Three Can’t Miss Films of 2012

English Vinglish

The film’s story worked on many layers, and what I especially admired is how Sridevi becomes the spokesperson for lessons without being too overt about it, save for the ending speech that hammers in the emotion, and is sure to make your eyes well up. It deals with, on a macro level, how as humans we should be helpful and tolerant to those who don’t speak our language or understand our culture, that one shouldn’t be made to think one’s superior just because, or make the other look small. And on the more micro level, the structure of the family and its importance.  All these and more, told through a story about a woman finding her inner strength to stand out, stand up and be counted, building and reinforcing confidence that she’s more than just a Laddoo machine.  -A reviewer on


Do you loathe typical Bollywood films (w/ vacuous portrayals of women, too old to play college Romeos men, and incongruous songs/dances)?  Then this is THE film for you!  (I liked it even better than Monsoon Wedding and The Namesake, two fabulous films you should check out.)  Two friends and I made the trip to Leesburg, VA to check it out; we live in Silver Spring, MD.  

Shashi Godbole (Sridevi) is a beautiful housewife and mother living a comfy life in India.  She’s also a well-known caterer of sweets in her area (called ladoos) who regrets the fact that she doesn’t speak/understand English (like her executive hubby and snarky preteen daughter).  But she’s still cool in the eyes of her little son.  When the entire fam is invited to the US for the wedding of her niece, Shashi jumps at the chance to take a fast-paced English course (led by a quirky British teacher with a motley crew of NYC immigrants).  She keeps it a secret, however, which poses certain challenges!       


Who is that gorgeous/talented guy who befriends Shashi in the film?  It’s French-Algerian actor, Mehdi Nebbou, who’s a BIG star in his native France. 


Life of Pi

life-of-piThis is another fine film from director Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Sense & Sensibility; Brokeback Mountain, etc.)  It incorporates good acting with cool visual/special effects.  The teen boy in the film NEVER acted before!  (Suraj Sharma lives in Queens and was discovered during an open casting call where his lil bro was auditioning.) 


One of India’s finest actors, Irrfan Khan (the dad from Mira Nair’s The Namesake), plays the grown-up Pi/narrator.  Another Namesake connection: Tabu plays young Pi’s mom!  My own mom (who read the novel by Yann Martel) enjoyed the film, too, as did her friend/neighbor. 


In 1865, as the American Civil War winds inexorably toward conclusion, U.S. president Abraham Lincoln endeavors to achieve passage of the landmark constitutional amendment which will forever ban slavery from the United States. However, his task is a race against time, for peace may come at any time, and if it comes before the amendment is passed, the returning southern states will stop it before it can become law. Lincoln must, by almost any means possible, obtain enough votes from a recalcitrant Congress before peace arrives and it is too late. Yet the president is torn, as an early peace would save thousands of lives. As the nation confronts its conscience over the freedom of its entire population, Lincoln faces his own crisis of conscience — end slavery or end the war.  -Jim Beaver,


Who could’ve imagined that Irish actor Daniel Day-Lewis would one day play one of America’s most-loved presidents!?  (Liam Neeson, star of Schindler’s List was first considered for the role.)  Steven Spielberg humanizes Lincoln in this big, yet also small/personal, film.


I esp. liked the scenes w/ Lincoln’s eldest son, Robert, played by Joseph Gordon Levitt (who is becoming one of the young’uns to watch in Hollywood now).  Of course, you may know him from the comedy 3rd Rock from the Sun


My mom was happy to see Sally Field in a big role (after some years); she plays Mary Todd Lincoln with intelligence and emotion (without ever going over the top).  Mrs. Lincoln did suffer from depression after the death of her son, Willie, as pointed out in the film.  I wanted to see more of Elizabeth Keckley (played by ER‘s Gloria Reuben), who was the dressmaker to Mrs. Lincoln. 


Lincoln has class (David Strathairn, one of my faves), humor (James Spader, former ’80s heartthrob), and fiery rhetoric (Lee Pace and Tommy Lee Jones in the House of Reps).  Well, Jones adds some humor, too.  And yes, the revelation about his character’s (Thaddeus Stevens’) romantic relationship is true! 


Some films at AFI Latin American Film Festival

7 Days in Havana

Did you enjoy “Paris, I Love You?”  Then you may enjoy this film as well.  It’s a compilation of 7 different short films (directed by some famous directors from all over the world).  The setting is modern-day (communist) Cuba, where people are struggling in their personal and professional lives (just like anywhere else). 

In the first film, a young American film student (who knows only a little Spanish) goes out to a club with his cabbie looking for a beautiful girl.  He finds a rather unusual individual who defies stereotype, as does the American in his reaction. 

In another tale, a jaded/drunken Serbian director comes to Cuba to get an award.  But the highlight of his trip is meeting a  cabbie with a great talent for music.

A beautiful/ambitious singer is torn between two men- her loving/long-time boyfriend (a struggling basesball player) and a smooth-talking stranger who offers her a contract to work in Spain.  (To heighten the contrast- one man is a dark-skinned Afro-Cuban and the other is fair/redheaded.)


This is a documentary of Jean Marc Calvet, a French artist living in Nicaragua, who is still struggling with demons (though he’s settled with a family and earns good money).  In his own words, he recounts his boyhood, addictions, various jobs (legal/illegal), and especially- his intense regret in not being there for this 18 y.o. son.  (He speaks in both French and Spanish.)  Will he be able to find his son?  If so, how will his son react to his long-absent father?       

Clandestine Childhood

Juan is an observant/sensitive 11 y.o. boy who comes from Cuba to Argentina (in 1979) with his family and a group of their comrades.  He attends school (under the name Ernesto), makes some friends, and gets a big crush on a pretty classmate.

But he’s not quite like the others- his parents and uncle are guerrillas, and the family is hiding out in an uncle’s house.  Juan also has a baby sister, Vicky.

His grandmother comes for a brief visit, and says she can care for the kids.  But Juan’s mother angrily insists that her children belong with her.

The Bourne Legacy (Now Playing)

I REALLY liked the 3 earlier Bourne movies, so decided to check this new one out yesterday (w/ a movie Meetup group).  Matt Damon is such a strong presence in those films!  Also, I had never seen Jeremy Renner’s acting; he plays Black Special Ops agent Aaron Cross- the lead in this installment.  Aaron is joined by the medical doctor who’s been enhancing his mental/physical abilities, Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz).  Not to give things away, but Aaron and Marta end up being targeted by the CIA.


I was NOT impressed, aside from the interesting opener in Alaska and the (running/motorcycle) action scenes in the last 25% of the film.  These were shot in the crowded metro/slum areas of Manila, Phillipines.  The film took time to get started, which I expected.  I was looking for a LOT more character development!  What’s up w/ Edward Norton’s character?  (He has history w/ Aaron.) 

Without a doubt, good dialogue and character chemistry are needed for a successful film.  Unfortunately, I saw ZERO chemistry between Renner and Weisz.  (This is NOT unusual; many capable actors don’t have screen chemistry w/ each other.)  You can skip this movie.