Three-Zero

Sorry, it’s time for a bit of random rambling on this blog.

It’s the first time I’m writing something personal. Does it have to do with the fact that I turned 30 today? Maybe. Maybe not. I never understood people’s fascination with age. As the cliche goes – it’s just a number. As a child, I never thought I’d cross 20-25. I used to think that my parents and grandparents were already old. I’ve wanted to remain a child all my life.

That’s why I’ve heard from people that mentally I’m 18. 15, even. I guess that’s true. They say by the time you’re 30, you’re supposed to take on big responsibilities and forget about the ‘frivolous’ things in life. Who defines what’s frivolous and what’s not? I’m still into action figures. I’m still into comics. I love a good novel. One of my all-time favourites is Neil Gaiman’s ‘The Graveyard Book’, which is essentially meant for a 10-year old. So are these frivolous? I couldn’t imagine a life without them. I believe there’s a little thread of childhood that we must carry throughout our lives. The only sane way to live in an insane world, is to think like a child at the most critical moments – they are free of the shackles that make us adults conform to a certain standard in society. I love my sport too – cricket, football, tennis, the works. The title of this blog is a testimony to that fact.

There’s a lot I have to learn. I still can’t do my taxes to save my life. Mutual funds, investments confuse me. I’m not bad with money, but I do not know how to manage it optimally. I still can’t drive a car or ride a two-wheeler – a fact most people find surprising. Maybe it is. I’m ‘already 30’, right? I’ve just never had the confidence to do either, sadly. Someday I will.

People. An essential part of my life. I’ve met a lot of people in this 30-year journey, and while this may sound like an exaggeration, each and every one of them have shaped me into the person I am today. From my parents, to my relatives, to my friends – they’ve put in little drops of wisdom that has shaped the ocean of wisdom, in which I have stayed afloat. So thank you, everyone. I look forward to adding to this list as I move on in life.

I’m a guy who takes life as it comes. I’m not even sure of what’s going to happen tomorrow. The only thing I’m really sure of in this life is that I love writing. And that love will never diminish, no matter how old I get.

So, here’s looking forward to the next Three-Zero! Hope you all will be there with me.

Mad Max, Fury Road: The Valhalla of Action Movies

Score: 8.5/10

In case you were wondering which is Hollywood’s best action movie of 2015 – heck, maybe even one of the best since the turn of millennium – it’s Fury Road. Welcome back George Miller.

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In Norse mythology, Valhalla is a large, heavenly hall ruled by Odin.

Only it isn’t Odin. It’s George Miller, director extraordinaire.

Mad Max: Fury Road brings back Max Rockatansky – only this time, he isn’t Mel Gibson, but Tom Hardy. And if you thought George Miller couldn’t top his magnum opus that was Mad Max: Road Warrior… Fury Road turns out to be the real magnum opus.

And you know what’s the most ingenious part of Fury Road? Mad Max is almost a peripheral character. He’s not even the ‘hero’, to speak in Hollywood tropes. Otherwise George Miller would’ve named his action extravaganza Mad Max: Road Warrior: One More Time.

Instead, what we get is Fury, and she comes in the form of IMPERATOR FURIOSA – played by the one of the hottest and most capable actresses to come out of Hollywood – Charlize Theron. She’s the Road Warrior this time. From being the right-hand of the cruel IMMORTAN JOE – played by Hugh Keays-Byrne, who incidentally played Toecutter in the first Mad Max movie – she becomes a symbol of rebellion and hope for Immortan Joe’s Breeders: his harem of 5 beautiful women, who he hopes will carry forward his bloodline. And one of them is actually pregnant.

That is the story in a nutshell – Imperator Furiosa’s trying to get these women as far away as possible from Immortan Joe in a post-apocalyptic Aussie wasteland, where fuel is scarce. And Mad Max just happens to be part of the action. Oh, he’s probably third in line in terms of badassery – there’s a guy who plays a flame-throwing guitar through most of the chase. His name is ComaDoof Warrior. And he’s the second most badass character in this movie, after Furiosa. Who plays a flame-throwing guitar while being strung from a monstrous Doof Wagon?

Is that all of it?

In terms of story, yes, that’s it.

But Mad Max isn’t just about a story, is it? What George Miller has done here is – he’s distilled an action movie down to the bare essentials and gives us a 2-hour adrenaline-filled car chase. It’s action, action and more action from Frame 1 till about Frame 99 (the last frame allows for a bit of breathing space). And it’s not brainless action – it’s an intelligent, thought-provoking action film, which is why it’s such a joy to watch.

