Movie Review: The King’s Speech

March 7, 2011

Much to my delight, Amit and I managed to get away for a movie on Sunday afternoon while the kids were napping and the cook was cooking. Our choices were Hall Fall and The King’s Speech and I chose the latter purely because it had swept the Oscars. It’s quite something to be watching a current, talk-of-the-town movie in a movie hall for a change. The last such movie we watched together was Quantum of Solace – yes, it’s been that long.

Anyway, I can see why The King’s Speech is such an acclaimed movie. It follows an infallible formula for success – a simple story, well told. In fact, brilliantly told. The charm of the story is that it is one man’s battle against his own limitation – against his fears, his boundaries. He has one person to help him and guide him and even to challenge him. And they both are men, not young, not handsome, and with nothing else between them except this one battle that they are fighting together. The fact that the man fighting the battle is a king becomes secondary to the battle itself – it could be anyone, fighting their own battle against their past, and trying to meet (or make, or at least take charge of) their destiny.

The acting is superb. Colin Firth expresses in his face and eyes so much of what he suffers in being unable to speak. And all of the others are good too, even the King’s two little girls and Logue’s family.

The lines are superb. I love when Logue calls the kings doctors idiots, and, when the king says they are knighted, smoothly retorts that well, it’s official, then.

The context is perfect. It would have been easy to get distracted by throwing in a lot of royalty into this movie. But they haven’t done that. There’s just enough trappings to remind you that this is, after all, a prince and a king that we’re dealing with; but you never get side-tracked by that fact. I also like the way Logue’s family is shown. They could have skipped that altogether, but it adds so much depth to the movie to have it there. I also like the fact that they end with a small victory. It’s not as if the king became a great orator and delivered a hugely emotional, stirring speech. His was a modest victory – nine minutes, without stammering. That is so realistic, so achievable. So inspiring.

Would I watch it again? Probably not. I’m not sure it would hold my attention a second time round. But if it were coming on TV some day, I’d probably wait for the “they’re idiots” line before I changed the channel. And then, maybe, I’d watch a little more.

Movie Review: Rabbit Hole

March 7, 2011

I watched this movie while Amit and the kids were in Calcutta. I had made up my mind to watch a movie, any movie, while on my mini-break and this seemed the best of the lot. However, it sounded rather depressing. It was supposed to be about a couple who had just lost their four-year-old in an accident. Not the best thing for a mom of two four-year-olds to dwell on, you’d think.

But it was a superb movie. It didn’t dwell on the death of the child so much; it was all about how the two parents were grieving in their different ways. The mom stoically practical, moving on, trying to bury or deny her grief; the dad almost relishing it, relinquishing himself to it, holding on to the past, almost as though letting go of it would belittle his love for his son or his grief over his son’s death. Both partners find it difficult to understand the other’s way of handling their grief. The dad does try to reach out to the mom, but he also seems to resent her hard, level-headed practicality, and her need to move on. She can’t handle his hanging on style of grieving. The movie is beautifully done – you can understand each person’s pain, see each person struggling to deal with it, and identify in some part with both of them. You can see just how difficult it would be for them to bridge the gap. And how easy it would be to turn to someone else for solace. Yet, the movie doesn’t go down that path – it doesn’t become yet another tale of an extra-marital affair. It also doesn’t commit that other crime against reality – the crime of showing a really superficial happy ending. The ending, as much as the middle, is true to life. It’s not a happy ending, so much as it is a small tiny step towards what might be a happy beginning, or maybe a happy resuming. I haven’t seen a movie so delicately, so sensitively done in a long time. Of course, I haven’t seen too many movies in the last so many years, so that may not be saying much, but it really was a brilliant movie.

Film Review: Wednesday

July 15, 2009

Amit had been very keen to watch this film, so we got the DVD and watched it last night. With Anupam Kher and Naseeruddin Shah, no women (to speak of), no romance, no songs, it looked like being an interesting change from your usual Bollywood offering.

