Breakfast at Tiffany’s

A movie that is practically synonymous with Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffanys  provides beautiful images for your eyes to feast on- sparkling stones in shop windows try to match Hepburn’s own giant, marble-sized, thickly-lashed green eyes (the stones have a disadvantage-they can’t match the expression in her eyes)- lovely early-morning city-streets, stone stairs and tall buildings are the background for her frame that looks as if it were carved in one movement out of a monolith, and the beautiful, pronounced angles of her face. Doesn’t Audrey Hepburn look just like marble statuary brought to life?

The movie unfortunately has to depend on the idea of the emotionally uncontrolled eternal woman-child who can add two and two, but larger numbers confuse her. Isn’t that adorable? Also Audrey relies on that breathy-voiced style of acting in the old movies that I’ve never managed to find very credible, although women who made it their own voice were very charming and very impressive. Life seems to be lived on a higher register for such a character than for everyone else. You’re a heroine with a capital “H”. Imagine doing that sort of thing in more plain-spoken times! What we have is the cast of Girls and Lena Dunham! I do remember reading something about how …people thought that if you could suffer like Ingrid Bergman did in Gaslight then it was okay, to be unhappy in a romantic, high-toned way was the thing.

This a movie which won’t be too exasperating in its portrayal of Holly Golightly’s feyness, because she was ‘married’ at 14 to a middle-aged man, whom people keep calling her husband, until she says with the air of one who understands her responsibilities, that the ‘marriage’ was annulled. When a character is caught in such a cat’s cradle of societal norms and expectations, you really can’t quibble over how most women would realise that taking money from a famous drug-dealer may eventually end your dubious marriage prospects to a pompous Brazilian politician. Obviously, these are the sober thoughts of a more fortunately circumstanced person. Why are female protagonists always like that, though? The Shopaholic girl in the books is just as moronic, and we have to accept her mental vacuum as being representative of- get ready for it- niceness. All the nice people I ever met were also more than nominally intelligent. Just saying.

Speaking of her fey, precious, eccentricity:

oh cat BaT

How did they get the cat to refrain from biting her after he was chucked out in the rain? He’d only just found a dry box, and then she remorselessly snatched him up and began squashing him like that. Maybe it was a double?

BaT Cat

According to someone on the internet:

“Orangey the Cat is the only cat in history that has won the Patsy Award twice. For those who do not know, the Patsy award is the animal kingdom’s equal of an Oscar. The Patsy Award is awarded by the American Humane Association”<;

Just talent then.

Mickey Rooney’s racist portrayal of the Japanese neighbor has been making people uncomfortable enough for a while now, so I won’t dwell on it. It was the reason I went rather off this movie for a while, before memories of Audrey’s eyes, and the actors’ expert modulations, and the Moonriver soundtrack reeled me back in. Patricia Neal was just wonderful as the wealthy woman who ‘kept’ Paul Varjak (played by a delightful looking George Peppard).  My favourite Audrey moment has always been the “How do I look?” scene, after fastening on one earring, large marble-like eyes framed by a enormous black hat. It’s as ineradicable from my mind as a song stuck in my head.

how do I look
Like you re-invented meaning.  That’s why you’re iconic.



Something’s Gotta Give-the fuller review

This is a movie that goes well with french toast. The characters keep eating sweet things, Diane Keaton’s character Erica loves Paris, pancakes were prepped. Eggs are in her house, so I start feeling peckish and wonder what can be done with the ones in mine 😀 . Honestly, just starting this review made me start thinking of all the sweet things I’d like to eat while writing this.

french toast
I like mine with lots of honey.


Well, so the movie. Erica Barry is a successful, divorced, 50 something playwright. She has one adult daughter (Marin), a lovely beach house where the main action is set, and slightly younger sister (Zoe) who teaches Women’s Studies at an appropriately educated sounding university and “was in the Israeli army.” Marin invites Harry Sanborn (Jack Nicholson) to the beach house and just when they’re about to have sex, Harry amusingly enough has a heart-attack. Well, it was funny in the movie. His relationship with Marin is toast, and having to admit to his doctor in front of her that he used viagra that night is just the cream cheese frosting on top of it. We move on from what might have been (predictable and controlling and negative) to a new relationship that emerges between the hapless Erica and Harry,  as he needs to recover in her home and can’t travel back to the city. She doesn’t “enjoy playing nurse to [his] bad-boy patient” and she doesn’t really. Instead, while chatting with him between times she goes out with the 36 year old doctor played by Keanu Reeves. #womensrights #weshouldallgooutwithkeanureeves #feminism

Keanu Reeves
Does the french toast look as good as Keanu? (I think it’s equal.) Also shout out to how he handles his role. He is just one long, evenly played, beautiful note all through out. 


