Talking Movies

Talking Movies
Talking movies

Thursday, 6 February 2020


 Poverty has a distinct smell. The poor don’t smell it.

They live with it.

It is a smell that disgusts the rich. Turning the nose up and away or rather a recoil from a STINK, finds its own brilliant plot point in a script that will leave you thinking about class divide with a discomfort that should and must stay. Korean director, Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite”, up for six Oscar nominations, deserves each and every award, starting from the script and set design.

This story is about South Korea’s poor Kim family –so poor that they let the outdoor fumigation into their  little, cramped home, to kill pests. They make a clever plan to con a wealthy Park family, into giving them jobs. So begins a funny and deliberate, slow setup of how the Kim family work their way into the sprawling Park family mansion, but pretend to be strangers to each other.

The tale of two families and two homes (and eventually a masterstroke of a twist which is like the twist of a knife in the poverty wound) would not make the impact it does, if not for the contemporary and skillful set design. The film starts with a scene that shows us the interior of lowly built house. The staging of each sequence , whether, in the Kim household or the Park mansion, gives us a contrasting glimpse of how each family lives.

Contrast is as ugly as it is beautiful. Contrast of the class structure a deadly theme that is mercilessly pounded upon you with each defining moment. A rich family child’s adventurous night might mean a night inside a fancy tent in his larger, sprawling, beautiful lawn, as the ever protective parents watch over him, from the  glass walls of their beautiful, interiors. The same night might mean a torturous nightmare, for someone locked up somewhere in the depths of poverty—literally and figuratively, and a heavily stressful hide and seek game for some hiding under a table.

The entire story is shot in contrasts, drumming in endlessly the vast disparity between the classes. If the Kim family lives in a house that is a kind of semi basement, the rich live literally up and above a certain ground level, led by a staircase, into bright sunlight. Which leads to the contrast of light used in the stunning cinematography. Every time the Kim family is in trouble, they are seen going down a long staircase, whether it is inside the Park household or towards their own house.  A most unforgettable wide shot, shows the family running in the rain, dripping wet, down a long, winding stairway. The camera is static for a few seconds. The frame is dark grey. That stairway clearly leads to hell. The hell is flooded with not just water, but grief, desperation, the ensuing struggle to survive-- needs to be, deserves to be, demands to be seen in all its horror.

Irony crops up in the minutest details which again are a part of the way the house is designed. When you see the rich Mr Park walk up his stairs, the path is gradually lit up with lights, there is a (very dark) reason behind it. And of course, Mr Park is blissfully ignorant of this, again denoting how the rich choose to ignore the cause of their own elevation in life. The tone here is at once hilarious as it is horrifying.

Most of the time, we observe the rich from the eyes of the poor. “Rich people are naïve. No resentments. No creases on them, ” says the poor husband.
“It all get ironed out. Money is an iron,” replies the wife philosophically.

There is a montage sequence which takes storytelling to another level through simply the shots and the edit. There is a distinct rhythm here, starting from a cheerful , funny note and moving to a crescendo. The five minute sequence  comes right in the beginning, adding tempo to the story and more importantly, introducing us to a very important character in the film- the housekeeper of the Park family; with an opera piece playing in the background. Needless to say, the montage ends in a dramatic climax of its own.
 Every frame, every shot, every expression, every sound, every dialogue and every prop including a cleverly placed knicker or a peach skin or an expensive and exquisite piece of rock---each is a work of finely detailed craft. The rock finds its own journey, along with the main protagonist receiving it, claiming it to be  “metaphorical”. Indeed, that rock stands for his desire and aspiration.

‘Parasite’ is not a horror movie. But it is seriously scary as is the question posed; in today’s capitalist world, who is the parasite? The rich? The poor? Or both?

The end when it comes, takes you in a trance before it hits you. Again, the most compelling contrast ever.

Saturday, 25 January 2020


It took me four attempts  to watch the complete film. Had it not been on Netflix, I would probably have walked out in a theatre screening. The thing is I don’t want to watch an ugly court battle between a couple. Or sharky lawyers in hot suits and sexy hairdos, squeezing out their own pounds of flesh and hard earned money from the ego-blinded and deeply hurt spouses. They justify divorce with words like, “…what you are doing is an act of hope.” Of course, the client, in this case- Nicole looks completely lost and hopeless.

The very idea of what’s in store, is just too disturbing to visit. But then curiosity prevailed.

The title says it all. This story about divorce proceedings of a couple---Scarlett Johansson as Nicole and Adam Driver as Charlie, can either be seen as a funny and sad love story without a happily ever after ending or a divorce story with actually a happy enough ending. Therein lies the complexities of character and the married world they have inhabited. Like Woody Allen’s movies, the film is entirely auteur driven by writer/director, Noah Baumbach.

