Movie review: Joy (2015)

The recently-released movie, Joy, is the third collaboration between director David O. Russell, Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper. Loosely based on truth, it tells the story of Joy Mangano, a struggling single mother who became an entrepreneur and founded a business empire worth millions of dollars.

Sounds glamorous? When I first heard about this movie, I had no idea who Joy Mangano was or what this invention, now worth so much, entailed. The trailer doesn’t give anything away, but on closer inspection it turns out that Mangano achieved her wealth by inventing….a self-wringing mop.

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Far from the Madding Crowd (2015): a masterly adaptation of Hardy’s novel

Bathsheba Everdene is a young and independent woman who inherits her uncle’s farm and intends to manage the farm herself: an unusual role for a woman in the Victorian era. At the beginning, Bathsheba works on her aunt’s smallholding where she meets a young shepherd, Gabriel Oak, who lives a frugal life but has managed to purchase his own flock of sheep. When Gabriel proposes marriage, Bathsheba refuses:

“I HATE to be thought men’s property in that way, though possibly I shall be had some day […] It wouldn’t do, Mr Oak. I want somebody to tame me; I am too independent; and you would never be able to, I know. (FftMC, ch. 4)

The next time they meet, their circumstances have reversed: Gabriel’s flock of sheep were driven to their deaths over the cliffs by an unruly young sheepdog and he has fallen on hard times, travelling from town to town in search of work. One night, he arrives at a farm where a hayrick is burning and the fire is threatening to destroy the barns. After helping to put out the fire, Gabriel discovers that the owner of the farm is, in fact, Bathsheba and he finds employment there as her shepherd. As the story progresses, Hardy introduces more characters who vie for Bathsheba’s hand in marriage: the dashing and vain Sergeant Troy and Mr. Boldwood, the gentleman farmer with an unhappy past.

I studied the novel when I was fifteen and I loved it: Hardy’s descriptions of rural life and the vividness of his characters encouraged me to read several of his books. However, Far from the Madding Crowd is arguably the warmest of his novels. It contains tragedy, but to a lesser extent than the sheer bleakness of Hardy’s other novels, such as Tess of the d’Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure. As I enjoyed FftMC so much, I eagerly anticipated the new movie adaptation of it and I was not disappointed. It is a beautiful adaptation of Hardy’s novel.

Carey Mulligan portrays the lead character and she is an ideal casting choice for Bathsheba: the audience watches her progression from a headstrong young girl to a woman who has reached a greater level of maturity by withstanding trials in her farm business and her love affairs. Mulligan conveys this progression through her expressive voice and mannerisms in a performance that deserves to win awards. Her three suitors are played by Matthias Schoenaerts (Gabriel), Michael Sheen (Mr. Boldwood) and Tom Sturridge (Troy).

This adaptation has been filmed with attentiveness to the essence of Hardy’s original work. It was filmed on location in Dorset and it shows panoramic views of Hardy’s Wessex countryside, as well as close-up shots of buds unfurling and a snail crawling up a fern. Scenes such as these create an evocative setting for the film. The setting is more than just a backdrop: the bucolic landscapes are as much a part of the film as the characters themselves.

I particularly enjoyed the moments of wry humour in the film. For instance, Bathsheba asks Gabriel for advice about her love life and when he asks why she is choosing him as her confidante, she responds that he is someone who can give her objective advice. Clearly, Gabriel is the last person who could give Bathsheba an objective perspective as he is still deeply in love with her! “You’re asking the wrong man,” he replies.

Gabriel repeats this line later on when Mr. Boldwood is nervously awaiting the arrival of Bathsheba to a Christmas party at which Boldwood is planning to propose. His fingers are trembling so he asks Gabriel to tie his bow tie for him: “Is there a knot which is particularly fashionable?”. It made me smile as Gabriel, clad in the everyday attire of a farm labourer, is evidently the wrong person to ask about such fripperies as the latest fashions of tying bow ties.

Of course, some of the plot details have been trimmed to condense the book into a two-hour movie. In the book, there is a scene where Bathsheba saves Gabriel’s life when he is sleeping and his hut fills up with smoke, but this has been omitted in the film. However, the structure of the plot is accurate and the screenwriter has not diverged wildly from the novel.

With a gorgeous soundtrack, stellar acting and wonderful locations, it was such a treat to see this masterly adaptation of Hardy’s novel on the big screen. I enjoyed it so much that I went to see it twice!

