Archive for April, 2017
Via: Daily Prompt – Roots
Title Mr. Church
Starring Eddie Murphy, Britt Robertson, and Natascha McElhone
Director Bruce Beresford
Writer(s) Susan McMartin
Genre Comedy Drama
Release Date September 16, 2016
Filming Location Los Angeles, California, USA
Parental Guidance PG-13 for thematic elements
IMDB Rating 7.7
Synopsis: In 1971, 10-year-old Charlie Brooks (Natalie Coughlin) wakes up one morning to find “a black man cooking in their kitchen”. Mr. Henry Joseph Church (Eddie Murphy) is the cook Richard, her mother Marie’s (Natascha McElhone) ex-lover, hired to take care of Marie for the next six months that she has to live while cancer consumes her. Charlie, who is unaware of her mother’s condition, is immediately put on edge by the absent Richard’s overstepping their privacy to place this mysterious man in their home though his meals are “like a party all the time” and her friends all cotton onto the advantages of having a cook quickly. Mr. Church raises a lot of conflicting emotions in Charlie with his jazz and his books (that he offers to lend books to Charlie from like a library) and, especially, his cooking. Over time, Charlie gives in. Six months turn into six years and Marie continues to live while Mr. Church continues to take care of them. An older Charlie (Britt Robertson) is now an avid reader, a student who has been accepted to Boston University but might not be able to go due to financial constraints, and she is weary of expecting her bed-ridden mother to pass on any minute. She avoids her mother even as she checks her breathing to ensure she lives and finds solace in the presence of Mr. Church, to whom she has latched onto as the surviving parent. But Mr. Church remains a mystery as much as ever and protects his off-duty hour whereabouts determinedly. Friendship has bonded the three into a family and Mr. Church is ever-present to soften the blows while Charlie ventures onto adulthood and navigates its many curveballs.
Experience (a few spoilers): I have always loved Eddie Murphy, ever since I watched a re-telecast of Coming to America on TV when I was about ten/eleven. So I put on Mr. Church fully expecting him to live up to his acting prowess and he did not disappoint. Generally a comic actor, Murphy put on his drama mask with the grace and appeal that made me want to run a Murphy Marathon featuring all his classics.
From the get-go, he had me hooked. The quiet efficiency with which he chopped and stirred and sauteed in the kitchen to his gracious compassion for the young Charlie and her sick mother. The character is beautifully written and presented, not needing to be thanked but doing his best to fit into the lives of this pair without trying to do any more than his job. But behind his humility lurks humor, which peeks out whenever he presents a dish to Charlie and watches her battle with herself to continue rejecting him while devouring his food.
Here, I must say something about the child actor. I truly enjoyed Coughlin’s performance as well. Short as her part was, she brought that sweetness to the character that made me feel more sympathetic towards young Charlie than annoyed, which could easily have happened given the level of her hostility. Though often rude with the openly belligerent rejection of Mr. Church, Charlie was apparently a kind soul in her heart, if wary. And even though the movie did not explore the angle that the advent of Mr. Church denoted her mother’s inability to keep up with chores, hence harking her imminent demise, I believe Charlie’s distrust may have stemmed from such intuition. In any case, every time Coughlin’s big blues rounded at the sumptuous food laid before her, I felt like giving her the auntie-cuddle.
The older Charlie did not always inspire as much hold though I could also like her fairly enough. It must be the overall sense of goodness that emanated from Charlie’s character, from childhood to adulthood. I could feel sympathy for her teen self as she transferred her sense of security to Mr. Church while trying to deal with her mother’s (a woman she continued to believe the most beautiful woman on earth) impending death. Her withdrawal is real and her acceptance of life’s pitfalls also feels real. Robertson does a good job performing the role of the watchful-yet-retiring teenager and later the transgressing-and-learning adult. She is the character that has to grow and Mr. Church is the rock on which she founds herself.
McElhone did a great job in playing a woman trying to make the most of her last days with her daughter. The mother’s love is apparent and there is a particular scene in the bathtub that she performed superbly. The scene could easily have turned sappy but Marie’s struggle to make her daughter understand the importance of not giving up on life while waiting for death felt chokingly real. She depicted physical weakness while trying to muster emotional strength as she confesses her biggest regret is something beyond her control. I think that is the scene that dotted her t’s and crossed her i’s for McElhone’s take on Marie’s role.
The overriding themes of this movie, home, acceptance, and friendship, is so beautifully slipped into the consciousness that even when tragedies strike, it’s ok – reassurance is just around the corner. It is as though the Mr. Church’s personality permeates the plot. It is one of those stories where nothing much happens other than life, and we are reminded every phase of the film that in life, tragedy is part and parcel of happiness. It allows the audience to realize that it’s not so bad. I cried many times through the movie but there was a joy. I felt peace. And the lovely way the scenes were scripted and directed, it did not allow any of the actors to overstep their roles. The steadiness with which the story progressed, I could have watched it for hours more. Again, it was as though Murphy’s portrayal of Mr. Church toned the entire movie, even the frames where he wasn’t present. And Robertson’s character did its best to compliment, reminding us that home is where you can trust to put your roots down.
Recommendation: Oh, yes, you must! Whenever you feel a bit down on luck, this movie is sure to make you feel more grounded. Although I really missed Murphy’s toothy grins, it might be my favorite movie of his now.
Starring Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman and Idris Elba
Director Byron Howard, Rich Moore
Writer(s) Byron Howard, Rich Moore, et al.
Genre Animation Adventure Comedy
Release Date March 4, 2016
Filming Location USA
Parental Guidance PG
IMDB Rating 8.1
Synopsis: Judy Hopp (Ginnifer Goodwin) is a bunny rabbit. She’s the daughter of a farmer expected to become a farmer but she’s also an anomaly. She has taken the motto of the city Zootopia to the heart and truly believes anyone can become anything, regardless of their species of origin. And she wants to become a police officer. Her sheer determination gets her through police academy with top marks and she is recognized especially by the Mayor Lionheart (J.K. Simmons) of Zootopia, with the Assistant Mayor Bellwether, an under-appreciated lamb, as her staunchest supporter. Unfortunately, Judy’s new boss Chief Bogo the ram is not as convinced of her capabilities of facing danger and sets her up as a meter maid. Undaunted, Judy takes the criticism, however uncalled for, in her stride and is determined to prove herself. Once on the streets, she meets a fox, generally distrusted, Nick Wilde, whom she unwittingly helps con an ice cream parlor to selling him a popsicle that he goes on to melt and sell in bite-sized ones to corporate hamsters. When she catches up with Wilde, he describes how he was always within the limits of the law and goes on to set her down about her dreams. One night of reflection later, Judy finds herself in a chase for a thief and, instead of receiving Bogo’s approbation, she is reprimanded for public endangerment. It is while in his office she meets Mrs. Otterton (Olivia Spencer) whose husband has gone missing and Judy volunteers for the task against Bogo’s orders on the condition of finding the missing otter within 36 hours. As Judy sets out on her adventure, roping in Nick through blackmail, she discovers that the missing otter is linked to a series of other predators that have gone missing. Along the way, she learns just how much prejudice exists even in the city where only 20% of the population are predators and how political agendas are achieved by manipulating public sentiments.
Experience: I really enjoyed this one. I have never been an advocate of mollycoddling children, believing that kids should receive small dosages of perspectives on the true evils in the world from an early age, so as to allow them to appreciate the value of integrity and inclusion as they grow older. This movie is just such an eye opener and in a very spirited and funny way so as not to completely disillusion the younger audience.
Even though the themes of the movie were very adult, they were presented in such a lighthearted manner that does credit to Disney’s trademark sentiments. Add to that Bateman’s natural comedic flair and the movie just sparked with spirit. Goodwin too performed her part in providing the voice for Judy with great aplomb, making certain scenes rife with poignancy while others as plucky as the character required.
The other characters too are not too complicated and make the experience heartwarming. To a great extent, each character pays a tribute to the stereotype of their kind, the hard-to-impress police chief, the donut-chomping info desk cop, the wily-as-a-fox fox who is essentially a good guy but jaded to the point of petty criminal, the scared-of-her-boss assistant mayor, the brave mayor who isn’t afraid to play in the mud for “the greater good”, etc. But each of these stereotypes also breaks character here and there to add dimensions. I felt this a clever way to show kids how individuals can be more than their traditionally expected roles and to also allow them to aspire to become their greater selves. All is not as it seems is a great tool for whodunit mysteries and was fully utilized in this movie – although my childhood conditioning to Nancy Drew mysteries helped me guess the villain’s identity before the movie was halfway to end. *cocky grin here*
I also felt that the movie was a very timely release for the great election last year since parents will watch the movie with their kids and a lot of people had very important decisions to make. Addressing themes of prejudice, political manipulations, finding the courage to admit one’s own wrong-doing, and pure deception went well with the contemporary mood of the world population in general. The end lessons very relevant to some audience’s learning process. And while adults learned, it could help children make more sense of the way the world is turned on itself too and perhaps find the courage to improve the conditions in their own time.
And since it’s a kid’s movie, I feel it is necessary to comment on age-appropriate content. Violence and bad words exist in real life so violence and bad words exist in the movie too. But it is kept toned down while also not made unrealistic. Words such as “stupid” and “jerk” are used but the harm of using such words are quickly followed so kids should pick up on lessons not to use it. An eye does go missing and chemical weapons are also used, but only to demonstrate the evildoing by the villains. Parents, watch the movie with your kids – a follow-up discussion might be necessary. The PG is there to alert you of your required participation.
Recommendation: Without a doubt, it should be watched, by young and old alike. With such contemporary themes, everyone should walk away with some positive reinforcement to important life lessons.
Title The Witches of New York
Author Ami McKay
Genre Historical Fiction, Paranormal Fantasy
Publisher Knopf Canada
Publication Date October 25, 2016
Setting New York, 1880
Synopsis: In the year 1880, as suffragettes roamed the streets of New York demanding civil rights and Cleopatra’s Needle slowly made its way from the banks of Hudson River to Greywacke Knoll, witches and witch hunts were far from being a thing of the past. But just as the settlers of Salem misdirected their fear and abuse, the religious fanatics of the Gilded-Age failed to appreciate the value of suffragettes and witches alike, in differentiating them as well as realizing their commonalities. At a time like this, Beatrice Dunn, a country orphan living with her spinster aunt responds to an advertisement placed by two self-sufficient witches, Eleanor St. Clair and Adelaide Thom, to help around their shop of alternate solutions to womanly woes, St. Clair & Thom: Tea & Sympathy. Beatrice’s arrival in New York City coincides that of the Egyptian Obelisk and her first adventure in the city is to touch the monument, her innate magic only serving to draw from its magic. Sensing her as a kindred sister, she is hired by Eleanor immediately, though Eleanor had first objected to Adelaide’s ad. Adelaide is slower to be convinced and only accepts Beatrice when the younger woman demonstrates an ability to see and communicate with netherworld dwellers. Adelaide takes on Beatrice as a show-stopper for their enterprise while Eleanor sees the girl as a magical apprentice to be honed and cherished. As the more experienced witches go about passing on their wisdom and craft to the newly initiated, and Beatrice tries to navigate between the two people looking out for her “best interests”, a sinister predator lurks in the background. Reverend Francis Townsend is a preacher revered by his parish for his austere regulations, but when no one is looking, he takes it upon himself to punish and rid the world of “devil worshipers”. And he is on the warpath to save the lovely Beatrice who has been “bewitched” by the ladies of the tea shop.
Experience: The first thing I noticed while reading this book was McKay’s unique writing style. With descriptive short sentences, she very economically sets up and explores the setting of the novel, flitting from scene to concise scene. It gives the readers glimpses of the various active characters (minor as well as major) of the plot from the get-go. At first, I was not able to comprehend why so many different characters were being introduced at once (I lost my place in the novel numerous times) but, eventually, the bigger picture began to form. It helped me, as a writer, to see how completely unrelated characters may go through the world [i.e. of the novel] to coalesce in a series of events that provides deeper exposure into the main characters of the plot. Once I managed to settle down with the book, I could appreciate the nuances of the various heroines, their counterparts, and the villain better. But it took me a while to settle down.
I think my favorite character of the novel was Adelaide Thom, who is apparently the heroine of a previous book, “Moth” in The Virgin Cure. Adelaide is not a typical heroine of all goodness. She has been abused by life, having lost an eye and been left with the scars from an acid attack by a jealous mad woman, and this has left her heart riddled with cynicism. She is often self-serving and refuses Eleanor’s (who really is the mothering type of good sort) advice as well as her magical visions when it suits her immediate agenda. This brews the main conflict of the novel and inadvertently propagates the climax. But essentially, she has a good heart and can be kind to those in need of kindness. What makes her interesting is her wholly unapologetic claim to procure that which she believes she wants and deserves, perfectly in line with the background activity of the suffragettes. The happy aspect is that while she runs from romance, she manages to find the perfect hero for herself in this book, a man with an equal number of imperfections but an open-minded and perhaps more compassionate spirit.
However, the novel is not without flaws. I felt that although the various glimpses into minor characters added to the main character developments, effectively the mystery of the novel was lost a little too early in the novel. While the arrangement of the chapters was such that it jumped from character to character so that each aspect of the story developed parallel to the others to accommodate the passage of time, but it left me a bit frustrated to have to keep breaking off just when things start to get interesting. Perhaps it also intended to keep the pages turning but it, in fact, made me slower to adhere to the novel with any form of gusto. I could easily put aside the novel and pick it up later (in fact, at one point I completely left to read another book), and by the time the story returned to one character development, the interest was lost. The whole business made it a very slow read.
Recommendation: This is a tough one. Although I found the story pleasant enough, if the purpose of reading is to be enthralled by a page-turning plot, I say leave off. Our TBR lists are long enough and those seeking entertainment are better off without this book. However, if you are a writer and wish to explore new writing styles and voices to find your place in the authorship, this might provide an interesting experience.
Via: Daily Prompt – Heal
If ever I coveted a superpower, it would be omniscience. I hate not knowing. Absolutely hate it. Each time I learn something new, my sense of accomplishment is so overpowering that I walk around and go to bed with a smile that would give Mona Lisa a run for the money. My engine runs on knowledge and I think it is what keeps me alive. I think this is the reason why I have a fondness for heroines with active brain matters.
I was once accused by a man that I cannot commit to a relationship because romance novels have filled my head with ideas of an implausible hero. This is an unjust accusation to both me and romance novels. First of all, romance novels are awesome and therapeutic. They set standards for both men and women as individual human beings and not for the sake of a relationship equation. There are no ratios to romances and each story is as different from the other as the two persons it comprises of.
Second, I have no problem committing to a relationship. My current manfriend was once my boyfriend, i.e. when we started dating 12.5 years ago he was still in his early twenties resisting to relinquish his late teens. So I think for a person who remained in a relationship without demanding to be made an honest woman out of, I deserve not to have gamophobia thrown outright in my face. My problem is not knowing what will happen after. I don’t fear divorce, I don’t fear unhappy endings. I just can’t abide going into anything without knowing the end result, whatever that may be. When I used to sit in exam halls, I would grade my own paper before handing it in – and I was pretty accurate in my gauges most of the time.
All this doesn’t mean that I’m a person who enjoys using knowledge to put others down, as know-it-alls are prone to do. Nope, I admire people who ask questions to blot out ignorance because I’m one of them. It also doesn’t mean that I go nosing in other people’s business. Other people’s businesses have generally interested me very little throughout my life, to the point where when I recently visited my grandma, I was shocked to learn that my youngest cousin from Mom’s oldest sister now has a two-year-old daughter. And this was not the only family news I had been oblivious to. I couldn’t apologize enough when the level of my callous indifference towards my relatives unfolded at the dinner table where four generations of labors of love were gathered. I’m just a bit interested in the general stuff – you know? knowledge stuff.
