Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Akeelah and the Bee / United 93

Akeelah and the Bee is an unabashedly feel-good film about a young black girl’s journey to the National Spelling Bee. It faithfully follows most clichés of underdog sports films but still manages to strike a chord because of its likeable characters, simple storytelling and positive message.

The Spelling Bee has been criticized in many places (including this blog) as an essentially useless contest that promotes blind memorization of words that the contestants are unlikely to use in the future. But the film treats competing in it as a learning experience that helps a child achieve self-confidence and develop a love of words. It is seen as a positive experience with the parents, barring one, supportive of their children in victory or defeat.

And that is not the only aspect where the film adopts a positive outlook. This is a film where a rich, white boy and a poor, black girl can be friends without race or social status coming into the picture. And even the gang members living in Akeelah’s neighborhood are good.

Such underdog films usually have only 1 of 2 endings. One of them is predictable while the other boosts the protagonist’s image at the expense of others around him/her. But Akeelah and the Bee manages to surprise us by choosing a third path. By doing so, it generates a little more(though admittedly, not much) suspense than usual and does so in an exhilarating manner. This story arc also allows the film to prove that everybody has some good in them.


Equally good but at the other end of the feel-good scale is United 93, which portrays what could have happened on the one flight that did not make it to its destination on 9/11. It is a gripping, chilling film that is doubly effective because it narrates a true story that is still fresh in our minds.

We’ve usually heard the phrase “like a documentary” used in a derogatory manner when referring to movies. But United 93 is one of the movies where that phrase could be considered a compliment. By avoiding the usual cinematic accoutrements that accompany movies like this, the director gives us the feeling that we are watching things unfold exactly as they happened. There are no unnecessary heroics or theatrics and people do just what ordinary people will probably do when caught in a do-or-die situation like that.

While knowing the ending usually spoils a film, the tragic nature of the ending here adds a new dimension to the viewing experience. We know what the characters in the film do not. So as the flight gets delayed on the runway or chaos reigns in the control center, the film evokes strong emotions since we know what is going to happen but are just mute witnesses and are completely powerless to prevent it. Fully aware of how the movie will proceed, I still found myself involuntarily hoping that the flight gets grounded or the pilots get to hear about the WTC before taking off or the passengers subdue the terrorists before it is too late.

United 93 is an unforgettable film about one of the things that happened on an unforgettable day.


At 10:54 PM, Blogger Robert Di Ielsi said...

i totally agree with your idea of spelling bees. I also feel it to be a useless competition and i also believe that it creates a more conforming world for those teens. just because you can memorize and understand latin, doesnt mean you are intelligent and open-minded, which i feel are more important in education. I did like the movie, however, especailly the acting ensemble which was really good. Check my blog out at take it easy

At 11:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A&theB sounds interesting...will check it out sometime...
I watched United 93 in the theatre a few months ago...was a numbing experience. the last few minutest of the movie, esp. the very last shot of the movie, left me totally speechless and stunned. not just for the memories of that tragic day but also for the potency of the presentation. brilliant, brilliant of those tough-to-watch-but-not-2-b-missed movies...

At 11:41 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

any sport for that matter, is not necessarily useful in real life.. just because marion jones does the 100 meters in record time, do we expect her to run everywhere ? so what is the big deal in having a spelling competition. in todays world, where kids usually end up in beer drinking competitions before they are the legal age, the spelling bee isnt a bad alternative !!


At 6:20 AM, Blogger Bart said...

Mystery resolved...

From Surya's interview in Sify:

Q: "But why did top actors Asin and Trisha refused to do that role?
A: I don’t want to rake up old issues. Asin had initially agreed to do the film and my producer, director and cameraman had met her in her house at Kochi and given her a huge advance. Later she backed out saying that the script has to be re-written. Will any self respecting director change his script? I’m sure that the Aishu character in SOK is much better than what Asin did in Majaa or Sivakasi.

Let’s not talk about it anymore, as bygones are bygones. I feel that Bhoomika has done an outstanding performance as Aishu. And what reported about Trisha and Asin having the last laugh sounds ridiculous to me!

Q: Tell us why Vikram was not invited for your wedding?
A: It was not intentional…. we had even missed out Vijaykanth sir whom I respect a lot. In fact we had invited Vikram and his family personally for my sister’s wedding, but they never turned up or even bothered to call up.

Q:: But Vikram was the actor who gave you equal footage in his Pitamagan?

A:(Smiles)… Pitamagan was directed by my guru Bala sir and it was he, who insisted that my role should not be tampered with. I owe everything only to Bala sir and nobody else. "

Balaji, Sandya and all rasigaperu makkale, some 'mandavali's (head kudaichals) have got resolved :) Can go to sleep happily...

At 6:28 AM, Blogger Nairobian said...

erm hey.. I found your blog thingy on some website... anyways.. Spelling Bees suck. Too much pressure. I know this personally, haha. It's like memorizing words like 'chicanery' and 'carmine' and other horrendously confusing words which have absolutely no connecton to the real world. You represent your school, and if you don't do so well the entire school's blame, etc is on you and you feel guilty. Which is why I'm not even gonna participate this year.