Their relationship develops as Harry shows us unsuspected depth to his character and Erica discovers that charming is charming. Unfortunately, Harry Sanborn still plays to the old rules, and as per usual he dumps Erica after sleeping with her.  (It’s like he didn’t watch the new movies.) Of course, the dumping was with her permission which makes it worse. She doesn’t want to rock the boat so badly, that when he says he isn’t “good at monogamy” she just nods along, without wondering what she wanted. Which means – she falls for it too, right? Like the 30 year olds she was castigating.


          You just like to travel light? Oh,
          please, what the hell does that mean?


          Now see a thirty year old gets that.


          You mean falls for that.


          I mean, accepts it.


          If that's what you want... a non
          threatening woman, who won't get your
          number, you get to run the show...

From there on Erica starts to own the story. She thinks she’s fine, runs into Harry out on the town with someone unrealistically (for him) good looking  and has an absolute melt down, which forces Harry to deal with her feelings over how she was treated, instead of conveniently brushing them aside. The first few times I saw this movie years ago, I didn’t understand why when she tells Harry that she “just wished it had lasted longer” and he responds “me too”, she says “that is a terrible thing to say.” And then I got it this time. If you pour your heart out to someone you deserve more than polite rejoinders. Erica then rushes off to the beach house to recuperate by writing her new play, and she makes it about Harry.


Nicholson’s muted indignation on receiving a literary-dramatic cutting down is chokingly funny.


There are many lovely moments in this scene my own favourites are:

You tell ’im, Diane.
I loved her hissy-eyed, cobra-strike face here as she spat out that line.

It ends beautifully.


Watch it with some french toast on your plate. It ends happily once Harry realises all his flaws.

Something’s Gotta Give

Watching Something’s Gotta Give and re-realising what a lovable movie it is. It’s filled with such gems of sharp written dialogue, and I love watching the drama play out through the dynamics between Keaton and Nicholson. I especially love watching Keaton’s emotions gently bring every line and muscle in her face into play- it’s like watching the theatre in her mobile countenance. Her face, and also that well-modulated voice (she can’t seem to scream even when at the end of her tether. I think it was deliberate to bring such a poised and likable persona to this role of 50 something single woman who *gasp* begins to date again), well her acting together with Jack Nicholson’s gently gravelly, gently ironic voicing of his lines is perfect. Speaking of Nicholson he finds that sweet spot where a 63 year old man can date 30 years old and younger women and not come across as a desperate creep. He is either charmingly kind and solicitous or plain adorable.

Jack N
Falling off the bed when when snooping around Erica’s (Keaton) room when she returns from her date with a 36 year old doctor (Keanu Reeves 😀 ). How did his glasses spring into the air in an amusingly complementary movement like that?

I’ve got so many screen grabs of the more amusing dialogues, but maybe another post, there were just so many.



“Deborah Clasky: Mother, I need to say something to you…You were an alcoholic and wildly promiscuous woman during my formative years so I’m in this fix because of you

Evelyn Wright: You have a solid point dear, but just now the lessons of my life are coming in handy for you.”

Nearly everyone in Spanglish, even almost everyone with screen-time, has a backstory or at least a richly detailed, clearly delineated personality. The equations between the cast are finely modulated, through action and reaction etched into their faces (Evelyn Wright in the scene quoted above) or through the dialogue that prompts a fresh unlooked for response from the character such as this soft-spoken response from Adam Sandler’s John Clasky when talking to his daughter, Bernice:

Bernice Clasky (reading the review of her father’s restaurant aloud): Eating at this perfect, smaller, passionate restaurant inspires one’s own abandonment of caution. To wit…John Clasky is the best chef in the United States.

John Clasky: Look how great you read it.

