Feature Length Films

Mr. Khan’s Review on The White Tiger (2021)

A review on American feature length film, The White Tiger (2021). The film is directed by Irani/ American filmmaker Ramin Bahrani. Based on the best selling Indian book The White Tiger by Arvind Adiga, the film stars Adarsh Gourav, Priyanka Chopra and Rajkummar Rao. The White Tiger is distributed by Netflix.

+ Crew I

  • Directed by Ramin Bahrani
  • Cinematography by Paolo Carnera
  • Screenplay by Ramin Bahrani
  • Edited by Tim Streeto and Ramin Bahrani
  • Music by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans
  • Produced by Mukul Deora, Ramin Bahrani, Priyanka Chopra and Ava DuVernay

+ Crew II (Production Houses)

  • Lava Media
  • ARRAY
  • Noruz Films
  • Purple Pebble Pictures

+ Note

The White Tiger by Arvind Adiga was published back in 2008, dealing with the intricate sociological infrastructure of the caste system in India and its consequences. Producer Mukul Deora bought the rights to the novel immediately and chose Ramin Bahrani as the director to bring this story to fruition. Bahrani is well renowned in the film industry for being the voice for the “underbelly” of society with such films as Man Push Cart (2005) and Chop Shop (2007). In order to bring authenticity to the story, Bahrani did not want to cast a well known, handsome Bollywood super star in the lead role but instead opted for Adarsh Gourav, who is hardly renowned for any film work within the public sphere. In order to play the lead role, Gourav went deep into Method acting, spent months in India riding local buses, working 12 hours a day, washing plates for a living. 

With the film well underway into Production, Priyanka Chopra also joined as a co-Producer to the team. The film was mostly shot in New Delhi and the production wrapped around the end of December 2019. The White Tiger was released in selected theaters and a worldwide release on Netflix.

+ Main Cast

  1. Adarsh Gourav as Balram Halwai
  2. Priyanka Chopra Jonas as Pinky
  3. Rajkummar Rao as Ashok
  4. Mahesh Manjrekar as The Stork
  5. Vijay Maurya as Mukesh ‘The Mongoose’
  6. Kamlesh Gill as Granny

+ Plot

The White Tiger is a once in a lifetime creature; the beast who seizes his moment by force. Such is Balram Halwai from the Indian Halwai lower caste. Balram wants to leave his life of poverty and serve his master in the city. But upon witnessing the injustice between the elite and the poor, Balram has a change and heart and decides to cultivate his own fate.

+ High Points

i – What I absolutely love about Ramin Bahrani’s films is that no matter which country or background, the films he makes are extremely authentic and true to the land/ culture where the film takes place in. Of all the good India has, The White Tiger is also the unfortunate part of the real India. The caste system is extremely prevalent within the country side and into the Indian culture. And Bahrani highlights this problem with such ease and delicacy. 

ii – Adarsh Gourav playing the role of Balram Halwai is picture perfect casting and undoubtedly, the highlight of the film. As mentioned in the ‘Note’ section, his dive deep into method acting makes Gourav not only physically believable as the ‘common Indian man’ but also with every physical inflection and unspoken facial emotion of the actor. I cannot (for the life of me) ever imagine Aamir Khan or any other Bollywood Superstar playing this role. It would’ve totally tanked the credibility of the story but luckily, Bahrani’s insistence on choosing a relatively unknown actor for the lead role was the defining factor of the film.

iii – The script is adapted incredibly well onscreen by Bahrani (who serves as the sole writer of the screenplay). The film sets up the disparity (financially as well as psychologically) right from the start, allowing anyone unfamiliar with Hindu customs understand what the caste system is and how deeply ingrained it is into the Indian culture.

iv – The character arc of Balram from wide eyed naive boy who dreams of becoming big into a cynical, hopeless realist is written with such care and attention. Although he is never likable throughout his journey, you have to sympathize with his anguish and poisonous hatred for the elite as day by day, he realises how unfair life is and how there is no place for someone as naive as him to exist and not be taken advantage of.

v – The wide angle lens is extensively used throughout the film by the cinematographer Paolo Carnera and serves quite well in depicting the madness and claustrophobia of living in a busy city like New Dehli.

vi – The White Tiger is what Slumdog Millionaire should have been; a hard, unforgiving depiction of the reality of Indian Poverty and the workings of the horrendous caste system. The film is unapologetic (which might turn some viewers away) but it is a story that must be told. There are millions of ‘Balrams’ living in India who have no voice, who are faceless in the world where injustice prevails. The film absolutely does not sugarcoat any of the harsh realities of life in India and that, for me, was highly appreciable. 

+ Low Points

i – While the first and second act of the story are brilliantly realised onscreen, where The White Tiger unfortunately fails for me is the third act. All that great buildup is ultimately paid off in such a whimper of a fashion where the story just ‘ends’ and as a viewer, you are left wanting more and ultimately, left unsatisfied with the conclusion. Perhaps that is what the director intended but it sadly doesn’t make for compelling storytelling.

ii – It must be mentioned that as a fan of Bahrami’s work, I do miss his earlier, neo realist, documentary style of filmmaking (Man Push Cart, Chop Shop) as opposed to later in his career, more cinematic approach (99 Homes, The White Tiger). Perhaps the authenticity of the story of The White Tiger would have been even more prevalent if the film was shot with slightly less polished cinematography and editing, bringing a more documentary, realist look to it.

iii – After watching the film, The White Tiger does leave you dower and ‘indifferent’. And that is unfortunate because Gurav is such a sympathetic and likable character but the twist and turns of the last act leaves nothing worth rooting for.

+ Overall

The White Tiger is an emotional, moving story of millions of Indians who are forced and brainwashed to live in the brutal, centuries old caste system. Even though the third act fails to deliver, The White Tiger is still an essential journey that everyone should go through.

Rate: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Feature Length Films

Mr. Khan’s Review on The Dark Knight (2008)

A review on Hollywood feature length film, The Dark Knight (2008). The film is directed by Christopher Nolan and is the second film in the Dark Knight trilogy. The film is distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures.

+ Crew I

  • Directed by Christopher Nolan
  • Cinematography by Wally Pfister
  • Story by Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer
  • Screenplay by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan
  • Edited by Lee Smith
  • Produced by Emma Thomas, Charles Roven and Christopher Nolan

+ Crew II (Production Houses)

  • Warner Bros. Pictures
  • DC Comics
  • Legendary Pictures
  • Syncopy

+ Note

After the success of Batman Begins which rebooted the Batman franchise for a new generation of fans, Christopher Nolan was given full reign to create a sequel for Warner Bros. with the continuation of the Dark Knight saga. The budget this time around was significantly larger and Nolan brought in his brother Jonathan Nolan to co-write the screenplay with him. Two new villains were to be introduced; Heath Ledger as the Joker and Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent/ Two Face. 

Interestingly enough, Nolan originally wanted Ledger to play Batman in the first film but was ultimately rejected. Many prominent actors such as Adrian Brody, Robin Williams and Paul Bettany sparked interest for the role of the Joker but Nolan was adamant on Ledger for the Clown Prince of Crime. As was the realistic tone of the first film, Nolan wanted Ledger to move far away from Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of the Joker in Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) and bring his own psychotic interpretation of the character. And with that, it was mostly all Ledger from there. The iconic Chemical Factory mishap origin story was retconned and instead, the messy face paint makeup and scarred smile became the character’s iconic personification. The scenes of Handy cam Footage of the Joker were all staged and planned by Heath Ledger himself. During Production, everyone was at awe with Ledger’s performance and knew it was “something special”. Sadly such intense method acting also encouraged the actor into increasing his prescription drugs which ultimately took his own life before the film was even released.

