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49 of #52FilmsByWomen: Dukhtar

 

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Dukhtar (2014, written and directed by Afia Nathaniel)

[No. 49 of 52 in #52FilmsByWomen]

Stories that take place in rural areas in the mountains of Pakistan are really rare. Most of the time, all we know about the society and region are almost always associated with wars and terrorism from the perspective of Western media.

Another thing we commonly hear about from (Western) news is the practices of child marriage among the religiously conservative societies. Here, lives and decisions are almost exclusively controlled by men. Dukhtar offers a new point of view, being told from the side of a woman named Allah Rakhi (Samiya Mumtaz), and her 10-year-old daughter Zainab (Saleha Arif). When Zainab is being offered as a bride to resolve a tribal conflict, her mother refuses to go along with it. Both mother and daughter runs away, while the father and the leader of the opposing tribe sends people after them. Along the way, the cross paths with a truck driver Sohail (Mohib Mirza), and the three of them make their way across Pakistan to avoid capture.

Sometimes, this movie is superficially similar to Mad Max: Fury Road, a movie that came out a year later. Both movies are about women who refuses to be treated as objectified commodities by their male rulers and escapes across desert plains on a big diesel vehicle, and helped by a random dude they ran into. While there might be valid arguments either way as to whether Fury Road is to be declared to be a ‘feminist action movie’, it’s pretty clear that Dukhtar is definitely one.

As the main plot kicks into gear, Allah Rakhi gains full agency and takes control of their escape. Nevertheless, her character is indeed a relatable, three-dimensional personality with as many flaws as virtues. Even if we didn’t notice the social issues and themes, the movie is still a pretty exciting adventure across a beautiful landscapes of Pakistan.

42 of #52FilmsByWomen: The Lifeguard

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The Lifeguard (2013, written and directed by Liz W. Garcia)

[No 42 of 52 in #52FilmsByWomen]

It is always nice to see Kristen Bell taking on a serious dramatic role instead of the usual recent Hollywood comedies. Before her Veronica Mars days,  I was already a fan after seeing her taking the lead role in the TV movie Gracie’s Choice.

In this movie, Bell plays Leigh, a 30-year-old New York journalist who was disillusioned with her harsh city life and goes back to her hometown to live with her parents. She takes on her old college job as a lifeguard, and befriends the 16-year-old son of the pool manager.

Leigh escapes to her hometown and her high school friends (and doing typical high-school-like stuff like smoking weed and hanging out at lakes) because she seems to think that those were simpler, happier times. Of course, this isn’t the natural state of things, as we all need to grow up eventually.

 

Movie Review: Ola Bola

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This Malaysian production took its inspiration from the Olympic games qualification for the 1980 national football team. Helmed by Chiu Keng Guan, the acclaimed director of ‘The Journey’, one can expect a touching film with a lot of heart. That is pretty much what you’ll get: a movie that will make you root for the protagonists and cheer when it ends. However, it is far from perfect, and the shortcomings are hard to ignore.

The film is basically an underdog story, with the Malaysian football team trying their best to qualify for the 1980 Olympic games after narrowly missing out four years ago. In what was to be captain Chow Kwok Keong’s last chance at the Olympics, the stakes couldn’t be higher; the team must learn to work together and resolve their issues with the newly-appointed coach, Harry Mountain.

As a Malaysian and a football fan, I like this movie. There are a few heartwarming bits regarding unity, dedication and achieving your dreams. Those who are familiar with the Malaysian culture will find a few chuckles although I am not sure how well those content translate to non-Malaysians.

Unfortunately, the imperfections I’ve mentioned at the beginning of this post marred an otherwise great movie. For starters, the acting abilities leave a lot to be desired. Certain dramatic/emotional moments were ruined by woeful overacting. It was hard to take the characters’ struggles seriously when poignant moments were acted out with forced tears, screamed deliveries and chest thumpings.

Then there was the matter of characters. Some of the characters were well developed, and it was nice to see the chemistry between a few of them. My favourite characters were Mei Ling as Chow’s sister, and Rahman as the ever enthusiastic commentator; the former nailed it in a scene where she chastised her brother. However, Chow proved to be a weak link, as his constant sour expression got tedious halfway through the movie. His lady love, Siew Lee, was not much better; she was disposable and two dimensional as the ever-supportive girlfriend, and hardly got any lines.

Lastly, I question the decision to write the Koreans (the opponents) as villains. While I am not sure how historically accurate the match was (for sure the final score was changed from 2-1 to 3-2), painting the Koreans as sneaky villains gave the climax a ridiculous feel. It was as if the director was afraid that the audience would not root for the main characters if they weren’t shown in contrast to some mean footballers. We are not watching a James Bond film, we don’t need sneaky, cheating villains! We can support the main characters because we saw how hard they trained and followed their struggles. Have some faith in your characters, will ya? After all, we did spend an hour or so watching them mope, whine, argue and eventually learn to cooperate with each other (through a dramatic training montage too!) on screen.

Still, as far as Malaysian made films go, this definitely ranks as one of the better ones. The story is not bad, and there are quite a lot of endearing moments despite some of the weaker parts. Malaysians would love the sense of unity and the nostalgia evoked, and it certainly made me wish that our football team will return to its golden years.

36 of #52FilmsByWomen: Tallulah

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Tallulah (2016, written and directed by Sian Heder)

[No. 35 of 52 in #52FilmsByWomen]

Ellen Page and Allison Janney, who once played mother and daughter in Juno, are reunited as two completely different characters in this movie. This time, they bring their amazing chemistry to an entertaining drama with many compelling characters.

Ellen Page plays Lu, or Tallulah,a drifter who lives out of a van and scavenges or steals whatever she can find to survive. She impulsively takes a baby from a drunken socialite and seeks out her boyfriend’s mother Margo (Janney) and they both take care of the baby together.

While the plot is sounds like the basic odd-couple-character-takes-care-of-baby on its surface, the story is populated by interesting characters that we could emphatise with. Page’s streetwise urchin is especially so as she does whatever she can to survive, while making stupid decisions along the way. Margo is almost the complete opposite, as the writer who’s going through a divorce and struggling to keep her life together.

It comes as no surprise as the two characters bond and learn from each other throughout the movie, but it is the scenes and dialogue that would glue our eyes on the screen. Both of them have their own philosophies of life, and it is great to see how these inform their actions and decisions.

Through these characters, the movie explores the truths and difficulties about having people to trust and depend on you. From the helpless baby Lu ‘rescues’ from a dangerously incompetent mother, to Lu herself relying on Margo for shelter, and Margo being abandoned by her husband and son. There’s also an explicit symbolism where Lu had a dream where she just floats away into the sky while she grabs on to anything to stay grounded.

Even the side characters, such as Manny the doorman, and the police detective are fun to watch. Even though they’re not as fleshed out as Lu and Margo, the respective actor’s performances make them very interesting and likeable. Even the baby’s mother; she’s shown as a shallow and inept woman, but eventually we feel sorry for for what she’s going through.

It was a nice and charming movie with great characters. It’s on Netflix, so, not a bad way to spend a weekend afternoon.

35 of #52FilmsByWomen: Julie and Julia

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Julie and Julia (2009, written and directed by Nora Ephron)

[No. 35 of 52 in #52FilmsByWomen]

For one reason or another, working on some sort of project is a great way to give themselves a sense of direction in their lives. Julie Powell (Amy Adams), turning 30 and seeing her friends being busy with their successful careers and personal lives feels despondent with her dead-end job of being a telephone operator for an insurance company. So she sets herself the goal of cooking through all the recipes of Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child within one year, while writing a blog about it.

This is a fun adventure of seeing Julie going through her us and downs of keeping to her schedule and balancing her life around the difficult tasks required by the complicated recipes. There is also a parallel storyline taking place in the 1940s were we follow Julia Child (played by Meryl Streep) and how she learned French cooking and published her book.

As far as the story goes, this is a charming and lighthearted movie. Though there seemed to be plot threads that seemed to have dropped or resolved somewhat arbitrarily at the end, the rest of the movie is fun and entertaining. Also looking at all the food might make you hungry.

 

 

34 of #52FilmsByWomen: The Invitation

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The Invitation (2015, Directed by Karyn Kusama)

[No. 34 of 52 in #52FilmsByWomen]

Whether or not you care about spoilers, we can’t deny that genre convention does play a lot with our expectations and preconceived notions about the movie. Sometimes a movie may play around with these conventions, and lead to true surprises even for experienced movie connoisseurs.  This is why I recommend watching The Invitation completely cold and not knowing anything about it’s plot or story. (Seriously, don’t even check its IMDB page)

What little non-spoiler synopsis is like this: Will and Kira attends a dinner party hosted by Will’s ex-wife Eden. They are joined by their mutual friends, most of whom Will seemed to have lost contact with since their divorce. And it all goes along from there.