MOVIES – The Golden Raspberries

The Golden Raspberry Foundation has just announced its nominees for the worst movies of the year –  those so stunningly bad that they’re almost destined to become classics of their time. The two top nominees are “The Human Centepede 2”, which apparently wins by being the grossest movie ever filmed; and “Jack and Jill” where Adam Sandler played a brother and sister. “Jack and Jill” garnered eleven nominations. Pretty much anything with Adam Sandler slips effortless into awards of this ilk.

Apparently, apart from instant cult status, movies this bad are shown to aspiring movie-makers as easy to see demos of what not to do.

I feel I’ve been missing out. In 2011 the two worst movies I saw were “The Tree of Life” – but this was a highbrow disaster who highbrow folks have deemed to be wonderful, and “In Time”, a movie with a nice idea (that people get paid in time instead of money) but which was so badly executed that I actually left before its no doubt stunning denoument.

I’ve managed to avoid all the obvious bombs, which these days tend to be romantic comedies (I’ll be steering clear of “Wanderlust” with Jennifer Aniston… out soon). But maybe I need to get out more. I need to immerse myself more in classics such as “Anaconda” with the then newcomer Jennifer Lopez.

Maybe “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” may scratch this itch. After all, did you know that honest Abe was a feared vampire slayer. The things you learn from the movies!

MOVIES – The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

 “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” is best taken on its own tems – a low season, quite delicious, non-nutritious way of passing a wintry afternoon. It boasts a who’s who of British class actors: Judi Dench (now sadly, almost 90% blind), Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, Tom WIlkinson, Penelope Wilton and Celia Imrie, along with Dev Patel (from “Slumdog Millionaire”). Basically the story concerns a bunch of elderly folk , each a clearly drawn ‘type’, who can no longer afford to live in England and who, lured by the tempting advertisement of this hotel, all turn up there to start a new life in Jaipuir. You pretty much know where all the interrelated stories are going; you know at some stage Dev Patel will sand up against his domineering mother and proclaim true love for Sunaina (Tena Desae, who I hope we see more of); you know the oft repeated mantra (“everything comes out fine in the end; and if things aren’t fine now, it isn’t the end as yet”) will be the signpost that we’re meant to follow etc etc.

So, a story that offers no surprises; dare I say, a story as cliche-rich as you’re likely to find.

And yet, and yet… this master-class of actors inject incredible life, humanity and charm to their characters. Director John Madden (who also gave us the under-appreciated “The Debt” and “Shakespeare in Love”) keeps the tone light and skips over some of the glaring absurdities in the plot.

Sometimes we see movies through the lense of our lives. The fact that a few years ago I spent a few wonderful days here in Jaipur and in the fabulously beautiful Udaipur (which the group of hotel guests visit at some stage) no doubt added to my enjoyment of this charming trifle.

MOVIE REVIEW – “A Dangerous Method”









This is an interestingly flawed movie. As a reminder, it’s about the beginning of psychiatry with Viggo Mortensen as Freud, the ever prolific Michael Fassbender as Jung and his love interest, Keira Knightly as a Russian patient, Sabina Spielrein (who went on to become the first ever femal psychoanalyst).

We greet an hysterically overacting Keira (boy, does she want you to know that she’s mad, mad, mad) who, treated with sensitivity and intelligence by Jung, practising the new and still unaccepted “talking cure” (indeed, the movie is an adaptation of a play of that name) manages to exorcize her demons. She has been beaten by her father as a child and this has left her traumatised, largely due to the guilty pleasures she experienced while being flogged.

Director David Cronenberg continues the thematic exploration he’s been engaged in with his last two movies, “A History of Violence” and “Eastern Promises” – the idea of freedom and repression.

Of course the subject of Freud is perfect for the development of such a topic. The film balances the idea of repression – the hysterical Keira and pretty much all of the characters in the movie – with the liberation that is offered by sexual freedom and honesty. There is a lot of -academic- discussion about the (Freudian) role of sexuality as a catalyst for human behavior versus Jung’s nascent departures into spirituality and culture as drivers of behavior.

And, as you’d expect from any move that’s an adaptation from the theatre, there’s a lot of finely honed dialog. The movie also offers the additional plus (only of course for Freudians) of a semi nude Keira being flogged.

But, for all the nicely intelligent elaboration of the meaning of human freedom, the movie is, at a human level, curiously cold.

Kiera, the patient falls in love with her psychoanalyst, the married Jung. He too falls in love with her, but (because he’s represed) lies about it. The affair becomes a scandal in the rarified circles of Swiss medicine. Jung’s hard done-by-wife (who is his key source of a vast income) is aware and also aware that her role is to grin and bear it (i.e repress it). Jung feels too guilty about his relationship and must eventually cast aside Kiera, for whom rejection initiates her crisis once again. And despite all this, she goes on to become a psychoanalyst, all with the backdrop of the War and the looming anti-semitism of the Nazis.

This is all the stuff of a powerful human drama. Here we are being introduced to two passionate persons facing the crisis of balancing love with the social conventions of the day. Here is love at its most healing and its most destructive.

