Monday, June 26, 2023

Review: The Lunchbox (2013)

Wait a moment ... why is David J Howe of this parish, reviewing a film which seems to have nothing to do with his usual fare of zombies, horrors, vampires, ghosts or Doctor Who ... or TV SciFi/Horror?

The answer is simple ... like some of the other non-genre films that I adore (say hello The Holiday and Airplane! - and of course The Stranger in Our Bed :)) it's a brilliant film, and very underrated and overlooked ... so I thought I'd try and share some love and get people seeking it out.

Released in 2013, and written and directed by Ritesh Batra, The Lunchbox contains a simple idea. In Mumbai, when the menfolk (and I assume womenfolk too) have all gone off to work in the city, their partners prepare their lunches at home. From what we see, these are usually some curries, vegetables, some chapati and so on. Similar lunches can also be ordered from companies who provide the service. Once they have been prepared, the lunchboxes are packed and then collected by a small army of people called dabbawalla ... these folk cycle and collect the boxes, then consolidate them all to go into crates on the trains, to be taken into the city, and then, using some arcane system of knowledge, get distributed to the offices and onto the desks of the workers, so they have a hot, freshly prepared dinner at lunchtime.

It's a superb idea, and the film does well in showing the process at work ... in a crowded Mumbai, people everywhere, somehow these boxes reach their intended recipients ... well ... all except one.

The film is about two people: at home is Ila (Nimrat Kaur) who dutifully prepares lunch for her absent husband. She is aided by her unseen Auntie (Bharati Achrekar) and the two have a great banter as Ila prepares the food ... getting advice and help from her upstairs friend. The prepared lunchbox however doesn't get delivered to Ila's husband, instead it arrives with grumpy and about to retire Saajan (Irrfan Khan), who is surprised to receive such delicious food. The next day, realising the mistake, Ila pops a note in with the food, apologising. Saajan replies ... and so it begins.

The two begin a relationship of sorts through these notes and the food that Ila makes ... and it's beautiful. Ila is sad and lonely, and Saajan is a widower ... so the two share their stories and their lives and slowly it changes them ...

I love the film. It was recommended to me by a friend at work, and I managed to find a copy ... It manages to pull at all the right strings in presenting a very human story through the most unlikely of circumstances ... Ila's 'Auntie' is a brilliant creation. Never seen, but always there with advice and help and consolation. The scenes of Mumbai are brilliantly shot, and the offices and the people are as real a depiction of the culture and the people as I have ever seen.

The film is in Hindi, but has subtitles in English, but with such a good film this doesn't matter as the performances and the story pull you through.  I'm not going to reveal how it ends or the twists it takes as it's worth seeking it out yourself!

If you like a good romantic film, and don't mind subtitles, then please check it out! There are DVD copies on the big A if you look ... and it's available on Prime if you want to stream it.

But don't take my word for it ... according to the Wiki, the film won the 'Critics Week Viewers Choice Award' also known as the 'Grand Rail d'Or'. It was a box-office success and received unanimous critical acclaim. The Lunchbox was also nominated for 'Best Film Not in the English Language' at the 2015 British Academy Film Awards.

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Review: Black Mirror Season 6

Thank goodness for Black Mirror. Just when you thought there might be nothing left to watch on Netflix, along come some more episodes of the best science fiction/drama/horror/fantasy series going!

Season five was some four years ago, so writer and creator Charlie Brooker has a lot of material to play with, and the opening episode is in many ways a typical Black Mirror scenario, concerned with technology, it's rapid rise, and where this might all eventually lead. It's one of the big strengths of the series that a simple 'what if' can launch you into some full blown horror scenario which still seems completely believable.

In 'Joan is Awful' we follow the character of Joan (Annie Murphy) who, with her distinctive white streaks in her hair is head of something or other at a large tech company. She has a bad day: she has to sack a colleague, sings in the car going to work, drops a cigarette on said colleague as they leave the building ... just a general, normal bad day ...

