Archive for the ‘Movie’ Category

I finally got around to watching the film adaptation of Kalki’s classic historical novel, ‘Ponniyin Selvan‘ (‘Ponni’s Son’). I wanted to watch it in the theatre, but being the couch potato I am, I just sat on it, and when it came out on Amazon Prime, I watched it in the last couple of days.

What is the story about? Well, ‘Ponniyin Selvan’ has a long, epic, rambling plot. I’ll just repeat here, what I wrote in my review of the first part of the book, last year. You can find the whole review here. ‘Ponniyin Selvan’ is a historical novel set at around 970 C.E. It is about the Chola king and queens and princes and princesses and their friends and enemies. It has everything that one would expect in a historical novel – many characters, intricate plot, conspiracies, palace intrigues, romance, war, amazing adventures, secrets from the past, charming characters, spies, badass villains, many surprising revelations. The influence of Alexandre Dumas is deeply felt in Kalki’s book – there is a young man, Vandhiyadevan, who looks like D’Artagnan, there is a beautiful woman, Nandini, who looks like Milady de Winter, and there is even a minister like Cardinal Richelieu. Of course, the actual plot and characters are different and fascinating in their own way.

So, what do I think about the film adaptation? I think that the film is well made. The settings look natural and real and it brings the Tamil period of a thousand years back, vividly alive. The songs all sound natural and feel part of the story, and they don’t feel forcibly tucked in. The acting by all the actors and actresses feels quite natural and they represent the characters very well. The cinematography is excellent. The last scene with the ship stuck in the storm is amazing and realistic and beautifully made. I haven’t seen something like this in a Tamil movie ever. Mani Ratnam has definitely broken new ground here.

Now something on the cast and the characters.

From left to right : Vandhiyathevan, Kundavai, Aditha Karikalan, Nandini, Arulmozhi Varman

Aishwarya Rai as Nandini was perfect! I can’t imagine anyone else in that role. I think Ramya Krishnan in her prime would have been perfect in that role, but outside of her, I don’t see anyone else as good. I think this might be Aishwarya Rai’s finest role ever. Glad to know that Mani Ratnam and Aishwarya Rai got that right.

Aishwarya Rai as Nandini
Aishwarya Rai as Nandini
Nandini as depicted in the book

Trisha as Princess Kundavai was very good. Not like the Kundavai from the book, but still very good.

Trisha as Kundavai
Kundavai and Vandhiyathevan as depicted in the book

Kundavai’s best friend, Vanathi, is very different in the movie compared to the book. In the book, Vanathi is a shy, introverted character, who is in love with the prince, but in the movie, Vanathi is a cool, stylish, mischievous, extroverted character. Very different! But still, the movie Vanathi is good, and Sobhita Dhulipala depicts her very well.

Sobhita Dhulipala as Vanathi
Vanathi and Kundavai as depicted in the book

The boatwoman Poonguzhali in the book is a quiet, introspective, melancholic character, but the movie Poonguzhali is different. She is definitely not melancholic. But the character of Poonguzhali in the movie is very well depicted and Aishwarya Lekshmi plays that character very well. I liked the bantering she does with Vandhiyathevan.

Aishwarya Lekshmi as Poonguzhali
Poonguzhali as depicted in the book

There are too many characters in the story to talk about in detail, but I’ll just talk about two more. Karthi as Vandhiyathevan is very good. He shows style, humour, flirts with women. But he is not the Vandhiyathevan that I imagined. The Vandhiyathevan of the book is a legendary figure, and he is probably the greatest character that Kalki ever created. It is hard to get him perfect on the screen. I think MGR in his prime would have been a great Vandhiyathevan. He would have been perfect. Maybe Kamalahasan in his prime. Maybe Parthiban in his prime. I can’t see anyone else playing that role. But these actors are older now or they are not around. So the director has done the best he could. Karthi has done pretty well.

Karthi as Vandhiyathevan

I never thought that Jeyam Ravi would be Arulmozhi Varman. I always saw him as an angry young man. Arulmozhi from the book is a prince who never gets angry, who loves peace, and everyone loves him. But Jeyam Ravi does his best to depict this Chola prince, and one can’t fault him for that.

There is one thing though, that I’d like to nitpick. The screenplay. The story as depicted in the movie is an open book. We know who the good guys are, who the bad guys are, and what is exactly happening. There are no surprises. That is not at all how the book is. The book is filled with surprises and that is one of the pleasures of reading it. The movie reveals everything upfront. For example, in the first scene in the movie, the crown prince Aditha Karikalan calls Vandhiyathevan and tells him that he has to go on a mission and gives him all the details. This is not how the book starts. In the book, Vandhiyathevan is riding his horse near the lake during festival time. We don’t know why he is there. Lots of surprising things happen after that, and the truth is slowly revealed. Even when things are revealed, we have a suspicion that there is still more to it. This is how Kalki keeps the reader riveted to the book. But in the movie, there are no surprises. If I have to give an analogy, in the first Harry Potter book, we see Harry living in his uncle’s and aunt’s place, being treated badly. Then one day, suddenly, a giant man arrives, and frees him from there and takes him to a strange place. This is how the book starts. This beginning of the book has got a lot of unexpected surprises that we don’t see coming. If the movie version of the book didn’t start with this, but started with a conversation between Dumbledore and Hagrid, with Dumbledore asking Hagrid to bring Harry to Hogwarts, then there are no surprises. The pleasure of the surprise is lost. This is what I saw in the Ponniyin Selvan film adaptation.

