Category Archives: Movies

Magnificent Maleficent & Memories from Childhood

Note: This is not a review of Maleficent, rather a note on my feelings concerning this film. Please read it expecting a personal view, rather than a general analysis of the movie (oh, and watch out for spoilers)!

When I was very young, Disney’s Sleeping Beauty was one of my favorite animated films; I haven’t watched it in years, perhaps even a decade, but while I watched Maleficent, I felt those old feelings emerging out of a haze, dulled by time; I could remember my fear when Maleficent was about to make her grand appearance at the birth ceremony of Aurora. I could remember my anticipation to hear her next words. It was quite funny when I realized this line, ‘Royalty, nobility, the gentry and… How quaint! Even the rabble’ was embedded in my memory, although being so young, I had no idea what gentry meant, let alone any of the other words. I just remembered the mocking voice Maleficent spoke in.

Angelina Jolie as Maleficent
Angelina Jolie as Maleficent

Maleficent pleasantly surprised me. I was expecting a film more along the lines of Alice in Wonderland and Oz, decked out in overly-done CGI, forgetting allegiances to old scripts and characters. But Maleficent was not one of those; in fact, Jolie seemed to have Maleficent down pat, even adding her own extempore bits, which only enhanced her role in a magnificent manner. Maleficent was, after all, a girl, who had had her heart broken and faced betrayal through utmost cruelty. Imagine having wings and then having them torn from you- it’s hard to imagine at that but well, what a nice, feeling touch to the story.

Maleficent with wings
A winged representation of Maleficent

Maleficent was a powerful fairy- one who was relied upon for the protection of the forest, home to many magical creatures. Perhaps taking an environmentalists’ stand doesn’t go awry in this day and age- you begin to root for Maleficent, despite her stubbornness and her wish to bring death to a girl who has done nothing to deserve it. And you begin to hate Stefan, you really, really do. The additional treasure was the little 4-year old Aurora, played by Jolie’s own daughter Vivienne. Despite taking a turn for evil, Maleficent was unable to resist ‘little beastie’, the little Aurora for whom she developed actual feelings and for whom she almost sacrificed her life. I have to admit, watching Jolie with baby Aurora were some of the funniest moments in the entire movie.

Disney's MALEFICENT  L to R: Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) and Young Aurora (Vivienne Jolie-Pitt)  Ph: Frank Connor  ©Disney Enterprises, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.
L to R: Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) and Young Aurora (Vivienne Jolie-Pitt) Ph: Frank Connor ©Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The best parts however, are when vestiges of the original Sleeping Beauty come back to life; the remnants of a time long past, where fairies, happily ever afters and magical goodness was the order of the day for young children. It is possible that this perspective is merely the result of my affiliation to the late eighties and early nineties. I can see Maleficent received some very nasty reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. In any case, I’m not daunted by movie reviews in general, and Jolie’s performance still managed a proud walk-away, getting all the credit for making Maleficent at least watchable for those who were expecting more deviation from the original fairytale environment.

I, for one, am glad Maleficent was saved from becoming a twisted, myopic CGI disaster. Instead, it brought the long faded Maleficent to life; the iconic crown and the darkened silhouette lived once again as they graced cinema screens. The questionable futility of the young Prince, his diminished role, the decision of Aurora to take her life in her own hands and the pitiful attempts by the three good fairies to raise Aurora- all mark the ways in which this beautiful classic was changed in order to adapt to a more empowered audience. Yet, Maleficent herself did not change, her character was deepened, with a sad origin story, but the Maleficent moments remained original.

Thank you, Angelina Jolie, for helping my childhood resurface for the few precious hours I watched Maleficent.

Bonus: Watch the unforgettable ‘Awkward Situation’ scene from Maleficent below.

 

 

 

The Delightfully Delectable Conception of ‘Delicatessen’

“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” –Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

Delicatessen (1991)
Delicatessen (1991)

Sometimes the hardest thing to look for is a good movie.

When my boyfriend and I are spending weekends and holidays together, we always look for the strangest films, never mainstream, usually deliciously surprising ones, hidden away beneath the plethora of crap Hollywood is making these days. I’m more of a mainstream movie-goer, more so than my boyfriend who would never, in a million years, watch anything that comes with the ‘commercial’ tag, meant for the average type of movie-goers like me. In this new unexplored movie genre, which I recently started to explore, I finally decided to give a go to Delicatessen and I can say it is pure genius.

In this crazy, yet frighteningly symbolic interpretation of the world, Delicatessen gives a story which no one will soon forget, if ever.

Here, I talk about some of the things I really loved about the film. [Proceed with caution, spoilers below]

Julie and Pouison

Julie & Pouison in Delicatessen (1991)
Julie & Pouison in Delicatessen (1991)

Who can forget this timeless clip from the movie?

After Julie helps save Pouison from his ghastly fate, the post-Armeggedon skies clear up and Pousin returns to the normal life he remembered, when he could play his ‘Saw’ and just feel happy. One falls for the character of Pouison very early in the movie and Julie is soon to follow. His optimism in the face of his darkened circumstances and the general misery of his house-mates is like the forgotten feeling of having biscuits to eat with tea.

Clapet

Clapet-Delicatessen
Clapet in Delicatessen (1991)

Even though one comes to hate him, who can deny it is the character of Clapet that makes Delicatessen such a powerful film? He is the embodiment of a great villain; he is greedy, power-hoarding, manipulative and just downright nasty. His eagerness before murdering his victims is horrific, yet he meets a very well-deserved and satisfying end himself.

Post-Apocalypse-Cinematography

This is probably one of the most amazing elements in Delicatessen. Given that it’s 1991 and movies in Hollywood are still undergoing the effects of 80’s cinema, the cinematography and art direction is excellent. The audience is unable to determine what time, what era the film is pictured in; the mysterious fog is still masking every visible sign of the post-apocalyptic world. That just makes it more ethereal, more interesting to watch. I’m a bit of a fan of post-apocalypse scenarios and I would say, this one has probably one of the best futuristic, dreary environments ever pictured in film.

Delicatessen
Post-Apocalyptic Environment in Delicatessen (1991)

Aurore & Darker Themes

Of course, Delicatessen is ultimately a black comedy; the darker themes are ever-present, from cannibalism to accidental amputation. The failed ways in which Aurore tries to put an end to her life and the set-ups she manages to contrive are witty and pitiable, yet the ideas she is using and the artistic symbols used- a splash of red color, the halo of a lamp; they are truly great.

Aurore in Delicatessen (1991)
Aurore in Delicatessen (1991)

Nothing is better than a movie that plays on the solid roles of good and evil and good eventually prevails, although the end is bittersweet and lessons are always learnt. Also, for me, it’s okay to have a little bit of love to fight for, I mean, who doesn’t like to watch the underdogs fight and then prevail in the ultimate battle? As for Delicatessen, I say bring on the popcorn.

The Deep Blue Sea (no, this isn’t the one with the sharks)

Rachel Weisz and Tom Hiddleston in 'The Deep Blue Sea' (2011)
Rachel Weisz and Tom Hiddleston in ‘The Deep Blue Sea’ (2011)

My reason for watching The Deep Blue Sea was Tom Hiddleston. That was it, that was my reason. What I didn’t know was that the film would charm a completely different side of me: the theatre-loving side, the side that swoons at the stylishness of good drama and the frankness and poignancy of it. The Deep Blue Sea is a stage play by Terrence Rattigan and though I did not know much about its background or how it has been performed for theatre over the years, I could still love Terence Davies’ screen adaptation of it for its trim and classy presentation, and its symmetry and brevity that were just so tasteful! Maybe I’m aging fast and so enjoyed it for these merits. Maybe it’s all the flavoured tea I’ve been drinking. Or maybe it’s my literature-appreciation training from school kicking in. But I feel there can be no denying The Deep Blue Sea is a very artistic movie.

The characters are few and they move between just a few predestined places, to bouts of exaggerated music, through stylized frames. And a story is told – rather an abstract one, but one we’re all familiar with. It is a story of personal conflict and love lost. It is a story about making choices. There are heights reached and depths hit, and the music swells or murmurs to accompany these movements. Neat and centralized shots in movies always appeal to me because I can imagine filmmakers like Davies lovingly deliberate over how to present a scene. The colours are faded, the light wintry – like in an old photo album. And like in an old photo album, in which many turbulent stories cling to the backs of the shyly coloured pictures, the emotions running through the film are very loud and very fiery.

