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Terminator Dark Fate movie review: Dear Arnold Schwarzenegger, it’s time to say hasta la vista to this franchise

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Terminator: Dark Fate
Director – Tim Miller
Cast – Linda Hamilton, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mackenzie Davis, Natalia Reyes, Gabriel Luna

Breakneck, blasé, and browner than usual, Terminator: Dark Fate is a prime example of sneaky Hollywood self-plagiarism. But in all fairness, a rehash was promised, and that is exactly what has been presented.

Two trump cards, however, add a necessary dash of freshness to this largely stale sequel, which erases the events of three films and a television series, in an attempt to restore the failing franchise to its former glory. The performances of Linda Hamilton (returning as Sarah Connor for the first time since 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day), and Arnold Schwarzenegger (who never really left), serve as soulful anchors in director Tim Miller’s emotionally disengaged film.

Watch the Terminator: Dark Fate trailer here 

The year is 2020, and two naked cyborgs with duelling missions have dropped out of the sky in Mexico City. Their target is a young woman named Dani. While a female cyborg played by Mackenzie Davis has been assigned the Kyle Reese role as a protector to Dani, a formidable new Terminator model, the Rev-9, engages them in an unending chase. Aside from the significantly increased presence of Hispanic characters, the plot of Terminator: Dark Fate is essentially an inelegant Frankenstein’s monster, fashioned out of the elements that made the first two films in the series such classics.

For all his faults as a filmmaker, James Cameron’s screenplays are a lot like the Terminators — streamlined and without an ounce of fat to slow them down. Dark Fate, despite Cameron’s creative inputs — he returns as producer after having vocally endorsed and rejected previous films — has a lot of unnecessary weight. It relies too heavily on large-scale action set pieces to truly let the intimacy of its story sink in.

The Biblical themes of the first two films have mostly been discarded, although a new Messiah is in need of protection. But Miller does a fine job of co-opting Cameron’s muscular directing style, his machine-like obsession with efficiency, and the idea of motherhood.

This image released by Paramount Pictures shows Linda Hamilton, left, and Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator: Dark Fate.

Another of the movie’s highlights is Arnie’s return, which, slightly disappointingly, arrives well past the halfway mark. Visibly older now, he talks about how, after having completed the mission he was programmed to carry out, he went about finding a purpose in life. I can’t possibly discuss the details of his mission, but the idea of a robot spending decades trying to assimilate into our culture, and developing a conscience, is instantly interesting. The manner in which the film addresses this, however, has the subtlety of a Schwarzenegger punch to the gut.

It’s equally interesting how, over the years, the Terminator franchise despite lukewarm audience reception and poor reviews has shown an almost robotic resilience. The last two films in the series — Terminator Salvation and Terminator Genisys — were intended as trilogy starters, but their subsequent box office failure put an end to those plans. And although at least one of those films had James Cameron’s blessings, neither had his creative insights.

So the fact that Dark Fate is less inventive than Salvation, which at least transported the story to a post-apocalyptic future, and Genisys, which tapped into themes of privacy and online surveillance rather potently, is monumentally disappointing.

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Frozen 2 movie review: Elsa and Anna make a case for reparations in more beautiful but needless sequel

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Frozen 2
Director: Jennifer Lee, Chris Buck
Cast: Idina Menzel, Kristen Bell, Josh Gad, Jonathan Groff

One of the easiest tests for assessing a sequel’s quality is comparing its cast and crew to the original. Are the leads back? Is someone else making it? Did the director have to be thrown out and another brought in their place to fill the hole? Frozen II passes this test with flying colours. Everyone from the original is back, including all the voice actors (Oscar-winners and otherwise) and also the directors. Which means, those who read the script were confident about it and so maybe, you should be, too. However, the test is often deemed unreliable for one factor–the sweet, clinking sound of coins dropping in their purses.

Frozen is still the most successful animated film ever made with a box office haul of $1.27 billion. And this isn’t even a fraction of the money it made for Disney with its Elsa tiffin boxes, Anna backpacks and Olaf toilet plungers. Of course, a sequel is too glossy an idea to not entertain. Another movie means four more Elsa costumes and four more Elsa dolls for your child’s collection. I’ll pray to my god that you find the four-in-one version, for the sake of your wallet and your sanity. That’s the least I can do after writing a review that tells you why you should bring your kids for Frozen II anyway.

Watch Frozen 2 trailer here:

In its second part, the story of ice queen Elsa (Idina Menzel) and her sister Anna (Kristen Bell) takes a more colourful albeit less enchanting turn. Set in the season of autumn, the screen aflush with stunning hues; the fiery red maple leaves, the soft auburns of hidden forests, the icy blues of Elsa’s snow outfits and the royal aubergines of Anna’s cloak. It’s an aesthetic fit for an Instagram trend. #VSCOgirls are shook.

But beautiful visuals were not all that was promised. Six years ago, Frozen gave Disney one of the most refreshing stories about princesses and magic. It wasn’t just a musical delight — although repeated listenings did …uh… made one particular song hard to ‘let go’ from your head. Frozen subverted long-held ideas about the meaning of true love and why one must always find it in a suitor. With a lot of pomp and pageantry, it sang about a woman’s need to break free from isolation and embrace her powers; and finally, learning to trust the ones closest to her. It was a story about how people can help others heal and grow stronger. Things change for Elsa as she breaks away from her sallow, lonely origins and embraces a happier side with her sister.

This image released by Disney shows Elsa, voiced by Idina Menzel, in a scene from "Frozen 2." (Disney via AP)

With Frozen II, there is no relationship to resolve or personality issues to address. Therefore, the story, the tension and the central conflict feels forced from the very beginning to the absolute end. This time when we meet the two sisters of Arendelle, an undisclosed amount of time has passed since the original. Everything seems happy and joyous in her kingdom but Elsa has been hearing eerie voices call out to her. In the spirit of every kids movie ever, she decides to chase after it and once again brings peril to her kingdom with her ever-growing icy powers that are beyond her control.

To bring things back in order, she goes searching for answers in an enchanted forest and Anna is bent on staying by her side. Last time’s events should have been enough to remind Elsa that Anna can hold her own and even save her in times of need. But the days of not trusting her sister and infantilizing her are still not behind her. The entire party, including the sisters, Anna’s boyfriend Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), his reindeer Sven and snowman Olaf (Josh Gad) get divided into different groups when Elsa ditches them to save Arendelle and to find her true self. Cue a song sequence in which Elsa sings at night in a kingdom of isolation with not a footstep to be seen. Welcome back to Frozen (2013).

Elsa, voiced by Idina Menzel, from left, Anna, voiced by Kristen Bell, Kristoff, voiced by Jonathan Groff and Sven in a scene from Frozen 2.

In between a few death hoaxes and one stunning song (Into The Unknown) and one that will make 1991 Bryan Adams proud (Lost In The Woods), the film also makes a case for reparations…? The wronged people of the forest should be given their due for all that they suffered for decades and it falls on Elsa and Anna to make a tough decision for the good of their kingdom. What could have been a powerful opportunity to draw parallels with contemporary realities and teach a lesson or two in sacrifice and acceptance, was too quickly resolved with not much of a sacrifice. Of course, the real world doesn’t have ice queens to help them out.

The film, even without a strong, beating, motivated heart at its core is still not dull enough to be unwatchable. Josh Gad’s Olaf is once again one of the best things about the film. He still gets the most hilarious lines; his laugh is just as infectious as we remember it; his stupidity is the kind that make you burst into giggles rather than roll your eyes in frustration. In a standout scene, he gives a hilarious recap of the events of the original and it’s the most exciting and impressive piece of writing in the whole film. As a sad cherry on the cake, Olaf looks forward to adulthood and how he will be wiser when he grows up — a sly dig at all the grown-ups in theatre, realising how wrong he is about it all. It’ll stab at your heart when he realises none of it was true and frankly, he has one of the best character arcs in the film. Can’t believe I just said that about an anthropomorphic pile of snow.

Anna, voiced by Kristen Bell, and Olaf, voiced by Josh Gad, in a scene from Frozen 2.

Frozen II, however, falls short on the musical front, something that made the original Disney so memorable. Each song was catchy, crisp and brilliant in the first film. However, with the sequel, dig my brain as hard as I might, I can’t remember a single line of lyrics from more than one song. Idina Menzel knocks it out of the park once again with the powerful Into The Unknown, and the haunting chorus is still ringing in my ear, hours later. And karaoke lovers beware, this one will be tougher than its predecessor to sing.

But one catchy song is too less, one great snowman too little a reward for those who have waited six years for this. Maybe now that we have realised it was not really worth it, can we finally let it go?

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Joker movie review: Joaquin Phoenix delivers Oscar-worthy performance in dreary and distressing masterpiece

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Joker
Director – Todd Phillips
Cast – Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Marc Maron

“All it takes,” the Joker famously said once, “is one bad day to reduce the sanest man alive to lunacy.” And that is all that separates him from the rest of society. One bad day.

