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An Education (2009)

poster_an_educationAn Education (2009)

Nick Hornby’s story would have worked far better as a short story than as a feature length movie. The screenplay was full of sharp dialogue and witty one-liners. However, much of the action in this story was internal within Jenny which could benefit from expository writing. The role of Jenny put a lot of pressure on Carey Mulligan to deliver a performance that could resonate the naive, wide-eyed precociousness and eventually the disillusionment Jenny felt. Mulligan achieves the former by being as cute as a button and giving an impassioned speech to the headmistress of her school, brilliantly played by Emma Thompson. As we sit, watching Jenny gloat about the excitement in her life, we cringe because we know how wrong she is (given that we are above a certain age) and yet we also wish she was right. By the end of the movie, the disillusioned Jenny says “I feel older, but not wiser.” Indeed, growing up, causes you to, for one reason or another, abandon your pipe dreams and exit the world of fancy. Likewise, being thrust out of the world of fancy ages you immediately. This may not make you wiser, because it only exposes all that you didn’t know before. However, part of education is acknowledging how little you know. Ironically, as one gets wiser, one feels less wise.

The final outcome cannot be blamed entirely on the petulance of youth, of course. It is the responsibility of parents to foster growth, maturity and aging without completely quashing one’s spirits. Jenny’s father, hilariously portrayed by Alfred Molina, had failed her in this regard, partly as a product of the times and partly because he was projecting his own desires and fancies onto Jenny.

The theme of fancy and impracticality run deep through the movie and are embodied by the merry group of friends consisting of Peter Sarsgaard, Dominic Cooper and Rosamund Pike. Nick Hornby, the screenwriter, is careful not to place all the blame on this lifestyle and even glamorizes it through to the end. The object of this film is not to judge the wild, fancy, free attitude but rather to point out its role in coming-of-age and reaching a certain level of education.

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Indecent Proposal (1993)

Adrian Lyne is no stranger to exploring the morals of sex. He preceded Indecent Proposal with Nine ½ Weeks and Fatal Attraction and most recently made Unfaithful. In this film, Lyne introduces the premise that everything, including everyone, can be bought for the right price. The first hour of the film, leading up to the proposal, was very well directed. It moved at a clipping pace as all the pieces fell into place and the characters became developed. We learn of the immature foundation on which Diana and David Murphy got married, their hopes and dreams, and the volatility and intensity of their love.

Certainly, the plot swirled into foolishness several times in the first hour, but we the audience allow this because we know that otherwise we cannot reach the crux of the film – the proposal. We watch unbelievingly as Diana comes at David with a knife for leaving his clothes on the floor and his shoes on the table (who puts their shoes on the table?), but two seconds later they are on the floor undressed while David’s underpants are literally on fire on the stove. This impulsive juxtaposition of violence and sex seems to happen only in the movies, but we let it slide because it is “character development.” We watch more of the naïveté of youth unfold as the Murphys buy a plot of land to build their dream house completely on loans and then get hit by the recession. We watch in disbelief as they go to Vegas to make some quick cash and actually succeed. We watch with wide-open eyes as the two of them literally make love to the money they won on a cheap off-Strip motel waterbed. We shake our heads in further disbelief as they make $25,000, half of the amount they need to settle their mortgage and then decide to continue playing and squander everything. What is most confusing is that they won all their money on craps the first day, but then lost it all playing roulette the second day. Craps has the best odds at a casino if one knows how to play, which the Murphys obviously did since they won a boatload the first day, so why would they switch to roulette which was invented only to make money off people that did not know how to play the other games?

Enter John Gage, billionaire “poonhound.” He has his eyes on Diana in a very “Pretty Woman” way. He buys her a dress and asks to borrow her from David for good luck. Finally, the film reaches its climax as he offers David a cool $1 million in exchange with one night with his wife. The couple initially rebuffs the offer, but then accepts it. The aftermath is where the story falls apart and the audience develops vehemently different opinions on the characters.

Most people love to blame Diana for the decision and its aftermath, calling her a whore. If Diana is a whore for accepting money for sex, though, David is a pimp for selling his wife. When Gage first makes the offer to the couple, there is silence in the room and it is Diana who first tells Gage to go to Hell; David corroborates. Later in bed that night, neither one can sleep and Diana urges them to talk about the proposal. Others use that as evidence that Diana wanted to sleep with Gage more than David wanted her to. However, I do believe that Diana was not lying when she said she doesn’t want to sleep with Gage, but she would for their future. She is cold to Gage the night of the deal, avoids him judiciously after the deal and even lets him see her temper when she finds out that Gage bought the property on which David and she were building their dream home. In fact, Diana stayed true to the deal and treated the one night as sex and nothing more. The two men were responsible for breaking the rules. David demanded to know what happened that night, even after they specifically agreed not to talk about it. He egged Diana on until he got what he wanted to hear. The only way the proposal could work was if both parties really were able to keep emotion out of it, jealousy on David’s part and romance on Diana’s. It is up for debate whether Diana was truly able to keep her romantic emotions separate from the business transaction, but she tried to rebuff John Gage to the best of her ability.