“Far from the Madding Crowd poster”. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia – Wikipedia film poster

Far from the Madding Crowd was released on May 1st, 2015. Have you seen it? Are you a fan of Thomas Hardy’s writing?

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – part 1

I took some time out of my busy schedule this weekend to go and see the latest installment in The Hunger Games movies: Mockingjay (part 1). Before you read this post, there’s a spoiler warning: I discuss scenes from the book and the movie, so if you want to be completely surprised, stop reading now! But if you’ve read the book and don’t mind a few spoilers, read on….

Firstly, I think that Jennifer Lawrence is the perfect Katniss Everdeen. Lawrence has become one of my favourite actresses, thanks to her powerful performances on screen. In The Hunger Games series, she portrays the many facets of Katniss’s character with great expressiveness: her devotion to her mother and sister, her courage and the way she becomes a reluctant heroine, warily playing along with the story of the star-crossed lovers to please Capitol audiences, before realizing that she is in love with Peeta for real.

One of the reasons why I like The Hunger Games is because of the strong female protagonist. Although Katniss values the friendship of Gale, she is fiercely independent and doesn’t need a male sidekick to help her out. Mockingjay: Part 1 does play on the Katniss/Gale/Peeta love triangle, but then so does the book. Katniss is less independent and less of her own person: she is being molded to be the poster-girl of the rebellion. There are a few moments of comic relief, notably when she is instructed to act for the propos: Jennifer Lawrence does an excellent job of acting as though she is a person who cannot act!

Mockingjay: the symbol of the rebellion

Mockingjay: the symbol of the rebellion

The majority of the movie takes place in District 13, with occasional forays to District 12 (Katniss returns to see the devastation wrought by the Capitol bombs), other districts and the Capitol. The claustrophobia of living underground in District 13 is vividly portrayed; as a viewer, I found myself searching for greenery and fresh air, the same way Katniss does. Unlike the first two movies, there are hardly any scenes outside in nature, apart from a peaceful scene where Katniss and Gale go hunting above ground and another scene when Katniss sings The Hanging Tree.

Mockingjay – Part 1 has attracted criticism for being low on action and high on talking and strategizing. Many people, including myself, feel that Mockingjay is the weakest book in the series. Even if it means being more faithful to the books, I do think it was unnecessary to break it into two movies. This has become a habit of major movie franchises habit: breaking the last book in a series into two movies, e.g., Harry Potter and The Hobbit, which has split one book into not one, not two, but three separate movies. It is such a blatant way of bringing in more money to the box office. That being said, I enjoyed the movie and it was suspenseful enough for me; I’m not a huge fan of action-packed movies. Part 1 ends shortly after the captured tributes, Peeta, Johanna and Annie, have been rescued from the Capitol. There’s a jolting moment when Peeta and Katniss are reunited that makes viewers jump, even though I knew what was coming. It made me jump when I read the scene in the book!

I’m light-headed with giddiness […] Peeta’s awake already, sitting on the other side of the bed,looking bewildered as a trio of doctors reassure him, flash lights in his eyes, check his pulse. I’m disappointed that mine was not the first face he saw when he woke, but he sees it now. His features register disbelief and something more intense that I can’t quite place. Desire? Desperation? Surely both, for he sweeps the doctors aside, leaps to his feet and moves towards me […] My lips are just forming his name when his fingers lock around my throat (Mockingjay, 2010, p. 206)

Despite a few criticisms, I’m looking forward to the finale of Mockingjay in November 2015. I read the last few pages of the book in feverish anticipation and the ending in the Capitol truly shocked me. You’d better take a packet of Kleenex to the movies next year!

Did you go to see Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 (to give it its full title!) this weekend? What do you think of it?

To Rome With Love – movie review


To Rome With Love trailer linked from YouTube. No copyright infringement intended.

To Rome With Love (2012), directed by Woody Allen and starring Woody Allen, Ellen Page, Jesse Eisenberg and Alec Baldwin, is a romantic comedy which is filmed and set in Rome. But you probably guessed that from merely reading the title. So, what makes it different from all those other rom-coms out there? Instead of focusing on just two characters like many rom-coms do, this movie involves the viewer in the lives of various people. Some are American tourists and others are Italians, resident in Rome. This means that there is plenty to keep the viewer engaged as we flit from one set of characters to another and then to another. There are plenty of amusing scenes, misunderstandings and humorous predicaments, including a farcical storyline which satirically pokes fun at the nature of fame. It’s not an outstanding movie but it is very funny and has a touch of that Woody Allen uniqueness that makes the film really worth watching.

