Game Over review: Knockout Taapsee leads this killer thriller

Game Over

Is it possible to feel horror-struck and uplifted at the same time? Director Ashwin Saravanan’s Game Over is a rare thriller to offer both scares and soul in its 103 minutes duration.

Some of the darkest thoughts and deepest fears manifest into the spine-chilling core of Game Over, a film that speaks as strongly as it feels. And I don’t mean dialogue, there is very little of that in the Hindi-dubbed version, also releasing in Tamil and Telugu, I saw anyway.

Intensely conscious of society’s most burning issues concerning safety of women and the disturbing degree of violence they are subjected to, Saravanan’s film may seem like an unexpected source of empowerment.

But the unflinching black and white tone of its gruesome action while combining a social issue into a sinister home invasion premise around ingenious new tropes creates a potent allegory for the times we live in.

As the title suggests, the fundamentals of video gaming dominate the visible texture and underlying metaphors of Game Over. Right from the joystick within a pixelated heart tattooed on her forearm to the arcade gaming knickknacks dominating her sprawling interior, Saravanan amply underscores its central protagonist Swapna’s (Taapsee Pannu) identity as a work-from-home video game creator.

Against Swapna’s Pac Man obsession, fear of dark spaces and recurring flashes of a scarring episode emerges a girl in a limbo.

Her past, only addressed in fits and starts, shows enough strains to justify her extreme dependency on caretaker Kalamma (a benign Vinothini) as her sole support system. She even accompanies her to the shrink. The natural ease of their bond is not enough to make the misogyny she regularly encounters — in hushed tones and sick downloads — any less hard to stomach.

Only now there’s a serial killer on the loose and a girl, surely when confined to a wheelchair, cannot be safe. For some time though, Game Over holds off its scenes of brutal confrontation to focus on her emotional meltdown.

I loved how Saravanan found a moment of irony in a faceoff between dread and death in Swapna’s confusion over fighting life versus fighting fear. Once the third act kicks in, the ferocity is unrelenting. My mouth stayed wide open all the time and the ominous images that follow refused to let me sleep later in the night.

Torment is part of its appeal.

Every little detail captured in A Vasanth’s smooth, sly camera — the time, the tattoo, the photographs, the quotes, the notes, the notifications — are links to the endgame. The film ensures you to take notice but retains its suspense.

Full of eerie little twists and judicious jump scares, Game Over‘s love for headlong offensives makes itself known right in the beginning following a terrifying prelude.

Using darkness and sound as influential mediums is the prerogative of any horror and the cinematography powered by Ron Ethan Yohann’s excellent, panic attack prompting background score understands and executes it masterfully.

Timing is a beauty here. As is the writing — steady, on its toes, undaunted and only gently sentimental. No flab, no bones, there’s nothing extra about Game Over. Or predictable. There are instances I was reminded of Psycho, Predator, Source Code and Hereditary, but only in context of genre-meets-genius.

Game Over is a nifty piece of work that recognises the durability of meaningful entertainment. Its feminist breakthroughs may not always seem practical, but its ‘fight back’ gusto had my vote.

Mostly because it is conveyed in Taapsee Panu’s dazzling show of tough and tender. Movies like Game Over count on their leading player to make us feel the extent of their agony and anxiety. Every bombshell, every gasp, every drop of blood, every bit of quick thinking, you must feel what they feel. And Taapsee plays every bit the PRO.

This review was first published on rediff.com.

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Review: Godzilla saves the world… and this movie!

Godzilla: King of the Monsters

At the end of his rambling speech, a character in Godzilla: King of the Monsters credits a fortune cookie as the source of his wisdom. Too often the script of the sequel to the 2014 reboot appears to have sprung out of a fortune cookie. One that probably read: Man proposes. Godzilla disposes. 

Once again the prehistoric sea monster is towering above puny humans and fighting beastly threats of mass extinction in ways that will set the box office on fire and pave the way for a long-overdue rumble between Godzilla and King Kong (coming to a theatre near you in the first quarter of 2020).  

As thrilling this moment of wish-fulfilment is for everyone who has grown up worshiping Toho’s kaiju universe, the inferior storytelling served by director Michael Dougherty and his co-writer Zack Shields in Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a real bummer. 

More filler than consummate, Dougherty’s follow-up loosely connects the catastrophic events of the 2014 movie to the new one.  

Following a great personal loss, a husband and wife go their separate ways while their only surviving child — a 12-year-old daughter (the exceptionally perceptive Millie Bobby Brown better known as Eleven of Stranger Things) — is caught in their ideological crossfire.  

One half of this duo, a paleobiologist (Vera Farmiga exhibiting half-hearted shades of grey) of the floundering crypto-zoological agency, Monarch, builds a bioacoustics-analysing device that’s capable of manipulating the hibernating big fellas referred to as Titans. 

Her estranged husband (Kyle Chandler, unable to rise above a super dull part), specialising in wildlife behaviour, reluctantly agrees to assist Monarch geeks (Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins, Zhang Ziyi, Bradley Whitford) after an eco-terrorist (a seething Charles Dance) abducts his wife and kid in his pursuit of restoring natural order.  

