Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Le Fabuleux Destin D'Amelie Poulain.

Le Fabuleux Destin D'Amelie Poulain, or just simply Amelie, comes from the famed Jean-Pierre Jeunet. The movie tells the story of Amelie, a shy and introverted girl, who falls in love with a complete stranger, and guides him to her with the help of clues. But that's not all the story is about. It has quite a few sub-plots, each no less interesting than the main plot - we have Amelie's father and his depression, we have the mean shopkeeper who gets paid back for all his bullying, we have Georgette in the Cafe who worries about never finding love, we have Dufayel the brittle-boned painter, and we have the Concierge of Amelie's building, a woman still in love with the dead husband who left her for another woman.

Perhaps the best aspect of Amelie is the direction. It's, in a word, fabulous. Each scene is perfectly directed, each shot is well-crafted, each expression focused upon, and while the story-line crosses the borderline between 'Plausible' and 'Implausible' many times, it's still a movie that works - perhaps because of its pure artistic feel? It doesn't pretend to be anything. No, Amelie has all the crispness and honesty of a photograph, it's a simple story, simply told, through a great script, and absolutely amazing acting along the way.

Flawless and perfect, even after taking into account Amelie's rather ridiculous haircut and shoes. Celebrating the hidden joys of life - watch out for the scenes of Amelie dipping her hand into sacks of food, and breaking into a creme brulee. Audrey Tatou plays the role of Amelie to perfection - adding just the right combination of innocence, mystery, and pathos to the role. The movie draws you in with its images of fantasy, its turn to childhood joys, and its bright, vibrant colours. Amelie invites you to fall in love all over again, it draws you in, into a world of its own.

Amelie is hands-down one of the best films I've seen. With themes like childhood nostalgia, love at first sight, and lost love - it's a film that has all the prettiness of a picture postcard, the warmth of a sunny winter morning, and the magic of a fairytale. It's a movie that stays with you not just for a heart-warming story, but for reminding you that life can be beautiful, if one only cares to look beyond the mundane.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Julie & Julia.

Think picturesque-1950's France. Think food - lots of it - cheese, beef, cake, and lobster. Think blogging. Put in Meryl Streep and Amy Adams, and you have Julie & Julia, the 2009 film directed by Nora Ephron.

Julie & Julie simultaneously tells the story of Julia Child (Streep) and how she became the cooking icon of America, influencing many housewives to turn to French cooking, and of Julie Powell (Adams), a 21st-century New York woman, who takes it upon herself to complete all of Child's recipes from her book, within a year, blogging about it all the while.

I have to confess, I'm a big IMDb aficionado. I always log on to that site to read others' viewpoints and analysis after watching a movie. And this evening, after reading the Boards on Julie & Julia, I'm stunned at how I've come away with a far different reading of the movie than most out there. Generally, the talk and debate seems to be focusing on how Child made herself the cooking legend she remains today, and how Powell capitalises on her fame- to blog and cook, basing it all on her 'inspiration', with lots of whining and neurosis along the way.

Like I said, I'm stunned. Because I have a completely different reading of the movie. To me, Powell doesn't seem to be latching on to Child for her fifteen minutes of fame- rather, it's about her looking up to someone for inspiration. Powell, irritated by her friends' hectic schedules and overtly busy lives, realises she needs something to do too, to fill her up her own. And she discovers cooking. The movie juxtaposes her life with that of Child's, and it depicts two women, from two different time periods, discovering their love for the culinary arts.

At a deeper level, this movie is about finding yourself, defining a purpose of your life, and finding your passion. Life without passion is just plain empty, and once you've found that joy, that drive, that something-or-the-other that makes it all worth the while - you've begun to live.

All said and done, I adore movies about cooking, and while Ratatouille still remains at the top of my list for food-movies, Julie & Julia remains with you for depiction of characters that are human. Julie is the woman you can identify with, the woman who fixes upon a hobby and decides to see it through, and it is only once she continues with the cooking classes that she realises it has become a passion. Julia is also a woman you can identify with - the woman who is frustrated at her job and irritated at the showing-off of her friends, you empathise with her struggle to complete her project - because you realise it is what keeps her going.

While Meryl Streep's overtly enthusiastic and chirpy voice does get a little jarring, the movie is a must-watch, not just for lovely cinematography and tempting cooking scenes, but also for the impending realisation that life must be lived, in whatever way. And if we choose to be inspired by someone else to do something similar, then that is not being a copycat- it is, in a way, finding purpose and passion.

Sunday, February 7, 2010


From director Clint Eastwood comes Changeling, released in 2009, and nominated for 3 Oscars (including Best Actress in a Leading Role), the film is set in the 1920's and is based upon the Wineville Chicken Coop Murders.

Angelina Jolie plays Christine Collins, who comes back one day to find her son, Walter, missing from home. She contacts the LAPD, and after a few months, a boy is returned to her - a boy claiming to be Walter, but who is not her son. Christine contacts the LAPD to tell them about their mistake, only to be called hysterical, crazy, and accused of trying to shirk her responsibilities as a mother. Soon, she is forced to question the system and the police officers themselves, even dealing with confinement in an insane asylum along the way. Her daring journey into the power-hungry and corrupt police force's workings are the basic premise of the movie, even as she is confronted with the glaring possibility that her son might be dead, one of the victims of a paedophile's grisly murders on a chicken ranch.

Perhaps the strongest point about this movie is the acting. While it tends to go over-the-top at times, it still makes for a solid foundation, convincing us with emotions like hope, dread, fear and even disgust, at different scenes in the movie. Angelina Jolie's constant pout, however, tends to distract from the movie, and her stick-thin frame is a little unnerving to observe. That apart, she is convincing in the role of Christine Collins, persuading us to sympathise with her, as the mother who has lost her son and is willing to take on an entire police force to get him back.

John Malkovich makes an appearance as Reverend Gustav Briegleb, who is intent on helping her with her cause. However, he is sadly underutilised in the movie, providing nothing more than a few lines and scenes at best. Michael Kelly is good at Detective Lester (the 'good cop' who takes the trouble to unearth the mystery behind the missing boys), Colm Feore is quite decent as Chief Davis, and Jeffrey Donovan (remember Vance Munson in Hitch) plays the drunk-on-power, corrupt-as-hell quintessential 'bad cop', who misuses government regulations to maintain his position. Credit goes to Jason Butler Harner, who plays Gordon Northcott - he plays the paedophilic maniac to perfection, right up to his last scene where is being hanged. Mention must be made of the young boys who all turn in stellar performances - especially the one who plays Sanford Clark, the nephew of Gordon, who is forced to participate in the murders.

Changeling is the story of one woman's fight in the face of all odds, it is the struggle to tackle those whom are supposed to protect us, and while one could argue strong feminist angles, I'd say the most important theme of this movie is hope. For Christine continues to hope and pray that her son is alive somewhere, despite being faced with harsh reality that suggests otherwise. With a length of 240 minutes, it gets a little dragging after Gordon is hanged, but right up till then, you never notice that the minutes are ticking by - the period look of the 20's and 30's, the great acting and direction, the human drama and emotions, and the conflict between good and bad - all draw you in so much that you are quite lost to everything but Christine Collins and her horribly sad situation.

Part emotional drama, part crime mystery, part thriller - it's a movie that works, and stays with you. Watch Changeling, and don't judge it for not sticking accurately to the facts. While the movie has kept many of the essential details intact, it has made minor changes and made additions for the sake of being a Hollywood movie, but that apart - it is still what it is - a powerfully disturbing human-angled film, one that forces you to question the bonds of love, what defines them, and whether they can stand the test of negative forces that threaten to tear them apart.

Sunday, January 24, 2010


From Pixar comes another delightfully fresh, inspiring and heart-warming film, Up, directed and written by Pete Docter and Bob Peterson. It tells the story of the unlikely-old man protagonist, complete with crabby face and walker - Carl Fredricksen (voiced by Edward Asner), who, with the innovative idea of helium balloons, leaves his city behind in search of Paradise Falls, half-inspired by his childhood hero and explorer Charles Muntz (Christopher Plummer - think Captain Von Trapp), and half in a bid to keep his promise to his recently deceased wife, Ellie. However, Carl does not make the journey alone - due to an unexpected twist of events, he finds himself with Russell, a loquacious young boy with a short attention span and an enthusiasm for exploring. After a storm (perhaps symbolic of the obstacles along the path we aspire to follow), the two of them reach Paradise Falls, and what follows is a very interesting adventure concerning Carl, Russell, a rather goofy dog and a colourful bird, as well as a half-crazed explorer (none other than Charles Muntz himself), not to forget the Greek-alphabet named pack of dogs!

First up, kudos to Pixar and Disney for consistently coming out with fantastically-animated films, each of which has different themes from the next. While the theme of Ratatouille was self-discovery and hidden talent, and the theme of Wall.E was environmental awareness, the theme for Up - well, there are many.

There is the thread of following through with unfulfilled promises - the wish to make it happen, whatever it is, no matter what comes along. The desire to go ahead with something you've always wanted, either because you promised it to yourself, or to a loved one. Carl's journey is more than just a journey - it is a travel to give his childhood sweetheart and his love the one thing she missed - travel

Parenthood - realised and unrealised, also crops up again and again. Ellie's inability to have children finds an inverse reflection in Russell, the young boy who almost becomes one with Carl. There is also a slight hint of bad parenting, if one watches carefully - Russell talks about past outings with his father, things that he misses doing with him, and how he has been distanced, forcefully. Contrast the absent yet unpleasant father with Ellie, who never had the opportunity to become a mother.

In Up, unlikely friendships are forged, and you are riveted at not only the constant attention to detail (notice the steadily growing beard of Carl), but also at the constantly moving story, the amazing animation, and the appropriately chosen music. Especially the animation - Pixar's work is probably the very best, in my opinion, and each balloon looks different, each bush is unique, and watch out for the 'snipe' bird - Kevin, look at the feathers and the riot of colour on her tail! My favourite scene in all of the movie would be the one where Carl sets off, where the balloons burst forth, in a multi-coloured palette against the sky. You can almost feel the rubbery texture, you can almost experience the wind that propels the house and Carl along their journey. Yes, that's how good Pixar's animation is!

In fact, colour has been used rather intelligently in Up. You will probably not fail to notice the shifts from vibrantly coloured scenes to diffused, almost black-and-white - when the mood changes from happy to sombre and sad. This is especially apparent in the first half of the movie, where a young Carl and Ellie are decorating the nursery, and then the scene shifts to a drab, sparsely furnished, predominantly grey hospital room where Ellie is told that she can never become a mother.

It's impossible not to be taken in with Up. It's sweet, it's inspiring, and while seemingly simple - there's a complex message hidden underneath it. It's never too late to follow through with a promise. It's never too late to go ahead and do what you've been dreaming about all these years. So go ahead, take the road less travelled, and who knows? You might have some really unlikely adventures along the way!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Mamma Mia!

Mamma Mia! (2008), based on the hit musical, is directed by Phyllida Lloyd, and tells the story of a young bride-to-be wanting to find her father, before walking down the aisle. She sends out invitations to the three men she thinks the most likely, but the problem arises when all three of them land up for the wedding, each thinking she's his daughter! The story is told through Abba songs, Sophie (the bride-to-be) singing "Honey Honey" about her to-be-husband, and Donna singing "Dancing Queen" to prove to herself she's still young and 'with it' - just as examples.

This film is a total waste of time. The only reason I sat through it is because I always like to watch a movie right through to the end, no matter how bad it is, and believe me, this one was tough to sit through. Meryl Streep made me cringe, her sisters were even worse, and I couldn't believe that Colin Firth had stooped to this level! (Don't even get me started on Pierce Brosnan, whom I've never liked anyway and who just slipped a few notches lower in my esteem of him.)
Perhaps the highlights of the movie were the Greece scenery and Amanda Seyfried's blonde hair. But that's about it.

One could argue that the Abba songs make the movie what it is, but I disagree. I'm an Abba fan, and I think I'd much rather just listen to them on their own than be tortured by a movie such as this. Mamma Mia! is badly directed, badly written, completely implausible, over-the-top in the acting, and made me want to send out an "SOS"!