Lipstick Under My Burkha


lipstick-under-my-burkha(2016) Dramedy (M-Appeal) Shshank Arora, Plabita Borthakur, Sonal Jha, Aahana Kumra, Vikrant Massey, Ratna Pathak, Korkona Sen Sharma, Jagat Singh, Sushant Singh, Vaibbhav Tatwawdi. Directed by Alankrita Shrivastava

miami-film-festival-2017

India is a modern democracy but in many ways they are still catching up. Women are certainly starting to demand freedoms and consideration they’d never dream of asking for even a decade ago. Indian women have always been considered to only aspire to happy homemaking. That’s not quite true anymore.

Four women leading separate lives in the rural city of Bhopal (yes, the same Bhopal where Union Carbide’s gas leak killed so many – it is referenced only briefly that the husband of one of the characters died in that tragedy) are all looking to break out of the molds they’ve been placed into. First there’s Usha (Pathak), known to everyone as Auntie; she’s a canny businesswoman who’s been a widow for most of her adult life. She spends most of her time with the children but she has a secret obsession nobody knows about; erotic romance novels, in particular one called Lipstick Dreams.

Leela (Kumra) is a beautician who is unwillingly engaged to an earnest but essentially colorless guy in an arranged marriage. She has a thing for her Muslim photographer whom she is having sex with at nearly every opportunity and wants to run away with him to the big city where they can start on their own fresh. Then there’s Shirin (Sharma) who is a married mother of three whose husband travels a lot for work. When he’s at home, the sex is almost painful for her and he seems to be utterly incapable of pleasing her or caring to. She has managed to build a sales career without his knowledge because she knows if he knew about it he would forbid it but there’s a promotion on the horizon and there would be no way to hide it from him then. Finally, there’s Rehana (Borthakur), the teenage daughter of strict Muslims who attends college, changing from her Burkha into Western clothes on her way to school and back into the Burkha on her way home where she works in the family business – ironically sewing Burkhas. However she wants to be a more typical teenage girl, hanging out in discos, flirting with boys and doing all the things forbidden her by her conservative parents. And of course, they find out all about it.

Usha gets involved with a swimming instructor who brings out her inner sensuality and she does something unthinkable for a woman her age – heck, for any Indian woman, while Leela is caught between the lover she wants and the wealthy young man who wants her. Shirin makes a discovery about her husband that could change everything and when Rehana gets arrested at a demonstration, the wheels get rolling on an arranged marriage for her. Will these women ever be free to lead the life they want?

Feminism is very nascent in India but it is slowly beginning to take hold. This isn’t the first feminist film to come out of the Sub-Continent, but it just might be the most potent. Shaking up societal norms is part of cinema’s function and this film fulfills that in about every way possible. Some in India have objected at the eroticism displayed in the film. While by American standards it’s fairly tame, it is surprising to see something from India that is this forthright about sex.

I’m not trying to condescend Indian society – certainly our own culture has plenty of problems, particularly now. It is somehow comforting to see Indian women – artists and ordinary women – rising up and demanding fair treatment. It reminds me a little bit of the years that NOW was a political force. I hope that this kind of movie is just a taste of things to come.

REASONS TO GO: A gutsy examination of the role of women in modern Indian society. There is a frank scene of female sexual desire in a 55 year old actress which some may find shocking.
REASONS TO STAY: This is a bit more erotic than some might be used to from Indian cinema.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some fairly frank sexual content and a whole lot of smoking.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: India’s Film Censor Board refused to certify the film, citing scenes of sexuality and female empowerment, sparking outrage throughout India.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/5/17: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Big Eyes
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
Wolves

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The Trip


The Trip

British comedians Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan share a few laughs over dinner.

(2010) Comedy (IFC) Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon, Margo Stilley, Claire Keelan, Rebecca Johnson, Dolya Gavanski, Kerry Shale, Paul Popplewell. Directed by Michael Winterbottom

Road trips can be wonderful things. The people who go with us can start off as family or friends or even strangers but by the end of the trip, the shared experiences inevitably change the relationship. The more we get to know each other, the more our relationship changes.

Steve Coogan (Coogan), a well-known English comic actor accepts a gig writing an article for an English newspaper that will involve a tour of restaurants in the North of England. He does this to impress his American girlfriend Mischa (Stilley) who decides on the eve of the tour to spend some time apart from him and returns to America. Coogan doesn’t want to do this tour alone and after some finagling, manages to get Rob Brydon (Brydon), with whom he previously worked in the movie Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story.

