Movie Reviews, Commentary & More

Finding Neverland - Movie Review

There is a scene in 'Finding Neverland', where James Barrie, a playwright in his thirties tries to entertain a mother and her four sons in a park. He waltzes with his dog and wants his audience to imagine a bear in place of the dog, and a ballroom in place of the park. While the mother and three of her sons find it hilarious, Peter Davies, a boy of 8 or 9 years old finds Barrie's act downright absurd.

This scene, to me, sums up the essence of the movie. Barrie, is a man who remains a boy, who never wanted to grow up and remained pure and naive at heart. Peter Davies has never been a boy. He has always been a wise 'young man' in a child's body. The movie goes on to explore how the relationship between James and Peter sparks 'Peter Pan', now a world famous literary work, about a boy who never grows up.

The movie, taking place in London in 1903, starts with the opening of Barrie's play, a bomb at the box. He is creatively bankrupt. His wife doesn't seem to be helping him emotionally. But the child he is, Barrie does not seem to be much worried about the outcome of the play, but he is concerned about his creative block. One day he chances upon the Davies' family in a park. Sylvia Davies is a recent widow and mother of four young boys. Somehow, by entertaining them, he finds his creative block melting away. And he begins chronicling the playfulness of the boys in a fantasy land called 'Neverland'.

While he spends long afternoons with the Davies' family in his summer cottage, Barrie's wife and Sylvia's mother suspect if anything is transpiring between James and Sylvia. Remember, this is early 20th century in England, where there was a rigid social code for how people should walk and talk and dine and wine. Since Barrie never bothers to restrict himself to those rules and Sylvia along with her boys enjoy Barrie's company, the suspicion grows strong.

Oblivious to the rigors of the society, Barrie continues to have fun with the family. The only misfit seems to be Peter. He thinks beyond what he can see. Initially, he wonders if Barrie is trying to replace his father. That creates a mental block and distances him from Barrie. Barrie understands this and accommodates and respects Peter's feelings towards him. Towards the end of the film, Peter grows up to understand Barrie's intentions and accepts him.

Johnny Depp, the incredibly talented actor plays James Barrie. To prove his range of acting, he has played a pirate, a crank, a doctor, a detective and now a playwright and everytime he has displayed astonishing deftness in handling the roles. He lost the Oscar to Jamie Foxx. Kate Winslet plays Sylvia Davies and she is rock solid as the mother, who understands her limitations in her relationship with Barrie and delivers a commendable performance. But the standout actor is Freddie Highmore as Peter Davies. He delivers a wonderfully controlled performance that is alone worth the price of admission. Scenes of interaction between Depp and Highmore are gems of acting to be treasured. Dustin Hoffman plays a cameo role as the producer of J.M.Barrie's plays.

The director is Marc Forster, whose last outing was Monster's Ball. The movie is much gentler in it's approach and not as touching or powerful as Monster's Ball. Roberto Schaefer is the photographer. I've seen movies where England/Scotland is glamorously picturised for the screen. Here, there is a not a single freeze-frame scene and every shot is unglamorous. That probably could be the director's decision, to keep the audience focussed on storyline and performances. David Magee, wrote the screenplay based on the book 'The Man Who Was Peter Pan' by Alan Knee, and was nominated for Oscar in the adapted screenplay category. Matt Chesse is the editor and there are definitely some places he missed where the movie seemed to be dragging into unrequired sub-plots (But, he was nominated for an Oscar!!). Jan Kaczmarek's music is soothing and beautifully aided the flow of the screenplay. He won the Oscar for original score.

Though there are a few loopholes and feels dragged a bit, I recommend the movie for it's strong performances and gentle approach.

Art Of Compering

Camera consciousness is a universal weakness. Even if I pretend to have a camera in my hands and say "say cheese", many in front of me will turn rosy. Because that specific moment is captured into a timeless(?) material, we try to present our best faces, there by losing our naturalness. The conscious appeal is all the more salient if it's a video camera. This being the case, one would expect their TV show hosts to have nailed this weakness in addition to having excellent communication skills before starting their career. And expectations have reduced my joy. That's no philosophy, but reality. I don't recall a single host doing a 'natural talk' while presenting a program when it comes to tamil satellite channels.

