Batman: Year One

There are so many of these DC Animated films that I’m expecting to come across a bad one, and yet here is another one better than the last.

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Batman: Year One is a unique retelling of the Batman story parallel to Commissioner Gordon. This story shows Batman as he transitions from Bruce Wayne into Batman, and as Lieutenant Gordan becomes Commissioner Gordon. Throughout the feature, we glimpse the two evolving over a year starting from January all the way to December. However unrealistic that may seem, it probably does all those with OCD a favor in not going from say September to August. Still, it’s authentic enough. While the film is titled Batman: Year One, to me it’s Gordon’s film. We finally get to see why Gordon was made commissioner in the first place, and it’s a thrilling ride. At this point, Gordon is stirring up Gotham almost as much as Batman by sticking to his morals and not becoming a crooked police officer. From Batman’s side, we get to see how much of an amateur he was going headfirst into this solo crime-fighting venture. The two stories merry up and give us insight into why Gordon and Batman have a great relationship built on respect and understanding.

This is a must-watch for anyone that loves Batman. Hell, I thought it was just a great film and even persuaded my girlfriend to watch it. She loved it. Bryan Cranston voices Commissioner Gordon and I honestly think it’s one of my favorite roles from him and he has done so many great things. There is a great perspective of Gotham we aren’t normally privy to that lets us see what exactly the problem is with Gotham. If like me you always question why this city along with every other city never gets better with all the crime-fighting well this one helps uncover that question.

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If you have the Blu-Ray you are also treated to a 15minute short centered around Catwoman as she takes on a criminal circuit. Catwoman was in the movie and she was really cool so it was great that they included it. Batman: Year One is only sixty-four minutes long, so I think the Catwoman short was to make up for the shorter time of the feature. Alongside the short there is a documentary on the original graphic novel Batman: Year One by Frank Miller. It reveals what a turning point The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One had on the comic book industry as the baby boomers came back with these gritty and mature stories.

DCU Batman: Year One BD

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If you haven’t seen any of the DC Animated features this is a good starting place. You won’t be lost and it’s not a time sink at just over an hour. I highly recommend it.

Previously Batman: Gotham Knight

Next Batman: Under the Red Hood

Robert Ring

Between Two Ferns: The Movie

YouTube is so packed with so much content from so many creators that it’s rare for any of us to be watching the same videos as our friends. That’s not to say that the stuff we watch is bad or mediocre, but YouTube now has niches within a niche. That’s why it’s great when we get a celebrity on YouTube making a show that is for one actually great. Zach Galifianakis being a celebrity makes him viral-worthy and we can share these clips with our friends and have these great watercooler moments.

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On Between Two Ferns Zach plays an exaggerated version of himself that is hilarious to watch as he mispronounces each celebrity on his cheap-looking talk show. The talk show is quite literally two chairs between two ferns. This makes it easy for them to recreate the sound stage anywhere. Apart from seemingly being aloof with his manners, Zach asks questions that make the guest celebrity feel awkward. As the years go on the show has slowed down quite a bit in what appears to be an effort for Zach to outdo himself. I mean he even had President Obama on the show. So how can you possibly beat the show?  Well, a movie of course!

Between Two Ferns: The Movie sounded too good to actually be good. We’ve seen this type of thing done before by others like Martin Short playing Jiminy Glick for years and yet his movie was pretty terrible. It has however worked well for Sacha Baron Cohen as he spun off The Ali G Show characters into their own movies. The thing that works about Between Two Ferns: The Movie is it’s like ten episodes of the show strung together with an interweaving plot. The entire movie is based on him getting ten shows of Between the Sheets recorded so he can have a “real” talk show. The interweaving plot is simple like a 90s Pauly Shore film, but it works well enough to keep our interest and flesh out Zach’s character.

BETWEEN TWO FERNS

Overall, I am always up for more Between Two Ferns and I’ll be watching in whatever form it comes in. Please watch all the credits and the after-credits scene, it’s hilarious.

Available now on Netflix.

Robert Ring

The Simpsons: Season 1

Remember when The Simpsons first aired and it was considered controversial television. Well, time’s have changed, so let’s jump in that time machine and pull back the curtain on the show that changed pop culture for the better.

