Feature Length Films

Mr. Khan’s Review on The Suicide Squad (2021)

A review on American Superhero film, The Suicide Squad (2021). The film is considered a “soft reboot/ sequel” to the 2016 film Suicide Squad and is directed by James Gunn. The film includes a stacked cast of actors including Margot Robbie, Idris Elba, John Cena, Joel Kinnaman and Sylvester Stallone. The Suicide Squad is part of the DCEU and distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures.

+ Crew

  • Directed by James Gunn
  • Written by James Gunn
  • Cinematography by Henry Braham
  • Music by John Murphy
  • Edited by Fred Raskin and Christian Wagner
  • Production by DC Films, Atlas Entertainment and The Safran Company
  • Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures

+ Note

After the surprise success of James Gunn’s film for MCU Guardians Of The Galaxy in 2014, Warner Bros. and DCEU introduced their own band of misfits known as the Suicide Squad and David Ayer was set to direct the film. Suicide Squad (2016) was unfortunately met with mostly negative reviews from the critics and fans as the film failed to encapsulate the fun and excitement of what made GOTG such a fun experience to watch. Many sources indicate that it was due Warner Bros.’ constant meddling, reshoots and re-edits of the film that sabotaged David Ayer’s original vision of the film. In order to rectify their mistake, Warner Bros. decided to approach the man himself, James Gunn to handle the “soft reboot/ sequel” to Suicide Squad, giving him virtually full creative control on the project. The director (this time around) optied for a hard R rating on the film with full of violence, gore and dark humor. Considering James Gunn’s previous cult classics like Slither (2006) and Super (2010) , he seemed very familiar with the genre.

Some actors (who already had a fan following) retained their roles from the first film, including Margot Robbie as the maniacal Harley Quinn and Viola Davis as Amanda Waller. But it also introduced strange, disposable D-List Superheroes/villains from DC Comics like Polka-Dot Man, Peacemaker and King Shark. The film was released in cinemas on July 30, 2021 and has met with praise from the critics and fans alike.

+ Main Cast

  1. Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn
  2. Idris Elba as Robert DuBois / Bloodsport
  3. John Cena as Christopher Smith / Peacemaker
  4. Joel Kinnaman as Colonel Rick Flag
  5. Sylvester Stallone as the voice of Nanaue / King Shark
  6. Viola Davis as Amanda Waller
  7. David Dastmalchian as Abner Krill / Polka-Dot Man
  8. Daniela Melchior as Cleo Cazo / Ratcatcher 2
  9. Michael Rooker as Brian Durlin / Savant
  10. Jai Courtney as George “Digger” Harkness / Captain Boomerang
  11. Peter Capaldi as Gaius Grieves / The Thinker
  12. Alice Braga as Sol Soria
  13. Pete Davidson as Richard “Dick” Hertz / Blackguard

+ Plot

The American government needs a team to counter their foreign enemies. A team of super powered individuals who are instantly disposable and never to be mentioned again. Enter: The Suicide Squad! Lead by Amanda Waller and includes loveable characters like the psychopath Harley Quinn, the redeemable Bloodsport, the patriot Peacemaker and many other losers. Can the team band together and fight an adversary which threatens humanity’s very existence on planet Earth?

+ High Points

i – James Gunn knows how to make a fun premise. Judging by his filmography, he is very familiar with dark humor and cartoonishly absurd gore and violence in his films. Unlike the disaster that was Suicide Squad (2016), THE Suicide Squad (2021) is hilarious, quince inducing and exciting from the start to finish. The characters are likable, the action is fast paced, the pacing is never stagnated, The Suicide Squad knows its absurd premise and runs away with it. It’s an acquired taste (most certainly) and will not be everyone’s cup of tea but then again, it never needs to be.

ii – The main cast of characters are all fun to watch. Harley Quinn (this time around) is much better handled, her psychotic character is better explored as compared to being an “eye candy” for the fan boys to slobber over. Also new characters such as Bloodsport (Idris Elba) is a much better fit to the film as compared to Will Smith, John Cena is great as Peacemaker and minor characters like Daniela Melchior as Ratcatcher 2, David Dastmalchian as Polka-Dot Man and Sylvester Stallone as King Shark also tend to grow on you throughout the film’s runtime. What made Guardians Of The Galaxy a likeable bunch was due to their offbeat characterizations and even though The Suicide Squad is way more darker, it still manages to find a place in your heart to root for at the end.

iii – Although the film is not as funny as James Gunn’s previous works (I’ll get to that later in the Low Points section), The Suicide Squad is still a blast to watch. Not all jokes land but the ones that do land will have you laugh out loud. Most of the gags poke fun at how absurd the whole concept of being a “superhero/ villain” is and how utterly disposable some of them are! You have absurd powers like throwing deadly Polka Dots at someone or having detachable arms or being an anthropomorphic Shark or a Weasel or… the list just goes on. It’s obvious that James Gunn just loves the absurdity of the D-List characters in Superhero comics and just wants to have a laugh at their expense!

iv – The R rating works perfectly for the film. The Suicide Squad would’ve never been half as enjoyable if not for its foul language, dark humor and brain exploding, blood splattering hardcore violence. The first film really suffered for not having a R rating and felt muted from the themes that the film could’ve explored. Even though I am an advocate that not all films need to be R rated, some films definitely need it to explore their true potential. And films like Deadpool (2016), Logan (2017) and The Suicide Squad thrive in entertainment because of that.

v – Some scenes like Harley Quinn’s escape sequence and the invasion of the Rebel Camp are incredibly well shot and directed. James Gunn and Henry Braham did an outstanding job in delivering those scenes with flair and excitement without overstaying their welcome. The camerawork was controlled but never stagnating, the timing of the humor was great and the film can become instantly memorable because of them. While Phase 4 Marvel films are becoming more and more stale and generic, The Suicide Squad injects some life onto the superhero films and how creative they can be.

vi – Even though the film’s pacing is not a complete smooth sail from start to finish, the Third Act could possibly be one of the most memorable fight scenes in recent memory. I will not spoil what it is but let’s just say it fully embraced the absurdity of the world of Superheroes.

+ Low Points

i – Not everything is perfect about the film, namely the humor. While some jokes landed well, others did feel a bit tiresome. The film does at times push the supposed “nudging” to the audience a bit too far. The Suicide Squad is not as funny as his previous Guardians Of The Galaxy films where I felt we genuinely loved each and every character in the group. Whereas with The Suicide Squad, (due to the character’s disposable nature) you can’t really fall in love with them because they are essentially murderers. While The Suicide Squad is a fun film to watch, there is a lack in emotional investment that the audience could potentially feel for our protagonists as compared to GOTG.

ii – Peter Capaldi as Gaius Grieves / The Thinker was unfortunately not a villain you could wholeheartedly hate upon. His character and motivations were not sufficiently built upon for us to despise him. And because of that, the rooting for the Suicide Squad to succeed seems a bit timid. The film needed a strong antagonist for our team to fight against and no matter how deplorable our “heroes” are, the film needed an even bigger baddy to counter against. There are other “villains” that are introduced later in the film but by that time, it was a tad bit too late.

iii –  As I mentioned earlier, there is a bit too much “winking” at the audience as if to say “Can you believe how crazy this all is??”. Some jokes perhaps should have been left on the cutting room floor but I suppose that is the risk a work of Art has when the creator is in (almost) full control of his project.

+ Overall

The Suicide Squad is a blast to watch from start to finish. And even though it will not serve as everyone’s cup of tea, it’s entertaining to see some life and creativity injected into the superhero genre once again.