Cinematographer: Best Actor in a Leading Role

Mad Max: Fury Road is a sight for sore eyes. It’s a resplendent melange of colours popping out from every possible inch of the big screen. John Seale captures intensity, emotion and atmospheric tension just by changing colour palettes and by making every frame look like a painting.

The Best Actor in a Supporting Role probably goes to Colin Gibson, who’s the Production Designer for Fury Road. Legend has it that George Miller told him to “Make it [the cars] cool, or I’ll kill you.” Guess he took that seriously then. Right from Max’s faithful Interceptor to Furiosa’s imperious War Rig, every machine looks mean, beautiful, and ready-to-kill. And they’re functional in real life.

All I’m going to say is – if you’ve missed this on the big screen, you’ve really missed one hell of an experience. It’s not your run-of-the-mill movie sir, and thanks to George Miller, we’re going to be raving about this for a long, long time to come.

Piku: A rollercoaster of motion and emotion

Score: 10/10

These days in Bollywood, perfect-10 films are rarer than the blue moon. Thankfully, Shoojit Sircar pulls the rabbit out of the hat to give us a supremely directed, supremely written and brilliantly cast tale of a cantankerous old man, his daughter and a road trip.

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The last time I gave a Bollywood film 10/10 was Gangs of Wasseypur (actually I gave it 11/10). Before that, it was Udaan. Haider almost got there, but not quite.

As you can see, such gems don’t come along very often. Especially when it’s Bollywood. That is why it is refreshing to see a film like Piku do so well, critically AND commercially.

What is Piku about, really?

At one level, it is about the gastric troubles of a septuagenarian. At another level, it is the relationship between a pig-headed oldie and his equally pig-headed daughter. It could also be about families and why there is no such thing as a ‘perfect’ family. It is also a road trip. It is also about closure, redemption and coming-of-age. It also happens to be Deepika Padukone’s pet name in the movie (we never know what her real name is).

Piku is all the above rolled into one.

‘Bhaskor’ Banerjee (he likes to spell it like that) is a hypochondriac. He’s also a 70-year old man who cannot control his urge to discuss his bowels, which according to him is linked to life itself. His best friend is his doctor (played by the amazing Raghubir Yadav) and he has a penchant for stealing (or as he says, hiding) salt. You wouldn’t want to go anywhere near Bhaskorda – still, he’s a man who champions his daughter’s sexual independence, which goes against the grain of the old-school patriarchy. Amitabh Bachchan owns this role and it only confirms why he still rules Bollywood even now.

On to the titular protagonist then. Deepika Padukone, I take back all my initial reservations and judgements I had about you as an actress. You’ve done mostly average or below average fare like Om Shanti Om, Chennai Express, Happy New Year etc. But with Finding Fanny last year and Piku this year, in my books you are one of the most improved actresses in Bollywood, possibly even the best now. So much so that you believe that she IS Bhaskor’s daughter – so different and yet so much like him. She brings out frustration and helplessness with the same ease as she brings out independence and strong will. And she definitely has a thing for public transport drivers…

This brings me to the man who can do no wrong. Irrfan Khan plays Rana, a calm and collected taxi stand owner. Even he has family problems – he hates his mother and he’s always arguing with his sister. He provides comic relief and is the perfect foil to the seriousness of Bhaskor and Piku. The scenes between him and Bhaskor are pure cinematic gold.

In such family dramas, there always has to be a nagging aunt. Oh, it felt so good to see Moushmi Chatterjee back on the big screen. She plays Bhaskor’s smug and natty sister-in-law. She’s extremely supportive of Piku and always arguing with Bhaskorda.

Yes, so that’s what this lovely film is made up of – mesmerising moments and perfect performances. You’d be hard-pressed to find any other Bollywood movie this year that makes you feel as good or as warm. From personal experience, I can say this – my mother, who doesn’t praise Bollywood films all that much said that she would like to sit back for the second show. That for me is the biggest compliment Shoojit Sircar can ever get. More power to you sire!

And as for you, put your weekend plans in motion and go watch this rollercoaster of emotion!

Marvel’s Daredevil: Just trying to make TV a better place

Score: 9/10

In TV’s recent overindulgence of comic book-inspired shows, Marvel’s Daredevil stands out as a gritty crime drama, law procedural and superhero origin all rolled into one.

