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Masala Zindabad

Yup, it’s up and running.

We kick things off with a podcast featuring MemsaabStory – part one of a wide ranging discussion about the largely forgotten/ unknown/ nameless character actors of Hindi cinema. The feed is in the sidebar.

I swear we aren’t on meth. That’s just my poor editing skills at play. We did our best to follow the advice of all you lovely people who wrote in; I hope it worked.

Thanks for listening!

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Posted by on November 23, 2010 in Entertainment, Movies, Personal

 

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Before RED

Before <i>RED</i>

The best thing about the internet is that some amazing recommendations can come from the unlikeliest places, including random message boards. For instance, I recently found out that long before they made RED, which stands for Retired Extremely Dangerous in the 2010 movie of the graphic novel starring Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, John Malkovich, Morgan Freeman and Brian Cox as a quintet of international intelligence old-timers who take on a high-level conspiracy that threatens their lives, there was Hopscotch (1980).

Adapted from the novel of the same name by Brian Garfield, Hopscotch is about CIA operative Miles Kendig (Walter Matthau) who is REPRetired Extremely Pissed.

It all starts in Berlin, where Kendig, one of those older men in grey whom nobody notices, walks into a beer garden and laconically points out young spies to West German intelligence officers while conducting what appears to be an aria in his head. He leaves the main man alone – that is Yaskov (Herbert Lom), head of the KGB, well-known to Kendig for the past 20 years – so he can confront him alone in the street, remind him gently of West Germany’s great dislike of Soviet spies, and retrieve the sensitive information before sending him on his way.

Yaskov tells Kendig that he could make a run for it. As the thought of the two of them chasing each other all over Berlin comes to Kendig’s mind, he shakes his head: “We’d look like Laurel and Hardy!” he says in disgust. Yaskov agrees, hands it over and lives to fight another day.

Unfortunately for Kendig, things don’t go over as smoothly Stateside where his new boss Myerson (Ned Beatty) is the result of a regrettable internal promotion from the “Department of Dirty Tricks”. Clearly, they frowned at showing civility to a Soviet agent at the DDT, because Myerson turns Kendig into a glorified file clerk awaiting retirement for letting Yaskov go instead of bringing him in.

Or rather, Myerson tries. Kendig walks out of Myerson’s office, proudly decorated with photos of him doing manly things like shoot and fish as well shaking hands with Nixon, and coolly destroys his CIA file, hops on a flight to Salzburg, and arrives just in time to take part in a mysterious, extended conversation about the intricacies of wine with a foreign lady. This is Isobel (Glenda Jackson), a sort-of-former lover and definitely-former agent  who quit to marry well and is now a well-off widow with a fearsome German Shepherd for a companion.

Isobel knows Kendig’s unexpected visit can’t be a good sign. But even she’s surprised when she finds out Meyerson, a little man with an unpleasant expression who decorates his office with pictures of him shaking hands with Nixon, catching fish, and shooting the camera while cautioning his wife against renting their vacation home out to filthy Democrats, is now his boss:

“See-you-next-Tuesday Meyerson?” she asks.

Kendig isn’t quite sure what he’s supposed to do now that he’s out of a job (other than listen to all the opera he wants) but a visit of commiseration from Yaskov gives him an idea – he’s going to write his memoirs! Detailing every last, horrifying, gut-wrenching, underhanded operation he’s been involved with over the past 20 years. Of course, this comes with a side effect of possible assassination as Isobel points out (which leads him to make this face), so he decides to send it out, one chapter at a time, to all the major intelligence agencies of the world.

Myerson is incensed enough to launch a manhunt. Especially since the book is mainly interested in exposing his shortcomings, in more ways than one. “Hello, you short person,” Kendig says cheerfully to a photo of Meyerson before he starts on another chapter. “Pay attention, shorty!”

As the CIA and the KGB (Kendig is spilling quite a bit about them as well and Yaskov is naturally interested in the CIA material, recognizing a valuable source of information if only he can get his hands on him) search for him, much to the amusement of the rest of the world, Kendig has found a nice little hideaway in Myerson’s Democrat-free vacation home. One hilarious (seriously!) bout of bad Southern accents later, the local chapter of the FBI is trying to shoot him out.

“I now know what the FBI stands for,” Myerson says bitterly as his beautiful, expensive house goes up in smoke along with his quarry. “Fucking Ballbusting Imbeciles!”

With Matthau singing The Barber of Seville at the Spanish border, a re-engineered Belgian Tiger Moth that glides in a graceful ballet around an infuriated Myerson, dumb sidekicks, loyal attack dogs, and the always-delightful Sam Waterston as Kendig’s protege-cum-replacement, it’s leagues removed from the kind of spy movies we see today. Myerson clearly won the war as far as pop culture is concerned.

But it’s also the reason why Hopscotch is absolutely ageless. And now available on Criterion. So you really have no excuse.