Let me start with SCV, a channel that entirely depends on these 'pretty faces'. The hosts at SCV provide a lot of unintentional humour by asking dumb questions and dumber body language. The sorry-state callers always start with something like "we like to watch your program" or "you look beautiful", and these hosts blush like a pre-teen girl and continue their pretentious set of standard questions, without listening to what the caller has to say. They always conclude with "here's a beautiful song for you" and often telecast a crappy song. Most of them don't even look straight into the camera and keep glancing sideways, making the TV audience look like fools.

Talking of hosting song shows, Vijay Sarathy of Sun TV is my favourite comedian. The network pays him to travel around the world and this guy provides us an introduction of the place at a machine-gun speed. He does not even care if anybody listens to him; and I don't get the idea of catering information pieces in a song show. And then he starts with "who is your favourite actor/actress/light boy" questions that are world famous by now. Mamathi of Vijay TV's is more of a spiritual advisor and self-help guru for all the Tamilians, rather than an anchor. Only if I can understand her, I'd be a better person.

We have a similar lot presenting comedy/super scene shows. Their pep talk before the start of the movie scene should serve as a prologue to the scene and should aid in a smooth transition of the mindset of the viewer to the tone of the scene. These hosts do a successful job of doing the opposite. Say, I'm in a funny mood already and I like to watch a comedy program, the talks by these made-up faces in a monotone only irritates me. I would rather have a series of clippings than a show interrupted by nonsensical speeches. Shows on Hollywood movies are indescribable. The host simply summarizes the cast and crew of the movie and provides a twisted gist of the story. The morning routine involving interviewing a guest, daily horoscopes, etc are dull, to say the least.

We need entertainers who can listen and respond with their heart in an interactive conversation. We need hosts who can walk and act as if there's no camera in front of them. We need hosts who are not eager to cut a call, but rather keep a lively audience. We need hosts who can transport us to a funny world for a funny scene and to pathos if it's a tragic scene. We need hosts who can look straight into the camera and not twist around their hips and plainly talk with all possible naturalism. We need hosts who make sense.

Believe me, there are tons of talented people out there, who are robbed of anchoring a show for not having good looks.

Kaadhal - Movie Review

Indian movies with a commercial eye, in most cases revolve around adolescent youths in love, for the theme not only attracts the college kids who form the bulk of movie revenue, but also offers a lot of scope for songs, fights and sentiments which are the ingredients of movie masala. Before the lights went off in the theatre, I thought it could be one of those 'one-of-those' movies for the debut writer-director, who has chosen the safe route. I was wrong.

Kaadhal, allegedly based on a true story, makes strong observations about the instability of adolescent love, it's directionless movements, and the deep-rooted hypocrisies of caste-status based marriages over love. The first half beautifully captures the nuances of teenage romance between Murugan , a motorcycle mechanic and Iswarya, a high school student, only daughter of a local don. Unlike a lesser movie, the situations are believable, people are smart, and there's hardly a wrong step. Clandestine meetings on the outskirts of the town and masking the face with a helmet inside the town, Iswarya and Murugan grow close without any forethoughts of their family backgrounds. When Iswarya's parents decide to get her married to their relative, out of fear they elope to Chennai from Madurai.

The second half features a few unwanted characters developments that pulls the level of the movie from great to good. Most of the post-interval session transpires within 48 hours, starting with the couple's running away from their homes. Murugan and Iswarya seek a friend's help in Chennai to get married and start their life. The first day in Chennai elaborates on the difficulties involved in their hunt for a house, and very subtly expresses Murugan's love and support for Iswarya. On the second day, they get married (again, through a chain of believable events) and Murugan starts his work as a mechanic at a local workshop. Iswarya's uncle, who also happens to be her father's right hand in their mafia operations, intensely searches for her and finally figures out her location in Chennai. His uncle sugarcoats his words and invites the couple for a formal wedding. The climax, which I won't reveal, is bittersweet and kind of left me scratching my head.

Although the story sounds like any other 'rich-girl poor-boy against-the-society' love story, it is the treatment of events, subtle directorial moments (Balaji Sakthivel), supporting cast (entirely new to screen), music (Joshua Sridhar), photography (Vijay Milton) and above-average production values (Shankar) that set this movie apart. The second half digresses with a totally unwanted sub-plot which relates to Stephen, (Murugan's friend who helps the couple in their wedding) and his room-mates. Added to this, there is a marriage song which applies brakes on the momentum of the screenplay. Of the supporting cast, Iswarya's confidant - her class-mate, and Murugan's confidant - a small boy at his workshop play a very breezy role and contribute to the funny moments of the movie.

The action from the lead is top class. Bharath is still a neophyte and Sandhya in her first film have essentially put many lead actors/actresses of today to shame. There was not a single scene where I thought these two overdid than what was required of them. Great performances by them and kudos to the director for extracting such top quality work. The recent breed of romance stories were filled with trashy story, crass direction, vulgar comedies and laughable performances. Kaadhal is the kind of movie I would like to show to the producers of such movies.

Kungfu Rambling

For the past two weeks, it is kung-fu mela from our local cable operator and we (my dad and I) decided to breeze through one yesterday. I had a few problems following the plot. But, I'm not alone. Looks like the director and the actors also had problems with the storyline, for they all looked bewildered with some of the dialogues. This is what I think is the story:

These two guys, in their early twenties, are friends. They're in a kung-fu academy. Learning involves a lot of brick-breaking with head and punishments range from one-handed finger push-ups to 500 rounds around the school. One day, one of the guys gets into a fight with the master, the students join the master, the friend joins the friend and these two brilliant fighters take the whole academy and a fight is on for 10 minutes until the old man with a pony-tail beard dodderingly walks in, throws away the two students with his bare hands out of the academy (well, like a tennis ball), says that he's seen enough fights, and walks back and sleeps on a rope tied between two poles.

Now we see this kid, 7 or 8 standing on one leg and practising kung-fu movements with his eyes closed. Back to the friends. They're now in a city restaurant, and eyeing a beautiful girl. Roudis walk-in and start teasing her. The tables and chairs in the restaurant are so arranged that we know we'll witness a flying fight and at the end of the fight anything wooden would've been broken into pieces and lined up on the ground. The girl fights with astonishing grace (what, for another 10 minutes) and at the end of the fight, when we think she is going to lose, one of our heroes steps in and saves her. zzzzzz.... my dad's asleep.

Back to the kid. His father goes fishing, ofcourse, without any nets. Gets knee-deep into the pond, waits for the fish, simply picks it up, kills it and puts it in bowl. The kid is now standing one-legged on top of a 10 metre pole, and I guess he's meditating. Friends again. The girl is with the guys. I think they're in search of a treasure. They have directions and are busy on their course. A fight again, and I honestly don't know why they're fighting now. This time, let's say 7.234 minutes. We also see the drunk old man, a beggar sleeping with his head down and legs up and the master talking about revenge, a romantic sub-plot and a rift in the friendship. Then the bizarre location of the treasure, or treasure-like.

My dad's awake, and asks me "so, is the kid's father alive?", and I say "go back to sleep". I think the story is going towards the treasure place and when all the party gets there, they fight and move on somewhere. Now, whereever I think the story is going, when we get there, there is no there for the story becuase the story is going nowhere. Another fight in the end, 10 minutes, and with a melancholic Chinese music, credits roll.

As much as I didn't understand the story, I didn't even care to understand for what I saw was visually spectacular. I was hooked on to the gracious movements of the artistes, that I forgave the throw-away dialogues. I forgot logic as everyone transcended space and gravity and performed gracious feats in mid-air. I knew the kind of fights and the sort of climax from the first scene, but with all that I was able to enjoy.

Moral of the blog: When I see a movie, I would like to be either entertained, educated or challenged. Indian movies rarely address these three dimensions. The formulas of martial art movies are strictly followed as Indian movies follow their own romantic formulas. But where we fail, they succeed in tremendously entertaining.