With the sequel, Nolan wanted to experiment more with Batman’s detective skills while Havery Dent served the role as his counterpart. One of the main reasons for the addition of Two Face was to garner sympathy from the audience that the Joker character could not provide in the film. The filming started around 2007 and was primarily shot in the city of Chicago, USA. Even before the film’s release, The Dark Knight was already being hailed as a “Masterpiece” in the Superhero genre, particularly Ledger’s ecstatic performance. The film turned out to be a massive hit at the box office, earning $ 1 Billion worldwide and thus, Batman was once again the superhero of this generation.

+ Main Cast

  1. Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne / Batman
  2. Michael Caine as Alfred Pennyworth
  3. Heath Ledger as the Joker
  4. Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent
  5. Maggie Gyllenhaal as Rachel Dawes
  6. Gary Oldman as James Gordon
  7. Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox
  8. Cillian Murphy as Dr. Jonathan Crane / Scarecrow

+ Plot

After the events of Batman Begins, detective Gordon and Batman combine forces to clean the streets of Gotham from the corruption and terror that it once consumed. The district attorney Havery Dent plans on destroying the criminal infrastructure himself which could leave the Dark Knight’s role ‘obsolete’ as the masked vigilante. Meanwhile, a mysterious psychopath in clown makeup is terrorizing the underworld, calling himself the Joker. He plans nothing more than throwing the city into total anarchy. 

Could Batman and Dent save the city from this monster or will one of them fall into the dark path of utter chaos and destruction of Humanity?

+ High Points

i – To call The Dark Knight  a mere ‘great superhero movie’ is such an understatement. The Dark Knight IS a great film. Period. Nolan’s impeccable direction sets a new bar of what action/ Blockbuster films can be. From the opening Bank Robbery scene to the caped crusader riding on his Bat motorcycle away into the night, every moment, every scene is masterfully crafted. The character arcs, the pacing of each scene, everything is carefully and meticulously preconceived and executed, easily making the film to be one of the Best Films of the Decade. In 2002, Sam Raimi’s Spider-man may have kicked off this super hero revival but it is The Dark Knight that elevated it to an immense high standard of filmmaking.

ii – The Dark Knight is what every sequel should be. It is what The Godfather II was, what Terminator 2 accomplished. Whatever flaws the first film had, Nolan ironed out all the creases and relied heavily on his strengths and allowed his actors to bring their own set of skills to the table. This film is a textbook example of how a sequel should be made.

iii – The film entails excellent performances but all of them get overshadowed by the legendary performance of Heath Ledger as the Joker (and with good reason!). His mysterious ‘multiple choice’ past, his eccentric mannerisms, the antithesis of Batman makes Joker such a unique portrayal that we had perhaps never witnessed on the big screen. With immense heavy method acting, Ledger plunged deep into the psyche of the Joker and easily dominated every scene he was a part of. Although the film is called The Dark Knight, it is in fact the Joker who steals the show.

iv – Even though David Goyer is a great storyteller, it is the Nolan brothers that translate that work onscreen as a masterful three act structure of filmmaking. It is a perfect blend of high intensity scenes and the quieter moments of the film, serving as textbook screenwriting for every other action film hereafter.

v – What is the distinction between Good and Evil? Are they both different sides of the same coin? Is Evil only a misguided personification of Good? Do some good people only need one bad day to turn sides? The question was first asked in the epic Batman graphic novel ‘The Killing Joke’ and has now been immensely explored in The Dark Knight. This brings such high voltage tension between good and evil throughout the film. As a viewer, you are constantly engaged in a battle of who to sympathize and who to root for till the end of the film. It’s not a coincidence that many fans flocked towards the Joker’s perception of the world (even though it is highly flawed and inhumane).

vi – The film starts off with an absolutely fantastic opening Bank Robbery scene. Perfectly sets the tone and pacing of the narrative right from the get-go. And it’s one helluva ride from thereon out!

vii – The car chase scene through the gritty streets of ‘Gotham’ is alone a strong conviction that The Dark Knight is like no other superhero film before it. Nolan’s insistence on shooting with Film and practical effects are highly rewarding onscreen. It is one of the greatest action scenes ever put in modern American filmmaking.

viii – The supporting cast is also no pushover. Every actor brings their A game onto this epic journey and thus, every scene feels intense and exciting to witness. Gary Oldman (once again) is exceptionally brilliant as Detective Gordon and the only ally to the masked vigilante. 

ix – Even though the ‘realistic’ world of Nolan’s Batman might prove too bleak for some viewers, there is not a single moment throughout the film where Nolan is not in control of his work. The city of Chicago (where the film was mostly shot in) creates a plausible depiction of a ‘realistic’ Batman of today without indulging in excessive brute force and losing the sense of Batman’s character (something Zack Synder’s Batman v Superman utterly failed to accomplish). Most violence and blood spree is kept off screen, creating a sense of dread and despondence in the atmosphere. The film shows how well rehearsed Nolan and his team were with the Dark Knight from its source material and reimagined it in such a convincing fashion.

x – I cannot conclude the ‘High Points’ without mentioning its undeniable influence onto American cinema. Unsurprisingly, the film was a massive success at the Box Office, elevating the Superhero genre of films to a whole new level. Even after more than a decade, its impact on superhero/ action films is unquestionable. Although Marvel Studios cracked the formula of superhero Blockbuster success, The Dark Knight still sits high on its throne due to its craftsmanship.

+ Low Points

i – With such masterful filmmaking on display, not everything is (unfortunately) flawless about the film. The character arc of Harvey Dent is slightly rushed and not given enough time for the viewer to sympathise with his inevitable downfall from grace. Perhaps if Harvey Dent was briefly introduced in Batman Begins to the audience, his plunge into insanity in this film would’ve proven much more impactful.  

ii – With such brilliant practical effects throughout the film, the sparingly used CGI unfortunately sticks out like a sore thumb (namely, Two Face’s CGI face).

iii – While the city of Chicago serves well in Nolan’s world as Gotham City, it does come off as somewhat bland and turns out to be unmemorable in the long run.

+ Overall

The testament of every great film has to be its influence and contribution to Cinema and the art of filmmaking. And this film has it in spades. With superb performances, impeccable direction and memorable moments, The Dark Knight is still the pinnacle and one of the very best in the genre. True, not every superhero film needs to be The Dark Knight but every superhero film deserves to be compared to it.

Rate: 5 out of 5 stars

Feature Length Films

Mr. Khan’s Review on Batman Begins (2005)

A review on Hollywood superhero feature length film, Batman Begins (2005). The film is directed by Christopher Nolan and is the first in The Dark Knight Trilogy. The film is distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures.

