Summer Hours -- Deeply Nuanced Meditation of Familial Bonds

                                Most of the times, the antiques and treasures we value so much has less to do with  who made them, when, and what they're made from than with how much they were admired, loved and utilized by their owners. If our personal connection with that object is broken, it ceases to have any meaning or relevance. That is what happens following the death of a 75 year old lady in Oliver Assayas' warmhearted French family drama "Summer Hours" ("L'heure d'ete", 2008).  

                                Oliver Assayas is famous for his talk-driven ensemble dramas ("Boarding Gate", "Clean", and "demonlover"). This is his first movie to be set in the heart of a bourgeois French family and probably his most accessible. "Summer hours" is about a patrician family with a gorgeous old country house outside Paris, including the museum-quality furniture and priceless artwork. It also explores the complex interactions, modern-day trends and how they impact families in a subtle manner. Nothing much happens here and the plot is minimal. So, if you can't relate to what Assayas is attempting to do, you will definitely feel bored or else you will come away with a contemplative mood. 

                                The movie starts in a gleeful manner as kids are romping around the verdant grounds of the rustic estate, far removed from the concrete and glass jungles where their parents live and work. The comfy rural estate belongs to 75 year old Helene Berthier (Edith Scob), whose adult children Frederic (Charles Berling), Adrienne (Juliette Binoche), and Jeremie (Jeremie Renier) and assorted grandchildren gather rarely to celebrate her birthday. Helene has devoted much of her life to protect the legacy of her uncle (Paul Berthier), a famous painter. Her uncle being a great artist has filled the estate with works of art and furniture that is sought by collectors and museums. 

                                  Helene senses that her time may be short. She also thinks about the artworks, whose very existence might be taken for granted after her death. She desperately talks with her elder son, Frederic about what will become of it all once she is gone. A few months after the birthday celebration, Helene dies. Jeremie, a successful businessman, wants to move with his family to Shanghai. So, he expresses his desire to sell the family estate and split the proceeds, mainly for financial concerns. Adrienne, sculptor and designer, is in the same mind-set as Jeremie, who is living in New York with her boyfriend. Frederic, an economist, wants to keep the house and art collections but is not rich enough to buy out his siblings. The rest of the film is about the fate of the old estate and its inexpensive art collection.

                                  Assayas direction is almost Ozu-like (which comes only with time and experience) in its elicitation of a parent's death and the dissolving bond between the surviving children. He doesn't points or forces the ideas into our minds, but rather draws us into the lives of its characters, none of whom are heroic or terrible or even all that unique. They are just humans -- ordinariness being the key element to their appeal. The camerawork is gorgeous, where most of the scenes are shot through windows, with reflections obscuring the actors' faces. 

                                 Performances in this eloquent film are all superb -- everyone incorporating the ravaging effects of the shrinking personal relationships and family traditions. Charles Berling as Frederic has the central role. His desire and struggle to preserve the family's memories is both particular and universal (cross-cultural). Near the end, Frederic finds a cordless phone in the estate, which was given by him for his mother's birthday. The phone is still in its box with a note which says: "Ask Frédéric to set up the phone." At that moment, the expression you see at Berling's face will be understood by anyone who has never explained the computer or internet to his mom.

                                    When the museum curators are examining the art collections, they find a invaluable Bracquemond glass vase. Minutes later, the former caretaker, Eloise (old woman) takes the vase, fills it with water and puts the fresh flowers into it. That moment exemplifies director Assayas' ultimate point i.e., no matter how beautiful that Bracquemond vase is, it's meant to hold flowers, not to be displayed in a museum. The vase might have fetched lot of money for the family, but it has lost its purpose and it's just another seemingly unremarkable object in a collection. The transitional ending has the sense of generational torch being passed, which neatly recapitulates the earlier summertime opening from a new perspective. 

                                     "Summer Hours" is talky and has all the elements to constitute a French art-house movie: down-to-Earth discussions, delinquent, in-the-present-moment teenagers and intelligent adults. The movie never becomes emotional or sentimental. You will like this movie, only if you develop a deep resonance with the characters because these cross-cultured men and women are reflections of us (stocked with the same memories and thoughts).


Summer Hours -- IMDb 

I Wish -- Wistful, Whimsical and Wondrous

                                 From the beginning of time, humans have always reached out of the darkness to wish for something (either about a warm place or a feast of food). Those people thought that to control the future, we need some kind of outside assistance. In today's world, science proposes various ways of dealing with the mysteries of life. But, still wishing is a powerful and positive force that is part of our spiritual evolution as human beings. In Hirokazu Koreeda's "I Wish" (Kiseki, 2011) group of kids make a wish as two bullet trains pass each other -- the legend is that a wish made at that precise moment will come true.

                                  Koreeda is one of Japan's greatest storyteller and film-maker. His greatest gift is his capacity to work with children ("Nobody Knows", "Still Walking"). In his movies, we see fantastical landscapes, kids with a rare unforced naturalism and we can watch our world through the eyes of children.  He gives a heavy emphasis on characters and so directs those (kids) so much as let them react to the universe he has created. The kids in Hollywood films often used as a means to express the director's nostalgia for childhood. So, we have generic placeholders in a kid's movie -- like puppy love, love of movies, precociousness. In Koreeda's movies, Children are shown as simple beings with their own inner world, desires and worries. 

