The Lunch Box

In Mumbai, India, there’s a system of delivering lunches that are picked up from home kitchens and restaurants then delivered to workers in their offices (right to their desk) via bikes, trains, and pushcarts with errors only being the remotest of possibilities. After the lunch breaks are over, the tiffins (lunch boxes) are picked up, then transported back to the exact point of origin. Every day, nearly 175,000 such lunch boxes are picked up, delivered, and returned. The rate of error for lunches either being lost or delivered incorrectly, is so low that once in a million deliveries applies. This system has been in use since the latter part of the 19th century.

This film is about one such lunchbox and it is no surprise that film is entitled The Lunch Box. This lovely film was written and directed by Ritesh Batra in his first ever work on a feature film and has won awards at film festivals from Reykjavik to Sao Paulo, from such diverse places like Oslo, London, Ghent, and from Tribeca to Telluride to Dubai. Just a few days ago, The Lunch Box opened at Sarasota’s indie/art/foreign theater, the Burns Court Cinema.

Batra is only 35 years old and studied film in New York. But his touch is fine. He knows his craft, and the film flows by in a brief 104 minutes. This is an Indian film that has made the box offices light up all over the world.

Nosheen Iqbal, writing for The Guardian newspaper in the UK has noted that the film reflects India’s new taste for realism. It’s not really new, as years back, in the 60’s and 70’s, this style of film making was called India’s Parallel Cinema. In that era, those practitioners made films with serious content, naturalism, and an eye on realism rather than commercialism. So the Parallel Cinema has been around for a while.

Here’s the story of The Lunch Box, condensed of course.

Nimrat Kaur plays the housewife Ila. Her husband commutes to work each day from a Mumbai suburb, and Ila gets her young daughter off to school in the morning. She loves her husband, and tries hard to please him. But he doesn’t notice or care. So Ila enlists the help of a neighbor upstairs, called Auntie, whom we hear, but never see. An extra special lunch is prepared. The door bell rings, and there’s the dabbawallah to pick up the lunch. She watches as he loads the lunch box on to his bike, and rides off the train station where the lunches are organized and sorted before being sent to the city for delivery.

Irrfan Khan (Life of Pi, Slumdog Millionaire) plays Saajan Fernandes. He is an older man, a widower who is approaching his retirement from his job as an accountant in the Claims Department of a large insurance company. He too receives his lunches on a regular basis via the same system, only his lunches are prepared by a restaurant.

On this particular day something is different.

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The One I Love – Day Nine at the Sarasota Film Festival

The Closing Night Feature Film at the 2014 Sarasota Film Festival was The One I Love. Directed by first-timer Charlie McDowell, and written by feature film first timer Justin Lader, the film is basically a two-hander starring Elisabeth Moss (Top of the Lake, Mad Men, Darling Companion) and Mark Duplass (The Mindy Project, Zero Dark Thirty, Darling Companion & Your Sister’s Sister). Acting vet Ted Danson has a small role as a marriage therapist.

Now this is a very, very new film. There’s not a poster, nor a trailer to be found. But there is a clip out there. Prior to Sarasota, the film has screened only at Sundance this past January. Further festivals on the horizon include Newport Beach, Tribeca, Montclair, and San Francisco. So the film makers will be on the move.

By the way, all the images that you’ll see in this review, with the exception of the two above this line – are stills pulled from the clip.

ZZZ - ZZZZ -This man spent the night on the sofa

ZZZ – ZZZZ -This man spent the night on the sofa

Here’s the skinny. Moss as Sophia, and Duplass as Ethan, play thirty-somethings. They’ve been married long enough for Ethan to have strayed, and so their marriage is on the rocks, at a crossroad, about to hemorrhage, or burst at the seams. Pick one or all of the above as all apply. So they’ve chosen to consult with a marriage counselor, played by Danson.

Danson elects to send them off on a weekend retreat – away from their familiar surroundings, a place where they can just concentrate on finding the spark they once had. Or as Streisand and Redford once called it – The Way We Were. But this new film isn’t anything like that one. It all takes place over one weekend. Years don’t fly by. There’s just one brief flashback and it basically opens the film.

Good Morning, handsome

Good Morning, handsome

So off they go, to an unnamed in the film, location which turns out to be up in the hills above Ojai, California. You won’t find that fact on IMDB, but McDowell, Lader, and Moss were on hand at the SFF for a post-screening Q & A, and that’s how I know. More on the Q & A later.