 
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Posted by on October 31, 2010 in Books, Entertainment, Movies, Review, Video

 

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Audrey Day

Audrey Day

All I want this weekend is some charmth to warm my soul. And few actors are as charming as Audrey Hepburn, so she’s my preferred company today. Just familiar stuff, so I can wallow in the details without worrying about surprises and other nasty things.  Plus, she must hold some kind of record for acting in the most number of movies set in Paris and I could definitely do with some Parisian romance this week.

A few favorites amongst some of her less-discussed movies:

1. How to Steal a Million

The movie that made me fall in love with Peter O’Toole despite my father’s best efforts to traumatize me as a child with repeated viewings of Lawrence of Arabia.

It’s really an amusing trifle but as a caper it hits just the right spot – O’Toole is adorable as the bemused would-be art thief shanghaied into helping a family of accomplished forgers thanks to the go-getter daughter of the house. It has the kind of 60s silliness that makes that whole era such fun: hi-tech gadgets and yummy fashion and amazing cars. And smoking hot chemistry that doesn’t require anyone to get naked.

Well, maybe a little naked but it takes place discreetly offscreen.

2. Robin and Marian

A look at the lives of glorious heroes long after the cheers have faded into memory, this m0vie was written by James Goldman who also wrote The Lion in Winter and They Might be Giants (all you Sherlock fans might want to check it out). For this reason alone, it has long been on my list but it took Flynn Week to bring it back up.

And it certainly doesn’t disappoint. It’s not really “Robin Hood” except in name but works really well as a movie about young men who dedicate their lives to a higher cause, the young women they leave behind, and what happens when life catches up with them.

3. Two for the Road

I’ll never forget the very first time I saw this movie thanks to that one scene in which Audrey and Albert Finney discuss the silence of married people at restaurants. It’s the kind of writing that comes back to you at unexpected moments; the simple honesty of little things that you never quite analyze until someone points it out to you and then it remains bound to your memory of that person forever.

This is not the movie for you if you’re looking for the “classic” Audrey Hepburn experience with the wide eyes, the chic clothes and the ladylike language – you’d have to choose director Stanley Donen’s two other, more famous, collaborations with Audrey for that fix (Funny Face, Charade).

An examination of a couple’s marriage over a decade as they go on various road trips, I often wonder how it would have played if Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton starred in it… and I mean that as a compliment.

4. Paris – When it Sizzles

Look at that trailer! Don’t you want to see it? It’s like this movie was made to make all writers of fanfic green with jealousy – will your insane (-ly sexy!) storylines ever be acted out by anyone even half as awesome as Audrey Hepburn and William Holden? I think not!

I have to say, analytically speaking, you end up wondering if this movie about a hard partyin’ screenwriter forced to submit the allegedly phenomenal script he’s been working on in gay Paree and the assistant he finds to help him crank it out in time was more of a docudrama than fiction. There’s a distinctly cobbled together feel to the whole enterprise. But who wants to speak analytically? It sounds like a painful medical condition! Talking about medical conditions, these two ought to do something about this fatal attraction their mouths have for each other.

5. Love in the Afternoon

This movie was an eye-roller even when it came out, but if you have a thing for Autumn-Spring romances – and much as it pains me, I must out myself here – then this absolutely charming. It’s not as sweet as Sabrina but Gary Cooper works much better than Humphrey Bogart.

And as hilarious (-ly sexist) as that whole “connoisseur of women” stuff sounds in the trailer, it’s even more funny in the movie as you watch Cooper drip charm in a tuxedo tailored for Cary Grant. But it kind of works too – you buy him as the great big, rough American millionaire who likes his dames with exotic accents. There’s a certain hard-living hint of sleaze about him that’s very unusual for roles of this kind. And Audrey is, of course, utterly delicious and extremely young.

It’s like chicken soup for my heart.

 
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Posted by on October 22, 2010 in Celebrity, Entertainment, Movies, Review, Video

 

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Answering for Lamhe

Answering for <i>Lamhe</i>

Sridevipalooza is long over and not even a hangover remains, but that doesn’t mean I can’t chip in at this late date. Here I am, anyway, whether you want me or not – and I come bearing Lamhe.

Yash Chopra’s favorite child that fell flat on its face during the race to the top of the box office at the mega-hurdle called “incest”, Lamhe is the movie that endeared Chopra to an entire generation of tender-hearted young girl children who’ve remained his die-hard base ever since. Nearly two decades after its release, Lamhe is the Chopra movie most likely to be called a “cult-favorite” or “overlooked masterpiece”.

As an unapologetic member of that cult which deems this movie its favorite (although, to be fair, I belong to a number of such cults so I’m probably not the fervent convert of quoteworthy fame), I have to say it is a gross exaggeration to call this movie a masterpiece. Overlooked, yes. Masterpiece, no.