                                   Koichi (Koki Maeda) lives with his mother Nozomi (Nene Ohtsuka) and grandparents (Isao Hashizume, Kirin Kiki) in the in the south of Kyushu island. Nozomi has divorced her husband Kenji (Joe Odagiri), a musician vying for a comeback. Kenji has taken away young Ryu (Ohshiro Maeda) to live with him in the city to resume his rock-musician career. The parents have been separated for six months and all the siblings wants is their family to be reunited. Koichi has lots of friends but still pines for his little brother who is enjoying new friends and urban life perhaps more than Koichi. 

                                 One day, Koichi learns from a student that a wish will come true if it was made at the perfect moment when two new bullet trains pass each other. Since, a new bullet train line is set to debut nearby, he suddenly hatches a plan. He makes a wish that the volcano, near their island, to explode so he and his mother can't live there anymore, and his father and mother will get together. Most of the movie centers on the siblings soulful trip to this miraculous train-passing zone, which has some requirements: a 24-hour absence from home and school; money (they get loose coins under Japanese vending machines and sell their toys); and the participation of friends as a backup.  

                                   Director Koreeda -- our generation's "Yasujiro Ozu" -- has made a movie about the effects of a broken marriage, but still there is plenty of room for cockeyed comedy, and for sharp observations about the exciting but ceaselessly bemusing condition of being a kid. He cuts to tear-jerking moments when Ryu asks his mother whether she loves him because he looks like his father ("You think I'm just like Dad, so I was afraid you wouldn't like me"). The direction style is gentle but isn't soft on adult characters, who are shown as a imperfect bunch with emotional vulnerabilities of their own. The cinematography by Yutaka Yamasaki (Koreeda's longtime collaborator) captures the kids' faces with soft, warm light. In the end, before the passing of two bullet trains, there is an astonishing montage of images, which lifts our spirits as we stand alongside with these kids at the side of the train tracks. 

                                      The movie's heartwarming sequences are all a result of one remarkable quality: the simplicity. The behaviors of kids are sometimes logical, especially when we witness Koichi's success in organizing a trip to the bullet-train convergence spot. At other times they live in their own dream worlds: A boy mimics his baseball idol's diet to play like him; Ryu’s solemn friend, Megumi (Uchida) wants to be an aspiring actress and also needs her mother (a failed actress) to take her seriously; A boy wants to marry his teacher, which lasts as long as it is shifted it to the school nurse; Another boy wishes for his dead dog to come back to life. The wishes of seven children (Ryu, Koichi and their trusty friends) and their aspirations as they gather near the train tracks show us the magical possibility of childhood. 

Director Koreeda with Koichi and Ryu

                                   The leads Koki and Ohshiro Maeda (as Koichi and Ryu) are real-life siblings whose performance is so faultless. All the other kids' performances are all so perfect which makes us think that the spontaneous conversations are recorded by hidden cameras. The adults -- most of them picked from prior Kore-eda casts -- carries out their character in an ideally restrained manner. 

                                  An old man in the movie asks in a decrying state, "Do kids today feel anything about anything?" "I Wish" reminds us that kids may come up short in understanding but they feel about everything around them. Watch this delightful and emotional searing movie and learn along with these kids that a good friendship and family are the biggest miracles of all.


I Wish (Kiseki) -- IMDb               

Cronos -- Intriguing Take on the Vampire Legend

                             Immorality has always been appealing subject for movies and other arts. May be it is because, humans feel frustrated that our time on earth is limited and beyond our control, or they may fear death and what lies beyond. Whatever it is, immortality always has a price to pay (in movies). It is also a subject matter always connected with the vampires. Guillerme del Toro's (his feature-film debut) enjoyable gothic yarn, "Cronos" (1993) transfuses the old tale of immortal vampires with humor and irony. With Cronos, del Toro has made a tangible film which increases the tension between history, science and religion. The tension forged ideas about mortality that evolved beautifully in his later movies like "Hellboy" series, "The Devil's Backbone" and "Pans Labyrinth."

                              The story begins in 1536 and tells about the "Cronos" device, an invention created by an alchemist, which prolongs and regenerates life. He dies 400 years later, leaving his legacy in a detailed diary. The device looks like a gold-plated scarab, which holds a series of mechanisms and a mysterious insect that feeds off blood, transferring its immortality to the human host. 60 years after the Alchemist's death, the device shows up mysteriously in an antique shop. Jesus Gris (Frederico Luppi), a kind and old antique dealer discovers the device hidden in the base of an archangel statue, along with his granddaughter, Grace (Tamara Shanath).

                                 At the same time, a terminally ill bitter old industrialist, Dieter de la Guardia (Claudio Brook) wants the Cronos too. He lives in hermetically sealed apartment, which resemble a huge-sized tomb. Few years before, Dieter has discovered the alchemist’s diary, and since then he is searching for the Cronos device and its promise of eternal life. Jesus watches the device with a mixture of anticipation and bewilderment and soon the device latches onto his hand, penetrating him with its stingers and begins the devastating symbiotic process of vampirism.

                              Grace silently watches her grandfather, who is growing younger and gradually learns to live with his new condition. In one of the memorable moment, Jesus sees a puddle of blood on a men's room floor, for which he lowers himself and hungrily laps at it like a dog. When Dieter finds out that Jesus has the device, he threatens him by sending out Angel de la Guardia (Ron Perlman), a hulking, square-jawed bully. The obsession with the device leads Jesus to learn the hard way that the chance to live life eternal isn’t worth that price (a tragedy, since he never looked for immortality, but rather stumbled into it).

