GODZILLA VS. KONG (2021) – THE MONSTER VERSE THROWS UP ANOTHER VISUALLY EXCITING BUT NON-STIMULATING PUNCH-UP

Godzilla vs. Kong is a 2021 American monster film directed by Adam Wingard, which continues the events from Godzilla: King of Monsters and Kong: Skull Island. The film stars Alexander Skarsgård, Millie Bobby Brown, Rebecca Hall and Kyle Chandler, who form the “mostly irrelevant human cast”.

Desperately trying to be cool in a movie which renders them mostly irrelevant

Five years after Godzilla defeated King Ghidorah, during the events of Godzilla: King of the Monsters, Kong is monitored by Monarch within a giant dome on Skull Island. Kong is visited by Jia, the last Iwi native (check out my review of Kong: Skull Island to learn more) and Kong expert Ilene Andrews’ adopted daughter, who is deaf and communicates with Kong via sign language. Meanwhile, Bernie Hayes, an employee of Apex Cybernetics and host of a Titan conspiracy theory podcast, extracts data suggesting sinister activities at a Pensacola facility. However, Godzilla suddenly attacks the facility; during the rampage, Bernie stumbles on a massive device. Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown continuing her dull and predictable performance from the previous movie), a fan of Bernie’s podcast, enlists her friend Josh to investigate Godzilla’s attacks.

Apex CEO Walter Simmons recruits Nathan Lind, former Monarch scientist and Hollow Earth theorist, to guide a search for a power source into the Hollow Earth, the homeworld of the Titans (here’s where the dose of science fiction which allowed us to enjoy monsters, becomes overwhelming). Nathan is initially hesitant as his brother died in an expedition to the Hollow Earth due to a strong reverse-gravitational effect. He agrees after Walter reveals that Apex has developed HEAVs, specialized crafts able to withstand the pressure exerted by the gravity field. Nathan meets with Ilene and convinces her to let Kong guide them through the Hollow Earth via an outpost in Antarctica. Nathan, Ilene, and an Apex team led by Walter’s daughter Maia (another irrelevant casting who adds nothing to the movie) board a modified barge escorted by the U.S. Navy that carries a sedated and restrained Kong. Godzilla attacks the convoy and defeats Kong, but retreats after the ships disable their power and trick him into thinking they are destroyed. To avoid alerting Godzilla, Kong is airlifted to the Hollow Earth entrance, and Jia convinces him to enter the tunnel while the team follows him in the HEAVs.

Madison and Josh find Bernie, who joins their investigation. They sneak into the wrecked Apex base, discover a secret facility underground, and are inadvertently locked into an underground monorail transport to Apex headquarters in Hong Kong, where they unwittingly stumble on a test of Mechagodzilla (thus, continuing the trend in the monster verse to add several monsters and scenarios within a single movie). It is telepathically controlled by Ren Serizawa, the son of the late Ishirō Serizawa, through the neural networks from the skull of a severed Ghidorah head, but is hobbled by its power supply’s limitations. Walter intends to harness the Hollow Earth’s energy to overcome Mechagodzilla’s limitations.

Inside the Hollow Earth, Kong and the team find an ecosystem similar to Skull Island. They discover his species’ ancestral throne room, where they find remains of an ancient war with Godzilla’s kind and a glowing axe made from another Godzilla’s dorsal plates. As they identify the power source, the Apex team sends its signature back to their Hong Kong base despite Ilene’s protests. Attracted by Mechagodzilla’s activation, Godzilla arrives in Hong Kong, and sensing Kong, he directly drills a shaft to the throne room with his atomic breath. In the ensuing mayhem, Maia and the Apex team attempt to escape but their HEAV is crushed by Kong. Kong, Ilene, Jia, and Nathan ascend to Hong Kong, where Godzilla and Kong battle. Godzilla is initially overpowered by Kong, but Godzilla emerges victorious. Kong loses consciousness after being defeated by Godzilla, which makes sense as a nuclear powered lizard would almost always beat a giant ape, right guys?

Madison, Josh, and Bernie are caught by security and taken to Walter. Here Millie Bobby Brown or our dear little Madison, tries her best attempt at being extremely mature for her age and we see the grown man and the fat kid from Deadpool, get scared while Madison remains calm and composed, thus allowing for the customary Hollywood trend of over-correction within gender-norms in movies to continue. I Millie Bobby Brown doesn’t watch out, she will become the next Ruby Rose of making overtly feminized movies which no one every watches. Despite Ren’s concerns over the power source’s volatility, Walter orders him to activate Mechagodzilla. Now possessed by Ghidorah’s consciousness, Mechagodzilla kills Walter, electrocutes Ren and then attacks Hong Kong. Godzilla and Mechagodzilla battle, but Godzilla is overwhelmed. Nathan revives Kong by destroying the HEAV, and Jia convinces him to help Godzilla. As Mechagodzilla overpowers both Titans, Josh short-circuits Mechagodzilla’s controls with Bernie’s flask of liquor (yup, that’s all humans are good for in the movie – for fucking up big time and spilling a drink), momentarily interrupting the mech. Godzilla supercharges Kong’s axe with his atomic breath, allowing Kong to destroy Mechagodzilla. Madison, Bernie, and Josh reunite with Mark Russell, while Godzilla and Kong acknowledge each other before the two go their separate ways. Sometime later, Monarch has established an observation post in the Hollow Earth, where Kong now rules.

Overall Godzilla Vs. Kong is a lot of fun if you ignore the humans, which is easy as they don’t do much and only make the movie worse. If you’re the type of person who cannot watch a movie without meaningful dialogues and composed acting, please avoid this movie. If you can keep your brain aside as you dig into a big tub of popcorn and enjoy seeing things blow up, this is an epic treat which you must enjoy. The most scintillating dialogue within the movie is between the two lead characters:

Godzilla: *screams in a high pitched shrill roar*

Kong: *screams in a loud aggressive heavy roar*

The makers of Monster verse have stumbled onto a money-making formula and just like the Marvel and the Fast & Furious franchise, intend to squeeze every last drop of money from the audiences by giving us wave after wave of monster flicks which do not expand creativity but work wonders for CGI driven action movies.

JAY’S VERDICT

Godzilla Vs. Kong is a definite improvement upon the previous Godzilla: King of the Monsters but the excessively dull human characters and poor dialogue, leave a lot to be desired.

NOBODY (2021) – BOB ODENKIRK CONVINCES AS AN ACTION HERO AND GIVES JOHN WICK A RUN FOR HIS MONEY

Nobody is a 2021 action thriller starring Bob Odenkirk (of Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul fame). Plot wise it is one that seems done over and over again in Hollywood movies – an unwilling man with a dark past, forced to go to war against evil men who threaten him and his family. Shades of Keanu Reeves’s John Wick trilogy come into play here. Nobody is directed by Ilya Naishuller and amidst the chaos which the film industry is in during the Covid pandemic, one of the top-performing movies at the box office even giving Godzilla v. Kong a run for its money especially considering the disparity in terms of budgets between the two.

Nobody (2021) (from left) A bus thug (Alain Moussi) and Hutch Mansell (Bob Odenkirk) in Nobody, directed by Ilya Naishuller.

Bob Odenkirk stars as Hutch Mansell, a simple man living an idyllic family life, working in his father-in-law’s metal fabrication factory, which he hopes to buy and a repetitive schedule involving missing out on the garbage drop, taking the bus to work and exercising in front of his wife’s realtor business billboard. His life is slowly grinding on him, as he and his wife have not been intimate in years, and his son Blake has no respect for him, regarding him as a pushover.

A robbery at his home which results in him being pushed over the edge even further and realizing the burglars stole his daughter’s bracelet along with some of the cash, he goes after them. However, after finding the burglars, a husband and wife who robbed his house only to pay for their sick daughter’s treatment, Hutch leaves in shame but his pent up frustration comes to boil, when during the late-night bus ride back home, he is confronted by some Russian thugs who were harassing a young passenger who is all alone. The ensuing brawl results in him brutally beating up the Russian thugs leaving one of them with a broken windpipe.

After telling his half-brother Harry about the incident, Harry then sends him to see a man referred to only as “The Barber”, who provides Hutch with information about one of his victims: he is the younger brother of Yulian Kuznetsov, a notorious Russian mob enforcer. Although Yulian despises his brother, he feels an obligation to avenge him and sends a crew led by his right-hand man Pavel to attack Hutch at home. Hutch hides his family and kills most of the attackers before Pavel subdues him with a taser and puts him in the trunk of a car to take him to Yulian. Finding a fire extinguisher in the trunk, Hutch uses it to blindside his abductors, causing the car to crash, killing Pavel. He returns home, sends his wife Becca and the children away to a safe location, and sets his house on fire to destroy any evidence.

Hutch’s past is revealed now – he was an “auditor” for a secret intelligence agencies which sent him to “clean up” situations involving people who were too hard to arrest or considered untouchable. During one of his assassinations, his victim pleaded to him to let him go and he would go back to leading a simple life. Hutch lets him go and after a year goes to check on him and finds him leading a simple life in a small town, with a wife and two kids and happy. This leads Hutch to also hang up his boots and settle down to a simple life although he now admits that he ended up “over-correcting”, resulting in losing the respect of the people around him.

After giving his father-in-law Eddie a stash of gold bars to buy his company from him, Hutch burns Yulian’s art collection and the Obshak money he was protecting for the mob, telling him that he can either choose to come after him or he can take what he has left and flee. Yulian angrily calls up every thug on his payroll and pursues Hutch to the factory, where his father David, an ex-FBI agent and his half-brother Harry show up to help Hutch eliminate the gangsters using a variety of weapons and deadly traps Hutch had set up. In the ensuing shootout, the three kill all of the gunmen with the exception of Yulian, who shoots and wounds Harry; Hutch charges him with a Claymore mine attached to a bulletproof shield and detonates it, killing Yulian. He lets his father and brother escape, and is arrested by the police, only to be quickly released with no charges filed after both the detectives receive calls from unknown sources. Three months later, while buying a new house with Becca, Hutch receives a call suggesting that his services are still required and thus, setting up a platform for sequels.

RZA, Bob Odenkirk and Christopher Lloyd star in a scene from the movie “Nobody.”

In terms of pure action and adrenaline boosting fights, Nobody fulfills its goals of entertaining us. Bob Odenkirk is extremely convincing both as a simple family man and as a brutal assassin. This movie works only because of him the same way John Wick works because of Keanu Reeves. The fights, especially the one in the bus, are brutal and bloody and not for the squeamish. This movie is a viscerally violent action thriller which smashes, shatters, and destroys plenty of other things – all the while proving Bob Odenkirk has what it takes to be an action star. There is talk of a crossover between Nobody and John Wick in the future and I for one, look forward to watching that.

JAY’S VERDICT

Watch Nobody today – for Bob Odenkirk’s excellent performance and to enjoy a viscerally thrilling, guns and fists action thriller.

TED LASSO (2020*) – OPTIMISM AND CHEER FLOW EASILY IN THIS JASON SUDEIKIS COMEDY

Ted Lasso is an American comedy that premiered in 2020 on Apple TV+. It stars Jason Sudeikis as Ted Lasso, an American football college-level coach who gets hired to manage a fictional Premier League football club – AFC Richmond. The show delivered Jason Sudeikis his first ever Golden Globe this year and for good reason – the show has a lot of interesting characters but Ted Lasso’s infectious optimism is what makes this show brilliant. It is funny but not rib-tickling funny but in a year where all of us lost hope and positivity, it brings optimism in large doses and it cheers you up from the inside and you pray for the second season to come soon.

