Monday, March 31, 2014

ABOUT TIME

Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams,
Bill Nighy, Lindsay Duncan

"What if every Moment in Life, 
came with a Second Chance?"


I would be the last person on earth to appreciate a film about time travel. I consider myself a realist so fantasy and sci-fi themed movies don't necessarily fit into my realm. 

But there is something quite delightful about this particular film that made me appreciate this genre. It could be that the lead actor is not your typical oozing with sex appeal type yet he gets the girl (Rachel McAdams) through his charming wits.  It might be that the film had a light airy vibe that even a heavy downpour during their wedding didn't cast a damper.  

It could be that aside from the time travel (which dominates most scenes) there are also cherished life lessons to take to heart through the father (Bill Nighy) and son bonding moments.  It could also be the voice over narration (which I especially love in movies).  Or it could be a mix of all of these factors which make "About Time" quite a pleasant viewing experience.

Set in England with its lush countryside and the bustling city of London, Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) discovers at the age of 21 that he has the ability to travel back in time and alter his life course.  A trait he inherited from his father and somehow manifests in the men in their family.  He doesn't really do anything quite drastic as he cannot change history, only his life events.  But soon enough he discovers that this ability has its limits and can be quite dangerous too if he 'veers' in the wrong direction.   

A typical Richard Curtis fare (Love Actually, Notting Hill), this rom-com is well acted, beautifully told with some endearing characters, add in some heartfelt tender moments that will certainly put a smile on your face.

Monday, March 24, 2014

AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY

Meryl Streep, Margo Martindale, Julia Roberts, 
Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper, Sam Shepard,
Julianne Nicholson, Dermot Mulroney, Juliette Lewis, 
Abigail Breslin, Benedict Cumberbatch

"Misery Loves Family"


The only thing I believe I have in common with this film is the scorching hot weather that permeates during the unfolding of this heavy handed drama about a dysfunctional family. I could commiserate with the characters as they were sweating from the intense heat and humidity of an Oklahoma summer.

The film is based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning Tracy Letts’ play and is an insightful experience, funny with all the absurdity of life, sad with its irreversible drive towards death.

It is the month of August, the Weston family is grieving as they mourn the sudden death of its patriarch Beverly Weston (Sam Shepard) through an apparent suicide.

The Weston family is led by his widow Violet (Meryl Streep), an over medicated, foul mouthed, heavy drinker who is also battling mouth cancer.  Her estranged daughters come home, each of them carrying their own emotional baggage. As they all gather for the funeral, long buried and hidden secrets are revealed and explosively expose their vulnerability and frailty as a family as well as individuals.

Since it is a play, most of the scenes are set in one location - the ancestral home. But it also incorporates the local landscapes of the real Osage County in northern Oklahoma.  Wide, open spaces that bear silent witness to the loud, in-your-face melodramatic moments at the Weston household composed mostly of strong willed women.

The storyline is quite dark and intense, and to a certain extent really tragic. It is mostly dialogue driven and it really helps that the lines are delivered by a cast of well trained actresses.

Meryl Streep is highly overbearing as Violet but at the same time, you feel her 'pain'. And even if we refuse to acknowledge it, we somehow understand why she is so bitter. Julia Roberts as the eldest daughter Barbara is in one of her most unglamorous roles - without any make up, she is able to relay her antagonistic attitude quite brilliantly.  For me, Margo Martindale was quite a revelation as the highly judgmental Mattie Fae, the sister of Violet.  She was basically the 'string' that held all the characters together.  Each of them fully immersing themselves in their roles with aplomb.

Most of the time, it is quite hard to watch as people are very mean to each other. Spewing vitriol, being very critical and using demeaning words like it was a natural thing to constantly dampen other people's feelings without any tinge of remorse.

People being harsh to their own flesh and blood is a highly foreign concept for me. Family should always come first and be treated with much deserved respect irregardless of our flaws and weaknesses as individuals.

The movie is also quite compelling to absorb as towards the end ... you sense that self awareness, redemption and remorse is actually possible. Never mind that there is such a tiny window for it to creep in. The fact remains that there is still a very small glimmer of hope even for such torn and conflicted characters.

