English Vinglish

12oct_EnglishVinglish-MovieReview

En route to China, I saw several films including English Vinglish, an Indian film about Shashi, a woman whose husband and children often tease her about her bad English. To make matters worse, they don’t appreciate her talents like her gift for making amazing Indian sweets called ladoos. When Manu, Shashi’s sister in America, needs her to visit to help plan her daughter’s wedding, Shashi’s nervous. How will she survive in New York with such bad English?

In the beginning it looks like Sashi won’t. She’s nervous and overwhelmed by the rude and fast paced society. Yet she takes action and secretly takes English lessons while her sister’s at work. Her classmates and goofy teacher provide a support system and her language improves. What’s more she’s caught the attention of Laurent, a French chef who’s smitten by her beauty and charm.

The film has a sweet and sentimental tone, that wouldn’t succeed in Hollywood. Shashi is innocent as are the other characters. Yet I got pulled in despite the treacle. I was intrigued that the film didn’t follow the typical path that a Hollywood film would. Instead we’re led to a final scene where Shashi gives a persuasive, touching speech in English on the virtue of remaining true to a spouse when a marriage is hit by inertia and overfamiliarity. I was surprised by how fresh that speech was. I think the innocent tone of the film, the color and the spontaneous dancing and singing worked for me.

Life of Pi

Life-of-Pi2

Based on Yann Martel’s imaginative novel, Life of Pi chronicles the amazing life of Pi Patel a boy whose family owns a zoo in India. When the zoo goes under, Pi’s father uproots his family and takes some of the animals to sell in Canada.

On the voyage to Canada, a terrible storm kicks up and only Pi and three wild animals, a zebra, a hyena, an orangutan and a tiger named Richard Parker survive on the lifeboat. Soon only the tiger and Pi remain on the vast sea under the intense sun. It’s riveting to see Pi figure out how to evade sharks, keep out of the sun, eat and share space with a tiger – and not some docile, domesticated feline, but a tiger who’ll eat a hyena or most likely a teenage boy if nothing else is around.

Since I’d read the book, I didn’t think this book was filmable. It’s just too unique. I’m happy to say this version worked. How amazing! The film is beautiful with incredible CGI for the bulk of the film and lovely local color shots of India and the zoo at the start.

There were some parts I didn’t think worked. The story if framed with a contrivance that a drifting writer met an acquaintance of Pi’s who told the writer he must hear Pi’s story. I just didn’t buy that this guy would actually bother to track down Pi. I wouldn’t – unless it turned out Pi was a neighbor, I’d never met back home. That character was just bland and a device to get Pi to tell his story.

At the end two Japanese employees of the shipping company meet with Pi to find out what happened. That scene seemed flat as the two actors just didn’t have Japanese body language and the way they behaved was just not believable. No Japanese person I’ve met would express skepticism so directly and they wouldn’t challenge someone in the hospital that way. It just came off as flat.

On the whole the film amazed me and the actor who played Pi was outstanding. It made me want to reread the novel.

Sepia Saturday

sepia kiss

Ah, romance.

This prompt made me wonder when was the first cinematic kiss. A Google search led me to this photo from an India film released in 1933:

Devika Rani in "Karma"

Devika Rani in “Karma”

Yet, certainly 1933 wasn’t the first film to show a kiss. (Google isn’t always the best.) A Yahoo search led me to discover that “John C Rice kissed May Irwin in 1896, and became the first couple to be recorded kissing in the film called The Kiss.

1896 First Onscreen Kiss

1896 First Onscreen Kiss

Americanizing Shelley

I am reading Shaw’s Pygmalion for my online book club and thought I’d be adventurous and get a film adaptation other than My Fair Lady. So I chose Americanizing Shelley. It’s loosely based on Pygmalion and shows the story of a young Indian woman who was betrothed at an early age to a boy. Now she plans to marry him since she finished Home Ec College. He’s been in the U.S. for years and has his sights on another.

I started the DVD and after a couple minutes the stilted dialog and low production values got the best of me. There’s just too much that’s good on TV that this “Let’s make a film!” just doesn’t cut it. Yes, I believe a filmmaker can make a good film on a tight budget, but a good script is essential. Here it’s missing. Unless you’re connected to someone in the production, choose something else.