Posts Tagged classic
Title The Shop Around the Corner
Starring James Stewart, Margaret Sullavan, and Frank Morgan
Director Ernst Lubitsch
Writer(s) Samson Raphaelson and Miklós László
Genre Romance | Comedy | Drama
Release Date January 12, 1940
Filming Location Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, Culver City, California, USA
Parental Guidance TV-G
IMDB Rating 8.1
Synopsis: Alfred Kralik (James Stewart) is the First Salesman at the Matuschek & Co. boutique store, which has allowed him a rather comfortable bachelor’s living thus far. Sure, his relationship with the store’s owner Hugo Matuschek (Frank Morgan) is more-often-than-not contentious given that, whenever invited to share an opinion, he ends up challenging the old man’s decisions for the benefit of the store; nevertheless, he also knows that his longstanding tenure with the company and faithful efforts towards its success is appreciated by the big guy, albeit grudgingly. Besides, with a wonderful staff under his supervision, Alfred wouldn’t change a thing about his life. That is, until a steady mail correspondence with an anonymous woman has him wondering about married life and he decides, come Christmas, he will ask Matuschek for a raise. Just around the same time, a woman walks into the store and tries to cheekily talk Alfred into giving her a job by applying to his optimism regarding the upcoming Christmas sale that is likely to demand additional help. Alfred is less than approving of having his gullibility played upon by this Klara Novak (Margaret Sullavan) and refuses her a position. However, Klara, with her salesmanship, manages to impress Matuschek into hiring her and what follows is weeks of resentful verbal combat between Alfred and Klara where neither is aware that the other is the secret pen pal each has been gradually falling in love with. With just a week to go before Christmas, the epistolary lovers decide to finally meet and Alfred gets ready to ask Matuschek for a raise. Alas! His recent exchanges with the boss, who himself has been rather preoccupied with marital problems, is rockier than usual and Alfred ends up getting fired instead of being promoted. When Alfred decides to keep his date anyway, he discovers his mystery girlfriend is, in fact, Klara and there ensues a disastrous evening for both. Meanwhile, other events bring on unforeseen twists of fate for Matuschek that does not bode well for anyone related to their “shop around the corner”.
Title You’ve Got Mail
Starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan
Director Nora Ephron
Writer(s) Nora Ephron, Delia Ephron, and Miklós László (play)
Genre Romance | Comedy | Drama
Release Date December 18, 1998
Filming Location Manhattan, NY, USA
Parental Guidance PG
IMDB Rating 6.6
Synopsis: Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan) is the owner of an independent children’s bookstore in Manhattan, NY. It was whimsically named The Shop Around the Corner by her late mother, who had founded the enterprise as the local creative resource for children, from everyday reading requirements to the most unusual literary undertaking – a responsibility that Kathleen was only too happy to inherit and now upholds with relish. All this, and her reflections on the mundane topics that interest her, she relates to a mystery man she met in a chat room many moons ago and with whom she has since been keeping up a steady e-mail correspondence. Though neither reveals any particulars about their lives that may compromise their identity to the other, it is clear that their online relationship gradually takes precedence over their individual longtime love affairs. Enter Joe Fox (Tom Hanks), the heir to the mass book retail chain Fox Books, who has been entrusted to expand the family business nationwide and whose current project is ready to commence operation, literally, just around the corner from Kathleen’s store. Kathleen’s fellow storekeepers are wary of this major corporation, which they feel should be considered a formidable adversary, intending to seduce readers away with its cutthroat discounts and designer coffee. Kathleen, however, feels Fox Books’s impersonal salespeople and overstocked shelves are no threat to the knowledgeable service and rare book collection that The Shop Around the Corner provides. At first, it seems that Kathleen’s predictions will ring true, as the community rallies around her store. Even Joe, who harbors something akin to survivor’s guilt over all the independent establishments he has put out of business, becomes enchanted by Kathleen’s naturally gracious disposition towards her patrons and genuine desire to help young readers connect with the world of books – though he cunningly hides his identity from her. However, when Fox Books begins operation, sales at The Shop Around the Corner begins to decline. And when Kathleen discovers Joe’s deception about his professional identity during a later chance encounter, she vehemently condemns him as a spy and the two cross words. Yet, each continues to remain unaware that the other is their online confidant. So while on cyberspace, Joe guides Kathleen to “go to war” with her rival, in the business world, a bitter struggle for survival ensues between the two that forces each to discover a previously dormant side to their natures – and maybe learn to accept the other for their better sides in the process.