You can say my craving for knowledge borders on OCD. I eat peanuts out of a bowl even after I have lost any taste for it just to discover that perfectly sweet crunch. In fact, I cannot open any pack of snacks without hitting the bottom. That motto for Pringle, “Once you pop, you just can’t stop”? Yep, I’m the poster girl for that commercial. I just have to reach the end, even if the ending has been tried, tested, testified to be invariable. Now, thanks to boxed DVDs and Netflix, I also do not watch TV series until the season comes to a conclusion.
Why am I revealing my greatest weakness to the general public? Because it is also the source of my love for reading and writing novels. I love reading romance novels, instead of living one because I know the damn ending. Even if Will Traynor died and conveniently left Louisa Clark all that money to make her dreams come true in Jojo Moyes’s Me Before You, at least we know he will die. The knowledge that the end holds is at our fingertips. And the only place where I may be omniscient is a novel of my own creation, right? Ah, sweet relief.
Must be nice to be God.
I have said this before: being raised abroad and then in the city made childhood visits to my maternal grandparents quite an adventure. My baby brother and I were treated like royalties and, apart from spoiling us a bit, it also made us feel extremely coddled. Each time the car doors slid open, we would rush into our grandmother’s arms. Then we would look over her shoulders to the well-governed agricultural surrounding and feel even giddier at the prospect of being exposed to so much nature. Not that the adults ever let us stray too far out of their sights. Not that we didn’t give escape a good try anyway and succeed.
Among one of our favorite haunts was to visit the old witch who lived on the edge of the village. She was still quite within the bounds of the neighborhood but her two-story delipidated ranch house was set all the way to where the mustard fields touched the hamlet. Her two-story ranch house was the only two-story ranch house of its kind in the village, for that matter.
Its wooden frames had browned with age and become swollen in places. Most of the exterior walls of the structure had come loose so that we could easily glimpse into its innards through the gaps and see how vacant and lifeless the rooms were. When she moved around in the house – and she was the restless sort – the creaks could be heard all the way across her barren yard to the copse in which my cousins and I hid to watch her. Read the rest of this entry »
“I think the table is slanting on your side, love,” Bob observed. “Yep. Look at the water in my pitcher. It’s definitely tipped towards you.”
Andy squinted at Bob as she chewed her burger and swallowed. “C’mon, Bob. Let me push some of this stuff onto your side.”
The table was laid in halves. There was Bob’s side, which contained a big bowl of salad – full of crisp romaine, shredded roast chicken, and diced watercresses in a blue cheese dressing – a glass, and a pitcher of ice water, immaculate as his appearance. He would be having a black coffee later. Then there was Andy’s side, laden with a dish of tomato soup, a double patty cheeseburger with the works, a large basket of fries dribbled with salt and vinegar, and a whipped cream topped peach cobbler, the list ending with an ironic Diet Coke. She had an extra plate to pilfer some of Bob’s salad onto. She couldn’t go without her daily intake of the greens.
“No bloody chance,” Bob now shot down her wheedling with a chuckle. “Serves you right for ordering more than you can eat.”
“Oh, puh-lease! I can easily pack away all of it, you just watch. I worked up an appetite in the ring.”
Bob arched an eyebrow, his usual firm smile in place. “Yes, kicking my butt should do that.” He didn’t look like he minded in the least having his butt kicked by a woman as he forked up some lettuce and crunched into the freshness.
He had such great teeth, bright, straight, strong, healthy. Like the rest of him, Andy muttered to herself as she bit into the only type of beef she could allow herself to enjoy. It was the first week of the month. Her period was due any day now. Must explain why she was feeling so… ravenous.
“Tell me what has you so worked up?”
