Posted in movies

The Best (& The Worst) Movies We Watched In 2021 – The Film Dispatch Ep. 1

Hello, and Welcome to The Film Dispatch – a new series from The Mirage, where we go deep into topics from the world of cinema and entertainment and discuss them in an entertaining format.
For our First Episode, we engage in a casual conversation about what we enjoyed/dreaded watching the most in the year 2021, along with what we’re looking forward to in 2022. Apart from our 2021 Retrospective, we also talk about our picks for the Oscars this year, if we were to give out the awards… so stay in tune for that and for what we have coming in the future. This is only the beginning.

People in this Episode :

Nandini Sen – https://www.instagram.com/nan6ini/

Rik Bhattacharya – https://www.instagram.com/shotyanweshi/

Somak Mitra – https://www.instagram.com/__a_n_d_y_y_y/

Soham Bagchi – https://www.instagram.com/droiddreams/

Posted in movies

The Art of Camp – When is “Bad” Good?

Video Essay

So, I recently sat down to watch House of Gucci after hearing about all the mixed reactions the movie had received for the past couple of months since it came out, and still, when I was watching it I was left a little perplexed. Because it’s not a movie you can easily categorize or put in a box, and that took me back a little because I have gotten so used to most studio movies being just one specific thing. And especially in a genre like a biopic, which is plagued by very standard formulaic filmmaking, House of Gucci almost seems to be like a parody of the “based on a true story crime family drama” at times. It is over the top and ridiculous, and the best part is everyone is giving it their everything, especially Lady Gaga, who is actually really good in it. So after watching it, the reaction does make sense to me. When you throw everything at the wall, you often end up dividing the audience, which is probably the reason most movies don’t take the risk of being so out there. And in the case of House of Gucci, even the movie itself seems to be scared of its camp identity and tries to lose it halfway through and focus on being a more high-brow drama, but that’s also when the movie becomes far less interesting. Now I know that’s not true for everybody since a lot of people weren’t sold on the camp, especially if you were someone who knows this world personally (Tom Ford Clip). The biggest point of contention among people though is most probably Jared Leto’s performance, because I have seen every range of reactions possible – from people calling it one the best performances ever and him getting nominated for every award show, to people just calling it dogshit and thinking he spoils the movie anytime he’s on-screen. For me personally, it was glorious to witness and I loved his performance in the movie, well precisely because it is bad and campy – from his over-the-top makeup to the ‘it’s me Mario’ voice. Now whether he is doing this campy performance, I’m not really sure. Jared Leto doesn’t really strike me as someone who has much self-awareness, we are talking about the guy here who sent his costar used condoms to prepare for his role, his antics are kinda stupid. But does it matter if it’s intentional? Because even if it is unintentional, and Jared Leto thinks he is doing the most authentic portrayal of the character, that doesn’t take out the charm from it and it’s still hilarious, if not even more so because of his unawareness. Or maybe he is actually the genius who deserves all these accolades, who got the campy tone of the movie and played it bad on purpose and all the doubters are just not at the same level. 

But why would anyone do that? Which is a fair question to ask. Just a few months back, I had gone to watch James Wan’s malignant with a friend in the theatres. Half away through the movie, she turned to me and asked, “Why is the acting in this movie so bad?” So I explained it to her, that James Wan was doing a homage to the Italian Giallo horror movies, and he was making everything purposely bad in the vein of those 80s horror movies. Needless to say, she wasn’t impressed by the answer, because she just said, “That’s stupid. Being bad on purpose is still bad.”, which is hard to argue against. But I had so much fun with Malignant, especially with how stupid and outrageous it gets towards the end, but my friend, well not so much. I wanted to explain to her why I enjoyed it so much, or how it was just pure camp. But I realized that it was too complicated to talk about, especially since I was myself unsure about how to define camp. But that is precisely what I’m gonna do in this video, try to define, what the art of camp is – and when is “bad” good?

When we think about what gives a movie its identity, we think of a lot of elements that come together to make the movie what it is – the script, the characters, the visual aesthetics, the cinematography, the direction, the sound, music, actors, style, and the genre, but there’s one part of films as a medium that we rarely talk about, and in my opinion, it is one of the most vital parts of a film’s identity – The Mode of Sensibility it operates in. But it makes sense that it is not much talked about since it is so hard to define what we mean when we use the term ‘sensibility’, much rather try to discuss its effect and uses. Yet, sensibility is something we are all aware of when we watch a movie, we can differentiate between the different modes of it, although such a distinction is largely dependent on personal taste. And thus we have a point of contention, on whether sensibility comes from the artist creating the art or the audience consuming it, and the truth is, the answer isn’t very simple, since art cannot be judged without being observed – it’s like trying to study the movement of electrons without disturbing them with photon particles…. Quantum mechanics anybody? Hehe, I guess not, my bad…

Sensibility can thus be thought of as a combination of style, perception, and taste. And while all these are highly subjective qualities, it doesn’t mean they can’t be studied and classified objectively. Look at these clips for example –

Clip 1 – I’m Batman (Adam West from Batman 1966)

Clip 2 – I’m Vengeance (Robert Pattinson from The Batman 2022)

In both these scenes, Batman has to deliver a very similar line, yet they depict distinguishable sensibilities. The clip from the new Batman film is sincere and grounded in realism, accompanied by a dark and grimy aesthetic that makes you take the situation very seriously despite the fact that it’s a guy in a batsuit beating up street thugs. While in the second, everything is done in an over-the-top, almost tongue-in-cheek manner, and we as an audience aren’t intimidated by this Batman, but rather laughing at the absurdity of what’s happening on screen. This peculiar sensibility of finding ironic value in entertainment is the one that goes by the name ‘Camp’. But camp isn’t just about laughing at how absurdly bad a piece of art is, it is much more complex than that. Elements of camp can be found in cinema throughout its existence, and not just in low-brow b-movies or cult favourites, camp is often used by master filmmakers to accentuate a scene, and in that way, it can be another indispensable tool in a filmmaker’s toolbox.

So, what is Camp?

 Well again, there’s no simple way to put it. The English term can be first traced back to Britain in the 1800s where it was used to describe the activities of gay men, who were considered to be ‘extra’ and flamboyant in the way they presented themselves.  The term later evolved among urban cliques and ironically, cults, and its usage got closer to how we understand it today. But it was Susan Sontag’s seminal essay on the subject, ‘Notes on Camp’ – an essay I’ll be referencing too many times to count in this video, that gave us a proper understanding of what camp is. Camp, as Sontag put it, is a certain mode of aestheticism. It is a way of viewing the world as an aesthetic phenomenon, one that is not of beauty, but of exaggeration, in terms of artifice and stylization. If the natural mode of sensibility, if there is anything as such, is to immerse an audience into a film by grounding it in realism such that the presentation is indistinguishable from real life and the audience can connect with and feel for the characters without being reminded that they are watching a work of fiction, then camp is just the opposite of that. Camp exists as a knowing wink, the essence of camp is its love of the unnatural: of artifice and exaggeration. Sontag calls Camp the style of things-being-what-they-are not – a man is supposed to be “masculine”, thus the feminine aesthetics of some gay men or the drag queens are considered to be camp since it goes against the natural. Camp is when we find ourselves laughing at a violent death scene instead of being horrified by it, as is naturally assumed. Camp turns the serious into frivolous, and often the other way around as well – violence becomes a funny affair, and the most trivial of things are treated with grave seriousness, which in turn makes the situation funny. Camp sees everything in quotation marks, it’s not a vampire, it’s a “vampire” it’s not a woman, it’s a “woman”, it’s not being a character but rather playing a role, it is the farthest extension, in sensibility, of the metaphor of life as theater. Camp doesn’t follow the traditional rules of art, it exists in ludicrous abandonment. Thus, with camp, everything is in ironic taste, so it always operates at two levels at the same time.

In her essay, Sontag says certain artforms have more affinity towards camp and lists random objects which according to her are camp,  she talks about movies and includes a few movies from her time like the original King Kong and The Maltese Falcon, neither of which are considered obvious examples of campy movies as we view them today. She also notes how lists like ‘10 worst movies ever made’’ were the populizers of camp since most moviegoers go to watch movies in a very unpretentious way, which is precisely how many people get indoctrinated to the cult of camp even to this day.

Susan Sontag (1933-2004), American writer, France, on November 3, 1972. (Photo by Jean-Regis Rouston/Roger Viollet/Getty Images)

The most popular camp phrase is probably – so bad it’s good, and a whole subculture of cinephiles who watch movies with the intent of laughing at them. But not every bad movie can be enjoyed, it requires a special quality and outlandish ambition to make it more than just a failed attempt. Countless bad movies come out every year and are forgotten a week after their opening weekend, so these ‘so bad it’s good movies’ are surely doing something right for people to remember and watch them years after their original release. They’re almost the same as the endearing classics of cinema that are watched by moviegoers despite new offerings every week, but in a very different way – I would call them the ironic classics. Just look at the popularity of internet shows dedicated to watching and making fun of bad movies, and you’ll see the audience for it. And since we’re on the topic, there is probably no better movie than the 2003 cult classic, written, produced, directed, and starring Tommy Wiseau – The Room. Tommy was an aspiring actor who got rejected multiple times when he came to Hollywood, well because that’s what Hollywood is, very rarely do people just drive here and get overnight success. But luckily for us, Tommy had some mysterious source of impossible amounts of money and he said, ‘Fuck it, if nobody will cast me, then I will cast me!’. Thus Tommy Wiseau completed writing a script on his own and had set out to make the greatest American drama in lieu of something by Tennessee Willaims, and he made every single wrong decision possible along the way. The Room is a cinematic paradox in a way, it is a colossal mistake at every level, but you can’t help but watch, and moreover, be entertained by it. It obviously flopped when it came out in theatres, but over the years it has gained an immense fan following and is regularly shown in special midnight screenings and has even inspired a real big award-winning Hollywood movie based on its creation. Yes, it is quite a phenomenon – the celebrities love it, the internet loves it, people throw spoons at the screen while watching it (yeah that’s a thing). But why this movie? As Sontag notes, the best camp is one that is innocent. Wiseau didn’t set out to make a campy flick, and neither was he trying to just put together a movie to earn some quick buck, despite its flaws, The Room is a labour of love, a passion project for its creator. Tommy Wiseau was truly ambitious in his effort, to a degree of fault, but everyone in the movie commits to his vision and plays it like they are in a serious drama – which is why it works. It completely lacks any sort of self-awareness, and thus you get comedic golds like this – (Just use any clip from The Room, all of them suck equally)

But The Room isn’t the only camp classic built off of mishaps, like I said it’s an entire subculture, and I think I’ll discuss it separately in a video someday since I’m one of the weirdos who enjoys watching bad movies just to laugh at them. I don’t even consider them guilty pleasures, they are just fun.

