Never Let Me Go

When I first watched the film Gone With The Wind, I thought that it was as good as the book by Margaret Mitchell.  The book was great, but the film was also fantastic on its own.  For me that’s a rare feeling, as I usually find the original books to be immensely better.

Last week I finished reading Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro (author of The Remains of the Day). The book is about three friends, Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy, who grow up together in an English boarding school, and continue to be friends into young adulthood. The book is categorically science fiction but the way Ishiguro develops the characters, their relationships, and their experiences made me often forget that point.

image via foxsearchlight.com

I watched the film version of it just a day after I completed the book and was disappointed. Perhaps because it was so fresh in my mind, I hadn’t had enough time to separate my thoughts and perceptions of what I had just read in order to just enjoy the film. To me, it left out some of the most poignant moments of the book, and also didn’t capture the heightened emotions that Ishiguro had injected into his writing. There’s also a huge twist in the book that the author slowly teases us with. It’s revealed layer by layer, as the characters and their world evolve. In the film, however, it’s presented quicker, and the science fiction aspect is more obvious throughout.

Carey Mulligan first impressed me in the film An Education, and she is perfectly cast in the role of Kathy, the most introverted and thoughtful of the trio. Ruth and Tommy are played by Keira Knightley and Andrew Garfield (from The Social Network), and they are also good but not as good as Mulligan.

Overall, I may have enjoyed this film more if I hadn’t read the book first. It was hard to watch when so many details were left out, especially ones that I felt were important to the characters’ stories. To me, the book was amazing and the film was only average.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

My sister and I took our mother to watch The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel last weekend. I had slightly low expectations, but we figured she would like it because it was set in India and the main characters were retirees, like her.

The film revolves around a group of aging Londoners who find themselves traveling to Jaipur, India to settle in a retirement resort that promises to be a luxurious, yet affordable, tropical paradise. The group consists of a recent widow, a married couple on the verge of their fortieth wedding anniversary, a wheel-chair bound woman seeking hip replacement surgery, a former high court judge, a single grandmother on the prowl for a rich husband, and a geriatric ladies’ man. Not exactly a fascinating crew on paper.

When they arrive to The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, they find that it is a dusty shell of past grandeur. The paint on the walls are peeling, there are birds roosting in bedrooms, and the telephones don’t work. The current owner/manager is a young Indian man, played by Dev Patel from Slumdog Millionaire, who skips around, both physically and in speech, and who somehow convinces them all to bear with him while he restores the hotel to its former glory.

image via foxsearchlight.com
Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, and Bill Nighy in Jaipur

Set against the bustling and colorful backdrop of Jaipur, new relationships are forged while old ones are tested. Personalities come out, as do stories of people’s pasts. The script is corny and predictable at times, and in the hands of a less talented cast, this movie would have been a complete failure, but it was saved by possibly the greatest acting ensemble to ever come together for such a simple project. The list is remarkable – Dame Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy, Penelope Wilton, Maggie Smith, Ronald Pickup, and Celie Imrie. There was a rumor that Peter O’Toole and Julie Christie had been slated to play two of the parts, and as hugely talented as they are, I think the final casting was better (Nighy and Wilton got those parts).

In comparison, British actor Dev Patel’s skills were lacking. I was disappointed by his inability to muster up a believable local accent; he sounded like he was performing a comical mimicry of an Indian person. His character is supposed to be from a successful, cosmopolitan family, and yet he spoke with a gibberish patois that was beyond irritating, although this could be blamed on the writing as well. His mother, played by the beautiful and reliable cross-over actress Lillete Dubey, spoke better English than her young son.

There were also some film conveniences taken that bothered me, for instance, how did these random strangers all happen to decide to move to India at exactly the same time? And how is it possible that for the two months of the film, not a single other retiree arrives at the hotel to check in? And why didn’t it ever rain? A film set in India in the summer has to have rain! And how did Judi Dench’s character’s Dell laptop never get swiped out of her room? I’ll have to put these questions to rest in my brain because I’ll never get answers to them.

Overall, the film was based on a silly premise, but the cast made it worth watching. Judi Dench and Bill Nighy were exceptional. Whether the chemistry between all of the actors was real or not, they’re so good you believe everything they do, and it’s enough to distract from all the failures of the film. Also, my mother liked it, so that was all that mattered.

The Raven

Having long been a fan of John Cusack I was eager to see him depict the 19th century poet Edgar Allen Poe in his latest film. Despite seeing that the film received a metacritic.com score of 44 (out of 100), I still went to watch it in the theater, and while I don’t think it was award-worthy, I did like most of it. The film is basically a serial murder mystery pulled along by real facts about Poe and his more famous writings, but with an overlying premise completely based on fantasy and conjecture. The first half is filled with gore as the M.O. of the serial killer is unveiled, and most of the film is filled with suspense and creepiness. And a smattering of ravens. The ending is weak compared to the pace and plot leading up to it, almost like they ran out of time to think of a better one.

Cusack does a fine job as Poe; on the surface he resembled the photographs widely available of the poet. Whether he mastered the speech patterns of the day, I’m not sure, but he delivered Poe’s poetry as someone who had written the words himself. The supporting cast is also decent, most notably the Welsh actor Luke Evans, who plays a police detective, and Irish actor Brendan Gleeson as the father of Poe’s lover. At times Evans delivers his lines like he’s on a daytime soap opera, but he’s easy on the eyes and builds a good character by the end. On the flip side, actor Brendan Coyle, Downton Abbey‘s Mr. Bates, didn’t seem right to play an inflexible barkeep in olden-day Baltimore.  They should have let him use his real accent instead of forcing him to try an American one.

There was one really odd thing about the film, but it came in the closing credits.  The graphics and music were loud and flashy, like they were pulled from the latest James Bond film. I’m not sure why they chose to do this, as it’s so disconnected that for a moment I forgot which film I had just watched.

The entire story takes place in 1849 Baltimore, Maryland, which apparently requires shooting in Hungary and Serbia to attain believable 19th century architecture and gloom. The look-and-feel reminded me of the recent Sherlock Holmes films, but while those are violent with comedy interspersed, this was violent with more violence interspersed. The Raven may not be for everyone, but I enjoyed it.

An Evening with David Lynch

Last Friday evening I walked over to the Jack Tilton Gallery on the Upper East Side to take a look at a month-long exhibit of artwork by David Lynch, the great filmmaker who wrote and directed (among other responsibilities) such mind-bending films as Mulholland Drive, Blue Velvet, and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. The gallery was extending its hours for what it touted as a reception with artist in attendance (the term “reception” used very loosely). Once there, I not only got a chance to see his mixed-media pieces, but I also got to see Lynch himself.

When Lynch entered the gallery, he found himself in the middle of a sea of people clamoring to speak to him. He then spent about fifteen minutes graciously shaking hands and posing for photos. One of his young fans approached him and said, “There’s like ten people in this world that are on my list of people to meet, and you’re like…near the top”, at which point everyone in earshot started laughing:

As he stopped for a few minutes in a narrow hallway leading to the back room, I was standing right across from him. Instead of thinking of something interesting to say to him, I decided to continue taking photographs. Thanks for looking into my lens, Mr. Lynch!

A short while later, he was escorted by gallery staff into a back office, out the rear of the building, down some stairs in the backyard, to a subterranean area off-limits to the throngs. I left shortly after that but found out later that he re-appeared upstairs to speak to people in the rest of the exhibit spaces.

As for the artwork, it was as dark and quirky as his films. Many of the pieces incorporated text, lights, and everyday objects, and contained interesting details when viewed up close. I’m hoping to take a look at the exhibit again soon when the spaces aren’t so crowded.

Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

images via IMDB

The winner for Best Foreign Language Film at the 1965 Academy Awards, this film uses the same two actors to tell three different stories. At first I thought this would be weird to watch, but Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni are so good at what they do that the vignettes become great little movies that are very separate from one another.

Act I tells the tale of Adelina, a struggling young wife and mother who is on the verge of being arrested for selling cigarettes. Upon discovering that there’s a law forbidding the arrest of a pregnant woman, she comes up with a plan: always be pregnant or nursing (which wins another six months of freedom). The mayhem this brings on their life is humorous, until we see the toll it starts to take on their marriage and her husband’s mental and physical health.

Act II is a car ride between Anna, a self-centered woman married to a wealthy businessman, and her lover Renzo, who she wants to go away with. Anna is a horrible driver, and has no place driving a gorgeous new Rolls Royce. She eventually hands the wheel of her expensive car over to him, but a moment of daydreaming leads to a crash into the side of the road.  This brings out the worst in her personality as she looks for the first chance of rescue, with or without Renzo.

Act III is the story of Mara, a sexy prostitute who lives next door to a prudish old woman. When the old lady’s adorable grandson comes to visit on a break from seminary school, Mara and he strike up a quick friendship on their balconies. His fondness for her makes him shun his plans for priesthood, much to his grandmother’s dismay. Mara makes a week-long vow of chastity if she can convince young Umberto to go back to the seminary. This might be a problem for her client Rusconi (Mastroianni) who has been visiting her for days trying to get an appointment. This was my favorite of the three stories; it was also the funniest.

Although Loren’s three characters are stereotypes – the sassy Italian mother, the self-centered rich bitch, and the prostitute with a heart of gold – she still brings something extra to each role. Her gorgeous eyes draw you in to each story and the womens’ emotions. Mastroianni, an excellent actor on his own, plays the supportive man to each of her ladies. The combination of the two is a treat to watch. A bonus for anyone in the world in love with Loren is the little striptease that Mara does towards the end of the film.