Perfectly decent actors transform into self-serious fools, with the exception of the zany Whitford, to accommodate the burgeoning clichés, sacrifices and cheesy platitudes leading to Godzilla’s wafer-thin metaphors and heavy-handed mythology.

The world you see is much too cardboard and its inhabitants easily dispensable to support any of that schlock. What matters is that Godzilla has company. Mothra, Rodan and the three-headed dragon Ghidorah, along with some other colossal beings, get into heated arguments over alpha matters. Their violent clashing while ant-sized humans run helter-skelter across the globe and buildings crumble inestimably is its only sublime pay-off.  

Completely doing away with the meditative, lyrical brooding of its prequel, this one’s in a mad rush to choreograph creature confrontations. Devoid of any foreplay, the action, as glorious as it is, doesn’t have a lasting impact. 

It’s not all disheartening. There’s tons of puerile fun to be found. Think of it as an indulgent father spending millions on a VFX app to film his kid’s animated, indiscriminate fight of action figures. The glee it evokes, no matter how meaningless or momentary, is worth the price of admission. 

Where the human aspect of Godzilla fails, technology more than does its bit. The special effects are seamless and create visuals so exquisite, it’s like beholding a watercolour painting dominated by hues of blue and gold.

Breathtaking moments of atomic firing between upgraded creature designs as well as their swaggering introduction scenes — like Rodan dramatically emerging from a fiery volcano is pure awe — ensure Godzilla and gang deliver a bang for your buck.   

Next stop: Skull Island. I’ve already picked a side and it’s certainly not human.  

This review was first published on rediff.com.

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India’s Most Wanted review: Death by boredom

India's Most Wanted

Hot on a dreaded terrorist’s trail, an intelligence team provides minute-by-minute updates to their superior: He is standing at the bus stop. He got into the bus. The bus is moving. He is moving. Keep distance. He got off one stop early.  

Taking directions from Google Maps is more exciting than director Rajkumar Gupta evoking the ground reality of a day in the lives of IB officers. 

It’s one thing to want realism, another to suck all joy out of it.  Based on true events, India’s Most Wanted is one of the most lifeless depictions of a covert operation and tamer tribute to the unsung heroes conducting it.   

The story has all the elements of a gripping espionage tale — team assemblage, outdoor travel, secret sources, elusive antagonist, a daunting deadline and diplomatic headaches but Gupta’s unnecessary aversion to drama turns India’s Most Wanted into a classic case of all work and no play.

What unfolds is staggeringly dull, a movie devoid of pace or personality.

Images of serial bomb blasts across India punctuate the proceedings as investigation officer Prabhat (Arjun Kapoor) forms a five man crew to apprehend an extremist, the ‘Ghost who bombs’, modelled after Yasin Bhatkal, following a lead he receives from his anonymous informer (Jitendra Shastri channeling his inner Kader Khan) in Nepal.

As per India’s Most Wanted, Indian authorities have little interest in catching the guy and the deed is more or less volunteer work by its underpaid, overworked employees. Which is why, despite a reluctant boss (Rajesh Sharma) and zero financial support, these do-gooder patriots promise to have the baddie in the bag within four days. Just in case one is slow on the uptake, Vande Mataram blares loudly in the background.  

Given how closely and routinely Prabhat and his colleagues collaborate, the lack of camaraderie is most odd. Beyond a one-off, monotonous interaction around their respective families, the nondescript supporting cast is mere accessory. They look believable, that’s all. Except, what’s the point of appearing genuine if there’s no individuality? 

The villain (Sudev Nair) suffers an even worse fate. His character is confined to fierce eyes, bushy beard and stock statements like, ‘Marenge ya maarenge. Milegi to jannat hi.

Here’s a man responsible for Shah Rukh Khan’s troubles at New York airport, a detail the movie diligently points out, but fails to convey it for any purpose in a way that would truly underscore a vile man’s might or mischief. 

Though Kathmandu provides a refreshing change of scenery, India’s Most Wanted doesn’t explore its potential beyond meaningless drone shots. Slickness is hardly Gupta’s forte and he’s rather clueless around music. Under the circumstances, composer Amit Trivedi’s background score has a field day doing his thing. You’ll hear everything from a Western, a Victorian drama and a French countryside romance. 

Unfortunately, not even discordant notes can shake this snooze fest out of its stupor. In the absence of tension and smarts, India’s Most Wanted‘s so-called mission is about as adventurous as plumbing. You can only imagine how drab things are if its only instance of dynamism is a dream sequence. 

To give a semblance of obstacle, Gupta throws in some ISI resistance, hostile Nepal security forces and an inexplicably disinclined Indian side. It’s not very well thought out and he has no choice but to go fully filmi, resulting in the protocol-defying Prabhat behave like a typical Bollywood hero. 

The problem is Arjun Kapoor doesn’t know the difference between restrained and reactionless. His spiritless act neither has clout nor the charisma to nail the leader of an IB pack. It’s unbearable, this dullness. You’ll find more action in a grocery shop’s CCTV footage than in all of India’s Most Wanted. 

This review was first published on rediff.com.

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