Rate : out of 5 stars

Feature Length Films

Mr. Khan’s Review on Jinnah (1998)

A review on Pakistani Historical Biopic film, Jinnah (1998) starring Sir Christopher Lee as Jinnah. The film is co-written by Akbar S Ahmed and directed by Jamil Dehlavi. Jinnah was released in cinemas in 1998 and was distributed by Dehlavi Films Productions.

+ Crew

  • Directed by Jamil Dehlavi
  • Written by Akbar S Ahmed and Jamil Dehlavi
  • Cinematography by Nicholas D. Knowland
  • Edited by Robert M. Reitano and Paul Hodgson
  • Music by Nigel Clarke and Michael Csányi-Wills
  • Produced by Jamil Dehlavi

+ Note

The “never released” Jinnah film from 1983

After the release of Richard Attenborough’s Biopic on Mahatma Gandhi in 1982, the Pakistani government of Zia-ul-Haq was appalled by the abhorrent depiction of Mohammad Ali Jinnah (Founder of Pakistan) in the film as a stubborn, heartless monster who was hell bent on dividing India. In retaliation, the government of Zia-ul-Haq announced their very first film on the founder of Pakistan. According to Mushtaq Gazdar’s detailed book Pakistani Cinema 1947-1997, the film was to be named Stand Up From the Dust (in reference to the story where Jinnah saw school boys playing marbles on a dusty road and urged them to get up from the dust make something useful of themselves). Funded directly by the Pakistani government at the time, they micromanaged every aspect of the script, spending millions of rupees on the expenses of the crew and production.

According to Gazdar, the film was just an alibi to “legitimize” the government of Zia-ul-Haq as the true “Islamic State” vision of Pakistan, just as Jinnah would have intended. Apparently the film was somehow completed and privately screened for Zia-ul-Haq. Upon the film’s conclusion, Zia admitted: “Very good effort… but the film lacks in feeling…”. Since the production of the film was found unsatisfactory, Stand Up From the Dust was shelved in the vaults of the Pakistani government, never to be released for the general public.

Another attempt at the film

With the advent of Pakistan’s 50th Anniversary, Akbar S Ahmed (writer and Scholar) wanted to fulfill his personal wish of completing a film on the founder of Pakistan. With the Pakistani Independent Director Jamil Dehlavi onboard, the government of PPP Benazir Bhutto and the Pakistani Army acknowledged to help finance the film. But as the pre-production started, the PPP government was toppled and Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N came into power. The film project was immediately disapproved by the government and were threatened to shut down the production altogether. It felt like Akbar S Ahmed’s dream of working on a film about Jinnah would not be brought to fruition once again. But with the help and support of the Pak Army, Jamil Dehlavi and many others, the film went ahead with its Pre-production. 

After searching high and low for lead actor to play the Quaid, from Daniel Day Lewis to Jeremy Irons to local Pakistani actors, the producers of the film finally settled on a British veteran actor Christopher Lee who was at the time known for playing the role of Dracula in the 1970s and a James Bond villain in The Man with the Golden Gun (1974). The casting was immediately followed with backlash from many Pakistani publications who claimed that the film producers tried to equate the leader of Pakistan to a “blood sucking vampire”. Nonetheless, the film went into production and was scheduled for 11 weeks of shoot in Karachi, Lahore and London. According to Akbar S Ahmed, numerous funds promised by the government never materialized.

Despite resistance from the PML-N government and several news outlets (mainly Imran Aslam, the editor of The News) hell-bent on destroying any credibility of the film, Jinnah finally made it to the theaters in 1998. Upon release, the film was met with very positive reviews from critics and the general public. 

Controversies and legal battles surrounding Jinnah

Unfortunately, the controversies surrounding the film grew as a legal battle ensued between the writer and the director regarding the rights of the film. Around the same time, another new controversy surfaced that it was in fact Farrukh Dhondy who ghost wrote the script to the film. His work was kept secret due to the fact that Farrukh was an Indian born. 

Even after almost 25 years since its release, the film is still shrouded in controversies and never received a proper foreign market distribution. 

 + Main Cast

  1. Christopher Lee as Mohammad Ali Jinnah
  2. Shashi Kapoor as Narrator
  3. James Fox as Lord Louis Mountbatten
  4. Maria Aitken as Edwina Mountbatten
  5. Richard Lintern as Muhammad Ali Jinnah (Younger)
  6. Shireen Shah as Fatima Jinnah
  7. Indira Varma as Rattanbai (‘Ruttie’) Jinnah
  8. Robert Ashby as Jawaharlal Nehru
  9. Sam Dastor as Mahatma Gandhi
  10. Shakeel as Liaquat Ali Khan

+ Plot

As Jinnah (Christopher Lee) stands at the gates of Afterlife, he is greeted by the “Narrator” (Shashi Kapoor) who recalls Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s life as a lawyer, husband, father, politician and of course, the leader of the Nation called Pakistan. 

+ High Points

i – Looking back at this film once again (23 years since its release), this is arguably the best rendition of Mohammad Ali Jinnah that could have ever been approved by the Pakistani government and the censor board. The writers of the film, Akbar S Ahmed, Jamil Dehlavi (and ghost writer Farrukh Dhondy) have done a magnificent job in presenting the Quaid, with all his integrity, all his strength and ambitions and most importantly, with all his flaws. Although his political goals were never to be compromised, Jinnah perhaps could not devote the time that he could have to his family. He was perhaps not the greatest husband or father to his child but that was the price Jinnah had to pay if that meant that the muslims of India would finally have their own separate homeland. 

Biographical films are meant to be case studies of famous figures of our history. Legends that inspire us to fulfill our ambitions in life, no matter what the cost. Jinnah was not a “mahatma”, he was a man who learned with time why he believed that the muslims of India will never be free unless they have their own separate homeland. The film Jinnah does a splendid job in portraying him with all his ambitions and flaws as a political leader, a husband and a father.

ii – While Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi (1982) was a straightforward Biopic, Akbar S Ahmed and Dehlavi strived for something different. The script gave Jinnah a chance to witness (in third person) his own political career and personal life. That for me, is a vastly more creative way of tackling the story of Independence. The Indian Independence movement is intricate and layered with many sides and opinions. The Congress Party had one for a united India whereas Jinnah had one (later on) for a separate Muslim Homeland. This “meta” introspective was a brilliant move by the director of the film Dehlavi and the film brings a whole new perspective on the partition once again. Was it inevitable? Could Muslims have coexisted in a united India? Was it Jinnah’s political ambition or conviction that drove him towards the Independence movement? While there will never be concrete answers, there will always be varying opinions from the audience of the film.

iii – As the narrative of the film is never linear, we get to go on a journey with the Quaid himself as he takes us through his younger days as a lawyer, a newly wedded Husband, loss of his loved one and eventually, striving for the birth of Pakistan. The pacing of the film works seamlessly, bringing a sense of awe and fascination towards the subject once again. I must admit, I am absolutely flabbergasted how the financiers of the film gave Jamil Dehlavi the freedom to convey a non-linear story to its audience. Perhaps this still might not be the film that Jamil intended but the film Jinnah can never be accused of taking a “safe” approach in its storytelling.

iv – The casting of Christopher Lee as Jinnah. Regardless of him having a striking resemblance to the leader of the Nation, Lee was mostly known for playing low life, villainous characters in commercial or low budget films. Jinnah was his chance to prove that he in fact did possess the talent needed to rightfully portray such a larger than life political figure and he did not disappoint. Lee’s dedication and conviction to the role is admirable. From his stern yet accurate dialogue delivery to his stature on the podium as he delivers speeches to the masses all across the country, Christopher Lee did justice to the Quaid-e-Azam and is certainly one of his most iconic roles of his career.

