Tagged: Movie Reviews

The Zookeeper’s Wife


I continue to have a fascination for the Second World War and its stories. I might have seen many war movies over the years, and especially like the ones which show the miseries of war, the sufferings of the people, the utter insanity of war, and the cruelty displayed by the average man in all his barbaric manner when he belongs to the winning side (not always though).

In my recent flight, I chose to see The Zookeeper’s Wife after I read the brief description of the movie – nothing much, but enough to kindle my interest. I browsed through a lot of movie briefs on the screen, but eventually came back to this one because it was set in wartime Poland, which was probably the most bombarded and affected country in the Second World War and also in its aftermath.

I am not going to recount a summary of the movie here in this post. In a nutshell, the movie is about the Director of the Warsaw Zoo and his wife (Jan and Antonina Zabinski), who managed to save 300 Jews from sure death during the German occupation of Poland from 1939 onwards. It tells their story of warmth, kindness, compassion towards the Jews, whose Ghetto was under attack by the German soldiers and eventually burnt down. It also shows the cruelty and barbarism of Nazi German soldiers, who were anyway under orders to murder Jews.

Imagine if Germans had discovered the fact that Jan and Antonina were hiding hundreds of Jews in their zoo. They would have been executed without mercy for an act of human kindness – an act of saving other people from the cruelty of Germans, and also an act of saving them from torture and death (which was impending as the Germans rounded up the Jews in the Ghetto and packed them off to the concentration camps – it was heart-breaking to see the small kids as young as 5 years old pleading to be taken off the train and saved). It is still sometimes difficult to believe that such cruelty existed in this world (unfortunately in continues to exist in several nations as we know for sure now).

While the story revolves around Antonina, the real hero of the story is Dr Jan Zabinski, the Director of the Warsaw Zoo. He displayed a strong sense of humanity and justice (remember this is a true story) towards the Jews. He secretly participated in the Polish underground, and was always working against the occupying German forces. Jan said “My deeds were and are a consequence of a certain psychological composition, a result of a progressive-humanistic upbringing, which I received at home as well as in Kreczmar High School. Many times I wished to analyze the causes for dislike for Jews and I could not find any, besides artificially formed ones.”

As a lover of animals and believing that every living creature was important, Antonina played an indispensable role in saving hundreds of Jewish lives. “I looked at them with despair,” she said. “Their appearance and the way they spoke left no illusions. … I felt an overwhelming sense of shame for my own helplessness and fear.”

[The quotes above from Dr Jan and Antonina Zabinski are from Biography.com – please see Zookeeper’s Wife True Story].

Out of the 300 people the Zabinskis saved, only two died during the war; all the others remarkably found refuge and safe passage elsewhere.

In 1968 the state of Israel honored the Zabinskis with the title “Righteous Among the Nations,” a recognition that was given to all those brave citizens who helped save Jews during the Holocaust.

I liked the movie though it was not a big commercial success. I understand that the Polish people liked the movie. In my opinion, the movie shows that human kindness and civility have a big role to play even in today’s highly commercialized world. During the Second World War, the situation was vastly different from today, especially in the countries occupied by Germans who were on a mission to eliminate Jews. Poland was hugely affected. We cannot forget the fact that Adolf Hitler managed to murder 6M innocent Jews in Europe, and movies such as these show the small, yet critical kindness that was required on a humanitarian basis to save people of any kind. After all, what is the difference between one human and another? The brutality of Germans has been depicted in some savagery in this movie, though much less than in some of the other movies.

Let us not forget that human kindness, compassion and civility form the crux of human life on this planet. And, powerful nations cannot keep silent in the face of ethnic cleansing, brutality and murder of innocent civilians, irrespective of their race, religion, colour or ethnicity. I have written about other such instances (the expulsion of Rohingyas of Myanmar is a strong example, and the Syrian War – both are going on currently).

