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October is harvesting month for me. The first week I was still cruising on some small country roads in Northeast U.S. gathering visual delights. As soon as I came back home, I sent off a travel article to an online newspaper. Visitors to my pond at Ripple Effects get the details in ten blog posts beginning here.

Funny thing is, In my almost two weeks’ road trip, I’d rarely seen birds and have not watched one single movie. So as soon as I got back home, I quickly sought to quench the dry spell. Sad to say, my avian friends have migrated without saying goodbye. But there are always movies.

Here are the movies I’ve watched in October after coming home. Most are current releases, a few catch-ups. I’m a detailed list-maker of unnecessary facts, so the titles are in chronological order of my viewing:

The Intern with Robert De Niro as the overqualified senior (in age) intern

A new genre has evolved in recent years to capture the baby-boomer cinema goers – A Walk In The Woods, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Quartet, My Old Lady – just to name a few. The Intern is pleasant enough, with an interesting proposal: make the best use of the resources seniors can offer in a business, here a startup created and operated by Jules (Ann Hathaway). The hipster way of running a company is explicitly, time and again, contrasted with the De Niro old school of management, etiquette and people skills, like Ben Stiller and Adam Driver in While We Were Young. But The Intern lacks a dramatic story arc to hold viewers’ (well, mine at least) interest and attention. I’ve been waiting for a twist somewhere but it never came, and Anders Holm who plays Jules’ husband Matt could well be a miscast.  ~ ~ 1/2 Ripples

Hamlet with Benedict Cumberbatch as the brooding Prince of Denmark

I bought the ticket to this National Theatre Live one-night screening months ago and am excited to report that I was one of 250,000 viewers worldwide to watch it. The date to remember: 10/15/15. It was a record for NTL for one single showing of a broadcast; Shakespeare would be ecstatic. I was squished in the last row corner seat in a full Cineplex auditorium, awestruck by the enthusiasm Benedict Cumberbatch had raised. There were young people in droves streaming into the theatre instead of the usually grey-haired audience at most NTL screenings.

Basically two things I’d like to say about this production at the Barbican in London via NTL’s camera work. First, the sound and lighting need to improve so we don’t have to strain our ears to hear that most famous soliloquy of all time delivered by Benedict Cumberbatch. Second, the performance was a bit uneven. While Cumberbatch had put on an energetic and affective act, and Ciaran Hinds as Claudius was very convincing and appealing even, there were roles that need to be pumped up to match.
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The Martian with Matt Damon as the best botanist on the Planet Mars

Well, science seems to be the saviour bringing Matt Damon back to Earth from Mars but director Ridley Scott knows the underlying secret. An evacuation of his teammates after a dust storm has left astronaut Mark Watney all alone on the Red Planet. To survive, he has to science his way out. Director Ridley Scott knows too well that he is working with flesh and blood, and science without the human touch will best be a fine documentary but won’t capture hearts and can’t triumph at the box office. Thanks to all his teammates in the space capsule coming back for him and all the smart people in NASA and elsewhere calculating to the dot of how this could take place, we get a captivating and entertaining human interest story. Look at the cast, it’s not rocket science that the film has fine materials to build on: Other than Damon, there’s Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jeff Daniels, Sean Bean…

A blogging success, Andy Weir first published his story as blog posts, followed by eBook, sold movie rights, movie production, and now the phenom. But what was I most impressed? That the film doesn’t use CGI to imitate the Red Planet but was shot on location in the magnificent Wadi Rum, southern Jordan. Previous films with Mars as setting had used the location as it’s probably one of the most Mars-like places on Earth. I had the experience of getting to about seventy miles north of Wadi Rum in Petra many years ago, beholding the city carved out of the red mountains. It was indeed out of this world.  ~ ~ ~ 1/2 Ripples
Update Jan. 14, 2016: 7 Oscar Nominations including Best Picture)

Bridge of Spies with Tom Hanks as the reluctant hero

Steven Spielberg knows what audience wants too, and that the formula of the “hero’s journey” works. Not to say this film is formulaic but it is predictable even when I didn’t know anything about our reluctant hero, insurance lawyer James Donovan (Tom Hanks) who later turned master negotiator. Bridge of Spies is set in the Cold War era, Donovan is asked to do the nasty task of defending an arrested Russian spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance). As a result, Donovan has suddenly become public enemy no. 1 together with his defendant. As the real life events begin to take their course, Donovan is pulled into the journey with real gusto. He saves Abel from a certain death sentence, keeping him for more useful ends, you know, some sort of like insurance for the future. And rainy days finally come.