I must add for the sake of clarity and honesty, that I’m not much of a Bollywood aficionado. I’ve probably seen ten Bollywood films in the last ten years, but not necessarily one a year. Those I can recall are, in no particular order, Black, Lagaan, The Blue Umbrella, Rang De Basanti, Chak De, Slumdog Millionaire, Taare Zameen Par… And that’s not even ten.

Still, I’d heard a bit about Wednesday, it was supposed to be a good, tight, fast-paced action film. I suppose my mistake was, on hearing that, expecting something Hollywood.

I was disappointed on several accounts. First, by Hollywood standards, there wasn’t much action or suspense in this movie. It kept trying to slowly lead up to something, but when the climax came, it wasn’t an action-thriller climax at all. It was a social message. And obviously, since it was Bollywood, the message was verbose, in your face, emotional, overdone, out of character, and completely overboard. It only stopped short of being melodramatic (if it did, I’m not even sure of that) because it was delivered by Naseeruddin Shah.

In any case, I don’t like films that set out to tell a good story, rush ahead full steam until half-way through and then stop short and say: hang on; this isn’t about the story at all: it’s about this social message, and here it comes! Rang De Basanti did exactly the same thing and I hated the second part of that film, especially because it followed the good-fun type of first half. This is so disappointing, when the social message could have been kept to about two lines (instead of 200 or so), or, better still, could have been made part of the story itself. A prime example of this – from Hollywood, because I haven’t seen enough of Bollywood – is Blood Diamond. There is a social message, but it is delivered through the story – which remains a good action drama – instead of suddenly hijacking the story and completely subjugating it to the delivery of the message.

There were other things I didn’t like about this film as well. I think the characters – as in so much of Bollywood – are stereotypes, in fact almost caricatures, of themselves. Like the hacker-techie chap, for instance. And the CM. A politician who manages to become the CM of Maharashtra is nobody’s fool, the way this fellow seems to have become.

Anupam Kher and the great Naseeruddin Shah did their parts well, as would be expected. But I found too many flaws in Naseeruddin Shah’s character. If he is such a “common man,” how come he speaks such super-upper-class English? I’d sooner accept this in a well-educated, well-bred, upper-class terrorist, than in a “common man” gone mad. And how does this extremely humble “common man” know so much geeky cellphone technology (quite apart from bomb-making technology)?

I also don’t really understand this: Even if you accept that the common man has had it with terrorism; and that the common man has had it with terrorists getting a decent trial and jail sentence; and that the common man would rather see terrorists dead than back out in the real world; even if you accept all that, would you really go so far as to have sympathy with a person who is willing to bomb and kill another round of innocent people in an effort to nail a few terrorists? Isn’t one sort of violence just as bad as the other? Can you really elevate vigilant-ism over out-and-out terrorism on moral grounds? Ok, so finally the fake-terrorist-common-man character hadn’t in fact placed six bombs all over Mumbai. But when the techie-hacker and that other fellow start suddenly developing sympathy and goodwill for him, they don’t know that. Besides, nobody said that the bomb kept in the police station, which was found and defused, wasn’t capable of killing people. How about that? Or is this the famous argument about the ends justifying the means? In which case, mustn’t you measure terrorism also by the same token? Terrorists also (claim to) have an ideology… we may not agree with it, but to them it is as valid as any other ideal that anyone else aspires to. Isn’t it the “means” (violence, murder, innocent victims, communal bias etc) that make it so wrong?

And how about the Commissioner of Police going and shaking hands with the common-man-terrorist who almost bombed his police station? And how about the police cold-bloodedly murdering the one remaining terrorist who wasn’t killed in the bomb? Do we condone that as well? Do we say, “Well, it happens all the time…”? Do we say, “Well, he deserved it…”? Do we say, “He was scum, anyway, so who cares?”

So, the more I think about it, the less I like it. I want my action-drama to be an action-drama, and if I must watch a preachy film, I want the ethics clearly thought out and well presented. I don’t want a sentimental mish-mash of the two, not even with Anupam Kher and Naseeruddin Shah. Am I the only one to think like this?