Obviously, not everyone shares the same attitude towards cinema, most people who are just looking for an engaging story that can keep them entertained for two hours will be put off by a movie as bizarre as The Rocky Horror Picture Show. But the movie has a dedicated cult following of people who religiously watch it and put up screenings where they even dress up as the characters and re-enact the film for a live audience. Camp as sensibility only attracts people with a particular taste. It used to be most popular among urban cliques and obviously the LGBT community, because of its affinity for the unnatural and outrageous, which these communities could identify with. Campy movies are like comfort food for a lot of people, camp is a taste of love, love for human nature, love for the unnatural and theatrical, as it doesn’t judge, but rather relishes the little triumphs and awkward intensities of life and art, and in that way, it’s also a form of pure enjoyment. 

But camp isn’t mindless either. Sontag calls camp a variant of sophistication but hardly identical to it. A certain level of sophistication is required to understand camp or have a camp taste since you need to be in on the joke. Now if an audience member themselves lacks any awareness, then nothing from a so-bad-its-good-movie will be fun for them, they would think they are just watching a really boring drama. This is why over-the-top cringe elements (like the Hallmark films or Netflix original movies) are still seen in low-level movies that are just going to be consumed as products by a mindless audience who won’t ever put much thought into it. They can be watched through a camp lens and enjoyed, although the unambitious generic cash-grab nature of such films prohibits them from being true camp. To be true camp, you need to be really out there, it’s not about being bad, it’s about attempting to be extraordinary and failing, to create something so audacious and passionate that it makes you take a note.

Here is it important to draw the difference between deliberate and naive camp. According to Susan Sontag, pure camp is always naive. She says that camp which is aware of its own campiness is seldom pleasurable, pure camp requires a sense of self-seriousness that fails. And there’s some truth to her statement. Since the Room, Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestero have tried to recreate its success, but in trying to be bad on purpose, all their output since has been far less enjoyable as it has lost all its original charm. Similarly, other movies that set out to make a bad movie on purpose are never as good as movies that had no idea they were being camp. But Susan Sontag wrote her essay in 1964, and camp in films has gone through a huge change since. Because of the change in sensibilities over time, some of the most beloved Hollywood classics may seem campy to audiences today because of their exaggerated presentation. But when they came out, they were the standard for how movies should be. Earliest examples of intended camp come from the B-movies that were being made in the 40s and 50s, and which experienced a boom in the 60s. Notably, Ed Wood’s filmography is an iconic part of the so bad it’s good cinema landscape. And then later, elements from those movies found their way into the mainstream because of a new generation of filmmakers who grew up watching the B-movies movies and identified the outrageous potential of entertainment value in them. Campy movies were extremely popular in the 80s and 90s, with complete genres that were saturated with camp. The B-movie sensibilities were now part of the broader cinematic language with mainstream films leaning into that direction. 

Now, there is some truth to the statement that good art cannot be camp, since the most obvious examples of camp are ridiculously bad movies, but that doesn’t mean camp sensibilities cannot be found in High Art. Initially, camp was seen as a reaction to the purposely serious nature of High culture. But there are other creative sensibilities besides the ‘serious’ (both tragic and comic) esoteric styles of high culture and one cheats oneself, as a human being, if one only respects the sensibilities of high culture. The supposed greatness of cinema isn’t just based on realism and accurate portrayal of the human experience, it also requires stretching the medium and exploring absurd questions on the human experience. Thus we see the influx of the bizarre in the world of cinema, most often in genres like horror or science fiction, movies far removed from reality, but ones that would still be considered High art for their thought-provoking nature. Clearly different standards apply here than in traditional High culture. Any Art is good not because it is accurate, but rather because through it another kind of truth about the human experience is being revealed. In short, another valid sensibility is being revealed, one that exists in the peripheries of extreme. Camp is the sensibility of the theatricalization of such experiences, and thus, Camp is clearly a very post-modern sensibility, since it is a reflection on the art itself. 

Many great movies incorporate camp to enhance their narratives with hints of superficiality and theatrical presentation. Camp isn’t limited to just bad action and horror movies from the 80s, even the works of the greats like David Lynch have undeniable camp elements that make them more enjoyable. Lynch’s movies relish on the comedy of the absurd, and that goes for all other outlandish stories from that era. Quentin Tarantino incorporates camp in his movies as a reference to the B-movies he grew up watching, it is a way of having fun, and at the same time adding a different layer (insert scene from Kill Bill). When borrowing a style he goes completely into the over-the-top aesthetics of the genre, like the stereotypical kung fu master with a goatee or a Japanese girl in high school uniform beating a gang up. These filmmakers blend camp with seriousness to achieve a result that is more entertaining and layered in the process. Look at the beloved 80s classic The Princess Bride, for example, it is a fairy tale far removed from reality, and it is told through the narrative device of narrating a bedtime story to a kid, so it requires a sense of the whimsical. And that is achieved through the campiness, as we can see in the film that makes it a perfect blend of camp and adventure, so even when the situations are dire, it’s never not fun. And speaking of whimsy, probably nobody does it better today than Wes Anderson. Wes Anderson’s films are a constant blend of seriousness and camp, which gives them their signature charming quality. Campy performances have saved many films, which would be totally forgettable blobs otherwise. Think Tim Curry from the original IT miniseries, or Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow and Tom Hardy as Venom elevating their by-the-numbers traditional blockbusters into more than what’s on the page.  So, camp adds more flavour and flamboyance to could otherwise be a dull lacklustre affair. I mean we can all agree that Nicolas Cage makes any movie 10 times better just by his presence, right? (Just insert any Nic cage clip). So, it would be really naive to say that camp is just bad art, it is just another way of approaching art. Calling a movie campy is not degrading its quality, but just identifying its sensibility, as some of the greatest movies ever made are filled with camp. Heck, even the works of Oscar Wilde and The Great freaking Gatsby have campy elements associated with the depiction of High society. So take that you literary snobs, don’t you dare look down upon us for liking Nic Cage. The man is a genius.

If there’s anything postmodern art does, it “obliterates the line—or the brow—separating the high from the low,”

So why, why such a divisive reaction to these modern movies trying to incorporate camp?  Well, for that we need to talk about the death of camp for a bit. After the 90s, with the rapid improvement in technology and CGI graphics and because of the need for cinema to be more immersive than ever, in order to compete with the rising quality of television and internet media, the goal quickly became to immerse an audience as realistically as possible, even when the concepts in the movies were completely fantastical. The big genre movies even started taking themselves seriously. In 2008, we got both The Dark Knight and Iron Man, big commercial hits that took their source materials seriously and brought them to reality, whereas comic book media had mostly been campy until then because comics books were largely considered to be a lower art form. There simply isn’t any need to be camp anymore, we are at a point in terms of both technology and sensibility, that big purple alien spewing philosophy and killing half of the population can be done with complete sincerity, or a man being attacked by a bear can look real and visceral on camera, without it ever becoming goofy. Also, camp requires an amount of courage. You need to have the courage to suck, or else you just can’t attempt something that is completely out there. And that’s the thing Hollywood doesn’t like doing anymore – taking risks. Everything is standardized and made with little care to try something new, it’s all a repetition of what works and is tested a million times in focus groups and test screenings, so what we get are only homogenous movies that are too afraid to have a personality and do something completely wild. The movies, along with the audience, have become a bit too self-aware, to the point where if writers do put something out there in a script, they immediately feel the need to cut it down with some form of sarcasm or irony. And when you become ironic in your work itself, the question of your work having ironic value goes out of the window. Every movie nowadays feels the need to make fun of any element that might be considered zany or campy, or have a character witness some weird shit and then immediately just end it with a lazy joke by them going… “yeah, that just happened.” (No way home clip) I don’t have anything against this more realistic and self-aware style of storytelling, but I’m just disappointed in the inability of artists to go weird in the mainstream anymore. Like I’m sure Mahershala Ali will be a great Blade in the upcoming Marvel movie, but I doubt he’ll say anything in it as profound as (ice-skate uphill clip). 

But is it just the audience who have rejected any sensibility that questions their sense of reality, because they just want brain-dead comfort food in terms of entertainment? Do we now judge art through such a narrow lens that anything that makes us think or leave our comfort zone, is immediately rejected? While an argument can be made for that, it would be lazy to just blame it all on the audience.

Well, here I think I need to point out that time has a great effect on what is and what isn’t considered camp. Sensibilities change over time with our societal cultures evolving and with it our response to art. Movies from classic Hollywood will appear full of camp to us, even though that wasn’t their intention, they were only operating within their natural mode of sensibility of the time. Things go out of fashion quickly and thus, the over-the-top elements of an era appear campy to us. An 80’s mullet would be considered campy in the modern context, but back then it was the craze. So maybe, the movies from the 80s and 90s appear campy to us because of the cultural shift we have had in the meantime. And while 20-30 years may seem too short for culture to evolve in any significant way, we have to remember that these last couple of decades have also seen the most rampant change in media production and consumption in history. Like I said earlier, cameras and technologies are better than ever, to the point where life on screen is indistinguishable from reality. We are also constantly surrounded by screens all the time around us and consume more media than ever before, so suspension of disbelief has worn out to some extent – Visual media just feels natural to us. So audiences today accept a lot less in terms of style that breaks their sense of realism. Now, I’m generally talking about only western media here, since Indian cinema, be it in Bollywood or the South Indian film industry, or even Asian cinema to some extent, is filled with camp, most of them even bordering on kitsch, so it’s an entirely different problem. But even in mainstream Indian cinema, we are seeing the change in sensibility because of the arrival of online media and exposure to different tastes. 

