Thursday, September 11, 2014

'When it comes to marriage, one man is as good as the next. And even the least accommodating is less trouble than a mother.'-from Dangerous Liaisons

‘There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book’, said Oscar Wilde.
The 18th century French novel ‘Les Liaisons dangereuses’ was born before Wilde yet the statement applies to it perfectly. The movie version of this book is  ‘DangerousLiaisons’, where the vicissitudes of the story and dialogue are comparable to Oscar Wilde's 'The picture of Dorian Gray.' In fact, there was a brief moment when I debated if this is even better than Wilde’s famous work.

Set in early 18th century France, the movie opens on ‘immoral’ high ground – the popular socialite, Marquise de Merteuil (Glenn Close) wants to avenge her abandoned lover, Bastide and seeks the help of the corrupt Vicomte de Valmont (John Malkovich).
The count has to seduce the virginal fiancée of Bastide, Cécile (Uma Thurman) before the marriage. The unscrupulous Count Vicomte thinks that game to be trifle and suggests going in pursuit of a married woman, Madame de Tourvel (Michelle Pfeiffer). The Marquise agrees provided he brings back proof of his accomplishments in order to spend one glorious night with her.

What follows are the adventures of the sexual predator, Vicomte who plays women as pawns in his game of chess. He easily conquers the chaste Cecile but Madame Tourvel proves more challenging to him. Throughout this game of decadence, the Marquise is supportive of him as well as to other women by presenting a façade of a malevolent chaperone. The moral ambiguity of this game is revealed in a dialogue by
Marquise to Vicomte ‘When I came out into society I was 15. I already knew that the role I was condemned to, namely to keep quiet and do what I was told, gave me the perfect opportunity to listen and observe. Not to what people told me, which naturally was of no interest, but to whatever it was they were trying to hide. I practiced detachment. I learned how to look cheerful while under the table I stuck a fork into the back of my hand. I became a virtuoso of deceit. It wasn't pleasure I was after, it was knowledge. I consulted the strictest moralists to learn how to appear, philosophers to find out what to think, and novelists to see what I could get away with, and in the end, I distilled everything to one wonderfully simple principle: win or die.”

The manipulation by the countess is unlike Scarlett O’Hara. While Scarlett’s justification is never to be poor again and to restore the grandeur of days gone by, the countess seeks this game to extract vengeance on men who cross her path. Either ways both women resort to the only methods that are available to them at that period of time - cunning manipulation of men.

Glen Close is superb as the middle-aged countess, whose face expresses immense depth of emotions that most modern actresses are incapable of. She portrays the immoral Marquise by a mere change in her eyes, sometimes revealing the love/hate relationship she has with Vicomte and other times as a beautiful and intelligent woman caught in a society in 18th century France where women are supposed to listen to their husbands and act docile. She portrays the moral ambiguity so subtly that you are caught between appreciating and condoning her.

The movie reaches a crescendo when a triumphant Vicomte produces the evidence but the countess refuses him the one night she promised since she cannot face to be second fiddle, given that the count had fallen in love with the married woman. Does Marquise really love Vicomte or merely considers him a worthy rival?  Who would get the last word in this battle of the sexes? Does Marquise manage to destroy Vicomte or does the count get an upper hand? Watch this movie to seek your own answers, which might not be the same as the person next to you.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

" The only person standing in your way is you." from the movie 'Black Swan'

I watched Black Swan, when it was first released in the theater. I  liked the passion, the psychological twists and the dark story. But, it took a re-watching to love this movie.

The title of this post is the crux of the movie. No one stands in the way of achieving your dreams except you. Yet, most of us are inhibited by our own psychological barriers - in this case - a controlling mother, a protected childhood and a sheltered life.The fears and apprehensions of our beliefs ultimately make or break the dreams of our life.

Nina(Natalie Portman), a ballerina, dreams of being the lead of the new ballet 'Swan Lake'. Swan Lake is the story of diametrically opposite sisters white and black swans representing the good and the evil. When the evil sister seizes the prince that the white swan falls in love with, the white swan commits suicide. Nina pitches herself for the role to her director, Thomas. Thomas rightly points that Nina can play the white swan perfectly - she is demure, shy and weak. But it takes someone to lose oneself to passion to portray the black swan. Thomas is proven wrong, when Nina shows a glimpse of the black swan when she bites him while kissing. Nina is now chosen as the swan queen.

Natalie Portman is excellent as a demure girl, who lives in a bedroom for little girls. She is inexperienced in sex and does not know how to react to her controlling mother. As her mother displays passive-aggressive control , Nina's hidden aggressiveness comes out. Sometimes frightened, at other times disturbed and angered, Natalie Portman totally deserves her Oscar for this role.

The movie is dark and the sudden twists and turns of Nina's mind-play, makes it a quasi-horror movie. You are not aware of where the reality begins and delusions interject. The best part is the way Lily enters Nina's life. Lily is the anti-thesis of Nina - carefree, bold and ambitious, she plays an essential part to bring out the dark side of Nina.Nina's hallucinations and psychological neurosis grow as she is threatened by Lily. This emotion finally liberates Nina out of her meekness.

Darren Aronofsky, a very artistic director, well known for 'Requiem for a dream' and 'Pi' , once again proves his distinctive and thought-provoking style. If you are in a mood for some artistic fare
 this is suspenseful, thoroughly engrossing and artistic, this is the movie for you.

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Lunchbox , a movie review

'The Lunchbox' is an Indian film of great poignancy narrating the story of friendship between a housewife, Ila and a soon-to-retire accountant, Fernandez.