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You wouldn’t know it, but The Simpsons started off as a series of short skits that played on The Tracy Ullman Show. The creator Matt Groening was at the time primarily known for his comic series Life in Hell. Life in Hell was more mature than The Simpsons and primarily followed a rabbit staring down the absurdities of life. The comic already contained a lot of the DNA that would come to be found in The Simpsons including the art style. They’re worth a read if you enjoy comics like Dilbert. After The Tracy Ulman Show, Fox ordered a season of the show and thus turning those little skits into one of the finest sitcoms ever made.   

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Season 1 contains thirteen episodes. Here are the highlights:

Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire

From the very beginning, the first episode is a representation of the best The Simpsons has to offer. That’s heart and humor. The episode is similar to Christmas Vacation. We see that Homer doesn’t receive his Christmas bonus at work and has to take on a night job as a store Santa so his family can celebrate Christmas. Even with all Homer’s hard work things don’t go as planned. By the end we see Homer may not be the smartest man or the richest but he is the man we admire for trying.

Homer’s Odyssey

Already by episode three, you can tell this is definitely not a children’s show. Why? Well, Homer writes a suicide letter and sets himself in motion to kill himself after losing his job and believing himself to be a failure. Homer changes his mind when his family come out to stop him and are almost killed from a speeding car through a busy intersection. This arc ends with Homer becoming the safety officer of the Nuclear Plant.

Life on the Fast Lane

This is the first episode we see Marge and Homer’s marriage on the rocks, and Marge actually gets close to leaving Homer. There’s a lot of subtlety between Homer and Marge when she’s out every night “bowling” in the acting. When animation typically can become outrageous this episode relies a lot on human emotion… err Simpson emotion. Homer not being able to come straight out and say how much Marge means to him decides to say it in an offhand way by explaining how much the sandwiches Marge makes every day are like no other, essentially saying she’s perfect.

These three episodes are the standouts of season one for me and really go to show why this show became the enduring hit it still stands to be.

Next time The Simpsons: Season 2

Robert Ring

Pinocchio (1940)

After the astounding success of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Disney had the capital to make whatever they wanted, or so they thought. With a budget that almost doubled Snow White, Pinocchio didn’t make nearly as much money at the box-office as its predecessor. It didn’t even earn enough to cover the budget of the production. This was not really the fault of Disney, but things were changing in 1940 as the second world war was incoming. This was only the beginning of Disney’s financial woes as the next animated feature Fantasia later that year would make for an even bigger loss.

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The Adventures of Pinocchio was written in 1881 by Carlo Collodi. It was originally published in parts for a children’s magazine before being sold as a book a couple of years later. Many great works of literature were published in a similar fashion like Great Expectations by Charles Dickens was first printed in chapters before being bound into a complete book. Like Snow White, the source material was much darker than the route Walt Disney went down, even with the terrifying transformation. The story was full of moral lessons that are thrust upon Pinocchio, being a naughty boy trying to fulfill good deeds so he can become a real boy. These adventures feed into Disney’s Pinocchio because you can essentially break apart the film into separate sequences.

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Disney’s Pinocchio begins with Jiminy Cricket playing narrator to the story of Pinocchio. Jiminy recounts how he wandered into the comfortable home owned by Geppetto. Geppetto is adding the final touches to the marionette, Pinocchio. As Geppetto lays in bed he sees a star shining bright and wishes that Pinocchio was real. Shortly after the Blue Fairy arrives and makes Pinocchio come to life, she explains that he can become a real boy if he proves to be courageous and good. The Blue Fairy appoints Jiminy Cricket as the conscience to Pinocchio. Up until this point, we have stayed in one scene for the first twenty-seven minutes. That’s a third of the movie, yet it gets us to be emotionally connected to Geppetto as his journey becomes important later on. The next scene is the following morning and already we are seeing that Pinocchio is led astray by Honest John. Honest John is a con man that convinces Pinocchio to skip school and join a traveling circus. The audience loves Pinocchio so the show owner Stromboli decides to kidnap him when he tries returning home to his father, Geppetto. The Blue Fairy comes to the aid of Pinocchio, but when he finally returns home he finds that Gepetto has gone in search of him. Again, Pinocchio has been led astray while searching for Geppetto, however this time he ends up on Pleasure Island. Pleasure Island is a place that instills fear in kids because it’s a place without rules and overindulgence, so there has to be a catch. The catch comes in one of the most terrifying scenes from a Disney film as we see the children turn into donkeys. The scene is Hitchcockian in its execution. Pinocchio escapes Pleasure Island and now heads for Monstro the whale, where he has heard Geppetto was in the belly of. In a scene that outdoes anything from Snow White, we see Pinocchio rescue Geppetto from the angered and charging Monstro. The story ends with Pinocchio having overcome so many personal obstacles that the Blue Fairy makes him a real boy and he lives happily ever after with Geppetto.

