Lucifer – Movie Review

Lucifer, an intriguing political power struggle between ‘evil and lesser evil’, is a primer on how to make a good action masala movie.

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Lucifer kicks off with the death of chief minister PK Ramdas, leading to a political Game of Thrones with potential contenders jostling for succession. When Ramdas’ son-in-law Bobby, played by a suave Vivek Oberoi, tries to take advantage of the ensuing power vacuum, there is only one man standing in his way – Stephen Nedumpally/Lucifer (Mohanlal). The first half is an intriguing political drama with well fleshed-out characters, pursuing agendas of their own. The second half, while being mostly fanservice, works because Prithviraj, who makes his directorial debut after 17 years of acting, doesn’t play to the gallery from the opening credits, and takes his time in setting up his chess pieces.

Much like Petta, which was a tribute to Rajini, Lucifer is a tribute to the Malayali superstar from Prithvi, a self-confessed fanboy himself. Since my exposure to Mohanlal is limited to a few Tamil movies and other dubbed movies, most of the references went over my head. There was, however, one reference which I thoroughly enjoyed. When someone asks ‘Enna periya MGR ah nee?’, it was a delightful nod to Mani Ratnam’s Iruvar, where Mohanlal plays MGR.

While the movie’s title gives scriptwriter Murali Gopy the license to take cues from mythology and scripture, he draws inspiration from other iconic pop culture as well. It comes as no surprise that Mohanlal’s car number is 666. Like Marvel’s Daredevil, which borrows heavily from Catholicism, Lucifer takes a lot of cue from the Bible, with Mohanlal even reciting the iconic Ezekiel 25:17 verse, immortalized by Samuel Jackson in Pulp Fiction. When Mohanlal tells a priest that he cannot ask forgiveness for the sins he is yet to commit, it subverts the opening scene in Daredevil, where Matt Murdock seeks forgiveness for the sins he is going to commit.

While some of these lofty ideas feel forced, other subtle references work rather well. Prithvi’s brother, who plays Govardhan, a social media crusader trying to reveal the dirty secrets of politicians, has books on Assange and Snowden, the most infamous whistle-blowers of modern times. While Manju Warrier’s character, daughter of patriarch PKR and wife of Bobby, was explored quite well, characters like Govardhan and PKR’s son, played by Tovino Thomas deserved better treatment.

With a runtime of nearly 3 hours, the movie, to its credit, never sags till it reaches its climax. Vivek Oberoi shines in a meaty antagonist role and is a fitting villain against Mohanlal in the political power struggle between evil and lesser evil. The final arc, featuring an obligatory cameo from a beefed-up Prithvi, feels rather long-drawn. But, there’s a neat little twist at the very end that ties up the loose ends in a satisfying manner. Striking a fine balance between socio-political references and crowd-pleasing moments, Lucifer is a primer on how to make a good action masala movie.

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Avengers: Endgame – Movie Review

Avengers: Endgame brings a decade of worldbuilding to a satisfying and spectacularly epic conclusion.

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Avengers: Endgame is a thoroughly rewarding experience for longtime fans, as the plot offers plenty of scope to revisit key moments from earlier movies. There are also so many subtle nods to the larger MCU that totally justified my decision to rewatch the origin stories and Infinity Stones-centric movies. The time-jump to the Battle of New York was particularly awesome and just unbridled fan-service. It felt like a series of Shawarma scenes as we get new perspectives of the Avengers doing mundane things. I whooped in delight when Endgame revisited the iconic elevator scene from Winter Soldier with an inspired twist.

At the heart of Endgame are the heroes we’ve been following since the very beginning. While Infinity War felt crammed with too many heroes, Endgame does a remarkable job of balancing its character arcs that it seemed like each hero got their own solo movie. Despite a runtime of over 3 hours, the movie whirs past at lightspeed, playing out as a series of exciting time-heists before the epic, climactic battle.