The whole group seems to be thoroughly sympatico (that was a dialogue reference) with each other. A review I read somewhere took issue with the movie’s dependence on stereotypical characters (drunken mother-in-law, I think it said, and maybe problematic wife, attractive housekeeper?). On the other hand Roger Ebert seemed taken aback by the range of Tea Leoni’s Deborah, though Deborah seemed eminently understandable to me. Her emotions flare-up to delight and spiral downwards into self-absorption and personal misery that crushes every unfortunate in her vicinity, but especially her daughter and her husband. Inappropriate remarks tumble out her mouth every time she talks, and  she waits with a disarming vulnerability for a crushing put-down, because she’s aware of all the words,

John  Clasky: I think that’s a little…

Deborah Clasky: What? Insensitive? Elitist? Narcissistic? Irresponsible? Perverse? Dizzy? What?…

Open-handed and direct, she remains incapable of shifting her own perspective the slightest bit, paralyzed (one can only assume) by her own feelings and thereby unable to accommodate someone else’s. At one point she congratulates Flor (played by Paz Vega) on her daughter’s appearance, and tells her she could make a fortune at surrogate pregnancy. A joke between similarly situated people, but I was wondering if it could be casually flipped out like that to someone not as mainstream as one was oneself.

I did wonder if the movie set out to contrast two visions of womanhood, through Deborah and Flor’s characters. Each seemed to be beauty worked to the highest possible pitch from two different cultures. The movie does explicitly call out the contrast in the lines (and juxtaposed scenes of Flor and Deborah) about how “dieting, exercising American women” suppress desire for style and become afraid of “all that is good in life” including motherhood. With a lack of self-critique the movie personifies motherhood through the curvaceous Flor, economically vulnerable since her divorce, and now working as a housekeeper. Fortunately, Deborah Clasky’s character does not remain a catch-all for all that is bad in life. She is “infuriated” when John Clasky squeezes her breast to get her to stop talking (perhaps constantly and wrong-headedly, but also sincerely and expressively). Her angst, which if you ask me, is the angst of the contemporary woman terrified that accommodation might mean losing out,giving in or not existing on her own terms, unsure of herself because she has set herself a new, unperformed script to play. It’s hard to do what hasn’t been done before. If she has a chip on her shoulder it’s because it was placed there.

The movie swings more in favour of self-possessed and principled Flor, than the uncertain and destructive wreck that Deborah becomes, and so maybe it seems that women must choose between diametrically opposed paths. But fortunately it is also about other things. Communication is a key theme in a movie about family dynamics and employer-employee relations when the help can’t speak the language. Flor is always certain of herself, but as she experiences challenges she wasn’t expecting she remains sure-footed and even learns how to speak in a new language and take care of herself in a new culture. Three of the adults in the film, John, Deborah, and Flor are concerned with elaborately fine-tuning their communication. Deborah remains the most insistently reliant on vocabulary, expecting words to give new life to a relationship, yet Sandler’s and Paz Vega’s characters achieve the fullest comprehension, despite “communicating in apologies” and not having a large number of mutually understood words between them.

Spanglish packs in a great deal of perspective into two hours. It is a warm and credible look at cultural values, relationships and communication.


The Freedom Maze

The Freedom Maze is a book that can be re-read. I’d first read this book in 2012 and may have read it since, but on pulling it off my shelves again, it still reads beautifully.Mind you, this is a book that will make you uncomfortable. It talks about race-relations, but you will find that it can be used to talk about any kind of servitude- any form of bullying and harassment that masks itself as justice and the maintenance of an orderly society.

It made me think about the bullying that some kinds of people exercise their authority to practice with impunity, but it also made me think about class-gaps and the treatment of the informal labour industry (in countries everywhere e.g. US, Philippines, Thailand) specifically, house help in India.

The book’s protagonist is 13 year Sophie Martineau a passive, bookish, unhappy teen who leads an unchallenged and uninteresting life with her controlling, unsympathetic mother. It is set in 1960s Louisiana just after desegregation. Sophie is sent back to the decaying family home to live with her aunt for the summer.

Unhappy about her life and anxious about the future, she makes a wish for a different life, and is promptly sent back in time to her family home as it was in the year 1860 before the Civil War led to making slavery illegal.