As highly educated and well-to-do people, we owe it to this world to do the right thing instead of keeping quiet in the face of atrocities unleashed on civilians by brutal dictatorships. We should push our own governments and multilateral agencies to act to save people.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

12th November 2017

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Movies on board


The Emirates Airlines onboard entertainment is vastly better than that offered in any other world class airline – they specifically beat out Singapore Airlines, which reputedly offers one of the best inflight entertainment systems in the world. Emirates also offers free WiFi for the first two hours, and then just charges USD 1 for usage of up to 500MB of data, which should be more than enough for the entire duration of a long haul flight. I signed up for that, and stayed connected with folks on the ground throughout my flight!

I saw a variety of new movies recently on board the Emirates flights to the U.S. and back. Some of these are listed below, in the order I liked them:

  1. THE WHOLE TRUTH
  2. HIDDEN FIGURES
  3. LION
  4. KAHAANI 2
  5. SNOWDEN
  6. MISS SLOANE
  7. PASSENGERS
  8. WHY HIM
  9. COME AND FIND ME

Except for the last two, the others were excellent choices. I would have written out individual movie reviews, but for the lack of time. I was very impressed with the first three movies, all of them deserve awards. I think HIDDEN FIGURES won some awards.

Some of these movies make the audience think, and that is the true mark of great movies. We enjoy them and simultaneously get impacted in some manner. We think through, and realize that such movies carry very important messages for the audience – they are not just movies, but powerful messages.

THE WHOLE TRUTH is a legal crime thriller which makes you sit up towards the end with its very unexpected and skewed conclusion. HIDDEN FIGURES is about a black woman who excelled in advanced planetary mathematics at NASA. LION is about a boy who gets separated from his family and eventually discovers his mother after almost a quarter century. KAHAANI 2 is about child sexual abuse and the fight of one individual woman to save a very young abused girl. SNOWDEN is about the fugitive ex-NSA operative, Edward Snowden. MISS SLOANE is a fast-moving film about a very effective Washington political lobbyist. PASSENGERS is about a man who wakes up rather early on an inter-planetary mission and tries to figure out what to do to make his time worthwhile for the rest of the flight which would last another 90 years!

In a nutshell, it was good fun to watch these movies. All of the above ones (movie #1 to #7) are great movies, do not miss out on them. Really worth it.

Have a lovely weekend,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

28th May 2017

“Fracture” the movie


I watched this movie from 2007 just recently and liked the flow of events combined with what my wife described as the success of Anthony Hopkins as always, with “the expected outcome” resembling his previous movies. I am sure you now recognize my badly worded English sentence, and am sorry for that construction.

Anthony Hopkins and Ryan Gosling deliver excellent performances in this movie, which is about a crime of passion which landed in trial with the immediate expectation that the perpetrator would be convicted due to the nature of the “open and shut” case with serious evidence. But it was not to be……..the movie leads you through some unexpected twists during the trial which the district attorney’s office eventually loses. Totally unexpected.

Movies like “Fracture” educate the audience on legal matters. In this case, a reasonable jury member drawn from the public would have rejected the same murder charge being applied to the defendant for the second time (recall the “Double Jeopardy” principle). However, if for the same crime, a different charge is brought froward with appropriate evidence to go by, then the principle does not apply, and the defendant can be prosecuted again.

Of course, in the movie there are several coincidences which work out for the benefit of the story line – like for example, the murderer expects that his wife’s lover would turn up to investigate the crime at his home (which is too much of a coincidence), but the guy does turn up and witnesses the outcome of the crime – his lover lying in a pool of blood which makes him lose control. The other key thing is that the assistant DA (Ryan Gosling) notices the switch of mobile phones with his co-investigator, and then looks at the photo of the murder weapon which is of the same make as the one owned by the police officer who turns up at the murder scene. So, the thought of switching guns enters his mind, again too much of chance, when this should have been assessed right after the crime.

But then, this is just a movie and so things have to happen to perpetuate the story line, and that is exactly what happened. Nevertheless, I enjoyed watching the movie just for Anthony Hopkins’s inscrutable performance and Ryan Gosling’s smiling face which is trying to discern that inscrutability of Anthony Hopkins!

Good movie, and since there is no violence can be watched with the family. I am sure your family member are going to seek your wisdom as to what is happening in the movie, and I am sure you will keep it to yourself. I suggest you relish this movie with a glass of wine (may not be enough of course), but then if you wish to think through, I would strongly recommend wine!!

