“The Lunchbox” Serves A Sublime Cinematic Meal

 

The Lunchbox is Ritesh Batra’s feature directing debut but don’t be fooled by the resume – it’s a refreshingly mature narrative from a storyteller with a distinct (and evocative) point of view. Batra left Bombay for 14 years before shooting The Lunchbox in 2012, and it’s his years away from home which gives this well etched tale a textured mix of sentimentality and heartache.

Ila (a luminous Nimrat Kaur) is a housewife whose neglectful husband seems to love his phone more than his spouse or daughter. It’s a family that doesn’t say much around the dinner table, and Ila attempts to woo her love back by putting her heart and soul into her cooking. Whether it’s using her grandmother’s old recipes or receiving sage culinary tips from her auntie (a hilarious Bharati Achrekar, who is not seen but heard, the story), Ila’s new dishes have a flavorful verve which should at least fill her husband’s stomach.

Irrfan Khan in “The Lunchbox” (Sony Pictures Classics)

Due to an error in Bombay’s lunchbox delivery service, Ila’s meals are sent to Saajan (Life of Pi’s Irrfan Khan), a lonely accountant on the verge of retirement. Upon first glance, Saajan is a total misanthrope, as he scolds the kids who play in front of his home and blatantly ignores Shaikh (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), a new employee who’s tasked with taking over Saajan’s position. He’s a loner through and through, and if he didn’t eat Ila’s delicious food, his life would be totally unappetizing.

But when Saajan tastes Ila’s food, a gradual revelation occurs, as he slowly begins to creep out of his shell. Though Ila realizes the lunchbox didn’t go to her husband, she lets the error continue, as she and Saajan share notes during these lunchtime exchanges. Their friendship, a rare occurrence in a city filled with strangers, gives The Lunchbox a slight fantastical touch (Ritesh Batra admits to sprinkling his film with magic realistic flourishes), but what grounds this film lies in its reality. We feel tragedy’s inevitable grasp take a hold on both of these lonelyhearts, and we can’t help but feel (and maybe empathize) over their respective plight.

Saajan, now in his autumnal years, merely wants to fade out of existence wherein Ila is trapped in a loveless union, wondering if life has also passed her by. Their exchange of ideas and dreams, all hidden within the guise of delicious sustenance, gives them a momentary window of hope and mutual acknowledgement.

The feature, grew out of Batra’s initial research into the Bombay lunchbox delivery service, gives viewers an insight into the city’s delirious hustle and bustle, where most denizens spend their lives on trains that take them to and from their jobs.

The Lunchbox (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

It’s a “lunchbox” style of existence which affects many of our lives, and we hope that Saajan and Ila break out of that mold, even if it means carving out a more fulfilling path on their own. Thankfully, the ambiguous ending (which I interpreted as extremely optimistic) lifts The Lunchbox to an even higher truth.

In life’s grand scheme, we have no idea where our train is going or when it’s going to stop. But with a bit of faith and courage, maybe we’ll end up in the right station.

Special Features: Aside from being a must see film, The Lunchbox Blu-ray edition also features audio commentary from writer/director Ritesh Batra. Much of the commentary has Batra focusing on the technical elements on the film (sound design, cinematography, editing), so it’s a worth a listen especially if you’re either a film geek or if directing peaks your interest.

Here’s a few facts about The Lunchbox that I learned from the commentary:

  1. Batra wrote the film’s final voiceover (from actress Nimrat Kaur) after shooting wrapped. It was penned during the editing process.
  2. The film was shot amidst the big city chaos of Bombay, so certain parts of the film’s dialogue needed a bit of ADR (looping) during the post-production process.
  3. Two scenes from The Lunchbox were shot on a soundstage.
  4. Ritesh Batra is a huge fan of the master shot (aka establishing scenes sans excessive cutting), and there’s a couple of these sequences in the film that you’ll hopefully love.

