Review of Akshay Kumar’s ‘Khiladi 786’, The Kind of Films Bollywood Should NOT Make

English: Indian actor Akshay Kumar

Indian actor Akshay Kumar in one of his career worst performances in Khiladi 786 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Summary: The mass manipulation of media by moneyed mainstream has tarnished the quality of Indian cinema, giving birth to products such as Khiladi 786

Plot: Akshay Kumar plays himself but since he is an ‘actor‘ and the ‘film’ requires it’s cast to have unique character names, he is therefore called Bahattar Singh; the guy is a con policeman whose entire family of equally tough men believe in making money catching criminals and sometimes framing innocents wrongfully, but the same guy is also rejected by every girl in the town. The leading lady Asin asininely plays a crime lord’s daughter whose lover remains behind bars and so she takes all her prospective bridegrooms on a deadly car drive so that they can reject her. The marriage-maker is played here by Himesh Reshammiya, whose character’s idiosyncrasies put him in great trouble. Supporting cast made up by people usually associated with Akshay Kumar films.

After being repeatedly and uninhibitedly subjected to erratic zip-zap-zoom cinematography with not really visible attempts at fine-tuning, shoddy, so-obvious-it’s- made-out-of-cheaper-quality-material set properties and horrifyingly loud and sometimes out-of-sync sound that has the ability to molest one’s ear, an Indian like me has begun to believe that the availability of good technology, the assumption that the Indian audience always keeps their cerebrum aside while entering the theater and the mass manipulation of the media by the moneyed mainstream has corrupted many of today’s Indian directors, actors and production crew, who seemed to have forgone the basic elements of creating a good cinema and completely left out the advantages of a well-penned script, thereby tarnishing quality completely in favor of show-me-the-money!

Ah I feel so good now after getting this off my chest! This the the pent up feeling (or rant) that bubbled within me with each new frame in Khiladi 786, whose director is incompetent, whose producer (the lead actor’s wife herself) is a cash cow, whose cinematographer is reckless, whose sound recordist is insane and whose actors are extremely aware of their limitations yet incredibly proud that they still are minting money while hundred of capable actors aren’t getting their dues. Salman Khan dropped the bar to depths rivaling Othello’s hapless state after realizing the deceit played on him by the manipulative Iago, but Akshay out-lowers him with smelly poo excreted into an expensive diaper. Only time shall tell whether it is Salman who goes even lower in Dabang 2 or it is some third person who walks away with the usually-dreaded-but-now-coveted-because- money-is-at-least-recovered Hall of Shame.

Since the movie took it’s audience for granted, I did the same for the movie: I left (read ‘fled’) during the interval. It should not be the way a movie should be critiqued but there are certainly exceptions such as this wacky piece. I’m not sure whether the director tried doing a Tarantino (i.e. using prominent qualities from low budget action film in developing a highly stylized, high quality movie, such as Kill Bill inspired by small budget Japanese martial arts films), but in case he did, then he has failed miserably. Just getting a better camera and better recording devices aren’t the keys of making a better film; would Kill Bill have received such a glorious response had it just got a very expensive camera with sharper clarity and high-tech sound devices without creating the epic saga, using proper narrative devices or choreographing it’s complex martial arts moves with beauty and precision? The people associated with Khiladi 786 are all spoilt brats who shamelessly exploit wrongly the resources they are able to obtain just because they have so much money.

The most disturbing part of films such as Khiladi 786 is the open misogynist values it promotes. Asin’s character is a rough rider who can only be controlled by a man, and so there’s a humiliating sequence where Akshay’s character Sattar dumps her on the shotgun seat, takes charge of the driver seat and drives at a monstrous speed to make her submit to his manhood completely. In between the sequence, the action is cut to a fantasy sequence where Sattar driving a swanky car and Asin sits beside him and acts like one of those bimbos in music videos. I’ve seen this with Salman Khan films too – nearly all his leading ladies literally act like they are completely powerless under Salman’s mighty control.