v – Due to Christopher Lee’s astounding performance, Richard Lintern as the younger Jinnah never gets the proper recognition that he deserves. His naive but determined outlook towards Sub continent politics is stupendously portrayed by the young actor. His convincing performance in the film is one of the main reasons why Jinnah works so well as a non linear biopic. Richard Lintern had some essential, emotional scenes to pull off in order for the narrative to blend into the older Jinnah and suffice to say, he did a fine job.

vi – The opening scene contains some splendid editing where the last dying breaths of Jinnah are transitioned into the opening of the library of “Afterlife”. It’s a perfect way to invite viewers to join Jinnah into his epic journey towards his own previous life. Also the scene where the young and the old Jinnah coincide one another was a stroke of genius. It was a pivotal moment in Jinnah’s life where his resistance to embrace Gandhi’s non-violent movement would lead to more chaos and separation between the Hindus and Muslims of India.

vii – The supporting cast also plays its part well. Indira Varma as Ruttie brings out the softer side of Jinnah. A woman who he was in love with but did not dare to comprise his political ambitions in return for that family life. 

viii – With the modest budget of just over $ 2 million, Dehlavi and team did a wonderful job of bringing authenticity to the film. The set design, the early 20th century cars, costumes bring the era of British Colonialism alive in moving images. A lot of credit should go to Nicholas D. Knowland’s cinematography. The slight overexposed film footage makes the images illusive, a past that can never be recreated, only re-imagined.

 + Low Points

i – Although I have praised Akbar S Ahmed and Jamil Dehlavi in their depiction of Jinnah as a leader of the nation and his private life, there is still a subject perhaps left virtually untouched; Jinnah’s relationship to his religion. By many accounts (prior to his goals later in life), Islam never played a massive part in his life. He preferred speaking English, wore three piece suits, smoked a cigar and dined as a proper British would do. Although Jinnah fought for muslim identity in the Subcontinent, how did he viewed his own identity? Unlike Gandhi (who wore his Hindu heratige on his sleeve), Jinnah had a more subtle relationship with his muslim background. It would have been fascinating to have explored that on screen but unfortunately, would never get past the Pakistan censorship board (and ultimately, hurting sentiments of the public along the way).

ii – The “Trial” scene at the end does feel a bit tacked on to the overall narrative. Perhaps this was the only moment I felt that the “meta” commentary went a bit too far for its own good. The information revolves around the injustices the Pakistani government had to face after its Independence and regardless what side you take, subtlety was most probably lost in that scene. I realise that Jinnah’s journey throughout his own life needed to reach its end destination but perhaps there could have been a better way to conclude the film. 

iii – While Gandhi’s portrayal is more sympathetic and understandable, Nehru (on the other hand) is depicted as a conniving, devious politician who solely had lust for power to become the first Prime Minister of India. One too many scenes were focused on his affair with Lady Mountbatten which (understably) had an unfair advantage in judgment of the division of India. Even though it’s nowhere near as bad as Jinnah’s portrayal in Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi (1982), a better understanding of Nehru the politician could have served this film well.

+ Overall

With inventive storytelling and brilliant performances by the main cast, Jinnah is by far one of the greatest Pakistani films ever made.

Rate: out of 5 stars

Feature Length Films

Mr. Khan’s Review on Black Widow (2021)

A review on American Superhero film, Black Widow (2021). The film is the first of Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Phase Four films and is directed by Cate Shortland. Scarlett Johansson reprises her role as Black Widow and the list of cast includes Florence Pugh, David Harbour, Rachel Weisz and Ray Winstone. The film is a continuation of the saga from the Marvel Cinematic Universe and is now in cinemas and Disney Plus streaming service.

+ Crew

  • Directed by Cate Shortland
  • Screenplay by Eric Pearson
  • Story by Jac Schaeffer and Ned Benson
  • Cinematography by Gabriel Beristain
  • Music by Lorne Balfe
  • Edited by Leigh Folsom Boyd and Matthew Schmidt
  • Production by Marvel Studios
  • Distributed by Walt Disney Studios and Motion Pictures 

+ Note

The character of Black Widow as the ex-Russian spy first made her appearance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in Iron Man 2 (2009). Since then, she had made dozens of appearances all across the three phases of the MCU and in turn, grew in popularity amongst the fans. A standalone Black Widow film was always on the cards for Kevin Feige (Marvel Studios President) but due to big event shattering films like Avenger: Infinity War (2018) and Endgame (2019), the filming got delayed till the end of the Phase Three. 

After hinting at it through numerous films, Black Widow was set to reveal the origin story of the character and how she became a super spy, entangled in the world of espionage. The main list of characters included Natasha Romanoff’s estranged family of misfits. Black Widow was to be released in the Summer of 2020 but due to the pandemic, the film kept getting delayed till it was finally released in the summer of 2021. As of July 23, 2021, Black Widow has grossed $146.7 million in the United States and Canada, and $132 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $278.7 million.

+ Main Cast

  1. Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow
  2. Florence Pugh as Yelena Belova / Black Widow
  3. David Harbour as Alexei Shostakov / Red Guardian
  4. O-T Fagbenle as Rick Mason
  5. Olga Kurylenko as Antonia Dreykov / Taskmaster
  6. William Hurt as Thaddeus Ross
  7. Ray Winstone as Dreykov
  8. Rachel Weisz as Melina Vostokoff / Black Widow

+ Plot

The events of Black Widow take place after Captain America: Civil War (2016) where she serves as a fugitive from the Sokovia Accords. Due to political conspiracy and espionage, Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) ends up confronting her dark past as a spy and mending broken relationships with her “parents” and sister. In the quest of searching for the truth, Natasha comes across a mysterious “Red Room” and the potential mastermind behind the Superspy program.

+ High Points

i – The main cast of characters of Black Widow have great chemistry with one another. The exposition/ quieter moments of the film reveal the depth of personality each of the characters pertain within themselves. The screenplay gives vital time develop each of the estranged relationship in the dysfunctional “Romanoff” family and by the far the best thing going about the film.

ii – Speaking of estranged relationships, Florence Pugh as Natasha’s Superspy sister is wonderful casting and an assent to the Black Widow saga. The banter with Scarlett Johansson and her performance walks the fine line of cynicism and comedy with rewarding results. Pugh’s dialogue delivery and subtle gestures play a key role in cementing her as one of the quintessential non-superhero characters of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.   

iii – And of course, a shoutout also goes to David Harbour as the bumbling “Red Guardian” who’s tall tales of fighting Captain America never cease to amaze his listeners. If not written correctly, the character could’ve ended up being a liability to the film but it is Harbour’s comedic timing and emotions that make him hilarious but loveable at the same time. 

iv – The dark opening sequence of the film was admittedly fantastic and unique from the rest of the Marvel films. It was unapologetically tragic and disturbing to say the least but unfortunately for the film, the originality ended right after the opening scene and the film devolved back into pointless action sequences.