Pinocchio_Monstro

There’s a lot to love in Pinocchio from the many memorable characters to the magnificent animation. In Geppetto’s house, we get to know his cat, Figaro. Personally, I think Figaro is my favorite character in the film, he’s cute and clumsy. Even Honest John is a great villain, particularly so as a fox because I just don’t think they were particularly great at drawing humans. Geppetto is the exception due to the voice actor being the inspiration for the character himself too. You may be surprised to find that on Pleasure Island Pinocchio takes to drinking and smoking. I like that Walt was able to really drum up the darkness of this place with such adult mannerisms. There is no way we would ever find this in a current Disney film, especially since there will never be any smoking seen in a Disney film again. The film as a whole has a Don Bluth feel to it, so I can only imagine he was greatly inspired by these early Disney films. Finally, the most lasting thing about the movie is the theme song When You Wish Upon a Star, which subsequently became the theme song for Disney’s company. The song is timeless and probably in the top ten film songs since the inception of film itself.

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Watching Pinocchio I couldn’t help wonder about a sequel where we got to uncover more about the mystery of Pleasure Island, and I would have liked a sequel where he returned to save the other boys. And maybe that was part of the planned sequel they were toying with in the 2000s. They’ve since moved on and are developing a live-action Pinocchio. There’s no shortage of Pinocchio films as Guillermo del Toro is directing one set for 2021. There is even a Pinocchio coming out this year starring Roberto Benigni as Geppetto, which is interesting because he himself directed a live-action Pinocchio in 2002 with himself playing Pinocchio.

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Overall, I like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs more as it resonates in the simplicity of the story much like The Wizard of Oz. Pinocchio is still a masterpiece that grows more timeless with age.

Previously Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Next time Fantasia

Robert Ring

Batman: Gotham Knight

Batman: Gotham Knight is an anime-inspired collection of short stories that involve the dark knight. What you might not have known is that these stories were originally intended to be in the continuity for Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. They are supposedly set between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight as we see Batman learning his craft. If you don’t know this it’s not clear, especially watching it today when Batman has a common style across movies, tv shows, and games.

Check out the trailer below to get an idea of the style.

Each story is written by and directed by different people. Each individual brings a different style that culminates each story into an experimental package. In the first story, we see Batman through the eyes of some skater kids who each perceive what Batman is in different ways, and all are abstract. The second story follows two detectives that are handed a criminal that was brought into the station by Batman. One is a skeptic of Batman until they find themselves in the middle of a shootout. I would have loved if all six stories were similar to these two because it’s fascinating to see different viewpoints from the people of Gotham and what their relationship to Batman is. However, the next four stories give us interesting character insights into Batman. The third story, for example, shows Bruce Wayne getting a new gadget that shields him from bullets, but as Bruce finds there is a price to using this gadget. Each story is around fifteen minutes each and there’s something to adore from each one. Overall, Batman: Arkham Knight plays like a solid experimental film, more for fans than non-fans.

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This title was the first title from a boxset celebrating the 80th Anniversary of Batman. It contains eighteen animated films across nineteen discs. The special features on Batman: Gotham Knight includes a forty-minute documentary on the creator of Batman in Batman and Me: The Bob Kane Story. I found it really interesting to see Bob Kane was similar to his creation of Bruce Wayne in life, and he was just as big as a character as Stan Lee. So if you do pick up the Blu-ray check out that feature. There is another thirty-minute feature on the villains of Batman in A Mirror for the Bat, which is fine, but I didn’t learn anything I didn’t know already about them.

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I look forward to seeing the rest of the animated films from the DC Universe in this celebratory year for the Dark Knight.

Next Batman: Year One

Robert Ring

IT: The Complete Story

I’ve been enjoying the last few years in this eighties renaissance we’ve been getting in film and television. Even though I was born at the tail-end of the eighties it fills me with nostalgia. IT (2017) is another example of how to properly give us that nostalgia. It gives off plenty of the vibes we got when Stranger Things first aired and you can see a lot of throwbacks to 80s pop culture. With all that said, IT doesn’t completely work for me.

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There has always been a lot of love for the original IT miniseries back in 1990 with Tim Curry as the iconic Pennywise. I never felt compelled to watch that version because it just sounds like a mediocre tv movie to me, and I hear it falls apart in the second half. IT (2017) on the other hand is a massive success financially and critically. The film follows a group of young teens that affectionately call themselves “the losers club,” these misfits came together after they were all targeted by the clown Pennywise. Pennywise is a shapeshifter, similar to Freddy Krugger, and messes with the kids in a similar way. Unlike Freddy, Pennywise is in the real world and can strike any time. The beginning of the movie starts with Pennywise seducing the child Georgie, brother to the protagonist Bill, into the sewers with him. This scene sets our expectations for the rest of the movie. Let’s just say that Georgie clearly doesn’t make it out, but neither do our nerves as we watch the scene executed. The rest of the movie has us learn more about Pennywise and our group of “losers” as they battle fear-inducing scenarios set upon them by the killer clown. The ending results in a battle that was thought to have been won.. at least for twenty-seven years.

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I think I’m going to be one of the rare people that like the sequel more than the original here. That being said there are a lot of little problems with the sequel. For one the opening scene is awful. The scene is just to let us see Pennywise again, but before we see him we are watching a scene full of dated homophobic slander and brutality. Next up we are given a glimpse into each of the kids all grown up twenty-seven years later. All of them have left the town that caused them so much pain and horror except for Mike. Mike wanted to keep an eye on the place in case Pennywise ever returned. Pennywise returns and Mike calls everyone from “the losers club” to bring them back so they can finally put an end to Pennywise. When they return it appears leaving the town years ago repressed all of their memories. After a night of bonding, most of the memories return and so does Pennywise. The movie then plays out structurally similar to the first, as each character must tackle a fear brought on by Pennywise.

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I really appreciate the way the two movies come together like bookends. I wouldn’t normally like flashbacks sprinkled into a movie, yet it’s just kind of nice to experience these younger characters again. There are a ton of throwbacks to the first movie which complements the second with locations, and characters. You will also find a lot of laughs throughout, but they’re there at the expense of the horror. After watching IT: Chapter 2, I think I appreciate the first one more. That rarely happens to me, although maybe that was the negative impact of splitting the story into two.

I recommend checking both films out when you can, and maybe you’ll float too.

Robert Ring

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

In 1937 audiences flocked to the theatres to see the first-ever feature-length animation. What was at first famously reported as “Disney’s Folly”, turned out to be the beginning of the Disney empire we know today. Walt Disney was already a known name before he started making this celebrated feature film. He first became a prominent figure in Hollywood for making short films that would play before features. These would include some of the first shorts to include Mickey Mouse in things like Steamboat Willie. The success of the animated shorts led Walt to expand his business and employ hundreds of people. As cinema was in its infancy Walt Disney saw an opportunity to take what his company had learned from making animated shorts and move into a long-form narrative that could match the quality of live-action films. More than eighty years later Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is very much still a part of pop culture.

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Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs starts with the literal opening of the fairytale book as we watch this live-action scene bring us into the animated tale. We are taken into this harmonious world where Snow White is cheery to her life even as a princess dressed as a maiden in rags. She conducts the chores of the castle seemingly set by the Queen, her evil stepmother. The first song comes minutes into the film as the Prince stumbles upon Snow White singing, and what a song it is. The song I’m Wishing/One Song is such a great love song that you would have been satisfied with the two having their happily ever after then and there, but then there would be no adventure. After the Queen spies the two lovebirds she asks the mirror, “who is the fairest of them all?” to find out it is, in fact, Snow White. Considering that the queen would ask this often I’m led to wonder if it the change in fairest happened when Snow White found her true love or if it was the Queen’s jealousy in Snow White’s happiness. Regardless, the Queen sends the Huntsman to kill Snow White, which really kills the mood for the young princess, doesn’t it? The Huntsman finds it in himself not to kill Snow White and he instead banishes her, so she flees into the forest. The forest scene is probably the most striking scene to me, it’s terrifying as a kid. The forest begins to personify into abstract faces and shows how the young mind can exaggerate their fears of the unknown into physical manifestations. Through it, she finds that there was nothing to fear from the forest after all, but cute little critters. Next Snow White comes upon the home of the seven dwarfs. Those little men are in for a shock when they come home to discover the place has been cleaned. Each little men named after the trait they embody open their home and their hearts to Snow White. For the most part, the dwarfs have more personality and character than Snow White. It’s with them that we grow attached to emotionally, so when the Queen poisons Snow White with the apple, we also cry with the dwarfs at Snow White’s grave.

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So how does Snow White stack up to the source material? Well, Snow White was written by The Brothers Grimm as one of their many collected stories in 1812. The Brothers Grimm updated their stories over time as they became popular with children, so the evil Queen was originally Snow White’s biological mother and thus changed to an evil stepmother. If the story stayed with the original intentions it wouldn’t have resonated for generations. Walt Disney follows the narrative similarly, but it’s rather short so he extrapolates on it by realizing the characters, adding musical numbers and embellishing in the look of the world. The Grimm story was much darker in tone as the Queen ate what she thought was Snow White’s liver and lungs. The Queen also visited Snow White multiple times to kill her; first time in disguise she stitched Snow White up tight in a lace dress so she couldn’t breathe, next the Queen made a poisoned comb that administered itself into Snow White as it was combed through her hair, finally after two unsuccessful attempts the Queen gave her a poisoned apple. Snow White was thought to be dead and her body was placed in a glass coffin. Later a prince finds her and pleas to take the coffin because he must always lay eyes upon her. As the prince’s servants carried the coffin one trips and the poisoned apple lodged in Snow White’s throat becomes unlodged and she awakens. The tale turns incredibly dark in the end as the Queen is invited to Snow White’s wedding and is forced into iron shoes that were pulled off burning coals. She must dance in them until she finally dies. If you compare the source material to Disney’s feature you can see where Walt has turned a harrowing tale into a family film and continues to steer in that direction with each subsequent feature film.

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Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs has stood the test of time for a few reasons. Aesthetically, it has a very European style, especially in the backgrounds that draw audiences into this world of fantasy. There is also Snow White’s animation, which has a softness to the colors overall. This helps invoke the joyfulness in the atmospheres involving Snow White and the dwarfs. It also juxtaposes perfectly with the darkness when we’re with the Queen and in the forest. The songs are all memorable from I’m Wishing/One Song, Whistle While You Work, and Heigh Ho. Every character is endearing, with each dwarf full of individual personality. So there really isn’t one thing that makes the movie memorable. It’s an accomplishment to Walt Disney that his first film stands against any Disney film ever since, and there have been some great ones.

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Next time Pinocchio.

Robert Ring

Social Justice: The Musical

As a massive fan of PlayStation, I’ve been following IGN alum Colin Moriarty as he went to Kinda Funny, and then created his own business with Colin’s Last Stand. Colin is a die-hard PlayStation fan and has taken his knowledge of the console to podcast the successful Sacred Symbols. On Sacred Symbols, Colin brought in YouTuber Chris Ray Gun to co-host the show, but who is Chris Ray Gun? Well, I didn’t know either, but then I checked out his YouTube channel.

Chris Ray Gun is a musician, a comedian, and he pokes fun at divisive political issues on YouTube. I’ve since watched a lot of his videos and they’re good. I’m not educated enough in politics to know where I fit in, but no matter the group, they seem to be more for antagonizing then helping. The righteousness goes so far that they’ve become the thing they’re fighting for. Chris does a good job at poking fun at the hypocrisy, especially in a series of music videos he’s made called Social Justice: The Musical.

Check out these three videos from Social Justice: The Musical

I’ve watched all these videos on repeat this past week. They resonate with how I’ve been feeling towards social media and journalism. It’s toxic, so I thank Chris Ray Gun for showing us that we can have a bit of a laugh at their expense.