Suffice it to say, things go smoothly for a while. It’s a lovely home – fully stocked, fully equipped, and it even has its own separate guest house which is slightly smaller than the main house, but as fully loaded as it needs to be. They have the whole place to themselves.

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The Heart Machine – Day Nine at the Sarasota Film Festival

[Some SPOILERS AHEAD] The Heart Machine is fresh off its world Premier at SXSW a few weeks ago. The film is so new, that at this time, there’s not even a film poster available, so pardon the make-do image on the right used for this piece. [Edit: October 15th, 2014 – Poster and updated trailer have been added to this review]

The Heart Machine isn’t about new medical machinery or bio-tech. Rather it is about love in the digital age. These days, one asks for a way in by saying, What’s your Skype address?

It’s still the same as can I call you, only the hardware/software is different. The Heart Machine was screened at the Sarasota Film Festival today, and yours truly was in attendance. Starring John Gallagher Jr (The Newsroom) and Kate Lyn Sheil (House of Cards), this film wasn’t the comedy, the romance, or even the rom-com I was expecting and hoping for.

Rather it is a look at one-night stands, e-stalking, angst, skypurbation, and hovering over all of it, is the hollowness and fleeting (over just after it begins) of today’s relationships. The onscreen version is the relationship began and end as easily as opening a wrapped bit of chocolate then tossing the wrapper into the trash bin.

Gallagher plays Cody. He lives in the Bushwick area of Brooklyn. Sheil plays Virginia Walker. They met on line and communicate via Skype. For some reason (she’s somewhat insecure which may be the case but isn’t clearly apparent), Virginia tells Cody that she lives in Berlin, Germany. We soon learn otherwise, as she really lives on Manhattan’s Lower Eastside. Or as she describes it – ‘really way east of the Lower Eastside’.

But as these things go, the internet allows for an intimacy that an old-fangled telephone does not. So things progress. But Gallagher’s Cody is not just a guy looking for love. We soon find out that he may be paranoid and that he’s definitely obsessional. He takes screen captures of the Skype talks, and then starts blowing up the backgrounds in these images – is he just inquisitive, or what exactly does he expect to see? What is he looking for why is he looking so far beneath the surface are the questions that will come to you.

Then he starts listening to background sounds on the recorded Skype calls. He looks at the audio graphics of dog’s barking, and what he calls German sirens. This is not good. We begin to be concerned for Virginia. Because we know she’s in the city.

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God’s Pocket with Philip Seymour Hoffman – Day Eight at the Sarasota Film Festival

Philip Seymour Hoffman, John Turturro, Richard Jenkins, and Christina Hendricks are the big names who go small town and small time with in God’s Pocket – the debut feature film directorial effort by John Slattery (Mad Men, The Adjustment Bureau). God’s Pocket is not really a small town. Rather it is just a rundown and ugly section of mean streets in Philadelphia which can be more accurately be described as a neighborhood.

Richard Jenkins portrays the newspaper columnist Richard Shelburn in the local paper, and we open with him doing a voice over at a funeral. We get a look at the townsfolk, a sorry-looking bunch,  attending said funeral, and, as they are exiting, a fight breaks out. The screen flashes a text: Three Days Earlier – so we know we are heading for a lengthy flashback of the events leading up to the funeral.

The deceased is one Leon Scarpato, the son of Jeannie Scarpato (Hendricks) who is the wife of Mickey Scarpato (Hoffman). He’s a low-level crook who will soon be participating in a small time heist of a meat delivery truck with his pal Arthur (Turturro) who needs to steal the truck to sell the meat as he’s 20K in debt to Sal – the local bully, goon, and loan shark.

They pay off the driver of the meat truck – Here’s your money, go have a nice breakfast, and come back in not less than an hour. When the truck driver asks one too many questions he gets a punch in the gut which sends him to the ground. Then he gets a warning.

You have your job, and we have our job. Now take the money and go have breakfast.

Meanwhile, Leon, on the job at a construction site, runs his foul mouth, flashes a knife far too often, and eventually nicks some one with it. Moments later his head and a piece of pipe wielded by the man Leon nicked, and called the N-word, collide, and Leon will soon be pronounced dead at the scene by the medics.

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Wild Canaries – Day Seven at the Sarasota Film Festival

Back in the 30’s and 40’s a very popular film series called The Thin Man became a favorite of film goers. Starring Hollywood legends William Powell and Myrna Loy, the original which was titled The Thin Man was shot in 12 days in 1934, and was nominated for an Oscar as Best Picture. This film spawned five sequels. While I am uncertain about The Thin Man being the first screwball comedy, I am fairly certain that it was the first screwball comedy murder mystery.

Between 1957 and 1959, The Thin Man was a successful TV series and starred Peter Lawford and Phyllis Kirk. The screwball element was still present as was the sophisticated repartee and dialogues. In all 72 episodes aired.

In the 1970’s we had McMillan & Wife on our TVs. Starring Rock Hudson and Susan St. James, the series played 40 episodes over the period of 1971 to 1976. The episodes were 90 minutes each. We still had the man and woman solving murders, except this time he wasn’t a retired private detective – he was the Commissioner of the San Francisco Police Department. St.James kept the role of the kooky wife created by Myrna Loy in play.

Which brings us to 2014. Arriving at the Sarasota Film Festival tonight was Wild Canaries. Yes, going in, this film could be called a screwball comedy/murder mystery, and it has definitely been updated for the times. Written and directed by Lawrence Michael Levine, who co-stars with Sophia Takal as his fiancé, the film is set in a Park Slope Brooklyn brownstone building. Noah (Levine) and Barri (Takal) share an apartment. Also on board in the same apartment is their friend Jean (Alia Shawkat).

There’s a couple who live on the ground and second floor; a guy named Damien and his wife and child. A nice old lady Sylvia lives on the 3rd floor and Barri is friends with her – is discovered by Barri dead on the floor of her bedroom. The Emergency Medics are summoned and it is ruled a death by heart attack. But Barri doesn’t quite believe that an 80 year woman who had a triple by-pass heart surgery, and a hip replacement – could be in bad enough shape to suddenly succumb to a heart attack, she believes it must be foul play. See, here we are barely seven minutes in, and already we have a screwball theory.

She goes on to pester Noah and Jean endlessly about this. The dynamic is such that we aren’t particularly displeased by Barri’s notions, but rather we begin to seriously dislike the constant bickering that we are a witness to. Noah doesn’t seem all that invested in his engagement – there’s the all night poker games with weed and booze in Damien’s apartment downstairs which Noah uses as a refuge from Barri, and this seems to attract him more than the whining Barri.

Lawrence Michael Levine wrote the film, directed the film, starred in the film, and appeared in Sarasota for a Q & A

Lawrence Michael Levine wrote the film, directed the film, starred in the film, and appeared in Sarasota for a Q & A

Noah is also in business with an ex-gf named Eleanor played by Annie Parisse who appeared in many episodes of Law & Order as A.D.A. Alexandra Borgia. As to what kind of business they do – it isn’t clear, and at the moment – despite their past involvement, Eleanor is now a lesbian.

Jean is in business with Barri – and together they have an idea to buy a failed Catskills resort and restore it. They even raise a half million in seed money from a friend of Jean’s. Jean says, We probably got the money because I gave this guy a blowjob once. Also worthy of mention is that Jean now is also a lesbian, and she tells us that she hasn’t had sex in more than year.

Just another day in the paradise known as Park Slope. Barri has nothing else to do than try to solve a possible murder.

Just another day in the paradise known as Park Slope. Sophia Takal as Barri has nothing else to do than try to solve a possible murder.

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Words and Pictures – Day Six at the Sarasota Film Festival

Students – and viewers – pick a side. Actually we viewers don’t have to pick a side (we root for both of them) in the battle between an English Honors teacher Jack Markus (Academy Award Nominee Clive Owens) and the Arts Honors teacher Dina Delsanto (Academy Award winner Juliette Binoche). The film is the Fred Schepisi helmed Words and Pictures.

Now no one is going to claim that Owens and Binoche are up there with the legendary film combos like Spencer Tracy/Katherine Hepburn, or Rosalind Russell/Cary Grant, or even Julia Roberts/Richard Gere. But there’s definitely some major chemistry between them and you’re going to like what you see.

Jack Marcus is a published author and poet now teaching at an upscale school called The Croydon Preparatory Academy or Croydon Prep. The location is supposed to New England, but Vancouver is where the film was shot.

Jack’s got issues like writers block, lack of inspiration, and the school’s Headmaster and President of the Board (played by Amy Brennerman) think that Jack has been mailing it in rather than inspiring his students.

After all, he’s chronically late, is behind in grading the students’ papers, and has not put out a new issue of the school’s literary magazine in some time. You see, Jack is aware of his failings which has led to him having a drinking problem.

Enter Binoche as Dina Delsanto, a world-class painter . Here’s how their initial meeting went:

Jack: What do you teach? Dina; Honors, Art Jack: Hence the scarf Dina: You? Jack: Honors, English Dina: Hence the... hence

Jack: What do you teach?
Dina: Honors, Art
Jack: Hence the scarf
Dina: You?
Jack: Honors, English
Dina: Hence the… hence

She is suffering with Rheumatoid Arthritis – a death knell for an artist’s hands. Yet later we find that she paints with mechanical aids, or tools, even a mop. Her fine art has become the broad-stroked based abstract rather than impressionist. But even if she has trouble dressing, she is not giving up.

So we have two damaged people. As this is a romantic comedy drama, of course they will fall in love, only it won’t come easy. Because first, they have to go to war. Not with stick and stones to break bones, but with an intellectual battle royal over which is more important – the word or the picture.

They duel in words as Jack likes playing a game:

Markus: I say a five syllable word that starts with ‘A’. You say a five syllable word that starts with ‘B’. We go on until some one is stumped. An-ti-his-ta-mine.

Delsanto: blah blah, blah-blah…

Markus: Only four syllables – my point.

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Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter – Day Five at the Sarasota Film Festival

Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter begins on a beach with a woman following a treasure map which leads to a cave, where she finds a VHS cassette. Although almost unwatchable, we can determine that this Video tape is Fargo, written, produced, and directed by the Coen Bros. – Joel and Ethan.

I don’t think this was just circumstantial as Kumiko was written by another pair of brothers – David and Nathan Zellner, with David helming the film as Director. By the way, David Zellner was in the house tonight for the screening of his film. There was a Q & A after the screening.

But I digress. We learn over the next 45 minutes, that Kumiko is an OL (office lady) with a domineering mother (are you dating anyone? – how’s the job? – why is it that you never answer the phone?) Her boss uses her to make tea, deliver his suits to the dry-cleaners and so forth. He complains about the tea – did you let it steep?

Kumiko is at once lonely, and though only 29, she’s older than most of the girls at the office. She avoids her friends, ignores the mail mounting up in her mail box, is unresponsive at work as well as toward her mother. With a population approaching 15 million it seems that it is not easy to be lonely in Tokyo, a densely populated city  in the land of the rising sun, the home of gleaming bullet trains, the bright lights and glitter of Tokyo’s neon bound areas of Ginza and Shinjuku. But Kumiko is withdrawn and seems interested only in her pet rabbit named Bunzo, and the film Fargo.

Without much else going on, Kumiko’s interest in Fargo takes on a life of its own. Kumiko believes that the story of Fargo is real, and where ever it was that the Steve Buscemi character buried that case of money, it can be found, and she is going to be the one who finds it.

Kumiko, almost a stranger in her own land, goes above and beyond. The VHS tape becomes snagged and useless, so she must buy a DVD player and the DVD of Fargo. Now of course, the images of the brief case of money being buried become so very real. Using mathematics and geometry, Kumiko fashions a hand-sewn treasure map of the location of the buried treasure. She even tries to steal a map book from the public library. She’s busted attempting this  – but bargains or bribes her way into the specific page she needs.

Her destiny is before her, and we’re in on it too. We are not surprised in the least when Kumiko dumps the suits, just picked up at the dry-cleaners, some how arrives at a decision to set Bunzo the rabbit free, and finally, she will abscond with a company credit card that her boss gave to her so she could buy his a wife a nice birthday gift.

What shall I get? I don’t care as long as it is nice.

Next stop Minneapolis.

The Japanese settings were finely tuned. We are not shocked in the least by Kumiko’s behavior. As portrayed beautifully by Rinko Kikuchi, the character is hauntingly strange but not abhorrent. Even though she appears despondent, and even isolated, we can see that it is by her own choice, which should make us feel somewhat less concerned about her well-being. Yet we are solidly behind her.

Once she lands in the USA at the Minneapolis airport – the film must switch gears. Kumiko is still going to search until she finds the treasure – come what may. But now we have American characters who will interact with her.

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The Vision Quest – Day Five at the Sarasota Film Festival

Day Five at the Sarasota Film Festival – Short Film Program # 4

I took in a Short Film called The Vision Quest. It clocked in at a rapid 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Written and directed by Andrea Sisson and Pete Ohs, though the film began and concluded quickly, the pace was leisurely.

The film was about two brothers, Wes and Dave, who are extremely near-sighted. That means they have trouble with anything that is further away than a few inches. We meet them as they stumble along in the country.

The film is in black and white, and has no audio dialogue. When the brothers speak we see text at the bottom of the screen. There is a musical soundtrack with instruments by Olafur Arnalds from Iceland and Charles Watson from London.

The brothers find they are in front of a wall – which is actually a farm’s barn. They decide to split so they can double their chances in the forage for food. One brother is able to find some twigs, and some glass, and so he fashions a pair of make-shift eye-glasses.

He’s amazed with his newly improved vision. So he decides to return to the field where his brother was foraging. But he’s tired and hungry. He lies down in the field and falls asleep. The other brother, purely by chance, stumbles upon him. And so they are re-united.

The one brother finds (by touch) the eye glasses. He tries them on, and just like the first brother, he is amazed by the glasses. He tells his reclining brother something like – These glasses. They’re amazing. You have to see them. And the answer is I know.

And at that point the film changes from black and white to color. Then the fade to black and the credits.

That’s it. The b&w will remind you of films from long ago as will the text cards. The natural lighting is unusual and is a strong point, as is the framing of the subjects. The camera never rushes, and this makes for a solid impact.The story as it appears on-screen is not complex at all – but obviously, there are meanings to what we see. I took away such concepts as:

Love thy brother, the act of sharing is its own reward, and good things come to those with hope and perseverance. While I didn’t see this fable as having a religious undertone, clearly we are to take away something deeper than the visuals.

The film makers have been showing the film at some festivals, and the co-directors have been chosen for inclusion in Film Magazine’s 25 Faces for 2013.While this short film was produced for a small amount of money, it is not meant to be money-maker. Rather it is an example of what creative minds can do with a miniscule budget. I wish them well.

The film was produced by Lauren Edward. Below find the link to the website.

Coherence – Day Four at the Sarasota Film Festival

Long ago (1939) famed mystery novelist Agatha Christie wrote a book called And Then There Were None. The premise was simple. A number of people are invited to an isolated location – and one by one they are murdered. This proved to be such a popular mystery device that this one book was made into a film twice – Once in 1945 under the same title as the book, and again in 1965 as Ten Little Indians. Many other films, using the idea of multiple murders in one location became a familiar and often used film staple.

The format has evolved over the years. In the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s straightforward murders, with a specific motive, turned the corner and got darker as they became senseless horrific crimes. The era of the slasher movie brought forth films like the Jason Series (Friday the 13th), the Halloween series, and the Nightmare on Elm Street Series featuring Freddy.

In those films, like the Christie novel. people were still inspired, influenced, or simple chose to go to a specific place, and then one by one, they were murdered. The difference was that rather than emphasizing the mystery, the emphasis was on blood and gore – the major components of violent horror.

But in this decade, the format has once again evolved. In a popular 2011 film, we start with 4 mature adults meeting to discuss an issue involving their children. This film was directed by Roman Polanski and starred Jody Foster, Christoph Waltz, Kate Winslet, and John C Reilly. This time the savagery changed from physical to verbal. The damages inflicted were not accompanied by blood. No one died. The film was set in a small apartment in Brooklyn. The title was Carnage.

Last night at the Sarasota Film Festival, I watched a film called Coherence. Written and directed by James Ward Byrkit – we had eight people gathered for a dinner party. The opening was of a woman driving to the party. She is speaking on a cell phone to what was likely a former lover who told her that he was bringing his new girl friend to the party. Okay.

Alex Manugian as Amir

Alex Manugian as Amir

Seconds later, the gorilla glass on this woman’s cell phone cracks and major fissures appear on the phone’s screen. No, she didn’t drop the phone. She was simply holding it in her hand.

Elizabeth Gracen as Beth

Elizabeth Gracen as Beth

She arrives at the dinner party. It doesn’t really matter where the party is, but apparently they all know each other, and there was an event that was going on in the sky that night. The Miller Comet was passing overhead and would be visible. Soon the talk (standard dinner party chatter) turned in the direction of the effects of comets on people.

Emily Foxler as Em

Emily Foxler as Em

From there we continue until there’s a blackout – a complete loss of power, and the place is plunged into darkness. Candles and light wands come into play, so we are not in total darkness. Eventually they decide to see what is going on in the area. The blackout has hit every home but one – and it stands brightly lit a few blocks away. Two of the men decided to go to that house, and possibly use a phone, as no one’s cell phone works either.

Hugo Armstrong as Hugh

Hugo Armstrong as Hugh

And so begins Coherence. Like Carnage, what begins with normal people conversing, soon alters course. People’s manners begin to change. Tempers flare. Mean spirited things are said. This on top of some delightful elements of a mysterious nature that begin to occur.

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