+ Low Points

i – So I guess we should address the elephant in the room; why now? Why did Kevin Feige feel that the audience needs a Black Widow film when she already died in the previous Avengers film? Black Widow is admittedly a competent Superhero film but what purpose does it serve in the Marvel Cinematic Universe? The film feels 3 or 4 years too late and it shows. The biggest issue with Black Widow is that regardless if you love the film or not, it is inconsequential and therefore, lacks the stakes of engaging its audience. 

ii – Like Captain Marvel (2019), Black Widow feels dull and a mediocre product of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The plot and action sequences seem like nothing that we already haven’t seen time and time again. The big baddy Dreykov kidnapping and brainwashing solely female subjects is never justified. There seems to be a clear distinction between the dialogue heavy scenes to the mind numbing action sequences. Apparently, the film’s creative team was already working on the action scenes of the film long before they even approached the director of the film! And the results are clear as day. Black Widow doesn’t feel like a coherent film or a vision of a sole filmmaker but rather just some interesting character developing moments, followed by bland CGI explosions. 

iii –  While watching the film, the question that always popped in my head was; is Black Widow invulnerable to pain? As far as I know, Natasha was never injected with the Super serum, how (for the love of God) can she jump 100 feet down on the ground, take a massive beating to the face and still walk away scratchless? I understand that suspension of disbelief is a common trait one must have while watching a superhero film but this was just plain ridiculous and numerous times took me out of the film.

iv – Normally, I do not compare the source material to the film adaptation but Taskmaster was such a major disappointment in the film. The cunning copycat of the comics has so much devious personality that could have served the cinematic counterpart quite well but unfortunately, Taskmaster in MCU is just another bland, generic villain in the film that Black Widow must overcome. I cannot talk much about the character due to spoilers but whatever emotions the film was trying to bring to its audiences, it sadly did not work.

v – Ray Winstone as the big baddy also never lived up to its true evil potential. He was evil for the sake of being evil. No real motivations or character development, Dreykov had the depth of a James Bond villain from the 1960s.

vi – There was a cute subplot with the Red Guardian who claimed to have fought Captain America and then… nothing. There was no pay off to the story. Again, so much potential but none of the creativeness to bring it all together with the main plot of the film.

vii – Even though the family interaction scenes were the best part of the film, the third act of the film was entirely forgettable, CGI nonsense that betrayed the very core of an espionage film. Instead of constructing something unique, the creative team opted for yet another “world threatening, ships in the sky exploding” conclusion that will challenge to keep the audience’s attention span till the end of the film.

+ Overall

Black Widow is a perfectly serviceable but bland Marvel film that never lived up to the character’s potential. MCU needs to be a lot more creative if they don’t want to lose their core audience with the upcoming phase four films.

Rate : 2.0 out of 5 stars

Feature Length Films

Mr. Khan’s Review on Sarkata Insaan (1994)

A review on Pakistani Sci-Fi Horror film, Sarkata Insaan (1994) which stars Babra Sharif, Ghulam Mohiuddin and Qavi Khan in lead roles. The film is directed by Saeed Rizvi and is distributed by Al. Farooq Movies.

+ Crew

  • Directed by Saeed Rizvi
  • Written by Rashid Sajid and Iqbal Rizvi
  • Cinematography by Saeed Rizvi
  • Edited by M. Aqeel
  • Visual Effects by Saeed Rizvi
  • Music by Kamal Ahmed
  • Produced by Saeed Rizvi

+ Note

During Zia ul Haq’s rule and thereafter, Pakistani Film Industry fell from grace and was merely producing subpar films which made the cinema attendance drop by significant percentage, cripping the industry further. Fortunately, this also paved the way for local filmmakers to experiment with genres and techniques that Pakistani moviegoers were not aware of. 

In 1988, after watching Robert Zemeckis’ Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Saeed Rizvi (the director) was also inspired to make a film with similar visual technique, integrating live action with hand drawn animation. This first led to making the low key Pakistani Sci-Fi film Shani (1989) which also starred Babra Sharif. In 1990, Saeed Rizvi declared his next project to be Sci-Fi Horror film Sarkata Insaan. 

The film was set to be released in 1991, with promotional ADs running on local television, proclaiming Sarkata Insaan to be the “first ever Pakistani Horror Film” (even though that statement is false as the ‘first Pak Horror film’ title is held by the Zinda Laash in 1967). Due to numerous delays, the film was eventually released in 1994.

 + Main Cast

  1. Babra Sharif
  2. Ghulam Mohiuddin 
  3. Izhar Qazi
  4. Sapna
  5. Asif Khan
  6. Saeed Khan Rangeela

+ Plot

An Evil Scientist and his henchmen dig up a grave of an unknown deceased man in order to steal his head for an illegal experiment. The severed head is then used to revive a dead body of an ex crime lord who then goes on a murderous spree, proclaimed by many as the ‘Beheaded Man’. 

+ High Points

i – As a kid growing up in early 90s Karachi, I remember viewing the promotional Ads of Sarkata Insaan numerous times on National Television. The shot of the gate opening by itself with luminous lighting, dark shadows and there, stood the headless man with an axe in one hand and his head in the other. It was such a great visual for a gorey low budget horror film! After watching the film now almost 30 years later, the visual still looks great and undoubtedly the highlight of the film. While the other special effects are hokey and laughable, the visual props of the “Headless body” are excellent. 

ii – After reading up on Saeed Rizvi and his struggles to make a film for the Pakistani Industry in a completely alienated genre like Horror or Sci-Fi, I do sympathize and respect his struggle to realize his vision onto the silver screen. Filmmaking is a very unforgiving Art if you lack funds and support but Saeed Rizvi managed to pull off his vision and make the film that he wanted to. And that is in itself, quite an accomplishment!

iii – The premise of the film is quite interesting and could’ve made for an excellent low budget Horror film! The head of an honest cop fused with the body of a criminal lord! How great of a concept is that? 

iv – In a low budget campy way, the scene (later on in the film) with the headless man in the doorway and the head itself crawling towards the bed was excellently done. It’s one of the very few scenes where the special effects fit perfectly into the film. 

 + Low Points

i – I was fully ready to embrace the film as a low budget campy Horror classic but Sarkata Insaan failed to live up to that expectations by a mile! This film is just plain bad. If you grew up in the 1990s, you could watch it for nostalgic reasons but apart from that, the film is terrible and senseless for all the wrong reasons.

ii – In the 1970s and 80s, numerous emerging talents in Hollywood took up the mantle of creating Horror films on shoestring budgets. Directors such as Sam Raimi, John Carpenter and even later on, Peter Jackson used lack of funds as an advantage to elevate their films into campy Horror genre. So I completely understand if Saeed Rizvi was working on nickels and dimes to make his vision but with talent and intelligence, that could have very well have been masked with numerous filmmaking techniques. Not only that but there also seems to be a lack of attention to minor details. For example, why is there no visible line around the “Headless Man’s” neck whenever he fuses his head onto the body? Its small details like this that make the film rewarding to watch.

Saeed Rizvi and team should’ve been creative about handling complicated Special Effects scenes rather than just having some of the most horrendous, terrible and comical sequences that fails the film in every aspect.

iii – Bad Special Effects can be forgiven due to budgetary reasons but bad screenwriting unfortunately cannot. The script is beyond absurd! Nothing makes sense. The film has no idea what it wants to be; a Sci-Fi, a comedy, action or just a campy horror film? And then, there are the obvious questions;  If the headless body can function on its own, why does it need the head? Since the head is good but the body is bad, why is there not a constant struggle between them? Should’ve been such an interesting concept to explore!

But no, they had to make numerous “comedy” scenes for Rangeela and dance numbers destroy any pacing or plot development that the script was creating. Were these scenes mandated by the financiers or were they part of Saeed Rizvi’s vision? One will never know.

iv – Another baffling decision I feel from the creative side was the lack of any devotion to the Police officer’s past life. As a viewer, it was hard to empathise with him when he was trying to remember his “humanity” as we virtually know nothing about him. Only the fact that he was killed in the line of duty and he had a mother and a sister. And that sadly not enough.

