Tuesday, February 27, 2007
Romance, Guts, Villainy
Razz-ness (A Nigerian-ism – tough to explain), Guys, Viciousness
Reality, Genius, Vision
Redemption, Grittiness, Variety
This is fun, I think I’ll do more ‘RGVs’ later… of course RGV also stands for Ram Gopal Varma – and his films are the subject of this post. This is my second post focusing on the work of a particular Indian director – I did one on Hrishikesh Mukherjee a while back.
I think the words I’ve used above describe different elements of Ram Gopal Varma’s work… I’ve seen only three RGV movies – 'Rangeela', 'Company' and 'Shiva' (that’s also the order in which I viewed them). The first one is lighter, romantic, typical Bollywood ‘masala’ fare – the latter two are edgier, darker, harder-hitting crime movies – the kind of work which has resulted in RGV being called India’s Tarantino. And what I really like is that the films belong to such different categories, you can still see RGV’s distinctive film-making style shining in all of them.
I think RGV has a flair for several things: shooting fast-moving acting scenes, building a sense of heightened anticipation and suspense, using his actors effectively in terms of character exploration, shooting dramatic, confrontational scenes; and injecting very striking and strong visual images into his films.
Of the three RGV movies I’ve seen, ‘Company’ is probably my favourite. Starring Vivek Oberoi, Ajay Devgan and Manisha Koirala, it’s the story of an underworld kingpin (played by Devgan) who takes a young ambitious hustler (played by Oberoi) under his wing. At first, things go swimmingly – the protégé does his boss’s bidding and it’s all gravy for the gang, but then the dynamic of the relationship changes and it all goes awry. This film has many strengths – the cinematography is beautiful, the action scenes are gripping and realistic, the sets are brilliant (I love the maze effect of the buildings during the crucial chase in Kenya) – but the best part is the acting and the wonderful way the actors navigate the intricacies of the characters’ complex relationships, all played out against the fascinating backdrop of organized crime and ‘un-organised’ law enforcement.
There is a fabulous rawness to the film, a grittiness and a realness – but there’s also a softness, a sweetness and a simplicity. I love the dynamic between Ajay and Vivek – both of whom deliver marvelous performances (especially Ajay). I also like the restrained, conflicted-but-too-tired-to-care moll played by Manisha – at first I thought she was just wooden and boring but later I got it. Other stand-out performances are by two actresses – the fantastic Seema Biswas (playing Vivek’s mother) and newbie Antara Mali as 'Kannu', Vivek’s love interest (a very, very good performance). That’s another thing I love about RGV’s films: I love the fact that RGV really allows women to take centre-stage in his movies, and he’s not afraid to use strong female characters in his stories – that’s pretty damned hot. But the best performance of the film, for me, is by Mohanlal, as the police boss. Ajay is a very close second, though.
Hmm… my second fave RGV film is ‘Rangeela’. This will probably seem a bit heretical to many who regard ‘Rangeela’ as a classic slice of Bollywood, but I far prefer ‘Company’. Anyway, the best thing about ‘Rangeela’ for me is Aamir Khan – definitely one of my favourite Aamir performances. He is so sweet and so believable and natural in this film, and I just love the way he said ‘Arre Milli’. Urmila Matondkar’s performance as the heroine is also lovely – she is bright, sparky, fun and adds depth to what could have easily been a shallow character. Even Jackie Shroff is ok, although my worst part of the film was definitely him dancing around in the ocean in a tight black Speedo and then proceeding to suck Urmila’s toes – blech!
There is also a lot of colour and style to the movie; and it’s a fresh, light-hearted take on the tired ‘young female with big sapnay becomes big famous movie star’ story. What I didn’t like about ‘Rangeela’ though is that there were way too many songs, only 1 or 2 of which I liked, and Urmila did way too much pouting and ‘winding’ in the songs for my taste – but I guess that’s part of why people like this movie so much. For me it’s just ok, not great.
‘Shiva’ is my least fave RGV movie so far – not because I don’t like it though – I really do, I like it a lot – it’s just that the other ones had an edge for one reason or the other. I really like ‘Shiva’ because RGV used fresh young faces in his lead roles – I love directors who don’t always use the same established faces, who aren’t afraid to try newbies and less commercially-successful artists (hint, hint, K-Jo), and RGV is definitely one of them – he gave Vivek Oberoi his big break, and routinely uses actors who are ‘off the beaten track’ (e.g. Seema Biswas), simply because they are good.
‘Shiva’ is good in some parts – the action scenes are good, the chemistry between the leads (played by the TDH Mohit Ahlawat, and the potentially very good Nisha Kothari – in a nice strong role for a woman) is engaging – again, RGV can shoot a good love scene. The story is interesting and dramatic, there are lessons to be learnt, the relationships between the characters are beautifully explored, and what’s hinted at is even more interesting than what’s explained. There’s also a cute and funny song mocking the police.
It’s a bit silly in some parts, though. The ‘little monkey man with a curved knife thing’ was dumb – I mean, come on! He obviously was no good with a knife if he couldn’t put a single nick on our hero’s body in all that time he had. It was good comic relief though. Some of the acting was bad – especially the guy who played the villain. I did not ‘feel’ his ‘evil-ness’ at all – he was just dead boring. Some parts of the plot just did not work, they just beggared belief – but I like that RGV gave them a shot anyway. I really like that kind of adventurousness and experimentalism in a director.
2. I love Ellen DeGeneres, but she has to be the unfunniest Oscar host ever.
3. I am so so so very happy for Forest Whitaker, but I also wish Peter O’Toole had finally gotten his Oscar.
4. I am so glad that Scorsese finally got his long-deserved moment in the sun – hopefully, his victory will be all the sweeter for all the waiting he’s had to endure.
5. Beyonce does the fake beauty-pageant-contestant smile thing way too much –and she tried to hard to make it look like she didn’t mind not being nominated – and she also overdid her song (“Listen”) – and I’m glad Jennifer didn’t single her out for special thanks during her acceptance speech. I like Bey though – she seems like a nice girl.
6. The medley of songs from ‘Dreamgirls’ was not good. It just didn’t work (sadly). I also wonder why Eddie Murphy didn’t sing ‘Patience’ with Anika – Keith Robinson tried sha. By the way, was that Tracey Babyface Edmonds snuggling up to Eddie Murphy? I know they’re together now and all, but... it just looks wrong and nasty! Poor Scary Spice!
