Tag Archives: Oscars

Film Review: Drive My Car (2021)

After his wife’s unexpected death, theater veteran Yūsuke Kafuku seeks to escape from the sadness of her loss and works on the new theater project. During the project, he meets new people and a young chauffeur with whom he quests for his answers that have been missing for a while.

Why a Japanese film like Drive My Car is essential for the audience? I ask the same for those who listen to podcasts. The critical reason is there are many who are disturbed in their lives and they try to find a source of their ultimate escapism through various mediums. Some find peace in reading books, some find their missing puzzle in listening to podcasts. In the same way, this three-hour drama captivates that particular audience who searches for answers after losing something really precious. The years pass by, but the mind and the soul doesn’t obstinate to pull new strings and ease the pain unattached.

This masterpiece runs in your veins and grows with time. Almost every point the director Ryusuke Hamaguchi chose to make was punching, accurate, and so well crafted. On so many occasions, this film hit me and I asked myself how excellent were the shots taken. Like Kafuku returning home after the flight gets canceled, or Kafuku’s supporting actors trying to continue the performance or Takatsuki’s 12-minute conversation with Kafuku in the car, or the heartbreaking moment of Watari showing Kafuku her childhood home, or the mute girl cheering the old character in the final act.

I think it is the method that keeps all this storytelling, shooting a scene and making it look beautiful, compelling performances roll into one and give a product that stops your breath for a second or makes you thoughtful. Films like this move you because Drive My Car is one of the best visual translations of human emotions.

Even if I corner the tragic parts of the film aside, there is still a tremendous depth and buildup in the writing. From audition to the final product, the film constructs an accurate understanding of the theater project.

There is a reason why this film made it to the Oscars and became the first-ever Japanese to reach Best Picture. Drive My Car recently created the history to become the first non-American film to win Best Picture from all three major prestigious American critics groups that are NYFCC, NSFC, and LAFCA. And I have a strong feeling that Drive My Car will win Best International Feature Film at the Oscars.

Everyone performed well but Hidetoshi Nishijima as Kafuku was the soul of the film. Drive My Car is a cinematic marvel. The audience must watch this masterpiece.

Ratings: 9/10

Film Review: House of Gucci (2021)

As the title gives the precise indication, Ridley Scott‘s House of Gucci is about the legacy and incidents that occurred in this rich family that led to the downfall and disgrace to their name. With the ensemble cast of Lady Gaga, Adam Driver, Jared Leto, Jeremy Irons, Al Pacino, Jack Huston, and Salma Hayek, the film with a fair portion of historical accuracy indicates that the film was set for a definite showdown.

What marvels with the film is the consistent pace at which the screenplay holds firmness and makes the actors mesmerize with their quality performances. They all were exceptional. Their roles were well adjusted in their given screentime according to their weight and importance of them in the story.

As many major incidents were directed in the right tone, there do are some issues where I felt that Ridley Scott lost the edge or preferred theatrical license. The most critical concern was Jared Leto as Paolo Gucci. Couldn’t understand why Leto was chosen for the role and all this hard work on prosthetics transformation. Only Ridley can explain the vision behind believing that Leto will do justice. Leto’s Paolo Gucci is a strange comic relief who is like a fool or a jester in the Middle-Age royal court. I could not take him seriously. I felt as if this was some parody or his imitation of Paolo’s foolishness. Not sure if this was disrespect but I had to question myself if Paolo Gucci really was a nincompoop. There is no doubt about Leto’s performance as a funny Gucci being entertainment for the audience, he did act well. But, did Paolo carry the same traits, or was he deliberately put to insult?

Another concern is the film’s length. Because the pace of the story was consistent, a lengthy film made the watch on the wrist tickly-ticking. To my understanding, a story like House of Gucci perfectly fits for a limited series format rather than a 158-minute saga. I think FX‘s American Crime Story would have done a favor to its audience way more than this film. Despite being a quality film, a school of thought may construct to theorize that the dramatizing of around three decades with these characters in a single film would not develop that much storytelling.

I am disappointed with the Oscars, how come Lady Gaga is not nominated for the Best Actress? This has to be her best performance. The role of Patrizia Reggiani in the house of Gucci was a bomb that exploded with many consequences. And Lady Gaga’s execution was so well-crafted that the viewers will get irritated with her for everything she stood for. In the second half, she will be on everyone’s nerve, and would love to see her die. And this is what performance is about. Play a good or bad character in a way that the audience treats the actor in the same manner as the character himself/herself.