This quote, as fans of the Batman comics would know, comes from Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s seminal 1988 graphic novel, The Killing Joke, which is one of only a handful of recognisable comic book influences on director Todd Phillips’ Joker. I couldn’t think of a more thematically relevant quote to sum up this incendiary new film, which is at once a fable about moral decay, and a cautionary tale about societal division.

 Watch the Joker trailer here

Besides a couple of tacked-on moments (including a cute speech by the Trumpian Thomas Wayne about men who hide behind masks), Joker has very little to offer fans of comic book movies. It is, instead, inspired (heavily) by the bleak philosophy of Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy; an unrelentingly distressing drama about loneliness and unchecked mental illness.

From its gloriously gripping opening scene to its jaw-dropping final moments, it is nearly impossible to take your eyes off Joaquin Phoenix’s incredible performance as Arthur Fleck, as much as you might want to. But it is this very repulsion that Phillips, I believe, is attempting to tap into.

There were several moments in the film, including Arthur’s introductory scene, when I wanted to avert my eyes, as many of us do when confronted with things that make us uncomfortable. Our first instinct, understandably, is to get as far away from the discomfort as possible. But no matter how far we run, the source of our problems will remain, festering in its own misery; drowning in its own despair.

Phillips looks at Arthur, a mentally ill loner, not with judgement, but with a mixture of pity and empathy. Despite his troubles, Arthur — crucially and controversially — isn’t a bad person. He is eternally ridiculed, bullied, and beaten up; living at the mercy of a system that doesn’t give two hoots about him or his ailing mother.

Joaquin Phoenix in a still from Joker.

Now this may well be problematic for some audiences. God knows I’ve struggled with what to feel about it myself. A sympathetic portrayal of a someone who is clearly modelled after one of those mass murderers that we hear about on the news, especially in 2019, a year in which there have been a reported 334 mass shootings in America, seems highly irresponsible.

Joker isn’t an easy film to watch; nor is it particularly easy to understand. It isn’t meant to be. For instance, I don’t for one second believe that Phillips could be tactless enough to glorify a psychopath in the manner that his film suggests. Arthur is most certainly humanised, but he is never idolised. He is a product of the same civilised society that has dedicated itself to pushing him to the fringes of existence and ignoring his frequent cries for help.

After an unrelentingly grim couple of acts, Joker transforms into a broad (but pitch-black) satire towards the end. This switch in tone, in my opinion, is what pulls the film off the ledge that it was fully prepared to leap from.

Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck/Joker in a still from Todd Phillips’ new film.

And Arthur is, lest we forget, a highly unreliable narrator. Coupled with the knowledge that he is prone to imagining things — like Travis Bickle and Rupert Pupkin, he has a tendency to bathe himself in delusions of self-grandeur — I fear that there is a very real chance for the film to be misinterpreted by precisely the sort of people who shouldn’t be seeing it as a validation of their dangerous feelings.

The risks, tragically, are quantifiable. A Taxi Driver fan tried to assassinate Ronald Reagan. Mark David Chapman had a copy of The Catcher in the Rye in his pocket when he shot John Lennon. Charles Manson heard secret messages in the music of the Beatles. And only Shahid Kapoor knows how many sexist Tik-Tokers Kabir Singh has spawned.

That being said, I find it ridiculous that the same people who reject the notion of movies being responsible for inciting real-life violence are the ones panicking about Joker inspiring mass shooters. This is a reductive theory that wastes everyone’s time by diverting attention from where it should be (gun control and mental health treatment) to where it shouldn’t (movies, books, video games, etc). No sane person will watch this film and feel compelled to assassinate their least-favourite politician.

But then again, aren’t we all just ‘one bad day’ away from pulling the trigger?

Joaquin Phoenix in a still from Joker.

It is possible, however, that Phillips might have overestimated the intellect of his audience. By leaving such a crucial aspect of the film open to interpretation — that finale can stoke exactly the sort of polarisation that Phillips is trying to pulverise — the filmmaker might have bitten off more than he could chew. He ditches his typically playful ‘A Todd Phillips movie’ credit in favour of the infinitely more self-serious ‘A film by Todd Phillips’, but these are just cosmetic changes, not unlike Arthur slathering his face with makeup to mask his damaged psyche.

