The Film Gang

Bad Words


Listen to the review above, by Dennis Morton.

The Lunch Box


Listen to the review above, by David H. Anthony


A film by Ritesh Batra

Mumbai, formerly known as Bombay is a bustling urban metropolis, yet one whose past casts shadows on its present. This is the setting for The Lunchbox or Dabba, a 2013 film by Ritesh Batra. The Lunchbox pivots around a mistaken delivery of a lunchbox ordered through a food service to a senior accountant, Saajan Fernandes, who is approaching an imminent retirement. The food has been prepared by Ila, a housewife, for her spouse, Rajeev. The error provides the impetus for a curious culinary connection between Fernandes and Ila, the whimsical plot around which

The Lunchbox revolves.

Fernandes, played by Irrfan Khan (memorable as the overbearing game show host in Slumdog Millionaire and “The Father” in Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited, a star of over 100 Indian features) is at first glance a taciturn middle level civil servant who works hard and has done so for 35 years. Ila, the youthful partner of a distant, upwardly mobile executive spends most days in conversation with her aunt, keeping house and serving as primary parent for her daughter. Gradually the daily delivery of the lunchbox draws these two people together, after a fashion, through meals then notes furtively exchanged in the aluminum containers wherein the food is Ila, portrayed by Nimrat Kaur, is a woman of uncommon beauty whose dedication and prowess are taken for granted by her largely unavailable, often absent husband.

In her banter with her worldly wise auntie, heard yet unseen, we learn many salient details of her life. Likewise, the saga of Fernandes unfolds revealing him to be much more than he seems. For different reasons, the two, Ila and Fernandes forge a bond, built upon the centrality of cuisine via notes uncovering the intimacy their lives lack.

The Lunchbox is captivating in the vivid images it shares of Mumbai as a window into modern India. We see the worlds of work, teeming crowds making their way in the hustle and bustle of city streets, by rail, bus, trolley, taxi, pedicab and foot. In The Lunchbox, director -writer Ritesh Batra has produced a tender, bittersweet tale of warmth and pain, spiced like the cookery that launches it, to address class, gender, culture, modernity and the eternal universal pursuit of happiness. The cast features Nawazuddin Siddiqui as the annoyingly charming Shaikh, the would-be apprentice to Fernandes, and Lillete Dubey as Ila’s mother, who was Mrs. Kapoor, mother of the proprietor in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Pimmi Verma in Monsoon Wedding.

Most of these actors are familiar faces in Bollywood films. That genre is represented in subtle, nuanced ways. One caveat, my screener had tiny subtitles that sometimes appeared as white on white, rendering them indecipherable, unfortunate because dialogue is key to the story. Hopefully this will not occur on the big screen. Even so, The Lunchbox is magical. I highly recommend it. It made me want to brave Mumbai.

Tim’s Vermeer


Listen to Dennis Morton’s review, above.

Several years ago, while visiting my brother in New York, I found myself strolling through Central Park with no destination in mind. I spotted a very large building at the edge of the park, and curiosity tugged me to it.

It turned out to be the Metropolitan Museum Of Art. So I went inside. A notice mentioned that the curator was about to resign, and to mark the occasion, he’d assembled, in one room, all of his favorite pieces.

What the heck, I thought – that would be a good start. So in I went. As I walked into the room, I turned to the right, and there, next to the doorway was the most magnificent painting I have ever seen. I must have stood before it for well over an hour. I couldn’t walk away. For at least ten minutes, I was in tears. I don’t really know how to describe the impact of that painting. I did walk away, after an hour or so. But I soon returned to it, and stayed parked in front of it until I had to leave the building.

The painting was Vermeer’s “Study Of A Young Woman”.

So, when the documentary, Tim’s Vermeer, came to town, I knew I’d be spending some time with it. And I’m glad I did.

Tim Jenison is an inventor who’s done well for himself. A self described geeky kind of guy, somewhere along the way, Tim developed a passion for the work of Johannes Vermeer. He began to wonder how Vermeer was able to create his alluring masterpieces,
works marked by a photographic realism, when Vermeer preceded the invention of photography by 150 years.

Tim began to study and ruminate, and obsess about Vermeer. He traveled to Delft, where much of Vermeer’s work was done. He read a book by David Hockney which suggested that many painters of Vermeer’s era used optics – mirrors, lenses, and the camera obscura – to help them achieve a sense of realism in their work.

Tim Jenison’s professional life is all about optics. His curiosity was sufficiently piqued. Notwithstanding the fact that he’d never held an artist’s paintbrush, eventually he concocted the idea that he could paint a nearly perfect replica of one of Vermeer’s classics. He chose to make a copy of “The Music Lesson”.

