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Avengers: Endgame trailer breakdown

Marvelites are having a pretty great week. A great Captain Marvel trailer dropped on Monday. Let me tell you, she looked mighty fine. Nintendo announced the return of the long-dormant Ultimate Alliance game franchise at The Game Awards on Thursday. A new Spider-Man: Far From Home trailer is supposed to arrive very soon. And as if to slap a whole cake on top of a cherry, the Russo brothers practically shadow dropped the new Avengers: Endgame trailer on Friday. The trailer reveals very little. But when has that stopped us from going through these a dozen times and look for clues? Let’s jump in.

Here’s the trailer, just in case you do indeed live under a rock.

Tony Stark is stranded in space

Marvel MVP Tony Stark isn’t off to a good start here. He is marooned aboard the Benatar, the Guardians ship. With food and Oxygen rapidly running out, earth’s greatest defender is desolate and helpless. We see him turning his helmet on to record a farewell message to Pepper Potts. The lighting is somber because who can bid a sad goodbye in harsh fluorescence? Him mentioning the end being part of the journey is sure to tug some heartstrings. He is also wearing a similar shirt from the first Iron Man when he was imprisoned by the Ten Rings. A great visual callback to his initial plight in a no-win scenario.

Avengers: Endgame trailer breakdown

Tony’s rescue is a hotly contested topic. We can only but speculate. Does Pepper Potts don the Rescue armor from the comics herself and go after her man? Will Captain Marvel pick him up during her return journey to earth following Fury’s SOS? Does Thor open a Bifrost with his Stormbreaker weapon and save him? Alas, we might have to wait till April for the answer. Or at least until the next trailer.

But what is Nebula’s story?

We also see Nebula hanging about the ship reminiscing and being all sad. There’s another very curious frame in the trailer where she gently caresses someone’s shoulder sitting in the ship. That is very out of character for her. Is she saying goodbye to Tony before leaving the Benatar? Or that is a completely different character at another point in the movie? Marvel has been really deceptive about these in the past. So rule nothing out.

Point Break is pissed

Thor Odinson proved last April that he is the mightiest of the Avengers. Maybe that is why it pains him the most that he could not stop the Decimation. Yes, that is what the head honchos at MCU decided to call the Thanos Snap. This revelation arrives thanks to Marvel’s Avengers: Infinity War: The Cosmic Quest Volume Two: Aftermath by Brandon T. Snider. Man, the name of this book needed a Snap as well to cut it down to half.

Anyways, back to Thor. Just look at him. This man right here is ready to get out on that stage and shred Thanos in a rap battle.

The Thanos-crow

The only character who is happily content in the trailer is Thanos. And why wouldn’t he be? He brought balance to the universe, in his own twisted way. Moreiver, as a great comic throwback, we see his armor strung like a scarecrow. He doesn’t need that anymore, because his job is done. In the comics though, Thanos is retreating in disgrace more than gloating over a hard-won victory. But a nice touch nonetheless.

Is Shuri alive?

This is a very important question. The fate of another character hangs in the balance because of her. Last time we saw Shuri, she managed to salvage most of Vision’s data before getting knocked unconscious. If she survived the Decimation, she could be paramount to bring at least one of the Avengers back. Interestingly though, the trailer reveals a scene where she is put under the “missing” tag along with some of the dusted heroes.

That could mean she was slain along with her brother. Or she might be alive but not working with the remaining Avengers yet. I mean, it was them who brought war and death to her home. Does she have her own agenda now? Time will tell.

Hawkeye…or Ronin?

We finally get a glimpse of Clint Barton after his absence in Infinity War in this trailer. Only…he isn’t Hawkeye anymore. He is in the shoes of another comic book character called Ronin. There are some other characters like Echo who operated under this cover identity. But Clint’s stint was more prominent in the comics.

The reason he wasn’t active during Infinity War because of his plea deal with the government. He had a family to protect and care for. Something tells me in his thousand yards long stare here that they might not have survived. Hence, his blatant disregard to government contract.

For reference, here’s the comic book version of Ronin.

Ant-Man is out of the Quantum Realm

This might be the biggest revelation of the trailer. Last time we saw Scott Lang, he was journeying into the Quantum Realm with the help of the Pym family. In a tragic sequence of events, Scott got stuck there after the Pym collective turned to ash. How he got out may end up being the single saving grace for the Avengers family, and the world.

Now Scott was using his trusted friend Luis’ van for the Quantum Realm incident. It might be possible that Luis survived the Snap and came back to rescue Scott through the radio. Or Scott could have gained powers due to excess exposure to the Quantum Realm ala Janet Van Dyne. But that’s unlikely because it didn’t help Janet herself.

Time travel is a safe money bet. Right as he’s venturing into the Quantum Realm, Scott is told by Janet van Dyne: “Don’t get sucked into a time vortex.” That seems to be a pretty on-the-nose warning but also one clear enough for a dope like Scott to eventually realize might be the key to him escaping his predicament. We’ll see.

Speaking of time travel

As the leaked set photos suggested earlier, time travel is definitely playing a big role in Avengers: Endgame. We see a hint of that in the trailer as well when we see Captain America in his winter soldier suit.