A perfect example could be Robocop (1987) where the audience is first introduced to the character’s family life, gets brutally injured by the band of criminals, is then transformed into Robocop (and in the process, loses his humanity) and then the rest of the film is him trying to remember what it was like to be human.

Character development is extremely important if you want to have a strong payoff at the end.

v – Speaking of dance numbers, the infamous ‘Babra Sharif dancing with Ninja Turtle and Pink Panther’ scene. Good God, what is that? Who in their right mind thought that this scene fits into a Sci Fi Horror film?? The animation is beyond terrible, nothing makes sense, Copyright infringement be damned, this whole scene feels like a fever dream! But in a guilty pleasure way, I’m so glad that this exists…

vi – Sarkata Insaan was shot in 4:3 aspect ratio with some of the worst film material I’ve ever seen! Every scene is over exposed, the film feels cheap and disposable. Although its not too bad during night scenes but the day scenes, it’s just awful to watch.

vii – The performances from all actors are over the top and campy (which is really not a complaint from me!) but in regards to the plot, mostly all the characters are pretty useless. It’s fun whenever the headless man is onscreen but the filler, exposition scenes with forgettable characters can easily be skipped.

viii – I’ve always been totally against unnecessarily integrating religious or ultra nationalistic elements into fictional stories and Sarkata Insaan is no expectation. For such a ludicrous plot, it ends up making a mockery of both of these elements.

ix – Coming in at 148 min runtime, the film is waaay too long for such a premise. It should not have been more than 90 minutes as the rest is just nonsense “comedy” scenes or musical numbers which should not have a place in a campy horror film! 

+ Overall

I really wanted to recommend Sarkata Insaan as an entertaining campy horror film but unfortunately in its entirety, the film is not worth anyone’s time. You would be better off watching selected clips off it on Youtube.

Rate: 1.75 out of 5 stars

Feature Length Films

Mr. Khan’s Review on Mortal Kombat (2021)

A review on Hollywood feature length film, Mortal Kombat (2021). The film is based on a famous 90s video fighting game with the same name and is directed by the debutant Simon McQuoid. The film is distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures and is available in selected cinemas and HBO Max streaming service.

+ Crew

  • Directed by Simon McQuoid
  • Cinematography by Germain McMicking
  • Edited by Dan Lebental and Scott Gray
  • Screenplay by Greg Russo and Dave Callaham
  • Music by Benjamin Wallfisch
  • Produced by James Wan, Todd Garner, Simon McQuoid and E. Bennett Walsh

+ Note

After the disastrous Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (1997), the third film in the franchise was left in hiatus for decades before being finally decided to be rebooted for the younger audience. But due to the violent nature of the source material, several significant changes were to be made namely the hard ‘R’ rating. Unlike the first Mortal Kombat film, this allowed the creative team to freely depict the horrendous yet glorious fatalities directly from the video games. The film was also going to explore certain personal rivalries namely the Scorpion/ Sub-Zero story arc. Another major change that the reboot intended was to introduce a completely new character to the franchise by the name of Cole Young, serving as the main protagonist of the film.

On its opening weekend, Mortal Kombat grossed a worldwide total of $57.5 million, easily recovering its $ 55 million budget. The critical and commercial response has been mixed. Some praise it for being faithful to the source material while others felt it failed to live up as a coherent, entertaining film. Nevertheless, plans on releasing future sequels are now in the cards for the Mortal Kombat franchise.

+ Main Cast

  1. Lewis Tan as Cole Young
  2. Jessica McNamee as Sonya Blade
  3. Josh Lawson as Kano
  4. Tadanobu Asano as Lord Raiden
  5. Mehcad Brooks as Jax
  6. Ludi Lin as Liu Kang
  7. Chin Han as Shang Tsung
  8. Joe Taslim as Bi-Han / Sub-Zero
  9. Hiroyuki Sanada as Hanzo Hasashi / Scorpion
  10. Max Huang as Kung Lao
  11. Sisi Stringer as Mileena

+ Plot

Mortal Kombat is a tournament held amongst mortals and beyond in order to maintain balance among the many realms of the universe. Due to his dragon birthmark, Cole Young (Lewis Tan) is a wanted man as he might be the gateway for Raiden (Tadanobu Asano), Lord of Thunder and protector of Earth Realm, to save the planet from the wrath of Shang Tsung (Chin Han). Can Cole and the chosen fighters of Earth Realm protect and defeat the Outworld forces once and for all?

+ High Points

i – The opening scene of the film is just simply fantastic. Not only is it brilliantly shot and executed but it sets up the Scorpion/ Sub-Zero rivalry perfectly and in the process, inviting new fans into the world of Mortal Kombat. And a lot of credit goes to Joe Taslim and Hiroyuki Sanada for their outstanding performances. The gore, the violence, the dialogue, the art direction, all in service of the neverending rivalry between two of the most iconic video game characters ever. As a long time fan of the franchise, I could not have asked for a better opening scene to the film.

ii – Some of the characters are brilliantly brought on to the big screen; namely, Scorpion, Sub-Zero, Kabal and of course, everyone’s loveable a**hole, Kano. Whenever he was on screen, Kano’s charisma and personality just took over the whole scene. Josh Lawson did a wonderful job bringing the comedic, nihilistic yet self-serving Aussie onto the big screen. 

iii – Surprisingly, the humor was exactly what it needed to be; fun, dark but never overstaying its welcome. It’s not a coincidence that most of the humor came from Kano but even side characters such as Kung Lao had some great comedic timing to their performances. The film only takes itself seriously when it needs to be. The rest of it is quite self-aware in the absurdity of the plot. 

iv – Some say fan service is just a facade to hide lack of original ideas. But if done correctly, can prove to be quite rewarding for the long time fans of the franchise. Mortal Kombat definitely falls into the latter of the two. There are some sprinkles of “Finish HIM!” or “Flawless Victory” and barrage of the most violent fatalities lifted directly from the games (my favorite always being Kung Lao’s ‘Hat trick’ of course). The film is obviously very aware of what the fans anticipate from the film and to that respect, it delivers in spades.

v – I am happy to proclaim that the R rating was truly justified. With excessive gore, foul language and unapologetic violence, this is how a Mortal Kombat film should be. 

vi – Before going into the film, I was afraid of the Art direction and Costume Design just being ‘cosplay’ material but to the film’s credit, the costume department did a fantastic job with each and every character in the film.

vii – Just like the opening of the film, the end climatic fight scene is also brilliantly handled. The fight choreography was captivating and gets your blood pumping till the last drop of blood. 

+ Low Points

i – With all that’s good on surface level, Mortal Kombat suffers from major plot issues and character development. While an argument could be made that Mortal Kombat was never about the story per se but every good film or literature resonates much more if the audience can relate to the characters on screen. For a film called ‘Mortal Kombat’, the tournament unfortunately does not even really begin throughout the whole film! It’s rather quick skirmishes that frequently happen throughout its runtime in order to keep its audience occupied. 

ii – The whole concept of ‘birthmark’ and Arcana is just simply ludicrous and unnecessary. This is where I would say that the film was trying too hard to justify its absurd premise. Sure, it’s preposterous but that’s what makes the franchise so much fun. As a viewer, if I see concepts of different realms, creatures with 4 arms, human flesh functioning like jelly, I sure as heck not going to ask “Hey, how come you can throw fire from your hands?”. It’s inconsequential to the overall narrative.

iii – Speaking of underdeveloped characters, nothing could be more ‘vanilla’ than our main protagonist Cole Young. “Who?” you might ask.. well, get in line cause (for some pointless reason) he was solely created for this film so people can throw their expositions at him throughout the film. Although the film tries incredibly hard to make us sympathise with him and his family, it’s just not going to happen. He’s too underdeveloped, uninteresting of a character for us to care about him. And to top it off, his “Arcana” or special powers are so incredibly lame and generic, it’s unfathomable. 

iv – The CGI at times was questionable. Not a deal breaker by any means but could have been in the oven a bit more before being taken out.

v – Regardless of all the mishaps mentioned above, the biggest flaw that Mortal Kombat suffers from is that it never felt as epic as they wanted to make us believe. Since the Outworld had won all previous 9 tournaments, one more loss to the Earthrealm could potentially signify its extermination. With such a world threatening situation, you would expect to have a bit more investment into the plot but sadly, that is not the case here. The climactic fight at the end (although fantastic) did not feel epic at all and this for me, is the biggest failure of the reboot. It felt like a limited series episode. Probably a great conclusion to an episode but not to a feature length film. Maybe they should have released it as a HBO Max series instead.

+ Overall

While Mortal Kombat is far from being a “flawless victory”, it still possesses some entertaining sequences and fatalities to keep you entertained throughout its runtime.

Rate: 2.75 out of 5 stars

Feature Length Films

Mr. Khan’s Review on Tere Bin Laden (2010)

A review on Indian satirical comedy film, Tere Bin Laden (2010) starring famous Pakistani Singer Ali Zafar in his debut acting role. The film is written/ directed by Abhishek Sharma and is distributed by UTV Motion Pictures.

+ Crew

  • Directed by Abhishek Sharma
  • Written by Abhishek Sharma
  • Cinematography by Santosh Thundiyil
  • Music by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy
  • Produced Pooja Shetty Deora and Aarti Shetty

+ Note

Tere Bin Laden is essentially a satirical comedy on the mass paranoia that erupted after the 9/ 11 bombings. According to the legend, the concept of the film was conceived when, due to a severe headache, Abhishek Sharma wrapped a cloth around his forehead to ease the pain which led to someone commenting that he resembled ‘Osama Bin Laden’. This got Sharam to write the first initial draft of the film. 

For this screwball comedy, Ali Zafar was apparently the first actor to be cast for the lead role since Abhishek Sharma thought that his “quirkiness and wit” from his music videos would suit perfectly for the film. The most difficult role to cast was indeed the role of fake Osama Bin Laden. After a long tedious process of casting, Sharma finally decided upon Pradhuman Singh who later studied tapes of Osama and learnt Arabic within 8 months of preparations. In order to depict Karachi in the film, the production was held in Mumbai and Hyderabad to resemble the setting as much as possible. 

Understandable, the film was proven to be controversial in some nations and many middle eastern countries outright banned the film from being released there. The critical and commercial response was mixed but the film was a decent box office success which promoted a sequel Tere Bin Laden: Dead or Alive in 2016.

 + Main Cast

  1. Ali Zafar as Ali Hassan
  2. Pradhuman Singh Mall as Noora / Osama Bin Laden
  3. Sugandha Garg as Zoya Khan
  4. Nikhil Ratnaparkhi as Gul
  5. Piyush Mishra as Majeed Khan
  6. Rahul Singh as Qureishi
  7. Seema Bhargav as Shabbo

 + Supporting Cast

  1. Barry John as Ted Wood (Ted-ji)
  2. Chirag Vohra as Lateef
  3. Chinmay Mandlekar as Usmaan
  4. Rajendra Sethi as Jamal Bhai (Travel agent)
  5. Harry Josh as Security guard
  6. Masood Akhtar as Goga from Rahim Yar Khan
  7. Sudipto Balav as an ISI agent

+ Plot

Ali Zafar plays the role of an ambitious reporter who badly wants to migrate to the US but does not possess the finances to do so. After shooting a report on a local Chicken show, Ali meets Noora who is the exact doppelganger of the most wanted man in the world, Osama bin Laden. This gives Ali an idea to disguise Noora as the infamous personality and sell the threatening videos to local news channels for profit.

+ High Points

i – Tere Bin Laden has a great premise for a screwball, satirical comedy. The idea works on so many levels and just the concept alone was enough for the audience who bought the ticket in the cinema. So major props for Abhishek Sharma for creating the perfect “hook” for the cinemagoers.  

ii – I think the biggest question going into this film on everyone’s minds was “Can Ali Zafar act?”. And the answer is; yes, yes he can. At least he did exactly what the script required of him. Could any other more seasoned actor have done a better job? Probably but after watching the film till the end, Ali Zafar did not feel out of place so some praise should go to his performance in the film.

iii – Talk about perfect casting; Pradhuman Singh as “Osama” was picture perfect. This film would have never worked if “Osama” was not visually convincing enough to fool the characters in the film but with good casting of fake Osama, Tere Bin Laden pulled the stunt successfully in the end. 

iv – From beginning to end, the story flows smooth and doesn’t feel stagnated at all. Around the 90 minute mark, Tere Bin Laden has the perfect length which neither feels too long or too short. 

v– To the film’s credit, the greed and hunger for success and capital is evenly depicted between all facets of this “War on Terror”. Al Qaeda is out there killing innocent bystanders in their Holy War while the U.S authorities are there to deceive the world as saviours but instead are making profit off human lives. There’s a good line of dialogue from the FBI agent Ted Wood after being asked why he ordered to bomb Afghanistan if Osama is hiding within Pakistan:

“We have a 100 Billion Dollar budget for hunting down Osama, I can’t spend all of that on sipping coffee!”

 + Low Points

i – Tere Bin Laden commits the most cardinal sin imaginable for any comedy film; too many bad jokes. The film can easily be described as the feature length version of ‘Kapil Sharma show’. With obnoxious “funny” sound effects and over the top acting, the film just utterly fails to live up to its interesting premise. Abhishek Sharma is unfortunately not talented enough to create a good satire out of this premise. He just ends up doing what he can do, creating an unfunny, unintelligible “comedy”.

ii – For a story satirising such serious, real life events, the film also needed to be convincing when it comes to creating the atmosphere. But unfortunately, Tere Bin Laden also utterly fails in that department. The film is supposed to be taking place in Karachi but being a fellow Karachitie, it felt nothing like the city that I’ve grown up in! The city itself is obviously Mumbai, no real effort was made to disguise it as the city of Lights (also, slapping a mere PIA logo on a shop in the background does not automatically make it Karachi!). And since the majority of the actors are Indian, they can only deliver their dialogues in Hindi/ Mumbai slang and nothing even comes close to it even remotely sounding like a Karachite! It was utterly embarrassing how badly the film fails in this aspect. And there is no one to blame for this other than the director Abhishek Sharma for this.

iii – The film is just utterly ridiculous. And I don’t mean it in a good way. The comedy, dialogue, performances, production/ set design, everything feels so cheap and disposable. Abhishek Sharma was sitting on a gold mine with such a unique premise but due to lack of actual writer/ directorial skills, Tere Bin Laden fails to become even remotely what the potential was behind such a premise.

iv – The characterization of each individual felt like they just walked off the variety hour TV set. Why does the TV news CEO wear a wig? Why is a communist a being a part of this scheme? Why did Osama’s look alike needed to be obsessed with chickens? None of this makes any sense and was only there for the sole purpose of a second long gag which they can stretch for 90 minutes. When it comes to comedy, Tere Bin Laden lacks real effort. The script needed a lot of work before it would’ve been remotely ready for production.

v – Although the jingle is memorable, the songs themselves are nothing praiseworthy. They are cheap renditions of thousand other Bollywood film songs.

vi – “White people are always idiots!”. Or at least that’s what every Bollywood film wants you to believe. And this film is no different. It’s obvious that Tere Bin Laden needs a bit of “suspension of disbelief” but there is also a limit to how far the viewer can go with this. The American authority figures are depicted as complete buffoons who can’t differentiate what is real and what is fake.

vii – So the main protagonist Ali Hassan creates a fake Osama Bin Laden video, threatening a Holy War against the US army which leads to them bombing Afghanistan in return, killing hundreds of innocent civilians. Are we supposed to root for our protagonist? Was he unaware this would eventually happen? I’m completely baffled what the intention of the director was with this film. Although later in the film, Ali Hassan tries to make things right, it’s too late for that. The civilians are already dead. As a viewer, why should I now even care if Ali Hassan would get to fulfill his lifelong dream of becoming big in the US? It’s very insensitive to the people who have actually become victims in this War on Terror. 

viii – The conclusion of the film also made absolutely no sense. It’s obvious that the writer was stumped on how to conclude the story so he just decided to ignore logic altogether.

