Crazy Rich Asians


This is the name of a recent movie which depicts a cross-cultural love story between an American (Chinese) professor, who looks rather young to be a professor, and a very rich Singaporean Chinese man, who hides his richness from the professor.

In my sincere opinion, this movie was a disappointment.

While I believe there is richness in terms of obscenely rich in every society, the manner in which Singapore is depicted in this movie shifts the needle more towards obscenity in terms of ostentatious display of wealth and arrogant positioning taken by the key characters against people of lesser means (like the professor who grew up in New York with a poor mother). The movie also demonstrates that there is utter racism even among the same ethnicity (Chinese) when it comes to haves and have-nots; and the “haves” have serious issues in accepting the have-nots who they view as people with less of royalty in their blood, of poor origins and taste, no wealth and no pedigree. We have seen such tendencies and attitudes in India as well.

The movie goes to prove that when it comes to integration between the rich and the poor, the Western societies have done a much better job. The Asian societies are still steeped in conservatism and a superiority complex which they find hard to shed. More I think about it, more it appears to be true; I may sound a bit contradictory, but that is because I am defensive on Singapore, which unlike Hong Kong as an example, avoids ostentatious display of wealth, though to be sure there are hundreds of cars which are worth USD 500K and more on the road, and condominiums range from USD 1M to USD 10M, and houses could range from USD 2M to USD 50M. However, you do not witness what you see in the movie – there are no crazy rich “Chinese” running around the city in jeeps and revving their sports car engines, and dancing away the night. If anything, Singapore is known for its hard-working people who have built an incredible society and country from what was just a marshland some six decades ago.

Coming back to the stark contrast between Asian and Western societies, it is apparent that the Western countries have “equalized” their societies in terms of acceptance of folks based on merit only (in most cases) and less emphasis placed on sheer wealth and connections. There can be no movie like “Crazy Rich Asians” which revolves around America for instance – there will be no “Crazy Rich Americans/Caucasians” kind of movie as there is no story there! A cross-cultural mix is so normal in America or even in Europe these days, but it is still a wonder in Asia. What is then so unique about two Chinese people falling in love with each other – not even one White and one Chinese mixing together? The only difference is the obscene wealth of the hero’s family and the attitudes of his family towards newcomers into their family who are not of their richness level.

While there is a story line in the movie, it is nothing outstanding. It is a story of unstoppable romance, and I knew for sure that our hero is going to pop up in the plane towards the end of the movie, which is due to depart with our heroine and her mother……..getting out of our hero’s life for good. It is so very much like a Bollywood movie – in fact, there are hundreds of such movies in Bollywood and Kollywood, when the hero and the heroine reunite after breaking their respective hearts and the viewers’ hearts, who are disappointed that they have broken up.

The movie rambles on for quite a while after the couple arrive in Singapore……..I do not see the rationale for certain sequences which are garish like at the friend’s house of the heroine. I would have preferred a simple friend who lives in a HDB (Housing Development Board) apartment with a more “common man” view of the society that we all live in here! That would have been more humane as well, and would have brought our hero into that kind of abode for a change!!

So, in essence, this is a movie which would result in a wedding ultimately between the two people in love, but would never rest the case of the ultra-wealthy family of the hero in Singapore, which is looking for their first son to take over the reins of the family business from the father, marry into another wealthy family, and run the business and make even more money. I am reminded of the Ambani family in India here. So, how can the hero’s mother be peaceful? She will try to create more problems for the couple, though they might return to New York for what they perceive to be a simple married life as a middle class couple.

This probably explains why a sequel is already being planned for this movie. Is it surprising? Not at all.

Given a better understanding, I would have avoided seeing this movie as it corrupts my view of Singapore and the Singaporean way of life. This movie would surely be a hit if it is adapted by Bollywood for an Indian version of the movie. That is not surprising at at all – they will just add more songs, and some car races, show Jaipur/Jodhpur palaces, et al.

Enjoy your weekend with other excellent movies that are available on Netflix or elsewhere!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

8th December 2018

Grandmaster


I selected a Malayalam language movie for a change this time around.

I think Malayalam and Bengali movies are the best ones that came out of India. These two states – Kerala (Malayalam) and West Bengal (Bengali) – continue to produce quality, thoughtful, and deep artistic movies which are sometimes provocative, compared to the fun (lovers running around the trees) and emotional movies from Bollywood (mostly Hindi), Kollywood (mostly Tamil) and Tollywood (mostly Telugu).

This is also the reason why national award-winning “art” movies mostly originate from these two states of India. Many a time, such movies could be boring, long-winded and totally fun-less in their dramatization, and so fail to make it to the box office, but seriously appreciated by critical audience.

