Our Kind Of Traitor

This 2015 movie is based on a novel by John le Carre, about civilian people in the world of espionage.

The story begins in Moscow, where the opening scene shows a vast expanse of snow-covered land, followed by wide-angled views of the highways and mountains in the distance. Next, we’re in Marrakech, where we’re introduced to the main character, Dima (Stellan Skarsgard), drinking at a bar where there’s a lot of Russian singing in the background.

Dima introduces himself to a couple on vacation there: Perry McKendrick (Ewan McGreggor) and his wife Gail (Naomie Harris). Perry is a professor of poetics at London University (there’re later scenes in which he quotes the poets T. S. Eliot and Wilfred Owen) and Gail is a barrister. Dima is flamboyant and charismatic, and wins Perry over with his ability to recite his (Perry’s) credit card number after only taking a glimpse at it. Perry falls under his spell, and Dima convinces Perry and Gail to attend his daughter’s birthday party.

At the party, Dima reveals to Perry that he is the Vory (a kingpin money launderer for the mafia which he controls) and wants Perry to bring something (a memory stick) back to MI6 in London. At the airport, Perry is detained for more than two hours, and only then Gail understands what is happening. Gail is furious, as she know everything has its consequences, even though Perry says he didn’t want her involved.

Obviously, Dima thinks Perry is a man of principles and wants him to be present at a meeting with the informants in Paris. What perks me up by now is not the story, but the locations in Paris – the metro, the Petit Palais, the Hotel Bellevue, the Einstein Museum, the Club des Dois (where they play tennis), a private hangar, even the motorway, a ride through the streets and a shady neighbourhood. The grandeur and epitome of luxury, the panoramic coastlines, views of mountains, hillsides and the sea view from the helicopter or train are sights to behold. Especially so is the French Alps, where many scenes are shot. And the only time classical music is used to enhance the atmosphere – Chopin’s Waltz No 10 in B minor Op 69 No 2. (The music used throughout the rest of the movie range from pop to rap to Moroccon music.)

Fans of John le Carre would love the intrigue, but I like the underlying theme that family is the only thing that matters in the end. I also like that the characters are well-portrayed, detailed and layered. There is something sensitive and vulnerable in everybody, notably Perry, Gail and even in larger-than-life Dima.

Christine

This 2016 movie is based on true events. It stars Rebecca Hall as Christine Chubbuck, a reporter from WZRB station in Sarasota, Florida in 1974. Christine is ambitious and wants badly to be promoted; at the same time, she is also facing challenges in her home life (relationship with her mother, Peg – played by J. Smith-Cameron), personal issues and health scares.

An aspiring newswoman with an interest in social justice, she is constantly butting heads with her superior, Mike (Tracy Letts), who pushes for jucier stories that will drive up ratings. (She does “issue-oriented, or character-based pieces”, not “demeaning, fender-bender reporting” like car accidents and pileups. But Mike believes, “If it bleeds, it leads”.)

Another station from Baltimore, headed by Bob Anderson (John Cullum), is here to “poach” some of the staff. Christine is being passed over for the weather report girl and the news anchor, George (Michael C. Hall). George’s offer of friendship is misinterpreted, and Christine is disillusioned once again.

At every stage of the story, there is music or songs that appropriately reflect the mood: for eg, when Christine is driving to the Pediatric ward for volunteer work, the song she sings along with the car speakers is John Denver’s Annie’s Song; when Christine is making a To-Do-List, the song played is Boyce & Hart’s I Wonder What She’s Doing Tonight; at a July 4 company party, the song played is George McCrae’s Rock You Baby; when Christine is playing pool with George after dinner, the song is Sonny & Cher’s Leaving It All Up To You; when Christine leaves the doctor’s office to go to work, the song played is Alive & Kickin’s Tighter, Tighter; after an argument, Christine tries to gain equilibrium to Olivia Newton-John’s Everything’s Too Much; after Christine’s meeting with a counsellor, the song is Tommy Jones’ Sweet Cherry Wine…

I find the final scene the most effective. There is obviously a lot of cheoreography and special effects for it to achieve the level of intensity and surprise. While reporting the news live,  the studio experiences a sudden technical difficulty, and Christine quickly flipped her set of papers to a prepared script that goes: “Now, in keeping with the WZRB policy, presenting the most immediate and complete reports of local blood and guts, TV 30 presents what is in living colour and exclusive coverage of an attempted suicide” before reaching for the cloth bag on her lap.