But when she gets home, she discovers that the streaming company Streamberry (a direct swipe of Netflix, even down to the onscreen visuals and sounds) has a new series on called Joan is Awful, and this follows the life of a lady called Joan, played by Salma Hyack, who looks exactly like Joan, and whose day unfolds in exactly the same way ... even down to secret text from an ex-boyfriend ...

As a result her current boyfriend (or husband, it's not important) walks out on her, she loses her job, and her life becomes more and more a living hell ... and of course the TV show matches this all beat for beat.

It transpires that, when Joan signed up for Streamberry, she ticked the box that said she had read and accepted the terms and conditions, and as a result, Streamberry was allowed to stalk her and to use her life as the basis for a TV show!  Shades here of the South Park episode 'Human CentiPad' where one of the children, Kyle, is stalked by Apple as a result of not reading the Terms and Conditions when agreeing to download the latest iTunes update, and as a result he has actually agreed to be part of a horrendous medical experiment!

Anyway, Joan takes her complaints to Streamberry, but meets a frosty reception as this is all part of their global plans. Salma Hyack is also displeased as they are using her likeness via an AI to make the episodes - and she has no say and gets no fees ... so she and Joan join forces to try and take Streamberry down!

The episode is a brilliant reflection on modern life where we're expected to read many-page terms and conditions online in order to access services, and in reality have little idea as to what we are signing up to. Plus the ruthlessness and cold-heartedness of Streamberry is notable, moreso as Netflix are airing the series, and this seems to not reflect well on them at all ... I guess someone there has a sense of irony or humour after all. I do wish they would agree to pay the writers fairly though :(

The second episode is called 'Loch Henry' and is a complete change of mood and style. Here we're with a young couple Davis (Samuel Blenkin) and Pia (Myha'la Herrold) who arrive at Davis' family home by the Loch, looking to make a documentary about a couple who went missing there years ago. There's various likely suspects, and we soon realise that this time we're in murder-mystery territory as the culprits are revealed ...

I don't want to say too much here as the pleasure in this episode is watching it unravel before you, and realising who and how the murders happened. It's a sad tale, and the ending isn't all happy ...

'Beyond the Sea' is a strange title for a character piece about two astronauts, Cliff Stanfield (Aaron Paul) and David Ross (Josh Hartnett) on a six year deep space mission.

What puzzled me a little about this episode was the time it was set in - apparently 1969 on Earth, but we're in some sort of alternate universe as the two astronauts are in a space station-like craft, and take it in turns to 'connect' their minds with a robotic body back on Earth, who looks and acts just like them, and which, when their mind is in it, carries on their life as though they had never left.

The robotic 'self' seems to be made from some quasi-organic material and 'bleeds' a silver liquid when cut. So when the men visit their wives and family, they can interact and carry on as normal.

This is, until a crazed Manson-like gang infiltrate David's home and viciously kill his family in front of him, objecting to his 'non-human' form.

David slips into depression, as he is now unable to take the breaks he would have done from the tedium of the space craft. But then Cliff has an idea, why doesn't David take Cliff's robot body for some periods ... to give him relief and to try and keep him sane.  Thus David does this, and meets Cliff's wife Lana (Kate Mara) and son. David can paint, which Cliff cannot, and so David persuades him to allow him to continue to visit in order to complete a painting of the house ...

As this is a Black Mirror episode, perhaps you shouldn't expect happy endings, and here where the story goes and how it ends is maybe the darkest the series has delved so far. Ostensibly a science fiction episode, it's actually a very dark treatise on loneliness, death, and the human condition ...

'Mazey Day' follows the life of a papparazo photographer, Bo (Zazie Beetz), who picks up a lead on a celebrity Mazey Day (Clara Rugaard) who has not been seen for two weeks after she left a film set. Bo has been recently disenfranchised by her chosen career when one of her 'subjects' commits suicide ... But the Mazey Day pictures are worth a lot of money, and so she sets out to try and find her, tracing her to a rehabilitation centre.  She and some fellow 'togs' break in, and find that she seems to be being held captive there ... but why?