And this is why I feel different sensibilities have a space in our world – camp isn’t really dead, as long as there are people around who appreciate it. The advent of the internet also has made sure that there is a niche for everything. And we are a generation who knows to appreciate things for ironic value. Much of our meme culture is based on ironic comedy that can be considered camp. This is why old campy movies from the past are suddenly having a resurgence. There’s a certain joy to seeing people try and fail hilariously, and thus the so bad it’s good movies often offer the same kind of satisfaction as the video of watching a guy perform a failed stunt – they are excellent sources of meme material. Complete disasters like Showgirls and Rocky Horror Picture show have been revamped and given a glow-up as camp classics. Like I mentioned earlier, there are entire internet shows dedicated just talking about hilariously bad movies, and the so-bad-its-good movies are now part of the cinema canon. They are not some weird obscure pieces of art, but rather readily available and sold as products. Lost gems like Samurai Cop have been discovered years after its release and it even got a sequel in 2015. Yes, even Samurai Cop got a sequel. Why? Because suddenly there is a demand for such outrageous stories. And filmmakers have tried to cash in on this phenomenon, and this is where you get movies, like Sharknado, wolf cop, or this meme, which is an actual movie, called Velocipastor (yeah, it is a real thing).  But as Sontag had pointed out in her essay, these movies are rarely as satisfying as unintentional or pure camp, because often they get lose their charm due to self-awareness. We even have an emerging culture of hate watching now, with people just watching movies to see how bad they are and roast them, so we are going even beyond camp.

But guess what? You don’t need to be bad to be camp. A good filmmaker knows when and how to exaggerate the sensibilities and be embrace the camp to serve the story. They aren’t trying to be bad, they just are having fun with the idea, and that fun translates onto the screen.

And this is why I think camp is important, and something that shouldn’t be put to bed yet.  In a line from Notes on Camp, Susan Sontag makes a very interesting remark – “What is most beautiful in feminine women is something masculine, and what is most beautiful in virile men is something feminine.” That line stuck with me because it is something I truly believe in. Our differences from the norm make us more attractive, it adds extra layers to our character and makes us more interesting as people. And it goes the same for cinema, cinema shouldn’t be put in a box, it should be allowed to express in all modes of sensibilities it possesses. I’m not saying that campy movies are superior to all other kind of movies, I’m just saying it shouldn’t be something we shy away from it, the more variety in artistic expression, the more interesting art we’ll get. Cinema should be allowed to be whatever it wants to be. A murder mystery with political undertones can be campy fun, while a movie about a spiky alien being beat up by six action figures can be completely serious, it all works. Camp shouldn’t be a thing for only those quirky little indie movies, especially when we know it works. James Gunn infused both DC and Marvel with his B-movie campy sensibilities in Guardians of the galaxy and The Suicide squad, and both franchises are better off for that. Same goes for the Grandmaster in Thor Ragnarok and the Drummer Octopus in Aquaman, they just make the movies more fun and interesting. Which is why recent movies like House and Gucci, Malignant, or Last Night in Soho, should be appreciated for trying to break the mold and bring camp back to the mainstream, because god knows we need something different and crazy now. And the next time you are watching something and you think to yourself, “This is silly” “This is stupid” “This is bad”, just ask yourself one question – “Am I enjoying this?” and if the answer is yes, just keeping enjoying it. That’s all that matters.

Posted in movies

Pather Panchali – A Genius at Work

INTRO

Explaining to people why you love a Satyajit Ray film is like trying to explain to the love of your life why you love him – There are too many things to be said, too many details to be gone over, and after a certain point they all start to sound very repetitive, and you realize no matter what you say, words couldn’t possibly do justice to how you feel. And especially what new thing could be said about Pather Panchali, when so many people, way more qualified than me, have already done so. However, the sad reality is, Ray’s body of work is largely unknown to the general audience. When you bring up the notion of Indian cinema to people, their minds automatically go to the songs and dances, the lavish sets, and the larger-than-life melodramatic affairs that Bollywood has unfortunately popularized. Heck, even most people in his homeland haven’t sought out his films. Yes, every Bengali is aware of Satyajit Ray at some level and has probably watched or read something by him, but very few have done the deep dive and watched the entire filmography. 

Satyajit Ray arrived at the scene at a time when the Indian film industry was bound by set conventions and heavily depended on factors that were favourable to the commercial valuation of films. He broke away from all these conventions and alleged “indispensable set rules”, whether it be working with an entire cast of non-actors to shooting the film in natural light, Ray did it all. Funds did not come easy but that didn’t stop Ray. After surmounting all these hurdles, came Pather Panchali– a film that revolutionized Indian cinema. 

Ray’s first (and probably the most well-known) film, Pather Panchali is a household name and is considered a bonafide international classic that placed Satyajit Ray in the leagues of the all-time greats. Filmmakers from Akira Kurosawa to Martin Scorsayzze have held it as one of the best movies ever made. So what is it about Pather Panchali that makes it so special? How does a film become a masterpiece?

STORYTIME – THE MAKING OF

Satyajit Ray shooting Pather Panchali

Before that, to truly understand the impact of Pather Panchali, at first one needs to know the context of how it was made. Okay, so quick storytime.  It is the early 1940s and  Ray has started a film society in Calcutta with a couple of his “hipster friends”, where they mainly view and discuss artsy European and Russian films. Ray was an illustrator at an advertising agency then, but the idea of making a film of his own had already started to take shape in his mind. But He was not interested in the commercial cinema popular in India at that time, which were largely mythological tales filled with broad strokes and multiple music/dance sequences. Ray wanted to tell stories about real people and their real struggles, and Indian cinema to him felt as far removed from reality as possible. To Ray, the idea of making films felt like a distant dream that could not be possible because of conventional notions that films cannot be shot in natural light or working with nonactors would prove disastrous.  It wasn’t until he saw Vittorio De Sica’s neo-realist Italian film “The Bicycle Cycle” which changed his entire conception of filmmaking and he for the first time identified a cinema style that spoke to him and one that he could dabble in. Ray had been playing around with the idea of adapting Bibhutibhusan’s Pather Panchali for the big screen and shooting it like the neo-realist films made perfect sense to him. In an essay from the book Deep Focus, Ray talks about describing his idea first to the french filmmaker Jack Renoir who had come to India to shoot The River. Renoir showed great interest in Ray’s pitch and encouraged him to go through with his plan. 

The production of Pather Panchali was unconventional, to say the least. After deciding on making the film, Ray had to start planning the shoot. He was still working in the advertisement firm so the movie had to be shot on weekends strictly. Also because of the minimalist nature of the film and Ray’s inexperience, he couldn’t get any financial backing from any investors, and there came a point when he had to part with his rare books and music cassettes and even had to mortgage his wife’s gold jewellery. To keep the budget in control he had to stick with inexperienced technicians, most of whom were working on a film for the first time. He also mostly cast non-actors in prominent roles keeping in the tradition of the neo-realistic films. But this organic filmmaking process is also what gives Pather Panchali its signature lifelike quality, almost a documentary-esque style as it captures life as is, which was Ray’s ultimate goal. Everything about Pather Panchali is living and breathing, and you can tell that right from the beginning as the credits start, as the names appear handwritten on a dusty and crumpled piece of paper it’s alive and that it is there for you to witness.

PEOPLE AND THE VILLAGE

In an interview, Aparna Sen stated that ‘Satyajit Ray’s Films Gave Faces To The Rural Poor And Dignified Them” and added, “In an atmosphere vitiated with formula mainstream cinema…Ray’s realism came like a breath of fresh air.” Pather Panchali, an adaptation of Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay’s novel of the same name, very much inspired by Bibhutibhusan’s own life, is about a family caught in the vicious snare of dire poverty and the harsh sordid reality that comes with such existence.

Set in the village of Nischindipur in rural Bengal, we get to see what life is like in an actual village which rings true even today. We see Kids running around, small mud houses with thatched roofs, Bangla Natok during festivals serving as a pleasant distraction from the humdrum of village life, or kids sitting down for their picnic and bickering over superfluous things, we get a very detailed visual description of rural life through which we learn of their simple ways of existence. Even the sound of the birds calling or the wind blowing is carefully recorded to set the mood of the film right and to have it appear as authentic as possible.

     Now in the very first scene, we see little Durga innocently picking guava from her neighbour’s garden. Upon seeing her do this, we see the vexation on the neighbour’s face as they throw a sneaky remark at her mother. Durga too little to understand anything, goes on doing whatever she was doing, not comprehending the unfair politics of such situations, we also learn later that the land actually belonged to her father but because he owed his relative some money and was unable to repay the amount, he was compelled to part with the land. As the film progresses, we see Durga blossom into an adolescent, full of life and spirit. She is often lost in the recesses of the woods and despite her mother’s complaints about not being enough dedicated to household work like “other girls of her age”, we don’t see much change in her. It is important to note that, unlike her brother, she doesn’t go to school nor do we see any other girls in the school. As viewers, we realize how restrained women’s lives were, only limited to household work and the gender expectations could not have made itself clearer. Though for Durga, her circumstances have never gotten in the way of her happiness, we see her tease Apu, go around playing with her friends but soon when the realization hits her that she probably will never get married like her friend because her parents don’t have enough money to pay the groom a dowry, we see her sad for the first time because this means that she’ll never be able to escape from her impoverished reality. She is wholly aware of the abysmal state of affairs at her house and at once confesses to her friend that she will not marry, we see her crestfallen with tears in her eyes as she witnesses her friend getting married, slowly the realization creeps in that she will probably never get to be a bride and thus, she’ll never be able to escape from the poverty and humiliation that envelops her life. 

