More Holiday Movies

Holiday Engagement (2011)

Hillary (Bonnie Somerville- a former model and singer) is a 30-ish journo in LA w/ a V busy/successful lawyer fiance, Jason.  One day, Jason says that he MAY have to move to Pittsburgh for a promotion; Hillary is surprised/disappointed (b/c everyone she knows is in California). Jason decides to break up w/ her, saying she’s NOT supportive of his career; Hillary is shocked/saddened. She told her fam, incl. her mom (played by veteran comedian Shelley Long) that she was bringing her fiance over during Thanksgiving weekend. Hillary’s bold/opinionated BFF decides to put up an ad on an online dating site (though Hillary is hesitant). There are MANY replies to Hillary’s video ad the next morning, incl. one from an actor, David (Jordan Bridges, son of Beau and grandson of Lloyd). David is NOT a total stranger; Hillary and Sophie had interviewed him for their magazine before. David really needs some work, so he can pretend to be Jason (after all, he’s an actor)! 

This is the (rare) holiday movie, while NOT quite believable, has two good actors (in the leads) w/ plenty of chemistry! Too bad they didn’t give Long any comedic stuff to do; she’s known for that. There are points where the film drags a bit, BUT it’s got some good/touching scenes also. In one of the best scenes, Somerville (who has a beautiful voice) and Bridges (who plays the piano) sing a duet of a X-mas song. It turns out that Hillary’s fam, incl. her 2 younger sisters, don’t have the picture-perfect lives they pretend to lead. While David is NOT rich/successful, he cleans up V nice, loves Hillary’s writing, and is a caring man. What will happen after the real Jason has a change of heart and shows up at Hillary’s parents’ house? This one is worth a watch IMO (check it out on Netflix); it has some quirky dialogue and cute moments.

The Spirit of Christmas (2015)

Kate (Jen Lilley) is a lawyer from Boston who recently broke up w/ a bf (who she wasn’t ever in love w/ anyway). Her boss has ONLY 3 wks get a haunted inn appraised and sold. The kind BUT uncooperative manager claims a spirit living there will NOT approve. With Kate’s possible promotion resting on her success, she checks in (over the holidays) and attempts to deal w/ the ghost, Daniel (Thomas Beaudoin), who was murdered 95 yrs ago. 

This is a well-made (scenery, costumes, sound effects, and acting) holiday film shot in Massachusetts at a historical inn. It has a mystery element, along w/ the romance, which sets it apart from many other films. I thought the flashback scenes were done V well. The actors are pretty good; they portray their characters quite naturally IMO. I’d recommend it to those who liked The Christmas Carol. The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, and or the famous ’80s film- Ghost. It’s now on Netflix, along w/ MANY other titles. 

Santa’s Boots (2018)

Holly (Megan Hilty), an independent-minded executive living in Seattle, returns home for Thanksgiving and Christmas to Noblesville (a real small town V close to where my lil bro grew up for MANY yrs in central IN). When a young employee gets sick, Holly goes to work as Santa’s elf at her family’s store, Montell’s, where she meets a young Santa, Nick, w/ whom she has great chemistry. The store, which is in trouble, sees a sharp rise in profits over Black Friday (thanks to the teamwork of Holly and Nick, who kids and parents enjoy visiting). Holly doesn’t reveal that she’s the boss’ daughter and Nick doesn’t reveal his last name. When Nick (whose regular job is working on his family’s tree farm) disappears, in a Cinderella story reversal, Holly searches for him w/ the ONLY clue he left behind- his black work boots.