And that’s what Tim’s Vermeer is all about. The experiment took five years. Tim recreated the room in Delft that Vermeer painted in, down to the last detail – furniture, tile, carpeting, lighting, etc. He recreated, by hand, the various lenses Vermeer might have used. He ground his own colors, made his own paint. And finally, with a stroke of insight, he employed a mirror that may well have been the essential tool that elevated Vermeer’s technique beyond that of most of his contemporaries.

Watching the experiment unfold is fascinating, but equally of interest, to me, was listening to Tim. He’s a big, burly, down-to-earth guy, brilliant in a nuts and bolts kind of way. I’ve always enjoyed listening to extemporaneously intelligent conversation – and there’s plenty of that in the film.

How did Tim’s experiment turn out? For the answer, you’ll have to watch Tim’s Vermeer.

Two Films: The Girls in the Band & Particle Fever


Listen to David H. Anthony’s review, above.

The Girls in the Band
This has been quite a fertile post-Oscar film season, illustrated by two well-paced documentary films to be screened locally for short stints of one week each. The first is The Girls in the Band, by Judy Chaikin. The Girls in the Band begins with a shot of the famous photo called A Great Day in Harlem, in which the principal living legends of the jazz tradition assemble for a historic photo in front of a Harlem Brownstone. The shot was taken by Art Kane, a freelance photographer, for Esquire magazine in 1958. It was so important that it later became the basis of a 1994 film.

If you have ever seen this portrait it is one you will not easily forget, as it contains a veritable who’s who of modern jazz luminaries, from Thelonious Monk to Henry Red Allen, Count Basie, Art Blakey, Coleman Hawkins, Dizzy Gillespie, Lester Young and three female subjects, pianists Mary Lou Williams and Marianne McPartland and singer Maxine Sullivan, out of the total of 57. Here in a voiceover the late pianist, composer and educator, Dr. Billy Taylor is heard stating that many glimpsing the image may not have known who these women were. This provides the point of departure for The Girls in the Band, situating women in the jazz tradition as having literally and figuratively played a role in its evolution and elaboration as a uniquely American art form which has had and continues to have global reach. In a tightly edited 83 minute work, Judy Chaikin offers a survey of the emergence and travails of women instrumentalists, composers and arrangers who contributed to but were often blocked and ignored by male contemporaries and critics including their peers, but who nonetheless left an indelible mark on the edifice of improvisational music. The Girls in the Band follows on the precedent of films like International Sweethearts musicians in jazz, like bassist Carline Ray, trompetiste Clora Bryant, Julie Rogers,
Viola Smith, Roz Cron, Peggy Gilbert, Helen Woods and Jessie Bailey, among others.

Particle Fever
The second limited engagement film with an intriguing local hook is Particle Fever, the search for the Higgs Boson, directed by physicist turned filmmaker Mark Levinson. The rationale behind the Higgs boson and the great significance its discovery holds for science is nothing less than finding a key to the mystery of the universe. As such it is connected to the recreation of conditions that may have existed in the aftermath of the “Big Bang.” The film details the biggest, most expensive experiment in history: to activate the Large Hadron Collider at the CERN facility in Switzerland. CERN is The European Organization for Nuclear Research. Billions of dollars and countless hours have been poured into this international undertaking, in hopes of discovering some of the most basic elements that make up the universe, chiefly, the Higgs boson particle.

Accordingly, on opening night, this Friday, March 14 the Nickelodeon Theater in Santa Cruz will be sponsoring a 7pm special screening of Particle Fever with the participation of SCIPP, the Santa Cruz Institute of Particle Physics. Following the screening SCIPP faculty Howard Haber, Jason Nielsen, Stefano Profumo and Alexander Grillo will field audience questions. Both films are noteworthy.

The Past


Listen to a review by Dennis Morton, above.

See 10 Oscar Nominated Films in About 3 1/2 Hours


KUSP Film Reviewers David Anthony and Dennis Morton

The short films up for Oscars show all the artistry and craft of the feature films  and you can view them in 30 minutes or less usually. KUSP’s film reviewers gave a couple looks at the animated and live action short film categories. Above, hear David Anthony’s review of Oscar nominated short animation films. And here is Dennis Morton’s review of the live action shorts.

Or read on:

Oscar Nominated Short Animation – Review by David Anthony
In the run-up to the 86th 2014 Academy Awards, the category of short film subjects includes two subdivisions, live action and animation. Last week my colleague Dennis Morton discussed the live action nominees. Today I will focus on animated offerings.

Read the rest of this entry »

Oscar Short Films


Listen to a review of some of the films by Dennis Morton, above.

August : Osage County


Listen to Dennis Morton’s review, above.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit


Listen to David H. Anthony’s review, above.




Listen to the Dennis Morton’s review, above.