Views, Reviews

February 24, 2009

There are many good things about vacations, specially vacations involving long train journeys, but one of the nicest is that I actually get a chance to read.

On the train to Delhi en route to Binsar, I read Chetan Bhagat’s Five Point Someone.

I don’t actually read a lot of Indian authors in English, and now I know why. This book was shockingly bad. The language was trying to be young and hip without being very successful in the attempt; there was a feeble excuse for a plot; and the characters were at best two-dimensional. It was probably one of the worst books I’ve read in a long time.

From Delhi to Binsar and back to Delhi, I read a book that was highly recommended by my mother: Alias Grace, by Margaret Atwood. This was a really good book. Although it is about a murder, I wouldn’t call it a murder mystery. It is about a historical crime (not entirely fictional, I mean) which took place in the mid-1800s. The story is told from the perspective of the accused, Grace, which is, in itself, unusual. I liked the way the whole plot unfolds and resolves itself, and the way characters are drawn from the perspective mainly of this one person. And I enjoyed all the little details of everyday life which are not relevant to the plot, but which, in this book, add a lot of richness.

In Delhi, at my father-in-law’s house, a book called Every Night Josephine caught my eye. Well, with a title like that, it could hardly miss. However, it’s not what you’re thinking. It’s about a TV star couple who have a love affair with a dog -a French Poodle called Josephine. It was probably written 50 years ago, and has several references to people I’ve never heard of, but it’s very entertaining and light reading. The author is someone called Jacqueline Susann, is famously the author of a book called Valley of the Dolls, which I’d never heard of before.

I also got to watch two movies on this holiday. One was, of course Slumdog Millionaire. My reaction to it is similar to my reaction to Five Point Someone. An excuse for a plot, two dimensional characters, ham acting. I don’t watch a lot of Hindi movies, so I don’ have much to compare it with, but if I think of Black, or Taare Zameen Par, both of which have their share of ham acting, but much more convincingly done, I can only scratch my head in wonder that this should be the movie everyone’s making such a fuss about.

The other movie I saw, on the other hand was just fantastic. Mamma Mia. What a fun flick! It has a lot of Abba songs and it has Pierce Brosnan! I would never have imagined such a combination in a Hollywood film, but now that I’ve seen it, really, what could be better?

The Namesake

May 4, 2008

I caught this movie on TV on Friday night. I’d heard a lot about it – not all of it good – when it was released, so I was quite happy for the opportunity to watch it without making any special effort. But I have to say, I was quite, in fact thoroughly, disappointed with it. So disappointed, in fact, that now I must read the book to find out whether it is just as bad, or whether much has been fouled up in the process of translating it to screen.

As usual, what follows is not going to make sense if you haven’t seen the movie. Also, spoilers ahead (if anything I say can be considered to further spoil this movie.)

I have several “minor” complaints with the movie – it is too jerky and episodic and there is no continuity till at least halfway through the film; characters are not built up at all; there are gaping holes in the story line. Why, for instance, does Ashima not go with Ashok to Cleveland or wherever it was he went where he dropped dead all of a sudden? What did he drop dead of? Why did he ask her to change her mind about not accompanying him, and she later say that he had gone away to train her to live alone? Whose decision was it and why? Why did Moushmi feel that, having got married to Gogol, she had to stop living her life and be a “good bengali housewife who fries samosas every Thursday”? What was the basis for Moushmi’s wedding with Gogol anyway? Did they have anything at all in common or was it only because they had sex on their second date? (And, by the way, what happened to that chicken on the stove, while they retired to the bedroom? That worries me greatly, that does – did she turn it off, or did it burn? Or was there, as Amit suggested, a timer on the stove that turned it off automatically when it was done?) Why was all that emphasis on locating Gogol when his dad died, and not much concern about his sister? Why did Gogol have such an awkward relationship with his father anyway? That scene where Ashok gives Gogol the Gogol book is so weird! That, and the breaking-up scene with Max – what was that all about? If either scene were to make sense, it had to have a lot, LOT more context and character-building preceding it. Max is looking like a real nice gal, so well suited for Gogol and all of a sudden, bam! – there’s a complete disconnect.