Avengers endgame trailer breakdown

We don’t know what’s cooking, but Cap certainly isn’t donning this particular old suit for no reason.

So, that’s it, folks. There is a long five-month wait before we close out on the first decade of MCU. It’s actually a good thing the trailer left out crucial plot points. This lets us converse and speculate about our heroes’ struggle to save a universe torn apart. After all, as the name reveal tells us, it’s about undoing the tragedy that has left them…disassembled.

Captain Marvel and the case for feminist Superheroes

Captain Marvel is arguably the most powerful superhero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The movie is the first female-led and female co-directed entry. Her gender and its significance aren’t lost on anyone, and especially Marvel.

‘The future is female’, is clearly on the cover of the September issue of Entertainment Weekly. The feminist slogan, synonymous to empowerment, was famously used by Hilary Clinton after her defeat in the 2016 presidential elections. According to the Washington Post, the phrase was first seen on the merchandise of lesbian separatists that operated out of a New York bookstore in the 70s. The meaning has certainly evolved as has Captain Marvel.

From girlfriend to the powerful heroine

Originally, she was known as Ms Marvel

Captain Marvel became a rallying point in Marvel Comics since Carol Danvers took on the mantle in 2012. Like other Marvel heroines, such as Sue Storm and Natasha Romanoff, Carol Danvers’s character evolved and gained agency over the ages. Her role shifted from the original Captain Marvel’s girlfriend to being an empowered Ms. Marvel in the 70s.

Journalism, Headaches, and Mind-Rapes

Ms Marvel
Marvel, seriously, why??

In those initial years, Danvers’ story was filled with growing pains.  She was depicted to be an ambitious career woman, who stood up to her editor when he wanted to fill his women’s magazine with fluff pieces. She would open discussions about equal pay. However, she would retain no memory of her adventures as Ms. Marvel ( among the other pseudonyms of the heroine); she would faint, and then Ms. Marvel would take over. Ms. Marvel felt incomplete and the story felt choppy.

It was then, when Danvers was yet to find her ground, that she was struck with the gravest injustice of her character history.

In 1980’s Avengers 200, Danvers found out that she was sevens month pregnant. She had been kidnapped by Marcus, who had impregnated against her will. Danvers was justifiably angry at being violated in such a way. Her fellow Avengers teammates reacted through confusion rather than support. And then, egregiously, Danvers became a victim to Stockholm Syndrome and returned with Marcus to his home dimension.  Instead of intervening on their teammate’s behalf, the Avengers mishandled the situation, stood by and watched, hoping for the best.

“If the point had been that…these other Avengers are callous boors, okay then, I may disagree with the point, but if David Micheline followed through on it, it would have made sense,” Claremont wrote in The X-Men Companion II. “But it seemed to me, looking at the story, looking at the following story, that he was going for: ‘This is how you respond to a pregnancy.’

Cosmos, Alcoholism, and Legacies

Binary
Carol as Binary

It took an array of talented writers to rehabilitate Danvers throughout the next couple of decades and infuse a sufficient amount of pathos into the character. Through Chris Claremont, Danvers discovered new, cosmic powers and adventured in space, as Binary. Then, her powers burned out and she returned to the Avengers as Warbird, proud but weathered by past scars.

Under the guidance of Kurt Busiek, Danvers experienced burnout, depression and eventually descended into alcoholism. With the help of former alcoholic Tony Stark, Danvers slowly proved her worth in the team, reclaiming her Ms. Marvel moniker and becoming a core part of the New Avengers and then the Mighty Avengers in the mid-2000s.

Danvers eventually ascended to the Captain Marvel role in 2012’s series of the same name, penned by Kelly Sue DeConnick. Danvers strived to go “Higher, Faster, Further, More”. Captain Marvel was both ambitious and caring, driven as much by the search of glory, as selfless ideals. She battled a brain tumor, aliens, and goes off into space once again, this time with her cat in tow.

Kamala Khan, the next Pakistani-American Ms. Marvel is inspired by her.

Brie Larson Steps into Big Shoes. Can She Fill Them?

Captain Marvel
Is that Carol’s cat in the bottom left corner? You tell us, readers.

Obviously, Captain Marvel that is set to appear in the theaters will be more streamlined and have a less convoluted backstory. However, she has controversial aspects to her backstory, adding complexity to her feminist rise. Brie Larson is aware of that. In February 2017, she talked about the many opinions and judgments that she has to face. Even Captain Marvel’s hairstyle has become a point of contention.

“I feel like this is a big conversation and every day I have people yelling at me on Twitter like you better have long hair, or you better have a mohawk, or you better wear the helmet, or you better not wear the helmet, so someone’s going to be mad.”

Bigger Picture

In general, in Trump’s America, the backlash against feminism and identity politics grows stronger. Of course, Marvel, being a global company, will retool the messages in the film in a way that’s palatable to international masses. That being said, the audience will notice the modern subtext, especially by conservative detractors.

