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Favourite TV series:
Easy To Assemble
How to Make it in America
Law and Order: Special Victims Unit
Six Feet Under
Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip
West Wing, The
Neuilly sa mère! (2009)
Samy Seghir steals the show
Djamel Bensalah's story isn't anything original but the film is easy to relate to despite all the clichés and stereotypes. Perhaps the key reason is the characterization of the lead character Sami who is superbly played by Samy Seghir. Samy's sudden 'culture' shock from the underdeveloped crime-ridden French suburb to the riches of Neuilly and his struggles to keep up are portrayed effectively. Moreover, Seghir's performance is natural unlike a majority of the child actors seen on screen.
Certain subplots remain underdeveloped even though the director and writer do try to tie it all up in the end. The comedy does feel forced at times, even feeling completely out of place but there is enough here to keep one entertained. The supporting cast performs adequately.
'Neuilly sa mère!' isn't among the finest of its kind but it has enough bright moments to be watchable with the family.
Saving Mr. Banks (2013)
Emma Thompson Delightfully Leads Mr. Banks
John Lee Hancock's 'Saving Mr. Banks' tells the story of P.L. Travers, creator of the classic Mary Poppins. Writers Kelly Marcel, Sue Smith and director Hancock depict how her loving father who struggled with alcoholism influenced her and her refusal to permit Disney to turn Mary Poppins into a movie. However, what I found to be lacking was Aunt Ellie's impact. Clearly she's the inspiration behind the character Mary Poppins and yet there is so little of her shown in the film and what her influence was is left for the viewer to assume. 'Saving Mr. Banks' is quite well shot. However, the special effects are poor. The editing and lighting are smooth and the score is very pleasing. The writing is brilliant, especially the sharp dialogues and the score is wonderful, particularly the renditions of the 'Mary Poppins' soundtrack.
The film boasts of several superb performances. Tom Hanks does a decent job. He exudes enough charm to carry off the part. Colin Farrell, even though not a convincing Australian, does a remarkable job otherwise. Same goes for Annie Rose Buckley. Paul Giamatti is excellent. Bradley Whitford, Jason Schwartzmann and Kathy Baker provide fine support. Rachel Griffiths is wonderful but she deserved more screen time. But, 'Saving Mr. Banks' belongs to Emma Thompson who delivers yet another transcendent performance marking one of her best works.
Flawed it may be but John Lee Hancock's movie is well worth watching. It's charming, colourful, delightful and very well acted.
Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
The Ballad of Llewyn Davis
The Coen Brothers' 'Inside Llewyn Davis' follows struggling musician Llewyn Davis, a one-hit wonder that 'faded into oblivion' after the suicide of his singing partner. He's been performing at gigs, as second fiddle , if he's lucky enough but Davis is about to reach that point of realization that his dreams will only be a dream and the lack of stability in his life (no home, no job, no real friends and not even a proper family) will only push him further into darkness.
The film falls on the lines of 'A Single Man'. Here the viewer is accompanied by some fine music and some suitably awful songs. Moreover, the director duo also create a gloomy but equally intriguing atmosphere set in 1961. It's also darkly comic. All the other people Llewyn meets throughout the film are losers too. The only difference is that Llewyn has pretty much lost everything except his love for music while the others lead a relatively more secure life that is equally, if not more, empty.
Oscar Isaac finally gets a role that allows him to showcase his abilities as an actor. He is well supported by John Goodman and Cary Mulligan. The only bad performance comes from Justin Timberlake. He is awful but thankfully he's only there for a limited time.
Whimsical and atmospheric, 'Inside Llewyn Davis' works as both a character study and mood piece. It's lyrical in style and dark in tone but subtle in humour.
Blue Jasmine (2013)
A Superb Sally and A Magnificent Cate In A Tedious Movie
Based on 'A Streetcar Named Desire', 'Blue Jasmine' tells the story of a snobbish posh woman who once had everything and recently lost it all because of her criminal and unfaithful husband. She is forced to move in with her (much poorer) younger sister. Told in typical Woody Allen fashion, we follow both Jasmine and her sister Ginger as they struggle to make ends meet. J is desperate to find a short cut in order to reenter the world of the rich and Ginger too finds a second opportunity for something bigger...but looks usually are deceiving. 'Blue Jasmine' is well shot. Javier Aguirresarobe's cinematography is first rate. The film itself feels somewhat hollow, especially in the writing department. The pacing too is on the slower side. The best thing about the movie are its performances by the two leading ladies. Both Cate Blanchett and Sally Hawkins do a marvelous job. They are both very convincing as contrasting half sisters and, in the end, that's what you take away from 'Blue Jasmine', two terrific performances in an otherwise dull film that had potential, if only had the concept had been treated well.
