Wednesday, April 29, 2009

THE JANE AUSTEN BOOK CLUB

Maria Bello, Emily Blunt, Kathy Baker, Amy Brenneman,
Maggie Grace, Jimmy Smits, Hugh Dancy


"You don't have to know the books to be in the club."


HBO



5 women of various ages (+ 1 guy) meet up once a month to discuss ... what else - Jane Austen's novels. One novel is assigned for each month so they read, scrutinize and discuss it to bits and pieces. In turn, some of them feel a special bond with the characters in the novels. Essentially, they find their lives imitating art. Austen's books are certified classics whose stories are still very much relevant and applicable to current times and this film is a visual testament to that adage.

This chick lit flick portrays 5 different women with interesting personalities coming together to bond over Jane Austen's novels. The characters (in the film) are well developed. They are essayed by good actresses like Maria Bello and Kathy Baker among others. Each of them with their distinct style of acting yet coherently blending together as an ensemble cast.

But men are not entirely excluded in this film as they do play very pertinent supporting roles. Special mention goes to Hugh Dancy who is simply such a joy to watch. His baby face allure coupled with his witty demeanor gave the only guy to be part of the book club so much depth.

A feel good movie with no major conflict to digest even though it presented the lives of 6 different individuals. Nice camaraderie among the ensemble cast. It also gave witty insights into the timeless novels of Jane Austen.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

DOUBT

Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Viola Davis


"There is no evidence. There are no witnesses.
But for one, there is no doubt."



The simple manner that "Doubt" was presented doesn't belittle the fact that it deals with thought provoking topics. It touches on religion, morality, suspicion, guilt and what else but the touchy subject of "doubt". A powerful emotion that casts uncertainty, mistrust, disbelief and suspicion over the existence of something that is true.

In this film, the setting is in a Catholic school run by nuns. The uncertainty stems from a novice teacher/nun, Sister James (Amy Adams) who suspects that Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is exhibiting inappropriate behavior towards a young black student. She allays her 'fears' to Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep), the stern principal of the school who in turn would stop at nothing to expose the truth however vindictive it seems.

The confrontational scene where the three characters talk to each other about the misdemeanor in the small office of the principal is the main highlight of the film. It is well paced with nary a hysterical moment even though a shouting match occurs. The acting performances (not only in this specific scene but during the entire movie) from Streep, Seymour and even Amy Adams (in a serious role) was superb with close up shots of the character's facial expressions conveying a multitude of emotions.

Through out the entire movie, you feel anxious and a bit edgy. There is an immediate sense to find out the truth - whether Father Flynn is indeed guilty or not guilty of the accusations thrown at him. It helps that the main actors are talented and play sympathetic characters. You fully invest yourself in their characters welfare. Yet it gets to a certain point where you end up not really caring about his guilt and simply focus on the method the accusers use to prove their point.

In the end, the movie concludes in the same manner as it started with doubts still prevail in every sense of the word! Yet at the same time, it merely proves that when one is in doubt, there is no doubt (that there is something circumspect about the whole deal). Amen!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

THE NAMESAKE

Kal Penn, Tabu, Irrfan Khan, Zuleika Robinson, Jacinda Barrett


"Two Worlds. One Journey"


Star Movies




There is this very significant scene in this film about immigrants and their personal struggles to adapt to their new home. The main character Gogol Ganguli (Kal Penn) is talking to his father Ashoke (Irrfan Khan). His father explains the life altering circumstances in his past which contributed to the son being named after the Russian author, Nikolai Gogol. They both had different reactions when the truth was revealed. You could probably chalk it up to a generation gap or maybe a cultural clash but either way it was quite an emotional scene.

The film adaptation of Jhumpha Lahiri's famous novel of the same title is an appropriate portrayal about the valid personal struggles of immigrants. It narrates the story of an American Indian immigrant and his relationship with his parents, his original home (Calcutta, India) as well as his new adopted land (America).

It helps that the characters are well developed and quite sympathetic and endearing to watch. From the parents sacrifices to give their children a better life in a foreign land to the nonchalant and almost indifferent manner that their children react towards their heritage is well presented.

The movie shows a well balanced view between the Indian heritage and the American culture which has enveloped the younger generation. It helps that the actors gave plausible performances. From Tabu as the disenfranchised mother, Irrfan Khan as the steady father figure to Kal Penn as the confused Gogol - they all contributed nicely to give the film some poignant moments without being too sappy for one's own good. Although I thought that trying to make Kal Penn look like a teenager by wearing an ill fitting wig looked totally false. I wonder how come they couldn't afford to hire a younger Indian actor to portray him. But nonetheless it was good to see him in a serious role. One which doesn't require him to act foolish and silly like his White Castle roles.

The cinematography was also well balanced with graphic scenes shot in India and as well as in New York with its bitter winters. Scenes of the Taj Mahal was breathtaking and it brought back fond memories of my childhood days. Years of growing up in the frenzied pace of New Delhi with its chaotic yet exotic charms.

I was nodding in agreement at the scenes where they visited their homeland for a vacation and they were complaining about the heat. A stifling culture shock which really envelops anyone who goes back for a vacation at the land of our birth.

Nicely tucked in between the culture shock, the cultural generation gap between the immigrants and their parents is an emotional love story. I was really touched by the romance between Gogol's parents. Their arranged marriage endured despite conflicting circumstances. From surviving in a strange and foreign land to raising children in a new environment and trying not to lose their rich heritage and identity in the process.

Mira Nair did a good job in directing such diverse characters with a complex storyline. I assume it is a good adaptation of the novel which by the way I haven't read yet. But a book which I bought and haven't lost myself in its numerous pages because of time constraints. Now I just might dust it off the book shelf and discover for myself its essence.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

THE TEN COMMANDMENTS (1956)

Charlton Heston, Yul Brynner, Anne Baxter, Yvonne De Carlo, John Derek


"It would take more than a man to lead the slaves from bondage.
It would take a God."


Studio 23




Nothing like a movie with biblical theme to get you into the somber Holy Week frame of mind. Not that this film was depressing! On the other hand it was inspirational and filled with hopeful nuances. Watching this movie was like a refresher course in Catechism (for me). The story of Moses is an uplifting saga. It evolves from his childhood, to his 'royal' upbringing as a Prince of Egypt to his final mission as the leader of an enslaved people into the Promised Land. An added bonus was the phenomenal parting of the red sea scene and the 'presentation' of the ten commandment tablets - thanks to the mastery of the blue screen technique.

It was full of pomp and pageantry with major stars like Heston, Brynner and Baxter in fancy regalia. Their fabulous wardrobe appropriate for that regal era. The ensemble cast gave powerful and memorable performances as they essayed larger than life characters. The set design was ornate and quite elaborate. The cinematography was vibrant with a kaleidoscope of colors. It dealt with topics like jealousy, deceit, intrigue and the reign of good over evil. Although sometimes it veered toward exaggeration yet strangely so, it was convincingly genuine. The dialogue was a bit over the top, felt totally scripted and they were even some scenes uttered complete with sounds of trumpets. Truly grandiose! But since it was filmed in the golden age of the big studios and the hey day of cinema way back in 1956, this movie was deemed an epic. And rightfully so.

Everything about the film was indeed of biblical proportions. But it was also well made and quite advanced for its time. 220 minutes well spent in front of the telly due to the hugely entertaining factor of the film. Plus you get some historical as well as biblical insights about a story that endures for several generations and lives on for several lifetimes.
 

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