As I was browsing Netflix recently, I saw that they have created a separate special section for Indian movies with some pretty good selection – I found that I have not seen most of the movies! I selected “Grandmaster” because it was a thriller and sounded like a mysterious serial killer kind of movie, and the cast of actors was also good. It took me almost 3 sittings to finish the movie during the previous week.

Grandmaster is all about a top intelligent cop trying to solve a serial murder mystery in earnest, as he discovers that the murderer is going to hit close to home – or at his own ex-wife. Mohanlal (I am using real actors’ names here) delivers an excellent performance as a senior police official who has lost his way due to separation from his wife, and who is being egged on by the Police Commissioner to do better at his new assignment, which is about stopping crimes before they happen (!). I thought the director has done a good job weaving the story around Mohanlal’s own life, sending key messages from various actors throughout the movie which Mohanlal captures due to his past experience as a cop and trained intelligence. It was very interesting to see how he single-handedly identifies what is going on in the serial killer’s mind in the old fashion police detective manner – there are no fancy tools here, not even fingerprint analysis. Mohanlal displays a thoughtful demeanour as someone who is constantly thinking through the various scenarios, and finding clues at the murder scenes which others do not seem to find. Well then this is the hero’s work and it is to his credit, right? It is funny that the police does not even attempt to trace the letters coming to Mohanlal directly from the serial killer.

The killer is shown to the audience, though he is unknown (not yet known to Mohanlal)  till the end of the movie. But the assumed killer is not the real one, and therein lies the mystery of this movie. The killer we see at the murder scene of the first victim (Alice) has the rough edges with a suspicious look, and we more or less fall for the ruse of the director. He is involved, but he is not the real killer; he is a mentally deranged person, effectively directed and used by the real killer. I am sure that if we dig around we could find some old Hollywood movies like the Grandmaster.

How this killing plot ties in with Mohanlal’s ex-wife is a big twist and relates to why they two separated in the first place. I liked the way that the director brings in Priyamani (Mohanlal’s ex-wife) to share with Mohanlal the whole story about a court case which she won against Mohanlal’s police work, and how that ties back to the murders happening now.

I have not seen even Bollywood directors thinking in this seriously convoluted fashion. Mysterious and seriously interesting! Mohanlal pieces together the puzzle on his office chessboard and solves it in his own mind, but waits for the killer to make the final move against his ex-wife, and he is ready.

Like most movies, the director is now used to throwing twist after twist at the audience, and so spins one last one on stage with the real killer making the appearance and then explaining why he did what he did and what he is going to do right at this moment. I do not understand why police and others at such a scene would allow such a dissertation by a serial killer who acknowledged he killed all the 3 women before coming for Mohanlal’s ex-wife! But this is Indian cinema and even Malayalam movies cannot escape such demonstration of what I call “unreality”.

In a nutshell, I liked the movie and the manner in which it has been directed by Unnikrishnan, and also the acting of Mohanlal. There is almost negligible violence (I am not counting the easy murders executed using a simple long duppatta cloth!), the characters are delivering what is expected of them, and the story line is pretty decent. At the end of the day, as audience we expect an interesting and engaging delivery – and Grandmaster delivers it. It is not very highly rated, but it does not bother me. I think I should start rating movies, like how I rate my wines!

I recommend seeing Grandmaster. It is a good, thoughtful movie, well acted and directed. It was clearly not a waste of my time, as the movie made me think about human beings and the extent to which they can go in life to untangle life’s mysteries – in this case, the brother of Paul Mathews (the guy who was killed by one of the women who was later murdered) traces the people involved in his brother’s murder and one by one, eliminates those people, but the audience does not know about this till the end of the movie – that is the aura of a mystery movie!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

01 December 2018

96 and other movies


Over the past 10 days or so, I had the opportunity to see 4 movies, which is rather unusual. Nowadays, it has become my regular habit to see some Netflix serial to relax and I have become a fan of Netflix based on the variety of shows and movies that they present. I recently saw “The Angel” on Netflix which is a full movie involving Egypt – Israel war and relationship.

Since I was visiting Chennai last week, my family booked not one, but two movies which anyway they were planning to see in theatre – I was just added to the ticket list! I thought why not, let us see Kollywood fare for a change [Kollywood stands for movies produced in Chennai, the Tamil Nadu capital city in South India, as against Bollywood which identifies movies produced out of Bombay, or Mumbai, the movie capital of India].

My sister selected “96” and “Johnny English Strikes Again”. The first was a unique love story and the second was Mr Bean in action as a British intelligence agent. Again, unusual selection of movies for a change!

Apart from the above, I also saw “Imaikka Nodigal” yesterday, which is a rather strange, unusual Tamil thriller.

OK, now let me give you a quick rundown on what I think of these movies. These are not full movie reviews, just my short opinion. So, my view may not corroborate with what a generalist population thinks or how you feel. I refuse to fall into the cult of heroism of any movie actor or actress, which unfortunately plagues much of India. Whether I like an actor’s acting or not is not a reflection on what I think about that actor – it is the result of the actor’s acting under a particular set of constraints, directed by a director who may or may not be able to bring the best out of the actor, and also contributed in large measure by co-actors.