Gulaab Gang (2014)
Juhi Chawla is wicked in an otherwise weak film
Soumik Sen's 'Gulaab Gang' released amidst some controversy especially the lawsuit it faced from real Gulabi Gang leader Sampat Pal. After seeing this mess of a film I completely understand why. Of course, when the lead actress Madhuri Dixit describes it as her 'Dabangg' (another overrated awful movie) one pretty much knows what to expect: that this wouldn't be a film that intends to depict the Gulabi Gang and tell their story but just another meaningless good versus evil 'masala' flick masquerading as something that depicts and supports women's rights. Even the producers shamelessly throw in the disclaimer that the movie is entirely fiction. Okay.
There are several songs (ranging from mediocre to awful) and dances. Yes, Madhuri does dance and I doubt she'd ever do a film where she isn't required to dance. After all, she's a much better dancer than actress and here she fails to have an effect. Sen's 'Gulaab Gang' (should have been titled Madhuri's Gang) are all good looking thin women with nice makeup. Occasionally, they swing their hips to music, stand erect looking indifferent or jump around with domestic weapons. Madhuri also gets to do some Kill Bill-Matrix style action sequences (which are mostly shot in slow motion because Bollywood thinks that's cool).
Moreover, the references to Madhuri Dixit the star (and her steamy numbers from 80s movies) are painfully evident. This film was supposed to be about the real Gulabi Gang and not Madhuri the hero. But enough on that. Even otherwise, it's all done so over-the-top. A shootout final? Really? Is this 'Sholay'? The sequences of Rajjo's childhood are laughably bad. Alphonse Roy's cinematography is decent but Sen's script and direction are messy. The film lacks a consistent narrative. The tongue in cheek dialogue appears forced at times.
The only interesting thing about the movie are the Sumitra's sequences especially those with Rajjo. In fact, the Sumitra character is way more interesting than the formulaic (super?)hero. It makes the viewer wonder about her background, what made her into this ruthless power-craving monster. She's clearly a sociopath who's managed to get away with so much all those years.
And of course, Juhi Chawla is transcendent as she steals every scene and is the only reason why the film is even watchable (despite limited screen time). Of the supporting cast Tannishtha Chatterjee and Priyanka Bose stand out. Divya Jagdale is quite loud. Overall, 'Gulaab Gang' is silly. It, very noticeably, tries to milk on Madhuri's former stardom and the growing recognition of the real Gulabi Gang, with it's supposed 'feminist message'. No.
The Western Chameleon
Gore Verbinski's 'Rango' tells the story of a pet Chameleon who suddenly finds himself stranded in a desert where he meets a number of colourful unpleasant characters. With vivid animation, vivacious characters and plenty of energy, this little film highly entertains. It's not the best of its genre as there are problems with pacing and it does occasionally tend to derail from the main story. Needless to say it requires the 'Madagascar' level of suspension of disbelief. The humour works in most parts even if at times it tends to be a little too all over the place, leaving no time to resonate. The voice acting is superb, especially by leads Johnny Depp, Bill Nighy, Ned Beatty and Isla Fisher. Verbinski also pays several references to Western classics. This is a cute and funny tribute to that once-popular genre that dominated the screen in the 60s.
The Ghost Truck
Spielberg's 'Duel' was originally made for television. Throughout the years it has gained a cult following. The film is minimalistic in style and effectively executed. Spielberg once mentioned in an interview that he was initially thinking of whether to show any of the trucker at all. In my opinion, this would have been a more clever decision as it would have left things more open to interpretation as fear of the unknown is usually stronger. Despite this, the director successfully manages to create and maintain tension throughout. The isolated desert landscape further adds to the atmosphere. The car chase sequences were brilliantly shot. Actor Dennis Weaver does a fine job too. 'Duel', in the end, is a suspense thriller that manages to engage and entertain the viewer.