                                At that time, Cronos was the highest budgeted Mexican movie ($2 million), which went on to collect nine Golden Ariels, Mexico's equivalent of the Oscars (and a special prize at Cannes' film festival). In "Cronos" there is religious allegory. In one scene, Gris and Dieter, discuss the overlap of insects and the Bible. Dieter says, "Jesus walked on water, like a mosquito" (del Toro is a fierce atheist). There is also a light touch of political satire. But, mostly this is a poetic horror movie about immortality. Director/writer Del Toro deftly moves from one unexpected setting to another: antiques shop, Dieter's apartment, where he keeps his excised tumors in bottles and later to a cremation parlor, which becomes a setting for black comedy.

                                 The script takes a morally ambiguous position by not having good and evil divided in such a way that you get black and white. In the movie, some of the actions of good guy are completely reprehensible, whereas the bad guys (Dieter and Angel) are really nothing but innocent children trapped in a big men's body. The plot development is a little clumsy, but for a debut film, the filmmaker joyously dissects core thematic obsessions with through the use of everyday elements. The director is at his best when harvesting the most complex moments from one genre universe and smashing them into another ("Pans Labyrinth" and "Devil's Backbone"). "Cronos" serves as the introductory course for all those dark fairy tales of Del Toro. Cinematographer Guillermo Navarro gives the movie a unique look -- a mixture of mundane and fantastical. Since "Cronos", Mr. Navarro has shot all of Del Toro’s films (up to the recent "Pacific Rim").

                                 Frederico Luppi does the nosferatu character with touching dignity. His responses are so measured that the audience can share his sense of wonder once the device proves to be much more than an golden-plated scarab. Tamara is perfect as the sober, innocent granddaughter. Apart from these two characters. all the others are not developed particularly well. Ron Perlman's villainy comes across as a exaggerated act. Since the movie is all about atmosphere, we can definitely overlook these flaws. 

                                  This is not a horror movie that is out to scare the viewers. It is a refreshing retelling of a classic horror tale that gets close to reality. "Cronos" might be appreciated more by a non-genre viewer than by hard-core horror fans.


Cronos -- IMDb 

Frozen River -- Invigorating Cross-Cultural Chronicle

                             "Frozen River" (2008) -- feature film debut of writer/director Courtney Hunt -- is a very compelling, suspenseful drama, which hinges on a very specific locale, but the theme has global resonance. Watching this movie is like gazing at the torment in a single woman's eyes. This is a heartbreaking look inside and what the poorest of American families had to face to get by. It is also a tale of friendship between two different women, whose lives cross under the most risky and peculiar circumstances.   

                                 Frozen River is set in the northernmost New York State, in a town called Massena alongside the Canadian border. Ray Eddy (Melissa Leo) lives in a broken-down trailer in the town frozen town, Massena. Ray works part-time at a dollar store and has to support her 15-year-old son TJ (Charlie McDermott), who is seething with rancor, and 5 year old Ricky (James Reilly), who expects Santa to bring presents, this Christmas. Ray's gambling-addicted husband Troy has not only run off but taken the money that was supposed to go toward a down payment on a double-wide trailer -- her long-held dream. 

                                 Ray's search for her husband leads to Lila (Misty Upham). She is a member of the Mohawk Nation and drives off in Troy's car. Ray gets into a confrontation with her. Lila is a stone-faced woman, who is secretly smuggling illegals (the illegal residents come from various countries including China and Pakistan) over the Canadian side, which is run by the threatening Quebecer Jacques Bruno (Mark Boone Junior). Lila has plenty of troubles: her husband is dead; mother-in law has stolen her 1-year old child; she has poor eyesight, which prevents her from accurately counting money, among other things.

                                The illegal immigrants are smuggled through an unguarded segment of the U.S. - Canadian border. That segment is, in fact, a frozen river, where the ice is thick enough to drive across. Lila desperately needs a driver and Ray enters into a distrustful partnership with her. The poor single moms collaborate out of necessity, which takes us through the politics of race, gender and class. 

                                 Courtney Hunt (written and directed the movie from her own short film) takes the issue of troubled single motherhood and using a backdrop of flat gray skies convey its characters' inward desolation. As an atmospheric movie, the director keeps it tightly focused, replete with small but weighty details. She also balances the character study and grows the story to play like a tense social-realist thriller. The script takes us to different, unanticipated directions. The subplot involving a Pakistani couple smuggling their frozen baby in a shopping bag grapples us with some thorny questions. 

                                  Melissa Leo, a long time supporting actress ("Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada", "The Fighter". "21 Grams") gives an astounding performance with a unique no-nonsense weariness for the character. The cinematography, which has its share of close-ups turns an uncompromising light on Leo's haunted visage. The middle-aged woman's face itself tells a story of its own. Upham's performance as Lila resists revealing emotions or what will happen next. She peels back layers of hostility from the character until nothing's left but what she needs to do.

                                  The American dream of Ray isn't greedy (she just needs a “double wide” trailer barely distinguishable from a cargo container). Her dilemma in doing a risking job can reverberate with anxieties people all over can relate to. Ray and Lila eventually depict the strength and evolution of a family under the rapidly changing socio-economic conditions. 

                               "Frozen River" is a bracingly effective American Indie movie, which finds suspense and beauty in broken lives that are hanging in the balance.  