The script has several memorable scenes, yet for me, they are not the two major ones widely discussed , namely, Johansson’s one take shot monologue or the intense fight scene between Nicole and Adam. Both felt too maneuvered, over written, over performed, over ‘staged’,  like a play. It seemed like the director was blocking the scenes like a play. The arguments, the dialogues felt too theatrical. The famous fight scene makes you marvel at the actors, and the scene composition per se but not feel for them. Like a piece of column written by a great intellectual whose style  or words  may evoke admiration but may not stir any deeper emotion. Unlike Kramer vs Kramer. Both characters and their world, had a certain cold detachment in their treatment, which did not draw me in much.

However, much is there to be appreciated about Baumbach’s crafting of certain scenes.

The opening scene was just exquisite and a great example of how a beginning should be written, something that introduces us to the main characters, make us fall in empathy, if not in love, with them and just when you are going somewhere with them, the scene turns around  revealing the central conflict.

 Charlie—the husband-- has a theatre company based in New York. The husband is a director, the wife is an actor. The wife has a universal grouch. She could never have her own real limelight. The essence here is that like most wives, she did not feel she existed— he didn’t know even her phone number-- and somewhere she lost herself while being a supportive wife who acted in her husband’s plays and perfected  the roles of  wife, mom and Charlie’s play’s actress who was vaguely recalled while the husband got all the accolades. Despite her give it all attitude to his directorial demands like… “crawling but also standing…”. When finally she does manage to get something worthwhile in LA, he dismisses it.

The wife’s side of the story is explained with lengthy talky scenes, shot in long, static close-ups which somehow fail to move as much as the husband’s side of the story seen through his struggling to comprehend the problem.

Those are the real gems. One of them is the last scene and a perfect payoff to the opening scene.
Spoiler  Alert.
Charlie is reading aloud a letter to his son. The letter is written by the wife talking about Charlie’s best attributes and how much she really loves him, in that odd way an embittered wife can still love her husband. As he reads, there is only a hint of an emotion in his voice or face.  Then comes the hint of a presence  of the wife  at the doorway, listening. Then comes the shot of the little boy- their son, who at this tender age is witness to an actual breakdown—of a marriage, of his father reading the letter. Charlie stops reading, his chin quivering. His voice if one can call it that, is wet with unshed tears. And you as the audience and he, Nicole at the doorway, are one and all are weeping silently. No melodrama. Just utter sadness. It’s the end of what could have been a loving marriage. Would this scene have half the impact had it not started the way it did, at the beginning of the movie? Not likely. In the beginning, we hear the characters’ own voices as they describe each other in their letters written as part of a divorce mediation exercise, in front of a counsellor. The scene ends when Nicole refuses to read aloud her letter and storms out.  Little did both realize that she had actually written a beautiful love letter where the words felt more raw, more honest, and Charlie is left more vulnerable at the end of it.

The simplicity of the scene is far more impactful than the dramatic end of the famous, intense fight scene which closes on a long shot showing Charlie at his most vulnerable, literally on his knees and sobbing uncontrollably at Nicole’s feet while she comforts him.

By now, the focus has long shifted to Charlie’s tragedy from Nicole’s version. We continue to witness his torture. Here’s the actual crème of good writing and a scene involving a character who plays social worker/ ‘evaluator” (a superb Martha Kelly in a single scene) recruited to observe Charlie’s parenting skills over dinner. Kelly deserves an award as much for her silent reactions, her stiff and erect body posture relating to the awkwardness of the entire scene and her soft, yet subtly enquiring voice capturing the bizarreness of the situation that can leave you as helpless and angry and deeply sad just like the husband at the end of the scene, aptly lying on a floor, literally wounded in body and soul. Not to mention a dark humour ridden scenario thrown in, instigated by an innocent remark from his son, “Do the thing with the knife.” It can’t get any more uncomfortable for Charlie as the Evaluator’s object of scrutiny.

However, it gets more uncomfortable for the viewer as Charlie at one point breaks into a song. Shot in one take, Adam Driver outdoes himself as he sings …
 “ ….Someone to hold me too close
         Someone to hurt me too deep
         Someone to sit in my chair
         And ruin my sleep
         And make me aware
         Of being alive
         Being Alive…”.

Despite all of Adam Driver’s heartrending moments and the intensely intimate drama, never moving away from the central two warring though confused people, it is a short and single surprise monologue delivered with finesse by Laura Dern, that is the real scene stealer.

