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Drama

The Professor and the Madman: A Masterful And Fascinating Story

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If I am to fashion a book,
I’ll need a spine.

Sometimes you are awed by cinema films because of the immensely beautiful special effects and the use of unparalleled images. The other time it’s the inventiveness of a story and the way it’s structured. And in other films, you look with admiration at the way certain actors play their role. Is it obligatory that a movie looks phenomenal to you? Or does it happen sometimes that while reading a novel, in which the sophisticated juggling with words creates literary excitement, you have difficulties to keep your eyes open and your head nods back after a short period after which a little snoring is heard? Well, in that case, it might be better for you to ignore this film. Because in “The Professor and the Madman” there are no breathtaking special effects to be found and the emphasis is on the literature from this world. For me, this was a masterful and fascinating story about how the world-famous “Oxford Dictionary” was put together.

 

The Professor and the Madman

 

A practically impossible task.

Even though this takes place around 1850, there are certain facts that can be found in our contemporary society. And, of course, there are also substantial differences. The film is not just about the realization of an almost impossible assignment with limited resources. It’s also about the existence of class differences, scientific ignorance and the application of inhumane practices in psychiatric institutions. It demonstrates the pretentious behavior of the wealthy class and the political juggling in intellectual circles. And in between these topics, there’s the Scotsman James Murray (Mel Gibson) who, with the help of countless strips of paper, miles of knitting yarn and with a ton of patience, tries to contain and interpret every existing English word in literary history. An assignment that requires immense efforts to the detriment of his wife and children.

 

The Professor and the Madman

 

Literature isn’t a sexy subject.

I’m aware that literature (at least for me) isn’t exactly a sexy subject. I already assumed that this film wouldn’t be intense or exciting. But just like with “Kill your Darlings“, this historical drama fascinated me. And this because of the challenge Murray took on. I looked in disbelief at the method that was applied. And I was constantly wondering if this was achievable. It’s an era where people didn’t know the word digital yet (one word they don’t need to concentrate on) and they didn’t have computers at their disposal. No indexed work file with linked cross-reference tables on which one could release SQL statements, to do big data analyses. No, everything was scribbled down with old-fashioned ink pens on sheets of paper and then attached to the walls. Can it be more primitive? It’s wonderful to see that James Murray actually applies the principle of content management here by encouraging the English people to write down English words and send them to them by mail (indeed no e-mail).

 

The Professor and the Madman

 

Brilliant acting by Gibson and Penn.

It’s mainly the brilliant acting of the gentlemen Mel Gibson and Sean Penn that makes the film more interesting. Gibson plays the Scottish academic and autodidact who, despite the opposition of the established values from the Oxford Board of Directors, is appointed as the driving force behind this renowned work and is a model of perseverance. My favorite scene is where he’s introduced to these intellectual snobs who don’t even bother to hide their aversion. The moment Murray lists all the languages he knows and I saw those bewildered faces of the narcissistic academics, it immediately reminded me of the scene in a student bar with Matt Damon in “Good Will Hunting“. There, too, such a rich man’s son with a snobbish attitude was put in his place in a brilliant way.

 

The Professor and the Madman

 

Overacting? Nope, he’s just plain nuts.

Mel Gibson’s sparring partner is William Chester Minor (Sean Penn), an American army-doctor and war veteran who is haunted by delusions. In a phase of extreme madness and schizophrenia, he kills an innocent passer-by and ends up in the Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum. In short, an institution for criminal madmen. The doctor on duty there, Dr. Richard Brayn (Stephen Dillane), initially envisages a decent treatment (which leads to certain privileges such as a large room with a gigantic library). But towards the end, he eventually seems to be a supporter of terrible techniques anyway. It’s thanks to a book that Minor received from his victim’s widow (In my eyes, the weakest aspect in this film) that he finds out that Murray asked the English people for help. And that’s the impetus for Minor to get to work and to overload Murray with thousands of words for the dictionary. The way Penn plays this tormented and insane man is simply formidable. And yes, this tends to look like overacting. But isn’t it necessary to portray this type of individual? Minor is after all nuts.

 

The Professor and the Madman

 

The beards intrigued me.

