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WEDNESDAY REFLECTION #30: Crimson Peak

Via: Daily Prompt – Ghoulish & Mystery

ec22screens_1_webTitle     Crimson Peak

Starring     Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, and Tom Hiddleston

Director     Guillermo del Toro

Writer(s)    Guillermo del Toro and Matthew Robbins

Genre     Drama | Fantasy | Horror

Release Date     October 16, 2015

Filming Location     USA | Canada

Parental Guidance     R

IMDB Rating     6.5

Synopsis: Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) always knew there were ghosts. As a child, she lost her mother to the Black Cholera. The night Mrs. Cushing was buried, her ghost appeared to Edith with a cryptic warning to “Beware of Crimson Peak”. Edith received a visit again with the same warning fourteen years later, when she had blossomed into a young woman of unassuming charm – albeit bookish – and keen determination to prove herself as a novelist, with the blessing and encouragement of her businessman father Mr. Carter Cushing (Jim Beaver). While Edith prefers writing to society, she suddenly finds her world expanding with the return of her childhood friend Dr. Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam), who just set up a practice in town after completing his medical studies, and the mysterious inventor Baronet Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), who is trying to gain her father’s confidence in order to gather the capital to build the machine that would help him mine the red clay on which his family estate sits in Cumberland, England. Attraction between Edith and Thomas is instantaneous and he takes advantage of this in hopes of gaining an ally before her father. Thomas’s sister Lady Lucille Sharpe (Jessica Chastain), who accompanied him to help gain the capital, is not impressed, having hoped her brother would have picked a more affluent and vapid quarry. Neither are Mr. Cushing and Alan, who had their own misgivings about the brother-sister duo from the start. Mr. Cushing hires an investigator to learn more about the newcomers, only to discover their very disturbingly suspicious history, and confronts the siblings about their intent towards his daughter, writing them a cheque to leave Edith alone and return to England. He also tells Thomas to break Edith’s heart so that she may move on, which Thomas does with angry reluctance but publically, announcing he will be gone the next day. Except the next morning, Mr. Cushing is brutally murdered and Thomas, who stayed back even though Lucille left, confesses to Edith that he had broken up with her under her father’s instructions. As Edith comes to learn about her father’s murder, Thomas takes advantage of her distress and marries her. Thomas takes Edith back to his home in England, with Edith hoping to have a new beginning with her husband. Only now Thomas is physically distant and avoid consummating their marriage while Lucille is cold towards her and perhaps a bit too intrusive about their marriage bed. Pretty soon Edith is visited by gruesome red ghosts on a nightly basis and is told that the family estate is referred to by the locals as “Crimson Peak”.

Experience: I’m not easily scared by horror movies, only ever startled when things jump out of the shadows and have actors screaming. This movie, however, instated its creep-factor from the first act. I’m not sure what it was, really. Maybe it was the hovering carcass-y melancholically-draped specter of Edith’s mother that crawls into bed with her when she is a child that did it [I mean, who hasn’t ever slept with their back to the wall out of vigilant fear as a child, right?] or the historic setting of the movie and romantic undercurrent between the various characters that made me feel invested and empathetic, or the appallingly possessive way that the Baronet’s sister watched his love and married life progress, but I could feel the morbidity of this movie take hold from the preamble. It definitely put me in the mood for all things evil and ghastly for this Halloween.

I felt the casting of the movie was very well done. From Jim Beaver to Jessica Chastain, everyone showed just the level of curiosity and invasiveness that the characters needed to possess to make the relationship dynamics – one of the most important mechanics of the plot – emanate from the screen. The characters themselves were well-developed and complementally contrasted one another. On the one side you have the open and honest friendship between the Cushings and Alan, on the other side you have the sinisterly co-dependent devotion between the aristocratic siblings. Watching the two worlds merge, split, and then reconnect was interesting and rather flawless.