I can understand why the director and screenplay writers made this significant change. A movie filled with surprises at every turn and in which we are not sure about the intentions of the main characters, is pleasurable to watch. But in the past, when Tamil filmmakers experimented a little like this, they were taking a big risk, and the movie bombed at the box office. It is a surprising thing, because the same audience watches English movies and French movies and are able to enjoy the mysteries, and the twists and turns, and the subtext. But when they come in a Tamil movie, they reject it. It is one of the mysteries of the Tamil movie audience which is difficult to fathom. So with a big budget movie like this, I can understand why the director didn’t want to take any risks and revealed everything upfront. For movie goers who’ll never read the book (most won’t because the book is more than 1500 pages long), this change in the screenplay won’t have any impact, because the movie is excellent. But for fans of the book, this is a significant change, which makes the story as told in the book, much better and more pleasurable than the movie.

I enjoyed watching the film adaptation of ‘Ponniyin Selvan‘. Can’t wait for the second part! Now I have to go and dust the copy of the book I have (I have atleast 4 editions I think) and read it from the beginning before the next part of the movie comes out.

I also hope that this is the start of an era when more Tamil historical novels will be adapted into movies. Kalki’sSivakamiyin Sabatham‘ (‘Sivakami’s Oath’) deserves to be adapted into a movie. So does Sandilyan’sMannan Magal‘ (‘The King’s Daughter‘) and Akilan’sVengayin Mainthan‘ (‘The Tiger’s Son‘). There are more, there are lots. Tamil historical fiction is a field which is rich and which is a gift that never stops giving.

Have you watched ‘Ponniyin Selvan‘? What do you think about it?

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I watched the film adaptation of Edith Wharton’s ‘The Age of Innocence’ directed by Martin Scorsese a few days back. I love Martin Scorsese’s movies. He is more well known for his gangsterish movies and others closer in theme to them. This is a very different Scorsese movie though because he has adapted a classic, a very unique film in his repertoire.

The basic story is this. The time is 1870s New York. Newland Archer is a young lawyer who is engaged to May Welland. Both of them are happy. And then a third person walks into the scene. It is May’s cousin Ellen. Ellen is married to a count in Europe and so she is Countess Olenska. Ellen has been away for a long time and she is European in thought and manner now. She is independent and liberal and creates a few flutters. She is back because she wants to divorce her husband, the count. Newland ends up handling her case. And before both of them realize, something happens and sparks are flying. What happens between Newland and Ellen? Will Newland’s love for May survive this? Will they get married? Can there be a happy ending to a triangle-love-story? Well, you have to watch the movie to find out.

I haven’t read Edith Wharton’s original novel, though it has been on my ‘To-be-read’ list for ages, and so it is difficult for me to compare, but looking at it independently, I loved this film adaptation. The New York of the 1870s comes alive on the screen, the workings of the high society of New York, the way social power and hierarchy is structured, the said and unsaid social and cultural rules – these are all beautifully depicted. The film won an Oscar for Best Costume Design and we can see why. The casting is mostly perfect. Michelle Pfeiffer is beautiful and perfect and delivers a brilliant performance as Madame Olenska. I think this is my most favourite performance of hers yet and it definitely deserved an Oscar. I can’t believe that the Academy had never awarded an Oscar to Pfeiffer till now. Winona Ryder is wonderful as May Welland. Daniel Day-Lewis is good as Newland – for some reason I am not a big fan of him, though I love his voice. Scorsese’s direction is, of course, perfect.

I have to talk about one more thing. The last scene in the movie. I won’t describe it, because you have to watch it yourself. It was so beautiful, brilliant, poignant and perfect, that I couldn’t stop crying. Then I put that last scene on repeat mode and watched it for an hour. It was a perfect ending to the story like the best endings. After watching it, I took down Wharton’s book from my shelf and read that last scene. It was beautiful, but I have to say this. Though I believe that a book is mostly better than its movie adaptation, I have to still say this. Scorsese takes that beautiful last scene from Wharton’s novel, and improves on it and makes it better. He makes it brilliant. It just shows what a great director he is. What a great master he is.

Now the only thing left for me to do is to read Wharton’s book. I can’t wait to do that.

Have you seen ‘The Age of Innocence’?

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I haven’t blogged in a long while because I have been distracted by life. So, I thought it is time to get back. Starting with a film review this year 🙂


I watched a French movie called ‘Marie’s Story’ yesterday. Marie is born deaf and blind. She is a teenager now. She senses things only through touch. She only knows her parents. Her parents decide to send her to a school for deaf children which is managed by a group of nuns. But the Mother Superior there says that they can’t help a girl who is both deaf and blind. But one of the nuns there, Sister Marguerite, is able to connect with Marie. She convinces the Mother Superior that they should help Marie. And so starts a long and challenging and exciting process in which Sister Marguerite helps open Marie’s mind to the world and its rich experiences. How can a girl who is both deaf and blind, be able to communicate? How can she experience things, learn words and speak to others? This movie shows how it can happen. Our heart delights with pleasure and joy when we see Marie’s mind opening up to this beautiful world and we experience the joy of many beautiful first experiences through Marie’s mind. It is incredibly beautiful to watch. Arianna Rivoire and Isabelle Carré give brilliant performances as Marie and Sister Marguerite and I loved both their performances and characters.

‘Marie’s Story’ is based on the real-life story of Marie Huertin, who lived from 1885-1921. Till the end she was passionate about learning, became an expert in Braille and was wonderful at Dominoes. It is sad to know that she died so young – why do beautiful souls have to die young?

One more thing I loved about the movie was that both the cinematographer and the music composer were women – typically I have found only men in these roles. So, three cheers to Virginie Saint-Martin and Sonie Wieder-Atherton for breaking the glass ceiling here.