Frozen River -- IMDb 

Alfred Hitchcock's "The Lady Vanishes" -- A Brief Analysis

                                   "The Lady Vanishes" (1938) -- Hitchcock's second to last British film -- elevated the suspense master's international stature. After this movie, David O. Selznick brought the director to Hollywood, where he made many classic movies, starting with "Rebecca" in 1940. Based upon a book named "The Wheel Spins", the movie was made on the wake of Nazism and a major war in Europe. Most of the themes in this movie are classically Hitchcockian: a mysterious banded surgery patient, a stolen code and a sinister imposter. 

                                     The film starts in an Austrian hotel, where a group of people are waiting for the next train: Charters & Caldicott (two silly Englishmen who talk of cricket and nothing else); Miss Froy (an old governess who is leaving the country after six years); Iris Henderson (a rich playgirl on her way home to get married); and Gilbert Redman (a whimsical collector of folk songs who keeps the rest of the hotel awake with loud music and dancing). Miss Froy tries to remember the song sung below her window, unaware that the serenader is strangled. As they board the train next day, Iris is hit on the head by a falling flowerpot intended for Miss Froy. 

                                  Dizzy, Iris is helped by Miss Froy, has tea with her and then falls asleep. When she wakes, Miss Froy is missing and no one remembers her (Caldicott doesn't want Iris to stop the train because he'd miss the cricket match and an English lawyer on an illicit romantic interlude doesn't want to get involved). Confused, Iris searches the train and gets help from Gilbert and Dr Hartz, the later explaining that a bump on the head can cause hallucinations. Iris tries to convince them that there is a conspiracy and eventually persuades Gilbert when he sees a discarded packet of Miss Froy's herbal tea. 

                                  They go to the boxcar to see if Miss Broy is hidden there and find her broken glasses -- a fight ensues with the Italian magician The Great Doppo, who disappears with the evidence. From that neat build-up, great suspense and gunfight ensues. The film ends with an exciting climax and with a nice tracking shot going into the foreign office, hearing the piano play the tune. 

                                  There are many vanishings in the movie: Just before Miss Froy vanishes, the Italian in the carriage does a magic trick with his hands. He is the Great Doppo, a stage magician whose best trick is "the vanishing lady"; at the shootout, Miss Froy vanishes herself into the forest; vanishings in the storage car using props. Waking Up/Sleeping is another one of Hitchcock's visual idea: in the film, only heroes sleep. The villains are always awake, dangerous, taking advantage of sleep. At the beginning in the hotel, there are many scenes with people going to bed, and Iris spends most of the film going asleep/fainting and waking up to chaos, the villains having done their dirty work. Both Gilbert and Iris pretend to be asleep when they are not drugged by Dr. Hartz. 

                                  The key to the movie is the title. Physically, Miss Froy vanishes, but emotionally the lady in Iris vanishes too, and remains lost. At the beginning, Iris is a bit stuck up but by the end, after she has been rejected by everybody on board, and her ladylike virtues have been stripped, her true character is revealed and she falls in love. There are many recurring ideas -- a usual thing in a Hitchcock: "The Cultured Villain." Dr Hartz of Prague is a respected brain surgeon who has worked on British heads of state, and educated man, who seems to be on Iris and Gilbert's side, but isn't. When they escape, he is still a nice villain and says "Jolly good luck to them."; "The Train" -- Hitchcock always love trains; "The Birds"; and "The Woman's Point of View." Iris -- an iris is part of eye, which is for looking, for shedding light on things -- is the central character and virtually everything is seen through her eyes). 

                                 The editing marked not only showcased Hitchcock's 30s style but eventually every film that had any aspirations whatever to achieving rhythm and suspense. "The Lady Vanishes" is Hitchcock's most sophisticated thriller with a neat comment on Britain's dilemma in the build-up to the impeding war with Germany. A delectable concoction.

The Lady Vanishes -- IMDb          

The Lady Vanishes -- BFI Screenonline                         
elevated Hitchcock’s international stature.

The Hunt (Jagten) -- Merciless Examination of Collective Hysteria

                                  Danish director Thomas Vinterberg revisits the child-abuse theme, 14 years after his acclaimed 1998 work, "The Celebration" (Festen). After the stunning debut, Vinterberg didn't make any great movies or won any major awards, but his new film "The Hunt" (2012) is directed with a confident adult eye. It is a sharply focused, compelling drama about the ripple effects of a false accusation. The movie premiered at 2012 Cannes Film Festival, and its lead actor Mads Mikkelsen (James Bond villain in "Casino Royale") deservedly won the best actor award.
                                  The film starts in a small Danish town. The men inhabiting in the town are from hunting community, who always esteem the taste of a game. When the movie starts, we see middle-age men, drinking in the woods and daring one another to jump in a cold lake. Theo (Bo Larsen) strips down and takes a dive, while the others were hollering and hooting. Eventually, Theo's best friend, Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen) fishes him out and they begin their trip back to society, singing and joking. This opening sequence shows us the kind of men with whom the whole movie revolves. These men commit even their smallest activities with suggestions of violence. Their emotions and actions are always marked by a mixture of earnestness and bewildering aggression. 