Given then that I am not a typical “movie buff” or a “hero/heroine follower”, I was pleased with the above selection overall. Let me outline my views as below:

“The Angel”: This is a true-life story of Ashraf Marwan, who was the son-in-law of Egyptian President, Gamel Abdel Nasser. Probably Marwan was a double-spy working both for Mossad of Israel and President Anwar Sadat of Egypt. He is also probably the only hero felicitated in both Egypt and Israel as a national icon who persevered for peace between the two countries. The complex question of whether peace in the Middle East is worth the sacrifice of passing military secrets between two of the most critical nations at war is forever a challenging one to decipher. The mind of Marwan is portrayed as complex and sort of, convoluted. He struggles with himself while trying to do his job and save his family. His job becomes rather difficult given that he is viewed as an ineffectual son-in-law of a powerful President (Nasser). Israel’s Mossad handles Marwan well in the beginning but loses its confidence when key assertions by Marwan do not pan out.

An interesting and dramatic history lesson, “The Angel” is a fascinating watch – especially for us who are far removed from the Middle East.

“96”: This is a beautiful Tamil language movie centred on the teenage love between the two prime characters. It has an excellent cast, and a great director. The movie can be considered to be “slow” paced in today’s world. While I was seeing the movie, I was wondering what I did during my Grade X! Nothing unique, as I was not in a co-ed school anyway. This movie will prod you to reminisce on your school days, especially on the stupid things – I am not meaning the teenage infatuation here! Sorry!!

Nostalgia gets a new meaning when you experience what the characters go through in this movie. It happens to be a love story which did not go well, but it could have been anything. How the hero and heroine (who could not consummate their love) deal with a long night without even so much as touching each other is very well shot by the director and beautifully acted by the two actors. You would guess that they are on to “something” and that is what the friends of the two actors also think, going by visual and body language. Nothing of that sort happens though, and the heroine returns to her family while longing for what she has lost in her life by some stupid reaction. See the movie for learning what she did in college!

“Johnny English Strikes Again”: Absolute nonsense made enjoyable by the antics of our favourite comedian of all times, Mr Bean. I would not gone to see this movie in a theatre spending some serious money as it is all the same nonsense anyway when it comes to British spy stories. This is a ridiculous story about some software bloke who steals the identities of all secret service agents in Britain, and so the government leans on Johnny English to save the Queen’s country from blackmail. The unique point in this movie is the depiction of “older analogue” technologies by an agent who has not yet comprehended the latest digital technologies of spying and warfare. He still wins (he has to, of course), but then everything about this movie is not realistic or believable at all. For some time passing and laughter, yes go and see it. But is it worth spending money on? No, not at all. Mr Bean should stop acting in such totally stupid movies when even the common man thinks it is totally rubbish when Mr Bean cannot even handle an app on his smartphone and trashes it. How is he even going to get his position on the map? Give it a miss.

“Imaikka Nodigal” Absolute thriller with lots of twists and turns. I did not expect the last 15 minutes which reveals who is the actual murderer on the loose. The suspense is kept on for almost the entire duration of the movie and the audience suspects that it is someone who has been revealed by the director early on in the movie – but that does not turn out to be entirely true. This movie is in the league of high quality Hollywood movies of the same genre. That a director of the calibre of Anurag Kashyap from Bollywood can act so well (he is the menacing serial killer in this movie) is a huge surprise. The director has done an amazing job – excellent movie.

Enjoy your weekend, folks! And, see some good movies!!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

13th October 2018

 

 

 

Jason Bourne


I just saw the 2016 movie “Jason Bourne” (the latest in the Jason Bourne series) – I have been wanting to see this one for quite a while and was happy to see it on Netflix, as otherwise I would have to rely on unreliable streaming sites. Seeing any movie on Netflix is as good as viewing it in a theatre setting. It has been difficult to get anything more than 30 minutes in the evening time (between office timings and late evening global conference calls), but for this movie I continuously sat down at one go, as the action sequences were great.

It is easy to write off the series of Jason Bourne movies as escapist and unrealistic stories in the ultramodern society we live in. To a certain extent, that assertion may be true, till you come across real stuff in news or TV about what happened in a current global conflict or in a prison of torture. It always strikes me when unelected government officials take decisions to eliminate people without any conscience whatsoever, just on some pretext of “national security”. What is indeed national security? It is nonsense, as one single individual is never a threat to a nation, and will anyway be eliminated in an open conflict if he opens fire on law enforcement agents. Using big government resources and money on catching one individual somewhere in the world, while even violating another country’s laws, and killing common people in the process, is totally unacceptable. Unfortunately, many countries cooperate with the U.S. government agencies under duress, especially the Western European countries.

