Friday, December 30, 2022

HAPPY 2023


Wishing you and yours a very happy new year!

Friday, September 18, 2020

INDU PARMAR (1943 - 2020)

My mother, Induben Parmar, passed away on 18th September, 2020.  She had contracted COVID-19 a couple of weeks ago and had some underlying conditions as well as a pacemaker.  She had been hospitalized for over 10 days and in the last couple of days, she had been conscious but not very responsive.

Ma was born in Ahmedabad where she grew up and after getting married, spent the rest of her life in Vadodara.  She was gregarious, loving and kind-hearted.  Very welcoming by nature and a good cook, she always had wonderful meals prepared for me and many of my friends (who still remember those times).  She had a remarkable trait in dealing with adversity.  When faced with a difficult situation, she allowed herself to initially cry and grieve over it. But once she got it out of her system, we rarely saw her break down again over that.  It seems that she used that mechanism to toughen herself and was almost defiant against the adversity.  I hope some of that prevails through the rest of us in the family.

She left behind a heartbroken immediate-family: my father (her companion for over 5 decades), my older sister and me.  Her three grandsons will miss the daily exchange of WhatsApp messages. Her only sibling, an older sister, now finds herself all alone without her. The extended network of friends and family will miss having her as the constant presence in Diwalipura.

As I broke the news of her death to him, my father said through tears, "I don't know if I should be sad (that she is gone) or if I should be happy (that she is no longer in pain).  But I know I loved her a lot."  I don't think I can put it any better.  I wish that she could have been around longer but am grateful for her presence as long as it lasted.  

She is loved and missed very much.  

ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः

Saturday, March 21, 2020






Run Time: 137 min.


A love story through the lens of a divorce.  
Searing yet compassionate.

The movie opens with two affecting monologues where Charlie (Adam Driver) and Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) Barber list all the things they like about the other. 
She really listens when someone is talking, she loves playing with their son, she is amazing at opening jars and she never closes a cabinet. 
He is undaunted by setbacks, he is very competitive and energy conscious, he is a great dad and he cries easily at movies. 
It serves as a warm and affectionate opening till we realize that this is an exercise mandated by the mediator who is facilitating their divorce.  He wants them to recognize why they got together in the first place.  However, since Nicole is too embarrassed to share her list, they forego the session.

Charlie is a bright theater director in New York who is trying to move his play to Broadway.  Nicole is former teen film actress who stars in his play.  They have been married for a decade or so and have an eight year old son, Henry.  The couple has had a bumpy ride with some separations in the past that are hinted at.  This time it appears to be more serious as Nicole has a pilot to film in L.A. and is taking Henry with her.

They initially agree to not involve lawyers but one of them takes the advice of a well-meaning friend and engages a lawyer, primarily to step back from the situation and seek some resolution. It is not important which one of them went to the lawyer first as it could just as well have been the other.  But this invites the ruthless practice of family law and the domestic court system and Baumbach serves up a seething indictment. 

Nicole engages a high powered attorney Nora (Laura Dern) to represent her and that leads to Charlie seeking out help, first with an overpowering Jay (Ray Liotta) and then a grandfatherly soul, Bert (Alan Alda) who has one of the best descriptions of divorce with a child involved: It's like a death without a body.  How true that is, since there is loss, grief, anger, denial et al.  Once the lawyers are involved, it is the end of amicability.  Noah Baumbach draws a vivid picture of what two well-meaning reasonable people become during a split.  They end up saying and doing things that they never would have thought they could do to the other.  Digging up dirt, invading privacy, using a child against the other, they become people they wouldn't recognize.  And all this while remaining partners who still care for each other.

That is the thing about divorce (or a split).  Even in the absence of malice, it turns two reasonable individuals into bitter rivals trying to get what each thinks is the best outcome for all.  In doing so, it becomes less so about what's best for the child they love but more about "winning".  This is a point driven home by Baumbach about the lawyers who practice family law.  They are always looking for a winner and therefore a loser.  It is a ruthless practice that disallows any compassion for the relationship that will continue after the formalities are concluded.  It feels that the mediator route was perhaps more empathetic.  He starts out by seeking out the good in the relationship and then perhaps would have anchored the break-up on that.

