A Not-So-Comprehensive Overview
by Andrew Fraley and Iris Lin
I came into this film festival with extremely low expectations. I saw only one movie at last year’s festival, called All the Days Before Tomorrow, or something stupid like that. You will not have heard of this movie, because it was awful, and has most assuredly been lost in the abyss of mediocre, unreleased garbage. Needless to say, I wasn’t particularly looking forward to this year’s festival. My opinions quickly changed within the opening scenes of the first movie I saw, a little known movie from India called Amal.
The movie revolves around the titular character, Amal Kumar, the last honest autorickshaw driver in New Delhi, maybe even India. Scratch that; the world. Inheriting his autorickshaw from his late father, Amal has dedicated himself to a life of trustworthy autorickshawing. With his magnanimity and uncompromising integrity, Amal is a favorite among autorickshaw drivers, and keeps busy with his list of regular customers, including a young shopkeeper, Pooja, with whom he’s madly in love.
Enter G.K Jayaram, an old wanderer who seems to have dedicated his life to acting as a karmic test for everybody he meets. Basically he just acts like an asshole and sees how the person will react. Young Amal doesn’t fall for his shenanigans and passes his test with flying colors. You find out later that G.K is an eccentric millionaire, and on his deathbed he bequeaths his entire fortune to the unknowing Amal.
What follows is the engrossing race to notify Amal of his new circumstances, before the 30-day deadline. The machinations of Jayaram’s kids, Amal’s chance encounters and every event’s seemingly fated interconnectedness all culminate in an ending that felt tragic, yet surprisingly satisfying.
Writer/Director Richie Mehta does an excellent job of setting the scene is this film. I often had the feeling that I was riding in the back of Amal’s autorickshaw, in the busy streets of New Delhi. The cinematography immerses viewers in the heart of New Delhi, and gives the city a close personal feeling. Maybe it’s the absorbing nature of the city, but it is a pretty badass place. The acting also helps make this endearing film so believable. Rupinder Nagra is perfect as the loveable and noble Amal, and the other actors lend their talents to the film’s credibility. If you can, I highly recommend getting a hold of this movie. It’s a good’un.
The next movie I saw came as the third movie of that day, the first being Amal. I opted to skip the in between movie, Children of Glory, but that was a serious misjudgment. Children of Glory won the audience choice award for the best feature of the festival at the closing awards ceremonies. On Broadway, the movie I saw instead, didn’t win anything.
On Broadway is about a young Irish-American in Boston who, inspired by the unfortunate death of his uncle, decides to write a play about Irish wakes. It stars Joey McIntyre of New Kids on the Block fame, and an equally famous supporting cast. At first glance, the movie appears to be a new addition to the tried-and-true genre of the Irish-American experience. Much like Good Will Hunting, Gone Baby Gone and, to a lesser extent, Celtic Pride, On Broadway makes a similar appeal to the niche audience of the Boston Irish-American brotherhood experience movies. But somewhere along the way, it sort of misses the point. It falls short of being the next Good Will Hunting, or even the next Celtic Pride, for a number of reasons.
The first was the acting. While Joey McIntyre was an excellent early 90’s pop icon, he can’t really hold the lead role of Jack O’Toole on his own. Helping him is Eliza Dushku, as Lena Wilson. She conveniently arrives in the bar O’Toole frequents and just as conveniently offers to be in his play. Her performance seemed phoned in, and her character was completely unbelievable. Equally unbelievable was the Barry character, another actor who magically appears at the bar to offer his services. Played by Peter Giles, an Alan Tudyk wannabe, Barry was probably the worst character in the movie. O’Toole’s wife was also unremarkable and forgettable. The few welcome reliefs included O’Toole’s brother, Rolie O’Toole (the catholic priest), played by Guts‘ Mike O’Malley, and cameo appearances by Will Arnett and Amy Poehler.
The second was the play itself. They showed parts of it all throughout the movie, and a soundless montage towards the end of the movie, and it just didn’t seem believable. In the end, you’re left wondering why everyone made such a big deal out of a very lackluster play. The production faced all the usual trials and tribulations, including Barry not learning any of his lines. Yet, all the pieces fell together at the very end; the bar where they were holding the play packed full of people, Barry instantaneously learned all his lines and everyone had a grand old time. It all just seemed very contrived.
In all, On Broadway had its moments. There was the occasional funny scene from O’Malley or Arnett, and every so often the dialog would hit its intended mark. But these moments were few and far between, and it was hard to reconcile them with the glaring flaws of the movie. There was a reason On Broadway didn’t win any awards: it wasn’t particularly good.