In real terms, Jason Bourne probably reflects 70 to 80% of what goes on in international espionage. It is funny that in this movie the CIA Director tries to eliminate American citizens, such as Jason Bourne (an ex-CIA agent), Heather Lee, Head of Cyber Operations at the CIA, and even the CEO of a Silicon Valley company! All are Americans who are personally against the CIA Director who is a devious, old school man who wants to take revenge, and even violates the orders of his own boss (the Director of National Intelligence).

There is a lot of interesting, though unbelievable action sequences in Jason Bourne, which are quite enjoyable for their sheer stupidity. Yes, crashing big SUVs into a Las Vegas Casino, and driving against traffic, while many police cars are giving an intense chase, are probably so common in Hollywood action thrillers, that you kind of able to predict what is going to happen. The bad guy will ultimately get killed, right? The movie allows the bad CIA “asset” (well acted by Vincent Cassel, the French actor) to go about killing innocent bystanders who happen to be on his way. Matt Damon as Jason Bourne has given a sterling performance with his face conflicted strongly by emotions on his father’s assassination (by Vincent Cassel who was acting under orders from our bad CIA Director), but yet very quick on his feet thinking all the while about the next step to take. He is able to find his way all over Europe from Athens to Berlin to London, without getting caught at immigration though the CIA is looking out for him, reminding me of the fallacy in many Hollywood, Bollywood and Kollywood movies. He is also able to get back into the U.S., with the help of Heather Lee of the CIA ( very well acted by Alicia Vikander, the Swedish actress with a very solemn face which does not show emotions though she gets under lot of work pressure imposed by the CIA Director). I would be remiss if I do not mention about the excellent heavy-duty acting by Tommy Lee Jones, who acts as the bad CIA Director, Robert Dewey.

I always love espionage and thriller movies, one key reason being that I do not encounter such things in my life. Our lives tend to be mundane, and routine in daily activities. Can you imagine the life of a CIA agent or a CIA “asset”? This movie does not make anyone empathize with their lives, of course. In fact, we get angry at the apparent lawlessness and senselessness of the CIA, as depicted in this movie – dominated by personal grudges and animosity between individuals, rather than a determined organization which works as per its charter.

But then, this is the world we live in, and nothing much is going to change in the world of espionage. In fact, it is fast becoming “digital” as we can see in this movie – the CIA Director pushing the CEO of “Deep Dream” [a proxy for Facebook, I would guess], to insert a “backdoor” into the latest release of their software, so that CIA can conduct mass surveillance on Americans. Does it sound familiar, do you recall Edward Snowden?

Overall, this is a good, watchable movie if you are into action-thrillers. There is not much of an acting in this movie (!), all actors seem to be in their “jobs” in real life!!! That is the feeling I got, having been a real fan of Jason Bourne movies from yesteryears.

Enjoy your weekend!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

15th September 2018

 

A Quiet Place


I really enjoyed this horror movie, though I could not convince my wife to join in the viewing – she said it is too much of horror nonsense. I agree that the story of the movie is not realistic, but who knows – the way the world is moving, anything can happen.

“A Quiet Place” is a very well directed movie – its director John Krasinski also is the lead actor. The lead actress is Emily Blunt, who is also John’s real-life spouse. She deserves an award for showing so much fear in her face and acting her role so well. The movie revolves around a family of four who are left behind in this world dominated by some weird creatures who cannot see but can hear sounds. Once they hear any kind of sound, they swoop in on their prey which made that sound and kill the prey – and they are horrible looking, to say the least. So, the whole movie is more or less silent, with our actors communicating using sign language for most of the time.

Since sounds cause so much fear in our actors, we as audience are so attuned to any kind of sound emanating from the TV screen or even from around us physically. If somebody in the house drops something on the ground, you react to it, because the entire movie is eerily silent and sounds cause death by the vile creatures roaming around.

The family unit is tightly knit, having lost one of the children to the creature after he made some noise using a toy aeroplane. Can you tolerate such a thing, when the father is running towards his boy who is causing the sound, and before he could reach the boy, the creature has swooped in, grabbed the boy and taken him away for its lunch?

The imagination of the story and the director is to be highly commended. I did not feel scared at all while viewing this movie. I just wanted to find out what happens to this lonely family, where the only company they keep is to each other. The mom teaches mathematics to her son without making any sound. The dad is building an earphone device which would allow his deaf daughter (so well acted by Millicent Simmonds) to hear sounds so that she could avoid the creatures. The boy (again acted well by Noah Jupe) is being taught by the dad on how to get under a waterfall and mask their conversation in the sound of water. And so on, and so forth. Amazing imagination and beautiful editing.