This is a highly watchable film, despite the fact that many might have known about this part of American history, the character Donovan and his ultimate endeavour to exchange Abel for American U2 pilot Gary Powers shot down from Soviet airspace. As with Ridley Scott’s The Martian, Spielberg knows it’s not the dry, actual negotiations that will interest the audience, but the added suspense and the human bond between Donovan and Abel that would appeal more. And so he threw in those elements; Spielberg is good at that. It’s the humanity behind his characters that capture his audience. And what’s more, shot like a Cold War era film, we get some thrilling noir type of camera work and the reminiscence of the denser and tenser spy films of the 60’s, like Le Carré’s The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. But of course, in this day, audience would welcome more Spielberg’s offer of lighter entertainment. ~ ~ ~ 1/2 Ripples
(Update Jan. 14, 2016: 6 Oscar Nominations including Best Picture)

Jafar Panahi’s TAXI where the banned Iranian director creates video selfies 

Banned from making films for twenty years for his outspoken stance against the government, Iranian director Jafar Panaji uses creative and bold ways to make his ‘non-films’. Here he is in the driver’s seat in a yellow cab, picking up his fares on the streets of Tehran with a camera mounted on his dashboard. We get a slice of what it’s like to live under an authoritarian power. Rather than a gloomy view, this 2015 Berlin International Film Festival winner brings us a light-hearted, human display of life in Tehran, however limited the crack is opened for us to look in from the outside. My full review here.  ~ ~ ~ 1/2 Ripples

This is Not A Film where banned director searches for new ways to speak out

This is Jafar Panahi’s 2011 work after he was given a 20-year ban by the Iranian court from filmmaking, screenwriting, giving interviews, and leaving the country. This is not a film, but a video selfie made in his home by friend and documentary filmmaker Mojtaba Mirtahmasb who was later arrested. We see a somber, stoic, but at times frustrated Panahi up and about in his home with his daily chores, and ‘telling’ a banned screenplay. He is also shown using his own iPhone to record a young man coming to his door to collect garbage, a film student helping his sister out for that night. The depth of human interest and the desires and aspirations of people in constraints depicted in this ‘non-film’ is poignant.  ~ ~ ~ Ripples

Remember where Christopher Plummer is a 90 year-old revenger with dementia

So what if the plot is implausible as long as we have a talented director (Atom Egoyan) conducting a fine orchestrated production with the riveting performance of Christopher Plummer. I mean, there are lots of implausible storylines in our movies nowadays, think Gone Girl, Before I Go to Sleep, ok, throw in The Martian even. The charismatic performance here in Remember by Plummer makes it believable and absorbing. Why, he has grasped and portrayed a dementia patient to the dot, forgetting who you are, where you are, and the essential why for your actions. A Holocaust survivor seeking revenge on the German officer responsible for his family’s death in Auschwitz is the premise. But Canadian director Atom Egoyan had led us into a thrilling story of suspense and unfolding. No, this is not ‘another Holocaust movie’ but a riveting thriller. Plummer has effectively led us to see the fragility of our mind and the nature of the memories we hold.  ~ ~ ~ Ripples

Meet The Patels where Ravi Patel shows us the Indian version of Meet the Parents

But with one major difference: This is a lively documentary. That makes it all the more fun and realistic. The Indian parents of their American born, and almost 30 year-old son Ravi Patel lend a helping hand to find him a wife by distributing his ‘bio dates’ resumé to friends and family and practically to the whole Patel clan. This is not incest but expanding the target market of about 50 miles radius of where the Patels come from in India. Ravi himself had gone through the ‘biodating system’, online matrimonial websites, and Patel Matrimonial Convention. But before all these, he’d had an American girlfriend whom he had kept as a secret from his parents and with whom he had just broken up. Ahh, that adds to the complication in this vividly told multi-visual doc.  Most gratifying is the conclusion… regardless of culture and traditions, loving parents just want their children to be happy. I can’t agree more.   ~ ~ ~ Ripples  My full review here.

The Past where Director Asghar Farhadi elicited some amazing performance

My third film from Iranian directors in just two weeks. Asghar Farhadi’s first French language film shot in Paris. I was much impressed by his previous work A Separation, which won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2012. The Past came a year later. So this is a catch-up for me; I’d long wanted to see it. Saw it on BluRay just a few days ago and again I must say, don’t let them just stream movies online, for the special features are just as good. Here we have Farhadi sharing with us the creative process in the making of The Past at a Directors Guild interview. This is too good a film to just write a couple of paragraphs on. A full review coming. But I can tell you, it’s going to be ~ ~ ~ ~ Ripples.