Andy started at his question, blushing profusely. “W-what?” Read the rest of this entry »
Title The Apartment
Starring Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine and Fred MacMurray
Director Billy Wilder
Writer(s) Billy Wilder, I.A.L. Diamond
Genre Romance Comedy Drama
Release Date September 16, 1960
Filming Location USA
Parental Guidance PG-13
IMDB Rating 8.3
Synopsis: C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon) works as a Premium Accountant at a top insurance company in New York City trying to work his way up the ladder. He is also a man who can’t say no to his superiors who all take advantage of his Buddy-Boy goodwill to use his apartment with the myriad of women they are having affairs with. In exchange, they put in a good word with the Big Boss Jeff Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray) in the staff review. Sheldrake, in turn, also takes Baxter for a ride in exchange of a promotion scheduled in the coming month. Unfortunately, this time the other woman is the Elevator Girl Miss Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine), on whom Baxter has had a crush on for ages. Miss Kubelik is truly in love with Sheldrake and is duped into believing that he will soon be out of his bad marriage to marry her. When things come to blow, Baxter finds Miss Kubelik in his apartment after she consumes too many sleeping pills, a situation he must rectify to avoid jail as well as heartbreak.
Experience: It’s one of those romantic comedies that hits you where it counts. I came to know about it when MacLaine’s acting in the movie received an honorary mention at this year’s Oscars by Charlize Theron as her inspiration for joining Hollywood. MacLaine was certainly charming in the film, delivering her self-deprecating dialogues with deadpan humor. Her pixie look was just what is required for the small-town naiveté of her role, which she fulfills with subtlety. However, it was Lemmon’s performance that had me regaled.
This was one of those movies where the protagonist is utilized in nearly every frame and Lemmon proves his stamina for the role. His happy-go-lucky attitude is undercut with frustration at just the right level to evade the perception of his superiors. He does not try to portray a better character than his role demands, which is just a chump trying to make it big in the corporate arena and is not immune to corruption himself. For much of the movie, he is aware of being “taken” by his coworkers but he is not a moralizing fool. He can take care of himself when necessary. We can’t like him if we put on a holier-than-thou air and must allow him time to prove his mettle in his own time, which he also does with poignancy. With refined expressions, Lemmon gently tugs the heartstrings for this comic anti-hero. The catch is that eventually, he must forgo his self-serving goodwill with the Big Boss to become our damsel’s champion and the audience can well feel his panic.
Playing the villain, MacMurray also does not complicate his screen presence. He assumes a reflective quality as the Big Boss taking advantage of his junior by using his apartment while having extra-marital affairs. The role of Sheldrake is one who does not want to come off as the bad guy and, for the most part, does not think he is a bad guy. MacMurray steps in and out of the limbo between selfish actions and self-justifications with the quick pace required of a dramedy.
The screenplay is written with aplomb and directed superbly. It is fast-paced and gets right to the heart of the matter with quick scene shifts that do not undermine the ethos of the story. For all purpose, it is a romantic comedy with a backdrop of drama. We see a degenerate world where the sanctity of marriage is abandoned by the whole corporate society and wonder how any love affair is to flourish in such a surrounding. But then we also see a family present to guide the derailed and weary back to the light. Even amidst the drama, comedy is not forsaken to remind us of the promise of a happy ending.
Recommendation: Of course it should be watched! Once, twice, own the DVD. This is the stuff of classic romantic comedy, lovely from beginning till end.
Via: Daily Prompt – Cusp
I have always wanted to study literature. But the education system in Singapore is such that a student is streamed wholly based upon their exam grades. The pyramid, in descending order of scores, went: science, arts, commerce, IT, and crafts. Being generally a good grades-earner, I was matriculated into the science faculty for my ‘O’ levels. I finally had the opportunity to decide my own stream after my ‘O’ level exams – though not for the lack of trying from my counselor to take science again for my ‘A’ levels. But I was adamant that I would submerge myself in the classics. Arts it was.
Within six months of studying English literature, I wanted to put a bullet through my head. It was Y2K. And while everyone was recovering from the phobia of a total technological shut down upon the turn of the century, I was having a breakdown of my own. I realized how boring dissecting literature could be. I loved the text we were assigned: King Lear, Songs of Innocence and of Experience, Hard Times, Jude the Obscure, Othello, The Rivals. What I didn’t enjoy was the way my teachers went about teaching what to look out for in the exams. Read the rest of this entry »