“The Wedding Guest” (2018) starring Dev Patel & Radhika Apte

Jay (Dev Patel) is a quiet/mysterious Muslim man who travels from London to the Punjab region of Pakistan, supposedly to attend the wedding of a friend. He brings along duct tape, guns, several cell phones, and a plan to kidnap the bride-to-be, Samira (Radhika Apte). Despite his cold efficiency, the plan quickly gets out of control, sending Jay and his hostage on the run across the border and through different parts of India. Jay has various names and identities, so carries several passports and credit cards. He was hired by a wealthy man who is now nervous to meet up and pay. The kidnapping and fallout make international news (Samira is a British citizen). The story evolves into a road trip, but w/ settings we usually don’t see in movies.

The film (which I saw last week free On Demand) has British and Indian producers. It has some twists and turns, but isn’t a typical thriller. It seems to me like a neo noir (in some aspects). The British writer/director, Michael Winterbottom, is known for out of the box films; I’ve seen Jude and The Claim. The cinematographer, Giles Nuttgens, has shot several films in India (incl. Earth, Fire, Water, and Midnight’s Children w/ director Deepa Mehta). The music, composed by Harry Escott, is unique and helps to create tension. The attraction between Patel and Apte develops as they open up to each other (slowly); they have good chemistry together.

[1] The movie benefits enormously from Dev Patel’s excellent work. He is in virtually every frame of the movie. Indian actress Radhika Apte… turns out to be a worthy sparring partner for Patel.

[2] You’ll like this movie if you like human characters, feelings, & relationships, along with a “slice of life” style, where you witness the characters move through a time & set of shared experiences together & may end well, badly, or anywhere in between.

Patel is now a mature leading man — in this movie, a bit of a Jean Reno type. He’s deadpan, but I like it.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

“Venus in Fur” (2013) starring Mathieu Amalric & Emmanuelle Seigner

Based on the Tony-winning Broadway play by American writer, David Ives, Venus in Fur is a 2013 French film by famed/controversial director Roman Polanski. Alone in a Paris theater after a long day of auditioning actresses for his new play, writer-director Thomas (Mathieu Amalric), complains to his fiancee (on the phone) that no actress has what it takes to play the lead female character. Thomas is about to leave the theater when actress Vanda (Emmanuelle Seigner) bursts in, a whirlwind of energy. At first, she is pushy, desperate, and not prepared- or so it seems. Under her coat, Vanda wears a risque black leather and lace outfit (w/ a dog collar). Thomas reluctantly agrees to let her try out; he is stunned by her transformation. Vanda is perfect (even sharing the character’s name); she obviously researched the role, learned the lines by heart, and brought along some props! As the audition continues, Thomas’ feelings go from from attraction to obsession, and Vanda takes on a more dominant role in the story. Vanda comes to tower over Thomas as she becomes stronger.

This was Polanski’s first non-English feature film in over 51 yrs; I saw it several years ago (and didn’t realize he was the director). I re-watched it on YouTube (it’s available for rent). The lighting is superb and the music (composed by Frenchman Alexandre Desplat) is used very well. He moves the story from NYC to Paris, b/c Polanski wanted to work w/ his wife in her native language- French. Originally, Vanda was a 24 y.o. actress (thus her short resume) and Thomas was a young playwright (w/ a few plays under his belt). On Broadway, then recent NYU grad- Nina Arianda- made a name for herself (2010-2012) as Vanda opposite Wes Bentley and Hugh Dancy. In London, Natalie Dormer (The Tudors; Game of Thrones) played the role opposite David Oakes. Louis Garrel (who is young and conventionally handsome) was originally cast as Thomas for this movie. Amalric is middle-aged, w/ a small build, and dark/intense eyes. As some viewers noted, he resembles a younger Polanski. Amalric’s mother comes from a Polish/Jewish family; she was born in the Polish village where Polanski lived w/ his family before WWII. Directors don’t make decisions w/o a reason!

Forget that badly-written and adapted Fifty Shades trilogy! There are several layers to this clever story of power imbalance: woman vs. man (in the play set in 1870), actor who wants the role vs. director who decides who gets the role (in the theater), and man vs. goddess (Venus AKA Aphrodite). It’s also about life imitating art, hidden desires, misogyny, and role playing. Thomas has to read w/ Vanda b/c none of the actors are there; it turns out that he’s really into it. Thomas starts out directing Vanda, but later she doesn’t hesitate in directing him. She even knows how to adjust the lights in the theater- hmmm. They put on and take off clothing to create these characters, as is common backstage in the theater. They quickly and easily switch from being themselves to the characters in the play!

[1] Thanks to the brilliant connections between literature, stage and reality, and thanks to the many things that remain unclear about the character’s real identities and motivations, this movie sounds much more like a question than like a an answer…

[2] The characters conflict with each other perfectly, I don’t mean that they completely disagree on everything, I mean that they disagree on a certain number of things and they agree on a certain number of things for their characters to have great chemistry.