Lamhe is actually the beginning of Yash Chopra Lite, the expression of a gentle sentimentality that would eventually devolve into the hollow shell of Dil To Pagal Hai (which recycled a number of this film’s lesser ideas) and the overwrought Veer Zaara. Conversely, though, Lamhe is thus the best of these movies and it shows its quality – in its performances like Anil Kapoor’s earnest confession at the climax or Anupam Kher telling his best friend off; in scenes like the one in which Pallavi’s husband gently informs her about Viren’s feelings and advises her to continue her friendship with him or when Anita first recognizes that Viren and Pooja aren’t exactly platonic.

In case you’re one of the few who haven’t seen this movie, here’re some things you should know:

Q. Is Lamhe really about incest?
A. Nooooooooooooo! It’s about this guy(Viren) who falls for the daughter (Pooja) of his first True Love (Pallavi).

Q. That doesn’t sound too bad. What’s up with the incest thing then?
A. Nasty imaginations at work! Okay, so Viren became Pooja’s guardian after Pallavi died in childbirth and she looks exactly like her mom. You know, the one he’s never stopped obsessing over. But! The thing to remember is that he never laid eyes on Pooja for those 18 crucial years when she was growing up into her mother’s double and all the day-to-day raising was done by his old nurse (Dai Jaan). Besides, she‘s the one who chases him, the hussy!

Q. Hmm.
A. Quite.

Q. So it’s like a Bollywood Lolita?
A. More like this awful thing but with 100% less rape and 100% more awesomeness like this:

Q. Moving on, what does Lamhe mean?
A. It means Moments. You see, Viren spends his whole adult life hoarding the few moments he spent in Pallavi’s dazzling presence and Pooja threatens to do the same with the few moments she spent in Viren’s considerably less dazzling presence, and then Viren realizes that all the dazzling moments he spent with Pallavi have been supplanted by Pooja’s dazzling presence. Razzle dazzle!

Q. You know, I don’t think I like the sound of Viren and Pooja.
A. On paper, you’d be right! Viren is a sentimental idiot who needs a good shake and a swift kick up his ass while Pooja is a total pile on with daddy issues that absolutely nobody is interested in addressing. But when Anil Kapoor and Sridevi play these two fuckwits, they’re impossibly aww-worthy.

Q. OMG is this the movie with the clean shaven Anil Kapoor?
A. Yes! It is how you differentiate between the callow youth who fell in love with Pallavi-who-looked-straight-through-him (Moochless!) and the fuddy duddy who falls for the fun and energetic Pooja-who-idolizes-him-even-though-he-ignores-her (Mooch!).

Q. How many times does he slap his co-star in this?
A. Just once but he makes it count!

Q. Who else is in this movie?
A. There’s Waheeda Rehman who is a total darling. Anupam Kher is great, especially if you didn’t know that this was going to be the character he plays in every single YRF movie from then on. Deepak Malhotra as Pallavi’s husband and Pooja’s father is hilariously wooden. And then there’s Dippy Sagoo as Anita the woman-who-ought-to-have-known-better-than-to-spend-years-mooning-over-a-wet-blanket. I’m very sad Dippy Sagoo’s career never took off. Too bad, Dippy Sagoo!

Q. Should I watch this?
A. Do you like happy endings, older men, spunky young women, Sridevi and Anil Kapoor? Lata Mangeshkar warbling in the background and warm woolens in England? Then this is the movie for you! Otherwise, not so much.

Q. You really like this movie, don’t you?
A. Do not judge me.

 
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Posted by on September 1, 2010 in Celebrity, Entertainment, Movies, Review, Video

 

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Four’s A Fun Crowd

What happens when you cast Errol Flynn in a movie tailor-made for Cary Grant? Rather pleasant things, it turns out!

Flynn Week, thus far, has brought you Flynn in period costume, army uniform, and cowboy outfit. In Four’s A Crowd (1938) he breaks out the tuxedo and top hat, giving the world a glimpse of a career that could have been.

The movie begins with Jean Christy (Rosalind Russell), fast-talking, fact-gathering, breezy reporter who sails into her workplace one day to find her newspaper about to down shutters thanks to the incompetence of young Pat Buckley (Patric Knowles), who inherited the company from his father without having the least idea how to run it other than hope to stay in business by printing what amounts to glowing PR releases for important men.

Jean knows what, or rather who, will fix their woes – Bob Lansford (Errol Flynn), the managing editor Pat fired for humiliating him by saving him from a disastrous marriage with a girl who just happened to be a full-blooded Native American. Ah, the olden days.

Anyway, Pat doesn’t have the time to think about silly things like a newspaper getting dismantled and reporters being thrown out of work – he’s madly in love with Lori Dillingwell (Olivia de Havilland), a slightly dim socialite he adoringly calls “Cootchie-cootchie-cootchie”.

Of course, this is not acceptable to Jean – his cavalier attitude towards the sacred press or his terms of endearment – and so she proceeds to con Lansford into helping the paper survive by dangling Lori in front of him. Lori, you see, is the granddaughter of The J. P. Dillingwell – the richest man in America. And also the one rich man severely disinterested in entrusting his reputation (and a couple of million of his money) to the greedy hands of Lansford who now makes a comfortable living polishing up the public images of men too rich to be well-liked through the judicious use of philanthropy.

“I should think you’d want to clean yourself up, if only for the sake of Posterity!” says Lansford.
“Posterity?” sneers Dillingwell. “What did Posterity ever do for me? Why should I do anything for Posterity?”
Right on, Grandpa!

A nasty newspaper campaign, orchestrated scenes reminiscent of the French Revolution, 21 baying hounds, assorted bits of animal abuse (seriously, what the hell is up with that in these movies? I guess I’m just not conditioned to the sensibilities of an era wherein children were treated better than animals), and a well-buttered railroad later, Lansford has landed his prized deal and convinced the two dimwits that he and Jean are in love with them. His troubles, of course, have just begun.

In the hands of Cary Grant, Lansford would be a charming rogue. Flynn is almost every bit as charming, but he is also a bit more slimy, a bit more of a stone-cold cad, a bit less believable as a man flustered by his complicated romantic life, and not in the least bit comforting the way Grant could be. The difference is most marked when you see the two men kiss their costars. When Flynn takes a woman in his arms, no matter how tightly they keep their mouths closed and how distorted the camera angle, you can’t help but suspect he’s slipping her a little tongue. With Grant, you know he’s being a gentleman – no matter how long Alfred Hitchcock kept him plastered to Eva Marie Saint.

If Flynn’s is an excellent performance, Four’s A Crowd belongs just as much to Rosalind Russell, who would go on to movie immortality and refine her ace reporter act opposite Grant in His Girl Friday. “You play hop-scotch from one double-cross to another,” says Jean, every bit as clever as him but much more principled. Jean is nobody’s fool, the only person wily enough to track and lay Lansford low through his many complicated machinations, single-handedly saves her newspaper as well as her boss’ dumb butt, and even gets her man in the end. My kinda hero.

In direct comparison, Olivia de Havilland is just annoyingly studied as the flibbertigibbet Lori. Her best scene is her introduction to Lansford but there are enough moments like the impromptu dance she puts on in the middle of the night to hoodwink her grandpa that hint at the lost potential of this role in the hands of an accomplished comedienne.

Patric Knowles, at the end of this rectangle, is the other pleasant surprise. Unlike his other roles with Flynn, he actually gets to do a fair bit here and he’s pretty good as the rich idiot who just wants to fall in love with a pretty girl and bring Lansford down a notch.

Unfortunately for Flynn’s possible career as a leading man in comedy, Four’s A Crowd is simply not in the same league as the other, more famous screwball comedies from the era. But I’d say that has a great deal more to do with director Michael Curtiz, who simply doesn’t have the magical touch of his contemporaries Howard Hawks or Preston Sturges even if he’s pretty good at injecting humor into his adventure movies, than Flynn. Still better than 90% of the trash you’ll see these days though.

 
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Posted by on August 29, 2010 in Celebrity, Entertainment, Movies, Review

 

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Getting the Hell Into Dodge

“The only native of Kansas,” Wade Hatton informs Abby Irving, “is the buffalo. He’s got a very hard head, a very uncertain temper and a very lonely future. Apart from that there is hardly any comparison between you.”

Today in Flynn Week, we take a trip to Dodge City (1939), the heart of the Wild West, a “town that knew no ethics but cash and killing.”

The movie starts evocatively with an impromptu race between a stagecoach driven by a grumpy oldtimer and a steamengine pulling a carriage full of rich old assholes. America, in the wake of the Civil War, is changing forever and the railroad is only a sign of the things to come. If you’re looking for a comment on how America was settled, however, Dodge City is not your movie.

On board the train, you see, is Colonel Dodge, who hopes the little settlement he founded would one day become an important economic hub inviting settlers from all over the country. Six years later, “Dodge” is indeed a bustling town central to the cattle business that settled the American West. Unfortunately, with shootouts in the streets and whoring and gambling in the buildings, it’s also a byword for lawlessness.

Enter Wade Hatton (Errol Flynn), a restless adventurer his friend Rusty (Alan Hale) describes as a “moving man”. An Irishman who served the British army in India before fighting for the South in the War, he helped build the railroad but left for Texas rather than help settle Dodge the way the Colonel hoped. Back on business for the first time in six years, he has little interest in playing sheriff the way the townspeople want him to even if he has a personal animosity towards Jeff Surrett (Bruce Cabot), the man responsible for everything that’s wrong with Dodge. That only reinforces Abby Irving’s (Olivia de Havilland) poor opinion of him. She hasn’t felt too friendly towards him since he shot her brother, which contributed to his death in a stampede.

One tragedy later, everything is different. Hatton, with his friends Rusty and Tex (Guinn “Big Boy” Williams who looks eerily like President Bush), clean up the town by banning guns in the main streets and taxing the hell out of everything. Soon, families are moving in and people are going to church on Sunday, which gives Hatton plenty of time to support the freedom of press and act upon some investigative reporting. I guess the lesson there is, in the Wild West, Jesus votes Democrat.