7. It was great to see the Oscars get so international.
8. It was nice that they deliberately set out to celebrate the nominees this time.
9. Jaden (Christopher Syre) Smith is the cutest little boy, and his parents were so proud (Jada was tearing up) – awwww…
10.I think I have a new ‘couples crush’ on Clint Eastwood and his young wife Dina. They still seem so happy together, like they’re friends. I love that. Can't wait to see 'Letters from Iwo Jima'.
11. Gwyneth Paltrow is looking so good with the extra weight – she’s glowing. Thank God for childbirth - it was high time she stopped looking like a stick.
12. Jack Nicholson looked so funny and cute with his bald head and dark glasses, just smiling and laughing all the time. At least someone was having fun.
13. Helen Mirren is gorgeous – and so is Penelope Cruz. In fact, a lot of the ladies were looking great.
14. There was a sad lack of male eye candy – the usual suspects were there looking nice and all, but none of them REALLY made me happy – with the possible exception of Mark Wahlberg. (Please, who sent Will Smith to go and ‘barb his head’ the night before the Oscars?)
15. I am so happy for Jennifer Hudson.
Monday, February 26, 2007
What else did I hate about getting KANKed? The film was too long, they dragged it out too much and put in some unnecessary stuff – especially near the beginning. The truth is they didn’t need all that time to tell the story – thinking over it now, I can pick out the key scenes –some scenes just should have been cut from KANK in their entirety. It also seemed really unevenly scripted – some scenes were really good and nicely done, and some were just so blah. What else bugged me? The ‘Sexy Saaam’ thing they played almost everytime Amitabh Bachchan came onscreen, the often unfunny and irritating attempts at comic relief, the over-‘perfectness’ of all the sets, clothes, make-up and hair (although one just has to learn to live with that in many contemporary Bollywood films). Oh, and, is it just me or does Preity Zinta look kinda funny in this movie? There’s something about her eyes, it seems…
Okay, now that I’ve got all that out of the way… it’s really not a bad film. It actually works on some levels. As a story about relationships, communication, honesty, and all that good stuff, I think it works. My friend who lent me the DVD told me it’s a story about ‘real life issues’, and I agree. It’s a cautionary tale in some ways, but it’s not preachy. I think some scenes captured the discomfort, tension, conflict, and frustration of modern marriages very well – this might actually be a good film for married couples to watch together and have a ‘discussion’ about – but then what do I really know about marriage? Anyway, I liked the way they brought out some of the messiness, the false starts, the skewed timing, the complexity, the layers beneath all the ‘mundane-ness’ of modern relationships.
I think the performances were strong, even if none was particularly brilliant, and most had some rough patches (partly because it was all a bit too much, I think). I think I liked the older actors’ performances (Big B and Kirron Kher) best, actually. And what (asks, rather predictably, this SRK fan) is it with all the SRK-haters saying Shah Rukh Khan’s acting was terrible in this film? I really don’t get it. I thought it was a decent portrayal of who this guy is supposed to be – disenchanted, disappointed, frustrated, tired, self-seeking, but also (to me anyway) kinda appealing. I could actually see what Rhea and Maya saw in him. Which takes me to my next point – call me crazy, but I don’t actually see why the character of Dev is so maligned in all the reviews – he’s not a nice considerate guy, he’s really kinda mean, but I thought he was just a fallible messed-up human being, just another selfish man with a chip on his shoulder… not an evil person.
I can’t say I really LOVED anything about this film but I liked a few things. One major thing was the fact that it emphasizes the need for self-discovery and introspection, understanding who you are and what you need BEFORE you go and take on all the responsibility of marriage and children and having to put another person’s needs alongside yours. It also explored our human-ness, our weakness, our constant need to connect with someone else – I think my favourite scene in the movie is the little bit where Dev hugs the guy on the park bench near the end. Ultimately, the story of KANK is one well worth telling, but Johar just didn’t need all of the extra big-production stuff – I think the film would have fared much better if he had stripped it down some – no, a lot. It was just rather overdone.
And now that I am no longer a KANK virgin, I’m off to read Angela’s review (and the other KANK reviews I couldn’t read in depth before now).
AND A BIT ON ‘EKLAVYA’…
My friend Uzo and I saw ‘Eklavya’ at the cinema on Saturday. Although we were the hapless victims of an elaborately-orchestrated act of sabotage played out by the people in the row behind us (LOL), we really liked it. This is definitely a must-see for people who, like me, are fans of Amit-Ji. He is really, really good in this film – I fell in love with him all over again in the role of Eklavya – I want an Eklavya in my life to love me intensely and keep my scarf for years, and be all loyal and noble too (well, not really, but I kinda did when I was watching him). Saif Ali Khan (his real-life mother Sharmila Tagore also plays his mother in the film, although they actually never share the screen) is pretty hot stuff too as the tortured prince – I so wanted to hold him and ease his pain, but Vidya Balan apparently has all the luck. Sanjay Dutt has a smallish role as a policeman, but he rocks it out in style.
The performances are uniformly lovely (Boman Irani, playing the king, was really really good, and Jackie Shroff was also very good in his role as the king’s brother – and I rarely find reasons to praise him) and the chemistry between the leads (especially between Amitabh and Saif) was great. The beauty of the royal fort (where the story takes place) is something to see – not overdone in Bhansali style, but very authentic. The story is engrossing and compelling (we were at the edges of our seats more than once) and the dialogue very moving (made me wish I understood Hindi), but what stood out for me even more is the way the film was shot. It is absolutely beautiful – very creative, very stylish, very provocative, and just NICE. That’s really all I want to say about this film.
Oh, that and ‘poor, poor, poor Jimmy She(i)rgill’. You’ll see what I mean when you see the movie.
One more thing - don't go reading any of those reviews that tell you the whole story before seeing this movie (unless, of course, knowing exactly what's going to happen in a movie is your thing).
Wednesday, February 21, 2007
Randhir Kapoor (above doing his Portuguese thang) is interesting to watch, mostly because he reminds me of a teddy bear and it’s hard to take him seriously, especially in ‘Pukar’ where he’s trying to be all freedom-fighter-ish. It was much easier to enjoy his performance in ‘Kasme Vaade’, because he was just playing a funny-looking happy-go-lucky youth who eventually is forced to grow up.
