Film Review: Swan Song (2021)

In a very advanced future, Cameron Turner (Mahershala Ali) is in the last phase of his life because he is dying from an incurable disease and leaving behind his wife Poppy (Naomie Harris) and a kid who have no knowledge of his illness. Dr. Scott (Glenn Close) strongly recommends replacing himself with his clone that will keep his family away from the grief. A proposal that sends Cameron further in a state of perturbation.

My problem with the film is that such a limited plotline is stretched to 112 minutes of the screen time which makes this slow-burn more on nerves. There is no doubt about the film being better than average with a quality casting and Mahershala giving a splendid performance. But the plot is so small that the film basically does no favor in screenwriting. A story like Swan Song deserves its place in a sci-fi episode of some television drama; speaking of which reminds me of Black Mirror. This Swan Song is an authentic Black Mirror episode.

Swan Song is thoughtful and questions you about your existence that is predicted not to be that long and you have to leave your family behind. If a human clone is an answer to eradicate or lower the level of grief in the human race, where will it end? How will you bear to be replaced and decide not to inform your family about the development? Your nature of death cannot delay but the distress upon your family can be reduced. Science further finds solutions and discovers the answers somewhere in the universe but the dying human cannot wait in queue for the last train to heaven as the emotions get restored in the clone to please his/her family. Thou shalt not covet!

Mahershala Ali will break your heart, burn your vehemence and make you extremely impatient. Swan Song is your typical sci-fi diet that should be watched alone in a dark room so that you theorize and digest the deep understanding about dramatizing the clone situation.

Ratings: 6.5/10

Film Review: King Richard (2021)

King Richard reminds me of a few references like the legendary cricketer Viv Richards because he is often called King of Cricket since his 1987 documentary and William Shakespeare‘s plays Richard II and III. For the South Asian audience, King Richard will make them think of the film being the American answer to Bollywood’s Aamir Khan-starrer Dangal, also based on a real-life story.

For me, as a huge tennis fan, who was blessed to watch this beautiful sport on television since 1992 and was lucky to have watched many great legends since then, I do understand the contribution of the William sisters who dominated in tennis for more than a decade especially Serena. Therefore, a film about them became necessary to watch. But for me, the surprising factor was that the film was centered around their father Richard Williams so I assumed that the real-life story has to be that compelling to focus on him rather than his daughters. I had never known the backstory before they became the legends and now after watching the film, I am touched.

King Richard is basically about a crazy-a** visionary paterfamilias who had, believe it or not, devised a 78-page plan about his two daughters to transform them into highly successful tennis stars, wait for it, even before they, I mean Venus and Serena, were born. Yes, there is a father who wrote a success story even before bringing them to the earth. How insanely willful, confident and determined will he be?!? The film shows his strict personal and sports discipline and training about his daughters, how he shapes their careers, and what difficulties, racial problems, and Compton’s rough life does he face during all that time.

The biggest plus about the film is that about 90% of the screenplay, the incidents, and the important events are all historically accurate making you trust the presentation. The film is majorly plotted from Richard Williams’ autobiography Black and White: The Way I See It. Therefore the film is compelling and the pace keeps you attentive to the continuity, especially in the middle of the film.

Will Smith for his leading role as Richard Williams is considered highly certain to take the Best Actor award at the upcoming Oscar function. Honestly, to my surprise, the performance wasn’t really that wow to consider him one of the best from 2021. I have watched better performances from Will before, most significantly The Pursuit of Happiness was a far better performance than this. He didn’t meet any challenging segment of performance in the entire film, besides the scene where the Child Protective Services enter their house. In fact, it is Jon Bernthal‘s supporting role of Rick Macci that has me taken aback. The usually tough-guy image of Jon is completely switched to a friendly ever-smiling softhearted coach and I cannot believe how well did he perform this. This performance is quite different than he usually does.

Although I find the film very touching and impresses me with its being accurate, unfortunately, there are some strong issues that drop this real-life sports drama at loose ends. Let me explain to you why. The film focuses on Richard Williams as a dedicating father but does not touch on his ‘other’ issues like his role in business, his past marriages, and his fatherly role for the other daughters. Venus-Serena chemistry is horribly lacking. Despite the fact that the father prioritizes career of Venus over Serena, there is no sign of emotional breakdown between the sisters. Their being besties, even in such difficult changing times, look flat, no changing gears. The other daughters were completely extras and hype girls, absolutely no sign of their role as sisters. There should have been some detailing about why the parents preferred to focus more on Venus and Serena than the rest of their children. Maybe the film misses all these points deliberately because the William sisters are the executive producers.