+ Overall

With such an interesting premise, Tere Bin Laden fails due to lack of effort in every department. From script to production to performances, the film could’ve been a sharp, satirical look on post 9/11 paranoia but instead, ends up being just another run of the mill Bollywood “comedy”. Talk about wasted potential.

Rate: 1.75 out of 5 stars

Feature Length Films

Mr. Khan’s Review on Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021)

A review on Hollywood feature length film, Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021). The film is distributed by HBO Max streaming service and is part of the continuing DC Extended Universe.

+ Crew

  • Directed by Zack Snyder
  • Cinematography by Fabian Wagner
  • Edited by David Brenner
  • Written by Chris Terrio
  • Music by Tom Holkenborg
  • Produced by Charles Roven and Deborah Snyder

+ Crew II (Production Houses)

  • Warner Bros. Pictures
  • DC Films
  • Atlas Entertainment
  • The Stone Quarry

+ Note

During the Production of Justice League (2017), a terrible family tragedy occurred and the director Zack Snyder had to leave the project. Whilst adding the finishing touches to the film, the executives at Warner Bros. decided to hire Joss Whedon (who had prior experience on directing the massive Marvel success The Avengers (2012)) as the replacement for Snyder. But during Post Production, the WB executives became skeptical as to how they would compete and market Synder’s dark vision of Superheroes against a massive conglomerate like Marvel Studios. This led the company to add numerous reshoots, cut down the runtime from 4 hours to 2, rewrite certain scenes, shoot completely new footage and of course, the infamous ‘Moustache-gate’. The film was finally released in 2017, to a critical and commercial disappointment. The film was not the Snyder vision that DCEU fans were accustomed to neither was it the fun, light hearted ‘marvelesque’ superhero film that the WB execs were going for. It was obvious at that point that the DC cinematic Universe was in trouble.

In the coming years, fans started speculating that in the vaults of Warner Bros., lies an uncut Zack Snyder’s version of Justice League. Pretty soon, hashtags like #ReleaseTheSnyderCut were trending on social media and a massive cult following began for the unreleased version. Due to its strong popularity and demand, Zack Snyder and Warner Bros. reached an agreement with the streaming platform HBO Max to exclusively release the Zack Snyder’s version Justice League, as it was originally intended. The project began taking shape in early 2020. The film was then reassembled from ground up, excluding all reshot scenes and dialogue, instead opting for what Snyder had intended the film to be. There were a couple of scenes reshot exclusively for the Snyder Cut but most importantly, Zack Snyder got to revisit and fulfill his vision of Justice League. The film was finally finished and released on March 18 2021, garnering praise from critics and fans alike.

+ Main Cast

  1. Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne / Batman
  2. Henry Cavill as Kal-El / Clark Kent / Superman
  3. Amy Adams as Lois Lane
  4. Gal Gadot as Diana Prince / Wonder Woman
  5. Ray Fisher as Victor Stone / Cyborg
  6. Jason Momoa as Arthur Curry / Aquaman
  7. Ezra Miller as Barry Allen / The Flash
  8. Willem Dafoe as Nuidis Vulko
  9. Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor
  10. Jeremy Irons as Alfred Pennyworth
  11.  J. K. Simmons as James Gordon
  12. Ciarán Hinds as Steppenwolf

+ Plot

Superman is dead. And a new world threatening event is on the horizon. Wonder Woman and Batman need to assemble a team of superheroes (calling themselves ‘Justice League’) in order to fight for the very existence of the human race. Flash, Cyborg, Aquaman, all ultimately join in to fight against Steppenwolf, the destroyer of civilizations across the universe. Will the Justice League be able to defend the planet or would they need the help of the Man of Steel in order to fight this new wrath of Evil?

+ High Points

i – Zack Snyder’s Justice League is an improvement over the original theatrical cut in every possible way. The narrative flows a lot smoother, each character’s motivations are much better explained and get to bask in their own spotlight. It is truly baffling to me why Warner Bros. decided to chop the film and reshoot scenes which were perfectly good/ serviceable to begin with! And in most cases, better! The Snyder cut is yet another example why Studio execs should only focus on marketing the film rather than making creative choices. After the less than expected Box Office returns for Man of Steel and Batman v Superman, Warner Bros. execs panicked and tried their best to emulate the “Marvel Formula”. From badly written quips to light hearted banter, the film ended up resonating with neither the Marvel fans nor the Snyder fans. Thanks to active petition from the fans, we get to see the “behind the scenes” drama of how a creative force gets destroyed in order to have a safe financial return. Now, even Zack Snyder’s Justice League has its own set of flaws (which I will get to later on in the review) but it is safe to assume that the film exceeded my expectations (considering what a mess his last two DCEU films were).

ii – Unlike Whedon’s Justice League, Snyder’s film has a much better explanation of the plot; the three mother boxes, how they got awakened and what consequences it would have once they are all synchronised together. This way, the story has much more stakes going in and keeps the viewer invested throughout the film.

iii – There are two characters that clearly benefited from this recut of Justice League and one of them is Cyborg. His complete backstory was cut out from the original film, left him utterly unrelatable and useless throughout the film. Here, his character (before his transformation) had a lot going for him, gives enough time for the viewer to sympathise with his unfortunate situation and probably, the most emotional backstory of all of the Justice League characters.

iv – The second has to be Barry Allen/ the Flash. In Whedon’s version, Flash was the supposite “comic relief” of the film. But in reality, he was an annoying, bad quip machine that quickly became the least likable character of the Justice League. In Snyder’s version, he is still a comic relief of the film but his personality traits fit much better this time around. Barry Allen’s introduction scene of the film has to be the best, most poetic moment throughout the film. It was simply delightful to watch and was just shaking my head throughout the scene wondering “Why was this scene ever cut from the theatrical release!?”. Not only that, Flash also ends up being pretty integral to the final climactic battle at the end.

v – Less bad jokes. No obnoxious rant on “What is Brunch!?” or awkward Batman dialogue “Guess we’re not getting the Band back together!” or “Do you talk to fish?” or Superman responding to being resurrected from the dead as “Itchy!”. Ugh.

vi – No CGI removal of Superman’s mustache. Funny how a film significantly improves with its exclusion, huh?

vii – One of the most significant improvements that the Snyder cut has is that Justice League really works as a team. They are not overly dependent just on Superman to do the job for them. Each member has their own task to fulfil and in the process, gets to resonate with the audience.

viii – Unlike Snyder’s Man of Steel and Batman v Superman, Justice League is much better paced, the dialogues are much better written and each character has their own story arcs. I am by no means a Zack Snyder advocate, I am still not a fan of his portrayal of Superman and his “dark” cinematic universe but I do have sympathy for him with this film. Invertedly, the studio execs took advantage of Snyder’s personal tragedy, butchered his work without his consent and what is even worse, they spent millions of dollars on something which was actually good to begin with! Sheer, utter madness!

