A Perfect Man (2013) starring Liev Schreiber & Jeanne Tripplehorn

The summary of this small, indie film is wrong. The man- James (Liev Schreiber) doesn’t fall in love w/ his wife- Nina (Jeanne Tripplehorn)- all over again when she pretends to be someone else over the phone. He has always loved her; BUT there was something lacking w/in himself. At the start of the story, the attractive/middle-aged/American expat couple have a VERY comfortable life in Amsterdam, Holland. James is the lead architect on an unique high-rise building; Nina is an editor working on the autobiography of a glamorous/world-traveling fellow American woman. They live in a spacious apartment, have many friends, and a big/friendly dog- Larry. 

She’s his “context,” but their relationship is NOT enough for him (as he has cheated several times in their 9 yrs of marriage). James’ definition of what it is to be a man is based on how many women desire him. Nina let him “have his space” and he found other women (incl. the wife of his older business partner). Nina finally reaches her limit and leaves their home. This makes him reevaluate what matters most to him in life. 

As Nina’s friend/writer- Lynn (Joelle Carter)- says: “Men are dogs. But I like dogs.” Nina and Lynn (who took her in) drink, dance, and discuss their lives one night. Lynn explains that she’s been thinking re: the differences between men and women TOO long. Yet Nina still wonders what she did, or didn’t do, that caused their relationship to break down. This movie (in my mind) raises more questions that it answers! Are people TOO blase re: cheating? Is marriage (in the traditional sense) dead? Why can’t we communicate better w/ the opposite gender?

This film (made w/ only $5M) could’ve been SO much better! Scenes abruptly end sometimes, as if they ran out of editing dollars. The leads are quite good; they have that unspoken chemistry (which is needed to portray a long-term couple). I always like seeing Schreiber; he immerses himself into every role (though he still has that recognizable NYC accent). It’s TOO bad that Tripplehorn (who has a VERY expressive face and looks amazing) didn’t get more meaty roles in her 30s and 40s. I wanted to know more re: the supporting characters, incl. James’ outgoing mother- Abbie (theater vet Louise Fletcher)- who had several marriages. I did like how the movie ended- full of hope and possibility. When people share so much history, it’s hard for them to walk away from each other. 

Rock the Casbah (2013)

The acting is great- all were convincing as Moroccans with good accents and French language.  The highlight was Nadine Labaki’s performance, though a secondary role, she stole the scenes with her funny “bitchy” attitude and added many comic relief along with her Grandma.  Nadine is famous Lebanese director known for “Caramel” but she is also an acclaimed actress. The multi-talented Hiaam Abbas who appears in many foreign movies, she manages to reincarnate the role of a Moroccan mother with strict high values and morals.  -IMDB reviewer

Miriam (Nadine Labaki) and Kenza (Lubna Azabal) sit at each sside their mother Aicha (Hiam Abbas) during their father's wake.
Miriam (Nadine Labaki) and Kenza (Lubna Azabal) sit at each side their mother Aicha (Hiam Abbas) during their father’s wake.

This stereotype-defying film (a mix of comedy and drama) was part of the Arabian Sights Film Festival in DC.  It was written/directed by Laila Marrakchi, a young Moroccan woman.  I saw it this Fall (with 2 members of a movie Meetup) at the French Embassy; the main language in the film is French (with a good mix of Arabic and English). 

The ladies of the Hassan family find their thoughts drifting to the past.
The ladies of the Hassan family find their thoughts drifting to the past.

When patriarch Moulay Hassan (Omar Sharif) dies, his extended family, employees, and community gather at his palatial estate (in Marrakech by the coast) for his funeral.  We meet his strong widow, Aicha (internationally-renown Israeli Arab actress, Hiam Abbas, from The Visitor).  Moulay’s daughters are all quite unique women; there is NYC-based actress/black sheep Sofia (Morjana Alaoui) with her young son, glamorous/dramatic housewife Miriam (Nadine Labaki)- on the verge of an affair, and straight-laced/religious professor Kenza (Lubna Azabal) whose teen son wants to act on Broadway.  Sharif appears in a few scenes, adding a magical element of this fine film.       

Three sisters with very different lives come together.
Three sisters with very different lives come together.

We are put in the shoes of the outsider, Sofia, who has recently separated from her director husband (an Irish-American).  She hasn’t been home in many years; it was too painful to face the past (we learn why) and she has made a moderate success of herself in the U.S. (usually playing a terrorist).  Sofia’s adorable 6 year-old son, Noah, is excited about experiencing a new culture and playing with a large crew of cousins.  He’s hesitant to eat the new foods. 

rock-the-casbah-omar-sharif
Noah bonds with his grandfather, Moulay (Omar Sharif), in a few scenes.

When her reddish-haired grandmother comments that Sofia shouldn’t have married a “foreigner,” Sofia good-naturedly reminds the older lady that she was once a foreigner (being a French woman).  “But I married a Muslim and an Arab,” the grandmother says with a sly smile.  As the days go by, secrets are revealed about another sister, their beloved housekeeper Yacout (who raised all the girls, as well as her own son), and Moulay.  Sofia, who yearns for openness and honesty, is frustrated by (more conventional) sisters.  However, she doesn’t have to live in the strictly stratified, dualistic society (people pray in the morning, but don’t necessarily shy away from alcohol and dancing later in the day). 

The Lunchbox (2013) starring Irrfan Khan

Viewer comments:

…this gentle and thoughtful director shows human nature running a very natural course.

It had humor, seriousness, lessons, insight, beauty, love, family, decision-making, sadness, reflections, invisibleness, self-doubt, invention, perseverance, respect, aging, determination, coming to terms when enough is enough and genuine affection in how feelings grew by words alone…

lunchbox_kitchen

Here is the perfect film (from a first-time director) for smart/sensitive viewers who want an alternative to Bollywood.  Neglected middle-class housewife/mother, Ila (Nimrat Kaur), yearns to win back the attention and love of her husband Rajeev, one of the many strivers in the new India.  Rajeev barely looks at Ila, is glued to his cell, and often comes home late at night.  With the help of her (unseen) upstairs neighbor, she creates delicious (vegetarian, as she’s Hindu) recipes, and packs them in his tiffin (lunchbox). 

lunchbox_rdng

This lunchbox is supposed to be picked up each afternoon and delivered (via rickshaw, truck, and bus) to his office.  However, it goes to a Sajaan Fernandes (Irrfan Khan from The Namesake, Life of Pi, etc.), a lonely/Christian government accountant just a month away from retirement.  He likes the food, so an empty lunchbox is delivered back to Ila.  Feeling appreciated, she decided to write him a thank-you letter. 

lunchbox_train

The two lonely people begin a correspondence, bringing (much-needed) hope and optimism into each other’s lives.  They share thoughts in their letters that no one else knows, from the mundane to the deeply personal.  Are they just pen pals?  Or is there possibility for more?   

lunchbox_wedding

Saajan is dreading retirement, and postpones the training of his replacement, Shaikh (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), a younger Muslim man eager to learn/succeed. I enjoyed the slow reveal of Shaikh’s life- he’s got a fascinating story under that big grin.  His character’s struggles and yearnings embody that of many modern, urban men.  Siddiqui (still in his 30s), played a pivotal role in Midnight’s Children, and is an actor to watch.   Nimrat Kaur is very easy to relate to; I’d never seen her before.  She had a make-under for this role; she’s a very glamorous woman in real life.  Irrfan Khan continues to (quietly) create magic- he simply becomes the character!  He still has a long career ahead (only in his mid-40s).  This  is a must-see!     

 

Dallas Buyers Club (2013)

Promo poster
Promo poster

Matthew McConaughey (transformed physically) disappears into his role of real-life ’80s AIDS crusader, Ron Woodruff.  This film was made with a very small budget, and directed by a French-Canadian, Jean-Marc Vallee (The Young Victoria).  I never heard of this story until my friends and I went to see it (just before the holidays)! 

Ron (McConaughy) can't believe his diagnosis
Ron (McConaughy) can’t believe his diagnosis

Ain’t nuthin’ out there can kill Ron Woodruff in 30 days! 

Ron is an electrician by trade, but (part-time) bull riding is his real love.  Drinking and hooking up with random women (many of whom follow the rodeo) is also part of his dangerous lifestyle.  When Ron gets injured at a jobsite, he’s taken to the local hospital.  The attending doctor (matter-of-factly) tells him that he has HIV and only 30 days to live.  Yes, it’s a very serious/heavy film!   

Ron is initially very angry and in denial that he would have a disease that only gay men have.  Upon quick reflection, he comes to the realization that the diagnosis is probably true. (He’s no dummy!)  Ron starts reading up on HIV/AIDS, which (at that time) seems to be most effectively treated by AZT,  which was only in clinical trials. 

Rayon (Jared Leto) becomes Ron's (unlikely) friend
Rayon (Jared Leto) becomes Ron’s (unlikely) friend

Ron can’t get into the clinical trials, he learns from a sympathetic doctor, Eve (Jennifer Garner), a woman he mistakes for a nurse.  So, he goes searching for meds on his own.  Ron goes to a doctor in Mexico.  He even flies to Japan to meet with a bigwig in the drug industry.  In time, Ron forms an alliance with Rayon (Jared Leto), a transvestite who is on and off the wagon (struggling with heroine addiction).  Rayon is in the clinical trial, and also shares a childhood connection with Eve.  In one of the film’s most revealing scenes, Rayon puts on a suit to settle monetary concerns with a banker (also his father).   

Eve (Garner) also becomes an ally to Ron
Eve (Garner) also becomes an ally to Ron

This film is educational, not merely entertainment.  It was a big labor of love for all involved, including Brad Pittt and Ryan Gosling.  Check it out before the Oscars! 

