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Category Archives: Movies

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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Rakht Charitra: Suckered Again

<i>Rakht Charitra</i>: Suckered Again

Here’s a sentence I type less and less often as the years go by: I was truly excited to watch Ram Gopal Varma’s new movie. A fictional account of the blood-soaked real life of Andhra Pradesh politician Paritala Ravi, Rakht Charitra sounded interesting and right up RGV’s alley. Gore, politics, revenge, it had to be a knock out of the RGV park.

Well, I don’t know which angel RGV decided to piss off by taking a dump in its bed, but Rakht Charitra is terrible. Not in a lights come on and you look over at your date and immediately apologize for picking this movie of all the tens available kind of way, but in a shoulders slumped in defeat as you slowly huddle into your miserable seat and sadly shake your head way.

Rakht Charitra is an orgy of all the hacky bits of filmmaking that have become the RGV hallmark of late, from mysterious/dizzying camera angles to boomingly obvious background scores to attention-destroying close ups of every other actor’s nostrils… now with the added benefit of the worst narrator ever employed by a movie. Bar none. His one direction seems to have been: “Pretend every word you speak is a breech baby to which you’re giving birth.”

And what words they are! After introducing us to the town of Anandpur, the kind of skeevy, dusty, violence-strewn place that we’ve now come to expect of our rural interiors at the cinema, our narrator helpfully informs us in his over-enunciated, weirdly accented manner that blood is the accepted way to settle things here – especially when it’s a matter of ego, women or privilege. And therefore, he continues, the history of Anandpur is a history of blood. A rakht charitra in fact! So clever.

Apparently RGV only expected idiots to come watch his movie (and yes, I feel like one now, thanks for asking!) because this distressing pattern doesn’t end after the introduction. Instead, the narrator regularly puts in an appearance to thunderously explain a scene, after which you see the scene take place.

  • “The snake is coming out of his lair!” – the villain is about to leave his house.
  • “She didn’t know this then but he had set out on a long journey.” – and our hero hops on a scooter and rushes off to his faraway, troubled homeland.
  • “His ego was hurt by X event so he asked his assistant who was behind this deed.” – three guesses what happens next.

The sad part about all of this, the reason I’m so viciously disappointed, is because there’s actually a good movie hidden somewhere in the middle of this mess, performed by actors who’re pretty good at their jobs.

I feel especially bad for Vivek Oberoi, a man on the Ben Affleck road to redemption, who turns in a what I suspect was a fine performance if only I could penetrate that cacophony of tricks RGV unloads on top of it. There was his (unintentionally) hilarious entry scene, for instance, wherein he exudes menace, riding a Bajaj scooter and opening the unoffending gate of a suburban house in a nice neighborhood so he can ask for his girlfriend’s hand in marriage. The one standout scene, before it succumbed to the everpresent trowel-full of obvious ham, comes late into the film when he stands before the pawn he’s just utilized to his best advantage, standing bathed in the golden glow of the sun, a well-barbered young man in shining white, all the better to appeal to public opinion.

I try really hard to go with the movie presented in front of me, rather than the movie I think ought to exist in its place, but every so often I come across one that is the equivalent of an old friend who greets me by slapping a dead fish in my face. It gets rather difficult to look past the fish to the friend standing beyond. I honestly feel RGV is a man with a lot of interesting, creative ideas who, in the wise words of Tim Gunn, doesn’t know how to edit. So he just sticks everything in there.

Anysmellydeadfish, the movie begins with an easily manipulated politician called Narasimha Reddy whose righteous friendship with his lower caste protege Veer Bhadra lasts all of two watered-down Scotches after it is given the evil eye by a painfully obvious manipulator called Nagamani Reddy (Kota Srinivasa Rao). The fallout results in a simmering caste war that promises to play out at the local elections, threatening to unseat the Reddys from their power base. Nagamani, with Narasimha’s blessing, then takes his grudge just that teensy envelope-pushing bit too far and assassinates Veer Bhadra.