Sophie’s adventures are not at all like the blithe, contextless brand of fantasy that children’s novels like E.Nesbit’s Five Children And It or Chronicles of Narnia narrate. In their review of the book, Kirkus Reviews also mentions Time Garden as a literary referent- a novel where a group of white children go back in time and free slaves. Instead, Sophie herself is taken to be a slave (because she has a tan from being outdoors) and is put to work on her family plantation.

She experiences the complete physical vulnerability of the slaves quite practically when she gets whipped for reading a book or has a pair of shears flung at her. These experiences wring a new moral independence out of Sophie’s nature, she starts seeing herself as one of the slaves and forgets her origins in the 20th century.

Sophie’s developing moral judgement evolves from her own existence as a slave. As such she is not merely a sympathetic, invulnerable outsider developed out of a patronising and blind world-view, but a concrete imagining of what slavery is.

The book is detailed, sensitive, and gripping. Delia Sherman makes use of African- Caribbean myth to underpin the fantasy element of the plot, and the voices of the characters are poignant and unforgettable. When Sophie is pulled back out of the past we are with her in that moment, still wondering about the fate of the characters who have been left behind. She returns to the present with a better understanding of her ancestors and the world she is living in.

“Things are never what they seem with the women in this family”

Ha ha!! Rumour Has It is finally looking up. The best scene is the comic escalation of emotion between Shirley MacClane and Jennifer Aniston’s characters, when Aniston is back from her own tryst with the man who slept with her grandmother and her mother 30 years previously.

The next moment is equally golden with a screamed-out phone conversation conducted by Aniston’s grandmother and father, with Aniston a bubbling mess on one end and her sister an emotional, streaky-eyed mess, flipping out over being newly married on the other end of the line.

I thought Rumour Has It would be a dull homage to The Graduate’s misogyny towards women older than 40. It does begin with Aniston sleeping with a 30 years older Kevin Costner, who -despite not being exactly grizzled- doesn’t have a youthful spring in his step either. He surrounds himself with toys for adults -cool cars and personal planes- name drops through all his conversations, and has photos of himself meeting world leaders in his bedroom. A movie made today would’ve called that out for the obvious shtick that is. If I had met Castro and was proud of it, I wouldn’t decorate my bedroom with the photograph. Maybe an office space, to let people know it had happened. One could argue that because in general 50 to 60 year old men are not desirable to women decades younger,they need to be decked out to make it seem possible in a movie. But I saw zero chemistry between Costner and Aniston, and a lot more between her and the guy playing Costner’s son.

Which brings me to another sore point. Why does she have to freeze him out, like he’s a lower life form, like an amphibian in a dinner suit? I mean, why is Beau Burroughs (Kevin Costner) glamourised while sleeping with three generation of women from the same family, and Aniston as the protagonist has to maintain a “Don’t touch me!” vibe when talking to a very cute man who turns out to be his son?  She is clearly portrayed (at exactly 10 years older, I checked their birth dates) to be vastly above this gorgeous man, sporting an identical brand of flippy-haired, blonde good looks. I mean, simply in terms of life experience, and of course there’s all that knowledge of the world garnered through her job of writing obituaries for news papers.

But when Shirley MacClane finally screeches out, cursing Burroughs for being a “horny bastard”, I finally laugh and laugh because something shifts and the perspective changes. The minor meltdown of the sisters on either end of the phone, and the collective family effort to hold things together is the crystallising moment where the movie  departs from The Graduate. I guess that movie was other things too, but too many reviews and short summaries sum it up as “vampy, predatory older woman sleeps with college graduate”. Where is Costner’s vampiness?See!? You find it hard to associate the word with him! No shots gliding up and down his legs and focusing on a toned, glistening torso, I see. When he is attractive, his attractiveness has strength, it does not make him vulnerable to censure or consumable, the way I remember Anne Bancroft. So f- off Mr.Costner, because I do not believe you for one second.

I have watched this movie before, and I think I remember him being dumped. I hope that’s what happens. I think this movie would’ve been interesting if he got back with Shirley MacClane. Why should she be beyond romantic illusion? But women (non-heroines) begin with hope and end with cynicism . The heroine begins with prudence and thus keepth her balance dancing on the edge of sanction just above the descent into censure, in this world. Ha!