But it is not like if Richard Williams is depicted as the holy father with no indication of making wrong choices. There are heated exchanges of him with his wife where we discover his dark side. The film shows his anger and stubbornness. His controversial decision to pull his daughters out of the junior tennis circuits is dramatized in a way that looks like his father did make a wrong decision about their careers and lives.

But the message of the film is conveyed to the audience. The cinematic portrayal of this father and his dedication and building two legendary careers from the courts of Compton was highly paramount.

Ratings: 6/10

Film Review: The Tragedy of Macbeth (2021)

What introduction should I give about this stupendous adaptation? I mean during the entire drama, I was searching for words to describe this film. How must I pass my judgment about this film? How can anyone imagine William Shakespeare‘s tragic play with such credulous care? Joel Coen! The first time you directed without your brother and what have you done?

Yes, I have more questions in my mind. How can a film balance the aesthetics and methods of theatrical presentation so accurately? How come a Black Macbeth becomes so acceptable to us? Is this because he is Denzel Washington? Or the selection of a Black actor for a white Macbeth really clicked and really hummed the ever-running identity politics campaign.

Macbeth was my first proper reading after my school life. I don’t remember if there were any non-white characters in the play so pardon my memory. But I am not complaining, I am questioning if the character identity should be altered for the sake of voicing for the global campaign of identity politics. And I fully praise Denzel Washington’s performance, he took the mantle of the character and delivered splendidly.

Going black-and-white made the visual artistry more amicable to literature and I think The Tragedy of Macbeth has paved the way for looking at the Shakespearean works in tremendously different parallel. I have watched Sir Lawrence Olivier‘s Richard III performance especially the ”Now is the winter of our discontent” scene and now after watching this, I can just imagine him doing the same number in this parallel and it looks more stunning.

If any of Sir Lawrence Olivier or William Shakespeare was alive, he would have been proud of Joel Coen’s execution and understanding. This film is up for many Oscar nominations, most importantly for cinematography, production design, score, costume design, direction, and Denzel’s performance. Easily be one of the best films produced in 2021.

Ratings: 8.9/10

Film Review: Tick, Tick… Boom! (2021)

A struggling composer and playwright Jonathan Larson (JL) is reaching 30 but still knocking the doors of the industry to listen to his pieces and grab the opportunity. This film centers around his hardship and personal account of his dedication that was becoming questionable due to not meeting his mark. The film is about JL’s stressful and collapsing sparks of a musical journey before “Tick, Tick… Boom!” happened.

The film, by all means, is an exceptional musical drama where Andrew Garfield is at the heart of the film. He resurrects JL and displays a powerful performance. Maybe the film won’t be praised that much if Andrew was not picked to play the best performance of his career. We may have another musical case in Andrew surely reaching to the Oscars just like Riz Ahmed last here and I won’t be surprised if he wins it. Let me tell you why – facial performance! Just marvelous. Look at him, just look at him when he has to work on the note and electricity is cut. Or when he has an argument with Susan that leads to breaking up. Even his acts in most of the songs were so energetic, especially that crazy number with Vanessa Hudgens was crazy.

The screenplay was the other plus and such fabulous writing was possible due to extensive research on JL’s works. Director Lin-Manuel Miranda and Tony Award-winning writer Steven Levenson got access to his works at the Library of Congress that built most of the script. And this is why this musical drama looks distinguished from the other projects.

While their research helps in shaping a story close to JL’s work there do are damages on the accuracies. Also, the first thirty minutes are too musical to watch. Overall, I think Miranda’s debut as director deserves praise for doing a musical that wasn’t stereotypical but on the aesthetics of JL’s works which I mean is an observer can have a clear idea that this is how JL would have wanted to direct his Tick, Tick… Boom.

Ratings: 6.5/10

Film Review: Eternals (2021)

For thousands of years, the group of immortals called Eternals have defended planet earth from the unnatural species of predators called Deviants. But in the present day, one of the Eternals finds out that the deviants still exist and they need to assemble to complete the unfinished business once and for all.

