Thursday, March 10, 2011

The King's Speech

Rating : 8/10
Release Date : 24th December, 2010
Time : 118 minutes
Director : Tom Hooper; Writer : David Seidler; Music : Alexandre Desplat
Starring : Colin Firth, Geoffery Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Guy Pearce, Timothy Spall, Derek Jacobi

One of the mental tracks running through my head while watching this lovely movie was the pity I would feel for any director / writer who would dare come to an Indian producer to make this film. I could just imagine the producer’s reactions. “What ? A movie about a 40 something old man ? No sex scenes ? No item numbers ? No fights ? All he does is learn to overcome his stutter with a male doctor ? No one will come to see it !!!”

This is a film about the Duke of York (Colin Firth), the second in line to the throne after his elder brother David (Guy Pearce), and his struggle to overcome his speech impediment (his stutter) that he’s had since as long as he can remember. Unfortunately for him, the world seems to be entering the era where the King has to give speeches, broadcast on the wireless, rally the nation etc.

His personal struggle is juxtaposed with events that keep throwing him into prominence. His brother is having an affair. With a woman who’s twice divorced. This, of course, is unacceptable to the Church. His father’s illness. The rise of Hitler, an accomplished demagogue. An upcoming war.

And in the middle of all this, all the Duke can rely upon is the unstinting support of his wife (Helena Bonham Carter), who steadfastly remains on his side, through thick and thin. And the doctor (Geoffery Rush) with weird methods she found on Harley Street, who insists on a relationship of equals. Who goes against the advice of other doctors who advised the king to smoke (as it relaxes the lungs). Or inserted marbles in his mouth. Or, like his father, just urged him to speak it out, get on with it etc

The movie rests on the square, sometime faltering, shoulders of Colin Firth. The fact that he makes us warm to him, despite his temper and impatience. That he makes us will him to success. That he comes across as so human. And his relationship with the doctor. Who is informal, insists on calling Firth, Bertie, a name which so far was only used by family. Who wants to get inside his skin. Find the root cause behind the stutter. And for his troubles receives several tongue lashings from the Duke, unused to being questioned so much…

The underlying British humour makes it fun as well. For example, Firth’s father, trying to explain the role of a king to his son “In the past all a King had to do was look respectable in uniform and not fall off his horse. Now we must invade people's homes and ingratiate ourselves with them. This family is reduced to those lowest, basest of all creatures, we've become actors!”

Or a brief exchange between the Duke and the Doctor on smoking…
Doctor : [as "Bertie" is lighting up a cigarette] Please don't do that.
Bertie : I'm sorry?
Doctor: I believe sucking smoke into your lungs will kill you.
Bertie: My physicians say it relaxes the throat.
Doctor: They're idiots.
Bertie: They've all been knighted.
Doctor: Makes it official then.

I think the measure of a great performance, especially around any disability, is when you cannot imagine the actor being normal. I remember watching Rainman and then rushing out to view a DVD of Dustin Hoffman being normal as I truly believed he was or had been autistic. Colin Firth inspires similar emotions. His wan smile, the long pauses as he struggles with words. His anger at his situation and fate. He truly seems like the man who was born to be a king…

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Black Swan

Rating : 6/10
Release Date : 17th December, 2010
Time : 108 minutes
Director : Darren Aronofsky; Writer : Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz, John McLaughlin; Music : Clint Mansell
Starring : Natalie Portman, Vincent Cassel, Mila Kunis, Winona Ryder, Barbara Hershey

Does each one of us have the ability to have evil co-exist inside us ? To let the colours black and white cohabit internally ?

Black Swan is the story of a ballerina (Natalie Portman), a woman who really wants to be the next diva, a woman who aches for perfection and makes all the sacrifices required to attain it, a lady who is still Mama’s little girl. However, the role that’s up for offer requires her to be a white swan and a black one. To be pristine, pure alongside being lustful and lascivious. To be serene one moment and wildly seductive the next. It’ll mean letting go. It’ll mean not worrying about technique but going with the flow. It’ll mean abandoning the quest for perfection. Can she ?

Vincent Cassel, the imperious, abrasive man who runs the ballet troupe isn’t sure at all. He thinks she’s frigid. She does something to change his mind. But even then he’s not sure. She is fearful, searching for his approval, trying her hardest to relinquish control. And wishes she could be as natural and spontaneous as the new recruit, Lily. Who thinks nothing of downing a cheeseburger (‘make it bloody’), a few drinks and some of the pure stuff in one night, while flirting and fucking the men she meets on a night about town. Can she ?

Natalie is brilliant. No two ways about that. There is a certain innate shyness about her, a certain fragility that is naturally charming. She behaves French, if you know what that means. And communicates the struggle between good and evil beautifully.

There are other layers as well. The loneliness of being at the top. The conspiracy theories that always surround the person who’s reached there. The plots to replace that person. The whispers that surround any woman who over-achieves. Imagine a delicate, shy girl thrust in all of this and you can see what all Natalie’s character has to cope with…

However, the movie itself, am not that sure of. Its an interesting idea, a great concept. But it became a bit too hallucigenic, too disjointed in parts. And definitely too gory in others. And I’m not sure either was really required. I feel the same could’ve as easily been communicated in a more normal way.

This is a movie that has become great and is being watched because of the Oscar. Else, the film itself wouldn’t have caused much of a ripple at the box office. There is a certain sense of tragedy in the film, a darkness that envelops the characters. Even the joy is communicated through tears and not laughter. And as the character metamorphizes, as the mom asks tearfully ‘where is my sweet little girl ?’, the chilling answer is that she’s gone…

PS : When I look at the quality and composition of the Posters / Stills, for example the poster I've used at the top or photo with the red hue, the thought put behind it is just stunning ! Hats off to them...