+ Crew I

  • Directed by Christopher Nolan
  • Cinematography by Wally Pfister
  • Written by Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer
  • Edited by Lee Smith
  • Produced by Charles Roven, Emma Thomas and Larry Franco

+ Crew II (Production Houses)

  • Warner Bros. Pictures
  • Legendary Pictures
  • Syncopy
  • Patalex III Productions

+ Note

After the critical and financial disaster of Batman & Robin (1997), Warner Bros. took a 8 year hiatus with Batman but during this time, several attempts were made to resurrect him again for the big screen. In 2003, Christopher Nolan (famous for directing the edgy psychological thriller Memento) was hired to direct an untitled Batman film. Nolan and Goyer then began working on a screenplay which would move far away from the kid friendly, silliness of Schumacher’s Batman and give a more darker and grittier look to the caped crusader. Nolan wanted to explore his origin story in detail, something that had not been done on the big screen before and give a larger, more realistic portrayal of Batman in the world we live in. Being a film purist, Nolan wanted more practical effects and high intensity stunts, relying less on computer generated effects and more on hand to hand combat. The film would also consist of well renowned Batman villains Ra’s al Ghul and Scarecrow which had, till then, never been utilised onto the big screen. For obvious reasons, Ra’s al Ghul’s origin story was reworked in order to fit into the realistic, down to earth tone that Nolan was going for.

The origin story in Batman Begins is loosely inspired by Frank Miller’s graphic novel Batman: Year One and also Batman: The Long Halloween. The goal for Nolan was to bring Batman back to his gritty “Bob Kane/ Dennis O’Neil” roots of grittness and psychological torture of the vigilante. 

Needless to say, Batman Begins was a huge success, critically and commercially, grossing $ 373 Million Worldwide and brought the character of Batman back into the mainstream pop culture which had been missing since the Tim Burton movies. 

+ Main Cast

  1. Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne / Batman
  2. Michael Caine as Alfred Pennyworth
  3. Liam Neeson as Henri Ducard / Ra’s al Ghul
  4. Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes
  5. Gary Oldman as James Gordon
  6. Cillian Murphy as Dr. Jonathan Crane / Scarecrow

+ Plot

After witnessing the death of his parents by a mugger on the street, the young billionaire Bruce Wayne decides to train himself in combat so he could protect the city of Gotham as the masked vigilante, the Batman. Meanwhile Ra’s al Ghul’s army of followers see the corruption of Gotham City as ‘irredeemable’. They want to destroy and rebuild it from the ashes of which the city will perish in. Is the mysterious Batman up to the task of protecting his father’s city and become its saviour?

+ High Points

i – Nolan almost single handedly resurrected and revitalized the character of Batman back onto the silver screens. Considering Batman’s last film was simply an unapologetic Toy commercial, Nolan had a massive task ahead of him and he passed with flying colors. The box office numbers spoke for itself that Nolan’s dark and gritty Batman was what the audiences wanted to see on the big screen. It was the rebirth of Batman that we all patiently waited for.

ii – The direction is excellent throughout the film. From beginning to end, the plot effortlessly follows its main protagonist and as a viewer, keeps you engaged throughout its runtime. The goal of Batman Begins was to simply make the audience believe that a masked vigilante like Batman could exist in the world we live in. And it is quite safe to say that the transition was a success.

iii – With all its talent, the film needed a Batman who was more than up to the task to depict what Nolan had envisioned. Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne/ Batman was a stellar performance which perspicuously delivered the complexities, past trauma and vengeance that we know and love the character of Batman for. 

iv – The opening half of the film is masterful storytelling. It’s a picture perfect example of how a superhero origin story should be told. Although Batman doesn’t make an appearance till the film’s half way mark, the complexity of the Bruce Wayne character was captivating enough to drive the film through to its second act.

v – Ra’s al Ghul and Scarecrow serve perfectly as adversaries to Batman’s initial task as the protector of the doomed city. Since Ra’s al Ghul is behind Bruce Wayne’s training to become the dark knight, it adds a much needed drama and personal stakes between the two men on the opposite sides of salvation. On the other hand, Scarecrow’s psychotic hallucinogens perfectly encapsulate the fear they can induce in each individual. This also plays a vital role in Bruce confronting his fear of Bats  (plus Scarecrow has a bad ass looking mask to boot!).

vi – Batman’s slick, combat suit costume design, ‘turnable’ mask, and of course; the Bat ‘Tumbler’ mobile. They all add up to a complete “reimaging” of Batman and his warfare gadgets. Although not my personal favourite, these designs fit perfectly into the realistic world that Nolan’s Batman is supposed to exist in.

vii – I really have to mention Gary Oldman as James Gordon. This might possibly be the best, most empathic depiction of (soon to be) Commissioner Gordon in any medium (outside comics). Oldman has always the knack and tenacity of leading his audience to any side of the coin he so well pleases. 

+ Low Points

i – With all that’s praise worthy about the film, there are some glaring issues that hinder Batman Begins to be a perfect Superhero origin film. And unfortunately, that lies in the second most integral part of any superhero film; the action set pieces. Since this was Nolan’s first action film, his lack of directing fight choreography is painfully apparent. The fight scenes are incredibly disorienting, haphazard nonsense that confuses the viewer as to what exactly he/she is supposed to look at. But as history shows, Nolan’s a quick learner and improved upon it ten fold in the sequel to this film (which I will also be reviewing very soon).

ii – The Editing is pretty amateurish for such a high end film. As mentioned above, this is most apparent during the fight scenes where its just a mishmash of extreme closeups and the fight ends before one can comprehend as to what is even happening.

iii – The love interest of the film; Rachel Dawson is what in film you call a ‘plot device’. She exuberates no character of her own, Rachel is only there to push Bruce Wayne’s character development. Rachel Dawson is another aspect that the sequel improves upon quite well. 

iv – Now this may be controversial but I am not a fan of Michael Caine as Alfred. The loyal butler has always been there to serve as Bruce’s conscious of good. He is what keeps Batman a hero. Alfred always serves best (pardon the pun) as a supporting character and his secret, military, medical past is interesting because it is never fully elaborated on. Since, in this film, Alfred is played by Michael Caine, he is given a lot more needless dialogue and 2-3 minute long speeches, spoon feeding the audience how they are supposed to feel at that moment in the film. Needless I say!

v – SPOILER ALERT! : The third act of the film loses a bit of momentum that the first two so successfully led us to. And I do feel Batman acts completely out of character in order to defeat the main adversary of the film.

I won’t kill you….but I also don’t have to save you!

Uh..yes, Batman. You are committing what is known as “Second degree murder”. This is not what Batman does and this fact is constantly reminded throughout the film so why does he ignore his own conscious late into the conclusion of the film? 

+ Overall

After the horrendous Batman & Robin, Nolan was the saviour of the Batman franchise and blew everyone’s expectations out of the water. With great characters, near perfect origin story and an entertaining story arc, Batman Begins is one helluva way to kick off a franchise. Even with its flaws, the film has really stood the test of time and perfect stepping point to what it was eventually going to be followed up with a masterpiece of a film.

Rate: 3.75 out of 5 stars

Feature Length Films

Mr. Khan’s Review on The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020)

A review on American legal drama feature length film, The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020). The film is directed by Aaron Sorkin who is most famously known for writing screenplays such as A Few Good Men, Enemy Of The State and The Social Network. The Trial of the Chicago 7 is Sorkin’s second directorial film and is a Netflix Original. 

+ Crew

  • Directed by Aaron Sorkin
  • Cinematography by Phedon Papamichael
  • Written by Aaron Sorkin
  • Music by Daniel Pemberton
  • Edited by Alan Baumgarten
  • Produced by Stuart M. Besser, Matt Jackson,  Marc Platt and Tyler Thompson

+ Crew II (Production Houses)

  • Paramount Pictures
  • DreamWorks Pictures
  • Cross Creek Pictures
  • Marc Platt Productions
  • ShivHans Pictures

+ Note

The Trial of the Chicago 7 is an Anti-Vietnam war film and was always a pet project of Sorkin. He conceived the screenplay as early as 2007 with Steven Spielberg attached to direct the film with mostly unknown actors at the time. Due to budget cuts and 2007 Writers Guild of America strike, Aaron Sorkin was chosen to direct the film instead. Sorkin’s previous film was Molly’s Game (2017) which was a critical and a commercial hit. Due to the Pandemic, Paramount Pictures sold the rights to Netflix and the film was on its streaming service from Oct 16th, 2020 onwards.

