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Posts Tagged ‘Movies’

A lot of today’s pop culture cinema leaves me cold. Superheroes. Vampires. Zombies. Especially zombies.

What is it with zombies? I don’t watch The Walking Dead. I don’t get all fidgety waiting for the next zombie apocalypse video game. And I certainly don’t queue up to see the latest action-packed, gore-spattered, plucky regular-guys facing walls of crazed, offal-eating zombies.

Usually.

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I am a sucker for epistolary movies. Throw in ethnic food and cookery, and you’ll have me on toast points.

The Lunchbox (2013) stars Irffan Khan and Nimrat Kaur, and is the first full-length feature by director Ritesh Batra (who also wrote the screenplay and produced the film). Western movie-goers might recognize Khan from movies such as Life of Pi, Slumdog Millionaire, and The Darjeeling Limited, but most of his work–as almost all his co-star Kaur’s work–has been in Indian cinema.

The story is set in Mumbai, a place of contradictions and juxtapositions between old and new, modern and old-school. Ila (Kaur) is a young housewife who cooks a lunch for her husband every day and sends it to him using the city’s arcane but incredibly efficient lunchbox delivery service. One day, however, the lunch she prepares goes astray, and is delivered instead to Saajan (Khan), a middle-aged widower who works at an insurance office. Ila quickly realizes that her husband didn’t get the lunch she prepared but can see that whoever did get it, enjoyed it, and so in the next day’s lunchbox, she includes a note.

Thus, a correspondence begins, filled with food, secrets, dreams, and hopes.

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It seems to me that Hollywood–and entertainment in general–can’t come up with anything new.

Sequels. Prequels. Spin-offs. Reboots.

The so-called “summer blockbusters” are nothing more than tasteless CGI pastries injected with a gooey filling made of bantering superheroes, giant robots, zombie fighters, and sparkly vampires, all which we viewers scarf down while speeding past fiery explosions on our way to a happy ending. Every actor and action, from the abdominal beauty of the Spartan 300 to the hypnotically-slo-mo destruction of iconic American landmarks, is retouched and enhanced into a stylized pabulum for our plebeian appetites. There is no grit. There is no ambiguity. All is good and bad, beautiful and evil, plucky survivors and defeated foes.

Then, along comes Max.

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I wish my brain had an OFF switch.

There are times when it just gets in the way. I mean it’s thinking. All. The. Time. Thinking thinking thinking. Every damned minute it’s filled with thoughts, memories, comparisons, evaluations, judgments, decisions.

And there are times when it’s a real pain in the ass.

One situation in which it really gets in the way is when I’m watching actors do something I know in great detail. You know what I mean. It’s that part of the movie where the star sits down to a keyboard and supposedly starts typing in code/prose like a savant, but you know–from the position of their hands or the regular stadium-wave pattern of their fingers–that they’re just frobnicating, mindlessly tippy-tapping the keys while they utter their lines.

I have the same problem with actors who “dance” ballet or “play” a musical instrument. Few actors can fake it well enough to fool me. Hell, few can fake it well enough for me to suspend my disbelief. Especially painful (for me) is when actors pretend to play a violin, viola, or cello. My decades as a concert violist and my knowledge of the instruments make the tiniest misstep a glaring error, and it just pops me right out of the story (like when a character in a story set in Victorian England says “Okay.” Arg!)

And so, it was with great trepidation that I queued up A Late Quartet, the story of which centers on the members of a world-famous string quartet. (more…)

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In the world of Hollywood movies, the name Ishtar is synonymous with flop.

Ishtar, Elaine May’s 1987 version of a “Road to Morocco” type movie, stars Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman, and when it came out, it was an unmitigated flop, recouping only $14M of its $55M price tag.

The press that preceded its release was so bad that, despite its star quality and Elaine May’s impressive credentials (A New Leaf, Heaven Can Wait, Reds, Tootsie), I never went to see it, never rented it, and never even considered buying it.

Then, yesterday, I found this 27-year old movie available for streaming on Netflix. Curious, I queued it up.

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Yesterday was the 450th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s purported birth (we know the day he was christened, but not the day he was born so, as with Most Things William, we’re really just guessing).

In honor of this anniversary, I neither watched one of his plays nor read any of  his poetry.

Nope.

I watched Shakespeare in Love.

Travesty! Sacrilege!

Feh. (more…)

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I grew up in a black-and-white world. Not exactly like the way Calvin’s dad explained it, but pretty much.

When I was very young, television broadcast in black-and-white, and my life was filled with television. Soon, even though technology advanced and broadcasts switched to color, in our house we still only had a black-and-white television.

In fact, we didn’t have a color television until I was a teenager, when my grandfather passed away and we inherited his old massive oak-wood RCA Color TV console, with the remote control that sighed like a sulking teenager when you pressed down one of its three buttons. Thus, all my childhood TV viewing was black-and-white, never in color.

So how, then did I know that Captain Kirk’s tunic was tan, Spock’s blue, and Scotty’s red? Sure, I suppose my viewing might have been “enhanced” by color pictures in TV Guide, but if that’s so, then why do I also remember To Kill A Mockingbird in color?

When I watch the film, naturally I see it in black-and-white, but when I remember scenes, especially scenes from the book that didn’t make it into the movie, I remember them in color. I remember Scout’s red flannel shirt, her dark indigo overalls. Tom’s overalls were faded, as was the blue of his work shirt. Atticus wore suits of pale linen, grey pinstripe, and solid slate grey. Mayella had pink flowers on her dress, while the ones on Calpurnia’s chintz were blue.

Perhaps it is because so many things in that story were objects familiar to my youth. The bark of trees we climbed, the denim of our jeans, the thin cotton of our shirts, it was all as it was in the book. Or perhaps it’s because Harper Lee’s words were so simple and direct, so mesmerizing, that I couldn’t help but see the world she created in its entirety, vibrant with color.

To Kill a Mockingbird–in both book and film–was important to me when I was young, and it remains so today. Through its story, I discovered fiction that told of kids who were real, not the fantastical wunderkinder that I found in all the other books I was given. It was an adult story told simply, clearly, and with ultimate honesty. Within its pages, I learned that the world is not black and white, right and wrong, but filled with immeasurable greys  in which justice can be evil, and wrong-doing can be justice. I learned of the fallibility of mankind, and of the failures in our shared society when we forget that we are not alone in this world.

I remember Harper Lee’s classic in color, because it taught me about black and white, because it taught me about grey.

k

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