‘Kasme Vaade’ is an alright movie. It’s not that good, actually, but I like it for three reasons. 1. AB is very, very cute as a strict and principled teacher (less cute as a criminal – in the same film). 2. The music is lovely – one song in particular (‘Aati Rahe Gi’) – the title song is good too. 3. There is loads of fugliness, thanks to AB and Neetu Singh (look here if you’re interested). Oh, and Rakhee’s craziness (she's good at doing crazy) had me transfixed for a few minutes.
As for ‘Pukar’, I just do not get it. What kind of movie is this, really? It’s just… bizarre. I mean, it has to be seen to be believed. It’s definitely interesting though. I think Ramesh Behl was trying to give a whole exotic, Portuguese, beachy, summer-y feel to the film (it's set in Goa), while at the same time being very Indian, while at the same time also being rather artsy. I'm not sure it works, but it's something to see, that's for sure. AB plays ‘Ronnie’, a career criminal running away from his traumatic childhood. Zeenat is ‘Julie’, his moll who eventually turns against him, because he won’t support the freedom fighters in Goa. AB is so OTT in this film – it’s a bit sad really, I’m like, you don’t have to jostle for attention, you’re the Baadshah of Bollywood, relax! But no, he’s all over the place – he even sings (in his own voice) a song or two (ermm, it’s, uh, not very good – best to leave it to the playback singers, A.B). He is sooo OTT (he’s like ‘Ronnie is the best! Ronnie is on top of the world!’ – or something like that)… but it certainly makes for an… interesting watch. Here he is with his live Portuguese band doing his dance-licious thang:
But this was the really crazy part for me. Zeenat sexily splashing around… par for the course.
Amit-Ji jumping out of nowhere and doing a very frantic song and dance for Zeenat… a bit odd but still par for the course in Bollywood.
But then there’s this – some strange poses - oh so very French arthouse…. Or not.
And the ending is so… silly seems too irreverent a word to use for all the ‘Jai Hind-ness’… but it’s the only one that comes to mind. The army marching in just in the nick of time? How could they end it that way? And the colours of the flag magically appearing on a headband? Hmm. My goodness, as you can probably tell I’m short of words – this movie has to be seen to be believed – and even then you won’t believe it.
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
Monday, February 19, 2007
I did manage to inject some Bollywood into my birthday. At Maja’s brilliant suggestion, I started the day with the 'Salaam-e-Ishq' soundtrack, and I really enjoyed that. I also watched ‘Chupke Chupke’, a DVD I’ve had for a while but have been too busy to get round to watching (until yesterday).
‘Chupke Chupke’ is yet another charming Hrishikesh Mukherjee film, the fourth I’ve seen so far. It stars some of Mukherjee’s ‘usual suspects’: Jaya Bhaduri, Asrani, Amitabh Bachchan, and some other actors whose names I don’t know but whom I recall from the other Mukherjee movies I’ve seen. It also stars my darling Dharmendra and the adorable Sharmila Tagore. I loved the movie, it was funny and sweet and just so much fun to watch. It’s a comedy, with Dharmendra’s character (with a little help from his friends) trying to put one over his wife’s brother-in-law.
I’m not going to say too much else about it, other than that it’s well worth a watch and everyone in the ensemble cast is really good in it – especially Amit-ji, who steals all the scenes he’s in (although everyone else does a great job too). A few more (illustrated) statements about this film:
I’ve decided I quite like Dr. Bachchan’s son looking and acting all geeky:
Amitabh Bachchan in 'Chupke Chupke' (1975)
Amitabh Bachchan in 'Kasme Vaade' (1978)
Sharmila is too cute in this film:
Especially in yellow:
Friday, February 16, 2007
There won’t be any Bollywood elements to this birthday, sadly – can’t think of anything interesting and birthday-ish enough. (Any suggestions? Please?) Just watching another Bollywood DVD alone and eating some junk food won’t cut it – been there, done that. I’m watching ‘Karan Arjun’ at the moment, but I’ll probably finish it tonight. I have to say I’m really liking it, which surprises me since almost all the reviews I’ve read have been either blah or just bad. Anyway, I’m going to try and relax tomorrow, maybe treat myself to a pedicure, or a movie, or a new outfit… And my family and friends will call (one or two might come over), and there’ll probably be a little cake for the people in my house… not bad, eh? But I’d still appreciate suggestions for making this birthday a bit Bollywood-y.
In other news, something seems to be wrong with Blogger… it arbitrarily cut a huge chunk out of my last post (I know it was too long but sheesh) and is refusing to let me edit the post; and it is not ‘refreshing’ (apologies for my technophobe lingo) my blogs even after I’ve published new posts - weird. (This seems to be all fixed now)
Anyway, have a great weekend ya’ll.
Thursday, February 15, 2007
My movie-licious weekend didn’t actually start on Saturday, because it was a very busy day. I had to spend my morning at the office doing some urgent work, which I (thankfully) managed to finish by noon. Then I was off to Surulere for a colleague’s wedding, then off to Victoria Island in the evening for a dinner organized by a solicitors’ association. It was all fun, I have to say – I had a good time with my colleagues at the wedding, and it was fun watching the Island upper-crust intermingle at the dinner – they all did the French ‘kiss kiss’ thing – very posh.
Somewhere amidst all that, I stopped by the library and checked out two DVDs – ‘Mystic River’ and ‘United 93’. At the time I thought I was checking them out because I’ve wanted to watch them for the longest time. Now I wonder: Was I subconsciously trying to get myself depressed?
I kicked off my weekend at the movies with ‘Mystic River’. It’s a really good film with great performances by Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, and the rest of the ensemble cast; and it was very nicely shot – but it’s a tragedy. I guess I knew that, but wasn’t expected it to be quite so… tragic. Anyway, I really liked it even if it did put me in a bit of a funk.
I am getting really interested in Clint Eastwood’s work. I have to say I’m a late convert – I didn’t really get into his westerns until a couple of years ago, but I think they’re great. My most recent was one of his earlier westerns, ‘Two Mules for Sister Sara’, which features Clint and a very naughty (and good) performance by Shirley MacLaine. And of course his more recent award-winning directing work is great too, although he seems to have a penchant for sad endings (‘Million Dollar Baby’, ‘Mystic River’). He also seems to have a knack for getting the right actors for his key roles, and for getting great performances out of them. And I really like the ‘tone’ of his films – it’s difficult to put into words, but they really throw the focus on the characters and create the perfect ‘stage’ for them – it feels like an old-fashioned but really well-executed style of film-making. So I’m a semi-Clint-fan – still haven’t seen ‘Unforgiven’, though.
