Tag Archives: Drama

Pinky Beauty Parlour

[3 stars]

This one will surprise you. It has a rocky start and is oddly constructed, but it unfolds and builds on itself. In fact, it sells itself through to the last line by keeping you guessing what happened right up till near the end. As director and writer, Akshay Singh tackled a rather complex piece for his first time behind the camera. And, to top it off, he plays a crucial role in front of it as well.

A few days ago I saw Water, which tackled a different set of cultural issues in India’s past. Pinky assaults modern issues in a present day India through drama and humor. Though to call this a comedy is to confuse Shakespeare’s clowns in any of his tragedies for the main point of the story. For all its silliness, the points to be made are rather strong.

Pinky is is definitely a low-budget effort, but it is done with heart and a lot more talent than is immediately evident. Give it time if you enjoy films from the region; it definitely has a Bollywood vibe. However, the structure of the story is different than you might expect and the result is more than just a resolution to the romance and plot. Do be warned that the subtitles are horrible translations much of the time. Unless you speak Urdu, you will need to do some quick rewrites in your head throughout for grammar and word choice. It isn’t unwatchable on that count at all, but it was frustrating on occasion.

Pinky Beauty Parlour Poster

Water

[4 stars]

This much recognized tale by director and co-writer Deepa Mehta is more than just an historical. In fact, despite its setting in 1938 India, it is disturbingly reflective of today with its abuse by the class system, treatment of women, religious fundamentalism, and general social unrest. And I don’t mean reflective of India, I mean worldwide. But commentary aside, the story alone is compelling.

In her first and only film to date, Sarala Kariyawasam, holds this film together with her young and intense presence. As a young widow (at 7 years of age) she is forced to live out the rest of her life cloistered. The collection of women she now lives with are faced with her indomitable spirit and the chaos she brings to their ordered world.

In parallel, John Abraham (Dhoom) and Lisa Ray (Endgame) provide a separate and adult focus of life and possibility. It is a tale we’ve seen before, in many ways, but one that doesn’t tend to get old if you like romance and believe love is more important than rules. That doesn’t mean this is an easy set of choices and the outcome is far from sure, but these actors bring you along the journey and help you believe the choices.

Overall, of course, there is the title: Water. The element here represents life, magic, love, and so much more and so much less. I am curious now about its companion pieces that I didn’t know about: Fire and Earth. Water completes the trilogy, which I can see given the ending, but I have no sense of the overall journey and shape from only this single movie.

This is a beautiful and emotionally frustrating film with a lot to say about the past and about the present. Definitely worth your time if you missed it till now.

Water

Summer Hours (L’heure d’été)

[3 stars]

Olivier Assayas (Clouds of Sils Maria) wrote and directed this  deceptively simple, and highly awarded, story about family several years back. I say “deceptively” because there are layers to this story that are unavoidable, even if they aren’t Assayas’s main focus.

On the surface we have Edith Scob (Holy Motors) as the matriarch of a modern, dispersed family admitting and dealing with her mortality. The frank recognition of her family’s real trajectories and the “residue of the past” in the form of her house and art collection, is both honest and saddening. What she really thinks of the realities is part of what we want to know and part of what at least one of her children, Charles Berling (Elle), must contend with. Also, as the oldest, he must balance his sib’s reactions and desires. Juliet Binoche (Ghost in the Shell) and Jérémie Renier (In Bruges) balance him nicely, hinting at a deep history and long-standing disagreements that they’ve all somehow managed to balance in order to keep their relationships.

But on a deeper level, and sometimes a bit too spelled out, is the deconstruction of the collection from its human surrounds. We watch art become isolated and are forced to question the value of possessions and its meaning, absent people around it. This is true for the collection as well as the family house. While the interactions and story are certainly engaging, it was this aspect of the tale that I found most intriguing, though I wish it had been a bit subtler in the dialogue.

But Assayas wanted to focus on a different story. He was taken more with the generational aspect of life. How do things, ideas, and memories get handed down from the elders to the children. What form does that take and how does it happen? Basically, how does familial history get formed and preserved, and should it or does it need to. He explores this in various ways and to unequal effect. But the story pulls you along far enough before it simply drops you to consider life on your own. Beautifully filmed and nicely acted, it is an interlude worth the time.

Summer Hours

The Hero

[3 stars]

Sam Elliot (Grandma) is a fixture of the last many (many) decades, probably much to his joy and chagrin. There is more than a little of him in this quiet rumination that uses film and celebrity as metaphors for life. And he is, as always, a quiet force on screen in that commanding way and with his signature deep, rumbling voice.

While this is very much a movie centered on a man, there are two notable female performances. Laura Prepon (The Girl on the Train) actually manages to steal scenes from Elliott by force of charisma alone. She has always been an intense personality and this is no exception. And, as always, she uses her chops and ability to deliver a complex character, even if there is little there to work from. Along with Prepon was a surprisingly vulnerable turn by Krysten Ritter that couldn’t be farther from her breakout Jessica Jones. This Ritter is meek and tenderly broken, despite her hostile demeanor.

After their collaboration on I’ll See You in My Dreams, Brett Haley and Marc Basch teamed up again with Haley back at the helm. In some ways, this is the reverse view of that previous story, at least in gender perspective. It is also a bit more successful overall. The two creatives make a great team and I look forward to what they produce next given their growth with each film. 

The Hero

 

The Ticket

[3 stars]

Here’s a combo description for you… imagine 99 Homes meets the Talking Heads “Once in a Lifetime.” The odd/nice(?) thing about this film is that you can take it at face value or as pure metaphor. Either way it mostly works.

Director and co-writer Ido Fulk provides a number of great moments to work with, particularly the beginning and ending. They are sharp and feel honest. But the middle, especially some of the transitions for Dan Stevens (Colossal), feels forced into the narrative that had been created. Stevens plays with what he has just fine, but there are missing moments and odd leaps that make the character journey feel less that true.

For instance, one aspect that plays very believably is his individual relationships and scenes with Kerry Bishé (Grand Piano) and Malin Akerman (The Final Girls). And they, likewise, slam it home well. However, the pathway to and from each is more than a little muddled in the script. You can see how it might have gotten there, but you don’t get to experience the movement by degrees.

Likewise, his friendship with Oliver Platt (The 9th Life of Louis Drax) seems to be a highlights reel rather than interaction. In this case, it is less distracting or concerning as the steps are clearer, but it still left me wanting.

Ultimately, I think The Ticket is better as metaphor than reality. Using blindness as a literalization of impediment to personal growth and recognition is clever and effective. Used as reality, it is somewhat insulting to those who make their lives work well without sight. I’ve known many. Lack of sight is a challenge, to be sure, but it doesn’t have to limit your success. If it was meant as a true-ish story, I think I would have to rate it much lower than I have, which is already on a knife-edge due to the full shape of the tale.

So, do you want to spend time in the world of The Ticket? On the upside, there are some good performances and some interesting philosophical points to consider. On the down side, it is a compressed story that needed a bit more room to breathe.

The Ticket

Cleverman (Series 1 & 2)

[3 stars]

If it weren’t for the politics and events of the last 8 months or so, Cleverman would just be a middling science fiction series discussing the endemic social schisms that exist today. Despite some good, as well as internationally recognizable talent such as Iain Glenn (Game of Thrones) and Frances O’Conner (The Missing), it is often ham-handed and rushed.

The first series was intriguing on a purely cultural level for me. Out of Australia, this show uses the aboriginal myths and template to posit a recently discovered race of long-lived, powerful hominids that have co-existed with humans. All manner of racism and fear ensue (and a lot of really, really bad wigs). But by crossing the idea with aspects of The Dreaming, other metaphysical concepts, and some truly screwed up families, you got enough to keep you watching the journey of the main character played by Hunter Page-Lochard (The Sapphires). It built to an inevitable crescendo of violence that ensured you’d watch the next series.

Series 2 improved a little in its subtleties and information. We get to understand more…and cringe more. The family drama continues to compound and the relatively unknown Rob Collins tries to bring credibility to a ridiculously overwrought story-line. With only six episodes again this series, the writers were forced to rush their ending and left us hanging in rather frustrating, if again intriguing, ways. I (think) I know how they write themselves out of the final moments, but I’ve no clue where they are going to take it from there that won’t make the series more Planet of the Apes than, say, Gattaca.

Generally, Cleverman isn’t a great series, but it is probably different enough, and short enough in episodes, to keep you hooked. Given the improvements from the first series to the second, I’m hoping that a final or continuing series will continue to build on lessons learned.

Cleverman

Yi Yi (a one and a two)

[3 stars]

This three hour tale from Taipei feels more like a soap opera than a movie as you sink into its humor and pathos. It even leads off with a wedding and eventually ends with a funeral. But as it moves along, it becomes more a mediation on life and family as we watch the reflections in the generations. This final, and well recognized, film by Edward Yang is huge in scope but very narrow in its messages when it finally comes down to it.

Packed with a range of new (at the time) and established faces from Taiwan and Japan, the world of the Jiang family and their friends is slowly exposed and examined. Yang also used window and mirror reflection throughout the film to remind us of this point (and to save camera set-ups, admittedly).

I want to say I understand the English translation of the title, but I’m still turning that one to try and put it in context. I suspect it is a miss-reference due to translation. It reads as a musical cue (which works, but not particularly great) rather than as, perhaps, a countdown for a picture, which is more on point in many ways. I’m just going to have to keep mulling that for now and talk to a few friends from the island to see what more I can glean.

Sadly, the transfer of the film is really pretty crude. Even for a 1999 release the encoding is very poor. However, despite that distraction, I found myself drawn into the story and engaged with the characters and their lives; eventually, even looking at my own. You have to set aside a good chunk of an evening to watch Yi Yi, but I do recommend it if you can accept its deliberate pace and quiet sensibility.

Yi Yi

Sleight

[3 stars] Put together Straight Outta Compton and Now You See Me with a dash of Project Almanac and Moonlight and you have some idea of what Sleight is like. Or perhaps you don’t. Let’s just say it is a bit different, but attempts to stay true to life despite some subtle twists. As a tale that pivots on magic tricks, I have to admit I was part of the target audience. I wish the magic had felt more real, but it certainly wasn’t so off that I didn’t appreciate it. The truth is, the best card tricks do feel faked as they are so unbelievable (check out this one as a beautiful example, if you haven’t seen it).

But the film isn’t about card tricks, it is about survival in a tough neighborhood without a lot of support. Choices have to be made and goals set. Jacob Latimore (Collateral Beauty) comes across as clever, driven, and deeply part of his surroundings, which help us accept his decisions (even the bad ones). Around him are a couple of solid supporting roles in Seychelle Gabriel (Falling Skies) and Cameron Esposito (Operator) who provide a combination of balance and portals into other areas of the world. But it is Dulé Hill (West Wing), in a ranging and disturbing performance, that drives the action. Hill’s character is a bit cliche (though not unbelievable), but always creepy and terrifying, even when he smiles. 

As director and co-writer, J.D. Dillard had to walk a fine line between contemporary drama and science fiction to pull off this, primarily, family survival story. He managed to show respect for both aspects and melded them in a way that few films have managed. The science fiction aspect is practically invisible, and yet integral to the story and the character. It isn’t great science fiction, but it is clever and presented in a way that is just believable enough that we accept it as part of the world.

Sleight sort of blipped on the movie radar this past summer. It never really found its audience, but I think a wider one is out there now that the film is more broadly available. It is a small, intimate movie full of emotion and tension (and one, necessary, gruesome scene, be warned, but only one). Make time for it.

Sleight

Rememory

[3 stars] Rememory is an interesting, true classic science fiction tale. By that I mean it tackles the human condition with the technology and tale as metaphor. It isn’t brilliant; there are a number of glossed aspects to the plot in order to keep the story small and the budget low. However, the main thrust of the story is intriguing and the layered mystery is enough to keep it driving forward. Even when you get ahead of it, the point isn’t the mystery but the effect of the resolution, so it continues to work through to the end.

As an early film by director and co-writer (along with playwright Mike VukadinovichMark Palansky, it shows interesting promise for the future. While remaining genre, the focus was on the characters and their struggles.

Peter Dinklage (The Boss) drives the story well. He navigates a complex personal story while acting as amateur detective. The latter aspect is a bit forced, particularly in his ability to succeed, but the motivation and raw emotional energy he uses to drive it cover the gaps nicely. 

Dinklage has a broad cast of characters to contend with. Evelyne Brochu (Orphan Black) and Julia Ormond (Witches of East End) probably have the most nuanced roles. Henry Ian Cusick (The 100) and Martin Donovan (Ant-Man) are a bit more cardboard in their depictions, likely for plot reasons, though I think they could have done better. But the odd specter hanging over this film is Anton Yelchin (Star Trek Beyond). This, near as I can tell, will be his last film to be released. It again reminds us what a senseless loss his death was. Yelchin’s ability to expose a raw personal landscape, even in the smallest of roles, is impressive.

Rememory isn’t going to land on your top 10 list. It is a good, solid indie film that is a bit shy of big-screen worthy (which would explain why it is premiering on Google Play in advance of a small theatrical release). But the ideas, story, and the acting make it worth the time investment. Certainly the chance to see the start of some careers alone makes it interesting.

Rememory

Shun Li and the Poet

[3 stars] Poetry is often about the conflict and elasticity of language, how unexpected ideas and words bounce off one another. Similarly, this movie is about the conflict and confluence of people, worlds, cultures, ages, and languages. While that feels forced and uninteresting, from the opening of the film we are encouraged to consider both poetry and the protection of the heart and soul of such people.

Tao Zhao plays a woman trapped by circumstance, but not constrained. She works within her boundaries to be as creative as she can in creating a life and loving her family. Like the rules that govern a sonnet, her limitations can be worked within. As the counterpoint to Zhao’s Li, Rade Serbedzija (Taken 2) offers both friendship and comfort that grows in fascinating ways as their lives intertwine. He also has his own path to navigate through this story.

The two live in very different worlds and it is the intersection of those experiences that affect them profoundly. It is also the simple sense of humanity that draws them closer together, suggesting the barriers between them are, at least in some ways, artificial.

The story by writer/director Andrea Segre is simple in both its telling and execution, exposing both worlds, but avoiding cliches. It is warm and honest while remaining blunt about many aspects. It won many awards when it was released, and still holds up 6 years later. In fact, in some ways it is even more topical than it was back in 2011.

Shun Li and the Poet