I thought this movie (which premiered last night on Lifetime) has some real-world elements; my friends (who I watched it w/) also agreed. Both Holly and Nick are wondering what to do w/ their futures as they near their 35th birthdays. Holly’s BFF Elle is played by a South Asian actress; it’s NOT unusual to see a few desis as supporting characters or background actors in (Canadian) movies. Days of Our Lives viewers will be happy to see Roark Critchlow (Dr. Mike), who plays Holly’s kind/supportive dad. Holly’s grandmother, a woman who keeps it real, provides some humor. R

NPR Pop Culture Happy Hour (podcast): ‘Tis the Season We Talk Hallmark Movies

National Theatre Live: Frankenstein (2011) starring Benedict Cumberbatch & Jonny Lee Miller

[1] Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein has lasted because of the profound themes in her story – the morality of science, parental responsibilities, man’s vanity, the removal of the divine from creation etc. Nick Dear’s writing takes these all on, keeping the story’s political punch alive. 

[2] …great comic timing in his depiction of the more playful parts of the Creature’s growing pains, and real tendresse and anxiety as the Creature battles his own internal conflict between love and revenge.

-Victoria Sadler (Huffington Post, 10/29/13)

Frankenstein (adapted by Nick Dear from Mary Shelley’s novel) returned to movie screens this past week (10/22 & 10/29) just in time for Halloween. I almost forgot that this was on (until I looked up my local movie listings this afternoon)! In my audience, I saw several older couples (as I’d expect to see at live theater), along w/ two young ladies (Japanese), and a few other women in their 20s and 30s. Filmed in 2011 at the National Theatre in London, this (sold-out) production has been seen by about 500,000 worldwide. Directed by Oscar winner Danny Boyle, Frankenstein features Cumberbatch and Miller (who seem to be good friends; both have played Sherlock) alternating between the roles of Victor Frankenstein and the Creature. FYI: I saw the version where Cumberbatch (long before he was a household name in either the UK or US) was the Creature.

[1] …it’s rather like seeing The Tempest rewritten from Caliban’s point of view.

[2] Cumberbatch’s Creature is unforgettable. “Tall as a pine tree,” as the text insists, he has humour as well as pathos… But there is also an epic grandeur about Cumberbatch. As he quotes Paradise Lost, his voice savours every syllable of Milton’s words…

-Michael Billington (The Guardian, 2/23/11)

Wherever the Creature goes, people scream in fear and/or beat him, until he comes upon the hut of a blind man, De Lacey (veteran actor Karl Johnson). This is a poor former professor (w/ a lot of old books) who lives w/ his farmer son, Klaus, and daughter-in-law, Agatha. De Lacey is kind and gentle w/ the Creature, teaching him in secret for about a year. The Creature clears away rocks (so the couple can till the soil) and fetches wood for making fire. The old man even tells the Creature that if he “is a good man,” then someday he’ll have someone to love. One day, De Lacey insists upon introducing him to the family. It goes wrong- quickly and like the “emperors and heroes in the stories” he’s read, the Creature vows “revenge.”

I should be Adam. God was proud of Adam. But Satan’s the one I sympathise with. For I was cast out, like Satan, though I did no wrong. And when I see others content, I feel the bile rise in my throat, and it tastes like Satan’s bile! -The Creature explains to Victor 

The central question of this story: Who is the real monster- the Creature or Frankenstein himself? The young scholar Frankenstein rejects his creation, cursing it and throwing it out into the streets (along w/ a notebook of experiments). While Victor has been engaged to Elizabeth (a pretty, strong-willed, yet empathetic Naomie Harris), he barely speaks w/ her or shows any kind of affection. The outcast/lonely Creature desperately wants someone to love, asking Victor to make “a mate” for him. At first, Victor is repulsed by the notion, but quickly becomes intrigued at the thought of “the perfect woman.” They shake hands (strike a bargain) and Victor goes off to England, then Scotland, to do his work. From here, the play gets even darker in tone! (Now I’m curious about the original book.)

[1] Using the first 30 minutes to display the creature gradually “building” his own personality, Dear places the “voice” and troubled psychological aspect of the creature right at the centre of the adaptation, with Dear smartly showing Frankenstein and the towns people’s interactions from the outcast point of view of the creature. Whilst the screenplay does show that Frankenstein and the towns people turn the creature into “the monster” that they fear, due to being focused on the permanently damaged exterior and not the welcoming, and repairable interior of the creature.

Benedict Cumberbatch gives an unexpectedly subtle, vulnerable performance, with the opening of the film solely focusing on the creature rising from the dead, allowing Cumberbatch to place the viewer deep inside the skin of the character, thanks to Cuberbatch slowly showing the creature transform from being speechless and native, to using human skills such as lying to his deadly advantage.

[2] An intense, must-see thrilling performance from both Cumberbatch and Miller. The dialogues filled with static chemistry, a beautiful and perfect mix between beauty and horror, a destabilized yet animated stage that shows all facets of life and death. A hypnotizing and cutting-edge play, a real work of art that is absolutely not to be missed.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

Big in Bollywood (2011) starring Omi Vaidya

How would it be like if the unassuming, humble, “boy-next-door” made it big in a Bollywood film? This is the premise of this doc (now streaming on Netflix) by former college friends of 27 y.o. Indian-American actor Omi Vaidya. Though he spoke very little Hindi, Omi was chosen by a famed producer (Vidhu Vinod Chopa), then a respected director (Rajkumar Hirani) to play a pivotal role in 3 Idiots (2009). The SoCal-raised actor, who attended UC Santa Cruz and NYU, is referred to as “the fourth idiot” during public appearances by co-star/superstar Aamir Khan. 

A few months after their wedding, Omi’s PhD student wife (Minal), his mom, and friends  join the actor for the 3 Idiots premiere. Minal has to return to school after only 2 weeks in Mumbai. The film was a box office success- the biggest grossing film in India up until that time. Omi notices people looking and wanting to talk to him (for the first time in his career). He gets honors due to his well-loved role, yet also notices the dark side of fame. 

Omi’s mother (Bharati- who once aspired to be an actress herself) and three friends (Bill, Kenny, and Kevin) attend the Star Film Awards ceremony. They’re full of enthusiasm and high hopes for Omi, though he is NOT quite certain about his dance number, or if he’ll win an award (being nominated for two). 

AFI showed this film last week, then there was a Q&A session w/ Omi. He and Minal are currently living in Rockville, MD with their toddler son and new baby. Minal is a post doc at NIH; she studied Biochemistry. Though his young family comes first, Omi is still acting in TV and movies. His next film (releasing in 2018) is starring Irrfan Khan. Omi was part of the ensemble cast of Netflix’s Brown Nation (a comedy series starring desi actors). 

 

Indonesian Mini Film Festival (March 25-27)

Introduction

About 400 films are made in the U.S. each year.  Even more (600) are made in India.  But, did you know that about 100 films are made in Indonesia each year?  The Indonesian ambassador to the U.S., Dr. Dino Patti Jalaland his wife were joined by the Singaporean ambassador’s wife, actor Nicholas Saputra (star of Joni’s Promise), and members of his staff during the first film showing.  Recently, Dr. Jalal met with Hollywood director Michael Mann, who will be shooting his film, The Philosopher, in Jakarta.  The film’s lead actor will be Aussie actor, Chris Hemsworth.

Lovely Man (2011)

Screeshot from the Indonesian drama, Lovely Man
A daughter gets to know her absentee father for one night

This is a 75 minute film, but it packs some big punches.  (It won many awards in Asia.)  It focuses on the relationship between a transvestite streetwalker in Jakarta and a small-town/devout Muslim teen, who just happen to be father and daughter. Without telling her mother, Cahaya (Raihaanun), travels by train to see the father who left home many years back.  Cahaya is dressed conservatively and wears a white hijab (headscarf).  When she gets off the train, she stops at a mosque to wash and pray.  She’s amazed by the sights and sounds of the big city, as she goes in search of her father’s address.  (This film uses shadow and lights very well.)  At the side of a bridge, she talks to some women (who are obviously streetwalkers).  She meets Ipuy (Donny Damara)- dressed in long wig, sparkly red dress, and high heels (reminiscent of some of the characters in the films of Pedro Almodovar).  Needless to say, they are both shocked.

Actor Donny Damara accepting an award
Actor Donny Damara accepting an award

Ipuy wants nothing to do with Cahaya- his life is tough enough as it is.  Most people look at him with disgust and treat him unfairly.  What would a hijabi like her know about someone like him?  (Eventually, Cahaya takes off her hijab, to make her father more comfortable.)  She’s carrying a secret, which is giving her much worry.  Cahaya exclaims that she needs a father to talk to about important matters.  What she doesn’t know is that some gangsters are after Ipuy for stealing a lot of cash.

Joni’s Promise (2005)

Joni goes through a LOT in one day
Joni goes through a LOT in one day

This funny, light-hearted film is considered to be “one of the first comedies made in Indonesia.”  (It reminded me of a French comedy.)  A 22 year-old man, Joni (Nicholas Saputra) delivers film reels- a job he likes and considers to be quite important.  One afternoon, she sees a very pretty girl standing in line at the theater, but he’s too nervous to talk to her.  We learn that she’s with her boyfriend (an entitled rich kid).  She gets fed up with her guy, so she goes out.  She notices Joni’s good nature and they have a chat.  She doesn’t get her name or get give his out.  The girl says that they can talk more of he gets done with his deliveries on time.  Joni is happy with that- he’s never had a girlfriend yet.  Joni’s motorbike gets stolen, he witnesses childbirth, gets a walk-on role in a film, plays the drums, and meets a mysterious artist.  Can he make it back to the theater to have his first date?     

IMDB photo of actor Nicholas Saputra
IMDB photo of actor Nicholas Saputra

The Dancer (2011)

Srintil and Rasus share some fruit
Srintil and Rasus share some fruit

This is a full-length historical drama based on a trilogy of novels.  The story focuses on the love between two young people in the village of Dukuh Paruk in Java.  As a small child, the parents of Srintil are killed by some fellow villagers, who believed that they were poisoning food.  The ronngeng (village dancer) also died- she ate the food.

The teenaged Srintil (Prisia Nasution) and Rasus (Oka Antara) love each other deeply, though they are poor, illiterate, and don’t have many prospects.  Rasus works in the rice paddy fields, like the other young men.  However, Srintil thinks that she may have the spirit and the talent to become ronggeng.  Her grandfather champions her cause, even though they are first met with doubt and derision.  The local dance master won’t come to see Srintil perform.

Srintil goes through various rituals to become ronggeng
Srintil goes through various rituals to become ronggeng

Rasus has a little dagger-like object which belonged to the former ronggeng.  After he presents it to Srintil, everyone proclaims her to be the next ronngeng.  She will not only dance , but belong to the village.  Her virginity will be sold to the highest bidder- a fact that greatly upsets Rasus.  (The elderly blind drummer is the only older person who senses what is going on with the couple.)  Rasus runs away to the nearest town, then meets with a military commander (who thinks he could one day become a “loyal” soldier).

Srintil realizes that Rasus has joined the military
Srintil realizes that Rasus has joined the military

Srintil has to go through various rituals, aided by the dance master’s wife.  Men bring goats, cows, and money to present to her grandfather and teacher.  Before the “deflowering” ceremony, Rasus returns and they sneak off together.  Later that night, Srintil pushes him away, explaining that she can’t run away with him forever.  (We know that she has status and money in her community now.)

Srintil shines as a dancer (but not in her personal life)
Srintil shines as a dancer (but not in her personal life)

While Srintil adapts to the lifestyle of a dancer, Rasus adapts to that of a soldier.  His superiors look on him well and he finally learns to read.  He crosses paths with Srintil on very few occasions.  They only spend one more night together, but their lives must always be separate.  When Srintil urges him to come back to the village and offers money to start his own business, Rasus refuses (too proud).

A (Communist) man from the city comes to talk to the villagers, but they only want more food, and don’t grasp what allegiance to his ideas truly mean.  (In fact, 1965-1966 was a very bloody year was Indonesia’s history.  Many people, who were thought to be Communist or sympathizers, were killed by the military.)  This man also wants Srintil and village musicians to perform at his rallies.

Rasus and Srintil meet after the1965 war
Rasus and Srintil meet after the 1965 war

This film is very powerful!  It won the 2011 Best Picture award in Indonesia and was submitted for a Foreign Film Academy Award.  It just draws you in with it’s setting, characters, and values (which are quite different from those of urbanized, modern Indonesia).  The love story starts out very gently and innocently, then we see the darker aspects (depression, frustration, etc.)- this pair must stay apart because of Srintil’s chosen path.  Being a village dancer was being above others- connected to the gods (ancestors.)

In the Land of Blood and Honey (2011)

Yes, this is Angelina Jolie’s movie (her directorial debut), but don’t let that put you off- it’s quite a tale!  There are no flashy directorial moves, and the pace can seem slow, but I feel the subject matter is worth a look.  However, if you are a sensitive person, this is not the film for you!  (FYI: There are 2 versions of the film- one where actors tell the story in English and the other in Bosnian/Serbian.  I saw the English version.)  The time is the recent past; the setting is the Bosnian War.  Here is some info from Wikipedia:

The war came about as a result of the breakup of Yugoslavia.  Following the Slovenian and Croatian secessions from the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1991, the multi-ethnic Socialist Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which was inhabited by Muslim Bosniaks (44 percent), Orthodox Serbs (31 percent) and Catholic Croats (17 percent), passed a referendum for independence on 29 February 1992.  This was rejected by the political representatives of the Bosnian Serbs, who had boycotted the referendum and established their own republic. Following the declaration of independence, the Bosnian Serbs, supported by the Serbian government of Slobodan Milošević and the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA), mobilized their forces inside the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina in order to secure Serbian territory, then war soon broke out across the country, accompanied by the ethnic cleansing of the Bosniak population, especially in Eastern Bosnia.

Love in a time of conflict is not uncommon in film, but this is a compelling depiction.  This film focuses on a promising romance twisted and killed by war.  A dark-haired woman, who lives with her sister and baby nephew in a humble apartment, goes out to a bar/nightclub and dances with a blonde man; they are obviously very into each other.  There is a live band playing and the mood is joyous.

     

The encounter each other a time later when the woman, a Muslim painter named Ajla (Zana Marjanovic) is a prisoner in the camp run by the Serbian man, a soldier named Danijel (Goran Kostic).  Danijel meets with Ajla in private, just to talk at first, because there is no one else to relate to in the prison.  He needs to let off steam, and show her that he’s not a monster.  Danijel also softens the blow for her, while the other women are treated horribly (beaten, raped, and worked like dogs cooking and cleaning).  Is she in love with Danijel or merely protecting herself?  (It’s up to the viewer to decide.)  They think of a plan that will enable Ajla to escape the prison.   

       

Ajla is unable to escape; she sees brutality all around her, and somehow stays sane.  Meanwhile, her sister suffers a terrible loss and joins a group of rebels.  Danijel is not the typical grunt soldier, he’s the son of a particularly successful/brutal general, Nebojsa (Rade Serbedzija).  His father is grooming him for leadership.  The stress of war gets to the younger man, and he turns on the woman closest to him.  He keeps her hidden away for quite a whille, but Ajla is not safe- not even from Danijel!  

I wished there was more information in this film about the politics of this war.  The secondary characters needed more development.  This film come off as limited at times, but the lead actors work very well together.  They have great chemistry with each other, and connect deeply with their characters.  (Nobody is a well-known face here, aside from Serbedzija.)  Ajla is dignified and strong even in the toughest situations.  Danijel slowly transforms from a rather sympathetic antagonist into a fallen, broken man.