About ‘Mystic River’, this is probably a question for the novelist (haven’t read the book), why did the women have to be so evil? I mean, the men were no angels either (especially Sean Penn’s character), but at least you could empathise. The women were a different story. Well, I can empathise a little with Marcia Gay Harden’s character – obviously the fear she felt was not the work of a day but had been building up over years of living with her troubled husband. But there is no way she did not know that by telling Sean Penn’s character what she did, she was effectively signing her husband’s death warrant. I mean, there’s just no way! Why didn’t she just tell the cops? As for Laura Linney’s character, she was just plain evil. I kinda think the Oscar voters like the stereotypical ‘evil woman’ though – Laura Linney’s role in ‘Mystic River’ reminds me of Sissy Spacek’s frightening turn in ‘In the Bedroom’, another Oscar winner. You find out right at the end of the film (although you’ve been suspecting it for a while), that the nice capable mother is actually just evil. I don’t like it.
My weekend at the movies continued with an afternoon trip to The Palms (my first ‘real’ trip there – it was interesting, I saw everyone and their brother there– people I haven’t seen in YONKS!) At the Nu Metro Cinema, I saw ‘Salaam-e-Ishq’. As usual, it was in a room full of desis – the guy checking my ticket was like ‘Hmm…’ Anyway, I really enjoyed the film. It’s a lot of fun. Nice music, decent acting by a nice cast, lots of colour, some sadness, some laughs, a lot of cuteness… it was just fun. Not genius, not amazing, but then it’s not trying to be. It is simply what it is – an entertaining fun movie. There’s a definite corniness to it, but I really don’t care about that. I guess I’m just kinda easy like that. I agree with almost everything Maja said about it in her review Maja said about it in her recent review. It’s a long movie, but it was an afternoon well-spent – it actually didn’t feel as long to me as it was. It put me in a great mood.
And then I had to spoil my great mood by getting home and rounding off my weekend at the movies with ‘United 93’. Although, to be fair, this is not a ‘depressing’ movie in the same way ‘Mystic River’ is. It’s not another pointless tragedy (although maybe the tragedy in ‘Mystic River’ wasn’t exactly pointless). This is probably because it was shot without the schmaltz and sentimentalism that most film-makers would have injected into it. What happened to the passengers on the plane was undoubtedly a tragedy, but it was also a triumph, it was true heroism on the passengers’ part, and this really comes through in the extraordinary last minutes of the film. It made me cry, sure, but I also felt very uplifted and almost in awe of just how strong the human spirit is.
Another thing I loved about Paul Greenglass’s script and directing is that this film not only looks back, but looks forward – in that it tries to present information and to ask questions, with an aim to saying ‘this awful thing happened – and so many awful things have happened as a result – but what can we learn from this to ensure that it doesn’t happen again?’. The inadequacies and the obstacles that the officials who had to grapple with this crisis were faced with are highlighted, not in a way that just tries to lay blame (a la Michael Moore – although Fahrenheit 9/11 is a brilliant film in many ways, even he does not deny that it’s not the most balanced film ever made), but in a way that goes deeper to ask ‘what can we understand from this and how can we prevent a re-occurence?’
The weekend was pretty busy, but my Monday was even more so. I managed to sneak out of the office at 8.35, and then rushed off to see the 8.40 show of ‘Rocky Balboa’ at the Silverbird Cinema. Needless to say, I was late, so I missed the beginning of the movie (hate when that happens). Now I think I’ve said before that I’m a hardcore fan of the Rocky movies. I have the 5-DVD box set and have solo ‘Rocky’ festivals from time to time – always great fun. I just love them sooo much. I can’t really express why.
It’s not just because the fight scenes are so realistically shot that they make you go ‘ouch’ (I’m not a boxing fan at all – although I do love Muhammad Ali). It’s not just because the films were trend-setters at the time they were released. It’s not just the fantastic, amazing music – although I do love that. It’s often mocked as schmaltzy, but I just love, love, love the music to bits and listen to it a lot. It’s not just the great characters (I love them all, from Rocky to Adrian to Paulie to Apollo to Mickey). It’s not just the good scripts and beautifully-shot scenes (especially in the first movie). I love the themes in the films, from the obvious ones (perseverance, hard work, patience, second chances, deliverance, overcoming fear, courage) to the less obvious ones (character, kindness, beauty, HOTNESSS – that last one’s kinda obvious, actually). And the character of Rocky just strikes a deep chord within me. I guess it’s a combo of two things – I can relate to him so much, and I admire him so much.
What do I find to relate to in a heavyweight boxer? A lot. Not the sharpest pencil in the box but extraordinarily perceptive about people? Check (well at least I think I am). Constantly underestimated – always the underdog? Check. Not very good with (spoken) words? Check. Mocked and made to feel out of place? Check. A dreamer? Check. Perceived as a loner but actually a people person? Check. Regarded as ‘weird’? Check – see my profile at the bottom of the page. Constantly trying to achieve the impossible? Check. A fighter to the finish? Check. Quietly stubborn? Check (just ask my mother). Quiet and shy but very intense? Check. Not afraid of anyone as much as he is of overcoming himself and his demons? Check. Usually a slow starter but a good finisher? In some ways, check. Indulgent of people he loves? Check. Not one of the ‘cool kids’? Check. Loyal and a good person to have in your corner? Check. Very very human, prone to pride, selfishness and other failings? Check, check, check.
What do I admire about him? First, he has (well, had) a partner who totally ‘gets’ him (so rare) and supports him (I love Adrian). That’s not easy to find – and I love the way they found each other (said that before in my couples post). Second of all, he has a wonderful heart. I don’t think I have that, but I love it. I love people with big, fat, open-wide hearts and I wish I had that – maybe someday. Third of all, he is tres tres tres hottt. Now, you will not appreciate this from watching him in ‘Rocky Balboa’. Sly has gone and gotten all plasticked, which is a shame – his eyebrows are all ‘up there’ now… you’d think that, just from looking at his mother (who he’s very close to), he’d appreciate the horrors of what plastic surgery can do to a face. Evidently not – but then, I guess we are in a way destined to repeat our parents’ mistakes. Anyway, he’s not that hot in ‘Rocky Balboa’ – although he IS very fit for a man of his age.
