a rocky start with his colleagues, particularly Boy Sweat Dave (Josh Hartnett, making his return), over his mysterious nature.

One day, Bullet is taken hostage during a drop and the kidnappers demand the $2 million in their truck. When H and Dave meet the kidnappers, H easily dispatches them with expert marksmanship, making him a hero among his co-workers. During a later attack on H’s truck, he steps out when the truck is flooded with tear gas, at which point the robbers retreat on seeing him, afraid for their lives. This raises Bullet and Dave’s suspicions about H. H later sleeps with co-worker Dana Curtis and holds her at gunpoint to interrogate her about a private cash stash he finds. She claims she stole money once from a liquor store for retirement savings, but insists it was the only time. H spares her life, but threatens further repercussions if he learns she is withholding further information. This short scene seems to have been only added to enhance Jason Statham’s macho sex appeal as it does nothing really for the story itself.

We are next taken through a flashback of five months earlier, where H is out with his son Dougie when he reluctantly agrees to a call asking him to help with the recon of an armored truck for a robbery. H stops on the other side of the bridge from the armored truck depot, and asks Dougie to wait in the car while he goes to a food truck by the depot. He calls to reveal the location of the truck as he gets food, but as the truck goes under the bridge, it is attacked by a different group of thieves dressed as construction workers, who kill the guards as well as Dougie for being a witness. When H runs toward them, he is gunned down as well, but survives.

Jason Statham stars as H and Josh Hartnett stars as Boy Sweat Dave in director Guy Ritchie’s WRATH OF MAN

H is then revealed to be Hargreaves, the boss of a crime syndicate who specialize in armored truck robberies; the syndicate’s members were the men who made the second attack on H’s truck. After Dougie’s mother holds H responsible for Dougie’s death and leaves, H demands to find the men responsible. After exhausting a list of suspects, and coming up with no possible leads, in which we see brutal killings and H’s cold-blooded pursuit of revenge, his associate suggests that the robbery was an inside job. H says he will fly back to London to clear his mind, but actually arranges a local contact, Kirsty, to provide him with the forged identity of Patrick Hill, as well as the autopsy report of Dougie’s death.

Cameron Jack as Brendan, Darrell D’Silva as Mike, Jason Statham as H, and Babs Olusanmokun as Moggy in director Guy Ritchie’s WRATH OF MAN

Next we are introduced to the thieves of the construction job who are a former military platoon, commanded by Jackson, along with a man named Jan who killed the guards and Dougie. Struggling to make ends meet, the group decides to start stealing money in increasingly ambitious heists planned in great detail by Jackson and Tom, while maintaining their normal lives with families, except for Jan, who shows off his wealth. They first attempt to steal from a wealthy man for whom their fellow ex-soldier Carlos works as security, but come up with only a few hundred thousand dollars. They then resolve to utilize contacts in armored truck companies to steal millions of dollars. When they are given the Fortico heist, Jan kills the guards and Dougie against the wishes of the rest of the team.

Scott Eastwood stars as Jan in director Guy Ritchie’s WRATH OF MAN

Some months later, Jackson and Tom bring the team together for a much larger but riskier final heist to steal over $150 million from the Fortico depot on Black Friday. H and Bullet are riding together when Bullet reveals he is the thieves’ insider, and asks H to cooperate to avoid death. The thieves, dressed in full body armor, hide in the truck to gain access into the depot and begin taking hostages, including Terry and Dave. One worker triggers the alarm and the workers behind the weapons desk begin shooting at the thieves, but are easily dispatched. H chokes Carlos and takes his body armor to fight back, inspiring Dave to do the same while Terry hides. Realizing they may not make it out, Bullet breaks his cover and kills Dave, Dana, and the remaining guards and shoots H.

Bullet, Jackson, and Jan are the only ones to make it out of the depot, though Jackson is critically wounded. They evade police and make it to a garage where they have access to underground tunnels. Believing Jan will try to kill them, Jackson takes out a pistol, but Jan stops him and slits his throat. When Jan and Bullet make it to the end of the tunnel, Bullet takes out a gun to try to kill Jan, but Jan kills him first. Jan successfully makes away with all the money before the police can deduce what happened. At Jan’s apartment, he finds a phone ringing in one of the money bags, which was planted there by H to track his location. H confronts Jan with Dougie’s autopsy before shooting him in the same places Dougie was shot, killing him. H turns in the money to his FBI contact (Andy Garcia in a totally useless role) and drives off with one of his associates.

Overall it’s a simple vengeance story and being a Jason Statham movie, it definitely delivers on its over-the-top macho aggression. But that being said it is definitely entertaining – the action especially the gun fight at the depot is extremely fun although one keeps wondering how it is so easy to get body armor and assault weapons so easily in the United States. Most of the characters play second fiddle to Statham as this is a movie which centers upon his “wrath”. The only female character who has a few lines, acts all confident until Jason Statham arrives only to become a smitten damsel who has to sleep with him, not too long into the movie. Josh Hartnett is back but he is no longer the actor from Black Hawk Down and Pearl Harbor. He plays a cool guy but he isn’t one in the movie. Basically the roles for the secondary characters are such, Guy Ritchie could have saved millions by just hiring newbies from acting school for the role as everything revolves around Statham as it is.

But hey, it’s my fault to try and analyze a Jason Statham movie as if it were a classic. I wouldn’t do that to a Vin Diesel or Dwayne Johnson movie and I am not gonna do it to Statham. Statham plays to his strengths – the macho vibe, being the guy with the quick witty lines and the ability to never die no matter how many bullets are fired at him. As an action star, Jason Statham is one of the most bankable stars in Hollywood and I can see why. He knows his genre and sticks to his strengths. He doesn’t fake accents or work in rom-coms. Even in comedies such as Spy, he played a hard man and it works. I would definitely recommend Wrath of Man but try not to watch with your girlfriend or wife, as that night she’d definitely be recreating some scene with Statham in her head.

Guy Ritchie though has fallen far since his amazing heist movies such as Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch. Wrath of Man is far from his best but it isn’t bad either.

JAY’S VERDICT

Watch the movie for its brilliant acting…..I am sorry, that was cruel. No watch this movie for its fun action sequences. That’s it, there is nothing else I could remember which makes this movie stand apart.

PIRATES OF SOMALIA (2017) – AN ENJOYABLE INSIGHT INTO LIFE AMONG SOMALIAN PIRATES

The Pirates of Somalia is a 2017 American drama film written and directed by Bryan Buckley. The film stars Evan Peters (famous for being the more popular Pietro Maximoff or Quicksilver), Al Pacino (famous for being Al Pacino), Melanie Griffith (famous for Working Girl and Buffalo Girls), and Barkhad Abdi (famous for being a pirate of Somalia in Captain Philips and world-renowned meme).

The movie is based on Canadian journalist and author, Jay Bahadur’s book of the same name. The movie opens in the Great White North. Jay (who finds it difficult to properly pronounce his Indian surname) nurses his journo dreams in the basement of his parents’ home, while his younger brother steals his Red Bull and his bro buddies taunt him as they embark on a trip to a local bar called Parrots. After a snow-shoveling mishap, he finds himself in a doctor’s waiting room and learns the crusty old guy in the chair across from him is Canadian journalism legend Seymour Tobin (played by Al Pacino who seems to be asking himself why such a magnificent actor like himself is playing roles in what for him is essential a B-Movie). After talking to Tobin, which gives Al Pacino, iconic lines like, “You read too much. F**k more girls instead”, Jay decides to take the plunge, borrowing just enough money from mom (Melanie Griffith) to get him to Somalia. Using rock music and vivid worst-case-scenario nightmares to amplify Jay’s anxiety en route, we arrive in Somalia.

Abdi (Barkhad Abdi) and Jay (Evan Peters) waiting to interview a pirate in DABKA.

Bahadur secures support from his translator Abdi and with his help he manages to establish contacts with the local Somali pirates and to interview them. He gets increasingly interested in studying an organization of Somali pirates. In order to fulfill this dream, Jay continues his investigation, finding himself more and more in danger, and is eventually carried along by the maelstrom of events but in a movie that tries to show the risks encountered by Bahadur, the chaos engulfing Somalia is never really explored fully.

There’s an interesting subtext in this movie. Despite its mission to shed some life on Somali culture and the precarious situation of its democracy, the movie is really all about a white guy trying to earn cultural currency in an era when what he represents is on an ever-more hurried wane. The white savior complex comes out often during the movie, despite the movie making efforts to make Jay quite likeable.

Jay is a likable character, but a little vulnerability would have gone a long way, and a more experienced actor might have found a more effective balance. Instead, Peters plays it as Seth Rogen might have, braying his lines like an uncouth American, while reminding us that he’s actually Canadian — a distinction that supplies a running gag that manages to be lamer everyone time it is referred to during the movie. More amusing is the revelation that nearly all interactions in Somalia rely on khat, a local drug Jay is expected to bring to interviews, implying that Somalia may be a stoner’s paradise and that he may be uniquely qualified to understand it. Then again, perhaps Seth Rogen could have done a decent job too as he is used to stoner comedies.

Aside from it being another how-a-white-guy-made-out-in-an-“exotic”-locale narrative, the movie doesn’t offer much though it does capture Somalia in a better light than Black Hawk Down did. The film means for us to delight in Jay’s flouting of conventions. When the little boy who’s befriended him spots the attractive wife of a local kingpin from out of Jay’s window, Jay exclaims, “You’re a good wingman, Assad,” and we are meant to be charmed. The movie does contain some good acting work, mostly from the actors portraying Somali characters; Barkhad Abdi is engaging as Abdi (not a lot of creativity there), who guides Jay after he first touches down and advises him to not take up CBS News’ offer of $1,000 to anyone who can get hostage footage from a Somali ship.

There are a lot of fascinating segments within the movie but there are many more dumb ones. Bahadur is especially foolhardy in trying to befriend a dealer of the drug khat who also happens to be a wife of the region’s biggest pirate. Sabrina Hassan Abdulle is sly and intelligent as Maryan, who surprises him with her knowledge of Hollywood movies. Haven’t we all seen The Last King of Scotland to remember what happens to white guys who sleep with the local warlord’s wife. We learn about piracy alongside Bahadur, meeting two men who separately command teams of hundreds of nothing-to-lose pirates. They see themselves as “saviors of the sea,” who are simply collecting taxes the government is too weak to impose on foreigners. One says he was happy to be a lobster diver until foreign interests came in and destroyed his livelihood. Overall, it is a fun movie to watch if you want to gain some insights into life in Somalia and it could have been a better movie, if the director had tried harder. Evan Peters isn’t a lot of fun playing a more serious role but the movie is definitely watchable once.

JAY’S VERDICT

Watch Pirates of Somalia for a short tour into the lives of Somalians, a few cultural insights and basically if there is nothing better to view on Netflix.

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