The other major actors did well. Adam Driver continues his form. Jeremy Irons had his moments when his character gets extremely sick. Al Pacino’s prowess in his artistry was reflected when he returned from prison to lose his mind over the incidents he never came to be aware of.

House of Gucci is a favor to the fashion enthusiast and the history-digging audience who are interested to know how the mighty fell and lost control of one of the greatest luxury brands.

Ratings: 7.5/10

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: 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: A Fish Called Wanda (1988)

A Fish Called Wanda is about a jewel heist that goes unsuccessful because people involved in the heist try to deceive each other to get his/her hand on the jackpot. The film starred John Cleese, Kevin Kline, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Michael Palin.

I had been considering watching ‘A Fish Called Wanda’ for some time. And I am glad that I did and unsurprisingly the film didn’t fall below expectations. Why would it? The film was produced and the story and the screenplay were written by John Cleese. This film and its spiritual successor Fierce Creatures are the only film projects that Cleese put money on. Maybe it was his passion project and the film did meet critical acclaim and acceptance from the general audience. Not only that, the film earned three Oscar nominations and bagged one win in Kevin Kline for Best Supporting Actor. Just guessing that it would have been quite a milestone to see a comedy film reaching the Oscars. Usually, comedy films are not considered but it doesn’t get the credibility of their being worthy to reach there.

But by all sorts, this film is a classic example of a comedy with an excellent story. There were so many twists in the continuity and made the film interesting with the comic timings. I do feel that the sexual element was just too pressing.

I think the film has some madness of black humor where the jokes played upon animals looked creepy. Somewhere, there was fresh dirt of horror in the director’s mind to play in the black humor. Just, for example, Ken mistakenly killing all of Mrs. Eileen’s dogs, Otto eating Ken’s fish from the aquarium, etc. It wasn’t normal at all but looked funny.

This was Charles Crichton‘s final directional film and he got nominated for Best Director at the Oscars. I do not believe if the direction was that spectacular because there were plotholes. Nor do I believe that Kevin Kline should have been nominated, forget about winning the Oscar. Michael Palin deserved to be nominated. He had the standout performance amongst all. His facial performances have always been impressive since Monty Python times and in the film, he showed the audience why is he so good. His stuttering performance and many of his scenes were brilliant.

A Fish Called Wanda is surely one of those few British-American films where the American audience wholeheartedly accepted British humor. The film will be remembered for its comic timings and a well-written screenplay. A comedy film that was fresh and exciting to the mainstream.

Ratings: 7/10

The Stooges: Those Fools On The Mean Streets

Born and raised in Jeddah, I had the luxury in my childhood to enjoy many memorable American sitcoms and cartoons on local channels. In the early 90s, Saudi Channel 2 entertained me with countless shows. One of those was The New Three Stooges cartoons, a very popular animated series of the mid-60s. I was hardly seven or eight and wasn’t aware about those three characters in the cartoons were real. I would have never known in my childhood about their being real had my school timings not changed.

In 1994, when I studied in the 5th standard, it was the afternoon shift of my school Pakistan International School Jeddah (PISJ) but my timings shifted from afternoon to morning when I entered my 6th class. The year was 1995 when Sony Entertainment Television was launched later that year and the channel was airing three American television series one after one in the afternoon. First The Three Stooges (in English), then Dennis The Menace and I Dream Of Jeannie (both dubbed in Hindi). As Paulo Coelho says, Maktub, isn’t it? And I was astonished at the Stooges being real and funnier than the cartoons. I had to return from school and try to catch this show as soon as possible.

The Three Stooges were the vaudeville team in the golden age of comedy which mostly featured Moe Howard, Larry Fine, and Curly Howard. The man who made me laugh at that show was that fat bald funny guy Curly but I used to get annoyed sometimes when I return from school and catch the show and notice that someone else than Curly was featuring on that day’s episode. And I asked myself where did that fatty go? With time, I came to understand the backstories of unarguably the most well-known comedy team the world has ever known.

When The Three Stooges came to prominence in the mid-1930s, the golden age of comedy was still on the run with Charles Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Laurel And Hardy, and The Marx Brothers already dominating in the United States for more than twenty years. And this team, along with other greats like Abbott And Castello began to carry the torch.

But those were the sickening times as the world moved towards the second Great War. Sometimes I wonder how the golden age of comedy coincided with those depressing decades. Perhaps the entertainers with a disturbed struggling journey, unhappy life, and tragic personal tales know the meaning of happiness and have the best of laughs.

How The Team Was Created?