When John Gage first made the proposal, he said that the price would be one million dollars for one night. He never mentioned that he would buy the property that was David and Diana’s dream house. He never mentioned that he would try to buy a house, specifically going to Diana’s real estate agency. He never mentioned that he would intrude upon the citizenship class she was teaching. From the beginning, Gage was dishonest and manipulative, making what he proposed to the couple to be a very different thing from what he was planning in his head. Furthermore, on the fateful night, Gage says to Diana, “If you were mine, I wouldn’t share you with anyone.” This statement is highly unfair as it compares David to Gage while they are certainly not on the same playing field.

One issue the movie does leave unclear is why exactly Diana ends up falling for Gage. After awkwardly making her show him houses for sale (even though he had no intention of buying anything) and then conning her into looking at his own house, he tells her this terrible, sappy story about not saying “Hi” to a girl on the train when he was a teenager. Apparently this mundane story is enough to win over Diana, a fact which many people use to support the claim that Diana was attracted to him from the beginning and simply needed the opportunity to go to him.

This movie posits if one can buy people and the answer is yes, if you look like Robert Redford. It was impossible to isolate the money from the rest of John Gage. If you have money, you can certainly buy opportunities, but it takes other qualities to make someone change their opinion about you. When Indecent Proposal came out, it was (unfairly) lambasted by critics and bestowed three Razzies, but the movie got the box office public talking and the money flowing. That money may not be able to buy real emotion or a change in critical reception, but it sure does help in establishing a spot in pop culture history.

The Lindsay Lohan Filmography: #1

Mean Girls (2004)

Although Lohan is not particularly known for her commitment to the set or her stringent dogma of method acting, she has been preparing her entire life for the role of Cady Heron. A previously cute young girl get a little fame and notoriety, rises to great heights by playing her cards right and then falls hard. Trade Cady’s calculus acumen for Lindsay’s acting chops, and you have yourself a perfect parable for Lohan’s life. Unfortunately, Lohan is stuck in the part of the movie where she and everyone around her are still running around like “homeschooled jungle freaks” and lying about who’s pushing drugs on whom. Lohan has been bit by a snake and she hasn’t yet figured out how to “suck the poison out.” If only real life could have a moment as cathartic as when Cady discovered that “the limit does not exist!”

Besides the questionability of how much Lohan actually acted in this movie, it was wildly entertaining mostly due to Tina Fey’s script and the deadpan line delivery of the SNL alumni. Still, this movie did catapult Lohan out of the virginal Disney quagmire and into her first adult film. She handled the comic timing perfectly and played both the good girl and the bad girl with ease.

I guess the reason why I love Mean Girls so much is that it is so damn quotable. It is this generation’s Heathers, but instead of “What’s your damage?” we get “That’s so fetch.” The Heathers undo each other while Veronica enjoys her partial outsider status and gains the upper hand. Same goes for the Plastics and Cady. Even in real life, Winona Ryder was slated to be the next big thing, worked with a few prolific directors like Scorcese, had a high profile scandal, fell from grace and then reappeared as Spock’s mother in Star Trek this year. Lohan, also destined for great things, worked with Robert Altman, went to rehab countless number of times, but refuses to go away so she cannot resurface as anything. At this point, Lohan looks so haggard that she could have gotten the role of Spock’s grandmother.

Apart from Lohan, Mean Girls was an accurate yet scathing review of life in American high schools. Fey managed to capture the cliquey nature of high school. The one thing she has exaggerated though, is the ubiquity of the Plastics. In normal high school, if you don’t live in girl world, you are not even aware that the Plastics exist. All the cliques overlap and they all share the same basic structure. People often make their own group of friends that they share something in common with and this gets miscategorized as a clique. Every clique has its own queen bee and it is quite possible for there to be no top clique. Too much emphasis was placed on making the Plastics special, but as the movie ended, it became evident that every group had their own mean girls and their own niche of drama.

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This concludes my survey of Lindsay Lohan’s filmography. There was her childhood cheesy phase, her young adult phase of interesting choices and her current phase of just plain disaster. Since the time this project started, Labor Pains came out and it was the nonsensical train wreck we were all hoping for. A review will be coming shortly, but until then I hope Lohan can lay low and whip herself back into form.

The Lindsday Lohan Filmography, Part I

The Lindsay Lohan Filmography

Now that Lohan’s film career has come to a screeching halt and she is contemplating full-time modeling, it seems like a good time to examine her filmography. Counting down from my least favorite to the best:


13. Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen (2004)

This high school melodrama was painful to watch, mostly because of the aural atrocities imposed throughout. Also, the costuming was all sorts of ridiculous. I am not sure if anyone wears day-glo orange, nor should they. Honestly, I don’t even remember the plot, but it seemed like it was trying to be a rehash of Clueless, except without any of the wit.