                                     Lucas is the only guy who stands out from this crowd. He is a divorced kindergarten teacher, who is striving hard to get the custody of the teenage son Marcus (Lasse Fogelstrom). He is very popular with the kids. He also begins a relationship with Nadja (Alexandra Rapaport), a co-worker. Lucas is so adorable that one of his kindergarten students, Klara (Annika Wedderkopp) -- daughter of Theo -- has a crush on him. Klara's parents fight a lot at home. Her teenage brother is busy looking at dirty pictures (sometimes shows it to her too). She is a loner, but likes Lucas since he treats her very kindly. Klara makes a paper heart to Lucas and gets hurt, when he returns it back and asking her to give it to a boy of her age. 

                                When Grethe (Susse Wold), kindergarten's supervisor confronts the five-year old about paper-heart, she makes up a story. Influenced by her brother's iPad porn images, she accuses Lucas of exposing himself (and forced her to touch his penis). Convinced that the children are always truthful and angelic, Grethe stupidly informs Klara’s parents and then all the other children' parents at the school. The angelic-looking Klara is soon perceived as a victim by everyone in the community and Lucas is quickly labeled as a sexual predator and jailed. Lucas' son, Marcus and a friend Bruun (Lars Ranthe) firmly believes that he is innocent.

                                  Vinterberg and Tobias Lindholm's screenplay establishes the devastating effects of a lie. The gritty script shows how easily the bonds of trust and friendship are shattered after a sexual abuse accusation. The directorial restraint of Vinterberg and the unobtrusive autumnal images of DoP Charlotte Bruus make it very painful for us to watch the few violent outbreaks. The last shot of the film really left me numb with shock -- gave a troubling thought that witch hunts will always be with us, even in the modern era of instant communication. There are many narrative shortcuts in the movie too: there seems to be no law in the town, and Lucas speedily becomes the castaway without any sort of disbelief, and he gets accused by whole lot of students with the same false accusation.

                                    Mads Mikkelsen is always known for his dark and violent characters ("Valhalla Rising", TV Hannibal Lector). This time he surprisingly impresses the viewers as a warm-hearted man, who has a great emotional toll. As Lucas he brings out a large set of emotions. Every emotion rings true to the character's situation: the easygoing warmth, sudden bursts of rage and obscure agony felt in the final shot. Wedderkopp as Klara effectively conveys the paranoia. Her performance as a girl caught up in something she can barely understand, will definitely make us squirm. Bo Larsen is excellent in the second-half as he fleshes out a precise picture of male bonding that bristle with danger.

                                      The movie tries to find a resolution that reaffirms the human decency, rather than resorting to violent outbursts. Lucas' life seems to be restored. Then comes the final shot, which leaves many questions open to debate: why in a tightly knit community, people always assume the worst and care less about the truth; Why there is a herd mentality when a situation is more complicated? Why women are quick enough to believe that heinous evil always lurks in the hearts of men?    

                                  "The Hunt" is a hauntingly powerful drama, which is bound to leave the viewers in a state of high anxiety.        


The Hunt (Jagten) -- IMDb                     
deservedly won the Best Actor
about the effects of a false accusation

All About My Mother -- A Wholehearted Eulogy to Femininity

                                 The Spanish auteur Pedro Almodovar once engrossed the viewers with his offbeat views (and sometimes kinky) of relationships and sex. Flamboyant transvestites, aging divas, pregnant nuns, soccer moms and other woman on their own are all enlarged or filtered through Almodovar's variety show. "All About My Mother" (1999) is his most thought-provoking drama, where the off-beat characters are not just used as vehicles for comedy. The movie takes a profound empathy towards those characters and aspires to both farce and high melodrama.  

                                  Manuela (Cecilia Roth) is a nurse and single mother, who is in her late 30's. Manuela is emotionally dependent on her teenage son, Esteban (Eloy Azorin). Esteban celebrates his 17th birthday and wishes that his mother would tell the story of his father, whom he has never met. She promises Esteban to tell about him later, and they go for a theater visit to see “A Streetcar Named Desire.” Outside the theater he runs into the street to get the autograph of an actress, and is tragically killed by a passing car as Manuela looks on.

                                 Manuela arranges Esteban's heart to be transplanted. Devastated by the accident, she goes in search of the boy's father to Barcelona (from Madrid). The search of a vanished husband brings her across an old pal, La Agrado (Antonia San Juan), who is now a transvestite prostitute. She also meets a beautiful pregnant nun (Penelope Cruz) who is going into hiding, an actress who sleeps with her junkie female assistant and a painter who forges Chagalls. There is death, disease and pain just around the corner and all of them have some kind of emotional burden to bear.

                                    Early in the movie, we see Manuela and Esteban watching the movie "All About Eve" on TV, referencing that "All About My Mother" is completely a different take off from that movie's theme. "All About Eve" was about female-against-female connivance. Here, the movie shows Woman as divine carer. As the world-weary woman, Cecilia Roth inhabits the center of this great drama. She carries the film with her weighty and captivating sympathy. Penelope Cruz -- veterans of Almodovar's works -- is extremely likable and also unexpectedly earthy as the pregnant nun. Antonia San Juan is the comic spirit of the movie. Apart from the campy antics, she also has some sentimental attitudes. Marisa Paredes as the actress Huma Rojo brings a mixture of world weariness and toughness to her part.

                                   Writer-director Almodovar always display a remarkable understanding of the female psyche and always cast sublime actresses to lend his characters even more authenticity. There is the usual excessiveness, histrionics and bizarre characteristics of individuals, but in this movie Almodovar only concentrates on their humanity rather than developing them as caricatures. Even though the themes are predominantly dark, a genuinely witty script doesn't make the film as depressing as it could have been. From a visual standpoint, the movie looks terrific. Almodovar's usual trademarks of bright and glossy colors are all arranged in interesting patterns. The arty camerawork works very well in the sequence of Esteban's accident, from his point of view, and in showcasing a Barcelona slum at night. 