Enjoy the movie and enjoy your wine, have a good finale to the weekend, mates,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

19th March 2017

 

 

3.4 Movies in one sitting


Which is not unusual, right?

I was on a fairly long flight (from X to Y of course) couple of days ago. Managed to see 3.4 movies during the flight time (40% of the last movie which translated to around 50 minutes). The balance 0.6 portion of the last movie I just finished seeing on my laptop at home.

While each one of these movies deserve a “movie review”, I am kind of bit lazy to write 4 blog posts, one on each. I decided to write one post, which is not exactly a review of all these movies. My random selection of movies from the flight entertainment system turned out to be rather good, as I recounted the same to my wife.

Here is the list of the movies from the latest selection available on Singapore Airlines Inflight Entertainment System:

  1. The Girl on the Train – a mystery thriller drama
  2. Inferno – thriller based on religious conspiracies
  3. Keeping up with the Joneses – espionage action comedy
  4. The Accountant – accounting crime thriller

In my opinion, “The Girl on the Train” receives the top marks amongst these 4 random movie selections, followed by “The Accountant”. The “Inferno” gets the third place.

I liked the acting of Rachel (Emily Blunt) in “The Girl on the Train” – her sad and forlorn countenance enhanced her vulnerability as the alcoholic who has been disowned by her husband for her alcoholism and violent behaviour. I sympathized with her condition, and worried that she was going to get hurt, though I felt she was on the wrong. But things turned out differently later in the movie, and I was happy see her redemption. I did not guess that the murderer of Megan (Haley Bennett) was Tom (Justin Theroux), who was Rachel’s husband. The profiling of the psychiatrist, Dr Kamal Abdic (Edgar Ramirez) as a Middle Eastern man was not the right thing to do, leading to suspicion on him as the potential killer. Racial and ethnic profiling need to be curtailed unless the story is a true one based on real life.

“The Accountant” was a good financial crime thriller and I liked the acting of Ben Affleck, who is the main actor. He comes as an autistic person with super human killer capabilities, not just in high end analytical maths, but also in high end killing. The movie does not tie the lose ends well, and connects autism with some super special skill, which may not be the case in real life (with one out of 68 kids in the U.S. being autistic). However, I enjoyed watching the standard Hollywood crime thriller action.

The “Inferno” is not a great movie like its predecessors from Dan Brown heritage. I am getting tired of seeing the run around cathedrals and tombs of Rome and Istanbul. Tom Hanks acts well, and there are some good surprises in the movie. It is surely watchable, no doubt. However, the series is getting tired and probably should be retired. Connecting a religious thriller with bio-terrorism and World Health Organization is laughable.

“Keeping up with the Joneses” is just an action comedy, the likes of which I have seen many a time. Nothing much in it, except that it is a good time killer. And, you can laugh at it for a while.

Have a good weekend folks,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

25th February 2017

 

 

SPLIT the movie


I went to the cinema to see this psychological horror-thriller movie recently, because my wife said that this will be a good one since the director is the famous Night Shyamalan of “The Sixth Sense” and “Signs” fame. I said fine and went along – the mistake I made was that I did not look up on the movie’s storyline and reviews. So, it was a total surprise, and shock to see what truly turned out to be a horror movie with unexpected twists and some gory scenes.

To start with, the movie (like many Hollywood horror and crime movies) reminded me that there are many deranged, mentally unstable and psychologically challenged folks around us (not just in the U.S., but it will appear that their existence seems to be predominantly in the Western world, and especially in the U.S.). Coincidentally, I read just yesterday that the U.S. Congress overturned a previously passed bill which will restrict mentally disturbed folks to obtain guns (which means that the U.S. Congress now says that it is absolutely all right for mental patients to buy guns without any further checks and roam around cities, doing whatever they wish).

It is no wonder directors and story tellers get ideas from the real world happenings in these so-called advanced societies. The main reason why a person gets into a mentally disturbed state or into a multiple-personality disorder state is because of parental abuse, or because a close relative abused the person during his or her younger years – well, this situation is not restricted to advanced countries, it also happens in other countries. However the key difference is that the legal system in advanced societies treat these patients rather kindly (probably because there is advanced psychological, psychiatric and medical help available) and let these folks back into society, while in developing countries, there is apparently more caution exercised especially when there is a criminal angle. When there is a clear case for suspecting that a person is abnormal, and has tendencies to inflict crime on unsuspecting people around him/her, then a restraint is absolutely necessary, weighing the society’s safety to be more important than the individual’s.

