Movies: Lion and Elle

There are a lot of movies with Oscar buzz currently playing in theaters and the holiday period is a great time to catch up on them.  Here are my thoughts on two of these award contenders.

Lion 

You will like this movie.  The acting is great; the cinematography breathtaking; the true-story unbelievably compelling and the haunting musical score compliments every scene.  The movie is essentially comprised of two distinct parts.  The first is the story of a five-year-old Indian boy Saroo played brilliantly by Mumbai native Sunny Pawar.  It is his engaging personality, adorable facial expressions and remarkable acting skills that suck you into the film from the get go.  I’m not sure that without Sunny playing this part, that the audience would be as engaged going into the slower second part of the film which depicts Saroo as an adult.

Saroo is just five when he is separated from his older brother one night and falls asleep on a train that takes him more than 1000 miles from his Indian village.  He becomes a street child in Calcutta, living under intolerable conditions and unable to speak the language or remember the name of his village. Every scene of this young boy being carried away from all that he knows is gut wrenching. Eventually, he is put into an orphanage and ultimately adopted by an Australian couple played by Nicole Kidman and David Wenham (Faramir in LOTR). Kidman gives a particularly compelling performance as this story obviously resonated with her real life adoption experience.

The second half of the film focuses on the adult Saroo played very well by Dev Patel.  This part of the movie moves at a much slower pace as Saroo tries to come to terms with his origins. Saroo remembers an amazing amount of detail about his Indian home and when introduced to Google Earth, begins a virtually impossible search for his origins in hopes of finding his mother and brother.  The film doesn’t rely on sentimentality and saves the true emotional moments for the end where you can’t help but be moved by an amazing outcome.

I liked a lot about his film but particularly the relationship Saroo has with his adopted mother and the fact that he doesn’t abandon her for his birth mother in India.  I also appreciate that the Director doesn’t make this a tear jerker from the onset – he could have – and waits for the final moments of the film for us to wipe a few happy tears away.  This movie will particularly tug at the heartstrings of anyone who has ever been a parent and I’m glad that the Director didn’t focus on Saroo’s birth mother’s reaction to losing her five-year-old child which would be a different and devastating story.  As 2016 closes out, it is nice to have an uplifting story and Lion is a movie all should enjoy.

Elle

Elle is one of those movies that you won’t be able to stop discussing long after the credits roll.  It is a psychological thriller that twists and turns and blows up your assumptions as to what is happening throughout the movie.  As a woman, I was particularly conflicted by the rape scenes and the motivations of the victim as the film progressed but it made more sense to me with a surprise ending.  This is not a happy movie so beware.

Michele is a co-owner of a small gaming company when she is sexually assaulted by an intruder in her home as her cat watches.  For some reason, she does not report the crime to the police.  We next see Michele interacting with her young,  predominantly male employees and telling them that a game depicting the rape and brutalization of a woman needs to be more “orgasmic”.  The degree to which Michele enjoys brutal sex becomes grey as are the dysfunctional relationships with all the men in her life as Michele goes about her daily activities seemingly undistracted by what has happened to her. Ultimately it proves to be a “cat and mouse” game of the highest order.

The movie continues with more sex and brutality as we watch Michele interact with her ex-husband, current lover (and best friend’s husband), son and even her rapist.  She is in a car accident and injured but neither calls the police or goes to a hospital which explains a lot about her and her feelings toward authority.  I’m never happy when rape is used as a plot device and this movie will make you squirm and feel uncomfortable.  It is not a film to enjoy but it is a movie to watch Isabelle Huppert as Michele command the screen from beginning to end as Michele.  She is magnificent as the standoffish woman who the camera never leaves for entire 2 hours and 20 minutes length of the film.  I have never seen Huppert act but wow, she was utterly amazing in this movie.

The end of the film was a surprise to me (maybe not to others) and explains a lot about her motivations but the entirety of this film experience will leave you exhausted.  Elle is a tough movie to watch but seeing Huppert’s performance made it worthwhile for me.  Elle didn’t make the last Oscar cut for best foreign film but hopefully Huppert will be nominated.   Both have been nominated for awards this season by other organizations.

 

 

 

Movies: A couple of enjoyable little British Indies – The Man Who Knew Infinity and Love & Friendship

The Man Who Knew Infinity

This movie chronicles the true story of a twentieth century mathematician, Srinivasa Ramanujan, (played by Dev Patel) living in Madras in abject poverty and without an education. He spends his time creating mathematical equations wherever and whenever he can. Despite his lack of formal education, he is able to convince a fellow at Cambridge’s Trinity College (Jeremy Irons) to invite him to England in 1914 where he become his protégé. They collaborate together for several years and Ramanujan’s resulting work was considered innovative and creative, with significant mathematical breakthroughs, which I can’t begin to comprehend.   He died tragically at the age of 32 after a lifetime of illness.

There is a lot to like about this movie, most notably Jeremy Iron’s performance which was perfection but throughout it, I felt that there could have been more. Dev Patel was fine but I didn’t find his portrayal much different than the characters he played in Slumdog or the Best Marigold Hotel. Even though I knew nothing about Ramanujan’s life, I found the movie fairly predictable. The relationship between the Mathematician and his wife could have used a little more development and I could have used a deeper dive into the passion around math that consumed Patel working together with Irons. The writers had a difficult task to make the mathematics understandable to the viewing public but I thought this was accomplished more effectively in “A Beautiful Mind”.

These are really minor quibbles and  you won’t be disappointed if you see the movie. I doubt if most people know this story and it is certainly an interesting one. Even with no understanding of the math involved, you can’t help but walk away with the feeling that Ramanujan’s premature death at 32 deprived the world of quantum leaps in the field.  If you love “England”, you’ll be bowled over by the beautiful Cambridge buildings especially the first time Srinivasa lays eyes on it.

Love & Friendship

Love & Friendship is based on Jane Austin’s novella “Lady Susan”.   Kate Beckinsale plays the villainess “Lady Susan” a widow with no money who needs to marry either herself or her daughter (or preferably both) to a wealthy Englishman. She mooches off a brother in law as she manipulates those around her in the quest for a husband. Her main focus is to pair up her sweet innocent daughter with an idiotic bloke who is hilariously played by Tom Bennett.

Love moves quickly with pithy dialogue, marvelous scenery and gorgeous costumes that take the viewer back to the Jane Austin era. I haven’t read the book but I suspect the humor comes primarily from Director/Screenwriter Whit Stillman who is also the producer of this quirky comedic period piece. Starting with the very funny introductions of the characters, there are many laugh out loud moments in this nifty little Indie. Anyone who likes Jane Austin, great writing and a little British humor should enjoy this film.