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This weekend I look forward to watching Cheerful Weather for the Wedding (2012), based on the novel by Julia Strachey, which was published in 1932.


Cheerful Weather for the Wedding trailer linked from YouTube. No copyright infringement intended.

I enjoy costume dramas because they give the viewer a window into another world, one that is so different to our modern lives and yet so similar. Etiquette, manners, social conventions and fashions are far removed from the way we live today but at the core of it, the events and occurrences of human lives remain the same.

Do you enjoy historical dramas? What movies will you be watching this weekend? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment. I’d love to hear from you!

Anna Karenina: a forgettable and tedious adaptation

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” – the opening sentence of Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Anna Karenina is a stunning classic of Russian literature. However, this latest adaptation of the novel fails to portray the sweeping, epic grandeur and the passionate emotion of the novel. As a fan of Russian literature and costume dramas, I wanted to like it but it was tedious and forgettable, to say the least. Starring Keira Knightley as a pouting Anna and directed by Joe Wright (who has directed Keira Knightley in two previous films – Pride and Prejudice in 2005 and Atonement in 2008), the filmmakers made an interesting choice to set this adaptation of Tolstoy’s novel in a theater.

It is an innovative way of filming a movie and there are certain scenes in which the choreography is very powerful, for example, a scene during a grand ball. When Anna and Count Vronsky are dancing together, the other couples on the dance floor freeze into stillness, motionless in the intricate positions of their dance. This creates a striking effect, with the focus immediately drawn to Anna and Vronsky.

However, Keira Knightley’s performance as Anna trips over its Russian full-skirted dress and falls flat. This is the third Joe Wright film in which she is the star actress and in the previous two, she was very good. Atonement, an adaptation of the novel by Ian McEwan, stands out as one of Knightley’s best performances (arguably, the best) to date. But in this, she lacks genuine emotion, other than a kind of hysterical infatuation for Vronsky. We are meant to truly believe that Anna and Vronsky give up everything to be together and have an all-consuming love but that really doesn’t come across and the film takes away the complexity of Tolstoy’s great work of literature.

The opulent costumes are spectacular and the theatrical sets in the movie are exquisite in their detail. But all that beauty left me feeling a little cold. It is the human stories which interest me and we need to see them portrayed in all their rawness and realism. In many scenes the theatrical device feels gimmicky and contrived, setting the audience apart from the action. For me, it dehumanized the characters and failed to draw me fully into the story. When a film fails to make you care about what happens to its characters, it is not to be recommended.

Movie review: “Rust and Bone”

In Rust and Bone, Oscar-winning actress Marion Cotillard executes a delicately nuanced performance as Stephanie, a skilled trainer of orca whales who loses her legs in a freak accident during one of her shows with the aforementioned cetaceans. Interwoven with this event is the story of single father Alain (played by Matthias Schoenaerts), who lives with his sister and works as a bouncer at a club. Both characters have problems and undergo adversity. But they grow together in a no-nonsense friendship which gives each of them different perspectives.

The beautiful, award-winning score by Alexandre Desplat adds intensity and, like much of modern French cinema, Rust and Bone does not shy away from presenting scenes with grit and realism. Alain is blunt and sometimes appears uncaring and the relationships between the characters are presented with unsparing plausibility. It is not a sentimental film and yet it culminates in a quietly moving scene.

In the spirit of the season…

…here is a list of 2012’s best movies (IMHO). It’s the end of another year and it wouldn’t be New Year’s Eve without umpteen lists everywhere you look, reviewing and recapping the year’s news, politics, mindless gaffes by D-list celebrities etc. So here is my list of my top 5 movies of 2012! Happy New Year’s Eve.

#5 – Seeking a Friend for the End of the World – a thematic choice, considering the world was supposed to end in 2012 (but I wasn’t surprised when it didn’t end after all).

#4 – Anna Karenina – I didn’t like Keira Knightley’s portrayal of Anna but this movie deserves to win awards for its beautiful costume design and spectacular jewels.

#3 – The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – humorous and ultimately very moving. And the cast of actors is fantastic: talent personified.

#2 – Silver Linings Playbook – Talking of talent, this movie isn’t running low on it either. I went to see it a week ago (you can read my review of it here) and it is one of the best movies I have seen all year. It is so much better than the trailer makes it look. In fact, if you haven’t seen the trailer yet, don’t! Just go see the movie. Silver Linings Playbook is a beautifully directed piece of cinema and it deserves to win all four of its Golden Globe nominations.