My favorite quote from the commentary has Batra detailing the difference between penning the script and going behind the camera: “When you are writing a film, the writing process (is) so much like the acting process – you are connected with your subconscious mind and you are making a lot of right decisions, because you are in the work or in that world. But when you’re directing a film, you’re concerned about everyone making the same film.”

“The Lunchbox” (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, PG, 104 minutes) comes out on Digital and as a Blu-ray Combo Pack on July 1, 2014.

 

“The Leftovers” Episode One Available On Yahoo! Screen

If you missed the series premiere of HBO’s The Leftovers, the episode is currently available on Yahoo! Screen through July 6. Based on the book by Tom Perotta (Little Children) and produced by Lost Emmy winner Damon Lindelof, the series centers on the denizens of a suburb named Mapleton.

Three years ago, a tragic global event nicknamed “The Sudden Departure” led to the disappearance of 2 percent of the population. The Leftovers deals with how a community handles the seeming good news when some of the missing persons return to their loved ones. Justin Theroux stars in the series as Kevin Garvey, a chief of police and father of two who tries to bring a bit of semblance into the town in the wake of this inexplicable and tragic event.

To catch the premiere episode of The Leftovers, head on over to Yahoo! Screen.

“Life Itself” Is Roger Ebert’s Stirring Journey of Love & Reel Life

Roger Ebert‘s film reviews were more than just a collection of words strung together for mass consumption. As the documentary Life Itself attests, Ebert put his heart and soul into his work and the people he loved, and his passion for writing and film continued even throughout his declining health. Director Steve James (Hoop Dreams, The Interrupters) was given full access to Ebert and his wife Chaz, and their decision to be as candid as possible gives Life Itself a very honest look at a loving relationship that perseveres through much hardship.

“I was really struck by (Roger’s) relationship with Chaz,” said James in his director’s statement. “They’ve always appeared to have a great marriage, but witnessing it up close, I really came to understand that she had been many things to Roger: his great love, the person who helped him find true happiness and contentment, and his rock through the many medical challenges of recent years.”

Gene Siskel & Roger Ebert – Life Itself (Magnolia Pictures, Photo: Kevin Horan)

During my interview with Chaz Ebert and Steve James, I asked Ebert how she developed her unfailing inner strength. For Chaz, much of those qualities came from growing up in a loving household. “When I have to give a short answer, I just say from love,” said Ebert. “Because I loved him so much. But it is more complicated than that. I grew up in a family where I was so supremely loved and I felt so secure in that love that – I have a tremendous capacity for love.”

To hear Chaz Ebert talk about her love for her faith and family, click on the media bar below (Steve James also chimes in with a humorous comment at the end of the clip):

Life Itself hits theaters, On Demand, and iTunes on July 4th. Interviewees on the documentary include filmmakers Martin Scorsese (who also executive produced the project), Ramin Bahrani (At Any Price), Errol Morris (The Thin Blue Line), and Werner Herzog (Fitzcaraldo). Critics Richard Corliss, Jonathan Rosenbaum, and A.O. Scott are also interviewed.

Maria Bello Signs Onto “Big Driver” & Explores Parental Love With “Third Person”

There have been a slew of negative reviews heaped on filmmaker Paul Haggis’ ambitious drama Third Person, but if you’re a fan of his intricately and labyrinthine structured narratives, this movie may be up your alley. Maria Bello is Theresa an attorney who represents a woman (an intentionally unhinged Mila Kunis) who’s desperately trying to regain visitation rights for her son.

On the outside, Theresa seemingly has everything together, but due to the loss of her own child, life will never be the same (to say the very least). Channeling Theresa’s inner struggles wasn’t a huge reach for Bello, as evidenced by her heartbreaking work with Michael Sheen in the 2010 feature Beautiful Boy. But real life also plays a part in an actor’s craft, and Bello’s own experience as a mother enabled her to empathize with Therasa’s unfathomable pain.