+ Main Cast

  1. Eddie Redmayne as Tom Hayden
  2. Sacha Baron Cohen as Abbie Hoffman
  3. Alex Sharp as Rennie Davis
  4. Jeremy Strong as Jerry Rubin
  5. John Carroll Lynch as David Dellinger
  6. Noah Robbins as Lee Weiner
  7. Daniel Flaherty as John Froines
  8. Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Richard Schultz
  9. Mark Rylance as William Kunstler
  10. Frank Langella as Judge Julius Hoffman

+ Plot

The Trial of the Chicago 7 is the true story of a legal drama where a band of individual Anti-Vietnam war protest organizers were arrested by the Chicago police and put on trial for the charge of inciting violence during the Democratic national convention.

+ High Points

i – As far as legal dramas go, The Trial of the Chicago 7 is one of the most engaging to come out in the past five years. Although it’s quite obviously a crowd pleaser (including manipulation of events for a more dramatic effect), the film still remains very true to its narrative. The injustice and the divide between the two sides was never more apparent than it was during the Vietnam War (up until now that is…).

ii – And of course, no legal drama is complete without its all-round great performances from its lead actors including Sacha Baron Cohen as Abbie Hoffman and Mark Rylance as William Kunstler. The film consists of a great ensemble cast and a fiery, suspenseful story which leaves not even a moment of unnecessary scene or dialogue. And just like Robert Altman’s films, almost every character is memorable in its own way.

iii – During the research for this review, I came across footage of some of the real life counterparts (such as Abbie Hoffman and Judge Hoffman) of the characters portrayed in the film and it’s simply uncanny! The mannerisms and movements are very accurately depicted by the actors which proves how dedicated they were to their roles in the film.

iv – The editing is cranked up to 11 by Alan Baumgarten who successfully brings the charged, electric atmosphere of the late 60s onto the screen. The splicing of black and white newsreel footage with the protest scenes really bring an authentic look to the injustices of the post Kennedy era.

v – While Spielberg was not agreeable to move ahead with the project, Sorkin is certainly a no pushover. His set pieces and heightened drama captivates the audience throughout its runtime. The charged protest scenes integrate almost seamlessly to the more quiet, character building moments of the film. Although it is only Sorkin’s second directorial film, he certainly has a knack for great storytelling. 

vi – The Trial of the Chicago 7 was in post production during the time George Floyd protests broke out all over the country. This makes one realise how the world sadly has not changed for the better. Racism, injustice and the Military–industrial complex is still a major issue even now. The film is relevant then, now and unfortunately will be for years to come.

+ Low Points

i – While the film is great in so many ways, it does seem a bit too simplistic in its point of view of the “other”. Due to its ultra polished storytelling, it also unfortunately leaves no room for complex characterizations. 

ii – There were a couple of times throughout the film where one could witness how that scene was “re-imagined” just to dramatize the scene further and… you wouldn’t be wrong. The Trial of the Chicago 7 unfortunately does fall for certain clichés of storytelling that restricts any further development in individual ideas and thoughts once you have finished watching the film.

iii – There is a scene later in the film where Eddie Redmayne’s character makes a valiant speech about how counterculture will be more remembered to be as “a bunch of stoned, lost, disrespectful, foulmouthed, lawless losers and so we’ll lose elections.” Obviously Tom Hayden never made such a speech and it seems very apparent that it was added by Sorkin just to tie in the perception of the Left today. Even though it’s a great line, it could’ve been integrated into the script far better and poignantly. The film is sometimes incredibly straightforward in what it wants its audience to think. And that’s not the best form of storytelling.

iv –  A film like The Trial of the Chicago 7 with its highly volatile subject matter, needed much less polish and finesse to it. The highly controlled environment (although impressive) do not go well with its theme. And you see hints of it during the splicing of the real life newsreel footage in between the protest scenes. The film needed much more of that in its dialogue and performances. 

+ Overall

The Trial of the Chicago 7 might be a simplistic, crowd pleaser of a film but it’s definitely worthy of being one of the best legal dramas to come out in the past few years. It’s a story that needs to be told and viewed by anyone who wants to understand ‘What is it that divides Humanity from progress?’.

Rate: 3.75 out of 5 stars

Feature Length Films

Mr. Khan’s Review on Mank (2020)

A review on American feature length film, Mank (2020). The film is directed by David Fincher (The Game, Fight Club, Zodiac) and is produced by Ceán Chaffin, Eric Roth and Douglas Urbanski. Mank is a Netflix Original Film. 

+ Crew

  • Directed by David Fincher 
  • Cinematography by Erik Messerschmidt
  • Written by Jack Fincher
  • Music by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross
  • Edited by Kirk Baxter
  • Produced by Ceán Chaffin, Eric Roth and Douglas Urbanski

+ Note

Mank’s screenplay was conceived as early as 1997 by David Fincher’s father Jack Fincher and originally, Kevin Spacey and Jodie Foster were considered for the lead roles. The project never came to fruition due to insistence by Fincher to shoot it in Black and White. At first, Jack Fincher’s script closely followed the claim made by Pauline Kael’s article ‘Raising Kane’ which argued that the script for the legendary film Citizen Kane was solely written by Herman J. Mankiewicz and Orson Welles had no involvement in it whatsoever. Following rewrites, David changed the “Anti-Welles” stance to a more neutral perspective over this argument. The film closely follows Mankiewicz’s journey in the Golden Age of Hollywood and his initial first draft of arguably the greatest film of all time, Citizen Kane.

+ Main Cast

  1. Gary Oldman as Herman J. Mankiewicz
  2. Amanda Seyfried as Marion Davies
  3. Lily Collins as Rita Alexander, 
  4. Arliss Howard as Louis B. Mayer
  5. Tom Pelphrey as Joseph L. Mankiewicz
  6. Charles Dance as William Randolph Hearst
  7. Sam Troughton as John Houseman
  8. Ferdinand Kingsley as Irving Thalberg
  9. Tuppence Middleton as Sara Mankiewicz, Herman’s wife
  10. Tom Burke as Orson Welles

+ Plot

The film follows the life of a famous Hollywood screenwriter Herman J. “Mank” Mankiewicz who is most famously known for co-writing the screenplay for the legendary film, Citizen Kane. While being a creative genius, Mank is an alcoholic and his witty yet pessimistic view of the world runs deep into the absurd Hollywood lifestyle of the Golden Age of Cinema.

For a decent amount of cash, Orson Welles hires Mank to write a screenplay for his debut film in Hollywood, serving as a ghostwriter to the script. But upon working on the script in just a few weeks time, Mank instantly grows attached to his work and perhaps the cynicism of his finally breaks down as he starts considering Citizen Kane as his most personal work ever.