The plot is fairly simple – Hannah Waddingham plays Rebecca Walton, a recently divorced woman who is the new owner of AFC Richmond through her divorce settlement. As the club meant the most to her cheating husband, she plans to destroy it from within using Ted Lasso, an American football coach who knows nothing about European football and throws him off the deep end in the Premier League. However, Ted Lasso’s infectious optimism slowly makes the fans, the players and eventually ice cold Rebecca to appreciate and admire their new coach.

Hannah Waddingham and Jason Sudeikis star in “Ted Lasso,” premiering Friday on Apple TV+.

Juno Temple stars as Keeley Jones, the model girlfriend of the club’s star forward, Jamie Tartt, who plays his role of a talented but obnoxious young footballer who thinks himself to be greater than his teammates. There are also other footballers who usually portray stereotypical football team characters like the grumpy, older club captain, the foreign outsider trying to settle into a new country and the extremely optimistic and talented gem that the new coach happens to discover once he recovers from an injury.

Brendan Hunt stars as Coach Beard, Lasso’s taciturn long-time assistant and friend who supports Ted’s optimism and also calms him down at times. Another interesting character who becomes a close member of Ted’s inner circle is the team’s kit man, Nathan Shelley who lacks confidence but knows a lot about football. Ted calls him “Nate the Great” and he becomes more involved with the coaches as time passes, eventually becoming an assistant to Ted. But the show is driven by Jason Sudeikis – it’s his baby and he cherishes it to the fullest. His infectious optimism and positivity, though annoying initially, especially since we all have converted to the cult of pessimism after the year 2020, becomes the reason you want to keep watching the show.

The humor is light-hearted but appropriate. The show also touches on deeper issues like divorce and insecurities but doesn’t shy away from them. It humanizes them instead of making these a joke and that’s the magic of the show. The premise is simple. The acting is solid and all the actors give it their all but if there was a show being carried by one actor, it is this one. Ted Lasso provides us with one of the most deserving Golden Globe award winners we’ve had in a while in Jason Sudeikis and the character and the show are extremely likeable and leave you wanting more.

JAY’S VERDICT

Watch Ted Lasso to lift yourselves out of the gloom of Covid-19 and let the extreme optimism fill your heart.

SPARTACUS (2010 – 2013) – HIGHLY ENTERTAINING ROMAN ERA DEPICTION OF GLADIATORS AND THE SLAVE REBELLION

Spartacus: Blood & Sand was the first season of the American television series Spartacus. The series was inspired by the historical figure of Spartacus (played by Andy Whitfield in the first season and Liam McIntyre for the third and fourth season, after Andy Whitfield was diagnosed with cancer), a Thracian gladiator who from 73 to 71 BC led a major slave uprising against the Roman Republic, known as the Third Servile War. The show premiered on Starz and aired from 2010 to 2013. The show was divided into 3 core seasons and 1 prequel season called Gods of the Arena. In this review, I will try to give a brief narration of all the seasons and then review show as a whole.

Spartacus: Blood & Sand begins by giving a fictional account of how a Thracian slave, was brought to Rome, condemned for execution for rebelling against the Roman Legate, Claudius Glaber. This slave’s original name is unknown but he is named Spartacus by the Lanista (owner of Gladiators) Quintus Lentulus Batiatus (played brilliantly by John Hannah). Spartacus survives his execution and the roman crowds in the arena demand that he live against Glaber’s wishes. Batiatus purchases Spartacus to further his own cause and he is sent to his ludus (training ground) to be trained into a gladiator. We are now introduced to several characters who will play a prominent role in the upcoming seasons – Batitatus’s wife, Lucretia (played by Lucy Lawless of Xena fame), Crixus the undefeated Gaul (the current champion of Capua and initially Spartacus’s rival), Barca the beast of Carthage and Oenomaus or the Doctore, an African slave who trains the gladiators.

The newly enslaved Thracian warrior Spartacus enters the ludus of Lentulus Batiatus to receive gladiator training. He soon manages to make an enemy of the undefeated Gallic champion of Capua, Crixus, and the attention of whip-wielding taskmaster Doctore who uses harsh methods to test the new novices. He also meets Varro, a Roman gladiator by bankruptcy, who becomes his friend. The crafty but cash-strapped Batiatus fails to impress Glaber and so makes Spartacus, his new slave, an offer: if he cooperates and trains as a prized gladiator, he will use his power to help locate his wife. Consequently Spartacus trains to face the test to be a gladiator, and throws Crixus from the platform right before being killed. Afterwards, the victorious Spartacus swears the sacramentum of the gladiator brotherhood.

Next we see, the gladiators prepare for a series of fights that will be the highlight of the upcoming Vulcanalia festival, Spartacus cleverly manoeuvres to secure the right to battle Crixus, the unbeaten champion of Capua, in the primus or final battle. Despite his wife Lucretia’s objections, Batiatus reminds her that Spartacus’ bravery and previous exploits have “struck a chord with the public’s interest“. Meanwhile, Lucretia schemes to win favor with the wife of Gaius Claudius Glaber, the crafty and devious Ilithyia. At a pre-fight banquet, she interests her in the desirous Crixus, although he is secretly enamoured of Naevia, one of the domestic slaves and the body slave of Lucretia. At the Vulcanalia, Spartacus embarrasses his owners publicly, both by beginning to fight too early, and by surrendering instead of dying.

Spartacus’ disgrace at surrendering to Crixus in the arena leads Batiatus to punish him by demoting the Thracian to fight in the “pits of the underworld,” a hellish, vicious subterranean battle arena where the crowds are frenzied and anything goes. When Naevia seemingly rejects Crixus’ necklace gift, he initially misunderstands the reason for her refusal, and continues his secretive sexual relationship with Batiatus’ wife. Meanwhile, the drought and Batiatus’ money problems continue, and Lucretia ends up selling her new emerald necklace at a loss in the markets. Spartacus somehow survives the pits, and despite losing Batiatus’ winnings, he regains the favour of his dominus after helping to foil an assassination attempt by two slaves, and is restored again to gladiator status.

As the summer heat continues, enemies Spartacus and Crixus are commanded to take on an unbeaten champion named Theokoles, the “shadow of death“. Doctore, being the only warrior to have fought Theokoles and lived, is charged with preparing the two men for the drought-breaking primus, but receives little satisfaction from either man. Spartacus tries to find common ground with his arch-enemy but Crixus remains stalwartly opposed to sharing any of the glory. Meanwhile, after the visit of a fertility priestess, Lucretia is denied a chance to conceive as Crixus, distracted by Naevia, declines her advances. Meanwhile, the wounded Batiatus continues his own investigations into the attempt on his life, and exacts blood vengeance on Ovidius, the cousin of Magistrate Calavius, and his family. In the arena, Theokoles is finally bested by Spartacus and the drought breaks once Theokoles dies, earning Spartacus the title of “bringer of rain“. However, Crixus is critically wounded in the encounter and is taken away to recover.

As the rains fall, both Barca and Spartacus envision a future away from the ludus. Barca expects to purchase his and Pietros’ freedom, while Spartacus dreams of escaping with his enslaved wife, Sura. Crixus, barely alive after the near-fatal fight with Theokoles, is now in a drugged sleep. As part of his promotion to new Capuan champion, Spartacus tries on new armour, and during a private lesson with the Magistrate’s son, Numerius, he steals a dagger for the escape. Spartacus also uses some of his winnings to buy wine and women for the gladiators, to further aid the escape plan. Meanwhile, Batiatus is troubled by false news that Ovidius’ son still lives, and Ashur uses the chance to have Barca killed to avoid repaying the winnings owed to him. In the end Batiatus keeps his word of retrieving Sura, but her reunion with Spartacus is short lived as she quickly dies from wounds sustained in a “bandit attack”.

Spartacus’ world is changed by the death of his wife and he finds himself at a crossroads. In the absence of Barca, Pietros struggles without a protector and is unable to deal with the brutal attentions of Gnaeus. Meanwhile, Varro is visited by his wife and son and receives unwelcome news that she too, without her protector, has also been raped. Amidst the deceit of the household, Doctore seeks the truth behind Barca’s sudden departure from the ludus. Pietros, now without hope, hangs himself – and Spartacus gets even by throwing Gnaeus off the cliff. Spartacus, again at odds with his dominus, is forced to repay the loss from his winnings. After returning the stolen dagger, he decides to focus on his new gladiatorial life. In the arena while dressed as a Roman consul, he fights six criminals dressed as Thracians, and trusting himself to his wife’s gods, he begins to purge his past.

Spartacus continues his reign as the champion of Capua at rival Solonius’ expense, while Crixus struggles to recover and to return to training. After comments made by Ashur, Batiatus begins to explore the possibility of selling the Gaul to a rival ludus in Damascus. Meanwhile, Batiatus acquires six new recruits for 100 denarii, and Ilithyia chooses to sponsor one, a Gaul named Segovax, in order to both defy her husband and impress her socialite friends. After a slight to her husband’s honour by Spartacus at a private party, she implies promises of freedom to the recruit in exchange for his help. Crixus, after working to regain Lucretia’s sexual favour, interrupts Segovax’s attempt to strangle Spartacus. Crixus and Spartacus, both wounded in the fight, begin to renew a sense of brotherhood with each other. Ilithyia, on a return visit, arrives in time to both witness her sponsored slave’s crucifixion and deny any knowledge of the reasons behind the attack.

Licinia, a rich noblewoman and cousin of senator Marcus Crassus, visits from Rome and asks Lucretia to “taste the wares of ludus” with Spartacus. Lucretia, mindful that Spartacus had not been with a woman since his capture, instructs a female slave named Mira to prepare him for his encounter, but Spartacus rejects her. Ilithyia, suspecting her rich friend’s desires, also decides on a masked sexual encounter. Jealously enraged by her choice of Crixus (who has recently resumed training), Lucretia sets up to trap Ilithyia in bed with Spartacus. Ilithyia, shocked after it is revealed that both intended to use the scandal against her, suddenly kills Licinia. Meanwhile, elsewhere in the ludus, Batiatus’ plan to kill Solonius is undermined by a slighted Ashur, Crixus makes enemies of two new German brothers, Varro’s wife and son have gone missing, and Naevia steals a guard’s key for an illicit tryst.

Spartacus and Crixus are set up to fight in an exhibition match for Numerius’ coming of age party, and Crixus sees a chance to resume his position. Batiatus, realising Spartacus’ importance to his ambitions, invites him to play a board game called Latrunculi, but Lucretia jealously disapproves of the two men sharing wine. Meanwhile, Naevia has troubles with the guard she stole the key from, and risks all to share time with Crixus. At the party a now revived Ilithyia, still haunted by memories of the murder, seduces Numerius and has him switch Spartacus’s opponent to Varro. Despite it being an exhibition match, Numerius further surprises by not granting mercy to Varro, forcing Spartacus to reluctantly kill his only friend. Later that night, after Batiatus’ interest in politics is dismissed by Calavius, he vows blood revenge for his fighter’s death. Distraught with grief, Spartacus returns to his cell and vents his rage until Mira comes in to comfort him.

Spartacus is continually haunted by the death of his friend and admits to Varro’s wife, Aurelia, that he died by his sword. At the same time, Batiatus fakes another bandit raid and kidnaps Magistrate Calavius, holding him captive in the city sewers. Meanwhile, a festering wound from the fight with Varro weakens Spartacus, and while he recuperates with the help of the medicus and Mira, more visions of the dead haunt his feverish dreams. In the arena, Crixus reclaims some of his lost glory when he is needed in the primus against Pompeius’ unbeaten champion, Pericles – a fight he narrowly wins. Later, in the infirmary, Spartacus throttles Aulus, Sura’s killer (having noticed he had no actual wound as suffered in her attack), and learns that Batiatus ordered her death. Batiatus’ scheming comes to fruition as he, with the cunning help of Ashur, is able to successfully entrap Solonius for Calavius’ murder.