Experience: THIS is what watching romantic comedy is all about – discovering the many ways people overcome everyday challenges to learn about their individual weaknesses and strengths to converge as a unit that is better for being a whole. I don’t know how many times I have seen You’ve Got Mail. My DVD experienced its share of wear over the years before I finally laid it to rest when online streaming became the norm. Therefore, it’s funny that it took me so long to get around to seeing The Shop Around the Corner, the original movie from which the famous Hanks-Ryan feature was remade. What did I discover? Well, despite the much higher rating on IMDB for the old B&W classic, I think Nora Ephron made a vast improvement. So much so that it deserves discussing.
You know how sometimes you hear actresses complaining that Hollywood greatly prefers telling stories about male rather than female characters, that there are more hero-centric movies than heroine-centric? If you watch The Shop Around the Corner and You’ve Got Mail back-to-back, you will realize that it ain’t all wack. The original screenplay was filmed entirely from the perspective of James Stewart’s character Alfred Kralik even though the plot aimed to show how a pair of mystery correspondents who, despite acting as foils to one another in their physical realm, unbeknownst to them, may fall in love over anonymous letters. It is a meeting of the minds that transcends all other superficial qualities one regularly seeks in one’s mate. It is the realization that even daily interactions with a person may only reveal so much about them to form an honest verdict of their character. Indeed it is a story that deserved to be told from both sides of the veil since something must’ve made Klara Novak fall in love with a man she knew not in person as much as Alfred did with her but alas! Luckily, Stewart is a talented actor and the story does not suffer from his singular presence on the screen. Also, the steady earnest gaze of his soulful long-lashed eyes is dreamy beyond comparison.
Mercifully, some six decades later, women finally gained greater access to the rein in Hollywood and thus could endeavor to do better. Ephron put on her hard hat and rewrote the screenplay to tell the story how it should have been told. By adding just twenty minutes to the plot, we are presented deeper insights into both the main characters’ backstories, discovering who they are as individuals and not just the superficial perception that each form about the other. I love how, this time, the screen presence is equally divided between Kathleen Kelly and Joe Fox. I love how both the lead characters are allowed time away from one another that demonstrate their actual individual lives and responsibilities. We no longer witness who they are just over a series of arguments. They are given ample room to breathe as separate entities so that when they come together, we can savor the full-bodied texture of their romantic endeavor.
And I’m grateful that we can have more of those letters read to us – letters that were the key component to the main characters falling in love. With The Shop Around the Corner, by the time I reached the end, I couldn’t see why Alfred and Klara finally choose to be together – not after all we initially see is how horrible each is to the other when they personally interact. It almost seemed that when it finally came for the curtain to fall, the two couldn’t walk away from each other simply because they had held fast for so long to the idea that the person writing the letters was the love of their lives that admitting they were wrong would be too great a blow. I did not see love but resignation. Comparatively, in You’ve Got Mail, whatever compromise each character makes with their ego is more believable – in fact, it seems like no great sacrifice. When Joe and Kathleen first begin to fall in love, we can see why those letters compel them to emotionally stray from their respective lovers despite the uncertainty that lurks in their minds regarding the moment they should really meet lurks. When they finally fall in love, it is a person with whom they know they can genuinely share the mundane realities of life – that they once only discussed over letters – without becoming bored. It’s also love that blossoms because two people allowed themselves to wait around long enough to be proven wrong about the lacking of the other’s real self to see how great the other person truly is. The months of war becomes only a prelude to a love that is irrevocable and a friendship that is enduring.
Which brings me to the main gripe I have towards the makers of the original movie. It’s not so much as the lack of focus on the female lead character – Margaret Sullavan did receive first billing in the credits, so there’s that at least – but the fact that Klara is never given the opportunity to rise in our esteem. In fact, if I ever re-watch The Shop Around the Corner, it will only be because Alfred managed to impress me with his integrity and resilience; and should I turn myself away from the opportunity to re-watch it, it will be because Klara managed to annoy me with her myriad of character flaws. Klara is self-serving, whether she is talking a customer into purchasing an unnecessary and trivial cigarette box by pawning it off as a candy box or suddenly complimenting the supervisor she despises to get out of working late on a night she has a date. Klara is manipulative in a way where she repeatedly tries to lead others in conversations so that they would give her what she wants but think it was their own idea. But most of all, Klara is spiteful; she demonstrates a natural tendency to say hateful things, attacking Alfred with a certain regularity and feels no remorse for the hurt they cause unless it has a chance of coming back to bite her in the ass. In comparison, we see genuine guilt etched in Kathleen’s face when she witnesses the hurt her words cause Joe; it is immediate and it is sincere even though she is reluctant to admit that she is at fault. And even though when she does get around to apologizing she also slips in a compliment to herself by professing it is uncharacteristic of her to not be a nice person, we also can be sure she truly is sorry to have caused hurt and that she knows that she has no right to do so. And since there is no self-interest in her apologies other than to rectify a misbehavior, the apologies are not hollow. While Kathleen’s personality just takes a wrong turn every time she comes into close proximity of Joe Fox the corporate big shot, we can’t be as sure that Klara is not self-promoting and mean. So when Klara claims she had found Alfred attractive, it rings abrupt and false, but when Kathleen cries she had hoped her mystery man would be Joe, we have to believe her. Frankly, I feel that, once the novelty wears off, marriage between Kathleen and Joe has much higher chances of survival than Alfred and Klara.
Recommendation: Giving a final recommendation at this point seems superfluous, but unless you wish to do a comparative analysis of the two features, spare yourself from watching The Shop Around the Corner. Contrarily, my heartiest wishes to you for watching You’ve Got Mail; they rarely make sensible romance movies like that anymore.
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.
Title The Lunchbox
Starring Irrfan Khan, Nimrat Kaur and Nawazuddin Siddiqui
Director Ritesh Batra
Writer(s) Ritesh Batra (screenplay), Vasan Bala (Hindi dialogue consultant)
Genre Drama Romance
Release Date September 20, 2013
Filming Location Mumbai, Maharashtra, India
Parental Guidance Rated PG for thematic material and smoking
IMDB Rating 7.8
Synopsis: Ila (Nimrat Kaur) leads a mundane life of an average Indian housewife, where her days are occupied by seeing her husband and daughter off to work and school, respectively, then gossiping with the upstairs elderly woman whom she calls “auntie” by shouting out the kitchen window as she prepares meals for her family and carries on doing daily housekeeping. Lately, her husband has been absentminded about their relationship and, on the advice of her neighboring auntie, she begins preparing sumptuous lunches to win him back that she sends off with the famously efficient Mumbai Dabbawalas (lunchbox service) to his workplace. By a fluke, this lunchbox ends up at the desk of an elderly widower, Sajan (Irrfan Khan) who is an accountant on the cusp of retirement from a place he has worked for 35 years. Sajan enjoys the delicious meal and when the lunchbox returns home to Ila, it is completely empty, i.e. every bowl in the tiffin carrier is wiped clean. Excited by this unexpected turn of events, Ila waits for her husband to return home and compliment her. However, not only is he as aloof as ever, when Ila asks him if he liked the meal, he says “the aloo gobi (potato-cauliflower stir fry) was okay”, and Ila realizes he received the wrong lunchbox. Her upstairs auntie advises her to put in a note inside the lunchbox the next day to find out where her meal goes, which Ila reluctantly does, telling this stranger the box was for her husband. Sajan finds the letter, eats the delicious meal but, being the dry codger that he is, his reply constitutes of only two lines: “Dear, Ila, the food was very salty today.” Ila’s neighbor advises her to put extra chili in the food the next day and she again complies reluctantly. Sajan gets the message and becomes more tactful in his replies. Over time, Ila finds that she looks forward to his replies just as Sajan enjoys hearing about her days, her marital anxieties, and sometimes even offering advice gleaning from his own satisfying domestic experiences. Sajan also shares about his last days in office and the antics of the new replacement, Shaikh (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), whom he is training to take his post.
Experience (some spoilers): If I were to describe this movie with one simple line, I would say, “It’s a gratifyingly romantic story with no fuss and no muss”.