The first trailer featured Danvers crashing into a Blockbusters, interacting with a young Nick Fury and punching an old woman in a subway train. Danvers’ military past, as well as her ties to the Kree, are emphasized, along with her potent cosmic powers.

The trailer shows that, underneath all the subtext of a feminism and a female superhero, we still have a fun, intriguing premise that can make for a good movie. Let’s hope that doesn’t get lost on either side of the feminist divide. Captain Marvel comes to theaters in 2019.

An earlier version of this article was posted on Medium and Upthrust. 

Why you should be excited to watch Bohemian Rhapsody

In the 1970s and ’80s, Queen was one of the biggest bands in the world. The British rockers routinely sold out stadiums across the globe. Led by the Zanzibar-born Freddie Mercury, the band was eventually inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Hollywood has been working on making a movie about the band for years, and that dream is finally becoming a reality. Called Bohemian Rhapsody – named after one of the group’s most famous songs – it’s set to be released on October 31st. We’re already dusting off our old album covers and re-watching concert videos on YouTube with bated breath and eager excitement. Here’s a couple of reasons why you should too.

Emmy-winning Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury

Fans of Egyptian-American actor Rami Malek, the star of the popular “Mr. Robot” on the USA Network, are anxious to see how the shy and restrained thespian transforms himself into a 1970s-era rock star. But if the trailers are any indication, he is well on his way for an Oscar nod. Freddie Mercury was so much more than a wonderful singer-songwriter. He was an enigma, a complete one-off, where his charisma matched his talent and then some.

Casting an actor to embody such a force is by no means an easy task. And to be frank, nobody can ever quite do the man justice. But in Rami Malek, it’s fair to say that we’ve given it as good a shot as we could hope for. Malek seems to have nailed the mannerisms, the style and even the walk of the famed star. And we can’t wait to fully experience the man’s acting chops in Bohemian Rhapsody.

Malek does all the classic Freddies

There’s Live Aid Freddie. There’s leather catsuit Freddie. There is even harlequin leotard Freddie. Red leather trouser Freddie. Fur coat Freddie. Be-crowned Freddie. White jumpsuit Freddie with angel wings. It’s astonishing how many of these costumes are indelibly burned into the memory. And safe to say Malek dons them all with glaring style. Do we actually need another reason to be all over this film?

Behind the scenes drama

Bohemian Rhapsody had been in development since the start of the decade, going through the myriad stages of development hell. British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen was first roped in to play Mercury. After numerous disputes over what the biopic would cover, Cohen had left the project in July 2013. Many articles published over those months have stated that Queen members Brian May and Roger Taylor wanted to keep the film free from Mercury’s scandalous life events, very specifically his AIDS diagnosis and battle.

In November 2016, Bryan Singer was hired to direct the project. Rami Malek was cast and the film was given the nudge it required by 20th Century Fox and New Regency. However, the film would still see struggles ahead. In December last year, Bryan Singer was fired from the project due to his absences (with one-third of filming yet to be completed). After that, Dexter Fletcher took over the helm. It seemed like there was no end in sight.

However, surprisingly enough, principal photography was wrapped up in January this year. All that’s left to do is wait. Not surprisingly, there has been a significant amount of backlash about the production’s deliberate choice to sanitize Mercury’s salacious life. Safe to say the off-screen drama during this film’s development has been nothing short of crazy. And we can’t wait to finally see if the final product will actually elevate from all this. Fingers crossed!

The greatest hits

Although aptly named, Bohemian Rhapsody is not only about the eponymous song. It’ll tell the story of the band’s 15-year journey from their formation up to their performance at Live Aid in 1985. So excuse us if we are a bit too excited to christen our eyes with some of the best Queen songs on the big screen. “Under Pressure”, a song that came from an impromptu jam session between David Bowie and the band. “We Are the Champions” and “We Will Rock You”, the unrelenting kings of sports anthems. “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”, Mercury’s tribute to Elvis Presley. “Fat Bottomed Girls”, the true father of Nicki Minaj’s Anaconda. And what about “The Show Must Go On”, May’s heartbreaking tribute to his frontman, who was getting weaker and weaker because of his battle with HIV/AIDS?

This list goes on. We can’t wait to see how the overlords of this project decide to put the classics in just the right moments in the film. We are prepared for a nostalgia overload.

Ultimately, films are all about the notion of storytelling, and with Bohemian Rhapsody we simply have a fantastic story. The band was, and still are huge, one of the most successful ever. And their frontman was a fascinating character, a true enigma, and a quite breathtaking talent. We want to understand him and know more about what drove him, and the dynamics within the quarter. No matter your opinions on their music, it is hard not to be intrigued. For that reason, sign us up.

STAR Cineplex celebrates its star studded 14th anniversary

STAR Cineplex was the first and the leading multiplex of the country. It celebrated its 14th anniversary in the multiplex on last Monday 8th of October. The grand event saw a star-studded guest list that included stars from the film industry, several ministers and many media personnel.

In the opening speech, Mahboob Rahman Ruhel, the Chairman of STAR Cineplex, shared STAR Cineplex’s journey from 2004 to 2018. “We started out in a turbulent time when the movie industry of our country was dying. We had to struggle for the first two years, redefining the habit of moviegoers in the country, offering them a better, family friendly environment for watching movies in theatres.”