I must say one of the things that’s always interesting about watching these movies is to wonder how they’d hold up in public opinion if they were made today. And while there is a default assumption that these movies must only be offensive to politically correct lefties, the truth is, these are the product of another era entirely and it shows. Pretty much every argument and norm of today stands on its head in these. I spent a few minutes, for example, wondering why the saloon girls (including Ann Sheridan as Ruby, the main draw) wouldn’t raise their skirts above the knee until I realized, “duh! 1930s!”

The most charming bits of the movie, predictably, are the ones which feature Flynn and de Havilland together. But the rest isn’t bad at all, even if Dodge City is not the kind of western we’re used to today.

 
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Posted by on August 28, 2010 in Celebrity, Entertainment, Movies, Review, Video

 

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C’est de la Folie

C’est de la Folie

The Charge of the Light Brigade is one of the best movies ever made about war. It is about class and the thin line that separates foolishness from bravery on the battlefield; the aloof decisions of powerful men who choose between life and death for other human beings. Extensively researched, it tells the story of one particular battle in the Crimean War, the Battle of Balaclava, later made famous by Lord Tennyson in his poem of the same title.

That movie, of course, was directed by Tony Richardson in 1968 and starred John Gielgud, Trevor Howard and Vanessa Redgrave. But this is Flynn Week, so we shall discuss the version made thirty-odd years before that, starring Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland and Patric Knowles.

If you’re the kind of person who finds Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom offensive then The Charge of the Light Brigade is definitely not for you. In fact, eating monkey brains at a dinner hosted by a manic Amrish Puri playing the head of a cracktastic Kali temple is probably the kinder depiction of the two.

Directed by Michael Curtiz, The Charge of the Light Brigade begins on the Northwest frontier of British India. A clearly know-nothing envoy of the crown is in “Suristan” to meet the cagey new ruler Osama bin Laden Surat Khan (C. Henry Gordon) and somehow convince him to remain friendly to British interests while cutting off the annual allowance with which the British government bought the cooperation of his predecessor and the tribesmen he ruled.

Captain Geoffrey Vickers (Errol Flynn), a veteran of this treacherous terrain, doesn’t really think much of the mission, the envoy or the supposedly “gentlemanly” Surat Khan who lives in an amazingly chic mausoleum with some truly fashion forward pillars in the midst of which he naps on his throne and breeds vultures that he keeps in giant birdcages right smack in the middle of his audience chamber. Coz he’s a savage, see, fancy British education or not.

With England firmly embroiled in The Great Game, rulers in sensitive and potentially hostile areas like Suristan are vitally important. Vickers isn’t all that keen on the idea but ends up saving his hide anyway when a gorgeous spotted kitty is about to make him her dinner while they’re out on safari. Surat Khan immediately pledges friendship and eternal debt to Vickers.

Meanwhile in Calcutta, Vickers’ fiancee Elsa (Olivia de Havilland) is reconsidering quite another pledge. Love being blind, she has fallen for Vickers all right – Perry Vickers (Patric Knowles), Geoffrey’s dorky little brother. Elsa’s father, predictably, doesn’t think much of a man who would make out with his brother’s fiancee, even if he thinks his elder brother is the jolliest of good fellows who’d be willing to hand the love of his life over to his younger brother, all neatly tied up in a bow. He’s much kinder to his daughter as he points out that Geoffrey is Errol freakin’ Flynn, dummy!

Turns out Elsa’s dad was on to something as Geoffrey chews his brother out when he comes clean about Elsa and him falling in love with each other. This creates a misunderstanding between the brothers, especially since weepy Miss Elsa is “a respectable lady” who can’t bring herself to hurt wee Geoffrey’s feelings even though she managed to fall in love with his brother in his absence. Oh, boo fucking hoo. Not even Olivia de Havilland can sell this selfish little drama queen to me.

Now I know what you’re thinking because I was thinking the same thing by this point – why are we spending all this time in India when the movie is about a battle fought in Ukraine?

Well… here’s the thing: when your popcorn movie is based on a poem, no matter how stirring its lines, you need to jazz it up a little. All that stuff about office politics and incompetent aristocrats running the army is all well and good, but when you’re making a movie about Errol Flynn leading a suicide charge against an enemy many times the size of his force, there better be a honking great reason for it.

The filmmakers chose the massacre of the surrendered British, including their women, children, and servants, at Kanpur (or Cawnpore as they spelled it in those days) during the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 (or The First War of Independence as we learned to call it in India) as the motivational event. Except the Battle of Balaclava took place before that so they relocated the events to a fictional outpost and made savage, vulture breeding, Russki-loving Surat Khan the aggressor.