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I’ve never really liked comic book TV shows. Especially the ones that came out recently.

I got bored of Gotham 5 episodes in. Arrow, 10 episodes in. I haven’t seen The Flash (yet). And even with Marvel’s ingenious ‘Marvel Cinematic Universe is a unified world’ concept, I really haven’t liked Agents of SHIELD much either.

There was something missing in all of them. Arrow seemed to be a Batman rip-off. Gotham is CSI without Batman (and a pretty boring CSI). Agents of SHIELD is okay, but now it feels like service to the bigger MCU rather than being a good, self-contained show (it may not be a bad thing, but I don’t enjoy it much).

But let’s come to Matt Murdock. AKA The Devil of Hell’s Kitchen. AKA Daredevil.

Something about this show drew me in from the moment I saw the first poster and a couple of the trailers. Till then, I only knew Daredevil as Spider-Man’s best friend and crime-fighting ally. I thought Kingpin (Wilson Fisk) was an out-and-out Spider-Man villain. As a hardcore Spider-Man fan, everything for me revolved around Peter Parker.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Matt Murdock is his own man. And he’s just trying to make Hell’s Kitchen a better place.

Inhabitants of Hell’s Kitchen

The Law: Matt Murdock

Blinded as a young child in a freak accident that involved a radioactive chemical being splashed in his eyes, Matt grew up with other ‘special’ heightened senses that compensated for his blindness. Skylar Gaertner plays a convincing young Matt Murdock, who has to deal with his father’s chequered boxing career – because he throws matches for money.

Young Matt Murdock

The older, wiser Matt Murdock is played by Charlie Cox. Whoever is responsible for this casting decision deserves a medal. How does an Englishman play a blind, tough-as-nails New York City lawyer without the English accent? Charlie Cox answers that magnificently. While the glasses make him look a little like Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter), the magic he brings to the screen as Matt Murdock and Daredevil is something else (yes, he becomes two different people).

Adult Matt Murdock

Partner-in-Law: Foggy Nelson

Foggy Nelson

Matt’s best friend since college, Foggy harbours ambitions of becoming one of the greatest lawyers in New York’s history along with his partner. He lends the lighter sidekick moments and plays the perfect comic foil to the dark side of Matt Murdock. Again, great casting choice – Elden Henson owns the role perfectly.

The Beautiful Side of Law: Karen Page and Claire Temple

Karen Page

This is one character I found massively irritating. Deborah Ann Woll takes the original Karen Page and adds a layer of unwanted annoyance to her. While she has acted well enough, and she is the glue that holds the boys together (rather than being a source of friction as she is in the comics), there was something irritating about her I couldn’t shake off. Oh well, hopefully it goes away in Season 2, because Deborah looks lovely.

Claire Temple

Claire Temple is played by Rosario Dawson – what do I say about her? Not only is she beautiful, she’s also Daredevil’s first real friend. Note that I say Daredevil, and not Matt Murdock. Her character has been derived from the Night Nurse in Daredevil comics.

The Ugly Side of the Law: Wilson Fisk

Wilson Fisk

I’ve watched quite a few seasons of Law & Order, but my favourite is Law & Order: Criminal Intent, which features Vincent D’Onofrio as Detective Robert Goren. Here though, he’s on the other side of the law – as the scheming, violent criminal mastermind Wilson Fisk. I can’t think of anyone else who would’ve done justice to this role as much as D’Onofrio does, which is why he and Charlie Cox being the two main leads in this series makes it so much better. He tries to erase his dark past by trying to create a better present and future for Hell’s Kitchen – or so he thinks. Possibly one of the most nuanced bad-guy performances I’ve seen on TV in a while.

The Law’s Seeker of Truth: Ben Urich

Ben Urich

A veteran journalist working for the New York Bulletin, Ben Urich is a man who believes in idealistic no-nonsense journalism but is also weighed down by the circumstances surrounding him. He acts as the perfect mentor to Karen Page and often becomes her voice of reason. Good casting again, Vondie Curtis-Hall does a brilliant job (I keep repeating this like a stuck record because it IS true).

The Others

Warden Norton didn’t really die in The Shawshank Redemption. That was a farce. He is back to his corrupt ways – Bob Gunton plays accountant Leland Owlsley, a key figure in Fisk’s plans for Hell’s Kitchen. Toby Leonard Moore plays the chillingly efficient James Wesley, Fisk’s right hand man and sometimes confidante. There are also a couple of very interesting characters that pop up in a few of the episodes – but I won’t say anything for fear of spoiling the show.