I haven’t read about Eternals in comics, so this film is the source of whatever the director felt to make the use of Jack Kirby‘s creations. So on paper, Eternals, I believe, are the strongest group of superheroes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And the group being socially diverse makes sense as the celestial picked his team to find deviants around the world.

A recent winner of the Oscar for Best Director, Chloé Zhao, was roped to work on this MCU project that brought a lot of challenges for the production. Because an Oscar-winning director for a superhero project becomes hyper-interesting as the audience expects the comic-book film to be a well-written and fine productional craft. And then the cinematography, visual effects, and Ramin Djawadi‘s score are other plusses giving a boost to the motive of the story.

But I am looking at the bigger picture. Into its fourteen years of existence and twenty-sixth film in line with the greatest cinematic universe ever, how important is this film for the future? Zhao’s direction does bring new breathing and way of observing a Marvel film but I guess despite having the magnitude of her quality presentation, the plotline is neither apt nor the screenplay is compelling.

If a viewer with a bird’s eye has to scale down a 156-minute film, he/she will certainly realize that there is something really wrong with the film. Let me try to point out why Eternals is not even close to being considered an average film.

One major blemish about the film is the introduction. This group of immortals is new to the audience and we have no idea how they were ever created. A Star-Wars-style intro text is not enough to accept them the way they are. Yes, the intro text emphasizes that they were needed but how these people ever become Eternals, there is no backstory. Instead, we travel time with them and observe how they protect some ancient civilizations and empires from deviants. I felt the dramatizing of old times was taken way too seriously and lost the meaning between the lines. Two of the Eternals are shown to develop a romantic interest in Babylon in 575 BC. Next scene? They are getting married in 400 AD in the Gupta Empire. The same amount of time would have been taken in dramatizing the intro text.

Another factor that ‘may’ have not worked with the audience is that Eternals is very quintessential to MCU aesthetics. They are so close to perfection and lacks human sympathy that was found for almost all the Marvel superheroes in the previous films. Seeing them fighting and killing the deviants straight from the start without knowing their whys and hows makes the purpose bleak.

The middle part of the film is a dead soul. The audience can easily give his/her popcorn to the person on the other seat and leave the theatre giving up. Amongst the team, Sersi (Gemma Chan) was easily the least favorite of all the characters, and she was chosen to lead the group. In the cast, I need to know why such established actors like Salma Hayek and Angelina Jolie were part of this project. Especially Jolie, what a terrible waste! Even Kit Harrington is not utilized.

There is no villain in the film. Fine, it is not compulsory to have a villain in a superhero film but the story has to be much captivating; the grip of the screenplay was loose. Eternal is a confusing experiment in which the director struggles to plot the film in a non-linear style and attempts to apply forced humor out of nowhere to keep the audience somehow happy. As the film tries to find its zone of compliments with such an excessive time, the film loses its transmission and drops flat.

Ratings: 4/10

TV Review: The Morning Show

(Before I commence passing my review, I would like to inform the readers of the future that the show is judged after watching the first two seasons. To date, the third season has been announced.)

After fifteen years of television dominance and winning eight Emmies, Mitch Kessler (Steve Carell) is fired by the UBA Network when the news breaks of his being responsible for multiple incidents in sexual misconduct. His on-air partner for fifteen years, Alex Levy (Jennifer Aniston) faces difficult challenges to maintain her professional stature as the show struggles to retain its domination on the American viewers. And during all this, the network hires a shocking replacement of Mitch in Bradley Jackson (Reese Witherspoon), an outspoken field reporter whose creative ideas do not match with Alex. Thus, starts a very interesting phase of the news network.

Apple TV+‘s The Morning Show is the epitome of excellent writing about corporate corruption, abuse of power, sexual misconduct, and the struggle of women empowerment. This phenomenal piece of writing reminds me of Aaron Sorkin‘s, the audience is fully sold to watch the sensationalism of the making of news programs. The functioning of the news network is detailed with meticulous care.

One of the highlights where the show surpasses the quality of presentation is giving a proper dramatization of female employees working under the same roof after one major controversy bombs the reputation. TMS is picturized in the time period of America’s socially most critical period that is the rise of the MeToo wave in the first season followed by the global pandemic in the second season. Therefore, the show heavily focuses on the impact of the MeToo movement on this news network and the mental challenge the employees have to face after Mitch is fired.

