Carol (2015) starring Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Sarah Paulson, & Kyle Chandler

This film was an awards show darling a few years back, BUT I didn’t get around to seeing it until last week (on Netflix). The film (made for less than $12 million) received a 10 min. standing ovation at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival -WOW! The woman who wrote The Price of Salt– Patricia Highsmith (The Talented Mr. Ripley, The Two Faces of January, Strangers on a Train, etc.)- was a friend (later in life) to the screenwriter of Carol, Phyllis Nagy. The Price of Salt was inspired by a blonde woman in a mink coat who ordered a doll from Highsmith when she was working as a temporary salesgirl in the toy section of Bloomingdale’s in New York City during the 1948 Christmas season.

Director Todd Haynes (Far From Heaven; HBO’s miniseries Mildred Pierce) has a deep interest in stories w/ strong women and unlikely love. His style was inspired by Douglas Sirk, who was known for “women’s pictures” (Imitation of Life, Magnificent Obsession, All That Heaven Allows, etc.) Carol is quite an effective film w/ regard to its look: period costumes and hairdos (wigs), musical score (by Carter Burwell, frequent collaborator of the Coen brothers), beautiful cinematography (by Edward Lachman), and thoughtful directing style. Carol was shot on Super 16 mm film to resemble the look and feel of photographic film from the late ’40s/early ’50s. There is shooting through windows and using reflection.

What I found lacking was the dialogue; I found out that some other viewers felt the same. I expected more deep conversations between the two leading characters, 21 y.o. clerk, Terese Belivet (Rooney Mara- wide-eyed yet wise beyond her years), and 30-something housewife, Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett). However, it wasn’t hard to relate to Terese, who feels uneasy and unsophisticated when hanging out w/ Carol (w/ her fur coat, jewels, and manicured red nails). Terese wants to work as a photographer; she is more of an observer, letting life happen to her.

Carol is a BIT of a mystery to the viewer, as well as to Terese. It’s obvious to viewers that Carol deeply loves her young daughter, Rindy. The character of Carol was inspired by Virginia Kent Catherwood (1915-1966), a Philadelphia socialite 6 years older than Highsmith with whom she had a love affair in the ’40s. Catherwood lost custody of her daughter after a taped recording of a liaison she had in a hotel was used against her. Carol is risking much by falling in love with Terese, BUT she can’t help it, as she tells Abby (Sarah Paulson). The woman who seems to know Carol best, Abby had a much bigger role before the film was edited, Paulson said in interviews after the film was released. Abby is someone that I wanted to know more about; she isn’t afraid to assert herself in a male-dominated world.

The men in the story are NOT evil, BUT they are clueless. Terese’s long-time boyfriend, Richard (Jake Lacy), seems like a decent guy, though there isn’t much interest on her side. Richard is planning/saving for a big trip to Europe after they get married. I thought it spoke volumes when Terese gently refused to go to over to his family’s home on Christmas day. Danny (John Magaro), the young newspaper reporter who hits on Terese, turns out to be a supportive friend in time. Even Carol’s soon-to-be ex-husband, Harg (Kyle Chandler), is NOT painted as an all-out villain. I thought the actor did a fine job w/ the role, esp. in the more quiet moments (notice the pained expressions on his face). I think that Harg loved Carol, BUT he didn’t realize just how far she had gone from him (emotionally). When they were married, her life was all about him (as was expected of a housewife of Carol’s status).

Ali & Nino (2016)

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Ali (Adam Bakri) and Nino (Maria Valvarde) share a picnic on a hill.

[1] We get a rare glimpse into an era at the onset of the formation of the Soviet Union. Also, the interaction between two religions, Islam and Christianity, is carefully portrayed and interesting to observe for that time period and location.

[2] The culture of the East was well-depicted… revolution and fight for independence scenes, despite of low budget [$20 million], are well executed- impressive and tragic, as they should be. 

[3] My only concern is that movie is really short- only 1.5 hours. Way too little to show such a complicated time period of Azerbaijani history… You just cannot help but wish for story to slow down and take its time to show more details…

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

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Bakri and Valvarde with director Asif Kapadia.

This little gem of a film is now streaming (Netflix). If you liked The Promise, or are interested in some of its themes, then you will enjoy this (smaller, yet well-done) love story. The director is British Asian (or South Asian, as we say in US) and a recent Oscar winner- Asif Kapadia. Amy premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2015; it focuses on the troubled life of singer/songwriter Amy Winehouse. The film was an international box office hit and is the highest grossing UK documentary of all time. 

There is only one word to describe the cinematography and music- AMAZING! The composer is Italian- Dario Marianelli; he worked on some very good films, including: V for Vendetta, Atonement, and Pride and Prejudice (2005 big screen version). The screenplay writer (Christopher Hampton) may also be familiar; he worked on Dangerous Liaisons (1988), The Quiet American, Atonement, and A Dangerous Method. Hampton adapted Kurban Said’s book Ali and Nino, which I had come across MANY years ago, BUT haven’t read. (There is a VERY interesting story re: the author of the book, too, if you want to look that up.)

