Friday, April 18, 2014

THE LUNCHBOX Is Made With Sensitivity And Care

Now playing at an art house theater near me...

THE LUNCHBOX (Dir. Ritesh Batra, 2013)

At first, the premise of this little Indian drama may seem slight - i.e. two strangers exchange notes by way of Mumbai’s famously efficient lunchbox delivery system - but the heartfelt humbleness, likability of the leads, and overall sweetness make THE LUNCHBOX a very rich treat indeed.

Irrfan Khan, a big Bollywood star who’s crossed over to American movies such as LIFE OF PI and THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, stars as a stoic accountant living a lonely life after the death of his beloved wife. Meanwhile across town, a neglected housewife (the lovely Nimrat Kaur) hopes to reconnect with her distant husband (Nakul Vaid) by preparing a special meal as a surprise for his lunch at work.

Somehow there’s a mix-up and Khan ends up getting the stainless steel dishes of Kaur’s delicious food delivered to his workplace. When Kaur’s spouse has little to say about the meal, she realizes what has happened and sends a note along with the lunch the next day.

Khan and Kaur then develop a correspondence, revealing intimate details about their sad existences in tender, touching scenes in which the actor’s voice-overs convey a lot of sincere emotion (it’s in Hindi with subtitles, but the warmth can be strongly felt).

As Khan is on the verge of retirement, he is training a giddy over-eager assistant to replace him (Nawazuddin Siddiqui). Khan is annoyed at first by the giddy over-eager Siddiqui, but they forge a bond that goes from a mentor/apprentice type relationship to something resembling that of father/son.

Siddiqui even succinctly sums up Khan’s budding romance: “Sometimes even the wrong train can take you to the right destination.”

Khan puts in a powerfully subtle performance that really got under my skin - when he forms the tiniest twinge of a smile it can be deeply felt. The man deserves to be a major star – maybe his upcoming role in next summer’s JURASSIC WORLD will help make that happen.

Kaur also excels; you’ll feel for her when she speaks of suspecting that her husband is cheating on her. A scene where she goes to report the swapped meal mistake and is told by the carrier that the service doesn’t make mistakes, shows she has an understated flair for light comedy.

Sure it can be seen as an Indian adaptation of YOU’VE GOT MAIL (or THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER if you want to get technical), but the feature length debut from filmmaker Ritesh Batra, who co-wrote with Rutvik Oza, transcends its familiar premise terrifically.

THE LUNCHBOX (“Dabba” in Hindi) is a real charmer, made with sensitivity and care, much like the mouth-watering dishes that Kaur’s character cooks that we see stunning overhead close-ups of (beautifully shot by Michael Simmonds). It’s a satisfying feast (yeah, I know, every critic is going to use culinary jargon in their review) of a film, but it may make you really hungry for some fine Indian cuisine way before the credits roll. So plan yourself a nice Indian dinner out afterwards, and remember not to fill up on popcorn.

More later...

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

New Releases On Blu Ray & DVD: 4/15/14

Ben Stiller’s THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY, which I wasn’t too impressed by last December, leads the line-up of new releases on Blu ray and DVD today. Stiller’s adaptation of the James Thurber short story, which felt to me and many others (it has a 49% rating on the Rotten Tomatometer) to resemble a feature length commercial, comes with a slew of Special Features including Deleted, Extended, and Alternate Scenes (equaling around 15 minutes), a bunch of Behind the Scenes featurettes, Gallery: Reference Photography, "Stay Alive" music video (Jose Gonzales), and the Theatrical Trailer.

A movie I liked a little bit better, Stephen Frears’ PHILOMENA, starring Judi Dench and Steve Coogan, also hits home video today. Although the fine film, about a cynical journalist (Coogan, of course) aiding an elderly Irishwoman (Dench) in her search for the son she was forced to give up for adoption, didn’t win any of the four Oscars (surprisingly, it was up for Best Picture) it was nominated for, its Blu ray and DVD release boasts a bevy of high-end bonus material. First up, there’s a commentary with writer/actorpProducer Steve Coogan and Screenwriter Jeff Pope, “A Conversation With Judi Dench” (8:54), a short (under 3 minutes) featurette “The Real Philomena Lee,” and a almost 25-minute Q & A With Steve Coogan from the film’s Guild Screening in Los Angeles last December.

Next up, a film that I thought was just released theatrically (actually it was in January – the year is flying by) also releases this week: Tim Story’s poorly reviewed but crowd pleasing action comedy RIDE ALONG, starring Ice Cube and Kevin Hart. I skipped the film because I’ve not yet found Hart to be funny, but for those of you who do here’s what Special Features are included: Director’s commentary with Story, Gag Reel, Locations Tour, alternate ending, deleted scenes, and various featurettes.

