The Remains of the Day (1993)

CALL OF DUTY

Anthony Hopkins in "The Remains of the Day"

It’s most kind of you to take this time and read the review. I am by no means an expert in film criticism, but I’m much obliged for sharing my humble view. I promise to do my utmost best. And if I have executed my job suitably, you should be able to judge whether this movie is worth a look. I, myself, could not remember as to why I have chosen to watch it, but by the end of it, I was thoroughly pleased to have done so.

Based on the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, “The Remains of the Day” is about James Stevens (Anthony Hopkins), a dignified, dutiful butler in the English estate of Darlington. In the film, he recalls a crucial time in his service, circa 1930s, right before the second World War. He has hired a first-rate employee – a lovely Miss Kenton (Emma Thompson) in the role of the housekeeper. The woman proves to be sharp-eyed, confident, and poised. However, she can be outspoken when it comes to conduct and rules. And while this challenges his authority, Mister Stevens is secretly amused by her restrained rants.

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Catfish (2010)

NEV’S ENDING STORY

While the film shows no actual fish, “Catfish” is one fishy movie. It asserts itself to be one-hundred-percent true documentary, but there are times when you doubt its authenticity. Its premise involves an affable photographer named Nev. As documented by his two camera-ready roomies, we see him expound on his unlikely correspondence with a child painter named Abby.

The girl, miles away in Michigan, has seen one of Nev’s published photographs. She contacts him, expresses her admiration, and sends him her paintings inspired by his work. Touched to have a fan, Nev communicates with Abby mostly through cyber. Soon, in Facebook, he also befriends her appreciative mother Angela and hot half-sister Megan. He becomes intimate with the family as the correspondence grows through text messages, phone calls, and songs. Then one day, Nev decides to surprise them by driving to Michigan. And the surprise! – the supriser becomes the surpisee. The movie depends on this revelation and if you have not watched it yet and plans to, I warn you that the following might splash some spoilers.

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The Sound of Music (1965)

SING AWAKENING

I have watched “The Sound of Music” numerous times as a young kid. After childhood though, I only have seen bits and pieces. When I heard of its 45th anniversary, I thought about watching its entirety for old time’s sake. But frankly, I was afraid to see it with a critical eye. I heard it described as one of the worst “Best Picture” winners. I seriously don’t want to taint a fond childhood memory.

Fortunately, my thoughts of doom and gloom withered within seconds. The film begins with a breathtaking aerial view of the Alps. Talk about a pick-me-up. “The Sound of Music” literally starts on top and the energy picks up as the film descends onto the hills. And then behold, there’s Julie Andrews preparing for her iconic twirl and sing “The Sound of Music.” My ability to critique came tumbling down and I just wanted to sit back and watch in awe like I have done in the past.

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Undertow (2004)

HOW TO DEAL WITH DEEL

“Undertow” opens with its stalwart hero (Jamie Bell) smooching Kristen Stewart. By the next scene, (Click-click… Bang!) off he goes, trotting away from her gun-totting father. He dashes through the fields and through the woods. Way behind, the popping Pops hauls and calls the cops. When the chase caputs, the lad is caught, limping with a nail in his foot.

The runner’s name is Chris. Roaming and fooling around, this kid from Georgia wants escape. He’s trapped in a meager household with a staid dad (Dermot Mulroney) and a paint-eater brother (Devon Alan). His hours are humdrum, mainly hogged by minding hogs. But that’s about to change when an ominous character (Josh Lucas) drops by.

His name is Deel. He reeks of danger, even before we know he just came from prison. The father says he’s okay though. Deel’s his brother; he’s family. Therefore, he can live with them. He can take care of the boys while the dad is away.

But seriously, what is the real deal with Deel? The guy behaves so dubiously. Why did he go to prison? And why does he keeps asking about some mythic coins he’s supposed to inherit? Hmmm.

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The Saddest Music in the World (2003)

MADNESS FOR SADNESS

I recently checked out Guy Maddin, a filmmaker whom an acquaintance intriguingly described as the Canadian David Lynch. From his 2003 film “The Saddest Music in the World,” David Lynch indeed popped into my head. This is a weird movie, filmed in great granny’s grainy black-and-white. Sometimes it’s blurry, out of focus. Sometimes even the aperture is limited. So put away the 3D glasses. The visuals might be anti-high-def, but at least the movie seems deft in its own dimension of lunacy.