His mantle of idealism thus falls on elder son Shankar (Sushant Singh), who carries it with grief, pride and a healthy dose of guerrilla warfare. This obviously gets him murdered in short order as well, leaving just Pratap (Vivek Oberoi) to carry out the family mission: kill all those who wronged their family and, time and energy permitting, society as a whole.

Unfortunately, once Narasimha and Nagamani have been despatched, with a modicum of elan I might add, Pratap finds his troubles aren’t over. Now Pratap is a wanted terrorist and Nagamani has left behind his infamous son Bukka (Abhimanyu Singh), who “changed the definition of vile” the ever-knowledgeable narrator informs us over a montage of said Bukka being suitably changing the definition of vile. Sigh.

Happily for Pratap, Bukka is an equal opportunity son-of-a-bitch and has succeeded in pissing off Shivaji Rao (Shatrughan Sinha), a carpet-bagging movie star turned politician, whom he hilariously scares away from Anandpur with a few well placed bombs. Outraged that he, the man who regularly beat up entire armies single-handedly on the big screen, was forced to turn tail and run offscreen, Shivaji wants to know: “How can a demon like Bukka exist in a democracy?”

“What do you mean how?” asks his befuddled assistant. “He exists therefore he is.”

I chuckled far more heartily than this little sally deserved but at a certain point, you take your joy where you can get it.

Thus, Shivaji and Pratap join forces – Pratap’s no dummy after all, and he’s powerfully attracted to Shivaji, the most Machiavellian figure he’s ever met, and his amazing ideas like keeping Pratap out of jail by turning him into a politician so he can murder all he wants while staying above the law. Oh, Nagamani, if only you and your pitiful tumblers of Scotch were alive to watch and learn, abashed, the art of skillful manipulation from a man who prefers to stroke the heads of gold tigers than rapey sons.

As the problem of Bukka is solved, with more helpful exposition from the narrator, Pratap sets about his business, cleaning town and taking names. In between all this is an honest cop (Ashwini Kalsekar) who shows up to remind you that honesty never pays, especially in an RGV movie; and various wives, widows, sisters, hookers, pillion-riders, billboard models and girlfriends, all of them sad, desperate and sinned against, except for Nandini (Radhika Apte). Pratap’s college sweetheart turned wife, she is the sort of fool who calmly listens to her beloved telling her he’s indeed a much-discussed murderer who plans to murder again and decides that’s just what she’s looking for in the father of her children. Off she goes to walk silently by his side in the forest and give meaningful looks in the background. She’ll get hers, I guess.

In the sequel! Wherein Pratap will be presented with his butcher’s bill. But apart from the little “scenes from our next movie” they tacked on to the end of this one, I have no idea what that will look like because here’s a sentence I will never use again: I am truly excited to watch Ram Gopal Varma’s new movie.

 
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Posted by on October 25, 2010 in 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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Spoiled for Good, not Evil

Back when I was a teenage asshole, I used have great fun yelling out important plot points at my extremely spoiler-averse BFF. I think she basically walked around with her hands plastered to her ears for a whole week after Gupt came out until she could see it too.

And then there was me – the girl who’d read Agatha Christie novels back to front because I always “like to know”. It’s earned me a number of puzzled frowns and blank stares over the years, even from fellow ending-addicts who prefer to leave at least their mysteries unspoiled, but it couldn’t be simpler for me: I derive very little satisfaction from figuring out whodunnit, I’m a lot more concerned with how and why. I’m not really looking for a two-in-one “Get a puzzle free with this story” deal.

I’m very specific about what I like.

The ends of things, especially a book, is often a good indicator of what the rest of the material is like. There’s a reason why the most famous line from Gone with the Wind is from the last chapter – that’s where authors often store their best work. A book that peters out or pulls its punches at the climax is not a recommendation, no matter how powerful the prose or sky-high the praise on the cover. I might still pick it up, but I’ll know how to manage my expectations.

Reading Matt Yglesias and Ta-Nehisi Coates on the subject, however, I was reminded of AMC’s Rubicon, which just wrapped up its freshman season this Sunday. I suppose you could call it a sort of bait-and-switch: you’d expect the story of Will Travers (James Badge Dale), an intelligence analyst and “pattern recognition expert” whose chance discovery of a mysterious code leads him down a deep, dark rabbit hole and soon endangers the lives of all those close to him as well as himself, to come with a lot more bells and whistles.

Instead Rubicon‘s the kind of show that the British still make, the ones that are put on a diet of speed and steroids when they decide to remake it for the American market. It’s a show unafraid to take its time, devoted to establishing not just the world in which its story unfolds but also its atmosphere.

Little things about Rubicon appear designed to evoke fleeting memories of uneasiness you might have experienced over the course of your life. I don’t have to be an analyst on the brink of a momentous, life-threatening discovery to understand that feeling of paranoia when you’re walking down a deserted street in the middle of the night and you start imagining that that guy who got off at the same stop as you might be following you home with evil on his mind. I don’t have to be planning catastrophic world events to recognize hushed conversations that fall silent at the sound of high heels clacking on the floor of a temple to modern architecture.

Half the season of Rubicon was seemingly devoted to building these little moments that might have made you impatient at the time but ultimately served to underscore later events. If you hadn’t heard Maggie’s sad observation to Will, “This is the closest we’ll ever come to that lunch date, isn’t it?” or glimpsed her face after her disastrous booty call, the scene where Will confronts her about her betrayal wouldn’t have landed with the punch it did.

But how many people stuck around to watch that take place? Not many if even reviewers needed to be lured back:

At one point, Rubicon was in prime position to set the world record for “slowest paced episodic television show.” I even joked that I wasn’t smart enough to understand Rubicon. As it turned out, though, it wasn’t particularly confusing, it was just boring. Through the first three episodes, no character ever seemed to turn on a light let alone say something interesting. Minutes of screen time would be spent watching a guy we barely knew sit alone in the dark. I’d think, wait, that’s what I’m doing right now; why would I want to watch someone else to that on television?
[…]
Somewhere, around the sixth episode, something happened. I mean that literally — something finally happened. But things kept happening and, most importantly, the characters started developing personalities. I’m not making this up, Kale Ingrim (Arliss Howard) just may be the best character on television right now.

I was hooked early on, but that little nugget about the 6th episode caught my attention since my general rule for a new series that I find interesting is 6 episodes: that’s how long I give it to reel me in, after which, 9 times out of 10, I’m as committed as I can be without a wedding ring. Just ask Bones – I even forgave it that all time low of a season 4 London-based premiere.

But not everybody hangs around as long as I do. Not even me, if I find it heavy going. It took me just three episodes to bid farewell to Boardwalk Empire although it’s apparently going through a renaissance of its own so I might have to revisit and stick around for the full six.

And that’s the point about getting spoiled – if somebody were to tell me “stick around because things improve at such-and-such point when this-and-that happens”, that only makes me more inclined to watch it. Unless those plot points don’t appeal to me at all, in which case I’d be grateful to save my time because the Lord knows there’s no dearth of quality television out there.

But I’m apparently the minority.

 
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Posted by on October 19, 2010 in Books, Entertainment, Movies, Personal, Review, Television, Video

 

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If Only the Movie & I Were Anjaana Anjaani

I was going to write a review of Anjaana Anjaani, but I got bored. Here’s a handy ad that makes the same point – shorter, cheaper and 100% more delicious!

 
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Posted by on October 4, 2010 in Entertainment, Movies, Review, Video

 

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Southern Comfort

Southern Comfort

There are people out there who need to medicate their obsessive selves. And then there are folks who manage to exert a bit of control over their compulsions – I choose to channel it into tight spirals of in-depth immersion to burn the subject down to manageable levels. Whenever this happens to me, which is more often than it ought, I describe it as having fallen into a wormhole and I hope to come out the other side.

My wormhole for the past week or so has been Mahesh Babu. It’s sort of mystifying – I saw Pokiri a while back and I was perfectly fine putting it out of my mind. Then I saw Athadu on Cinema Chaat’s recommendation and it was hello-madness-my-old-friend time again.

