The Infiltrator, 2016

If you’re a fan of Bryan Cranston, you know you have to go see any movie with him in it. But The Infiltrator is an action-packed, gripping ride – and certainly not for the faint-hearted.  In fact, I usually don’t consider myself a member of that category, but I must admit there was more than one time that I had to look away – so disturbingly gory were some scenes.

Based on a true story, the action follows undercover agent and family man who poses as a fraudulent banker cozying up to the big names in the Colombian cartels. The storyline moves faster than what I can only imagine would be a cocaine-high, but Cranston manages to hold the film together, in no small thanks to his robust acting chops. He portrays a man with a double life: a suburban husband and father, but also a federal agent leading a sting operation that threatens not only himself but trusting wife and children.

If you absolutely must see it yourself, I’d recommend a hearty snack that offers both sustenance and flavor.  The snack of choice for me was Raisenets.

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Sultan, 2016

Salman Khan is synonymous with formulaic Bollywood blockbusters, and one doesn’t expect too sophisticated a plot or performance when one goes to see him at the movies.  And yet, this has to be one of Mr. Khan’s most thoughtful performances, notwithstanding the song-and-dance parts sprinkled liberally throughout.

Because this is a story of a once-decorated wrestler from Haryana, whose glory days have come to a sudden halt when personal tragedy strikes and strips his will to fight, and yet at the age of forty, he is determined to shape up and get back into the ring because he knows that in doing so is left his only chance at redemption.  This is a story of a winner – and who doesn’t love a winner who has risen up from the ashes, not just to stand up, but to stand up and stand tall, and in fact, tower over his opponents in the face of all the odds.

I personally did not think that it was too far-fetched of Mr. Khan to have played a role ten years junior to his real age, and it is evident that he must have had to practically whip himself into shape to do just that. As a side bar, it is indeed unfortunate that his comments to the press on just this aspect of his preparation for the role were a poor choice of analogy, perhaps even grossly inappropriate, and yet, one has to witness the great will and effort it must have taken to have rendered so stunning a performance that one can’t help but feel sorry for him, all things considered.  And I may be gullible, but not so very much as to not have noticed any glaring discrepancies, if there were any.  On various counts of acting, directing, and a simple yet powerful story line, I was moved to give it high marks.

Because in the final analysis, not only does the package tug at your heart strings for the themes of love, loyalty, loss, heartbreak, courage, perseverance, relentless optimism, and best of all, a story of reconciliation, it has powerful undertones and themes of social justice and gender equality at its very core.  Especially in a land where the girl-child is considered an apology for an offspring, this is a story that celebrates the girl-child, and in doing so, I will wager that it will have a most lasting impact on the hearts and minds of people across the land.  Just for this, Mr. Khan and company deserve high accolades.

And while Mr. Khan cannot be deprived of the accolades he has rightfully earned for his performance – and this goes beyond the grueling wrestling and boxing sequences – it must also be noted that Anushka Sharma holds her own with much charm and aplomb.

And last but not least, may I remind my gentle reader that this is a commentary on the merits of the movie and the performances of an entertaining story – and must not be construed to be condoning any other situations of reality that Mr. Khan has been negotiating for more than a decade.

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The Legend of Tarzan, 2016

The Legend of Tarzan is an original adventure. Tarzan has been reimagined as a late 19th century superhero while keeping Edgar Rice Burroughs’ background material more or less intact.  A stone-faced but ripped Alexander Skarsgard plays Tarzan.  Jane is feisty, forthright, and definitely not a traditional damsel-in-distress. She certainly complicates matters for Tarzan, but seriously, would you have it any other way?

Samuel L. Jackson plays Tarzan’s sidekick, George Washington Williams, pretty much the way he plays most Samuel L. Jackson characters.  I wondered aloud after the movie to my husband about how he hadn’t seemed to have aged that much in the last twenty-some years since his famous role in the classic Pulp Fiction. 

After a prologue that explains why the emissaries of the King of Belgium want to catch Tarzan, we are soon transported from Victorian England to the jungles of Africa.  With frequent flashbacks of Tarzan’s childhood and his early meetings with Jane, we patch together a familiar story, but soon we are focusing on the evils of the slave trade from the Congo, and how it is that Tarzan is to fix this mess.

And fix it he does, indeed.

As for the cinematography, it’s impossible to tell whether all the vine-swinging is computer-generated imagery or not, but regardless, it is a sight to behold.  The animal creature work is also expertly done. The Legend of Tarzan is a lot like The Jungle Book in that respect, although there are no talking or singing bears here.