Edit: I guess I can forgive Beau Burrough after all, because of the proactive karma that led the father character to be the one who accidentally rendered him sterile in a football game 40 years prior. Also, the movie makes space for MacClane’s angst over being passed over by a younger person, when she was “13 years younger” then he is currently in the movie when she faces up to him. All the same, do you think life has that finality to it? Do you think people IRL feel dateable until they meet their Beau Burroughs, and then read the writing on the wall? It seems to me that there is a range of taste that can be accommodated, though not portrayed. What I mean is, I think you can feed on stereotype after stereotype, and listen to instruction every day, and then surprisingly enough your own mind will betray you. Like I read somewhere, about the force of a blade of grass pushing its head through a slab of concrete, you discover an untaught reaction. You know something else.

A play

Performing Shakespeare in India is a prickly business.  It’s probably easier if the entire troupe is Indian, there’s little chance of stiffness and awkwardness being attendant upon the scene, but when the director is British! Oh dear. It’s a little like that Gloria Gaynor song,

“And so you’re back! From outer space,
I just walked in to find you here with that sad look upon your face,…”


No, but really, a couple of people walked in late and one man sitting behind me tittered uncomfortably about “us late Indians”. I almost expected him to prostrate himself in front of the director, who in the meanwhile, with the well practiced ease of a college professor who has generally had a captive audience for many years (well, the doors are usually shut), talked for fifteen minutes straight without hitch or pause or break. He eventually took himself off the stage and someone apparently went to call the actors. I thought that part was kind of charming.Like we were in the middle of their day and asked them at that moment for a play :).

The performance was The Rape of Lucrece, a narrative poem that is not usually performed. We disagreed, the director and I, on whether the character remained static in her perception of the world or whether she began to question her role in it, but that couldn’t be helped :). Well, e.g. I didn’t see Lucrece unable to support the character of an orthodox wife anymore because her world was turned upside down by brutality. That is, she says something about the death of a true wife, but she doesn’t say it like she discovers it to be a hollow thing, a condition that let her down and didn’t protect her. It was more like she  couldn’t continue as if nothing had happened to her. So pain yes, questioning no. Every time you mark a text to be a thing of it’s times because it is so unrelenting in it’s presentation of one point of view there will be one small sentence wherein a character will say – she should have just killed the attacker instead of herself.

Which makes you think that putting actions or thoughts down as a consequence of an era just doesn’t hold water.

I thought the lady who played Lucrece was a pretty good actor just the same. I knew the Tarquin dude was new to this theatre but… I wondered why he did not lend more richness and nuance to his words, as if they were emerging from him as he was thinking them, and not as if he was saying his lines prepared. On top of everything else the actor was so ludicrously chubby cheeked, he looked more like a baby padding determinedly towards it’s goal than a man bent on rape. Still, that let me dislike him a lot less. Have you ever, (quite unfairly)hated an actor because they had to play the villain? I have. I have very poor distancing skills.

I liked it enough, but I wouldn’t gaily book a sex assault play for a Sunday evening again.

Tumhari Sulu

I’ve actually watched a bunch of movies and been reading/re-reading some books but nothing quite stirred up the spirit of contrariety within me as Vidya Balan’s new movie Tumhari Sulu.

Directed by Suresh Triveni the movie is funny, authentic- and in the tradition of Bollywood movies of the past 10 years – very visually appealing. The light falls well on everything and you never see a harsh image or an uninviting face. Even the Tweedledum like out-line of the dumpy shop-keeper (a character thrown in for some additional comic relief) seems to achieve aesthetic definition. His moronic assistant is a recognisable individual type, and not merely one of the interchangeable faces of poverty.

The entire cast really is perfect. Perfectly casted :). Vidya Balan has received well- deserved rave reviews for lending spirit and incredible charm to her character. She plays a house-wife named Sulu who failed high school, and currently lives a life of unbroken domesticity, ambling good-naturedly around the kitchen and dining-table, while tending to her husband and pre-teen son.

Balan’s capacity for portraying spirit, zest and bubbling good-humour, all harnessed by maternal and wifely concerns, without being too annoying to her female viewers is really commendable. Even more interesting is her portrayal of Sulu’s capacity for moderation in all things (quarreling with your extended family for instance) and her ability to handle confrontation (over the question of her new job). Balan got me very  invested in Sulu’s character-arc as she tumbles into an RJ-ing gig and figures out a new place for herself in the scheme of things. Manav Kaul, Neha Dhupia,and Vijay Maurya were lovely in their roles as husband,boss, and grudging,competitive,ego-maniacal colleague.