   The character of the mother is drawn sympathetically. We see Sourbojaya as a woman with grit and patience but at the same time seething. Sourbojaya is a woman with a lot of dignity. She loathes her daughter stealing fruits from her neighbourhood. She has needs and expresses those needs to her husband, all of these desires pertain to their children- a saree for Durga, a new set of clothes for Apu. Even though we see her often shout at Durga and even at one point drag her out of the house by her hair, we also see her crying profusely after doing so. When Durga gets very sick, we see Sourbojaya as a pillar of strength, sitting beside her at all times, cupping her face with her hands affectionately. She has a natural proclivity to not desire help, even though her husband hasn’t reached out to her for months on end, we don’t see her pleading for money but selling whatever valuable thing she can lay her hands on. Durga’s death hits her like a colossal and all her desires end with it. Sourbojaya’s life is a difficult one, nobody realizes the problems that come with poverty better than her, she has to provide for a family when there is no money for it. Keeping aside her own desires, we see her play the role of the sacrificial mother whose path is of immense difficulties and ends in the tragedy which we get to witness in the film Aparajito.

ADAPTATION

The story of Pather Panchali is one that I have been in love with since I was a kid, so it almost feels sacrilegious for me to try and analyze it. My mother had read Bhibutibhusan’s novel “Aam Aatir Bhepu” as bedtime stories to me even before I could read on my own. And once I could read, I read those stories again… And again. So even before I watched the movie, that brother and sister, their playful routines, the narrow road that leads to the village of Nischindipur, they had all been part of my life. I knew Apu and Durga as people, and not characters, I felt elated with them at any slight glimmer of happiness, and I broke down into a mess each time tragedy struck. But the thing about Pather Panchali is. Despite being a gut-wrenching story about a family trying to survive their poverty, it has moments of purity. The book (more so than the film) is almost a feel-good story. It is about the little joys of life. The games they play, the happiness from just a little good food, Apu’s dreams. 

I have read too many essays on Pather Panchali from Western critics who call it to be an “Indian experience”. I don’t know what “Indian experience” means but as an Indian while watching it, everything feels so distant. This is not the life I have experienced, but it is still all so familiar. The thing about Pather Panchali is that it touches the very core of our humanity, which is part of the reason why I think this movie has touched a note internationally. Pather Panchali can be interpreted to be about many things, but it is the characters and their humanity that leaves a mark on you. I feel like I know Durga, I know a Sarbajaya and I know a Horihor – it can be a story of any poor household in Bengal. I guess that’s what is meant by the Indian experience, we have seen this life somewhere even if we haven’t lived it. When you Apu and Durga’s happiness over one mango, it puts things into perspective. We have forgotten to enjoy the small things in life, the story always brings me back to that feeling of joy and genuine wonder I felt as a child.

Satyajit Ray gives a lot of the film’s credit to Bibhutibhusan himself, and he deserves it since all of it comes from his writing. But Ray also makes the best choice at every step along the way to adapt the material. Ray didn’t write a script for the film and rather decided to stick with the lines from the books. But he had to draw and create extensive storyboards beforehand because Ray had planned for visual language unknown to Indians at that point. The novel is more of an episodic affair, there are no clear acts. Ray changes the order of events in the story to streamline the script and give it more of a three-act story structure with classic build-up. He also omits out long episodes from the story and rather progresses the story visually. In the book, the plot involving the Jatra or the play has more character reactions and reveals Apu’s imaginative power and early signs of being a storyteller. Ray juxtaposes this entire development in one screen, as the camera cuts to Apu being deeply engrossed in the play, with the next scene showing him wearing a prop moustache and acting out his imagination. It’s a simple thing, but it conveys a range of emotions. And it is also the strength of Pather Panchali as a film. Everything that can be conveyed visually is always done so. The dialogue is sparse and life-like, it’s like observing life play out in front of you as is. And in that way, it is also an interactive feeling. Ray invites you to think and feel for these characters and never spoon-feeds you any information or statement that he is trying to make. You get the sense that you are watching someone you know go through the hardships of life.

VISUAL LANGUAGE & NATURE

Film by its nature is a visual medium, and the best movies use this quality to enhance their visual storytelling. Throughout Pather Panchali, Ray develops a lot of the characters and the themes in the story visually. Let’s take the character of Apu for example. Despite being the lead character of the entire trilogy, Apu barely gets any lines in the movie. In fact, the original novel is written from Apu’s perspective, so a lot of it takes place in his head. Ray does this entirely through close-ups of Apu’s face, and when he chooses to cut to them. Eyes tell a thousand stories, and an image is worth a thousand words – and it is all prevalent here. In every scene, it is so cleverly positioned that one look into the young Apu’s eyes conveys what he is feeling. You know when is staring in wonger and when he is hiding in fear. And after his sister’s death, when we get a close-up of Apu’s face, we realize he has undergone a change. He has lost the innocence in his eyes, and it is further revealed in his stride and mannerisms following the death.

Bhibutibhusan is a writer who is known for his love of nature. Ray uses this quality of Bibhutibhusan’s storytelling and uses nature for pure visual storytelling. The small village setting lends a degree of freedom and also immediate danger. It also separates the kids from outside information, thus even trivial things are exciting to Apu and Durga. Arguably, the happiest scene in the movie takes place on one bright autumn day, with the sparse clouds of Bengal sky and white kash flowers all around them, bringing in the vibes of Durga puja and joy. It is also understood very well through the symbolism of water running around.  When the good news of Harihor’s job arrives, Ray cuts to footage of the lake brimming with life, ripples formed by dragonflies flying over it. When Durga falls sick, it is the same lake and ripples, but now not formed by life, but by the strike of scary nature. The storm signals Durga’s untimely passing away and leaves the household in shackles. Water, in general, is used repeatedly as a motif, from Indira’s glass rolling over and falling into the mud signalling her death to Apu throwing the necklace in the lake as it disappears in the scum, showing us the secret has been hidden forever.

MOTIFS

Now there are three motifs that are central to the narrative-the first and second, being the Train and death both of which appear in all the three films but the third one,  is peculiar to this film only, that being Durga’s stealing tendencies if it might even be called so. 

The motif of Durga stealing is crucial as it firstly shows us that the land she steals from belonged to her father but due to past debts were seized by their relative, divulging before us their abysmal financial state and secondly –the hypocrisy of their blood relatives who don’t seem to oppose to others taking heaps and heaps of vegetable from the garden but are absolutely vexed at the sight of Durga taking mere guava. The second time we see Durga accused of stealing, only this time it’s not a mere fruit but an actual pearl necklace–till the very end of Pacher Panchali, we are led to believe that she hasn’t taken it until Apu himself chances upon the necklace. We learn so much about Apu’s character through his response to him finding the necklace. We don’t see Apu mourn her death even once but this scene shows how much he loved his sister without having him utter even one word. It is also crucial because it is an emblem of Apu’s maturity as he seems to perfectly understand what happens when the entire village comes to know about this discovery. 

Secondly, 

The motif of the train is inextricably connected to death, common to all the three films symbolizing the uncanny fact that modernity is waiting for none, though the development of the railways is supposed to be a sign of advancement, the picture we get of Harihar’s family suggests otherwise. The falsity of this dream is shattered completely in all three films, part by part. The train thus is used as a harbinger of death in the trilogy, a very conscious choice on Ray’s part. In Pather Panchali, The chuffing of the engine and the whistle sounds are heard by Apu right before Indira’s death. We hear the mention of the train by Durga while she expresses to Apu her desire to go ride the train with him moments before she dies. In the previous scene, we see them stare at it in complete awe and board it to go away to a bigger place with high hopes, and yet it is what separates them from their nature. Like everything else in the movie, the train represents a contrast. In Apu’s Sansar-the final film from the trilogy, we last see Aparna(Apu’s Beloved) sitting inside one of the compartments of the train while Apu stands outside and watches the train go by, watches Aparna go by for the last time.

Death thus becomes an inevitable force, one which is merciless. Though present in all three films, we see Apu witness it for the first time in Pather Panchali, marking the end of his innocence. When Apu brings her aunt upon the request of his mother after Durga’s death. He innocently asks his aunt if Durga is asleep? As he sees her lying with her eyes shut on his mother’s lap. This very dialogue uttered by Apu is heartbreaking because we as an audience already know the truth. We never for once see Apu mourn his sister’s death, nor do we see him mourn his parent’s death in Aparajito. Death in the trilogy like in real life, though in the most twisted fashion teaches Apu the most important lesson- the art of being resilient, doesn’t matter how many people he has lost, we see him get over his grief and find the strength to go on with his life which is all that ever mattered. 

Now the two most crucial motifs that are common to all the films in the trilogy are death and the train. Moments before we see the demise of Durga, we see her telling her brother Apu that once she gets better again, they’ll go to ride the train again. So, when Apu travels on the train for the first time, it is bitter-sweet for him. The sound of the train is the harbinger of death and a symbol of modernity, we see Apu hear it before Durga’s death. Like everything else in the movie, the train represents a contrast. They stare at it in awe and board it to go away to a bigger place with high hopes, and yet it is what separates them from their nature. the sound of the chuffing of train and the whistle is the harbinger of death itself. 

Posted in movies

Bergman Island – Reflections on an Artist

Right from the first scene in Bergman Island, it is apparent that this is a movie made with a very particular audience in mind. You can tell that it will never crossover into pop culture or even into the conversations of casual movie fans, like a lot of indies playing in the festival circuit, do. Instead, it is a movie made for the terribly small niche of cinephiles, fans of Ingmar Bergman in particular, and the artists who will relate to the subject matter of the film, as it questions the disparity between art and artists, and how the works of great artists like Ingmar Bergman affect those they inspire.