Even though the Avengers are only fighting CGI monsters, the battle is quite simply spectacular and works so much better than the Battle of Wakanda, since it is tempered with so many character-focused moments. The internet has theories, but the post-credit sceneclip is still undecipherable. I’d been hoping for a ‘Snikt!’, as there could be no better way to mark the Disney/Fox merger, but it was not to be.

Despite tackling ambitious projects with mounting stakes, the Russos have always managed to deliver movies that are loved by fanboys and critics alike. With an unprecedented mass hysteria accompanying Endgame’s release, it’s quite staggering that the movie managed to exceed expectations. It bears further testament to the Russos’ mastery of assembling tentpole movies that their portfolio of MCU movies (Winter Soldier, Civil War, Infinity War, and Endgame) is now good enough to rival even The Dark Knight, arguably the greatest superhero trilogy of all time. Nolan’s trilogy ended on a thunderous, satisfying note when the end credits ushered in Batman’s heir. Endgame somehow manages to emulate that by giving us a wondrous sense of closure as the MCU comes full circle.

In terms of sheer scope and ambition, the Infinity Saga (the first twenty-two films in the MCU) is a staggering accomplishment that has revolutionized cinematic storytelling. Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios can look back with pride as Avengers: Endgame brings a decade of worldbuilding and interwoven stories to a satisfying and spectacularly epic conclusion.

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Shazam! – Movie Review

Despite an overblown action-packed finale, the movie is ultimately fun and uplifting.

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As we live in the golden era of superhero movies, it’s the fantasy of every fan to develop superpowers and fight evil. In Shazam, a teenager Billy Batson gets to live this fantasy, when he is granted magical powers by a bearded wizard. All Billy needs to do is say the magic word “Shazam!”, and he is transformed into an adult (Zachary Levi) in a superhero suit. Billy might have the powers of Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, and Mercury, but like any 14-year old, he uses his newfound identity and superpowers for buying beer (before promptly spitting it out), paying a visit to a strip club, and making viral videos on YouTube. Zachary displays the same exuberant enthusiasm which Grant Gustin had embraced in early seasons of The Flash.

Some of the jokes feel childish, which is understandable considering it’s a kids’ film, starring kids. Billy’s roommate at the foster house, Freddy is a superhero nerd who helps his fledgling ungeeky superhero friend discover his powers, by running a series of hilarious superhero tests. Billy’s camaraderie with his other foster siblings is also wonderfully Stranger Things-ish.

While the movie smartly deals with exposition by tying it with the villain’s backstory early in the movie, Mark Strong’s Dr. Sivana seems to be straight out of a Mummy movie, as he conjures up bland, dastardly CGI depictions of the seven deadly sins. It’s understandable given director Sandberg’s history with making horror movies (Annabelle: Creation), but I would have preferred more imaginative versions of the deadly sins.

The movie’s laden with Easter Eggs, as was evident even in first look posters. Shazam may not be the refreshingly original superhero movie which the trailer had promised, but the movie is undeniably fun, and its core message of finding one’s family is conveyed sweetly. The movie overstays its welcome with an overblown action-packed finale, but Shazam is ultimately uplifting and another step in the right direction for the DCEU.

Super Deluxe – Movie Review

Super Deluxe is a slow-burning drama that finishes with a flourish and raises some existential questions.

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Thiagarajan Kumaraja’s first movie Aaranya Kandam was an underground cult sensation that didn’t get the recognition it deserved. Thanks to the inspired casting of Vijay Sethupathy, better marketing and the stamp of approval bestowed by critics, Super Deluxe has generated enough buzz to reach a much bigger audience.

Super Deluxe is an anthology of seemingly random, but interwoven stories, featuring a stellar ensemble cast. There is a recently married couple (Samantha and Fahad Fazil) trapped in a failing marriage, a gang of teenagers who want to watch a porn movie, a former porn actress (Ramya Krishnan) coming to grips with a religious zealot of her husband (Myskin), and a doting wife (Gayathri) awaiting the return of her husband (Vijay Sethupathy), who returns as a transgender. There is also a corrupt cop whose sleazy activities, while making your skin crawl, crisscross through the different storylines.