As always, I'm not going to give the game away, but this is a great horror-based episode, with a neat twist that we certainly didn't see coming ... It's television firing on all cylinders, and giving us science fiction, horror, thriller, drama and everything in between ...

Finally in Season 6 comes 'Demon79', and Brooker's penchant for humour comes right to the fore (the episode is co-written with Bisha K Ali). Nida (Anjana Vasan) is a mild manner worker selling shoes in a department store, and she experiences imagined flashes of extreme violence against some who cross her. She is forced to eat her lunch in the basement, because others have complained of the smell of her spicy food, and one day she finds a talisman, cuts her finger, and accidentally summons a demon Gaap (Paapa Essiedu). Initially appearing as a very horrific vision, the demon realises that if he is going to get anywhere, he needs to look acceptable so pulls an image from her mind as to who to look like. And he chooses Bobby from the band Boney M in the video for their single 'Rasputin'!  Thus he tells Nida that she needs to kill three people in three days or the world will end ... but what will mild-mannered Nida do?  Surely there's some out there who deserve to die!

Thus the stage is set for a very entertaining episode, levened with humour and great characters, and with all the little touches that make Black Mirror so great. I loved Nida watching Sapphire and Steel one evening ... and the use of Bobby off the Boney M video is inspired.

I have loved this season of Black Mirror which again proves that it's one of the best shows on streaming. Every episode presents something new and different and we veer from science fiction to horror to comedy to thriller to drama and back again, and often all of them all at once.  It's inspired and accomplished writing, supported by great performances and direction.  A note too for the design, which manages to make the settings look like the years they're supposed to be - 1979 here in 'Demon79'.

Do yourself a favour and dive in. If you're not keen on a certain episode (we found the very first one in season 1 - about the politician and the pig - to be not to our taste) then go to another as there are sure to be some things here which will inspire and move you.  For me, the best episode remains 'San Junipero', a superior treatise on love and death ... but others may love other episodes.

Thursday, June 01, 2023

Review: Run Sweetheart Run (2020)

We found this thriller on Prime, and decided to give it a go ... and were very pleasantly surprised.  It's an effective 'chase' thriller wherein Cherie (Ella Balinska), a young mother, agrees to go on a date with a client of the law firm she works for ... as she is preparing though, her period starts, and she is out of tampons, so has to extemporise.

Initially, this focus on her period and the blood seemed out of place and, well, icky ... but it actually has a lot to do with the action that follows. The man Cherie meets is Ethan (Pilou Asbæk), and while he seems kind and nice and fun to be with, he's actually something of an unpredictable maniac who dogs hate ... Cherie runs from him, not realise that he's actually some sort of supernatural demon who has scented her blood and so can find her wherever she goes.

Thus she runs ... and the film occasionally puts up a large red RUN on the screen each time she needs to get out of there ... shades of the Werewolf Break in The Beast Must Die!  But each time, Ethan turns up to slaughter whoever might be with or helping Cherie!  It's a great action concept and the film handles it really well. You never quite know when he might appear or who might get killed ...

Eventually she finds some help, but I'm not going to go there as it's worth enjoying the film for yourself.

The blood and gore is well done, and the sense of threat and terror is ratcheted up as the film progresses. Cherie is a good heroine, strong and capable, but she finds herself being tried by the supernaturally strong and unkillable Ethan. At times he reminded me of 'the Shape' in John Carpenter's Halloween and subsequent films ... a strong, mostly silent, stalker who is out to get you!

Run Sweetheart Run was directed by Shana Feste from a screenplay by Feste, Keith Josef Adkins and Kellee Terrell, and is another great slice of horror from Blumhouse Studios, who seem to be cornering the market these days in great horror thrillers.  Well worth checking out.