Holiday movie watching (10 films during 40 hours of flight time): Part 2

My return trip to KL had me watching a drama/ thriller involving a hedge fund and an extra-marital affair, a sequel to an action thriller which was a surprise hit in 2008, a gritty cop drama, a coming-of-age film, a feel-good college movie and finally a hard-hitting Swiss drama.

Arbitrage: This Richard Gere thriller debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in early 2012 and then reappeared in limited release around the world in September, to much critical acclaim. Richard Gere is utterly believable as the successful hedge fund manager multi-tasking crisis management both in his personal and professional life. Susan Sarandon and Tim Roth co-star, but the real star for me was 30-year old actress Brit Marling who first came to attention playing the troubled Rhoda Williams in the 2011 scifi-romance-drama Another Earth. While that was a somewhat ‘grungy’ role, she is resplendent here as the confident and conscientious daughter of an arrogant multi-millionaire. She has oodles of screen presence, holding her own opposite veteran performers like Gere and Sarandon. Marling has quite a few other films in the pipeline including a role as Abe Lincoln’s mother in a film about his formative years (The Green Blade Rises) and a role in Robert Redford’s upcoming thriller. Definitely, she’s one to watch out for.

Taken2: This film certainly isn’t as good as the original, but at 92 minutes it’s short enough that one doesn’t mind sitting through it. I was thinking to myself that this is the sort of role that Arnold Schwarzenegger became famous for in the 1980’s, blasting his way past overwhelming opposition and coming out unscathed at the end. Neeson has now created a niche for himself in the past 3-4 years in movies such as Taken, The A-Team, Unknown and The Grey. Hopefully he will continue to pick his projects carefully and his action career will not go the same way as that of Nic Cage. Neeson will next be seen in a similar role in the in-flight thriller Non-Stop.

End of Watch: In 2001, the LA cop film Training Day garnered an Oscar win for Denzel Washington and an Oscar nomination for his co-star Ethan Hawke. But the real star of the film was scriptwriter David Ayer, for his gritty, realistic portrayal of life on the LA streets. Ayer moved from script writing to directing in 2005 and all 3 of his films including End of Watch are set in the cops-and-crime world of LA…I guess he is Hollywood’s version of Joseph Wambaugh. Jake Gyllenhaal is at his usual best as the ambitious young ex-marine turned cop , but the surprise package is Michael Pena as his Hispanic partner. On one hand, this film is like of bromance/ buddy-cop of the past that looks at the lives and loves of the men on the streets, but as a director, Ayer has updated the delivery of the story for the found-footage generation by telling many parts of the story through camera footage from the cop car (complete with time/date stamps and other information) or from handheld cameras carried by both police and criminals.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower: This is not the sort of movie I would normally watch, coming-of-age films not falling within my range of interest. However, I have felt for the past couple of years that Emma Watson would likely emerge as the most accomplished of the 3 Harry Potter leads (closely followed by Daniel Radcliffe, although I do feel that his facial features will limit the roles that he will get). This was confirmed by her supporting performance in 2011’s My Week with Marilyn, her first big-screen acting role outside the Harry Potter franchise. So, I was eager to see her in action once again, besides which the film had scored some decent reviews. It turned out to be rather a good film, in some segments reminiscent of the little seen Flashbacks of a Fool, which is to say poignant, filled with nostalgia, teenage love and good music. The real standout for me was Ezra Miller as one of the ‘wallflowers’.

Pitch Perfect: This too is not a film that I would have normally watched, as it’s a sort of Dirty Dancing for the  a capella set; having said that, Dirty Dancing was one of my most beloved movies when I was in college, but it’s just that I have grown out of that sort of story now. In any case, my daughter was watching it on the flight and she loved it so much, she watched it all over again right away. So I figured I would give it a shot and was pleasantly surprised to see that it featured Anna Kendrick, who first came to notice as Kristen Stewart’s friend in Twilight and then made quite a name for herself in the George Clooney drama Up in the Air. Kendrick plays a misfit freshman who reluctantly joins college to keep her dad happy, although she would much rather be pursuing a music producing career on the West Coast. She eventually joins an all-girls singing group and helps them to win the National Collegiate A Capella  Championships, while falling in love, discovering herself, reconciling with her father and realizing her musical dreams all at one go. For those of us who enjoying watching hit songs performed by college kids on stage (as in Glee), this film has quite a few enjoyable musical performances on offer.

Sister: The last movie I watched was the most hard-hitting. The Swiss film L’enfant den haut, referred to by its English title Sister, has been getting quite a lot of buzz on the festival circuit. It tells the story of a pre-teen boy who lives with his good-for-nothing older sister near a ski resort; desperate for money to buy food and household items, he becomes an expert thief, walking off with skiing equipment and selling it on the street. I find it difficult to describe this movie…it does not try to teach us any morals or send a message or make any sort of social commentary or judgment. The situation the boy and his sister find themselves in are no different from that of thousands of homeless or destitute people around the world. I guess, the movie just points to the nature of human beings, how some can have an eternal fighting spirit, while others are happy to live off the hard work of their friends or family members. None of the characters in the film are particularly likeable, so do be prepared for a rough ride once you start watching. The film won the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival and was also nominated at the Independent Spirit Awards.

So that was my movie watching marathon experience on the return leg of my vacation. Now I have to get with the program and catch up with all the holiday blockbusters.

 

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