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Netflix | The White Tiger – Review

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“Spectacular” is a word rarely used when describing Netflix original movies, since so many get released at the same time. Once in a blue moon, a “spectacular” Netflix film comes out that blows us all away, but becomes buried within the next week when more “content” gets released. We’re more used to say “admirable” or “terrible” when describing Netflix movies. Ramin Bahrani made a “spectacular” film in 2015, 99 Homes, which contained career-defining performances from Andrew Garfield and Michael Shannon, yet his follow-up, an adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, was more than “terrible.”

His latest film, which adapts Arvind Adiga’s The White Tiger, is a mere “admirable” effort, as it tells a typical “rags-to-riches” story of Balram Halwai (Adarsh Gourav), who becomes a driver to Ashok (Rajkummar Rao) and his wife Pinky (Priyanka Chopra-Jonas), in the hopes of getting out of what he refers to as “the rooster coop” (which reinterprets Robert Kioysaki’s “rat race” theory from Rich Dad, Poor Dad) that most lower-class Indians are stuck in. However, when an unfortunate incident happens, it puts Balram’s future in jeopardy as he is framed for murder.

The White Tiger' review: Dir. Ramin Bahrani (2021)

The White Tiger‘s reinterpretation of the “rat race” theory is, bar none, the film’s most engaging aspect. The audience becomes a witness in Balram’s descent into madness, as the people he drives with will constantly abuse and frame him to protect their own self-interests and “public image.” Because of this, once Balram “snaps” in front of Ashok and “The Stork” (Mahesh Manjrekar), you know exactly where he’s coming from. Throughout all of his life, he has been given opportunities to flourish as an individual and create lasting change in the world (one teacher compares him to a white tiger; someone who comes only once in a generation), but bad decisions from his family prevented him from escaping the “rooster coop.” Its lead performance from Adarsh Gourav is excellent, as he is able to convey different emotional states during the film’s three acts and seeing his transformation from “innocent-driver” to “cold-blooded criminal” who’ll do anything to get out of the “rooster coop” is incredibly gripping.

It’s a shame that the movie is told in the third-person, through flashbacks. Balram writes to China’s Prime Minister, Wen Jiabao, and gives the audience “hints” as to what happened with Ashok & Pinky, instead of a typical, linear storyline. By watching the film’s opening sequence when Balram prints out his “wanted” poster, the audience can clearly predict what will happen at the end of the movie by connecting a few dots, once Balram starts working for Ashok. This reduces the emotional build-up and supense of the film, because the audience has clearly made themselves an idea of what’s [most likely] going to happen.

Most of the supporting cast can’t also match Gourav’s star-making performance. Rao’s line delivery, as Ashok, is quite flat and Priyanka Chopra’s Pinky is incredibly underused. The only performance that truly carries the movie is Gourav; all of the other actors surrounding him badly deliver their lines and melodramatically perform. There’s no legitimate access to The Stork, Ashok, or Pinky’s psyche, who bribe politicians into not paying taxes. A “bit” of access is given when Pinky feels terrible when The Stork and Ashok’s brother, The Mongoose (Vijay Maurya) frame Balram for murder, but it doesn’t last enough for the audience to care about the supporting cast. Their main focus is on Balram’s journey, but part of that journey’s unpredictability is reduced by knowing exactly how it ends.

Because of this, The White Tiger half-succeeds at telling a standard “rags-to-riches” story inspired by one of the best economic theories of our time. At times, the film is incredibly engaging and gripping; due to Adarsh Gourav’s immaculate portrayal of Balram and its wonderfully stylized cinematography, at times it delves into melodrama and complete unintentional hilarity from its cheesy supporting cast delivering subpar performances and a non-linear plot whose ending “shock-moment” is revealed within the film’s first five minutes. It’s an “admirable” effort, yes, but not a particularly memorable one.

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Action

Fast & Furious 9 Review | Completely Crazy in the Best Way Possible

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“If we obey the laws of physics, we’re gonna be fine”. Words you’d never imagine you’d hear one day being spoken in a Fast & Furious film. The franchise has seen cars jumping out a plane, cars driving a safe around the streets of Rio de Janeiro, cars jumping out of a skyscraper and into another. And then into another skyscraper. The laws of physics are long gone in this franchise but now we hear these ludicrous words spoken by Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges as he and Roman are in a Pontiac Fiero with a rocket strapped onto the top heading into outer space. Yes- they’re heading into space this time!

Fast & Furious 9 has somehow managed to get even more bonkers than the previous instalments and it’s completely crazy but in the best way possible. Vin Diesel’s Dom and his gang are back and they’re facing their toughest villain yet. This time it’s in the form of John Cena who plays Jakob, Dom’s younger brother. It is a bit strange that in a franchise that’s so big on ‘family’ we’ve never heard of Dom’s brother before but nonetheless he’s the big bad that this film needs.

Fast & Furious 9 is exactly the film fans of the franchise will want. If you loved all the previous instalments, then it’s definitely the film for you and you should see it on the biggest screen you can to really take in the wonderful action scenes in all their glory. If, however, you’ve seen the previous films and rolled your eyes at the absurdity and not liked it, I think it’s safe to say that this isn’t the film for you, and you should avoid it all costs.

The franchise has become much more self-aware, and whilst for Vin Diesel this is probably his Shakespeare, there’s a lot more fun and humour to be had in Fast 9 than in the previous instalments. I found myself constantly laughing just at the absurdity of the stunts that are going on. But in a good way. It was so outlandish and crazy, but I loved every second of it. Obviously, them going to space is the pinnacle of the franchise (although I’m sure Fast 10 will come up with something even more ridiculous) but the whole film is full of moments like these. Towards the start in one of the opening car chases we hear Dom asking “how fast?”. He’s asking how fast they need to be driving in order that they can drive over a land mine and be going fast enough that it can explode and not hurt them.

It really is so much fun seeing what crazy action set-piece they can come up with next and it’s an absolute joy to watch. It’s exactly the big budget popcorn film we need right now to return to the cinema with. Not everything makes sense and the laws of physics are so far out the window but seeing cars being thrown about the streets because of giant magnets is unlike anything we’ve ever seen before and it’s entertaining to watch. If you like ridiculous action scenes, then it’s impossible not to enjoy this film.

Fast & Furious 9 is the first time the franchise has taken a deeper look at Dom’s past with multiple flashback scenes to a younger Dom in an effort to really draw out much more emotion. And whilst the film doesn’t do a bad job of this and whilst Toretto’s backstory is relevant to this film’s plot, it’s not necessarily the audience’s number one priority for a Fast & Furious film which is why the film’s runtime is a hefty 2 hours and 25 minutes.

It is wonderful though seeing the Fast cast back again and seeing characters like Jordana Brewster’s Mia and Sung Kang’s Han return after a few films. Han somehow survived what we thought was his death back in Tokyo Drift (and then again in the Fast & Furious 6 credits scene) and it might not be the best explanation but it’s always a joy to see fan’s favourite Han back again. On top of the returning cast, John Cena is a welcome addition to the franchise and fits in so well that you almost wouldn’t notice that Dwayne Johnson wasn’t back this time around.

Fast & Furious 9 somehow doubles down on the ridiculousness of the previous films and is even crazier than ever but that just makes the film even more of a wild thrill-ride that’s so entertaining to watch.

★★★★☆

Fast and Furious 9 is released in UK cinemas on Thursday June 24th

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Action

The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard | Review

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The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard is everything you’d want from a big summer blockbuster action-comedy. There’s plenty of gunfights and car chases and Samuel L. Jackson’s dropping f-bombs like there’s no tomorrow. Whilst the plot is a bit ridiculous, and it moves at such a fast pace that you’ve probably got whiplash by the end of it The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard is a really entertaining and fun film. It’s the sort of thing you can watch and switch your brain off for a few hours and just enjoy.

When The Hitman’s Bodyguard was first released in 2017, I don’t think there was anyone desperately calling out saying they needed a sequel but in all honestly, the follow-up is better than the first film. Everything‘s bigger this time around- including the title which is now a real mouthful! The stakes have heightened, the action scenes are bigger, and the cast has increased too with Antonio Banderas and Morgan Freeman joining Salma Hayek, Samuel L. Jackson and Ryan Reynolds this time around.

Ryan Reynolds’ Michael Bryce has been stripped of his bodyguarding licence and has been roped into helping hitman Darius Kincaid (Sam Jackson) by his wife Sonia (Salma Hayek) and all of a sudden, they’re the only ones that can stop the whole of Europe from being destroyed. If you’re going to see this film, the chances are that you’re not going to see it for the plot and that’s completely understandable. Antonio Banderas plays a man called Aristotle Papadopoulos and if you can’t guess from the name alone, he’s the utterly ridiculous, over-the-top evil mastermind. But much like everything else in this film which is incredibly OTT, we don’t necessarily care much about his plan and the stakes don’t really feel very real, but it all still unfolds in a really entertaining way.

The film is quite generic, with Ryan Reynolds playing his usual wise-cracking self and Samuel L. Jackson probably swearing more times than there are minutes in the film but the reason why it all works and you can forgive its misgivings is because it’s funny and it’s entertaining. Granted there were no stand-out jokes or lines that will still have you laughing in the car on the way home, and overall the film is generic and somewhat forgettable, but being sat there in the cinema in the moment, you can’t help but have an absolute blast of a time.

The fim’s pretty relentless in its pacing as it picks you up right at the start and doesn’t let go until the very end. It moves so quickly from one action scene to another as we journey around Italy waiting to see in which city the next destructive shootout will take place in. It’s quite shocking that the film’s only 100 minutes long because by the end, it certainly feels like a lot more has happened because of how quickly the film moves.

The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard won’t win any Oscars- unless they introduce a new one for most swearing- and it doesn’t break new ground for action comedies but it’s great fun. It’s full of laughs, swearing, explosions and just about everything you’d want from a summer blockbuster. It’s better than the first film and I really hope we see these characters again soon because it’s a really solid formular for a great time.

★★★★☆

The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard is in cinemas now.

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Music

In the Heights | A Sun-Drenched, Charming Tale Of Dreams, Community And Home

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In the Heights is directed by Crazy Rich Asians director Jon M. Chu and is an adaptation of the Broadway musical written by Quaira Alegria Hudes – with music, lyrics and concept created by Lin Manuel Miranda – you know, the guy behind that tiny Broadway show called Hamilton.

Our story takes places in the Manhattan borough of Washington Heights – a predominantly Latinx neighbourhood. Our protagonist is convenience store owner Usnavi (Anthony Ramos), who dreams of fulfilling his deceased father’s Suenito or “little dream” of opening his own beach side bar in his place of birth; The Dominican Republic. We watch as Usnavi wrestles with the choice of chasing his fathers dream or staying in the community which raised and embraced him with open arms.

I came out of In the Heights beaming with joy. It’s one of those perfect summery, all-singing, all-dancing, big screen movies that get your hips swaying, your toes tapping and your teeth grinning. Most importantly it’s a film, that justifies seeing it on the biggest screen possible – don’t deprive yourself of the treat of seeing it at a cinema. It’s a film that is so easy on the eyes – not just because of its ridiculously gorgeous cast, but thanks to the dazzlingly inventive set pieces, breathtaking choreography, vibrant art direction and Jon M. Chu’s dynamic camerawork. It’s alive with such kinetic energy and utterly infectious music.

The comparisons to West Side Story seemed inevitable – which incidentally is getting a Steven Spielberg reimagining later this year. But that comparison is a very generalised one, In the Heights feels refreshingly different to all other movie-musicals. There’s an intoxicating mix of old and new. Every number is laced with a deliciously Latin flavour. There are classic emotionally charged ballads that will make your heart swoon but there’s also elements of salsa, hip-hop, merengue and Lin Manuel Miranda’s now-recognisable, spoken-word, recitative rap sensibilities. Side note for all Hamilton fans keep your ears open for a familiar musical easter egg. There’s a real emphasis on “the little details” on display in this film which makes it feel like an authentic celebration of all things Latinx. One can’t help but smile at the thought of all the positive ramifications a film like this will have on the underrepresented Hispanic communities around the world.

The cast are all superb. Anthony Ramos lights up the screen with his boyish good looks and cheeky smile as Usnavi. He’s backed up by the fiery Mellissa Barrera who plays aspiring fashion designer and love interest Vanessa. Corey Hawkins plays Usnavi’s pal Benny who yearns for old flame Nina (Leslie Grace), who is going through her own identity crisis. She’s back from Stamford College but has felt ostracised and isolated as a minority among her predominantly White classmates. Benny and Nina share one of the standout set pieces a they perform a duet of the When the Sun Goes Down whilst dancing along the side of a Manhattan building.

But the MVP is without-a-doubt Olga Merediz who reprises the same role she played on Broadway as the Washington Heights matriarch Abuela Claudia. She is the heart of the community and of the film itself. Merediz delivers a dignified performance that’s sure to have Oscar-pundits on their radar for a best supporting actress nomination. She reduced me to tears during her rendition of Paciencia y Fe – it’s soul-touchingly obvious why they brought her back for the movie.

When looking for criticisms there is so much love radiating from this film that it’s easy to let the knit-picky stuff slide. Such as there is a lot of very noticeable product placement – In the Heights is brought to you by Coca Cola, Beats and Moët Champagne.

There’s also some clunky shots during one of the standout songs 96,000. The sequence involves a stunning on-location swimming pool set piece, however there was clearly some green screen footage of Anthony Ramos inserted after shooting. It’s a rather sore-thumb addition in otherwise flawless number.

But where In the Heights truly struggles is with character conflict and resolution – or the lack thereof. Most of the conflict is internal, many of the characters are wrestling with the decision of staying or leaving. Asking themselves where do I belong? But the rest of the time it’s all sunshine, love and joy. Even the blackout is a cause for celebration instead of panic. There isn’t much more than surface-level struggles. Without conflict there’s no real drama. There are brief moments where the story hints are some bigger issues like the gentrification of the neighbourhood but never actualy dives in the deep end. And the only mention of racial tension comes from Nina’s experiences at university – but that’s all it is; mentioned. We never actually witness it happen to her.

And while the film ends on an uplifting note I couldn’t help but feel too many of the characters arcs were left unresolved. Upon leaving the theatre I found myself asking a lot of questions; What did Kevin Rosario (Jimmy Smits) do after selling the business? Did Vanessa’s fashion dreams take off? How does Nina cope back at Stamford? And what’s Benny doing with himself now? The answers all remain ambiguous so there is a lack closure.

In the Heights is a sun-drenched and charming tale of dreams, community and home. Despite a slightly long runtime and a lack of character conflict/resolution, it more than makes up for those issues with its phenomenal cast, luscious musical set pieces and fabulous choreography. After a year deprived of social dancing, this is the perfect pick-me-up summery film that’ll make you thirsty to get back on a dance floor.

★★★★

In the Heights is released in U.K. cinemas June 18th and is available in other regions on HBO Max.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nilAZ7XwPII&t=28s

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