Going back to the actors, Beaver was as usual just the right level of encouraging and frustrating as a parent to the honestly devoted daughter that Wasikowska played. As always, Hiddleston pulled off the younger sibling, misunderstood and committing immoral acts against those nearest to him (though here misguided by his sister) with aplomb. Once again I found myself wondering should I be disgusted by the character he portrayed or accept him for his redeeming potentials. I found Chastain, as always, alluringly potent. I think it might be her strong bone structure or set facial features or the matter-of-fact regard of her eyes, but Chastain always casts best as a woman of indomitable resolve, which her acting ability greatly complements. Next to her, Wasikowska featured a pale contrast, which cast a perfect effect to play the deceptively polite but equally gritty new woman of the household (I loved how Edith chased after the ghosts to get to the bottom of the mystery despite being utterly petrified by them). Hunnam took a back seat for most of the movie, acting mainly as a supporting role and a necessary plot device to help Edith out once she solves the mystery and rescues herself, but I admired the fact that he could remain subtly in the background until called to action without trying to overpower the screen.

With regards to the plot itself and the script was written and directed with a steadily accelerating pace. While there was little in the way of plot twists (the audience today has wizened up too much to the evil that lurks in people’s hearts to really be surprised with anything), the real mystery was how the truth will unfold and what will Edith do once she is faced by it (I think I was surprised by her last reaction more than anything). But all in all, there was just enough creepiness to make it interesting.

Recommendation: Totally worth watching this Halloween! Or any dark wintry night, really.

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WEDNESDAY REFLECTION #29: A Monster in Paris

Via: Daily Prompt – Identity

a-monster-in-paris-poster-a-monster-in-paris-34242996-368-500Title     A Monster in Paris

Starring     Adam Goldberg, Jay Harrington, and Vanessa Paradis

Director     Bibo Bergeron

Writer(s)    Bibo Bergeron and Stéphane Kazandjian

Genre     Animation Adventure Comedy

Release Date     October 12, 2011

Filming Location     France

Parental Guidance     PG

IMDB Rating     6.8

Synopsis: Emile (Jay Harrington/Sébastien Desjours) is a shy projectionist with a passion for films, working in a movie theater and crushing on the ticket girl Maud (Madeline Zima/Ludivine Sagnier) in his free time. When he finally plucks up the courage one day to woo her, his exuberant best friend Raoul (Adam Goldberg/Gad Elmaleh), an inventor and deliveryman, literally drives a halt in the situation with his bizzare delivery van “Catherine” when he arrives to pick up Emile to help him buy a belt for his projector. Lamenting the courtship interruptus, Emile blames Raoul but Raoul takes no notice of his error, too busy encouraging his best friend to go for it. On this transport route, Raoul has Emile tag along for an “adventure” to the private nursery of a scientist, where they roam unchecked in the absence of said scientist. Despite the warnings from the scientist’s guard-cum-assistant, a monkey named Charles, Raoul fools around with the various chemicals in the chemistry lab while Emile records what happens on his new video camera. An accident ensues, during which a flea off the monkey’s back is hit by two unstable chemicals that turn the flea into a human-sized figure. The disgruntled flea, upon seeing Emile’s fearful reaction, “flees” the vicinity and is on the run ever since throughout Paris whenever witnesses reject him in terror upon the sight of him and eventually ends up in the back alley of the cabaret in which Raoul’s childhood friend and crush Lucille (Vanessa Paradis/Vanessa Paradis) sings. At first Lucille, too, is afraid of the giant flea but when the flea with human emotions and the voice of an angel breaks out into a song about his harrowing experience being seen as a monster from the moment he turned, she takes pity on him and invites him in to hide in her dressing room, dubbing him with the name Franceour (Sean Lennon/Matthieu Chedid), which means “honest heart”. Only, in him, she finds the perfect singing partner who inspires her to perform even better. The duo is instantly popular with the audience, except the power-hungry Police Commissioner of Paris Maynott (Danny Huston/François Cluzet) is out to capture and murder the monster in a hope that it will gain him enough popularity to win the mayoral election.

Experience: I had this movie on my TBW list for a while now – years, actually. I just kept skipping over it for some reason but I wish I hadn’t. Yet, I guess, everything has its time and this Halloween prep-season was the time to watch A Monster in Paris. And what I learned is, not all monsters are bad.

