BAZODEE. The Beat of Love


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“BAZODEE” (THE WORD in patois loosely means, “thunderstruck”…or “dazed and confused”) is a delightful, soon-to-be-released, romantic musical. The producers (Steven Brown – “The Prophet” – and first-timers, Ancil McCain and writer Claire Ince), I gather, are still negotiating with various Agents to slot in release dates…and all that back room production business that’s the business of film. Anyway, I was fortunate to be privy to a first UK screening last night (too many people in too small a room with too large a screen. But whatever).

The story centers around the illicit romance between Anita (Natalie Perera) and Lee de Leon (Caribbean music sensation Machel Montano). She’s a quiet, goody-too-shoes daughter (to a trusting, naive father played in full stentorian declamatory mode by Bollywood regular, Kabir Bedi). She’s engaged to Bharat (Staz Nair, soon to be the new Dothraki horse lord) a dashing posh boy (with a scheming father and embittered brother). But the engagement is more an alignment of businesses, like ancient Royal families co- joining for peace. And into this domestic calm comes the unexpected turbulence of a washed up minstrel, Lee de Leon with whom, pulling away from ties of cast, race and economics, she falls in love.

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As with all romances, love (and singing) conquers all.

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But underlying the frothiness, there’s a layer of thoughtful seriousness played out by the contrasts the movie highlights: her willing, if arranged and specious love contrasts with the equally arranged but genuine and unexpected love of another couple. The wealthy and formal Indian society of the island (always viewed indoors in wealthy palatial houses) is contrasted with the more down to earth and informal – honest?- world of Lee, Carnival and the culture of the country (always shown outdoors). Bharat is seen as an import from London compared with Lee, who’s the real thing. In the end her choice isn’t so much between Bharat with all his wealth and connections and promise of “walks in the English countryside”, and Lee, but between staying true to who you are (in this case, a girl from Trinidad) and becoming what’s expected of you by others (eye candy to a rich business empire)

The movie (written by Claire Ince) is partly charming, partly corny and entirely joyful with a tremendous music track from Montano, some nice Caribbean meets Bollywood dancing and some unexpectedly good turns from a raft of first time actors (in particular Cindy Daniel, as a friend). Director Todd Kestler (“Keith”) has managed to coax his actors into giving him relaxed, unselfconscious performances…so especially difficult for amateurs. Certainly the standout performances are those of the two principals: Natalie Perara injects a quiet drama (with a beautiful singing voice) into her role of the dutiful daughter turned passionate lover and Machel Montano is unexpectedly convincing as the smitten lover. It’ll be good to see her again in the future; you’ll definitely be seeing a lot more of Staz Nair (once he’s had his way with the mother of dragons).

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But the real stars are the gorgeous Tobago setting and the tremendous, infectious music track. Maybe this is the Caribbean’s long awaited redux of “The Harder They Come”. Maybe…

 

BAZODEE. Dir: Todd Kessler. With: Machel Montano, Staz nair, Natalie Perera, Kabir Bedi, Valmike Rampersad, Pauline Mark. Screenplay: Claire Ince. Composer: Machel Montano Cinematographer: Imre Juhasz. Production Designer: Tom Lisowski

 

STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS**** Yay! The Force is Back


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FINALLY AFTER THREE failed attempts by George Lucas, the force is definitely back (along with Han, Leia, Chewbacca, Luke and the Millenium Falcon) in J.J. Abrams’ thrilling reinvention of the Star Wars franchise. “Star Wars, The Force Awakens”, the first in Disney’s $4B purchase from Lucas is off at warp speed to -deservedly- recoup their investment.

Set thirty years after we’d bid farewell to Han Solo and the gang, the resistance, now lead by General Leia, is still fighting for survival against a resurgent Galactic Empire (now known as The First Order). This lot are even more evil than their earlier incarnation; now, powered by the fury of the sun, they have become, like Shiva, a destroyer of worlds.

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And caught up into this war of worlds, through whose ‘innocent’ eyes Abrams reintroduces us to the dueling Forces at work, are two delightfully captivating characters: Ray (Daisy Ridley, who looks like Kiera Knightly with expression) and Finn (Fellow Londoner, John Boyega). Ray is a scrounger and junk dealer on the Jakku planet, who can hold her own against pretty much anyone. Finn is a Storm Trouper with a conscience. (By the way, Finn is the name he’s given by one of the Resistance fighters. His real name is FN2187. It’s an insider joke: it was the cell number where Princess Leia was held in the ‘first Star’ Wars, or Episode IV, “A New Hope”). Ray and Finn become reluctant heroes…sucked up in the wake of the returning Han Solo (wonderfully reprised by Harrison Force), still hustling creatures near and far and owing them vast sums of money and the ever loyal Chewbacca.

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Finn and Ray must recognize, accept and live up to the Arthurian quest ahead (the search for Luke, the last living Jedi knight). Their outward bound missions are matched by their inner journeys… of self discovery and self realization. For, as in life, only when this has happened can the Force fully empower them and shape their destinies.

All this, and the stirring drama of John Williams’ brilliant score!

It’s a movie that absolutely lives up to the hype.

J.J. Abrams’ (“Star Trek”, “Lost”) directing is breathless: for the two plus hours of the movie (essentially one long chase), it hardly pauses. The First Order has spies at every turn, and the new baddie (Adam Driver as Kylo Ren the new ruthless embodiment of the Dark Force) is relentless in his take no prisoners pursuit. Abrams’ decision to minimize as much as possible the use of CGI is hugely successful… For unlike the hyper CGI artificiality of Lucas’ prequels, “… The Force” brings things back to the slightly battered, rusty junk yard feel of the earlier movies. Abrams with his production designer Rick Carter (“Avatar” and most of Spielberg’s movies) bring a physicality to look of this movie. If you’ve ever been to the planet Jakku, it’s almost like being there.

But really this is Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Harrison Ford’s movie. As Ray, Finn and Han Solo, and enabled by Lawrence Kasdan’s sharp writing (he gave us many of the previous Star Wars movies as well as the Indiana Jones stories) they are funny, spirited and just the ticket to take on this new threat to the universe. Adam Driver (“While We’re Young”) isn’t given much wiggle room as the ‘heir’ to Darth Vader. Maybe he’ll emerge as the series continues. Maybe so will Oscar Isaac (“Ex Machina”) who, though usually brilliant, never quite escapes the two-dimensional role as the gung-ho fighter pilot entrusted with ‘the secret’. Indeed, Lupita Nyong’o playing a feisty green space alien, Maz, is a much more interesting character than his’. Carrie Fisher’s Leia is a small and marginal role; more there for old fashioned sake at this point.

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I guess Hollywood feels it has to offer 3-D versions of its blockbusters to earn even more revenue; but 3-D brings nothing to “…The Force Awakens”. It was actually often just annoying. Surprisingly also, some of the editing felt hurried and chunky. Sometimes it felt as though Abrams had to lose twenty or thirty minutes to get it in under three hours (over three hours means fewer showings and less revenue).
But these are small complaints. Now dying to see how the story continues

 

 

BROOKLYN****Home is Where the Heart is


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“BROOKLYN”IS A a wonderful love story – heartfelt, honest and beautifully observed – that never has to rely on injected drama (say, a brutal husband, an unexpected pregnancy, infidelity etc) to express and evoke the passion and natural drama of love.

Set in the early 50’s, the story follows the fortunes of Eilis (an often wordless, Oscar-worthy performance from Saoirise Ronan, from “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “Hanna”), a quiet, unassuming and underemployed girl. Egged on by her sister, she lights out from a depressed Ireland for New York in the hope of better. But she soon discovers that the adventure of hope is no compensation for the despair of the loss of family…of all that’s familiar. And Eilis, living now in Brooklyn, has to overcome the bouts of crippling homesickness every lonely emigrant experiences. Slowly, she builds a new life, finds love (with another emigrant, an Italian), grows in confidence and begins, as an accountancy student, to spread her wings beyond her limiting job (as a sales clerk).

It’s the non-Donald Trump story of America.

All is just fine until a sudden death drags her back home…back to all that’s familiar, the good things and the bad.

But, the story suggests,  though the emigrant can return to the same country, too much has changed within, to ever return to the same place you remembered. When Eilis returns to Ireland, she is no longer the shy, dowdy girl who left. She returns as a confident, glamorous and (to her friends) worldly and well-travelled woman. The story explores how experience and maturity (in this case, the experience of a new life) alters both how we see and are seen. (As one of her friends back home laments, how limited and naive his understanding of the world must be when compared with hers). Eilis’ new found inner strength open doors that would have been closed before, and, to people she’s always known, she glows with a new heightened exoticism and appeal.

It all leads to an unexpected mutual attraction between her and the ‘catch’ of the town (Domhall Gleeson from “The Revenant”)

For “Brooklyn” is really a dual love story. Eilis must choose between Jim (Gleeson), a good Irish boy, who personifies all the values of her beloved mother country and Tony (Emory Cohen), an ambitious Italian plumber, who himself personifies all the values of Brooklyn, the brave new world. She has to choose between the creature comforts and easy wealth of her (wealthy) Irish beau with the potential hardships and struggle of her new world lover…her new world love.

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Like every emigrant who has ever left the homeland for a distant shore, Eilis must work out for herself just where ‘home’ really lies… just which home/man to love. And for her, like so many others, the reality of Ireland must in the end give way to the pull of the heart: to Brooklyn…not just the home away from home, but suddenly, surprisingly, home itself.