In the early days, Moe and his brother Shemp were seeking work in show business. Then in 1921, Moe got the chance to work in Ted Healy‘s vaudeville shows. Two years later, Moe was performing in one of Ted’s stage performances when he noticed Shemp in the audience. Moe yelled at him and Shemp responded which led to a funny argumentative performance between the brothers leading to amuse the spectators. Ted took notice of all this and immediately hired Shemp.

Larry’s parents, in his teenage years, were sending him to a European music school to make his professional career as a violinist and he would have joined if the first World War had not interfered. By 1925, Moe had prematurely retired from acting when he got married and focused on his new life. So only Shemp was working under Ted for some years until Larry met them and joined in 1928. By the end of the same year, Ted pulled Moe out of retirement to rejoin him. By 1929, Moe, Shemp, and Larry worked as a unit for the first time.

Readers! this is how Ted Healy created the team or to be more precise, the three stooges were unified to perform with their boss. Moe, Shemp, and Larry were the original line-ups and along with Ted, they were named ‘Ted Healy and his Racketeers’. Later on, they were ‘Ted Healy and his Stooges’. Together they performed for some years until their contract expired in 1934.

It is said that employer Ted Healy was alcoholic and abusive. Shemp gave up on his behavior, quit the team, and focused on his solo career. And then entered the man who carried this team on his own to make them world-famous, Moe’s other brother Jerome Howard.

When Moe introduced Jerome to Healy, he was unimpressed because he thought he doesn’t look funny with long chestnut-red hair and a mustache. Jerome left and returned with a shaved head and said “Boy do I look girly”. Healy heard girly as Curly and hired him as Shemp’s replacement with a convincing shaved funny face. Boy, I wonder if Shemp had not given up, this team would have never made the name for which we remember them. It seems like sometimes giving up is the best idea. It was a golden twist of fate as, after the contract expiry in 1934, Ted Healy departed and they officially became The Three Stooges and signed with Columbia Pictures.

Curly’s Peak to Tragic End

Columbia Pictures first offered them $600-a-week for the first year with a renewable option. After the huge success of the first film, they earned $1000 for it and the future offer went lucrative with $7500 per film. This hugely successful journey continued for 23 years with the production company. During the period, the team made 190 short films out of which Curly featured in the first 97 films and is widely considered to be the most successful period for the team.

Curly was the God-gifted mercurial talent of the slapstick comedy. Before joining them, Curly used to hang around backstage and enjoy his brothers performing with Healy and enjoying their acts. For me, he is one of the greatest comedians of all time for one major reason, he was an original performer without formal or professional training. Most of the comedy greats of his time were trained but he was handpicked by his brother to take Shemp’s place and the rest is history. His childish mannerism, funny facial expressions, high-pitch voice, silly noises, and physically nonsensical comic timings were his features making most of his fans entertained.

Change of moods...
Three different expressions in 0.75 SECONDS!!!

This is from their short film Pardon My Scotch, a short film released in 1935 (their 9th of 190 films). Here you see his reaction to the bread as if it is staring at him. These are the three different facial reactions he gave to bread in around 0.75 SECONDS! If I include the retakes, I wonder how many times he pulled his muscles to one single shot. And many more in his career. And that was Curly’s greatness in the comedy. He was fast and holds an absolute distinction in physical comedy.

Viewers often remember Jerry Lewis, Rodney Dangerfield, Jim Carrey, Peter Sellers, and many many more in the category of one of the greatest physical comedians from the talking cinema of the 20th century. And Curly is mostly forgotten.

Collectively, the team peaked from 1934 to 1941 and many critics agree that Moe, Larry, and Curly were physically at their best to make the viewers laugh. But to the team’s unfortunate innocence, the team never realized their potential and worth. They could never believe how significant was their rank in the world of comedy that for 23 years of business with Columbia Pictures, they remained underpaid and their salary never increased. The biggest culprit was Harry Cohn, the co-founder of Columbia Pictures whose deception of their misjudgment made them realize too late that they were worth millions. All those prime years, Harry Cohn kept lying to them that the market of comedy shorts was meeting downfall.

Harry Cohn’s biggest damage to the team was not taking Curly’s dropping health into a concern for once. In the early 40s, Curly’s physical decline began, and suffered minor strokes. His weight increased, wasn’t physically and verbally quick as he used to be. In 1945, Curly was found to have serious hypertension, obesity, and retinal hemorrhage. The doctors had recommended the rest so that he can regain his health and strength. Moe had pleaded to give him rest for good but Cohn was afraid of losing profits. So he refused to give Curly rest and forced him to continue working leading to disturbing consequences.