Verdict: It must be watched, your honour!

You have to make Hell’s Kitchen a part of your life. You will not be disappointed. After all, Daredevil’s only trying to make TV a better place.

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Avengers: Age of the Visionary Maximoffs

Score: 8/10

Bigger, but definitely not better than the first Avengers, Age of Ultron actually shows Whedon’s capability to turn around a movie with a wafer-thin plot and a sometimes underwhelming villain into a magnificent, entertaining romp for the non-fans. It also has enough fan service to make hardcore Marvel fans giddy with excitement.

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I’ll be honest. It’s hard for me to review anything Joss Whedon does objectively. So I’m going to keep this review as SHORT as possible.

Whedon gave us Firefly, Serenity, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and possibly the finest team-up superhero flick in the first Avengers – the X-Men don’t even come close.

That’s not to say Age of Ultron is flawless. It has flaws, lots of flaws. And it nearly isn’t as memorable as the first one. But it has moments. And what moments they are!

Hardcore Marvel fans will be able to see clearly the points where Whedon has diverged from the original comic book story in order to serve the MCU. There are also little references, nods and mentions of new and old Marvel Universe characters to keep the hardcore fans going. Don’t worry though non-fans – it has enough action and explosion to keep you guys entertained too – watch out for Hulkbuster v/s The Hulk!

I’m not going into too much detail for fear of spoiling the film.

The (Funny?) Villain

Ultron (voiced by the super-cool James Spader) is great – until he tries to be funny. That sort of dilutes his character a little and you tend to take him a little less seriously – Loki was a far more potent threat.

Big Draws

There are two, no, THREE characters that really stood out for me.

First, the Maximoff twins. In an ideal world, they would be X-Men and we would all have that dream X-Men/Avengers crossover we’ve been waiting for. Well, it’s not an ideal world, and both Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) are called ‘The Enhanced’ – meaning they are the result of HYDRA experiments. The performances as brilliant, as is the attention to detail with their Eastern European accents – they’re from ‘Sokovia’.

Then, what made me giddy with excitement – the creation of Vision. Whedon has handled this situation more deftly than any other in the entire film. There are also moments between him and Thor that will make you smile wider than the Cheshire Cat. I’m really excited to see what Paul Bettany does in the forthcoming films.

The Mid-Credits Scene

No, I’m not giving away anything here – all I’ll say is that we might see a lot of forces ‘hand in glove’ with each other. *Evil grin*

To sum it up – Age of Ultron is more about everyone else and less about Ultron. It may not be the best or even great, but it is still essential viewing for anyone who’s been part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s journey. And it’s a whole lot of fun. Watch it and enjoy!

Detective Byomkesh Bakshy: Ab kya karoge, Dibakar Babu?

Score: 7.5/10

More than a film, Byomkesh feels like a 135-minute exposition that dives straight into the climax and drops strong hints at a sequel. This is the film’s biggest weakness AND strength. However, an undeniable fact is that Dibakar Banerjee has created (possibly) the coolest pseudo-realistic/fictional universe in the history of Bollywood.

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Okay, I’ll get this cleared up first – Detective Byomkesh Bakshy is not for the purist. You can see it in the name – Dibakar abandons the traditional ‘I’ in the name with a more stylised ‘Y’. The Byomkesh of this universe is heavily inspired by Poirot and Sherlock, rather than the one loved by Bengalis. In this universe he’s no Satyanveshi, he’s merely an amateur investigator. This is Byomkesh Bakshy: Year One.

Still, there is a lot to enjoy about this movie. And it gives us a LOT to look forward to.

Detective Byomkesh Bakshy opens on a dark, cold night in 1942 Calcutta. A bunch of Chinese people, smuggling opium, come across a hooded figure. They try to scare the figure away, but instead get their throats slit, with a terrifying warning – this hooded figure ‘wants his Calcutta back from the Chinese’.

With that opening, Dibakar Banerjee beautifully merges pulp fiction, noir and the 1940s – giving us the heady concoction that is Detective Byomkesh Bakshy.

Pros

Dibakar Banerjee has created an intricate universe – his 1940s Calcutta almost feels like Tim Burton’s Gotham City – and has paid due attention to detail. Every poster, every character, every building, every car, EVERYTHING looks and feels exactly like the 1940s.