                                   "All About My Mother" is an exquisitely constructed drama, which is rich in compassion, complexity and humor. 


All About My Mother (Todo sobre mi madre) -- IMDb 

"All About My Mother" won Academy Award for "Best Foreign Film"

Pacific Rim -- Mission Accomplished

                             Everything you believe that it is going to happen eventually happens in Guillermo Del Toro's "Pacific Rim." It has thinly developed characters, wildly derivative story and has its share of hard-to-follow battle sequences. It is what you expect after seeing the trailer and from a summer blockbuster: monsters stomping on iconic city skylines and giant robots pounding on monsters. Familiarity and predictability doesn't much matter because the 130 minute movie is conveyed with maximum expertise. It causes the kind of mayhem that can only be enjoyed in a big screen with excellent sound system. 

                              The movie starts with a voice-over prologue of what has gone from 2015. Many disgruntled "Kaiju's" (an alien race of giant monsters) is invading our earth through a portal deep in the Pacific Ocean. They smash cities all over the world to rubble, until we discover giant manned robots known as "Jaegers." The 25-plus stories high robots, piloted by two mind-linked humans goes toe-to-toe with Kaiju. The giants are defeated and Kaiju has become toys for children, until the gang of aliens and its masters regained their power and came back stronger than before.  

                              Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam), a self-confident Jaeger pilot has lost his beloved brother and co-pilot in a battle with Kaiju. After his brother's death, Becket leaves the piloting and takes a job at the ill-fated "Wall of Life." Over the years, the monsters have become bigger and very dangerous and the jaegers are systematically destroyed. Led by Marshal Pentecost (Idris Elba) the Jaegar project is de-funded, which eventually forces him to go underground and work with the last four Jaegars. Becket is paired up with Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), who wants revenge against the kaiju. 

                              Unlike Emmerich or Michael Bay ("Transformers"), Del Toro isn't here to just show off his high-tech toys and awe inducing visual effects. He cares about other things such as character developments and narrative progression (cliched or not). The "wow" factor is paramount, but even with the unimaginable size of the whole action, we never get the feeling that Del Toro loses control of his battles and effects. "Pacific Rim" isn’t completely bereft of del Toro's hallmarks: A little red shoe holds a key to Mako's childhood trauma -- in a del Toro film childhood always represents war (inner-space or real); the black market located in a neon-soaked Hong Kong; a Jaegar washed up on a misty seashore like a fallen Titan from Greek myth. 
                               The pacing in "Pacific Rim" is perfect. There is breathing space before any gorgeously choreographed fights so it’s not just one booming attack after another. Hunnam and Kikuchi are effective enough as the movie's ostensible stars. Elba as the Jaegar commander gives an idiosyncratic performance. His rousing battle speech, “Today, at the edge of our hope, at the end of our time, we’ve chosen to believe in each other ... Today we are canceling the Apocalypse!” is  excellent. Burn Gorman and Charlie Day as the geeky, rival scientists are added for comic relief but they are distracting and lame. Ron Perlman ("Hellboy") makes a charming cameo as black-market kaiju organ dealer. The 3-D effects are used effectively but since 80% of the movie happens at night the amount of light that reaches the viewer's eyes is an issue. 

                               During the Hong Kong action sequence Jaegar boxes the ear of "category 4" kaiju using a couple of shipping containers: a dumbly brilliant sequence with the right amount of cartoon majesty. That's how the whole movie could be described. Del Toro's "Pacific Rim" isn't a freak-out exercise like “Pan’s Labyrinth" or “The Devil’s Backbone.” It is an accessible blockbuster with a sheer visceral rush. 


Pacific Rim -- IMDb                               

The Full Monty -- High-Spirited Brit Comedy

                             Peter Cattaneo's "The Full Monty" (1997) emerges from UK to illustrate the country's unemployment and the toll it takes on an individual and his family. But, the working-class woes are told with rib-tickling humor and light drama. The film expresses the ways in which joblessness imparts to a malaise of mind, body and spirit. This isn't an ambitious movie, but offers a lot of opportunities for laughter and genial smiles. 
                              Sheffield is a major steel working city in England. Thanks to Thatcherism (political style of the British conservative politician Margaret Thatcher), the central industry has been mechanized and modernized. Productivity improves drastically, but the automation sends a lot of workers to home. Among these workers are Gaz (Robert Carlyle) and his best friend Dave (Mark Addy). Gaz drifts around the town with his 12-year old son, Nathan (William Snape), occasionally going to the local job-center. Gerald (Tom Wilkinson), Gaz's former boss is also unemployed. He frequently visits the job-center but is scared to tell his credit card-obsessed wife that he doesn't have a job. 

                               Gaz is divorced and he quickly needs to find a way to support his ex-wife, Mandy (Emily Woof). Everything changes when Chippendale -- a group of dancers -- arrives to a local club for a show. Inspired by them, Gaz gets an idea that they should do a strip act to raise some money (the film's title is Brit slang for taking it all off). He first enlists his overweight buddy Dave and Gerald who has an superior quality because he's once taken dance lessons. This ridiculous scheme somehow manages to draw in a few forsaken, out-of-work friends, who are either nerdy, over-weight or middle-aged. They hold a hilarious audition and eventually recruit an unlikely group of dancers: an old man with rhythm, but a bad hip (Paul Barber), a gifted young man (Hugo Speer) and a lone wolf (Steve Huison). 