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (NOW PLAYING)

The company is getting close to Erebor...
The company is getting close to Erebor…

I saw this film during its second week, b/c I wanted to wait until my lil bro was visiting.  He said that “the first movie was slow,” an opinion shared by several friends/acquaintances of mine.  My mom mainly went to see Richard Armitage (she’s a fan, too).  I loved the LOTR films, so I continue to follow these films. 

SPOILERS: Don’t read further if you have not yet seen, or don’t want to know, details from this film.

Bilbo (Martin Freeman) fights a giant spider in Mirkwood Forest
Bilbo (Martin Freeman) fights a giant spider in Mirkwood Forest

Bilbo becomes “a more rounded character” (Freeman’s words) in this film.  He uses the ring (several times) to get out of jams, kills an orc (his first kill, I believe), and then faces off against a giant spider.  We see how his little sword, later bequeathed to Frodo,  got its name- Sting. 

The throne of the elven king, Thranduil
The throne of the elven king, Thranduil

Gandalf goes off (again) to see the gathering evil in Dol Guldur.  We hear the voice of The Necromancer (later known as Sauron), voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch.  Yes, he is everywhere these days, and I’m not complaining! 

The dwarves go into Mirkwood Forest, which is not a friendly, cheery place like Rivendell.  The king, Thranduil (Lee Pace), is a very interesting character; I wanted to see a bit more of him.  He can do and say whatever he pleases in this realm.  Thranduil disapproves of his son Legolas’ (Orlando Bloom) “partiality” (perhaps love?) of Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), the captain of the royal guard. 

Thranduil (Lee Pace) talks to Thorin
Thranduil (Lee Pace) talks to Thorin

There is no love lost between Thranduil and Thorin (Armitage), since the elves didn’t come to the dwarves’ aid many years back (when the dragon attacked).  I loved the cut-down/insult scene between Thranduil and Thorin; Richard said was his favorite bit of acting in DOS

Thorin glares at Thranduil
Thorin glares at Thranduil

As I said before, great acting is the eyes.  We can see the hate/distrust between the two leaders, and their races, displayed here.   

Legolas (Orlando Bloom) listens to Tauriel & Kili
Legolas (Orlando Bloom) listens to Tauriel & Kili

On Twitter (and beyond), some book readers commented “Why is Legolas here?  He doesn’t add anything.  He takes away from Bilbo’s story.”   Since I haven’t read any of these books, I can’t comment on that aspect.  Legolas gets some cool action moments (as in the LOTR films), but doesn’t make a big mark otherwise.  Tauriel, not in the book, is a nicely-developed character.  She’s quick to act, a tough fighter, but also caring.  Tauriel wants to help the dwarves along on their quest, especially when they are overrun by orcs.   

Kili (Aidan Turner)
Kili (Aidan Turner)

Some people didn’t like the (potential?) romance between Tauriel and Kili, but I thought their scenes were very well-done.  After a while, I got tired of all the action sequences Aidan Turner (aside from being handsome/likeable) is a good actor, I realized. 

The barrel scene (the dwarves escape the dungeon)
The barrel scene (the dwarves escape the dungeon)

The barrel scene was very cool, I have to admit.  (I’d seen bits of it before on BTS clips.)  Richard said that at one point, he was “dragged under by the current” and had to be pulled out of the “freezing cold water.”

The new characters: Bard (Luke Evans) & Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly)
The new characters: Bard (Luke Evans) & Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly)

The human, Bard the Bowman, was a highlight in this film (even more that Tauriel).  Luke Evans has a very strong voice and lovely (Welsh) accent.  I loved his scene with Thorin at the foot of the mayor’s house.  Both men have fallen from what they were born to, we learn. 

Bard's kids in their Laketown home

Bard’s kids are very cute/sweet, don’t you think?  The two girls are not professional actors; they are daughters of James Nesbitt (who plays Bofur).  When orcs attack, they are very stunned, but Tauriel and Legolas come to the rescue.  Tauriel applies an herb, found by Bofur, to Kili’s leg wound and says an elvish prayer. 

At the door to Erebor (The Lonely Mountain)
At the door to Erebor (The Lonely Mountain)

Bilbo figures out another riddle, allowing the company to see the door to Erebor.  Hmmm… why did Thorin give up before Bilbo?  Some viewers wondered this.  Armitage shines in the (quiet) scene that follows- he’s feeling like more of a king. 

Sidenote: Some viewers enjoyed the fact that Thorin’s voice was not as gruff/deep as in AUJ; it was more natural.  Since Richard has such a wonderful voice, why change it? 

Bilbo meets Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch)
Bilbo meets Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch)

Yes, Smaug is very big/impressive, as I heard!  Cumberbatch worked two weeks on the voice (which is fabulous) and the motion capture (as Andy Serkis did with Gollum).  In effect, the dragon’s expressions resemble his (to some extent).  Bilbo is scared, so he stays calm and flatters the dragon, while the dwarves go about their plans.  However, the molten gold doesn’t kill Smaug, and he flies off to attack Laketown.  Awww man, we have to wait another year!    

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Q&A w/ Richard & Lee

Richard’s voice on UK commercial