I am not going to spoil the suspense by revealing what happened towards the end of the movie. I think the movie demonstrates the critical importance of the family unit learning from each other and supporting each other, and also the human ability to think through solutions to any kind of problems. I really loved the discovery of the solution by Simmonds which was recognized instantaneously by Emily (her mom). At least, they found a way to ward off the creatures, and with luck, incapacitate them when they come for the kill.

I could not stop seeing this movie – it was a short one at 90 minutes. It created a lot of expectations in me and I was totally involved in how the movie was unfolding, trying to guess what is going to happen. Such things happen only in horror or crime movies. And, “A Quiet Place” is indeed a wonderful horror movie which can be enjoyed by the whole family (not only dads like me!), and the key point is that it is not scary while causing muscle tension! You have to be prepared for the unexpected sequence.

I would strongly recommend this movie as a good alternate to usual Hollywood movies that do not engage each and every member of the audience. This movie does that in an effective manner. I would not be surprised if “A Quiet Place” is nominated for the Oscars. One of the actors could also receive a nomination. I wonder why we do not have such depth in the Bollywood and Kollywood movies from India. This is all about the imagination, the craftiness, the insight of the author(s) who could visualize a world without any protection against evil creatures. There is no protection at all – all the protectors are gone for ever. If you see the fear in the faces of our actors (except of the dad who is John), you will know how well they communicate what could be a real situation, how well they are getting prepared to face the inevitable and delay the consequences of making any kind of sound which appears to be impossible. How do you then deal with a new born child which will make noises? It happens in this movie!

Cheers

Vijay Srinivasan

8th September 2018

Fauda


“Fauda” in Arabic means “chaos” or “riot”.

I just completed viewing the two Seasons of the Netflix Serial “Fauda”, fascinated by my recent visit to Israel.

Fauda is based on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Being an Israeli Serial, it shows mostly the Israeli version of tackling terrorism from the eyes of an elite counter terrorism unit of the Israeli Defense Forces. The creators of the show came from that unit. While there seems to be a sincere attempt to depict the normal lives of Palestinians living on the West Bank, it does not come through effectively. The rationale for why Palestinians would even pursue an armed conflict against the much more well-armed Israeli soldiers beats me when the average Palestinian would want to lead as normal a life as an average Israeli.

But then, I am talking from far away. I do not understand the complex history of the Middle East or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the countless battles that have harmed both sides since 1948 when Israel was established. My visit to Israel clarified some of my queries, especially when I visited the Yitzhak Rabin Centre in Tel Aviv. The story of Israel is indeed fascinating to any foreigner – its emergence from nowhere as a country of around 8.5M today with some world-beating technologies and an incredible intelligence service. In fact, I was more impressed about the Israeli tech startups and the infrastructure they have put in place to nurture these startups at several key locations around this rather small country.

I had mostly positive impressions about Israel all these years, though occasionally I used to be disturbed by the radical statements made by Israeli government ministers and the brutal attacks against unarmed Palestinian civilians. I also did not empathize with the need for Israeli government to build settlements in occupied territories.

However, it is pertinent here to note that Israel has helped countries like India in countless ways – a good example being agriculture. The drip irrigation system developed by Israel has fostered astounding agricultural innovations. Israel has also provided much-needed advanced military equipment to India. Overall, Israel is viewed positively in India, I would say. The government-to-government cooperation is deepening every year.

Given all this background, seeing the Fauda serial on Netflix provided me with the much needed context, though I do not agree with everything that was shown or to be accurate, not shown. I liked the show overall – it was thrilling in many sequences, and weaves almost a real-life kind of story and human emotions into what should strictly be a military operation. I do not know whether it reflects reality – it may not. However, it is good to see the story flow seamlessly in Season I of the Serial which appeared to be more interesting than the Season II. The transformation of the elite unit members to support one special operative in sorting out his personal enmity is not that believable, and I do not think it is feasible to violate orders of the Commander of the unit. The tolerance shown towards the main actor (who is the special operative, Doron) is reflective of the empathy that the hardened special unit members develop over long years of working together.

Israel has had a huge challenge these past 7 decades managing its borders and the security of its citizens. But the cost incurred is prohibitive. Young people are wasted away in tough fighting assignments wherein they are forced to fire at civilians. They develop post traumatic stress syndrome, and find it difficult to lead normal lives. Some of these struggles can be seen in Fauda.

The mutual recriminations between the Israelis and Palestinians are interspersed with harmless banter between senior intelligence officers from both sides. Even when tough action is going to be taken, the Israeli officer meets with the Palestinian officer in his office, and is offered coffee! The culture is almost the same, the ethnicity and the affiliation to the land are the same. It is the armed conflict which is destroying the lives of people on both sides, coupled with unnecessary belligerence on the political side.