I know that it is early days yet, but I think ‘Marie’s Story’ is going to be one of my favourite movies this year and one of my alltime favourite movies. I watched most of the movie with tears in my eyes – the sad scenes, the happy scenes, the beautiful scenes, the heartbreaking scenes. There is a scene when Marie first meets her parents after she learns how to communicate – it is incredibly beautiful and moving. Also many beautiful scenes with Sister Marguerite – but I don’t want to spoil the story here. I can’t wait to watch the movie again.

Have you seen ‘Marie’s Story’?

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I first heard about Cheryl Strayed’s memoir ‘Wild’ when I read Valorie’s (from Books Can Save Your Life) review of it. Since then I have wanted to read it. When I discovered that Reese Witherspoon has made a movie out of it, I decided to watch that first. 

Wild Directed By Jean Marc Vallee

‘Wild’ follows the life of Cheryl Strayed when she decides to take a hike for more than a thousand miles on the Pacific Crest Trail. She has recently gone through a divorce and her mother, whom she loved dearly, has passed away after suffering from cancer. Cheryl feels that the hike will heal her heart and make her see things from a new perspective. She has no experience of hiking before and so she learns new things everyday – her stove doesn’t work initially and she has to throw it out, her shoes are too small and her toes start hurting and bleeding soon and her backpack, which she has carefully packed with all things which she considers necessary including a few books, is heavier than her (one of the characters while welcoming her to a resting place tells everyone there – ‘Say hello to Cheryl and the monster’, the ‘monster’ being her huge backpack.) She meets strangers on the way, most of whom are hikers or who work in farms or live in the countryside, and they are mostly friendly and help her out. One of them shows her a resting place and when she reaches there welcomes her and makes her comfortable and introduces her to other hikers there. Another cooks her a meal and shows her how to travel light. Another takes her home, when she is stuck in the middle of the wilderness without food, and Cheryl is able to have a hot shower and a hot meal. There are virtually no woman hikers, but Cheryl meets one accidentally and she is so happy with the encounter and they have a long conversation. Cheryl also meets a shady character or two, some of whom look threatening and dangerous. She also meets a snake, a fox, a llama, a dog and a horse. She traverses through different kinds of terrain – deserts, fields, mountains, snow-covered peaks, small streams and big rivers – she hikes through them all. During her hike, while resting in the night inside her tent she reads books, mostly Adrienne Rich’s poetry. At every rest place she leaves a quote from a poet or a writer with her name written alongside. Other hikers see that and Cheryl becomes famous among hiking groups. 

While the movie shows Cheryl’s hiking in a linear manner, it also goes back and depicts her life as a child with her mother and brother, her relationship with her mother after growing up, how her mother is always happy though the situation of the family isn’t that encouraging (Cheryl says this while talking to her fellow woman hiker – “My mother used to say something that drove me nuts. There is a sunrise and a sunset everyday. And you can choose to be there for it. You can put yourself in the way of beauty.” It was one of the most inspiring scenes in the movie and one of my favourites. I live near the beach, but I am ashamed to say that I rarely go there these days. After seeing that scene, I feel I am wasting all that beauty. I should put myself in the way of beauty – in the middle of that sunset – one of these days), how her relationship with her husband changes and how they end up divorcing each other, how her mother gets cancer and how that breaks her heart, how after her divorce and after her mother has passed Cheryl’s life takes a turn for the worse – all these are depicted as flashbacks throughout the movie.

Though there are many human characters and a few animal characters, I feel that most of the movie is about Cheryl’s conversation with nature – the desert and the mountains and the river and the snow and the forest and the trees – and what she learns from those interactions and how she evolves as a person because of that. Nature is probably the main character in the movie and exerts its profound presence throughout.

Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl Strayed is wonderful. Laura Dern as her mother, who is always happy and singing and dancing, is wonderful too. She is a very inspiring character. My other favourite characters were the woman hiker with whom Cheryl has a conversation, and a young boy and his grandmother who come with a llama with whom Cheryl has a conversation.

I loved ‘Wild’. It is a very inspiring movie. It is a shame that it didn’t make it into the ‘Best Picture’ nominations list. Cheryl Strayed says that it was snubbed because of Hollywood sexism. It is hard to disagree with her.

Have you seen ‘Wild’ or read Cheryl Strayed’s memoir? What do you think about them?

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One of my book club mates saw ‘Boyhood’ when it came out and he has been raving about it since. So, I thought that I should watch it sometime. When I discovered that it was directed by Richard Linklater, I was quite excited. I fell in love with Linklater after watching ‘Before Sunrise’ and ‘Before Sunset’ and was wondering why he didn’t make more movies. Well, he has done that now. Now, about the movie. 

