December holiday season is an ideal time to watch films released throughout the autumn, especially because many of them are contenders for winning Oscars.
- CAPTAIN PHILLIPS
Captain Philips was the first for me to catch up with since it’s been released in October. The film is based on the real story of a trade vessel with an American crew captured by Ethiopian pirates in the Indian Ocean. The veteran Tom Hanks solidly plays Captain Phillips, but the real kudos goes to Paul Greengrass who directed the film.
It’s a very simple tale, a portrayal of men in peril, very much like Cuaron’s Gravity. In Gravity, it was Dr Ryan vs relentless nature (space and gravity), here – Captain Phillips vs pirates. Where to draw the line between professional responsibility, duty, and your own life? What risks should you take? And when is bravery justified?
Captain Phillips shows that people under a threat of peril behave differently than in normal conditions, exposing their true selves. In my opinion, one shouldn’t judge harsh if someone failed to meet professional expectations under such stress. I think people deserve respect just for trying to fulfill their duties and make things right.
There is a controversial opinion about the real life Captain Phillips’ actions, some of his crew said that he acted recklessly during the pirate incident.
I don’t know what’s happened there in reality, but this fascinating story has some lesson in it for prospective pirates: the US navy is a formidable force, well staffed and equipped to deal with heist situations like that.
- THE COUNSELOR
The crueler lesson is taught to the audience in the latest Ridley Scott’s film The Counselor. This is a story about drug trafficking, written by a celebrated author Cormac McCarthy.
The main protagonist nicknamed Counselor played by Michael Fassbender is a lawyer who gets mixed up with a drug cartel by accident: a guy Counselor bails out of jail turns out to be a drug trafficker who gets killed and the cocaine is stolen. The drug cartel thinks Counselor is involved and the revenge is imminent – Counselor and his friend, a drug dealer called Reiner, are to answer. The cartel manages to get the drugs back from subordinates of the real thief, Reiner’s girlfriend called Malkina. Unruffled, Malkina sets a trap for Westray, another guy involved in the drug deal, to get access to his money.
Westray preaches a lot to Counselor, and he keeps saying he could just disappear and nobody would find him. Well, one can only disappear if nobody is interested in that person.
The lesson here is that the underworld operates according to the principle of social darwinism – the strongest survives. So, if one is linked to this world, even as an innocent bystander like Counselor’s fiancée Laura, this person can be hit by the ‘wood-chips flying out when the forest in being cut down’. One can’t be complacent and afford weaknesses like Westray had – cunning sharks would take advantage of that. And one can’t just hope for things to get better – the way Reiner and Counselor did.
The Counselor received mixed reviews mainly because of its gruesome, bleak story and a ‘heavy on the narrative’ script. I think the film will grow its audience once released on DVD. Cameron Diaz delivers a spectacular performance as one of the main antagonists, Malkina. One is frightened of her, but, at the same time, one is in awe. She despises cowards and respects predators. She reminds me of a virus – no fear, only invasion. She knows when to stay latent (dormant) and when to strike. And she has another useful tool for survival – being good at evading her adversary’s wrath.
- SAVING MR BANKS
Sometimes, your worst enemy is you. This is one of the themes explored in a beautiful film called Saving Mr Banks.
Pamela Travers, elegantly played by Emma Thompson, is an established author of the Mary Poppins series; but the money are running low, and her agent/editor begs her to sell film rights to Walt Disney (played by Tom Hanks). Pamela refuses to do so for many years, but the agent persuades her to come to Disney studios to LA and consider signing the contract there. Pamela is worried that her stories would be turned into ghastly cartoons. Yet she starts collaborating with screenwriters there and we gradually learn about the bitter truth behind the real Mary Poppins story.
Flashbacks into her childhood let us see Pamela’s loving relationship with her father. He was a dreamer and always told her to keep dreaming, to aspire to great things. We sympathise with the little girl who can’t grasp why her father, Travers Goff, was unhappy: was it because he had to do a mundane job to support his family or was it his alcoholism? We also learn that Pamela’s real name is Helen Goff – a personal tragedy made her to take a pseudonym after her father’s name.
I don’t know whether or not it’s true that it was Walt Disney himself who reasoned with Pamela to let go of the past. But that happened, Pamela signed the contract, and soon after the Disney’s adaptation of the Mary Poppins book came out. The story started to live its own life and Helen Goff found inspiration to write again.
- KILL YOUR DARLINGS
Kill Your Darlings is another story about a writer based on real life events. The future celebrity poet Allen Ginsberg, a Harry Potter lookalike who’s played by Daniel Radcliffe astonishingly well, goes to study at the Columbia University. There he meets a rebellious youth Lucien Carr and falls in love with him. Lucien introduces Ginsberg to other future notorious poets who established the beat movement – William Burroughs and Jack Kerouac. Lucien is constantly followed by his older lover, David Kammerer, a strikingly contrast performance to his usual Dexter by Michael C. Hall.
It’s fascinating how one of the most intriguing cultural phenomena of the last century started out with a murder: when Kammerer learns from Ginsberg that Lucien is about to escape abroad, he tracks his young lover to his own peril. One does think that a restraining order would have sufficed, but then life is often illogical and there would not have been any story.
Both Kammerer and Lucien were to blame for the disaster. Kammerer was in madly possessive love and Lucien couldn’t reciprocate – he was only interested in men for the sake of entertainment. Moreover, Kammerer was providing academic essays for Lucien, which was another incentive for Lucien to go on with that dysfunctional relationship. Ginsberg was a mere bystander, a naive and impressible youth who had to live on with the guilt.
- BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR (LIFE OF ADELE)
While the LGBT theme is rather secondary in Kill Your Darlings, it is central in a French film, Life of Adele: an eighteen years old college girl falls in love with an older girl who is an art student. The film goes through their bumpy relationship in a quite semi-documentary manner. The director Abdellatif Kechiche doesn’t seem to like editing much: whether it’s sex scenes or pasta eating – they are almost uncomfortably long and rather naturalistic. Nothing escapes from the intrusive camera. Sometimes it feels like it’s immoral to demand so much emotional and physical exposure from the leading actresses who received Palme d’Or at Cannes Film Festival earlier this year for their performances in the film. Akin to Gravity and Captain Phillips, Life of Adele is a portrayal of life; it doesn’t feel like a piece of fiction. Emotions go overboard. Trivial things we often see in the movies like cheating, heartbreak, first kiss, – they feel real, and I couldn’t help but think that I’m peeking through the keyhole at someone’s life. This is cinema at its best.
- DON JON
Amongst various reasons why relationships fail, addiction to porn is definitely an amusing one.
Josef Gordon-Levitt plays a not particularly intelligent barman called Jon who has this addiction. Jon meets a voluptuous yet very bossy girl, Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson), who isn’t very impressed about his fascination with porn and the fact that he cleans his flat by himself. She’s got an agenda and sees him as a part of her social ladder.
Jon is rescued by a mature woman, Esther (Julianne Moore), who recently lost her family. Esther is not judgmental; she takes Jon for what he is, and he learns what the real intimacy means.
Don Jon is a very funny movie. Jon’s parents only interact with him and his girlfriend in a superficial manner, yet the ever-phone-glued Jon’s sister Monica (Brie Larson) turns out to be no dummy at all. She’s too intelligent toget involved in the family conversations, yet her diagnosis of Barbara’s true intentions is spot on.
- ALL IS LOST
A new trend of survival films set by Life of Pi last year continues here. The Hollywood veteran Robert Redford plays a sailor who’s stranded somewhere in the Indian Ocean. A floating cargo damages his boat, a small yacht, and the water gets inside. The sailor manages to seal the gap and pump out the water, yet the boat is drifting towards the storm, and the sailor faces new calamities.
The film could be viewed as a ‘mockumentary’: the scenes of imminent peril look very real indeed. All Is Lost also educates the spectator about things that could possibly be done in such a disastrous situation. Knowledge of nautical science is most welcome.
The week long struggle for survival in the sea portrayed in the film, first on the yacht, then on the inflatable lifeboat, is mesmerizing. Humans are immensely enduring creatures when it comes to survival. Ironically, in case of our sailor, only the most risky and perilous thing will be able to save his life.
- THE HOBBIT; DESOLATION OF SMAUG
Honest trailer for The Hobbit, part 1
and the official for part2
I was genuinely surprised to find myself enjoying The Hobbit-part2 so much. The story takes off immediately and reaches the heights of the Transformers in terms of action sequences. The bumpy river descent of hobbits in barrels will make a cinema history. The fight with the dragon called Smaug is no less impressive.
The film is dynamic and humorous as the first installment should have been. Peter Jackson faced the difficulty of adopting a small book into a nine-hour long trilogy movie, so he decided to use characters from the LOTR, such as Legolas and Sauron, in the film to add to its epic scale.
A romantic subplot between a dwarf Kili and an Elvish female warrior Tauriel (hello, political correctness) is also most welcome. We have some cliffhangers, such as an antagonistic encounter between Gandalf and Sauron and the dragon planning to attack Lake-town.
It’s great to see the story’s protagonist, Bilbo Baggins, growing in confidence and fighting spiders and the dragon with astonishing (it’s my favorite word now) resourcefulness. Smaug may think that size matters, but it is wit that prevails in the end.