Steve picks up Rob, a happy family man loathe to leave his wife and infant child, at his home and away they head to the North. There, in Yorkshire and Cumbria they’ll dine in Michelin-star rated restaurants, stay in 5-star hotels, banter at each other in the uncomfortable way of work colleagues thrust into a situation where they are together so much they are running out of things to say, and trade celebrity impressions at one another.

This originally began life as a six-hour miniseries on British television. It has been condensed down to a nearly two hour movie, edited for American sensibilities. Director Winterbottom is one of Britain’s most dependable directors, A Mighty Heart, Welcome to Sarajevo, Tristram Shandy and Code 46 among his filmography. Here, he doesn’t really have a lot to do – just point his camera at the two comedians (and occasionally at the lovely vistas of the English north and Lake district) and let them and the scenery do the rest. Sounds easy, but there are plenty of directors who have messed that simple formula up.

Coogan and Brydon have the easy familiarity of men who respect and like each other, and have worked well together in the past. Here the best moments are when they riff off of each other, trading impressions and needling each other about their British television personas. The farther we go into the picture, the more intimate the conversations get – not so much in a sexual sense but in a personal sense as they delve into each others fears, their lives and their hopes.  

You have to keep in mind that this isn’t a documentary – these are men playing characters based on themselves, although how loosely is a matter for debate. Coogan, for example, is divorced and has a daughter – not a son, as depicted in the movie. The movie ends somewhat enigmatically but at least it doesn’t disappoint.

Along the way there are visits to Steve’s parents and some brilliant riffing in the car, including the two men singing Kate Bush’s “Wuthering Heights” near where the Bronte sisters wrote the book that inspired it. They are almost like a married couple, sniping at one another.

Maybe that’s why Rob gets a bit testy about Steve’s regular sexual encounters with women he meets along the way, from a Polish hotel clerk to a photographer he’d shagged before and hadn’t remembered doing it. In the meantime Rob has phone sex with his wife (or attempts to) but can’t resist breaking into impressions of Hugh Grant. In fact his constant willingness to break into different voices that grates on Steve’s nerves.

The humor is a bit on the dry side so for those who don’t appreciate the British sense of humor you might find this off-putting. For the rest of us, this is a six hour television show reduced to less than two so there is certainly a feeling that you are missing some connections here. Still in all, it looks like it would have been a fun trip to have been along for the ride on – and by that standard, you have to say this movie is a successful one.

REASONS TO GO: Tremendous chemistry between the two. Improvisational pieces are the best moments in the film.

REASONS TO STAY: Some of the references are too British at times. The humor can be a bit dry. The ending is a bit odd.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s some sexuality, some violence, a few disturbing images and some depictions of drug use.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: There’s some swearing and a little bit of sexuality.

HOME OR THEATER: This character study can easily be studied in the comforts of your home.

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

TOMORROW: Bicentennial Man

Mammoth


Mammoth

This is the kind of penthouse view you can only see in movies.

(2009) Drama (IFC) Gael Garcia Bernal, Michelle Williams, Sophie Nyweide, Marife Necesito, Tom McCarthy, Run Srinikornchot, Jan David G. Nicdao, Martin de los Santos, Maria Esmeralda del Carmen, Perry Dizon, Joseph Mydell. Directed by Lukas Moodysson

The world doesn’t exist in a vacuum; what happens in New York might well ordain what happens in Luzon, or Bombay or Bangkok for that matter. Even our most insignificant actions in other words have consequences.

Leo (Bernal), Ellen (Williams) and their daughter Jackie (Nyweide) are a happy family. Sunday mornings are comprised of family tickle fests in their expensive Manhattan loft. Still, even a good tickle fest must come to an end and Leo, a video game designer, must jet off to Thailand with his business partner Bob (McCarthy) to sign a multi-million dollar deal that will make the already wealthy Leo even wealthier. Since Bob is the business end of the partnership, Leo has little to do but show up and smile; after doing too much sightseeing he begins to get bored.

Ellen is none too fond of Leo’s absence and her stressful position as a pediatric E.R doctor. She is suffering from insomnia, much of it due to sexual frustration but also due to a case that she’s handling in the E.R. of a child who was stabbed in the stomach by her own mother. She is also feeling disconnected from her daughter, a feeling that is further heightened by Jackie’s growing closeness with her nanny.

Gloria (Necesito), the said nanny, hails from the Philippines and has two boys there – Salvador (Nicdao) and Manuel (de los Santos) who miss her terribly and beg her to come home whenever she calls. She sends most of her earnings home to them to build them a home of their own (they live with Gloria’s mother) and put them through college eventually so they can make a better life for themselves. Jackie is latching onto her because she is basically the only one paying attention to her and treating her like a person. Gloria for her part teaches her Tagolog and takes her to the planetarium, which is Jackie’s favorite place.

The distance between Leo, Ellen and Jackie is growing and Leo finds that he is being tempted by a sweet Thai prostitute named, ironically enough, Cookie (Srinikornchot) who has a daughter of her own. There are a lot of mama issues in this movie.

Swedish director Moodysson (in his English language debut) has taken a lot of heat for implying the link between women working and child issues. Quite frankly he has a point there – women are being forced more and more into the workplace and something has to suffer for it and generally, it’s the relationship with their kids that has to take a back burner simply because they aren’t around as much. It’s not an indictment of women, gang, it’s just a statement of fact.

Bernal is a greatly underrated actor best known for his work in Y Tu Mama Tambien. His role is the least defined of the three members of the family but Bernal makes it memorable. He plays the husband as conflicted and a little bit weak-willed. He is guilty about his fling with Cookie and guilty about deserting his family but a little fuzzy on what’s really going on with his wife and daughter.

Williams, so good in Wendy and Lucy, shows that she has the ability to do an abundance of roles. Self-assured as a surgeon she is nonetheless flawed and occasionally unsure of herself as a woman. She is jealous of Gloria’s closeness to her daughter but doesn’t know how to develop that closeness herself. Instead, she finds herself giving that tenderness to the daughter of another mother. Williams owns the role the same way she owned the role of Wendy in the previous film; and the two roles could not be more different. I see statuettes and red carpets in her future.

The soundtrack is magnificent and uses songs by the electropop band Ladytron effectively to create upbeat moods, which the movie needs in places. It creeps along most of the time and has a languorous pace that can use the occasional shot of adrenaline and Ladytron supplies that nicely.

While the women play the pivotal roles in this movie, I came away thinking it was more about the way families drift apart in the modern world, given the demands of work and of human interactions. In that sense, this is a movie that hits the mark nicely, but it takes a long time to get down a short road and some might find that infuriating. Whether you agree with all of Moodysson’s conclusions is kind of beside the point. It’s whether or not you’ll enjoy the journey and I think it can go either way for most people. It’s worth taking the time to find out if you’re one of those who’ll like it though.

WHY RENT THIS: Fine performances by Bernal and Williams. Establishes dialogue regarding privilege and those who support it. Nice use of Ladytron on the soundtrack.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Moves at a glacial pace not unlike the title creature. Some will find the movie’s plot controversial and its conclusions unpalatable.

FAMILY VALUES: There are adult themes going on here and some scenes where children are put in jeopardy.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was filmed in Thailand, the Philippines, Sweden and New York City.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $1.8M on an unreported production budget; I’d guess the movie broke even or thereabouts.

FINAL RATING: 5.5/10

TOMORROW: Bedazzled (2000)

Going the Distance


 

Going the Distance

Getting typecast in romantic comedies can make any actress a little catty.

(New Line) Drew Barrymore, Justin Long, Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis, Christina Applegate, Ron Livingston, Jim Gaffigan, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Natalie Morales, Kelli Garner, June Diane Raphael, Rob Riggle, Terry Beaver, Matt Servitto, Sarah Burns, Taylor Schwenke.  Directed by Nanette Burstein

Long distance romances are a fact of modern life. People meet online, or find jobs halfway across the country; in other words, things happen. Modern technology makes these kinds of relationships much easier than they were a decade ago, but it is still a very difficult proposition.

Erin (Barrymore) is a summer intern at a New York newspaper. She’s hoping to parlay the internship into a full-time job, but there aren’t any to be had so it will be back to San Francisco for further graduate work at Stanford in the fall. She loves New York and wants to be in the middle of things there, but she’ll have to check back in a year; hopefully there will be some available jobs then.