Seems like my rant has still not finished, but what else can said about this work? Akshay Kumar has admitted he isn’t very talented as an actor but he proves now that he has stopped being an entertainer too. Asin has been having a Ghajini hangover for over two years and it’s time she really tries her hand at some other profession. Reshammiya should suck his hubris about being multi-talented and stick to what he does best… Judge music shows that I don’t watch so I do not get to see his face. The rest of the cast knows they risk losing their money-making jobs if either Akshay or Salman quits, so they remain loyal to their films, no matter how hopelessly their little talent is exploited.

Review of 2007 Independent Film The Great Indian Butterfly Starring Sandhya Mridul

English: Sandhya Mridul at Rakesh Agarwal Coll...

 Sandhya Mridul Plays The Lead Role In The Great Indian Butterfly(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Summary:The Great Indian Butterfly tells a lot and shows little making it a journey through hell… for us, the poor unfortunate audience

The Great Indian Butterfly tackles head-on multiple abstract themes of love (and its absence), peace, happiness, joy, pleasure, guilt, grief, search etc in a matter typical of new Indian art house films. There are abrupt cuts and fade-outs to flashbacks and dreamlike sequences. There is a smattering of symbolism. There is inclusion of music through unconventional ways such as live performances, and a recent trend that has been adopted to appeal to urban Indian audiences and foreign viewers is to only have the actors speak in English throughout. Unfortunately, the movie finds little success in any of the levels; the main deterrent here is the abundance of telling and little of showing, and hence we never really feel for the characters and their situations because they keep telling us every damn thing they are feeling.

Almost three-fourth of the film is taken up by banal accusations thrown again and again by the two lead characters who are pretty comfortable at venting their feelings to each other. Even the film techniques are not successful – the cuts are jarring and the narrative quite confusing, the symbolism doesn’t really work for reasons explained later in the review, the background score is unmemorable and worse is the post-synchronous dubbing which robs the complexities of spatial relations created through audio (for example, the dialogs of a character at a distance are heard at same volume as that of a character closer to the screen).

Speaking of plot, White Feather Films has done a wonderful job in giving a scintillating synopsis for the film (you can read it on the IMDb site). The words themselves have been carefully chosen so to raise as much curiosity about the film as possible; it almost sounds like a work that could’ve been made by someone like Terrence Malick. In my own words, the synopsis would sound like this: Amateur entomologist Krish and his bickering career-oriented wife Meera are on a search to find a resolution to their unhappy lives, with the husband believing that the search would end only when they are able to locate a rare species of butterfly. On their pursuit, the two have verbal tussles where a few skeletons tumble out of the closet – we get to know what Meera chose to sacrifice in order to get a promotion, and what Krish gave up before marrying Meera. Not keeping it simple and straight, their story is interrupted often either by a white man who just can’t stop talking abstruse concepts about butterflies and the lessons he has learned from his own search, or flashbacks of Krish’s past affair with Liza or a current subplot involving Meera’s telephonic conversations with her filthy-minded boss. We just have to wait and watch whether the search would culminate in bringing happiness or end fruitlessly.

If you want to watch a similar movie told a million times better, you should watch Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep and Chris Cooper starrer Adaptation, which is really how the theme of search should be tackled. In Adaptation, Meryl Streep played an author named Susan Laroche whose bestseller was to be adapted to the silver screen by Cage, a scriptwriter. That movie was about Cage’s search in completing his screenplay, which was a complicated task considering the ambiguous ending of the book itself. In Great Indian Butterfly, Krish keeps reading a book of the same title, but we rarely see him touching the book in the course of the film. We rather get crude shots of Barry John acting as a character who keeps babbling in between, confounding us for most part about his purpose in the film. I won’t reveal the true purpose of his character, but I would want to ask one thing: why could the film not do away with Barry for most part, and allow Krish to read passages from the book instead (the device of ‘internal sound’ could’ve easily been used).

The flashbacks of Krish’s affair with Liza is also crudely shown, especially in the first sequence (the one where Liza is lying nude on the bed with a blue bed-sheet covering her derrière) which is so dominated by the color blue that one is confused whether the scene is a memory or a dream. On the other hand, Meera’s scenes with her boss have only one problem – Meera tends to fight and crib too much even while speaking with her boss. But worse than all these are Krish’s and Meera’s arguments, which start with Meera admonishing her husband for not setting the alarm and then move further to issues like absence of love, past affairs etc. Not once do you really care for the characters because the two don’t share the tempestuous chemistry a bickering couple should share, but the writer is more to be blamed for this than the actors.

