Justice League Review: DC getting it right bit by bit

DISCLAIMER – This is a long review.

For a 90’s kid growing up among several heroic cartoons, Justice League was the Holy Grail. Brilliant characters with diverse backstories leading to intriguing personalities for both the heroes and villains made for compelling television. Most importantly, it elevated the core concept of superheroes -it is the heart and not the powers that maketh the hero. Now, throw in the values of teamwork, sacrifice and friendship, that Justice League could move a mountain.

However, barring a Batman trilogy, courtesy Christopher Nolan, DC Comics failed to capture the silver screen. The situation was further compounded by Marvel kick-starting a juggernaut in 2008 which is showing no signs of slowing down. Directed by Joss Whedon, The Avengers, in 2012 showed how to portray a superhero team on screen.

Bat

This led to DC rushing in to develop an extended universe of their own and to say there were hiccups in the past few years would be an understatement. Either way, the much-awaited Justice League is finally here and to put it in a single statement – they are getting there.

Yes, the movie does not have the elaborate build of Avengers with individual films for most of the characters, that were well-received and this could hurt the casual moviegoers a bit. Yet, the Justice League characters are hands-down more popular than any other. Thus, with a tweak in the film’s tone and improved writing, the movie comfortably escapes the problems of yore (except for critics, of course) and delivers a satisfying team-up.

Aquaman

The prime antagonist, Steppenwolf, suffers from not having an actual human face and a backstory. However, given the heroes’ situation in terms of previous films (barring Wonder Woman, which was well-received), DC can be forgiven for not fleshing out Steppenwolf and he ends up doing nothing more than being the bad guy. This expectantly leads to a low-key climax.

The film’s crispier timing of just about two hours is a big plus and the banter between the heroes (including Batman) lifts the spirits to great success. Further, the Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg are shown just enough to have an idea about their origins and powers while saving the rest for the upcoming individual films. Danny Elfman provides the right background score for every character and composes a fine theme song to cap it off.

Cyborg

All doubts on whether Ezra Miller will be accepted, given Grant Gustin’s excellent portrayal on the CW Network are put to bed, as Barry Allen (The Flash) is a dork, geek and witty as one would expect. Cyborg’s ‘half-man, half-machine’ trope gets his moments but will take another film to get the audience to understand his character (and powers). To that extent, the writers Chris Terrio and Zack Snyder do well to weave him into the film’s main plot, which is a pretty straightforward one.

Jason Momoa looks and feels the part of Aquaman as he brings in more muscle, mysterious aquatic powers and a swagger of his own to the team. Ben Affleck’s Batman is now at a different place after Superman’s death and he takes the initiative to get the team together apart from getting a few cool new toys. The real show-stealer is undoubtedly Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, who carries right where she left off in Wonder Woman. No wonder, she looks the most-developed character among the lot, with Gadot depicting the pain and strength within at every step.

SPOILER AHEAD!

WW

Unless you were living under a stone since Batman vs Superman, this is not much of a spoiler as Superman comes back from the dead. The movie can be considered a success in itself for FINALLY getting the Son of Krypton right. The seriousness is now intertwined with a dash of humour, which is how he is in the comics. Further, the film does a good amount of work (Bruce Wayne in particular) to re-establish the character before his rebirth, bringing in what he stands for and why he is the leader of the team (despite being a Batman fan, I got sold).

Finally, there are a couple of scenes in the midst of action in the film that show how these DC heroes can connect and impress without even uttering a word and both of them involve the Flash. For once or twice, in this case, Zack Snyder’s love for slow-motion shots enhances the scenes tenfold.

Flash

Justice League is finally a step in the right direction for DC as it rectifies the plaguing issues while showcasing the immense potential. The second end-credit scene is the perfect proof of the same (wait for it!) while the first end-credit scene is for comic geeks and looks like a Joss Whedon touch.

THE LEAGUE HAS UNITED!

All content rights are reserved to me i.e. Saketh Ayyagari!

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Vunnadhi Okate Zindagi Review: An Ode to Friendship!

Telugu Film Industry (TFI) has been nothing short of spectacular this year. The entire year has seen a wide variety of films thrilling the audience with different content, irrespective of the budget. Vunnadhi Okate Zindagi adds itself to the list with the focus being firmly on friendship.

Every once in a while, a film based on friendships is made that tugs viewers’ hearts. Be it Happy Days or Arya 2  or several other films in this genre, the friendships between the lead characters act as a base for the story. Now, Vunnadhi Okate Zindagi is a slightly different film in the sense that the story IS about friendship.

Every other character, including the female leads, are present to either enhance or test the bond between Abhi (Ram) and Vasu (Sree Vishnu), thereby demonstrating the ethos of friendship. Director Kishore Tirumala who doubled up as a writer for the film pens a satisfying drama without a single shade of negativity. While it can seem implausible to meet such characters in real life, it is definitely not impossible.

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Thus, the movie does not feature any antagonists and given the nature of the film, it is a wise decision. The first half flows like a breeze and the conflict points are interesting to watch. However, Kishore is a writer first and his need to weave the narrative slows down the film before the climax recovers with a proper closure for the story.

Ram looks smashing in the entirety of the film and his new look will definitely draw attention. However, it does not take away his performance credits as he begins to show maturity as an actor. Sree Vishnu gets ample screen time to deliver and he does a commendable job as the introvert in the friendship. The remaining friends are fleshed out just enough to justify their presence apart from providing entertainment, which is bound to evoke loud laughs from the audience.

Out of the female leads, Anupama Parameswaran of Premam fame gets a good role as a regular girl with dreams and she looks the part. Lavanya Tripathi’s character does not have the same depth but like the rest of the actors, she has a meaningful role.

As one would expect, Devi Sri Prasad delivers a peppy soundtrack for the film with the theme music certain to stay with the audience even after the film. The production values are top notch with a classy touch to every frame. Editing by A.Sreekar Prasad is good for most parts, except for the second-half which could have used some trimming.

Nevertheless, Vunnadhi Okate Zindagi is a must-watch for every individual who either has those childhood friends to cherish or wants to understand the essence of friendship, a relation that is taken for granted more than any other.

Trend-u maarina Friend-u maaradey,
End kaani Bond peru FRIENDSHIP ey!
Trend-u maarina Friend-u maaradey,
Gundeloni Sound peru FRIENDSHIP ey!

The song may not be AR Rehman’s “Mustafa Mustafa”, but it has the necessary impact.

Finally, a special mention to all my friends for the wonderful ride since more than a decade. You are genuine strength – miss you all!

All content rights are reserved to me i.e. Saketh Ayyagari!

 

Jai Lava Kusa Review – ‘Actor’ Worship for a Change

Hero worship of established stars is commonplace in our country. A mashup of various iconic roles, dialogues and moments are repackaged into a breezy film for fans to savour. While they might prove entertaining at times, more often than not they end up being caricatures of the actor’s different characters.

However, what if one celebrates the actor instead of the hero for a change? After all, it is the innumerable characters played by the actor that movie buffs fell in love with in the first place. Jai Lava Kusa is exactly that. Jr. NTR, an actor in peak form thrills and charms with his immense talent while testing new boundaries himself.

Jr. NTR as Lava Kumar
Image source – Hindustan Times

As the movie title suggests, Jr. NTR essays not two but three different roles, implying there is barely any room for other actors to make a significant impact. Normally, this leads to a lack of any sort of coherent story as the onus is on the multiple roles played by the lead actor. Jai Lava Kusa avoids this major pitfall by making the story around the titular characters and everything else serves as a backdrop. Credit for this goes to writers Kona Venkat, K.Chakravarthy along with K.S.Ravindra (Bobby) who donned the director’s hat as well.

Jr. NTR as Kusa
Image source – The Indian Express

Thus, Jr. NTR ends up providing the emotional weight, entertainment, and villainy for the film, with three distinct characters who chew up the entire canvas without becoming overbearing at any point. Except for the obvious visual similarity, the multi-talented actor brings variations in expressions and body language to every character, including dancing styles and possibly cementing his place as the best actor in the industry at the moment.

Jr. NTR as Jai
Image source – Andhrawishesh

A special mention goes to the character of Jai, who will remain a landmark character for Tarak. The intensity, strength and “Raavan”-like personality he brought to the character while making the audience feel every emotion of Jai till the end is an absolute joy to watch. It also helps that the background score by Devi Sri Prasad which supports the film well goes up by a couple of notches every time Jai is on-screen and lingers long after the movie is done.

Jai Lava Kusa is a commercial entertainer with a storyline that suits the intended purpose of bringing the actor inside Jr. NTR out instead of being the other way round. Director Bobby has done a great job of giving the film emotional depth despite Tarak’s triple role and instead, makes it the backbone of the film. The screenplay remains engaging and whenever it starts to lag, the bankable lead actor hooks the audience.

In essence, the movie serves as an ode to everything Tarak can do as an actor. However, by being an ode to the actor and not the hero, the movie swerves from the usual and is set to become Jr. NTR’s fourth hit on the trot. As Tarak embraces the actor in him this way, the sky is the limit for him and as an avid admirer of his acting ability, I am looking forward to more.

For now, Raavana Jai Jai Jai!

 

All content rights reserved to me i.e. Saketh Ayyagari!

Spiderman: Homecoming Review – The Spider Kid earns his Marvel stripes

First of all, I would like to clear right away that I am not a Spiderman fan. Neither the Sam Raimi-Tobey Maguire trilogy nor the Marc Webb-Andrew Garfield made me connect for whatever reasons with the friendly neighbourhood superhero. The only media I enjoyed him was cartoons and comics. With Marvel acquiring him, there was the golden opportunity and Captain America: Civil War gave a brilliant teaser of what was to come. On a personal level, I finally fell in love with the web slinger after this film.

Spiderman always needed a colourful, charming tone and Marvel exactly fits the bill. The music for Marvel Studios along with the animation right at the beginning shows what is to follow. Homecoming maintains a long-distance relationship with the larger MCU. Even the much-hyped partnership with Iron Man is surprisingly maintained at a very minimal level. Robert Downey Jr. never steals anything significant from his son-like protege and the story allows for the most famous Marvel superhero to blossom.

Tom Holland as Spiderman

Tom Holland does a tremendous job in the role as he deals with his alter-ego’s responsibilities of a teenager. Another key aspect of Spiderman is the fun aspect and in typical Marvel fashion, the movie delivers in spades. There are scenes that would even make Joss Whedon proud when it comes to witty humour, be it about his powers, problems and in action sequences.

Michael Keaton does a commendable job as a villain and is one of the better Marvel villains till date. In recent films, there has been a visible effort to make the MCU global and Homecoming has a strong Asian presence including Peter’s best friend. There are a couple of surprising cameos and Jon Favreau gets good screen time as the likeable Happy Hogan.

Michael Keaton

The action sequences are fun and the stakes at all times are smaller than saving the world. However, they involve human risk and suits well with Peter Parker’s arc in the film. While all emotional moments do not resonate to the extent one would expect, Spiderman as a do-gooder with grit, righteousness and bravado stand out amidst the fun.

Jon Watts does a great job in bringing the character into the MCU and the screenplay is one of the biggest assets of the film. The movie races ahead at all times as both Peter Parker and Spiderman deal with their respective issues. This dual focus is well-written and there is never more of extra focus on either of the alter-egos, which is a good thing. One can understand the stakes for both the kid and the superhero at every point and the brisk pace helps the film massively.

Spiderman Ferry scene

Finally, almost every movie in any franchise that does not have a need to set-up something next always tend to do well. Doctor Strange and Ant-Man are the best recent examples in the MCU. Spiderman:Homecoming is the perfect homecoming for Spiderman into the MCU with a vulnerable Peter Parker who is not bogged down by his responsibilties for a change. Instead, he is just a young teen trying to make a change.

Overall, it is not a perfect film by any means but offers a whole lot of entertainment while bringing Marvel’s most beloved character into the MCU. After all, Marvel’s focus and success has always been entertainment. Then, who better to deliver it than your friendly neighbourhood hero with a befitting background score.

Note – Wait out for the end-credits scene. It is totally worth it and shows why Marvel still has the audience eating out of their hands!

All images are reproduced from Google.

All content rights reserved to me i.e. Saketh Ayyagari!

Les just not be only Friendz – Brief Review

Romance novels are currently a rage in India and Vikash Sharma enters into the market with his first book, “Les Just Not Be Only Friends”. The first part of a trilogy, Sharma builds a love story between two regular people. While that is the USP as per the book cover, the real strength of the novel lies in the grounded attention to detail. The author definitely is well-verse with the areas the story is set-in and the fallible characters are relatable.
The usage of Hindi lines in between may not be liked by everyone and there are occasional grammatical errors that needs to be corrected in following books. While the characters failed to make me care for them, the story did manage to make me turn the pages. The drawback of the book is that while it is not bad, it ain’t good enough either to stay once it is done. Yet, it did want me to read the second part when it’s out. For a first book, it is a decent start and the second book will show how much Sharma has improved.
Book cover – 3/5
Language – 2.5/5
Overall – 3/5

All rights reserved over the content.

Featured Image source – Amazon

The Fate of the Furious Review – The ride keeps getting better

The Fast and the Furious movie franchise was never supposed to last an unbelievable 8 movies with more to come. They were supposed to be clash of egos between men who settle things by racing in fast cars. The first three parts lack much coherence in terms of storytelling and the movies stick to this plot with entertainment factor involved. However, the fourth part signalled a change.

A smart story provided progress for the characters while setting up a family vibe that helped turn the car-racing theme into a heist one for the next 3 parts. Yes, they still involved cars but the action started scaling up, characters from the previous movies started getting connected to the story and the addition of The Rock was a major plus.

paul

These heist episodes concluded in the 7th part, with an extremely well-written and emotional exit for the deceased Paul Walker’s character Brian O’Conner, one of the two main protagonists of the series along with Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto.

So, when the current movie was announced, there were doubts hanging over how the franchise can cope on losing one of their most important characters and boy, did they do well! It was a clever decision from the makers to move from the heist concept to the spy genre. This continuous evolution is the prime reason the franchise refuses to slow down.

dom cipher

Dom’s betrayal of the team created enough buzz and anticipation for the movie and it puts the team’s whole concept of family in question as their leader turns rogue. This leads to some wonderful character development for the team in various ways and allows for the entry of Jason Statham’s Deckard Shaw into the fold, who played the antagonist in the last outing.

Statham has a wonderful time in the film and his chemistry with The Rock’s character Luke Hobbs is one to look out for.  The best part about the franchise continue to be the way the story connects to the previous ones giving fans real pay-offs, while ensuring first-time audience do not feel out of place.

statham

One of the hallmarks of this series has been its action sequences. Be it the personal fights between The Rock and Vin Diesel, between Michelle Rodriguez’s Letty and MMA fighters Gina Carano and Ronda Rousey or the high-octane action scenes (that always involve cars) which look incredible on the screen. Every movie in fact, leaves you with one such sequence on a minimum. In this aspect, the eighth installment does not disappoint as the jail scenes involving The Rock and Statham are shot superbly and the climax involving a submarine would have made Matthew Reilly proud (He is the only pure high-octane action thriller writer I know). A special mention to The Rock’s fight scenes as the background score further enhances the physical marvel he is.

submarine

The movie definitely suffers a hiccup in terms of the twists as most of them can be sensed beforehand barring one or two. A spy thriller requires a stronger screenplay and with respect to that, the movie falters a bit.This prevents the movie from becoming a top spy thriller but then it never tried to become the ultimate heist thriller in the previous films either. Ultimately, the story is all about family and high-octane sequences that involve some really fast or huge cars. The shifting genres are present to provide a necessary wrinkle that prevents the movies from becoming repetitive while giving options to visualize and perform new mind-boggling stunts on-screen.

The one area where the movie shows the franchise’s growth is the drama front. As mentioned earlier, the previous movies were as simple as one could imagine and Paul Walker’s retirement last year was the biggest emotional punch due to obvious reasons. Barring Vin Diesel’s near deaths in the climaxes of recent parts, the drama quotient is comparatively less and understandably so. However, The Fate of the Furious has an unexpected depth to the extent that we see Vin Diesel cry (yeah, the big man can cry).

team 1

Those little elements that add to the drama lead to a wonderful pay-off in the climax as a few heart-tugging moments are created. Herein lies the secret of the franchise – constant evolution. At no point does the movie or the series looks to be ageing, rather it is in peak form. There is a certain comfort and understanding of the characters and their roles given the number of films and the constant unexpected deaths along with great additions ( The Rock in Fast Five and Jason Statham in Fast and Furious 7) make the ride better.

Tyrese Gibson constantly provides the right dose of humour, Chris Bridges plays his brother at work, mechanic and techie along with recent entrant Nathalie Emmanuel superbly. Michelle Rodriguez is the First Lady and a tough yet experienced part of the crew.  Charlize Theron plays the ice-cold antagonist Cipher while Helen Mirren and Scott Eastwood join the franchise as well. Paul Walker is referenced when explanations are needed regarding his absence despite the immediate need and a few more explanations, including one involving the nuclear submarine in the end are needed and those loose ends are tied up well. Further, Paul Walker’s character Brian O’Connor’s soul is provided continuity as well.

dom 1

In the end, The Fast and The Furious 8 is a worthy addition to the franchise and does well to move beyond the loss of Paul Walker, while opening up opportunities for the rumoured spin-offs. If you are a fan of the franchise, then you are gonna become a bigger one. On the other hand, if you are looking for some good popcorn action blockbuster, the movie provides that too.

A few fast furious observations

  • The way The Rock’s vehicle leads the remaining cars keeps reminding of Transformers with Optimus Prime’s trucks leading the remaining members.
  • This franchise is now very similar to the Marvel with superb character dynamics, likeable additions, pushing boundaries (in the racing genre in this case) and great action with the difference being these people are more human and therefore more relatable.
  • The Rock’s and Statham’s bromance is one of the best parts of the film and one to look forward to if the rumours regarding the spin-off are true.

 

The images taken from http://www.fastandfurious.com

©Saketh Ayyagari. All rights reserved.

The Undertaker’s Last Ride

There is something about fantasy heroes that connects with people, especially when we grow up revering them. I have started watching WWE in and around the Attitude Era and at that age it was the skill, power and intensity of the wrestling on display that excited me. However, as I grew up, I started understanding the full meaning of Sports Entertainment. Now, I consider it to be like any other TV show, with the stark difference being there are no second takes and despite the safety measures, the wrestlers actually put their bodies on the line.
As a self-professed Shawn Michaels fan, I definitely did not see this coming. As Roman Reigns claimed his win over the Deadman and walked away, the crowd showered their appreciation on one of the greatest workers ever. However, when the Phenom decided this was his Last Ride and with his theme playing in the background, he removed his gloves, then folded his coat and placed them at the centre of the ring along with his hat, the emotion was just too much to bear.
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(Image courtesy – Postard)
When Shawn Michaels retired at WrestleMania 26 after failing to overcome Taker at the Showcase of Immortals for a second time, the wrestling geek in me died a bit that day. I took a sabbatical from watching the sport until a new era came in a few years later. Despite knowing Michaels was very likely gonna lose as Taker still had his undefeated streak going on then, saying goodbye to the greatest story-teller in the ring after giving his all in two epic matches at WrestleMania 25 and 26 was really hard to take. But not this hard.
The Undertaker’s retirement has been a constant point of discussion in recent years as all the years of fighting gimmick matches and putting his body on the line had battered his body and he could wrestle only one match per year. Further, the quality of the matches suffered as well with Taker unable to match his dance partners anymore. With the Undertaker still expected to have that dream match with John Cena, this year’s clash with Reigns was supposed to be another Mania match.
taker 3
(Image courtesy – WWE WrestleMania Twitter account)
The match in itself was unworthy of a main-event as Taker struggled badly once Roman speared him through the announced table, that included a major botched spot where the Big Dog tried to reverse Taker’s finishing move, the Tombstone Piledriver and failed despite making 3 attempts. Reigns did his best to carry the Deadman, but could not save the match. Thoughts started swirling in my mind on why this is the reason Taker should retire. When Taker exactly did that at the end, I could not fathom the tears streaming out.
Here was a man who has fought for more than 25 years in WWE, thrilling fans with his matches, sending chills up the spine with his entrance and never ever bothered about the spotlight, despite being the most respected man in the business. It just dawned on me that Taker’s true strength is in telling a story, he is half the reason Shawn Michaels had those epic matches before his retirement and in a flash, I knew I will miss him.
(Video courtesy – WWE YouTube Channel)
As he went down the ring, broke character to share a moment with his wife, walked back, made the half-turn and raised his hand one final time, more than a decade full of memories flashed in front of my eyes. In those final moments of seeing Mark Calaway as the Undertaker, I realized that he was there all along, doing his part in putting on great matches, building the greatest streak in sports entertainment and utterly dedicating his life to maintaining the myth and aura around the character.
Maybe that was why every wrestling fan in the stadium and around the world could not control themselves as the feeling sunk in, the Undertaker has fought his last match.
There is no doubt that the legend of the Undertaker will live on for generations and there will never ever be such a character in any book, TV show or movies ever.
Thank you Taker.
Rest.In.Peace.
The content copyrights belong to me i.e. Saketh Ayyagari©
Featured Image courtesy – WWE Twitter account
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