But those are all the minor inconveniences. What I really didn’t get about the movie was, whose movie was it anyway? It started and ended with Ashima, and for the first quarter or so, she seemed to be the protagonist. But then, it suddenly became all about Gogol and his obsession with his name. Which might have been ok, only, it never convincingly made Gogol its subject. At least, at the end we know that Ashima returned to India and found her life waiting for her there. What happened to poor Gogol, cuckolded by his wife and abandoned to loneliness? At the end, his fate seems quite irrelevant – he never even reads the book by his namesake gifted to him by his father, and therefore understands nothing about Gogol (the original) or his father.

Humph. A completely unsatisfactory movie and the best that can be said of it is that at least at one point it made both of us laugh out loud (probably by mistake). Here’s how that happened.

Ashima is upset that Gogol is too busy to come home to mom and dad, but not too busy to spend a weekend with his girlfriend Max (Maxine) and her family. She complains to a friend/colleague:
Ashima: “How come… blah blah blah… and what kind of a girl calls herself Max anyway?”
Colleague (without losing a beat): “Maybe it’s a guy.”
And this is supposed to be comforting and sympathetic?


April 1, 2008

What a good movie! This one is in the same class as Ocean’s Eleven, though different and in some ways not quite as good.

Of Demi Moore and Michael Caine, I would have expected the former to steal the limelight, if nothing else, then just for being a glamorous woman. But I would have been mistaken. Demi Moore was good, but not great in her role; Michael Caine was great.

Still, neither actor alone would have carried the movie if it hadn’t had a good plot and a good pace and lots of suspense right up to the end.  I can’t say much more about this without spoiling it – which would be a shame – so I’ll just say that it was a really interesting movie and I enjoyed it thoroughly.

Taare Zameen Par

March 24, 2008

This movie came highly recommended, so Amit and I finally sat down and watched it last night.

It is the story of a boy who fares miserably in school and also is a bit of a misfit amongst his peers. He is happiest alone, observing things, painting or involved in creative activities, playing with pets. Unable to tolerate his poor academic performance, his parents send him off to boarding school, with the idea that the strict disciplining of that environment will sort out his “behavioural” problems. Naturally, it does nothing of the sort. Viewing it as punishment – as it was intended to be – the boy feels rejected by his family, retreats into himself, gives up painting, loses interest in everything else, and seems to be in depression. Enter Aamir Khan, who cleverly diagnoses dyslexia, and fast forward to a happy ending.

The only thing I can say is that it is inconceivable that – in this day and age, and in the social context of this boy’s family – the boy’s condition should have gone undiagnosed for so long. His condition is so severe that even I could diagnose it in minutes. How could his entire set of friends, family, teachers, all have failed to either diagnose it, or even to refer the boy to a doctor or psychologist?

Having said that, the movie, I must add, is excellently made. I do not recall when any other movie moved me so much, that for much of the time I felt close to tears. The boy’s victimisation, isolation, depression, are very well portrayed. You can’t help putting yourself in his shoes, even when you can also identify with, say, his mother, who is loving but frustrated. His father is portrayed in a very two-dimensional way which I felt was unrealistic – callous and almost cruel; but perhaps not as unrealistic as I would like to believe.

His elder brother’s tragedy is hinted at and then by-passed: a model son, who comes first in every subject (other than Hindi) and also excels at tennis, but who lacks the truant brother’s artistic skill and carefree (bindaas) attitude, like so many first-borns he is a victim of his parents’ ambitions.

There is a message, of course, and Aamir Khan does his bit of preaching to ensure that the message reaches the audience loud and clear. Thankfully, though it is a bit overdone, it does not become unpalatably moralistic and self-righteous.

On the whole, a movie very well made and delivered. Hats off to Aamir Khan, again.

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