There are several facets that are beautifully worked out. Such as the detailed decor in which the story takes place. London during the 19th century with its typical costumes, way people behave and attributes. But above all, the interaction between the two extremely brilliant gentlemen is perfectly portrayed. Two tortured intellectuals. The one because of the obstructions and impossibility of the assignment. The other because of the inner demons that make his life unbearable. An individual suffering from a post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). An unknown condition in those days. The dialogues in which the two gentlemen show their love for English vocabulary is sublime to watch. The way in which they both perk up while saying one word after the other with a smile is a feast for the eyes. Perhaps the corny storyline about the widow Eliza Merrett (NatalieGame of ThronesDormer) didn’t really fit in with the whole and the emphatic message about regret and forgiveness was a bit over-the-top. But despite those shortcomings, I found this historic film based on true facts fascinating enough. So if you have questions about the origin of dictionaries, you shouldn’t miss this film. At the same time, you also have an idea about academic intellectualism (and their self-righteous and arrogant attitude) and the horror of 19th-century psychiatry. But what I wondered the most: are Gibson’s and Penn’s beard the result of natural beard growth or props?

 

My rating 7/10
Links: IMDB

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Drama

Netflix’s Damsel: Millie Bobby Brown’s Medicore Fantasy Drama Fails Angela Bassett and Robin Wright

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Robin Wright, Millie Bobby Brown and Angela Basett in Netflix's Damsel

Netflix’s latest 109-minute original movie, starring Millie Bobby Brown, unfortunately fails to conquer its audience. The twisted dark fairy tale turns into a fantasy survival thriller as the “damsel in distress” faces betrayal and hardships. Directed by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo and written by Dan Mazeau, Damsel offers a beautiful concept with a weak story.

Millie Bobby Brown in Netflix's Damsel

Millie Bobby Brown in Netflix’s Damsel

The opening narration of the movie, “There are many stories of chivalry where the heroic knight saves the damsel in distress. This is not one of them,” sets the tone of the movie as Elodie (Millie Bobby Brown) was ‘sold’ to another kingdom as a bride only to be betrayed by her husband soon after getting married. Hurt, alone, and frightened, the protagonist soon learns that she has been ‘sacrificed’ for the benefit of the kingdom to a dragon. Survival seems hard for the princess as she comes across the dangers of the majestic creature. Brown’s character soon finds out that she is not the first to be sacrificed. Several brides like her have been thrown away for generations like a stick thrown to a dog.

Damsel offers an unusual and strong concept with captivating visuals and cinematography. The traditional classy costumes and rich makeup style match the theme well. As usual, the Stranger Things star offered outstanding dialogue delivery with expectational expressions.

Millie Bobby Brown in Netflix's Damsel

Millie Bobby Brown in Netflix’s Damsel

As much as Millie Bobby Brown’s magnificent performance needs to be applauded one cannot help but notice the waste of fine talents. Yes, we’re talking about multiple award winners, veteran actresses Angela Bassett and Robin Wright, who are highly recognized talents out in the world, famous for their spectacular roles in multiple critically acclaimed projects. Brown’s heavy presence leaves no room for Bassett and Wright to shine. It leaves other actors such as Ray Winstone, Nick Robinson, and Brooke Carter far out from the spotlight.

Damsel includes some heart-wrenching action scenes along with many emotional turning points that make Elodie question her life. She is living in fear, facing betrayal, figuring things out, and most importantly, trying to survive all alone in a dark cave. The bland dialogues in between disrupt the flow of the movie, but the rushed conclusion lashes all hopes to the ground! All the buildup was quickly washed away as the movie ends cursory.

Millie Bobby Brown in Netflix's Damsel

Millie Bobby Brown in Netflix’s Damsel

The period movie challenges patriarchy, inequality, and gender roles. The protagonist Princess Elodie is an open-minded, strong, progressive-thinking character who can do anything for her people – even if it means giving up her dreams and life in an arranged marriage. The women in the movie are bold, strong, rational, and, protective. It is only fitting that Netflix’s Damsel was released on International Women’s Day as the distressed damsel shows she needs no man in shining armor to protect her from the dangers present in the world. She is a brave, daring, sharp-minded young woman who takes revenge and expresses power when it was needed. Game of Thrones may have set a standard for dragons, but this one is no less. We’re sure Khaleesi would be proud of Elodie!

Damsel is available to stream on Netflix.

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Action

Napoleon: Explosive and Victorious!

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Joaquin Phoenix as Napoleon Bonaparte (Sony Pictures Entertainment)

Plot

Napoleon is a spectacle-filled action epic that details the checkered rise and fall of the iconic French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, played by Oscar®-winner Joaquin Phoenix. Against a stunning backdrop of large-scale filmmaking orchestrated by legendary director Ridley Scott, the film captures Bonaparte’s relentless journey to power through the prism of his addictive, volatile relationship with his one true love, Josephine, showcasing his visionary military and political tactics against some of the most dynamic practical battle sequences ever filmed.

