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Recent Movies: Holy Motors; The Way; Searching for Sugar Man; Skyfall; Live Theatre: A Brimful of Asha ***************

December 16, 2012

Recent Movies

Holy Motors

In this surreal French film, a man is driven in a limousine throughout Paris for various “assignments” throughout a particular day and night.  During these assignments, he is dressed up to play roles in dramatic scenes in various locations.

The story is truly bizarre and unto a world of its own.  Yet, within its own odd context, it is at least consistent.  Some of the various dramas during the role-playing are quite moving while a longer scene in a cemetery seems over-the-top.

This is normally a film I would dislike.  There are others  like it that I found as pretentious as their admirers.  Although the story was other-worldly, it was so well directed (Leos Carax) and acted (Denis Lavant in the main role; Edith Scob making the most of a smaller role as the chauffeur), I was truly moved by the end.  Capping it off at the ending in an amusing scene in a limousine garage, this film felt like a trip through an amazing dream.  In its own odd way, this film gradually won me over.

Rating (0ut of four stars):   * * *

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The Way

A California doctor (the always likeable Martin Sheen) takes the pilgrimage walk on the Camino de Santiago in France and Spain after having just faced a tragedy.  En route, he is accompanied by a Dutchman, a Canadian woman, and an Irishman.

Although this film was officially released last year, I felt it was worth reviewing here due to its high quality.

There are clear resemblances to The Wizard of Oz in this film.  While the sights and the people they meet on the journey are fascinating, the real juice of the film is in the way the members of the quartet interact with each other and their journeys of self-discovery, the true intention of the pilgrimage.

There are moments of good humour and genuinely moving moments as well.  The script also goes beyond its scope in a brief interaction with a Roma (Gypsy) community and exploring their troubled relationships in European countries in general.  While this was an American co-production (with Spain), the script is also praiseworthy for portraying people of other countries genuinely even if it means some anti-American comments.

Although I no longer have the body type to take such a long journey as the Camino, the film inspired me to take a closer look at my life and to be more introspective of its true purpose.  These two hours could have been as inspirational as a snippet of time on the Camino itself.

Rating:   * * * 1/2

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Searching for Sugar Man

This Swedish/U.K documentary refers to the search for U.S. musician Rodriguez who recorded albums during the early 1970s.  His career never took off in the U.S. but he was considered a superstar and legend in South Africa.  The film covers the quest of South African music fans to discover more about their music hero.

The recordings of Rodriguez are used throughout the film and they demonstrate the greatness of his talent.  Some old and new footage are quite effective in exposing South Africa in the days of apartheid and Detroit (where Rodriguez lived and worked in the 1970s), a city in decline.

Here, the film takes some interesting detours and explores some interesting political issues.  The white South Africans recall the days of extreme censorship and harsh punishments of anyone who spoke against apartheid when it was in effect.  Likewise, the lives of working-class Detroit residents expose the great divide between classes in that region.

A major shift happens in this documentary which I won’t reveal here.  Instead, I’ll summarize that the film demonstrates the highest possibilities of the human spirit, extreme humility, the greed of the record industry that exploits true artists, and breaking the odds in the most unusual way.   Quite enjoyable.

Rating:   * * *

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Skyfall

In the 23rd film of the James Bond series, the main hero (Daniel Craig in his third shot at the role) must battle against a cyber-terrorist (Javier Bardem).

This film takes a different twist in the series regarding the role of  “M”, Bond’s boss and the head of the British Secret Service.  Normally, the role is brief but in this film, it is central in the action – making good use of the very talented Judi Dench, playing the role for the seventh time.

There are a few holes in the script but this is forgiven due to the higher production values in other areas.  Like other Bond films, this one makes great use of superb locations – in this case, Istanbul, London, Shanghai, Macau, and Scotland.  The action scenes, of course, are executed very well.

Craig brings much charisma to the famous role.  Bardem is very attention-grabbing especially in his first scene.  Dench does well in the expanded role.  She’s fine, as always, as the sniping matriarchal figure shooting words like bullets.  This can sometimes be tiring, though, with too much repetition.  Thankfully, the film-makers expanded her part in this film giving it a very bleak ending that is quite memorable.

Rating:   * * *

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Live Theatre

“A Brimful of Asha” written and performed by Ravi and Asha Jain at the Tarragon Theatre, Toronto

This mother/son duo tell the true story of their lives in this play about what happened in their family in 2007.  Ravi, the son who was born in Canada, wants to establish a theatre career before marrying while his mother, Asha who was born in India, wants him to follow Indian tradition and find a bride quickly.

The evening starts delightfully when patrons enter the theatre space and are greeted by the pair, asking us to help ourselves to the samosas that are on a table on the stage.  Luckily, this is only the beginning of good times.

This play has the double benefit of being culturally specific while also being universal with the theme of generational differences.  These differences are accentuated when the parent and child were born in different countries.

It also has the double benefit of being moving and hilarious.  Ravi is a fine story-teller and shows his theatrical experience; but it is truly Asha, with no theatre training at all, who steals the show.  Her funny comments are subtle, impish, and manipulative.  She has so much charm though that it makes one want to agree with her even if one would normally not do so.

The only flaw is in the staging.  In one area of the theatre, Ravi’s back would be facing the audience whenever he spoke directly to Asha.  But, overall, this was a very unusual and courageous theatre experience.

Rating:   * * * 1/2

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