+ High Points

i – Since its a David Fincher film, one can expect precision in its craftsmanship and Mank does not disappoint in the slightest. Sharp, witty banter between the legendary idols of Hollywood really brings authenticity yet charm to the center stage. The composition, set designs, aluminous lighting, montages (especially the election night scene); everything comes together to convince the audience that they are in fact, watching a film from the Golden Age of Hollywood.

ii – Mank was originally filmed in 8k but brought significantly down to film resolution of the 1940s. With cigarette burns, dust particles added to create the illusion of a dusty old film reel, Mank is visually impressive and remarkably visualized.

iii – As a film buff myself, it’s so much fun to see Hollywood greats like Louis B. Mayer, Irving Thalberg and of course, Orson Welles himself depicted onscreen and played wonderfully by all the actors embracing their counterparts.

iv – As far as performances go, Gary Oldman once again steals the show with his impeccable performance as the tired, old alcoholic genius of a writer Mank. This film would’ve never worked if not for its enigmatic lead and Oldman is more than up for the task.

v – The slow, anonymous music by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross really brings out the deceptive atmosphere of the Studio mandated Hollywood at the time. The full orchestral soundtrack has a touch of ‘Hitchcock’ to it. It’s memorable, brilliant and in the same vain as many works of John Williams, Bernard Herrmann and Alexandre Desplat.

+ Low Points

i – The biggest issue with Mank is the inaccessibility of anyone who is not knees deep into the Citizen Kane lore. As a viewer, you really need to have certain knowledge of William Randolph Hearst and the making of Citizen Kane in order to follow the film. Audience members who are not well rehearsed into any of this will most probably find the film dull and I really can’t blame them.

ii – Mank is very similar to Fincher’s previous film; The Social Network, for better and for worse. While its characters are all mostly interesting, each scene is cluttered with snappy dialogue and the result is mostly a dwindling sense of interest throughout the film. Not each scene is terribly interesting which endangers the viewer’s investment he/she has for the film. 

iii – For all that’s good about the film, Mank does lack the thread that binds the whole film together. There is no sense investment as a viewer that you want Mank to succeed writing that avant garde script that defies all expectations of Hollywood screenwriting. Scenes blend into one another, not creating any sense of progression as a narrative. By jumping between different timelines (the mid 30s and 1940), the film does try to justify Mank’s path to self-destruction but unfortunately, it’s not engaging enough to captivate your attention. 

iv –  The fictitious election night scene and fraud newsreel footage in the film really serve no purpose to the overall narrative of the film. MGM manipulated the media to spread false information? Sure, it fits the political climate of today but a baffling scene to insert into the film since this whole ordeal never happened in real life!

+ Overall

Mank is an Ode to old Hollywood and all its glorious past. In terms of its skills and craftsmanship, Fincher does everything right. But while you can admire and respect Fincher’s craftsmanship, the film lacks a sense of engagement to the overall narrative and is ultimately not an exciting experience that you would like to rewatch time and time again.

Rate: 3.25 out of 5 stars

Feature Length Films

Mr. Khan’s Review on Tribhanga: Tedhi Medhi Crazy (2021)

A review on Indian family drama feature length film, Tribhanga: Tedhi Medhi Crazy (2021). The film is directed by Renuka Shahane and is co-produced by the real life husband of the lead actress, Ajay Devgn. The film is an Ajay Devgn FFilms, Banijay Asia and Alchemy Films Production and is a Netflix Original Film. 

+ Crew

  • Directed by Renuka Shahane
  • Cinematography by Baba Azmi
  • Written by Renuka Shahane
  • Music by Sanjoy Chowdhury
  • Edited by Jabeen Merchant
  • Produced by Ajay Devgn, Parag Desai, Deepak Dhar, Rishi Negi, Siddharth P Malhotra and Sapna Malhotra

+ Note

Tribhanga is a standing dance pose in Odissi where the body bends in one direction at the knees while the other at its hips and the upper body leaning the other way with the shoulders and neck. Its characteristics are supposed to represent the three leading women of the film, played by Azmi, Kajol and Palkar. The film is also a debut for Kajol in her very first Netflix film. 

Tribhanga was originally supposed to be a low budget Marathi film but later turned into a Hindi Netflix original when big name stars like Kajol came onboard.

+ Main Cast

  1. Kajol as Anuradha “Anu” Apte
  2. Tanvi Azmi as Nayantara “Nayan” Apte
  3. Shweta Mehendale as young Nayantara
  4. Mithila Palkar as Masha
  5. Kunaal Roy Kapur as Milan
  6. Vaibhav Tatwawaadi as Robindoro
  7. Kanwaljit Singh as Raina
  8. Manav Gohil as Raghav

+ Plot

Anu, a famous, well renowned performer, receives news that her Mother is in a coma and is in critical condition at the hospital. This makes Anu revisit and finally come to terms with her disturbing past so that she could eventually provide a prosperous future for her daughter Masha in the process.

Tribhanga is a family drama and its plot revolves around its three female protagonists; Nayanthara, Anu and Masha. Each one is different from the other but one thing that always binds them together is the hardships that they go through Life; being a female in a male dominated society of India.

+ High Points

i – Netflix Originals usually are always technically sound films and Tribhanga is no exception. The cinematography captures the vibrancy and atmosphere of the city of Mumbai quite well. Each frame is carefully crafted to excellence. 

ii – The music by Sanjoy Chowdhury is noteworthy and plays a vital role in creating the sense of dread and solitude that our female protagonists feel as they have to face different hardships and obstacles in Life.

iii – Tanvi Azmi’s performance is exceptional throughout the film. The consistency of her greatness whenever she was onscreen really elevated the even tiresome, badly written scenes and dialogues of the movie.

+ Low Points

i – The script is a total disaster. I cannot imagine how this film even made it to the library of Netflix originals. The plot is arbitrary, the emotions are completely misplaced in almost every scene, the dialogue is cringeworthy and completely absurd to the most dramatic moments of the film. It is truly amazing to me how Shahane got his very own script so wrong! For most of the film, Azmi’s coma is laughed off as a hilarious inconvenience. As a viewer, I was completely baffled how the story almost failed in every single set piece of the film. 

ii – There is waaay too much happening in its 90 min runtime! Although the film’s main core is the severed relationship that Anu has with her mother, new unnecessary plotlines are introduced mid to late into the film’s end. And thus, the story feels bloated with its message and lacks focus on what it really wants to be; a tragedy or a comedy? Also the laughable dialogue does not help either.

iii – Speaking of laughable dialogue, Kajol is supposed to be playing a strong female lead. So how could you depict that in a film? Easy! Give her a vocabulary which could make a Scottish sailor blush! There is absolutely a place for violence, nudity and vulgar language in the medium of film but it does indeed need to fit in with the overall tone of the movie. Kajol’s obsessive cursing felt extremely forced and the absolute wrong idea of how a “strong female protagonist” should be depicted on screen.

iv –  SPOLIER ALERT! (skip to the next point if you would like to watch the film):

Sigh… as mentioned above, the film tries its very best to make you feel emotional and connected with its characters by introducing unnecessary plot twists throughout its runtime and in turn, over compensating its lack of coherent storytelling. Sexual Abuse and forced Abortions are used as plot points just to add even more emotional weight to the plot and in the process, everything just comes off as trivial at the end. These topics deserved much more exploration and depth and sadly, should never be used as tear jerking techniques to exploit your audience’s emotions. Each one of these issues are either quickly resolved or just mentioned in the climax scene of the film which leaves the audience no time to react to it.