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Ali (Bakri) and Nino (Valvarde) dancing at a ball after a graduation.

The desert doesn’t ask for anything, doesn’t give anything and doesn’t promise anything. -Ali explains why he loves the desert landscape 

The cast here is multi-national and multi-ethnic: Adam Bakri (who is a Palestinian Arab) plays Ali Khan (meaning: ruler) Shirvanshir, the handsome/cultured son of a Muslim nobleman. Maria Valverde (who hails from Spain) is Nino, the petite/wide-eyed princess from a Georgian Orthodox Christian family. Nino’s father is played by American film/stage actor Mandy Patinkin. Ali’s father is Iranian actor Homayoun Ershadi; he can be seen in The Kite Runner and The Queen. These veterans lend gravitas to the film, along w/ strong supporting characters (several of whom hail from Turkey, as does the cinematographer).

Ali’s father laments that though his family has been here for hundreds of years and is well-respected, they have no political authority (Russia was in charge). Though Ali and Nino have different religions and backgrounds, they move in the same small circle of upper-class society in Baku, Azerbaijan (an area rich w/ oil). Nino’s family is originally from Tblisi, Georgia; her father is in Baku on business. 

 

Broadway on Film: Allegiance (2016) starring George Takei, Lea Salonga, & Telly Leung

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Kei, Grandpa, & Sammy arrive at the Heart Mountain internment camp 
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. -George Santayana (1905), philosopher/writer
Allegiance ran on Broadway for 3 mos. during the Winter of 2015/2016, and was seen by 120,000 (which was the same number of Japanese-Americans rounded up and put in internment camps during WWII). The story is partly based on George Takei’s real life experience as a young child raised for 4 yrs in an Arkansas internment camp. Each night of its Broadway run, the veteran actor/activist/social media star, reserved a seat for (then presidential candidate) Donald Trump. Of course, Trump NEVER came to see the show! 
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The Kimura family at the dinner table.
This musical drama centers on the Kimuras, who are a close-knit farming family, yet individuals in their own right (who grow and change over the course of the play). They are sent to the Heart Mountain, Wyoming camp, which is the main setting of this story. There are armed men guarding them 24/7, a curfew is in effect at night, and the living conditions are VERY poor.   
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Sammy encourages the young people to think of ways to have fun in “Get in the Game.”
Sammy (Telly Leung, who has been chosen as the lead in Alladin) desperately wants to enlist in the army and show his allegiance to the U.S. His father says that this can never be, since they “have the face of the enemy.” BOTH men are quite stubborn! Sammy’s older sister, Kei (short for Keiko), serves as a mother-figure for him also. Kei (Lea Salonga, veteran actor/singer best known as Eponine in the original Les Mis) worries about Sammy’s future and takes care of Grandpa (Takei), who is missing his garden back home. 
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Grandpa creates an origami flower from the offensive loyalty questionnaire.
…after graduating from college, studying Asian American history, knowing about the civil rights era now– in a post-Vietnam War era– I think I would have done what Frankie did: You want me to fight as an American? Then treat me like an American! -Michael K. Lee
Kei (though she considers herself an “old maid”) forms a connection w/ Frankie Suzuki (Michael K. Lee), a law student from LA.  Since he’s a bachelor, Frankie has to share a cabin w/ 10 other men. His dark humor and sly wit are revealed in the rousing big band number Paradise. Frankie’s allegiance is to the Constitution; this character is based on (real life) activist Frank Emi.  I was quite impressed w/ this character; he seemed VERY fresh and modern!
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Sammy and Hannah joke and about their budding (forbidden) relationship.
Sammy and Hannah (a blonde, young Army nurse from Nebraska) become close while trying to get more medicine and supplies for the camp. They have a sweet duet (With You) which expresses their love, which is NOT safe to express.  The lyrics are simple, yet poignant; below is a sample. 
If I were with you, no one else could see us this way. -Sammy imagines
If I were with you, we would fight the world every day. -Hannah replies
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Sammy (center) with some of the men of the 442nd Combat Regiment
What can be done to end this imprisonment? Mike Masaoka (Greg Watanabe) of the Japanese Americans Citizens League (JACL) has been petitioning Congress to get his people freed. Perhaps in desperation, he proposes a loyalty test (“to root out the troublemakers”). Also, the able-bodied men MUST enlist (in a segregated unit, like the African-Americans) and take on the deadliest missions. (Masaoka was an actual person during this period in history.) Watanabe had older relatives in internment camps, as he noted in one of the behind-the-scenes interviews. I wanted to know MORE about this character!
Women weren’t just sitting around while the men faced danger. Kei and the camp’s women write letters to major newspapers and magazines to let the public know what’s going on. Kei goes after what she wants and becomes a stronger woman, as we see in Higher- a pivotal song for her character and showcasing Salonga’s powerful vocals.
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A banner ad featuring Sammy, Hannah, and a quote from the Washington Post review
In SOME ways, this play is quite traditional for Broadway- love stories, generational conflicts, song and dance. In other ways, it is groundbreaking- a cast of mainly Asian-Americans (incl. those of Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, and Korean ancestry); a Japanese-Canadian director (who had relatives in similar camps in Canada); a Chinese-American co-writer; a female orchestra leader, etc. In this current political climate, this story is a cautionary tale, NOT merely entertainment. Should we prove our worth by standing by our country, no matter what (like Sammy)? Or should we resist the unfair laws being proposed, even risking prison (like Frankie)? 

