Swells to a drama that is riveting

A Passage to India (1984) 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.


A Passage to India (1984) ****½ Starring: Judy Davis, Victor Banerjee, Peggy Ashcroft. Director: David Lean.

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Rubbing off in New York

Though it’s quite good, the problem with 13 Going on 30 (2004) 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.


Revised version, 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.

 

Faithfulness and duty in Dicky Tracy

Warren Beatty’s movie is a stylish film version of the Dick Tracy comic strip from the 1930’s.

Dick Tracy (1990) is about organized crime and emboldened detective Tracy is onto it like a bolt.

The Kid (Charlie Korsmo) is an orphan that detective Dick Tracy picks up on a job and takes under his wing. Tracy and his girlfriend don’t live together and have contemplated getting married. When Tracy is tempted by singer Breathless Mahoney, he knows to resist.

Criminal’s names are monochrome as in Big Boy, Flat Face etc. The film features hardened criminals whose clothes fit the times, and so do their noses, which are bent out of shape.

Distortion and facial peculiarity is taken to a new dimension in this film. They come with the most inventive botox of the year, which went on to win the Oscar for best make-up.

You may know Al Pacino from his charismatic style of performance, but you’ll have to look close to see him underneath a sheet of plastered ugliness as Big Boy Caprice, a criminal mastermind. Big Boy throws his weight around as the other colourfully attired gangsters oblige.

Big Boy brings his boys on board in what he says is their quest to be the top dogs in the city, but we know who’s got the ego here. All the same, a solid, reliable hero in Dick Tracy (Warren Beatty) who fights back.

Madonna as Mahoney seems to be going through the motions. Yet Dick Tracy is an artfully made matinee style blockbuster and utilizes the framing style of comic strips in many scenes. Art director and cinematographer give the look of the film a winning ambiance.

No swearing and sex, but there are scenes of heavy cartoonish violence and sexual references. The main theme is top notch, it’s about love or duty or both love and duty.

Dick Tracy is innovatively done, but for a blockbuster it is not fun Saturday evening entertainment.


Dick Tracy (1990) *** Starring: Warren Beatty, Madonna, Al Pacino, Glenne Headly, Charlie Korsmo. Director: Warren Beatty.

 

Navigating the fallen world in Witness

While waiting to take a train to Baltimore, young Samuel (Lukas Haas) witnesses a murder in a rest room.

Cop John Book (Harrison Ford) questions Samuel and his mother Rachel (Kelly McGillis) then takes them back to their Amish farm in Pennsylvania. But Book is forced to stay at the farm.

Bringing together two worlds

The intelligence of Witness (1985) is bringing together two different worlds, worldly wise cop John Book and an isolated religious community. Drama is Book and the Amish interacting while the thriller elements of the case simmer in the background.

The Amish diverge from the rest of the world as they don’t rely on electricity, phones or fridges. They have rules and regulations that would be strict to outsiders. Book navigates this world sometimes unsuccessfully.

One gets the feeling that they don’t want him there. However, Book stays while working out how to bring the perpetrator in and he makes himself useful with his carpentry skills which goes down well.

Complications arise among the Amish when Rachel, a widow, has feelings for Book, and Book is attracted to her. Meanwhile, a man in the Amish community seems to want to marry her.

Themes

The broader theme of Witness is that of a fallen world. Right at the start, when Samuel is seeing the city for the first time, he discovers that the outside world may seem nice at first. But he literally sees it is a fallen one, too, when he witnesses the murder.

What you have seen, you take into your heart, his grandfather tells him. So be separate from them, come out from among them, he continues.

The fallen reality poses a challenge to the Amish who they themselves are facing the stains of the world in their own backyard. Still, there is a necessary presence of good throughout.

If you need to know, there is occasional coarse language, and brief female nudity in a dramatic context and not gratuitous. There’s also a few scenes containing violence. But this is a mature, intelligent film, written for the screen by Earl W. Wallace and William Kelley, who with Pamela Wallace came up with the original story. Director Peter Weir takes on consummate films.

From beginning to end, Witness holds your interest. Its qualities of intelligence and intelligent drama, with thriller-packed moments, overcome the nagging doubt that the film is just a bit too lingering.