Also, the resolution to the estranged Mother/ daughter relationship is swiftly resolved near the end after a few measly dialogues which were already mentioned a couple of times throughout the film. Why? Cause the film needed to end I suppose.

v – Almost all characters are deplorable or uninteresting (namely the doppy documentary maker in the film) . But Kajol’s hokey performance really takes the cake! Her exaggerated performance does not at all fit with the overall tone of the film. There was no scene which made me sympathize with her plight. An actress like Nandita Das would’ve knocked this role out of the park but unfortunately, Kajol is a total, unfortunate miscast.

vi – The costume design and makeup is completely at odds with the dire situation presented in the film. Every day, Anu does a whole new fancy wardrobe change and makeup just so she could visit her mother who is suffering from a coma (and potentially, life threatening) at the hospital. I mean, good grief…

vii – Now here is a problem which many feminist films suffer from; over compensation. Almost all male characters in the film are either idiots or a**holes just to present an opportunity for the female protagonists to fight through. Most of the issues that women face in our society are seeped extremely deep into our culture and psyche. Women are not necessarily tough by depicting their world solely in black and white. Societies are much more complicated than that and should not be insulted by depicting antagonists purely as two dimensional obstacles to overcome. 

+ Overall

Tribhanga is a bloated mess of a film. Kajol’s exaggerated performance and a directionless, half baked script really destroyed any chances of this being a good film. The premise is great and had so much potential of being even a brilliant, low key family drama but unfortunately, almost nothing lands in this film. What a total debacle.

Rate: 1.25 out of 5 stars

Feature Length Films

Mr. Khan’s Review on Awāra (1951)

A review on Indian melodrama feature length classic film, Awāra (1951). The film is directed and produced by Raj Kapoor and stars the famous onscreen couple of Raj Kapoor and Nargis. The film is an All Indian Film Corporation production and is also produced and distributed by R.K.Films.

+ Crew

  • Directed by Raj Kapoor 
  • Cinematography by Radhu Karmakar
  • Written by Khwaja Ahmad Abbas
  • Music by Shankar-Jaikishan
  • Edited by G.G. Mayekar
  • Produced by Raj Kapoor

+ Note

Awāra is considered to be one of the greatest, all time classic of Bollywood cinema and also a film that solidified Raj Kapoor’s influence on Indian Cinema. It tackles themes like crime and social issues, accompanied by musical melodrama. Upon its release, Awāra became an instant sensation not just in India but also overseas in Africa, Middle east and the Soviet Union for its socialist/ reformist approach on poverty and lack of social justice for the common man. The film is estimated to have sold over 200 Million tickets worldwide and considered to be one of the most successful films of all time. In 2012, the film was even included into the 20 new entries added to the All-Time 100 greatest films by TIME magazine.

+ Main Cast

  1. Raj Kapoor as Raj
  2. Shashiraj as Young Raj (child artist)
  3. Nargis as Rita
  4. Baby Zubeida as Young Rita
  5. Prithviraj Kapoor as Judge Raghunath (Raj’s father)
  6. K. N. Singh as Jagga
  7. Cuckoo as Bar dancer
  8. B. M. Vyas as Dubey (Rita’s father)
  9. Leela Misra as Mr. Raghunath’s Sister-In-Law
  10. Leela Chitnis as Leela Raghunath
  11. Honey O’Brien as Dancer
  12. D. Basheshernath (Grand Pa) as a Judge

+ Plot

The film is a quintessential Bollywood melodrama; a young boy named Raj (Raj Kapoor) is born in the slums of India after his mother was rejected by his biological father (Prithviraj Kapoor) due to the suspicion of having an extramarital affair with another man. While living the life of a petty criminal, Raj has a change of heart when he meets the love of his life, Rita (Nargis) who is his childhood friend but is brought up in a higher social class. Will an alleged son of a criminal remain one by association or can one change himself for the better? Will Raj be able to successfully redeem himself or is doomed to live the rest of his life as a petty thief? 

+ High Points

i – The Raj Kapoor/ Nargis duo is and will always be one for the ages. The enigmatic onscreen chemistry that these two permeate will remain unmatched.

ii – Whenever Raj Kapoor is onscreen, his magnetic personality will always draw you into the film. No matter if you’re a Bollywood fan or not, his wit and charm is unparalleled with anyone else that has graced the silver screen of Bollywood.

iii – Awāra was the beginning of the creative collaboration between Raj Kapoor and Khwaja Ahmad Abbas who made several films together after this, spanning almost 30 years of work together. When analysing its script, direction, music and performances; one cannot be much surprised as to why their minds came together so well, time and time again.

iv – Some of the most memorable songs that we all know and love originate from this film; “Awaara Hoon”, “Tere Bina Aag Yeh Chandni”, “Ghar Aaya Mera Pardesi”, sung by the great Lata Mangeshkar. Shankar Jaikishan’s composition is in a league of its own and Awāra’s Soundtrack really solidified its place in the early decades of Bollywood cinema.

v – Awāra stars generations of Kapoor family all in one film; Raj Kapoor plays the protagonist, his real life father Prithviraj Kapoor plays his father, Raj’s brother Shashi Kapoor plays Raj’s younger self and finally, Raj’s grandfather D. Basheshernath also has a cameo role as the Judge in the film. Since they were so familiar with each other’s acting skills, the Kapoor family played off one another with such ease and surprisingly, this conglomerate of Nepotism never proved to be detrimental to the film.

vi – Some of the superimposition of pictures and sequences to visually depict grief and longing are very clever and innovative for its time. 

vii – A man who is born in criminal lifestyle destined to become a criminal?  Does he deserve redemption for his wrongdoings? Will he ever be accepted by society? The social issues addressed in the film were and are still very relevant in the modern day.

viii – The ending is surprisingly very convincing and well written. It refuses to be seduced by the typical “Bollywood happy ending” and leaves a slight question mark in our hearts and minds.

ix – The gritty Set Design of the slums of India, rain sequences convey gorgeously the feeling of emotional solitude and isolation.

+ Low Points

i – Although the film is mostly entertaining, it does drag on from time to time, namely the childhood sequence which could’ve been easily reduced for the betterment of the film as a structural, coherent narrative.

ii – The melodrama and dialogue can be very tacky and eye rolling at times. 

iii – Jagga as the antagonist is incredibly silly, does not pertain to have the viciousness and imminent threat that a Bandit should have. One could easily compare him to Gabbar Singh from Sholay (1975) who had the ruggedness and tenacity of being Evil. Even during his most menacing scenes, Jagga comes off goofy and has definitely not aged well.

iv – So as the main plot of the film goes, Jagga kidnaps the Lawyer’s wife because he wrongfully accused Jagga of his crime. When Jagga finds out that the lawyer’s wife is pregnant, he decides to let her go back to her husband in order to create a misunderstanding that perhaps she had an affair with Jagga while being in his vicinity. Okay… but what if she had already told her husband before the kidnapping that she was pregnant? Jagga didn’t know that, how was he so sure that she didn’t? The catalyst to the plot apparently has no strong basis to it.

v – Although the dream sequence contains one of the most memorable Bollywood song of all time “Ghar Aaya Mera Pardesi”, it does bring the whole film to a halt and disrupts the overall flow of the narrative. The costumes design and makeup of “savages” in the dream sequence have also unfortunately not aged too well.

+ Overall

It certainly goes without saying that Awāra will always remain a classic and a pinnacle of artistry in Bollywood cinema. Even after Sixty plus years, it has certainly stood the test of time. Although the melodrama is laid on thick, the charm lies in its performances by the two main leads (Raj Kapoor and Nargis) and the timeless songs of yesteryear. If the modern audiences can get past the “Black and White”-phobia, this timeless classic has a lot to offer. 