The director parades a plethora of pop culture references, making a rewatch essential just for Easter Egg hunting. There are delightful nods to his first movie, including airplanes in the sky and a key hanging in the car. I badly wanted to pause and zoom a scene featuring a wall plastered with posters, and examine each one carefully. I loved the Carnatic rendition of the Star Wars theme. Even the subtitles were very creative in translating crass dialogues for a wider audience. (More Star Wars!)

Branded with an “A” certificate, Super Deluxe can afford to be uncompromisingly dark, but it’s at this juncture that the director gets a little carried away. With almost 3 hours of runtime, the movie feels overlong at times. The scenes featuring the corrupt cop, portrayed rather well by Bagavathy Perumal, could have steered clear of repetitive clichés. While the warehouse sequence provides both Samantha and Fahad an opportunity to showcase their acting chops, the buildup was just way too overlong. There’s a supernatural twist at the end that feels slightly out of place, but helps shepherd the movie to a logical conclusion, and also raises some thought-provoking questions.

While the film’s core message on equality was rather explicit, it also brilliantly explores existentialism, the idea that our lives are nothing but a series of random events. It’s a difficult idea to eschew, even as your mind connects the many dots and patterns in the movie. But when the camera takes to the sky and gives us a sweeping big-picture view of the lives of our motley bunch of characters, our preconceived notions are shattered and it all makes startling sense. I cannot remember the last time, if ever there was one, when a Tamil movie raised so many existential questions about the very meaning of life.

Kalavu – Movie Review

Kalavu is a racy, gripping thriller along the lines of Dhuruvangal 16.

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It’s clear from the opening scene where Kalavu draws its inspiration from. As one of the lead characters stumbles from a dilapidated restroom into the theatre hall, a voice-over from Raghuman reveals that the movie playing in the background is Dhuruvangal 16, one of the finest crime thrillers in Tamil cinema. Despite setting itself such a lofty target, Kalavu doesn’t disappoint and keeps you glued throughout the movie.

Debutant director Murali Karthick deserves a lot of credit for conceiving a brilliant plot with several interwoven storylines. A trio of “innocent” friends get caught in a web of escalating lies after an unfortunate case of mistaken identity lands them in trouble for chain-snatching. The victim is someone who has committed adultery, unbeknownst to her husband. There is an elderly watchman who is the only witness to the crime. As these seemingly random characters collide, the stakes keep mounting before all the different strands are neatly tied up in a riveting finale.

Every single character is brilliantly fleshed out, with some shades of grey. The four friends, led by Kalaiarasan, churn out extremely realistic portrayals and are very much relatable. Karunakaran impresses in one of his more serious outings, while Venkat Prabu has a whale of a time playing the lead cop in the investigation. Even though you want to root for all the characters – from Kalaiarasan and his friends to the debt-ridden watchman to the spurned husband – the characters are caught in a vicious circle. If one character is to come out of this messy situation, it can only be at the expense of another.

Its non-linear storytelling at its finest as Murali Karthick keeps us unwittingly in the dark. We are handed pieces of the puzzle only to realize later that it was only a part of a bigger piece. I loved how the BGM is reduced to a combination of a ticking clock and a beating heart for the most gripping moments of the movie.

In addition to the D16 tribute in the opening scene, there are other nods to Tamil pop culture as well. While the movie commendably disregards the need for a romance arc and traditional songs, I enjoyed how old Tamil songs were played in line with the mood or situation in the movie. Black Pulsars are prevalent in the movie, quite possibly as a tribute to Vettrimaran’s Poladhavan.

There is precious little to complain about in the entire movie. Even when you come at it with a logic stick, it holds firm and true. There is the odd coincidence problem, but that is common even in quality thrillers. It’s really baffling as to why Kalavu couldn’t get a theatrical release. But thanks to Zee5’s intervention, we aren’t robbed of a racy, gripping thriller along the lines of Dhuruvangal 16.