The story of a woman who commits suicide on air is so sad and depressing.

Apple Of My Eye

In this 2016 movie, Apple refers to the guide dog and the ‘eye’ alludes to Bailey’s (Avery Avendes) deteriorating eyesight.

Bailey is a talented young teenager who gradually loses her eyesight after an accident during a horse-riding practice session. Her devoted parents, Caroline (Amy Smart) and Jason (Liam McIntyre), do everything possible to help her adjust. However, Bailey is unable to connect to anyone or anything.

One day, Bailey meets Charlie (Burt Reynolds), a guide dog trainer who introduces her to Apple, an affectionate miniature horse, who becomes her new eyes – and new best friend.

Bailey is below 18, the minimum age to own a guide dog, so Apple is trained to be a companion for her and she can start to practise some of the behaviours to come to terms with her precadiment before she jumps into having a guide dog of her own.

This story is meant to be inspirational and uplifting: the reality of Bailey’s experience shows how she has to grow up quickly and deal with the fact that life happens. A lot of what she has to go through helps her learn not just to “survive” a visual impairment but how to thrive.

There is a sub-plot that shows the different experiences of other teenagers who lose their sight at different levels and how they deal with the problems with their parents, and their problems interacting with their peers,and how they can sometimes hurt others’ feelings when they don’t mean to.

Two Raging Grannies

I picked this DVD from the shelf because I thought it would be an exhilarating movie that explores some ageing issues. It was only later that I realised that it’s a documentary that features two raging grannies from Seattle, 90-year-old Shirley Morrison and 84-year-old Hinda Kipnis. It was also the Official Selection at the Seattle International film Festival, Woodstock Film Festival Hamptons International Film Festival and Traverse City Film Festival in 2014.

The two are old friends who love each other dearly but would bicker  about economic, social and political issues, from world finance to global warming. They also worry about what the future holds for their grandchildren. They are now “raging” because they want to know why we need to perpectually grow the economy, as they think that there is finite resources in the world and so the economy cannot grow for ever. There are more important issues relating to health and old age – medical concerns, friends, doing the things that they enjoy and death.

My impression is that the director/ producer must be a great fan of Woody Allen.

 

A Royal Night Out

This 2015 movie is a comedy inspired by true events. In London, on 8 May 1945, the VE Day ( ‘Victory-in-Europe’ Day, in celebration of the end of World War II in Europe), the two Princesses – Elizabeth (Sarah Gadon) and Margaret (Bel Powley) – leave the confines of Buckingham Palace (where “the life we live is not fully our own”) to join in the festivities.

This is not a biopic, but a comedic adventure story about an odd couple – Jack (Jack Reynor), an airman, and Elizabeth – thrown together by chance and the events on this crazy, unbelievable and extraordinary night.

The archival footages lend authenticity to the movie, such as the cheering crowds and the buses and searchlights in Trafalgar Square.  Events that take place at Chatsworth House from Buckingham Palace (an unbelievable place: the building of the arts, the piano and the enormous stately rooms) further show how the location sets the tone for the scene.

There are also many well-known tunes used including It’s A Long Way To Tipperary, God Save The King, American Patrol, Tuxedo Junction and In The Mood, with a fair bit of big band and swing and Lindy Hop music. These all add to the celebratory atmosphere of VE Day.

