Joseph and Lyudmilla: The Most Intriguing Storyline in McMafia (Spoilers) – Part 3

Click here for Part 2. Well, that finale certainly left you wanting more. Character metamorphoses, realisations, chases, tears, and tender moments: this is what needs to be taken away from the series. Continue reading Joseph and Lyudmilla: The Most Intriguing Storyline in McMafia (Spoilers) – Part 3

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Joseph and Lyudmilla: The Most Intriguing Storyline in McMafia (Spoilers) – Part 2

Part 1: available here. As predicted, McMafia upped the stakes in episode 7, and with the finale only days away we’re all wondering what the outcome could be.  Continue reading Joseph and Lyudmilla: The Most Intriguing Storyline in McMafia (Spoilers) – Part 2

Joseph and Lyudmilla: The Most Intriguing Storyline in McMafia (Spoilers) – Part 1

The level of criticism McMafia has attracted is surprising. It does, like any other art produced in the entertainment industry, have its flaws. The plot became difficult to follow and slowed significantly in pace (not that slow TV and film is always synonymous with bad) following the second episode. Nevertheless, it has picked up and things have fallen into place due to the events of episode 6. We’re now left with the fallout of the latter with Alex Godman’s (James Norton) family in danger and his fiancée (well, not for long, if he continues his secrecy) hospitalised following an encounter with an assassin. Those who have stuck through the series are about to have their patience rewarded.  Continue reading Joseph and Lyudmilla: The Most Intriguing Storyline in McMafia (Spoilers) – Part 1

Why Star Wars: The Last Jedi Was Disappointing (For Me) – Spoilers

Disclaimer: Some media outlets and social media platforms are attributing backlash towards The Last Jedi to rabid White Un-PC fanboys, who decry how the franchise is over-run by SJWs and Feminazis. I don’t qualify as a rabid White Un-PC fanboy: none of these labels applies to me. I’m open-minded enough to say I’m glad people enjoyed the film and that they felt uplifted by it this Christmas (humanity needs a Star Wars film every Christmas from now until the end of time if that were possible!). Fair enough if you disagree with me about the following points about to be made; as alluded to in the title, these are my personal opinions.

I left the cinema feeling disappointed. I knew very well TLJ wasn’t going to be a new-Empire Strikes Back, so I was prepared for some adventurousness with the characterisation and overall themes.  What actually occurred, however, was a complete out-of-character portrayal of Luke Skywalker himself. In RotJ, Luke comes face-to-face with Darths Vader and Sidius. He is intent on turning his father, a mass-murderer and an abusive boss, back to the light. He endures a lightsabre showdown and force-lightning to achieve this. This is someone endangering his life to save a relative.

It would make more sense that he would at least try to save Ben before wallowing on Ahch-To for some years than be overcome by the fleeting desire to kill Kylo/Ben. Again, Luke momentarily courted the dark side during his showdown with Vader. He still came back to the light, intent on saving his father. Furthermore, Rey arrives to inform him that the galaxy (and his sister) need him. His best friend was murdered by his own son and Luke’s nephew and former student. Despite his shame and depression over failing his nephew, those factors should have been enough to spark something of the old Luke. It takes a hologram of Leia from ANH to make him agree to train Rey but still doesn’t answer the call to help his sister.

A point flagged by fans of TLJ is that people change, especially over decades. I agree, however, for the sake of characterisation, it’s important to retain some elements of familiarity. The Luke Skywalker of ¾ of TLJ feels barely recognisable. Granted, he does eventually reunite with Leia and the old Luke seems to be returning. The magic of their reunion is marred by the fact that he’s sent a force-double version of himself. Perhaps his rescue would’ve had more emotional bearing if he sacrificed himself in his physical form (there would be no twin sun imagery to close Luke’s legacy).