Witness (1985) ****½ Starring: Harrison Ford, Kelly McGillis, Josef Summer, Lukas Haas, Jan Rubes, Alexander Godunov, Danny Glover, Brent Jennings, Patti LuPone. Director: Peter Weir.

 

Slice of life cuts to the heart

The ending of Places in the Heart (1984) 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.


Places in the Heart (1984) ****½ Starring: Sally Field, Danny Glover, John Malkovich. Director: Robert Benton.

Making things right

The Killing Fields (1984) 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 it’s 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.


The Killing Fields (1984) ****½ Starring: Sam Waterson, Haing S. Ngor, John Malkovich. Director: Roland Joffe.

 

Counting the cost

That Sugar Film (2014) is an Australian documentary that positions itself on the side of the debate that says added sugar in food is not good for you. I agree. In fact, I’m adamant.

I’ve been off juice drinks for almost a year now and don’t miss them. The taste for them has gone. This documentary has motivated me to do more.

There’s a theological rationale for it, too. God the Creator wouldn’t make our bodies react in adverse ways to food that isn’t good for us or isn’t supposed to be there.

One interviewee said that “addiction to sugar” has caused materialism, in that people will buy things that satisfy their cravings for more sugar. Materialism is an artificial way to live as it can leave one feeling empty. But empty for what? More things?

A more humane treatment

This black and white film is a little cold and clinical and disturbing. John Merrick’s disfigurement confronts us with our own uncomfortableness about it and how we should react differently. Putting yourself in his shoes is another dimension, his life was difficult to endure, especially as people make fun of him although he has done nothing. The film accentuates his predicament while making us see how we should respond.

The Elephant Man (1980) was one of a several prestige films that year. 1980 was a year of films Raging Bull, Ordinary People, and Coal Miner’s Daughter, but The Elephant Man stood out as the one to watch for me.

Ordinary People won the Academy Award for Best Picture. The Elephant Man came away empty handed after scoring eight nominations. But I would have picked The Elephant Man. It’s the more progressive of the films. It suggests a more humane treatment of people who suffer with kinds of conditions that hinder living and being ridiculed in society.

The Elephant Man hinges on a rare subject—severe disfigurement, in this case it’s of John Merrick in Victorian England—and the response to him in a society that is complacent. This is during the time of the so-called freak shows at the circus. It is also a time of poverty that drive some people to do anything to make a buck. Some poor people made money out of “Fat Ladies”, “Strong Men” and “The Elephant Man”, John Merrick’s stage name. Though Merrick was in a “freak show”, a good doctor, played by Anthony Hopkins, wants to find out more about him and gives him a safe place to stay in a hospital where Merrick is safe more so or less. In a harrowing scene, he does have to contend with the attractions of curious onlookers who know where to find him.

The movie ends on a haunting, disturbing note that underlines the severity of his condition and how it affected his life. We could ask numerous questions about why he suffered, and how could human beings treat people in his situation unlovingly, but also see the hand of providence in looking after this man the best society could, God working in society. Merrick’s doctor was like a God-send.

Society would do better in the future for others facing similar predicaments with the introduction of universal laws to outlaw freak shows, advancements in health care, and education about unusual medical conditions. The Elephant Man suggests a more humane treatment is the way people like Merrick will get along better.


The Elephant Man (1980) ****½ Starring: John Hurt, Anthony Hopkins, Anne Bancroft. Director: David Lynch. Warnings—adult subject matter.

 

 

A little reading and reflection

What I’m reading. After reading and reflecting on the book of Job I went back to the start of the Bible with Genesis, with the intention of noting facts of the scripture rather than reading primarily for themes. Thematic analysis is what I had been doing, but I wasn’t sure if I was being true to the text by seeing themes that may or may not be there, for what was the purpose of writing devotionals.

I’ve also finished Star Wars, the original novelization of the film. This year it’s been re-published in a trilogy of books. This trilogy is the original Star Wars trilogy, from A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, to Return of the Jedi. I was surprised how they condensed two hours that seems longish into a shortish book. I expected longer, but that’s how this film-tie in went.