Welcome 2012 & Saroja Review

01/09/2012 at 11:59 AM (Culture, Drama, Historical, Movies) (, , , , )

So 2011 has said its goodbye. It was a pretty eventful year with two part-time jobs gone and a full-time job gained. So with the arrival of 2012, I’ve got that job in publishing I wanted – it’s a paid one too this time.

I kept my promise of delivering a blog post each week last year (sometimes there were even more than one in a week). Hooray for a non broken New Year resolution from last year! I’m not so sure if I’ll have time to read as much, watch movies as much or go take photos in 2012 as much given the new responsibilities I have but I’ll try.

So I have joined my company’s book club. Unlike me who reads at least one book per week, they read a book per month. So my book reviews will still remain even if my post count might drop and I’ll keep watching movies!

So now we come to the end of the formalities and I’ve even included a review of a little known film from the country I was born in.

Saroja

Saroja - Sinhala movie

Saroja is a film about the conflict that existed between the Sinhalese people of Sri Lanka and the terrorist group known as the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam). This created a lot of problems for the peaceful Tamil people not wanting to be involved in the situation but were sometimes forced into terrorism in order to survive.

Note: This civil war started in the early 80s and only ended quite recently after countless broken cease fires and two president assassination attempts – one successful, one not. My school never allowed us to go on an excursion because of the risk and we were learning what to do in case a bomb hit the school – crawl under a desk with a pencil placed in your mouth – from the time we were nine years old. My school included Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims and Burghers and we all got along. It’s always the grown ups that cause the problems, huh?

Back to the film. Saroja (Nithyavani Kandasami) is a little Tamil girl who hides in the jungle with him after her father is wounded during the war and their house is burned down. When she is searching for food, she meets Varuni (Pramudi Karunarathne), a Sinhalese girl. They both become close friends and the interaction between them is absolutely touching and endearing. Varuni’s family takes in Saroja and her Tamil Tiger father despite the risk involved if they were to be discovered. Of course, the truth comes out when their neighbours pry. The Sinhalese couple harbouring the fugitives points out that Tamil people are also human in their defence with Varuni’s teacher father being the voice of reason and rationality.

While the film has a touching message at its heart, it’s not very original content but at least it wasn’t a Bollywood remake dubbed in Sinhalese like most local teledramas. Nevertheless it was a story that needed to be told and that was done quite effectively by director Somaratne Dissanayake. It comes to a sad conclusion but keeps an element of hope surviving at the finale.

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Angela’s Ashes (Film)

12/20/2011 at 12:29 AM (Actors, Classics, Drama, Emily Watson, Inspired, Movies, Robert Carlyle) (, , , , , )

Based on Irish expat Frank McCourt‘s Pulitzer Prize winning memoir Angela’s Ashes, this 1999 film adaptation shows us how he grew up in the wretched slums of Limerick during the Depression. It is clear from the start food is as scarce as employment, poverty is rife, disease is a precursor to death and squalor is everywhere. Nevertheless despite all the tragedies that befall this family including their pathetic alcoholic father figure who uses even welfare money for the drink instead of feeding his babies, Frankie seems to find some joy in life and builds his dreams on escaping to America while even managing to love his irresponsible dad. It is the rich variety of characters and experiences he has along the way to achieving this that makes this story so poignant and moving. Frank’s Irish Catholic upbringing is given a lot of focus on the film as well as the rank hypocrisy of the church.

The film is brutal in its depiction of the bleak and sad life that was had to be in Ireland with the drab brown and grey tones pervading it. Nevertheless it is still injected with doses of optimism and humour, sometimes from the most unexpected quarters. Robert Carlyle does a great job as the laconic and irresponsible Malachy while Emily Watson seems to bear the patience of a saint as she portrays the self-sacrificing woman who was Angela, Frank McCourt’s mother and the namesake of the film. The three boys who portrayed Frank were all great actors in their own right so kudos to the casting people.

Despite Angela having a husband who rarely if ever fulfilled his obligations as a father, she is the rock who made Frank determined to achieve his goal and move on from the past. It is clear she was a good-hearted person who coped with immense hardships that were thrown in her way. Ultimately while this is a tragic movie about the pain and suffering one can undergo for the love of one’s children, the ultimate triumph at the end eclipses it all.

While this is a good movie, it is possibly because it stays true to the heart of the book most of the time. If you want to watch it but haven’t read the book yet, I suggest trying it out first. Angela’s Ashes may be an uplifting story in its final message but it is not a happy one. After seeing this, you might want to think twice about complaining about your lot in life and eat humble pie instead!

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Jude the Obscure (Film)

12/07/2011 at 12:10 PM (Actors, Books, Christopher Eccleston, Classics, Drama, Historical, Kate Winslet, Movies, Religion, Romance) (, , , , , , , )

Jude is a poignant film directed by Michael Winterbottom based on the controversial novel Jude the Obscure penned by Thomas Hardy (by now you followers might have noticed I’m a big fan) starring Christopher Eccleston as Jude and Kate Winslet as his cousin (gross but legal) and love interest, Sue Brideshead.

Jude Fawley is a working class man who dreams of pursuing a university education after a heart-to-heart with a free spirited teacher but his social class and his poverty prevents him from realising his ambition. Before he attends university, he hastily marries Arabella which quickly leads into an unhappy marriage as the wedded couple realise they don’t have matching temperaments. When his wife suddenly leaves him, Jude decides to chase after his rainbow.

He becomes bitter after his university applications are rejected because of his lower class status. This is when he meets his cousin Sue, a lively and intelligent young woman who takes delight in defying convention. Jude falls for her but not before making the mistake of introducing his old teacher Mr. Phillotson to Sue; she makes the mistake of accepting his former teacher’s proposal after Jude confesses he’s married despite having no romantic chemistry with her intended husband. This eventually leads to another failed marriage.

Finally giving into her romantic urges, Jude and Sue begin to live together as they travel from place to place when he finds any work as a stonemason. In the midst of their travels, they suddenly hear from Arabella who reveals Jude has a son called Juey who seems to be a very despondent sort of child. Juey comes to stay with Jude and Sue who try and entertain him. Meanwhile Sue gives birth to two children of her own. Things come to a head when the couple is denied lodging again after Sue insists on saying she’s unmarried. She explains to Juey that they have to move because there are too many of them. This turns out to have been a fatal error on her part though Juey’s tragic reaction to her reasoning is way too dramatic – perhaps he had depression.

After this incident, Sue and Jude become severely depressed and start drifting apart. Meanwhile Sue who had turned her back on God turns her interest back into religion assuming what happened was a punishment from above. She decides to return to Phillotson because it is they who have the true marriage in divine eyes. One year later, she meets Jude as they mourn the circumstances of the past and he tries to win her back. We realise although Sue now lives with her legal husband, her true feelings have always been reserved for Jude.

The novel this film is based on was so controversial that writer Thomas Hardy stopped writing books after its publication and turned to poetry instead. Perhaps his wife may have been an influence – she thought the  tension between Sue and Jude parallelled her own relationship with Hardy. Luckily, the film version of Jude was made when it was not as bad to defy convention for love.

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Lolita (1962)

11/03/2011 at 2:00 AM (Books, Classics, Comedy, Drama, Movies, Romance, Romance) (, , , , , , )

I usually tend to hate black and white films (despite my love of vintage fashion) so it was a pleasant surprise when I found myself enraptured by one. This was the black and white rendition of Vladimir Nabokov’s classic novel Lolita by Stanley Kubrick, director and fan of the game of chess (a passion he shared in common with the author of Lolita who was also an avid lepidopterist). What a shame that Kubrick died even before editing Eyes Wide Shut properly – his films resonate with the audience so well because of his distinctive touch of style.

On opening credits, it had me spellbound on seeing a very pale and small foot having its toenails painted rather tenderly and fluffs of white cotton balls stuffed between the toes. This simple foreshadowing scene of Humbert Humbert (James Mason) painting Lolita’s (Sue Lyon) toenails is artistically composed with soothing music to match the mood. It then cuts to the first scene which has changed the order of events in the novel by putting the last event to unfold first in order to sustain interest.

The plot contains more of Kubrick’s vision despite the screenplay credit made to the original author; Vladimir Nabokov’s original content in Lolita was used sparingly in this adaptation produced in 1962. In this film, Quilty (Peter Sellers), a man similar to Humbert Humbert in Lolita’s life but lacking his naiveté, plays a more active and prominent role.

Stanley Kubrick Lolita 1962 film still

The film has been panned in the past because the eroticism was not as overt as depicted in the book and the young “nymphet” of Humbert Humbert’s infatuation looked less like a child and more like a teenager with developing curves especially when he is first tempted to stay by the sight of her in a bikini. The toning down of the sexual tension between the principal characters was mostly because the production had to be demure enough to make it by the censorship board of that time. But in doing this, Humbert Humbert is made to look less of a predator on a vulnerable young girl. This could also be due to the fact this film falls into the genre of dark comedy, hence Peter Sellers and his multiple personas. But this did make me feel uneasy and perhaps this was a clever stratagem on Kubrick’s part as this seems to be the intended feeling he wanted to evoke.

Nevertheless I found it to be an interesting interpretation that was skillfully delivered through the cinematic medium for me to remain engrossed from start to finish. For some reason, I feel that if you liked American Beauty by Sam Mendes, you will enjoy Lolita if black and white does not pose a problem for you.

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