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
  • 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