Friday, February 16, 2018

Collateral Beauty

Will Smith, Edward Norton, Kate Winslet,
Helen Mirren, Keira Knightley, 
Michael Pena,  Naomie Harris

"Connect to the Beauty of Life"



The film opens with Howard (Will Smith), the charismatic co-founder of a successful ad agency giving a pep talk to his team. He asks them "What is your why"? He replies "Time, Love and Death.  They connect with every person in this universe. We long for love. We wish we had more time.  And we fear death". Good points to ponder on.  

Three years later, we again see Howard but this time he has been reduced to an empty shell, a melancholic person wallowing in misery. Yet he has a good reason, he lost his 6 year old daughter to cancer. He still goes to the office but he doesn't talk to anyone, he just spends his days building mazes of dominoes which he eventually 'demolishes' and starts building them again. He hardly sleeps, goes out on his bike being reckless biking on the wrong side of the road. 

His 3 co-partners are worried about him, about the fate of the ad agency which isn't doing well so they resort to hiring actors at a local theater to 'stalk' Howard. This is brought about by 3 letters which Howard wrote to Time, Love and Death. His missives are mostly guilty stricken, longing for answers and deeply emotional letters. 

So Claire (Kate Winslet), Simon (Michael Pena) and Whit (Edward Norton) think the best way to salvage the agency is to prove that Howard is mentally unstable so they can sell the company to another media outfit.

The film is focused on Howard talking with these 3 actors named Rafi, Amy and Brigitte who have been assigned to tackle the persona of Time, Love and Death. 

Time (Jacob Latimore) is paired with Claire, a workaholic who may have wasted time by focusing too much on her career instead of starting a family. Love (Keira Knightley) is paired with Whit, a single dad who is trying to win back his daughter's love. While Death  (Helen Mirren) is handled by Simon, who hides his terminal illness from his family and friends.  In their encounters with Howard and their respective handlers, we see how their interaction slowly make an impact on their dispositions, and their overall attitude towards life.  

Howard also seeks the help of a counselling group whose goal is to help their members cope with grief after losing a child. The group is headed by Madeleine (Naomie Harris) a divorced mother whose daughter succumbed  to a rare form of cancer. At first, Howard is hesitant to join them but slowly inches his way into the group during his frequent 'run-ins' with Time, Love and Death.

Surprisingly, this movie flopped at the box office and the critics lambasted it. The presence of the strong cast could not salvage it but I liked the movie. It deals with profound grief which isn't an easy subject to tackle. Certainly, the plot had some loopholes like that unexpected twist towards the end but I think the cast more than made up for it  with their heartfelt delivery and strong performances.

Now allow me to venture a guess as to why this melancholic film didn't rate high with the critics. I believe it is because it was given the "Hollywood" treatment. Well this isn't necessarily a bad thing, mind you. Yet in certain movies, it can completely ruin the story by veering too far off from the main message by throwing in too many distractions like unnecessary side plots. They tend to confuse complex with complicated and this doesn't bode well for any narrative, no matter how good the cast are. 

I reiterate though that I liked this emotional movie and was deeply touched by its essence.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Victoria and Abdul

Dame Judi Dench,  Ali Fazal,
Eddie Izzard

"An untold True Story of
a Queen and her best Friend"


The film begins with a disclaimer "based on true events ... mostly" so this should all put us at ease. The fact that the aging Queen Victoria, a cantankerous being in her old age suddenly regains her joie de vivre from her friendship with an Indian servant named Abdul Karim is really preposterous, come to think about it.

How in that day and age can a lowly servant develop a deep friendship with the ruler of many colonies? Even to this current time, the British monarchy is still bound with many protocols to merit a comfortable liaison with them. Even though the younger members of the monarchy seem to be more approachable, I believe they are still restricted and controlled by certain age old norms and traditions.

So anyway back to the film. We see an aged Queen Victoria (Judi Dench) who simply goes through her ceremonial tasks being terribly bored that she literally falls asleep.  Enter Abdul, a lowly prison clerk who is sent to the UK to present a ceremonial coin at the Golden Jubilee banquet for Queen Victoria, mostly because of his tall height. He was not to speak unless spoken to yet he manages to charm himself in the good graces of the Queen.  

Their interaction involves him teaching her to speak and write Urdu. He also becomes her confidante and  cheers her up with inspirational quotes when she is melancholic. It is a good, healthy platonic relationship yet naturally the staff and her family all disapprove and come up with sorts of scenarios to keep them apart.

Dame Judi Dench is a great thespian and her portrayal of Queen Victoria is spot on. Her acting is perfection.  Ali Fazal is a revelation and his role as the doe-eyed, optimistic "Munshi" (teacher) is heartwarming. Their platonic chemistry is palpable and they earn my praises for their believable and poignant performances. 

The cinematography is authentic with vast scenes of castles and the verdant English countryside. The costumes are befitting the era buoyed by a stunning set design. The plot veers towards racism and discrimination against a different culture, it was true to point as it was quite prevalent in that era. When imperialistic monarchs mastered the art of colonization.

Overall, it is an entertaining movie about an unusual friendship yet unfortunately it lacks a certain something. So much so that I suddenly miss all those wonderful  yet forlorn Ivory-Merchant movies of days gone by.
 

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