That said, he keeps it contemporary with his actors – who pull off their roles with élan. Sushant Singh Rajput is a raw, untested Byomkesh Bakshy (he doesn’t consider himself to be a detective) who isn’t quite his razor-sharp self. He makes mistakes galore and even engages in a bit of buffoonery at times. His ‘sidekick’, Ajit Banerjee (the delightful Anand Tiwari) comes to him with the case of his missing father, and that’s when all hell breaks loose, literally. We also have the inimitable Neeraj Kabi as Dr. Anukul Guha, a kindly, intelligent owner of a lodging house, Meiyang Chang as Kanai Dao, a ‘legal’ opium dealer, Satyawati played by Divya Menon, and a host of other characters that serve only as red herrings. But the acting is class across. Especially Neeraj Kabi.

The last 5-10 minutes is another brilliant bit of filmmaking from Dibakar. He leaves us wanting more, so much more.

Cons

“For the want of world creation, the plot was lost.”

Alas, the movie doesn’t stay true to its ‘Expect the Unexpected’ theme.

Yes. Detective Byomkesh Bakshy, thanks to its breathtakingly fast screenplay, goes straight from exposition to climax. He doesn’t give any of his characters breathing space – apart from Byomkesh, Ajit (to an extent) and the antagonist (whose name I shall not reveal). All the red herrings are glaringly obvious and the reveal is not particularly satisfying – especially not when you solve the mystery before the detective himself! As a big fan of Poirot and Sherlock since childhood, the story didn’t really appeal to me much. However, thanks to the direction, the climax leaves you in a good mood – and you are definitely looking forward to another Byomkesh Bakshy adventure at the end of it.

The Climax – and why you should watch this film

One of the most riveting climax scenes you would’ve watched sort of makes up for the almost sloppily written story. The antagonist is terrifying, and his (or her) acting takes the film to another plane. Sushant is inch-perfect as the first-time detective, stumbling along the way, yet using his sharp wit and intellect to get by.

This is a film we must watch, so we can get more of it. I, for one, can’t wait for Detective Byomkesh Bakshy 2.

Given how it ends, you are almost inclined to ask – Ab kya karoge, Dibakar Babu?

Whiplash: Percussion Pornography

Score: 10/10

Statutory warning: The foreplay is intense. And the climax, oh boy – you’ll have to take a change of pants to the theatres.

Whiplash

Before you get turned off, I’m not talking about erotica. And Whiplash doesn’t have even ONE sex scene. Why then, do I have such a provocative statutory warning?

Because Whiplash, as my title suggests, is nothing short of cinematic percussion pornography – of the very highest quality. And the background score by Justin Hurwitz isn’t even the best thing about the movie – although it is of a surreal and otherworldly quality.

What makes it surreal, though? The editing by Tom Cross, of course. Every drum beat is intertwined with every intense scene as if on cue.

And if it’s a movie about Terence Fletcher (JK Simmons in a role that is worthy of every award in the fucking universe), then you BETTER be on cue and on his tempo, because if you’re not, he’ll gut you like a pig. Literally. I haven’t seen a harder taskmaster in the history of cinema. Even Gordon Ramsay on Hell’s Kitchen would quake in his boots. And the best part is? He’s doing it for the good of the students – so he thinks.

A man who matches Terence Fletcher scene-for-scene is first-year jazz student Andrew Neiman (a breakthrough performance from Miles Teller). Initially he plays off Fletcher’s brutality initially by playing the victim – slobbering all over Fletcher’s drum set. But something within him snaps, and then there’s blood instead of tears all over the drum set. Neiman becomes obsessed with gaining Fletcher’s approval and throws himself entirely into becoming the greatest drummer in history. He has no friends, and breaks off with the only girl he has a decent relationship with – all to become a great drummer. But life isn’t a bed of roses as he finds out later – I’ll leave you to find out how he goes about it.

But THAT climax. The last 10 minutes of the movie will leave you on the edge of your seat in anticipation, and as I said, it’s orgasmic. You will sweat as much as Neiman does, you will quiver and shake as much as Fletcher does, and by the end of it all, you will stand up and applaud. That’s what the folks in the theatre did today – they all stood up and clapped, including me. Whiplash has an ending that’s better than most of the best whodunits in Hollywood history – and that’s no exaggeration.

So, will you drag yourself to watch this movie, or will you rush to a theatre now to watch it?

And 5, 6, 5, 6, 7, 8…