#1 – The Hunger Games.

The Hunger Games official theatrical poster - all rights remain with original owner(s).

The Hunger Games official theatrical poster – all rights remain with original owner(s).


I am a fan of the books and, for the most part, the movie did not disappoint. For a detailed critique, see my review of it here.

Silver Linings Playbook: a movie review

Silver Linings Playbook movie poster -- all rights remain with the originator(s)

Silver Linings Playbook movie poster — all intellectual property rights remain with the originator(s)

A few nights ago, I headed off to see Silver Linings Playbook (2012), based on the début novel (2008) by Matthew Quick. For the IMDb page for the movie, click here. I watched the trailer and a few publicity clips on YouTube a few weeks ago and it caught my interest, specifically because of the cast. Bradley Cooper plays Pat Solitano, a former teacher who lost his job after problems caused by undiagnosed bipolar disorder. At the beginning of the movie, we see him move back in with his parents after leaving a psychiatric hospital in Baltimore. The move back home does not come without its problems as Pat attempts to rebuild his life and return to his wife, who has cut off their relationship. The complications increase when he meets young widow, Tiffany Maxwell, played by Jennifer Lawrence, at a friend’s dinner party.

Silver Linings Playbook is punctuated with sharp outbursts and flare-ups between characters; the sudden ups and downs of the drama reflect Pat’s bipolar swings. Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence proficiently portray their characters with performances that keep viewers gripped. I had a few doubts about whether Lawrence would be too young to succeed in a competent performance opposite the much older Cooper (she was twenty-one when the movie was filmed and he was more than a decade older) but my doubt dissolved when I watched it. Both actors deliver performances which are believable and emotional to watch.

The IMDb keywords for the genre of the film are “comedy”, “drama” and “romance”. Although it is true that it contains all of these to a certain extent, I am very hesitant to label it as a rom-com, as I have seen many other reviews describe. It is a drama containing many complexities and “rom-com” is too sappy a word to describe it. There are a few laughs in between the bittersweet moments but if you are looking for a movie which is a 100% fluffy feel-good film (as I would personally expect a rom-com to be), this is not it.

It is sensitively directed by David O. Russell and does not exploit the subject matter of bipolar disorder and mental health issues. Although the ending was perhaps not as realistic as I would have liked, that did not detract one bit from my opinion or enjoyment. If you get a chance to see it, I highly recommend it.

The Hunger Games movie review

At long last here is my Hunger Games movie review! And I would like to prefix it with the following Spoiler Warning: this review contains spoilers from The Hunger Games book and film, including the ending, so if you don’t want to know what happens I suggest you avert your eyes. You have been warned!

Where to begin? With the main character would be a logical starting point, I suppose.
Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen is superb. I had my doubts initially but after seeing the film, I agree with the praise of the critics. Her performance is so nuanced and faithful to the book character that I found lines from the book running through my head at times during the movie. When she rode in the chariot with Peeta and caught sight of herself on the screen, her surprise at her appearance showed on-screen: ‘I am not pretty. I am not beautiful. I am as radiant as the sun’ (quote copyright Suzanne Collins, 2008, The Hunger Games). You can tell how many times I’ve read the book, being able to quote lines ad lib!

Lawrence outshines the other actors in the movie and Liam Hemsworth (Gale) in particular does not have any real long-lasting presence in my opinion. It is a shame that Gale’s character in the movie is nothing more than the hunky best friend. In the books he is a leader of the rebellion, a strong character who takes a stand against the Capitol. I hope that he will become less a part of the background scenery in the movie adaptation of Catching Fire and that his character will be better-developed and more involved. But admittedly, the first book focuses mainly on Katniss so I can forgive this, although more back story on Gale’s character wouldn’t have been a bad thing.

I think Josh Hutcherson is good as Peeta but the movie makers cut far too many of his lines, resulting in a more wooden character on-screen than the one in the book. But there is plenty of room for character development in the next film and if I seem a little harsh here, I do actually like Hutcherson’s portrayal of Peeta very much. Regarding the other actors, Effie (Elizabeth Banks) and Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) are perfect on-screen representations of how I imagined them in the book. Overall, I have no particular criticisms with the performances of the rest of the cast.