The Deep Blue Sea

To her role as Hester Collyer, Rachel Weisz brings that tragic mix of stubbornness and extreme vulnerability characteristic of a little girl in love. Tom Hiddleston, as Freddie, is garrulous and cheery, and remarkably airy (I confess to numerous replays of his adorably delivered ‘I only did it for the Monet’). The buildup of their romance and its inevitable decline is almost effortlessly conveyed by the actors as they play out these two very differently driven individuals. Davies also adroitly shows what can be very challenging to show visually – the haunting of a mind. Memories keep tumbling out of Hester’s mind, opening windows into a very layered past, which – the viewer is left in no doubt – she has revisited so many times, it has become as played-out and scratchy as the radio music she listens to.

One sequence in the film – a flashback – is particularly beautiful. As we watch a devastated Hester rush down a subway station and pause right by the tracks, clearly struggling against a suicidal impulse, the view shifts and in one, long take we see Londoners huddled inside the same subway, on the tracks and platform, while bombs are heard falling in the distance. One of the refugees starts singing Molly Malone, the lovely, aching, Irish song, and the rest (all of them, the poor, the rich, the soldiers, the guards, the men and the women) chorus ‘Alive, alive, oh’ as dust falls from the subway ceiling to the floor, in sad accompaniment to the bombing outside.

It doesn’t happen every day that I watch a movie simply to gawk at a classy British actor and end up writing a review in the movie’s praise, but I wish it would happen more often.

Why I Like Love Stories: A Lesson from Silver Linings Playbook

I can assure you it is possible to fall in love with words. The biggest complication is finding someone to attach these words to. People say it’s typical that a woman falls for love stories. I can tell you how this best of all emotions has been taken apart by stereotypical thinking, seemingly making it lose all of it’s magic. But to be in love, and to want to see a love story as it unfolds is still the best feeling in the world. To be able to describe it in words that can be ethereal and illustrative, wondrous and unconditionally felt, is even better.

A Walk on Air (2013)
A Walk on Air (2013)

People attach all sorts of meaning to words, and sadly, some people attach none. To truly be able to understand what a person says is the greatest magic of all. Of course, this is all in relation to love stories. So the question, why I like them so much? The theme occurred to me while I was watching ‘Silver Linings Playbook’. It shows a love story which is so different from the average love story; it shows imperfect people. And it is so good to watch imperfect people in love. I am usually dominated by the idea of a ‘perfect love’, with perfect individuals, representing the pinnacles of all of human attributes, presented in the best way possible; holy, brave, humble. I can blame this on watching Disney movies while growing up; but who hasn’t fallen through this trap of conventional love at least once in their lives?

Screenshot from Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
Screenshot from Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

In Silver Linings Playbook, both of our male and female protagonists are represented as flawed. Their feelings are a result of flawed actions which make them come together. Is everything a mistake or are mistakes in love just the way we see them because we want love to be so conventional all the time? It is never a story of her meeting him, ring on her finger, they lived happily ever after. The roller coaster ride of ‘getting there’ is the best part. When people are imperfect, they make mistakes. When they make mistakes, things go wrong. And the only way to prove themselves is when they make things right. That part is so amazing, proving what you can do for the people you love and what they can do for you.

The thing about love stories is that unless you’re brave enough to be in one of your own, you will never be in one. Why I like love stories is because I know they will hurt, they must hurt, otherwise it’s not worth anything. They will create storms in your life which you wished you’d never have to face and they will wake you up from the reality you are living in, just until your love story lasts. You can live inside a world where most things will seem like magic to you, where waking up in the morning will be something you want to do, where having moments of silence will be most wanted so you can let yourself relive everything all over again. And you will want to have words to immortalize your love, because there will be a time when you have it no longer but the words will never leave you.

Middle-earth, we meet again!

Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

For fans of Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings and Peter Jackson, who thought that the immense and incomparable excitement brought to their lives in the early 2000s was over after The Return of the King, the news that Jackson would be undertaking a movie adaptation of The Hobbit came as a kind of Annunciation! It was a miracle, it was a trumpet being blown to announce the rebirth of that glorious universe called Middle-earth, it meant the dispelling of evil and foul-smelling feature films for three years as The Hobbit – made into three films – would come to rule the big screens in all its Tolkienish ethereality and Jacksonian efficiency.

Oh what a day it was when I first found out that three new movies featuring Middle-earth as only Jackson and his team can craft it were in production! It was like an Elvish dream sent to us from the Undying Lands. Then I had apprehensions that The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey wouldn’t go up in cinemas in Pakistan. But it did. It went up two weeks after its international release date but it went up. And I was there at the ticket counter, getting my ticket to the first show in Lahore. I was overwhelmed. What would it be like? How would Middle-earth look after all these years? (Not that I hadn’t repeatedly watched the LOTR trilogy on DVD since 2003) Would the music be as haunting, the action as paralyzing? Would the battle sequences be as mind-numbingly heroic? My legs felt weak as I waited outside the theatre with my indulging family.

But I had nothing to worry about. As soon as the movie started, I felt assured that we were all in good hands. From the starting sequences of Erebor to the gathering of the dwarves at Bag End, nothing is out of place. The storytelling falls in with the fast-paced action and slick visual effects as smoothly as the dwarves’ voices do with each other when the chilling and wistful Far Over the Misty Mountains Cold is sung. And it gets better! By the time the company sets out, my goosebumps felt permanent! A good sign. The lovely contrast of cold and warm hues dominating the nocturnal Bag End scenes is an excellent reflection of how, at the heart of this large and looming adventure, nestles a fireside story.

An Unexpected Party: the dwarves at Bag End
An Unexpected Party: the dwarves at Bag End

In The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, a lighter mood more suited to what is essentially a children’s tale as well as a great deal of underlying foreboding are conveyed so well that neither the seriousness of an epic nor the playfulness of a fable are compromised for each other. Glimpses of Thorin’s ancestral battles give added dimension to his character , making him even more of a heroic leader than he appeared to me to be in the book. At the same time, the fun-filled, most memorable scenes from the book, such as the company’s encounter with the trolls, are done in a hale and hearty spirit of storytelling that would have made even Tolkien smile. Seriously, half a dozen grumbling dwarves being rotated on a roasting spit while Martin Freeman attempts to rescue them with his strangely disarming, nervous sort of charm? Can fiction be filmed any better?

Gollum, of course, is brilliantly portrayed as ever, with Andy Serkis adding constantly to the creature’s reservoir of expressions and acoustics and facial contortions. The scene showing Bilbo (invisible with the ring on) deliberating over whether to kill Gollum or spare him, is rather moving and touches upon the theme of true bravery which continues well into the LOTR trilogy. A distinctly younger and less haggard Sméagol is also more pitiable because you can actually mark the beginning of his complete devastation, the very point from which his snuffling, wretched vendetta against the thief, thief, thief Baggins began!

Gandalf, super-wizard and uncontested mentor figure of all times, has longer and fancier combat moments in this film. And who doesn’t love watching Gandalf kick goblin butt? He is so thunderous and awe-inspiring in his iconic grey robe, the Orcs and goblins seem to just crumble in his path. Also, he’s not the only good wizard this time. Radagast the Brown also makes an appearance. His role is expanded and he is given more of a comical colour than many fans would have expected. But just when I was about to feel a slight danger of his becoming too silly for an otherwise larger-than-life feature, he saves Thorin’s company with an excellent diversion as it is being pursued in one of the most maddeningly thrilling scenes from the film.

'Gandalf? Not the wandering wizard?'   'The same'
‘Gandalf? Not the wandering wizard?’ ‘The same’

The characterization of the rest of the dwarves is also creatively done (of course! I hope everyone knows, by now, that I am basically writing an ode here). True to the standard gruff-and-hairy image of a dwarf are Dwalin and Oin and Gloin. And adding entertaining variety are the much-too-polite Ori, the wisdom-sprouting Balin and the handsome Kili, ready to take on any man of Númenor in the looks department. It is a hugely engrossing company, on the whole, which sets out to reclaim the Lonely Mountain from Smaug, a dragon I am literally on tenterhooks to see and hear!

If, from all this, it sounds like I watched The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey with my mind made up to love everything about it, then yes, maybe I did. And quite frankly, what’s not to love? I cannot stress enough the importance of good and sincere representations of heroism in this day and age. If dramatic visual effects are all-too-easily achieved now, then let them help in telling tales of bravery and friendship and coming-of-age in a convincing way! The techniques of film-making may keep changing but these are values we cannot afford to make antiquated. So, thank you Peter Jackson and team. This was much needed.

Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield
Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield

Moonrise Miles Make Sense

Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

If, on an especially imaginative day, you were to set out with a copy of Peter Pan, a few Grant Wood prints, some choir music and the pangs of a childhood romance, you would arrive at Moonrise Kingdom.

How can I thank Wes Anderson enough for giving me, in this day and age of gratuitous visual effects and beheaded movie plots, a beautifully creased canoe-ticket to sincere and heartfelt cinema? With its obsessively centralized frames, the poignancy of its ubiquitous plot, its periodic puffs of absurdism, its insufferable romanticism, its nods to the weary adults who have fought and failed, its nods to the children who are fighting and refuse to fail, its haunting music, its aptly timed thunderstorms and aptly timed conscience-awakenings, Moonrise Kingdom is one of the loveliest movies I have seen so far. I cannot stop thinking about it!

I have difficulty as it is keeping the Neverland-induced mix of feverishness, flutters and lumpy throat-ness at bay, and Moonrise Kingdom has now injected me with more of the same. The insular movement of the characters, the almost unreal Polaroid-coloured terrain are like the longing in your mind a dream leaves in its wake. If you have ever been a romantic in dogged pursuit of love, ridicule fast on your tail, you will experience palpitations caused by deep kinship while watching this film.

And no, Anderson does not cheer on the protagonists in any way so sentimental as to make you lose interest, he stirs some truly bizarre scenarios along with his support, some real kookiness. Mrs. Bishop making domestic announcements on a microphone, Suzy’s attack on an ill-fated scout with scissors (very Wednesday Addams style), that amusing, endearing confidence and worldly-wisdom with which Sam nods and says ‘True’ to things, Scoutmaster Ward’s well-intentioned marches and lunges which end in droopy blog entries (Edward Norton is remarkable as ever) and the climatic decision-making in animal costume at the steeple, together with the fall that culminates in the absurdly symbolic ‘Don’t let go’, are all examples of the distinct Andersonian flavour of the film.

Packed with vintage knick knacks, allusions to poetry and religion (our two strongest comforts and chokeholds) and little gestures of affection that are bound to eat into forgotten regions of you, Moonrise Kingdom succeeds where so many romantic comedies and dramas fail – in maintaining the sanctity of love.

 

 

A Breath of Fresh Eyre

Jane Eyre (2011)

Rendering a classic text onto film is risky, more so if said text has already been turned into a film before. Comparisons are bound to follow, in one , long, whiny trail of what’s-better-in-this-one and what’s-worse. I myself have been a disgruntled participant in this procession on many occasions, and had been looking forward to the new cinematic version of Jane Eyre with expectations kept willfully low, when it pulled a Bertha Mason and surprised me.

It was a sincere, beautiful rendition of the eldest Bronte’s claim-to-fame novel. And here is why:

  • The atmosphere. It is deliciously chilling, in perfect keeping with the Gothic spirit of the book, and is so tangible at points that it gives you goosebumps like few new thriller flicks do. From the opening sequence, Cary Fukunaga keeps you on tenterhooks. Those shots of the vast, hostile wilderness with the lone figure of Jane positioned variously in them, and the resemblance they bear to the dark, Romantic paintings of Caspar David Friedrich, and those tragic strains of a violin or piano accompanying the swellings in the story do the trick. Rochester’s ominous secret, the madwoman-in-the-attic bit, is also used well for atmospheric bonus. As in the novel, the filmmakers feed the audience’s terror by playing on the unseen, giving us little helpings of muffled laughter and mysterious creakings until we’re full with a typically Bronte-ish repast.
Jane Eyre (2011)
‘Man and Woman Contemplating the Moon’. Caspar David Friedrich. 1833
‘Moonrise by the Sea’. Caspar David Friedrich. 1822
  • The chemistry. After very long have I seen the kind of romantic oomph that Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender provide. Their ages are just right. Rochester was a lot older than Jane, and – this is important – neither of them was described in the novel as stunningly beautiful. Each had an elusive attractiveness, so thank HEAVENS they refrained from dolling up Wasikowska too much, or turning Fassbender into some Adonis. Toned down and mysterious, both act superbly, all the while channeling an energy that is more powerful because it is kept latent for the better part of the film.
Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender as Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester
  • The supporting cast. Judi Dench just adds a gold star to any film she’s in, doesn’t she? Having seen this paragon decked out regally as Queen Elizabeth or Lady Catherine de Bourgh, you can hardly envision her as the housekeeper, Mrs. Fairfax. But she pulls off the role as if it had descended to earth, custom-made with an apron, just for her. And that one line (‘How very French!’), the only haughty delivery from her throughout, is definitely worth watching for all of us who love her deep-set, British curtness. Dench having been duly eulogized, an honourable mention should also be made of actor Jamie Bell, who plays a nice, staid St. John Rivers.
Judi Dench as Mrs. Fairfax