28 February 2016

'Revenant': Review

In 1600, white Europeans started occupying the east coast of America. In 1776, they became free from British rule and founded a new country: the United States of America. By 1800, they occupied the eastern one-third of the land (upto the Mississippi river). After 1800, they moved into the western two-thirds of the land. Throughout this process, they massacred all the native American people they came across.

In 1823, an expedition went up the Missouri river. A bear attacked a hunter called Hugh Glass and left him half dead. The expedition abandoned him and continued on its way. Glass miraculously survived both his injuries and the harsh winter, and made his way across 300 km of hostile terrain to reach the nearest white camp. Then he set about wreaking vengeance on his unfaithful comrades.

In 2002, US trade representative Michael Punke wrote a novel called Revenant based on Hugh Glass's adventure. And last year, Mexican director Alejandro Inarritu made the book into a movie - starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Glass.

The central theme of Revenant is violence. There are two types of violence: man vs nature and man vs man. The clash between man and nature is for the sake of survival - and has some meaning. The conflict between man and man, on the other hand, is mainly due to greed - and is devoid of any meaning. Revenant uncompromisingly shows both the types of violence (especially the second type - in all its ugliness).

The story itself is a simple survival-cum-revenge drama. What sets the movie apart is the stunning visuals. Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki brilliantly captures the savage and majestic beauty of Canada's mountains, forests and rivers (where the movie was shot). Composer Ryuichi Sakamoto's music complements the pictures beautifully. Leonardo DiCaprio does a competent job. But the stand-out performance is from Tom Hardy, who plays the scumbag villain to perfection.

21 February 2016

'Spotlight': Review

If there is anything more evil than rape, it is the rape of children. In 2002, the newspaper 'Boston Globe' revealed that 250 Catholic priests in Boston had raped 1,000 children over almost 50 years. That triggered investigations all over America, which revealed that 5% of all priests had raped children, and the total number of victims was 1 lakh.

[Accurate numbers for rapist-priests and their child-victims are available only from America. We can extrapolate these numbers to the world to know the full scale of this evil. The total number of Catholic priests in the world is 4 lakh. 5% of that gives us 20,000 rapist-priests across the world. America's 7 crore Catholics have among them 1 lakh child-victims. So the world's 100 crore Catholics have among them a total of 14 lakh child-victims]

Further, Boston Globe revealed something that was much more stunning (if such a thing was possible): the Church KNEW about this. It knew about the evil right from the beginning. Not only that, it had also been actively covering up the rapes and protecting the rapist-priests. And this conspiracy of knowledge, silence and cover-up did not just involve the Bishops and the Cardinals. It went all the way up to the top - ie, the Vatican.

Tom McCarthy's Spotlight tells the story of Boston Globe's investigation. It shows how a team of investigative reporters painstakingly put together the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle one by one, and revealed the horrifying truth. Spotlight is movie-making at its old-fashioned best: a good story told by using a well-written script. There are no superstars, no special effects, no action and no romance. The result is a movie that is simple, but at the same time powerful and emotional.

The cast is made up of first-rate actors (Liev Schreiber, Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Stanley Tucci, Billy Crudup and Rachel McAdams) who deliver solid performances. But the real stars of the movie are the side-actors who play the rape victims. They steal the show with their heart-rending portrayals of innocent people whose lives were destroyed. Destroyed not just by a few evil men - but also by an evil system.

14 February 2016

'Deadpool': Review

Q: Who is a superhero?
A: A guy who wears a funny costume, has superpowers and beats up bad guys.

The superhero is an American phenomenon. It was the product of the Great Depression of the 1930s. The world's richest country found itself in the worst economic crisis in history. Americans yearned for a saviour to solve their problems. Enter the superhero: first Superman (1938) and Batman (1939). Later others followed.

Next the superhero moved from the comic book to the movies. The Big Three were the first: Superman, Batman and Spiderman. Then the river turned into a flood: X-Men and Avengers. Today superhero movies dominate Hollywood. The 12 Avengers movies have made a total of $9 billion, and account for 3 out of the 10 all-time biggest blockbusters. And this year will see more superhero movies: Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, Captain America: Civil War, X-Men: Apocalypse, etc.

Hollywood is the world's biggest movie industry. And within this industry, the superhero factory has become the biggest sub-industry. It is a factory in every sense of the word. It uses a formula to churn out assembly-line products, which we go to see like robots and turn into $1 billion blockbusters.

Enter Deadpool: anti-hero, anti-superhero and basically anti-everything. Deadpool is not just an anti-hero, or even an anti-superhero. He is anti-superhero-industry. Nothing is sacred for this wisecracker. There are no holy cows for this smartass. He makes fun of everything and everybody – including (of course) himself. He fights fast, but talks even faster.

Scriptwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick use the standard superhero formula story as a vehicle to mock the superhero industry itself. The tongue-in-cheek humour is fast, furious and deliciously irreverent. Ryan Reynolds delivers the jokes with a deadpan face (maybe it has something to do with his wearing a mask all the time). The action (and romance) is just a sideshow. Deadpool is all about the humour: no-holds-barred and in-your-face.

'Government controls. Art liberates' is the conventional wisdom. But what when art becomes an industry and a system of control – as it has become today? Artists make fun of government. But who will make fun of artists when they become powerful – as they have become today? Then you need an anti-artist like director Tim Miller, to make anti-art like Deadpool.

We need Christopher Nolan's Batman to ask existential questions and to seek metaphysical answers. We also need Deadpool to laugh at ourselves, our lives and the world.