Effie and Katniss: the juxtaposition of obscene wealth and hopeless poverty
Photo by Murray Close – © 2011 Lions Gate Films Inc.
No copyright infringement intended

The photo above shows what The Hunger Games is really all about: wealth and poverty and the ability of dictators to manipulate whole countries into submission. In a world where people buy $20,000 couture while children are starving, some points that The Hunger Games makes are not very unrealistic at all. The Hunger Games is a pop culture phenomenon which comments, in part, on pop culture phenomenons (reality TV etc) and I think the film makers succeeded in balancing the political messages of the book without letting them override everything else in the movie.

The cinematography of the movie is very well done. A lot of people have commented and criticized the shaky hand-held camera during action scenes but I didn’t have a problem with the shaky camera work in the violent parts of the movie. It wasn’t distracting at all, in my opinion, and it allowed the film makers to achieve a fine balance between emphasizing the chaotic free-for-all at the Cornucopia during the fight scenes and avoiding too much violence.

Regarding the music, James Newton Howard’s score is beautiful but is under used in the film. There is remarkably little music in the movie but this is a good thing, in a way, because it avoids manipulating the audience’s emotions and instead means that more emphasis is placed on the abilities of the actors. The agonizing silence in the reaping scene after Prim’s name is picked is especially effective.

My main criticisms are as follows:

1. I would have liked to see how Katniss and Gale first met, with an emphasis on the fact that Gale is Katniss’s hunting partner and friend, because I think that viewers who haven’t read the book probably jump to the incorrect assumption that Katniss is in love with Gale. Nothing especially crucial to the plot was lost but I preferred the added details in the book.

2. Rue and Katniss’s relationship was not sufficiently developed. The main problem I have with the movie is the lack of development, e.g. as mentioned above in terms of Gale. Some scenes were simply too short but I appreciate the difficulty of condensing a whole novel down into movie length. Nevertheless, Rue’s death scene is as heartbreaking and tragic on-screen as it is in the book.

3. The cave scene with Katniss and Peeta was cut far too short. They missed out Katniss telling the story about how she got Prim’s goat and a lot of other lines from the book, especially Peeta’s lines, were cut. It made a difference to me because, having read the book a few times, I know exactly how I wanted it to be and it didn’t match my expectations.

4. President Snow. I just don’t think that President Snow (in the movie) is evil enough. When reading the book, I imagine him to be completely different from his on-screen appearance; a snake-like man with small features which is how the book describes him. Donald Sutherland doesn’t resemble book Snow. But then again, Donald Sutherland also played Mr Bennet in the 2005 Pride and Prejudice film so I kept half expecting him to declare that ‘Mr Darcy has arrived, Elizabeth’ and make a few witty jokes. The on-screen President Snow doesn’t display enough menace and isn’t cold enough to realistically make the audience believe that here is a man who is happy to command the bombing and torture of innocent civilians, not to mention overseeing the barbaric Hunger Games.

5. The scene on the train when Katniss tells Peeta that she was just acting and that she wasn’t really in love with him didn’t have enough impact. In the book the atmosphere feels a lot more strained and tense at the end, especially with the fact that Katniss has defied the rules of the Capitol.

All in all, I wanted more detail, especially in the areas I mentioned above. I don’t think enough emphasis is placed on the fact that Katniss has laid the foundations for a rebellion against the totalitarian regime of the Capitol and I think the ending is also too rushed. It should be more menacing and sinister. But then again, it was never going to match up to the depth of the book. On the whole it is a faithful adaptation and is better than most book-to-movie adaptations. I am eagerly anticipating Catching Fire!

What do you think of the movie?

‘The Burning Plain’ movie review

The Burning Plain is an independent movie directed by Guillermo Arriaga, who also directed Amores Perros, Babel and 21 Grams, and starring Charlize Theron and Kim Basinger.

Because of the non-sequential narrative, it is very difficult to summarize The Burning Plain without giving anything away but the official website (http://www.burningplainmovie.com) has a synopsis which begins: “THE BURNING PLAIN is a romantic mystery about a woman on the edge who takes an emotional journey back to the defining moment of her life”. However, if I were you, I would avoid reading the full website synopsis before watching the movie because part of the enjoyment of the movie is putting together the different segments until they form a continuous whole.

At first, I was unsure about the movie and the way in which the story is told but the lack of a sequential format does make it incredibly gripping. Initially, it seems as if the bunch of people in the movie are characters who are completely disconnected from each other but as it progresses, the story of each character unfolds and their relationships with each other are slowly revealed. 30 minutes into the movie and I was hooked on finding out what happens. It is a powerfully told indie gem which is well worth seeking out.