Paranoia

I have enjoyed many movies that feature Gary Oldman and Harrison Ford, so I thought this 2013 movie must be quite good, though there’s also Liam Hemsworth.

Based on a novel by Joseph Finder, this is a high espionage thriller, something that I think plays out better on a moving screen than just words in a book. (I thought I was not not far off in this thought when technological terms like 3DPS data [not just GPS], encoding and design engineering were discussed a fair bit in the movie – I would most probably have skipped these parts or even give up reading altogether.)

27-year-old Adam Cassidy (Liam Hemsworth) realises he can’t afford to pay his father, Frank’s (Richard Dreyfuss) medical bill of $40,000 because his company (Wyatt Corporation) has cancelled his medic plan. This is how he finds out that he has been fired, together with a few c0-workers. They decide to go clubbing instead of wallowing about their dismissal since they’ve been working so hard (in Adam’s case, 6 years) and still stuck at entry-level salary.

While clubbing, Adam finds a beauty and wakes up in her apartment the morning after. Leaving, he finds a ‘headhunter’ waiting for him. He is soon employed as a rival company, Eikon’s, newest executive and given a swanking new car, a luxurious apartment and all manner of perks. Later, it emerges that the beauty is Emma Jennings (Amber Heard), a graduate from Yale University now in charge of marketing at Eikon.

The Wyatt Coporation is headed by Nicholas Wyatt (Gary Oldman) and Eikon’s chief is  Jock Goddard (Harrison Ford). Wyatt is an angry and bitter man, and his rival is intimidating and arrogant. Adam is but an empty vessel made use of as a tool in the world of corporate espionage.

Of course the story ends with the two rivals being arrested by the FBI and Adam walking away from it all, returning to Brooklyn to reconnect with his father and getting Emma to join him at his new start-up company.

I don’t know what reading the book would have been like, but I think a story about technology and espionage is more interesting with all the stunts, special and visual effects (eg surveillance cameras, the world of cell phones, cyber attacks, hacking, tracking, social networks, identity thefts and fraud). That Oldman and Ford, masters of acting, take on important roles here is a bonus.

For A Woman

When I got this 2012 DVD from the library, I did not realise that it is in French. Then I thought: well, since I’ve already borrowed it, and the tagline is interesting (“A story of love, war and the secrets of a generation”), I might as well watch it to see how much French I can understand (I took a short course during my undergraduate days) and see if I enjoy it as much as I did the last French film I watched some years ago.

This is also the official selection of the New York Jewish Fim Festival and the Santa Barbara International film Festival.

Anne (Sylvie Testud) is in her mid-30s, and her mother died three months ago. The shock was brutal. Her father was sick and took everything out on Anne and her sister Tania (Julie Ferrier).

Anne and her sister take three days to empty the house. They discover old photographs and letters that make them look more closely at their parents’ life after the concentration camps of World War II.

Anne and Tania’s parents were married on 23 Oct 1942; their father Michel (Benoit Magimel) was 31 and their mother Lena (Melanie Thierry) was 22. Old family records show that their father was actually named Mordehai at birth, and his parents Abraham Korsky and Tanba Goldhaberg.

Anne cannot forget her father’s look when he talked of his wife, or the smile when she thinks of her mother. His love had remained constant despite the existence of a mysterious ‘uncle’ with whom Lena was smittened.

They are a family and they create their own story where there’s room or where there’s light. The children grow up as best as they can between unspoken words and unanswered questions.

The movie deals with the political, social and personal consequences of monumental historical events (WWII & Holocaust). The central story about Anne’s discovery of the family secret shows one woman’s (her mother’s) struggle to live the life she should versus the life she wants. It is only after her (Lena’s) death that Anne sees her outside her maternal role, and as a young woman caught between a stable but uninteresting family life and an unexpected and passionate affair with no clear future.

The beautiful scenerey, especially of the French countryside is a feast for the eyes. So are the orchestral music and French music in the background. I would have enjoyed the film better if I had understood more French or if the language used is English.