Coming back to SPLIT, the movie, the key thing which stands out is the eerie cinematography and the direction. Of course, James McAvoy has delivered a stunning performance as the person who has multiple personalities which dominate him at different times. I will be remiss if I don’t mention the amazingly talented Anya Taylor-Joy, who is one of the three young girls abducted. The mind games she plays against James McAvoy in the movie are thrilling, and her vulnerable demeanour adds tension to what is already an environment filled with unexpected turns and twists.

Betty Buckley comes as Dr Fletcher, who is the psycho-therapist for our patient. She is fabulous in putting together the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle and realizes that there is something wrong with her multiple-personality patient. I expected her to go with some police assistance to the home of the patient, but she doesn’t, adding further to the thrill and tension. I also expected her to survive, but she…………

Well, at the end, I would say that Night Shyamalan has laid out his plans for a sequel, as the “beast” survives, not caught by the police. SPLIT is an absolutely thrilling movie which challenges our understanding of complex mentally challenged patients, and how an otherwise normal individual can be completely taken over by another damaging and harmful persona. Such patients pose a huge challenge to society, and need to be handled carefully by the medical community – they cannot just mingle with the rest of the society until the time they are cured, but then the cure could be an illusion as we saw in this movie.

Now I realize how difficult it would be for the person concerned to be in and out of multiple personalities, and even more so how hugely challenging it would be for the psychologists/psychiatrists to decipher the problems of such patients and then render the appropriate treatment on an ongoing basis.

An amazing thriller, but hold the arm rests tightly.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

18th February 2017

Winter in Wartime


This is an amazing Second World War Movie from Holland.

I continue to be fascinated by the heroism of young men (in this case a very young 13 year old boy) depicted in real life against the German Nazis. Whenever I happen to chance upon a good wartime movie, I have grabbed it and watched it non-stop. There is no other way to experience the worst catastrophe which befell the twentieth century.

“Winter in Wartime” is one such movie. Powerfully directed by Dutch director Martin Koolhoven and acted fabulously by Martijn Lakemeier as the young boy, the movie shows how such a young person matures during difficult war times faster than he would during normal times. I loved the acting by Martijn, who has delivered a phenomenal performance – I almost thought that the movie is for “real” and the happenings are true-to-life in all aspects of movie direction.

When Martijn’s father was dragged by the Nazis and shot dead by them in the town square, Martijn is shown running towards the place at a great speed, and the emotions and the anguish that he depicts on his face are something that the movie viewers will instantaneously perceive. I almost wept when Martijn just arrives at the town square and the bullets from the heartless Nazis hit his father’s chest and he falls down dead. The agony of a child is unbearable and I should commend the director for this fabulous piece of cinematography.

But, I think – why and how could Germans be so bad, vengeful, reckless and heartless? How can they be so ungodly? What made them into sheer animals who could take others’ lives – even those who were not fighting against them? After all, Holland was occupied territory and the Nazis were just governing the same ensuring that any resistance could be foiled. How can a nation like Germany allow its soldiers to murder (not kill in a battlefield) not only the innocent citizens of its own country, but of other occupied countries?

Nazis showed no respect for human life.

And, I also wonder what converts people into turncoats? In the movie, “uncle Ben” is shown as a good person, a guy who works for the underground resistance, but ultimately turns out to be a Nazi collaborator who could have potentially stopped the murder of Martijn’s dad by the Nazis. If extreme situations under war time can apply extreme pressures upon the human soul, may be it becomes weak and not able to take the pressure, and agrees to give up one’s own family and friends. I cannot believe that this can be the case, but apparently such situations have happened in Nazi occupied countries. People save their skin (for the moment), acting as informers on their own family and friends. How ridiculous can that be?

The movie also shows that how Europe has suffered during the wars, and how scars remain even to this day. The movie was released in 2008, a full 63 years after the end of the Second World War, but still resonated with Europeans, especially with the Dutch.