Boyhood Directed By Richard Linklater

‘Boyhood’ is, as the title implies, about the life of a boy who grows up to be a young man. Mason is six years old when the story starts and he lives with his sister Samantha and his mother Olivia. Olivia is a single mom. Mason’s dad visits them occasionally and takes them out for fun activities, but he is not really involved closely with their lives. Olivia gets involved with men who are nice in the beginning – one is her professor in college, another is a veteran of the Iraq / Afghanistan war – but in the end they all tend to be bullies who get drunk and treat her children not-so-well. The story closely follows Mason’s life – how he misses his friends every time the family has to shift because his mom breaks up with an abusive boyfriend / husband, how he gets used to a new school and makes new friends and sometimes has to confront bullies, his friendship with his mom’s new husband’s children, his interest in art and photography and the other transformative and messy things that happen in life like drinks and drugs and love, which is all part of growing up. Though we see the story mostly from Mason’s perspective, we also see a lot of Olivia, Mason’s mother – in the way she struggles to find love, how she has to work hard as a single mom and at the same time try to get a college degree and a job and find a career which fulfils her, the contrast between her relationships with her children’s father (which is mostly cordial) and with her current boyfriend / husband (which always spirals down after the initial excitement). Olivia’s life is a hard one but it is also rewarding and fulfilling and filled with love and kindness sometimes from unlikely places. Mason’s father, Mason Sr., is an interesting character. He has a good relationship with Mason’s mother and he is more a friend than a parent to Mason and his sister. He doesn’t play any part in the hardwork of day-to-day parenting, but when he makes an appearance in the children’s lives, he makes them happy and gives them good advice. Some of my favourite scenes were the ones in which Mason and his sister have long conversations with their dad, including one in which he gives ‘the talk’ and tells them about contraceptives. I also loved the scenes which depict Mason’s relationship with his girlfriend Sheena and how their relationship ebbs and flows across time. 

I loved most of the characters in the movie. Even the abusive ones were perfectly portrayed. The main characters who get the maximum screen-time – Mason, his sister and his mother – were, of course, all wonderful, but the other main characters who are sometimes the minor ones were also fascinating. My favourites were Mason’s dad and his girlfriend Sheena – the scenes in which they come were all wonderful. In the last scene of the movie, Mason joins college and goes on a trek with three of his new collegemates. Mason has a long conversation with one of them after they reach the mountains and that is one of the fascinating scenes in the movie. The movie on the whole is vintage Linklater, with each scene sculpted delicately, the story waltzing slowly and a lot of conversation happening on screen – conversation which we love listening to.

Ellar Coltrane (Mason), Lorelei Linklater (Mason’s sister Samantha – how can one not like the name Lorelei :)) and Patricia Arquette (Mason’s mom Olivia) are all wonderful in their respective roles and Ethan Hawke teams up with his old friend Linklater and is brilliant in his role as Mason’s father.

This is all about the story and about the performances of the leading players. The movie was wonderful, on these aspects alone. What amazes us even more is that the movie was made over a twelve-year period with the same set of actors and actresses. So we can see Mason getting older across the years (and Ellar Coltrane plays that role throughout) and so do Samantha and Olivia. I have seen this happen in TV series where the same set of actors and actresses work together for many years – for example the way Amber (Mae Whitman’s character) grows up from a wild brat to a responsible young woman in ‘Parenthood’ and how Jake (Angus T. Jones) grows up from a cute, smart talking boy to a handsome young man in ‘Two and a Half Men’ and of course how all the main characters grow up and evolve in ‘One Tree Hill’), but this is the first time I have seen this in a movie. Because it is next to impossible to make a movie across twelve years – so many things change across time – for example the actors / actresses may not be available, the story and the screenplay might get dated – but this didn’t faze Richard Linklater in taking this huge risk and making this movie across more than a decade. His effort shows in the final result, in the exquisite beauty and brilliance of the movie, as the story and the characters feel wonderfully realistic, like people from our own family whom we watch from up close as they evolve as people.

So, what is my final verdict on ‘Boyhood’? It is a beautiful, remarkable work of cinematic art. Richard Linklater takes big risks with the way he tells the story and the main actors and actresses play their roles perfectly with realistic understated brilliance. ‘Boyhood’ has been nominated for both the ‘Best Picture’ and ‘Best Director’ Oscars and I hope it wins both of them. I haven’t seen most of the other movies which are competing in these categories, but I think Linklater’s movie is gong to be hard to beat. Highly recommended.

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I love Julianne Moore and so when I discovered that she has been nominated for the Best Actress Oscar for ‘Still Alice’, I had to see that. I saw it yesterday night. Here is what I think. 

Still Alice Directed By Richard Glatzer And Wash Westmoreland

‘Still Alice’ is the story of Alice, who is fifty-years-old, is a brilliant professor of linguistics at Columbia University and has written the definitive book on the subject. She discovers one day while giving a lecture that she is not able to find the right word which will articulate her thoughts – the word slips from her memory and as hard as she tries to grasp it and hold it and get it back it slips away. When this starts happening frequently, she meets a doctor. The doctor does a battery of tests and confirms her worst fears – that she has early onset Alzheimer’s. Her husband initially refuses to believe it, but in the end accepts it reluctantly. Alice has three grown up children – two daughters and a son. The elder daughter is married and is trying to get pregnant. The son is doing well professionally, but his romantic life is a roller coaster. Her younger daughter has refused to go to college, lives in L.A. and is trying to become an actress. When Alice breaks the news to them, they are all shocked. Then the family tries to get together and help her in their own way. The situation slowly deteriorates and Alice starts forgetting more and more things. She is frustrated with the situation as she has always been an intellectual person who has lived a rich interior life. She doesn’t want to forget her favourite memories and she wants to be around as a normal person when her daughter has children and for other special family events. Before things cross the ‘no comebacks’ line, Alice makes a video addressed to herself. In that video she tells herself that when she can’t remember the answer to basic questions like ‘What is her eldest daughter’s name?’ and ‘When is her birthday?’ she should go to her room, take out a bottle of pills and have them all together with a big glass of water and go to sleep. They are, of course, sleeping pills. The rest of the movie shows how Alice’s memory keeps slipping away a little bit at a time and how her relationship with her family members evolves during that period. Does she see the video and take the pills? What happens to her in the end? You should watch the movie to find out. 