[3] What was most surprising for me is how much we laughed during the film. It was really hilarious…

[4] The mystery of who exactly Vanda is keeps getting bigger until it reaches deific proportions…

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

“Star Trek: DS9”: Season 1, Episode 19 (“In the Hands of the Prophets”)

I was the like the space Pope. -Actress Louise Fletcher (on how she saw her DS9 character)

[Vedek Winn has asked Keiko O’Brien to refrain from teaching anything that might conflict with Bajoran beliefs]

Keiko O’Brien: I’m a teacher. My responsibility is to expose my students to knowledge, not hide it from them. The answer is no.

Keiko O’Brien (Rosalind Chao) is teaching the DS9 kids about the wormhole, when Vedek Winn (veteran actress/Oscar winner Louise Fletcher), one of the most important religious leaders of the Bajorans (and possible candidate to become the next Kai), arrives. She strongly disagrees w/ the scientific way Keiko chooses to explain the phenomenon, calling it “blasphemy.” She convinces the Bajoran parents to remove their kids (who are in the majority) from the school; only Jake and a handful of others remain.

[Jake is questioning the ‘stupidity’ of the Bajoran beliefs, comparing it with the Inquisition during the Middle Ages]

Cmndr. Sisko: You’ve got to realize something, Jake: for over fifty years, the one thing that allowed the Bajorans to survive the Cardassian occupation was their faith. The prophets were their only source of hope and courage.

Jake Sisko: But there were no prophets; they were just aliens that you found in the wormhole.

Cmndr. Sisko: To those aliens, the future is no more difficult to see than the past. Why shouldn’t they be considered prophets?

Jake Sisko: Are you serious?

Cmndr. Sisko: My point is, it’s a matter of interpretation. It may not be what you believe, but that doesn’t make it wrong…

Meanwhile, Chief O’Brien (Colm Meaney) finds an important item missing from his toolkit. He and his assistant, a young Bajoran named Neela (Robin Christopher), start looking for it. They find the tool in a corridor, together w/ the remains of a young ensign! What was he doing in this area? His death may have been an accident, but it seems suspicious to O’Brien.

[a group of Bajorans have arrived at the station]

Quark: Don’t tell me – there’s a Bajoran convention on this station I didn’t know about? Thanks, Odo! I need to call in more dabo girls.

Odo: It’s not a convention. They’re from an orthodox spiritual order coming to support Vedek Winn’s efforts to keep the Bajoran children out of school.

Quark: Orthodox? In that case I’ll need twice as many dabo girls. The spiritual types love those dabo girls!

This ep relates to the debate in US schools about the teaching of Evolution and Creationism in science classes. Both Keiko and Winn are unwilling to give in; perhaps surprising, Kira (Nana Visitor) agrees with Winn’s position. Kira suggests that there should be two schools on the station. Cmdr. Sisko (Avery Brooks) travels to Bajor to seek support from a more tolerant leader, Vedek Bareil (Philip Anglim). He is also a candidate for Kai, but has a different attitude and philosophy than Winn.

Vedek Bareil: Today I am only a vedek. If the Prophets will it, someday I may be Kai. And I can be a better friend to you then.

Cmdr. Sisko: In other words, being my friend now might hurt your chances?

Vedek Bareil: The Prophets teach us patience.

Cmdr. Sisko: It appears they also teach you politics.

This is the S1 finale of DS9; it circles back to issues/events from the pilot (which we learn occurred 7 mos ago). The matte painting from “Emissary” was modified to show that the damage to the Bajoran city had been repaired. The teleplay is by Robert Hewitt Wolfe (who worked on many eps of TNG). An early idea was a crossover w/ TNG and have Sisko, Picard and their crews work together to fight against an invasion by Cardassians. Instead of that external struggle, we have an internal one between the Bajorans themselves.

[1] …is pretty good, with a tightly interwoven set of story lines, further ugly truths about Bajoran culture (and beautiful faith in the goodness of individuals), and some good performances. 

[2] Real stakes and powerful social commentary. This ep gets mega points for being brave enough to address religion with a bit of honesty…

[3] This episode will be relevant forever. There are so many people in this world who use religion/idea/belief as a sword to achieve hidden agendas.

-Excerpts from IMDB comments

“Star Trek: DS9”: Season 1, Episode 16 (“The Forsaken”)

[Bashir has been assigned to chaperone a trio of visiting diplomats]

Sisko: Think of it as an opportunity, Doctor. You never know when a friendly ambassador is going to be in the right place at the right time to help your career.

Bashir: Another hour with them could destroy my career!

Sisko: It’s a simple job: just keep them happy, and away from me.

Bashir: Simple? Nothing makes them happy! They are dedicated to being unhappy, and to spreading that unhappiness wherever they go! They are the Ambassadors of Unhappy!

Dr. Bashir (Alexander Siddig)- the first year senior officer- has to take care of a delegation of (high-maintenance) ambassadors visiting DS9. Cmdr. Sisko (Avery Brooks) didn’t want to deal w/ them, so he gave the job to the eager, enthusiastic doctor. In Quark’s bar, the ambassador from Betazed, gets robbed of her brooch. Majel Barrett Roddenberry (AKA “The First Lady of Star Trek”) has her first guest starring role as Lwaxana Troi. She wears an elaborate blonde wig; she also wore a blonde wig when she played Nurse Chapel in TOS. Odo is able to find the thief; Mrs. Troi is very interested in him! An ongoing joke concerning her love interests recurs here; notice Odo anxiously looking around as he exits a turbolift, fearing running into her. Capt. Picard acted similarly when Mrs. Troi was on board the Enterprise in TNG: “Half a Life.” The story about a brief affair w/ a Ferengi leader refers to events in “Ménage à Troi.”

Lwaxana: Mm. All the men I’ve known have needed to be shaped and molded and manipulated, and finally I’ve met a man who knows how to do it himself.

O’Brien is fed up w/ the (Cardassian-built) computer. It gives opinions on his commands, so he suggests installing a new one to Sisko. An object appears from the Gamma Quadrant which looks like a probe, but has a sophisticated computer. After downloading information from it, O’Brien notices the station’s computer seems to be working better.

Odo: Frankly, in my humble opinion, most of you humanoids spend far too much time on your respective mating rituals.

Sisko: It does help the procreation of one’s species.

Odo: Procreation does not require changing how you smell, or writing bad poetry, or sacrificing various plants to serve as tokens of affection.

The computer starts to malfunction, leaving Odo and Mrs. Troi trapped in a turbolift. Lwaxana, who loves elaborate clothes and seeks romance around every corner, isn’t only played for comedy. On TNG, the Enterprise crew saw her mainly as Counselor Deanna Troi’s overprotective mom. Here we see here as a kind, sensitive, and likable character (underneath the larger-than-life personality). Eventually, Odo tells her about his life, and we see another side of the gruff lawman. The actors have good chemistry in their scenes.

[Lwaxana Troi has taken off her wig]

Lwaxana: No one’s ever seen me like this.

Odo: Why? It looks fine.

Lwaxana: It looks ordinary. I’ve never cared to be ordinary. So you see, Odo, even we non-shapeshifters have to change who we are once in a while.

Odo: You are not at all what I expected.

Lwaxana: No one’s ever paid me a greater compliment.

“Star Trek: DS9”: Season 1, Episode 11 (“Vortex”)

Quark:  You think the whole galaxy is plotting around you, don’t you? Paranoia must run in your species, Odo. Maybe that’s why no one has ever seen a changeling. They’re all hiding!

A Mindaran ship arrives on DS9 w/ twin brothers, Ah-Kel and Ro-Kel (Randy Ogelsby), known as smugglers. Another mysterious alien, Croden (Cliff De Young), has been spending time in Quark’s bar. He comes from the Gamma Quadrant, so is one of a kind on DS9. There are reports of he and Quark (Armin Shimerman) having long convos. Odo (Rene Auberjonois) disguises himself and catches Quark negotiating w/ the Mindarans about an artifact (probably stolen). Odo can’t prevent Croden from killing Ro-Kel while trying to steal the artifact. Ah-Kel vows revenge, as twins of his species are like two halves of one being.

[Croden has killed Ah-Kel’s brother in self defense]

Ah-Kel: My only purpose in life from here on… is to see him dead!

Croden, who is roguish and talkative, tells Odo that he has seen shape-shifters before (he uses the term “Changeling”- a first for DS9). He claims they once lived on his home planet, but were driven out. He saw them on another planet a few years ago and can take Odo there. Croden opens a locket containing a shape-shifting fluid; Dr. Bashir (Alexander Siddig) declares this is partly organic (living) matter! Sisko (Avery Brooks) and Dax (Terry Farrell) go through the wormhole to inform Croden’s people that he has been arrested. They want no contact w/ outsiders and demand his return. Sisko agrees; Odo is tasked to fly Croden back.

This is a strong ep which was inspired by a Western. New viewers, as well as fans who are re-watching, will enjoy this story. It turns out that the prisoner is not what we assumed. We may wonder if he deserves death, as his planet has no trials. The security chief is faced w/ a conflict between his duty and his desire to learn more about his people. We get to see Odo unsettled (very rare); he and Croden have to rely on each other to survive. In the end, we realize that (unlike Federation officers), Odo has his own sense of justice!

Odo: [to the stone changeling] Home… Where is it? Someday we’ll know… cousin.

In the shot in which Rom places the drink bottle onto the tray, we see that there are five glasses instead of four. The camera focuses on the fifth glass in homage to Hitchcock’s Notorious. According to writer Robert Hewitt Wolfe, Odo’s line: “I’m a security chief, not a combat pilot” is a tribute to Dr. McCoy’s running line in TOS: “I’m a doctor, not a….” The exterior visuals of the vortex are re-used shots of from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, w/ color slightly changed and flipped upside-down.

[1]…gives us more insight into him [Odo], especially his efficiency and integrity as a law enforcement officer, while at the same time giving us a peek past his cold exterior to see his inner loneliness and vulnerability.

[2] The resolution to this story is highly satisfactory and tells us something important about Odo. As we’ve come to expect, Auberjonois and Shimerman give stellar performances.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews