Swells to a drama that is riveting

A Passage to India (1984) ***** Starring: Judy Davis, Victor Banerjee, Peggy Ashcroft. Director: David Lean.

A Passage to India is a fine film. One becomes immersed in the grand sweep. One surrenders to it and hopes it doesn’t become spoiled by some off-putting scene that ruined the lot. The characters, their lives in the old British India, the roles the actors play, and the handsome production swells to a drama that is riveting.

Central to it is young British woman Adela (Judy Davis) who is meeting up with her fiancé in India, who is a magistrate. Along with Adela is his mother Mrs. Moore (Peggy Ashcroft). Adela is caught up in the romanticism of the country and is keen to discover more—details like this are so natural and true to life that one can immediately relate.

The Indian country is keenly observed and wanting to be discovered by Westerners. Adela and Mrs. Moore are immensely involved in the search. They are not proud that they are English and don’t look down on the locals. They don’t consider their privileged place in India because of her son being a magistrate as much to be boasted about.

The young woman is distraught, though, when she claims rape by an Indian guide, in a moment that seems uncertain and vague. The guide, Aziz (Victor Banerjee), who is a respected doctor, has the Indian people behind him who are upset by the claims.

East and West meet romantically, but also comes with a hefty dose of realism where East and West clash–the doctor is caught up in a scandal and controversy erupts, casting a blight on the British. The result of the scandal is grief and soul searching with a more abstract issue to consider, but also quite real: forgiveness.

A holiday which turned dramatic and where no one wanted it to. The larger meaning is the relationship between England and colonial India. The human meaning is underlying prejudice and fear of the unknown.

A Passage to India is based on the E.M. Forster novel of the same name, which was published in 1924 during the days of colonial England. The film is beautiful and grand, wonderfully acted, and larger than life-like characters engage vividly and vitally. It is especially recommended for thoughtful audiences and fine film aficionados.


Rubbing off in New York

Revised from the original published at Entertainmentnutz, 2004. 13 Going On 30 (2004) ***½ Starring: Jennifer Garner, Mark Ruffalo, Judy Greer, Kathy Baker, Phil Reeves, Andy Serkis. Director: Gary Winick. Warnings: some sexual content and brief drug references and some coarse language and one profanity.

Though it’s quite good, the problem with 13 Going on 30 is that it doesn’t quite get it right. By the end, one may be uncommitted to believing it could have happened. Movies are illusions, but making them believable is one of the tricks, leaving us with that satisfied feeling by the end. However, 13 Going on 30 is a sweet, good-natured fantasy comedy.

Shows what teens will do to be popular, but what if that wish came true? It is seen through the eyes of a 13-year-old girl in a 30-year-old body. Jenna Rink, the girl, is awkward, gawky, but innocent and sweet, she wishes to be the popular girl and she gets her wish with the help of some magical dust.

She is transformed into a thirty-year old who is cool, successful and popular. Yet her 13-year-old-self remains intact with its unworldly lack of sophistication, making her life in New York as a successful magazine editor difficult.

The beauty of her new life, is that the characteristics of her 13-year-old self are still present. Her sincerity, lack of worldliness, and spontaneity rubs off in New York, though mostly everyone else is playing by the world’s rules.

Thematically, seems to be saying that if you’re a nice girl it’s better to be yourself than selling yourself out.

Her first love Matt has moved on, but Jenna doesn’t know that. She comes knocking at his door, wanting someone in her new reality to connect with that she knows.

Mark Ruffalo as Matt works a charm. Matt’s a friendly, down-to-earth friend in her time of need, who comes on board though they haven’t been friends for years.

Jennifer Garner, as the older Jenna, extends her range convincingly from butch chick (in Alias and Daredevil) to naïve 30-something. One may even expect a Golden Globe nomination for comedy actress next year.

Support includes Andy Serkis (Gollum in The Lord of the Rings) as Jenna’s boss and Judy Greer who plays Jenna’s friend and co-worker.

The soundtrack is like a best of 80s collection and it’s a coup to have Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Pat Benatar’s Love is a Battlefield.

Though the leap from girl to woman feels at times confusing, and the premise does not fully ignite, 13 Going on 30 is still worthwhile, endearing, human, and involving.


What the future could hold and what it means for humanity and artificial intelligence

Revised from the original published at Entertainmentnutz, 2001. A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001) **** Starring: Haley Joel Osment, Jude Law, Frances O’Connor. Directed by Steven Spielberg. Warnings: Disturbing thematic elements, violent content, and sex-related material.

All quite speculative is A.I., but artificial intelligence is coming to a world near you or your great grandchildren’s. Would it look more like Terminator or A.I.? The question it poses is what does it mean to be artificial and human in a real world?

In the future, some parents have artificially intelligent children because it’s better economics than having your own children in a world where climate change has decimated many cities of the earth. A couple who have lost their natural-born child are given David (Haley Joel Osment), an A.I. who can love. Mother wants something from David that he’s programmed to give: love. The problem is David wants to be loved unconditionally as well, but mother is put off by this unreal, artificial “life form”.

David’s human need for love is frustrated and he hopes the “Blue Fairy” (a character in the book Pinocchio) will grant him his wish of being a real boy so mother will love him unconditionally. It takes him on a journey through the new earth to find what he’s looking for, along with his robotic teddy bear and another artificial intelligence programmed to be a gigolo.

The problems with artificial intelligence are apparent in A.I. Some are made too closely to human likeness, but people can’t reciprocate the A.I.’s need for love. After all, they are still artificial and unlovable because they are robotic. Real humans may not relate to them.

As an aside: How does referring to the Creator who made us change or reinforce perceptions of humans creating other forms of life? Is artificial intelligence made in man’s image and not God’s image? Are A.I.’s valid forms of life if not made in God’s image? Can God meet their needs like God can meet a human’s need?

The movie shows that the needs of artificial intelligence can possibly be supported. So, A.I. is hopeful that their needs can be met. A satisfied artificial intelligence is like a satisfied human being. Both have needs that should be met to function in the world and the future world, together. There are other speculative elements to the future world with the emergence of alien life forms settling on earth.

A.I. is quieter and more clinical than most of Steven Spielberg’s films. The cold first half has those disturbing themes the censor’s note told you about—themes like a creepy brother, and boys being cruel to someone different. That someone different is David.

However, in the second half, it is better to go through life with someone kind by your side. The critics didn’t like how the film is split in two, between cold and warm, between cerebral and ‘fairy tale’.

However, it manages to get across well what it’s about, it is an important film about what the future could hold and what it means for humanity and artificial intelligence. it is a film of resplendent cinematography, production design, and visual effects, but also some quietly effective performances, those being Haley Joel Osment, Frances O’Connor and Jude Law, who don’t come on always strong, but are conveying vulnerability. The robotic teddy is a nice, congenial companion.



When strangers at the same school get together

The Breakfast Club (1985) **** Starring: Emilio Estevez, Paul Gleason, Anthony Michael Hall, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, Ally Sheedy.

We may not be entertained by teens saying meaningless and pointed things in real life, but if they are played in film, then it’s okay, isn’t it? Most entertaining is the role playing in The Breakfast Club. The Breakfast Club has lots of smart ‘teen talk’, but also interesting characters. A Saturday High School detention brings them together with different reasons for being there.

Set in a high school for most its running time, it stars Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald and Ally Sheedy, who were all recognizable Hollywood names in the 1980’s, with this film landing many of them into the limelight.

As students on detention, their tough supervisor, played by Paul Gleason, assigns them to write an essay on “who they are” which gets predictable results and blank stares. Instead of writing, they talk, and the teacher gets on their nerves and vice versa.

Judd Nelson as John Bender (bent by name and game) is believable as the bully who has been bullied. Firing off one-liners, he doesn’t hold back, words which have an unbridled ring of honesty, and underlining humor.

The five grate each other, which has a ring of truth about it, and the whole event is saying something about transience, friendship, and healing—unusually so for detention. The real-life stuff that they hide gets shared eventually.

There is coarse language at times. A scene where the students get ‘high’ on drugs is handled less than meaningfully, but with a touch of humor.

However, I laughed only a couple of times, but I was entertained all the way.

I appreciated the banter between the students, the always amusing role playing, the human connection, and the acting’s good. The Breakfast Club may even touch the cockles of your heart.

It seems that when strangers at the same school get together there is stuff they can talk about and connect with, despite all the other stuff that goes on.


Life can be ‘blue’ or ‘red’, but in between is how one copes

The Color Purple (1985) ****½ Starring: Danny Glover, Whoopi Goldberg, Margaret Avery, Oprah Winfrey Director: Steven Spielberg. Warnings: a profanity, domestic violence, and sexual situations.

Based on Alice Walker’s diary-formatted novel, The Color Purple is well translated to the screen. It all cohesively comes together. The performances are memorable—Whoopi Goldberg as Celie is outstanding in her subtle and nuanced delivery, Danny Glover is, as always, convincing, this time playing Albert, Celie’s husband by arrangement. Great support comes in all directions, especially Margaret Avery as a singer who shows Celie affection for the first time and Oprah Winfrey storms her way through her role like a powerhouse.