“It was difficult in the beginning to bring in Hollywood movies from big studios. Even more difficult was to generate the audience for it. But now the studios are trusting us. We’re getting the same day releases as in USA for many movies. We hope this will inspire the local industry to produce quality movies and create a healthier culture, altogether” he added.

Cineplex awarded 14 local movies with lifetime achievement awards, based on their performances in STAR Cineplex. Among the local movies were the critically acclaimed, Aynabaji and war drama Guerilla.

Local movie stars and filmmakers urged the government to invest in more multiplexes around the country to support the growing Bengali movie industry. “We want to create good films. But we fear that we lack the infrastructure to cater to the audience who’d appreciate these films” said Shakib Khan, the star of the mainstream Bengali movie industry. He shared these thoughts as he shared the stage with veteran film stars of the industry.

A new branch of STAR Cineplex is set to open in Shimanto Square in Dhanmondi. The authorities have also expressed a desire to open multiplex of international standard in the tourist city of Cox’s Bazar.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before: are our expectations of teenagers too low? What to watch instead?

Netflix recently released its teen romance film, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. It quickly took its audience (read: young girls) by storm. A major reason for its success is definitely the male lead’s good looks; the movie has also received praise for charming characters and a lovable plot line. However, a question lingers, if a movie about two teenagers faking a relationship and then falling in love (big surprise) makes a good movie, how low are our expectations from films about teenagers?

The absolutely ridiculous plotlines

teenagers, to all the boys i've loved before

Our teenage pasts may always return to haunt us. But I bet that none of you were ever stupid enough to try any of the following methods:

1. Keep an archive of secret love letters with the one plan of keeping them unsent, but with the correct address and a stamped envelope for each of them.
2. Write one of those letters to your older sister’s (then) boyfriend.
3. Accidentally send a love letter to someone. Then try to convince them that you do not like them by avoiding them and faking a relationship with someone else.
4. Have a huge misunderstanding with your (fake) girlfriend because she doesn’t let you talk at all (for the sake of having a plot). One wonders how easily the situation could have been resolved by texted explanation.

Even if I ignore these absurdities, the entire plot can be predicted after the first 10 minutes by a 5th grader.  Depicting teenagers as vapid idiots for the sake of lazy storytelling seems like a strange choice considering the intended audience are teenagers.

The plastic complex characters

teenagers, to all the boys i've loved before

Movies exist in which the teenagers are treated as multidimensional human beings with a wider emotional range than a teaspoon. Take Me, Earl and the Dying Girl serves as examples of such storytelling. There are movies where teenagers act like species so dumb that no other generation can grasp them, like Mean Girls. And then there are movies like To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, which desperately try to build an emotionally complex teenager by forcing it upon them through ridiculous backgrounds.

In this movie, both leads are without a parent; this gives the girl severe abandonment issues causing her to avoid telling her fake dating guy that she likes him back for real. Embedding insincere complexities feel like an insult to teenagers because the writers, who created the edgy backstory overlooked how characters can rationally develop and change with context. This reflects a thought process which is the equivalent of telling your teenage daughter “I trust you, I just don’t trust the rest of the world!” The writer seems to underestimate teenagers’ intelligence, and your mom clearly doesn’t trust you.

Aren’t all teen movies like this?

teenagers, to all the boys i've loved before

The short answer to this would be, yes, most movies about teenagers make the same assumptions about the demographic. This also the reason most movies about teenagers are also bad movies. By no means am I asserting that all teenagers are infallible intellectuals. Rather, the mistakes one makes as a teenager are the kind that alters their perspective of the world. Usually, the mistakes are not objectively and obviously moronic choices. It is an age when they develop their own sense of the world. Therefore, any movie for this audience should reflect the shifts in maturity and personality that teens experience.

Movies that get it right

An example of this being done right is Juno. The lovable and quirky protagonist has sex, just like 48% of teens in American high schools. She learns to make hard decisions that reflect her personal growth over the course of the pregnancy. Another fantastic teen rom-com movie is the grossly under-the-radar Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Unlike Juno, this movie doesn’t grapple with the subject of maturing in your teens. It only focuses on an adorable love story, where both lead characters are intelligent and quirky. The movie is succesfully relatable and, more importantly, a good story.

Movies such as Scott Pilgrim vs the World, The Breakfast Club, Submarine, Call Me By Your Name, and Perks of Being a Wallflower, are additional evidence that it is possible to write, produce, and direct stories about teenagers in a non-disdainful manner.  I am sure the list is long of teen movies that misunderstand young people and feel written by condescending adults.

My main objection with To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, is not just the subpar story. My main objection is if we think this is acceptable and a ‘good’ movie, we encourage flawed storylines and set the bar too low.

Sincerely Yours, Dhaka: Bangladeshi anthology in Busan Film Festival

“Sincerely Yours, Dhaka”, a Bangladeshi anthology film, has been selected to screen at Busan International Film Festival, this October.

Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) in South Korea is one of the most significant film festivals in Asia, recognizing outstanding film making for the last 22 years.  “Sincerely Yours, Dhaka” is the only entry from Bangladesh. It has been selected in the festival’s “A Window on Asian Cinema” section which highlights different styles and visions within Asian cinema.

The film is the first anthology film of Bangladesh, made up of 11 short films by 11 young Bangladeshi filmmakers. The filmmakers are Abdullah Al Noor, Golam Kibria Farooki, Krishnendu Chattopadhyay, Mahmudul Islam, Md Rabiul Alam, Mir Mukarram Hossain, Nuhash Humayun, Rahat Rahman, Syed Ahmed Shawki, Syed Saleh Ahmed Sobhan and Tanvir Ahsan.

Ranging from bizarre, heartwarming to heartbreaking, this anthology film will take the audience on a bittersweet journey through Dhaka City. A background actor who’ll do anything to be the star. A wannabe gangster who’s out to prove himself. Two young girls who just want to get a drink in a city where alcohol’s illegal. An attempted murder, a stolen car, a refugee crisis – these stories make up Sincerely Yours, Dhaka.
Sincerely Yours, Dhaka is a love letter to a city that is often difficult to love.

11 vignettes by 11 Bangladeshi filmmakers come together to tell fragmented stories about one character – Dhaka City itself.

The film is Produced by Impress Telefilms. It is currently in post-production and will be released in Bangladesh as soon as the censor board gives clearance.

It is a proud achievement for the industry and the nation, for the efforts of young Bangladeshi directors to be recognized, on their first go of this genre and format, on an international platform.

10 movies you need to watch in Fall 2018

As the summer winds down, it’s time to look forward to the fall. The fall is a special time for movies: there are a few blockbusters here and there, but studios are also getting busy with Oscar-worthy releases. These movies range from standard tent poles and thrillers to horror flicks and biopics. And who can forget superhero movies?

These are our picks for the movies to watch in fall 2018. 2018 has been a great year so far for movies and judging by this slate, that’s not going to change either.

The Predator (September 14th)

Directed by Shane Black, this is the fourth installment in the Predator franchise. The film takes place between Predator 2 (1990) and Predators (2010), following a team of ex-soldiers and scientists who face off against a new breed of Predators, armed with genetic upgrades stolen from other deadly species. Boyd Holbrook (Narcos) leads the team as Quinn McKenna, an ex-Army Ranger who is already aware of the Predators but finds it difficult to convince anyone of their existence. Olivia Munn, Keegan Michael-Key and Yvonne Strahovski also co-star.

Venom (October 5th)

A spin-off of the new Spider-man movies, Tom Hardy (Mad Max: Fury Road, The Dark Knight Rises) stars as Eddie Brock, a journalist who becomes bonded to a dangerous symbiotic monster that gives him extraordinary powers. Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Jenny Slate, and Woody Harrelson also star. The spin-off has minimal links to Tom Holland’s Spider-man and will be the first of a series of villain-centric movies, with others such as Morbius and Kraven the Hunter set to follow in the near future.

Bad Times at the El Royale (October 12th)

Grew Goddard (Daredevil Season One) takes the helm of this mystery drama set in 1960s California. The titular hotel, El Royale, lies across the state lines of both Nevada and California, in Lake Tahoe. Seven strangers come together in the hotel on a fateful night, struggling with redemption before things go horribly wrong. Chris Hemsworth leads a stellar cast that features Jeff Bridges, Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm and Nick Offerman.

First Man (October 12th)

Directed by Damien Chazelle (Whiplash, La La Land), First Man tells the story of Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) and the legendary Apollo 11 space mission. The cast also features Claire Foy (The Crown), Ciaran Hinds and Christopher Abbott. This film is the second collaboration between Chazelle and Gosling, after 2016’s La La Land, and is also the first Chazelle film not to be music based.

Serenity (October 19th)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SbrOMrjhyvI

Baker Dill (Matthew McConaughey is a fishing boat captain leads a peaceful life, operating a touring business around the serene shores of Plymouth Island. His peace is disrupted, however, when his ex-wife Karen (Anne Hathaway) returns, asking him to save her and her son from her husband. Karen asks Baker to lure the man into a fishing expedition and killing him in the middle of the sea. Directed by Steven Knight, the film reunites McConaughey and Hathaway after Instellar (2014) and also features Diane Lane (Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice).

Bohemian Rhapsody (November 2nd)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xz5qOxttDkw

Directed by Bryan Singer, this biopic chronicles the life and adventures of the legendary Queen frontman Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek). The movie covers the formation of Queen and moves up to the famous Live Aid performance in 1985, six years before Mercury’s death. The movie was in development for eight years and plagued by creative disputes, which included exits from notable figures such as previous lead Sacha Baron Cohen and director Dexter Fletcher. Fletcher was later brought back to complete the film after Singer’s dismissal in December 2017 for unprofessional conduct.