                                Peter Cattaneo's direction lacks in depth but the moments of sheer hilarity makes up for good will and likeability. This movie is the career debut for Academy Award Winning script writer Simon Beaufoy ("Slumdog Millionaire"). He has created vulnerable, real characters who are worth caring about. His script is not about the sudden rise of unemployment but rather concentrates on masculinity. Simon suggests that these men by losing their jobs have also lost all sense of themselves as men (hence the stripping acts).

                                 Robert Carlyle of "Trainspotting" fame brings a nervous energy to Gaz and has the right mix of energy and pathos. Tom Wilkinson is perfect as the middle-class guy, who has his share of one touching scene when he drops his arrogant bearing and acknowledges his weaknesses. As Dave, Mark Addy (Robert Baratheon of "Game of Thrones") brings out the insecure feeling that anyone else can relate to.

                                 The movie is about the act of male stripping and the inherently humorous nature of the act. But, there are lots of other things going on underneath these themes. It deals with parenthood, physical insecurities and unemployment. Somehow their crazy scheme to bare all, forces them to shed their various defenses and insecurities, and come to grips with other aspects of their lives. What make "Full Monty" a populist comedy is the hilarious observations and sequences: When the three get arrested at the factory for indecent exposure, they sit naked and ashamed in the police station while the police watch their performance from a security tape. In the middle of all this chaos, one person complaints to another, "You're ahead"; when the guys are standing in the long unemployment line, they unconsciously start swaying in time to one of their rehearsal songs coming over the P.A.

                                 "The Full Monty" is very much predictable, but it is funny, enjoyable and finds a perfect tone to drive home a valuable message.


The Full Monty -- IMDb

Cache (Hidden) -- An Ingenious Allegorical Thriller

                               Movies are largely an act of seeing, but Austrian director Michael Haneke's films don't implicate understanding or perception. From "The Seventh Continent" (1989) to "Amour" (2012), he is not only a master of smothered violence and spellbinding suspense, but he's also a acute observer of human behavior in extreme crisis situations, as was the case in the psychological thriller, "Cache" (Hidden, 2005). This film has a top-most mystery level, but it can't be seen as a pure whodunit because viewers who don’t get the deeper currents are likely to feel cheated by the deliberately open ending. It is better to watch "Cache" without guessing the plot.

                                 The film begins with a very unique shot: a nondescript view from a side street of a gated townhouse entrance, thick with passersby and parked cars. The shot lingers there for minutes and eventually takes us to a couple talking elliptically to each other (we see them from a distance). Images we are seeing begins to rewind and we see the couples watching themselves on tape, who are as lost as we are. The husband, Georges (Daniel Auteuil) gets out and tries to check out how he could've not seen the footage being shot. Georges -- famous host of a TV talk show-- and his wife, Anne (Juliette Binoche) -- works in the publishing business -- live in a fancy house on a quiet little street with their twelve year old son, Pierrot (Lester Makedonsky).

                                 The tape show them coming to the house at different times. The couples, at first think that it's a prank (from Pierrot's friends), since the tape is accompanied by a macabre drawing of a child with a swath of blood streaming out of its mouth. When a second tape appears with the similar kind of footage, they seem bothered and call the police. Cops don't provide any relief, since there hasn't been an open threat. Their routine life if affected and tapes keeps on coming and gets more threatening. Georges claims that he has an idea about who is the perpetrator, but refuses to share this info with his wife, which puts their relationship on crisis mode. 

                                   "Cache" has strong political overtones: France's colonialist past in Algeria. Haneke says that he found the inspiration for this movie, while watching a documentary about the 1961 massacre of Algerian immigrants in France. He states in an interview that, "I was shocked that something like that could've happened in a liberal country." At the time in 1961, the police said that two protestors died. The historians say as many as 400 were massacred that day throughout Paris. France haven't addresses the issue for more than five decades. The subject of Algiers is still considered taboo. So, Haneke, with "Cache" miniaturizes the post-colonialist atrocity and injustices into a taut domestic nightmare. In the film, the tapes gradually and finally lead Georges back to a act of cruelty, committed toward an Algerian boy.
but can't share this privileged info with his wife, which, of course, throws the couple into a crisis mode - See more at:

                                    Michael Haneke has special interest in dealing with a bourgeois nuclear family and the loneliness, anonymity, disorders of city life. He studies paranoia created in both the domestic and political arenas and also the inability of a person to take responsibility for their own conduct. Georges statement in the film, "Terrorize me and my family and you'll regret it." shows the inability of the bourgeois to take moral responsibility for their own actions. Through this movie, Haneke has brought out flaws of the winning class out into the light of day. So, in that way the director justifies his title because the powerful residing whether in Paris or New York City or Mumbai want to keep things hidden.

                                   Haneke's films have brief violent acts, but they strike alarmingly without warning or gimmick, neither different angles nor impatient edits foretelling its arrival. "The Piano Teacher", "Funny Games", Benny's Video" and "Cache" are all called as 'torture contraptions' by his detractors. Speaking about the violence in his movies, Haneke says, "I'm not sadistic. Art must confront what's in society, the injustices and conflicts. So, it's not sadistic to portray suffering— it's everywhere in the world."