The screenplay, the direction, the editing was all done with the aim to satisfy the story and nothing more. There are no superficial elements, no extra scenes, and no irrelevant dialogues to detract or titillate the audience. We are immediately taken to show Ila preparing that significant first lunch for her husband and then Sajan’s reaction to the meal. If one does not see the trailer or read the synopsis, one would think Sajan is her husband until another man walks in through her front door that first evening, and hence, commiserate with her anticipation. And in this way, the audience is made to share in each season of emotions as they take turn to appear: anticipation, irritation, empathy, sympathy, surprise, humor, disappointment, and hope. In fact, so well is the movie directed and edited, that there is an overall dry appeal to the storytelling, effectively capturing Sajan’s eccentric nature and Ila’s frustrating home conditions. Even when the movie cuts to comic relief with Sajan’s interludes with Shaikh, the senior’s less-than-welcoming attitude towards the junior’s enthusiasm to be trained, the movie picks up clean humor as we witness Shaikh finally penetrating and melting Sajan’s heart, which was already softening with his daily letter exchanges with Ila. And the fact that there are these montages to depict the lives and efficiency of the Dabbawalas only added to the drama and is such a fit tribute to the theme.
I especially enjoyed the fact that Ila and Sajan do not meet throughout the movie and still manage to fall in love. There is nothing superficial or artificial about their relationship. It’s a search of companionship that has transformed into something more sustainable. It is endearing to see this older gentleman, so resigned to living a life of retirement convalescing in a nursing community, take painstaking care in his appearance the morning he is to meet Ila only to stand her up; or the way she sends him an empty lunchbox the next day to give him a “silent treatment” and he accepts it readily, sending her an apology, explaining that he went to see her but lost his courage when he saw how beautiful she was and how old he is. It is a moment rich with impact when he explains that he realized that morning that he could “smell his grandfather” on himself. I was actually able to imagine what that could smell like – starched cotton, soap, talcum and Old Spice aftershave. I could feel his humiliation and sympathize with him thoroughly.
There is no point in discussing the acting of any individual actor in this movie. Every actor, starting from the three starring roles to the lunchbox courier man to even the faceless auntie upstairs, performed their roles with economy. They were each a credit to the art of their profession yet made their efforts seem artless. Without a doubt, the movie has been made on a small budget (so small that there is a copy error – ‘Reseach’ – in the end-credit roll) cinema but what budget they had was very effectively allocated.
Recommendation: Even though the movie is weaved with the use of Hindi, I would ask movie lovers and fiction writers to watch it alike. Not watching this movie would be letting a masterpiece slip by.
WEDNESDAY REFLECTIONS #04 – Jane Austen’s Persuasion starring Sally Hawkins, Alice Krige, Anthony Head and Rupert Penry-Jones
Title Persuasion (A BBC adaption of the Jane Austen novel of same name)
Starring Sally Hawkins, Alice Krige, Anthony Head and Rupert Penry-Jones
Director Adrian Shergold
Screenplay Simon Burke
Genre Romantic Satire, Drama
Release Date January 13, 2007
Filming Location Bath, Somerset, England
Parental Guidance PG – General viewing, but parental discretion advised
IMDB Rating 7.6
Synopsis: Anne’s (Sally Hawkin) life has been led by others. She lives with a narcissistic father, Sir Walter Elliot (Anthony Head), and a self-absorbed elder sister who leave her to handle all household responsibilities but give her none of the credit for it. She has a younger sister married off but who always calls for her ministrations whenever fancying herself ill. And her only confidant is her deceased mother’s best friend, Lady Russell (Alice Krige), who has only her “best interest” at heart but may love her a little too dearly. At twenty-eight, Anne has resigned herself to spinsterhood and obscurity when the return of a former paramour sends her heart once again aflutter. Once almost engaged to Fredrick Wentworth (Rupert Penry-Jones), Anne’s love affair had been halted by Lady Russell’s advice on the unsuitability of their stations and connections in life. But Wentworth returns to their lives as an exalted Royal Navy captain who made a sizeable fortune serving the nation and Anne must eat crow. As a series of circumstances keep pushing the former lovers into each other’s paths, each struggle in their own way to be not affected. Anne does not believe she has another chance with Wentworth because she rightly discerns that he still blames her for being so easily influenced away from his proposal in the past. And then there is also the sudden entry of a distant cousin who is to eventually inherit her father’s baronetcy and who seems to fancy Anne. Any chance of reconciliation and rekindling affection between Anne and Wentworth, therefore, seems hopeless.