I loved ‘Still Alice’. Alice’s relationship with her family and how it evolves across time is beautifully depicted. The way Alice struggles with her condition, the frustrations and heartburn she goes through and how she learns to accept it – these are all beautifully depicted. I loved the scenes which had conversations between Alice and her actress daughter Lydia. Alice is frustrated that Lydia hasn’t gone to college and is taking high risks with her career and doesn’t have a ‘Plan B’. Alice wants Lydia to get a college degree so that it could help her if her acting career doesn’t take off, but her daughter is adamant about not going to college. She says that she doesn’t want a backup plan. Lydia resents the fact that her mother keeps meddling with her life and doesn’t accept her as she is. In one scene Alice says that she wants Lydia to have a good career and settle down in life before she leaves and Lydia says that Alice can’t use her condition to make Lydia do what she wants and that was unfair. Alice says that she can and that is because she is her mother. It is a beautiful scene in which we are able to see both the characters’ perspectives and we understand both sides and know that the issue is not going to be resolved anytime soon like all complex family problems. The way Alice progressively loses her memory is delicately and sensitively portrayed and it is heartbreaking to watch.

Some of my favourite scenes from the movie were these – Alice’s conversations with Lydia on Lydia’s career, their discussion on a play Lydia is working on, and one of the last scenes when Lydia reads a play to Alice – I loved every scene in which Alice and Lydia come together; Alice weeping on her husband’s shoulder when she is frustrated by her condition and is not able to accept it; Alice giving an inspiring talk at the Alzheimer’s group – well there are many more, the whole movie was perfect.

Julianne Moore as Alice is brilliant and has given probably the finest performance of her career. She has won every award out there for her role and I hope she caps it off with an Oscar on Sunday. The Academy has ignored her for so long and I hope they get it right this time. I also loved Kirsten Stewart as Alice’s daughter Lydia. Kirsten Stewart keeps getting better and better and has evolved into a fine actress. I hope she chooses weighty scripts like this and does more wonderful movies in the future.

‘Still Alice’ is one of my favourite movies. It is a sensitive portrayal of a woman who is slowly affected by Alzheimer’s. It is beautiful, inspiring and heartbreaking, all at the same time. I started watching it late at night and I hoped to see half of it then and half of it the next day. But once I started watching the movie, I couldn’t stop and though it went on till the wee hours of the morning I kept on going till I watched the last scene. After I finished watching, my mind was fresh, there was a spring in my step and my heart was more alive and was filled with happiness even though it was a untimely hour – this is the kind of effect that the best movies have on the viewer and ‘Still Alice’ is definitely one of the finest of them. If you haven’t already watched it, I would highly recommend that you do.

Now a rant 🙂 I am surprised that ‘Still Alice’ has not been nominated for the ‘Best Picture’ Oscar. Not even for the ‘Best Director’ Oscar. I checked out all the movies which have been nominated for the ‘Best Actress Oscar’ and four out of five have not been nominated in either of these categories. Why is that? Why is the Academy ignoring movies which have a main woman protagonist for the ‘Best Picture’ and ‘Best Director’ nominations? Is this kind of thing still happening??

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My movie watching has gone down quite a bit in the past two years after I started watching TV shows seriously. So, this week I thought I will do the Oscar thing-y – watch all the movies that have been shortlisted for the Oscars this year and write about them. I hope it will put my movie watching back on track. 

The first movie I watched was ‘American Sniper’. An odd choice for the first movie, given all the controversies that it has been surrounded by – including the fact that the Academy dumped Martin Luther King for a sniper character for the ‘Best Actor’ nomination (If you hate this movie for this or other reasons or if you want to hate this movie, you should read this article). But I love Clint Eastwood and so I thought I will give this a try. 

American Sniper Directed By Clint Eastwood

‘American Sniper’ is based on the life of an actual American sniper called Chris Kyle, who worked in Iraq. The movie shows his life since he was a boy – how his dad inspires him to fight for others and teaches him how to use a hunting rifle, how he becomes a cowboy but then decides to enlist in the navy and becomes a SEAL and a sniper, how Navy SEAL training is hard, how in the final days of his training he meets a girl in a bar and how they both fall in love and get married and how as soon as he gets married he has to leave on a tour of Iraq. Most of the rest of the movie is about his subsequent tours of Iraq, the dangers he and other army soldiers face there and his time back home during vacation when he finds civilian life hard to adjust to. The movie ends with him retiring from the army and coming back home to his family. (A subtitle in the end says that he was killed by a veteran whom he was trying to help.) 

‘American Sniper’ covers most of the same ground that was covered by ‘The Hurt Locker’, the only difference being that the main character in ‘The Hurt Locker’ defuses bombs while the main character in ‘American Sniper’ kills enemy combatants. But otherwise the locations, the camaraderie in the army, the bombs, the friends who get killed, the psychological trauma, the difficulty that a soldier has in adjusting to civilian life and how he yearns to go back to the warfront – these were all depicted in a way similar to how it was done in ‘The Hurt Locker’. So, in that sense, there was nothing new in this movie. Part of the story is about how our hero tries to hunt down an enemy sniper. The enemy sniper is nameless and he wears black and is just depicted as a bad guy. This was much better done in ‘Enemy at the Gates’ in which Ed Harris comes as a German sniper in the Second World War and he is a much better fleshed out and cool character. In fact the whole sniper thing was depicted way better in ‘Enemy at the Gates’. Most of the Iraqis in ‘American Sniper’ are shown as bad guys – even women and children don’t hesitate to pick up a grenade and throw it at the American army vehicles and sometimes they even take up a rocket launcher and fire it. It is a very simplistic and Hollywood-ish generalization and interpretation of a whole country and it makes one cringe.

The scenes depicting the difficulty that Chris Kyle faces in adjusting to civilian life are also well trodden ground. Others have done it before and they have done it better. For example, the film ‘Return’ is about the life of a woman solider and it handles the ‘difficult-to-adjust’ part quite well. From a literary perspective, Erich Maria Remarque in his book ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ has said everything that needs to be said on this topic. Others can only repeat.

Return Directed By Liza Johnson

My favourite scene in the movie is the one in which Chris Kyle meets Taya at the bar and they have an interesting conversation and subsequently fall in love. It is an odd choice for a favourite scene in what is mostly a war movie but I am a fan of the quieter moments most of the time. Bradley Cooper as Chris Kyle and Sienna Miller as Taya are perfect. Another of my favourite scenes is the one in which Taya calls Chris (who is in the warfront) after coming out of the hospital and tells him that their pregnant child is a boy. Chris is travelling with other soldiers when he gets the call and while he is happy with the news, there is shooting and then there is an explosion and he and his mates get their guns to return the fire and he drops his phone and Taya hears all the shouting and the screaming and the firing and the explosion and she doesn’t hear Chris’ voice and she doesn’t know whether he is alive or dead and she is in front of the hospital and she is pregnant and she doesn’t know what to do.

So what is my verdict on ‘American Sniper’? I think it moves through mostly well trodden ground and so most of the story sounds repetitive and something which we have seen somewhere else and especially something which we have seen better articulated artistically elsewhere. The fascinating thing about the movie is that most of the events actually happened. But if we ignore that fact, I would say that it is an entertaining war movie, but probably not the finest example of its genre. I think it got really lucky to get into the Oscar nominees list.

I wanted to write about something else here – something about which I have been thinking for a while, and something about which other movie fans I have talked to have been having similar thoughts. My straightforward comparison of ‘American Sniper’ wouldn’t be with other contemporary war movies but would be with the TV series ‘Homeland’. ‘Homeland’ treads most of the same ground but it is much better done – the plot is tight and gripping, the characters are more fleshed out, the scenes are intense, the dialogue is sparkling and there is style and class in the way it tells its story. One might disagree with the politics depicted in it, but it is hard to ignore it as a work of art. It is much better than any war movie that I have seen recently. Now the question that I wanted to ponder on was this – is the excellence of ‘Homeland’, when compared to recent war movies, because of the extra time it has to tell its story? (The first three seasons of ‘Homeland’ have one long plot and they come to a total of 36 hours.) Is that the difference between a good war movie and a not-so-good one – the time available to tell the story? Would ‘Apocalypse Now’ and ‘Saving Private Ryan’ and ‘The Deer Hunter’ been better movies if they had been longer? What do you think? 

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I watched ‘Babette’s Feast’ today. It is directed by Gabriel Axel and is based on a short story by Isak Dinesen, who also wrote‘Out of Africa’.



The story is about two Danish girls, Martine and Philippa, whose father is the local pastor. When young men show interest in these two girls, who are very beautiful, and ask for their hands in marriage, their father typically rejects them. The young women grow up and become old and continue their father’s good work. One day a younger woman arrives at their place. She is French and her name is Babette. She gives our heroines an introduction letter which is from an old French singer who courted Philippa when she was younger. The letter says that Babette had to leave France because her family was killed in the civil war. He requests the sisters to help her. The sisters take her in. Babette’s initially learns the chores from them and then is able to handle everything on her own, including the cooking.


One day a letter arrives from France for Babette, which says that she has won ten thousand Francs in the lottery. The sisters think that Babette will go back to France. Babette says that she wants to organize a French style feast for the sisters and their friends and congregation to celebrate their father’s hundredth birthday. The sisters, after some initial reluctance, agree to the plan. Babette goes to France, gets her lottery winnings, and comes back with the ingredients required for the French feast. When the sisters see the ingredients – which include a live turtle, quail and French wine – they get uncomfortable. Martine has nightmares about it and feels that having a feast like this is sinful. The sisters gather together their friends and tell them that though they would all go to the feast, they won’t think or talk about the food and they will ignore the taste.


The day of the feast arrives. An army general, who courted Martine, when he was a young officer, also comes to the feast with his mother. Everyone is apprehensive when the food is served. And then magic happens. The feast is divine. Each dish is a work of art – in colour, in appearance, in taste. The guests lose themselves in the sensual pleasures of food, which also brings them together as people and makes them remember their lives, their past, their loves. The feast magically transforms everyone’s hearts. After the feast all the guests go outside and hold their hands and dance in a circle while gazing at the beautiful twinkling stars. Martine and Philippa thank Babette for her wonderful feast. They then discover that she was a famous French cook. They also realize that she has spent all her lottery winnings on the feast to make them and their friends happy and also to practise her art to the best of her ability one last time. They also realize that she is not going to Paris but is going to stay with them.


I loved ‘Babette’s Feast’. It is a celebration of food – almost spiritual in its intensity and vision. It is also a celebration of love and art and beauty. When Babette says towards the end – “I don’t cook. I practise art” – it gave me goose bumps. I wish I was there at Babette’s feast, taking a sip of the ‘Clos de Vougeot 1845’ and trying out Babette’s delicious works of art.


I read an essay on the movie, after watching it. It had this beautiful passage which I loved – “The spectacular repast that crowns the film conjures up a vision of spiritual well-being created by the transcendent artistry of a chef who sacrifices all for her art and, through that art, recreates her country. This restitution of place and resurrection of time makes the most powerful case yet for the intimate drama of culinary metamorphosis.”


‘Babette’s Feast’ won many awards when it came out, including the Oscar for Best Foreign Language film in 1987. I can see why. If you like movies which celebrate the pleasures of food, you will love this. Recommended J

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My book reading has been going quite poorly for a while now. And so my blogging has come to a standstill. I haven’t even finished the fourth part of my ‘Mysteries of Udolpho’ readalong yet and I am feeling quite bad about it (Sorry Delia!). So, I thought instead of waiting till I finish my next book, I thought I will write about something else. I have been watching a lot of movies lately, and I thought I will write about some of them. So, here is the first post of this series.



I watched ‘Terminal Station’ today. It was directed by Vittorio De Sica. And yes, it is a Hollywood movie! I didn’t know that De Sica directed Hollywood movies. This one had Jennifer Jones and Montgomery Clift in lead roles. The story is about an American housewife, Mary, who goes to Rome on a holiday to meet her sister and her family and falls in love with an Italian (and half-American) teacher, Giovanni. When I heard the haunting initial score by Alessandro Cicognini (which I am listening to, on repeat mode now – do check out from 0.14 to 1.25 at the link), I knew that things were not going to end well, for the main characters.


The movie was initially released in English with the title ‘Indiscretion of an American Housewife’ which is a very poor title, in my opinion. The Italian title ‘Terminal Station’ is far better, as all the action in the movie happens in the Rome Terminal Train Station.


An odd thing for me is that Jennifer Jones is not one of my favourite Golden Age Hollywood actresses. Ingrid Bergman and Bette Davis are. With honourable mentions to Joan Crawford and Lizabeth Scott (Yes, no Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe!) Somehow I don’t think Jennifer Jones’ acting is up there. But this is the third consecutive movie of hers that I have liked very much. The others are ‘Portrait of Jennie’ and ‘Since You Went Away’. She must be doing something right. I want to watch three movies of hers that I have – ‘Duel in the Sun’, ‘The Song of Bernadette’ and ‘Love is a Many Splendored Thing’, for all three of which she was nominated for the Best Actress Oscar and won for ‘The Song of Bernadette’. I should then upgrade her status in my favourite actresses list.


In the last scene, when the lovers are parting, probably to never meet again, the conversation goes like this :


Giovanni : “I guess maybe I better be getting off.”


Mary : “Not yet. It’ll begin soon enough…the wondering. All my life I’ll wonder, “Where is he? Where, just this moment…just now? What is he looking at? What is he thinking? Is he well? Is he in love? Is she beautiful?””


Giovanni : “He is in love…and she is beautiful.”


It was heartbreaking. (You can watch the scene here, if you like. It starts from 5.25.) Movie connoisseurs say that the scene from ‘The Philadelphia Story’ where Tracy Lord (Katherine Hepburn) says : “Put me in your pocket, Mike” is the most romantic scene ever. I haven’t seen ‘The Philadelphia Story’, unfortunately. For me, though, this last scene from ‘Terminal Station’ is up there on top, as the most romantic, heartbreaking scene ever. It is going to be tough to beat this one.


This is a must watch movie for romantic movie fans 🙂

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After reading Steve’s and Kelly’s post on Roger Ebert’s top-10 greatest movies of all time, I decided to make a top-10 list, because I thought it will be fun. Writing down a list should be easy – it would start with the first movie and end with the tenth. Unfortunately, life is not so simple. So, you have to endure with me, during this long introduction at the beginning and a long apology at the end. I am sorry for that.


I wasn’t sure whether I can separate the meanings of ‘favourite’ and ‘greatest’. It was too hard. It was difficult to leave out favourites in the pursuit of ‘greatness’. So, I will call my list ‘My top-10 favourites’. However, I decided to not include romantic comedies, action movies, thrillers, horror movies, spy movies, animation movies and the like. I love all these genres (I can watch ‘The Transformers’ and ‘The Transporter’ any number of times), but I thought that I will include only ‘arty’ kind of movies. (Now please don’t pounce on me and tell me that there are ‘arty’ romance movies and ‘arty’ action movies and kill me 🙂) I also decided to include only American, European and Japanese movies on this list. I would have loved to include Indian movies but then I decided to make a separate list of favourite Indian movies. I also ignored Oscar nominees of recent years – selectively, of course.


So, subject to the above caveats, here is my top-10 alltime favourite movies, in no particular order.


(1) Hamlet – This film version of Shakespeare’s play is faithful to the original. Laurence Olivier as the tortured Prince of Denmark is peerless. The last scene where Horatio says – “Good-night, sweet prince; And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.” – still makes me cry.


(2) Casablanca – I had to include a Humphrey Bogart and an Ingrid Bergman movie – two of my favourite movie stars – and which one better than the one in which both of them had acted together. One of the great love stories of all time. It still makes me happy and sad.


(3) Burnt by the Sun – Set in Russia during the time of the purges brought out by Stalin, this tells the story of a retired army officer who is living the happy Russian life in his village with his young wife and children when the boyhood sweetheart of his wife arrives on the scene. But appearances are deceptive and this man is not what he seems. This movie showed me that things can change in an instant and then we will spend the rest of our life or whatever is left of it, yearning for the past. I am a big fan of Nikita Mikhalkov who has acted in and directed this movie. I love all his movies but I think this is his best. It won the Jury prize in Cannes and the Oscar for Best Foreign Language film – both in 1994.


(4) A Special Day – It is a movie set during World War 2 Italy. Hitler has come to Italy and Mussolini is welcoming him with a parade. Everyone in a particular apartment complex has left to see the parade except for the building caretaker. And two people. One of them is a housewife who has work at home. Another is a mysterious man who is packing stuff in his house. When the two meet accidentally, something happens. Sophia Loren is brilliant as the housewife – I didn’t know that she was such a brilliant actress. Hollywood has totally wasted her talent casting her in sexy-siren roles. Marcelo Mastroianni as the mysterious man is wonderful too.


(5) Rashomon – A man is travelling with his wife through a forest and he gets killed. Who is the murderer and why was he killed? The court assembles witnesses who each tell a different story. Which is the truth? Is there something called the absolute truth? The movie asks these interesting questions. I have seen this Akira Kurosawa movie many times and it is wonderful each time. One of my dear friends who has probably watched all the best movies ever made, told me that Kurosawa’s ‘Ikiru’ is better than ‘Rashomon’. I can’t see how Kurosawa could have improved on ‘Rashomon’. I want to watch ‘Ikiru’ now and find out.


(6) Wild Strawberries – A retired professor goes on a long trip by car with his daughter-in-law to get a honorary degree. During the trip he meets many people who remind him of his own past life. He takes a trip down memory lane. This interplay of what happens during the current time and the professor’s trip down memory line form the rest of the story. I haven’t seen many of Ingmar Bergman’s movies, but this is my favourite out of the ones I have seen.


(7) Things We Lost in the Fire – Shows the relationship between a young, widowed mother and her husband’s closest friend who is a drug addict. For some reason I have never warmed up to Benicio Del Torro before but loved his performance here. Halle Berry as the young widowed mother has done brilliantly. This movie also taught me a new phrase ‘God’s Kiss’


(8) 12 Angry Men – How a juror convinces the rest of the jury of the innocence of the accused is the story.  I have mostly seen Henry Fonda as a villain, most memorably in ‘Once Upon a Time in the West’. So it was interesting to see him as a juror in this movie. Fonda is brilliant in that role. I fell in love with director Sidney Lumet after seeing this movie.


(9) Pulp Fiction – I love all of Quentin Tarantino’s movies. But this one – the most studied and analysed movie of his – has to take the cake. It was a close race between this and ‘Reservoir Dogs’ though. Samuel Jackson is brilliant in this movie. Uma Thurman played her perfect role to date. And Tarantino shows that violence can be art.


(10) The Good, The Bad and The Ugly – I had to include a Clint Eastwood movie 🙂 ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’ is one of my top two favourite westerns, the other being ‘Django‘. Coincidentally, both of them spaghetti westerns. Film critics and connoisseurs of westerns might look down on spaghetti westerns (westerns made by Italians and non-Americans), but Sergio Leone showed that the imitation could be better than the original. When people tell me that John Wayne was the greatest hero of westerns, I ask them – ‘Have you watched Clint Eastwood?’ J


Some of the movies that I really wanted to include, but had to leave out were ‘Juno’ (a movie I love watching again and again. It is about teen pregnancy), ‘The Reader’ (I really wanted Kate Winslet on the list), ‘Heaven Can Wait’ (which has one of my favourite golden-era actresses Gene Tierney), ‘The Little Foxes’ (starring another of my favourite actresses Bette Davis who plays the role of an awesome villain in the movie), ‘The Petrified Forest’ (in which I loved all the characters including the charismatic robber played by Humphrey Bogart), ‘The Piano’ (Jane Campion is a genius), ‘The Godfather’ (It used to be one of my favourite movies but for some reason the power of the movie has waned in recent times.), ‘Before Sunrise’ (I really felt bad at leaving this one out), ‘Crimson Tide’ (the conversation on Lippizaner horses by Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington was enough for me), ‘The Band’s Visit’ (beautiful movie about Egyptian musicians who travel to Israel for a concert and lose their way there and end up in the middle of nowhere and have some pleasantly surprising experiences as a result), ‘Stromboli’ (I had included one Ingrid Bergman movie and so had to leave this out), ‘Irony of Fate’ (probably my most favourite Russian movie. Unfortunately it is a romantic comedy and because this was an ‘arty’ movie list, it was pipped by the artistic credentials of ‘Burnt by the Sun’), two Clint Eastwood movies ‘Gran Torino’ and ‘A Perfect World’ (there was room only for one Clint Eastwood movie), ‘An Unfinished Piece on the Mechanical Piano’ (a movie based on a Chekhov play called ‘Platonov’. The long unwieldy title hides behind it a beautiful work of art. Unfortunately, there was room for only one Russian movie), ‘The Weakness of the Bolshevik’ (a Spanish movie which tells an achingly beautiful story of love between a bank executive and a teenage girl), ‘Dr.No’ (the first Bond movie might be viewed as just an entertainment vehicle. But the first scene where Bond is introduced is one of the best character introductions I have seen. It gives me goose pimples even now! Sean Connery is so masculine and handsome –  it is no wonder that he is frequently voted as the sexiest man alive! The film nearly excelled itself on this aspect with the introduction scene of Ursula Andress as Honey Rider. The Bond introduction was better though, in my opinion), ‘Amelie’ (a beautiful, funny French love story which made me fall in love with Audrey Tautou), ‘No Man’s Land’ (a film based on the Bosnian war which I really loved and for which I should really have found room in my list) and ‘The Curse of the Golden Flower’ (directed by my favourite Chinese director Zhang Yimou, it is a grand movie with sweeping sets and depicts palace intrigue during the Tang dynasty).


There are no movies by Stanley Kubrick (one of my alltime favourite directors – I really wish I had found room for ‘Paths of Glory’ on my list), Alfred Hitchcock, Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorcese on my list, which is really disappointing.


 If I try making a top-10 list tomorrow, I am sure I will have a different set of movies on that list!  It is so hard to make just one top-10 list! I think I should make separate lists for American, European, Indian, Asian and ROTW movies.


What do you think of my list? Which are your alltime favourite top-10 movies?

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