                                   In "Cache", as a screenwriter, Haneke individualizes the characters enough (though politics is part of the narrative) as not to serve as an mouthpiece for First World countries versus small, under privileged Third World countries. Through the tapes, the director interrogates the nature of reality by blotting out the borders between the movie and the videos within the movie. So, in a way he states that, "What the viewer often takes for reality isn't reality; it's just another representation of it."

                                  As Georges, Daniel Auteuil gives an measured performance, clearly feeling the fear,  along with his bourgeois complacency feeding his aggression. Binoche gives an comprehensive performance as Anne, complimenting Daniel with her own reticence and condescension. Maurice Benichou as Geroges' friend gives the most heartbreaking and haunting performance. 

                                 Viewers who are used to thrillers, in which every plot element is explained, will be frustrated with this metaphysical thriller. "Cache" is for mature viewers, who can take the mind games without expecting any overt film-making trickery.


as to not serve as ideological mouthpieces for First World countries (such as France and the U.S.) versus small, underprivileged Third World ones. - See more at:
deal with a bourgeois nuclear family threatened by forces - See more at:
Cache -- IMDb     
not only a master of gripping suspense and muffled violence, as demonstrated in “Funny Games,” an accomplished but lesser picture than “Hidden,” but he's also a sharp observer of human behavior in extreme, crisis situations, as was the case in - See more at:
not only a master of gripping suspense and muffled violence, as demonstrated in “Funny Games,” an accomplished but lesser picture than “Hidden,” but he's also a sharp observer of human behavior in extreme, crisis situations, as was the case in - See more at:

Freedom Writers -- Empathetic and Unexpectedly Powerful

                                Inspirational movies often infuse itself with energy and impart some original elements to the story. The result might look familiar but it doesn't hinder your enjoyable experience. Richard LaGravenese's "Freedom Writers" (2007) is one of those movies, which belongs to the long line of idealistic teacher vs unteachable teenagers. However, it takes a bold approach of being honest and earnest. Yeah, there's nothing in here that wasn't already discussed in "The Blackboard Jungle" (1955), "To Sir with Love" (1967), "Stand and Deliver" (1988), "Lean on Me" (1989), "Finding Forrester" (2000) and the maudlin "Dangerous Minds." But, this movie is based on a real teacher and her real accomplishments -- Erin Gruwell of Woodrow Wilson High School in Long Beach. 

                                 It is the year 1994. Erin Gruwell (Hilary Swank) is an English teacher assigned to the freshman class at Woodrow Wilson High. The school is situated in an Southern California neighborhood. The 1991 beating of Rodney King and the subsequent riots has resulted in voluntary desegregation in the schools. The Wilson High once had students with high academic scores. With the integration of underprivileged boys and girls (who use drugs) and juvenile delinquents, the school and the neighborhood resembles a war zone where people are killed regularly on the streets. The educational institution is said to have students divided into four camps: whites, Cambodians, Latinos and blacks. 

                                 Erin starts the curriculum with Homer's "Odyssey." After seeing the war zone and hearing about a local gang shooting, she sees the urgency of seeking out more relevant subject matter. So, Erin tries to connect with them by talking their language and by referring to cultural artifacts they are familiar with. These efforts end in vain because they immediately judge her as just another white person trying to make them over. 

                                 One day, Erin catches the students giggling over the caricature of a black classmate. She explains the crudeness of the drawing by comparing it to the kind of drawings of Jews that the Nazis used to inflame resentments in Germany. Erin gets shocked when she comes to know that none has heard of the Holocaust. And once, she gives out the copies of "The Diary of Anne Frank", the students become engrossed. She explains Hitler's actions against the Jews with the instances of gang violence. Eventually, Erin hits upon the students' hearts and minds by motivating them to write a journal -- the assemblage of which became the book ("The Freedom Writers Diary") on which the film is based. 

                                 Director Richard LaGravense was the screenwriter, who spun gold out of the novel "The Bridges of Madison County." With "Freedom Writers" -- his second feature film as director -- he resists the temptation to focus primarily on their idealistic instructor, Erin Gruwell. He gives equal screen time for young talents along with experienced veterans. LaGravense uses voice-overs -- lifted from the actual students' diaries -- to provide the framework for the subplots (those of the teenagers), thereby lending a ring of authenticity. 

                                  Hilary Swank -- two times Oscar winner -- is a little old to play the 23 year old teacher, but she adds a layer of steeliness and determination to her portrayal of Erin. Like "Million Dollar Baby", she smiles her way through the early part of the movie and then develops a harder edge later in the proceedings. Scott Glenn exhibits great acting in the role of Erin's father, even though it is of limited importance. Patrick Dumpsey's attention starved husband character is not well developed and Imelda Staunton's has nothing much to do in the role of teacher resisting the rule-breaking newcomer. Among the young actors, April Lee Hernandez's gives a standout performance as Eva. 

                                  As an idealistic teacher, Erin shows the students, how their struggles have similitude in other people's lives and in history. With the Holocaust lessons, she gives them circumstance and teaches them to express themselves within it. The scene, where a boy who hasn't spoken for all year finally reading his journal is one of the best heartrending scene. The book and the movie lionize the unity that can rise out of diversity when individuals break down the walls that separate them from others. That's a lesson important for nations and communities all over the world (to arise out of the dignity of difference).  

                               "Freedom Writers" is predictable and corny, at times, but has enough heart and mind to blindside even the crankiest of viewers.


Freedom Writers -- IMDb