Baumbach is somewhat preoccupied with divorce and it shows up in his work.  His earlier film The Squid and the Whale was based on his experience as a child of his parents' divorce.  It is said that this film is based on his divorce from Jennifer Jason Leigh and he shows a much steadier hand as a director.  He is careful in not picking sides in his narration and leaves it up to the viewers if they choose to be neutral or not.  Charlie and Nicole are fundamentally decent, likeable and imperfect as most of our friends are.  Surely there are divorces where sides could be taken objectively but this is not a story of every divorce.  This is a careful study of a particular divorce and Baumbach is committed to delivering two fully realized characters.

Both Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson have been good before but this is a new milestone for each one of them.  Scarlett Johansson delivers a character that is a far cry from the familiar Black Widow.  Her Nicole is not very introspective and analyzes her relationship live as she is narrating it to her lawyer. It is done very naturally and develops a layered character.  Driver's Charlie is bright, caring and somewhat self absorbed.  Towards the end, he delivers a Sondheim song, Being Alive, at a bar which is very emotional and certainly draws from Charlie's internal turmoil.  Apart from the leads, Marriage Story benefits greatly from all the supporting roles, especially Laura Dern and Alan Alda.  Driver and Johansson are particularly good in a scene they have in a soulless apartment.  It is the kind of fight that partners never think they will have but are unknowingly capable of.  One where you say things you never would have expected yourself to say.  But as long term partners know, when such things are said, we know where they come from and why they need to be forgiven by each other.

We get to know the Barbers quite well and it is evident that they truly care deeply for each other but just can't be together any longer.  By the end, one hopes that they find happiness in the aftermath of the divorce.  The ending seems to suggest so and that is satisfying.  This is a thought provoking film and I would recommend partners in a long term relationship to watch it... perhaps not together.

"Criminal lawyers see bad people at their best, divorce lawyers see good people at their worst."
    - a minor character (Ted)           

Saturday, February 11, 2017


Director: Damien Chazelle

Cast: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone

Screenplay: Damien Chazelle

Music: Justin Hurwitz

Run Time: 128 min.


A splendid revival of old-school musicals.

It takes all of 30 seconds for La La Land to establish its identity: an unabashed musical from an era almost forgotten.  It proudly embraces the escape from reality as it promptly breaks into song-and-dance routines that punctuate an age old story.

The movie begins with our two leads Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone) stuck in traffic on the LA freeway in summer.  The crowds stuck in traffic break out into a song and dance but our leads are not a part of it.  This sets the tone for the rest of the film where we will witness flights of fantasy which aid the main story.  

Sebastian is a jazz musician, a purist who  dreams of opening his own club and doesn’t want to sell out.  Emma is an aspiring actress who is tired of waiting for audition calls which are few and call-backs which are fewer still.  She works as a waitress in a coffee shop on the Warner Brothers studio lot while he plays popular tunes at a night club secretly trying to weave in his own compositions.  They are both passionate artists chasing a dream that is within sight but out of reach.

It is not love at first sight but rather a couple of misses before it clicks.  And once it does, the two lovers inspire each other to pursue their dreams.  Mia starts writing her own play and Sebastian takes up a gig with a friend’s band.  But this is where the rubber meets the road: success demands commitment that can take a toll on romance. 

Chazelle uses seasons as markers for different chapters or segments in the film.  We begin with Winter and cycle through seasons throughout.  Since this is set in LA where the change is seasons is not very dramatic, Chazelle uses an innovative way of depicting this by his use of colors.  Characters wear certain colors to add a little emphasis to the storytelling.  (For example,  Mia and her actress friends donning primary colors complementing each other.)  Chazelle’s use of darkening the screen to focus on a character and transitioning to another sequence works beautifully.
The story is not ground-breaking by any stretch of the imagination.  We’ve seen this type of tale before: He meets her, they fall in love, love hits a snag and so on.  However it’s in telling the tale that Chazelle excels.  He clearly loves the classic musicals and it is reflected in the style, the approach, camerawork and even color choices.  Except for the current setting, this would fit in quite well with the available options about 4-5 decades ago.
The storytelling is more visual than one comes across these days.  The two leads communicate through dance moves and nuances more than the words in the script which makes it so enjoyable.  Clearly this demands solid performances from the two leads.  This is where Chazelle struck gold.  Gosling is excellent as usual, adding to a string of memorable performances.  To that, add a remarkable turn by Emma Stone.  Her Mia starts out as a light frothy character but goes on to display depth and layers.  What is more important, at least for this movie, is that these two come across as movie stars, all charismatic and magnetic.  A big musical like this needs star power more than a tour de force performance.   These are not the best singers or dancers out there but they own the screen when they appear.  I think that is what adds to the feel of classic Hollywood musicals. 