Sarthak Dasgupta keeps the various themes the central topics of discussion, and this makes the arguments very banal. There is an absence of subtlety, and the repetitive hearings of ‘You have never done this’, ‘We share no intimacy’ etc can get highly dull. When we finally get to know what’s going on between Liza and Krish, we simply wonder why Krish could not tell it immediately when Meera walked out on him. When I saw Krish stand outside his room in his towel watching Meera leave, I thought ‘Man, show some effort! Your inexplicable silence makes things worse!’; I personally thought a secret like ‘Krish and Liza having an illegitimate child’ would’ve been slightly more effective since it is parallel to the plot of Krish and Meera not having any children themselves.

The camera work is also very choppy at times. Thank God this film didn’t get a wider release, otherwise ‘theater and film acting coach’ Barry John’s own acting abilities and film selection would’ve been questioned.

Review of Bollywood Film ‘Special 26’ A Neeraj Pandey (Director of A Wednesday) Work

English: Divya Dutta at Areopagus Launch Party...

Actress Divya Dutta Plays a policewoman In Special 26(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Summary:Despite Getting Bogged Down By Forgettable Dance Segments, A Kitschy Romantic Subplot & A Hollow First-Half, Special 26 Gains Momentum Post-Interval And Wins Big With Climax

Special 26 begins well, ends better. Neeraj Pandey knew exactly how he had to surprise his audience, and so he probably wrote the rest of the movie hurriedly, only highlighting the key dialogs, because he knew that even if the audience remained less complimentary towards Special 26 till the interval, they would love it by the end because of the twist ending they had never expected. Before the interval, Pandey does not really have much to tell and so he inflates all his scenes till he can get sufficient footage for the average runtime of a Hindi film, and in the endeavor he wastes a lot many frames on forgettable song and dance sequences and a kitschy romantic subplot. After the intermission, although he begins with the same mistake of tarrying too long on unimportant sequences, once he gets to the section that justifies the film’s true purpose, Pandey’s approach becomes smarter, subtle and succinct. His screenplay required more of the crackling wit and dark humor which movies like 1986s Bette Midler starrer Ruthless People had, and some of Special 26’s cast could’ve enlivened their roles with more spontaneity, yet Neeraj Pandey pulls off a successful heist film with his flair for unexpected climaxes.

The best thing about Special 26 is the title: while you may have a fair idea about what the title stands for in the film from watching the trailer, you would be surprised by how well the title serves as a motif in the film. The motif not only acts as an aid for the game-changing climax but it actually sacrifices itself for the climax. You won’t get what I’m telling right now but understand it after watching the film. I’ll put it this way: The Special 26 in the film serve little purpose in the film except to become scapegoats for the actual purpose of the movie.

The main plot of the film involves a group of crooks posing as CBI agents who raid the filthy-rich and escape with the black money. The two lead crooks are played by Akshay Kumar, who plays Ajay Singh, and Anupam Kher, who plays P.K Sharma; the duo joined by Joginder and Iqbal find this job extremely profitable and easy to execute because in most cases, the aggrieved parties do not file FIR fearing that their name would be tarnished if they do so. One of their successful targets shown in the film is a minister who stashes multiple bundles of notes behind library books and in large containers under the praying area.

The group is accompanied by police officers Ranvir Singh (played by Jimmy Shergill) and Shanti (played by Divya Dutta) who too mistaken them for real CBI officers. After the group successfully escapes, the two officers are left shame-faced and are suspended by their superior. Ajay Singh and the rest then decide to go Kolkata for their next fake operation while Shergill (and Dutta) teams up with real CBI officer Wasim Khan to track the impostors down. On PK Sharma’s insistence, Ajay Singh decides that they need to do something big, and for that they shall need additional help, and so they begin recruiting the ‘Special 26’.