Its silly pouty premise is set during The Great Depression. Winnipeg has been pegged as the sorrow capital of the world. To commemorate the “honor,” beer baroness Lady Port-Huntley (Isabella Rossellini) wants to hold a musical contest. For a grand prize of $25,000, she’s inviting countries to compete for the “saddest music in the world.” Three of the participants belong in the same family. And two of these three have a complicated and severed past with Lady P.

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A Trip to the Moon (1902)

SHOOT FOR THE MOON

Clocking a little more than ten minutes, “A Trip to the Moon” – a French feature made back in 1902 (!) – tells the story of wizardy astronomers who hop on a large bullet, which is then shot to the moon. I know – the premise is a little absurd. The modern viewer in me can’t help but groan – “Oh boy, that was cheesy.” My science brain rolled my eyes and scoffed, “Impossible! Not gonna happen in a million years.”

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The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)

SIGN OF THE CROSSED

There are many points in our lives where we don’t know what to do. We get so spiritually lost that we ask God to guide us, to give us a sign. If only prayer can be upgraded into a more direct two-way communication? What if God can text us? Befriend us in Facebook?

But then, imagine if He indeed reached out to you. How would you go about convincing people that it did take place? Or let’s turn the tables. What if someone claims to have spoken to God? Would you believe him/her?

These are the questions that lingered with me after “The Passion of Joan of Arc.” And here I thought I would get, more or less, a history lesson about the famed French saint. The movie reenacts her trial in 1431, where she is questioned by religious authorities. She claims to have been approached by God with a mission to drive the English out of France.

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2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

ALL HAL BREAKS LOOSE

“2001: A Space Odyssey” has been intimidating me for years. I was afraid I was not going to get it. But this year, I decided to man up and give in. Of course, what do I get in the first three minutes – a pitch dark screen accompanied by scary music. How the heck am I supposed to respond to that? Did I not get a secret decoder? I felt dumbstruck watching Kubrick’s masterpiece because well, it is utterly different from most movies. I’d throw in words like jarring and shocking to describe it, but one would probably mentally picture blood with these descriptions where the movie has none.

Perhaps attempting to describe is a mistake. You can’t merely put “2001: A Space Odyssey” into words. The movie has to be seen and heard to believe. It lavishes such a pure luxurious atmosphere that its first-rate and ambitious plot seems secondary. Visionary Stanley Kubrick is in top form here. He captures such a precise eeriness in mood and tone that you can’t help but gravitate towards his realized realms.

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The Asphalt Jungle (1950)

THE MAN BEHIND THE CAPER

I have never heard of “The Asphalt Jungle” before. The title intrigued me and had me asking – will I be treated to a dark rocky story reeking of burnt rubber? Amazingly, the movie somehow lives up to its name. The 1950 black and white film is set on an unnamed Midwest city – smoggy and foreboding. The streets might be lifeless and dull, but you sense the bustling of lawbreakers on the hidden corners.

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Not of This World (1999)

Baby, Now That I’ve Found You

Everyone begins on a broad road of possibilities, but as one ages, the choices dwindle and the path gets narrower. When I was young, I could not fully grasp how we have to make lifetime commitments. How do you know what you want to be for life? As I grew, I viewed the age-old question differently for isn’t really a matter of certainty, but that of wisdom and faith.

Take the protagonist of the Italian drama “Not of This World” for example. Sister Caterina, beautiful and intelligent, is happy on becoming a nun. But when she is handed an abandoned infant to take care of, two internal forces kick in – her maternal instinct and her doubts about her lifetime profession. Her spiritual questioning is not obvious at first, but people around her are constantly bringing it up. It is a curiosity that permeates the movie as to why this woman would want to become a nun.

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Up in the Air (2009)

BAD NEWS BEARERS

“Up in the Air” literally starts on a high, with a fly opening credits involving snapshots from a plane. And then, in the form of a well suited George Clooney, we meet the film’s protagonist. His name is Ryan Bingham and his job is to fly over all over the country and do the firing for bosses with no balls to do them. It’s a job that takes finesse and experience for he deals with people at their vulnerable state.

So how does one become good in bearing bad news? Well, Bingham has adapted a philosophy of human disconnect. He is barely in one place to develop a relationship. He flies so much that he calls the stratosphere his home. Sky is literally his limit. But don’t worry, between flight connections, he finds flirt connections with a fellow cloud hopper (Vera Farmiga) for some adult playtime. (Cue the nudge-nudge, wink-wink).

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