Phoebe in Wonderland
This was one of the movies I eagerly anticipated. Starring the younger member of the prodigial Fanning family, Elle Fanning, Phoebe in Wonderland looked as though it would be the next new addition to the childhood fantasy drama. Phoebe (Fanning) is a child suffering from severe childhood angst, living in a world all her own that seems constantly to clash with the real one. It seems that Phoebe suffers from something, but the movie refuses to reveal what. These clashes lead to outbursts, spitting and weird obsessive rituals. Gosh, this seems familiar; nervous tics, vocal outbursts, if only the movie would let the audience know what plagues poor Phoebe. The one escape Phoebe finds is in a school production of Alice in Wonderland, where she lands the lead role of Alice. Her efforts in the play, and the guidance of her unconventional drama teacher, provide brief moments of sanity. Her problems, however, eventually lead to her family nearly tearing itself apart, her classmates hating her and her drama teacher getting fired.
Spoiler alert: it’s Tourette’s Syndrome. As if this wasn’t completely obvious by the very stereotypical way they portray the disease in this movie. And why was this revelation the movie’s twist anyway? It was such an anticlimactic letdown when the resolution was, “hey, guess what? I have Tourette’s.” This revelation seemed to solve all the problems too, almost magically. She lost her nervous tics! The other children aren’t mean and excluding; in fact, now they’re as nice and helpful as possible! Her family isn’t completely falling apart anymore! It was hard to enjoy this movie when it seemed like a high school student did a Google search for Tourette’s syndrome and then decided to write a movie about it.
Phoebe did have its moments. Elle Fanning lives up to her family name and plays the very believable part of a young girl with severe Tourette’s. Bill Pullman also makes an appearance as Phoebe’s father. Pullman does an excellent impression of George C. Scott, which was great. If only he’d said, “Ow! My groin!”
Broken bonds and betrayal are themes commonly explored in films. Blood Brothers, written by Alexi Tan, Dan Jiang, and Tony Chan and directed by Alexi Tan, tests the strength of brotherhood between three young men. Ah Feng (Daniel Wu) and his two friends, the brothers Da Gang ( Ye Liu) and Xiao Hu (Tony Yang). The three friends, dissatisfied with their simple lives out in the countryside, decide to leave their cozy predictable homes to seek their fortunes in Shanghai. They are quickly disillusioned as they find themselves working menial jobs, pulling rickshaws and waiting on tables. However, disappointment only lasts until drastic events take them down a path they would never have imagined. Violence and vengeance escalate in an unstoppable cycle until the “brothers” are destroyed.
Neither is the story that unique nor are the characters especially intriguing. The friendship between Feng, Gang, and Hu is only briefly developed in the beginning and not firmly established. As a result it is difficult to appreciate the ties they share and the full impact as those ties are broken. At times the characters are predictable but the actors do a good job keeping our eyes watching them.
Stylistically speaking the film is beautiful in terms of costume and set design. The setting is Shanghai in the 1930s and the glamour and glitz is easily visible all the while concealing darker and dirtier aspects of the city. Certainly the final shoot out scene is eye catching and very dramatic.
It’s interesting to note that the original Chinese title of the film is Tian Tang Kou, which literally translates to “Gate to Heaven.” The night club where the three brothers eventually meet their downfall is called Tian Tang, which also translates to Paradise.
Camille, the closing film of this year’s Stony Brook Film Festival, is certainly a multifaceted movie. On the surface it appears to be a bizarre fantasy with rainbow colored horses and girls with hot pink hair. However, the film is not easily defined as it also falls into the horror, comedy and romance genres. Written by Nick Pustay and directed by Gregory MacKenzie, Camille is a story about a young newlywed couple on their way to Niagara Falls for their honeymoon. At the start of the film the two main characters are rather one-dimensional. Camille (Sienna Miller) is a blushing bride full of perky smiles and a buoyant cheerfulness that can’t be contained. Unfortunately, her husband, Silas (James Franco) does not share her enthusiasm about their honeymoon. In fact his dour expression and frequent grimaces suggest that he has little enthusiasm for their marriage. Eventually, Camille catches on to Silas’ attitude, but refuses to give up Niagara Falls, believing it will magically strengthen and save their marriage before it’s barely begun.
Although their characters don’t display much depth at this point in the film, Miller and Franco play their parts well. Miller radiates innocence and sweet sincerity, but adds just enough self-absorption and superficiality that we find Camille’s upbeat energy grating at times. It’s understandable why Silas is disgusted and frustrated with Camille’s constant chatter. Franco conveys this exasperation with pained, yet humorous facial expressions, which at the same time make Silas seem harsh and uncaring.
Over the course of extraordinary events, which involve polaroid pictures, motorcycle helmets with tiger ears, cowboys, formaldehyde, wigs and police chases, the characters grow and mature. Camille and Silas endure through the incredible and unlikely circumstances thrown at them. I didn’t know what to expect when the film began but by the end I was smiling and left the theatre feeling good.