An artist, his lover and her husband
B.R. Chopra's 'Gumrah' has been remade umpteen times in Bollywood, each remake being more (melo)dramatic than its predecessor. The latest one is perhaps Dharmesh Darshan's 'Bewafaaa' (I forgot how many A's the title has) which was a disaster to say the least. The story of 'Gumrah' feels like a typical Bollywood family drama from the 60s.
That isn't necessarily a bad thing but the film gets much more interesting when Meena meets Rajendra after marriage and embarks on an affair with her ex-flame. This was quite a surprise for a film of its time when women were portrayed in stereotypical roles as the loyal and devoted wife, mother or sister who would never cross social boundaries.
Moreover Chopra depicts it quite well without resorting to clichés and he presents some interesting arguments, especially where Rajendra raises the question about whether Meena is only meant to be a caretaker of Ashok's children. However, Chopra's concluding argument is faulty. Is a woman's role only confined to being a homemaker and limited within her home? Granted that it was wrong of her to cheat on her husband but doesn't the husband have any responsibility and granting her the happiness she deserves, a happiness that was forced away when he tied the knot? In addition, the whole Shashikala track felt forced and awkward, changing the entire rhythm of the film.
'Gumrah' is technically well made. The cinematography captures the sense of space and gives us many eye-candy shots. The lighting is impressive. The songs are nice but repetitive.
All three actors deliver some stellar performances. Ashok Kumar is quite charming. However, his French is hilarious (was that intentional?). Sunil Dutt is brilliant as the boyfriend/other man. But 'Gumrah' belongs to Mala Sinha who not only superbly delivers a nuanced performance but very few of her contemporaries could have depicted the internal conflict and vulnerability as effectively as she has. Sinha remains underrated as the actress is hardly mentioned these days when one talks of classics.
Adventures of a cyborg in a mental asylum
Chan-wook Park's 'Ssa-i-bo-geu-ji-man-gwen-chan-a' (aka 'I'm a Cyborg but That's Okay') tells a funny and surreal tale of a young lady who believes she's a cyborg. The film takes place in a mental asylum where a patient falls in love with the 'cyborg'. From the very beginning, Park and his actors engage the viewer and involve you into their imaginary, eccentric and amusingly comical world. With some impressive visuals, a stupendous score and wonderful performances by Su-jeong Lim who is supported well by Rain, there's something magical about 'Ssa-i-bo-geu-ji-man-gwen-chan-a'. The camera-work is amazing and the visuals are stunning. Who would have thought that a mental hospital could feel so enchanting?
'Ssa-i-bo-geu-ji-man-gwen-chan-a' is completely different from Park's more popular films. He took an original concept and has made a poetic film that has heart and magic.
12 Years a Slave (2013)
12 Years In Hell
Steve McQueen's '12 Years A Slave' tells the story of accomplished cellist Solomon Northopp who was kidnapped and sold into slavery. The film grabs your attention from the very start, involving you into the nightmare that Ejiofor's Solomon goes through. The viewer feels for Solomon right away but when his fellow victims are introduced, he/she is further horrified seeing how much worse off these people, including a mother and her two children sold off separately and a young woman forced to becoming a sex slave and forced laborer, are than Northopp and that there's no hope for them.
'12 Years a Slave' is craftfully made. There's some fine cinematography and lighting. Music is used efficiently. In my opinion the best scenes are the ones that had no music or dialogue. For example, the scene where poor Solomon is hang to a tree and left there with his toes barely touching the earth. No dialogue, no music but the rawness of that scene and the 'bystanders' getting along with their day-to-day life in the background is brutally effective.
Chiwetel Ejiorfor is sensational and hopefully this film gives him the recognition he deserves. Lupita Ngong'o is equally stunning and raw. Michael Fassbender and Sarah Paulsen are wonderful. Brad Pitt is the weakest link. The actor doesn't impress and his role should have been cut down. Moreover, it doesn't help that hes given preachy dialogue.
The pacing is a little uneven. Some shots just focus too much on faces, for no apparent reasons (nor does this add anything except more running time) and it's rather distracting. Some of the characters come off as one-dimensional.
'12 Years A Slave' is not one of the finest films but it is well shot, scored and wonderfully acted.