Pride – A Review

Matthew Warchus directs Imelda Staunton, Bill Nighy, Andrew Scott, Dominic Cooper amongst others in Pride. With a playbill that is packed to the rafters with character actors from various british TV shows the fact that this movie was going to be brilliantly acted was a given. But in this based on real events story about the coming together of the Gay Rights movement and the Union strike,  Warchus and writer Stephen Beresford have created a beautifully crafted drama with a healthy dose of humor.

The story starts with the charismatic Mark played by Ben Schnetzer drumming up support amongst his gay friends to start collecting funds for the striking miners. While arguments can be made in favor or against the legitimacy of the strike the movie chooses to present the issues from the point of view of the miners alone. After collecting the money and trying to get any mining union to accept their support the LGBT group happens to reach out to a welsh mining community who through misunderstanding over the phone agree to send a representative to meet with the LGSM ( Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners) in London.  And what follows hence is a heart-warming tale of two victimized fractions of the society coming together and learning to accept one another albeit grudgingly.

For 2/4th of the movie the screenplay is tight and the story progresses along briskly with the entire ensemble chipping in with memorable performances. The Acapella singing of the song in the union hall in Dulais, Wales is particularly stirring. Of the acting chops Andrew Scott impressed me the most. After his chilling turn as Moriarty on TV’s Sherlock here he plays out his role as Gethin with such vulnerability that it is fascinating to bear witness to his range as an actor. Imelda Staunton is also brilliant but then that statement is redundant as she almost always is. Jessica Gunning as Sian James plays the firebrand to perfection as she goes from being the shy volunteer to essentially the firepower behind the coalition of the Miners and the LGSM groups.  Another standout is Paddy Considine as the Mining union’s spokesperson Dai. From the first speech he delivers at the Gay club where he is just barely getting to grips with public speaking to the final speech he delivers at the Pits and Perverts concert at the electric ballroom in Camden shows the journey his character has gone through.

It is in the 3/4th of the movie where it loses steam and the pace begins to drag as the director chooses to bring various other stories to fruition, that of a closet gay being outed by his sister, Gethin being attacked. What rankles the most is the change in attitude of Mark and it throws the audience off for a loop. It takes considerable effort but the director manages to provide for a satisfactory climax. I also am disappointed in the director’s handling of the AIDS crisis and how insensitively it is used to further a plot point.

What is most amazing is the journey of discovery that the characters go on as the two groups cross path. The village granny is all inquisitive about the lesbian-lifestyle with their vegetarian/vegan diets, the hot headed miner is the first one to soften up to the LGSM and wants to take dance lessons so that he is better able to woo the barmaid, the pub-crawl through the London gay scene is also delightful as Imelda Staunton ends up giggling like a naughty school girl when she comes upon “treasures” in the LGSM’s accommodations. Also acting as a counterpoint is the hesitation that the two groups feel while supporting the other’s struggle. While Dai is welcomed when he makes the first speech Mark is faced by hostile silence at the union hall. The dissenters in both the groups throw a wrench in the machinery due to their on ill-conceived prejudices.

Milk this isn’t but it is a fantastic telling of the struggle for equality both of the miners and that of the LGBT community and the eventual coming together in show of solidarity despite the odds being stacked against them.  Do not miss Pride for it manages to strike that fine balance of humor and the humanity of the drama that unfolds.

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Finding Fanny – A Review

Homi Adajania directs Deepika Padukone, Arjun Kapoor, Naseeruddin Shah and Pankaj Kapur in the the dark comedy Finding Fanny. In a clear departure from his last outing as director where Homi directed Deepika in cocktail, he goes back to territory he first explored with his directorial debut Being Cyrus.

Finding Fanny is the story of Ferdie played immaculately by Naseeruddin who is the oldest choir boy and post-master of a small goan village. Ferdie discovers a letter he wrote to the love of his life Stephanie, the eponymous Fanny, was never delivered to her.   Lamenting a unrequited love Ferdie confides in his best friend Angie played by the lissome Deepika Padukone. Together with her larger than life mother-in-law Rosie played by the ever-enchanting Dimple Kapadia, childhood friend Savio played by the brooding Arjun Kapoor and the lecherous Don Pedro an artist of international acclaim played to perfection by Pankaj Kapur, Angie and Ferdie set out to find Fanny.

This road trip takes us along the beautiful and scenic vistas of Goa reminding us once again that Goa is not only about beaches and booze. Other than Ferdie who is searching for the love of his life, every character is on a personal quest of sorts and they each manage to find it in a strange sort of way.

Don Pedro and his Ruben-esque love for the voluptuous Rosie is definitely the most guffaw inducing with his hammed-up, lecherous antics. There were two scenes which had me baffled and wondering if the director needed more time to resolve the outbursts. The first one involved Pedro finally finishing his portrait of Madame Rosaline and thus dubbing her vapid and empty – I think it should have been more about her insecurities and the lies she had bundled up to maintain appearances. The second was Rosie berating Savio about how he should have died instead of her own son Gabo, it seemed to be too abrupt with no real preamble or conclusion.

Deepika Padukone seems to be going from strength to strength with each movie and for her own good I hope she manages to strike a balance between box office blockbusters like Chennai Express and pseudo-indie movie like Finding Fanny because they help her grow as an actress. Here she lights up every scene she is in just by the slightest of knowing smiles as she adoringly indulges the lovable Fredie. There is an inner strength and conviction in her own craft that is clearly visible in her poise and composure throughout the movie. For me Deepika Padukone has well and truly arrived as the Queen Bee of Bollywood. Arjun Kapoor is surprisingly good as the brooding and pouty Savio and gets the job done. With Deepika around, Kapoor ends up being a supporting actor than a lead.  The trifecta of veterans Shah, Kapadia and Kapur are what lifts the movie from being a comedy of errors to a dark and brilliant comedy. Their craft is so nuanced that it leaves me baffled that they are not doing more movies.

Anil Mehta’s work behind the camera is brilliant as he takes on a journey through the leafy bylanes of rural goa and frames the perfect sunsets beautifully. The production on the movie is also top notch with kitschy and retro props that help transport the audience to rustic goa where the time literally stands still as no one is in a rush to do anything, Susegad as they say.

Finding Fanny feels more like a taut short story than an elaborate movie but is thoroughly entertaining. Deepika Padukone is reason enough to shell out your hard earned cash to catch this on the big screen. Dimple Kapadia, Pankaj Kapur and Naseerudding Shah are added bonus. Watch this movie because brave movies like these need the audience love and support to encourage directors like Homi Adajania to keep on this path and not steer off-course to cocktail land.

Chef – A Review

Jon Favreau directs himself in a script written by him in and as Chef. That might sound off-putting but please let that not be the reason why you do refrain from checking out this little gem of a movie that is one of the best and most innocuous feel-good movie I have come across in a long time.

With a playbill that is stacked with the likes of Dustin Hoffman, Robert downey Jr., John Leguizamo, Oliver Platt, Sofia Vergara and Scarlett Johanson (no pun intended!) the movie is the story of a once-celebrated chef Carl Casper whose food inspired people one among who is a would be food critic Ramsey Michel. After 10 years in the industry Carl and Ramsey cross paths again and the result is far from palatable. What ensues is the main plot of the movie and it would be stupid of me to lay it out here in the review.

Jon F, John L and Amjay Anthony who plays Carl’s son Percy go on a road trip of sorts which acts as a journey of discovery of sorts. Carl finds his mojo back cooking the food he loves and finds in Martin a trusted sidekick and a friend for life. But more importantly, during the course of this journey he finds a way to connect to his kid, a way to pass on his passion for food onto the little apprentice who ends up being the main hero of the story as it were.

The movie does justice to the food it sets out to serve by highlighting the local specialties like the Miami’s little Havana’s Cuban Sandwiches, New Orleans’ Beignet and Austin Texas’ barbequed  Brisket. But the movie does not limit itself to the food, the self-discovery and the coming closer of a father and son, it goes on to make a point about social media. The new beast that can make instant celebrities out of regular food-eaters, movie-goers, compulsive-shoppers by allowing them their “blogging” space but also make instant fools out of people who in a moment of madness lose control and their actions are forever on the internet to taunt them and to trivialize any other achievement they may have had outside of that moment. But through Percy we see the power of social media which also allows the same fallen hero to rise up again.

Ultimately this is a movie that is not burdened by the compulsions of giving the myriad of stars their space on the reel; it is not burdened by clichés of which there are aplenty. It is a movie about a father and son taking a road trip eating their way through America and filling our hearts with a warm and gooey feeling that is not dissimilar to eating a chocolate lava cake.  This is an unmissable movie especially if you have a food dream like I do.  Take a bow Jon Favreau or a Michelin star if you must!

 

The Hundred Foot journey – A Review

Lasse Hallstrom directs Helen Mirren, Om Puri and Manish Dayal in The hundred foot journey based on a story adapted by Steven Knight from Richard C. Morais’ book by the same name. Many have described this as slumdog millionaire meets Ratatouille as some sort of a championing of the movie. While I agree with the slumdog bit I do completely disagree with the Ratatouille which was in my opinion a more earnest and honest movie and perhaps the best Pixar have ever managed.

The story starts with Hassan at the immigration counter answering the questions asked by the officer that also works as a backdrop of quickly rushing through the backstory to how Hassan came to be in “Europe” after having already landed in the United Kingdom after having sought asylum following the Hindu Muslim riots in Mumbai where he lost his mentor – his mom. 

Back story done with we proceed to how they end up in the rustic French village with an abandoned villa/restaurant up for sale. This is the part where the movie is at its best as Om Puri the patriarch of the Kadam family digs his heels in to battle Madam Mallory played by the indomitable Helen Mirren the owner of the Michelin starred French restaurant.

There is a budding romance between Hassan and sous chef Marguerite which remains entirely unexplored. The culinary clash of the classical French and the boisterous Indian cuisines also is almost entirely forgotten except as an insult that Madame Mallory and Papa Kadam hurl at one another.  The editing and the screenplay leave a lot to be desired. Basing my judgment on a book review of Morais’ original material there seems to be a lot more meat in the book than what is presented on the screen. The episodes in Hassan’s rise to the top of the Parisian culinary world seem to be rather abrupt at best and callous at worst.  Take for instance the turn of events after Hassan earns the second Michelin star at Mallory’s restaurant he simply takes off for Paris because Marguerite says that he will be approached with offers. The despair Hassan feels while plating up pretentious food while in Paris seems unfounded and sudden and the decision to move back just as irrational. The frustration with the movie is because all the ingredients are present to plate up delectable dish that is as pleasing to the palate as it is appealing to the eyes but instead of gently whisking the yolks of the story on a bain-marie to form the perfect sabayon the director, the editor and the writers vigorously whisk it in the direct heat which ends up in a curdled mess. Another concern I have is with the research that has gone into this – Hassan and his family are presented as Muslims and yet the movie commits blasphemy by cooking the lamb in wine without any hesitation. I do not know if this is the lack of research on the part of the original book or another one of the blunders in the screenplay and direction.

There are some genuinely funny moments and some moments that hold promises but eventually what gets plated up is visually enticing but lacking the punch of garam masala and the restraint of the hollandaise. Watch it for a fine turn by Helen Mirren, Om Puri and Manish Dayal and for A.R. Rehman’s enticing background music.Also theres Juhi Chawla as lovely as ever playing Hassan’s mother – why isn’t she in more films is baffling to me. 

Joan Rivers : A Piece of Work

Joan Rivers a name that would mean different things to different people.It could mean a legendary comedic icon who paved the way for female comedians, it could mean a nasty acid tongued mean spirited person who takes a jabs at others while she is dealing with her own insecurities, it could also be the poster-child of the plastic surgery industry. What Joan Rivers – a piece of work does is it throws open all the above mentioned pre-conceptions/misconceptions that people have about Joan and throws in a few more for good measure.

 

The documentary begins with Joan and her assistant Jocelyn sitting together to go over her schedule and you can see how upset she is with her almost blindingly blank bookings diary. She even makes a joke about needing sunglasses to look at the diary because the blank white dates are blinding to her. She also refers to her older diaries which during the peak of her career were chock-a-block full with appearances and shows. You see how she is willing to debase herself by doing things anyone with any self respect would turn down but she can’t afford to.

 

The documentary lets you in on her personal life, the over the top Marie Antoinette style mansion, the people she surrounds herself with her staff her manager Bill who is her only link to her glory days but also you feel the tension and the growing resentment as Joan repeatedly refers that Bill is never there when she’s in trouble but then again maybe he is the only friend she has left. You see her relationship with her daughter, at times over bearing and over protective and at times caring and understanding.

 

By means of old footage you are introduced to how Joan came to be The Joan Rivers. How she was got her break on Johnny Carson’s Tonight show and how with her increasing popularity and her wild ways she became a regular guest on the tonight show – a feat almost unimaginable for a female comedian.  After that seminal moment which could very well have propelled her to unimaginable heights of stardom the circumstances transpired and she never seemed to have quite made it.  The downward spiral hit rock bottom when her husband Edgar committed suicide and which drove Joan and Melissa apart. The scene where she talks about the movie she did with Melissa confronting the subject of her husband’s suicide and how it worked for her as a catharsis and brought the mother and daughter closer is particularly refreshing.

 

But this is not a out and out depressing or a self-pity documentary. That is just not how Joan does it. She takes the punches better than she lands them. The way she goes about carrying on because that is the only way she knows how to survive and her constant struggle to get back to the top of the game is inspiring to say the least. A Scene where she is doing her standup comedy and makes a pass about deaf children and someone in the audience gets agitated because he has a deaf child is particularly telling. She didn’t mean to cause any personal assault but if you attack her she will come back at you with everything she has got and boy she’s got a lot!

A career that has spanned more than four decades and is now dwindling, where she has become nothing more than a walking joke, leads her to the comedy central roast. She is disgusted by the idea that there will be comedians who will be making scathing remarks about her age and her numerous plastic surgeries but the fact that she has to do it for the money is what stood out for me. This scene and another in a car in London where her play hasn’t been that well received shows you that even the most acid tongued comedian has her weaknesses, her own insecurities and her own demons to battle.

 

As a documentary this could be one of the finest I have seen, there is no bias or pity to portray Joan as the martyr or the victim. There is no glorifying the past and lamenting the state of things as they are today but rather the struggle of a 75 year old woman who just wants to keep doing what makes her happy. At the end when you see she has fired her friend Bill and you see her break down you can see all the masks coming off – this is just an old woman who is alone and is very afraid of having lost her only link to her glory days or do you see talented and a hugely underappreciated actress ?

 

See this documentary for it is a piece of work, see it for its comedic moments see it for its unapologetic look at a star who is driven by vanity and the constant need to be in the limelight but more than anything else see it for a pioneer who broke through barriers and made a name for herself despite the circumstances and is still going strong to prolong her legacy. See it for Joan River who is not just a piece of work but a piece of art.