At 6:29 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Usually Suriya is a lot more diplomatic than that. I really think he's better off being that way than giving interviews like these. The man usually behaves with so much dignity and exercises restraint in interviews. Ipo edhuku ipdi vendaatha paechu...

"Vaendaatha Paechukall Yaen daa Ambi...!"

At 8:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Surya seems to have been ticked off :-)

He is bang on about Asin though, who claims that she choses only "meaty" roles and then signs on a meaningless movie with Vijay.

At 9:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And I used to think for a while that the current crop of actors were refreshing with their easy going attitudes and cheerful comaraderie and displayed an ample sense of maturity for their age. But looks like things arent much different. Its the same ego clashes, petty fights and so on.Only thing they seem to do better is put up a very humble/dignified face in front of the press and act down-to-earth in their interviews. Vikram especially seems to be good at that.Maybe it helps boost their image. Cinema and politics-things will never change

At 9:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

vijay, "make-up podubavan nadigan...maedai yaerubavan maha nadigan"-nu namma puratchi thamizhan-e sollirukaarey!

At 10:12 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Frankly, I don't blame Surya for being ticked off (that is, if he were really ticked off.. we really don't know that for sure!).. Shows that the reports that Surya and Asin are in major jagadaa mode were true.. They're not even in talking terms, it looks like. Surprised that she made it to the wedding!..

By the way, Akeelah and the Bee post-la edhukku indha badaa diversion?..

I'd rather talk about A&B and say, here's one film the entire family can sit and watch and not cringe at even once (the other example, IA23P :-).. We need more such films being made.. I happen to catch it on the plane back from Chennai and was glad that I did take the time to watch it (instead of sleep! :-)

By the way, not a mega diversion, but is there a reason why Saasanam was not submitted for Oscar consideration within India this year? Is it because the film was certified quite a few years back, but made it to theaters only now? Was puzzled also that Thavaamai Thavamirundhu wasn't sent for consideration either.

At 11:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

sandya, really curious- where did u manage to watch Sasanam? in India or here (US) ? u live in the US, right? Did u download it on the comp or ozhunga India-la theatre-la poayi paathengala?
i am dying to watch the movie coz i am a huge fan of mahendran's works.

At 11:29 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

sandya, really curious- where did u manage to watch Sasanam? in India or here (US) ? u live in the US, right? Did u download it on the comp or ozhunga India-la theatre-la poayi paathengala?
i am dying to watch the movie coz i am a huge fan of mahendran's works.

At 2:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

sorry to digress..but since, I have not watched either movie, lemme comment on this: it seems to me that Sify has a major axe to grind against Surya. ALL their reports on Surya and Jo have been negative since SOK was released. Indiaglitz, on the other hand, have been gushing praises on the couple and SOK. Maybe, Sify and Indiaglitz are going down the Sun TV - Jaya TV war path!


At 3:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ram, thappa ninaichuteengale.. I asked about Sasanam (only after reading glowing reviews, one after the other in Kumudam and all online mags and newspapers).

I am a strong opponent of downloading films from the internet and watching them (forget that there is an argument out there that none of the Tamil DVDs in the market are original anyways (let it be Ayngaran, Sruthilayam, VGP or whoever else!). As Krishna (my hubby!) always says, "Copyright" in India means "Right to copy" (and all Indian citizens have "rights to copy", right?) and everyone and anyone can make DVDs to suit their whims and fancies.

Nope, Ram.. haven't seen Saasanam, but figured all the mags & newspapers can't be wrong about a Mahendran film!

At 4:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

right to copy...ha ha, gud one...
ipdi solltaare krishna...vidunge..."raman oru vagai kannan oru vagai irandum ulagil sama needhi!"
as much as i hate to do it, i do occasionally download movies from these websites...ena seyyardhu...the love for tamil movies and the unavailability of the same, here...but for some, i just put my foot down and refuse to be tempted by my yet to watch vettaiyadu for instance...want to wait till the orig. DVD comes out...

At 7:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ram, I don't know if it makes a big difference.. Sruthilayam's VV/Vasool Raja double movie DVD is already out. God help the quality of these double DVDs. I am hoping that they screen VV again here at IMC 6. I am hoping that I can catch it on the big screen before Deepavali.. don't know if I'll have the luck!.. Well, VV released when I was in India.. but ticket kidaikardhu romba kashtam.. so didn't even try!

Speaking of Surya, yenna Asin-a advt. paNNi thorkka adikkalam-nu idea-vaa?.. Sunfeast, Emami Fair & Handsome, Kulirchi Kool Kool Navaratna Thailam.. Surya here, Surya there.. Surya everywhere!..

At 9:17 PM, Blogger Bart said...

Balaji, first my excuses for diagressing to Surya's intvw in this topic. Was so carried away reading an outspoken, aggro intrvw by Surya that I commented on the latest topic.
Anyhow, I am yet to see both the movies that you've written abt and will try and see atleast the second one at the earliest :)

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