But… he is so hot in all the other Rocky films - with the exception of ‘Rocky V’ (for which I have a special hatred – though not with good reason). I love him – whether he’s in his sweats training, in his shorts boxing, in his everyday clothes (I like THAT hat he wore in the first movie and wears again in ‘Rocky Balboa’). I’m usually not a muscle nut, but my oh my, I love his. He is just so fit… and those deep dark Italian eyes… hold me while I swoon! In ‘Rocky’, he’s a little rough around the edges, a little clumsy, but still really hot. In ‘Rocky II’, he’s more refined, but he still has that edge – so hot. In ‘Rocky III’, he’s trimmer, more self-conscious and so much more fabulous. He has a wardrobe to die for (for that time at least – my fave article were these killer dark glasses he wears at Mickey’s funeral). In ‘Rocky IV’, still very fabulous and looking sooo good in the ring.
In ‘Rocky V’ –well, don’t let me even get started on that one. I guess this makes me shallow, but I hate that movie – not because it’s not a good film with a great script and a whole lot of life lessons tucked into it – but just because Rocky is sooo not hot. He and Adrian have lost all their wealth and are back to living in a hovel, he looks just – deflated – like he’s tired of life, he wears these awful awful garish sweaters, his son is an ungrateful brat, and… it’s all not good. Fine, he does get his triumph at the end, but it’s by beating up this obnoxious stupid kid in the street, with no audience to speak of and a total lack of fabulousness – so excuse me if I’m not exactly hip-hop-hurraying over that. So not hot. Disillusionment with a big ol’ ‘D’.
Which is (partly) why I loved ‘Rocky Balboa’. Yes, his eyebrows may be ‘up there’ in a permanently surprised look, but Rocky is hot again. He’s got that fire in him again. He tackles huge odds – and he proves why he’s the champ. Even his loser son has to recognise that his dad is the man (I love that Rocky actually gives him a good talking to for once!). I loved it. I was so sad to see Adrian gone (although I guess it made sense – he loses her and has to re-discover himself), but other than that, this movie was the perfect end to the ‘Rocky’ movies (he comes full circle – he gets a dog again, he goes back to where it started, he meets that girl from the past – perfect symmetry). I’m so glad they didn’t end it with ‘Rocky V’ – although I can’t quite erase it from my memory, I’m glad Sly ended the series with style. Nobody really thought he could do it – they predicted the theatres would all be empty. But they underestimated the tenacity of this character – always the underdog – and always a tiger.
What IS it with me and extra-long posts these days?
Monday, February 12, 2007
I saw ‘Guru’ a while ago and loved it. I thought it was really well-executed, and the music by A. R. Rahman was a treat. I will get my biggest criticism out of the way right now – the subtitles were not great – too minimalist. I’m sure I would have enjoyed the movie a lot more with better subtitles, but I did enjoy it very much regardless.
I think that comments I’ve made on other blogs actually pretty much sum up how this film made me feel, and the issues it raised in my mind. But before I get to those, here’s what I thought about:
I think this is the most interesting thing about this film – interesting because there is so much conflict and turmoil (confusion is actually the right word) within the story itself. So much room for ‘whys’. Gurukant, the main character, is a boy from lowly beginnings, but with lofty dreams. After a brief sojourn abroad, he returns to India with fresh ideas and enthusiasm. He takes every opportunity he can find to get to the top, and once he gets there, he takes every opportunity he can find to ensure that he stays there.
At a point, things start to come crashing down for Gurukant – but I’ll stop here so as not to completely reveal the story to anyone who hasn’t seen it yet. What I will say is that although there is a cosmetic ‘resolution’ to the story, it isn’t really resolved – in that the relationships and characters at the heart of the film never get that movie ‘moment’ that brings us to a catharsis and helps us come to terms with it all. This, more than anything, is what I like about ‘Guru’ – the fact that it keeps me pondering and wondering. The tangled threads never fully unravel, and I think this is a personal predilection of Ratnam – I felt some of the same after watching ‘Dil Se’ (which I'll admit I didn't like as much as 'Guru' - except for 'Chaiyya Chaiyya').
Top-notch. Abhishek Bachchan is really growing as an actor, and his performance in this movie proves it. He goes from earnest wide-eyed youngster to still-earnest but now rather hard-nosed middle-aged powerful industrialist – and he does it smoothly. He is able to communicate the simultaneous complexity and simplicity of the character really well, without bashing me over the head with it, and he resists the urge to grandstand and be all ‘I’m making an epic which spans over years’-ish. Beautiful performance.
I told my friend that this was the first film I’d loved Aishwarya Rai in (as opposed to just thinking ‘she’s ok’), and I meant it. Her dances are beautiful as always, but there was depth to her portrayal of Guru’s loyal (sometimes too loyal, I thought, but loved the character anyway) wife. From her stubbornness and desire for independence at the start of the film to her courageous and dignified support for Guru by the end, she expressed so much emotion in a very ‘real’ way – I loved her performance. And the chemistry between her and Abhi was beautiful – so warm and sweet. I felt like I was watching two friends who were truly comfortable with each other and adored each other – they portrayed the marriage relationship beautifully. I love the scene where they’re lying together when they visit their old house.
Mithun Chakraborty, as anyone who’s seen his older work (albeit more known for its OTT ‘fabulousness’ than anything else) knows, is a good actor – and he certainly does not disappoint here. His depiction of the publisher is tough but vulnerable, angst-y and frustrated yet somehow comforting – if that makes any sense. He depicts the internal and social conflict of his character very well. Vidya Balan is excellent as Mithun’s niece – but then I’ve always loved her work so I expected no less. Her character is conflicted – but she makes her choices and moves on with grace but also with realism – Vidya communicated this very well, I thought, without evoking pity. And R. Madhavan does a really good job of portraying his ambitious, bold, ruthlessly clever yet silently emotional character. And I loved the Madhavan/Vidya kiss in the rain.
The music: I loved it. Nothing more to say there. I didn’t care too much for the celebratory ‘bhang’ song after the birth of the twins, but otherwise I loved it.
