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Sunday, June 20, 2021

Movie reviews

For nearly 80 years,this story remained buried in the files of Los Angeles City Hall. The scriptwriter,J Michael Straczynski,discovered it just when the documents were about to be destroyed...

Written by Shalini Langer | New Delhi |
January 17, 2009 12:35:58 am

CHANGELING
CAST: Angelina Jolie,John Malkovich,Jeffrey Donovan,Colm Feore
DIRECTOR: Clint Eastwood

For nearly 80 years,this story remained buried in the files of Los Angeles City Hall. The scriptwriter,J Michael Straczynski,discovered it just when the documents were about to be destroyed. Now,you can only wonder how.

Changeling is the true story of a woman,Christina Collins (Jolie),whose child goes missing,who is handed another that’s not hers,and who is almost arm-twisted by a shockingly corrupt Los Angeles police force into accepting the second boy as her own. When she resists,she is dubbed mad and thrown into a psychiatric ward. Doubts are put into her mind about whether she is imagining things — she is told that child could have “scientifically” grown shorter in the two months he remained missing – even as the police force gives up searching for her real son.

Christine fights back,with the help of a Reverend who has been waging his own battle against the police force. The truth is simply too big,and as it turns out,too grotesque,to remain hidden for long. As Christine says,she can’t give up as she knows that somewhere out there her son could be waiting for her to find him.

One can only imagine what Christine,a single woman raising a boy on her own,working at a telecom exchange,looking for a child on her bare resources — at a time without e-mail or 24X7 media — went through. The rest requires no stretch of the mind at all: that the police are under media pressure to crack the Collins case,that the media won’t leave a mother alone to grieve with her missing child; and that everyone would rather watch their own backs.

If there are few joys greater than motherhood,there are few fears bigger than having a child go missing. And imagine the circumstances of it: Christine’s son disappears while she is away at work,having broken a promise to take him out. He is her life,she says,and the grieving will never stop,for not only what was but what could have been.

For a woman who has taken upon herself to mother the world’s lost children,this is a tailor-made role. However,Jolie seems to be both straining herself as well as restrained — a woman acting her heart out and,yet,getting none of the heart into it.

And for someone as striking as her,the heavy mascaraed eyes and the jarringly red lips can be too devastatingly distracting. One can realise what she is going through,but the persistent close-ups of her teary eyes don’t make it easier for us to feel it.

While Jolie has herself remarked on the passiveness of her character,the factor could be as well the time when the film is based — this is 1928 — as Eastwood’s no-stress working style. Jolie isn’t the only one; others too suffer the fate of appearing too staged and strait-jacketed,even the guy manning the roadside restaurant. The emotions seem well-rehearsed,the tics too exaggerated.

The Captain of the police force,played by Donovan,is a unidimensional cardboard character,unmoved by even news that 19 other children besides Christine’s may have been axed by a crazed killer. He spends not an anxious moment over it before trying to bury the case.

However,Eastwood perhaps fares the worst with the children. Making us like them in a story such as this should normally be a cakewalk. But here they are cool,calculating and almost completely un-childlike.

The same Eastwood captured a range of emotions flowing beneath the surface of normalcy in Mystic River,also involving a father and a murdered child. Here,while he stretches himself as much out with a story that requires no embellishments at all,he only bobs on the surface.

The title Changeling itself is derived from West European folklore,and means the offspring of a fairy who has been secretly left in the place of a human child. They are not nice beings,and they take a heavy toll on the mother. Clever or not,the connotation perhaps goes all against what Christine stands for in the film.

MERRY CHRISTMAS
CAST: Diane Kruger,Benno Furman,Guillaume Canet,Gary Lewis,Dany Boon,Daniel Bruhl
DIRECTOR: Christian Carion

“War does not determine who is right – only who is left.” Bertrand Russell

At the end of World War I,the first global war,which really didn’t solve anything,was a figure of 40 million people dead. What remains forgotten is a Christmas Eve in the beginning of that conflict,1914,when soldiers laid down their arms for a few brief hours for informal ceasefires at many places.

Merry Christmas captures one such battlefront in France,where French,German and Scot soldiers called a truce that night and discovered that,when they exchanged their photos,drinks and stories,they really were no different at all.

They all come together to hear an opera singer and a tenor hum “Silent Night” in German,with bagpipes and mouth organs,and to listen to a priest give the Lord’s Message.

To them,that night,with candles twinkling on a few Christmas trees sent by Kaiser Wilhelm to the border,that’s the most natural thing in the world. It’s war that’s incomprehensible.

Is it possible for them to war on after that? Their superiors think not,and they are punished by all three respective governments in their own way. Is it possible for the war to go on despite all this? It did,for four long years.

Merry Christmas was a 2005 release,and was nominated the same year for the Oscars in the best Foreign Language Film category (French). However,perhaps there never is a wrong time for a film that underlines all that unites us at a time when all seems to separate us. This time certainly isn’t.

shalini.langer@expressindia.com

Chandni Chowk
To China
CAST: Akshay Kumar,Deepika Padukone,Ranvir Shorey,Gordon Liu,Mithun Chakraborty
DIRECTOR: Nikhil Advani

Sadsack Sidhu lives in Chandni Chowk,peels potatoes for a living,and prays to Ganapati Bappa to release him from his daily drudgery. And then one day,everything changes: adventure beckons,and Sidhu takes off to China.

Smart basis for a film,because Akshay Kumar’s humble Old Delhi roots and his travels to Oriental hotspots where he picked up his killer karate moves,is part of urban legend. But instead of mining his past experiences,the script is forced into being a vehicle for its star,not the story,so what you get is an overlong Akshaynama,which perks up only in fits and starts,and is never more than mildly entertaining in its best moments.

Chandni Chowk To China is more a patchily-executed combo of a desi Kung Fu Panda,and Karate Kid,than an exhilarating transcontinental journey. It’s spiked with a Manmohan Desai-ish lost-and-found side plot. It also lifts from chop-suckey Hong Kong clunkers where the hero mows down a million bad guys,sending them flying through the air in familiar choreographed arcs. Where is this film,a lax mish-mash of genres and styles,coming from?

In his zeal to prove that he can do more than being a buffoon,Akshay gets to cry,as well as laugh,and fight and dance and sing,occasionally letting in his leading lady (Deepika,in a double role),who is only required to dress in Mandarin collars,and kick butt (as the bad girl),and whip out a photo of her missing father,and shed a few tears (as the good one). Ranvir Shorey,who’s called Chopstick,roams around looking for something to do,and the Chinese characters,including chief villain Hojo (Gordon Liu) who gets his jollies by beheading people,are mere ciphers.

The result is a classic case of missed opportunities. For Akshay,who’s been busting the box office with his gormless local yokel acts,this mega-budget,actually-shot-on-location-in-China,backed-by-a-Hollywood-giant film would have been the start of a glorious new year. For director Nikhil Advani,it would have been the chance to forget his last disastrous outing Salaam-e-Ishq. And for producers Warner Bros,a signal to amp up its India plans,as well open doors to other American studios.

Right in the beginning,a minor character asks Sidhu: “Are you stupid?” He nods. That’s prescience.

shubhra.gupta@gmail.com

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