If you like what you see in these videos check out Chris Ray Gun’s YouTube HERE.

And if you want to see a hilarious video of him drinking bleach, click HERE.

Robert Ring

Yakuza All Day and All Night

Sometimes you hear of a critically acclaimed series that is up to like the third or fourth sequel and it puts you off. There is just too much history to go through and the earlier titles tend to be unplayable on the latest console. Yakuza was one of those series for me. I obtained Yakuza 4 and 5 on PlayStation 3 through PlayStation Plus, but why would I start there? A few more years passed and Yakuza 0 was a critical darling on the Playstation 4, which I found out was the prequel to the series. So I jumped in and played it for a couple of hours. It was fine and I put it down for a few months. When I came back to it everything started to click in place. The story was so grounded and cinematic in scope. I was all in. Then I started doing some side quests and things went completely bonkers. Somehow the game juggles the dramatic with the absurd and it works perfectly.

Yakuza_Screenshot

The Yakuza story center around Kazuma Kiryu. The series is one big grand story so it’s been hard to appreciate when only selected titles are available on the current console. To date, on Playstation 4 we had Yakuza 0, Yakuza Kiwami, Yakuza Kiwami 2, and Yakuza 6. The Kiwami titles are remakes of the first two titles that were originally released on the Playstation 2. The Yakuza Remastered Collection has just been announced this week at Gamescom. This makes me really happy because now the entire Yakuza series will be available to play on the Playstation 4. That’s seven titles. If you’ve never played them you should start with Yakuza 0 as I did.

The series is a third-person action-adventure where you will brawl your way through clans to do the right thing. Every game takes place in the same city, which you see evolve over time. The side quests contain some of the most humorous side quests of any game ever and there are even in-game arcades that let you play some of Sega’s older titles. Each game is lengthy and could take around 30-40 hours to finish the main story, and double that to complete everything the game has to offer.

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You can watch videos on YouTube to see if you’ll enjoy the game, but I think you should give one a go and see if it’s for you. There are demos for the Yakuza Kiwami 2, and Yakuza 6 on the PlayStation Store if you want to get a feel for the combat. And if it is for you, well, welcome to what might be your favorite video game series.

Robert Ring

3 Idiots

It’s hard to sell a movie to someone. It’s even harder when you tell someone that they should see a movie called 3 Idiots. Not only that, but it’s nearly three hours long and it’s a Bollywood film.

I was looking for something to watch on Netflix and the preview clip for 3 Idiots had me laughing. I put it on planing on only watching a couple of minutes because surely a film with this title can’t be good at three hours long. Three hours later and my girlfriend is in tears. She was sobbing at how beautiful the film is and I too was enamored with it. When it finished I was ready to watch it again because I wanted to spend more time with these characters. Every character is perfectly quirky and iconic in their own right.

3_Idiots_Wedding

The story starts with Farhan (Madhavan) and Raju (Sharman Joshi), two friends learning of the whereabouts of one of their best friends, Rancho (Aamir Khan). They haven’t seen Rancho for five years, he just disappeared. The story then cuts to when the three friends first met at college. Farhan and Raju are met with the humiliation that comes with college hazing, although when Rancho arrives he refuses and instead uses his ingenuity to humiliate the hazers. Rancho is the smartest person in the school so he is always getting himself in trouble by calling the teachers out. The principle tries as hard as he can to catch him out so he can kick him out of the college. Rancho is this amazing friend and mentor to Farhan and Raju, and gets them to be the best versions of themselves they can be. When the two friends search for Rancho in the present they are met with constant dead ends. However, each dead-end teaches them something about Rancho they didn’t know. We also find out why he disappeared without telling his friends. There is so much more that happens throughout, and by the end, everything comes together unexpectedly and beautifully.

3 Idiots may have just opened me up to Bollywood films. It’s full of heartfelt moments, hilarity, romance, catchy songs, and a surprising amount of philosophy too. I’m surprised how much I liked it and thought it was this unknown gem. Was I ever wrong? 3 Idiots was a massive hit. It did well in most East Asian markets. The music video above has 112 Million views so far. This year marks the tenth anniversary of the film, and there is also a sequel in talks.

So maybe I’ve convinced you to give 3 Idiots a watch.

It’s available on Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.

Robert Ring