Piku (2015) starring Amitabh Bachchan, Deepika Padukone & Irrfan Khan

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Piku (Deepika Padukone) gets ready to clean the house; the maid was fired by her father.

I heard about this film from MANY young (20s/30s) desi people.  It was released in the Spring of 2015; it’s NOT a typical Bollywood film, though the stars hail from mainstream Indian cinema. Amitabh Bachchan (Bhashkor Banerjee) and Deepika Padukone (Piku) play Delhi-based Bengali father and daughter respectively. One of my favorite actors- Irrfan Khan (Rana) plays the driver who takes them from Delhi to Calcutta.   

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Father (Amitabh Bachchan) and daughter (Deepika Padkone) share a hug.

General Thoughts about the Film:

‘Piku’ is about relationships and responsibility. You feel for the characters & that kind of connect, is a huge bonus for any film. 

what is wrong with movies that are mostly dialogue and the interactions of close knit families? I found it realistic and I am not from India. Seemed kind of representative of one of the elements of the universal human experiences to me.

Excerpts from IMDB reviews

If you’re a sensitive viewer who takes offense to toilet humor, this is film is NOT for you!  In fact, there is NOT much to the story, aside from the road trip that this trio (along w/ a loyal manservant) go on.  Piku is a very concerned, stressed-out young architect who lives w/ her 70 y.o. cranky and constipated father.  She is a partner in a small architecture firm w/ her friend, Syed (Jishu Sengupta).  Though Piku is nearing 30 and not yet married, her father isn’t concerned.  Syed sets her up w/ a single guy he knows, BUT Piku has nothing in common w/ him.

Marriage without purpose is for the low IQ.  -Bhaskor’s philosophy on marraige 

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Rana (Irrfan Khan) and Piku (Deepika Padukone) share a snack on the road

Opinions re: Irrfan Khan’s performance

Irrfan is fabulous. He’s given some of the film’s best moments and the talented actor only elevates those moments with his superior act.

Irrfan Khan is known for his gifted talent of never disappointing his viewers. With this film, once again, he proves how worthy his presence is.

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Rana (Irrfan Khan) and Piku (Deepika Padukone) seeing the sights of Kolkata.

The MAIN reason I wanted to see this film (now streaming on Netflix) was Irrfan Khan.  Though Rana now runs his family’s car rental business, he had planned for in a different life.  He is a decent, hardworking man w/ family obligations of his own.  Rana has a LOT of patience- he’ll need that on the road w/ Piku and her father! 

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

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NOTE: This review contains MILD SPOILERS. 

Five minutes into the movie, you were probably marveling, as I was, at the way production designer Colin Gibson created an entire civilization that looked (dys)functional to every last detail. (Gibson and his team also created the movie’s insane lineup of vehicles.)  -Detroit Free Press

I know what you’re thinking (esp. if a regular reader): Why did YOU watch this movie!?  It’s definitely NOT my type of film, BUT I heard several positive reviews (podcasts, radio,  online folks, etc.)  Also, I know almost nothing about the Mel Gibson films- played Max first.  I wanted to see Tom Hardy (who appeared in Wuthering Heights shown on PBS years back).  I  saw this reboot on HBO this past SAT, when the channel premiered it. 

In those days, we were far removed,  They’d ship everything over, so you’d get magazines like four months after they’d been released in the United States and Europe, so we were always quite a way behind the trends. But Kiwis are really innovative people, and we try to make up a lot of our own things.  -Lesley Vanderwalt (Hair & Makeup Designer)

The FIRST thing you will notice is the wild, wacky look of the film- TRULY like nothing I’d seen before!  As for ALL that sand- it was shot partly in the desert of Namibia.  The music is quite effective, and unusual.  Over time, you discover that Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) is the REAL lead of the story; she is seeking some sort of redemption after years of being the right-hand of the warlord, Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, an Australian veteran actor who also appeared in the original films).  Nicholas Hoult (a young Brit) does a fine job as a Nux, a formerly fanatical supporter (“War Boy”) who learns that there is MORE to life than fighting to get into “Valhalla” (Heaven).  

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Mad Max: Fury Road should be recognized for the ground it broke: slipping in a feminist, elaborately constructed world in a moment, and a genre, where those things are typically at odds.  -Katharine Cusumano (Bustle)

So, is this a feminist film (as MANY critics have commented)?  Well, that’s up to YOU to decide!  Max (the loner) helps Furiosa (a take-action gal w/ NO apologies) on her quest to get the wives of Immortan Joe (including Zoe Kravitz) to a place of safety.  There is NO romance between them, BUT a gradual growth of respect- how refreshing!  This film was mainly about world-building (Ali Mattu, a fan of this film, agreed w/ me on that); he replied (tweeted) that there will be sequels in the near future.  Even if you’re skeptical, give Fury Road a shot.