Throughout the raiding sequences, we see money tumbling out of many unexpected places. Some are stashed under the back seat of a dusty unused car. Some are found in locked cupboards. Some are kept in hidden rooms. All throughout, we see the wrongdoers (as in those who’ve stashed the money and are in turn getting robbed) plead and give the silliest of excuses to prevent further raiding. For example, the minister’s wife begs to the officer not to search the temple area as God’s peace would be disturbed. These sequences needed more sparkling humor, and I can think of one person who would’ve got this humor while still retaining the central objective of the film: Paresh Rawal. All we get here is characters going “What is this we have here?” “Sir, look what I’ve found!” without getting more punch lines. And although Akshay and Anupam do a fair job at playing their characters, I believe the film would’ve been much different had for example, Ranbir Kapoor and Pankaj Kapoor or Naserrudin Shah or Rawal played the leads. Akshay Kumar plays Ajay the same style in which Ben Stiller played the lead role in Tower Heist: he seems to be there in every scene, he speaks each line clearly yet he does nothing extra to make him more believable as a street-smart, dexterous con-man who’s capable and smart to execute complex plans. And worse are his unsuccessful attempts at creating chemistry with the inept …; Pandey could’ve easily trimmed the entire film to a brisk ninety minutes by removing much of that time-wasting subplot.

While Special 26 succeeds whenever it exclusively focuses on its core plot, it disappoints when it deviates to back-stories and subplots. People are raving about this movie as if it’s something they’ve never seen in Indian cinema, but I’d like to remind that there was a similar film which achieved resounding overall success in its execution some years ago – Hera Pheri.

Review of 2012 Bollywood Film Talaash Starring Aamir Khan, Rani Mukherjee and Kareena Kapoor

English: Aamir Khan at the 2010 Toronto Intern...

Aamir Khan Plays Cop Surjit Singh In Talaash (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Summary: Reema Kagti carelessly places her directorial hands over Talaash’s genre-confused body, resulting in an impotent snooze-fest instead of a sensational cinematic orgasm

Plot: Surjit Singh is a cop who investigates the death of Armaan Kapoor, a popular actor. The investigation leads Surjit not just into the underbelly of Bombay – the brothel life, the pimps and the prostitutes but also into his own past, involving the death of his child in a similar manner. Thus, by solving the case with the help of a mysterious prostitute named Rosy, he not only shall gain credit at work but also gain a resolution to his sterile marriage life with Shreya as the couple bear the weight of the guilt of losing their child.

Talaash should not have begun the way it did. The opening sequence of a car unexpectedly losing control and crashing into the sea gives us a wrong impression of what we as audience members should place focus on. The next shot of Aamir Khan dressed up as a policeman, putting on a thickset mustache and visible frown, approaching the crime scene in his police jeep puts us under the impression that we are about to see a pure fast-paced crime thriller with little focus on the protagonist’s own personal problems; generally, most crime thrillers add some depth to the protagonist by adding a minor side plot which involves the character getting some form of personal resolution by the end of the story, but this would not take up much of the screen time.

We also learn that a pimp has some pecuniary involvement with the dead celebrity who was alone in the car that crashed into the sea, and that the case shall involve the brothel home. In a well shot sequence, we see alternating shots of Surjeet Singh (the character played by Aamir Khan) testing how the incident must’ve taken place, by driving the car in a similar manner (except he does apply the brakes at the right time) and a repeated shot of the car crash. We witness many interrogations taken by him with the family members, prostitutes, dealers and well… two guys but I’ve completely forgotten what those interrogations were for. There are many CID like establishment shots of buildings which gradually begin to annoy (why always show a tilting shot of the building where the action is to take place, just cut to the chase). All this puts us on one track, and we expect the side plot involving Surjeet Singh, his wife Shreya (played by Rani Mukherjee) and their late son to settle comfortably at the back, only to appear at certain moments adding a balanced parallelism between the present case and the past incident.

Now the film does an egregious error of switching tracks without a warning: the focus is shifted to the couple’s loveless marriage life after the boating incident involving their son. The main issue here is that we are actually supposed to take the ludicrous scenes between Shreya and the medium Frenny played by Shernaz Patel as scenes of crucial importance. Shernaz does an impression of Frenny which reminded me a bit of that villain from Troll 2, in fact she too bakes a pie for Shreya just like that character baked one in Troll 2. And with the kind of dialogs that she was given (hackneyed), the character of Frenny did not seem like one to pay much attention to; I thought at first she might’ve been some reporter trying to extract information about the case or (a little far-fetched) that Surjit’s son was actually alive and with Frenny. The marriage issue takes up much of the time till the interval, inter-cut with some dull conversations of Surjit with a mysterious prostitute Rosy played blandly by Kareena Kapoor. By then, the audience is not sure what it’s supposed to concentrate on – what is the talaash for?

