The Florida Project, Movie, Amazon Prime

The Florida Project is daintily constructed subtle movie. What makes this movie interesting is how it is approached and framed – shot by shot and scene by scene. It’s a story of a six year old girl going about her daily life. It’s as simple as that. But screenplay captures moments of her life and strings it into an interesting episodic story.

There are other actors too in the movie and they assist the child and are pretty main to the story, or to the snippets of stories. It’s important for the viewer to remain with the scenes and with the main actor. After a while the viewer will find himself traveling with the child and accompanying her in her various adventures.

The Florida Project is the movie of the innocent age. The parents are having a hard time yet the children are oblivious. They are living off charity, begging on the streets for one ice-cream cone, and sharing it among themselves, running around here and there and just being children. The color tones, the sound of the movie is bright and boisterous. Besides, there are lots of compassion.

The approach of the story – The Florida Project – is worth noticing. The point of view is through a child, and other children. Though the adults have their own problems, yet, their story is dealt through the eyes and expressions of a child. This consistency is maintained with every hard-luck families and neighbors. There are some poignant moments where a viewer will get engrossed watching the antics of the child and later realise what the adults may be doing in the other room.

The six year old actress, Brooklynn Prince as Moonee, along with her equally accomplished playmates, will take you on an adventure. The viewer just needs to hold their hands.

Nomadland, Movie, Hotstar

This award winning movie is an acquired taste. Meaning – “you’ll have to like it to like it.” Part of your labor will be to adamantly remain with the movie till the very end, just to find out exactly why the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Science, better known as Oscars, chose this as their best picture of 2021.

How the Oscar jury work, is known. Here is a link which show their method to choose winners. But what are the KRA, the key result areas on which the performance of the movie are appraised? Are there other aspects too, that are deciding? Like Geopolitics. Or Commercial interests.

For example, India, which had never much featured in the world of Beauty, suddenly, in 1994, won both Miss World and Miss Universe awards. With 1991 economic liberalization in India, a crowd of multinationals had entered Indian market and they all needed models. Well, what best way, than to create some nice well known faces for the media. In 6 years, from 1994 till 2000, India won 4 Miss World awards and in 1996, Bangalore itself hosted Miss World Beauty pageant. That’s two decades back. Since then, except 2012, beauty has escaped India. India not winning anything in the world indicates that the world just aren’t interested in India.

China has always been hot. The western world loves the Chinese (read) – the Chinese Market. And they do all the media tricks to signal their love. And China knows that its market is their power. And they are not shy to use that as a leverage. China have censored movies which does not support their politics and their narratives and it has forced changes in movie scripts and screen depictions. And Hollywood has complied.

Any which way, a message has gone across to China that Americans love them, even their multi-international-award-winning expats’ movie, which has pace, look, and feel like an amateur documentary.

To successfully watch Nomadland till the end, the viewer has to latch themselves, with chains and locks, to the chief protagonist, Fern (Frances McDormand) and stay with her for One Hour Fifty Minutes. The movie will never invite you. Instead, the viewer has to behave like an uninvited guest, rummaging garbage in every scene for tidbits of souvenirs.

If you pursue Nomadland till the end, you’ll get it. Or you won’t. It’s a matter of taste.

The Fault in Our Stars, Movie, Hotstar

Most of the characters in the movie are grappling with cancer and looming death. Yet the movie is not dark, heavy and drab but light, effervescent and fun. The movie is based on a book which again references a book and its fictitious writer.

The Fault in Our Stars,” is lead by two teenage characters of opposite sex, in which, one is morose and the other is peppy in a part of the story and thereafter their role reverses. Also they have a goal. They have to travel from US to Amsterdam to meet an author who wrote an optimistic book on cancer. This pilgrimage has its surprises and its consequences.

Shailene Woodley has an endearing looks and acting talent who pulls the viewer in for a rollercoaster ride of emotions. But the emotions are adjusted in appropriate measure. It’s a toned down melodrama and the conversations are mainly forward looking though they can’t avoid morbid talks at some juncture.

The story has depressing undertones yet one comes out of it not down but level. You’ll know why after you watch it.

Downhill, Movie, Hotstar

A middle aged couple with two teenage boys are on a ski-holiday when a controlled avalanche misdirects into a open air cafe where the family is brunching. Upon approach of the rubble, the husband runs away abandoning his wife and two children. The avalanche rattles the cafe-people but is innocuous. Everything goes back to normal. Except the relationship between the husband and his wife and two children.

The rest of the movie then moves into subtler aspects of relationships. The wife and two children see their husband and father as someone weak. Obviously, the husband tries to justify himself by lying and undermining his wife. But in the end there is redemption arranged by the wife for the father,only.

This 1 hour 26 minutes movie is not that bad to deserve a rating of low 50%. The movie is pretty well made and well performed. Julia Louis-Dreyfus of Seinfeld fame who is a multi award winning actress is cast just for the right reasons.

When a tenuous bond of trust breaks between individuals, the resulting emotions are the most hardest to portray on screen. It’s here one get to know the difference between a pro and a tyro.

Carol, Movie, Amazon Prime

These days, “western” shows with scenes of gay and lesbian love and sex is pretty common because in most of the “western” world, LGBT is legal. But there was a time when same-sex association was a terrible crime. To know the extent of ostracization one should know about the fate of Alan Turing, a founding father of computer science and the Enigma. He was discovered to be gay and was chemically castrated. The movie, “The Imitation Game” on Netflix is based on his tragic life.

The movie ‘Carol’ explores lesbian relationship in the context of 1953 when it was “illegal”. To portray the characters in lesbian relationship are two astounding actresses – Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. This 2 hour movie may seem slow but the pace is just right to match the rhythm of that period and the tentativeness of such associations in those times. The two characters convey the subtle attractions and desires through their expressions. Dialogues seems to run parallel and used as hints.

Cate Blanchett is a veteran. But Rooney Mara with Audrey Hepburn looks matched the veteran, expression by expression.

On Privacy and Surveillance-04

I had written on this topic before (here, and here, and again here)

Here, I’ll recount another true story where personal privacy was broken into. My earlier posts dealt with surveillance of “manual labour” type where people watch on people. In this post, the surveillance I reveal is of a digital kind. But first, the story.

In my last company I had a colleague who quit to join an Investment bank. Couple of weeks into his new job, the colleague called me and said:”Sir, you have wonderful investments.” And thereafter, he called out my every investments in stocks, bonds and mutual funds. He knew how much money I had invested, the profit and loss of every investments, and how much money lay uninvested in my account. He had big plans on how and where to allocate my spare cash.

When the call ended, I felt as if I was naked. I rushed to the nearest branch of the investment bank, which is just a few minutes walk from my home across the highway and there, I blurted out my woes. To my surprise, the bank staff did not find my problem unusual. They said coolly – Any authorised staff can access investment accounts through customer’s registered mobile number.

Any authorised staff can access investment accounts through customer’s registered mobile number. Similarly, PAN and Aadhar can be used too.

So, the former colleague may not be only accessing mine but many of his old chums who had account with the same investment bank. If he is still working there, he may still be monitoring and informing. As for me, I dumped my Bank and moved elsewhere.

I realised the futility of my complaint. The source of my anger was personal – that someone known to me and to my other colleagues, used my ID to know my investment details. He may have shared it with others.

But let’s broaden the question – what if, unknowns know about others money details?

In the world we live now, data, if it exists, will become common knowledge. Then what is the protection? “Anonymity of Crowd.” If your head is not above the crowd, you’re safe, to some extent. But crowd should comprise of substantial number of people. This means, if you’re in Mumbai, a few crores here and there will not raise eyebrows. One could only get calls from Noida or Gurgaon for investments. But if one is above the crowd, Ambani or Tata or all those big stars, then they will be targeted. Recent “Ambani Bomb Scare” may be a big extortion case.

But what about small towns? Say a village of 100 people, “where everyone knows everyone not only by “name” but also by “how much money they have in the bank”, because the bank teller and peon are also village dwellers. Mr. Modi has encouraged villagers to open bank accounts which they have and where Mr. Modi dutifully deposits money. So everyone’s equal. He will be a foolish villager to deposits his extra earning in the same account. He will invite dacoits. Villagers of India are no fools. For eons they have buried money secretly. That’s a best way.

On this “anonymity of crowd”, let’s take a test case on how this can be defeated.

Suppose, a person in Noida gets your number. He will keep on calling you from his different numbers. That’s the most they do. Now suppose, a person from Noida, instead of calling you, calls your colleague and says: so and so has so much money in the bank, so, why don’t you tell him to invest in “flower-pot” land in Noida. And the next day he calls again, this time a different colleague and says the same thing.

This is a good trick, isn’t it. But you see what’s happening. Gradually, your anonymity is being eroded. At a level of a large city, you’re a crowd. But at a level of your workspace, you’re a target. In other words, your information, say, at the level of Amazon has a different bite than your information at the level of your H.R..

In my previous company, there were people, at “important looking” posts, who “googled” the internet for information on other people. I had posted some work related Q&A in some obscure website, that too was discovered. I had opened an account in a forum where I posted anonymously, even that was uncovered. And watch this – my Facebook posts used to be discussed with higher management.

Privacy and Surveillance is an exciting subject and topics of many movies and TV and books. But it’s painful and scary when the same hits home. My oversensitivity towards this topic springs from my rabid past life where I gave birth to ghosts, some of whom still haunt me from places up above.

Behind Her Eyes, Miniseries, Netflix

‘Behind Her Eyes’ is not mind blowing but will blow the mind in the end. It has six episodes and I watched the sixth episode twice just to make sense of what actually happened. When I understood the sixth, then I realised I had misunderstood the first five. The last time this complication happened to me was with movie, ‘Inception.’ But that movie has meat. In ‘Behind Her Eyes’ I choked on gravy.