Maria Bello in “Third Person” (Sony Pictures Classics)

Although Bello joked at the Third Person press conference that she agreed to do the movie because Paul Haggis promised her a case of red wine, levity is few and far between in the drama. Tackling such weighty subjects as artistic integrity, parental love, and loss doesn’t offer much room for humor (although laughter at a press conference is always welcome).

Click on the media bar below to hear the actress talk about the aspects of love that is explored in Third Person:

It was also announced this week that the actress signed on to Big Driver, a Lifetime feature based on a novella by Stephen King. The plotline centers on a mystery writer (Bello) who seeks vengeance against a serial killer (Will Harris) who left her for dead with his other victims. Shooting starts this summer in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

This isn’t Bello’s first foray into King territory, as she starred with Johnny DeppJohn Turturro, and Timothy Hutton in the highly underrated suspense thriller Secret Window. The flick contains one of Depp’s most eerie characterizations to date. Be warned, however; if you are a huge fan of eating corn, Secret Window may alter your culinary appetites.

Big Driver premieres this fall on Lifetime, and Third Person is now playing in select theaters.

Co-starring Liam Neeson, Olivia Wilde, Adrien Brody, and James Franco, Third Person clocks in at 136 minutes, but I was completely immersed with Haggis’ story, so boredom never entered the equation.

If you’ve seen Third Person, tell me what you think and feel free to comment below!

 

 

 

“We Must Go” Follows Bob Bradley’s World Cup Quest With Egypt

The World Cup continues to remind fans all across the globe that winning and losing is a very ambiguous thing in soccer, and sometimes advancing (or surviving) a match guarantees your squad another shot at greatness. Bob Bradley’s quest to coach the Egyptian National Soccer team to a World Cup appearance may have fallen short of its goal, but their journey is no less compelling. The documentary We Must Go spotlights Bradley’s determination to lead his men to victory, and even amidst the throes of defeat he refused to give up the fight.

Below is my chat with We Must Go directors Dave LaMattina and Chad N. Walker. During the conversation, they discuss how the documentary started as a fish out of water tale and transformed into an even more sublime account of perseverance and faith. We Must Go is now available on iTunes, Google Play, and Amazon. For more info, check out the doc’s official site.

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Can you talk about how you got access to Bob Bradley and members of the Egyptian National Soccer team?

LaMattina: We are fans of soccer and we have been fans of the U.S. soccer team for a long time so we first thought when we reached out to Bob, just based on his media persona, that he was not going to be very open and we would not have great access.

Bob actually proved to be extremely easy. Basically we emailed him and he called us right away and said if you’re interested, c’mon out to Egypt. Shooting in Egypt, on the other hand, is a much different story. Just in terms of getting into the country – there are a lot of forms to fill out and no matter what you do, every time you get into the country it’s a little bit different. You get detained in a different way. You get put into a lot of backrooms. And the football association itself was not as cooperative as we thought they would be. So access was something we were concerned about. It was always a challenge, but at the end of the day, largely because of Bob and the players we were able to get the access.

Walker: From the moment we got there, Bob was extremely gracious. (Just) coming right over to us, saying hi and introducing himself, and giving interviews that were so motivational that we felt like we wanted to run through a wall for him. He really was great right from day one.

“We Must Go” – Copper Pot Pictures

“We Must Go” centers on Bob Bradley and the Egyptian National Soccer team, but the documentary is also a universal story about perseverance.

LaMattina: Our approach was that we were always trying to tell Egypt’s story through the lens of soccer. Politics and soccer are so closely linked in Egypt that there is no way you can separate the two, so we had to make that part of our film. We are sports fans ourselves but as filmmakers we don’t necessarily look for sports stories – we look for stories that, like you said, capture perseverance or hope. If a non sports fan or even non soccer fan takes the time and sits down to watch We Must Go, we are pretty confident they will have the response that you did. It’s a story about perseverance and hope and coming together to beat the odds.

Were you even more impressed with Bradley after the team’s loss to Ghana?

LaMattina: At one moment during the interview, Bob says “We think it’s a very American ideal to say when the going gets tough, the tough get going.” But it’s something he shared with these players. They wanted to prove to the country that they were more than they showed in that first loss to Ghana and we were extremely impressed with Bob. And honestly Bob credits the players a lot for sticking around to fight out that last match with Ghana where they won 2-1, but I think as outsiders to the situation, we would say that without Bob there, they probably would have rolled over and died. It was Bob’s mentality and his fight and his dedication that made the team believe that they could win that game. I certainly, like Chad said, wanted to run through a wall for him after that speech.

Walker: In the film it was mentioned that the people in the country didn’t want Bob there anymore. And the fact that he wasn’t going to quit or leave wasn’t going to be seen as something that would be a popular decision. But he did it anyway. And ultimately, everyone loved him for it. When we were sitting in Ghana, after they lost 6-1, we were like “oh my God, what just happened.” But if anyone can rally this team to at least come out and play hard – it was Bob Bradley. And that’s what they did. They came out and played a great game. Unfortunately they didn’t score enough goals but they really fought hard and that’s a real credit to Bob and his coaching.

We Must Go also focuses on the political and social turmoil in Egypt. Can you talk about incorporating that important aspect to your documentary?

LaMattina: When we came to this film, it was September 2011 when Bob got the job. We came to the film thinking this would be a cool fish out of water story and it was, at that point, just a sports story to us. We never expected that we would include a family who lost a child at a riot at a soccer game. That’s crazy. When that happens you also can’t tell the story without sitting down with them…you can’t look at just Bob and really do that country justice.

Thankfully Dahlia and Yasmine really wanted their story to be told and they wanted Karim’s story to be told. You always have to overcome a little bit reticence from the Egyptian people when you’re a foreign camera crew only because it presents a threat to them from their own government. But they were open and honest and very courageous with us and we were lucky to sit down with them.

Walker: Right when we got to Egypt, I won’t speak for Dave, but the more I learned about Port Said, the more I realized that it can’t be just a fish out of water story. Everything thing is so tied together in a country where the two ruling parties are basically a religious group and the military. When you go to a game and you root for a team, you’re seen as rooting against one of the political groups, which is the military, and right then and there you have a political group owning a soccer team and basically beating up fans just for cheering for their own teams. It really is a powder keg that’s set to go off. I always say our forefathers were geniuses by the separation of church and state. Egypt, I think, is the reverse of that. They need to square that away.

Is soccer a sport that will only grow exponentially down the road?

LaMattina – I saw a crazy stat the other day that the U.S./Ghana game had higher ratings than any major league baseball game except for the world series and any NBA game except the finals. That’s a crazy stat to think about.

Walker: And it had twice as many as the last Stanley Cup game.

LaMattina: I’m a hockey fan, so that kills me. It’s really grown. Chad and I are in our early thirties and we both grew up playing the games but it’s not like we grew up watching premier league games on TV. My brother-in-law coaches at a high school level and all the kids he coaches all follow the premier league. They all watch the games on Saturday mornings. It’s great for the sport. The growth of the MLS has been amazing and you see a team like Sporting Kansas City that sells out all its game, and they’re adding another in New York. Our foreign friends always ask us, “do you think the U.S. will win a World Cup in our lifetime?” And I can’t imagine a world where we don’t win a World Cup. So yeah, I think it will continue to grow.

What were your respective takeaways from your experience shooting We Must Go?

LaMattina: One of the things I love about documentaries is that all the films we’ve done to this point and are continuing to develop, we get into because we love something about the story. So this one we loved the idea of Bob, an American coach, in Egypt. We then to dedicate two years of our life to telling that story. For us, our journey has been one that we hope we take our viewers on. For me, I certainly feel much more educated about Egypt and it’s also a little bit humbling because this is just one country and it’s one country we took two years of our lives to understand. Now we have a completely different perspective on that country, and whenever we do a documentary about anything, it’s the best learning experience we can ever have.