Outlaw King (November 9th)

A historical drama that features medieval era guerilla warfare, centered around Scottish King Robert the Bruce’s (Chris Pine) attempts to counter and repel a much larger English occupying force in Scotland. This film is also somewhat of a sequel to Braveheart, as Robert the Bruce starts his campaign after the execution of William Wallace. The film will be released in select theaters as well as Netflix. Aaron Taylor Johnson (Kick-Ass, Godzilla) and Florence Pugh (Lady Macbeth) also star.

Fantastic Beasts and the Crimes of Grindelwald (November 16th)

Series veteran David Yates helms the second entry in the Fantastic Beast franchise. Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) enlists his former student Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) to stop Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp), after the latter escapes prison and threatens to unleash terrors upon an unsuspecting populace. The cast also features the likes of Zoe Kravitz, Ezra Miller, and Dan Fogler. J.K Rowling also returns to pen the screenplay.

Creed II (November 21st)

Trained by Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), boxing prodigy and light heavyweight champion Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) goes up against the son of Ivan Drago — the Russian fighter who killed his father in the ring years earlier. Steven Caple Jr. takes the helms of the franchise, following the illustrious footsteps of Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station, Creed, Black Panther). Tessa Thompson (Thor: Ragnarok, Westworld) and Dolph Lungren (Rocky IV, The Expendables) also costar.

Aquaman (December 21st)

The next Worlds of DC, formerly DCEU feature is a make-or-break film for Warner Bros. Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) must battle Orm (Patrick Wilson) in order to claim the throne of Atlantis as its rightful heir. Meera (Amber Heard) assists him in this quest. James Wan (Saw, The Conjuring series, Insidious, Furious 7) is directing DCEU’s third solo film. The cast also features Nicole Kidman, Dolph Lungren, and Willem Dafoe.

Which movies are you most excited about? Let us know in the comments.

Netflix’s Ghoul: guilt, tyranny and the monsters among men

Quietly released on 24th August, Ghoul is a sharply directed, enigmatically paced political allegory of a TV show, with a dash of supernatural spices thrown in for good measure.

The little ads and marketing you may have seen for the miniseries suggests the reverse is true, as does the director himself. “Dystopian future is something I’ve always enjoyed seeing in fiction,” Patrick Graham said, explaining how the idea of Ghoul came to be. “So we thought it would be a nice backdrop to this oppressive, claustrophobic story to have this fascist state behind it all. But really the main bulk of the story came first, and the atmosphere we wanted to create came after.”

The evil that men do

Ghoul unfolds in a dystopian India, suffering from sectarian conflicts and fascist state policies. Nida Rahim (Radhika Apte) chooses the state over her own minority roots and hands over her dissenting father to the state for reconditioning camps. Sometime later, she is assigned to Meghdoot 31, a remote interrogation facility to draw a confession out of Ali Saeed, a feared terrorist. Amidst tensions within and between the military staff and the prisoners, it soon becomes clear that there are other, far more sinister forces in play.

The allegory, while daring and thought provoking, is anything but subtle. The persecuted minority, which includes intellectuals and priests, all bear Muslim names. Graham, however, does a great job in creating an oppressive, paranoid atmosphere. The limited number of locations also helped heighten the intensity. Originally intended to be a film, the three-part acts were shot on location over one month, for fourteen hours a day, in a smelly, ‘damp setting with no sunlight’.

Produced through a unique collaboration between Ivanhoe, Blumhouse and Phantom Productions, it also features some serendipity in the form of the lead actress, Radhika Apte. This is her third Netflix feature in 2018, following Lust Stories and Sacred Games. “I’m very excited,” Apte commented on the coincidence. “I’m loving the attention, but it wasn’t by design.”

What turns good men cruel

Sacred Games and Ghoul are different affairs, and rightfully so. While the former is a big budget blockbuster production, this is a more intimate story that succeeds more due to the competent cast and tight storytelling. Apte does a fine job as the morally conflicted daughter who comes to see both herself and the state in a new light as the story progresses.

Manav Kaul plays Colonel Sunil Dacunha, the decorated war hero in charge of Meghdoot 31. It’s a more introspective role compared to Apte’s Rahim. Dacunha has long surrendered his conscience to the orders of the state. His guilt, however, remains submerged and potent. It’s this guilt, as well as the guilt of the rest of Meghdoot’s staff, that becomes fertile ground for the forces of chaos and terror to play with in the series’ third act, along with ideas of sedition and mutiny being played out both within the prisoners and the facility staff.

Demons in disguise

The supernatural aspects of the series, while novel, are a little underdeveloped and easy to counteract. Graham uses elements from Arabic folklore to great effect, but the horror of the story draws more from the Orwellian aspects of the setting. Graham was also conscious about limiting the use of jump scares. “Anybody can have a cat jump in through the window or have a bird hit a window pane. Jump scares are not the most challenging aspect of making horror.”

The main antagonist turns the table on the military staff, preying on insecurities and flaws such as collateral damage and broken marriages before eating their flesh to steal their identities. “I am nothing like them, Ahmed, and nor do I want to be,” is a key line that says volumes about Ghoul’s views on who the true monsters are. This is underscored to great dramatic effect in the film’s climax, with a line that reminded me, oddly enough, of Geralt of Rivia from The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt.