In the arena, Crixus continues his winning streak, and Spartacus kills the condemned Solonius. Spartacus also plots vengeance, but is warned by Mira that any attack on the master risks the life of all slaves. When finally granted an audience with Batiatus, he stays his hand when he notices Varro’s widow, Aurelia, now working as a debt-slave. The ludus later awaits the arrival of Ilithyia and her husband Claudius Glaber, and Batiatus ends up being irked by Glaber’s bluntness, but also surprised by his wife’s pregnancy. Meanwhile, Spartacus fights against Glaber’s soldiers, and Ashur’s vengeful scheming finally exposes the relationship between Crixus and Naevia, leading to a scene. When Glaber refuses to sponsor Batiatus, he and Lucretia desperately reveal Ilithyia’s hand in Licinia’s murder and Glaber is forced to acquiesce. In the end, Crixus is flogged while Naevia is sold – but before leaving, she tells Doctore the truth behind Barca’s “freedom”.

In front of the Capuan elite assembled on the balcony of the ludus, Crixus and Spartacus fight to the death, a bout arranged by Batiatus for their sport. However, two days earlier, Spartacus endeavors to enlist the help of the rest of the gladiators to lead a revolt to destroy the house of Batiatus once and for all. Spartacus gains support from Mira, who is tasked with opening the gate, but Crixus resists in hopes of reuniting with Naevia. Meanwhile, Doctore (whose real name is revealed to be Oenomaus) confronts Batiatus about Barca’s death and Ashur’s hand in it. Later, during the duel, after learning he was given poison to ensure Spartacus’ victory, Crixus finally joins the revolt. In the melee, Doctore initially stops Spartacus from killing Batiatus, but Crixus persuades him to join them just as Ilithyia escapes by having her husband’s soldiers seal the villa doors. Doctore tries to kill Ashur but he escapes, and Crixus stabs Lucretia, killing their unborn child. Aurelia knifes Numerius in revenge for Varro, and Spartacus confronts and kills Batiatus. After the massacre, he vows to rid Rome of slavery, and all the slaves escape the ludus.

Spartacus: Blood & Sand was massively popular with the audiences, if not the critics who hated the excessive and bloody violence and the rampant sex depicted within the show. But the audiences enjoyed the same and the show enjoyed an average of 1.285 million viewers throughout the course of the season.

After Spartacus: Blood & Sand ends, the actor playing Spartacus, Andy Whitfield was sadly diagnosed with non-Hodgkins Lymphoma (he later succumbed to the disease) and he informed Starz that he would like to be replaced. However, the showrunners decided to introduce a prequel series which would be set five years before the arrival of Spartacus and gives an introduction into Batitatus’s acquisition of the Ludus from his father, the roots of animosity between Crixus and the Syrian gladiator Ashur, Oenomaus’s ascent to Doctore and the acquisition of Crixus and most importantly introduces a major character in the form of Gannicus, a Celtic gladiator who is the champion of Capua at that time.

The prequel series was very well made with each of the six episodes providing ample violence, plots and sex for the audiences that were used to such after Spartacus: Blood and Sand. It also allowed audiences to understand how Batiatus and Solonius who begin as good friends in Gods of the Arena, become bitter rivals in Blood & Sand. It also gives a good understanding into the lives of gladiators and some of the customs from the Roman era. The gladiator Gannicus became a huge fan favorite as a gladiator of excellence who also as the show says so, “fucks like a God”.

Next came Spartacus: Vengeance, which was a direct continuation from where Blood & Sand left off. It also introduced us to a new Spartacus played by Liam McIntyre. In terms of screen presence, Liam’s Spartacus lacked the humanity and the smoldering gaze of Andy Whitfield. He also lacked the physical presence of Andy Whitfield, although his acting and physicality improved as the season progressed.

The season covers the gladiators as they try to escape the city of Capua and also try and recover Crixus’s lover Naevia from the mines. It introduces new characters and antagonists in the form of Publius Varinius and Gaius Claudius Glaber returns, from season 1. The events cover include the rebels, escaping from Capua and destroying the arena of Capua, liberating Naevia from the mines and the Battle of Mt. Vesuvius where, Glaber and Varinius are killed by Spartacus and his band. The defeat of Glaber, sets the scene for the final season, after Spartacus declares that now they become an Army.

Spartacus: Vengeance in my opinion, suffered from the absence of Andy Whitfield. Also, the reintroduction of Lucretia in my opinion, was unnecessary. Many of the minor characters from this season were not required especially Seppius and his sister Seppia. The season also marked the end of Oenomaus who was a constant presence in the world of Spartacus from season 1. Ashur as a primary villain was also overused. Spartacus: Vengeance was a season stuck without strong enemies and with the rebels shown as weak too, thus not making for a very inspiring season. Also, the dialogue between characters was dreadful with overly cliched phrases used to somehow depict how ancient Romans and people of that time spoke.

Finally, we come to the last season with Spartacus: War of the Damned. It begins with Spartacus and his army winning against several Roman armies in their quest to “Make Rome Tremble.” These victories, especially the last one against Furius and Cossinius, cause Rome’s senate to turn to the “richest man in Rome”, Marcus Crassus who accepts the offer to raise a new army to put down the slave rebellion. The major storylines that are introduced in this season involve Spartacus’s large slave army looking for a city to reside in for the winter and their subsequent capture of the city of the walled, coastal city of Sinuessa, Crassus building up his forces to thwart Spartacus and the introduction of Julius Caesar as another adversary of Spartacus.

This season was excellent especially its final episodes. Despite its fictional accounts of a ragged Julius Caesar masquerading as a slave and infiltrating the ranks of the rebels, the season’s action sequences, the emotional depth of the cause of the rebellion and the inspiration that Spartacus continues to provide even to this day, prove to be highlights which make War of the Damned, excellent entertainment.

It introduces to us the Roman way of war, the treachery of the Cicilian pirates, thus ruining Spartacus’s plans to carry the rebellion on to Sicily and finally the deaths of several of the most beloved characters for fans of the show. Crixus, Naevia, Spartacus and Gannicus all die during the course of the show but the show is exciting to the very end and anyone who has seen the show right from the start, will be saddened at the end of the show and the tragic ends to some of our favorite gladiators.

The final battle and the battle in which Crixus dies, are well shot and the action is extremely realistic and violent. As War of the Damned lacks gladiatoral combat, unlike its predecessors (except for one episode), it makes up for it in the massed battles between the Roman legions led by Crassus and Spartacus’s slave army. The show also covers the infamous decimation of his legions by Crassus and the crucifixation of captured slaves who participated in the slave rebellion, on the Appian Way. The fan favourite Gladiator Gannicus also meets his end this way.

JAY’S VERDICT

Watch Spartacus to be transported to the world of Ancient Rome. If you enjoyed the movie Gladiator and are intrigued to discover more, watch Spartacus and all its seasons today. Grab your popcorn and your partner and prepare to descend into a world of brutality, war, blood and sex.

BOSS LEVEL (2021) – HILARIOUS TIME LOOP ACTION COMEDY IS A MUST WATCH

Boss Level is an upcoming American science fiction action film, available on the streaming platform Hulu from March 5th, 2021, directed by Joe Carnahan and stars Frank Grillo as a retired special forces soldier, Roy Pulver who tries to escape a never-ending time loop that results in his death. Mel Gibson is Colonel Clive Ventor, the main “boss” villain. Naomi Watts is Pulver’s love interest and Michelle Yeoh is a Chinese sword fighting expert who acts as a teacher to Pulver.

Now before we begin, you might be asking how is this guy reviewing this movie even though it hasn’t released yet. Easy, I am sponsored by Hulu to write this review and earning big bucks for doing that……damn I really thought I could sell that. Nah, I am just a guy in his apartment who downloaded the movie and is watching it as he types the opening lines for this review. For the Hulu lawyers reading this, sorry for the joke. Hulu isn’t paying me for this review. It’s probably pissed that I downloaded it but hey, sorry I love movies and I just can’t wait until it releases in March. So now that this has been clarified and dealt with, let’s get to the review.

The plot I can’t give away because being a time loop movie, there are too many details essential to build the plot and if revealed would just make the movie dull to watch. So instead, I am just going to give you my thoughts on the same. First of all, bravo! Finally a fun action comedy with just enough twists to keep your brain running. The time loop concept is one of the best in an action movie since Tom Cruise’s Edge of Tomorrow. The movie’s action sequences are amazing and the movie keeps you glued to your seat. Engaging dialogue, superb action and thrills from every corner of the screen – it is a movie, which I am disappointed for as it deserves to be watched on the big screen.

Some of the more squeamish viewers should avoid the movie as the kills are brutal but they all make sense as the movie goes on. The brutality of the movie is justified and it keeps it from becoming overwhelming by adding the much needed comedic relief throughout the movie. The performance that stood out for me was the lead Frank Grillo. Not only does Frank Grillo look the part of an action movie star, his performance convinces us that he is more than capable of holding his own in an action movie. He brings a solid physical presence without becoming too dominating or too “Arnie” or “Stallone” like, with self-deprecating humor throughout the movie.

Naomi Watts brings a strong feminine charm to what is essentially a male-dominated, testosterone action flick while Mel Gibson is showing that he can play a strong villain in any action movie after a movie career as a masculine, action movie star with anti-semitic tendencies after a few drinks. Michelle Yeoh is fun too but her character isn’t really explored as the movie revolves around Grillo and he is the one pulling everyone into the movie with his presence. Watch this movie when it releases on Hulu on March 5th, 2021 – grab some popcorn, your buddies (while practicing social distancing) and a few beers and relax and enjoy this fast-paced action comedy which is a definite must watch.

JAY’S VERDICT

Watch this movie as soon as it is on Hulu as it is a thoroughly enjoyable action comedy. It brings a lot of heart (probably a lot of other dismembered organs too) and the only thing that makes this movie bad is that it was not released on the big screen.

DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012) – TARANTINO DELVES INTO THE BARBARIC SLAVE OWNING PAST OF THE UNITED STATES IN THIS HIGHLY ENTERTAINING MOVIE

Django Unchained is a 2012 Revisionist Western film written and directed by Quentin Tarantino. Set in the Old West and Antebellum South, it is a highly-stylized, heavily-revisionist tribute to Spaghetti Westerns, in particular the 1966 Italian film Django by Sergio Corbucci. The dark humor amidst such a tragic era where slavery is rife, is typical for the type of film-making Tarantino excels at. With a diverse and talented cast including Jamie Foxx, Leonardo DiCaprio, Christopher Waltz and Samuel L Jackson (a regular in Tarantino’s movies), the movie deals with the plot of a young slave named Django, who with the help of a bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz, tries to free his wife Broomhilda from the clutches of the ruthless plantation owner Calvin J Candie.

Django claiming his first “bounty”

The movie begins with an introduction to the two “heroes” of the movie, as we encounter in Texas, in the year 1858, brothers Ace and Dicky Speck drive a group of shackled black slaves on foot. Among them is Django, sold off and separated from his wife Broomhilda von Shaft, a house slave who speaks German and English. They are stopped by Dr. King Schultz, a German dentist-turned-bounty hunter seeking to buy Django for his knowledge of the three outlawed Brittle brothers, overseers at the plantation of Django’s previous owner and for whom Schultz has a warrant. When Ace levels his gun at Schultz, Schultz kills him and shoots Dicky’s horse. As a result, the horse falls on top of Dicky, pinning him to the ground. Schultz insists on paying a fair price for Django before leaving Dicky to the newly freed slaves, who kill him and on the instructions of Dr. Schultz, follow the North Star to freedom. Schultz offers Django his freedom and $75 in exchange for help tracking down the Brittles.