However, while the rules of the wormhole dictate that I must ceaselessly hunt down and devour every last bit of everything connected to the central subject, it does not demand I lobotomize myself in the process. In the present case of Mahesh Babu, for instance, I was perfectly able to understand that the man has oodles of that mysterious-yet-all-important It factor that marks a charismatic star, while recognizing that half the stuff I was watching (particularly the early movies although the fairly-recent, pseudo-scifi, pedotastic-by-inference, all around weird fantasy Naani co-starring Ameesha Patel was pretty terrible too) was almost irredeemably bad.

There’s Takkari Donga, for instance: apparently an homage to father Krishna’s groundbreaking portrayal of a cowboy in Telugu cinema, it stars Mahesh as a Wild West robber full of derring do who intentionally courts unnecessary trouble, hoping his notoriety would lead him to his father’s murder. In the process, he’s stalked by a skimpily-clad (at one point, completely unclad) Bipasha Basu and carts around a half-naked (at one point, completely naked… you get the picture) Lisa Ray who keeps trying to get his pants off so she can check if he’s The One she’s supposed to marry. There’s also a mine right out of an Indiana Jones movie where diamonds grow like crystals inside stalagmites and an adorable little puppy whom he heroically saves from certain death – I mean, I can’t recommend this movie enough except for the times when I’m strongly warning you against it.

So I was really happy to see Sainikudu. All your questions answered here:

Q. What is Sainikudu?
A. A Telugu movie starring Mahesh Babu. Duh.

Q. Okay, smarty pants. What’s it about?
A. In flood-ravaged Andhra Pradesh, government corruption is destroying the lives of the poor. So a group of university students, led by Siddhartha (Mahesh Babu) decide to do something about it.

Q. Oh dear. That kind of stuff never works out, does it?
A. For reals. They get framed as terrorists by evil villain Pappu Yadav (Irrfan Khan) and his brother-in-law Mondi Naani (Prakash Raj) when they try to field a student as a candidate against him in the upcoming elections.

Q. That’s a very not-nice thing to do.
A. It is a properly villainous thing to do! Especially when Pappu wins the election and ends up as the Home Minister.

Q. Set a thief to catch a thief, so to speak!
A. Right! Except he doesn’t want to catch any, he just wants to fix it so he doesn’t get caught! The students say nix to that and kidnap Pappu’s bride Varalakshmi (Trisha Krishnan) under his nose on their wedding day and hold her hostage in exchange for Pappu completing his election promises.

Q. How does that work out?
A. For Siddhartha? Probably better if Varalakshmi hadn’t been the bride. For the viewer? Fabulously! The way it does when the heroine isn’t just your random naive village belle – but a deeply romantic, naive village belle, convinced (rather understandably, if she watches Telugu blockbusters where such threats fly around like confetti) the world is full of rapists, and hilariously overconfident about her fighting-capabilities. I was prepared to find her completely annoying, but she was absolutely charming – even Siddhartha thought so and she was either trying to get him killed, lecturing him about her purity, or questioning his manhood.

Q. Good stuff!
A. You bet. And a lot of it depends on Mahesh’s ability to just be silent. There aren’t a lot of actors who can resist the impulse to “do something” (at the 7.00 mark) when the camera is on them, but he can. You could argue that it’s a lack of ability, but having seen his earlier movies, I think it’s a sign of evolution. He also goes a little darker in this movie, doing stuff that is distinctly un-hero-like (albeit in a dream), has what appears to be a drinking problem, and thinks nothing of using dead children as party table centerpieces. Very affecting! But then, I like my action stars strong, angry and silent, which is probably why I don’t much care for it when he starts singing and dancing.

Q. You didn’t like the music of Sainikudu?
A. This was actually an exception – I liked the soundtrack. In fact, I was thinking about it when reading Beth’s CurrySmugglers interview: it’s unusual for me to really love film music in a language I don’t understand because lyrics matter a great deal to me, but either Harris Jayraj’s score was really that good or else the subtitles managed to work well enough for me to like it. Probably a combination of the two.

Q. The subtitles were good?
A. Well, I’m sure I missed a great deal of the wordplay and stuff – in fact, I’m pretty sure I did because there were certain segues that were distinctly odd – but going by various comments around the net, I’m better off that way because the original seems to have really pissed people off.