Garrett (Long) is a commitment-phobic guy who works for a record company. While he is passionate about music, he hates his job as the label, terrified at the economic enviornment for record labels, is only going for what appear to be safe acts that are going to generate revenue as opposed to making great music.  His personal life is no better; he goes from girlfriend to girlfriend, unable to understand why they leave him and wondering what it is that he’s missing in his personality to make relationships work. His friend Box (Sudeikis) and roommate Dan (Day) think his best bet is going to the bar and tying one on.

At the same bar is Erin. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the two are going to meet. It also isn’t a stretch to figure out they’re going to hit it off and over Erin’s last six weeks, fall in love. And that once the six weeks are over, they’re going to want to continue the relationship from afar.

That much is a given. However, what is really surprising is that the obstacles that the couple faces aren’t manufactured. They are the kind of things long-distance daters deal with every day. Both Erin and Garrett are working in industries that are on the endangered list;  jobs aren’t plentiful so they are pretty much stuck where they are and that is really what separates the two of them.

There’s a good deal of sex here which is also part and parcel of the long-distance experience. On those occasions they do get together it’s hard to keep their hands off of each other (or other body parts). Sometimes that can lead to fairly embarrassing situations involving dining room tables and paper-thin bedroom walls. That also shows in their phone conversations, and in their relationships with other people. In short, they are both sexually frustrated and constantly horny.

Barrymore projects one of the sweetest natures in show biz, much like Meg Ryan did a decade ago, and has quietly become one of the most reliable romantic comedy actresses in the business. She is sweet but with a core of steel; she takes no crap and stands up for what she believes in both onscreen and off. It is also a good bet that whenever you get a movie that Barrymore is in, the soundtrack is going to be rich with great indie rock acts, and this one is no different in that regard.

Erin has a great relationship with her uptight sister (Applegate) and her somewhat pedantic brother-in-law (Gaffigan) and their devil-spawn daughter Maya (Schwenke). But it is Box and Dan that nearly steal the show; every time they are onscreen, something is going on that’s going to at least make you giggle. Most of the comedy that goes on in this romantic comedy is coming from them.

Justin Long has never been one of my favorite actors, but he does what he does very very well. He seems to be mellowing and maturing as time goes by, which is slowly turning my opinion of him. Here he has a natural chemistry with Barrymore that makes the relationship even more believable. He has a hangdog look and some natural comic timing which I’ve seen in other movies as well as in some of his television work; unfortunately the few comic bits he gets to do really are some of the least successful in the film.

It’s no secret that American romantic comedies have been slowly fading in quality over the past several years. Part of the reason for that has to do with most writers following the same formula; boy meets girl, they fall in love, they are separated by misunderstanding or circumstance and they reconnect in the final reel. Studios will allow no departures from the formula, mainly because these kinds of movies tend to do really well at the box office.

This movie more or less follows the same formula, but fortunately does it in an entirely organic way so that it doesn’t feel formula. As I said earlier, most of the obstacles in the relationship evolve out of real world obstacles. There are no comic misunderstandings, no forced breakups; just two people who love each other that is separated by the circumstances of their lives and frustrated by it.

I also admired that Barrymore didn’t try to play a sweet young thing in her mid-20s. Here, she is in her 30s and trying to make up for lost time after a failed relationship. It made sense and contributed to the overall realism of the movie.

I’m not exactly sure why the movie was exiled to the frozen wasteland that is the Labor Day weekend, traditionally a very poor movie-going weekend. This is a solid, charming little film that doesn’t force its charm nor does it rely on its stars to elevate mediocre material. It isn’t going to rewrite the manual for romantic comedies, but it at least delivers on the formula in a way that isn’t the same old thing. I, for one, appreciate that.

REASONS TO GO: Barrymore is perhaps the most reliable rom-com actress in the business today. This is a romantic comedy that has its feet planted in the real world.

REASONS TO STAY: Too many typical rom-com clichés pepper the plot.

FAMILY VALUES: You’ll be seeing far more of Justin Long than perhaps anybody was ever meant to see; there is also a share of bad language and sexual references that is more than average. There’s also one scene of extended marijuana use; if you’re okay with all of that, let your kids have at it. Otherwise, older teens and above would be my recommendation.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Barrymore and Long are a couple in real life.

HOME OR THEATER: This is a good movie to pop up some popcorn in the microwave, grab a couple of sodas from the fridge and cuddle up next to your honey on the couch for.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: My One and Only