Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

DAY-DREAMERS, space-cadets, dim-witted are terms used variously to describe those who routinely and effortlessly drift into fantasy realm - even in the midst of company and conversation.

To these drifters, the physical and the illusory worlds co-exist. 

Calling someone a day dreamer summons an image of one who is lazy and ineffectual but I would argue that conjuring fantasies is actually a complex mental process not for those accustomed to mental sloth. Each fantasy typically involves the orchestration of a story line with intricate character casting, scripting, and location visualizing. It's a virtual and vicarious life.

Walter Mitty has the required intensity, intelligence and introversion that makes it easy for him to indulge in fantasies that gratify his emotional, intellectual and social needs. That gratification is real even if the imageries are not.

At best, wool-gathering is an effective way to cope with a life of sheer banality, and to the itinerant mind tripper, a life of having been there, done that!

In the case of Walter Mitty, a romantic interest gives him the courage to move out of reverie into reality, and subsequently, the castles in the air lose their lustre.
On the whole, a lovely year-end movie with visual effects that are are brilliant and stunning.

Go see it!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013


‘Gravity’ has only two star performers (Bullock and Clooney – what a combination!) to hold audience in suspense for 90 minutes with bated breath.

Yet it is the simplest movie revolving around two NASA astronauts floating in orbit, and functioning as best they can.  They are the product of education as much as of specialised and rigorous training in science, technology and human endurance in punishing conditions.

Maybe because it’s set in cosmic space, it gives us no capacity to compare or comment. For real or not, ‘Gravity’ offers the closest look at what it is like in outer space. It’s almost as though we have floated in the outer void to see the action.

As any movie that inspires self-reflection, Gravity has weight (not a pun).

Bullock’s character, Dr Ryan Stone, is extremely reclusive single mum mourning the lost of her young daughter.  She copes by immersing herself in work and driving home, and becomes more comfortable with solitude than social conversations. 

Matt (Clooney’s character): What do you like about being up here?
Ryan: The silence...I can get used to it.

Matt: What do you listen to when you’re (in the car)?
Ryan: I listen to any radio station as long as I don’t talk.

When you are drifting in a world of your own,
hearing another human voice makes a big difference. 

Like it or not, Matt’s voice becomes an external frame of reference that draws her out of her mental seclusion.  I especially like it when Matt said to Ryan:

 “You have to learn to let go…to survive.”
- to let him go so that she could live.

"You can shut down everything in the one can get to you, hurt you or disturb you. (But) You are going to start and get a life!!"
- to go on when she begins to shut down the oxygen supply.

Now, she is reaching out to someone for help.
In a moment of facing her mortality, Ryan cried out, "Can you pray for me? I have never prayed in my life...nobody ever thought me how.”

It’s not hard for anyone to draw life analogies from their exchanges, and even from the plot.

When you are falling, find a visual focus 
to keep your sanity...
even if it’s just your hands.

If you have been drifting too long, 
learning to walk again is a big step.

It’s easy to get lost in space.
You are moving but going nowhere. 

Wednesday, January 9, 2013


There are not many movies that centre on pain and hardships, or touch on the virtues of love and mercy.

My family got hold of Claude Lelouch’s 1995 French movie ‘Les Miserables’ on VCD a couple of years back. It is actually a semblance of Lelouch’s own life as a Jew who grew up with his mother telling him telling him that he was Cosette, his father, Simon, was Jean Valjean, and she was Fantine.

I came away from the 175 minutes of interlocking heartrending tales of destitution and hardship shaken, in spite of the goodness and faith that eventually triumphed over tribulations.

With trepidation therefore, I braced myself for the must-see Hollywood musical version - adapted from the Broadway version of Victor Hugo’s novel - directed by Tom Hooper.

This time, it is shorter - 158 minutes – and screened in the digital hall of Lido 1 that has the widest screen and a superb sound system made for epic movies such as this. On this weekday morning, we felt privileged to be enjoying the 900-seater with just a handful of people!

Having seen the French version, I was able to enjoy this musical and its cinematography without getting too emotional and then spending time to recompose!  

Although the Hollywood cast don’t speak a word – every song is performed life during filming – there is a greater embodiment of soul and vulnerability in songs than spoken lines. Maybe that’s how singing helps people to let go of anguish in their soul. It also makes gut-wrenching scenes more bearable to watch.

Every scene is as picturesque as it is richly lyrical. It is an outstanding showcase of human grit, grace and stoicism in the face of humiliating circumstances and people who mercilessly hound you.

But it’s also a tale of hope found only in the darkest hours - Éponine when she dies in the arms of Marius whom she secretly loves, Valjean when the Bishop’s unexpected gracious gift of two candlestick holders spares him from returning to prison, and when Valjean indeed pays it forward by showing kindness to the dying Fantine.

Hugh Jackman brings a commanding screen presence to his role as Valjean and is outstanding in representing the antithesis of cruelty, vengeance, and legalism. (Brings to my mind Bible accounts of David who repeatedly held himself back from killing King Saul even when he had opportunities to do so.)

Russell Crowe is convincing as Javert who lives only on the doctrine of justice at all costs. He is repeatedly countered by Valjean’s inexorable mercy. In their final face off, he bows to the adage that good will always triumph over evil by jumping to end his life. In so doing, he deals with his own demons, and so spares Valjean's life.

Samantha Barks shines in her screen debut as Éponine. She holds her own beside heavyweight actors like Hugh Jackman and Helena Bonham Carter.

Both movies end with a wedding.

At the end of Lelouch’s French movie, the universal theme of hope is encapsulated in one line, We are always a few sorrows ahead...but the best years of our lives are yet to come.”

Hooper’s musical finale is, however, a beautiful celebration of human love that triumphs over cynicism and adversities; as well as a rapturous vision of hope. That it is set in a monastery only elucidates that God alone is the source of love and hope that is beyond reason, beyond justice, and beyond expectations.