Although Vickers is sadly mistaken about how low Surat Khan’s willing to go, even the blackest of villains has their limit. He spares Vickers his life (and that of Elsa) for having once saved his own. Just as Vickers lived to regret his good deed, Surat Khan will presently repent his momentary lapse into honor when the two come face to face in the Crimea.

Apparently, when the Russians saw the incredibly outnumbered British charge the guns at Balaclava, they thought the Brit soldiers must be drunk. A French Marshal said: “It is magnificent but it is not war. It is madness.”

Curtiz takes this sentiment and runs with it. When Vickers comes to know that Surat Khan is present behind enemy lines in The Charge of the Light Brigade, he unilaterally takes the decision to change the more sensible orders handed him by his superior to avenge the deaths of the women and children Surat Khan murdered. Naturally, a spot of insubordination and horrific carnage is incidental to the whole process as befits an officer as bold, principled and courageous as Vickers.

It’s almost genius. At one stroke the movie reclaims an act of such foolhardiness that it actually worked; and sanitizes the very real revenge the British exacted for Kanpur by way of the extremely bloody suppression of the revolt, all of which took place in India instead of some faraway country and was visited on the heads of all sorts of Indians instead of just one villainous one.

It’s a little difficult to find a copy of The Charge of the Light Brigade as Warner Brothers never re-released it, owing to the production’s practice of using trip wires to bring down the horses during the battle scenes, which led to hundreds of the animals getting either killed or having to be put down. Yeah. Um. But another way of looking at it, to follow in the movie’s silver lining example, is to remember that the American government was so horrified, Congress passed the law about harming animals during shoots. Yay?

If you can look past the fact that The Charge of the Light Brigade is stolidly a product of its times, it’s a great blast from the thankfully past and includes a performance by a young David Niven, who went on to use one of Curtiz’s phrases from this movie as the title of his memoir Bring on the Empty Horses. Always worth it.

 
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Posted by on August 27, 2010 in Celebrity, Entertainment, Movies, Review, Video

 

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Rob(b)in My Heart

Rob(b)in My Heart

In The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), Errol Flynn runs around a forest in green tights with his BFF who looks like he’d like nothing better than a cuddle from his comrade in arms, and falls for a girl dressed in medieval Europe’s version of the hijab. Directed by Michael Curtiz and William Keighley, it is an enduring classic. And watching it again for the purposes of my self-declared Flynn Week made me remember why.

If you speak English, you know the story. In fact, it’s been made and remade so often, for television and film, that I was pretty sure I had Robin-fatigue. Part of the reason for this feeling, quite apart from the individual merits of the films or television shows made after the 1938 version, I realized, is because when you’re remaking an old classic, the burden is on you to find “something new” to justify the remake.

Better sets and better costumes that introduced moody lighting and did away with the famous tights. New interpretations of old characters that gave them a bit more to do than be candles to Robin’s star. Realistic styles of warfare involving a great deal of blood and screaming. A hook that announces to the audience that this is not the same old stuff that you saw in your childhood.

By that same token, however, the charm of The Adventures of Robin Hood is that it is precisely that movie you saw in your childhood… and loved very much. The sets seem made out of play dough; the costumes are hilarious; the fighting is choreographed like a slightly less graceful ballet; the story is a wafer thin concoction of action scenes culled from lore; and any true unpleasantness like blood and death are presented in a way calculated to preserve the innocence and sensibilities of the infants of an era past wherein incredible amounts of mindless, desensitizing violence wasn’t the cultural norm. And yet, it is a benchmark because, quite simply, it is fun.

I’ve lost count of how often I saw this movie as a child, or even as an adult because I never missed it if it was on TV, but it has been a few years now and this is the first time I’m writing about it. That brings the realization that my idea of what it means to be A Hero has been indelibly shaped by Flynn’s portrayal of Robin Hood.

“He’s brave and he’s reckless,” gushes Maid Marian (the very lovely Olivia de Havilland) to her nurse (the very funny Una O’Connor). “And yet, he’s gentle and kind, not brutal…”

Flynn’s Robin is indeed all these things and more besides. In fact, my deeply held belief that true heroes are wonderful men who must be a phenomenal pain to know in person stems from his portrayal of Robin in this movie. Childish me thought him exceedingly romantic – grown up, stodgy me doesn’t grudge poor Marian a lifetime of following in the wake of the fires he’s bound to start because he thought the night called for some warmth and by building the biggest bonfire he could, he’d have some fun and something pretty to look at besides. But the magic of Flynn’s Robin is that despite knowing all this, you still either want him or want to be him.

His hot-headed nobility would be insufferable if it weren’t for his humor and obvious intelligence. Of course, it helps that Flynn is also the personification of male beauty at his very prime, with a truly excellent pair of legs he puts to good use during intensely acrobatic fights that require him to run, jump, and swing around like a monkey. And then there is that cocky little grin doing a lot more damage than any of the arrows he lets loose in the movie.

Helping him along is his chemistry with co-star de Havilland. Unlike the majority of versions, in The Adventures of Robin Hood, Maid Marian is not the childhood sweetheart of Robin of Locksley. She is instead a snooty Norman ward of the King of England, very much a partisan in the on-going ethnic strife between Saxons and Normans, and doesn’t care all that much for Robin at first sight, pretty face or not.

You can’t really blame her: Robin has a taste for mouthing off to royalty in the guise of the villainous Prince John (Claude Rains), appears at parties with the carcasses of forbidden game that he dumps on the main table, a habit of jumping up on tables where food is being served, his friends are a ragtag bunch of extremely common commoners, and his main occupation is running around shooting or robbing her friends, especially her would-be beau Guy of Gisborne (Basil Rathbone). Hardly endearing behavior.

Once she adopts his cause, however, Marian is anything but a wilting flower. She gently nudges him back to the path of duty when he starts dreaming of a countryside idyll with her by his side, and plots his escape when he inevitably gets into trouble through his reckless actions. She is also the one who puts her life in danger to send him word of King Richard the Lion-Heart (Ian Hunter), who has returned to England after escaping his captors.

And in the midst of all the things that are going on – kings to be restored to thrones, villains to be defeated, fair maidens to be rescued, a kingdom to be freed from the greed of a racist tyrant – The Adventures of Robin Hood even takes a moment to comment on current affairs circa 1938. The Merry Men of Sherwood Forest, you’ll be happy to know, were decidedly non-interventionist. Oh, irony.

The Adventures of Robin Hood is one of those rare movies that delivers exactly what it says in the title: Adventure with a capital A. If you somehow passed your childhood without access to its magic, you need to rectify it today!

 
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Posted by on August 26, 2010 in Celebrity, Entertainment, Movies, Review, Video

 

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Awesomely Insane Jeetendra

Awesomely Insane Jeetendra

While searching for material to post during Sridevipalooza week, I made a mistake – albeit a happy one. I went to Youtube to look for clips and fell down a Jeetendra-related video-hole.

I’d forgotten, for example, that the man spent a good chunk of his life dressed like Errol Flynn. The results were so astoundingly, blindingly B-movie fabulous, I just had to share! Just to scratch the surface…

10. Jaise Ko Taise

What better to start us off than a spot of homoerotic S&M? Complete with gymnastics and crotch shots!

Because you’re special.

9. Badi Mastani Meri Jawani

You know what Sholay lacked? The part where Jai and Veeru are hung over a bunch of hungry lions while Basanti and Radha dance awkwardly in harem pants with a bunch of passing African tribesmen.

What? No self-respecting African lady would be seen without a feather duster on her head, I’ll have you know!

8. Kismat Likhne Wale Par

A floating gold throne gently deposits Jeetendra and Jaya Prada (dressed in doublet and apsara costume, respectively) in the technicolor land of floating disco balls. You know things can only improve from there!

7. Chumma Chumma

Apart from the amazing lyrics (the rhyme scheme alone merits it a mention on every list), what I particularly love about this song is the expression on both their faces:

Jeetendra: But… but… that’s not Jaya Prada!
Dimple Kapadia: What the fuck am I doing? That’s right – I have two kids to bring up.
Jeetendra: I don’t understand! Those are the right clothes but that’s not her! This one looks like she actually understands what she’s saying!
Dimple Kapadia: Wave hands! Raise leg! Wave hands! Raise leg! I can dance! And I have no idea what I’m saying! See? Kiss me, you fool!
Jeetendra: Fraud! There is no kissing between Jaya Prada and me – we only have pretend sex while partially clothed! Get off me!

6. Deewana

Mithun wept.

5. Oye Sanam-a

It is a crime to choose just one song out of Hatim Tai but since I can’t embed the entire movie here, this will have to do. Sigh.

4. Daiya Re Daiya

There are some things without which you really can’t call yourself a Bollywood Hero of a certain vintage – and one of those things is the honored tradition of blackface. Or, as practiced in Bollytown, dark green face.

Omigod! Is that Jeetendra under that “tan”? I totally didn’t recognize him! What a cunning disguise! Of course, all the pelvic thrusts helped distract.

3. Maine Tum Sang

Did you ever wonder what people did before they had CGI or if they couldn’t afford special effects? Well, this is your lucky day! The answer is: they simulated running in slo-mo and took over some school’s annual day decorations. An absolutely fabulous school, of course!

These two really made the best movies!

2. Nainon Mein Sapna

I don’t care what you say – if you were in India at a certain point in the 80s, you knew this song like your mother’s lullaby. You saw it on Doordarshan on those oh-so-special Thursdays (Fridays?) when the holy half hour of Chitrahar played state-approved movie songs. You heard it on the radio at your grandmother’s house. Your cleaning lady hummed it under her breath. You knew it, no lie.

Try getting it out of your head now. Muahahaha!