Fauda has a very good narrative, and excellent cast of actors, most of them from army background. It “feels” realistic, and shows the struggle in a somewhat oblique manner. It also demonstrates the good intentions of certain good folks on either side. At the end of it, I felt sad at the situation on the ground – I have seen the barricades, the army outposts, the metal detectors, the soldiers, almost everywhere. It appears Israelis are having peaceful coffee in nice cafes, but the insecurity is palpable. I am not surprised that people can get jittery even for the simplest of things. Unfortunate really.

You will enjoy Fauda, if you have not visited Israel; and you will enjoy it much more if you have visited Israel!

Have a good week ahead, folks.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

26th August 2018

Blockers


Yet another movie that I elected to see on a flight.

I take quite a while to choose a movie to see, especially when there are hundreds available. This time around, I wanted to see a funny comedy kind of movie, and “Blockers” fit the bill.

I do not know or understand how Indian parents in the U.S. deal with the phenomenon of “prom night” when seniors graduate from their school, and go partying all night, often drinking alcohol, smoking drugs, and having sex with their pre-chosen mates. There is nothing like a “prom night” in India or Singapore, I have never heard of one.

“Blockers” is all about three parents who know each other from their daughters’ kindergarten to their senior high school graduation, and who wish to stop their respective daughters from having sex on their prom night. It is funny, it is comical, it is witty – whatever you want to call, but it is also a learning experience for both parents and daughters as they discover key aspects of life in the process.

The parents obviously get stressed out totally trying to figure out what their daughters are up to, and once they discover their plans, swing into action and that leads them into a wild goose ride all over town, with funny consequences. The movie is full of life – the American way of life – and revealing to a non-American how life could get thrilling in America!

I am not sure we need prom nights in our part of the world, wherein the entire objective seems to be focused on losing one’s virginity as a prelude to starting off adulthood, or college careers. It is no secret that most schools have widespread alcohol and drug use in the U.S. (and in most other countries). But “prom night” is designed to be a social coming of age occasion for boys and girls, with high-speed networking, drinking and drug use in a ball room setting with lots of dancing to invigorating music. While I am not going to judge morals here, the need for the focus on sex can be debated, and in that sense, I empathize with the plight of the three parents who come through as very close to their daughters, caring for them every minute, to the extent that they start annoying them.

Indian parents can sync with such feelings for sure (and most Asian parents do). It is an emotional grasp of feelings which are hard to describe – love, affection, the fear of letting go, the lack of recognition that the kids are no longer kids – they have almost become adults and can make their own decisions, et al. It is very challenging when that happens to us, and I enjoyed every moment of the movie when the parents have to deal with their own plight. The feeling of insecurity dawns on the parents – that they are no longer in control of the lives of their own daughters, and that upsets them seriously.

In the U.S., apparently it is not unusual to have sex at the age of 17 or 18 between consenting teens – happens all the time, and gets intensified as one gets into college. It is probably used as a “get to know” the guy or the girl before engaging in a lifelong relationship. I understand it is getting to be prevalent at least by early twenties in India, where the parents do not condone such behaviour. Again, I have no personal views on such “acts” of convenience while preparing for life. It is not an issue of moral judgement, it is a personal choice which every teen on the verge of adulthood needs to reckon with – at least in the U.S. social life context.

The eventual adjustments that the daughters in “Blockers” movie demonstrate touch your heart. They all come back to their respective parents, reconcile with them, and then leave for their respective universities of choice. Parents will remain worried, for sure. That is the nature of parents, nothing much can be done to reduce their anxiety when the kids go far away from them. However, they find solace in the fact that their daughters can make intelligent decisions for themselves, and work through the vagaries of life, and navigate their future, while staying connected amongst themselves and with their parents.

I liked the way the movie concluded. It was intimate, it was personal, it was touching. Parents are parents, and their position cannot be compromised. They will care for their kids, come what may. Mother remains a beacon of comfort and solace for her kids. Father remains a beacon of strength, though one of the strong fathers in the movie breaks down often!

“Blockers” is a good movie that one will enjoy just for the funny language and rapid action scenes which constantly keep shifting from one scene to the next. It is entertaining. It is revealing – about the trust between daughters and parents. It is more revealing about parents than anyone else.

Enjoy “Blockers”.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

14th July 2018

 

The Commuter


This is a full action-packed thriller movie enacted almost completely on a train in New York city which is headed to a faraway suburb. All the action happens on the train, and Liam Neeson is at his best trying to figure out the mystery, a role for which he is one of the best actors available. He has a heavy set, thinking face and you do not expect a fast movement from him. But he delivers some knock-out punches on the train and is also attacked vigorously by much younger men.

For an ordinary salesman on his regular commute home, and that too for a guy who has just lost his job with a mortgage to pay and family to cater to, it is all too much. One can witness the turmoil in his face when some lady offers him USD 25,000 for a seemingly innocuous job on the train. But his acceptance of that money puts him (and a number of his fellow passengers) at great peril; it also leads to the murder of a few folks on the train.