But despite pretentious flourishes such as this, Phillips must be celebrated for extracting an all-time great performance out of Phoenix. Much of the film frames him in painterly portraits shot by cinematographer Lawrence Sher, highlighting his sorrowful eyes; his distinct features; and the pain on his face as he erupts into involuntary bouts of mirthless laughter. Observe how the camera switches perspective as the film goes on, surrendering its position of superiority as Arthur’s transformation takes place. And do not miss the subtle shift in Phoenix’s body-language, as he sheds Arthur’s skin and slaps on a thick layer of clown makeup.

This is largely a one-man show, and the supporting actors, including Zazie Beetz and Robert De Niro, appear mostly in extended cameos. They’re solid, just underused. The biggest presence besides Phoenix, you’d be surprised to learn, is the eerie score by Hildur Guðnadóttir, who honed her skills under the late, great Jóhann Jóhannsson. Her wailing cello perfectly captures Arthur’s fraying mental state.

Joker is a great film, not because of what it provides, but because of what it withholds. It’s brave, beautiful, and bound to annoy some people. Expect Oscars.

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War movie review: Hrithik Roshan-Tiger Shroff drama is high on action, low on story

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War
Director – Siddharth Anand
Cast – Hrithik Roshan, Tiger Shroff, Vaani Kapoor

War has swag, style and sass in abundance, and comes peppered with high-octane action scenes, car-and-bike chases and jaw-dropping series of twists. What else do you expect from a film that has Hrithik Roshan and Tiger Shroff as the lead pair?

Directed by Siddharth Anand, War is an espionage thriller that serves you with just the right amount of action, humour and tops it with ridiculously good-looking people. However, don’t expect too much from story because with two bonafide action stars fighting it out on the big screen, everything else is secondary.

Watch the War trailer here 

War opens with Kabir (Hrithik Roshan), a rogue agent, killing his own. Through a flashback sequence, it is established how he met Khalid (Tiger Shroff) who went on to join his unit in an intelligence agency. Story takes an interesting turn when Khalid, who has always worshipped Kabir as his mentor, is assigned the task of finding and arresting him. Khalid is also supposed to find out why Kabir went bad and another flashback sequence post intermission reveals his reasons.

Throughout War, Hrithik and Tiger’s onscreen camaraderie is on point. It is the USP of the film — just as makers intended. Each frame where the two appear together receives whistles and cheers from fans. Whether they’re fighting or dancing, or just flaunting their six-pack abs and chiselled bodies — it’s nothing short of a visual treat. The best aspect of War is that no actor is aiming for one-upmanship, instead you see them feeding off each other’s energy. There’s a pleasant comic vibe, too, between Hrithik and Tiger and director Siddharth Anand uses it cleverly without it sounding awkward.

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Hrithik — Bollywood’s resident Greek god, unapologetically flaunts his age and swag. You’d love those wrinkles. Tiger — the hot favourite among youth — delivers an honest performance even though he seems absolutely star struck by his reel and real life mentor. But who’s complaining?

Unfortunately, War doesn’t give any scope to its female lead to perform. Vaani Kapoor only appears in the film in its second half, and before you can even understand what her role in the plot is, she disappears. The 20-minute forced cameo, with a song thrown in, doesn’t impress one bit. Vaani’s role seems to be limited to adding glamour to the film. It’s sad that even in today’s day and age, that’s what many filmmakers cast female actors in their film for.

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And you’ll feel the same for supporting actors too. Fine performers such as Ashutosh Rana and Soni Razdan are wasted in War, even though they somewhat justify their screen time with whatever little comes their way. Anupriya Goenka, however, does make her presence felt.

The one element that you get in abundance in War is beautifully-choreographed action. The first half has these sequences in plenty and it only gets better in the second half. Shot at exotic international locales like Morocco and Portugal, as well as Delhi and Kerala, the film excels in the action department. War gives a callback to action extravaganzas such as Mission Impossible and Fast & Furious, and Hrithik’s earlier outings Dhoom 2 and Bang Bang.

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Amid all this, you wonder what happened to the story if at all there was any. Just like we had Saaho a month back which was all things action but no story, War too makes you question why filmmakers don’t put enough thought into having a substantial plot. War suffers from a relatively weak screenplay that does not go unnoticed as the two good-looking actors overshadow everything else.

Also, no matter which genre a film belongs too, if it’s Bollywood, you can’t do without songs. However, we have no complaints as it is a treat to watch Tiger and Hrithik dancing together. Jai Jai Shivshankar might seem like it came out of nowhere but when these two show you their moves, you just can’t enough of them.

War, a big spectacle film, is definitely worth a watch for the sheer joy of seeing this dream pair of Hrithik and Tiger on the silver screen.

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