Moonlight – A Review

Image result for moonlightBarry Jenkins directs Mahershala Ali, Janelle Monáe, and Naomi Harris in Moonlight, an autobiographical story based on a short play by Tarell Alvin McCarney. Moonlight has been garnering impressive Oscar buzz with a golden globes win already for Mahershala Ali as best supporting actor.

 

The story is told in three parts, based on the different stages in the life of Chiron, a young black boy growing up in the crime ridden neighbourhood of Miami. The juxtaposing of the hyper-masculine black subculture with that of a fatherless young boy coming to grips with his own sexuality offers a fertile ground for compelling story telling. This coming of age story certainly has a lot going for it, an absentee father, a drug-addict mother, a kind drug dealer, a physically weak youngster, school bullies. But the same tropes that would have made for an engaging narrative are used in the most clichéd of ways rendering the end result absolutely boring.

Image result for moonlight

The first chapter titled Little focuses on the little boy Chiron as he escapes his tormentors into an abandoned house and locks himself him, only to then be discovered by Juan played by Mahershala Ali. Ali is a phenomenal actor capable of conveying a lot without too many lines as evidenced in House of Cards. Here too he certainly has a presence but the child actor playing ‘Little’ Chiron is so awkward an underprepared that it becomes nearly impossible to take this movie seriously. There is one scene of particular note when Little asks Juan and Teresa played by the lovely Janelle Monáe “what does a F**got mean” the response by Juan and the tenderness with which the entire scene is crafted is perhaps the films finest moment. We are also introduced to Little’s best friend Kevin who is kind and caring with him.

Image result for moonlight

Chapter 2 is titled Chiron as the little boy becomes a teenager and begins being sexually awakened. Whether it is in class where he is unable to focus or it is in his sleep. We also see his relationship with his mother deteriorate as she falls deeper and deeper into her addiction. Juan is gone and Chiron only has Teresa to rush to when things get a little too desperate at home. We see Chiron and Kevin’s relationship evolve, this aspect is deftly handled without overt assertions but then again the scenes cut quickly and too abruptly for them to make any lasting impact.

Image result for moonlight

Chiron is all grown up and comfortable with his sexuality in the third chapter Black. He is physically imposing – no longer the lanky teenager, he has left his poverty ridden days behind. He gets a call out of nowhere from his childhood friend Kevin and it stirs uncomfortable memories of his childhood in him. This perhaps is the most annoying part of the movie for me. It seems to be trying too hard to establish a sexual tension between Kevin and Black where honestly none exists.

Related image

Contrived neon-lit scenes, the overdone operatic music and a complete lack of empathy-inducing screenplay makes this almost unwatchable for me. Of the actors, Janelle Monáe is effective in the little time she spends on screen. Naomi Harris is a revelation as the drug addled mother. Mahershala Ali in my opinion does not deserve the supporting acting nomination not only because of the length of time he spends on screen but also because how ineffective that time spent is. Alex Hibbert as Little is under-prepared and unimpressive.

Image result for moonlight

I really wanted to be blown away by Moonlight, especially after reading the effusive reviews almost everywhere – but sadly I was bored stiff. Moonlight falls in the category of overrated Oscar baits for me.

Advertisements

Kapoor and Sons – A Review

Shakun Batra directs Siddharth Malhotra, Fawad Khan, Alia Bhatt, Ratna Pathak Shah, Rajat Kapoor and Rishi Kapoor in the dysfunctional family drama Kapoor and Sons. Bollywood mainstream movies have mostly steered clear of the uglier side of the familial dynamics and immortalized the gigantic joint families with coordinated dance moves and weddings grander than Laxmi Mittal’s daughter’s, but with the first scene itself Kapoor and Sons sets itself apart. This is more August Osage County than a Barjatiya caper.

The Kapoors consist of Daddy Kapoor played by Rajat Kapoor who once a bank officer is now a failed business owner quickly running through his savings and investing in a mysterious Anu aunty. Mummy Kapoor is Ratna Pathak Shah who made a meal out of playing the high society matriarch Maya Sarabhai, here she plays a character that is a polar opposite as then long-suffering wife who is trapped in a loveless marriage which is taking its toll on her ambition. Granddad Kapoor is Rishi Kapoor who is the glue that holds the entire enterprise together. All seeing and all understanding he doesn’t meddle but passes his time being crude yet lovable. It is his heart attack that brings back the two sons Kapoor’s back home to Coonoor, Rahul the London based successful author and all around perfect child played by Fawad and part-time bartender and aspiring author Arjun from New Jersey. The brothers don’t see eye to eye and are merely cordial out of obligation. There are subtle hints dropped along the way that there is something more sinister than mere sibling rivalry that is the reason for the tension amongst the brothers. Alia Bhatt plays Tia Mallik in a role that most other leading ladies would shy away from because it is not meaty enough and is merely a supporting role but not Alia who continues her march towards greatness as being entirely believable and extremely relatable.

The first half of the movie didn’t blow me away, not because the story or the direction was lacking, both are fantastic there is enough subtlety to keep me interested but it is the screenplay and dialogue that doesn’t seem to coalesce as seamlessly as it does in the second half. The build-up just before interval where Mumma Kapoor confronts Papa Kapoor over his philandering at the 90th birthday celebration for Gramps is something you never ever see in Bollywood. The second half unravels fast and furious and it hits you from out of left field that you are left teetering at the intensity of one tragedy after the other that befalls the Kapoor clan and you are left bleary eyed like Rishi Kapoor who silently watches his “happy family picture” disintegrate before he can take the picture he so badly wanted to take and emblazon it with “Kapoor and Sons since 1921”.

The second half is chockfull of memorable scenes. One where Ratna Pathak Shah tries on Rajat Kapoor’s chappals and breaks down, another where she confronts his perfect child Rahul over his life of lies, another where Rahul confesses his truth to his brother Arjun who an aspiring author himself is left speechless and simply says he needs time process this. There is an endearing scene between Arjun and Tia when he drops her off after having spent a day at a graveyard where she can’t find the right words to describe how she feels and simply says “it just fits” when she is with him, and another where she opens up about her final conversation with her parents. This is a movie that will benefit from rewatch and you will be delighted at the masterfully layered storytelling, not something you usually associate with a Karan Johar production. Every dialogue has a subtext, a sub plot that will stay with you long after the end credits, for instance the one where an exasperated Rajat Kapoor complains to his son about how his mother is being unreasonable by comparing him to her brother in law who used to hit her sister and how Kapoor isn’t that bad, this is how most normal people reason their character flaws and it is a subtlety that makes this movie that much more special for me.

Of the actors Rajat Kapoor, Alia and Siddharth are competent; Rishi Kapoor is a Gem and truly shines despite all that impressive prosthetics and make-up. Fawad Khan is the real revelation here with his measured and sensitive portrayal where he has enough humor and cheek to balance the seriousness that comes with being the older child who is perceived to be perfect.He desperately tries to keep his family together despite everyone’s best effort to make it implode. Ratna Pathak Shah is a national treasure and she must be cherished. I hope she takes on more such roles and stakes her claim on the matriarchal estate in Bollywood.

Kapoor and Sons is masterfully directed, with a strong uncompromising script and a stellar ensemble cast that puts in a brilliant performance individually and as a group. This nuanced look at the grey areas of the domestic drama is a must watch.

The Danish Girl – A Review

Tom Hooper directs Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander in The Danish Girl, a story based on the pioneering life of Danish artist Einar Wegner who undergoes the first documented gender reassignment surgery to be transformed as Lili Elbe.

 

Hooper is known for his sensitive direction of unusual subject matter and for extracting awards-worthy performances from his leads. With King’s Speech he got Colin Firth the lead actor gold as the stammering stuttering King George VI as he tries to overcome his childhood disabilities and lead Britain to war against Nazi Germany. With Les Miserables he directed Anne Hathaway to a supporting actor nod as she cried singed her way to Fantine’s epic I dreamed a dream. And here he directs last year’s winner Eddie Redmayne as he grapples with what it is to be a transgendered person in the 1920s and 1930s. But the real star is Alicia Vikander who as Einar’s wife and fellow artist Gerda Wegner brings to life the Lili that Einar has since childhood tried to keep under wraps.

The first half of the movie where Einar and Gerda’s relationship is explored as husband and wife and his penchant for cross dressing and effeminate behaviour is slowly becoming more and more prominent seems a bit forced. Eddie Redmayne’s transformation from Einar to Lili seems conflict free and almost too sudden. But there is a beautiful moment when while spending time with Ben Wishaw’s Henrik Lili realises that Henrik is a homosexual who thinks he is spending time with Einar in a get up Lili leaves and a distinction is made between what it is to be a homosexual and what it is like to be a transgendered.

It is the second half where the things get a little more fluid and things seem to flow with a natural ease. Through Lili Gerda loses her husband but finds the fame she has been chasing as an artist. Her portraits of Lili sell and she wins new commissions and is the toast of Paris art-scene. There is a beautiful struggle as she tries to hold on to Einar while it is Lili that is more and more on display. As Einar tries doctors after doctors who all treat him for various mental disorders you see the struggle is real for a transgender person in the 1930s. Finally through their friend Ulla played by a ravishing Amber Heard they come across a German doctor Warnekros who performs the pioneering operation. This is where Eddie Redmayne transforms and delivers stunning performance as Lili works at a shop and tries to learn the mannerisms that make up a flirtatious girl.

The music by Alexandre Desplat is subtle as ever and underscores the silent struggles that both Einar/Lili and Gerda go through while Danny Cohen does spectacular work behind the camera to capture the stunning landscapes that Einar is known for painting and also the more personal portrait shots that are Gerda’s speciality. The scenes of the Fjords, the symmetrical shots of the Danish buildings the scenes at the wharf are all beautifully framed. The final scene of the scarf flying off at the cliff is made even more poignant because of the beautiful shot.

While not perfect in execution, primarily due to a choppy first half the lead pair turn in stunning performances and the delicate and sensitive handling of the transgender story is what lifts this from being a pure Oscar bait to being a believable and emphatic story. Do not miss The Danish Girl.

The Imitation Game – A Review

Morten Tyldum directs Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley in the Alan Turing Biopic The Imitation Game. Turing was a man of immense genius, one whom Winston Churchill credited with the “single greatest contribution to ending the second world war”. Turing along with other cryptologists at britain’s Bletchley Park broke the German Enigma machine’s code effectively ending the war by laying bare the german communication to the allied troops. Tyldum has based the movie on a script by Graham Moore who adapted the book by Adrew Hodges.

The movie opens in 1952 with Turing in prison for questioning on the suspicions of being a soviet spy.  Cumberbatch’s voice over asks us to pay attention and asks us the question “am I a national hero, a criminal or a spy”. As it turns out Turing wasn’t a spy and the events that led to his arrest had very little to do with espionage but more to do with his homosexuality which in the 50s was still a punishable offence in Britain. The movie keeps flitting between the periods of 1952 when Turing was arrested, the war time 1939-1942 and the formative years of Turning at a boys school where he was bullied and harassed for being different.

Benedict Cumberbatch plays Alan Turing, Kiera Knightley plays Joan Clarke, Matthew Goode plays John Hughes and Mark Strong plays Menzies.  I am as big a fan of Sherlock star Benedict as the next Cumberbitch (fans of Cumberbatch are known as cumberbitches) but to me he is the worst and the most obvious choice to play the irascible genius as he has played the same character in Sherlock and as Kahn in Star Trek. The performance does nothing unexpected or exciting. There are moments where Cumberbatch shines but they are far too few to warrant a Oscar win or even a nom as most punters are betting. Kiera Knightley as the only woman cryptographer has a role that is underdeveloped. She is chosen to join the team at Hut8 but her parents refuse and then Turing manages to deceitfully get them to agree and she is off to Bletchley but up until the point where they are engaged never once is Joan seen in Hut8 and instead seems to be whiling her time away with the other women at Bletchley intercepting the encoded messages. It is a befuddling tangent of storytelling at best.  Goode plays the cool, suave yet genius John Hughes in a performance that is reminiscent of his Ozymandias from Watchmen. The problem with these castings is that they are lazy and almost a stereotype of the kind of roles these otherwise brilliant actors are known to play. I would much rather have Goode or even Ben Wishaw play Turing but they aren’t big enough names to attract top billing unfortunately.

Graham and Tyldum do well to go into the most significant aspects of the story of Turing’s life, the arrival at Bletchley, the approval for building Christopher by going over the commanding officer and directly to Churchill, the eventual breakthrough, the debriefing, the arrest of Turing for public indecency, the chemical castration. But these events become mere checkpoints that the director and the cast tick off while hurtling towards the conclusion. There is no finesse when it comes to any of the above mentioned plot points, for instance the approval for Christopher is not only Turing’s effort but that of the entire team at Hut8 and the arrest and the interrogation that follows, which forms the opening scene of the movie is ended abruptly and Nock who is handling the investigation is handed a newspaper confirm that Turing is sentenced for Indecency a charge that he, Nock was fighting against. Also as with most biopics the closing scenes which list out what happened with the characters after the events in the movie this one does so as well. But rather than the half-hearted attempt of bullet-pointing how Turing was given a royal pardon if they had only ended it with the statement Gordon Brown made which was best summed up as “ we are sorry, you deserved much better”.

Gordon Brown’s ending remarks on the apology are how I felt about the movie myself. This is no doubt a honest and fine attempt at telling the life of perhaps the most influential figure in modern history. His pioneering work set the pace for the advent of computing in the right sense, his work at Bletchley saved 14million lives, his entire contribution was shrouded in secrecy and he was mistreated by the society because of his“different-ness” , it was his “different-ness” that saved the very society. But because of the towering nature of his contributions and the fantastic life that he lived which could serve as an inspiration to so many his story deserved to be told in a better fashion than a run of the mill biopic which is nothing but a Oscar-bait being distributed by the Weinstein brothers. Don’t miss this movie because even if mis-cast Benedict Cumberbatch is a treat to the eyes and ears both and Alan Turing’s story is the one that must be told over and over again till someone gets it right. And after you have seen the movie go read up on the life of this genius who changed the world for the better and still got nothing in return from it.

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.

Behind The Candelabra – A Review

Steven Soderberg directs Michael Douglas and Matt Damon in the Liberace biopic “Behind the Candelabra” in a movie reportedly too “gay” for the studios and the only way it could be made and released was by the premiere cable channel HBO.  Also reportedly Behind the Candelabra is Soderberg’s last film as he is taking a retirement.

Liberace was such a massive figure that his name has become an adjective to anything that is glossy glitzy and adorned with Rhinestones because he loved his excesses and lived life as European royalty with all his jewelry, his Art Nouveau palatial residence and his fur coats. He was also gay before it became acceptable for iconic entertainers to be openly gay, so his manager reportedly spent millions letting his adorning female fans know that he was very much straight and waiting for the right girl.

The story kicks off with a 17 year  old Scott Thorson played by Matt Damon being picked up at a gay bar by Bob who takes him to a Liberace performance and then backstage to meet Liberace himself. Liberace instantly takes a shine to the soft spoken star-struck Scott and invites him over for brunch the following day.   What ensues is a 6 year long relationship where Liberace takes in Scott and tries to mold him in his image what with the garish jewelry, the furs and plastic surgery. Scott who’s had a tumultuous childhood is so taken by the new lifestyle that he goes along with all of it to disastrous consequences.

As actors Michael Douglas is Liberace – his soft spoken, delicate mannerism the showmanship the extravagance it’s all very Liberace. Matt Damon is a fantastic actor and he does full justice to the role of Scott Thorson first as the wild eyed teenager and then as the jilted lover, the physical transformation of Damon is striking. The long conversations between Damon and Douglas as they develop their relationship are the core of the film and you feel like you know both Liberace and Thorson through these actors. Rob Lowe as the plastic surgeon who give Liberace his facelift and put Thorson on the “California Diet” at Liberace’s behest is almost unrecognizable but brilliant. The effects of plastic surgery on Lowe and the way it affects his mannerism is at once revolting and at the same time brilliantly funny.

The movie has that quintessential “Soderberg look” the muted colors the absolute absence of background score. I’d heard a lot about the buzz around this movie and to an extent it lived up to it. Michael Douglas and Matt Damon are brilliant in their roles, but the pacing of the story and the overly simplistic nature of the story was a little lacking. Soderberg claims that the reason why Hollywood studios rejected the movie was because it was too gay , while that may be have been part of the problem I think the inherent TV-movie kind of pacing and lack of real talking points in the movie might have contributed to it being released on the Cable network rather than in the theatres .

There is genuine warmth to the way Douglas plays Liberace and the final scene is beautifully written. Watch it for because at least Soderberg keeps pushing the envelope and trying to make movies that are a little left of the center.

I love you Philip Morris

How is it that trash like “how do you know” and “Leap year” gets such a wide releases and a movie like ILYPM gets buried? This is a movie that can give almost any rom-com a run for its money.

So the story sees our protagonist Jim Carey a church going gospel singing small town cop and father of one make some life altering decisions. Those decisions lead him to a very dark place. While in this dark place he chances upon a creature so delicate and so beautiful that it catches his eye and his heart at the same time. And as they say it is love at the first time. Circumstances keep forcing Steven ( Jim) and his beloved to part ways and Steven concocts one plot after another to get to the love of his life.

Finally when they are together living in domestic harmony Steven’s carefully created charade falls apart as his con is finally caught and his beloved is distraught at all the lies and leaves Steven behind. But soon comes to realize that all Steven did was to make HIM happy. Yeah you see that might have been the problem why this movie was buried. It’s a love story between two men. Jim Carey plays the con artist Steven Russell and Ewan McGregor plays the titular character Philip Morris. Two Hollywood A-listers playing Gay men! gasp! And they are not apologetic or dying of AIDS ?! Blasphemy.

It is oft said that truth is stranger than fiction and the story of ILYPM is a perfect example of it. Based on true events the movie is an account of the number of ways Steven Russell broke the law to get to the one person he loved – Philip Morris. The Lead actors are stalwarts and very very straight men I mean one guy married a porn star and another went on a marathon international bike sojurn. But you wouldn’t guess that when you see them on screen. Jim Carey as the flamboyant gay con artist is the best jim carey we’ve seen in years. Ewan McGregor as the delicate bashful and sweet Philip morris is sheer perfection in method acting. Every detail every single hand gesture , turn of the head makes you scream “THATS SO GAY!” but not in a homophobic sense of the way.

Considering that this movie came out with raving reviews out of Sundance a couple of years ago and upon seeing it I can truly vouch for the talent on display I still fail miserably at understanding that how come this gem of a movie got lost. If it were upto me I would put Ewan up for a Best Supporting actor nom and in my books he would win it. And Jim Carey has always and forever been looked over by the hollywood high brow i mean TRUMAN SHOW! and now ILYPM.

Do not shy away from this movie because of the preference of the lead characters – I highly recommend this brilliantly written directed movie. But more than anything else I recommend it for its two leads who are simply FABULOUS .