Rate: 4 out of 5 stars

Feature Length Films

Mr. Khan’s Review on Dukhtar (2014)

A review on Pakistani Drama feature length film, Dukhtar (2014). The film is a directorial debut by Afia Nathaniel and is also responsible for writing and producing the film. It is a Zambeel Films and The Crew Films Production and is distributed by Geo Films.

+ Crew

  • Directed by Afia Nathaniel 
  • Cinematography by Armughan Hassan & Najaf Bilgrami
  • Written by Afia Nathaniel 
  • Music by Sahir Ali Bagga & Peter Nashel
  • Edited by Armughan Hassan and Afia Nathaniel
  • Produced by Afia Nathaniel and Muhammad Khalid Ali

+ Note

Dukhtar is a film that tackles the unfortunate hardship of being a female in the tribal areas of Northern Pakistan. In order to settle disputes between tribes, young girls are used as “peacemakers” and are forcibly married off at a very young age. The film premiered at 2014 Toronto Film Festival and was also released in Pakistan that same year. Dukhtar was an official entry from Pakistan for the 87th Academy Awards but was not nominated.

+ Main Cast

  1. Samiya Mumtaz as Allah Rakhi
  2. Mohib Mirza as Sohail
  3. Saleha Aref as Zainab
  4. Asif Khan as Daulat Khan
  5. Ajab Gul as Shehbaz Khan
  6. Samina Ahmad as Rukhsana
  7. Adnan Shah as Ghorzang Khan
  8. Abdullah Jaan as Tor Gul / Hikmatullah
  9. Omair Rana as Zarak Khan

+ Plot

In the depths of Northern areas of Pakistan, two tribal families are in the midst of a battle for their honor. In order to settle the dispute once and for all, Daulat Khan is presented with an opportunity to give his young 13 year old daughter’s hand in marriage to Tor Gul, a man five times her age. The child’s mother Allah Rakhi (Samiya Mumtaz) sees no alternative but to run away with her daughter and escape the fate that she once also had to face many years ago. Along the way, they meet a sympathetic Truck Driver Sohail (Mohib Mirza) who tries to help them reach their destination. 

Will Allah Rahki and her daughter be able to escape fate and live their new lives away from the clutches of barbaric tribal customs of child marriage?

+ High Points

i – The cinematography is absolutely gorgeous. Even though it’s not a hard task to present the Northern region of Pakistan as eye pleasing visuals, it takes skilled Cinematographers to present it so fantastically. Kudos to Armughan Hassan & Najaf Bilgrami!

ii – Speaking of beautiful images, the lighting or even the natural sunlight has been brilliantly used to its full potential. The seeping sunlight through the cracks of wooden boards, the busy street corners of Lahore, it’s simply amazing what visual poetry moving images can come up with.

iii – Although her dialogues were limited, Saleha Aref did a fairly decent job as Zainab and brought a convincing fictional character onto the screen.

iv – Music was not the most prevalent but was skilfully used during the dark times throughout the film and added the much needed ‘mystical’ element to the mother/ daughter’s plight and the dream sequences.

v – The mother/daughter relationship is very well explored and presented visually to its viewers. It captures well the innocence of the relationship that the filmmaker was going for.

vi – The quieter scenes where there are no spoken dialogue or music, only ambient sounds of bird chirping are mesmerizing to look at/ listen to.

+ Low Points

i – The script is almost a complete mess. The first act moves fairly well but upon halfway through the film, it falls badly off its rails. The tension is highly subdued, there are no stakes left for the viewer to be invested in by the halfway point. The pacing is uneven to say the least. It’s almost as if the film was originally a tele film but was prolonged to meet the feature length requirement of 90 minutes.

ii – The romance was forced, unconvincing and quite frankly, abysmal. Not every film needs a romantic plotline and felt like an obvious studio mandate. 

iii – The third act is sloppy, carries no weight to where it started from and the film then just decides to end.

iv – Some of the performances are (for a lack of a better word) cheesy as hell. Most prominent being Samina Ahmad who had her TV Soap Opera acting chops on, completely out of place for the realistic tone that the movie was going for.

v – Some of the shots in the movie were unnecessarily “shaky” and felt amateurish in execution. 

+ Overall

Dukhtar is definitely on the right path in moving away from the glitz and glamour of Lollywood and has its own unique, gritty realistic feel to it. But when it comes to writing, it just fails miserably and that is extremely disappointing. I really wanted to like this film because the barbaric culture of child marriages is very prevalent in some part of Pakistan and needs to be addressed by the artists of Pakistan. It is fairly obvious that Afia has all the right intentions of making this film but the script really needed some time in the oven before it was ready. It is unfortunate that Afia has not made a film since Dukhtar but I definitely would like to see more from her. Perhaps not as a writer but more so, her directorial work. 

But is it worth a watch? I’m really on the fence with this one but ultimately, Dukhtar gets the benefit of the doubt due to its gorgeous imagery and the intention of being different from most of Pakistani cinema.

Rate: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Feature Length Films

Mr. Khan’s Review on Soul (2020)

A review on Animated feature length film, , Soul (2020). It is directed by Pete Docter (Monsters Inc. (2001), Up (2009), Inside Out (2015) ) and is produced by Pixar Animation Studios and Walt Disney Pictures. The film is also distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures and is a Disney Plus Original film.

+ Crew

  • Directed by Pete Docter 
  • Cinematography by Matt Aspbury & Ian Megibben
  • Written by Pete Docter, Mike Jones & Kemp Powers
  • Music by Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
  • Edited by Kevin Nolting
  • Produced by Dana Murray

+ Note

Soul is the fourth animated film directed by Peter Docter for Pixar Animation Studios. The theme of the film is very familiar territory for Docter as it once again deals with concepts of human personalities, determinism and of course, the human Soul. Since the main protagonist of the film is a Jazz musician, the music plays an important role throughout the movie. Soul was first premiered in October 2020 at London Film Festival and then was released in December 2020 as a ‘Disney Plus Original’ film, exclusive on their streaming service.

+ Main Cast

  1. Jamie Foxx as Joe Gardner
  2. Tina Fey as 22
  3. Graham Norton as Moonwind
  4. Rachel House as Terry
  5. Alice Braga and Richard Ayoade as two of the soul counselors 
  6. Phylicia Rashad as Libba Gardner
  7. Donnell Rawlings as Dez
  8. Questlove as Lamont “Curley” Baker
  9. Angela Bassett as Dorothea Williams

+ Plot

Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx) gets by as a High school music teacher in the heart of New York City when suddenly, out of sheer luck, lands a huge gig at a local Jazz club. As Joe prepares for his big break, he accidently falls into a manhole and his Soul ends up in the ‘Great Beyond’. There, he meets another fellow soul named “22” (Tina Fey) who is in search of her special “spark” which will allow her to be born and start her life on Planet Earth. 

Together, they must help each other and find a way to reach their goals and discover throughout their odyssey, what it means to have a Soul.