KGF – Movie Review

KGF delivers grandiose storytelling reminiscent of Rajamouli’s pre-Bahubali movies

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Director Prashant Neel has your attention right at the start when the narrative pans across the Parliament House, the eponymous gold mine in Karnataka, the Cold War and the slums of Mumbai. The birth of our protagonist Rocky coincides with the discovery of gold in Kolar in almost prophetic fashion. After 20 minutes of relentless hype, we are finally introduced to Yash’s Rocky as he singlehandedly bashes a platoon of goons.

Even before this glorified hero introduction, the movie throws a dozen names at you before you have any time to recover. Though it is muddling, it doesn’t matter much since a few characters are being saved for Chapter 2. However, one character who wasn’t needed at all was the love interest played by Srinidhi Shetty. It’s a love arc devoid of logic and born out of a forced need to fit in the heroine somehow.

Most of the movie is narrated through an interview with an author who has written a book about KGF, chilling titled as El Dorado. While this serves as a great narrative device, the movie sometimes gets bogged down with incessant exposition. There were instances when it was an Inception of exposition. The author narrates about a character, who is narrating about Rocky’s invincibility. Add to it, Rocky’s own penchant for proclaiming his valor at every opportunity. It was rather disappointing that the makers had to “tell” us everything rather than “showing”. The dialogues were also bland, but it’s most likely down to the bad dubbing.

As we journey to the dreaded Kolar Gold Fields in the second half, I was impressed with the uncompromising depiction of the way of life. But it starts falling into usual clichés with stereotypical villains committing barbaric acts. I would have been more interested in Rocky’s plan to breach KGF’s impregnable defenses. We are made to wait a good while, two inhuman episodes to be precise, for Rocky’s transformation from detached bystander to revered savior. The movie ends on an uplifting note as our larger-than-life hero fights for the oppressed and emerges triumphant.

Overall, KGF’s glossy packaging manages to paper over some glaring cracks in the movie. This reminded me of Rajamouli’s pre-Bahubali movies, when the acclaimed director hadn’t yet found his stride. So, even though KGF may have fallen short in its aspirations to be the next Baahubali, there is still hope for the next chapter to raise the bar higher.

Andhadhun – Movie Review

Andhadhun is a wildly thrilling ride that will leave you on the very edge of your seat.

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I’ve been on a bit of a hiatus when it comes to Bollywood movies. With Andhadhun getting universal acclaim, I finally decided to break my rut. My only regret after the movie was not watching it sooner. If ever there was a movie that was worth the hype, it’s this movie. Even for a voracious consumer of thrillers like myself, Andhadhun proved to be a delicious setup.

A “blind” pianist is the sole witness to a murder. When this premise comes wrapped under so many succulent layers, it was enough to sate even my inflated expectations. The first act flows like a soothing melody. You assume (wrongly) that it’s slowing leading to a crescendo, when suddenly out of nowhere, *BAM* you see a dead body lying innocuously in the periphery of the screen. It’s one of the many pulsating scenes in the movie that will leave you speechless. As Ayushmann’s protagonist gets more and more tangled in a web of lies, the stakes also keep mounting.

Ayushmann shines as the conflicted and gifted artist embroiled in a series of escalating events. But the real screen-stealer is Tabu, who does a stupendous job of portraying a forceful, yet vulnerable character.  She exudes an aura of authority as she owns every scene she is in. Radhika Apte is the “normal” love interest amidst all the madness.

The greed and deceit prevalent in the movie reminded me of Guy Ritchie’s brilliant Snatch, where it was every man for himself. Despite the ulterior motives and personal agendas, you want to root for every motley character, from the deranged doctor to the femme fatale herself. It might be nitpicking, but there were times when you had to jog your memory to keep track of each character arc.

The movie is laid out as a cat and mouse game, teeming with unpredictable twists and turns. The best scene in the movie, a confrontation between Tabu and Ayushmann at the latter’s house, was pure popcorn bliss. I also loved how all the loose ends are neatly tied up at the end. Andhadhun is the closest I’ve come to experiencing a cozy thriller novel on the big screen. It is a wildly thrilling ride that will leave you on the very edge of your seat.