Q. Why is that?
A. I dunno. Maybe they didn’t like the political bits? They seemed pretty dire in a recycled way. Or maybe there wasn’t enough of it? Who knows! Personally, I thought it flirted with the borderline where I was just able to restrain my fast-forward finger.

Q. But you still had a good time watching it?
A. A bowl of Maggi noodles (original Masala please – none of this “new and improved”, “healthy” jiggery pokery), a bottle of wine and this movie? Totally my Sunday.

Q. That’s disgusting.
A. Sez you. Viva la revolucion!

 
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Posted by on September 19, 2010 in Celebrity, Entertainment, Movies, Review, Video

 

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Dabangg for the Buck

<i>Dabangg</i> for the Buck

10 minutes into Dabangg, written and directed by Abhinav Kashyap who previously wrote the dialogue for Manorama Six Feet Under, and you realize why Hindi has all but ceded this kind of territory to Telugu and Tamil cinema: it requires a very specific kind of movie star to work.

First, you need a Star. Somebody with a rabid fan base and the kind of charisma that can’t be manufactured, no matter how many years you spent assisting famous directors or learning to dance from master choreographers or who you call Pop.

Next, he must willing to embrace a dhishum-dhishum flick entirely unironically. He’s not trying to re-interpret, deconstruct or elevate it. He’s simply and methodically bashing in the heads of random people who get in his way in a manner that makes you feel like he’s doing it for you as a personal favor.

And the cherry on top is that he must do all of this with enough style to sell it. “It” being whatever it is he’s peddling. Explosions, murder in broad daylight, defenestration, stealing, drinking, hookers, you name it. You want to be him, your wife wants to do him – at no point do you think, “Who’s he kidding?” or “What a psycho!” even if it’s true. That kind of ruins the movie.

Even in South India where they like to keep in practice, this is a tall order. You might think your average gorilla in shades could pull it off, but watch Salman Khan prove you wrong. The man is absolutely in his element as he joyfully smashes up a small town, blows shit up, creatively murders various people, courts a girl by threatening to beat currency upon her… and still effectively convey the idea that at heart he’s just a sad little boy who wants someone to love him. Awww.

I can’t think of a single other actor in Hindi today who could have pulled this off. Salman’s Chulbul Pandey is a beast held barely leashed by a crisp white shirt, and his offscreen persona only feeds into the animal magnetism onscreen. Movies like these channel the fantasy of the exotic pet – the heady rush at the thought of taming such a potentially lethal creature through nothing more than love. But for it to work, you need a believably dangerous persona to fuel the character – and there’s nobody more enigmatic or unpredictable in today’s carefully manicured Bollywood than Salman Khan.

Is it “good” cinema? Well, it’s entertaining cinema. A more cohesive follow-up to Wanted, the only thing it aspires to is a good time and that it delivers with glee. Into every life a little popcorn must fall and Dabangg a.k.a. The Adventures of Chulbul “Robin Hood” Pandey is exactly that. What is it about, who goes where and why – it’s about watching Salman Khan beat the ever-lovin’ hell out of everything in sight, animate and inanimate. No false advertising here: it’s everything the trailer promised and then some.

Somewhere in this Salman-fest you’ll also find producer Arbaaz Khan perfectly cast as the dimwitted half-brother, the delectably Amazon-esque Sonakshi Sinha as the unexpectedly grim love interest who squares off with Khan the few times she’s allowed on screen, and Sonu Sood putting all the Villainy 101 lessons he learned down South to good use. Additionally, there’s a short but honorable list of character actors to give able support: Dimple Kapadia, Vinod Khanna, Mahesh Manjrekar, Om Puri, Tinnu Anand, Anupam Kher, Mahie Gill and Malaika Arora in an item number when she ought to have been off eating a sandwich.

With hardly any gore in spite of the hailstorm of violence that surrounds Chulbul Pandey, just a hint of sex, and a tragic mother who fails to make you weep even as her sainted memory turns her son into The Incredible Bulk, Dabangg is just what I needed this weekend.

 
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Posted by on September 11, 2010 in Entertainment, Movies, Review, Video

 

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