Two Filmmakers walk into an Island

Bergman Island tells the story of two American filmmakers, Tony and Chris (played by Tim Roth and Vicky Krieps respectively), who travel to Fårö, the island where Ingmar Bergman lived and shot six of his most well-known films, for the screening of Tony’s film as a part of the annual Bergman week. The couple takes this opportunity to spend some time on this beautiful remote island and work peacefully on their screenplays. They live in the house where Bergman shot Scenes of a Marriage, which the housekeeper cheekily calls “the film that made millions of couples divorce, so it feels like a recipe for disaster, but just like the couple themselves, the movie is barely interested in their relationship. The spark in their relationship is almost gone, you barely see them embrace each other and when they talk, they only talk about movies and their work. The movie is way more interested in the two filmmaker’s relationship to their art than their relationship with each other.

Tony, played with a nonchalant aura of intellectualism by Tim Roth, is the one with the more affluent career, having made successful films and with ardent fans, some of whom even consider him their “favourite filmmaker of all time.” He is able to draw inspiration from the island and progresses at a phenomenal speed with his screenplay, while Chris is barely able to write, all of which makes her a little jealous. At one point, she abandons Tony at his film’s screening and ditches their plan of doing the Bergman safari (yes, that’s a real thing), to roam around the island with a young and handsome film student. But Tony isn’t angry when he finds out the reason his partner stood him up, instead, he’s amused. Even though they share the same room from Scenes of marriage, their relationship is not as fraught as that couple – that spark in their relationship might not exist anymore, but they still clearly have love and respect for each other.

The Artist in question

Ingmar Bergman with his family

It’s impossible to talk about this movie without talking about Ingmar Bergman (his name is in the title, duh). While the movie itself doesn’t bode any resemblance to Bergman’s films or his style, his shadow looms throughout its entirety as a third character. We see how Ingmar Bergman has influenced all kinds of people at a personal level, something that couldn’t have been captured better in any othermedium. The island of Fårö is treated as a pilgrimage site for filmmakers and film fans alike, with shrines of the great filmmaker’s legacy, dispersed all around it. Bergman Island has the pretentiousness that comes with being a film about filmmakers, but it is also aware of its pretentiousness and gently pokes fun at it once in a while. On the Bergman safari, Tony is accompanied by celebrated film professors and critics who all have the pretence of knowing all about Bergman’s cinema. They engage in pretentious conversations that ring hollow, and Tony’s annoyance is apparent. “Just because he calls it a trilogy doesn’t mean it necessarily is one” one fellow remarks, which makes Tony shake his head in cringe and leave the party.

Tony’s relationship with Bergman is barely explored, perhaps because it is simple – he loves and respects his films, and like any honest man has his favourites from Bergman’s filmography, that doesn’t include The Seventh Seal. Chris’s feelings towards Bergman are much more complex and form the basis for the primary conflict in the first half of the film. She has not seen as many of Bergman’s films as Tony, but she respects the man and identifies him as a great artist, while simultaneously feeling a sense of disconnect from his art. “Why are all his characters such flawed people?” she asks and expresses how the subjects of Bergman’s films are often dire and depressing.

As she explores the island on her own and witnesses its beauty, she finds the landscapes from Bergman’s films distraught from the reality of the actual place. Even the local islanders don’t seem to be too fond of Ingmar Bergman, they either don’t understand why so many foreigners find his shrines amusing or are just annoyed by all the fuss around him. Chris is also bothered by revelations of Bergman’s personal life that she learns on the island. “Bergman made twenty of the world’s finest films by his forties, and that’s not counting his screenplays and plays he directed. You can’t produce such quality and volume of work if you have to change diapers of seven children.” someone tells her at a dinner conversation. The questionable parts of Bergman’s personal life make Chris go back to wondering why all the artists she respects for their art, she can’t respect them for who they were in real life. “I like a certain coherence. I don’t like it when artists I love don’t behave well in real life,” she says and questions whether it is impossible to be a great artist and at the same time have a balanced family life, as she can feel that question come back to her.

She’s left her daughter back in America to come here and focus on her art, but even so, she can’t write. She starts questioning if she can ever write a film that’s worth anything. As Tony continues to have breakthroughs with his script, she has barely written anything. After the couple watches Bergman’s Under Scanner darkly in 35 mm print together, Chris feels belittled as she thinks she can never make anything that matches up to that level of quality. This is the part of the film that I feel any artist can relate with – every artist goes through similar emotions while reflecting on the art of one of the greats. Chris is no different, instead of finding inspiration on Bergman island, everything around her has made her feel demotivated.

A Tale of forgotten love

Mia Wasikowska in Bergman Island

But then she changes her perspective and uses this sense of disconnect that has been bothering her to craft a new story. This is the part of the movie where the story takes a huge left turn and goes into a movie within a movie. I honestly love how bold the script of the movie is (written by Hansen-Løve herself); all of a sudden in the middle of the movie it introduces completely new characters and asks you to care for them, which is an incredibly hard thing to pull off. And the script does it masterfully, you can tell how the movie-within-the-movie is connected to the plot already established in the movie, so you also care and enjoy it in its own term.

This second narrative is told through the narrative device of Chris discussing her idea for a movie with Tony as they go for a walk. It is a sweet little romantic story about a heartbreak, coincidentally set on the island of Fårö, but as a film is a complete antithesis to the kind of cinema Bergman made. It is sad, but also light and breezy –  as if Chris is asking whether it’s necessary for great art to be always dark and gloomy. The cinematography changes to reflect this change as well. In the story Chris is narrating, the colours are more vibrant and it is all shot in beautiful wide shots. 

This movie-within-a-movie is clearly a reflection of Chris’s own and it becomes more evident as the plot progresses and you see Christ cast people from real life in her imagination. She weaves the story of Amy (Mia Wasikowska with the best turn in the film), a 28-year-old female director, admittedly based on herself, who visits the island with her long-forgotten teenage lover for a destination wedding. The two old flames rediscover their bond as they spend time together on the island and quite predictably, the lost feelings resurface. Chris’s lead character is unable to control her emotions, and just like her, she finds herself intrigued by her own conflicting opinion on Ingmar Bergman. But in this fictional tale, the focus is the romance and how the love these characters have for each other breaks them. They both cheat on their current partners and sleep with each other. But before Chris can tell about it to Tony, a phone call interrupts them and she doesn’t get to complete (perhaps a sign of how their work has come in between their sex lives), but we do get to see the scene of the characters making love in Chris’s mind’s eye.

When Tony returns from his phone call, Chris’s story takes a depressing turn. Amy is madly in love with this boy from her past again, but he goes cold towards her after they sleep together. He is ashamed of infidelity and actively ignores her for the rest of the trip, before leaving the island unannounced the next day, causing Amy to have a breakdown. 

Chris hasn’t figured what happens in the story after this yet, she considers suicide as an option, but she isn’t happy to end it in such an anti-climatic way, after actively trying to not make things too depressing. She asks Tony for suggestions, but Tony understandably says that it isn’t something for him to tell, the only way the story should end is the way Chris wants it to end. And thus, Chris feels cornered once again, she can’t find a resolution to her story, and by extension the things she’s dealing with in real life. 

Reflections from the Artist

Mia Hansen-Løve

Amidst this, Tony has to leave for America to attend a meeting with his producers, and Chris is left all alone on the island. In the finale of the film, she ventures out on a dirt bike in search of Ingmar Bergman’s house. Rousing music fills up the scene, in a movie that has practically had zero musical score up until this point, signifying that Chris is entering some sort of sacred ground. On arrival, she finds the door to Bergman’s house open, and as she enters the lonely house, the music gets louder and plays like a classical tune straight out of a gothic horror movie – completely out of place, just as Chris feels there. And just like seeing a ghost, she bumps into the handsome film student she met earlier. He shows her around Bergman’s house, which has been maintained like a holy temple for his devotees to see. Witnessing the place from where Bergman wrote all his movies, the chair he sat on to think, and the wall of books he read, suddenly made Chris see Bergman in a new light – just as another artist trying to do what they have to. The visit gives her a newfound clarity on her position as an artist, and in the last few scenes of the movie, we see this realisation play out. Though the movie has sort of an open ending, it closes itself thematically. We see Chris saying goodbye to the story in her head and her characters (and quite possibly work to a certain extent), while her husband returns from America with their daughter and the film ends with a frame of the mother and daughter embracing in a hug.

Mia Hansen-Løve’s film is, at the heart of it, about the relationship between art and artists, and so there are bound to be undeniable inspirations from her own life as a filmmaker. Her previous french language film, Eden is also about an artist, although a very different kind, trying to survive. What makes Mia’s artists on film unique is that she isn’t afraid to tell stories of artists who fall in the middle of the pack. They are not terrible artists, but we know they will never cross over into that other side of superstardom either. Yet, she never looks down upon these characters – they are passionate about their art and brilliant in their own right. When Chris feels that she’ll never produce anything as good as Ingmar Bergman, we know that she’s probably right, but still, we understand the pain it causes her. I hail from the city that’s been home to the likes of Rabindranath Tagore and Satyajit Ray, and when you look up the kind of work these giants have left behind, you can’t help but feel small. But there’s beauty in that realisation –  art doesn’t exist as a competition, art is about the conversation. It’s not about doing something better than the greats who came before but adding to that ongoing conversation which once they contributed to. I visited the bungalow in Mongpo from where Rabindranath Tagore produced some of his most celebrated works once, and it is still one of the most inspiring and humbling experiences of my life. The lives of these great artists have been romanticised to death, along with all the places they inhabited, but once you get too close to the truth of it all, you see them as they were, like an actual human being and not a romanticised idea of a person. Bergman Island captures this beautiful disconnect between the artists and their art, and while it might not provide any answers, it makes sure to explore all the questions lying underneath.

Posted in movies

My Top 10 Favorite Movies of 2020.

2020 has been a weird year, in every single way possible, but also for movies. Most of my anticipated movies of the year got pushed back, and a lot of films that did come out, never got released in India. So I have watched much fewer movies this year than I usually do, and most the VOD releases were mediocre at best. Still, there were some really good movies this year, that reminded me why I love movies. So here is the list of my favorite movies that came out in 2020.

Disclaimer – This is a list of my favorite movies of 2020, and not the “Best” movies of 2020. So if you don’t see some of your favorites in the list, know that it’s just opinion.

Also I haven’t really seen a lot of Awards contenders this year like Minari, Nomadland, etc., which I really want to, but haven’t got a chance because they haven’t released here yet.

10. The Blockbuster – Bill and Ted Face The Music

Blockbusters have been hit the hardest this year, with almost all big movies moved to 2020. There were a few big ticket movies in early part of the year and even tough Warner Brothers released two big tentpoles like Tenet and Wonder Woman in the middle of the pandemic, but none of those movies matched the sheer amount of joy and fun I had while watching Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves reunite on screen as the iconic duo. And this might be my nostalgia speaking, but considering this year, this movie was a big breath of fresh of air.

Honorable Mention – Birds of Prey : The Fantabulous Emancipation of one Harley Quinn

9. Thriller – i’m thinking of ending things

I’m still not sure about what this movie about, but it’s so beautifully written and directed that I can’t help but love. And it’s always a delight to take a dip into the deliriously weird mind of Charlie Kaufman

Honorable Mention – The Devil All The Time

8. Animation – Soul

In a year where there was a lack of content for the most part, Animation was a genre that had a pretty standard output, with Pixar alone giving us two big movies. Soul is easily up there with the best of Pixar. Deep, poignant and visually stunning – Soul is the perfect movie to stir existential dread in kids.

Honorable Mention – A Whisker Away

7. Horror – His House

When I watched this movie on Netflix, I really had no expectations from it and just expected standard Netflix fare. So when it turned to be such a well made horror movie, with thematically reach political commentary and a heart at the center of it, I was blown away.

Honorable Mention – The Invisible Man

6. Comedy – Palm Springs

Andy Samberg and Christin Milioti’s chemistry is off the charts in brilliant Groundhog Day style Rom-com that came out at the beginning of the quarantine blues. There’s not much to say about this movie, except that it’s perfectly delightful.

Honorable Mention – Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

5. Science Fiction – The Vast of Night

The Vast of Night reminded me why I love film and particularly filmmaking in this hopeless year. This micro-budget sci-fi flick about one strange night one in a small Southern town, with two kids trying to find an explanation for the strange occurrences in this Lovecraftian/ Twilight Zone-ish bare to the bones picture. If you haven’t seen it, it’s Amazon Prime, please watch it and support the movie.

Honorable Mention – Last and First Men

4. Documentary – Collective

Collective is just the best thriller or crime movies ever made, only it is all real. It is a fast paced kinetic detective story about corruption, outrage and truth. You need to see it to believe it.

Honorable Mention – Zappa

Now, I have kept the top three spots on this list for Drama, and there were some really great film in this genre which couldn’t make it to my list, so Honorable Mentions in this genre are – Yes God Yes, First Cow, Mank and Spike Lee’s excellent Da 5 Bloods.

3. Never Rarely Sometimes Always

This viscerally realistic drama about a teenage girl faced with an unintended pregnancy is a gut punch to witness. With a lack of local support, Autumn and her cousin, Skylar, travel across state lines to New York City on a fraught journey of friendship, bravery and compassion. This authentic tale with a painfully real debut performance from its lead is a a thing of subtle beauty.

2. Sound of Metal

A heavy-metal drummer’s life is thrown into freefall when he begins to lose his hearing. The Sound Design in this movie itself is worthy of all the praise and deserve your attention. But it is Riz Ahmed’s extraordinary performance at the center of it that propels this movie to greatness. He should definitely be in talks for an Academy Award this year.

  1. The Trial of Chicago 7

Aaron Sorkin’s delicious drama about the trial of the seven defendants charged by the federal government with conspiracy and more, arising from the countercultural protests in Chicago at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. This movie is brilliantly written, acted and edited, with a timely message, blood pumping anger towards the authority and an old fashioned feel good ending that is so powerful, it became my favorite movie of the year.

Posted in movies, reviews

An American Pickle – Double Seth Rogen Kills It In this Funny Satire.

An American Pickle; Dir. – Brandon Trost

Rating – //stream it once it’s free//

An American Pickle | Official Trailer | HBO Max

“An American Pickle,” a time-travel farce directed by Brandon Trost and adapted from a New Yorker story by Simon Rich, marinates crisp almost-timeliness in the mild brine of nostalgia. It’s not too salty or too sour, and it’s neither self-consciously artisanal nor aggressively, weirdly authentic. The subject, more or less, is what it means to be Jewish, and given how contentious that topic can become — can I get an oy vey? — the movie finds an agreeable, occasionally touching vein of humor.

The setup for most of the jokes is that, in 1919, an impoverished immigrant named Herschel Greenbaum, recently arrived in Brooklyn from a fictitious, Cossack-ridden anti-Anatevka called Schlupsk, falls into a vat of saltwater and cucumbers. He leaves behind a pregnant wife, Sarah (Sarah Snook). She has a son, who has a son, whose son, in 2019, is a sad-sack tech guy named Ben. When Herschel is fished out of his century-long bath, alive and perfectly preserved, he goes to live with Ben, his only known relative, setting up a cross-generational odd-couple situation brimming with comic potential.

All the more so because both Herschel and Ben are played by Seth Rogen, who does the bewhiskered Yiddish thing and the diffident millennial thing with equal craftiness. While the characters are recognizable types — from popular culture if nowhere else — Rogen brings more than mere shtick to the performances. Herschel is neither a sentimental schlemiel nor a twinkly old-world grandpa, but rather an impatient, sometimes intolerant striver with a violent streak. His pre-pickling experience of the world was hard and bitter, leavened only by the hope that future generations of Greenbaums would be better off.

Which is just what happened, of course. Herschel once confessed to Sarah that he hoped to taste seltzer water before he died, and Ben has a gizmo in his apartment that makes it on demand. He’s even less of a caricature than his great-grandpa — not a hipster or a nerd so much as a smart guy with a deep streak of melancholy. It turns out that what connects him to Herschel isn’t just genetics: it’s also grief. Ben’s parents are dead, and Herschel’s accident robbed him of the pleasures and consolations of family.


That’s some pretty heavy stuff, but “An American Pickle” is swift and nimble enough to avoid weighing itself down with schmaltz. It’s almost too thin to sustain its premise for the running time — a scant 90 minutes — and sometimes feels more like a stretched-out sketch than a fully developed feature.

The century that separates Herschel from Ben allows the story to leapfrog over quite a lot of history, including the Holocaust, Israel, socialism, and the complicated process of upward mobility, acculturation and self-preservation that is the movie’s very condition of possibility. The drama of Jewish male selfhood that preoccupied so many in the middle generations — the whole Philip Roth-Woody Allen megillah — is all but erased. Herschel had his beloved Sarah. Ben has no apparent sexual or romantic interests, or even any friends that we know about. There’s no room for women in this pickle jar.

But the flimsiness of the movie’s conceit also works to its benefit. At its best, it’s a brisk, silly plucking of some low-hanging contemporary fruit. Food trends. Social media. Unpaid internships. The inevitable conflict between Herschel and Ben turns a family squabble into a culture-war skirmish, a conflict played out in a way that feels both satirically sharp and oddly comforting.

And pickles can be comfort food. Not too filling, good for the digestion, noisy and a little sloppy rather than artful or exquisite or challenging. This one, as I’ve said, isn’t bad, and even allows a soupcon of profundity into its formula. The tough, pious ancestor and his sensitive, secular descendant have almost nothing in common, and the imaginative challenge is to find an identity that can include them both more or less as they are. What makes them both Jews? The answer turns out to be simple and, at least for this conflicted 21st-century Jew, persuasive: the shared obligation to mourn the dead.

Posted in movies, reviews

Yes, God, Yes – a Smart And Funny Exploration Of Teenage Sexuality.

Yes, God, Yes; Dir. -Karen Maine

Rating –  “It’s great” / worth adding to your collection.

Yes, God, Yes is the directorial debut Karen Maine, and stars Natalia Dyer from Stranger Things, in the lead role. Developed from a short film that Maine planned on directing but later adapted it to feature-length, this is an extremely small film, in terms of budget, story, and even the run-time. Clocking at only about one hour and fifteen minutes, the film is an almost semi-autobiographical retelling of Maine’s first-hand experience of spending four days at a Catholic retreat.

Alice, played by Natalia Dyer, has been brought up in a very small town by her conservative religious parents and attends Catholic school, where sex-ed classes are taken by a priest. Not only is sex before marriage a sin, but also masturbation, and Alice is made to believe that she will go to hell if she even gets turned on by sex scenes in movies or hot boys in the class. Alice, like most girls her age, is pretty gullible and believes that she is actually committing sins by feeling emotions normal to any teenager. Set in the early 2000s, Alice experiences her sexual interaction over an online AOL chatroom, where she responds to a random dude’s creepy messages just because of curiosity and discovers masturbation. But then she is ashamed of herself and never talks about it to anyone.

At school, someone has spread a rumor about how she performed a very particular sexual activity with a guy from her class at a party, a sexual activity she that she doesn’t even know the meaning of. She asks her friend, but she has no clue either, and Alice spends a chunk of the film trying to find out what people are talking about her. But whatever it is, in order o get these accusations of her and compensate for her supposed dirty mind, she goes to a Christian retreat for four days. And this place is a straight-up horror mansion imo. Right from the beginning, with the overly friendly and enthusiastic attitude of everyone, something is definitely off about this place. Maybe it’s just my socially awkward self, but everything in the retreat is almost Get Out level creepy.