But there’s no emotion in the movie – it’s a bloodless exposition of an intellectual proposition – mainly I think because there’s no connectivity between the two lead actors – Fassbender and Knightly. And also, because Cronenberg is so faithful to viewing the human drama thru the lens of Freudian sexuality that the movie never lifts off to one where we actually believe in the ‘realness’ of the people.

It’s definitely worth seeing. I think Cronenberg is a serious film-maker. “A Dangerous Method” is just a bit disapointing.

MOVIES – Before Sunset

It seems like a good idea, every now and again, to revisit movies that you’d loved, way back when – to see whether they’d hold up. In this spirit, I revisited the – still magnificent – “Before Sunset”.

The movie – which takes place in real time, and with some extraordinarily long takes – tells the story of Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and the re-kindling of his romance with Celine (Julie Delpy). We meet him at a book signing in a little bookshop in Paris. He’s just published a well-reviewed novel about a copule’s one night stand. The couple had – romantically – agreed to meet again in six months in the train station in Vienna, to see whether the one night stand should be more than that. The meeting never took place.

At the book signing, where he deftly side-steps insistent questions about the extent to which his novel is autobiographical, he notices, standing demurely in a corner, Julie Delpy. She is of course the woman he’d had the one night stand with nine years ago (and the story of the movie nine years before, “Before Sunrise”). They reconnect and, while a driver waits to take him to the airport – back to New York and family and a failed marriage – they meander through the streets of Paris (a sort of cinematic pun for ‘memory lane’) and re-establish the relationship.

“Memory’s a wonderful thing,” she tells him at the beginning of their literal and metaphorical journey through the streets, “if you don’t have to deal with the past.”

The movie explores how people remember and reinterpret, sometimes reinvent the past, the shared moments. But it is in the couple’s ability to deal with the past that opens up their future.

What we, the audience, are priviledged to witness – charmed vouyers all – is the re-emergence of the spark, the extraordinary chemistry of love that simply pushes away the rest of the world (here, symbolised by the waiting driver). The director (Richard Linklater, who also gave us “Me and Orson Welles” and “School of Rock”) lets the romance unfold and is content to simply observe the increasing connectedness of the couple, so that the emotions we feel as an audience are genuine and honest; such a change from, say “War Horse” or “Incredibly Loud and Whatever”, where the director manufactures the emotions we’re meant to feel and shoves them in your face.

This is a rare movie – a movie about love that is neither sentimental nor ‘light comedy’… just gloriously true.

Movie review: Safe House

This movie is Denzil Washington’s latest. Here’s the plot: chase, chase, run, shoot, duck, waterboard, shoot, explosion, chase, more chase, quick romance, hide, escape, drive, car chase, shoot, blood, knife, die. This your cuppa tea, it’s a movie made for you.

Oh, Denzil, we thank you for your recent Tony Scott duet – “Unstoppable” and “Taking of Pelham 123”. We wondered what happened to make you choose, “The Book of Eli”, “Deja Vu” and “Man on Fire”. You’re fast becoming the king of the February movie slot. Not a good thing.

Anyway, “Safe House” centers around the sudden reappearance of rogue agent Tobin Frost (Denzil) who enters a safe house supervised by bored agent Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds). Denzil is carrying with him secrets that reveal a covern of corrupt Agents (CIA, MI6, you name it). Clearly they aren’t gonna let him reveal that list to the authorities . So someone (is it David Barlow – Brendan Gleeson- or Catherine Linklater – Vera Farmiga – or Harlan Whitford – Sam Shepard – the top brass of the CIA?) who is following his every move has to take him out. And has sent various nasty types to kill him. Do we care?

“Safe House” is a poor man’s “Bourne”. Daniel Espinosa has simply ripped off a number of the Bourne plots and devices; he’s even ripped off Paul Greengrass’ hand- held camera style and Tony Scott’s freneticism. You may remember, “Bourne Identity” began with Jason discovering an information capsule hidden in his side. Well Denzil has his (probably the same capsule actually) hidden in his leg. Karl Urban played Kirill in “Bourne Supremacy” – he was the nasty who had been sent to Goa to eliminate Bourne. His doppleganger in “Safe House” is Liam Cunningham – sent on a similar mission to get Denzil. “Bourne Supermacy” was about a rogue agent (Brian Cox as Ward Abbott) who had set up Bourne to take the blame for a sting gone wrong. Here it’s Brendan Gleeson who sets up Denzil. Sam Shepard is the David Strathairn (Noah Vosen of “Bourne Ultimatum”) equivalent.

But whereas Bourne offered us people who were passably real (the wonderful Joan Allen as Pamela Landy and the sympathetic Franka Ponente as his girlfriend Marie) in a wild adventure that make us willingly suspend our disbelief, this thin imitation offers fodder without nutrition.

Tobin (Denzel) is regarded, we are told on several occasions, as a master; someone who is envied for his incredible skills of manipulation. There is even a promising exchange at the beginning of the movie (after only about 20 people had been killed): Ryan says to him, “I’m not going to let you get into my head” and Denzil replies, “I already am in your head”. Nice. But that really goes nowhere and sadly, Tobin’s much vaunted skills of manipulation remain spoken of and never shown.

But, one good thing. Ryan Reynolds does emerge from this as actually showing a bit of chutzpah. He’s not just the pretty wimp he’s been in all of his movies. Maybe he should always act with blood running down his face