“Big Daddy’s” posse

Django and Schultz kill the Brittle brothers at Spencer “Big Daddy” Bennett’s Tennessee plantation. Bennett rounds up a posse whom Schultz ambushes with explosives, killing most of them while Django kills Bennett (a hilarious scene which also references the Ku Klux Klan in a subtle manner). Feeling responsible for Django, Schultz takes him on as an apprentice and agrees to help him find and rescue Broomhilda.

Meeting with Calvin Candie at the gentlemen’s club

They return to Texas where Django collects his first bounty, keeping the handbill as a memento. He and Schultz rack up several bounties before spring, when they travel to Mississippi and learn that Broomhilda’s new owner is Calvin J. Candie, the charming but cruel owner of the Candyland plantation, where slaves are forced to wrestle to the death in brutal “Mandingo” fights. Schultz and Django hatch a plan. They know that if they offer to buy Broomhilda, Calvin will price her beyond reach, so they will instead offer $12,000 for one of his best fighters as a pretext to acquiring Broomhilda for a nominal sum. They can then feign second thoughts about buying the fighter and leave with just Broomhilda. They meet Calvin at his gentlemen’s club, with Django posing as a black slaver and make the offer. Intrigued, Calvin invites them to the Candyland plantation.

Django and Dr. Schultz ride into Calvin Candie’s plantation

Having told Broomhilda of their plan, Schultz offers to buy her as his escort while negotiating the initial deal during dinner. Calvin’s staunchly loyal head house slave Stephen (played wonderfully by Samuel L Jackson) realizes that Broomhilda knows Django, accurately deduces their plan and alerts Calvin. Calvin alters the deal at gunpoint to sell Broomhilda for $12,000 instead of the fighter. Schultz reluctantly agrees. During the sale’s finalization, Calvin threatens to have Broomhilda shot if Schultz does not shake his hand to seal the deal, and Schultz instead shoots him dead. Calvin’s bodyguard kills Schultz, and Django goes on a rampage, killing the bodyguard, the lawyer, and several of Calvin’s henchmen, but is forced to surrender when Stephen takes Broomhilda hostage.

The next morning, Django is tortured and about to be castrated when Stephen arrives, halting the torture to say that Calvin’s sister Lara has taken charge and that Django will instead be sold to a mining company and worked to death. En route there, Django uses his first handbill to prove to his escorts that he is a bounty hunter. He claims the men on the handbill are at Candyland and promises the escorts all but $500 of the reward money. Once released, Django kills his escorts and returns to Candyland with a bag of dynamite. Recovering Broomhilda’s freedom papers from Schultz’s corpse, Django avenges him by killing the trackers and frees Broomhilda just as Calvin’s mourners return from his burial. At the mansion, Django kills Lara and the remaining henchmen, releases the two remaining house slaves, and kneecaps Stephen before igniting the dynamite he had planted throughout the mansion. Django and Broomhilda watch from a distance as the mansion explodes before riding off together.

Django watching Candyland blow up

Django Unchained offers one fascinating scene after the other, but it never trivializes the atrocities inflicted on the black slaves by white slaveowners in the 1800s. The movie introduces various characters and how all of these are fascinating in their own way. The superb performances by the entire cast, result in a movie that has you glued to your seat from start to finish. Even the supporting cast involving the first plantation owner “Big Daddy”, is so complex a character, that he also manages to intrigue audiences. His greed and loathing for blacks is constantly at war within himself. Another great character was Samuel L Jackson playing the head slave at the Candyland plantation, Stephen Warren. Stephen, a black slave, loves his owner and is actually more interested in thwarting Django, who as a black slaver, fascinates Calvin Candie and is held in esteem by him, thus bringing Stephen’s jealousy out in full force. As the audience, one notices these characters as the silent building blocks of this movie, a movie whose plot is quite simple but the characters end up complicating the same.

The diverse cast of Django Unchained

Just like the previously reviewed Inglourious Basterds, Django Unchained is crazily entertaining with an audacious plot and also ethically serious in a way that is entirely consistent with its playfulness, a trait that is becoming a common theme in Tarantino’s movies. The frequent and excessive use of the “N-word” in the movie, is discomforting for the modern ear but Tarantino’s movies have always had it and in a movie about mid-1800s, slave owning Southern USA, it is completely at home. The movie also makes people think about the horrors of slavery and the blatant racism which still carries over to the modern era where we still see atrocities being committed though not as brazenly as in the 1800s.

JAY’S VERDICT

Watch Django Unchained for its fascinating and fast-paced entertainment and the wonderful performances of its cast. Allow Tarantino to transport you to a whole new environment.

INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (2009) – TARANTINO’S WORLD WAR 2 MASTERPIECE IS WORTH WATCHING AGAIN AND AGAIN

Inglourious Basterds is a 2009 war film written and directed by Quentin Tarantino with multi-star cast including Brad Pitt, Christoph Waltz, Michael Fassbender, Eli Roth, Diane Kruger, Daniel Brühl, Til Schweiger and Mélanie Laurent. The film tells an alternate history story of two plots to assassinate Nazi Germany’s leadership, one planned by Shosanna Dreyfus (Laurent), a young French Jewish cinema proprietor, and the other by a team of Jewish American soldiers led by First Lieutenant Aldo Raine (Pitt). Christopher Waltz plays the infamous “Jew-hunter” SS Colonel Hans Landa.

The movie has several memorable lines and quotes like almost every Tarantino movie. The story is incredulous and hard to believe, but the entertainment and the sheer thrill it provides is very real. The real gem of the movie is its villain Hans Landa, played magnificently by Christopher Waltz who won the Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for his performance. In terms of guilty pleasure movies, this one ranks high and is probably one of Tarantino’s best.

SS Colonel Hans Landa

The story begins with an introduction to Hans Landa, in 1941, then SS-Standartenführer Hans Landa interrogates French dairy farmer Perrier LaPadite in his home as to the whereabouts of the last unaccounted-for Jewish family in the area, the Dreyfus family. Landa suspects that the LaPadites are hiding the Dreyfuses under their floorboards and, in exchange for the Germans agreeing to leave his family alone for the rest of the war, LaPadite reluctantly confirms it, after being threatened by Landa. Landa orders his SS soldiers to shoot through the floorboards, killing all but one of the Dreyfus family; Shosanna, the daughter, escapes. As she runs, Landa decides to spare her.

Lt. Aldo Raine assembling the Basterds

There are three divergent plots to the story which begin after the murder of the Dreyfuses – on one side, Lieutenant Aldo Raine of the First Special Service Force rounds up and recruits Jewish-American soldiers to the Basterds, a commando unit formed to instill fear among the German soldiers by killing and scalping them. The Basterds include Donny “The Bear Jew” Donowitz and Sergeant Hugo Stiglitz, a rogue German soldier who murdered thirteen Gestapo officers. In Germany, Adolf Hitler interviews a young German soldier, Private Butz, the only survivor of a Basterd attack on his squad, who reveals that Raine carved a swastika into Butz’s forehead with a bowie knife so that in the future, Butz could never hide the fact that he was once a Nazi soldier. The Basterds continue to sow terror behind enemy lines.

Meanwhile, Shosanna Dreyfus is living in Paris, operating a cinema under the name “Emmanuelle Mimieux.” She meets Fredrick Zoller, a German sniper famed for killing 250 Allied soldiers in a single battle. Zoller stars in a Nazi propaganda film, Stolz der Nation (Nation’s Pride). Infatuated with Shosanna, Zoller convinces Joseph Goebbels to hold the film’s premiere at her cinema. Landa, who is the head of security for the premiere, interrogates Shosanna, hinting that he suspects her real identity. Shosanna plots with her Afro-French lover and projectionist, Marcel, to set the cinema ablaze during the premiere and kill the Nazi leaders who will attend.

Shosanna’s vengeance

In England, the British are making plans to assassinate Hitler after hearing about the premiere. British Commando Lieutenant Archie Hicox is recruited to lead Operation Kino, a British plan to attack the premiere in cooperation with the Basterds. He would be met with an Allied undercover agent German film star Bridget von Hammersmark who would be attending the film premiere in Paris. What follows is chaos as the three groups collide with each other. Further spoilers will not be provided for the sake of those who haven’t seen this masterpiece yet, to enjoy the movie fully.

Inglourious Basterds is full of top class acting performances with the entire cast bringing its A-game except a very loud and buffoonish Hitler. The movie should not be judged by its plot – the insane plot, only serves to increase the entertainment this movie provides. It also provides a very satisfying end to those who would prefer to rewrite history and have an evil man like Hitler end up dying horribly. It also serves a good and useful lesson in karma, as a cunning man like Landa, who we expect to escape, also doesn’t escape unscathed.

Interesting characters like Aldo the Apache who demands 100 Nazi scalps from each of his men, Donny the Bear Jew who clubs Nazis with a bat, Landa the Jew Hunter who plays with his victims before trapping them and two strong female characters make this movie what it is – a wholesome, fast-paced treat. It does contain a lot of violence but when you watch a Tarantino movie, you end up signing up for that.

JAY’S REVIEW

Watch Inglourious Basterds today if you have committed the sin of not having watched it earlier. If you have seen it, watch it again to enjoy the movie and find something new to love about this masterpiece.

4 BLOCKS (2017-2019*) – GERMAN GANGSTER THRILLER DOESN’T DISAPPOINT

4 Blocks is a German crime drama series. It stars Kida Khodr Ramadan as Ali “Toni“ Hamady, the leader of a Lebanese crime family and drug cartel in Berlin-Neukölln. He is forced to postpone his plans to leave the business to live an ordinary life with his wife, played by Maryam Zaree, when his brother-in-law, played by Massiv, is arrested. He brings in Vince Kerner, played by Frederick Lau, a boyhood friend, to restore order in the family business, much to the dislike of Toni’s brother Abbas, played by Veysel, who is eager to succeed him as the family leader. Essentially the 3 seasons of the show, depict Toni Hamady’s struggles to become legitimate while maintaining control of the drug scene in Berlin.

The first season introduces us to the Hamady crime family – the brains of the organization is Ali Hamady while his brother Abbas is the brawn (with a lack of brains to put it subtly). It introduces us also to Ali’s childhood buddy Vince Kerner, who is also an undercover cop.

The show is interesting as it covers crime in a whole new country and focuses on a completely different criminal organization than the ones we are used to through American crime dramas. There is a subdued air about the violence perpetrated by the Hamadys – they engage into conflicts with the Turkish Biker gang encroaching upon their territory, other Arab crime families vying for control over Berlin’s drug scene, the Chechen mafia and others but their most bitter conflict apparently is with the German bureaucracy and the police. The German police is shown to be highly incompetent – bureaucracy stifles their progress in every move and cops become corrupted too easily atleast on the show.

We are also introduced to the family bonding within the crime family – unlike the Cosa Nostra, the Lebanese crime family is more towards being an Arab gang led by two brothers instead of some hierarchical organization. Though pretty liberal in terms of their lifestyle, we see stereotypical Islamic values encroaching upon the gang especially when it comes to the treatment of their wives and sisters. The violence depicted is subdued compared to American crime dramas and the sheer incompetency of the police which even while facing heavily armed gangsters, aims more to subdue rather than kill which would seem strange to most people who grew up either watching American or Asian crime dramas.

Ali Hamady is played brilliantly by Kida Khodr Ramadan. He brings a menacing cunning while overseeing his business and a Lebanese Don Corleone vibe always preaching for patience. His brother Abbas, played by the German rapper Veysel, is hyper violent and desires control of the gang once his brother leaves. His bouts of rage and violence are on the lines of Santino Corleone from The Godfather but he is shown to be extremely moronic in terms of his behavior. Most of the other characters in the show seem as if they are simply passing through.

We are also introduced to young teenage drug runners wanting to be part of the crime family and other hot heads who act as the “muscle” for the Hamadys. One of them Zeki becomes a major character, as he takes the fall for the Hamadys and goes to prison (where we see him being raped) and comes out of prison and is disgruntled at the way he is treated by the Hamadys. He starts his own organization and works with the police to destroy the Hamadys but the Hamadys are quite good at destroying themselves atleast from what we see in the final season (so far). However, none of the villains bring any sort of real menace. Somehow things which seem troublesome get resolved with comical ease which never really allows you to take the show seriously.

However, the show is good at showing Berlin’s drug scene and the various gangs that control it. It also shows how the whole refugee crisis provides the Arab gangs with ready-made recruits for their organization. It also delves into the absurdity of the German bureaucracy which forces things to become extremely slow at times. Lastly it shows how much the German police has regressed and how the policy of pacification is allowing criminal organizations and regressive groups to thrive in the big cities.

JAY’S VERDICT

If you love crime dramas and are looking for something different from your usual diet of American/British crime shows, 4 Blocks would be a good bet. Available on Amazon Prime Video internationally.

WONDER WOMAN 1984 (2020) – THE RETURN OF WONDER WOMAN IS A DISAPPOINTMENT

Wonder Woman 1984 is the much anticipated sequel to 2017’s Wonder Woman. Gal Gadot returns as Diana Prince or Wonder Woman and Chris Pine also makes a return from the dead (though not in the way most are expecting). Although an interesting take on the 1980s neither the performances nor the action is sufficient to make this sequel better or even as good as the first one. Gal Gadot’s take on Wonder Woman is more like a supermodel turning down several male supplicants instead of a super heroine. Most of the time, we see the forced feminism on display – creepy men harassing the two female protagonists all the time and how the modern confident female struggles and overcomes such challenges. The desire to add these themes to every comic book adaptation is creating boring cliched sequels and sadly Wonder Woman 1984 falls flat when it comes to entertainment.

Set in 1984 during the Cold War, the film follows Diana and her past love Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) as they face off against Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal) and Cheetah (Kristen Wiig). The movie begins with a clip from Diana’s childhood as she competes with other Amazonian warriors in an athletic competition in which she is disqualified for taking the “shortcut” to victory.

Years later, in 1984, Diana works as a senior anthropologist at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., specializing in the culture of ancient Mediterranean civilizations; Diana also continues to fight crime as Wonder Woman but always maintaining anonymity. At work, she meets Barbara Minerva, an insecure woman, bespectacled woman (necessary apparently to look convincing as a nerd) who idolizes, befriends, and envies Diana. After Wonder Woman foils an attempted robbery, the FBI asks Barbara to identify a cache of stolen antiquities from the robbery. One item both women take notice of—later revealed to be the “Dreamstone”—has an inscription in Latin which Diana translates as “Place upon the object held, but one great wish“.

Left: The Cheetah Right: Maxwell Lord

Diana unknowingly uses the stone to restore her deceased lover, Steve Trevor, though his soul takes over another man’s body. Later, after being saved from sexual assault by Diana, Barbara wishes upon the stone to become like Diana, inadvertently discovering Diana’s superpowers. Businessman Maxwell “Max Lord” Lorenzano then visits the Smithsonian under the guise of making a donation, secretly coveting the Dreamstone in hopes of saving his failing oil company. During a gala night at the Smithsonian, Maxwell seduces Barbara in order to gain access to her office so he can take the Dreamstone. At his workplace, he wishes to become the embodiment of the stone and gains its power to grant wishes, while also becoming able to take whatever he desires from them in return should they have anything he could want.

Maxwell becomes a powerful and influential figure while leaving chaos and destruction in his wake as his powers trigger worldwide instability and conflict. Barbara, Diana, and Steve investigate the Dreamstone further and discover that it was created by Dolos, the god of treachery and mischief. The stone grants a user their wish but exacts a toll, and the only way to reverse the exchange is by renouncing the wish or destroying the stone itself. Steve realizes that his existence comes at the cost of Diana’s power, while it is later revealed that Barbara’s newfound life has drained her of her kindness; both women are unwilling to renounce their wishes, however.

Maxwell learns from the President of the United States that the US satellite broadcast system can transmit signals globally, and then uses it to grant wishes to the entire world while regaining his now-deteriorating health; on his way out of the White House to the broadcast station, he is confronted by Diana and Steve as Barbara joins forces with Maxwell to prevent Diana from harming him. Steve convinces Diana to let go of him and renounce her wish, allowing her to regain her strength and gain the ability to fly. She returns home and dons the armor of the legendary Amazon warrior Asteria, then heads to the broadcast station and battles Barbara, who has been further mutated after wishing to become an “apex predator“. This results in a clash between first Diana and the Cheetah and later with Maxwell Lord.

Overall the movie is decent enough for streaming but it does little to explore Wonder Woman further. The subtle humor and lack of seriousness in Wonder Woman are missing. Here we encounter cliches of literally everything – hunger for power and wealth, love and jealousy. The movie’s action sequences are good but not that great – especially having been spoiled by tons of Marvel and DC movies trying to outdo each other in thrills. We get a classic comic book movie storyline about a megalomaniacal madman intent on taking over the world, but beyond that there isn’t much the sequel offers. This is a throwback piece of pure pop entertainment

The return of Chris Pine and the introduction of Kristen Wiig does bring some of the entertainment back. Kristen Wiig does well as the Cheetah but in terms of humor, the usually funny actress, disappoints in this flick. Pedro Pascal brings a subtle Latin charm to the proceedings but isn’t convincing as a megalomaniacal evil villain. He seems to be like the side-kick of a truly evil man who has been given some time to annoy the hero until the main villain comes in. Last we come to Wonder Woman played by the increasingly wooden Gal Gadot. Having seen Gal Gadot “act”, before playing Wonder Woman, in the Fast & Furious franchise, I was quite surprised by her turn in Wonder Woman, a movie I genuinely enjoyed. But in Wonder Woman 1984, it seems Vin Diesel was her acting coach. Just as Vin Diesel does nothing but look menacing for a majority of his screen time, Gal Gadot, spent most of the time look graceful and beautiful as Wonder Woman. The charisma and the charm from the previous movie were missing.

JAY’S VERDICT

Watch Wonder Woman 1984 on your streaming devices – not worth a trip to the theaters if you are expecting lavish action sequences. Let’s hope the next Wonder Woman isn’t this dull and promises more of what made the first movie so good.

CHERNOBYL (2019) – A RIVETING PORTRAYAL OF INCOMPETENCY AND COURAGE

HBO’s 2019 drama mini-series is one of the best historical drama mini-series ever made. Period. Now that we have gotten that statement out of the way, let’s discuss what makes Chernobyl such an amazing TV show. Chernobyl was produced by HBO (USA) & Sky (UK) and it covers the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster and the cleanup efforts that followed. Chernobyl’s villains are not monsters, aliens, terrorists or even mother nature – it’s villains are the worst of the worst – incompetency and arrogance in human beings. These traits lead to one of the worst disasters in human history and failing to recognize this allows it to become a horrifying and tragic tale which has human consequences even to this day.

Chernobyl features an ensemble cast led by Jared Harris as Valery Legasov, Stellan Skarsgård as Boris Shcherbina, Emily Watson as Ulana Khomyuk (not a real historical character but rather a composite mix of different scientists who contributed to the cleanup efforts molded into one character and female to bring some politically correct diversity to the cast to reflect our modern times) and Paul Ritter as Anatoly Dyatlov, the key architect of the disaster that was Chernobyl. A critically acclaimed show, Chernobyl received nineteen Emmy nominations and won for Outstanding Limited Series, Outstanding Directing, and Outstanding Writing, while Harris, Skarsgård, and Watson received acting nominations. At the 77th Golden Globe Awards, the series won for Best Miniseries or Television Film and Skarsgård won for Best Supporting Actor in a Series, Miniseries or Television Film.

Dyatlov causing the core to explode

The series begins with Valery Legasov (played by a masterful Jared Harris), chief of the commission investigating it, records tapes blaming engineer Anatoly Dyatlov and other superiors for the incident, before hiding the tapes and hanging himself in his Moscow apartment, on the second anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster (in real life he died the day after the second anniversary). We are taken back to two years before to Pripyat, where a firefighter Vasily Ignatenko’s pregnant wife Lyudmilla witnesses Reactor 4 of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant exploding (at 01:23:45 a.m.).

Firefighters responding to the fire at Chernobyl

Meanwhile in Reactor 4’s control room, Dyatlov dismisses evidence that their reactor core has exploded. He calls in firefighters and workers, and orders subordinates to manually lower control rods and restore cooling before leaving his post. Multiple plant workers and firefighters, including Vasily, subsequently suffer from acute radiation syndrome (ARS). Plant Director Bryukhanov, Chief Engineer Fomin and Dyatlov conclude that a hydrogen explosion caused leakage of contaminated vessel water, and the Pripyat Executive Committee elects to downplay the incident and blocks evacuation. Dyatlov orders Akimov and Toptunov to manually open the water valves in addition to feed the reactor with water, exposing them to the lethal doses of radiation. Deputy chief operational engineer Sitnikov reports seeing nuclear graphite on the ground and the others reject this. As Dyatlov succumbs to ARS, they force Sitnikov to the roof to make a visual inspection, where he receives a lethal dose of radiation. Legasov is informed of an under control accident at Chernobyl and ordered to provide technical advice to the committee managing the response.

Dyatlov’s team needlessly exposed to radiation due to his incompetence

Seven hours after the explosion, we find Ulana Khomyuk (played brilliantly by Emily Watson despite not being a real character) detects a spike in radiation levels in Minsk. When her concerns are dismissed by local authorities, she sets out for Chernobyl, the likely source. At Pripyat’s overloaded hospital, Lyudmilla finds that Vasily and the other ARS patients have been evacuated to Moscow. In Moscow, Legasov explains to Mikhail Gorbachev that the situation is more serious than reported and is sent to Chernobyl with a skeptical Boris Shcherbina. From a helicopter, Legasov points out graphite debris and a blue glow from ionizing radiation, indicating the core is exposed. Shcherbina confronts Bryukhanov and Fomin, who accuse Legasov of misinformation and maintain that the radiation levels are not that high and only 3 Roentgen, but General Pikalov has high-range dosimeter readings that prove Legasov is correct and the actual radiation is around 15,000 Roentgen or the equivalent of twice the radiation of Hiroshima every hour.

Legasov and Scherbina overseeing the fire suppression efforts at Chernobyl

Legasov instructs the military to suppress the fire with sand and boron as an initial step but with risks of its own. As news of the incident spreads, Pripyat is finally evacuated. Upon arrival, Khomyuk warns Legasov and Shcherbina that a destructive steam explosion will occur if the molten core establishes contact with water in the flooded basement. A lethal mission to drain the water is authorized and plant workers Ananenko, Bezpalov, and Baranov volunteer to be part of this suicide squad.

The suicide squad to drain the water and prevent a nuclear steam explosion

The basement is successfully drained, but a nuclear meltdown has begun, threatening to contaminate the groundwater. Shcherbina and Legasov report to Mikhail Gorbachev, the premier of the Soviet Union that a heat exchanger is needed under the plant, for which Mikhail Shchadov recruits coal miners from Tula, led by Glukhov, to excavate a tunnel in extremely adverse conditions. Shcherbina warns Legasov that they are under KGB surveillance. Legasov sends Khomyuk to a Moscow hospital, where she finds Dyatlov uncooperative but learns from dying Toptunov and Akimov that the reactor exploded after Akimov initiated an emergency shutdown, a scenario thought impossible.

The coal miners of Tula

Bribing her way into the hospital and lying about her pregnancy, Lyudmilla is allowed to visit Vasily, witnessing the harrowing deterioration of his health and disobeying orders by staying with her husband longer than instructed. During Khomyuk’s visit to the hospital, she witnesses Vasily touching Lyudmilla. Realizing that Lyudmilla is pregnant, Khomyuk threatens to report everything to the committee and is arrested by KGB agents. She is imprisoned, but Legasov arranges her release. As Shcherbina and Legasov report to the Central Executive Committee their decontamination plans requiring the mass mobilization of liquidators, Lyudmilla stands among relatives of other deceased ARS victims as Vasily’s body, sealed in a zinc casket, is buried in concrete at a mass grave.

Vasily dying of ARS holding the hand of his pregnant wife Lyudmilla

The next episode shows residents being evacuated from the wider Chernobyl Exclusion Zone and decontamination operations underway. Civilian draftee Pavel is paired with Soviet–Afghan War veteran Bacho to patrol the Zone to shoot and dispose of abandoned animals due to radioactive contamination. Chernobyl liquidator commander General Nikolai Tarakanov deploys Lunokhod programme rovers to clear the plant’s roof for a shelter.

The disinfection of Pripyat

After a West German police robot almost instantly fails on the most irradiated level, Tarakanov is forced to cycle 3,828 liquidators to clear it by hand, allowed only 90 seconds each, once culminating in one of the most intense and dread-inducing scenes in television history.

This scene is too good not to include in this review

Meanwhile Khomyuk investigates the Moscow archives and confronts a recovering Dyatlov, who knows the government is not interested in the truth. Meeting away from KGB bugs, Shcherbina and Legasov inform Khomyuk they must testify as experts in the trial of Dyatlov, Bryukhanov, and Fomin, and Legasov will address the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Khomyuk reveals an article about an identical incident at the Leningrad Nuclear Power Plant in 1975, suppressed by the KGB, and tells them Lyudmilla gave birth to a girl who soon died from radiation poisoning. Khomyuk urges Legasov to tell the IAEA the complete truth, while Shcherbina urges caution to avoid government retaliation.

The manual clearing of graphite and other debris from the roof – one of the most intense scenes in television history

Following Legasov’s testimony to the IAEA in Vienna, in which he lies, Dyatlov, Bryukhanov, and Fomin are put on trial in the abandoned city of Chernobyl. Shcherbina is called first to give testimony, explaining the general workings of a nuclear power plant. Khomyuk and Legasov testify on the events leading up to the accident, based on interviews with people in the control room.

Flashbacks show that due to a ten-hour delay in a safety test and Dyatlov’s impatience to carry it out, the reactor stalled, then experienced a power spike. Akimov activated the emergency shutdown, but a design flaw in the control rods spiked the power to at least ten times the reactor’s limit before it exploded. Legasov reveals the suppressed information about the Leningrad plant, admitting he lied in his previous testimony in Vienna. He is detained by the KGB and informed that his testimony will be suppressed in the state media; furthermore, he is forbidden to speak to anyone about Chernobyl, he will receive no credit for his role in containing the disaster, and he will never work again. The ending shows pictures and video of the real-life Legasov and other major figures, revealing their fates, as well as the ongoing aftermath of the accident. It ends with a statement that the show was dedicated to those who “suffered and sacrificed.”

The 3 morons who caused Chernobyl on trial

Chernobyl is a show which when described in words sounds like a dull, bureaucratic machination show. It is one which is best only described visually – I would characterize Chernobyl as a horror show. It beats many horror TV shows in the amount of dread it induces – the rooftop scene alone has you feeling that you are on the roof and even a second longer on the roof would result in your death. The acting, whether the depiction of the acts of courage by the ordinary Soviet citizens, the firefighters, the coal miners or the military or the depiction of the gross incompetence of the senior Communist party officials whose desire to cover up mistakes and the advice of scientists causes the tragedy to expand greatly.

Chernobyl is mostly about needless suffering – a tragedy that could have been prevented, an incident that could have been avoided but it also shows the ability of humans to endure and to rise to the occasion when called for. The true heroes of Chernobyl are the common people and the true villains are those who called themselves leaders but are anything but that. Do yourself a favor and watch Chernobyl, currently available for streaming on Amazon Prime.

JAY’S VERDICT

Watch Chernobyl NOW!! If you have, watch it again. It is that good. Easily the best show of 2019 and possibly one of the best of all time.

TENET (2020) – CHRISTOPHER NOLAN’S LATEST IS A MUST WATCH

Tenet is a 2020 film, written and directed by Christopher Nolan (Dunkirk, Inception, The Dark Knight trilogy etc.). Tenet was the most anticipated potential blockbuster of 2020, until the Covid-19 pandemic ran havoc across the world and shut down most theatres. Tenet got released however on August 26th, 2020. However, a lack of full theatrical release resulted in it being classified as a box office “bomb” despite earning well, due to its high production costs. Success or failure, what jay-reviews-stuff.com classifies Tenet as, is a visually stunning masterpiece – a movie where Nolan shines and brings to the audience a highly complex plot filled with amazing action scenes and a thrilling, high-octane treat.

Tenet begins with an unnamed agent working for the CIA who is classified as the “Protagonist” (played by an excellent John David Washington), who participates in an operation at the Kyiv Opera House, ironically showing a crowded theatre, an incongruous sight in these troubled times. The protagonist helped by a masked soldier, appears to “un-fire” a bullet through a hostile gunman. After seizing a strange artifact, the Protagonist is captured by mercenaries who torture him but he manages to consume a cyanide pill. He awakens to learn the pill was a test of his loyalty; his team has been killed and the artifact lost. The Protagonist is soon employed by a secret organization called Tenet. A scientist shows him bullets with “inverted” entropy which allows them to move backwards through time. She believes they are manufactured in the future, and a weapon exists that can wipe out the past. The overarching idea of its plot is fairly simple. It’s about saving the world from an insanely powerful Russian arms dealer Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh), who could go back and forth in time. Now, the idea is to beat him at his own game. But in execution, ‘Tenet’ is every bit the high-concept, make-believe and far-fetched flight of imagination that blends action, adventure and intrigue.

What are you even saying?

The movie reveals more details as the highly complex plot slowly begins to unravel. I won’t be sharing more of the plot with you as that would just ruin the movie for you. So, since we won’t be discussing the plot anymore, what should we discuss. Let’s eat our vegetables first and discuss the criticism of the movie – the sound mixing. Since the episode of Game of Thrones, sound and light quality is something that has begun to eat at the quality of TV shows and movies. The sound quality for Tenet is dreadful with poor sound mixing rendering dialogues inaudible. Nolan did the same during Inception, resulting in the audience often begging for subtitles to be able to comprehend the dialogues. Tenet sadly, suffers from the same problem and the dialogues often are imperceptible.

Now let’s get back to our dessert – the action sequences and the cinematography. The film’s screenplay keeps underlining and explaining its layered plot about technology that can reverse time. Thankfully, it does so with stunning cinematography and action-packed scenes that are executed with a natural flair and finesse. The idea of going back in time where everything moves in reverse, creates a visually appealing imagery. And the original background score is so unique and immersive (like any vintage Christopher Nolan film) that it builds just the right amount of urgency and tension.

John David Washington is insanely watchable as he swaggers from one fight to the next, doing chin-ups dangling over sheer drops and going through more outfits than a model in a fashion show. He’s the Black James Bond of this shadowy world, barely wrinkling his three-piece suit as he takes out bullet-headed Russian mercenaries with whatever implements he can get his hands on. He’s not the guy they send to negotiate, but he is the guy they send to get things done and look good doing it. The shadow of other superspies inevitably hangs over Tenet. A globetrotting adventure full of beautiful people doing ugly things, Tenet’s plot is built on the classic Bond film formula with a dash of Tomorrow Never Dies, a pinch of The Man With the Golden Gun, a garnish of Skyfall. Tenet gives any 007 movie a run for its money.

Yes, Tenet is pretty complicated. Even before things get all timey-wimey, you need to make an effort to keep track of what’s going on. The mission begins with a subplot about art forgery that mostly involves people sitting in dimly lit dining rooms, reeling off endless names and geopolitical complexities (made worse with the poor sound mixing) over their Michelin-starred meals. We never find out exactly what Michael Caine has ordered during his restaurant-based cameo, but as he chews over a barely comprehensible speech about secret Soviet cities, you realize it was probably the word salad. Tenet boasts an amazing cast but the complexity of the plot doesn’t give much time for any of these characters to develop fully. Kenneth Branagh is a stereotypical “Russian villain” as required by most western film-makers these days. Robert Pattinson has a strong screen presence strengthening his credentials for him as the new Batman. Elizabeth Debicki is beautiful and composed but the true screen stealer is John David Washington who fits into his role with ease.

Just like any other Nolan film, this one demands full attention from its viewer, yet there is no guarantee you will comprehend the film’s nuanced narrative in its totality or its highly complex plot. But that doesn’t take away from enjoying the cinematic experience of Nolan’s vivid imagination that is skillfully portrayed on the big screen. The secret to enjoy ‘Tenet’ lies in what a scientist, who is explaining inversion tells the Protagonist, “Don’t try to understand, feel it.”

JAY’S VERDICT

Tenet captures the essence of this terrible year 2020. Fast-paced with several events taking place in quick succession, a feeling of impending doom and an inability to comprehend what is going on. But it provides a beautiful and amazing spectacle to witness and unlike this year it leaves you satisfied.

MULAN (2020) – AIMING FOR EXCELLENCE BUT FALLING WOEFULLY SHORT

Disney’s Mulan is a 2020 action film based on the animated film from 1998 with the same name. Originally based on the “Ballad of Mulan”, a Chinese folktale, Mulan’s live-action version was aimed at becoming the first “blockbuster” of 2020, a year when the COVID-19 pandemic has ruined the release of several key films. Mulan was released on Disney+ and in some countries it had a theatrical release. Mulan’s problem was it got caught up in the wave of anti-China sentiment due to the treatment of the Uighurs by the Chinese government, especially considering that the movie was filmed in Xinjiang province, a Chinese province where most of the Uighur labor and re-education camps are situated, thus, giving it a mixed reception from western audiences. In China too, the audiences did not enjoy the live-action adaptation stating that it mismanaged the character development and some of the cultural aspects. The movie however, did get a favorable reaction for its amazing visuals and action sequences.

The story begins with Hua Mulan, shown to be a young, adventurous girl who disappoints her parents, who as traditionalists want both their daughters to be wedded to good young men and be loyal, traditional wives. Though her sister does well in this aspect, Mulan continues to be anything but traditional. In a scene, attempting to show her utter lack of traditional, “womanly” qualities, Mulan is forced to meet with a matchmaker to demonstrate her suitability as a future wife. Mulan, flustered, attempts to pour tea in front of the matchmaker, but a spider causes a panic that destroys the tea kettle, and the matchmaker runs out, calling her a disgrace in front of her family.

Meanwhile, as we are being shown all this, the scene cuts to an imperial outpost which is invaded by Rouran warriors, under the leadership of a warlord called Böri Khan. They are assisted by the witch Xianniang, who uses her magic to pose as a surviving soldier and report the attack to the Emperor of China who then issues a conscription decree ordering every family to contribute one man to fight Khan’s forces.