This quintessential emigrant’s story is from the book by Colm Toibin… marvellously translated to the screen by the ever-productive Nick Hornby (“Wild”, “About a Boy”, “An Education”). Hornby and director John Crowley (“Closed Circuit”, “Boy A”) admirably balance the hysteria- free angst and agony of Eilis’ separation from the known, with the joy and thrill of the immigrant’s discovery of a new world… and of new, previous unplumbed caverns of the heart.

Michael Brook’s (“Into the Wild”) equally understated, but beautifully affective score complete the teamwork to give this gentle film great richness and a dense emotional timbre.

Brooklyn. With Saoisise Ronan, Emory Cohen, Domhall Gleeson, Jim Broadbent. Dir: John Crowley. Screenplay: Nick Hornby. Cinematographer: Yves Bélanger (“Wild)

 

CAROL***** Love is all you need


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“CAROL IS ANOTHER” magnificent film from Todd Haynes (“I’m Not There”, “Far From Heaven”). Like his earlier movie “Far From Heaven” (in which Julianne Moore’s pampered 50’s character finds comfort and solace in the arms of a Black man – Dennis Haysbert), this one (from the novel by Patricia Highsmith) is also ostensibly a story of forbidden desire. It too is set in the late 50’s (the movie is played out against a wonderful visual and audio tableau of the period), when the Sapphic love between the married Carol (Cate Blanchett) and the gamine Therese (Rooney Mara…looking amazingly like Audrey Hepburn) was regarded as more than an adulterous affair: it was morally repugnant.

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The point Haynes examines in both movies is the nature of this “forbidden desire”…who forbids it? And just what is the nature of attraction (“just physics” as one character says).and desire anyway. When Carol, a magnificent, glowing vision of gilded sophistication, glamour, wealth and confidence meets the shy shop-girl, Therese, whose own demure beauty lies half hidden under a silly Santa hat, the attraction is immediate and irresistible. carol-movie-rooney-mara-cate-blanchett-trailer-images-screenshots-8

When we meet them at a Macy’s type department store, both women are trapped in less than satisfying relationships, where any hint of attraction, if ever there was one, is long over. Carol is married to Harge (Kylie Chandler) the uber businessman (not unlike “The Great Gatsby’s” Tom Buchanan). Carol is to him little more than arm candy: a prized possession and proud demonstration of his power and potency (is “Harge” a combination of “hard” and “large”?). Therese herself is also feeling trapped… by her dead end job (she’s an aspiring photographer) and the suffocating demands of her sweetheart (Jack Lacy), a ‘straight-up’ man ever pressing for marriage, sex and a joint trip to Paris. What girl could ask for anything more?

The meeting ignites a spark of intense mutual attraction. They both represent to each other a world of possibilities, of freedoms, an unshackling of whatever’s hold them back.  For Therese, Carol is the golden, shining possibility of a better self: self-confident, accomplished and (she imagines) free. For Carol (herself far from confident and ever unconsciously touching her hair, her neck, in subtle nervous gestures) Therese exudes a kind of uncontaminated innocence… unsullied by years of living up to “what’s expected” from both a demanding husband and the rules of her social class… those ‘forbidders’ of desire.

Carol ‘forgets’ her gloves on Therese’s counter…an invitation that Therese willingly accepts. Attraction leads to courtship; courtship leads to love, desire leads to sex. These two, breaking across barriers of class and age, make a wonderful loving couple, comfortable and safe in the cocoon of their love.

Or so it would have been, had this not been a story of lesbian love.

To the husband (less concerned about Carol’s infidelity – as they’re deep into divorce proceedings anyway – but obsessed by her desires), to the family and the law, Carol’s lesbianism makes this shining love immoral and repugnant. There’s a nice scene where, at the point of Carol and Therese’s consummation, the camera cuts to a private eye recording their lovemaking. What they/we see as joyful love, the –intrusive – law regards as grounds for separating mother from child. That she’s a lesbian means she’s an unsuitable mother.

In the end, the story pits the strength of love against the powers of the status quo. Will love out? From Romeo and Juliette battling against tribal loyalties to the doomed love of Bathsheba and Sergeant Troy, this is the essential love story… the fight against the odds for the self-enriching honesty of love .

And there’s no-one better to tell this – a non-rom com, adult love story – than Todd Hayes

His actors: Cate and Rooney are extraordinary. This is a movie of glances and silences, of muted gestures and hidden exchanges; and both actors manage effortlessly to convey whole pages of script in a few simple turns of the head.

Such a breath of fresh air to see an intelligent and heart-felt movie about love and passion, free from the puerile nonsense of typical Hollywood ‘romances’

 

“Carol” Dir: Todd Haynes. With Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Kyle Chandler, Sata Paulson. Screenplay: Phyllis Nagy. Cinematographer: Edward Lachman. Production Designer: Judy Becker (“American Hustle”, “Silver Lining Playbook”). Composer: Carter Burwell (“Legend” “The Twilight Saga”)