+ Low Points

i – For all that’s good with Synder’s original vision, it is at times very self-indulgent and bloated with numerous unnecessary scenes and dialogue. There is a 5 minute scene where Lois Lane hands Clark a shirt. Why do we need to see that? The film is at 4 hour runtime and even though Snyder fans will enjoy every minute of it, it feels completely tacked on and unnecessary to the overall experience. On one hand, I can understand why the Studio execs panicked when they saw a 4 hour nightmare. Three hours or so would have benefited the film perfectly. 

ii – Unlike Thanos from the Marvel films, Steppenwolf is an utterly dull and tiresome villain of the week. True, his motivations have been a bit more explored compared to the original film but sadly, not enough. At best, Steppenwolf is just a plot device for the Justice League to band together to fight the big baddy at the end.

iii – Midway through the film, a certain character makes a very brief cameo appearance and there was no reason for this to happen other than fan service. It will probably leave most audience members completely baffled by it and I don’t blame them.

iv – The last climactic battle is still a dark, muddy CGI mess. The strength of the film lies in its First to Second Act but ultimately suffers from the same Third Act issues as its theatrical counterpart.

v – Speaking of Bad CGI, this whole film is riddled with it. The CGI characters have no weight to them, the movement/ details are jerky and unresponsive at times, it’s amazing that with all that budget, Warner Bros. still can’t accompany their summer blockbusters with decent special effects.

vi – For lack of a better phrase, the film just looks ugly. Yes, the original had color saturation up to 11 but at least you could actually understand what was happening on screen. Snyder always opts for dark, flat colors which are in complete odds with what the Justice League should represent. 

vii – I wish I did not have to say this but… Lois Lane in Snyder films just plain sucks. She is treated by the plot as someone extremely important but her demeanor says otherwise. I cannot (for the life of me) care why she is focused so much during the film when all she has done up till now is mop and being rescued by Superman. 

viii – The 4:3 aspect ratio was supposedly Snyder’s original vision of the film (to fit the large IMAX screens). There is no obvious benefit that Justice League has from this format and it also doesn’t make any sense to release it in IMAX format only to end up being viewed by everyone on their 16:9 Television screens on HBO Max. 

ix – SPOILER ALERT!!! (if you would like to avoid it, please skip directly to the Overall Section):

Snyder’s Justice League has the “LOTR: The Return of the King” effect. Too many ridiculous endings that serve no purpose to the film. Did we really needed to see Martian Manhunter approach Bruce and painstakingly explain to him what will happen in the next coming sequels (which are apparently abandoned by WB/Snyder as of now), how “Lois is the key to all this” nonsense, a badly written dystopian future with hilarious R Rated dialogue between the Batman and Jared Leto’s Joker. Please, I really do not want to hear Joker make a “reach around” joke with Batman. That really is Zack Snyder at his worst. Being pointlessly “dark and edgy”. The film should’ve ended when Darkseid’s threat was averted.  

+ Overall

While the film suffers at times with its incredibly long runtime and overindulgence, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is still a massive improvement over the original. It is a picture perfect example of how a film studio destroys a vision that filmmaker has and why creativity should be left best to the creators. 

Rating: 2.0 out of 5.0 stars (Theatrical release)

Rating: 3.75 out of 5.0 stars (Zack Snyder’s)

Feature Length Films

Mr. Khan’s Review on His House (2020)

A review on British Horror feature length film, His House (2020). The film is the directorial debut by Remi Weekes who is most commonly known for working as a Film Editor in the Industry. The film is co-produced by BBC Films and after premiering at the Sundance Film Festival 2020, His House was acquired by Netflix for distribution.

+ Crew I

  • Directed by Remi Weekes
  • Cinematography by Jo Willems
  • Screenplay by Remi Weekes
  • Edited by Julia Bloch
  • Music by Roque Banos
  • Produced by Aidan Elliott, Martin Gentles, Arnon Milchan, Ed King and Roy Lee

+ Crew II (Production Houses)

  • Regency Enterprises
  • BBC Films
  • Vertigo Entertainment
  • Starchild Pictures

+ Note

His House is an independent British film by Remi Weekes and it is a tale of countless horror experiences that refugees have to face in order to enter their “promised land”. Although His House is essentially a horror film, Weekes indulges further into what it’s like adjusting in a foreign country, facing racism on a semi-regular basis while maintaining the phrase “But we’re one of the good ones…”. The allocated house is a complete dump, there are countless holes in the walls but that is only where the nightmares are about to begin. The film emphasizes themes like traumatic pasts which the director cleverly converts into visual memories, curses and undying spirits coming back to haunt you.

+ Main Cast

  1. Wunmi Mosaku as Rial
  2. Sope Dirisu as Bol
  3. Matt Smith as Mark
  4. Javier Botet and Cornell John as The Witches
  5. Emily Taaffe as Dr. Hayes
  6. Malaika Abigaba as Nyagak

+ Plot

A refugee couple from South Sudan escape their terrorized village in order to seek asylum in Great Britain. Upon receiving their newly allocated home, they realize that the nightmares that the couple left behind have only been lurking deep within their own psyche.

+ High Points

i – What’s always great about Independent films and debut directors is that they are fearless with their art. They have a clear vision and they are not afraid to pull any punches toward making you as a viewer squirm in the comfort of your home. His House is masterful storytelling. The delicate blend of horror and drama brings the poignant premise out on the forefront. And Weekes directorial debut shows a lot of promise and conviction in his art.

ii – Since the film is a chamber play for the most part, the two leads (Mosaku and Dirisu) are superb throughout the film. Their chemistry is what makes this film so utterly convincing and heartbreaking. Although I was never a refugee nor did I have to endure the pain that the two characters went through, I do know what it’s like to adjust in a foregin land, trying to please people, make them believe that you are “the good one”. Weekes’ screenwriting hits its mark with such persuasion and tenacity. 

iii – The horror of the film is timed and executed with perfection. His House relies heavily on the “drama” aspect of the premise which was undoubtedly the right decision for this subject matter. Visuals are meaningless if they do not provoke any emotion into you. The film knows that very well which is why it stands tall above any other low budget horror film out there.

iv – The visual effects are (for the most part) surprisingly convincing and do not ever overstay their welcome. Most of the CGI masked characters are in the shadows which is always a clever way to disguise the film’s lack of budget.

v – The dinner table scene is exceptional with its pacing and visuals. This one scene alone can encapsulate the sense of dread and solitude the film entails within its masterful storytelling.

vi – The Soundtrack of the film (by Roque Banos) is beautiful and haunting. With its synthesized and minimal instrumentals, the music will linger within your mind long after you are done watching the movie.

+ Low Points

i – As mentioned, His House has great visual effects for an Independent film but there are some sore spots here and there, mainly the zombie-like figures. They look great in short bursts but if revealed for too long, one can begin to see the cracks.

ii – The third act is slightly lacking in what the first two accomplished. The visual composite of “Fear” at the end was a slightly underwhelming conclusion to a gem of a film.

+ Overall

A haunting, excellent tale on Humanity, His House is the perfect example of why we always need to encourage and promote Independent filmmakers and their abundant creativity that comes with it. This film deserves to be seen by the mainstream audience.

Rate: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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