The war’s harsh realities hit Martijn quite hard and he also discovers that he should not be trusting everyone around him. The induction of the bad qualities of adulthood at the age of 13 are clearly demonstrated in the direction and acting. While I keep thinking about bigger issues involving the inhuman actions of the Nazis, and trying to “feel” what the indefensible people those days must have felt, the movie still manages to leave an indelible impression on me of a young boy whose normal growth into adulthood was accelerated by the war in a very unusual manner causing deep scars in him.

Do we “feel” the impact of this historical scar caused by Nazis and Nazi Germany? Can we ever even get close to the happenings of Second World War which caused so much untold sufferings to normal human beings at the hand of a cruel dictator and a country without a soul? Only people who suffered those days can tell. We are only seeing the movies and writing about the same.

I hope such a situation never arises again on this planet.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

22nd January 2017

Muhteşem Yüzyıl – “Magnificent Century”


I am currently watching Episode 34 of Season 1 of Muhteşem Yüzyıl or the Magnificent Century on NetFlix – a Turkish TV Serial about the Ottoman Empire, specifically, Sultan Suleyman Khan or Suleyman the Magnificent.

It is an interesting and intriguing story about the exploits of the Sultan Suleyman, who was the most successful Ottoman Sultan ever. Apart from his conquests and council meetings, the coverage is largely centred around “palace intrigue” = what happens in his palace amongst members of his harem and members of his immediate family. Rather absorbing and sometimes thrilling. The story resembles Hindu Mythological Epics in several ways, but the storylines are very different. I realized that every major dynasty or empire would have some great guys like Sultan Suleyman, whose story of empire-building becomes the basis of future TV Serials!

The more of the serial I see, the more I am impressed by the wide variety of skills displayed by the Sultan – he is a skilled jewel maker, for instance and makes very special jewels for his wives and sister. He is a complete package of an individual – an accomplished warrior, a military strategist par excellence, a nation builder, an architect of palaces and mosques, an encouraging patron of the arts and literature as well as music. There are very few kings who were like him – he was also a Sultan who was particular about rendering justice and was always inclined to measure the responses and feedback from his subjects during anonymous trips to the city bazaar. He also encouraged talent when he found it even in non-Turkish people, like in his Grand Vizier, Ibrahim Pasha, who was just his Concierge before earning the complete trust of the Sultan and replaced established Pashas who were vying for the Grand Vizier post of the Ottoman Empire.

It is truly amazing to see the rivalries amongst contenders for Sultan’s attention. The whole Topkapi Sarayi (the Sultan’s primary palace) seems to be filled with such rivalries and treachery, with the maids-of-honour playing some key roles. One can also witness the corrosive influence of communication-peddling of the wrong type, inflaming people to take some vicious action. Surely, none of these happenings are unnatural at all – in fact, one should expect such things in any dynasty of yesteryears.

Of course, people learn from such treachery and today’s politicking has come about from such palace intrigue. We all know political dynasties continue, though being challenged in many countries. However, dynasties have a longish rule and a habit of returning to power, as we often see in the Indian political scene.

I am fascinated by the Ottoman dynasty – I do not recall having studied about it in my secondary school History textbooks. I never bothered to learn about it till I chanced upon this TV Serial, and then I wondered how come I missed such a fabulous storyline. Here is the story of a valiant Sultan who challenged most of Southern Europe, the Mediterranean Sea, Egypt and Persia. This serial has provoked me to read up more stuff on the Ottoman dynasty and its historical significance and influence, and I am truly amazed about it. Especially about Sultan Selim Khan (Suleyman’s father) and Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent.

There are four Seasons to be seen, so there will be a big number of Episodes, like the Mahabaratha or Ramayana. I believe one can learn a lot about Political Science and Human Behaviour from such stories. Not much has changed ever since, and new chapters in these two disciplines continue to dazzle today’s world. We will witness more of such real-time, online Episodes in the coming months, and I won’t be surprised if CBS or NBC come up with “Donald Trump – the Outlier as President” Serial in the next couple of years. And, we will all be seeing that Serial for sure.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

25th December 2016