Friday, June 23, 2017

Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! (2015) - Foreign Film Friday

Number Rolled: 69
Movie Name/Year: Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! (2015)
Tagline: Expect the unexpected
Genre: Thriller, Mystery, Action, Drama, Bollywood
Length: 137 minutes
Rating: NR
Production Companies: Dibakar Banerjee Productions
Producer: Dibakar Banerjee, Vikas Chandra, Aditya Chopra, Smriti Jain, Gaurav Mishra
Director: Dibakar Banerjee
Writer: Urmi Juvekar, Dibakar Banerjee, Saradindu Bandopadhyay
Actors: Sushant Singh Rajput, Anand Tiwari, Neeraj Kabi, Divya Menon, Swastika Mukherjee,  Meiyang Chang, Mark Bennington, Takanori Higuchi, Shivam, Kaushik Ghosh, Anindya Pulak Banerjee, Arindol Bagchi, Pradipto Kumar Chakraborty, Manoshi Nath, Moumita Chakraborty, Tirtha Mallick, Shaktipada Dey
Stunt Doubles: None

Blurb from Netflix: Plunged into the chaos of Calcutta during World War II, a rookie detective finds himself opposing a malevolent genius with world domination plans.

Selina’s Point of View:
Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! was basically the Hindi version of Sherlock Holmes. Not the original version from the books, but what it’s morphed into over the years. I’d compare it more to the Robert Downey Jr. (Chef, Iron Man, The Judge) version than the Benedict Cumberbatch (Zoolander 2, Black Mass, The Imitation Game) version, too.

There was almost equal parts amusement and seriousness that I kind of enjoyed. The main character, played by Sushant Singh Rajput (PK, Raabta, Shuddh Desi Romance), would do something to make me grin or chuckle, but the moment a dead body was involved he reacted appropriately. One of my biggest pet peeves in films involve when characters not used to the site of a dead body just seem to take it in stride when they’re finally exposed to it.

Let me tell you, that’s not how that works.

Rajput successfully represented someone who wasn’t used to being exposed to death a great deal. There was shock and sadness and mortality in his expression. As someone who’s spent some time at the morgue, let me tell you, that is normally the truth of it for newbies.

The plot was a little all over the place and the film was much longer than I would have liked… but it wasn’t difficult to watch. I enjoyed the interaction between the characters.

I was a little thrown off when I saw the name of the actor that played Anguri Devi. Her name was Swastika Mukherjee (The Last Poem, Take One, Incomplete). That’s a hell of name. It threw me off for a few, but it’s always important to remember the cultural differences involved here. In India, the swastika originally represented peace and university – which is likely what her name was meant to represent. Hitler corrupted the word and the symbol, but the original meaning is still a part of Indian culture.

That doesn’t really affect the film at all, but it’s worth noting.

I really kind of enjoyed this film. The plot caught me off guard a lot, though I’m not sure if that’s because the mystery was in depth or because I was too busy paying attention to the subtitles to really be able to suss out what was happening. Still, I’d recommend it to anyone interested in Hindi films.

Cat’s Point of View:
I’ve been looking forward to this Foreign Film Friday all week. I’m a sucker for the occasional period piece and mysteries are usually fun. Combine the two, and I was all set for a noir gumshoe film with Bollywood flair. That wasn’t exactly what I got.

Don’t get me wrong – the movie is interesting for a World War 2 mystery set in Calcutta. I liked it. Here comes the ‘but.’ I would have liked it more if not for one glaring issue – the soundtrack.

What was the production team on when they decided that all those anachronistic tracks – along the veins of growly metal and modern quasi-dance music – were a good idea?! Seriously. Air raid sirens one moment and rapping in Hindi the next. It wasn’t through the whole movie, but it was just often enough to knock me right out of the setting.

I get it that they maybe wanted to be different and not like a typical Bollywood feature; especially in scenes with building tension, danger, or action sequences – but metal or rapping in a movie set in the early 1940s? Bad call. 

With the right premise, movies can sometimes get away with infiltrating ‘modern’ music into tales of yore – case and point being A Knight’s Tale (2001). Each of those modern musical numbers was retooled or carefully selected with lyrics fitting the scenes and worked into the medieval landscape. What was happening in this movie was just tantamount to background noise. Of course, I don’t speak Hindi and the subtitles didn’t offer translation for the rapping. Given the rest of the selections, I highly doubt it was topical.

I do want to leave with a positive note here. Aside from the musical mishaps along the way, the story was interesting. I loved the parallels in homage to Sherlock Holmes. If you stay on top of it, the mystery is fairly predictable in its resolution. There’s enough twisting of the plot, however, to keep you guessing at least a good while if you’re not seeking to puzzle things out for yourself.

I wish I could rate this movie better, but the discord created between the movie and score took a lot of the fun out of it for me.

Speech Available: Hindi
Subtitles Available: English

Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – 67%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score – 75%
Metascore - 70/100
Metacritic User Score – 7/10
IMDB Score – 7.7/10

Trust the Dice: Selina’s Rating3.5/5
Trust the Dice: Cat’s Rating2.5/5

Trust-the-Dice’s Parental Advisory Rating: R

P.S.  Based on a series of novels referred to as Byomkesh Bakshy Mysteries, written by Sharadindu Bandopadhyay.

Movie Trailer:

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Dream House (2011)

Number Rolled: 32
Movie Name/Year: Dream House (2011)
Tagline: Once upon a time, there were two little girls who lived in a house.
Genre: Thriller, Mystery, Drama
Length: 91 minutes
Rating: PG-13
Production Companies: Cliffjack Motion Pictures, Morgan Creek Productions
Producer: Daniel Bobker, Mike Drake, Ehren Kruger, Rick Nicita, David Robinson, James G. Robinson
Director: Jim Sheridan
Writer: David Loucka
Actors: Daniel Craig, Naomi Watts, Rachel Weisz, Elias Koteas, Marton Csokas, Taylor Geare, Claire Geare, Rachel G. Fox, Jane Alexander, Brian Murray, Bernadette Quigley, Sarah Gadon, Gregory Smith, Mark Wilson, David Huband, Martin Roach, Jean Yoon, Lynne Griffin, Jonathan Potts
Stunt Doubles: Krista Bell, Garvin Cross, Patrick Mark, Christopher McGuire, Duncan McLeod

Blurb from Netflix: Abandoning high stress Manhattan, Will moves to a quiet New England town but learns that his new home was the site of several brutal murders.

Selina’s Point of View:
The trope used for Dream House was very typical, but the creators of this film offered a very different take on it. It was one of those situations where the big reveal you think is coming at the end, actually comes earlier and you’re left wondering what could possibly be next.

A lot of what followed the reveal was predictable, but it still had a unique quality because of how it was done.

The director, Jim Sheridan (The Secret Scripture, My Left Foot, In America), and writer, David Loucka (Eddie, Borderline, The Dream Team), managed to keep things subtle in a such a way that – even when I knew something was coming, it still had a touch of surprise to it. I really like when thrillers like this can do that. It elevates the film to something more than just your basic trope showcase.

Daniel Craig (Skyfall, Cowboys & Aliens, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) did pretty well in his part, but it was his chemistry with Naomi Watts (Insurgent, While We’re Young, 3 Generations) and Rachel Weisz (My Cousin Rachel, 360, The Bourne Legacy) that really did the movie a favor. As good as they all were individually, it was the scenes where they were interacting that told the deeper story of what was happening. The undercurrent of fear and secrets was well evident.

There were a few moments where my attention shifted easily from the screen, so I wouldn’t say it kept me on the edge of my seat or anything. It was like the editing was done in such a way that it forced me to stop caring at some points. If any part of it wasn’t done well, I’d say it was the editing.

It was a decent film for what it was. I would recommend it, but I wouldn’t go overboard describing how good it was.

Cat’s Point of View:
One of the shows that my husband and I enjoy watching together is AMC’s Into the Badlands (2015-). We were just catching up on the end of the most recent season last night, and I remember commenting to him that Marton Csokas’ (The Debt, Noah, The Equalizer) character was just so creepy. I swear, Csokas has the whole making you uncomfortable just because his character appeared on the screen down. I hadn’t even realized he was in this movie until I processed his voice and his appearance sans facial hair. I think he was seriously underutilized in this film.
That was really one of the main problems of this movie. It would suck me into the landscape of the tale and then something would just be off and jar me back out again. There aren’t many things I could put my finger on specifically outside of some of the gaping plot holes.

I really enjoyed the chemistry between Daniel Craig (The Invasion, The Golden Compass, The Adventures of Tintin) and Rachel Weisz (The Lovely Bones, The Lobster, Denial) as the lead couple. The little girls that were cast as their children were also absolutely adorable and it looks like they all had fun on set together.

Another puzzle piece that doesn’t seem to fit like it should is the role of Naomi Watts’ (J Edgar, The Sea of Trees, The Book of Henry) character. I’ll give the film credit that it kept me guessing a bit about her, and yet all the same, I’m not sure that the vibe that actually came across was what they were really going for. Once all those roughly-shaped puzzle pieces got hammered together, it made sense but left me with an “ok, if you say so…” feeling.

There’s some mind-bendy stuff going on, which I thought was great – I just wish they’d accomplished it differently. It’s no wonder this feels a little over-worked or even cobbled together, though. The production company took the final edit out of the hands of the director so they could do it the way they wanted to. At one point, he actually appealed to the Director’s Guild to have his name removed from the final product because of this. That old-fashioned saying about too many cooks in the kitchen has merit.

All said, the movie wasn’t bad. I liked it. I would have loved to have seen the movie that the director originally envisioned, though.

Speech Available: English
Subtitles Available: English

Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – 6%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score – 36%
Metascore - 35/100
Metacritic User Score – 8.5/10
IMDB Score – 6.0/10

Trust the Dice: Selina’s Rating3/5
Trust the Dice: Cat’s Rating3/5

Movie Trailer:

Monday, June 19, 2017

Trevor Noah: Afraid of the Dark (2017)

Number Rolled: 39
Movie Name/Year: Trevor Noah: Afraid of the Dark (2017)
Tagline: None
Genre: Stand-Up, Comedy
Length: 67 minutes
Rating: TV-14
Production Companies: Netflix
Producer: Norman Aladjem, Trevor Noah, Derek Van Pelt, Sanaz Yamin
Director: David Paul Meyer
Writer: Trevor Noah
Actors: Trevor Noah
Stunt Doubles: N/A

Blurb from Netflix: The “Daily Show” host ponders the perils of naming countries, how traffic lights turn New Yorkers invincible and why you shouldn’t drink in Scotland.

Selina’s Point of View:
I am a big fan of the Daily Show (1996 - ) and I was skeptical of Trevor Noah (Isidingo, Tonight with Trevor Noah, Trevor Noah: The Daywalker) when he first took over. After all, could there really be anyone who filled the shoes of Jon Stewart (The Beaver, Evan Almighty, The Adjustment Bureau)?

Despite my stubbornness, however, Noah did win me over eventually, so I was excited that one of his stand-up specials came up for the blog.

I was really disappointed in the beginning.

At the start of the special, after explaining that it was his dream to perform in New York, he went into a bit that was so unoriginal about the state that I actively rolled my eyes. I was worried that the entire special might be as equally unoriginal.

Can we all just agree to kill that bit about a New Yorker slapping the hood of a cab and yelling, “I’m walking over here?” It’s in every movie about the state, tons of comedians bring it up whenever they perform here. Just stop it. It was funny for about three movies in the 80s and now it’s just overdone bullshit.

Not only that, but it never happens. It puts dangerous ideas in the minds of tourists. If you walk in front of a yellow cab and slap their hood to yell at them, they might just run you down on principle.

Moving on.

After a few minutes, Noah did drop it and became much more pleasant to watch. His jokes and stories got much funnier. I didn’t feel the need to roll my eyes again for the rest of the special.

It got somewhat political in parts, but I expected it. He never really went overboard with it, though, so I didn’t feel like I was watching CNN or something. He got into some racial stories, but those never went overboard either. They were funny and I walked away feeling I understood his perspective better – without feeling like he had spent that time putting me down to raise himself.

In the end, I really did enjoy this special. I look forward to watching the others.

Cat’s Point of View:
This comedy special was definitely a change of pace from the normal movie routine, and I’m not complaining at all. Trevor Noah (Taka Takata, Mad Buddies, Nashville) was an excellent casting choice for The Daily Show (1996-), and I’ve enjoyed the bits that I’ve randomly caught. It’s not a show I watch regularly on purpose, but it didn’t take much for me to appreciate Noah’s wit and deft grasp of satire.

He has this worldly charm about him that is no surprise. He’s travelled a lot and has a broad perspective on the world and its people. His humor is laced with intelligence, but he doesn’t come across as being condescending.

I absolutely adore when he does accents, as well. It’s like he’s a vocal chameleon. For him to grasp them so well, it makes me wonder how many languages he has at least a rudimentary understanding of, if not actual fluency.

One thing I liked about this particular special was that it seemed like he was just hanging out and sharing stories with the audience as opposed to telling jokes or staged bits. The program was cohesive and, like all great comedy shows, there were elements that linked topics together as well as the show as a whole. It was subtler and delivered with style so that I didn’t feel like I was being given the proverbial giant neon arrow to say ‘look at what I did’ that other acts often seem to use.

I’m glad that we hit this particular comedy special when we did because of some of the political bits. It’s very topical to current world events in places and he handled it so deftly that I can imagine only someone actually looking for ways to get offended would.

All in all, I found Noah's special hilarious, and I definitely wouldn’t mind watching it again. I would certainly recommend it.

Speech Available: English
Subtitles Available: English, French, Spanish, Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese

Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – None
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score – None
Metascore - None
Metacritic User Score – None
IMDB Score – 7.2/10

Trust the Dice: Selina’s Rating4/5
Trust the Dice: Cat’s Rating4.5/5

Movie Trailer: