Monday, July 16, 2012

Summer Movie-Waching List

I said I'd be back with a list of movies I saw this summer and here it is-

1. First I'd like to mention Shanghai. Its the story of a political activist (Prasanjeet) who arrives in India to fight for his beliefs only to be mauled down by a racing car. As the ministry and inaccuracy does its best to pass it off as an accident, the activist's ex-student (Kalki Koechlin) and a small-time videographer (Emraan Hashmi) fight against odds to find the evidence regarding the murder. Central to the story is an IAS (Indian Administrative Service) officer who has his own reasons to keep the activist out of the city but still shows honesty and integrity when he is given the responsibility of carrying out an enquiry about the killing/ accident.

The shocking part about such movies is that before they even show who killed the guy, you know who did it. That's what gives us a glimpse into our lack of faith in the system. If you want to know more about the movie, you should probably read a review online because I'm not the best person to be commenting on a movie like this one. But here's somethig interesting- the woman who plays the activists wife, Tillottama Shome, happens to be my cousin and you should watch the movie just to watch her.

2. Second is Mirror Mirror. From what I know, this film didn't get very good reviews, but I happened to enjoy it. Fairy tale ripoffs these days have one thing in common- they pick up their princesses from the 'damsel in distress' pedastal and put her in the fighting arena. That's there in Mirror Mirror too which is basically a retelling of Snow White. Princess Snow, after being left in the dangerous woods, meets the Seven Dwarves who in this retelling happen to be bandits. The dwarves are all less that four feet in height but they know how to stand tall- they prop themselves up on extra-high stilts so they'd always have the upper ground against anybody who passes the woods. It is revealed that the dwarves used to have honest jobs in the kingdom, but when the Evil Queen spread her dark magic and brought a cold, dark chill into the kingdom, she ordered "Banish the Uglies!" and that's how the dwarves ended up in the woods, looting people. The Queen thrives in an extravagant lifestyle, undergoes extreme beauty treatments (instead of creams and botox, think snake venom, bird droppings and inhumanly tight corsets), frequently throws lavish parties and spends her time talking to a magic mirror instead of ruling, all thanks to taxes collected from already impoverished commoners. Unfortunately, the Princess doesn't share too many scenes with the Queen and that's a let-down. Also, the Prince here is somewhat an accessory.

The best performance here comes from Lily Collins who plays Snow White. She's pleasant and warm and has a beautiful smile. She turns into a fight-ready princess with great sword-fighting skills but she still remains very likeable. Plus, she has a face that is very good for cinema.

3. I saw Somewhere. Its a movie by Sofia Coppola and before I go on here's one thing I need to put out there- this movie is not for everyone. The first scene has a man, Johnny Marco, racing across the desert in circular loops. The car comes in and goes out of the frame for A FULL 3 MINUTES! Then, Johnny Marco comes out of his car and looks at the desert as if to say "What Now?" It is revealed that Johny Marco is a Hollywood superstar who breezes past his life. He drinks too much, is a womanizer and doesn't take acting very seriously. Things begin to change when his daughter, Cleo (Elle Fanning), comes to stay with him because her mother needs to 'go away for a while'. The film follows Johnny and Cleo as they change through the course of half a summer. Johnny's paternal feelings rise up to the surface and he feels truly sorry for having neglected his daughter. Cleo, on the other hand, goes from being a mature-for-her-age preteen girl to a child who misses having her parents around. Somewhere is a beautiful movie if you can watch all of it without getting bored and understand about 50% of the symbolism. Also, it has some vulgarity, so it may not be suitable for children. However, the movie has a breezy, family-film feel to it and that's why the vulgarity isn't really jarring. Plus, there are some great performances in it.

4. I also watched The Beaver. A clinically depressed man, Jerry, is asked to leave the house by his wife. After a few failed suicide attempts, he discovers a stuffed beaver. He realizes that if he can talk as the beaver, i.e. by holding the beaver in his hand and acting as its ventriloquist, he can go back to his old self. He goes back to his family and is welcomed with open arms by his younger son, but he's still resented by his older son. Slowly, the beaver, which seemed strange in the beginning, becomes common and Jerry sees growth in both his personal and professional life. It all seems fun, until the beaver starts taking control of him.

This is not my favorite from the lot, but its still quite enjoyable. The message is this- Sometimes, life gets hard in the most unexpected ways, but there's always something you can do about that. The message is summed up by Nora (Jennifer Lawrence), a minor character in the movie (she plays Jerry's son's crush) in her high-school graduation speech, and that speech and the following scene are the most touching parts of the movie.

5. Have you ever heard of a movie called The Poker House? There's a good chance you haven't. Its the story of three girls living in a small town. Their mother is a drug-addicted prostitute too far gone into her drug-induced haze to care about home anymore. The house is frequented by strange men all the time and in the evenings, it becomes the 'Poker House', the house where pimps, drug addicts and loose women come to play poker. Living under this roof is Agnes. She's a fourteen-year-old ("though nobody's believe it", she complains) living in the worst possible environment for a girl like her. Her two sisters choose to stay outside to escape the Poker House. They are still young and you feel sorry for the neglect they are under. Agnes, on the other hand, believes her mother's pimp is actually in love with her. She is an intelligent girl (she writes poetry, plays basketball, does calculus and sometimes has her picture in the paper despite living in hell), but she is so starved of love that she is ready to believe that the man who is the source of all problems loves her. As the story follows one day in the life of the three girls, you see that Agnes is just like any sweet teenaged girl, but she deserves a much better life. Towards end, Agnes is brutally molested by her mother's pimp. She is traumatized and broken, and pulls a gun at her tormentors. However, she is unable to pull the trigger. Despite all that happens that evening, Agnes still goes out that night to play her basketball semi-finals. She later picks up her sisters and heads out for dinner, singing "Ain't No Mountain High Enough".

The movie ends with the following lines flashing on the screen. The first line: "Agnes left for New York to become an artist". And then "Twenty years later, she wrote and directed this film". The credits roll, starting with 'Directed by Lori Petty'.

I loved this movie. We all enjoy stories where people fight cases against their tormentors, as if that's the only show of strength. It's not. Domestic torment is a strange thing- you read about it, you see it in movies, you think you know all about it and say "If that happened to me, I'd find a way out". But when it really happens to you, it takes a long time, sometimes years, to just realize that you're being tortured. People who survive through such conditions, who make something out of themselves, are the heroes just as brave as those who spend their whole lives fighting. A special note- Watch the movie just for Jennifer Lawrence. You'll know why I'm saying this once you're done watching.

5. Last but not the least, I saw We Bought A Zoo, a movie based on true events. Its about a writer, Benjamin Mee, who gives up his writing career after his wife's death and buys a zoo. What follows is a dream-like adventure as he, his children and the zoo staff struggle to get the failing zoo up and running. The movie has its heartwarming moments. Some may call it cheesy, I just think its sweet. One of the best parts is the sub-plot which has Lily, a thirteen-year-old home-schooled living on the zoo property, falling in love with Benjamin's son. She follows him around, makes sandwiches for him and does all the things a lovestruck kid would do. This one is a must-watch.