The Two Faces of January (2014) starring Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst, & Oscar Isaac

[1] In turns enchanting, brooding and cowed like a cornered animal, he [Isaac] plays the perfect James Stewart character in this Hitchcockian homage.

[2] The narrative is very well-balanced and restrained from the hyperactive traps of modern cinematic storytelling.

[3] Not so much a morality play as a tale of amorality, this psychological drama makes for a movie that is moody and deeply satisfying.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

The principal relationship in this film (referred to as “a reto reworking of film noir” by one viewer) is between two men (one of them married; the other drawn to his wife). Chester MacFarland (Viggo Mortensen) is a rich American touring Greece w/ his younger wife, Colette, (Kirsten Dunst). The man who is intrigued by them is young tour guide, Rydal Keener (Oscar Issac), who is also American (yet able to blend in w/ the locals due to his language skills). Chester reminds Rydal of his father, who recently passed away, and w/ whom he had a difficult relationship. At first, Rydal thinks he has the upper hand; soon he realizes that he may have taken on too much by offering the couple his help. Who is the true con-man here? 

Adapted by the director, Hossein Amini (who is British-Iranian), from a novel by Patricia Highsmith (The The Talented Mr. Ripley; Strangers on a Train), this film is an atmospheric, well-acted thriller set in beautiful locations (Athens, Crete, and Istanbul) w/ great (’60s) costumes. Amini knows how to heighten the tension as the film goes on. This film is tightly edited, which adds to its effectiveness. The music fits very well w/ the action, too. You can watch it on Netflix. 

 

 

 

2 States (2014)

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Book cover and film poster

This rom com (based on the memoir of the same title by Chetan Bhagat)  came out in Spring 2014; I saw it two weeks back.  This is a fun, yet realistic film, that’s NOT only concerned w/ two MBA students falling in love, BUT what comes after (getting to know each other’s families and the drama that ensues).  To add a twist usually NOT seen in mainstream Indian films- Ananya (Alia Bhatt) is from the South; Krish (Arjun Kapoor) hails from the North. 

So, what’s the biggie here- they’re BOTH Hindu, right?  Yes, WE American desis MAY feel that way!  BUT their families who speak different languages and follow different customs, along w/ ALL the typical baggage (which you’d see in a film like Meet the Parents). 

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Chetan and Anusha Bhagat- the real couple behind this film

When they first meet in grad school, Ananya is annoyed that there is no beer at the local café.  Krish explains: “Gujarat is a dry state.”  He gets interested in her first, BUT thinks she’s “out of my league.”  Krish offers to help Ananya w/ Economics (which is her weak subject).  Their friendship quickly grows into love after he declares one night that he doesn’t ONLY want to be her buddy. 

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Ananya (Alia Bhatt) and Krish (Arjun Kapoor)

There are only a FEW songs in this film (which are quite good); you can get them from iTunes.  The music blends pretty well into the actions/emotions.  The students/dancers in the background actually look like real/average people, NOT models.  The run time could’ve been shorter.  I recommend it for ALL of you who wouldn’t usually give Bollywood a chance!             

 

Re-Imaginings of Two Well-Known Stories: Maleficent & Ghostbusters

Maleficent (2014)

Disney's "MALEFICENT"..Maleficent (Angelina Jolie)..Photo Credit: Film Frame..?Disney 2014
Disney’s “MALEFICENT” Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) Photo Credit: Film Frame Disney 2014

If you liked Disney’s Sleeping Beauty (1959), then this may or may NOT be up your alley.  In that animated movie, I liked the different personalities and caring displayed by the 3 good fairies (Flora, Fauna, and Meriweather).  BUT in this tale, they are portrayed as clueless (esp. re taking care of a baby) and bickering among themselves- I didn’t enjoy that.  These fairies are Flittle (Leslie Manville from BBC’s North & South), Knotgrass (veteran actress Imelda Staunton), and Thisletwit (Juno Temple, all grown-up from Atonement).  These actresses are underused and in certain scenes- just annoying!  

The first third of the story, which focuses on the child, then teenaged Maleficent, is VERY well-done.  We see the fairy as happy, flying (she was born w/ wings), and becoming friends w/ Stefan, a human boy (who accidentally strays into her forest kingdom).  Maleficent falls deeply in love w/ Stefan, and we think that he feels the same way.  However, he betrays her trust in order to fulfill his ambition one night.

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Angelina Jolie (who I haven’t seen in MANY things) does a really good job w/ the main role.  And I can definitely see how little girls would think her costume was a cool choice for Halloween.  Diaval (Sam Riley) is a refreshing new twist on the sidekick.  However, Maleficent is NOT a black and white villain in this story.