The musical score was somehow not that compelling, and I do wish that were not the case because I do love to make such associations that transport me in an instant to scenes and stories with the mere sound of even a few opening bars of a tune or song in a movie.

And yet, all in all, a very creative action-adventure-love story, and I give it high marks for great escapist entertainment in the beautiful Congolese Basin of Africa with glimpses of nineteenth century European stiff-upper lipped manners that pass off for civilization.

 

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Free State of Jones, 2016

The abolition of slavery, also known as The Emancipation, in nineteenth century American history was a few hundred years too late in its coming.  And when it did come, so brutal and battered was the psyche of the emancipated, and so grudging and insincere was the psyche of the emancipator – particularly those of many in the South – that it would take several generations over several centuries, to truly make sense of it all.  Of how the white man who stumbled onto the North American continent could adopt this new land as his own, engage in the purchase and sale of other human beings from another continent, live off the fat of the land he owned, do with his cattle and chattel just as his heart pleased, and all the while claim a divine “manifest destiny” that proclaimed the special virtues of the American people.

But since it would take some time and contemplation to achieve such an analysis, I shall limit myself to offering a more succinct review of this thoughtful motion-picture titled Free State of Jones.  Set in the year 1862, immediately prior to the Emancipation Proclamation, the story tracks the lives of slaves who have run away from their grudging masters even as the Confederate Armies of the South ruthlessly tax and steal from every man in the county under their jurisdiction to fill the coffers of the treasury that would finance the duration of the Civil War – that disgraceful and shameful chapter of American history.

Caught in the milieu of this moment in time, is Newton Knight, an ordinary farmer from Mississippi, who is radicalized by his circumstances, and soon evolves as a champion of the runaway slaves.  Portrayed by Matthew McConaughey, we see a man with a zealous temperament and yet one in whose eyes and actions we see brilliant strokes of decency and compassion for the suffering.  One of the most memorable lines that he utters is, “You can own a mule or an ox, but you cannot own a child of God.” How much more simpler could the rationale for human freedom be?

This is not just another offering by Hollywood about a white savior sacrificing himself on behalf of the enslaved. Nor is it the story of the white man redeemed by the gracious selflessness of black people.  This is a story that is careful not to suggest that the conditions endured by disenfranchised whites and enslaved blacks were identical. The system may be rigged against both, but in different ways. Especially after the war, the alliance proves fragile, as white supremacy in the likes of the KKK asserts itself with renewed brutality.

And if all this isn’t shocking enough, there’s another subplot that takes place 85 years after the war in a Mississippi courtroom, where a young man, a descendant of Newton’s, is on trial for breaking the state’s law against interracial marriage.

Goodbye, Slavery; Hello, Segregation!

Free State of Jones ought to be mandatory viewing for every person on this planet, at least every American.  Think you know your American History?  Think again!  This is one harrowing adventure that reveals the sordid truth about the so-called Reconstruction Era and the many evils inflicted upon and borne by ordinary white and black citizens of the day – who remind us of who our ancestors are and how far we have come.  Or have we?

High marks all-around for directing, acting, costumes, cinematography, story-telling, and history-lesson.

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Saturday Matineé: Lovely Afternoon Indulgence 

Saturday Matineé: Lovely Saturday Indulgence 

Udta Punjab, 2016

I thought this was a bold film which should be applauded for telling it like it is. I had read about the drug epidemic in Punjab in a TIME magazine story a few years ago, but it was somewhat shocking to see it portrayed in so relevant and realistic a way.

Shahid Kapoor and Kareena Kapoor go out of their usual stereotypical roles to adapt to this thoughtful story, and Alia Bhatt plays a very convincing young laborer woman from across the country in poverty-stricken Bihar who comes to the Punjab to improve her lot and realizes she is caught up in a bizarre twist of circumstances that threaten to make her amazingly rich and powerful whilst leaving her on the verge of losing her life and everything that gives meaning to life – all at once.

Four parallel stories that revolve around the sad but vicious evil of drugs that have all but destroyed the young and the old, the urban and the rural citizen of this lush and fertile land in the northwest part of the country, is a thoughtful story of how a corrupt state administration and police force in cahoots with Big Pharma has made a lucrative industry of manufacturing and peddling death and destruction in the most systematic way.

I’d say this to be one of the more serious and well-made movies to come out of Bollywood this year.

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Udta Punjab: And We’ll Know in a Couple of Hours (or more!)

Udta Punjab: And We’ll Know in a Couple of Hours (or more!)