Directors

Review | Viceroy’s House

At no other point in history has it been more fitting or important to share a story about the dividing of a nation and its people; extreme and differing political views, nations ravished by arguments over religion and ethnic cleansing often feature front and center in the news – only this story is set in India in 1947.

Welcome to the stunning epic of VICEROY’S HOUSE; the true story of Lord Mountbatten (played by Downton Abbey’s Hugh Bonneville) who is dispatched, along with his wife Edwina (played by Gillian Anderson), to New Delhi to oversee the country’s transition from British rule to independence.  Taking his place in the magnificent mansion known as the Viceroy’s House, Mountbatten arrives hopeful for a peaceful transference of power. Yet ending centuries of colonial rule in a country divided by deep religious and cultural differences proves no easy undertaking, setting off a seismic struggle that threatens to tear India apart.

The sumptuous period detail created by the director Gurinder Chadha (Bend It Like Beckham) brings to life a pivotal historical moment that re-shaped the world.  Indeed, the ramifications of decisions made seventy years ago have led to two nations (India and Pakistan) in a perpetual state of heightened tension with each other since their inception.

It would have been satisfying enough to watch this bygone event unfold through the lens of the Viceroy and his wife yet Chadha, ever an over-achiever, gives us a stirring love story that layers on top. Equally well acted, we experience the forbidden and complicated love story of Jeet a Hindu boy (played by the hundred Foot Journey’s Manish Dayal) and a Muslim girl, Aalia (played by Huma Qureshi) which perfectly demonstrates the impact that decisions made half a world away had on a people that had endured three centuries of colonization by the British.

An heir of this destiny herself, Chadha who describes herself as someone who “grew up in the shadow of partition” took her time to bring this project to fruition and in doing so uncovered some previously unseen documents, “I always got the impression that Partition was our fault, but the documents we found showed us there was already an agenda in place by the British”.

Chadha does a meticulous job of making this Every man’s partition story and as a result no one in this movie is portrayed as either a villain or a hero. Having been reminded by her own family to ensure that the “Mountbatten plan” was exposed, after doing her thorough research about this story, Chadha soon realized that India’s fate had already been sealed by Winston Churchill and that Mountbatten was merely a pawn led to the slaughter, the result of which would be a divided nation with millions of people getting slaughtered themselves in the process.  A tailor-made performance by Bonneville will certainly capture the audience’s empathy yet, when questioned about whether this was the desired outcome, Chadha reiterates her goal was to show just “how ill equipped he was to do such a huge task.”

It would be easy to think of this movie as just a political narrative but to do so would be an injustice.  Scattered with strong bold women like Edwina and Aalia who represent the heart and soul of the movie, we experience firsthand not only the exciting sights and sounds of India but also the heartache and trauma that many including the Viceroy himself experienced.  That along with an often heart wrenching last performance by the inimitable Om Puri makes this a must-see movie

One will easily be transported to another time and place when watching this movie yet when the credits run you can’t help but wonder whether we learned anything from history, given this was one of the largest movements of people from one place to another in the twentieth century.

THE VICEROY’S HOUSE opens on September 1 and is currently available on VOD – check local listings

 

 

Full Listing of 2017 Tribeca Film Festival Coverage | #tribeca2017




So there we were, in New York City again, giddy and electric with excitement at the start of another Tribeca Film Festival. #tribeca2017 beckoned. Our annual pilgrimage was upon us.

Joe’s Top Three Picks – 2017 Tribeca Film Festival

After having set up base at the Battery Park area for the past several years, this year we made home in a tony Chelsea hotel. And a new ritual was set for the film festival. Get up early, get ready and dressed, grab caffeine and sunrise munchies at one of the neighbourhood establishments and head to the Chelsea Bowties cinemas (in the midst of transition to Cinepolis properties) for the 9 AM first press screening. After making agonizing decisions during the rest of the morning regarding which screenings to catch of the several that were concurrently showing, we typically made our way through four films. Then a bite to eat. Or an early dinner at a strongly recommended restaurant (Paowalla, how you filled us up!). Or a meet up with friends. Then a sundown film screening. After which we returned back sated with all manner of cinematic memories bouncing in our heads. And recorded a podcast in which we discussed all the films we had watched cumulatively amongst the three of us. And Joe, the good man, edited and published the podcast the same night.

After five days of this routine, we got bleary-eyed, as the accumulation of ever more films danced around in our brains. But it was the best kind of exhaustion for us, the kind that comes from watching too many films. As if there is such a thing as “too many movies”.

Rashmi’s Top Three Picks – 2017 Tribeca Film Festival

Before we knew it, it was time to head back to the West Coast. With another deposit to our Tribeca Film Festival memory bank. And ready and eager to back for #tribeca2018. And this year, we had seen 34 films amongst the three of us! It is the most films we have covered at Tribeca to date, and hope to best that tally next year.

So herewith is a full listing of all 34 films we covered at #tribeca2017. These films were all discussed on our five ‘live from New York’ podcasts devoted to the festival. But before the full alphabetical listing of the films we covered, here are the top festival favourites from each of us:

 

Joe’s Top Three Films at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival

ALPHAGO
A RIVER BELOW
ROCK’N ROLL

 

Rashmi’s Top Three Films at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival

GET ME ROGER STONE
ROCK’N ROLL
KING OF PEKING

 

Yazdi’s Top Three Films from the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival

PERMISSION
PILGRIMAGE
SWEET VIRGINIA

 

And here is a full alphabetical listing of the films we watched at #Tribeca2017 with links to the Tribeca film descriptions as well as to the specific podcast where each film was discussed:

 

  1. A RIVER BELOW, at 24:50 min, Day 3 podcast – Joe’s Top Three Tribeca Pick
  2. ABUNDANT ACREAGE AVAILABLE, at 11:00 min, Day 1 podcast
  3. ACORN AND THE FIRESTORM, at 18:57 min, Day 4 podcast
  4. ALPHAGO, at 29:21 min, Day 2 podcast – Joe’s Top Three Tribeca Pick
  5. BOMBSHELL: THE HEDY LAMARR STORY , at 29:09 min, Day 4 podcast
  6. COPWATCH, at 12:14 min, Day 4 podcast
  7. FLAMES, at 29:44 min, Day 1 podcast
  8. FLOWER, at 44:01 min, Day 1 podcast
  9. FRANK SERPICO, at 3:42 min, Day 4 podcast
  10. GENIUS (television pilot), at 15:58 min, Day 1 podcast
  11. GET ME ROGER STONE, at 7:45 min, Day 4 podcast– Rashmi’s Top Three Tribeca  Pick
  12. HOLY AIR, at 20:18 min, Day 1 podcast
  13. HOUSE OF Z, at 30:54  min, Day 3 podcast
  14. KEEP THE CHANGE, at 36:33 min, Day 1 podcast
  15. KING OF PEKING, at 25:42 min, Day 1 podcast – Rashmi’s Top Three Tribeca Pick 
  16. LITERALLY, RIGHT BEFORE AARON, at 20:14 min, Day 3 podcast
  17. MY FRIEND DAHMER, at 8:10 min, Day 2 podcast
  18. ONE PERCENT MORE HUMID, at 12:13 min, Day 2 podcast
  19. PERMISSION, at 4:43 min, Day 3 podcast – Yazdi’s Top Three Tribeca Pick
  20. ROCK’N ROLL, at  44:51 min, Day 3 podcastJoe’s Top Three Tribeca Pick
  21. PILGRIMAGE, at 38:53 min, Day 3 podcast – Yazdi’s Top Three Tribeca Pick
  22. SHADOWMAN, at 23:57 min, Day 2 podcast
  23. SON OF SOFIA, at 46:25 min, Day 2 podcast
  24. SWEET VIRGINIA, at 17:31 min, Day 2 podcast – Yazdi’s Top Three Tribeca Pick
  25. THE BOY DOWNSTAIRS, at 24:24 min, Day 4 podcast
  26. THE CLAPPER, at 1:50 min, Day 4 podcast
  27. THE ENDLESS, at 41:09 min, Day 2 podcast
  28. THE HANDMAID’S TALE (television pilot), at 36:15 min, Day 2 podcast
  29. THE LAST ANIMALS, at 15:10 min, Day 3 podcast
  30. THE LOVERS, at 34:57  min, Day 3 podcast
  31. THIRST STREET, at 2:07 min, Day 2 podcast
  32. THUMPER, at 6:02 min, Day 1 podcast
  33. SAMBA, at 2:54 min, Day 1 podcast
  34. TILT, at 13:05 min, Day 3 podcast

 

Yazdi’s Top Three Picks – 2017 Tribeca Film Festival

 

Until next year, goodbye Tribeca!

Summer of Blood | Review

Halloween is upon us and with it comes a slew of scary movies; “Annabelle” “Dracula Untold” and “Horns” just opened or are about to.  However, if you are not a die hard fan of having your adrenaline levels peak in the dark or find that a good nights sleep escapes you after getting the bejeezus scared out of you then this may just be the movie for you.  Welcome to Summer of Blood

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Writer/director Onur Tukel turns in a hilarious performance as the monumentally lazy, socially oblivious and commitment-shy Erik Sparrow, who is dumped by his career-woman girlfriend (Anna Margaret Hollyman, White Reindeer) when he rejects her rather charitable marriage proposal. Feeling lost, he turns to a disastrous string of online dates that successively eat away at his already-deteriorating confidence until a lanky vampire turns him into an undead ladykiller. Soon, Eric is prowling the streets of Brooklyn in search of anything to satisfy both his maniacal sex drive and his hunger for blood.

Despite the fact that Eric is such a misogynist loser, Tukel shows skill in making the main protagonist incredibly likable; I couldn’t help but be on his side.  Helped by the witty dry comedy which runs through the movie both Eric and the rather ridiculous plot had me smiling and chuckling for the entire movie including a few belly laughs thrown in here and there.  The dialogue is hammy in places but mostly clever and smart and there is an interesting narrative about the lives we lead if you look for it. Anna Margaret Hollyman who plays Eric’s love interest plays her role perfectly, equally lovable and annoying all at the same time and is impressive in her ability to detest Eric so convincingly.

Summer of Blood is by no means as polished as other undead offerings like “Twilight” or “True Blood”  in fact at times at times this movie looks rather amateurish and even homemade, but that doesn’t make it bad.  I believe this hard working movie could turn into an underground cult classic in due course and I will certainly be lining up to watch this one again

Described as a horror comedy horror, this is more comedy than horror and definitely not a horrible comedy by any means.A collision of absurd, self-deprecating wit and existential curiosity, Summer of Blood is a hilarious horror-comedy with a clever bite all its own that starts with one of the best break up scenes ever right at the beginning of the movie and is definitely worth a watch

The film is releasing this Friday October 17th in select theaters and VOD.  Check local listings for a screening near you

2014 Toronto International Film Festival | Update Two

images-9The man ahead of me in the line has just arrived from the Telluride Film Festival. While you wait to get into a film screening, you strike up all sorts of conversations. And this man gives me his opinion of what cinema will be celebrated at year’s end. BIRDMAN, the latest from Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu is a wonder he says. Adding that it is about a filmmaker trying to take control of the world around him. That sounds a bit like Fellini’s 8 ½, I offer, and he says no, no BIRDMAN is far more serious than that. The entire film has been shot to simulate a single continuous take, so it gets high marks just for that he further explains. And Michael Keaton is Oscar bound he prognosticates. As is Steve Carrel, for FOXCATCHER he says, another film bound for Academy awards honors. The biggest disappointment for him has been WILD in which he complains that Reese Witherspoon is horribly miscast. I mention that I am part of that small minority that believes that Jean-Marc Vallee’s previous effort DALLAS BUYER’S CLUB was a terrible film. Then WILD is not going to change your mind about this director, he says. What was his best film he saw at Telluride, I ask? Oh, it’s the Argentine film WILD TALES he says with much excitement, and it is playing at Toronto and I must buy a ticket. And then we get into the cinema, leaving my head spinning. And that is the opinion of just one person at the festival. Throw together all the world’s cinephiles and you wouldn’t sleep for fear of missing an important film at the festival.

TIFF 2014 publicity still for THE NEW GIRLFRIEND

TIFF 2014 publicity still for THE NEW GIRLFRIEND

THE NEW GIRLFRIEND is the latest film from Francois Ozon. It wasn’t so long ago that Ozon was the reigning enfant terrible of French cinema, having helmed movies that gleefully crossed the line. But with wit that went beyond the shock value; SWIMMING POOL, WATER FALLING ON BURNING ROCKS, and CRIMINAL LOVERS were the films that put him on the map. Then he turned respectable with UNDER THE SUN, 8 WOMEN and POTICHE. How curious that in what seems like only a matter of years, Xavier Dolan (who is not even 25 years old) has taken over the enfant terrible title, bringing into question Ozon’s ability to still rock the boat by making films that simultaneously provoke and impress. THE NEW GIRLFRIEND is not going to change Ozon’s calling card, not least because this film has the unfortunate timing of coming out on the heels of the somewhat similarly themed LAURENCE ANYWAYS from Xavier Dolan last year. No matter how you cut it, Dolan’s a superior film.

With THE NEW GIRLFRIEND Ozon is clearly paying homage to the films of Douglas Sirk (with a dash of Almodovar, for good measure). So it is necessarily a melodrama, which is not a liability if handled well (Todd Haynes did an admirable job doing just that with FAR FROM HEAVEN). But THE NEW GIRLFRIEND, through most of its running time, feels like a helicopter trying to land in gusty winds; it keeps circling and circling, but is unable to settle on ground.

The film tells the story of Claire (Anais Demoustier) who is trying to shake off the sorrow following the death of her best friend Laura, who has also left behind a bereft husband David (Romain Duris) and infant child. Trying to deal with her grief and offer comfort to David, Claire walks into his home unannounced, to find him dressed in women’s clothing. David explains that he wants to be both father and mother to his child, and while Claire fails to understand this at first, she eventually becomes David’s accomplice in exploring his feminine sensibility. Much to the dismay of Claire’s husband who begins to suspect Claire’s time spent away from work. This can play as a light-hearted farce, as a serious look at the fluidity of sexuality and identity, or even as bitter satire of the overzealousness of political correctness in contemporary mores. But to play this material as a Douglas Sirk melodrama presents with inherent issues. For one thing Ozon over-commits to the Sirk sensibility to the extent that David’s home has furnishings reminiscent of sixties décor. It is difficult to shoehorn this visual palette into a story set in contemporary times without coming off jarringly anachronistic. And what should have been frothy and giddy comes off labored, and worse, dated. The film suffers as a whole from seeming like something that was made at least a couple of decades ago, not least from the way certain characters react to situations. I wish that Ozon’s desire to do Sirk had led to him setting this story in the sixties, which would make the look, and more critically, the behavior of the characters in this story a lot more believable.

 

2014 TIFF publicity still for TOKYO FIANCEE

2014 TIFF publicity still for TOKYO FIANCEE

TOKYO FIANCEE is first-time director Stefan Liberski contribution to all the stories in all the films about star-crossed lovers. It is based on a popular European novel by Amelie Nothomb about a French-speaking Belgian girl (Pauline Etienne) obsessed with Japan who happens to go to Japan and fall in love with a local Japanese boy (Taichi Inoue) who is obsessed with France. There have been many films about this sort of cultural dislocation. In particular such films that are also wittingly or otherwise romantic, tend to have a way of getting twee. TOKYO FIANCEE is very much a film about cultural dislocation, but it keeps the whimsy somewhat in check, doling out only homeopathic doses of it, for the most part. These are individuals you enjoy spending time with, even as you wonder why your own life did not come pre-filled with this sort of charm offensive. Heck, the lead is even named Amelie which should remind of you a certain Audrey Tatou confection that is much beloved but extra-frosted all the same. While the film spends the first half by playing with the mores of this sort of cinema (honest, if a little indulgent look, at the fish out of water), the latter part of the movie ultimately finds a defiantly unique voice. About being dispossessed in youth, and trying to locate a sense of self in a scary uncontrollable world.

Films like this live or die by their lead actors. Who have to carry the entire film, convincing every audience member that their company is worth having. And this film is worth watching, and you must do so, for Pauline Etienne. Looking uncannily like a young(er) Carey Mulligan, Etienne grounds the film with an openness that is disarming. Even when the plot calls on her to be charming beyond reason, she makes us believe that this person would indeed have this effect on these other individuals. Fragile, irrational, lost, impetuous, and searching, Etienne’s Amelie seems to convey these all with enviable flair. Even in the Q&A session after the end of the film, Etienne came across as effortlessly disarming. Discover this actor before the world catches up to her wonders. I cannot wait to see what she does next.

 

2014 TIFF publicity still for CART

2014 TIFF publicity still for CART

CART is a South Korean film loosely based on true events in which female workers at a supermarket who were abruptly notified of being laid off prior to the expiration of their contracts went on a strike to protest. What initially started as a frightening but also empowering stance to take on the system, eventually led to grave and worsening outcomes. What starts out seeming like a feel-good David vs. Goliath tale descends into a reckoning with reality in which corporations almost always prevail over workers. There is no doubt this film has a sincere focus, and it spends a fair bit of time investing in the individual lives of several of the key characters, if only to make clear the cascaded effect of social injustice on those beyond the direct victims. All of which is almost undone by a shrill background score that cues up every scene with the exact sentiment that the audience member is supposed to be filming. This very nearly destroys the film, but unlike say the nakedly melodramatic MARY KOM, this film makes it clear that hope may be the most elusive currency when a group of individuals decide to take on those who control them. This is an angry film, and necessarily so. And it is acted with honest conviction by a group of persuasive screen presences. Even with its flaws, including an over-eagerness to elicit sympathy, the cinema of the disenfranchised is essential. And CART is a good entry in this genre.

 

Out in the Night | Los Angeles Film Festival 2014

Exactly what is the responsibility of the media in reporting news? In my opinion, news should be reported factually and in an unbiased fashion. However we all know that with the advent of syndicated news channels and the need for 24-hour news cycles, it is easy for smaller stories to escalate to larger ones and others to get sensationalized and out of control. Welcome to the movie Out in the Night, a new documentary by Blair Dorosh-Walther that examines the 2006 case of The New Jersey 4.

 

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Through the lives of four young women, Out in the Night reveals how their race, gender identity and sexuality became criminalized in the mainstream news media and criminal legal system.

The documentary skillfully tells the story of a group of young friends, African American lesbians who are out, one hot August night in 2006, in the gay friendly neighborhood of New York City. They are all in their late teens and early twenties and come from a low-income neighborhood in Newark, New Jersey. Two of the women are the focus – gender non-conforming Renata Hill, a single mother with a soft heart and keen sense of humor, and petite femme Patreese Johnson, a shy and tender poet. As they and their friends walk under the hot neon lights of tattoo parlors in the West Village, an older man sexually and violently confronts them. He says to Patreese “let me get some of that” as he points below her waist. When she says that they are gay, the man becomes violent and threatens to “fuck them straight”. He spits and throws a lit cigarette. Renata and Venice defend the group and a fight begins, captured by security cameras nearby. The man yanks out hair from Venice’s head and chokes Renata. Then, Patreese pulls a knife from her purse and swings at him. Strangers jump in to defend the women and the fight escalates. As the fight comes to an end, all get up and walk away. But 911has been called and the man involved has been stabbed. Police swarm to the scene as their radios blast out warning of a gang attack. The women are rounded up and charged with gang assault, assault and attempted murder. Three of the women plead guilty. But Renata, Patreese, Venice and friend Terrain claim their innocence. They are called a “Gang of Killer Lesbians” by the media. In activist circles they become known as The New Jersey 4.

One can easily forgive Dorosh-Walther for giving us a somewhat one-sided narrative given few people were initially advocating for the women and even fewer people have been able to hear the story from their side, but this is an important documentary to watch. Out in the Night will anger you, sadden you and frustrate you all at the same time and so it should because Justice should be genderless, raceless and sexless and yet we are led to believe time and time again that had these women been middle class heterosexual white women, their lives may have turned out very differently.

The incredible narrative that unfolds over a period of years beginning in 2006 through to present day and in some cases through many of the years that some of the women were incarcerated  will have you glued to your seat. Beyond the injustice however, the most endearing thing about this documentary is the women front and center of the debate, Renata, Patreese, Venice and Terrain, who have very graciously opened up their lives to us.

Out in the Night Trailer

Natural Sciences | Los Angeles Film Festival 2014

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Nothing in the world is more powerful than an idea whose time has come, wrote Victor Hugo more than a hundred years ago. And so it is with the lead character in the quietly amazing Argentinian film NATURAL SCIENCES (CIENCIAS NATURALES).

 

Lila, a teenager in a boarding school at a rural mountain town has suddenly reached a juncture in life where her paramount need is to find her biological father. Her mother who works a bare, hard life on the farmland will not give her any information regarding the man. Freezing winter is fast approaching but Lila is undeterred in her pursuit. She has tried to run away from school in search of her father, once on a horse through the snow-covered hillsides, and once in a car she doesn’t know how to drive. The school Principal is perplexed, then angered by this sudden, irrational desire on the part of someone who had until then been a quiet, unremarkable student. Reasoning or discipline prove ineffective. Lila is consumed by her mission and is unstoppable. A more sympathetic faculty member, who teaches Natural Sciences at school, also tries to deter Lila. But recognizing that Lila will not relent and likely concerned for her safety, she joins Lila in her quixotic quest. With nary a clue about the man they are looking for, the two hit the road.

 

This should sound like the sort of sappy, road-trip movie that Hollywood likes to dole out with some regularity. If you are more generous, this may seem to you like one of those well-meaning, heartfelt indie films about strangers connecting through unusual circumstances. But NATURAL SCIENCES transcends those categories altogether.

 

This is an accomplished film from first-time director, Matias Lucchesi, who retains a strong, confident hold over this material at all times. Pick a scene from this film, pick any scene, and notice the rigor with which it has been constructed, how it completely bypasses familiar traps, or cliché. You can notice this on a minute by minute basis, in the precise writing, the affectless acting and direction that does not draw attention to itself. In its hard-won naturalness and rigor around all of filmmaking components, NATURAL SCIENCES draws easy comparison to the austere, stark and no less devastating Chilean movie from last year, THURSDAY TILL SUNDAY (DE JUEVES A DOMINGO).

 

The actor who plays Lila (Paula Galinelli Hertzog) necessarily carries the film on her young shoulders. And effortlessly brings it to a place of believability, capturing the sullen, untalkative affect of the teenager whose world is dominated by a singular myopic obsession. She may seem possessed by the fever of an irrational pursuit, and may not have the means to articulate it fully, but she is also inherently a good person, a person trying to discover herself as a grown human being and unable to do so without locating her roots first. And how about Paola Barrientos who plays the teacher who accompanies Liza on her search; one of the hardest things for an actor to do on screen is to transmit empathy, and Barrientos does it with a rare authenticity that never once tilts into cheap sentimentality. What great fortune for this director to have been able to recruit these two actors for his first film.

 

This is a film of quiet wonder. It tells a story that may initially seem familiar, but in how it goes about telling it, the film is note-perfect . I cannot wait to see the next project from this filmmaker.

 

NATURAL SCIENCES is the best film I saw at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival. And by a wide margin.

 

[Natural Sciences is an Argentinian film currently making the festival rounds and was screened at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival.  It is awaiting distribution in the U.S. You can watch the trailer here].

 

 

What’s in a Name | Review

How many times have you heard the phrase “If you want to stay friends with someone, stay away from religion or politics”?  Well, in the movie What’s in a Name, we get to experience both during an intimate evening with a group of family and friends.  Written and directed by the talented duo Alexandre de la Patelliere and Matthieu Delaporte who adapted this delightful film from their highly successful stage play, What’s in a Name tells the story of a slick real estate agent Vincent who is about to enter into fatherhood. During a dinner with family and childhood friends he announces the name of his future son, however a discussion about the scandalous moniker explodes into a feisty debate that brings the group’s past bubbling to the surface albeit with hilarious, dramatic and altogether unbelievable results.

WhatsInANamePoster

What’s in a Name is an enchanting heart warming and often too realistic window into how relationships with family and friends evolve over time.  It explores the roles we play in a group and the grudges and opinions we harbor about each other that most of us never share.  Just what would happen if we could tell others what we really thought about them and their life choices?

Natural and convincing performances from a talented cast including Patrick Bruel, Valérie Benguigui,  Charles Berling,  Guillaume de Tonquedec and Judith el Zein elevate this movie from a family melodrama into a witty and surprising black comedy that makes you feel like you really are that fly on the wall of this rather dysfunctional yet clearly affectionate group of people who argue with each other like it’s a national sport.  The smartness of this movie is further showcased by its ability to share Parisian life and attitudes to class, sexual orientation and political leanings.

The dialogue is witty, punchy and hard hitting at times but you are never far from a smile, a giggle or belly laugh whilst being equally moved by the writers’ ability to distill human behavior and basic emotions that if allowed to come to the surface reduce us all to six year olds in a playground

This charming movie, which has already been a huge hit in France, will be opening in theatres in the US on Friday 13th December and will also be available on VOD.  Check local listings

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/whats-in-a-name-le-prenom/id625282414?ign-mpt=uo%3D4

 

The Good Road | Review

Just what does it take to become India’s entry for the best foreign film category at the Academy Awards 2013?  Well, you have to beat out 21 other contenders as newcomer filmmaker Gyan Correa’s film The Good Road has done and in doing so is perhaps the first Gujarati film to have made it.  Produced by the National Film Development Corporation (NFDC) The Good Road albeit a little controversially has left behind strong films including “The Lunchbox”, “Bhaag Milkha Bhaag”, “English Vinglish”, “Vishwaroopam”, Malayalam film “Celluloid” and Bengali film “Shabdo”.

Correa’s debut movie is an interesting intertwining of three separate stories all set on a highway in Gujarat that come together in a thought provoking climax.  A truck driver called Pappu (Shamji Dhana Kerasia) and his side kick (Priyank Upadhyay) are given a task which is not so legal, a middle class family from Mumbai (Ajay Gehi and Sonali Kulkarni) are holidaying in Gujarat with their young son (Keval Katrodia) and a young girl (Poonam Rajput) who is on her way to meet her grandmother unfortunately loses her way and finds herself lured into a roadside brothel.

What the film lacks in depth, is totally compensated for by the Colorful and often breathtaking cinematography care of Amitabha Singh; gaily dressed village women contrasted against a white salt plain, gaudily painted trucks along the highways & vibrant life-filled rest stops and stunning sparse vistas of the Gujarat which are all set to hauntingly beautiful acoustic Gujarati folk music

What I admired most about the movie though was the social narrative that Correa manages to evoke; child prostitution, the class system and the struggles of an often-stressed working class.  In addition, the tension created throughout the movie is often intolerable as we watch the decisions of each of the characters play out hoping that nothing too bad will happen to them.  Correa who wrote and directed the film also chose to cast locals in the movie, a great decision in my opinion since they add to the authenticity of the movie

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The Good Road may not win the Oscars, however it is a journey that will stay with you for some time

The Good Road will be the closing film at The South Asian International Film Festival, presented by HBO running from December 3rd through the 8th

 

ENOUGH SAID / Review

ENOUGH SAID, directed by Nicole Holofcener

ENOUGH SAID, directed by Nicole Holofcener

Several years ago, Nicole Holofcener directed a film called LOVELY AND AMAZING, criminally unknown to many, but beloved by those who saw it. It’s too bad that Holofcener already used that title, since it would have been apt for her latest film, ENOUGH SAID. The new film is both lovely and amazing.

Holofcener is a wonderful aberration in the world of cinema. Her movies are talky, inwardly drawn, and almost always centered on a thirty- to forty-something female character. Or many such female characters. Stand-ins for what Holofcener wants to say about the world – about how we live, and how we interact with each other – one can sense that the lead characters have matured with the director  through successive films. This should tell you then that her films do not exactly set the box-office ablaze. Which might change with her latest offering; it will surely be her most commercially profitable venture. Holofcener has always had a knack for good writing, and with ENOUGH SAID she (intentionally?) moves about as mainstream with her storytelling as she ever has. Couple that with some particularly on the nose casting, and you get a warm pudding of a film. You would have to be a Grinch to resist its charms.

This time, the lead female character is a masseuse, Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) who is trying to navigate post-divorce life with the hallmark embarrassments and despairs that are characteristic of this filmmaker’s work. Struggling with both professional and personal impediments, she forges a friendship with an impossibly self-assured woman who appears to have it all (played by Holofcener mainstay Catherine Keener who is as usual very fine here, although I can’t help thinking that with a bigger budget, Cate Blanchett might have been hired for this role). Eva also tentatively starts what might be a romantic connection with the laid-back, affable Albert (James Gandolfini, in one of his final film roles). Each has grown daughters from prior marriages. And individual careers. And each is of that age when a person knows who they are, and have settled into the shape of their adult personality, not willing to alter it for another person. Willfully allowing their two separate worlds to collide will have its implications.

It is curious that many longtime Holofcener champions as well as those unfamiliar with her work have complained that this movie is reminiscent of a sitcom. Were it that every television sitcom were this perceptively written, finely acted, and tethered to the very grounded realities of day-to-day living.

Publicity still from ENOUGH SAIDThe genius of this film (and I don’t use the word ‘genius’ lightly) is in the casting. Whoever thought to bring Julia Louis-Dreyfus and James Gandolfini together – not exactly an obvious pairing – must have had the hand of cinematic gods on their shoulder. These two are magic. And one cannot help be wistful knowing that we will never see the two act again. Plus the movie adds further evidence to the theory that every film is bettered by the presence of Toni Collette.

I have long been part of the minority singing the praises of Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who I consider in the same league as Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Kristen Wiig. Is there another actor working in film or television right now that does better reaction shots than Louis-Dreyfus? Her facial reactions are Film School class good. There is something right with the world when a stellar television actor gets to headline a film. There has been some surprisingly nasty reaction, thankfully from a minority, to Luis-Dreyfus’ performance in this film; those not recognizing the wit in her acting will be awfully late to the party. With her lauded turns on HBO’S VEEP and the underrated, now cancelled show NEW ADVENTURES OF OLD CHRISTINE (with which this film shares much of its sensibility), Louis-Dreyfus’ star is on the rise. And one oddly almost resents sharing a personally-known secret treasure with the rest of the world.

And what is one to say of James Gandolfini. That someone thought to consider him as a male romantic lead is cause for celebration. That he utterly pulls it off – using every facet of his dog-eared, scrappy, warmly intelligent persona to full effect – comes as a surprise; it shouldn’t have, but it does. That film cameras will never be able to focus upon Gandolfini again is cause for considerable sadness.

There’s a scene early in the movie where Albert drops Eva outside her home at the end of their first date. In lesser hands their lines would have come off as silly or worse cheesy. But to watch Gandolfini and Louis-Dreyfus make that dialog sing is to know the value of good actors.

This film reminded me, in its modern, urban, everyday sensibility of the movie THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT. ENOUGH SAID pulls off one sleight of hand after another in fleshing out, with remarkable skill – and efficiency – so many relationships: mothers and daughters, ex-wives and ex-husbands, employers and maids, confidantes and confessors. All of it works.

One may get the impression that the film is overly serious; this is hardly the case. Even as it has an understated gentleness to its rhythm, and an underlying wiseness lurking underneath, the film is mostly on a minute-by-minute basis genuinely funny. The movie’s singular strength though may be in the ease with which it demonstrates the need for, and the great difficulty in, practicing acceptance in any relationship. About how what might seem an unbearably annoying trait to one individual may be endearingly charming to another.

A.O. Scott in the New York Times called this film a minor miracle and I can see why. It is the sort of unshowy, unfussy, and uncommonly well-written film that rarely gets made these days.

 

Interview with SHORT TERM 12 director Destin Daniel Cretton

People expect differently from films these days.

At some point (when did it happen?) films became an extension of the amusement park experience – with audiences wanting each consecutive film to be even bigger, capable of instilling more awe, more spectacle. Something to take them by the shoulders and shake them; a visceral physical experience. This is of course one thing film can be.

But we have stopped expecting what earlier generations did from films. We have stopped expecting a film to be a fully rounded emotional experience. One that makes us simultaneously reflect on the inequities of life and be happy with our own condition. I mean the sort of experience filmgoers must have had when they went to the cinemas to watch IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE or CASABLANCA or SINGING IN THE RAIN or CITYLIGHTS. That emotional purity has gone entirely missing from modern cinema. Sentimentality has become a pejorative cinematic ideal. But sentimentality when well-earned and done with authenticity can make for the most potent of film experiences. And this is what makes SHORT TERM 12 an exceptional achievement.  It is the rare film that can claim possession of that emotionally purity. Set in a facility for foster care adolescents and the young employees who work there, this film could have wallowed in pious sanctimony at every step. Instead it takes every one of those tricky situations and makes them honest and grounded as the film builds to great power.

Unknown-2So there was understandale apprehension when Rashmi and I got the opportunity to sit down and talk with Destin Daniel Cretton, the director of SHORT TERM 12; how does one maintain objectivity when meeting with the creator of a film you admire so much? We tried.

Below are excerpts from the interview with Destin Daniel Cretton and Ron Najor a producer of the film.

Destin: So (amongst the three Moviewallas) who didn’t like our movie and who did?

Rashmi: This is the problem because we all loved it. And we are not just saying that. So we do want to say congratulations. Yazdi’s so moved he can’t even speak at the minute.

Yazdi: Let me try. We always mention that the best movies for us are the ones which have that perfect trifecta of great writing, great directing and great acting. And very often you have two but not all three of those (components) and this film….oh man.

Destin: thanks.

Rashmi: I want to start by saying that we watched the short (on which this film is based). Can you talk about going from a short to a feature

Director Destin Daniel Cretton and Actor John Gallagher Jr. at the Los Angeles Film Festival

Director Destin Daniel Cretton and Actor John Gallagher Jr. at the 2103 Los Angeles Film Festival (LAFF)

Destin: Initially when I started writing the feature I was keeping all the same characters from the short. But I couldn’t even start; I couldn’t even put a sentence down. It just felt…it felt uninspired. And it also just felt boring to me, because I felt like I was retelling the same thing. And as soon as I decided to change the main character to a female supervisor, it became a whole new challenge and a whole new story; everything kind of opened up. For me it’s like the difference between going from writing something the way that I thought it’s supposed to be done and writing something that felt fun and felt fresh and real and new. Because I never wrote the short planning to turn it into a feature. Everything that I have done so far has been a way to try something I haven’t tried before. And so this was totally that. It was to stretch myself and explore other parts of this world that I wasn’t able to do in the short.

Rashmi: And Ron, did you have any involvement in the short or did you come into the feature?

Ron: I came into this feature but we had done a previous feature called I’M NOT A HIPSTER. So we sort of had a working relationship and they asked me to be a part of the feature version of SHORT TERM 12.

Rashmi: What were some of the challenges you faced in producing this movie

Ron: The casting part for us was one of the most challenging. It’s partially because with independent filmmaking, it’s a sort of tedious thing (where) once you get financed you then have this really short timeline for finding all the right people. So that was kind of nerve-wracking on our end. And just a bunch of different obvious things (including) the basic budgetary things. But overall it was a pretty lovely shoot; we had just all the right people. It was a lot of people from our I’M NOT A HIPSTER shoot. So there was a wonderful short-hand..

Rashmi: Which is probably comforting I guess.

Destin: I think it was necessary for my sanity to have good friends around.

short-term-12-posterYazdi: Can we talk about the casting for a minute? Because for me much of the movie stands on the particular characteristics of the Grace character. It’s all about her. And until I saw the movie I didn’t realize how many people I knew like her who are so open and communicative and just phenomenal at their jobs but then they go home, and they are completely closed off and they are not communicative. Was she written with somebody in mind? And then how did you go about finding the right fit (for Grace)?

Destin: Grace is a combination of a lot of inspirations. Two of my supervisors when I was working at a similar place were young female supervisors who the few times that I saw them outside of work, were very shy. One of them was very small in frame, she was just a petite girl and did not seem like she could be the supervisor of anything (laughter). But when she stepped on to that floor, it was like she just went into character. It was so bizarre, she was one of the best supervisors that I have worked with. She really demanded respect from the kids, but also respected the kids. And was an enforcer of rules. But also didn’t treat the kids like they were lesser human beings. And there was something that was just so impressive to me. But also made me wonder: what is she like outside…because I did not know her personally, but it made me wonder, what is she like in other parts of her life?

Grace is inspired too by other people that I know. But also Grace is inspired by me. I have that tendency. There are certain situations when it is so easy for me to be open and honest and allow myself to be vulnerable and then there are other situations where I am like….I am not telling now, and nobody gets in. And she is definitely a way for me to explore things that I wrestle with as well.

Rashmi: And how long did it take you to write the feature?

Destin: 2009 was when I started writing the feature. And I got through one draft. And then was introduced to Asher Goldstein; he has kind of been a producer on this project from Day One. He is with a company called Traction Media and he came on board and read that draft and was the first person to say I want to do this with you. And so together we started reworking. He (started) giving me notes on that draft. There was one pretty drastic rewrite from that point; most of that rewrite was just simplifications, it was trying to combine characters so there weren’t so many story lines going on. And that was at the end of 2009. We finished another draft over the course of a few months and in 2010 that new draft won the Academy’s Nicholl Fellowship which was a huge stamp of approval for the movie. I don’t know if you are familiar with that. Once a year they give out five fellowships based on screenplay submissions to writers.

Yazdi: And it’s nationwide?

Destin: Yeah, its worldwide. But it is given out by the Academy Of Motion Pictures. And then two things happen. One you get money. At that time it was 30,000 dollars, now it is 35,000 dollars. But you are also accepted into this community of just wonderful people. All these writers, the list of past Nicholl winners is pretty wonderful and it’s a very inspiring thing to happen. It’s just crazy that that happened, I still can’t believe it . But (after) that fellowship we still weren’t able to get funding for SHORT TERM 12. But that fellowship allowed me to write another screenplay which ended up being I’M NOT A HIPSTER. And I wrote that specifically to be able to do it on our own if we couldn’t get funding for SHORT TERM 12. And…..we didn’t get funding for SHORT TERM 12. So we shot I’M NOT A HIPSTER and I used a lot of the money that they gave me and put that into the pot along with Ron who put money in the pot. And Ron’s uncle put money in the pot. And then that premiered at Sundance and then that was a huge reason we ended up getting funding for SHORT TERM 12.

Yazdi: I’m sorry I keep coming back to the cast, because I just can’t get past it. I think that if there is any justice in the world, Brie Larson will get end-of-year awards recognition.

Destin: I’m with you.

Unknown-5Rashmi : She is phenomenal.

Yazdi: She is devastating. How did you find her? Of course she has been doing a lot of television, and you mentioned there was a very narrow period of time to look for somebody – and even John Gallagher Jr, who plays Mason – they are perfect for their roles. Did you look for long or did you happen to get lucky? And how did you know you had found them?

Destin: There was a lot of luck, but we didn’t just pick somebody.

There were specific things about Brie that initially excited me. Just from looking at her reel. Her ability to transform from character to character even when she is playing little bit roles, she’s just like a completely different person. Whether she’s doing comedy or drama, she is always acting from her gut. She’s performing from this thing that is just happening in the moment. So many times she will be reading lines that I know were scripted, but it just doesn’t feel scripted. So that was very exciting to me. And then what sealed the deal was that we did a Skype call. It wasn’t an audition, it was just a conversation and she was actually on the set of THE SPECTACULAR NOW (at the time). And she had read the script. She had told me that she had signed up to volunteer at some group homes already because she was so excited about the idea. And I was obviously really impressed by that. Later she told me that she had been denied by all those people (laughter). So she actually did not get to volunteer but it was still impressive that she was that passionate about it. And in a good way she can be very obsessive, and she goes for it. And she started researching as much as she could about the subject. As a director you cannot ask for anything more than an actor who loves the project and the character so much that they become the expert on that character. And also she is just smart, she got the character. And then there’s something just intrinsically about her that felt like Grace. When she would stop and I could watch her brain ticking behind her eyes as she is thinking about something, and it felt like Grace.

Rashmi: She is a great actress and she has done great work, but I think the range that you were able to get from her – and the depth – to affect an audience so deeply that we feel that we know this character. That’s not easy. What do you do to really pull that out of them?

Yazdi: It’s the script.

Destin:  It’s everything, It’s the environment that everyone helps create on set.  A lot of the scenes that people really connect with Grace on, we shot later. It took a little time to create an environment where everyone felt really safe. Safe to be themselves and safe to mess up. And know that no one’s going to jump on them. So then that makes them more daring, makes them try things that they have never tried before. And I think the moments when everybody started to thrive more and more were just a few days – when they realized this is a safe place to play. So I think that had a lot to do with it. I don’t know… the wonderful thing about Brie is that she is kind of fearless. Nobody is a hundred percent but the best thing you can ask from an actor is to just like go for it and mess up really bad. And not care and do it again as opposed to just trying safe things that they know that they can do really well. And Brie was just going for it, and it was great.

Rashmi: And the kids, some of the kids are younger. Was it the first performance for some of them?

Destin: Close to. Alex Calloway had acted before….but this was his first film. Keith Stanfield, it’s his first feature too.

 Unknown-4Yazdi: Ah, I loved that Marcus character

Ron: He was the only one who came from the original short film.

Yazdi: I love his character. Different people communicate differently and that’s how he finds his way to communicate. We talk abstractly about art helping us. And here is an example of art literally helping him speak his mind. This kind of stuff is very hard to do. It can come off inauthentic. It is a fine line to walk and stay on the right side.

Destin: It was a frightening movie to direct. Because there are probably like 30 scenes in this movie that could have just thrown the train off the rails if something was too melodramatic, or pushed too far in that direction.

Rashmi: And you are flirting with some interesting issues as well. You are kind of saying I am showing you what the situation is but I am not going to say whether I am for this or against this. I think the film does a nice job of not manipulating the audience. How much did you have to pull back with the pen?

Destin: We had to pull back a lot with everything. I mean we pulled…I overshot. I shot a lot of things that I knew was not going to make the cut.

Rashmi: DVD special!

Destin: Yeah, there’s actually going to be half an hour’s worth of material. But I think everything about this movie was trying to see how much we can take away from it. In terms of  stripping down the music. In the editing. See how much we can take away from it and…still allow audiences to feel.

It’s still a movie. I wanted it to be a movie. It’s not supposed to just be emulating non-fiction. It’s a story that has things that happen that I wanted to happen. Like I wanted to watch Grace just beat the shit out of a car.  I wanted her to have that.

Rashmi: I was (thinking I) want to do that.

Destin: That’s obviously fiction mixed in…there’s definitely an emotional ride that’s happening. So I wanted people to enjoy this ride. But we also didn’t want to be yanking people around. We found the more we took out the better the experience it was for people. By taking, I mean taking out our blatant fingerprints, if that makes sense.

images-6Yazdi: I wanted to ask about the Mason character. He seemed to me a very realistic embodiment of stability. The kind of rock that everybody wishes they had to lean on. It’s very easy in movies to have characters which are mean or have an obvious motivation to behave poorly, but to have a character who displays decency and who is well intentioned, that calls for skill.

Some of my favorite scenes are the ones with his family. Was his family specifically written to be different? He is obviously from a different heritage, but yet they are so accepting. And I loved that little part of the movie.

Destin: I do too. I do too.

I see the Grace character as kind of the thing that I struggle with. And I see Mason as the person that I want to be more like.

Mason was created out of trying to figure out who Grace would allow to be in her life. Because she throws everyone away. Mason is persistent but he is also very non-threatening. He is really supportive, like annoyingly supporting. But he is also just so goofy and not cool that it makes sense that Grace would feel safe around him.

And it was very important for me to show that scene; it’s a small scene but I think it is one of the most important scenes in the movie. Where he gives that speech when his parents come out. We see an example of the system working extremely well. Which has nothing to do with the system; it has to do with those people, because there are good people working in every system figuring out a way to do it. To me that scene just represents so much of what I know is possible in the world. The good things that humans are capable of doing happen in that scene. Just like color doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter what your ethnicity is or what your traditions are. Its just acceptance of human beings having fun together.