As a limited series, Ghoul also reminds me of The Thing, Alien and Pitch Black, as well as survival horror games such as Dead Space and F.E.A.R. The political elements borrow liberally from classics such as Fahrenheit 451, 1984 and A Clockwork Orange.

The Verdict

While it’s a good horror production, one can’t help but feel it could have benefited from a longer narrative that allowed more room for both the political and supernatural elements to breathe. Thankfully, the ending leaves room for a Season Two. “Yeah, anybody who watches it can very much realize that isn’t the end of the story,” Graham acquiesced when pressed on the series’ future.

Whatever lies in the future for Ghoul, Radhika Apte is optimistic about the future of Indian content on Netflix. “Sacred Games’ success has really made everybody believe that this is one of the biggest and best things that could happen right now.”

Originally published on Medium and UpThrust on August 26, 2018.

Mission: Impossible – Fallout blows all competition out of the water

An Overnight Success, Twenty-Two Years in the Making

I can scarcely believe what I am saying, but Mission: Impossible might just be the best action franchise of the last 20 years. While the jury may still be out on the former, it’s safe to say that Mission: Impossible- Fallout is this year’s best action movie by a country mile.

Each Mission Impossible film is different. The last film, Rogue Nation, had ambitious oeuvre and panache. In some cases, the movie felt similar to the likes of Sam Mendes’ Skyfall; instead of gunning for that same appeal of tuxedos and intrigue, Fallout aims to create a tense atmosphere of paranoia. All of that is only matched by the breakneck pace of a sharply written plot.

Although Fallout is the sixth installment in the series, it’s the first time a Mission Impossible film feels like a true sequel. Much of the feeling of continuity has to do with returning director Christopher McQuarrie, who has worked previously with Cruise in both Rogue Nation and the first Jack Reacher.

Another Mission, Another Race Against Time with a Stellar Cast

Two years after Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) caught ex-MI6 anarchist Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), he and his team have to deal with a new nuclear crisis, engineered by the acolytes of Lane’s Syndicate. As he races across the world to connect the dots, he crosses paths with Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) and has to team up with brawny CIA assassin August Walker (Henry Cavill).

Their character growth is tightly plotted but effectively portrayed. Each principle characters shines brightly in action sequences, with their distinctive builds and fighting styles. Cruise, Cavill and Ferguson ooze chemistry. The standout fight scene of the film, a sink-busting slobber knocker in a Parisian bathroom, features all three working in tandem against a common foe.

Henry Cavill gets to flex both his muscles and his brains in a way that we haven’t seen since he donned the red and blue suit in Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel. He bristles with machismo and confidence, and is also the voice of reason in many early espionage and action sequences. Rebecca Ferguson continues to impress as a deadly femme fatale, with a penchant for efficiency that would give Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow a run for her money. Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames are competent in their supporting roles, and Angela Bassett and Alec Baldwin are respectable during their brief screen time.

Knowing and Playing to its Strengths

The plot, for the most part, offers a fresh and thrilling take that acknowledges and often pokes fun at the traditional tropes of the franchise. From a very early point in the film, it is apparent that certain characters aren’t who they seem to be.

The screenplay, thankfully, anticipates this and instead focuses on character layering to build rapport with the audience. McQuarrie peppers moments of camaraderie between scenes of instant and high-stakes action. The team members bond as they squabble over their individual methods, the ridiculousness of face masks, and marvel at Hunt’s penchant for running quarter miles more often than driving them.

If Fast and the Furious is a ridiculous franchise built around cars and family, then Mission Impossible is built on impressive stunts, superb action sequences and, of course, a whole lot of running from Tom Cruise.

The ethos of the franchise is voiced clearly a few times in the film. The keyword of the franchise may be “impossible”, although Hunt’s IMF team always finds a way to do their job. No matter what the odds, and how many times he has been betrayed, Ethan Hunt has an uncanny knack for figuring out how to handle the situation and come out on top.

Celebrating Cruise’s Hyper-Human Endurance

To call Mission Impossible: Fallout an accomplishment isn’t an overstatement. At the heart of this kind of achievement is the maddening drive of the last action hero standing. Tom Cruise has found a way to channel all the darkness and upheavals of his personal life into a film career, maintaining a manic momentum for the last two decades.

We are left pondering, is Tom Cruise a superhuman? He holds his own while teaming up with Cavill. His fighting style is deadly, precise and within certain moral limits. For Fallout, He uses the Keysi fighting style, developed by Andy Norman.  He has used this style since Jack Reacher, and it contrasts nicely with Cavil’s hulking, brick-like brawling style.

The fighting choreography, McQuarrie’s directing, Rob Hardy’s cinematography produce a very convincing illusion of authenticity.

The Verdict

As great as the film is, it falls short of being a masterpiece. And that is okay, because the film had no such aspirations. McQuarrie and Cruise set out to, and succeeded in, making the best action-adventure spy thriller yet filmed in the Mission Impossible franchise.

In the eighteen days since its release, the film has amassed a combined gross of $439 million. While these aren’t Marvel numbers, they are very respectable for a spy franchise. We can expect it to finish ahead of Rogue Nation, which earned $877 million in 2015.