1. Yeh Mera Premi

The thunderous notes that open this song herald your entry into a whole another dimension. Canary yellow wigs! A handkerchief on Leena Chandravarkar’s head! Playing card motifs! The I-got-beaned-on-the-head-till-I-drooled expressions on Jeetendra’s face! Tights! Happy skips! Extras in lockstep! Nothing beats this song!

[pic source]

 
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Posted by on August 18, 2010 in Celebrity, Entertainment, Movies, Music, Video

 

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Lost MacLean: Death Train

Well, what do you know? Turns out Detonator: Death Train was indeed a prequel of sorts to Detonator II: Night Watch. Apparently, Pierce Brosnan was intimately involved in an Alistair MacLean made-for-TV movie cult back in the 90s.

“The mission is impossible. The consequences deadly,” warns the tagline. How truly it speaks! The mission to make a decent movie out of the enjoyable novels of one of the world’s most popular writers’ bestselling work is impossible in the hands of this crew. Even though it stars Pierce Brosnan, Patrick Stewart, Christopher Lee and Ted Levine! And its consequences will indeed be deadly as seen by the movie Night Watch.

But! But! But first come these fascinating 90 minutes or so of a great cast:

In A Top Secret Location (Evil)

Fu Manchu: Where’s my bomb?

That Guy, Now Playing Scientist: What is this Russian shit? The plutonium exploded all over me and now I’m going to turn into rotting meat.

Fu Manchu: Don’t make me vahnt to drink your blood. Where’s my bomb?

That Guy, Now Playing Scientist: Bomb. Bomb-bomb-bomb. Bombitty-bomb. Bom-BOM-bom. Bomb. Tr la la la la. *smirk*

Fu Manchu: Er.

In A Top Secret Location (Good)

Jean Luc Picard: I need more power to beat evil.

Baywatch Babe: Me! Take me! I have powers! Look at my legs! My very long legs. In a short skirt. And my excessive luggage! It’s what every top secret agent bent on rescuing the world needs!

James Bond: You’re totally banging that babe, aren’t ya?

Jean Luc Picard: You should say – you’re totally banging that babe, aren’t ya, sir? Savvy?

James Bond: Fine. I’d rather be racing bikes anyway.

Baywatch Babe: Sexist Pig!

Non-English Speaking European Military Personnel: Ha ha ha! She called him an oink! We’re totally on her side because we’re all feminists!

James Bond: Oooh, I’ve been totally schooled. I guess I’ll take her seriously now that she flounced off and made a room full of armymen chuckle.

On The Death Train

Captain Stottlemeyer: Um, hello? If anybody’s interested, I have a train with a nuclear bomb on board.

Jean Luc Picard: Oh! I see! It’s a devious plan.With Russians and bombs on trains and stuff.

Fu Manchu: May I speak to a member of the press please? I would like to explain my top secret devious plan with Russians and bombs on trains and stuff in great detail. Thanks!

James Bond: Let’s go beat this guy!

Captain Stottlemeyer: You’ll never beat me! Wait. You will? Oh.

In A Hospital Room

Secret Agent: Holy crap! Your face!

That Guy, Now Playing Scientist: I was bored and building a nuclear bomb was something I always wanted to do.

Secret Agent: Holy crap! Your face!

That Guy, Now Playing Scientist: Here’s what I did.

Secret Agent: Holy crap! Your face!

That Guy, Now Playing Scientist: Goodbye. I die now. In good German hospital where everything fucking works the way it’s meant to and doesn’t blow up in your face like the fucking Russian shit.

Secret Agent: Holy crap! Your face!

In An Airplane Hangar

Fu Manchu: Ha! Ha! I’m an arch villain. I speak Russian and everything! You can beat my minions but you can’t beat me that easy. I got seconds!

Russian Army Man: Let me shake your hand now that you’ve committed our nation to war entirely on your own.

Jean Luc Picard: Will someone tell me what’s going on?

Baywatch Babe: My vagina says let’s just follow the Fu Manchu guy and see what he does.

James Bond: This is a stupid plan. Not because I’ve thought about it, but because someone with a vagina said it. So it better work.

Baywatch Babe: Oh no! I have no bullets and a minion is shooting at me!

James Bond: Let me save you by shooting him dead.

Baywatch Babe: Oh, thank God, you big strong hero man! Now I’ve totally forgiven you for constantly undermining, disrespecting, objectifying, bullying, and shutting me out.

Fu Manchu: Oh no! They shoot me dead. But before I die, I will set the second bomb to go off. Heh heh. *grk*

James Bond: I will save us all by cutting through all the wires one after another.

Voice of That Guy, Who Was Playing Scientist: April Fool!

Jean Luc Picard: The fuck is going on there? Someone say something. I’m the Grand Poobah of this shindig, I’d like you to know!

James Bond: Fuck this shit.

Baywatch Babe: I’d love to but the only place I’m headed is the beach so I’ll just hang out here if it’s all the same to you.

THE END.

[for LEB who expressed an interest :mrgreen:]

 
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Posted by on August 2, 2010 in Entertainment, Movies, Review

 

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