The British actress Simona Brown with expressive eyes and British accent is very watchable. The British actor Tom Bateman with Scottish accent is hoarse. This has rightly been criticised. If scotts speak like that they should be given independence from Britain. Tyler Howitt, is the most comfortable child actor.

‘Behind Her Eyes’ is a bewildering story. When things settle down in the end, the viewers will puzzle ‘who is what and where.’ The solve will not be worth the bother.

Soulmates, TV Shows, Amazon Prime

‘Soulmates’ core concept is; how a couple match made by a future technology affects human relationships. It has six episodes based on this one concept but the stories that follow are different.

‘Soulmates’ is futuristic but sci-fi display is minimal. Mobile Phones, Tabs, and TV are shown as transparent glass. People send messages like ‘playing carrom board on mobile phones.’ Data is transferred from mobiles to TV like “picking up cookies from a jar and throwing it on Big Screen.” Besides these, there is not much sci-fi show offs. This measured display of futuristic technologies has helped focus the story on humans only.

The first episode deals with the human thoughts and emotions when a new ‘matchmaking technology’ hits the market. There’s a buzz all around. Early adopters are seen to be happier in the eyes of people who are reticent. FOMO – Fear of Missing Out – finally gets the better off a couple, who, against their better judgement, not only ‘go for the test’ but ‘adopt the change’ as suggested by ‘Technology.’

The second episode ups the ante and brings hacking into the picture. As Newton’s Fifth Law says – All Data will be hacked and will be used against its rightful owner. A social climbing sleazy professor had ‘tested’ but locked his profile to prevent a match, because he needs his ‘duly wedded and well connected wife’ as a ride upto a top position. His designs are foiled by a persistent ‘Match’ who seeks him out and ‘trolls’ him into ignomany.

The third episode explorers a ‘lesbian match.’ This episode runs on exploratory dialogues and tries to fix the fact that – we tend to put our beliefs in some technology even if our true feelings are otherwise.

The fourth episode is pretty jumpy. It explores gay sex but thankfully, except a few kisses and sugested masterbate, nothing much is shown overtly.

Whatever advancement in technologies which the future will bring to the masses, the masses will always hold those advancements by the tendrils of bias, prejudice and superstitions. This is because technological innovations are done by the few ‘who know’ and used by the many ‘who have no idea’ what they are holding and what’s holding them. This gap in awareness is fertile ground for con-men and cults.

The fifth episode is on exploitation of popular beliefs by cults. It so happens that, after the Match, and before the meeting, one of the partner dies. The surviving half is then left to grieve for the lost ‘true soulmate’ and desires to join them in heaven. Then there appears a ‘cult’ which specializes in such ‘soul travels’ provided the travellers are first monetarily lightened.

The sixth and final episode is when – The Match – goes Mental. A middle aged women living with a slothful partner finds a ‘Match’ with a suave man who turns out to be a murderer. The man then convinces the women that she may be a murderer too because – ‘technology’ had matched them so. The smarter man brainwashes the woman to murder her slothful partner but the ‘murderess has her fill.’

‘Soulmates’ is wholesome, rich and fulfilling. The viewing quality of all the episodes is A Plus. One sees and feels that the stories are crafted with loving care and devotion.

Hightown, TV Show, SonyLIV

Hightown, starts high, shows promise, but ends high and dry. It’s one Season with eight, fifty five minutes each, episodes. News is that its been renewed for one more season. This is a mistake. Had it ended well, with current viewers satisfied, there would have been a lingering fond remembrance for “once more.” But the story had almost run its course and it seems that the makers just stopped short of a proper ending only to bargain for one more season. This is being too clever by half.

Nevertheless, Hightown is racy, spicy, and sexy. Every episode has a couple of very noisy and orgasmic sex scenes; man to women and women to women. The characters leave the story, closet in a room for a grunting sex and then return back to the story.

What is actually winning in this TV Drama is the approach and treatment of the plot. This pivots on one character. Since this character has performed so well that audience gets invested and identifies with this character. And the character is not squeaky clean, habit-wise. It is the empathy and concerns of the character that weaves through the story.

Monica Raymund has PriyankaChopra-ish looks and Seema Biswas type acting chops. The character she portrays is of a female marine police who is also a junkie on drinks, drugs and noisy lesbian sex. Most of the time she is suspended from service and works as cop like a Robinhood outside the system. There is also a parallel male track, which is important but the story is presented in such a way that viewers look into every scenes through Monica’s eyes.

Besides Monica, other actors have performed well too. The villain is cool and controlled and menacing. But there are some good characters developed but abandoned, probably for the next season. The story is bingable right to the very end where, I believe, the producers greed for ‘one more season’ had the better of the story. We’ll have to wait to see what’s in the second season which could have been in the first.

Watch ‘Hightown’ with appropriate audience, behind closed and soundproof room, or else, keep the volume low, or better, use headphones.