Vanessa Kirby as Josephine Bonaparte and Joaquin Phoenix as Napoleon Bonaparte (Sony Pictures Entertainment)

Movie Review

The movie starts off on a high note, showcasing the end of one of France’s major historical figures while Napoleon watches on. The storyline is centered around some of Napoleon’s highlights in his military career such as the siege of Toulon, the Battles of Austerlitz and Waterloo, as well as his exile to St Helena. Every moment combined with dramatic effect delivers a well-rounded historical war-drama.

We are taken to picturesque locations supported by an epic soundtrack delivered by Martin Phipps (listen below).

Napoleon (Original Soundtrack by Martin Phipps)

The costumes and military regalia is done to perfection. The display of explosive artillery adds to the battle highlights, and watching the movie in a IMAX theatre adds even more value in terms of sound and picture quality.

Even though the movie contains historical inaccuracies, a well dramatised historical account of Napoleon Bonaparte is offered, and Joaquin Phoenix delivers a performance worthy of a medal. Vanessa Kirby plays the part of Empress Joséphine, and delivers

One movie would never be enough to share all of the highlights of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, but I feel this movie really summed up some of the stories quite well. The movie is filled with non-stop action between the battlefields and political halls of France. Ridley Scott delivers a war movie that gives us a shortened but powerful glimpse of the legacy of Napoleon Bonaparte. Give him a medal!

I would personally have loved a see an entire series dedicated to the stories of Napoleon Bonaparte.

I rate this movie 4 out of 5. Not for sensitive viewers. Lots of action with a few violent scenes. There are a few sexual scenes but with no graphic nudity.

The movie trailer doesn’t spoil too much of the movie content and is a brilliant appetizer for the history buffs among us. There is no post-credits scene though, so no need to wait till the end.

Watch Napoleon at a cinema near you!

Napoleon Official Trailer (Sony Pictures Entertainment)

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Comedy

Netflix’s Crashing Eid Review: Love, Culture, and Differences

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Crashing Eid

If you are curious about other cultures, or maybe want to see how your culture is represented in mainstream media, then you should binge-watch Netflix’s Arabic Comedy series Crashing Eid this weekend. It’s a 4-episode long series with each episode of roughly 47 minutes. The series revolves around culture, love, differences, family, and drama.

The story focuses on Razan (Summer Shesha) as she finds love for the second time in her life but struggles to convince her family for marriage. Razan is shown to be living in the UK with her daughter Lamar (Bateel Qamlo) and finds her British-Pakastani boyfriend Sameer (Hamza Haq) as a suitable match for herself. She proposes to him for marriage before traveling to Saudi Arabia, her home, to celebrate Eid. Her family is convinced that she is back in Saudi for good but Razan has other plans. She tries to tell them about Sameer but constantly fails due to fear and lack of ‘perfect’ timing. She tells Sameer that her parents have agreed to their marriage as she panics to tell him the truth.

Summer Shesha and Bateel Qamlo in Crashing Eid

Summer Shesha as Razan, Bateel Qamlo as Lamar in Crashing Eid

Here comes the twist – Sameer reaches Saudi to surprise Razan and to meet her parents! She tries her best to handle the situation and hide their relationship with the help of her daughter Lamar. At the end of the episode, the truth uncovers itself and everyone is left disappointed. The story follows Razan’s family drama, bitter relations with her mother, previous abusive marriage, her brother Hasan’s (Yasir Alsaggaf) struggle to connect with his son after losing custody, etc. Her previous marriage with her cousin affected her relationship with her own mother as she blames Razan for the failed marriage.

Summer Shesha’s portrayal of a strong woman struggling with every close person in her life but still managing to face everything with bravery is appreciable. Khalid Alharbi deserves applause for his sweet, loving, and understanding role as Razan’s father.

Yasir Alsaggaf, Summer Shesha and Amani Idrees in Crashing Eid

Yasir Alsaggaf, Summer Shesha, and Amani Idrees in Crashing Eid

Despite a fun twist challenge, representation, and Khalid Alharbi’s brilliant performance, a few parts lack perspective. The story doesn’t completely revolve around Razan yet it fails to involve Lamar’s (Bateel Qamlo) emotions in the family drama. She is seen upset at times but it’s never completely addressed. She plays the role of a typical elder daughter helping out her mother in everything and neglecting herself at times. The ending felt rushed as it doesn’t properly elaborate on how Razan’s mother (Amani Idrees) suddenly changed her mind about her daughter. Emotions take time and that’s what felt rushed.

Summer Shesha, Hamza Haq and Khalid Alharbi in Crashing Eid

Summer Shesha, Hamza Haq, and Khalid Alharbi in Crashing Eid

Crashing Eid  offers strong cultural representation, women empowerment, and how love can help you deal with almost everything. It focuses strongly on social taboos surrounding women and Muslim culture.

Crashing Eid is now available to stream on Netflix.

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