Imperial soldiers arrive in Mulan’s village to enlist recruits and her elderly and frail father Hua Zhou is forced to pledge his service as he has no sons (interestingly in the original Ballad of Mulan, Mulan had no sister but rather a very young brother. Wonder why Disney changed the same?). Realizing that her father has no chance of survival, Mulan flees with his armor, horse, and sword to join in his place. Mulan arrives at the training camp, which is run by Commander Tung, an old comrade of her father. Alongside dozens of other inexperienced recruits, she ultimately becomes a trained soldier under his tutelage without exposing her true identity – which seems unlikely but okay we will accept that hiding your long hair and tying up a cloth around your breasts, is all that is needed to convince everyone that you’re a man.

The Khan’s army continues to advance, forcing Tung to end training early and send his battalion to fight which leads to a decent battle although not on the epic scale of battles we are accustomed to seeing in movies based on Chinese history and folklore. Mulan chases some troops on her own, but is confronted by Xianniang, the witchm who mocks her for pretending to be a man. The witch attempts to kill Mulan, but her attacks are stopped by the leather with which Mulan’s chest had been bound to hide her identity (so basically the leather cloth isn’t just a fashion accessory). Mulan removes her disguise (nothing fancy, just lets her hair flow and lets her breasts breathe freely, the usual), returning to the battle just as the Rourans begin attacking her fellow troops with a trebuchet – a weapon which is woefully inaccurate against soldiers but is efficient against buildings. It is odd that many movies, ignore such basic military tactics. Mulan uses discarded helmets and her archery skills to maneuver the trebuchet into firing on a snowy mountain, triggering an avalanche that buries the Rourans. So not only were the Rourans terrible with their military tactics, they also lacked basic common sense.

Mulan rides back to camp and rescues Chen Honghui, a soldier she befriended in camp and who in time, would serve as a “romantic interest” for her. Having revealed her true gender, she is expelled from the army and begins her return home. On her way, she is confronted by the witch, who reveals that she was also shunned by her people and fights for Böri Khan only because he treats her as an equal. Additionally, she reveals that the attacks on the outposts have been a diversion, as Khan’s true plan is to capture and execute the Emperor for having his father killed. Risking execution, Mulan returns to her battalion to warn them of the impending capture. Tung decides to believe her, and allows her to accompany a unit to the Emperor’s palace. This is one of the great tragedies that prevent the movie from becoming interesting – everything is accomplished in a super convenient manner. It is like a big disclaimer shouting the word FICTION is being advertised in every scene of the movie.

The witch Xianniang, posing as the Imperial Chancellor, meanwhile persuades the Emperor to accept Böri Khan’s challenge to single combat, while removing the city guards from their posts. The guards are murdered, and the Rourans prepare to burn the Emperor alive. Mulan’s unit distracts the Rourans while Mulan goes to save the Emperor. Böri Khan tries to snipe her with an arrow, but Xianniang, sympathetic to Mulan and disillusioned with the warlord (this also happens super quickly and conveniently. Apparently she got him all the way to his goal only to foil it and die as a bird), transforms into a bird and sacrifices herself by catching the arrow. Mulan kills Khan, but not before he disarms her and destroys her father’s sword. She frees the Emperor, who offers to let her join his personal guard. She declines the offer and returns to her village. I wonder if Michael Kelso would shout BURN if he were there in that hall.

Mulan is reunited with her family, coming to her village in a badass way. No more arranged marriages for her, no sir. An emissary from the Emperor, under the leadership of Commander Tung, arrives to present Mulan with a new sword, while making a personal request that she join the Emperor’s Guard opening the gateway for Disney to unleash more dull, predictable movies on unsuspecting people.

The problem with the movie is the script – everything is so predictable and stereotypical, from the behavior and the story. Good girl overcomes prejudice and sexism to defeat evil and be a champion of the people. There is a severe lack of imagination at Disney. Basically converting their own animated shows into live-action movies and then expecting fools to pay double to watch the same. No wonder Mulan, which was made on a budget of around $200 million only managed to make about $66.8 million. It is possible it could have made and maybe will make more on the online streaming services and from DVD sales but it is smart to say, it was not as successful as Disney expected it to be. Sure, Coronavirus can be blamed for it but the truth is not so simple. The movie lacks imagination and also any good action sequences – the fighting scenes though beautifully shot, are quite dull for any person who has watched Chinese movies and the battle sequences in many of these, far outperform those in Mulan. But hey, Mulan is supposed to be a family film hence chopped off heads and gruesome deaths, won’t really bring in the audiences. Sadly from the looks of it, the lack of these also did not do much.

JAY’S VERDICT

An average film to stream on a boring Sunday if you’re tired of watching re-runs of your favorite shows. But don’t expect to be awed.

BARBARIANS (2020) – NETFLIX’S NEW GERMAN HISTORICAL DRAMA SERIES IMPRESSES – WATCH IT TODAY!!

Netflix’s new 2020 German historical drama series “Barbarians” is worth the binge. A mini-series that takes place over six episodes portrays a fictional account of events leading up to the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, in 9 AD, in which 3 Roman legions led by Governor Varus, were ambushed and destroyed by German barbarian tribesmen.

The story begins during the Roman occupation of Magna Germania in 9 AD, where the Germanic tribes oppressed by the empire’s heavy taxes and demands for tribute, attempt to form a unified German resistance. However they are constantly hampered by petty in-fighting between the tribal chieftains, and the aspirations of certain tribesmen desiring peace with Rome. We see Arminius, born a prince of the Cherusci tribe, Arminius was a hostage of the Roman Empire as a child. Raised in Rome, he was drafted into the Roman military at an early age, during which he was granted Roman citizenship and became a Roman soldier. Arminius served with distinction in the Great Illyrian Revolt and he was later sent to Germania to aid the local governor Publius Quinctilius Varus in completing the Roman conquest of the Germanic tribes. While in this capacity, Arminius secretly plotted a Germanic revolt against Roman rule, which culminated in the ambush and destruction of three Roman legions in the Teutoburg Forest. The show tells us the about the events that transpired leading to the ambush in Teutoberg Forest.

Arminius’s returns to Germania to help Publius Quinctilius Varus maintain order in the region, but upon seeing the atrocities inflicted by Roman soldiers on his former people, he becomes the new chieftain of the Cherusci tribe, and starts a rebellion by finally uniting the tribes with the help of Thusnelda and Folkwin Wolfspeer, his two best friends during childhood. The fictional and dramatized version of the story begins here as many of the events are exaggerated to paint a picture for the sake of the story, although Thusnelda became Arminius’s wife later.

The show is enjoyable for the reason that it seems more authentic than the American versions portraying the Roman era. Here no one speaks the Queen’s English, rather the Germans stick to speaking German and the Romans speak Latin. It goes without saying that watching the show in anything but the original German/Latin mix will make the entire experience significantly less enjoyable. Just put on subtitles and resist the urge to change the audio to English or a different language.

As mesmerizing as having the characters speak only Latin and German is, that’s not the thing that makes Barbarians a show that I can’t stop binge-watching. The language surprise would soon wear off if it weren’t for the characters and the story. If you liked The Last Kingdom, a Netflix original that gives you the tale of the birth of England with an unusual twist, then Barbarians should be on your radar as well. It’s certainly the kind of entertaining Netflix original series that can will keep you occupied for a few days (unless you binge watch it in a day like I did and then cry yourself to sleep, for being greedy). If you love history, you’ll love Barbarians. It covers a part of Roman history which isn’t usually covered in most American or British based television shows or movies, covering the Roman era. A defeat to the mighty Roman Empire, a battle that changed the course of history, halting the eastward expansion of the Roman Empire and established the Rhine as the frontier of Rome for centuries to come.

Characters are fascinating including the character of Thusnelda, played by German actress Jeanne Goursaud with a grim determination and fiery disposition, who yearns to break free of her father, who wants to sell her for five horses and to secure a powerful alliance (that sounds familiar) and bristles against the shackles put on her simply due to her gender (a lot of politically correct, subtle attack on gender norms despite it being a historical drama by Netflix). It is Thusnelda who comes up with the plans to humiliate the Romans, Thusnelda who embraces a canny political marriage in defiance of her father and at the crucial moment, Thusnelda who keeps the tribes together and gives Arminius a fighting chance against the Roman legions (all this is fictional and a way for Netflix to push current day gender campaigns, in a historical epic). Aside from these obviously fictional but fascinating character portrayals, the show remains highly accurate historically.

Rounding out the triumvirate of Arminius and Thusnelda is Wolfspeer (a truly, gloriously ridiculous name) played by 29-year-old German actor David Schütter. Schütter’s Wolfspeer, who was invented out of thin air for the show, with his fashion model good looks, reminds one of Vikings’ Ragnar Lothbrok. With historical sources being a bit sketchy about when Arminius began thinking of betraying Rome (from the very beginning of his time as a hostage, some speculate), Wolfspeer exists as just one giant plot device: to give Arminius a reason to turn his back on Rome and to provide plot tension when Arminius and Thusnelda hook up.

Like many shows or films of its ilk (which some derisively dub swords-and-sandals flicks), Barbarians is filled with sex, spears and bloody sacrifices. But rather than go for a sensory overload like Spartacus, Barbarians goes the Game of Thrones route in terms of focusing on character development rather than big clashes.

The show also takes plenty of liberties with history and plays around with its timeline: Arminius was certainly not ‘adopted’ by the Roman governor, the political match between Arminius and Thusnelda took place a few years after the events of the series and the climactic battle occurred over a period of four days rather than just a few hours. Barbarians does not break any new ground, its decent production values, top-notch acting and compelling characters (for the most part) makes it well worth your next binge.

JAY’S VERDICT

Get over your hatred of subtitles and watch this show on Netflix today !! It is well worth the inconvenience.

FETIH 1453 (2012) – TURKISH EPIC ABOUT THE CONQUEST OF CONSTANTINOPLE BY MEHMED THE CONQUEROR FALLS FLAT

Fetih 1453 or “Conquest” 1453 is a Turkish historical war epic from 2012 that depicts the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks led by Sultan Mehmed II or Mehmed the Conqueror. The movie was a major hit however, being rightly criticized as “historically inaccurate” which in my opinion is an understatement. The movie was viewed by current Turkish wannabe Sultan Recep Tayyip Erdoğan who apparently “liked the film very much”. As a believer in a falsified image of the Ottoman Empire of the past and a delusional and highly prickly strongman, his liking the movie a lot should already be a red flag against the movie.

Anyways let us get down to what was good about the movie before we point out the flaws. The sets were definitely lavish and the battle sequences are quite grand. However, the camerawork is shoddy at best – apparently with the entire budget being devoted to CGI (However, the CGI work is so fake, you can tell exactly which parts of each shot were built in a computer and as a result, the film often looks as if Mehmed the Conqueror lived his entire life in front of a green screen), costumes and sets, there was very little left for a decent cameraman, who they seemed to have hired from a random wedding ceremony film crew. The camerawork, swoops all over the place and changes perspective with no consideration for coherence, and is highly disorienting and edited in a very distracting, choppy way. The lighting which is sourced from candles, often looks electric and the colour looks awful.

The movie also indulges in an unnecessary love triangle between two Turkish actors who could be identical twins of each other, with long hair, bulging biceps and a consistently constipated look on their faces, and their love interest, the daughter of a weapons manufacturer – who dresses up as a guy to defy gender norms and helps her father build a big ass cannon – just looks like a chick in a bandana instead of a boy. What’s more, she cuddles with her boyfriend in the middle of an encampment full of soldiers who are apparently convinced that she’s a guy called Idris. Score one for gay rights right there – it’s nice that Erdoğan was cool with gay rights being so prominently promoted in a macho Turkish propaganda film.

