The Professor and the Mad Man

Having seen the trailer twice and read a so-so review in The Straits Times, I had no intention of watching The Professor and the Mad Man at the cinema. Then a friend (not a movie buff but went because of Mel Gibson and Sean Penn) told me it deserved two thumbs up. I’m not even a bit crazy about the two actors but decided to go to the theatres today. With no expectations, I was pleasantly surprised right from the start and totally blown away by the end!

Based on the 1998 book, The Surgeon of Crowthorn, by Simon Winchester, this biographical drama is so fascinating and captivating that more than 120 mins just flew by.

The story is about the life of James Murray (Gibson) as he worked on compiling words for the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary in the 19th century and the humongous amount of entries he received from a patient at Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum, Dr William Minor (Penn).

Everyone in the cast (including all the children and Broadmoor guards) are surprisingly good and the film is thought-provoking, heart-wrenching and inspiring. The most outstanding performance is from Penn; and I think this movie should be in the running for Best Picture and Best Actor in next year’s Academy Awards.

There are so many themes that captivate me: courage, kindness, ambition, guilt, dedication, self-education, compassion, support, love, hatred, class, integrity, passion, empathy, mental illness and relationships, including friendship.

All these are made more poignant and enthralling by the perfect music score throughout – from the sinister and mysterious strings and the steady and pulsating rhythm at the opening scene, to the frantic and trilling crescendo with the rousing motifs; from the melancholic and solemn cello solos to the brilliance of the fiddle; from the suspense suggested by the flutes to the shattering climaxes depicted by the orchestra; and then the return of the calm and mellow viola and the emotional vocals that foreshadow an unexpected consequence. Most telling are those scenes that are totally devoid of music which heighten the dramatic effects.

Kudos to the entire crew behind the scenes (especially those involved in the set design, art direction, costumes, hair and make up, sound effects and stock footage). The result is simply phenomenal.

A British Serial Killer in Singapore

Not recognizing the name of the author, but due to the publicity for the book in the national newspapers, I eagerly sought out A British Killer in Singapore on my recent library trips. I did not have an easy time getting a copy of the book; but when I did, I read it at one go.

As soon I started reading, I could recall the reports in The Straits Times by journalist Tan Ooi Boon though the case happened more than twenty years ago. It remains one of the most bizarre crimes ever committed in Singapore.

Briton John Martin went globe-trotting to kill. Like a predator on the prowl, he preyed on tourists and slaughtered them in hotels. His crimes impacted six countries – United Kingdom, Belize, Singapore, Thailand, South Africa and Canada.

Justice prevailed. That the horrendous crimes were solved in a short time speaks highly of the law enforcement in Singapore.

Exit Through the Gift Shop

Exit Through the Gift Shop is a documentary about the infamous, shadowy British graffiti street artist Bansky who has literally left his mark in cities thought the world. It was nominated for many film awards, including Best Documentary Feature at the 2011 Academy Awards.

LA graffiti artists risk arrest and death to create their paintings in spectacular places. There are all kinds of graffiti, much of it vandalism. Some are art, such as Bansky and others at his level, like Shepard Fairey, who find ways to visually reinvent public space and make striking artistic statements.

This is a fascinating and compelling film worth watching. Art is in the eye of the beholder, but the act of painting graffiti is not.

Toy Story 4

Feeling morose after an exhausting and stressful fortnight, I decided to go and watch Toy Story 4, a computer-animated comedy, to lift my spirits. It did; I was not only entertained but also satisfied. Not only was it sweet and humorous, it was also meaningful and thought-provoking.

Kids lose their toys every day, and the last installment of Toy Story was nine years ago (which was cleverly noted at the beginning of the film – useful reminder for old folks like yours truly). The first song (You’ve Got A Friend In Me or Yo Soy Tu Amigo) is catchy and adorable and my favourite song of the film.

Besides the new toy, Forky, others like Ducky and Bunny are also funny. Characters like Jessie, Bo Beep and Duke Caboom are likeable. But the star is of course Woody. Many of the wonderful, wholesome messages come from him. These range from topics about belonging, purpose, loyalty and moving on to issues like self-association in society, shattering of dreams, definition of friendship and dissatisfaction with the current status.

This incredible, amazing yet realistic film is not just a kid’s story (and the dazzling graphics will appeal to audiences of all ages). It has a message for everyone.

Some of these are: “You have to understand how lucky you are… You’re going to make happy memories that she’ll remember for the rest of her life.“, “You need to pay attention… Improve listening skills…“, “Being there with a child is the most noble thing you can do helping her through all their ups and downs.“, “There are plenty of kids out there… waiting for you; you just don’t know yet. If you sit there on the shelves for the rest of your life, you’ll never find out, will you?”, “Listen to your inner voice.” and “We are unique and beautiful.”

I think I’ve watched all the previous installments of Toy Story (I can’t remember!), and I wonder if there’s going to be a fifth installment and if so, how long it’ll take to make (after all, it’s been more than twenty years since the first one), and whether I’ll still be around to see it.

The White Crow

Based on Julie Kavanagh’s book, Rudolf Nureyev: The Life, the movie The White Crow is an engrossing biopic. It is a fascinating and artistic interpretation of the inner life of a complex and difficult person.

Born on a train in 1938 (USSR), the artistic and consummate Rudolf (Oleg Ivenko) defected to the West in 1961 (Paris, where he died in 1993) because he could dance. (“It’s not going to be very long before everybody knows my name.“)

The story is told in flashback, which lends it authenticity.

Rudolf Nureyev is a legendary dancer, so classical ballet figures significantly in this movie. Particularly beautiful are the choreography and music (for example Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake and the French classic Plaisir d’amour). The solo violinists and pianists are among the other treats in this movie.

Ballet is about rules, discipline and obedience. The furious work put into training to perfect technique is only a means to an end. Everyone must have a purpose in life (“otherwise, what’s the point?“) We should think about the story we want to tell; we need to let our feelings pour out. Unless there’s a story to tell, there is no reason to dance.

Here is an underlying human story that is intriguing and also thought provoking. And all these come with wonderful cinematography, with settings in Serbia, Russia, France, Germany, Croatia and even the UK.