Post-intermission, you watch some chase sequences, very less suspense and unnecessary subplots. The twist that the whole world’s talking about (not really) made me think like this ‘Oh… does it really matter when the case itself is given such a poor treatment and the plot discontinuity is so awkward? Couldn’t this movie have the same twist but with much more focus on the case, and a case worth giving much focus to? Really… I see a bit of Sixth Sense, Japanese movie Odishon, flop film Madhoshi and maybe some others but I don’t remember them now. Hell, this was not worth the hype at all – this is definitely a ‘first’ for an Indian psychological neo-noir crime drama, but nothing groundbreaking for the genres that it falls under. Even with the plot, script etc remaining the same, this could have been more tolerable with a different cast.’

I read Shubhra Gupta’s review in Indian Express and she has precisely said the same thing that came to my mind watching Aamir Khan’s performance: ‘His frown could have relaxed a bit’. You get ‘forehead Surjit Singh’ all the time as you eyes wander again and again to the frown that never lightens up, staying tight as if it’s been plastered unmovable. Kareena’s dialogs and inane and she makes Rosy sound dry and boring – an ‘I’m bored so I’m saying these lines’ kind of prostitute. However, her dry delivery works in one scene, probably the only seen where my attention was drawn to the subjects than the popcorn I was munching – it happens when she mirthlessly talks about the invisible lives of prostitutes. Rani isn’t totally invested in her character, and we feel absolutely nothing for her when she berates Surjit out of frustration. Because the case of Armaan’s death itself has less importance, I felt unable to get all the drama that was happening in the brothel and it’s sad because Nawazzudin’s efforts fail as his character doesn’t matter to me (this isn’t his fault).

Talaash fails in concocting the different genres – it add too much of one and too little of the other.

Review: ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ The Oscar Nominated Film By David Frankel (This Review Was Written About An Year Ago)

(May Contain Spoilers)

Cover of "The Devil Wears Prada [Blu-ray]...

Cover of The Devil Wears Prada [Blu-ray]

Summary: “A Million Girls would Kill for It” yet no one is hurt, bruised or well, killed

“A million girls would kill for this job” is iterated with awe by Emily Charlton, Christian Thompson, Nigel and Doug when referring to the position of Miranda Priestley’s assistant. It is indeed a prestige value to do work for Miranda, to answer her calls, to get her lunch, to deliver ‘The Book’ to her residence, to arrange for dresses, to … walk her dogs, to eh…. steal a copy of the unpublished Harry Potter manuscript so that her precious daughters get to know whether Harry survives or not, to …. do anything and everything SHE wishes, because YOU have become the ‘coveted’ assistant of Miranda Priestley, even though she may rechristen you to suit her memory. You also have to endure all her petty whims and her acidic tongue, otherwise you won’t get all those precious goodies like a Chanel (or whatever the brand name is) purse, lip gloss, eye roller etc. And what happens after the initial bullying, insults and browbeating? You are still treated like dirt. Still YOU are Miranda Priestley’s assistant – she can make or mostly break you.
The Devil Wears Prada had the potential of becoming a dark, twisted comedy drama or even a thriller had it utilized the ‘million girls would kill…’ line literally. Emily Charleston certainly seemed envious of Andy Sachs becoming the apple of Miranda’s beady eyes. She was so keen to go to Paris and meet those models, designers and writers – if only Sachs did not get appointed. She may have selected the previous assistants purposely so that they disappoint Miranda and get fired; EMILY would get to be her assistant alone, had Sachs not arrived.

Instead Devil Wears Prada chooses a safer, predictable approach of Sachs involvement in fashion and her subsequent understanding about herself and her true aims. Even this would’ve hit the mark had Miranda been a lot tamer or a lot more autocratic. When Sachs has diligently worked for Miranda, even at the cost of her close ones, and endured Miranda’s irrational behavior for so long, it seems insincere of her to suddenly empathize with her boss just because her boss has her own personal problems. To me, that moment was cinematic manipulation at its worst.