Ghostbusters (2016)  

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I FINALLY saw this film, which was much talked about this Spring/Summer, last week On Demand!  I esp. liked the special effects, as well as Melissa McCarthy and Kate McKinnon (BOTH ladies are SO naturally funny).  The hate that was thrown toward the all-female lead cast is even addressed in one scene (clever move). 

The cameos by the earlier Ghostbusters were pretty cool; wait for the end credits to see Sigourney Weaver.  This is an alternate universe film, so it exists in a world of its own (NOT a sequel).  Yet another reason that some fanboys were pissed off!   

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As MANY critics noted, Kristen Wiig’s outfits seem like out of another era (and NOT in a cool, retro way).  Chris Hemsworth plays it straight as a Kevin, the himbo secretary.  This actually makes him seem VERY natural and funny!  Overall, it was an enjoyable film, and there is a sequel planned.        

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (NOW PLAYING)

By now, my regular readers know that I’m watching these movies for Richard Armitage… and also Martin Freeman.  Like my lil sis and BIL (they watched w/ me, lil bro, & Mom during the holiday break) said, these don’t come close to the LOTR films. Well, at least we finished the trilogy out.  For those who wanted fighting, you won’t be disappointed here!  For those of us who wanted more characterization, our time has ended (as Elrond said re: elves). 

Bard the Bowman (and his adorable kids) create some family drama with their chemistry/dynamics.  Gandalf is a part of the film, too.  Fans of Orlando Bloom will be happy to see more (unrealistic) stunts and tricks from Legolas.  I honestly didn’t mind the Kili and Tauriel parts, though I thought she was too emotional (in the end) for an elf.  Book readers, I’m sure you didn’t want these elves around!  

Armitage does get a FEW nice moments, though I think more could’ve been explored with his dragon sickness.  As for the other dwarves, they are just hanging out in the background (too bad).  I liked the opening sequence (with Smaug).  Later on, I enjoyed the precision of the army of elves and the regular folk of the town trying to protect themselves (as best as they could).  Overall, see it for the (continuing) special effects and the deaths (NOT a shock to you, I hope)! 

 

The Theory of Everything (NOW PLAYING)

Stephen and Jane falling in love
Stephen and Jane falling in love

NOTE: This review contains MILD spoilers.

This is a feel-good love story that’s suitable for all ages (if you need something to watch w/ the family).  The film is based on the autobiography by renowned physicist Stephen Hawkings’ wife, Jane.  In 1963, Oxford Ph.D. student, Stephen (Eddie Redmayne), meets pretty/approachable undergrad Jane (Felicity Jones) at a school dance.  Since he’s not much of  dancer, they spend most of the night talking.  There is mutual interest, though Jane’s gal pal calls Stephen “odd, but clever.”  We learn that Jane also wants to get a Ph.D. though she’s in the arts.

Reality vs. film wedding photos
Reality vs. film wedding photos

Stephen’s closest pal, and fellow physicist, Brian is played by up-and-coming Harry Lloyd (who I’ve watched in Robin Hood and Dr. Who).  His role wasn’t too big, but he added touches of humor to the film.  Solid character actor David Thewlis plays Stephen’s supportive advisor, Dennis Shiama.

Stephen playing with his kids
Stephen playing with his kids

Stephen collapses one day in the yard.  A doctor tells him that he has a rare, early onset form of ALS (a condition that will weaken his body, but leave his mind intact).  He doesn’t want to talk, even w/ Brian, and decides to avoid Jane.  Being a concerned, Jane seeks Stephen out in his dorm.  He tries to get rid of her (thinking that he’s gotten a death sentence), but she won’t have it.

Eddie Redmayne & Felicity Jones at Toronto International Film Festival
Eddie Redmayne & Felicity Jones at Toronto International Film Festival

Over time, they date, marry, have children, though the road is not smooth.  Studying for Ph.D.s, living on a small budget, and raising a family is very challenging/stressful; my parents did it as immigrants to the US.  Along with that, Stephen copes with his disease, writes a book about his black hole theory, and (slowly) makes a mark in the field on cosmology.

Eddie Redmayne on The Daily Show
Eddie Redmayne on The Daily Show

Before I watched this film, I didn’t even know that Hawking was British!  I’m not knowledgeable about his work, but science is only a small part of this story.  The focus is the love between two very mentally strong, caring, resilient, and intellectual individuals.  The leads have great chemistry- they fit perfectly as a couple.  (I’ve been following these actors for some years, so was glad to see them in these meaty roles.)  Redmayne, who always has an innocent and likable quality, must’ve worked very hard on his physical transformation! Some critics call this type of movie “Oscar bait.”  The colors are saturated, the music is very well-suited, and there is a very rosy outlook throughout the film.  My friends and I liked it a lot.  Stephen Hawking commented that watching this film “was like watching myself as a young man.”