Regarding the Rey Skywalker theory: to be honest, I hoped that would be the case. The thought of Rey as Luke’s daughter appealed to me and the theme of two grandchildren fighting over their grandfather’s legacy. The heirs of Darth Vader, if you will. The lightsabre splitting scene would’ve been the perfect embodiment of this. Alas, according to Kylo, Rey is the child of no one special. Personally, I think he is lying; her ignorance would serve him well to mould her into his apprentice, and he did embellish the tent situation regarding Luke trying to kill him. Rey’s question of her parentage was her weak spot and he constantly dangled it in front of her. We’ll find out in Episode 9. I’m aware that many are against Rey Skywalker because they don’t want the protagonist to be another Skywalker. They want new, unrelated heroes. I maintain that the new trilogy will grant their wish, but this trilogy is still about the Skywalkers and their legacy. But this is personal taste.

Another disappointing example is the casino planet Canto Bight. While dazzling and inventive, scenes involving this new setting went on longer than required, slowing the pace. While the storyline added layers to Rose Tico, it didn’t quite mesh with the urgency of the Resistance’s fuel crisis. I also felt that the chilling dictator speech delivered by General Hux in TFA was undone during the opening exchange between Hux and Poe Dameron. Hux was reduced to a tool for humour and that affected his characterisation. Mild humour involving Hux is, of course, acceptable. Nevertheless, the length of the scene damaged his intimidating and unhinged personality.

Of course, there were many positives to be extracted from the film. BB-8 is the star of TLJ. Almost every action scene has BB-8 taking charge of the situation. A spunky droid besting the humans at times is entertaining and fresh; an example of the better humour in this instalment. I also liked the closing message with the slave boy; nobodies can be force sensitive/resistance fighters. Moreover, the mise-en-scene of the throne room scene was almost perfect, particularly the red and black contrast.

Those opposed to TLJ are unfairly labelled as resistant to change: the problem doesn’t lie in the changes, but the execution of them. As a standalone film unaffiliated with a franchise, this is a promising piece of cinema. As a piece in the Star Wars puzzle, it ignores unanswered questions in TFA and itself has questionable character directions. The vitriol spewed from both sides consumes the fandom. Whatever we think or feel about this film: we have one more. It could confirm the plots and themes of TLJ or subvert them completely. 2019 will provide us with the why.

Dum Laga Ke Haisha (2015) – A Simple Premise Delivered with Careful Purpose (Spoilers)

When one hears Yash Raj Films, titles such as
Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, Mohabbatein, Veer-Zaara and Fanaa spring to mind. Feel-good, tragic, warmth-inducing icons of Indian cinema. So, when I read the synopsis for Dum Laga Ke Haisha, I had to double-check the production company. Here’s the trailer with English subtitles.

Dum Laga Ke Haisha couldn’t stand out more from the crowd. While couples in the films mentioned appear to overcome the odds, Prem (Ayushmann Khurrana) and Sandhya (Bhumi Pednekar) really don’t look like they have a chance at all. Firstly, they’re drawn into an arranged marriage that Sandhya appears to look forward to, at least. Secondly, and the stickiest point, is that Sandhya is “plus-sized”. Bollywood (Hollywood, too) heroines, even if they’re oddballs, are still too glamourous. There’s pressure for viewers everywhere to conform. That’s why Dum Laga Ke Haisha is an important film: it dares to be different. It may subscribe to Bollywood’s slice-of-life, feel-good style at times, yet it has an independent film feel.

The beauty of the film lies with Sandhya, which is an ironic statement to make given the film’s premise. She knows she doesn’t live up to standards looks-wise but she carries herself with confidence. A lot is asked of prospective brides: certain caste, educated, social-standing, culinary skills,
beauty, fair skin and obedience. It’s Sandhya’s prospects as a teacher that’s a large draw for Prem’s family. Notice how I said family. Practically the minute after their marriage, his family nit-pick at Sandhya, mostly behind her back but Prem’s aunt is catty enough to fling insults Sandhya’s way about her weight. Thankfully, Prem’s father counters this by highlighting his son’s less-than stellar qualities. She could be – is – a good-natured woman with her head screwed on right. Also, even with her figure, Sandhya is quite lovely – especially with her hair out. Unfortunately, her husband and his family aren’t willing to realise that. Until the climax of the film, she takes what they deliver, illustrating her inner strength.