Spot the boy here

Overacting, which I thought was the sole domain of most Indian Bollywood actors, reaches new heights championed by the Turkish actors who can give many of Bollywood’s stars a run for their money.

Mehmed loves to pose in front of his army throughout the movie

Now, once the technical flaws of the movie are covered, let us come to the more blatant propaganda features of the movie. The ending is one of the most infuriating ones we’ve seen in a while. After the Ottomans win the war and gain access to Constantinople, their Mehmed waltzes into where the women, kids and elderly are huddled and assures them that they won’t be forced to convert to Islam (quite different from the relatively modern Islamic conquerors). The Romans’ expressions of fear suddenly transform into dazzling smiles as if the man in front of them wasn’t responsible for killing half the men in their town. Extremely believable stuff right there, right? Well, the truth is quite different.

Mehmed II granted his soldiers three days to plunder the city, as he had promised them. The women of Constantinople also suffered from rape at the hands of Ottoman forces. According to Barbaro, “all through the day the Turks made a great slaughter of Christians through the city“. According to historian Philip Mansel, widespread persecution of the city’s civilian inhabitants took place, resulting in thousands of murders and rapes, and 30,000 civilians being enslaved or forcibly deported. People of both genders were raped inside Hagia Sophia. Loukas Notaras and his son were executed after Notaras refused Mehmed’s demand to offer his son for the sultan’s pleasure. According to Steven Runciman most of the elderly and the infirm/wounded and sick who were refugees inside the churches were killed, and the remainder (mainly teenage males and young boys) were chained up and sold into slavery. Also, after its conquest, the Church of Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque until 1931 and which then became a museum under the secular Republic of Turkey which as we know is currently being dismantled by the radical Islamist Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. So apparently, war, pillaging, rape, forced conversion and imperialism are all fine and dandy if it’s the Muslims doing it. Conveniently this was omitted from the movie as this wouldn’t really work in a propaganda piece.

The movie portrays Mehmed’s conquest of Constantinople as a major feat but if we look at history during that period, though the Ottoman Turks managed to conquer a city which several invaders before them had been unable to achieve, the Eastern Roman Empire was a shadow of its former self, by the year 1450, having shrunk to a few square kilometers outside of Constantinople itself. The city was impoverished and depopulated, and by 1453 consisted of a series of walled villages separated by vast fields surrounded by the 1000 year old Theodosian walls. Definitely not a major achievement especially when you have massive cannons at your side. The Ottoman Army is shown to consist purely of Turkish ethnicity (no wonder a radical Islamist like Erdoğan is a fan) instead of the ethnically diverse Ottoman army of the time which included Balkan Islamic converts as well as Christian vassals and even the elite Janissary soldiers of the Sultan included several who were Christian when they were taken to be trained as Janissaries.

Fetih 1453 could have been a masterpiece of Turkish and also modern cinema had it focused more on the reality of the Ottoman Empire and the battle of Constantinople. The film’s religious overtones – with a walk-on part for the prophet Muhammad, predicting the old Roman capital would one day fall to the faithful – have attracted a new, religious audience to Turkish cinemas and especially endeared it to the President and wannabe Sultan Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, chiming as it does with his vision to “raise devout generations … who should embrace our historic values“.

Some in Erdoğan’s party were demanding it be shown in schools as an antidote to the Hollywood version of history – not that the film is itself entirely innocent of historical license, for example its portrayal of the last Byzantine emperor, Constantine XI, as a hedonist (he was mostly celibate); the city’s magnificence (it had been comprehensively sacked by western crusaders in 1204); and the fact that there were far more Greeks fighting for the sultan than defending the walls. Nearly as many of Mehmet’s soldiers would have been praying to the Virgin on the morning of the final assault in May 1453, as to Allah.

Mehmed the Conqueror was a great ruler with his own flaws like others preceding and succeeding him but to portray him in this over-the-top manner as an Islamic messiah saving Romans from the destruction he brought with him is a deliberate falsification of history. The Ottoman Empire too was never a radical Islamist state but rather during its golden era was a mixing pot of religions, arts and culture and scientific knowledge. The secular Turkish nation that existed from 1931 until Erdoğan decided to destroy it, also deserves a movie that portrays historical facts accurately and not a CGI infested propaganda piece that would only insult the past glory of the Ottoman Empire.

JAY’S VERDICT

Avoid unless Erdoğan’s forcing you to watch it. Watch Kingdom of Heaven instead for a more balanced take of the era and to see a truly devout and liberal ruler in Saladin as he takes on the Crusader kingdom of Jerusalem.

FURY (2014) – BRAD PITT STARS IN ACTION DRIVEN WORLD WAR TANK DRAMA

Fury is an American war film from 2014 starring Brad Pitt and written and directed by David Ayer. Fury covers the experiences of American tank crews during the last days of the Second World War, as the Allies made their final push into Nazi Germany. The resistance they encounter is fanatical and full of hardened SS troops, few remnants of the once mighty Wehrmacht and the Volkssturm, a people’s militia full of children and old men fighting to defend the Third Reich from imminent defeat.

Wardaddy (played by Brad Pitt) shouting at Norman

What works for Fury, is the gore and the carnage and the utter hopelessness of the fighting. Both sides are exhausted by war, yet the carnage continues. The movie focuses on tankers from the U.S. Second Armored Division, mainly on “Fury”, a M4 Sherman tank, led by Don “Wardaddy” Collier, a battle-hardened U.S. Army First Sergeant and his crew, who are all veterans: gunner Boyd “Bible” Swan, loader Grady “Coon-Ass” Travis, driver Trini “Gordo” Garcia, and assistant driver–bow gunner “Red,” all of whom have fought together since the North African campaign. As the movie begins, Red is killed and replaced by a rookie, Private First Class Norman Ellison, a clerk typist who was transferred to be a replacement, who has not been in the inside of a tank.

Engaging the German Pak-40 guns

As they move deeper into Germany, Norman’s inexperience quickly becomes dangerous: he spots but fails to shoot Hitler Youth child soldiers who ambush the platoon leader’s tank with a Panzerfaust, killing the entire crew and burning their young platoon leader alive. Wardaddy takes over command of the tank column (4 tanks including Fury); later, as they help rescue American soldiers caught in an ambush, he hesitates under fire during a skirmish with German Pak-40 anti-tank guns. Wardaddy is angered and worried by his lack of aggression on Norman’s part; after the battle, he spots a captured German soldier wearing a U.S. Army coat and orders Norman to execute him. When he refuses, Don wrestles the pistol into his hand and forces him to pull the trigger, killing the prisoner and traumatizing Norman.

Destroying the German gun positions

With Wardaddy now the acting platoon leader, the tanks capture a small town with relative ease, with Norman firing at and killing German gun crew men, who are burning up alive due to Willie Pete ammunition fired at their position (Willie Pete refers to White Phosphorus ammunition – White phosphorus is pyrophoric (self-ignites on contact with air), burns fiercely, and can ignite cloth, fuel, ammunition, and other combustibles).

Allied forces move into the town

Wardaddy and Norman then enter an apartment and encounter a German woman named Irma, and her younger cousin Emma. Wardaddy pays them in cigarettes for a hot meal and some hot water for a shave. Norman and Emma bond, and at Wardaddy’s urging, the two go into the bedroom and have sex. Later, as the four sit down to eat, the rest of the crew drunkenly barges in, harassing the women and bullying Norman, but Wardaddy firmly rebukes them. They are called away on an urgent mission, but as the men prepare to leave, German artillery targets the town, destroying the apartment building they were in, killing Emma and her cousin, and further traumatizing Norman who is restrained by Coon-Ass, who shouts at him saying “Do you feel this? This is war!” – it is a statement which shows the hopelessness of their situation, the utter contempt for a life during war and destruction and slaughter which becomes acceptable during a war.

A dysfunctional dinner with the German women

The tank platoon is ordered to capture and hold a vital crossroads to protect the division’s rear echelon. En route to the crossroads, they are ambushed by a SS Tiger tank, which wipes out the entire platoon except for Fury. Using a smoke screen, Fury manages to get close to the Tiger which being heavier is not as fast in maneuvering as the Sherman, and eventually destroys the Tiger by firing into its thinner rear armor instead of its impenetrable front armor.

A German Tiger 1 tank ambushes Fury and the other 3 tanks

Unable to notify his superiors because the radio has been damaged, Don decides to try to complete their mission. Upon arriving at the crossroads, the tank is immobilized by a landmine. Wardaddy sends Norman to scout a nearby hill; from there, he eventually spots a battalion of Waffen-SS infantry approaching. The rest of the crew wants to flee, but Wardaddy decides to stay, eventually convincing the others to stand and fight in a last stand. The men disguise Fury to make it appear to be knocked out and then hide inside. While they wait, the crew finally gives Wardaddy a nickname – “Machine” – to show their acceptance of him. They then ambush the Germans, inflicting heavy casualties in a long and vicious battle. This battle, however, turns the war drama into a crazy action film with little regard to tactics, as an elite SS company becomes a rabble without any strategy attacking a disabled tank in the middle of the road.

Grady is killed by a Panzerfaust that penetrates the turret, Gordo is shot while unpinning a grenade and sacrifices himself by covering it before it explodes, then a sniper kills Bible and severely wounds Wardaddy. Out of ammunition and surrounded, Wardaddy orders Norman to escape through the floor hatch as the Germans drop potato masher grenades into the tank. Norman slips out just before they explode, killing Wardaddy. Norman tries to hide as the Germans move on, but is spotted by a young SS soldier, who hesitates, then leaves without alerting his comrades. This is bizarre behavior especially from an SS soldier, as they were infamous for executing prisoners during the war.

The battle of the crossroads

The next morning, Norman crawls back into the tank, where he covers Wardaddy’s body with his jacket. He is rescued by American soldiers who praise him as a hero. As Norman is driven away in an ambulance, he looks back at numerous dead SS soldiers lying around the disabled Fury while the American troops continue their advance. The camera pans out revealing the Fury at the center of the crossroads where their battle took place and the carnage which ensued through the night and the German dead littered all across the field.

Fury scores high when it comes to depicting the brutality of the war, the trauma and fear that enveloped Allied tank crews especially facing heavy German tanks like the Tigers and the utter disregard for human lives. The deaths of innocent German women, the young platoon leader who burned to death in his tank, the execution of captured German soldiers and the overall hopelessness for both the Allied and Axis forces. The acting is solid especially Brad Pitt and Shia LaBeouf who play the parts of Wardaddy and Bible well. The battle sequences are well shot and the action is excellent. The problem Fury has that after showing reality for so long, it descends into a Hollywood glorification of the American tank crew – any tactical awareness on the German part is almost absent where one knows exactly that the Americans will prevail over all odds. Destroying a Tiger tank that smashed two other Shermans from a strong position and for some bizarre reason, left a strong position to engage in close combat – check!, German Waffen SS soldiers blindly charging a fixed tank stuck in the crossroads instead of going around it and attacking from the rear – check!

Fury has several solid scenes and its action sequences are one of the best since Saving Private Ryan, but the whole good v. evil rhetoric and the depiction of American soldiers as all conquering and Axis forces having no concept of tactics is a little exhausting.

(From L to R: Coon-Ass, Wardaddy, Gordo, Machine and Bible)

JAY’S VERDICT

Watch Fury for its awesome battle sequences and to develop a healthy distaste for war

%d bloggers like this: