Miami Exposé (Fred F. Sears, 1956) 5/10
Aquaman (James Wan, 2018) 8/10
After "Black Panther", earlier this year, this DC comic book film also celebrates a different culture along with diversity. And just like its predecessor this film has rousing action scenes, an eye-opening underwater world teeming with strange creatures and between the familiar tropes of such films also manages to deliver a strong ecological message about man's continual destruction of the environment. A half-breed boy is born to a lighthouse keeper and the Queen of Atlantis (Nicole Kidman) after he saves her life and they fall in love. When she is forced to return to her kingdom to get married she entrusts the care and training of her human son to a loyal advisor (Willem Dafoe). Arthur (Jason Momoa) grows up on land but is forced to go beneath the sea when his jealous half-brother, Orm (Patrick Wilson), threatens war. When a pirate (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) attacks Atlantis, Orm uses that as a pretext to launch war on humans and also to kill Arthur. He is helped along the way by Princess Mera (Amber Heard), daughter of King Nereus (Dolph Lundgren) of Xebel, who has pledged allegience to the evil Orb. The plot hinges on Arthur retrieving the lost golden trident of the first King of Atlantis in order to unite the seven kingdoms under the sea and prove himself the rightful ruler. The film is beautifully shot by Don Burgess and its spectacular production design, costumes and visual effects play a large part in creating this unique world. Kidman makes a lovely regal Queen and Mamoa brings the right touch of physicality and devil-may-care attitude to the part. In hindsight this is all incredibly cheesy, populated by silly characters with outlandish action set pieces but this long film is never boring and makes for one hell of a rollercoaster ride in the vein of "Raiders of the Lost Ark".
Simmba (Rohit Shetty, 2018) 9/10
Bollywood has always had its own version of the Marvel & DC comic book hero and it has always been the proverbial cop. Every major star has played this "hero" on film at one time or another to much acclaim. The character doesn't have too many shades - either he is noble, crooked or a combination of the two. Shetty brings to this project, which is a Telugu remake, the colours and ambience of South Indian cinema along with the sensibility of its Northern counterpart. The film's success rests on the shoulders of Ranveer Singh who brings to the part his own sense of quirky humour, bravado and pathos which basically translates to being completely over-the-top. Simmba (Ranveer Singh), an orphan who was raised on the streets, vows to become a cop because he is impressed by the corruption in the police force. He revels in this avatar of being on the take and unabashadly flaunts himself. Posted as the Head Constable at a police station in Goa he falls in love with a young girl (Sara Ali Khan) and protects the local goon (the superb Sonu Sood) and his two brothers by turning a blind eye at their activities which involve using young kids as drug couriers. It takes the gang rape and murder of a young teacher to swiftly change Simmba's entire perception about his own crooked life. Shetty infuses the film with non-stop banter - Singh's hilarious accented Hindi is an inspired choice - and slow-motion action punctuated by the sound design going into overdrive as the cop takes on hordes of the villain's sidekicks. Singh gives a spectacular performance playing to the gallery knowing exactly when to provide laughs and when to wring tears from the audience. All his scenes opposite Sonu Sood are intense as they both circle each other while he is at his most vulnerable opposite the great Ashutosh Rana who plays his conscientious subordinate. He shows the shy quality of his personality around Sara Ali khan whom he woos via three catchy musical numbers. No Shetty film would be complete without his mascot, star actor Ajay Devgan, who has appeared in all his films save one (where Mrs Devgan (Kajol) played the lead) who makes a late entrance in the guise of senior police officer Singham making this film a spin-off from Shetty's previous police franchise. The film is total paisa vasool and an absolute crowd pleaser as director Shetty takes on the mantle of the late Manmohan Desai. The film also conveys a serious message about rape, its repercussions and the need for the law to bring justice to the victims. A must-see film which holds yet another surprise at the end as another famous star makes an appearance in the guise of yet another cop which promises to provide yet more entertainment in the form of a film next year.
Raid (Raj Kumar Gupta, 2018) 7/10
An honest and fearless IRS officer (Ajay Devgan) and his team raid a powerful politician (Saurabh Shukla) who is suspected of evading taxation. Gripping story based on an actual event in Lucknow during 1981 is treated like a thriller in this film. Devgan gives a typically intense yet charming performance who has been transferred 49 times in his career as an income tax officer simply because he is honest and does not bow down to pressure. His wife (Ileana D'Cruz) stands by him despite living a life of being constantly on the move. Interjecting songs into the premise is a minor distraction along with moments of melodrama and a tendency towards preaching towards the end for boxoffice consumption but the powerful story resonates and deals with an important subject that troubles many countries where tax evasion is a major menace.
Ben-Hur (William Wyler, 1959) 9/10
Old fashioned film is a mixture of religiosity - set during the time of Christ - and a boys own adventure filmed by Wyler on an epic scale. A remake of the 1925 silent classic this film has spectacle and many justifiably famous set pieces that still manage to hold up. Based on the classic novel by General Lew Wallace and a screenplay that has an underlying subtle homo-erotic current running through the main plot about a friendship between two boyhood friends, the jewish Prince Judah Ben-Hur (Charlton Heston in an Oscar winning performance) and Mesala (Stephen Boyd), a Roman tribune, which turns irrevocably sour. Refusing to betray his people, Ben-Hur is arrested on trumped up charges by Mesala and condemned to a life as a galley slave and his mother (Martha Scott) and sister (Cathy O'Donnell) imprisoned. During a sea battle he saves the life of the Roman Consul (Jack Hawkins) who adopts him as his son. Discovering that his mother and sister have become lepers he seeks revenge which culminates in a "battle" between the two former friends during an 11 minute chariot race in the Roman arena. This almost four-hour film also involves romance with the daughter (Haya Harareet) of his former slave (Sam Jaffe), befriending an Arab sheik (Hugh Griffith who inexplicably also won an Oscar) whose horses he rides during the chariot race and two highly reflective but chance encounters with Christ which culminates with his cruxification and a miracle. The film is superbly shot by Robert Surtees, has a memorable score by Miklos Rosza, huge sets and outstanding costumes. They truly don't make films like this anymore and contrary to it's reputation today as an over-bloated corny melodrama the film is incredibly accomplished with many deeply moving moments directed splendidly by the great William Wyler.
Orphan (Jaume Collet-Serra, 2009) 5/10
"Spare the rod and spoil the child", is a proverb that proves rather fatal for a family when they adopt a 9-year old Russian girl and bring her into their home. The couple (Peter Sarsgaard & Vera Farmiga), already parents of a son and a deaf daughter, are nursing a troubled marriage. The death of a new born baby earlier led to the wife's alcoholism and a stint at a clinic. The adopted child soon starts a deadly spree - pushing a school mate off a tree house, threatening to cut off her brother's genitals, murdering a nun who suspects her and turning her parents against each other. Things really start getting weird when the child dresses up like a hooker and tries to seduce her father holding a knife as big as the one held by Tony Perkins in "Psycho". Nasty little horror film, with a perverse twist at the end, is "The Omen" for a new generation but the violence towards children is in extremely bad taste and there are one too many false endings as the film keeps going on and on. Isabelle Furhman is appropriately creepy as the deranged child.
The Pelican Brief (Alan J. Pakulla, 1993) 6/10
The bloom of youth was clearly on Julia Roberts' face back when she made this film. That big hair, large mouth and flashing teeth which all came together to create her dazzling star persona. She joins Pakulla who returns to Washington for another paranoid political thriller this time fiction based on John Grisham's bestseller which he wrote with Roberts in mind as his lead character. This slick story has her playing a law student involved with her alcoholic professor (Sam Shepherd). When two important judges (one of whom is played in very old age makeup by Hume Cronyn) are murdered she comes up with the theory - the "Pelican Brief" which she writes as a paper - that a Florida based oil tycoon was behind the killings because the judges gave a judgement against a case he was involved in dealing with the environment or some such mumbo jumbo. The reason is not important in such plots. It's what happens in reaction to the paper that holds more interest as it involves death, car explosions, being on the run with her life in danger at every step of her way. Impressed by her theory the professor passes on the paper to his friend (John Heard) in the FBI who passes it on further resulting in a bomb explosion meant to kill the student but bumps off her lover instead. On the run wearing a series of disguises in which she still looks like herself she contacts a reporter (Denzel Washington) who comes to her help. Dodging an assassin (Stanley Tucci) who gets killed instead, being chased by cars and people with guns and knives she manages to open up a real pandora's box as the tycoon is directly linked to the White House - he provided huge campaign funds - where the dumb President (Robert Culp) and his aide (Tony Goldwyn) shit bricks knowing they are all caught under a tight net. Pakulla films this solid but unspectacular story in an efficient but dull manner. However he is helped in great part by the cinematography of Stephen Goldblatt - all shimmery golden hues - and a melancholic score by James Horner. Roberts and Washington have great screen chemistry and there is a brusque cameo by John Lithgow as the editor of a newspaper for which Washington is covering the story. Like all potboilers the film holds interest while it lasts but is forgotten the minute it ends.