The story begins with the young Celie giving birth to a son and a daughter, caused by incest. When older, Celie is given as the housewife of Albert (Danny Glover), who needs her to look after all the household chores. Though Albert would sooner have married Celie’s sister Nettie.

Celie, they say, is ugly, but knows how to work hard, and Nettie isn’t for “sale”. The hardest thing for Celie to take is when Nettie is thrown out of Albert’s house when she’s visiting Celie. A powerhouse scene shows their separation in its raw emotion.

When I looked closely at the first half of The Color Purple, it is bleak. Hardship abounds in black lives in the South during the early 1900’s. Manhood and masculinity are equated with aggression and abuse to show who’s boss, but it leaves the women in their lives hurting and fighting for survival.

If you look at what’s happening to their lives, which is bleak, it’s not an easy watch in the first half.

However, it shows people doing the best they can in a difficult world. This is someone’s story. This is real.

I looked up the deeper meaning for ‘purple’ and couldn’t find what I was looking for. Basically (and we may find meanings at the most basic level) purple is an intermediately colour between blue and red. This sums up the effect of the first half for me. Life can be ‘blue’ or ‘red’, but in between is how one copes, it’s not flash, but somehow one gets through. It’s the ‘colour purple’. Though purple has other meanings that are transcendent and are better expressed in the second half.

The second half is punctuated with the theme of redemption and confronting the abuse and coming to terms with a relationship with God in their almost hopeless world. The second half is dramatic relief. It’s thoughtful, thematic, dramatic, and transcendent.

As well, the second half broadens the scope of the film, to how black and white interact. Sofia, played with spunk and fire by Oprah Winfrey, comes out worse for ware in her interactions with whites, but Sofia is not one that is easily walked over.

At the forefront of the film, though, are the rich characters and performances.


Caught in a mind bending totalitarian world

Brazil (1985) ***½ Starring: Jonathan Pryce, Kim Greist, Robert De Niro. Director: Terry Gilliam. Warnings: occasional profanity, some violence and sexuality.

Brazil does have moments and stretches that are more engaging than the flat patches (of course). The ending is best—it leaves you with something shattering and thought-provoking.

The brilliant ending resonates as it sinks its teeth into a system gone awry. It’s about the danger of going to the extremes by becoming totally controlling and the need to be human in such a soulless existence.

In this retro-future, human beings must submit to the prevailing authorities to get along and have a “life”. Jonathan Pryce plays Sam Lowry, Sam works in a precise, regimented, bureaucratic department. Sam’s world is dark, morbid, and colourless. Norman Garwood’s production design of the department is hardened, labyrinthic, insular, and cold, and conversely eye catching which heightens our response: should we even like this world? We shouldn’t. In this world, there is not a purpose to live, except what one does for the system.

But Sam does have a reason to live. His reason to live is in his dreams.

Yet reality is around the corner at every turn.

Sam does not want a promotion, but his preening mother (Katherine Helmond) manipulates it that he will.

Overly focused and business formalities are another dose of reality, unwelcome tradesmen (one played by Bob Hoskins) make a problem worse, and the dead-end consumer culture which you’ve seen somewhere before is a nuisance.

Work, and the system that props it up, is not what it’s cracked up to be. Sam plays the game to get along.

Then the woman he’s dreaming of is real. He tries to get her into his life. Wishful thinking perhaps.

Pryce is brilliant as the frustrated, obedient worker in an autocratic world. Sam’s frustration is hidden behind subtle reactions that are crying out to scream.

The satirical edge is good and the thought that people could one day be caught in a mind bending totalitarian world is thought-provoking and maybe luminous and by the end it’s staggering. Although Brazil’s delivery doesn’t always hit the bulls-eye.


Slice of life cuts to the heart

Places in the Heart (1984) ***** Starring: Sally Field, Danny Glover, John Malkovich. Director: Robert Benton.

The ending of Places in the Heart was considered by critics as out of place. The ethereal ending in a church where even deceased members of a Texas community in the 1930’s appear again was not logically following the sense of plot, they said. As the living and the dead sat around the communion table to remember the sacrifice that Jesus Christ made, the young black man who accidentally shot the sheriff because he was drunk offer one another a sign of peace by eating, in remembrance, the body and blood of Christ. The young man was lynched for his behaviour by the white males in the community and dragged through the town on a four-wheel drive. But at communion the perpetrator and victim reconcile because that’s what communion is about, how Christ can reconcile others.

The scene isn’t out of place. It resolves the relationship between the young man and the sheriff in the best way possible. The young man didn’t mean for the incident that took the life of the sheriff to happen, but it did, and these two victims come to communion and share forgiveness and reconciliation. They don’t have to be alive. It doesn’t have to be entirely literal and precise. The previous scene showed the problems and obstacles that black people faced in the 1930’s. In the next scene it shows how it can be resolved, around reconciliation.

A black man named Moses comes into the life of the widow of the sheriff although it’s through a sense luck rather than invitation. Blacks were considered second class citizens. Edna Spalding is kind and good at heart and gives Moses work, however unlikely. Moses encourages Edna to pay off the bank this season with his cotton-picking knowledge. Even if Moses must go, because of the Klu Klux Klan in the neighbourhood, she at least will know how to pick cotton next season. Moses, like the Moses of the Bible, is her deliverer.

Yet this inherently well-meaning and substantial story unwraps leisurely as a slice of life. Beautifully rendered storytelling, beautiful cinematography, and a vivid cast of characters in real life situations. Despite the hardships, forgiveness and facing the world with strength and resolve breaks through.

Offside Mozart in dramatic telling

Revised from the original published at Entertainmentnutz, 2000. Amadeus (1984) ***** Starring: F. Murray Abraham, Tom Hulce, Elizabeth Berridge. Director: Milos Forman.

Amadeus is a compelling tale of the fictional drama of Austrian court composer Salieri and his jealously and revenge on Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. This fiction has an element of real life to it, in that it could happen in people’s situations.

Jealousy and revenge are the basest of human desires that can seem to worm their way into people’s hearts given the stimulus. Not that it’s condoned. It’s undesirable. Amadeus shows us its insidious effects, leading to a downfall.

In Amadeus, the stimulus to jealousy is Salieri’s inability to match Mozart’s musical level. It is a pride that he should be the best rather than Mozart who seems his moral inferior.

Salieri’s (F. Murray Abraham) confession of jealousy and revenge to a Catholic priest frames the drama, giving a confessional air about proceedings and a sense of tragedy.

All the same, Salieri cannot resist the divine sound and charms of Mozart’s compositions. His music somehow reflects the glory of God, as God has no favorites in which to express his gifts, though questionable is Mozart’s moral life and squandering of money.

Salieri and Mozart’s (Tom Hulce) professional and personal relationship was tainted from the beginning because of Salieri’s innate problems with Mozart.

Every part of a relationship is flawed where serious rivalry is involved. It smolders under the surface but is alive in the heart. Salieri’s characteristics—his ambition and pride—contributed to him following through on the way of the flesh, rather than asking for God’s help and subduing himself.

It takes a while for Salieri to unleash his “demons”—in a sophisticated plot involving the ‘ghostly’ presence of Mozart’s overbearing father and the naïve complicity of Mozart’s wife (Elizabeth Berridge) who is susceptible to Salieri’s good manners. Salieri’s passions had been simmering underneath for a good hour-and-so into the film.

It may be faulted at being too literary minded. However, Amadeus works. The production values are done to the hilt—wonderful to behold, immaculate—and stage operas compliment the drama.


Making things right

The Killing Fields (1984) ***** Starring: Sam Waterson, Haing S. Ngor, John Malkovich. Director: Roland Joffe.

The Killing Fields is done with a thread of hope and humanity and how things should be made right despite the horror of the atrocities of war.

American Journalist Sydney Schanberg (Sam Waterson) is covering the conflict in Cambodia in the 1970’s and is indignant at what’s going on.

We’re reminded of the horror of the war when a casual conversation is interrupted by an explosion on a street—it’s shocking and alarming.

The country is slowly but surely being torn apart as Pol Pot and his regime decimate the country with his ‘Year Zero’ cleansing campaign, which aims to re-educate the Cambodian people and eliminate dissenters, which truly off-centers Cambodia, sending it into shock and fear.

Foreigners are leaving the country and Schanberg and his photographer Al Rockoff (John Malkovich) attempt to make up a foreign passport for Dith Pran (Haing S. Ngor), Schanberg’s Cambodian interpreter, but it’s not easy.

The “mission” to help Pran leave is thrilling and suspenseful, the aftermath a riveting escape attempt from a prison camp.

Pran stayed in Cambodia and is imprisoned, but he attempts to escape the prison camp and flee to safety.

Schanberg is dealing with a guilty conscience over leaving Pran behind and tries to find him.

This is a story truly centered in the good. Loose ends in relationships aren’t forgotten and left behind, but are dealt to. Forgiveness and reconciliation come, despite living in a world beset by violence. The ability to survive and endure through a deathly situation is haunting but is compelling and urging us to agree that one should live.

The Killing Fields contains violence and coarse language, but in the context of war. This is accomplished filmmaking, it’s intelligent, and directed with a sense of urgency and purpose, which is what this great story deserves. Roland Joffe’s directorial debut is outstanding, it’s a film that stays firmly in the memory as something special.