The most heartbreaking moments of the film are in scenes involving the married couple. Not only is Prem visibly displeased during the marriage ceremony, he avoids being seen with Sandhya in public. She clearly relishes exploring local streets on the arm of her husband but he finds every opportunity to put space between them. He goes on about her weight, worst of all: he bursts out loud that he finds her physically repulsive to sleep with. Viewers feel a punch to their own stomachs, especially as she witnesses this. She smacks him (many would say right on) and he retaliates. At this point, things are spiraling leaving viewers wondering if there is any going back after this. The scene that evokes the most emotion is when Sandhya is forced to explain why she’s back at her parents’ home. She has to not only re-live the awful moment she was publicly insulted, but is forced to admit that society finds her undesirable. This once again emphasises the pressure Indian women are under, especially as carriers of their family’s honour. The delivery of this brings tears to viewers’ eyes.

With a family such as his, it is easy to understand why Prem just can’t get going. His father is overly-strict, pushing him into a box Prem doesn’t fit in, while his mother and aunt spoil him and overlook his flaws. That’s not to say he’s not responsible for his actions in the film, it just explains why he is so. It may be difficult to witness his lacklustre life, however Prem’s depressive state and his father’s treatment of it opens eyes. The message is to try to look beneath the word lazy and examine what has caused it. Prem’s family represent how not to handle mental health problems.

There are comedic moments that leave the audience either snickering or full-on cackling. Moments such as Sandhya putting on an erotic film to get her new husband in the mood, to his aunts overhearing his eventual bedroom exploits. ‘My son has become a man’ his mother declares. It’s difficult not to lose it at that point. Moreover, Sandhya’s brother is a little brat with his insensitive remarks towards his sister. Sandhya gives as good as is delivered, which adds to the humour.

A few more unsavoury actions from Prem towards Sandhya and he finally demonstrates some change. He accepts she deserves better than him and wakes her up to his family’s deceptiveness. While his transformation towards loving Sandhya during the couple’s race seems a bit sudden and out-of-the-blue, it’s definitely satisfactory to watch them both reach a level of happiness. After a struggle to adjust to marriage to each other, Prem and Sandhya are finally happy. The song and dance sequence during the end credits is an example of Bollywood conventions done right: the focus has been on the storyline, now that it’s resolved, it’s time to celebrate. Dum Laga Ke Haisha is a film to be celebrated, itself.

The Mystery of Rey: Clever Marketing from Disney

Following the revitalisation of the Star Wars franchise with Episode 7: The Force Awakens, one question emerged out of many: who is Rey?

Scores of articles appeared on Google daily, litigating Rey’s parentage. Some championed Luke Skywalker as her father, attributing similarities in character arcs, while others suggested Han Solo or even Obi-Wan Kenobi. Or some other theory entirely. The debate borders on fierceness, but one thing has gone unnoticed. The question of Rey’s background has sustained our interest in the upcoming Episode 8, and the franchise itself.

This isn’t just because they can’t cram everything into one film, this is because they want to hook us and keep us hooked. And it’s worked. Not only do we look forward to finding out what culminates following the drama of the Solo family, we itch to receive more hints (because we know the writers wouldn’t just have a character blurt out that they’re someone’s Father – oh wait…hehe) about Rey’s backstory. They have fed us tidbits in the form of the lightsabre discovery scene, which tells us that Rey was left with Unkar Plutt for her own safety. That entire montage has inspired countless minds to go into thinking overdrive.

In this way, Disney can be rest assured that this unrelenting ‘Who is Rey?’ question carries most of the marketing weight. All they need is a tantalising teaser and an exciting official trailer, and they’ve ensured that the Disney coffers will always be filled up. Conventions also provide the opportunity for fans to present their questions and theories: those end up making news.

Still don’t believe that story-crafting is more than just creativity? I present Exhibit-I’ve-forgotten-which-number: J.J. Abrams’ Mystery Box. In Abrams’ view, the mystery box symbolises opportunity; it’s imperative to keep it closed until the right time. Think delayed gratification. Whether you think the mystery box is gimmicky or lazy, in the case of Star Wars, it has worked. The number of articles, blog posts and youtube videos attests to that.

So, don’t have much money for promoting your film? Hold back on key details and promise to unveil them at the right moment. Then the reveal pays off. That applies to novels, too. Don’t worry about boring your readers and stuffing exposition all at the beginning. Toss a meat drumstick with the promise of a massive feast.

We Need to Talk About The Keeping Room (2014)

Racking up just 2 1/2 stars on Netflix (as of 10th January 2016), The Keeping Room‘s quiet, unappreciated presence is puzzling given its hook. Three young Southern women left to defend their land against, well, anything, during the American Civil War. Two sisters and their slave. That in itself should prove a draw for some positivity as American Civil War films tend to focus more on the men going to war and the effects on their families, rather than isolating the story on female survival. To be fair, Gone With the Wind does feature Southern women coping while the men are at war, however it is overshadowed by the tempestuous relationship between Rhett and Scarlett. The fact that Augusta (Brit Marling), Louise (Hailee Steinfeld) and Mad (Muna Otaru) are the sole focus of the film, allows us to hone in on their situation without distraction.

Thankfully, their dynamic isn’t rosy; it’s raw. Augusta is the elder daughter who has taken charge and is calmly dominant, Louise is a teenager who wants to be Lady of the Manor rather than get her elbows dirty, and is bigoted towards their slave Mad, who carries out her tasks as she has always done. Mad always appears as if she wants to spit some truths out, but is unsure despite the somewhat equal status the three are beginning to share. An heiress (by lack of men), her demanding teenage sister and their slave sounds almost like “they walk into a bar”. It’s rather fascinating that without the backdrop of the Civil War, there’s little possibility of the trio being so united despite their positions in society.

The film, being independent, is in no hurry to press on with the plot, savouring everything going on in the scene: the pace matches the slow, hostile surroundings. This shouldn’t put anyone off from viewing, as  For such a barren land, danger hangs over them like a promise. It’s almost apocalyptic. The region is tense and the viewer becomes absorbed in that the-keeping-room-1tension. Uneasiness settles into the audience when they await the masculine violence on the horizon. On the hunt for medicine for Louise’s raccoon bite, Augusta is warned by a tavern owner that it’s not safe for her to be there, cut to two Union soldiers in the corner drinking and eyeing her up. With hardly any men present (the tavern owner seems to be the only man in the area), any woman is fair game. Any traditional gender conventions are non-existent at this point.

In the opening credits, William Tecumseh Sherman is quoted: ‘War is cruelty. There is no use trying to reform it; the crueler it is, the sooner it will be over.’ There’s a hardened statement if ever spoken; a justification for all-out violence. Moses, one of the Union soldiers, parrots this in a stand-off with Augusta to explain his thirst for pain and destruction. They’re both right: war is cruelty, yet I can’t agree with the level of cruelty dictating its status. The heavier the atrocity, the more likely the retaliation. Retaliation doesn’t necessarily result in finality. Well, in order to survive the three women have to resort to delving into violence.

The Keeping Room itself provides warmth, food and domestic cohesion (which ends up being cathartic), however it’s not immediately considered as a place to arm and guard themselves. Despite being associated with female domesticity, it doesn’t serve as protection against masculine violence, therefore they can only seek sanctuary by barricading themselves in the house once belonging to men, and arming themselves with the guns of their menfolk as well. Additionally, the women don men’s clothes knowing full well that they will be able to carry out their subversive duties with little harassment.

Could the film benefit from a little more backstory? Of course. I also felt that, despite voicing their reasons for committing their appalling acts, Moses (Sam Worthington) and Henry (Kyle Soller) are never fleshed out. Villains are villains, and yes, their actions speak for their thought processes, but even villains need some backstory. Although we know the-keeping-room-2they’ve broken off from the impending Union Army to forge their own path, we never really get a sense of who they are. The subtle difference: Henry is a drunkard who enjoys the company of women (whether they like it or not), but is also unpredictable. As for Moses: he’s composed and more controlled. He has the ability to mess with your head in the way that you don’t know whether you’re safe or in danger in his presence.

Thankfully, The Keeping Room has received positive ratings on Rotten Tomatoes,  as it deserves. Its indie status shouldn’t deter lovers of fast-paced, action thrillers (guns, cars, international gangs and the like): this can invoke the same thrills felt watching the latter. At (reaching) 1 hour 50, a further 10 minutes could’ve been better spent with the villains in order to increase our fear of them even more, thus making their presence more devastating on the viewer. A 2 hour film would undoubtedly not be taxing for audiences.