All this complimenting and I have forgotten what got me so annoyed to begin with. Oh yes, domesticity. It is a virtue, probably, but it can enervate. I understand that this is a nice family-friendly film where everyone between ages 7-70 may crowd in together. It’s just that I wish it wasn’t as family-friendly as that. This movie (or Suresh Triveni) doesn’t make mistakes-it isn’t coy or ridiculous-but its determination to maintain an atmosphere of superior good-nature around the way a wife and mother occasionally (if we’re counting, I think, once) hands out sex to her immature husband is a little unbelievable. I don’t mean that Balan should have to portray a ravening sex fiend house-wife, because that would have been a little unbelievable too (and smacks of a porn movie premise) it’s just that – what is it with the doling out of sex and housekeeping all with the air of good cheer and amity? She’s finally a little selfish when she wants to keep her job and the movie doesn’t crucify her for that, so that’s nice.

You know whats so effing unbelievable about actors who portray happy little helpers onscreen – “I can’t keep my job and miss this”- (kids and dusting the furniture), is that they’re all ACTORS. They don’t mind getting help in their own lives and they’re passionate about being successful, or at least happy. In real life they would be more like “Well I did want you, but I’ll only be home on weekends and evenings.”

Domesticity is important though for the portrayal of marital sex.Domesticity makes it okay. Domesticity contains it and even enshrines pleasure within Duty. Domesticity allows married women to have sex because they exhibit no untoward greed, selfish pleasure, or independent thinking. They go about the task with the calmness of a well regulated mind which knows it has behaved itself well and can rise to every (to other feeble minded souls) startling occasion with great composure. Is it wonderful to have nothing surprise you?

Vidya Balan’s character is permitted mild ego and plenty of imagination in the context of her occupation. We still need to domesticate such a character somewhere, because we’re still uncomfortable around her.

Stranger Things

Nothing’s as creepy as the past, and the early eighties were indeed a creepy time. E.g. examine the font they used for the opening credits of TV shows. Why does every one wear brown? Even the cars seem to be wood paneled. Stranger Things has a distinct 30- years-ago aesthetic, and it works- I was terrified from the first episode.

The show is set in a small town where something supernatural is afoot. It has been unleashed upon the innocent citizens by clueless government experimenting. So far, so good. There are lots of shots with sub-titles that read “low growls” as the camera sneaks upon who ever is going to be a light snack for the local horror. Incidentally, “muffled squelching” is the most terrifying sub-title I have ever read. It conjures up a very unpleasant range of possibilities.

The protagonists are a trio of little boys, all decision and action, and one little girl who can’t talk. Thank you for putting us in our place right from the age of 9, Netflix. We wouldn’t want to get ahead of ourselves and get all uppity about our place in this world after all.

Besides being set a few decades ago, many of the opinions voiced by the three little boys are the tired old opinions of yesterday,little examined and confidently voiced. Patriarchy,misogyny and slut-shaming all enjoy a comfortable run in this series. When Nancy Wheeler isn’t comfortable around high school idiot/bad boy Steve she’s anxious to say she’s isn’t “like [random girls’ names here]” I mean this is all such BULLSHIT. DO they even have any women writers here?… Just looked it up, yes for at least 2 episodes. The ones with really asinine, gendered and regressive outlook proudly show the Duffer Brothers in the writing credits.

The same Nancy Wheeler is made desperately embarrassed the day after a party because Steve’s friends tease her about hooking up with Steve. Steve’s whole posture conveys pride and an assertive sense of self-worth in this scene. The message for young women is unambiguous and absent of any kind of self-aware critique: your experience of sexual pleasure should be worn as a badge of shame. Nancy goes through what women experience decade after decade, first call your female peers slutty, and then discover that you have both internalized the message and will be shamed in your turn.

The other unambiguous message sent out in this scene is that young women have value that can be given up and possessed, and which is bound up in their sexuality. Steve is proud of himself here because he is now possessed of Nancy’s sense of self-worth. His worth is always self-contained and inalienable but the women who hook up with him are reduced by their experiences. Like I said, BULLSHIT. The whole thing just reeks of manure.

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