Yes, God, Yes, is a movie about masturbation and sexual awakening, but what separates it from other films of this genre is its female protagonist and conservative setting. It is not a raunchy comedy about horny guys trying to lose virginity, it is just a realistic portrayal of a girl coming to terms with her own sexuality. Maine sure finds funny moments throughout the story, but she never loses sight of realism in the central story, she rather uses the comedic moments to further develop Alice’s character and illustrate her struggles.

The teachers and elders in the story are used for jokes, but they are not the butt of jokes, they are all very misguided people themselves. If anything is joke it is religion and a society that expects young to suppress all their sexual urges, even though they know it is unrealistic. The guilt of always feeling like she’s committed a sin fills Alice with self-doubt that almost drives her crazy as she slowly starts to find out that people are doing those same things in hiding. She feels conflicted and doesn’t understand what she wants to do anymore and then she meets an old lesbian biker lady in a pub, who was once in a Catholic school too, which gives Alice a new perspective on the world. She understands that human beings are complex creatures, and it makes no sense to define them entirely by the supposed “sins” they commit. She understands that High School isn’t the end of the world, and it doesn’t matter what people are talking about behind your back, because those same people are doing equally fucked up shit when nobody is watching. She learns to give herself a chance – to finally figure out who she is.

Natalia Dyer gives the best performance of her career as Alice. So much of the movie depends on her, and she sells every moment she’s in. The rest of the cast is equally good. Wolfgang Novogratz as the lovable hunk is very charming and Timothy Simon is perfect as the strict father, a role very similar to his role from Looking for Alaska on Hulu. Karen Maine does an amazing job directing the movie. It’s hard to believe this is her first movie and she almost pulls off a Greta Gerwig, ala Lady Bird. Yes, God, Yes, is a beautiful little film about growing up and one of the best films to release this quarantine. So, if you have an hour and an hour to spare, check out the movie, you might end up reliving some your worst High School memories.

Now available in virtual cinemas and select drive-ins; available on digital and VOD from July 28.

Posted in movies

Blade Runner 2049: What It Means To Be Human.

Alan Turing once said, “Machines can never think as humans do. but just because something thinks differently, doesn’t mean it’s not thinking at all.”
Well, it’s a really pretty quote, except Alan Turing never said that. This quote is from the 2014 movie, Imitation games starring Benedict Cumberbatch. You’ve probably heard of it, it was in the Oscars and got a lot of recognition. But what about the man the movie is based on? Well, not quite. Much like any other person to ever walk the surface of the earth, Alan Turing, the father of Artificial intelligence himself, has been lost in time… you know, like tears in rain.


But what it is about science fiction is particular that is so keen on exploring the idea of AI, dating back to the original Blade Runner in 1982, that it keeps raising questions like, “Can machines think?” or “Are machines human?”, over and over in the central theme of the story. Maybe, it’s because only by examining the abstract, we can understand the real. We explore the intelligence in machines, to delve deep into the notion of what makes us human.
But to me, the Blade Runner films have never been about whether machines are human, I mean for one, the artificial beings inhabiting the Blade Runner universe are not very machine-like. They always seem to hide a deeper question underneath.


“What does it even Mean to be human?”


The blade runner universe comprises of replicants and humans. The replicants look like humans, talk like humans and probably even feel like humans do, except they are made by humans themselves. So they are denied the right to be considered equal to the humans. Which is evident from how the Blade Runners are hired to “retire” them once they cross their expiration date or are of no use to their creators. The replicants are not killed or murdered, they are retired like an old piece of junk.
Blade Runner 2049 begins with Ryan Gosling’s Detective K, retiring an old replicant. Living in the almost uninhabitable dystopian version of Los Angeles, K is a replicant himself, working for the LAPD as a Blade Runner, following the orders of his human superiors and being mocked and bullied in and out of work. The humans hate him because he’s a replicant and the replicants hate him because he works for the humans, they call him a “skinjob” – probably the the n-word equivalent of blade runner universe, but K seems to have made peace with all the constraints put on him. He’s accepted his position as an inferior being in front of the more superior homo sapiens, and has build his own small world for him, with his partner Joi, a digital AI, yet another type of man-made consciousness. We’ll get to her later.


THOUGHTS AND FEELINGS

Cogito ergo sum.
I think, therefore I am. It is believed only humans are capable of critical thinking, all other animals lack the ability to think rationally. But, the replicants are more than capable of critical thinking. K is shown to be the most intuitive detective in LAPD, and also trusted with the important case of finding out the lost child of Deckard. And K, doesn’t just investigate because he is ordered to, he is intrigued by the the idea of a replicant giving birth. He says…
“It means they have a soul.”
Throughout the movie K is actively searching for the truth, digging deeper to resolve the mystery. He understand the importance of truth, and actively questions his place in this world just like any human being. He believes in the notion of something bigger than himself, he thinks the truth is what will set him free.
Replicants throughout the Blade Runner films are highly sophisticated and empathetic creatures. Take Roy batty for instance, spilling out poetry in the face of death, reconciling with his whole life, going back to his memories. Even K, though played by a very wooden Ryan Gosling, shows a range of emotions. He is in love with his AI assistant, aspires to be something more, feels emotions like sadness, anger and hopelessness, all key to the identity of humans.
One could argue that those emotions aren’t real, they are programmed responses to situations that are installed in the replicant’s software. But how do we know, our emotions aren’t programmed biological responses to the sensory information picked up by our brain. For all we know, love is just a chemical reaction in our brain, how is that different from a computer generated prompt.

MEMORIES

Our memories make us who we are at present. It dictates our beliefs, choices and decisions in life. We grow and build experiences to help us survive in this world, each experience has it’s own importance in our memory, we learn from our mistakes and derive our understandings from our failures. We base our choices on our memories, bright happy memories gives us the pleasure of joy, and we are often reminiscing about them or trying to recreate similar moments in life only to feel again. On the other hand negative experiences, drive us away and fill our heads with dark thoughts, whenever we think of them it pushes us towards depression and anxiety, and we are very unlikely to do things, meet people, or go places, we associate with particularly bad memory.
So an artificial being can be given memories in such a way that dictate their personality, depending on the skills required of them. K’s memory of the wooden horse is a big influence to his rough and tough personality that makes him a detective, fighting to keep what’s his own. Albeit, all these memories are real, they are somebody else’s but to a replicant they are as real as they can get and they don’t even realise they are not real, like K convinces himself that he is the son of Deckard based on his memories. And sometimes they don’t even realise they are replicants, if they aren’t told that there memories aren’t real real, like rachel, or heck, possibly even Deckard. Their memories make them real, even if they aren’t real themselves.


LOVE

Humans by nature are the most capable of love among any other species known in this world. It might be hard to believe that, considering the amount of hate going on around the world right now, but it is true. Human beings nurture and take care of their off-springs like no other, participate in social activities and gatherings, build and break new relationships continuously, and hopelessly fall in love over and over again. Love is the purest of emotions felt by us, and at the end of the day everything a person is fighting for. Can’t the love between two machines be pure? I want to think so. I mean Rachel and Deckard’s love was so pure, it created a miracle – baby given birth by a replicant.
Blade Runner 2049 takes this idea a little further, by adding the character of Joi to the mix. Joi is an artificial being too, but she has no body. She’s like a more advanced, Holographic  version Alex or Siri, a digital assistant that can be a little more than assistant. I’ll be honest, Ryan Gosling’s relationship with Joi in the beginning seemed to be like a real red flag for me. And Villeneuve is such a smart filmmaker, that every time K and Joi share a romantic moment, he cuts back to a scene of Joi being advertised as a sex object, and it fills your brain with doubt and questions. But then it develops into one of the sweetest relationships in cinema history, and the fact that they are not humans or one of them doesn’t have a body never crossed my mind.


SEX AND REPRODUCTION

The Replicants more often than not, are portrayed as objects of sexual fantasy in the Blade Runner films, they either shown as prostitutes or sold off as slaves. Joi is practically marketed like a virtual girlfriend that will do anything you want, like a rpg game. But still, K and Joi overcome all the prejudices of thier society.
The scene where Joi invites a hooker, as host so she can get physically intimate with K, is without a doubt one of the best sex scenes ever put on film, a scene that is by the way very reminiscent of a similar scene from the movie Her. The way the three broken individuals come together to complete what each one them lack, is such a beautiful moment to witness. They are truly whole in this moment, maybe not in the way we understand it, but the feeling cannot be denied.
Sex and reproduction are an undeniable part of the human life, or life of any living organism for that matter. Our entire biology is designed a certain way to facilitate reproduction in an attempt to keep our species alive. It is our way of immortality, if you think of it, passing on the knowledge of our ancestors through our DNA to the progeny. And maybe that is life, passing on, from generation to generation. And that’s why the replicants think the biggest way for them to prove their equality to the humans is finding the child of Deckard and Rachel – a child born out of love, a miracle.


PURPOSE

For Aristotle, writing in the 4th century B.C., being human meant having a telos — an appropriate end or goal.
It is startling that such philosophical ideas were discussed centuries ago, I guess it just goes to show that man is a naturally curious creature, always questioning it’s purpose or place in this world. It is interesting how many actual living and breathing creatures roam around us, without ever actually finding their purpose in life, will they be considered human? I wonder.

K doesn’t have any purpose at the beginning of the film, he’s a puppet to the humans. He just quietly does his work and spends his days aimlessly until he finds himself engrossed in the mystery of Deckard’s child. He believes it is him and assumes his purpose in life. That’s why when he learns that he is not Deckard’s son, all his hopes come falling down. He feels lost in the world all of sudden, like he doesn’t know who he really is. He walks around the streets of LA aimlessly again, as be stands face to face with an hologram of Joi. He’s reminded of her death, and all he has lost to get to this postion. He suddenly finds a new purpose in life,  purpose that he is aware will mostly likely get him him killed, but he chooses has telos, an appropriate end. K might not be born naturally, he might not be a human, but at the end he evolves into something more.