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Originally published on Medium and UpThrust on August 15, 2018.

Incredibles 2: worth the wait?

When Pixar Animation Studios came out with the Incredibles in 2004, it preceded the superhero movie franchises that we know today and the cult-like obsession with them. The Incredibles is a classic close to our hearts not just for the suspenseful action, but we also got attached to the family. In the Incredibles 2, Director Brad Bird succeeds in meeting 14 years of expectations and satisfying our craving to see more of this superhero family while delivering a dazzling entertainment.

*spoilers ahead in this review*

The movie picks up right where we left off.

We were kids when the first Incredibles came out, but went to the theater in our 20s, for the sequel. The Parrs, however, have not aged since we last saw them.  The story begins with Helen taking up an offer to perform a publicity stunt to make Supers legal again, leaving Bob as a struggling stay-at-home father dealing with teenage drama, math homework, and Jack-Jack’s 17 undiscovered powers.

More time with Jack-Jack

Jack-Jack’s development was hands-down my favorite thing about this movie. In the last movie, we got to learn that Jack-Jack has powers in the last 15 minutes of the plot remaining. Thankfully, Incredibles 2 gives us plenty of time with Jack-Jack, with two iconic scenes of him fighting a raccoon. It is also commendable that the director did not try add unnecessary new characters and instead gave us more time with the Supers we already know and love.

In 2018, we’re all about women empowerment, and Pixar knows it!

Pixar shows that it is acutely aware that Incredibles 2 is for a much different society than its prequel was. The second movie uses Helen and Bob’s role reversals to subtly deal with relevant and timely topics such as the changing concepts of masculinity and femininity and how it affects family dynamics. We see Bob being confused and hurt at first that Elastigirl is being preferred over Mr. Incredible for the grand operation. We see Helen grappling with motherhood and her responsibility as a Super.

Pixar does not sugar coated this role reversal. The movie portrays the difficulties of the situation realistically – capturing the bitterness, insecurities, fears – and show you healthy resolutions of it. 

Screenslaver dishes out social critiques.

Where this sequel falls short, is in its villain. It is too easy to tell which one of the Deavors siblings will be the villain. In fact, if you said Evelyn Deavors out loud, it actually sounds like evil endeavors, so maybe they didn’t try to hide the villain very well anyway. It’s very hard for the audience to relate to Evelyn’s backstory. Comparatively, Syndrome’s story line of being resentful of the Supers over rejection was more memorable and relatable. Evelyn’s views on Superheroes, particularly with her brother’s polar different perspective, feels too feeble for her actions.

That being said, Screenslaver is perhaps the most terrifying and lifelike villain from all Pixar movies. Even the name, taken literally, is a powerful nod to our own addictions to screens today.

“Superheroes are part of a brainless desire to replace true experience with simulation. You don’t talk, you watch talk shows. You don’t play games, you watch game shows. Travel, relationships, risk; every meaningful experience must be packaged and delivered to you to watch at a distance so that you can remain ever-sheltered, ever-passive, ever-ravenous consumers who can’t free themselves to rise from their couches to break a sweat, never anticipate new life.”

This monologue of the Screenslaver plays while Elastigirl is on the hunt for her. This haunting statement lingers with the audience. Pixar truly knows the time its movies are for: the era of social media. We don’t experience much in real-life anymore but would rather consume packages of the second-hand experience through a screen. In a very Black Mirror way, the villain forces us to evaluate to what extent we are actually living versus just watching other people live.

A self aware superhero movie touching on Big Ideas

Another way that the movie is self-aware is through its comment on superheroes. Between the first and the second Incredibles movies, we saw more live-action superhero movies coming out and gaining popularity than ever before. Would we rather obsess over superheroes saving the day to serve as a distraction from saving the day ourselves? This idea is reinforced throughout the movie in the villain’s backstory: her parents died because they waited for a Super to save them instead of doing anything themselves.

The third, and most important, comment that Pixar makes on modern society is embedded in the very plot of Incredibles 2. The movie revolves around Superheroes trying to change their illegal status, and Bob and Helen actually explicitly argue, if the rules are unjust and unfair, should we challenge them or play along? This particular question seems pertinent in context of global politics, from Trump’s migrant separation policy which puts children into cages, to even the quota reform movement here which does challenges the injustices in the system. Once again, Pixar makes Incredibles 2 incredible not just through the visuals and the storytelling, but by making it fitting to our times.

Would we rather obsess over superheroes saving the day to serve as a distraction from saving the day ourselves?

So what’s the verdict?

Unlike other recent Pixar sequels (I’m looking at you, Cars 2), Incredibles 2 does not feel like an unnecessary needlessly filled sequel made just for the money. Rather, it feels like a continuation of our relationship with the Parrs and Frozone and Edna. The Incredibles is one of the best Pixar movies till date and no matter how many times you watch it, it always leaves a meaningful impact. Incredibles 2, thankfully, did not try to mimic that impact, but rather deliver excellent entertainment with characters who have already won our hearts. Is Incredibles 2 as brilliant as the first one? Not really. But does it do the first movie justice? Absolutely.