In the same given period, TMS successfully decorates the professional rivalries in both upper and lower levels and daily political games between the network biggies. The parties, the glamour, the pride, the ego, the insecurities, etc. are all crafted with command. Employee love affairs, professional secrecies, work ethics, and heated arguments are credibly natural.

I think the recently concluded second season, despite superb writing and direction, is drier than the first season to some percentage due to lack of potential continuity. Mitch/Stella and Bradley/Laura takes a lot of minutes and are not even the core concerns of the main subject. The only plus about the writing of the second season is the build-up of the global horror that knocked the American life – the coronavirus. All the related content writing about the upcoming pandemic really breaks the buzz.

If the audience observes at dramatizing of employee relationships and scuffles, this will remind you of USA Network‘s Suits. Another excellence is handling the tragic events of the California Wildfire and the Global Pandemic magnificently. The productional dynamics and dramatic changes in the continuity are so compelling that the viewers can easily go into the heart of the show and grow in it.

The Green sisters of Friends, Rachel and Jill, reunited in The Morning Show.

And why not? The show is blessed with a potentially favorable cast of Steve Carell, Jennifer Aniston, and Reese Witherspoon in the lead, with the splendid support of Billy Crudup, Mark Duplass, and Karen Pittman, giving powerful performances. The Green sisters of Friends, Jennifer and Reese, were not only reunited but also became the first actors to be paid $2 million per episode.

There are numerous intense and brilliant argument and speech scenes. And this is what the audience wants, make a show blended with a favorable cast, fabulous writing, hot topics, hard-hitting dialogues, all orchestrated under a supervision of a thoughtful team of directors.

TMS has an interesting plotline, an exciting setup of aesthetics, a wise application of dark comedy, a very sound direction to build our enthusiasm for the show. And holds a lot of promises for the next season; and like me, I am certain that all the TMS fans are wishing that the new season happens this year instead of another two-year gap.

TV Review: Qatil Haseenaon Ke Naam

Qatil Haseenaon Ke Naam is a Pakistani anthology miniseries produced by Zee5. It is a fictional setup in Lahore about the survival and struggle of ordinary women in a male-dominated society. For female viewers, this show is a podium of mahogany because the content drives a lot of zeal for depicting women tackling tough situations ahead. There are moments where insecurity hurdles and put to insult.

The show is pretty noir, visually creative, blended with dark elements of black mysticism and fantasy that compels the audience to rope into a crony portion of absolutism. I do not say that hell is installed over women. There are a few women here with power or authority. But basically, Qatil Haseenaon Ke Naam is about women breaking stereotypes in a culture where she is not equal to men.

I like the use of hatred and angst nipped by a backstory. The second and the fourth episodes based on Nurse Kanwal and Massey Ma respectively are quite better than the rest but the former meets an absurd conclusion.

The performances are average. The soundtracks are interesting and the poetry is used in the screenplay pretty well. And speaking of the screenplay, I think the non-linear pattern of presentation really begins to grab the interest at the halfway mark. Because first, I felt that the show will end up depicting six different stories but no, the writer connected the dots.

I think the Pakistani shows are meeting their desired content on a platform as the general audience raises criticism over the drastic change of elements as they were not used to such bold dramatizing. But I feel this is a good start for Pakistan on any platform. The norm of traditional soaps needs to break and start working on the stories that will attract the audience. Before this, Zee5 financed another Pakistani show, Churails. Both the shows are female-centered using almost the same pattern. So I am expecting a Pakistani show from ZEE5 with a different plotline.

The show is directed by Meenu Gaur who is known for directing a Pakistani film, Zinda Bhaag. Qatil Haseenaon Ke Naam is a one-timer artistic social commentary of women’s injustice.