Impeccable in her suit, hair and a sharp mind that can barely conceal long and hard claws, Dern’s lines are like a bolt of mad rage--  an almost impromptu one , not delivered at a court but as an outburst encompassing the grievances of a mother in today’s male centric world.
“ People don’t accept mothers who drink too much wine and yell at their child…….because the basis of our Judeo-Christian whatever is Mary, Mother of Jesus, and she's perfect. She's a virgin who gives birth, unwaveringly supports her child and holds his dead body when he's gone. And the dad isn't there. He didn't even do the fucking. God is in heaven. God is the father and God didn't show up. So, you have to be perfect, and Charlie can be a fuck up and it doesn't matter. You will always be held to a different, higher standard.”

Monday, 24 September 2018



 ….And they lived happily ever after….This often written line, develops manifold interpretations when it comes to the latest series, “Forever” on Amazon Prime. The eight-part, half hour series of season one, is like the rare rainbow you spot in the skies. The rainbow evokes a state of stillness, wonder and deep fascination. Likewise, this series, created by Alan Yang (‘Master of None’) and Matt Hubbard (‘30 Rock’), is a fresh breath of magical air.

Let alone the premise, even the mention of a certain genre, would be a big spoiler. Suffice it to say it is an experimental comedy which constantly breaks all storytelling rules, with a clever mix of genres. The wry humour suddenly knocks you into a dark tunnel which actually gets brighter at the deep end. It is at once-- unusual, weird, bizarre, wildly imaginative, funny and a deep contemplation on life, marriage and the consequences of one’s actions and inactions. It’s deliberate slow pace is a craft in itself, as it effortlessly compels you to keep watching, and dive deep with the characters, without resorting to insane cliffs and cliffhangers.

For those used to an adrenaline rush from the likes of “Breaking Bad’ or “Game of Thrones” or addictive soap operas; ‘Forever’ demands and delivers a different viewing experience. Slow on the surface, nothing prepares you for the twists in the first three episodes. It appears to be a story of the monotony of marital life but underneath, it explores not just relationships but deep, existential questions on life.

We meet the central couple, June (Maya Rudolf) and Oscar (Fred Armisen) through a beautifully directed, smooth montage-like slideshow of their idyllic years together. They eat the same meals, always cooked and served with relish by Oscar. June is suitably appreciative and smiling but slowly and subtly we see the boredom on her face, unnoticed by the doting husband.

Oscar is the loving, non-confrontational husband (a brilliant dishwasher scene shows this flaw) who enjoys solving crossword puzzles. June is a perfect partner, who engages in conversations with riddles. Like a question she poses at a crucial juncture in their relationship: “What is the best beach food?” A simple question that leads to a beautiful, meaningful scene.

Oscar speaks in the gentlest of tones, so gentle that it starts getting annoying. It is little wonder that his preciseness of every action, designed to maintain a peaceful equilibrium, has the opposite effect on June. They go for the same walks, wherever they are (and that ‘wherever’ place is the most fascinating of all) and the same holidays. Until one day, June suggests a skiing trip to break the monotony and bring some adventure.

What happens next, is so exquisitely unpredictable and so thought provoking, that you follow them for the rest of the journey, discovering new perspectives, along with them. And what a journey it is.  Along the journey, Oscar and June meet delightful characters like a know-all adolescent, Mark (Noah Robbins, fantastic) whose first date we witness in the most unlikely and charming way possible, given the ‘unusual’ circumstances. Other relationship boundaries between same sex friends like the one with the bolder Kase (Catherine Keener), are explored, with an explanation that is probably one of the best lines in the series: “sexuality is a spectrum….”

At every turn, there is a deep life lesson. Like what happens when you summon up the courage to leave your secure zone. Things can get wildly uncomfortable and unnerving and the outcome may also seem like the worst nightmare. But you continue to walk past that and discover the hidden treasures on the roads not taken. Themes of letting go of attachments, of honesty and self deception, energy vampires, lost opportunities, of the real and the unreal, of tough life choices; are dealt in deft writing as smooth as a ski slope. However, the point again is not just the learnings or the destination sought by June and Oscar, but their wonderful, adventurous journey into the concepts of the term ‘forever’.

Interestingly, one of the best episodes has two fabulous actors: Jason Mitchell and Hong Chou, who take you completely away from June and Oscar and leave you wondering at the connection to the larger plot. Yet, that is the most enjoyable part with a good dose of wit, fun and romance along with a hint of modern racial views.

So, did June and Oscar live happily ever after….where the mundane is the constant challenge and conflict? Watch the time when Maya Rudolf’s June belt out, “This is how we do it” and maybe, just maybe, you will get some answers.