Miranda is a highly ambitious, career-oriented woman who does not run Runway but rather rules Runway. She is the female Caligula in the field of fashion, and her own employees scurry to their respective places whenever she arrives. She does not accept anything that is less than perfect, and then she does not even give some encouragement to her designers. How can Andy Sachs, who experiences Miranda’s abuse of power every day, have a change of heart after one fleeting moment of vulnerability from Miranda? She does not want Miranda to be replaced, saying that Runway is Miranda’s life and baby; well, if this is how Miranda treats her baby, then isn’t it better if there is a change of leadership?

Another factor that mars Miranda’s softer side is that this is a film and not a television series, unlike the hugely popular Ugly Betty, where the villainous Vanessa Williams cools down gradually as the show comes to a close. It would take more than a single scene to convince me that Miranda is really a suitable leader of Runway. Another alternative ending that would have suited the title was to have Andy resume her work with Miranda and becoming as dominating and hard-hearted as her (something similar to All about Eve).

The lightweight happy ending in Devil Wears Prada robs the edginess that it could’ve had. Also, Andy Sachs should’ve left her inconsiderate boyfriend and stayed with the writer, who to me actually had some chemistry with her. All this is compromised to make the movie (and the book) more suited for young love-story-and-happy-ending loving girls. And based on the gross sales of the movie and the book, it did work for the intended audience. I found the story to be (a favorite word used by some reviewers on IMDb) smarmy, lightweight and pandering.

Meryl Streep seemed more like a supporting ‘Miranda watches over us’ figure rather than the main actress. She speaks laconically, incisively and cuttingly in a cynical low tone that does make her appear like a monster, yes, but her character did not really require Streep to say, work her butt off, like in Sophie’s Choice or Out of Africa. Neither did her character have to undergo a sea of contradictory emotions that required great prowess. I am not speaking against Streep, she was Miranda, but she had a supporting influence on the main actress, Anne Hathaway. Crowing her with best actress nominations instead of supporting actress will only make DWP seem like another Meryl vehicle. Anne Hathaway makes this movie look more like her fairytale, where she meets all these people and discovers herself – shimmerier on the surface than within. Emily Blunt is given a terrible and reductive role; the writer could have done wonders with a character like her, instead she just played a sidekick. Stanley Tucci‘s subtle and restrained performance is also underutilized. In short, everyone, including many of the supporting parts, played their characters well, but their characters were written without much thought.

Putting Madonna’s numbers like Vogue and Jump were awkward – I only thought they would have it in the trailer and not in the middle of the film. Speaking about Madonna, there is a slick number of hers in Confessions on a Dance Floor called ‘Like it or not’ which is like a middle finger to her haters. ‘This is who I am, You can like it or not, You may love me or leave me, But I’m never going to stop, oh no!’ she sings. Had Andy continued her alliance with Miranda and left her former, bubbly self, Devil Wears Prada would have been a sinful delight.

Review of Meryl Streep And Tommy Jones Starrer ‘Hope Springs’ By David Frankel, also the director of The Devil Wears Prada

English: Meryl Streep on the 56th Internationa...

3 Time Oscar Winner Meryl Streep  Plays Kay In Hope Springs(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Summary: Hope Springs rewards you the time you’ve spent watching the therapy sessions between the couple with a near-brilliant third act spectacularly played by Streep and Jones

The Indian version of Big Brother reality show has a divorced couple under the same roof as two competing contestants. Although I rarely watch the show, I did manage to catch one episode where the couple fought a heated argument involving their past. The husband was extremely defensive and tried to overrule his wife’s allegations by shouting back whenever she tried to put across her point while the wife on the other hand was overly submissive, holding back her voice and nodding as if accepting that everything is her own fault. These two contestants are extremely similar in their personalities to Arnold and Kay, except they seem like they are in their forties…. and they are no longer together.

On the other hand, Kay and Arnold remain a couple for 31 years but seem to have lost the passion and spirit to keep their marriage alive, and therefore, on Kay’s insistence, seek the help of a counselor named Dr. Feld. During their week-long sessions, they are probed about their marriage and sexual fantasies and are instructed to do tasks that shall try to resolve the ‘deviated septum’/the lacunae in their marriage. This gamble has chances of putting their marriage at risk by exposing their weaknesses, but it also has gains that are worth the efforts – a glimmer of hope.

Hope Springs succeeds at bringing joy and hope in not just its protagonists’ lives but also in the audiences’ own satisfaction with the film with its near-brilliant last twenty five minutes that is so well acted by both Streep and Jones that you as the audience member feel completely compensated for the time you have spent listening to the long counseling sessions with the couple. It keeps its plot complexity to the bare minimum by focusing majorly on Kay and Arnold; even Dr. Feld is simply there as a stimulus to change the couple’s lives and so we know nothing much about him. Well, if you really think about it, would you being a patient really want to know about your counselor’s personal life when you are too concerned about yourself? This limited perspective was necessary for us to realize how important the therapy was for the two, especially Kay.

Kay is the faithful wife who is too old-fashioned/submissive to play the role of a seductress or a dominatrix. She is not able to give sex but is more comfortable receiving it, and so fails when she tries giving her husband pleasure in the theater on the recommendation of Dr. Feld (to whom Arnold mentions about having fantasies of banging Kay in public). Arnold finds it hard to assume charge, and neither does he allow his wife to try to fulfill his fantasies. Dr. Feld issues homework not based on predetermined theories but through permutations and combinations of whatever information the couple has given him, for example, Kay hates Arnold’s lack of effort and parsimony, so Dr. Feld instructs him to take his wife on a date at an expensive hotel. The main challenge is to confront the problem in the real world, once the couple has left the holiday spot. After much winnowing and polishing, we just have to see whether the before-after effect works or not.

As mentioned in the third paragraph, the last twenty five minutes of Hope Springs is worth the long (at least in terms of pace and tempo of the movie) wait. Meryl Streep evokes an emotional response in the realest sense from the audience and this isn’t the first time she has done this. Watching her performance is similar to reading Leo Tolstoy‘s War and Peace – both are exquisitely detailed and both make everything right at the crucial moment. In War and Peace, when Natasha has a change of heart and tries to escape with Anatole, you as the reader are completely into her state of mind – you literally experience what she is experiencing. In Hope Springs, the moment came right after Arnold opens his eyes while trying to penetrate Kay and stops sex midway and the camera shows a profile view of Arnold on top of Kay – Kay realizes what has happened and covers her mouth with her hand for a second and then sits on the floor. The way Meryl reacts as Kay had me crying, but I didn’t realize for a few moments that I was in tears and had a lump in my throat. Meryl makes you feel certain sensations that can be only felt when you watch something real –in Out of Africa, towards the end, when Meryl fell to her knees to beg I could actually feel my heart sink into my stomach.

Arnold is very obdurate in his thinking and personality and has his defenses ready in the form of nagging, arguing and browbeating. But with every argument against him gaining strength, his whole body sinks and the only easy solution for him is to leave or neglect the problem itself. This trait is visible in almost every man since men have big egos and a will to prove they are in the right. Tommy Lee Jones channels this down to a T, and substantially assists Meryl in well, driving her character to the point of a nervous breakdown. But Tommy also shows Arnold’s positive side – his sense of humor, his comforting smile and faithfulness. The performance has been overlooked by Golden Globes who have done him a favor by nominating him for ‘Best Actor in Supporting Role’, but it would’ve been a worthy contender had it been nominated.

Last words about the music: Let’s Stay Together complement’s Arnold’s tastes (most men in 50s love such music) but not ‘Why?’ and the one playing while Kay is shopping (non-diegetic music that should’ve been cut out).

Review of Mike Nichols’ 1983 film Silkwood, Starring 3-time Oscar Winner Meryl Streep

Cover of "Silkwood"

Cover of Silkwood

Summary: Silkwood Was A Martryr Who Died For A Greater Cause. The Film Is Less Bothered About The Cause Though, Highlighting More About Everything Karen Lost. There’s Little To Cheer.

Silkwood is one of those movies that you simply should not watch at midnight. Unfortunately, my cable television placed the movie at the 12:30 am slot and on top of it kept no intermissions, not even one during the movie. So I had to stay awake late at night and watch this in the living area, dimming the lights around me and lowering the T.V.’s audibility so that my family would not get disturbed by the warning alarm sounds heard often in the film. Without any intermissions, I was a little lost during the movie because keeping an intermission during films does indeed have a powerful impact if placed at the right point – it increases the audience’s anticipation and also gives them a break to take in all the details.

Silkwood kept chugging on and on in scenes with little dramatic weight (its documentary approach is quite like the lead actress Meryl Streep‘s other film A Cry in The Dark) or any significant narrative development to hold us in. I quite felt like the movie chose the wrong person to tell its story, and it could’ve been told better had Karen Silkwood been a supporting character in a film that rather emphasized on the investigation of Kerr-McGee plant and the lawsuit in the aftermath of Silkwood’s untimely demise. Unlike Erin Brockovich, Silkwood was not able to directly resolve the issue of health and safety of workers, and though she did play a major role in initiating the whole move, her accident martyrs her for a greater cause. The movie isn’t able to deliver her enough justice for her efforts and death, with its epilogue only mentioning that the ‘plant closed down a year later’ – too grim and defeated to inspire.

Karen Silkwood was a courageous small-town gal who took on the Oklahoma nuclear plant where she worked after finding out that it conducted unethical practices without considering workers’ safety. From being one of the bubbliest and most beloved persons among her colleagues and supervisors, Karen eventually lost almost everyone’s support after helping the union in digging out such malpractices happening at the workplace. Her private life too faced its share of difficulties on top of the mess she was already in even before the incident – apart from losing custody of her three kids, Silkwood’s relationship with her boyfriend Drew also suffered when he cautioned her of ‘going too far’ with the case. She didn’t just have to win her colleagues’ support but also prove to the union that she was a smart woman with a sharp mind.

In one of the film’s best acted scenes, Meryl as Karen is discussing recommendations and proposals for the nuclear plant with the senior union members. At first, her suggestions are trivial and her seniors condescendingly put down her ideas and hurriedly begin to leave. It is then that Karen leaves the room and catches them in the corridor where she whispers what she had witnessed at the plant. It is only then that the union takes her seriously. Streep’s excellence is evident during close-ups or mid-shots in this movie’s case (the film rarely has close- ups), but her screen charisma tends to disappear in her attempt to replicate human-like performances. And this becomes a problem whenever the camera goes away from her, especially here in Silkwood where the cinematography is quite conventional like those old films where the cameras moved less and the actors went back and forth. She’s managed to rectify this problem though especially in her recent ventures where her charisma makes for half the performance. Here we manage to catch less than half of whatever she is doing because of the distance the camera maintains.

It’s not just Streep but also actors Cher, Kurt and director Mike Nichols who act and direct respectively in a similar manner. Now I get it they wanted to depict a dull small-town in Oklahoma with as much truism as possible. Cher (playing Karen’s lesbian friend Dolly) wears the most unimposing crumpled and faded jerseys and pants while Russell (playing Karen’s boyfriend Drew) is equally untidy and moves around the house shirtless and in cheap blue jeans (though their performances are great). They do everything in their own lazy pace and Cher’s Dolly is found half the time either in bed or on the couch. On top of this Nichols makes it even more evident that nothing much happens in ‘small town Okie’ by placing his camera at a distance. Only a few times do we get shot/reverse shots between the actors and once or twice we see the camera do an effect other than cutting (a few dissolves and an expected fadeout after the crucial scene). Even the upbeat background music at the beginning slowly turns into bleak mournful tunes as the film progresses. It is only the sound of the warning alarm bells that occasionally appear to raise some momentum.

There is neither enough follow-up of Silkwood’s investigation itself, except for some extended scenes of Karen surreptitiously (hence very slowly) hunting for some ‘confidential information’. I could get up in between, bring some chocolates from the fridge in the kitchen and find myself watching her do the same action. The movie ‘Silkwood’ therefore becomes ‘ambitionless’ and although I do understand it has deliberately downplayed its ‘own cinematic ambition’ just to honor the woman’s life, the movie as a result also becomes ‘one of those inspirational films that come, snag some awards and are soon forgotten’. Or in this film’s case, used as a failed ‘boob-gag’ in Seth MacFarlane‘s unimpressive Oscar show.