This brings us to the topic of music.  The background score by Justin Hurwitz gives the film its identity and provides some memorable tunes.  The partnership (Chazelle and Hurwitz) from Whiplash continues to scale new heights and offers a promising future.   Unlike a Broadway show brought to the screen such as Les Miserables, this is an original musical in the tradition of some of the movies (Singing in the Rain) it evokes without explicitly mimicking them.  Also, it pays tribute to my all time favorite, Casablanca, both with a direct reference as well as subtle nod in its storytelling.
While the whole movie is above par, there are few outstanding scenes.  The first is when Mia and Sebastian are on a hill over the canyon with a view of Los Angeles as the sun is setting and they break into a song number, A Lovely Night.  This is truly a throwback to Rogers and Astaire.   The second one is following their outing to see Rebel Without a Cause when the pair ends up at Griffith Observatory.  It is a fantasy sequence where they dance in the gallery, end up in the planetarium and float up to the dome and among the stars.  This is beautifully choreographed and filmed.  Another scene of note is towards the end where an alternate ending is presented in a long interpretive dance as an epilogue.  It is masterfully done and is perhaps the centerpiece of the film.

With a record number of Oscar nominations, the film is certainly not going unnoticed but I would be remiss in not recommending this on the big screen.  Filmed in CinemaScope with an aspect ratio of 2.55:1, it is intended to be viewed on a majestic widescreen it deserves.  This is certainly worthy of being called the picture of the year.

Here's to the ones who dream
Foolish, as they may seem
Here's to the hearts that ache
Here's to the mess we make
- Mia (audition)

Sunday, November 27, 2016



Cast: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle CHANDLER, LUCAS HEDGES



Run Time: 137 min.


About grief and loss… yet funny.
Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is a solitary, reserved and withdrawn janitor who is forced take care of his teenage nephew following the death of his brother, Joe (Kyle Chandler).  Lee works in the Boston suburbs and is mostly silent but something bubbles just below the surface as he lets his fists do the talking at the local bar.  It is evident that he is punishing himself for a past transgression.
Upon his brother’s untimely death, Lee is shocked to find out that he has been named the sole custodian of his teenage nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges).  He takes leave from his job and reluctantly returns to Manchester-by-the-Sea to deal with Patrick’s care and in doing so is confronted with his past that he has tried to escape from.  Patrick is a spirited young man whose interests are no different from any of his counterparts: obsessed with hockey, his rock band and the carnal pursuit of his two girlfriends.  However, Patrick is far from a caricature.  He is troubled with the loss of his father but it has not fully registered yet.
For a man who hardly expresses himself verbally, Lee is portrayed by Affleck in a manner that makes it abundantly clear how much pain and hurt he is harboring.  Affleck has almost specialized in playing characters that are tormented or troubled from within and express themselves non-verbally.  His work has not gone unnoticed in his prior films: Gone Baby Gone, Interstellar and most notably The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.  In this outing, quite simply, he is superb.  Lee is a hollow man destroyed by a tragedy he holds himself responsible for.  His way of dealing with his grief is seeking punishment while almost everyone around him wants to forgive him.  The movie uses flashbacks to show his earlier personality during happier times where he is a happy and loving family man.  It draws an interesting contrast as the current time is set in winter with its harsh elements at display while the flashbacks are almost entirely set in bright, sunny New England summers. 
Ken Lonergan is a remarkable director who captured grief, sibling bond and a troubled father-figure very well in his first outing, You Can Count on Me.  He is very much in command of his material and steers clear of cinematic pitfalls and presents a relatable portrait of everyday life and grief.  He uses a background of New England where one can sense the salt in the air and the language (scripted by Lonergan) is equally salty.  He draws a solid performance from the supporting cast with Kyle Chandler as Lee’s deceased brother and particularly Michelle Williams as Lee’s ex-wife who draws a stark contrast between her current and flashback scenes.  Her scene with Affleck towards the end of the movie is a powerful one displaying the prowess of the two performers.
For a topic that could be very depressing on screen, Lonergan manages to infuse a good bit of humor especially in the interactions between Lee and the teenage Patrick.  Lonergan wisely avoids a typical Hollywood ending even though the story could be concluded with a stereotypical catharsis and closing the package with a nice bow on top.  He chooses instead to opt for a more practical and relatable ending which, in my opinion, does more justice to the characters he has built over the duration.
This will certainly be on the Oscar watch for 2016 with Casey Affleck as the lead contender for Best Actor and possibly other nominations as well.  Affleck’s performance is deserving of the Academy’s attention and accolades.  Manchester by the Sea is one of the best films of the year and well worth your time.  Hopefully we won’t have to wait this long again for Lonergan’s next outing.