Experience: I always feel that whenever a Jane Austen novel is adapted into a film, people start comparing it to the epic 1995 BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth. So I consciously switched off my parity tool because let’s face it – there will never be another flawless masterpiece like Pride and Prejudice or such a dedicated collection of cast and crew to turn a literary work into a 06-hour cinematic indulgence of an author’s genius. So with a deep breath and a mind as unbiased as possible, I sat down to watch Persuasion. For a 1.5-hour TV movie, it was a pretty good attempt to emulate and entertain. And not only because it had Austen’s clever storytelling style to fall back on.
Definitely, the strongest facet of the movie was its mechanics. The direction, the cinematographic techniques, the queueing of the scenes and music all swelled and dissipated to match the ethos of the story as it progressed. From the first scene where the camera circled Anne and followed her about as she rushed from room to room auditing items in preparation for the time when the Elliot family will move out to lease their home to strangers to that when she rushes all through Bath in search of Wentworth so she could tell him she accepts his proposal to that in the privacy of her room as she records in her diary her romantic success and secretly smiles into the camera to allow the audience to bask in her happiness, Burke and Shergold perfectly captures the protagonist. As to the protagonist herself, Hawkins may not have been my first choice for the role of Anne, a girl in her late twenty’s that has lost some of her bloom but still remains adequately pretty, but Hawkins manages to flirt with the camera in a subtle way that gives Anne life. While in the book, Anne’s character is more subtle, the movie-Anne does not suffer for the little boldness inspired by Hawkins.
Moreover, Hawkins manages to portray the drama that revolves around Anne’s character. She allows herself to be shuffled between her family members and is often led by Lady Russell’s advice, but it does not make her unobservant or unfeeling. She watches and notes her surroundings acutely but accepts her lot in life for the most part. But there are moments when she does not allow herself to be bid, moments where her logic prevails. This aspect of Anne’s character is well-turned out by Hawkins in the movie in the manner with which she moves. In the novel, Austen did not give the docile Anne much dialogue but Hawkins very intelligently trounces that challenge with her body language. Comparatively, Penry-Jones did not pick up on the subtlety of Austen’s depiction of Wentworth. Rarely do I say someone has underacted but Penry-Jones playing Wentworth is one of those times. I can only assume he did not read the novel, which for an Austen fan like me is unforgivable. However, he is handsome and just enough handsome to be adequately cast as Wentworth.
Another notable portrayal is of Sir Walter Elliot by Head. Now, I must admit I am a bit biased towards Head from his Buffy the Vampire Slayer days but, again, I tried not to be while watching the movie. I found Head to portray Sir Walter with just the right level of ridiculousness necessary to make him unlikeable. I initially thought Head was disappointing me with overacting until I remembered Sir Walter and the rest of the Elliot clan were meant to be comic relief. They are the characters that are the butt of Austen’s satirical wit. So, yes, when Head does literally huff and puff at the possibility of having to rent his family seat to people of “inferior birth” and potential “coarse countenance”, it is the required precedent.
The one character I felt that could have gotten more screen time was Lady Russell’s. Lady Russell plays an indispensable antithetical role to Anne-and-Wentworth’s relationship in the novel. More so than the fact that she openly discourages Anne from pursuing a relationship with Wentworth (in the past and present), it is the nature of her influence, the subtlety that is wrought in her relationship with Anne, that makes Lady Russell a centrifugal force in Anne’s actions in abandoning her desires, and later in her polite decline to subjugate. While Anne’s tendency to be persuaded to do the biddings of her family members is the surface manifestation of her character, it is Lady Russell’s persuasiveness, albeit, in good faith that does the pertinent harm to Anne’s happiness. It is especially more disappointing Lady Russell’s character is not more explored in the movie because Krige has proven in past performance that she is able to deliver the necessary gravitas for such a role.
The other smaller parts are played relatively well and relevantly ensures the smooth flow of the plot depiction. In particular, the characters of Mary (Amanda Hale), Anne’s younger extracting and fretful sister, and Charles Musgrove (Sam Hazeldine), Mary’s husband and Anne’s once upon a time admirer, are performed suitably well. Interestingly enough, the role of William Elliot (Tobias Menzies), the distant cousin who aims to sweep Anne off her feet, is played better than one would expect. The novel mostly portrays Mr. Elliot’s character via the grapevine, yet Menzies brought out the character with mastery.
Recommendation: If you haven’t seen this movie yet, do. If you are a Jane Austen fan, do it right now! After BBC’s 1995 versions of Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility [too many ‘and’s but you’ll figure it out], I found this to be the next best Austen rendering.