Great Expectations (1946)
Charles Dicken’s classic tale of a po’boy, who through one act of kindness, ends up a privileged lad has never been done better than David Lean’s 1946 version (yes, he of Lawrence of Arabia; A Passage to India; Dr. Zhivago; Oliver Twist and the Bridge on the River Kwai). Pip’s story remains at its best when read granted, but Anthony Havelock-Allan’s dumbed down (with kindness) version in Lean’s capable hands gives us a fair flavour of Dicken’s spirit. Yes, that is a very young Alec Guinness as Herbet Pocket and yes, that is an even younger Jean Simmons playing young Estella, the lass Pip’s life is forever tied it. Acted superbly with nary a missed beat and shot with aplomb at Denham Studios, it puts all other versions – be they film or television – to shame; including Alfonso Cuaron’s embarrassing 1998 effort better titled Middling Expectations. After the book, this is the definitive version of Great Expectations. My rating 10 out of 10.
There are characters in Office Space you’ve met and worked alongside in the horror that is cubicle hell at any Acme company anywhere in the world. Injected with a hefty dose of Dilbert, director Mike Judge, sicks them on their boss and each other to – for the first 30 minutes at least – hilarious effect. Ron Livingston, Gary Cole and Jennifer Aniston star and Stephen Root steals the movie as Milton Waddams in search of his red stapler. There are many truths in Office Space about how we work and the value we put on the 40 hours a week we spend living in cubicles, the greatest being that in the end, work is really nothing more than the silly, inconsequential thing we do between living. Beneath its crass stereotypes lies a modern day classic of work life in all its monotony. My rating 7 out of 10.
Thomas Martin wrote and directed this engaging film about college professor Walter Vale (Oscar-nominated Richard Jenkins) marooned by the death of his wife who rediscovers life after discovering an illegal immigrant couple living in his New York City apartment. He finds a kinship with the couple, a Sengalese woman, Zaniab (Danai Jekesai Gurira) and her Syrian boyfriend, Tarek (Haaz Sleiman). In particular, he he is drawn to Tarek and his drumming and soon is joining a drumming circle that meets in Central Park. But when Tarek’s status as an illegal alien is uncovered after he jumps a subway turnstile, Walter comes face-to-face with the post-911 reality in America. He hires a lawyer to help navigate the immigration and detention process and intervenes with Tarek’s mother, Mouna (the beautiful Hiam Abbass), when she arrives from Michigan. With a common bond, a fast friendship and romance soon develops between Walter and Mouna that plays out in the last half of the film. The Visitor walks a delicate tightrope between these two stories and succeeds in giving us true-to-life characters facing true-to-life situations. Never moralistic or judgmental, The Visitor shows us a fact of life: people come to the United States illegally and are deported back. This is a great drama if only to watch the superb performances of Abbass and Jenkins. My rating 9 out of 10.
This semi-autobiographical love story, written and directed by Sijii Dai, recounts the story of two bourgeoise teenaged boys – Luo (Kun Chen) and Ma (the oh-so-handsome Ye Lui) – sent to the country for reeducation during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. There, amid mountains and peasants, they eke out a tough living, constantly having to justify their upbringing, finding new ways to amuse themselves, and spending long days doing heavy labour. When they spy on girls from a neighbouring village bathing in a waterfall, Luo is instantly in love with the granddaughter of the village tailor, dubbed ‘the little chinese seamstress’ (Xun Zhou). Stealing a stash of foreign books, he and Ma begin reading to her each day in hopes of both educating her and wooing her. It works and soon, our Chinese seamstress is pregnant just as Luo is granted a two month leave of absence to care for his ailing father in the city. Set among the mountains later flooded to make way for the Three Gorges Dam, Xiao cai feng is a beautiful, romantic, comic treatise on the power of music and literature to change people, and the reality that we are creatures of our upbringing, reeducation or not. With a sad yet moving coda, and despite its blatant political bent, Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress is one not to miss. My rating 8 out of 10.