Saturday, September 3, 2016



Cast: MILES TELLER, J. K. SIMMONS, Paul Reiser



Run Time: 107 min.


Does not rush, does not drag.
Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller) is a young aspiring jazz drummer who is enrolled in the prestigious (fictional) Shaffer Conservatory of Music in New York.  He is talented, driven and single-mindedly aims for greatness in his craft.  His idea of success is not scoring record sales but scoring a musical legacy that will endure long past his lifetime.  In his quest, he is willing to sacrifice creature comforts, relationships and more.  His position on this is captured aptly in a conversation with his family.
Andrew: I'd rather die drunk, broke at 34 and have people at a dinner table talk about me than live to be rich and sober at 90 and nobody remembered who I was.
Uncle Frank: Ah, but your friends will remember you, that's the point.
Andrew: None of us were friends with Charlie Parker. *That's* the point.


Terence Fletcher (J. K. Simmons) is a conductor/teacher at the school and is legendary for his teaching talents as much as his terrifying instruction methods.  Fletcher is a complex man whose obsession with excellence is paired with dubious motivations.  His justification for his approach is captured in one of his lines:

Terence Fletcher: I was there to push people beyond what's expected of them. I believe that's an absolute necessity.

The premise is an age old standby: a young talent is pushed to achieve its full potential by a teacher.  There is nothing novel in that aspect of the narrative but mind you, this is not Dead Poets’ Society or To Sir With Love.  In fact, the closest thing to Fletcher in cinema history is the drill sergeant from Full Metal Jacket.  The story is not focused on finding a common ground for the two leads and establishing a lifelong bond.  The script is far more uncompromising than any of its predecessors in this storyline.  The writer and director, Damien Chazelle, is not the least bit interested in getting his audience to cheer and applaud at a cinematic outcome.This is about two individuals obsessed with their pursuit of excellence and Chazelle offers a film that makes you pause and think about it long after you’ve left the theater.  Is it an acceptable approach to tutor someone to excellence if it means withholding all praise and only offering criticism in the harshest form?

Fletcher comes across Andrew one night as he is practicing in the school.  He berates Andrew somewhat but the next day Andrew finds himself on Fletcher’s band as one of two competing for the core drummer spot.  As the band practices to win a jazz competition looming on the horizon, Andrew gets a taste of Fletchers brutish and abusive teaching style.  The movie plays out like a thriller, keeping you at the edge of your seat, largely due to the tightly-paced directing style adopted by Chazelle. 

There is an unhealthy relationship that develops between the two.  While Fletcher is unforgiving in his demands out of Andrew’s performance, Andrew’s drive to create his legacy is equally unforgiving on himself.  The question is whether this combination will spiral into descent or intensify into greatness.  In most films, the competition would be the culmination point but Chazelle sees it as a mere road stop in a broader story.

The whole story is told from Andrew’s point of view and Chazelle develops the character quite well by adding perspectives from his father (played subtly by Paul Reiser), extended family and his girlfriend.  Chazelle makes it a point to emphasize that Andrew, while likeable, is not perfect.  It balances out what could have been a one-dimensional character.

The film relies solely on the two lead performances and boy, do they deliver!  These are two landmark turns by Simmons and Teller.   Miles Teller portrays Andrew in a raw and visceral manner, completely immersing himself in a character desperately seeking to achieve greatness.  J. K. Simmons’ performance is more nuanced and complex as he presents a character that has layers of excellence, malice and charm among others.  It is a credit to his portrayal that the character is elevated from being a stereotypical antagonist to a complex yet flawed one. (Simmons went on to receive the Oscar for this role.)

Jazz references to music and music greats are scattered all over the movie.  The music is the backdrop of the story and is ever present.  The title track “Whiplash” and “Caravan” get top billing and several drum solos in practice and performances get the spotlight as well.  Teller has been playing the drums since he was 15 and it certainly helps in bringing some authenticity to the role.

The ending could have been more traditional in seeking closure but Chazelle chooses to leave it open to interpretation.  I think it works better because it leads to discussions that a good film should aim for.  In this case, it raises a debate about the price of greatness: How far is too far?  How much is too much?  Is it worth it?  The answer is perhaps less important than the discussion and awareness.

Sunday, December 28, 2014







Run Time: 95 min.


Not your average teenage rom-com.

Sometimes a film is rises above by not being something: not being pretentious, not being manipulative and not being dishonest or stereotypical.  The Spectacular Now treats its lead characters, who happen to be teenagers, exactly as what they are: young adults.  Sutter Keely, played superbly by Miles Teller, is an 18-year old high school senior.  He is young, confident, intelligent and above all, charming.  He is effortlessly the life of any party.  Oh by the way, he is also an alcoholic. 

We meet Sutter as he is filling out his college application form and reflecting on his life.  His girlfriend has recently broken up wiith him and he is out drinking.  He ends up passed out on a front lawn and is found by Amy Finecky who is out on a paper route.  Amy is his classmate but Sutter has not been aware of her existence so far.  As he accompanies Aimee on the rest of her route, an interesting relationship begins. 

Aimee is a bright and ambitious wallflower who is beyond happy to be noticed by someone like Sutter.  Sutter sees Aimee as a platonic “project” at first but cannot help himself being romantically drawn to her.  There is a spontaneous and unexpected compatibility in their relationship.  They challenge each other to achieve greater heights not because they are blinded by love but because each sees the spark and potential in the other.  They both come from broken incomplete homes but approach life differently.  Aimee is hopeful about the future and is willing to work hard to get to a better place.  Sutter lives in the moment, the now, not willing to let a good time pass him by.

Sutter’s relationship with his mother is tense and he looks up to his perception of his father who has been absent for most of his life.  After meeting Aimee, Sutter happens to find out his father’s whereabouts and they set out on a road trip to visit him.  The encounter marks a significant turn not only in Sutter’s coming of age but also in his relationship with Aimee.  The script does a terrific job of depicting the growth of both characters in a real, believable manner.  It allows for their flaws without affecting the likeability of the two leads.  Neustader and Weber prove that (500) Days of Summer was not a fluke.

The two leads are perfectly cast.  Miles Teller shines as Sutter, making a character with serious flaws extremely likeable.  This is crucial to the success of the film as it is narrated from Sutter’s perspective.  Teller reminds me a little bit of John Cusack from Say Anything.  Shailene Woodley is very credible as the girl-next-door who blossoms into a beautiful and assertive young lady.  This is not the case of your typical rom-com makeovers where the ugly duckling turns into a beautiful swan.  The physical changes are subtle but transformation is more in her demeanor as she discovers her confidence and strength.

Director James Ponsoldt does a fine job of keeping the focus on his two leads and not letting the film meander.  The secondary characters in the script are portrayed with enough care to make them believable as well as add color to the lead character's personality.  Sutter’s ex-girlfriend, her new beau, Sutter’s family (sister and parents) as well as his boss who owns the shop where he works: all these characters are well, if not fully, drawn and don’t fit the stereotypical mold of this genre.  His ex-girfriend's character would be made into a caricature in most other rom-coms but here she provides another perspective on Sutter which is reasonable.  The following example of an exchange between Sutter and his boss, Dan, reveals a lot about both in a just couple of lines:

Dan:   If I was your father, this is where i might give you a lecture or something, you know, about what you're doing to yourself.
Sutter:   You know what Dan, if you were my Dad, you wouldn't have to.

The final half hour or so of the film clearly moves away from a lighter mood to a definitely darker tone.  But that is remaining honest to the evolution of the lead characters' lives rather than sugar coating it.  Some might say that the ending is perhaps a little "Hollywood" but it provides hope for the characters that we have become fond of.  Also it might be the end of a chapter rather than the whole story so I don't consider it a cop-out.  This is clearly one of the better young-adult films out there and well worth your time.