Monday, March 10, 2014

12 YEARS A SLAVE

Chiwetel Eijofor, Lupita Nyong'o,
Michael Fassbender,  Sarah Paulson

"The Extraordinary True Story of Solomon Northup"


Any movie that handles the heavy theme of slavery is bound to be graphically violent. It is inherent to depict brutality to provide authenticity to the essence of the movie. Director Steve McQueen did an excellent job in constantly presenting complex emotions and thoughts manifested through the struggles of one man through such visual means. The vast cotton fields and painted skies of Louisiana provide an excellent backdrop to the terrible torment of Solomon Northup.

The film is based on the memoirs of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) who was a free black man living in Saratoga, New York with his wife and two children in the 1800s. Lured to Washington, D.C under false pretenses, he wakes up bound and chained and is eventually sold to a plantation owner even though he insisted he is a free man.

Eventually, he is sold to a ruthless cotton farm owner (Michael Fassbender) and we bear witness to his daily hardships - a horrible existence that lasts for 12 years.

It is not easy to watch as there are several cringe moments which will make you avert your eyes away from the blood, the torn flesh, sweat and tears that abounds in many frames. But at the same time, these scenes are sporadic, well edited and serve the larger story of a man starved of his freedom.   There is also an underlying tone (however small it is) of hope, survival and a never giving up stance that sustains Solomon.

Much of the story plays out across the facial expressions of Ejiofor. A talented British actor whose repertoire of films consisted mostly of supporting roles. Here as Solomon Northup, he is devastatingly effective with a subdued performance that will tug at your heart strings. Even though he didn't get the Best Actor Oscar for this role, he will no doubt be long remembered for his heartbreaking characterization of a wronged man

When Solomon utters the line "I don't want to survive ... I want to live", you want to believe him even though you silently know it would mean having his soul crushed to its very core before he can achieve his desire.

"12 years a Slave" is a well executed film about slavery that neither condones nor glorify a period that has left an indelible mark in American history. It simply presents one long chapter among several stories about slavery in America.

With raw and brutal honesty, the devastating tale of Solomon Northup is  essayed in "12 Years a Slave",  in the hope that it won't ever be repeated.

This even as we all know that slavery (human trafficking) is still as rampant today as it was centuries ago, unfortunately!

Monday, March 3, 2014

NEBRASKA

Bruce Dern, Will Forte
June Squibb, Stacy Keach


This latest offering from director Alexander Payne (Sideways, The Descendants) is shot entirely in black and white. It features his home state Nebraska as the background to a simple yet deeply poignant story about the road trip of one family.  

The elderly Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) receives a letter informing him that he won a million dollars in some sweepstakes marketing promotion. Driven by his desire to provide a 'legacy' to his family, he is intent on claiming the prize even though his son David (Will Forte) keeps telling him it is a scam and he hasn't won anything.   But as anyone who has ever dealt with an elderly parent knows, they can be pretty stubborn when they have set their mind on something and slowly obsession takes over. So I truly admired David for being kind enough to go along with his father's 'fantasy' by driving him across states to claim the prize.  

What ensues is an entertaining road trip where father and son get to bond together. Here lies the beauty of "Nebraska" as the scenery changes with every state (even though it is clearly in black and white frames). Their encounters with the residents of Woody's home town also provide some humorous moments. All of them 'excited' to have a millionaire in their midst. 

The ensemble cast composed of professional and non pro actors all mix together to provide a realistic view of life in the Midwest.  Led by Bruce Dern, his characterization of Woody is tragic yet funny. In the ultimate scene when he does find out that he in fact did not win anything, my heart was broken into pieces. His silent resignation that he was not a millionaire played out beautifully sans hysteria but his crestfallen facial expressions revealed his true sentiments.

June Squibb as his wife Kate absolutely cracked me up with her obscenities and foul language. Her believable performance also provided most of the laughs, albeit in a deadpan sense of humour way.

Once again, Payne truly delivers with yet another laid back story of ordinary people facing major changes in their lives. "Nebraska" offers just the right blend of humour and drama that pulls at your heartstrings. Further elevated by the raw and highly emotional acting talent of its cast.  A highly recommended film!
 

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