Walker: For me, it’s the power of youth. I feel like, particularly with Egypt and the revolution, everyone is fired up and this group in the middle like we talk about in the movie, it took them so far and now of course they’ve slid back a little bit. What I really love is there are truly intelligent youth out there like Yasmine – she says in the movie that she’s not talking about revolution or protest. Her journey is that she’s going to become a reporter, and that’s what it’s really going to take – these bright, youthful people, maybe to continue to protest but maybe to get into positions of power where they can make change. The corruption there is really embedded and it’s going to be a hard, uphill battle. It’s good to see people like Yasmine have their heads squarely on their shoulders and realize this is going to be a long fight.

WMG – 1 Year On the Job from Copper Pot Pictures on Vimeo.

Robert Pattinson Has No “Preconceived Plan” With Acting Roles

Thanks to his collaborations with David Cronenberg (Cosmopolis) and now David Michod (The Rover), Robert Pattinson is proving that life after the Twilight project can take an interesting turn. Instead of continuing his forays into studio driven, tentpole type movies, Pattinson has followed his creative heart into more auteur driven features, and with The Rover he gives his most stirring performance to date.

Whether he continues his journey into thematically rich, lower budgeted films or if he will sign on for a huge epic isn’t really part of Robert Pattinson’s though process. For him, picking a role isn’t driven by what’s trending in Hollywood or what film would take him higher atop the A-list ladder.

Robert Pattinson in “The Rover” (A24)

“I don’t really have any particular preconceived plan, I mean each of the Twilight movies I kind of approached them all as individual movies,” said Pattinson. “I never really saw it as (I’m) going back to work or whatever. You can’t really predict what audiences will like or want or even if they’re going to follow you. I think if you try to make challenging stuff (and) you put your heart into it, hopefully at least one person’s going to like it.”

To hear the audio version Robert Pattinson’s thoughts on not having a preconceived plan, check out the Soundcloud bar below:

The Rover, starring Guy Pearce, is now playing in select theaters.

Joel McHale on “Community” Creator: “Dan Harmon is a Living Genius”

 

Recent news, as reported by TV Line, that talks between Hulu and Sony Pictures Television to renew Community came to a not so fruitful end is a bit disheartening. With the cast members’ deals reportedly expire on June 30, Sony has several days to keep Dan Harmon’s beloved series alive. Part of Harmon and his crew’s goals, which you know if you’re into hashtags or a devout fan of the show, was to reach “six seasons and a movie,” and during our interview with Joel McHale he talked about why Community is such a beloved program.

“The fans love the show because it’s very funny and the characters are very well drawn and it earns it’s meaningful message,” said McHale, who plays a Bronx, NY cop in the thriller Deliver Us From Evil. “Those heartfelt moments come from being buffered around incredible jokes they aren’t just there to go ‘and here’s something schmaltzy now that hopefully will affect you’ – it comes out when you least expect it.”

Olivia Munn and Joel McHale at the Screen Gems & Jerry Bruckheimer Films with The Cinema Society screening of “DELIVER US FROM EVIL” at the SVA Theater.

Whether or not Community lasts for another season is a question that should be answered in the near future. Whatever happens, however, expect McHale to continue to support Dan Harmon’s upcoming creative endeavors. “Well, Dan Harmon is a living genius and that show lived in his head,” added McHale. ” I would trust him to write anything, I would follow him into any battle…”

To hear the actor talk about his love for Community and how he’d follow Mr. Harmon to “battle,” check out our audio clip below:

Deliver Us From Evil, headlined by Eric Bana and directed by Scott Derrickson (Sinster, The Exorcism of Emily Rose) opens nationwide July 2.