And this monster can sing. It doesn’t take animation to realize that almost all species are capable of emotions, many of which are quite human. But I think cartoons do have a way of humanizing creatures better than any other medium. Turn your suspension of disbelief on and it seems perfectly plausible that a flea off a monkey’s back (a monkey which is a scientist’s assistant and guard too) turns to singing to express his fears upon becoming a seven-feet-tall monster instead of sucking the blood out of terrified and lonely pedestrians when he meets them in dark alleys. “It” becomes a “he”, and we sympathize with him and try to give him an opportunity to excel at his talent. The monster in distress becomes the central character with whom we commiserate.

Appropriately juxtaposed, we witness a power-hungry police commissioner out to kill this pathetic creature in a bid to gain popularity and politically climb up to the lofty perch of the mayor of one of the world’s most modish cities. And, in his single-minded track, he is ready to slaughter any civilian in his path. We see the human become the real monster. The story now has greater meaning – not all whom we see are who they are. We learn that before we assume one’s reality or feel any partiality towards or against a person, we should give them a chance to prove their true worth.

Meanwhile, two beautiful romances unfold amidst citywide chaos. We already see early in the movie that Emile is trying his best to hold onto his courage to inform Maud of his feelings (and for a while, I was sure it will be Emile who will end up becoming the monster and start wooing Maud in his new form), but slower to blossom is the romance between Raoul and Lucille. In fact, I found the chemistry between the latter duo much more scintillating than the former, despite (or perhaps because of) the apparent volatility of their relationship. The mystery behind Lucille’s obvious disparage of Raoul and his attempt to jovially disregard it hints at a past and titillated the romantic curiosity in me immediately. Especially because under all the witty comebacks lobbed at one another, the two seem to truly care for each other’s interests.

While at first, I thought the sweet shy Emile might be the hero of the story, and he does rise to the occasion when necessary, driven as he is by friendship, Raoul is adorably comic (think Ryan Reynolds) and he comes alive more throughout the movie. And I found it great that Lucille’s character wasn’t far behind him. She was no damsel in distress even though Raoul did his best to “save” her by protecting her friend-flea Franceour. Yet even while they are working together, they continue to bait each other with hilarious effect. But we see the knot loosening and it’s charming to witness.

Recommendation: I’m sure you all too have plans for this Halloween to catch a monster-flick or two. But I sincerely suggest you make time for this uplifting monster movie this year – especially if you haven’t seen it already. Especially, after all the political and environmental chaos we have experienced throughout this year. It’s a great reminder that human endeavor may be found even in the most unlikely places if we only make the effort to see.

* Original animation was dubbed in French so I have included the name of the French voice-over artists beside the English voice-over artists post forward-slash in the synopsis.

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WEDNESDAY REFLECTION #24: The Americanization of Emily starring James Garner & Julie Andrews

Via: Daily Prompt – Grit

220px-americanization_of_emily_posterTitle     The Americanization of Emily

Starring     James Garner, Julie Andrews, and James Coburn

Director     Arthur Hiller

Writer(s)    Paddy Chayefsky (screenplay), William Bradford Huie (novel)

Genre     Comedy Drama War

Release Date     October 27, 1964

Filming Location    Dukes Avenue, Muswell Hill, London, England, UK

Parental Guidance     PG for thematic semi-nudity, carousing, and war imagery

IMDB Rating     7.4

Synopsis: Lt. Cmdr. Charles Madison (James Garner) of the US Army is a “dog-robber”, or batman, to Adm. William Jessup (Melvyn Douglas) and is known for managing the best supplies to make his superior’s lifestyle near the frontline of WWII opulent. Even based in London, Charlie can arrange the best prime cuts for the Admiral’s lunch, the most lavish food, drink, and women – down to the preferred hair color – for the evenings, and the biddable bedpartners for his best friend and co-worker Lt. Cmdr. Paul ‘Bus’ Cummings’s (James Coburn) nocturnal exploits with less than 24-hour notice. Such blatant display of pleasure-seeking in the middle of war rationing is something that Emily Barham, a driver from the British military motor pool and a woman who has lost her father, brother, and husband to the war, finds deplorable and has no compunction informing Charlie of her feelings to his face. Charlie too is wary of her moralization and forthright about giving her a piece of his mind. Charlie, who openly advocates his anti-war sentiments and is a self-proclaimed “practicing coward”, enjoys his position as the Admiral’s adjutant because it keeps him from having to actually fight in the war and feels Europeans have caused wars for centuries, which is nothing to boast about. However, soon Emily realizes that there is a kind of charm in his cynical honesty and approaches him to initiate a no-strings-attached affair, which quickly develops into a more serious meet-the-parents kind of tableau. When the Admiral, already depressed from the death of his wife, has a mental breakdown over the Army and Air Force overshadowing the Navy and initiates an idea of filming a “reality” movie of the bombing on the French shore of Omaha Beach on D-Day, Charlie is assigned the responsibility of getting it made and Bus is adamant to get Charlie onto the war site, putting a damper on his amorous plans for Emily and even risking his very life.

Experience: I think there is a bit of a pattern among my celebrity crushes and I realized it after seeing James Garner in this movie. It’s a weird revelation too. I like men who have wide foreheads with horizontal creases on them. Do you see it?

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Be still my heart! There is something similar about their physique as well, though at different levels of buff. I just had to get this out of the way before I carried on with the review.

Aside from Garner, there is another heart-stopper to sigh over in this movie. I think the whole world has been crushing on Julie Andrews since The Sound of Music. With additional star actors Melvyn Douglas and James Coburn, this movie was destined to shine. But it’s not only the cast that makes it a success but also the eccentric plotline, the unabashedly candid characters, the snappy dialogue, and the unique theme for its time that helped it win hearts – at least, it did mine.

Let’s talk about the message of the movie. There is no doubt that the producers and director of the film took a big risk when they decided to make an anti-war dark romantic comedy at a time when the US government was only becoming more aggressive in its foreign policies throughout – or maybe it was just the perfect time. Sure, there was also a rising anti-war sentiment among the public but did it constitute the dominant segment of the public? Hardly. So the movie could have tanked.

But the plot carried the message of the movie by ensuring that it was “the virtue of war” and not the men and families who sacrificed their lives and loved ones that deserved criticism. We see an old man, bereaved by the loss of his wife, dictating and demanding what the movie should feature: a make-believe unnamed soldier who is the first to die on D-Day to stir up public sentiments for the glory of the Navy. He goes on as far as to enlist the president’s endorsement for a monument for this fake martyr. The idea reeks of the same self-indulgence that is depicted earlier in the movie where we see the American military that “can buy anything with a Hersey bar” enjoying a good bout of hedonism. With a finely written script, the argument cuts deep and succinctly.

Speaking of his lines, I was quite taken with how magnificently Garner delivered his dialogues. There is no apology in his expression when Charlie presents a set-down to Emily after she demonstrates her disdain for the amount of “swanky goods” occupying the bedroom-converted-pantry in the Admiral’s quarters. You would never imagine that he was talking to a beautiful woman that he had been slapped by after patting her bottom during their initial meeting. And Andrews, always the epitome of sophistication, demonstrates a starry-eyed enchantment even as she sincerely tells him why he is just all-wrong.

In fact, there is a bit of name-calling between the two throughout the movie that aptly describes the traits of each character. She is “something of a prig” with an “ingrained British morality”, “facile” yet a “fancy Euro”, and “emotionally sticky” with a propensity for “sentimental contempt” who takes “sensual satisfaction in grieving”; he is a “rascal”, “charmer scoundrel”, the “most immoral man [she] ever met… a shameless coward, selfish as a child, and ruthless about what he wants”, “a Yank who can’t even show affection without buying something”, “dotty” but who “cuts to the core of things”. Gee, tell us how you really feel. But it really makes you want to see the two actors saying it all to each other, doesn’t it?

And the two actors wear their roles like finely fitted gloves. Andrews manages to generate a certain softness towards him even as she is exasperated with him and listing out all his negative qualities. While there are such competence and cockiness to Garner that a girl cannot but help swoon. In fact, there is this scene early in the movie where Charlie goes about folding clothes and running baths and doing all the things a valet does while preparing the bedtime rituals for the Admiral, and I was so mesmerized watching him in action of domestic efficiency that I had to keep replaying the scene to catch what the Admiral was yammering about. It made me think there’s a man who is comfortable in his skin no matter what the situation. Garner in motion is a graceful thing to watch. That scene alone is worth re-watching the movie.

Recommendation: It’s a fine movie, as efficient in delivering the message as the actors were in playing their roles. Prepared to be riveted.

 

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WEDNESDAY REFLECTION #17: English Vinglish starring Sridevi

Via: Daily Prompt – Pursue

english_vinglish_ver2Title     English Vinglish

Starring     Sridevi, Adil Hussein, and Mehdi Nebbou

Director     Gauri Shinde

Writer(s)    Gauri Shinde

Genre     Comedy Drama Family

Release Date     October 05, 2012

Filming Location     NY, NY, USA; Pune, Maharashtra, India

Parental Guidance     PG

IMDB Rating     7.9

Synopsis: Shashi (Sridevi) is a dedicated wife, loving mother, dutiful daughter-in-law, and an efficient homemaker. She is also a small time entrepreneur, filling orders for celebration sweets from her home kitchen, and her laddoos are to die for. But her talents and individuality are overshadowed by the responsibilities she fulfills for her family; her gracious and unassuming personality has only enabled them to take her for granted. She is often ridiculed by her preteen daughter Sapna (Navika Kotia) and corporate husband Satish (Adil Hussein) for her inability to converse in English and very traditional manners, with only her mother-in-law (Subha Deshpande) to sympathize and younger son Sagaar (Shivansh Kotia) as a source of solace. And while she accepts the indignities with a pinch of salt, she is observant and is fully aware of what is lacking in her life. She believes if she learns English, she will belong better. When her elder sister Manu (Sujatha Kumar) invites her to the USA for her niece’s wedding, Shashi finds herself navigating a new world and discovering independence despite her language barriers. She finds a friend in Manu’s younger college-bound daughter Radha (Priya Anand) who encourages her to explore her potentials and give in to her desires. A chance observation at a bus stop takes her to a four-week English course, where Shashi finds a host of new friends and one potential romantic diversion Laurent (Mehdi Nebbou) whose admiration of her is apparent to all.

Experience (some spoilers to tempt you): This is one of those movies that capture the everyday life and the characteristics of the human soul with acute awareness. Nothing world shattering transpires other than the transformation of a woman through her ability to recognize the void in her life and mustering the courage to fill it. With superb acting by the legendary Sridevi in her returning role and excellent effort by the rest of the cast, the movie captures the complexity of Shashi’s dilemmas with the simplicity of her personality.

Gauri Shinde, film’s director and screenwriter, does not waste time in exposing the conflict in this movie. We straightaway see the efficiency with which Shashi manages her household as well as her business and how her achievements are overlooked. We see that Shashi is a keen observer of her surroundings, she is conscious of the injustice in her life, and that a lack of confidence stops her from righting the wrongs committed against her. The abuse is cruel though not always intentional, but it is abuse all the same because it is slowly crippling her very existence.

Alternatively, we see her happiest when she is out delivering sweets to her clients, where her talent is celebrated. We see her attempting to share her joy with her husband but he is too busy to appreciate the value of her accomplishments. Then we see her walk off the resulting disappointment by dancing like Michael Jackson with her young son, who is still too young to be busy for his mom. Shashi’s fears and desires are exposed without any delay, making the story an effortless journey.

Intelligently titled English Vinglish, Shinde uses the traditional take of Hindi speakers to add rhyming suffixes any word to portray English as an active agent in class stratification. Her daughter openly treats her with contempt for her lack of English proficiency unlike her friends’ mothers even though her friends love Shashi’s cooking. We see her worry that her husband may one day tire of her and run off with a more modern woman. We watch her practice correct pronunciations in isolation. We know she needs an English course. It piques the audience sympathy for every step of the way.

Language barrier is a tangible tool in Shinde’s exploration of lifestyle and status quo in both India and the USA. At the same time, we also get to see that if two persons truly desired to communicate with one another, they may understand each other’s needs without even speaking the same language. There are some notable exchanges and moments in the movie that demonstrate its value:

SHASHI TO SHATISH: “Important discussions only happen in English?”

AMERICAN VISA OFFICER TO SHASHI: “How will you manage in our country if you don’t know English?”

INDIAN VISA ASSISTANT WITH TIMELY PRESENCE: “Same way you manage in our country without knowing Hindi.”

Or watching the first time Shashi successfully navigates the subways and streets of NYC and Manhattan to locate the NY Language Center. Or the way she can speak in Hindi to Laurent while he speaks in French to her but they are able to perfectly communicate their individual needs and troubles.

Yet, while language barrier is used as the central tool to explore Shashi’s struggles, the story exposes a more prevalent predicament faced by housewives – that of allowing one’s herself to become lost in the roles. This is not only a lifestyle perpetuated by housewives in India but the world over. We see an underappreciated and often disrespected supermom and cheer for her as she reclaims her individuality. We are pointed out how loved ones can hold her back from reaching her full potential when they fail to appreciate her contributions and talents. How the family for which she sacrifices everything can fail to make her feel like she belongs.

LAURENT: “But your food…” (gestures A-Ok)

SHASHI: “No, no. Your cooking… hotel… expert. I’m… in-house cooking… Very small.”

LAURENT: “Not small, not small. Food is… food is art.”

SHASHI (REFLECTING ON HER HOME LIFE): “Man cooking – art. Woman cooking – duty.”

LAURENT: “Food is love. You cooking with love. Good food. You make people happy. You artist. Not small.”

SHASHI SMILES TO HERSELF WITH SELF-APPRECIATION.

SHASHI TO RADHA: “I don’t need love, I need just a little bit of respect.”

SHASHI’S WEDDING TOAST: “This marriage is a beautiful thing. It is the most special friendship. Friendship of two people who are equal. Meera, sometimes you will feel less. Kevin, sometimes you will also feel less than Meera. Try to help each other feel equal…”

The movie aims to encourage homemakers to take me time for herself and not become a martyr to her family’s needs and demands.

And all through this, Shashi is also presented with temptation in the form of a handsome Frenchman who is a professional chef (sharing her talent) and belongs to her language class (facing her struggle) who can’t keep his eyes off her because he finds beauty in all her actions. We wonder if she will give in, we would even understand if she does. Will she pursue a new life as well as she has pursued a new skill? Her family is her weakness in more ways than one and we wonder if she will seek escape. Nebbou’s personification of kindness is just what Sridevi’s demonstrations of self-awakenings deserve. It increases the tension in a perversely hopeful way.

Recommendation: Well, language barrier to Hindi might put off some audience but this movie can be watched for that very reason – to appreciate cultural differences (I have seen this movie in my hotel room in Bangkok once in Thai). Moreover, stories this valuable if missed is a great miss. I can tell you that it is not the first I have watched it nor will it be the last.

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WEDNESDAY REFLECTION #16: Mr. Church starring Eddie Murphy, Britt Robertson, and Natascha McElhone

Via: Daily Prompt – Roots

mr-church-posterTitle     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.

 

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WEDNESDAY REFLECTION #15: Zootopia

Via: Daily Prompt – Chuckle

1yzlawykxzzhydogjcqovq0gvycTitle     Zootopia

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.

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WEDNESDAY REFLECTION #13: The Apartment starring Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine

Via: Daily Prompt – Champion

the-apartment-movie-poster-1960-1010144022Title     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.

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WEDNESDAY REFLECTION #10: Lost in Austen

Via: Daily Prompt – Rumination

51h8cwyc6nlTitle     Lost in Austen

Starring     Jemima Rooper and Elliot Cowan

Director     Dan Zeff

Writer(s)     Guy Andrews

Genre     Romance Fantasy Drama

Release Date     September 2008

Filming Location     United Kingdom

Parental Guidance     PG

IMDB Rating     7.5

Synopsis: Amanda Price (Jemima Rooper) laments her ordinary life and less-than-romantic boyfriend-trying-to-be-fiancé because she cannot get enough of Pride and Prejudice. She dreams of living in the courteous world of Jane Austen’s creation. And then Elizabeth Bennet (Gemma Arterton) stumbles through a portal in Amanda’s bathroom and they switch… realms. Somehow managing to pass off Elizabeth’s disappearance as an exchange program to the Bennets, Amanda finds allies among Elizabeth’s father Mr. “Claud” Bennet (Hugh Bonneville) and elder sister Jane Bennet (Morven Christie) even while feeding the suspicions of mother Mrs. Bennet (Alex Kingston) and best friend Charlotte Lucas (Michelle Duncan). Amanda bumbles her way through this world, trying to ensure Elizabeth’s absence does not ruin the rest of the novel’s plot. However, in her willingness to precipitate the story and through her very modernized manners, she makes a muck of things. Too soon, Mr. Darcy (Elliot Cowen) and Miss Caroline Bingley (Christina Cole) convinces Mr. Bingley (Tom Mison) to shed his love for Jane and Jane, not Charlotte, ends up marrying Mr. Collins (Guy Henry) and so forth. And Amanda is desperate to return Elizabeth to her rightful place in the story, too, because Mr. Darcy is very much in danger of falling in love with Amanda and Amanda also finds herself in equal danger of returning the affection.

Experience: Some time ago, fellow blogger Ally asked me, in response to my ranting off in a post on Charlotte Brontë vs. Jane Austen, whether I am in Team Elizabeth or Team Darcy. My answer was, of course, Team Elizabeth because only by pretending to be Elizabeth, can I “make love to” Darcy. [It obviously has been a source of constant contemplation of mine] Some time later, I came across a blog that listed a few P&P inspired films and learned about Lost in Austen, a movie that depicts just what fantasizing about a fictitious hero could’ve led me to if my world was perfect.

Oh! Sweet Hell!

I think Austen fans do this to themselves all the time. There are those who create fanfictions because they cannot bear the idea that the novel had to come to an end (I do not include the zombie apocalypse in this, which could have only been contrived out of jealous spite); then there are those of us who cannot presume to work upon Austen’s masterpieces but keep seeking out these fanfictions because we too cannot get enough of the originals and are secretly masochists because the spin-offs are usually so baaaad. Lost in Austen is not bad at all.

Apart from a stellar cast, most of whom do their respective roles almost as great service as in the 1995 BBC Pride and Prejudice adaptation, Guy Andrews wrote the story so plausibly that I hated for this TV movie to end. Truly, it has such believable plot twists – nay CHARACTER twists – that I, too, like Amanda would begin to wonder how Austen could have gotten all these details about everyone’s characters so wrong had I gotten stuck in Austen. [I almost expected Austen to materialize and smite me for this blasphemy] But, really, how could Austen ever be wrong? *laughs nervously while looking over her shoulder*

Thankfully, nothing in the movie really happened just like P&P is also a work of fiction. But this movie is a damn good alternate story. And Amanda’s character is just the gumptious replacement for Elizabeth’s in the story if ever the existence of the world as we know it depended on Elizabeth to be replaced. [I’m so confused right now; I don’t know what’s real and what’s fiction anymore]

Recommendation: I’m putting an abrupt halt to my analysis because I demand Austen-lovers watch this mini-series to find out exactly what has my bloomers in a bunch. See if it doesn’t leave YOU disoriented! *glares challengingly at the screen*

Also, if you enjoy feasting your eyes on beautiful men, look no further than this sumptuous banquet *drools*

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Boo-boo! (01 min read)

Via: Daily Prompt – Baby

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Is there any other baby who warms our hearts as universally as this child? Baby’s Day Out is the stuff classic cinemas are made of. From story to casts to settings, it is one of those synergic movies that never gets boring. Baby Bink and The Villainous Trio take us on a journey where not a moment is spent without entertainment. Is it any wonder that cable TV has been broadcasting it since it came out in the mid-90s?

So I wonder why the heck it has a 5.9 rating on IMDB. I just rated it 10. If you love this movie as much as I obviously do, do stop by and rate it 10 also and let’s see if we can boost it up as it deserves. The link is on the movie title above.

Also… Hello! The kid made the term “boo-boo”, as in pain, into “boo-boo!”, as in a book. Even if it wasn’t for his guileless antics, I was sold. Imma gonna watch it now. Sigh…

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WEDNESDAY REFLECTIONS #07 – The Lunchbox

Via: Daily Prompt – Expectation

fd9042c9b077fe393b18ae78feb58279_500x735Title     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.

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