How Bridget Jones’ Diary is Just Perfect

 

In a movie made legendary by Renee Zellweger in 2001, Helen Fielding‘s portrayal of the thirty-something, pseudo-feminist, chain-smoking, ideal-toting ‘Bridget Jones’ was brought to life. I caught glimpses of the movie throughout my childhood, when passing through the cable channels, or camping out in my brother’s room, but I only managed to watch the whole thing in one go a few years ago. Needless to say, it was a delight. Inspired, I recently purchased the book the movie was based on – in accordance with my rule that the books are always better than the movies – and I was not disappointed.

A young professional who postponed marriage to pursue her career, Bridget finds herself unsatisfied. Her career has refused to take off, her thighs now resemble tree trunks, and…

————————————————————————————————————————————–

This post was published on Chillopedia. To read more, click here

————————————————————————————————————————————–

 

Julia Roberts at the end of her rope.

We all know that Snow White was dragged out of her peaceful fairy-tale heaven and made over twice this year – once in Snow White & the Huntsman and once in Mirror, Mirror. (To read my review on Snow White & the Huntsman, click here.) You can almost imagine the poor babe plucked from her world of children’s imaginations and that Happily Ever After she fought so hard for, only to be trussed up in Hollywood’s latest attempt to continue making movies. Let’s face it – Hollywood is, for the most part, out of ideas. We have not only seen several recreations of Spiderman, Batman, Superman, all Marvel comics basically. Let’s throw that Green Lantern movie into the mix,  the Avengers, Iron Man – I mean, come on. What’s here that we haven’t seen before?

So here’s to our latest remake – Snow White, powder-puffed to whiteness and stuffed into dresses that look like impossible runway designs brought to life. Haute couture in the eighteenth century, when people were still using horse drawn carriages. Some of the outfits were truly interesting, and really brought home the point of the Queen’s ostentation vs. the kingdom’s poverty. But still, this is a movie drowning in flamboyant design elements and in need of a stiff shot of enchantment.

This rambling version of Snow White’s tale is a pretty, spun-sugar confection, airy as a plate of Easter egg-coloured macarons and similarly devoid of substance.

- Linda Barnard, Toronto Star

Like all Snow White movies, the evil Queen Ravenna is obsessed with staying young, only in this version, it is precisely this obsession which has led to the impoverishment of the kingdom. In a very literal sense, the common man pays for her beauty. She uses taxes to fund her poultices, face creams, intensive beauty treatments, along with her outrageous gowns and galas and balls. This desperately-young but surely aging Queen has a store of magic she’s just about used up, and an empty treasury to deal with. She resorts to the most Gossip Girl solution the scriptwriters could have come up with and decides to marry a rich young prince – who wait for it is also darling Snow White’s love interest.

The fairy tale villainess subjects herself to a super-duper deluxe — and disgusting! — beauty treatment which involves fresh bird poop on her face, maggots in her ear, bumblebees on her lips, and even the sting of a scorpion.

Unlike in Snow White and the Huntsman (SW&H from here on), the Queen is not any icy cold grande beauty. Charlize Theron pulled off the whole so beautiful and dangerous vibe. Julia Roberts just ends up looking silly. It must be admitted that this is a comedic remake – the film was meant to be funny, but I would say somehow the funny just didn’t come through. Julia Roberts comes off looking as an actress who went from the graceful grandeur of Perfect Woman, and topping the Hollywood Reporters annual “power list” of top-earning female stars from 2005 to 2006… to an aging actress playing a childishly immature role in a substandard movie. Her performance is not of a powerful, devious, wretched Queen, but of a whiny kid – spoiled, silly and frankly, a little wimpy. If that’s what the role called for, then bravo.

The difference between the two movies and the two roles is clear. Each called for a different sort of acting, and both actresses embodied different characters.

Also, unlike SW&H, this ‘pretty to look at, but hard to keep watching’ remake features a clearly defined Prince Charming. The prince is Armie Hammer, the stunner who played both Twinklevoss twins in the Zuckerburg-bashing The Social Network. There’s no confusion and frankly, there’s no huntsman. I was personally disappointed by Hammer. This role as the dumbstruck prince only furthers the Twinklevoss image of a blonde rich kid without much sense and brilliance. A dumb blonde, so to speak. The big, slow one.

The story is also twisted to keep Daddy Dearest alive, and he makes an emotional comeback towards the end of the film, which in true dramatic fashion, the queen withers away. The dwarfs play a much more prominent role in this film, having cool leg-extending boots that make them seem like giants. They take Snow in, and have a referendum as to whether or not she’s allowed to stay.

Lily Collins’ acting as Snow White was great – she did a nice job of portraying innocence, purity and resolve. When she is given the idea to venture out of the castle to see the townspeople, she portrays innocence embodied, as if it had never even occurred to her that she could do this. She is apparently completely lost in her own world, and before being told that the Queen is wretched, believed that she ran the kingdom fairly. Ridiculously enough, when she tries to leave, the Darth Vader-esque guards have no idea whether she is allowed to do so or not, and decided they won’t ‘tell on each other’.

I also thought the dwarfs were pretty awesome. They play their role to the fullest, angered at any discrimination towards short people, compassionate yet gruff, loving yet skilled fighters. If any of the movie actually comes out as a successful comedy, it’s the dwarfs who pull it off. One of the dwarfs seems to be skilled in the act of applying makeup, and gives Snow a new look, complete with strawberry lipstick.

Snow White & her dwarfs

Just like SW&H put a twist on the magical mirror, Mirror, Mirror does the same. Not only do you have to slide through a ripply secret entryway, but you also emerge with a 360 degree flip out of an endless sea and must walk up a wooden plank gangway to a secret hut where the mirror is enclosed, and staring up out of that mirror in Queenie’s alter ego herself.

The townspeople are a poor, sad folk – no talk of rebellion, which seemed a bit silly. I mean, if you’ve got a queen who spends more on her facials than you do on a week’s food, wouldn’t you be rebelling? Somewhere in the midst of this failed comedy, the queen’s adviser turns into a cockroach, Snow White dresses up like a swan, and the prince makes an appearance in his underpants. You’re left with a feeling of blandness.

Mirror Mirror is a film that’s all picture and no propulsion, each scene static in a basic set-decoration color scheme of teabag and banana.

- Liza Shwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly

 

Macaulay Culkin between Home Alone & Drug Addiction

Remember this cutie? Is it just me or does her look very svelte, like his name should be some strange Nordic concoction with a bunch of J’s and D’s oddly placed throughout (like Djordjockovich or something)?
Above-photographed cutie, Version 2.0 (See how cool teenagers can be?)
“Oh no! Look at Future Me! He’s lost all his svelte!”

So now that we all know Macaulay Culkin (the one responsible for the Home Alone laugh attack family comedy that took America by storm) has joined the ranks of failed child stars – oh you know, like the kids from The Cosby Show that you never heard of again, or that sweet little girl in that sweet little movie you watched when you were a wee little thing – Now that we all know that, let’s try and get over it and focus on the actual movie review, shall we?

This 1991 family-friendly feel-good was recommended to me, and I’ve got to say, I’m glad it was. The movie focuses on a small town community, with a particular focus on a little girl (Anna Chlumsky as Vada Sultenfuss) and her daddy (Dan Aykroyd), bringing in a surprisingly elfish and young Jamie Lee Curtis as his love interest turned (within a few minutes of screen time!) wife. Vada’s mum has passed away in some before-movie off-the-screen way that the director didn’t think it was important for us to know about and now little Vada is obsessed with death.

Just to make things a little more fun, Mr. Daddy Sultenfuss runs a funeral parlor. Where, you might ask? Well, that’s the cherry on this sundae – in their basement. Vada grows up around several deceased individuals, reads the ‘Cause of Death’ slot on their info cards and furiously bicycles to the town doctor, insisting she is now afflicted with the aforementioned Cause of Death.

Now, there is method to all madness. (I think someone smart and well-known once said that.) And this blog post is NOT titled after Macaulay Culkin for the following reasons:

a) I am obsessed with him. I have 43 and a half posters of his six-year-old svelte self all over my room.

b) I didn’t know that blog posts are usually titled after the main topic discussed therewith and decided to name it after him even though the movie is about a little girl.

c) I think Macaulay Culkin is a little girl.

There. I’m glad we’ve cleared the air. So why do I keep talking about this failed child star? Well because before he failed, he was pretty darn good. Alas, all that potential had gone to waste. Ah, but we may still reminisce, may we not?

Even though Vada was supposed to be the star of the movie and was given the chunk of air time, for me, Culkin’s character Thomas J. Sennet stole the show. Constant companion to little Vada, he plays the role of understanding friend, childhood sweetheart, best bud and manages to pull quiet, shy and wiser than his age all together into a stellar performance. While Chlumsky’s acting comes across as sincere and emotional, it is perhaps Thomas J.’s dramatic death or quiet role-playing that wins him my vote.

I think he is what what spices are to food – the essential condiment that brings the whole to life. In that same way, I believe his death is what brings the movie full circle. It starts of with a fear of death hanging in the air and ends with an acceptance of death and an understanding of love.

Experiments by the lake. Ah, remember when America was innocent? Fast forward to 2012 and you’ve got 13-year olds dressed up like, in the words of Dan Aykroyd, “$2 hookers”.

The movie also makes one nostalgic for “the good old days” and such a display of sweet innocence makes today’s blaring realities even harder to ignore. The children, and even the adults, portrayed in My Girl are well-meaning folks earning an honest day’s bread and butter and living their lives with love and and simple enjoyment. There’s a teacher painting his house – when was the last time you didn’t see a hired construction worker doing that? There’s a kindly doctor who attends to a troubled young girl that he’s known ever since she was a babe, without worrying about wasted time, missed appointments or his ego. There is no talk of deadlines, bottom lines, smart phones and the little girl is not dying to be grown up and wear sexy dresses, lipstick and go clubbing. Also, interestingly, Jamie Lee Curtis is the girlfriend and the mother-figure, but ironically not the evil stepmother. She is kind and attentive to Vada even when Vada’s father is not, and indeed, encourages him to take care of his daughter.

It’s just an eye-opening experience into how much society has changed since then, and the stereotypes that have evolved. It’s also a bit of a shocker how many serious undercurrents the movie plays upon. There is a girl who has lost her mother, a husband who buries himself in his work, a girlfriend who is escaping an ex-husband, a little girl developing an understanding of what it truly means to love and the loss of a dear friend.

Let’s end the review with a fun picture of Jamie Lee.

Hipster.

 

Johnny Depp – Alcoholic & Hopeless Romantic

I heard about the movie driving to work one day with my mother. One of the street beggars on the Jinnah Avenue underpass was selling newspapers, and as the familiar guilt crept into our hearts, we rolled down the car window and bought a copy, whispering a prayer for the one-and-a-half-legged man as he hobbled away on his crutches. It was in that newspaper that I read that Johnny Depp and his life partner were separating, and in the nitty gritty, there was some mention of a new movie.

Avid Johnny Depp fan that I am, I couldn’t wait to get home and Google my heart out. The Rum Diary. Download. Play.

I suppose it must be taken into account that I am biased in favor of any movie starring Depp. My favorite actor, and the multi-talented chameleon of cinema, he never fails to impress. Whether it’s as Edward Scissorhands, Willy Wonka, or the psychotic novelist in The Secret Window, Depp always commits to his roles wholeheartedly. And I haven’t even mentioned his stellar performance in Pirates of the Caribbean yet!

Here’s a little background: This movie is based on a book of the same name written by Hunter S. Thompson that takes the late 1950’s as its setting. The 200 page novella “encompasses a tangled love story of jealousy, treachery and violent alcoholic lust” amongst American columnists working at a Puerto Rican newspaper. Google the Great tells us that “The prominent characters are typical of Thompson’s work: violent, maniacal and alcoholic, stumbling through life. It is written in a highly paced and rather exciting style, also typical of his work.”

Now to the movie: Depp plays the character Paul Kemp, an author without a publisher, who decides to try actually “writing for money” and comes to Puerto Rico to work for an ailing newspaper. His boss is a bit neurotic, wears a toupee, and has sold his soul to Da Man. Kemp meets the girl of his dreams while paddle-boating, stumbles after her like the drunken fool he is, briefly has her and loses her, loses a well-paying-yet-morally-evil job opportunity, and makes some fun Hitler-loving, cockfighting friends along the way. Oh, and he decides to take down the mega-millionaire capitalist junta that’s trying to turn the beautiful Puerto Rico into an island hotel extravaganza. He chooses to describe them as:

Beasts of obesity. Asses that wouldn’t feel an arrow. The great whites. Probably the most dangerous creatures on earth.

We are introduced to Kemp’s alcoholic lust early on in the story.

He’s a hopeless alcoholic, but this is addressed in a very natural, subtle way. Few direct references are made to it, but you see him chugging down a swig or two in almost every shot. The whole movie is bathed in a sort of Fitzgerlad-esque light, a vintage Instgram filter for the mind, and the stunning Puerto Rican landscapes scenes only add to the visual wows. The alcoholism is no exception. In the same way, it is made eerily beautiful. Kemp’s uncontrollable need is only fuel to his genius. Those little bottles of rum become an artistic accessory.

He wants to be a real journalist, expose the Powers That Be that are ravaging little Puerto Rico for all it’s worth, but is instead sidelined to writing horoscopes to fill newspaper pages.

“I want to make a promise to you, the reader. And I don’t know if I can fulfill it tomorrow, or even the day after that. But I put the bastards of this world on notice that I do not have their best interests at heart. I will try and speak for my reader. That is my promise. And it will be a voice made of ink and rage.”

Kemp and his love interest, Chenault.

Lotterman, editor of the newspaper, Kemp’s boss. In a funny scene, a disgruntled worker rips off his hair piece.

The Hitler-loving Moburg

One of the more interesting characters is Moburg, a co-worker who never really shows up to work, and Kemp’s absentee roommate. There are several references to his continuous state of intoxication throughout the movie. With so much alcohol in his system that it has begun to erode his mind, Moburg drunkenly stumbles through several scenes in the movie, his words sometimes slurred and sometimes prophetic. He supplies Kemp and friend Sala with a strange drug, which apparently the US ships to the Communists, to make sure they can never think straight. Kemp and Sala cannot resist taking it, and when they do, start to hallucinate and panic.

Moburg: Maybe I can interest you gentlemen in something else.
Paul Kemp: Like what? Death?
Moburg: Like the most powerful drug in the history of narcotics. I’m not at liberty to discuss or disclose; all I can tell you is: this stuff is so powerful, they give it to communists.
Paul Kemp: Who does?
Moburg: The FBI.
Sala: Why would the FBI get communists high?
Moburg: That I can’t help you with.

He also steals alcohol filters from factories to make the purest and deadliest alcohol imaginable, and friendly as ever, is willing to share. In one scene, we find him drunk, dressed in his Hitler uniform and listening to the Fuhrer’s speech on the record player.

 If the Bible´s God´s book, why didn´t he give it to everyone? – Moburg

Sala, friend and advisor to Kemp, here shown in the dingy apartment they share with Moburg

This country was built on genocide and slavery. We killed all the black guys over here and then we shipped in new black guys of our own. And then we brought in Jesus like a bar of soap.  – Moburg

Now most of the reviews I’ve read of this movie describe it as lackluster and unimaginative, stating that it has “no real action” and that the plot is a wishy-washy, scattered affair. Depp’s acting is simultaneously applauded and criticized, with some claiming that it’s just another example of his narcissism. Comparisons are made to Thompson’s book, and conclusions are drawn that it either wasn’t at par with the book, or that the book sucked, so the movie sucked too. There is also some controversy regarded a statement that Depp made, saying that the US public did not like watching intelligent movies.

What did I think about all this?  I loved the snappy editing, the atmospheric or original imagery; like the moment of a rum bottle bowling strike. I admire the classic, at times profound, lines, assumably penned by Hunter himself. No wonder Johnny Depp pounced on the 50’s script, an evolving prelude to 60’s hallucinogenic Fear and Loathing. A uniquely lighthearted slant on trouble in breathtakingly beautiful, darkly alcoholic, cockfighting Puerto Rico.

I’ll end with one of the movie’s most profound lines:

“Human beings are the only creatures on Earth that claim a God, and the only living things that behave like they haven’t got one.”

Snow White & the Huntsman

 

 

the three main characters: (left to right) Snow White, Ravenna/Queen, the Huntsman

Some of the fairy tale effects are marvelous; but the odyssey from darkness to light is unduly long and sloggy, and Stewart, with her contemporary edge, seems to be acting in the wrong era. – Peter Rainer, Christian Science Monitor

After hearing mountains of praise from my friend Summiya, I happily settled down to watch Snow White & the Huntsman after a long work day. I was willing to give the movie a chance despite my dislike of Kirsten Stewart’s acting skills. Like most bookworms, I felt that (as is usual in these cases) the movie did not do the Twilight series justice.

Snow White & the Huntsman puts a twist on the original story, with Hollywood heavy-weight Charlize Theron as the icy queen Ravenna who sucks the life out of young girls around the kingdom to maintain her eternal youth. Why she wants to live forever, I’m not quite sure. She does however maintain a strict girl-power mantra that all men are scumbags that will double-cross you silly. The only man she trusts is her slimy-looking brother, her partner in nefarious activities, and even this trust is brought into question when a moment of tender weakness allows Snow White to escape his grasp.

Also, Theron’s mirror is a bit of a wow-er. It’s what looks like a large brass plate hammered smooth, that turns gooey with magic and – lo and behold – a bronze/gold version of Darth Vader flows out of it to stand before the queen and tell me who exactly is fairest of them all. 

Ravenna and Golden Darth Vader Wannabe

Men are evil. They will use you and throw you away.

One thing that I found a little meh about the movie is aptly summed up in the following excerpt:

If you can suspend your disbelief that Kristen Stewart is “the fairest of all them all” in a beauty contest with Charlize Theron…

The question of what exactly fairest of them all means is also left a little to question. Ravenna’s physical beauty which the Mirror Man says is the greatest in the realm (until Snow White turns 18), is based on her sorcery and dark magic. It is an evil beauty which she used to seduce the king and then kill him on their marriage bed. In contrast Snow White’s beauty, with lips and red as a rose, raven-black hair, and skin as fair as fresh snow, is directly equated with her innocence and purity. Now this might just be me and my cynical self, but maybe that purity has something to do with her being locked up in a tower for most of her life?

I’m pretty sure anyone who spends their life in a lonely little cell comes out pretty ‘pure’. Somehow though, it is clear that Snow White is The Chosen One – the rightful heir, yes, but more than that. The almost-divinity associated with many monarchs of the past is embodied in her followers’ unwavering devotion to supporting a girl they just met, who has absolutely no charisma, no governing skills (and perhaps not many other skills besides, since she’s been rotting away in a tower forever) based solely on faith that she will not,cannot be as evil as power-hungry Ravenna.

And without even a single motivating speech, she’s got seven dwarfs in her entourage, and an army of rebels ready to champion her cause – which she doesn’t have. She runs away from the castle, yes, braving some bad guys, but at no time during her escape does she declare a desire to claim her throne or anything like that.

The Huntsman is a sour (albeit ruggedly handsome) drunkard whose wife died and is sent into the dark forest to capture Snow White and return her to the queen. He, however, quickly realizes the monarch isn’t exactly one to keep her word, and switches over to helping the beautiful Snow White instead. In a few quick scenes, we’re shown that he takes to training her. And voila, pretty soon, we have Snow White riding a horse like nobody’s business in the middle of a raging battlefield, heavy iron shield in hand, in full-body armor. Yes, that’s totally realistic. But fairy-tales were never meant to be realistic, now were they?

She morphs into this powerful Joan-of-Arc type leader.

The twisting of the original fairy-tale is so complete that more than half the movie passes before we even hear of a poisoned apple. Ravenna, who can apparently transform into a bunch of ravens at will and shape-shift to boot, tricks her into eating it.

In the anti-climatic ending, it is the Huntsman’s kiss that saves her – something she doesn’t find out. I waited the whole time for a love-ending, but maybe that’s just cliche of me.

His kiss saved her life.

 The most interesting character in the movie is, by far, Ravenna. We’re given a little blast-into-the-past when she’s taking a creepy milk bath and I personally came to sympathize with the evil blonde. She’s obviously been betrayed (she mentions a king who used her once and replaced her) and she’s extremely insecure.

Theron brings an imperious grandeur to Ravenna’s wicked plotting, as well as a trace of sympathy for the hard-knock life that turned her heart so cold

- Sean Means, Salt Lake Tribune

.The movie has some awesome effects, like these cool mythical beasts:

This is a troll, believe it or not.

Feels confused, directionless and overstuffed, with an uneven pace and a tone that lurches from dark gothic horror to candy-coloured fairy garden to epic fantasy battle.

- Tim Martin, the Mercury

One thing I’m pretty certain of is that The Movie Gods will be making a sequel. Looks like Stewart’s on a run with these ‘series of movies’ huh? They left plenty of room for a follow-up, what with the Huntsman saving her and falling in love with her, the other guy (her childhood friend) who also happens to love her, etc. So, are you looking forward to the next one?

 

Thank you for Big Mama’s House of Yo

Growing up in a manner which many would call ‘privileged’ was something I took for granted when I was younger. As a young child in Houston, going to school meant passing under the mass of concrete that was the very-creatively named Highway 6. At this point, I had usually finished revising the last day’s lessons and had taken the last few minutes as an opportunity to pop my Malaysian music CD in, jamming along to words I could barely pronounce, let alone understand. If I happened to glance to the left, I would see, as we turned into the underpass, several dark-skinned, thin-limbed, dread-lock-bearing individuals crouched near the inclined cement wall, along with the odd shopping cart or two. There was graffiti along the back wall, and I never saw anyone draw it, but assumed that they were the artists behind the creative zig-zagging bubbly letters. In my fifth-grader mind, I imagined Avril Lavigne running through the underpass (obviously during a real-life enactment of one of her punk-girl music videos) and spray-painting pure awesomeness over the cement. In some part of my mind, I knew that such awesomeness was frowned upon by The Law, but that was just silly.

Now if we took a right instead of a left, and didn’t pass through the underpass, we would turn into a shopping complex, a small L-shaped strip with boxy shops, and the occasional fancy (but clearly ailing) chair with a ‘For Free – take it if you want it‘ sign taped to the upholstery. I’m not going to lie – it was a dingy little strip, with dingy shops. I accepted it then, as a fact of life, that some things were dingy and some things were not. I did not connect such dinginess with any socio-economic indicators, tax brackets, cultural or racial stereotypes. It was just there. Like the sky was blue. I mean, hello.

Every Friday, me and my fellow uniform-clad prep-schoolers, accompanied by

Cedric the Entertainer

our teachers (of course), would walk from our lovely little private school across the underpass to The Other Side – a place we were never allowed to venture alone, but always secretly dreamed of going. Even the kids who pretended they were too cool  to care about what was over there secretly wished they could. They never told me, but I just know they did. On The Other Side, there was, among other things, a delightfully run-down, jolly-looking place that in my mind I termed Big Mama’s House of Yo. Do keep in mind that the Barbershop movie had just been released, and was heavily influencing my classmates. In fact, all throughout the fifth, sixth and seventh grades, Black was cool. (The necessary disclaimer: I am not racist and have nothing against people of any skin color. I use the term ‘black’ instead of the more politically correct ‘African American’ because that was Cedric the Entertainer called it in the South Side Chicago barber shop that featured so prominently in that 2002 movie. Also, when I say African American, I imagine a more cultural, African-heritage, traditional roots kind of thing and in my environment, we snotty little schoolkids were of the opinion that that was most definitely NOT cool. When I say ‘black was cool’ – I mean urban African American large-city lifestyles – or at least that which was portrayed in the movies. Escalades, spinning rims, insanely baggy jeans, outrageous hairstyles, lots of bling and loud music of the I’ve got so much money, I’ve got so many women, I’m a success, my songs are the best variety.)

The most happening movie of 2002

But I digress. Where were we? Ah yes, walking across the strip, on our way to the local masjid for our weekly sermon+prayer (think of it as church on Sunday for Christians, except on Friday, in a masjid, with Muslims), I would often gaze at the House of Yo with no particular desire to go there, but with a sense of great excitement. I could just imagine Eve in there, snipping away at some curly hair and putting in a weave, Cedric making some smart-mouth comments, and others dancing, singing, and basically, having the time of their lives. I was certain that was a carbon copy of that amazing shop Mary-Kate and Ashley stumbled into in New York Minute (another movie from my childhood).

Some children might have asked themselves why it was so dingy, but not me. I had that all figured out. Why, it was all un-inviting looking from the outside so that people wouldn’t storm the gates trying to get in on all the fun. You can’t let everyone in a place as cool as that.

You might wonder why I’m talking about all of this – what exactly the purpose is. Well, I’m here, diligently typing away on my netbook because today I realized something. I realized something, as I looked upon another set of thin-limbed, dark-skinned individuals. I realized that they were under-nourished, under-weight, under-everything, and that privilege that I so easily assumed was there for everybody, just the way the sky is blue, is something I was extremely lucky to have.

So this post is a thank you. A thank you to my parents for working so hard to shelter me from the harshness that many my age have had to go through. A thank you to them for allowing me to be creative and silly, in fact for encouraging me to be creative and silly; for defending my right to imagination and make-believe by going to work everyday, bringing work home with them, struggling to make deadlines but still finding time to take me to the movies, to take me to the park, to take me to the mall. Thank you for acting as a shield between me and The Big Bad World and allowing me to have that innocent childhood that so many are deprived of.

Thank you Mom and Dad, for Big Mama’s House of Yo, and all the beautiful things just like it that add color my childhood memories.

————————————————————————————————————————————-

In a strange I-don’t-understand-how-my-mind-works roundabout way, this post was inspired by this wonderful post on Riann’s blog, which led me to a post titled Quashing the Self-Improvement Urge, which I highly recommend for your reading pleasure and general mental health from today on-wards.

Johnny Depp as Edward Cullen in Dark Shadows

The cast, complete the Collins family, the villain, the orange-haired psychologist and the schoolgirl-esque governess with a freaky past of her own.

How bad is “Dark Shadows”? It makes you long for a “Twilight” movie. That’s bad.

- Tom Long

Dark Shadows is the new Johnny Depp film, released just this year, in which he played a long dead (and yet un-dead?) vampire named Barnabus Collins. I guess you’d classify it as a horror comedy-drama – the type of movie director Tim Burton specializes in (think The Ghost Bride). 

Depp and his supporting cast had a tougher time selling at the box office than most Burton films, facing stiff competition from the much-anticipated The Avengers. Vampires or superheroes, what’s a movie fan to do?

The movie opens with a quick intro into the life of a young Barnabus Collins, heir to a fishing empire in the New World, as his father instills in him the importance of one’s duty to family, and he is seen intimately close to a young serving girl who he simply cannot come to love despite her many ministrations. It is this same serving girl who becomes the bane of his existence as the movie progresses. Scorned, she vows revenge, and it is this revenge which plays out in the next hour or so of the movie.

So what did I think of the movie? Well, it was nice to see Michelle Pfeiffer in a movie after so long. She plays Depp’s cousin Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, the reclusive matriarch of the Collins family. Also, the somewhat-obvious moral of sticking with one’s family no matter what the circumstances (even if they’re blood-thirsty vamps, apparently) was welcome. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a movie with such a Little House on the Prairie family feel to it.

There’s some amazing editing in play throughout the film. The visuals are stunning mixtures of cartoony-anime and real people, giving the film a surreal sort of quality. I especially enjoyed the fact that poor little serving girl Angelique Bouchard went all the way and became a multi-millionnaire one-girl-show as she ran a business, fought a vampire, and desperately begged for his love – all at the same time! How’s that for girl power?

Sexy seductress or heartless witch?

Besides the amazing visuals, and my determination as a major Johnny Depp fan to enjoy the film, it just didn’t click. There’s a sort of wishy-washyness about it, as if the plot and characters weren’t thought through enough. I think there should have been more character development, giving the audience more to relate with or understand. Indeed a lot of questions were simply left unanswered: Why was the boy’s father so ready to abandon his family? Why was the governess gifted with the power to see ghosts? Why had the governess lied about her name? Why was the teenage girl a werewolf?

I understand that some of these may have been left unanswered just to give some ground for the development of a sequel, but in order for there to be a sequel, doesn’t the first film have to entice the audience?

One thing I found especially interesting was how Angelique Bouchard never aged, lived in the same town for 200 years, and managed to make everyone believe that there had been generations of her family living there.

The idea of the plot (a vampire returning from the dead to salvage his pathetic descendants) was pretty awesome. That’s what drew me to the film in the first place (along with promise of master-transformer Johnny Depp in yet another appearance-altering get-up) and somehow, I feel like the film just failed to deliver on the all the excitement promised in the trailer. It’s just another vampire movie. And so the Collins family slides into the mental shelf where I keep other vampires who didn’t impress me at the movies (Twilight, anyone?).

One more thing: with all the killing Depp/Collins does, why are there no pesky policemen poking around? Johnny, I think its best if we left this vampire stuff to the Cullens.

Say whaaaat?

This is not so much a coherent movie as it is a long, expensive joke in search of a purpose.

- Anthony Lane


Sacha Baron Cohen as ‘The Dictator’

…it does show that whilst Cohen’s humour is crass, there is often an underlying intelligent subtext. It’s definitely evident in this lewd-gag satire filled with A-list co-stars and bodily function jokes…

- Genevieve Loh

Coming on the heels of the Arab Spring, the satire should feel especially relevant, but there is so much silliness it’s hard to take anything here that seriously. The international news does provide “The Dictator” a lot of political hay, with Baron Cohen taking as many jabs at “democratic” systems of government as dictatorships.

- Betsy Sharkey

For those familiar with Sacha Baron Cohen‘s particular brand of crass hilarity, The Dictator might not come as a surprise. Famous for his past “mock”-umentaries, Cohen steps up to an actual plot lines with several “real” stars in the cast including Megan Fox (who plays the role of a well-paid bedwarmer).

The entire movie comes across predominantly as a disgusting parody of an Arab dictator (in this case, a dictator form the make-believe country of Wadiya) who rules ineptly, ridiculously, and who, with complete abandon, managed to send every third person to death by execution. In all this flattery, Cohen even managed to force in a joke about weapons-grade uranium to be used for peaceful purposes (enter a deliberate wink wink and a huge guffaw here). There is talk of sanctions and immense oil wealth.

Wadiya is rich in the way that many Arab oil-rich countries are – beyond imagination. With more money than he knows what to do with, Admiral General Haffaz “Death to the West!” Aladeen (yes, that’s his name) stars in his own video game (where when you beat the opponent and get a beheading bonus, you receive a suicide vest), chases after famous women (think Oprah and Katy Perry) and even hosts his own Olympic games.

A picture showing the dictator after winning the race where he shot all of his components in the leg. He goes on to win 14 gold medals at his personal Olympics.

There are parodies of Osama bin Laden, and Ahmedinejad (who apparently is “still around but… still an embarrassment”). One angry blogger calls the film  “just one more Hollywood-orchestrated effort to vilify the Arab, the Muslim and the Orient”.

I don’t know how far that’s true, but I know this:

The dictator is repeatedly shown to be a fool. He argues with his chief nuclear scientist about whether his secret missile should be pointy or round from the top. He is insulted by his American security personnel when he arrives in the States, and accepts it nonchalantly.

Here are some quotes from the movie:

General Aladeen: Don’t worry, I am Wadiya’s number one actor. You don’t win four Wadiyan Golden Globes for nothing.
Nadal: Yes you do, because you gave them to yourself!

General Aladeen: I am very proud to be an American. I am America’s number one douche.

General Aladeen: Oh it’s a girl. I’m so sorry. Where’s the trashcan?
Pregnant Woman: Oh no we want it!

In the end, however, after effectively rolling the Middle East around in the dirt for about an hour, there is a quick rebuke of democracy and America. The final speech this ridiculous dictator gives shows the hypocritical side of many democratic systems. This is however, quickly forgotten when we see in the next few scenes that the dictator – after promising real democracy in Wadiya – rigs elections and gives the order to execute his wife when he finds out she’s Jewish.

Today’s Outrageous is Tomorrow’s Freedom, and my nose-dive into Indian cinema

Image via Random Specific

I heard that somewhere. Today’s outrageous is tomorrow’s freedom. In fact, I think Naila says something similar to Silk, in Milan Luthria‘s cine-biographical exploration of a sex-symbol, Dirty Picture. That got me thinking.

As some of you may know, I’m not well-acquainted with Indian cinema. Having been raised in the West, and having struggled to learn Urdu, I was never really interested in watching Indian movies, or even Indian dramas. Let this act as a disclaimer. Borrowing from Anatol Leiven, let me just say, if in the course of writing this blog post, I mistakenly call a swan, a flamingo, forgive me.

My friends would often scoff at me for my lack of interest in Kareena Kapoor’s love life, Salman Khan‘s run-ins with the law, and Katrina Kaif‘s lineage – was her mother Lebanese, or Kashmiri, or something? One day, deciding I might as well, I thought I’d take a dive into the world of the love-crime-drama-musical cinema my friends adore.

I started on a journey with apparently no end. The Indian movie-making business churns out approximately 1,000 films annually. That’s almost twice as many as in Hollywood! There was just so much for me to watch. Thankfully, my friends came to the rescue with their favorites. Movies I have watched so far: Tere Naal Love Hogeya, Zindagi na Milegi Dobara, Dirty Picture, Swades, Rockstar, Desi Boyz. Movies I have on my roster: Dil Chahta Hai, London Paris New York, Black, and many more.

I can honestly say, that out of all of those movies, the only ones that I was really impressed with were Swades and Dirty Picture – and for very different reasons at that.

Swades, which literally translates into we the people’, is a wonderfully nationalistic film about a man who has made it big in the US of A (Shah Rukh Khan works at NASA) and on a return trip to India re-discovers his love of the motherland, and decides to spend the rest of his life dedicated to making it a better place. I thought it was beautiful – a beautiful portrayal (albeit via typical Indian love story, complete with Shah Rukh’s over-emotional eyebrows) of Mother India, and the love for your country that you feel, or as the movie seems to imply, that you should feel. I mean, the propaganda was so complete that by the end, I started loving India. And the one thought that kept running through my mind: Pakistan needs a film like this, a film that reminds you to love your country, that shows you why it’s beautiful.

Moving on to Dirty Picture – It’s an ambitious film, in my opinion. Ambitious because it seeks to portray the rise and fall of a star, with a mocking undercurrent throughout. It’s the story of a girl who sells her body to be in the movies. She’s overtly forward in her dancing, and even off-screen, she knows how to use it to her advantage. At the same time, the industry that uses her talent to gain popularity for their films, calls her sleazy, vulgar, a bad woman. But it’s that very industry that’s feeding her, that’s made her what she is. A very well-written review of the movie can be found here.

I found it kind of ironic. In Dirty Picture, the Indian film industry is mocked for creating Silk, the exotic dancing wonder, and then shunning her due to her lack of ‘respectability’. But isn’t that prominent in a lot of Indian movies? I mean, in Tere Naal Love Hogeya, the heroine goes to a gas station/petrol pump and seductively “washes” her car (there was more soap on her chest than there was on the car), all to scam a free pump-full of gas and 10,000 rupees of a poor, gullible Sikh man.

I’m not saying it doesn’t happen in Hollywood. I’m just saying that it’s so brazen and bold in Indian cinema that I’m a bit shocked. In Desi Boyz, two brothers, faced by a huge pile of bills and the economic downturn, decide not to take jobs as typists and floor-moppers because they’re overqualified. So instead, they enlist as male escorts, and spend their time dancing and drinking with white girls. To justify this, we are reminded throughout the story that they are doing it “for a good reason”, to pay a child’s school tuition fee, and to hang on to a spend-happy shopaholic fiance.

Call it what you will, but I’m just thinking, what are kids growing up on? One of my friend’s little sister’s Facebook status shocked me: “LOVES DESI BOYZ – JOHN ABRAHAM IS SOOO HOT, n awsum dancing!” She is 9 years old. If a 9 year old is watching a movie about male escorts, and then a movie where the pretty heroine is taking a bath at a gas station, and then a movie where a girl cheats on the husband she’s not in love with and goes to explore the red-light district with a boy she barely knows (Rockstar), then don’t tell me something isn’t very wrong.

Films may be an art form, but they’re also stories that children learn from. And tell me, is it really freedom? Are you really free when your only currency is your body? I mean, look at what it’s done to Demi Moore. We’ve seen her spiral downwards and she desperately tries to hang on to her fleeting youth. I’m just saying, take a look at what you’re watching.

The King’s Speech

British director Tom Hooper’s touching drama The King’s Speech more than deserved each of the four Oscars it was awarded at the 2011 Academy Awards. Grossing over $370 million at the box office, David Siedler’s screenplay brings to life a long-forgotten history – that of Britain’s King George VI (Colin Firth), a man who never expected to be king, and was thrown into it by a pair of unusual events – the death of his father, George V (Michael Gambon), and the abdication of the heir apparent, Edward VIII (Guy Pearce).

Known simply as Bertie to his loved ones, our protagonist finds himself at the helm of a country on the verge of war, with a people that desperately need a leader. Entirely unprepared, and handicapped by his debilitating stutter, Bertie is unfit to be monarch, and he knows it. Money is no object when the King is in need, and thus various specialists are employed, each treatment resulting in various degrees of failure. As a final attempt, his wife, Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) the future Queen Mother, arranges for her husband to see an eccentric speech therapist, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush).

Logue and Bertie form an unlikely pair as they struggle past the issues of self-restraint, childhood experiences and current pressures to mould the king into a leader fit to steer Britain to victory. With support from Logue, his family, government and Prime Minister Winston Churchill (Timothy Spall), Bertie is transformed from no better than an amateur impersonator to a man capable of inspiring a nation. His radio address unites the people in battle, and completes George VI’s quest to find his voice.

Firth’s acting was striking – all at once he was shy, intimidated by the world, and yet disdainful of it as a royal has every right to be. He conveyed a blend of insecurity, embarrassed anger and blushing hope that led this movie to success; it was that ability to capture the human element of the story that made it more than just a history lesson.

Helena Carter renders a touching performance as the loving wife who seeks to empower her husband, making him confident and self-assured. One of my favorite quotes from the movie, “When I married you, I told myself, he stutters beautifully.” Clearly, the best wife-performance of the year.

We’ve seen Geoffrey Rush play a lot of roles – but his casting as an unusual and brilliant speech therapist was unexpected. In a way, it may have been just this factor that led to the stellar performance he delivered. Either way, this role is testament to his range and ability as an actor. He gave Christian Bale a run for his money when it came down to who would get the Oscar for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role.

The film’s cinematography was mostly shot in one room, but throughout the movie, the camera pans beautifully, capturing slight expressions on each character’s face, and by focusing so much on the individual personality of the characters, the film becomes at once impossible and realistic.

Witty, intelligent and intense – a must watch.