+ High Points

i – I guess this is always a ‘no-brainer’ compliment for Pixar films but the animation is absolutely gorgeous to look at. The beautiful lighting effects (especially scenes on Earth) brings out the warmth from the screen and onto your hearts.

ii – The character designs are brilliantly thought-out and executed. Although the facial features are exaggerated, they never feel too “cartoony” or stray away from reality too far. 

iii – The designs of soul counselors are especially unique (kinda like Apple “Mac Finder”-esque) and creative. They lack details or a coherent body structure but play beautifully to the concept of beings who handle the abstract land of ‘Great Beyond’.

iv – The film is simply outstanding with the more “quieter” moments of the story where instead of dialogue; the music, animation and visuals consume the screen. Even though Pixar/ Disney is a big money making conglomerate, such scenes show that it still inherits that creative spark; the spark that made Pixar resonate so much with the audiences to begin with. 

v – Joe Gardner is a sympathetic and lovable main protagonist with whom people from different parts of the world can relate to.

vi – Even though the subject matter deals with the afterlife, Soul never becomes religious or preachy but keeps a good balance with people all over the world with different faiths (or none for that matter).

vii – The voice acting is great from everyone involved. No celebrity voice felt forced or out of place with the overall theme of the film.

viii – Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross have done a fantastic job with the Soundtrack of the film. They had the daunting task to make the music a central part of the film and they delivered in spades. The “In the Zone” scenes were probably the biggest highlight of the movie.

+ Low Points

i – As a fan of Docter’s previous Pixar film Inside Out (2009), the biggest disappointment for me was the plot of the film itself. It was once again treading the same waters as before of determination, Persona, finding oneself. Did ‘Soul’ have anything new to say? Not really.

ii – Some of the comedy doesn’t work and unnecessarily drags the movie. Why did the cat have to give a haircut? Why the madcap subway chase? It seemed that the film was struggling with what it really wants to be; An honest, spiritual look at what makes human life special or an odd couple, hijinx comedy of errors?

iii – It is obvious that Pixar’s spark as a creative force in Animation has been massively subdued since pairing with Disney Animation Studios and unfortunately, it still shows. The overall structure of the film is nothing more than a list of checkmarks that need to be fulfilled in order to please the audience (and the company’s stockholders!). Challenge the audience’s intelligence a bit like WALL- E (2008), don’t hand them solutions to conflicts on a silver platter like any other regular animation studio.

iv – Speaking of conflicts, they just felt really unconvincing and seemed like they were only added as a necessity to have a conclusive, feel good resolution to the film. The Cat/ Human switch did not make much sense but hey, talking animals are always funny, right?

v – The last act of the film was forcefully wrapped into a neat little package and made no sense to the overall theme of the film. I’ve elaborated it a bit further… 

NOTE: SPOILER ALERT! (Skip ahead to the “Overall” if you would like to avoid it)

The “Noble” sacrifice by Gardner never paid off and was immediately reversed in order to have a happy ending to the film. Why does he get his life back but no one else on the conveyor belt? Why tease this bold move if you don’t have the guts to go through with it? Children films have successfully dealt with issues like death before (The Lion King (1994), The Land Before Time (1988)) so it can be done. At times, it is necessary for kids to learn that not everything works out in Life the way you want it.

+ Overall

Soul does bring out the best in Pixar when it comes to animation, voice acting and music but unfortunately, it is quite lacklustre when compared to their other long list of great films. There are a couple of really great sequences and It’s still a fun time with the kids but don’t expect this experience to be a memorable one.

Rate: 3.25 out of 5 stars

Feature Length Films

Mr. Khan’s Review on AK vs AK (2020)

A review on Indian/ Hindi language black comedy thriller film, AK vs AK (2020). It is directed by Vikramaditya Motwane and the Production House is Andolan Films. The film is distributed by Netflix.

+ Crew

  • Directed by Vikramaditya Motwane
  • Cinematography by Swapnil Sonawane
  • Written by Anurag Kashyap (dialogues)
  • Screenplay by Avinash Sampath and Vikramaditya Motwane
  • Produced by Deepa De Motwane

+ Note

Ak vs Ak is a dark, comedic look into the culture and impact that Bollywood has on everyday life of India. AK vs AK is unique for its “film within a film” style of storytelling and everyone is playing as “themselves” makes everything seem authentic. The idea was initially pitched in 2013 with Shahid Kapoor playing the title role alongside Anurag and Vikramaditya Motwane attached to the project as its director. But delays and rewrites pushed the project further back to 2019. Finally, Motwane decided to cast Anil Kapoor for the role instead as he has been a bigger “commercial” star of Bollywood and fits the narrative of India’s obsession with its stars much better.

+ Main Cast

  1. Anil Kapoor as himself
  2. Anurag Kashyap as himself
  3. Yogita Bihani as herself
  4. Sonam Kapoor Ahuja as herself
  5. Harshvardhan Kapoor as himself
  6. Sucharita Tyagi as herself
  7. Boney Kapoor as himself
  8. Nawazuddin Siddiqui as himself (voice, cameo)

+ Plot

While attending the MAMI event, Bollywood icon Anil Kapoor and renegade director Anurag Kashyap get into a major public feud with one another as to who the bigger “star” of Bollywood is. This leads to Kashyap writing and directing his best film yet; kidnapping Anil Kapoor’s real life daughter (Sonam Kapoor) and forcing him to search for her within 10 hours time (till sunrise) while being filmed throughout this ordeal. No breaks, no cuts, no reshoots. Everything goes!

+ High Points

i – Its safe to say that the filmmakers had a lot of fun making the film and it shows! Every scene/ performance was taken up to 11. Nothing was off limits. All real life actors made fun of themselves and their dwindling careers. Is Anil Kapoor just a relic of the past? Is Kashyap just a talentless hack who only knows how to write obscene dialogue? 

ii – Unsurprisingly, the snappy dialogue of the film is written by none other than Kashyap himself and its always fun to witness how he blends spoken dialogue with a sprinkle of ‘Bollywood masala’ mixed into it.

iii – The film (very successfully) takes shots at Bollywood and how deeply rooted it is to the lives of every person growing up in the slums of India. The Bollywood stars are not mere actors but dancing gods who cannot be separated from their onscreen personas.

iv – The dark humor is hilarious. There were numerous times I chuckled at the absurdity of the scene or just burst out laughing. The collaboration of Kashyap and Motwane always bring out the best in both of them.

v – The performances are great all across the board. Surprisingly, even as a non-professional actor, Kashyap kept up with Anil Kapoor pretty well throughout the film!

vi – The ‘Lakhan’ scene. ‘Nuff said!

vii – The city of Mumbai is as vibrant as ever and is undoubtedly a character on its own.

+ Low Points

i – Although the film was engaging for the most part, the last act of the movie felt a bit like a deadend with its creativity and the filmmakers really had to take a very “uninspiring” way to end the story. Predictable and lackluster end to what was a very fun ride.

ii – Such an ‘off the wall’ script could’ve been accompanied by experimental editing but unfortunately, that was not the case. The footage was sped up numerous times throughout the film (to save time I suppose) but it just felt tacky and amateurish. 

iii – As you would expect from a Kashyap/ Motwane project, the film throws every idea they can concoct onto the wall to see what sticks. Some do, some don’t, namely the presentation of the film. Video game sprites and text don’t match up well to the dark, humorous tone that they were going for. It belongs more to Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010) rather than the gritty streets of Mumbai.

iv – The music is (for the most part) pretty forgettable. I thought Kashyap/ Motwane projects always had an excellent soundtrack to them (Dev.D (2009), Raman Raghav 2.0 (2016), Sacred Games (2018-19)). What happened?

+ Overall

AK vs AK is definitely a fun ride but the somewhat predictable/ disappointing ending will leave you a bit deflated at the end. But the duo of Anil Kapoor and Anurag Kashyap play off each other hilariously and for that alone, its definitely worth a watch!

Rate: 3.75 out of 5 stars