12. Just My Luck (2006)

This was Lohan’s first “grown-up” film where we were supposed to believe she could hold down a job. She cannot. Perhaps her level of immaturity in real life transcended onto screen, because the entire time I could not figure out why this child was running around New York by herself. In fact, this movie was even worse than New York Minute in which the Olsen Twins also ran around New York on their own. However, in that film, the girls acted their age for the most part and their hi-jinks were age appropriate whereas Lohan was horribly miscast in this movie as a career professional at the ripe old age of 20. I, however, am very eager to see what Kristen Bell does with When In Rome, yet another movie involving magic, luck and romantic entanglements.

11. Chapter 27 (2007)

Neither Lohan nor Leto could save this film. Admittedly, Lohan played her role as an innocent Lennon fan that becomes increasingly freaked out by Leto’s Lennon stalker perfectly. However, she was in the film for a maximum of five minutes. The rest of this arduous film was filled with Leto rambling to himself and battling some inner demon speaking to him. The character of Mark David Chapman must be fascinating, I am sure, but inner psychopathology never translates well to screen. All the good psychiatric conditions portrayed on film have had some outward manifestation such as John Nash’s writings on the wall and imaginary friends or crazy in the form of Angelina Jolie in Girl, Interrupted. In fact, in Girl, Interrupted, Jolie’s flashy role is the only one anyone can understand and Winona Ryder’s borderline condition seems quite innocuous in comparison. This is not to say that Chapman’s brand of schizophrenia or Ryder’s borderline personality disorder are any less important than the other conditions; they are just not suitable film. Thus, it is not that Lohan or Leto were particularly bad in this film; they were just in a film that never should have been made.

Part II

Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

Slumdog Millionaire

I am surprised that this movie has been getting all the acclaim it has recently. In fact, this movie started garnering praise when it premiered at Toronto and it hasn’t relented since. At first, I knew nothing about this movie other than its title and judging by that alone, I thought the movie would tank. Slumdog Millionaire just seems a bit clunk and awkward, no?

Then, I read the plot synopsis. A boy who grew up in the slums finds himself at the final question on the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire. When accused of cheating, he explains how he is able to answer each question from past life experiences; the movie is told in a series of flashbacks. After reading the synopsis, I thought, “Hmm…not what I expected after I heard the title, but it still sounds sort of awkward.”

I had dismissed the movie, but then early December rolled around and it was literally on every single top ten list. Being Indian myself, I decided I should go support this film in the theaters. As I walked out of the theater, I was grinning ear to ear, but I thought to myself “It’s just a feel-good movie. It won’t last and I will forget about it soon.” That was two weeks ago and I can still vividly remember how Jamal was able to answer each of his questions.

I still do not think that the plot is anything unique since it follows the basic epic hero journey archetype. Jamal is the hero, his life goal is Latika’s love and every single entity of his life gets in his way. It is a classic boy meets girl, but boy cannot have girl story typical of every romantic comedy, epic romance and 95% of Bollywood films. Yet, somehow, Slumdog Millionaire managed to distinguish itself. The difference lies within Danny Boyle.

The most lauded aspect of the movie has been the direction and the vibrancy of the storytelling. I must agree with this. The cinematography, the colors, and the score all culminate to make the story jump off the screen and remain indelible in our minds. Boyle’s biggest strength, arguably, is his ease in directing children. He had proved it with Millions before, but the scenes he directed with the youngest Jamal, Salim (Jamal’s older brother) and Latika were so endearing I never wanted the children to grow up, because things could only get worse.

And worse they got. Perhaps one reason why I am not falling into the glut of unequivocal praise for this movie is that it reminded me too much of The Kite Runner (a book which I despised). Think of every horrible contrived thing that could happen to one boy (with a heart of gold, no less) and see if he can still rise up after he has been beaten down repeatedly by each insult. Both The Kite Runner and Slumdog Millionaire worked upon this framework, but the execution in Slumdog saved it from the utterly ridiculous melodrama that was the ending of The Kite Runner.

That’s not to say that the ending of Slumdog Millionaire wasn’t without its share of criticisms. For one, the movie hits us over the head with the theme of destiny, so we already know the ending. I was waiting for some inspired dialogue at the end that would cement the charm of the movie, but this is where the screenplay fails and we are left with an extremely cheesy ending line.

The light at the end of this movie was Freida Pinto, a model/actress who played the oldest Latika. Every time she was on screen, it was luminescent and the chemistry between Pinto and Dev Patel was undeniable. It is strange that Patel is the one receiving all the acting accolades when Ayush Mahesh Khedekar (youngest Jamal), Madhur Mittal (oldest Salim) and Anil Kapoor (show host, Prem Kumar) all gave outstanding performances.

The Oscars are fickle and have strange rules, so I am not sure if the A.R. Rahman score is eligible, but if it is, it must get nominated. The beats and the choice of M.I.A. songs added so much to this movie. It is quite a shame that Pineapple Express came out before Slumdog and pretty much relegated Paper Planes to being a pothead song, because it fits far better in Slumdog. In short, this is a film to check out; just don’t go into it with lofty expectations from all the hype.