Film Review: Les Quatre Cents Coups (1959)

Les Quatre Cents Coups (The 400 Blows) is a genuine storyteller. An apology never heard never accepted. A dark sickening life insisting to walk away from everything.
A young lad Antoine Doinel is a confused puppet in Paris of the 1950s. His parents argue and fight, his teacher punishes and complains. He studies but he cannot make his mind. One day he is so disturbed that he quit home and school, and begins stealing.
This 1959 French film is directed by François Truffaut. The best aspect of the film is the tendency, the aptness, the realism of human behavior. The portrayal of characters and their character descriptions are extremely rich and marvelous (especially Antoine’s parents).
This easily is one of the best writings in European cinema due to the fact that ‘The 400 Blows’ was one of the earliest films of the French New Wave uprising. Legendary filmmakers like Akira Kurosawa and Satyajit Ray have considered the film as one of their favorites.
Another legacy is that Truffaut took the character Antoine Daniel with the same boy (Jean-Pierre Léaud) and made four more films on the character’s first love affair (Antoine et Colette in 1962), then another love affair (Baisers volés in 1968), then marriage (Domicile conjugal in 1970), and then separation (L’amour en fuite in 1979).
Highly recommended to all film critics and sensible filmgoers.
Ratings: 9.1/10

TV Review: Aryanak

Aranyak is the new Netflix show about the two cops, Angad (Parambrata Chattopadhyay) and Kasturi (Raveena Tandon), who are handed over an extremely difficult murder case that involves numerous people around the hill station. The murder mystery becomes personal when they realize that the case ties with their dark past or compromises the family security. The superstitious theory about the return of some serial killing Leopard-man becomes certain when the diggings indicate that this all leads to a hunter in the jungle.

Not sure if Aranyak is based on the famous Bengali novel by the same title written by Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay. But the credit should be given to the writing and the screenplay of the show. I think the mystery is very complicated and has the driving factor that makes you binge-watch all eight episodes. I think the season finale doesn’t do justice as compared to how all the previous seven episodes were maintaining the storytelling. The last episode ran in haste and the conclusion of the season looked pretty weak to me.

I think this show marks the return of Bollywood‘s mast-mast girl, Raveena Tandon. Maybe I am wrong but I noticed her years ago in Anurag Kashyap‘s Bombay Velvet song. Anyway, I don’t remember Raveena in any memorable role in the past. And even here, she was just average. Her facial reactions were flat and there were many scenes where her performance needed a push but she couldn’t. Veteran Parambrata had another impressive number in his acting credits. Ashutosh Rana also gave a decent show.

If I am not wrong, there will be another season. This should have been a mini-series. But for now, Aranyak is a very interesting mystery thriller to get entertained.

Film Review: Atrangi Re (2021)

Vishu (Dhanush) and Rinku (Sara Ali Khan) end up in a forced marriage that results in Vishu’s breakup with his girlfriend. Rinku was married to him so that she can stop dreaming about her lover’s return. Just when Vishu develops emotions for her, Rinku’s boyfriend surfaces.

Believe me, I am aware of the plot that I am writing to you and that has occurred millions of times in this industry. But the story gets interesting after wasting one hour of your precious life. So you may take it this way that the plot of Atrangi Re is interesting but the execution is outrageous.

While you begin to watch this film, the direction and the leading performances look spot on but somewhere in your heart tells you that there is something really wrong with the film. The film lacks the heart, all the hard work of Sara Ali Khan and Dhanush looks wasted because the script is not doing any justice. Just like the whole wrong sentence should be rephrased for a better meaning, the story deserved a better screenplay. Especially the second half is meaningless, overstretched, and lost. Instead of coming to the conclusion, we are wasting our time watching cheesy humor.

What impresses me about Dhanush is that he chooses the right role where he really fits in the story and does a better job. And his acting is upgraded for sure and you can judge that by observing him when he is laughing-gassed to get married. This is the first time I watched Sara Ali Khan’s performances and she really has some acting skills at this early phase of her career. Yes, she was reminding us of Jab We Met‘s Geet, in fact, the whole film was like Jab We Met crossing the path with Raanjhanaa.

I think the biggest plus of this film is A.R.Rahman‘s score. This has to be his best work since Raanjhanaa. Melodious and soulful. Even if a few songs were ordinary, that old beat was just right there. On so many occasions, his background score was disconnecting me; especially when Vishu and Rinku are getting married.

Overall, I wish I would say that Rahman’s music saved the day but Atrangi Re, despite two above-average performances, is a disappointment. Even the presence of superstar like Akshay Kumar didn’t help nor was he utilized.

Ratings: 5/10