As expected, Curly’s health deteriorated further. In the last few films from 1946 onwards, Moe was coaching him in his dialogues as he was forgetting. Frequently collaborated director Jules White had admitted difficulties shooting with Curly. Curly’s voice went deeper and his actions slowed further. A viewer can easily observe the decline in Curly’s comic timing in his final 20 films out of 97. Curly had to prematurely retire from acting when he suffered a stroke during the shooting of Half-Wits Holiday. Shemp was immediately called back to take his place.

Curly's facial difference in 11 years!!
Curly on the left in 1936 picture ‘Disorder In The Court’ and on the right in 1947 picture ‘Half-Wits Holiday’.

Curly being the biggest reason for The Three Stooges’ success faced the most painful years. The miseries hadn’t ended at retirement. After work, he suffered a massive stroke in 1947. A few years later, he was partially paralyzed and was in a wheelchair by 1950. He suffered another stroke the very next year and had to live in the hospital. Later that year, the Howard family was informed to collect him as his mental condition was collapsing and had become a problem for the nursing staff. Moe, being under the contract, was unable to give his family the much-needed time and moved his brother to the other hospital. In early 1952, the Howard family was informed that Curly has died in the hospital. He was only 48.

With Curly’s departure from the films, the team met an obvious decline in humor. It was pretty obvious and predictable that none of his replacements (Shemp, Joe, DeRita) will match his comic timing or fill the gap he left wide open. The weakest of all replacements was Joe Besser. While joining the team, he actually put a clause specifically prohibiting not hitting him. The physical beating was one of the norms of the team’s prime segments of comedy when Moe used to hit the other stooges. In Curly-Joe DeRita‘s time, the team met resurgence when they featured in six films and the animated series ran in the 1960s.

My Favorite The Three Stooges Short Films

1934 – Punch Drunks

1934 – Men In Black

1934 – Three Little Pigskins

1935 – Pop Goes the Easel

1935 – Pardon My Scotch

1936 – Ants in the Pantry

1936 – Disorder in the Court

1936 – False Alarm

1936 – Slippery Silks

1937 – The Sitter Downers

1938 – Tassels in the Air

1939 – We Want Our Mummy

1939 – Calling All Curs

1940 – You Natzy Spy!

1940 – A Plumbing We Will Go

1942 – What’s the Matador?

1942 – Sock-a-Bye Baby

1943 – They Stooge to Conga

1943 – Dizzy Detectives

1943 – Back from the Front

1943 – Three Little Twirps

1943 – Higher Than a Kite

1943 – I Can Hardly Wait

1944 – Idle Roomers

1944 – Gents Without Cents

1944 – No Dough, Boys

1945 – Three Pests in a Mess

1945 – Booby Dupes

1946 – G.I. Wanna Come

Men In Black, released in 1934, is the only Stooge film to reach the Oscars when Jules White got nominated for Best Live Action Short Film.

The Natzy Spy! became the first Hollywood film to satirize Nazis, The Third Reich, and Adolf Hitler. Moe Howard was the first actor to play a comic version of Hitler, nine months before Charles Chaplin’s The Great Dictator.


In the past few weeks, I have watched all the 97 short films featuring Curly and I want to sum up that there is no comedy team like The Three Stooges who could perform better surreal humor than them. Their nonsensical slapsticks are a separate dimension of comedy-verse. You can pull the same silly actions they attempted but you won’t get that popularity and acceptance that they built in their time. They were unique assembling. They were hardworking and dedicated comedians. In one of the earliest films, Pardon My Scotch in 1935, Moe broke three ribs during one shot. The camera continued to roll, he lifted and walked towards Larry and Curly, slapped them, and then fainted down.

See, every comedian or a comedy team had the artistry to attract the viewers. But The Three Stooges had no honest quality of presenting comedy of above par standard. They were the stooges who make people of all ages and in every period laugh and burn their bellies out. Entertaining the people by being stupid was their main charisma. They didn’t hold any critical acclaim but watching all those short films makes me think about their characters being lower-class fellas struggling to find work and failing again and again when the Great Depression was alarming at their very pinnacle of comedy.

A bunch of degenerates faking as highly reputed officers, doctors, scientists, and businessmen joining elite parties and ending up throwing pie cakes at each other was a slap on society. How immoral of those socialites!

Besides Curly, one major reason for the team’s success was that Moe Howard and Larry Fine stayed from the beginning until the end. The Three Stooges lasted for around 50 years in the business, and Moe and Larry featured in almost every single project.

circa 1939: American comedian Moe Howard stabbing his fellow comedians, Larry Fine (left) and Curly Howard with forks. The trio starred in countless films together as ‘The Three Stooges’. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)