The cinematography, directing, editing, etc: All the technical stuff was on point, I thought, although I’m not well-versed in the finer arts of filmmaking. I just thought it was all beautifully shot – the colours, the lighting, everything. I also loved the costuming and the fact that they stuck to the time period they were trying to portray. I LOVED Ash’s saris in the first half of the film, and the subtlety of her make-up. She looked great (but then, she’s Ash).
So that’s what I thought of all that. But as to what this movie did for me on a personal level, here’s part of the comment I posted at Beth’s blog – it sums it up for me…
My take on 'Guru': ... Personally, I liked the 'muddiness' (as Carla put it) and conflicted-ness of the message. I'm not a big fan of 'message' movies - not saying that a filmmaker shouldn't have an idea (s)he is trying to put across, just that I like to be given some leeway to re-interpet that idea in various ways. I liked that I felt it wasn't trying to make me see Gurubhai as a saint or a sinner (even though the portrayal was largely sympathetic, there was definitely room to refute that). I didn't think there was a strict hero/villain set-up between Abhi's character and Mithun and Madhavan's characters. I liked that I felt there was 'space' for me to make up my mind. I liked that there were lots of unanswered questions left for me to think about by the end.
And for me personally as a citizen of another developing country struggling with corruption and questions of identity, public welfare, independence and orientation, I guess I could relate a lot more to some of the issues. On that level, I was inspired by the movie.
Gurukant, the way I ‘see’ him, is neither hero nor villain – although in some ways he’s both. He is simply a man – ‘Gurubhai’. He is everyman, the man who keeps going despite and against all odds. He has not lost touch with his roots, for in a way he never left them – he clings to them because he believes they have made him what he is. His doggedness reminds me of the woman who walked long distances everyday to my uni to sell perhaps N1,000’s worth (less than 9 US dollars' worth) of ofe akwu and rice everyday (after spending perhaps N800 to prepare and transport it) – she just kept going, rain or shine, transport fares hikes or not, sick children or not. She’ll never win an award for it, but that’s sheer courage under fire.
Gurubhai’s greatest asset is not his virtue, his loyalty, or even his business acumen – it’s, as he says at the end – his dogged-yet-scrappy, no-matter-what courage and determination. As most great assets are, those same things are also his greatest weaknesses – the things that cause him to break the law shamelessly (‘the end justifies the means’ becomes his credo) to be dishonest, and to ultimately hurt himself and the ones he loves. Many of his actions and practices are very wrong and highly condemnable, but that’s why he’s an everyman – he’s flawed.
Gurubhai does what he feels he has to do in a world in which he’s had to struggle for every last thing, a world in which he has not been properly mentored and guided but has had to basically mentor himself, a world in which his value system seemed to have never fully formed when he was still young (very important), a world in which he’s totally surrounded by rot and yes-men (sycophancy is a terrible thing). It would be nice to think that, despite all that, he’d play strictly by the rules on his own initiative (I DEFINITELY believe that I would), but is it truly realistic? Experience has shown us that human nature tends to go the other way. Inexcusable his actions definitely are, but it's certainly interesting to try and see what may have produced them.
Here’s a comment I posted at T-Hype’s blog (on a completely unrelated subject):
“'…'the elite typically rule'. I am afraid (very very afraid) that you are right... Which makes me sad. So I am off to eat something very very fattening, after which I shall go to sleep hugging my pillow tight for comfort...”
I didn’t post that out of envy for the elite (I don’t aspire to be one of their number, the appeal of being born 'with a silver spoon in your mouth' is something I’ve never fully understood – why is it a thing of pride to be born into a rich and powerful family? What did you actually do to achieve that?). For me, the issue is that a country of the poor and hungry ruled by the un‘tainted’ shiny, happy, privileged and foreign-educated elite bothers me because there is then a fundamental disconnect between the ruler and the people. They speak different languages. Please don't get it twisted - I'm not saying there's anything wrong with being privilege and foreign-educated, and I don't believe in glamouring poverty - all I'm saying is that the privileged, to lead the poor, must 'get' the plight of the poor.
The ruler cannot feel the pinch until he wears the shoes – he cannot seek the welfare of the people until he comprehends it – either by having undergone it or by seeking actively to 'uncover' it and grasp it – no matter what it takes. And that’s no easy task. That’s what makes men like Gandhi and Mandela so inspirational, and why they will always hold the hearts of the common man. I don’t believe in love without sacrifice – and a person who has never had to sacrifice anything will find it hard (not saying it’s impossible, just hard) to grasp the struggle of another, and to inspire that other (and inspiration is crucial for effective leadership in a system characterised by disillusionment, oppression and disappointment). Now I realise that’s not always true – in the words of a Mexican ‘telenovela’, the rich also cry; and human empathy does exist and is there for the 'taking'… but I think it’s largely true.
For me, Ratnam is not saying that the end justifies the means, he’s simply pointing to the ‘Guru’ in the common man – it is praiseworthy, but it’s also not without its price. It’s like a raw material that must be shaped and honed for it to work the right way – otherwise it just ‘does too much’ and goes all over the place (if you know what I mean). Guided and encouraged properly, it can be great – it can procreate, it can breed prosperity and it can help others – but otherwise it can be lethal – just as deadly as the thing it’s trying to escape from – and so the hunted becomes the hunter.
In my country, there are so many uneducated self-made millionaires who, instead of using their potential and wealth to inspire and encourage the younger generation; have used it to acquire political clout so that they can become ‘godfathers’ who control governmental affairs, and to turn young men into political thugs and touts. We may deride these men and call them ‘illiterate thugs’, but we also can’t deny their accomplishments – which may (perhaps) have been legitimately acquired but are now being illegitimately deployed. This in so many ways is the story of my country and its (acknowledged and unacknowledged) leadership – the limitless potential is and has always been there – but it’s been and is still being utilised in an insensitive, misdirected, selfish and therefore completely counter-productive way.
I liked Guru’s ‘commonness’ and his struggle because I identify with it – God has blessed me in so many ways, particularly with parents who sacrificed a lot in order to give me the best foundation they could afford; but I’ve also had to work and struggle for so much – usually with people telling me ‘you can’t do it – it simply can’t be done’. That in itself is a gift from God – that He’s blessed the work of my hands. I’ll always remember the struggle though (which was made harder by the fact that I did it without compromising my values) and for that reason I’ll never take my accomplishments (humble as they may be today) for granted or let them be taken from me without a fight. Instead I want to use them for good, to share them and help others attain them – and that, right there, is what I took away as the central message of this film.
We in the developing world, having taken back our countries (at great cost to those who fought for it) from the colonialists, must not continue to enslave ourselves with government policies that are simply unfriendly to the masses. We’ve come too far too turn back now – we’ve worked too hard to lose it all to our own greed and selfishness. This is why our leaders need to stop robbing us of our hard-earned wealth the way the British did. It’s why we must stop allowing corruption to set us back decades – simply because we lack the self-confidence, the understanding, the awareness, and most of all the selflessness, to just be honest and to do things right. It’s why we must find the courage to once again be good to ourselves, to embrace the common man, to just struggle and scrap it out TOGETHER – not against one another. And this is why ‘Guru’ inspired me.
Thursday, February 08, 2007
So finally I am posting my review of the action movie ‘Vijaypath’ – it’s about time. My copy of this movie is really poor quality, so I must apologise for the pictures in advance. What can I say about ‘Vijaypath’? A lot, potentially, but I think I’ll try to curb my natural tendency towards verbosity – here are five statements about this film.
1. ‘Vijaypath’ is a nice slice of mid-90s fabulousness – Ajay Devgan looking hot in tight jeans and some big ol’ sunglasses, Tabu looking… umm, loud in some crazy clothes, and a supporting cast made up of the same old actors we’re used to seeing.
2. ‘Vijaypath’ is a stereotypical revenge flick – young boy’s family is ripped from him, young boy grows up and takes revenge on the bad guy. In this film, Ajay’s character is the son of a judge’s loyal friend and driver. The judge and his family make Ajay’s character part of their home, and the judge’s young son is like his brother. The judge steps on some powerful toes who decide to take their revenge by cruelly murdering the judge and his family. Ajay is also blinded, but just before the judge’s son dies, he donates his eyes to Ajay’s character.
Flash forward to a few years later… and Ajay is a young man who has sworn to wear dark glasses until he gets revenge, in honour of his ‘brother’. Equally bitter… no, much, much, more bitter about the loss of the judge and his family, is the judge’s younger brother (let’s call him Uncle); formerly an honest policeman, who was left permanently disabled in a clash with the bad guys. He and Ajay’s character live together. They spend all their time plotting revenge. Uncle even turns his crutch into a killing machine – that bit’s actually quite funny. Meanwhile, the bad guy is living it up in his mansion, with his daft nephew for comic relief. To cut it all short, things go all kinds of crazy, but Ajay’s character eventually gets revenge (yawnnn) for all his lost loved ones.
3. On the path to revenge, a lot of stuff happens… some of it verysad, all of it very action-y, and some of it very silly. Tabu’s character falls crazy in love with Ajay’s character, but he isn’t interested. You see, all he cares about is revenge. But Tabu gives it her all – she does a very wacky dance (to a song called ‘Ruk Ruk Ruk’) for him, a dance involving policemen, people in raincoats, cheerleaders, clowns, furry toys and even (rather disturbingly), beggars.
She even arranges for Ajay to be attacked by the clowns… poor thing.
Does it all work? Does Ajay fall for the Tabu character? You’ll have to watch the movie to find out (of course it works - eventually).
4. Another thing happens on the way to revenge (not funny though). Ajay’s character is so ruthless about it that he tortures the bad guy’s stupid but harmless nephew by unleashing angry birds on the poor bad-haired thing. This was not funny. This annoyed me. Ajay’s character tried to justify it based on the wrong done to his family, but… no, no, no. Ajay’s character should have gone to jail for that… instead he gets to ride off into the sunset on his Yamaha, with the beautiful Tabu for company.
5. Finally, this film is so formulaic and easy to predict that only a few things made it worth watching for me.
Three: It was fairly watchable – what you’d call an ok timepass.
Wednesday, February 07, 2007
I am the queen of musicals – I just love them. I love that unique blend of song, dance and drama. I love a well-crafted musical with just the right number of songs, inserted in just the right places. It fills me with delight, it sends shivers down my spine, it makes me smile, cry and laugh – it is a pure joy and a special kind of release. I love the ‘fantasy-ness’ of musicals… nothing allows you to escape into another world better than a really good musical. For me the best musicals are fantasies which still manage to have strong elements of social relevance and realism – movies which are escapist but still have a strong resonance. And of course, the songs have to be solid – in terms of lyrical content as well as the music itself.
Obviously, the stage is the true home of the musical, but for those of us who can’t afford the ticket prices (except on very special occasions), the film versions will have to do. In addition, movie musicals give us the opportunity to see musicals which are no longer on stage and are unlikely to ever be revived – it’s a special but very rare treat when the stage actors get to re-interpret their roles onscreen – Rex Harrison and Yul Brynner got this opportunity for the legendary performances in My Fair Lady and The King and I, but their female counterparts didn’t. (I sometimes wish I could go back in time and space just to watch Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews do My Fair Lady on Broadway – and I still feel bad that we didn’t get to see Julie as ‘Eliza’ on celluloid).
Musicals tend to be longer than 90 minutes because of the songs, and for that reason can be difficult to adapt to the standard film format. Being a Bollywood fan, I obviously have no problem with ‘longer’ movies, so I get a bit miffed when the quality of a musical is sacrificed just to get it to be the ‘right’ length.
I think it’s a well-known fact that Hollywood has lost its knack for the musical – the ‘golden age’ of the musical is over. For this reason, my favourite Hollywood musicals are the oldies – the ones with Rodgers & Hammerstein music (South Pacific, Oklahoma!, Carousel, The Sound of Music etc), the fabulous films from the days of Judy Garland, Leslie Caron, Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Cyd Charisse et al (Easter Parade, Gigi, The Wizard of Oz, High Society, Singing in the Rain, Lili, Hans Christian Andersen etc).
The more recent Hollywood musicals, while not bad, do not, in my opinion, measure up to the oldies. I mean, ‘Moulin Rouge’ was ok, but it’s not the kind of movie I’d see again – ‘Chicago’ was better because the performances were stronger (especially Catherina Zeta-Jones’s excellent Oscar-winning turn) but… still no masterpiece. For me, those movies just lacked some of the sense of fun and abandon the old movies had… that joy… that heart… not that the oldies all had that, of course, but I’ll come back to that. I’ve enjoyed the modern movies which were not technically musicals but which made extensive use of music (because they were about real/fictional musicians) a lot more – movies like Ray, Selena, Gypsy, The Rose (I do love the Divine Miss M when she sings - nothing like it), What's Love Got to Do With It (Angela Bassett was robbed of the Oscar), Walk the Line (love it), the Judy Garland Story (with a fantastic Judy Davis) and Hustle n Flow (don't let me get started on Terrence Howard now), among others.
‘Dreamgirls’ is a treat for me because it’s the best of both worlds – it’s about musicians (so much drama there) and it’s also a musical in the true sense of the word – with music actually telling the story. It’s based on (in a satirical style) some great musical history (probably my favourite era of modern music) – the fabulous Motown day with the diva-licious Diana (read Deena) Ross and the Supremes (read Dreams). I love the fact that although I missed the famous Broadway run of the original stage musical, a worthy tribute (yet, from all accounts with its own ‘personality’) has been made.
Dreamgirls is a thoroughly modern movie (especially in terms of choreography) but it has the feel and the heart of many of the oldies. I love the passion and freshness you can feel from the filmmakers – this is where I think Bill Condon succeeded the most. Like I said, even some of the classic old musicals sometimes suffered from a lack of heart – ‘My Fair Lady’ is a good example. It had all the right elements – Rex Harrison at his best in an Oscar-winning performance, great sets and costumes, technically almost-perfect in terms of production quality, Audrey Hepburn in a very good performance (while I wish Julie had gotten the role, I can’t deny that Audrey did her best – even if she couldn’t sing her own songs). But it just lacked heart – it just lacked that freshness – that enthusiasm and joie-de-vivre that you need for a really good musical, which is what films like ‘Singing in the Rain’ had – and ‘Dreamgirls’ has that in spades.
Where shall I begin? The performances – Jennifer Hudson’s performance has been praised to high heavens by almost everyone else and I see why. She is amazing in this film – her onscreen presence is so powerful yet so natural. I actually missed her in the scenes she was absent from. She had such depth in this performance, she never over-acts, she just flows with all this real emotion – and she has such confidence that it’s amazing to think that this is her first movie. And that voice… whoa… it sent shivers down my spine. I have the legendary Tony Awards ceremony Jennifer Holliday rendition of ‘And I am Telling you I’m Not Going’ on my PC and listen to it (and marvel at it, thinking no-one but no-one could ever sing the song as good as that) all the time… but this Jennifer H. has really done justice to the song – and to ‘I am Changing’, and all the other songs. Just a great, great voice… but more on Ms. Hudson later.
My second favourite performance in this film came from a veteran, Mr. Eddie Murphy. I love his old comedies (Trading Places, Coming to America, the Beverly Hills Cop movies, Bowfinger (with Steve Martin - one of my all-time faves)) but it’s been a while since Eddie did an ‘adult’ movie… he’s been doing lots of family stuff like ‘Shrek’ and ‘Dr. Dolittle’… and this film made me realise how much I’ve missed him. This role ('James Thunder Early') was perfect for him… cocky yet vulnerable, funny as heck, crazy, tragic, self-absorbed yet so giving and generous, so over-the-top but also somehow contained and sensitively interpreted. Loved it, loved it, loved it.
Jamie Foxx and Anika Noni Rose also did great in this movie – they both nailed their roles – fantastic performances… Jamie’s range as Curtis was great. Keith Robinson was really good (plus he was too cute – I wanted him to be my little brother)… and Beyonce… well, she did well too. Markedly better than her past performances, but definitely not worthy of a Golden Globe nomination (what were they thinking?) Having said that, she did do very well – she should be proud. She held her own - but not a patch on Jennifer. I hear she’s a bit upset at all the attention Jennifer’s getting – how very ‘Dreamgirls-y’! She did write a great song though ("Listen") but then we already know Beyonce can write a good song. The rest of the cast – Danny Glover, Sharon Leal etc was really good – good casting.
The choreography – Fatima Robinson nailed it. She nailed it! Totally reminiscent of the time period under reference, but also fresh and classy. Fantastic – one up for the MTV music-video generation. While Condon and his gang can’t take credit for the high lyrical quality of the wonderful songs (although some great new songs were written for the film too), they were beautifully arranged and performed – very very good work – I must get the soundtrack. The sets and costumes – lovely – from the Dreams' costumes (the later ones – after they had made some money) to the black suit Beyonce had on when she went to see hubby – so 70s (with all the ruffles) yet so contemporary.
But the directing, editing and cinematography deserve honours too. So lovingly done… this film was just beautifully shot. So many great examples – the use of lighting and shadow in ‘And I am Telling You…’, the way they shot the first Jimmy Early song sequences – heck, the way they shot all the song sequences. So seamless and beautiful, so well-paced – courtesy of Condon’s genius script. The script is dramatic, exciting but also hilarious, really nicely done by someone who obviously truly loves the stage musical. I’m trying to think of something to fault this movie on, but I can’t – maybe the next time I see it, I’ll be able to nitpick (actually, no I won’t) – but for now I’m just loving it.
And I’m loving Jennifer Hudson – what a story… first of all, she accomplished the feat of trimming down from a size 22 to a 12 before auditioning for American Idol. While on AI, despite winning the admiration of veteran musicians like Sir Elton John, she got voted off by America (I remember her saying ‘well, if America don’t like me, what can I do about it?’ or something like that, when the results were announced). Instead of disappearing into oblivion like all the other AI rejects, she got this role… and she absolutely KILLED it!! Amazing… talk about the original Dreamgirl. And now Clive whathisname (Clive Davis?) is falling over himself to give her a record deal (after turning her down a couple of years ago). How hotttt is that? Of course, there’s the usual crowd of naysayers saying that Jennifer will fall prey to the so called ‘curse of Effie White’ – i.e. that, like Jennifer Holliday, she will always be seen as Effie White and nothing more. To that I say, whatever!! (I know, how very eloquent of me) Well, I predict that this Jennifer has more up her sleeve… and I’m rooting for her.
Obviously, I think Dreamgirls is a great production – I think I may have to see it again before it leaves the cinemas – and it’s definitely going in my DVD collection when the DVD comes out. What more can I say? I just loved it.
I know this was a loooong review - but bear with me, it's not everyday I see a movie I can really rave about!