Blade Runner 2049 is masterpiece of the cyberpunk genre, from Deakins’ gorgeous cinematography, to Vileneuve’s sharp driecting and Hans Zimmer’s moody music, it is sensory and visual overload, that can only be felt to be to be believed. It is a film that is not afraid to to take it’s time and meditate on it’s characters and aesthetics, and in the process exploring big questions about existence and life.

At the end does it even matter if something is human, or what it means to be one, as long as we are alive and living happily? There was a time when women weren’t considered human, who knows maybe one day machines will be more human than us. Soon, all of this will be gone and lost forever, only our memories of all that is happening right now will remain. So, sit back, relax and enjoy it all in bliss, while it lasts.

Posted in Comics, movies

What Michael Keaton Returning As Batman Means For The Future Of DC Movies.

Michael Keaton is possibly reprising his iconic role as the caped crusader from Tim Burton’s Batman movies, in the upcoming Flash movie starring Ezra Miller according to several reports. Earlier reports stated that Jeffrey Dean Morgan is being eyed to return to his role of Thomas Wayne as Flashpoint Batman in the Flash movie, but it seems like they are not doing that right now. It is said WB will adapt the Flashpoint storyline to some extent and Keaton’s Batman will be part of the Burton-verse where Flash land up. But whatever the case, one thing is for sure – Multiverse is the future of DC, and in my opinion, that’s the best way to go about it. Here’s me telling you why.

The Flash is a very Multiverse Friendly character

The inclusion of Flash leads itself to the possibility to tell stories involving the multiverse. The Flash comics delve deep into the ideas of dimension hopping and alternate realities. Flashpoint, the comic storyline this Flash movie is said to be based on, is particularly a story where The Flash runs back in time to save his mother from dying but in doing creates a dystopian alternate reality. If you watch the CW Flash series you should be familiar with the idea of Flashpoint. And not just Grant Gustin, Ezra Miller’s Flash has already traveled to alternate dimensions in two occasion. Once in that brief bat-cave scene in BvS, and second in CW’s Crisis of Infite Earth event, where two versions of Flash famously crossed paths. And WB specially requested CW to put that cameo in, so they may have some bigger multiverse plans for Flash in the future.

All versions of Batman can be canon

Michael Keaton will return as Batman, taking up his role from the Burton films 30 years on. It would mean the Burton films are officially canon in the current DC Movies and as sources as reporting WB are trying to make Keaton’s old Bruce Wayne into a Nick Fury type of mentor figure in multiple upcoming DC projects. So we can have multiple actors playing different version of the same character at the same time. It would mean everything is canon, and all Ben Affleck, Robert Pattinson and Michael are Batman.

The Snyder-verse can still continue in some capacity

DC has been trying to reboot their movie universe and step away from Zack Snyder’s version of the Justice League, but with the release of Snyder Cut on HBO Max makes things seem a little muddled right now. With the introduction multiverse, Snyder’s version of the characters can continue in some capacity in future DC Movies and TV shows.

Wonder Woman 1984 and Aquaman both retcon events of Synder-verse.

Both Wonder Woman 1984 and Aquaman, deacon the events of the Snyderverse completely and start fresh with their characters. This is very confusing considering it the same actor playing the same characters, but the multiverse will be a really convenient way to explain the changes.

DC can continue their success with standalone movies

After a rocky start and a couple false beginnings DC has finally found their footing in the movie market alongside Marvel. The success Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Shazam, and Joker shows that strong standalone films are what’s really working for DC. Their upcoming slate is filled all standalone movies with no sight of a Justice League movie in a near future. The multiverse with allow the writers and directors to take artistic liberties by focusing on their own corner of the DC universe.

The Batman and Joker are in their own separate universe.

Matt Reeves’ upcoming The Batman staring Robert Pattinson is currently under production and it is said to be it’s own thing, much like the Joker movie from last year. This allows filmmaker’s to tell more dark high brow stories with this iconic characters as they don’t have to worry about connecting the films together. But existence of multiverse will open the door to characters from The Batman, Joker or any other DC black label movie potentially crossing over with the DCEU films in future.

The Future of DC movies

In short, the possibilities for DC movies in the future are endless right now. So it seems like multiverse is surely the way to go for DC in future. We can have have fun and bright kids movies, Big budget blockbusters, Dark Fantasies, high brow dramas and more at same time coming out of DC. It also separates them from their competition Marvel and gives them the edge over the company. It could also lead to more crossovers between DC TV shows and movies, and make the multiverse even rich with characters. And who knows, maybe five years from now, flash could run through a bunch of alternate dimensions and we could have a big Justice League movie with all the different versions of the DC characters coming together. All I can say right now is –

“Exciting times in the world right now, my friend. Exciting times.”

Posted in movies, reviews

Movie Review: Artemis Fowl – Disney Takes A Giant Shit On Beloved Book Franchise

Artemis Fowl; Dir. – Kenneth Branagh

Rating – Horrendous. Piece. Of. Shit.

Disney’s Artemis Fowl | Official Trailer

Artemis fowl feels like some parent gave an infant a brand new toy set featuring random action figures to play with, but the kid pooped his pants before he could finish the story, so now we are just left with whatever game the toddler designed in the limited time before he pooped his pants. But no, this isn’t some fantasy a 9-year-old cooked up in his bedroom, this 125 million dollar budget Disney production starring big names and directed by a well experienced director, who has made good movies in the past – how this movie turned out to be such an epic disaster, is a total mystery to me.

To call Artemis Fowl a movie would be giving it too much praise, it doesn’t qualify as a movie. It’s a series of random footage stitched together to form something that barely emulates a feature-length movie. It doesn’t even have a story, it’s the type of movie where nothing really happens. A bunch of characters are introduced, they get together in the third act, some random shit happens I guess and the movie just ends there. There are no character arcs, no plot, no journey, no adventure – basically anything that has something to do with a story is lacking from this movie.

Sitting through the one and half hours of which movie (which definitely felt much much longer) was a torture to say the least, the movie was so boring I dozed off twice. I would not be able to tell you anything about the plot of this movie, even if I were to try, because it is fucking nonexistent. In the first few minutes we are like told how smart Artemis Fowl, and then his whole backstory and family background is explained in very exposition heavy dialogues by a counselor of sorts. It is like if in Batman Begins, Batman just straight up showed up in the first act and Alfred explained to him how his parents died and then about all the ninja training he did, in a single monologue, so that the audience gets to know who Bruce Wayne is. What’s worse is, none of those details matter, because the character of Artemis Fowl himself doesn’t matter and I really don’t know why they had to make such a big point about him being smart, it’s not like they use it in the story, because he barely does anything. Yeah, the titular character of the movie doesn’t do anything in story except just existing in the frame.

I know this an adaptation, so maybe the character is just boring even in the books. But no, I know that’s not true because I have some friends who are real fans of the book and really love Artemis Fowl. From what I’ve heard, Artemis is supposed to be this grey character who’s a criminal mastermind and he’s supposed to have this big redemptive arc over the course of the books. It’s as if the writers of the movie didn’t even read the books , they just heard what the books were about – a smart kid, fairies, dwarfs,trolls, etc, and then sort of build a plot around it that they thought would print money. But then the script supervisor came in and told the writers that he was supposed to be a criminal mastermind, so they just randomly add line at the end of the movie where Artemis says, “I’m Artemis Fowl, the criminal mastermind.”They took all the elements from the books and stripped them of anything that makes it interesting, even down to it’s protagonist. Also, I don’t really wanna be too harsh on kid, but the guy (Fardia Shaw) they cast as Artemis Fowl sucked so bad. He was s such an un-charismatic and dull presence, that even in this awful movie, he stood out as wooden.

Now, if we are talking about acting, let’s get to the two biggest names in the cast. Josh Gad plays this giant dwarf character, who also narrates the entire movie from a prison cell. He looks like someone trying to pull off a cheap Hagrid cosplay in comic-con while putting on a Batman. And yes, the whole movie is narrated in a Batman voice, and I honestly don’t get the point of the narration, it’s not like anything happens in the money. Josh Gad is not that bad technically, but his costume, voice and CGI face make it tough for me to say he was good. Also putting on a Batman voice, is Dame Judi Dench who sort of plays the fairy version of M from the Bond movies. She also has her own centaur version of Q in the movie named Foaly, which I know because he’s introduced like this – “Hi there, this is Foaly!”. Between this and Cats, Judi Dench really needs to fire her agent, or maybe she’s just gotten to the point in her career where she doesn’t care anymore, and is just building some bank for her kids.

There are also other characters introduced in the story but none of them matters in the end. There’s a side quest with this fairy who’s father is believed to be a traitor, so she wants to clear his name. She’s like supposed be the best friend that Artemis Fowl makes in this misadventure, and they try to have these friendship moments between them but it all just comes off as so cheesy and cory that you don’t even take it seriously for one second. But Artemis Fowl is supposed have this great relationship with his Butler and his niece, but don’t give two shits about them cause neither does the movie, they just exist in the background somewhere.

This definitely feels like a movie that was botched in the edit room. I mean, I don’t believe there’s a cut of this movie that’s any good, but the editing seems so sloppy and the plot doesn’t really flow from one place to another, which makes me wonder who’s fault is this that this movie tuned out so bad. Everything about this movie is bad, from writing to acting and visual effects, it’s almost as if everyone working on this movie wanted it to fail. Disney surely did, because they didn’t try to do any re-shoots, get any good editors involved or pay any money for post production and good visual effects. Instead they took this opportunity to quietly dump the movie on their own streaming, but I’m not sure what it says about their brand. It feels like Disney is saying Disney Plus is the place where we’re gonna dump all our bad movies and the good ones will be coming in theaters, and I don’t think that’s the look they want. I don’t think this movie is gonna bring any new subscribers to Disney Plus, and in case you are already subscribed, I’d suggest you skip it.

So, did you watch Artemis Fowl (if so, why?) and what did you think of it?

Do let me know in the comments!