Also out today: Peter Lepeniotis' animated squirrel comedy THE NUT JOB, Chris Nelson's high school sex comedy DATE AND SWITCH, Ralph Fiennes' Charles Dickens drama THE INVISIBLE WOMAN (read my review), Deborah Chow's adaptation of V.C. Andrews' 1979 bestseller FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC (starring Heather Graham and Ellen Burstyn), Steven Rosenbaum's 2002 9/11 documentary 7 DAYS IN SEPTEMBER, Kasi Lemmons' musical drama BLACK NATIVITYand Geoff Moore and David Posamentier's comedy drama BETTER LIVING THROUGH CHEMISTRY.

On the older films out this week in fancy new Blu ray editions front there's Orson Welles' undisputed 1958 classic TOUCH OF EVIL, Billy Wilder's 1944 thriller DOUBLE INDEMNITY (another undisputed classic), Anthony Mann’s 1957 Korean War film MEN IN WAR, Douglas Sirk’s 1948 film noir thriller SLEEP, MY LOVEand the Criterion Collection deluxe edition of Lars Von Trier's heated 1996 drama BREAKING THE WAVES

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Monday, April 14, 2014

LE WEEK-END: An Aging Marriage On The Rocks On Holiday In Paris

Now playing at an art house theater near me:

LE WEEK-END (Dir. Roger Michell, 2013)

“You always did edit out the arguments and the misery,” remarks Lindsay Duncan to her husband played by Jim Broadbent over dinner at a fine French restaurant. “You can’t not love and hate the same person, usually within the space of five minutes in my experience,” Broadbent replies after pausing to take a sip of wine.

In Roger Michell’s (NOTTING HILL, VENUS, HYDE PARK ON THE HUDSON) latest drama LE WEEK-END, Broadbent and Duncan portray a British couple in their 60’s on a holiday in Paris in what appears to be a last ditch attempt to re-spark the flame of their fading marriage.

In hopes of taking a romantic breather from their lives of academia back in Birmingham – Broadbent’s a university philosophy professor; Duncan a grade-school teacher – the couple instead find it difficult to connect. Duncan is bully-ish, crabby, and sardonic towards Broadbent, who appears stressed under his muddled surface.

Broadbent and Duncan bicker all the while as they relocate from a shabby hotel to more luxurious accommodations in an elegant suite (“where Tony Blair once stayed”, they are told) with a beautiful view of the city and the Eiffel Tower.

Nevertheless, there are traces of life left in their relationship that we witness as we see them dine and dash, imitate the famous café dance scene in Jean-Luc Godard’s BAND À PART * along to its airing on their hotel room TV, and embrace in a passionate public display of affection in the Parisian streets, one that catches the eye of an old colleague of Broadbent’s (Jeff Goldblum). The eccentric as always Goldblum, oblivious to our lead couple’s friction, invites them to a dinner party at his home the next evening.

With its talky realism and picturesque locations, LE WEEK-END may just give us a taste of what the BEFORE SUNRISE series may look like if it continues for a few more decades.

There’s not a false note or anything cutesy in the screenplay written by Hanif Kureishi, in his fourth collaboration with director Michell. The weight that the two leads bring to Kureishi’s words comes from the same ace acting chops that won Broadbent an Oscar (Best Supporting Actor for MOULIN ROUGE!), and Duncan a couple of Tony Awards (for her stage work in 
Private Lives and Les Liaisons Dangereuses). Their laughs, sighs, and pained shrugs all form layered lived-in performances.

At times the film may hit a little too close to home for anybody who’s ever been through a rough patch in a lengthy relationship. Both of these people have long suffered the other, but it was hard for me not to side with Broadbent’s character. Early on he reveals to his wife that he’s been sacked from his job, and Duncan shows little sympathy for him afterwards. She even flirts with another man at Goldblum’s party and agrees to have a late night drink with him. The nerve!

Meanwhile, Broadbent has drifted away from the get-together and ends up smoking pot, and connecting over Nick Drake’s “Pink Moon” with Goldblum’s neglected son from his first marriage (Olly Alexander). This leads to Broadbent’s confessional outpouring at the dinner table; the emotional climax of the movie.

The lingering question of will they stay together or split up may not be satisfyingly answered for some folks at the conclusion, but a clever callback to the BAND À PART dance routine that has Broadbent, Duncan, and Goldblum charmingly falling in line to the sprightly jazz on a pub’s jukebox provides a pleasing epilogue that should tell most movie-going dreamers everything they need to know about these people’s destiny.

* Godard made a 1967 film entitled WEEK-END, but it looks only tangentially related.

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