We have a saying – one bad thing leads to the next one, the same leg gets hit twice, etc., That’s what happens to our hero on the train after his sordid office experience that particular day when he got fired from his job, replaced by a woman with not much experience but at a far lower salary. His long experience did not count! And then comes the long ordeal on the train for which he was not at all prepared – no one can be, of course. A series of events on the train leads him to nowhere, and he is being challenged by the mysterious lady on the train who gave him the money to find someone on the train.

I was thinking – why couldn’t she find that person if she wanted to eliminate that person so badly? Why would she use Liam Neeson and in the process, also eliminate perfectly normal commuters? But it is the way the movie is scripted and directed – not much of a logic in the way it has been constructed.

This is not a movie that I would seek out and go see in a theatre. I saw the movie on my recent flight, selected it because it appeared to be an exciting thriller. However, I need to say that “The Commuter” is not a great movie with a great plot and direction. I saw it primarily for Liam Neeson’s acting, but he can’t do much if the plot is weak or has no logic, right?

While there is not much of a rationale in the manner in which the movie plays out, I liked the way Liam Neeson handles the pressure of his role – what if this were a true story which it very well could be? Then we would need a Liam Neeson who at the purported age of 60 in the movie (he is actually 65 now) could deal with enormous pressure without breaking, and execute his mental plan with agility though many a time he appears rather confused with the way things are turning out. There is not one dull moment in the flow of the movie directed by the famous Spanish Director Jaume Collet-Serra. I saw the movie non-stop, not even looking around the plane – all the time wondering what is going to happen. Where is this mysterious person who has some prohibited data so desired by his/her potential killers, that they would go to any extent to kill him/her even with all the collateral damage and a huge train accident. Why do they want him/her killed, and why can’t they find him/her by themselves if that person is on this specific train, etc.,

The movie shows every inch of a typical New York commuter train, and it is hard to miss anything as the director and the cameraman are indeed spending all their time in the train! They even show the undercarriage of the train as Liam Neeson had to hide, hanging down on the undercarriage almost touching the ground. There are unbelievable scenes like separating the carriage in which several people are held together from the racing train which has no driver as he has been eliminated. Liam Neeson proves that he was a cop before becoming an insurance salesman.

The worst surprise happens when Neeson’s own past police colleague turns out to be the perpetrator of the vicious crime on the train, but that is for you to see, right?

Have a wonderful weekend folks,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

7th July 2018

 

Set it up


This is a new Hollywood movie which was just released in June 2018. I was surprised I was able to see it on my Netflix account so soon, and discovered later that the movie was indeed released by Netflix itself. So, Netflix is in the movie business by itself, and could eventually give a run for the major brick-and-mortar movie studios which have dominated the movie business for so many decades. No wonder Netflix stock is skyrocketing – going up all the time.

As usual, I am not writing much about the movie itself or its actors themselves. My observations on this nice movie are manifold from a generic observer point of view. Don’t get me wrong, this is an enjoyable movie for a nice evening with your beau, sipping tea (sorry, no alcohol), and there are many Hollywood movies of this variety which is categorized as romantic comedy.

My first observation is about the new millennial work culture at the cost of building personal relationships, indulging in hobbies, or even doing what one wishes to do in their spare time – simply because there is just no spare time available in this culture which is all about getting ahead in career in the quickest time possible by doing things which pleases the boss all the time – basically at her or his beck and call, doing things which one would not do in ordinary course of life. This is just plain stupid – one has to build his or her own life in the way he or she likes it, and not be commandeered every minute by some reckless and heartless boss. The millennials  would lose their mind and heart and start following their bosses in their life as well, which would be a disaster.

The second observation is about the bosses themselves, who are expected to be professionals and not some jerks throwing things around their office, and insulting their workforce, especially their executive assistants. Apart from matters of the heart and sensitivity towards other human beings, the conclusion is that the bosses in this movie exhibit characteristics which are completely unacceptable in today’s modern digital economy. Bosses nowadays are becoming “facilitators” rather than aggressive commanders of their workforce army, which itself is increasingly becoming agile. So, how can a modern day boss in a New York office be portrayed as someone so reckless? The movie has a boss who insists that her assistant should go and get her dinner irrespective of the late hours – why should the assistant do what a delivery agency should be doing? Why should the other assistant (for the male boss) bring coffee for him every day? Or, juice!!!

The third observation is the mistaken (in my opinion) demonstration of how easy a typical young American falls in love right after the first date and then they immediately progress to the next stage. While it may be true in a sense (I don’t know myself what I am saying here!!!), I believe that people are a little more measured than shown in most movies in rushing towards the inevitable act. While school romances are common, after a few years people do become sober, and do not really trust their first instincts. They would examine more, check out the background of each other, see whether there are common interests (though the two bosses do not demonstrate any of these characteristics and still fall in love), and if they really want to enter into a casual relationship (the movie does show the scene in the assistant’s home when both are eating pizza and then the girl just goes away though the guy is inching towards a potential kiss – he doesn’t show his inclination though). I think this was one of the best scenes when two peoples’ collusion does not descend into a physical relationship though the situation and environment favours one. I liked the way the girl assistant moves on with her thoughts after the pizza dinner – and she also looks at the guy somewhat adoringly.

Fourth observation – this movie is all about “setting up” two people who would not have normally met, and also impacting their hook ups by making them say or do something which accentuates their desire for each other. This is called “cyrano” after the 19th Century play called “Cyrano de Bergerac”. It was the first time that I came across this special word which connotes setting up two people to do something, directed by somebody else who knows them both.

So, all in all, those are my generic observations. The movie itself is a good time-passer with pleasant happenings, zero violence, quick comedy situations, fast paced actions on an entirely social front, good direction, and good story line. My wife and I liked it, but we were not over-awed by the movie. I was surprised to see its good reception, however.

Enjoy your weekend with some good movie folks,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

30th June 2018

 

Jurassic Park in the Gold Class


Someone close to me gifted two “Gold Class” tickets which cost SGD 39 apiece (around USD 29), which is a big price to pay for seeing a movie – for comparison purpose, the standard movie ticket in Singapore costs SGD 13 or USD 9, so we are talking about a three-fold increase in price. I was wondering what to do with the tickets, as I am not an avid cinema theatre goer – if I go to cinema twice a year, that would be considered special! Finally, I thought it would be better to go and see what is this gold class all about for myself, and I asked my wife to join me. There were only four movies available in the gold class category, and three of them were useless, so I was forced to select “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” which I would not usually select, as I think the whole movie series is escapist and does not reflect reality. Except to see the dinosaurs of a foregone era in action via animation – we all know it is not real, and dinosaur eggs do not exist.

However, we finally landed in the gold class lounge, and were not surprised to see the special lounge facilities with plush sofas, magazines to browse through, personal butler service, and a variety of food to order from. There were not many viewers in the gold class at 10 AM on a Saturday morning, though slowly the theatre filled up to some 70% capacity. We enjoyed the luxury of the place of course, and ordered some coffee and snacks to be served 30 minutes after the movie started. I have never witnessed such facilities in a cinema theatre, though I have heard of the same. I have always thought “what a waste of money”. I could not just throw away the two tickets however.

We walked into the theatre and found our seats – very plush and as good as a first class airline seat, almost fully reclinable with fully stretchable horizontal leg/foot cushions. They even provided a blanket – well I don’t use blankets even in an airconditioned bedroom, and I felt it odd that people were covering themselves with blankets – may be several of them were planning to doze off in the comfort of the luxurious seats!

Our coffee and food arrived (there was a call button that we could press to get the butler to come and attend to our needs) after a reminder, and it was not bad, indicating that the theatre considers us as our regular patrons. There were several folks who ordered wine and beer (at 10:30 AM!), and enjoying the tipple. Almost everyone had ordered food.

Between us and the next seats, there was considerable distance, so people could chat without disturbing others. It was indeed a very good experience for both of us who have not seen anything like it yet, except the regular cinemas which are already pretty good with good seating in Singapore. The gold class signifies something more important in a rich society – that people aspire for exclusivity, and are willing to pay for it. But, if you ask me if I would go again to the gold class, my answer will of course be a categorical “no”, as I do not see value in it apart from the luxury quotient.

Hey, what about the movie itself?

Well, my one single sentence about the Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom movie is that the various dinosaurs, and especially the very intelligent raptor, have acted better than the human actors – they are a class apart, and hi-tech animation has delivered phenomenal results. There are many thrills, twists and turns in the movie, but these are to be expected. But the movie descends into what I would call utter nonsense when the bad guys capture these majestic animals, bring them to California, and try to auction them to super villains from around the world. Come on!

In the normal course of events, this movie would be missed out completely. But kids might like the fantastic animation and dinosaurs running around, trying to communicate with each other and with our hero in the movie. Adults would find this sequel some utter nonsense with no sense or direction. Notwithstanding the animation, the movie lacks a substantive story line which is somewhat believable, so that the path can suitably be laid out for the next one due in 2021. Unfortunately, it is not the case with this movie.

So, the only benefit of seeing a useless movie is the environment in which we saw it – and that is the beautiful gold class. While I am not suggesting you should go for this luxurious experience, if and when you choose to do so please ensure that the movie choice is absolutely right and melds with the environment in a way which makes the overall experience that much more memorable.

When we walked out of the gold class, we were wondering what happened to that experience.

Cheers, and have a good week ahead,

Vijay Srinivasan

24th June 2018