The backdrop of the dabbawallas(lunchbox delivery men) of Mumbai, who were studied by Harvard for their six sigma delivery standards, showcases hard work and struggles of everyman. From the moment they pick the lunch boxes, they travel by foot, rickshaws and trains to ensure that every lunch box is delivered to the right person before their lunch break.What happens when one of those lunch boxes goes amiss , forms the crux of the movie.

When Fernandez receives Ila's lunch box by mistake, the initial confusion soon turns into friendship between two lonely people. Ila ,ignored by her non-chalant husband and Fernandez, a widower with no friends or immediate family, start sharing their  little moments of joy, nostalgic memories and day to day problems through hand-written notes via the lunch box.

Ila's upstairs neighbor 'auntie' is her agony aunt, sometimes helping her with spices for the dishes while at other times advising on what she should write to Fernandez. Without actually seeing a glimpse of 'auntie' we sympathize with her story of the loving wife taking care of her husband in coma for 15 years. As this kaleidoscope shifts, we catch another glimpse of Indian women - Ila's mother taking care of her cancer ridden husband with minimum resources.

Meanwhile, Fernandez, is befriended by his successor at work, Sheik. Sheik provides comic relief , whether he is cutting vegetables on the train or eagerly eyeing the lunch box over his lunch of fruits.
Sheik brings a sliver of friendship to Fernandez's life.

Commuter trains in Mumbai are the life blood of the city. The backdrop of the trains reflects the mosaic of Indian culture that co-exists peacefully in between the chaos  - beggars singing popular Bollywood songs, religious groups singing hymns aloud, dabbawallas balancing their boxes and vendors selling wares on the trains.

There is a scene where Ila, the protagonist, shares  with her daughter the games she played as a child. The trigger for this conversation is Fernandez, who regrets not creating more memories with his wife before she passed. This encapsulates the beauty of this film.Like an expert trapeze artist , it balances humor, poignancy, romance and a tinge of melancholy with subtlety.

The movie takes a turn when the friendship turns into romance and brings forth the insecurities of Fernandez and Ila. Ila is unhappy on discovering her cheating husband and Fernandez is confused about his retirement.

Will Fernandez have the courage to face Ila? Will they get together at all ? To find out the answers do watch this movie and I promise that you won't be disappointed.

Monday, February 03, 2014

And there wasn't anything I could have done to save them. - Philip Seymour Hoffman in the movie 'Capote'

I did not watch 'Capote' for the longest time thinking it was one of those boring biographical movies. However recently I read a blurb on Netflix that it portrays the period in Capote's life when he was researching the book 'In cold blood'. My curiosity was piqued.

I remember reading 'In cold blood' one summer afternoon. Before this book, I only knew about Breakfast at Tiffany's. I still remember my blood boiling at the murder of the innocent family in Holcomb and rejoiced when the killers were arrested. It truly was one of the best crime non-fiction books that was ever written.

Philip Seymour Hoffman personified "Capote". As someone recently said 'He was more Capote than Capote himself.' He reflected a kaleidoscope of characters shifting between light and dark moments with equal aplomb. As an ego maniac he pursued the story of the murderers Perry Smith and Dick Hancock initially as a curious writer for the New York times and later as a friend of Perry. His emotional involvement with Perry was unlike the book. The book was bleak and grim and you hated Perry from the bottom of your heart. Yet, Capote in reality was close to Perry. He was torn between writing the book and his emotions for Perry , whom he said " It's as if Perry and I grew up in the same house. And one day he stood up and went out the back door, while I went out the front."

Hoffman's portrayal of homosexuality was so convincing that I had to look up the personal life of Hoffman. His mannerisms, his fashion sense and his involvement with Perry Smith all pointed only in one direction. Yet, he was torn between right and wrong. He watched Perry hanged to death and that lead to the great writer's downfall.

The other surprise element of the movie was Harper Lee. I had no idea that she and Capote were neighbors and childhood friends in rural Alabama. And I had to hide a chuckle when Truman is jealous of the success of  'To kill a Mocking Bird'.

Watch this movie for the surprise moments  or if you are a fan of Capote's writing. But most of all watch this film for Philip Seymour Hoffman's Academy worthy performance.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

'Her' movie review

There is a dilemma that every writer faces - how to create something new  and refreshing out of the same subject that has been written about at-least a hundred times before? Writer-director Spike Jonze 
does this amazingly well with near-futuristic buildings without looking too 'sci-fi' and a story that seems plausible in this digital age.

'Her' is the story of Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) whose day-job is to craft hand-written letters to share love and joy, while at night he is desperately lonely seeking love and companionship that everyone desires until he installs a new Operating system 'Samantha' (the lyrical voice of Scarlett Johansson). This heralds the start of a 'relationship'. As Samantha listens to Theodore, makes him laugh and even flirts with him, Theodore cannot help but fall in love with 'her'.

At one level this seems to be a movie of human emotions, of bonding , of connections and the vicissitudes of  relationships, which is beautifully portrayed between Theodore and Samantha.But what bothers me is that it is so plausible a story that causes existential angst. People are already addicted to devices, but would they become so anti-social that they seek relationships with technology rather than humans?  Would they rather have a perfect-'I will be there for you always' Operating system rather than a woman who has arguments and disagrees with you?
I fear that such an operating system with AI would become a reality soon and might even come with some nuances of imperfections but I am pretty certain that the idiosyncrasies that we are born with cannot be replicated. Only I know where my nose itches.