Monday, December 23, 2013

Dhoom 3

[One sorta spoiler, and it's coming right now, so skip to the next paragraph if you're afraid.] Yougaiz, how much of a twist can it possibly be if it's an infamous trait of 1970s Bollywood? And now that I think about it, someone should organize a really good dissection of what the concept of "twist" does and can mean, where the line is between a twist and just consequence-free writing, and whether some producers cackle with glee when reviewers are forced to keep mum about huge problems with of a film for fear of having their heads torn off for giving away the twist, which is how I felt about trying to write about Talaash. [End spoiler.]

Chicago
1. I've been waiting for ages for a Hindi film to feature Chicago in any way, even just in a song, because the very brief appearance in What's Your Rashee? hardly counts, and Dhoom 3 lives up to my hopes. It looks beautiful and captures exactly what I am always captivated by in the city: substantial and soaring architecture, the flower beds, the vast and orderly grid of streets, the whole separate world that seems to exist on the river, the great sapphire lake. Bonus points for using so much of the museum campus.
2. Having vehicle chases along the lower drives and the river lift bridges is the correct thing to do, and despite being certain such scenes would appear, I had fun watching them play out.
3. Chicago police cars apparently have no brakes. An homage to Blues Brothers*? (Watch this clip, especially at about 2:20, if you don't know the film—the streets ought to look quite familiar.)

bizarro Chicago
1. A guy runs down the side of a building in the downtown of a major US city in broad daylight as cash flies out of windows high above and the police get no pictures or videos of him from passers-by? Come on, writers.
2. The film's repeated use of "Asian" to mean "South Asian" makes me think YRF confused Chicago with London (or just assumed big UK audiences), just as KJo did with San Francisco back in My Name Is Khan, in which "Americans" hurled "Paki" as a racist insult, which I have never heard an American say. I'm pretty sure a poster advertising for an "Asian girl" in Chicago would get you candidates from East and Southeast Asia, not South, shortly before it got you arrested for soliciting mail order brides.
3. In a city with apparently not a single Hindi-speaking cop or qualified police consultant, there is inexplicable German signage in the airport and train station, and this metropolis of the Prairie State now has mountains on the horizon and a giant dam in a rocky ravine. An homage to The Simpsons?

songs
1. Wow.
2. Wow.
3. FINALLY! A TAP DANCE!!!!!!!!! And where I would least expect it. I will be watching this over and over, even if just out of a sense of relief that such a thing now exists.

Aamir-o-rama  (Aamirama?)
1. Given the script, he's probably one of only two people I'd want to see even try this role (the other being Shahrukh) (yes, it is possible to be fond of both).
2. I secretly [note from Editor Self: no longer secret] love to watch Aamir dance. I understand he's not the best out there, and he appears to be concentrating very hard in some of it, but I love it anyway.
3. Like with the dancing, I think he's trying really hard. You might argue too hard. You might wonder why effort is being harnessed to some of the purposes apparently demanded by this film, and I would echo that question. But he's doing something, which is more than I can say for…

Abhishek
1. Dude. Duuuuuude. Lighten up. Your brief turns in disguise, when you got to be someone goofier and looser than Jai, are nice; ultimately, they just make me weep for the days of Bunty and Bluffmaster. I'm sure it's no fun to be repeatedly outshone in your own franchise, but that's been the case since 2006, so can't you put on a braver face for the cameras?
2. It's not his fault that his "hero" entrance is so silly, but it really is very silly. Nobody buys that version of Abhishek anymore, if they ever did, surely? The one whose muscles we literally never see is the one busting through walls and felling baddies? That doesn't even make movie-sense, really. Just roar up on the auto and get on with it. Bas.
3. Whoever did the outerwear for the wardrobe department likes Abhishek a lot. Those are some great coats.

Katrina
1. Is in the movie the approximate right amount and ways for my liking. I have never before thought there was not far too much Katrina in any of her movies.
2. Should maybe stick to dancing because she still doesn't have her voice or her pouty-pucker toddler fishface under as much control as the rest of her body. What gives with your face, Katfish?
3. The movie is a spectacular Bechdel fail and has no energy for any female characters other than Aliya, but at least she's a pretty okay character. She has skills and knows how to use them. She's forthright and relatively bold, and her reactions and decisions make sense. For the number of guns in this movie, she is used only sparingly as an object in the cops and robbers game or in the final showdown. This is faint praise, but it's rare for me to walk out of an action movie and think that even one woman was a halfway decent character.

Uday
1. Is also in the movie the approximately right amount and ways.
2. Is relatively inoffensive, especially with so many jokes at his expense.
3. He really is such a curious case, isn't he? What is it about him that has made him so widely and repeatedly rejected by audiences when his biggest sin compared to those of many of the other legions of industry kids is being not-handsome?

Jackie Shroff's character
1. Does not understand how banking works.
2. Does not understand how magic works because most audiences, by 1990, have in fact seen a magic trick in which someone disappears from a closed box only to reappear elsewhere in the room.
3. Does not understand how parenting works.

as a whole
1.  In a perfect world, we don't praise films for simply not sucking, but because the Curse of the Second Half is so common and because I'd heard many people tweeting about how long the film felt to them, I want to stick up for this one. The Aamir-o-rama that occupies it is interesting and perfectly watchable. Not novel or anything, but fine.
2. I like the balance and arrangement of elements. On the other hand, the audience in my cinema only laughed once (at—emphasis on "at"—the entrance of Uday) and had no other audible reactions. No whistles, no gasps, nothing.
3.  I can't put my finger on why, but this doesn't quite cohere into a truly finished product for me. There are lots of bright shiny beads, but they aren't strung properly. As Raja Sen said of himself in his review, I too actually like director Vijay Krishna Acharya's Tashaan a lot and respect what it was trying to do (as do several of you, I know, dear readers), but, as with this movie, ultimately it doesn't simmer with full anima and instead is a bit cold and robotic. That's not exactly the same sensation I had while watching Dhoom 3, but both films earn an "Oooh, close but not quite." However, I can easily imagine that two generations from now, when Dhoom 3 has become retro, that it may hold the kind of loopy, unconstrained-by-logic joy and exuberant details for viewers in the future that, say, the original Don does for us now. Think of it: great songs, circus visuals and metaphors/framing, weird outfits, chase scenes crash bang boom! I realize full well much of it doesn't make sense, and that faces are made and some stylized characterizations are far too entrenched, but I am pleased by what else I was offered and by what surely is huge effort towards particular components of it. I had fun, and that will do.

* Friends, does Blues Brothers have any significance in your pop cultural tapestry? I might be evicted from my home state if I admitted how few times I've seen it.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Aditya 369

We in the fillum-watching world need a word for this intricately balanced but continually reconfigured sense of finding movies formulaic and/or predictable in some aspects yet wildly unexpected in others. Whatever it's called, Aditya 369 (which I watched in its Hindi dub, Mission 369, since no versions on youtube have subtitles) falls right into this phenomenon for me: somehow I had never heard of this 1991 Telugu sci-fi film about time travel with an Einstein-haired Tinnu Anand and a Georgian-outfitted Amrish Puri
despite regularly reading the "top ten Indian SFF films" lists whenever I encounter one at the release of a film styled as such, and in fact only learned of it in Mihir Fadnavis's piece on Krrish 3 for Firstpost, yet I am not at all surprised it exists.

And it's great.

I am not a reliable source for details of the story of Aditya 369, but I do know that an impish child gets himself locked in a museum (A MUSEUM!!!! I would love the movie just for being the museum-iest Indian film I've seen yet, and it is evocative of my professional experience in the US and of my observations of museums in India) overnight after a school trip and witnesses the theft of a diamond, which is for some reason important to Amrish Puri. The boy is saved by our hero, and our hero's girlfriend's father is a scientist with a time machine out back, and girlfriend just happens to be boy's cousin (or similar), and then people go in the time machine, and it accidentally goes off, and they go to Ye Olde Times (1526) and find out stuff about the diamond after our otherwise pointless heroine has an angry danceoff* with princess Silk Smitha, and then whooooooa!
they whoosh forward to the distant future and things are a little post-apocalyptic—perhaps literally, but I couldn't swear by any dialogues of nuclear holocaust—and then finally home again to battle Amrish Puri.

This might be the kind of movie I'd enjoy less if actual understanding forced me to try to reconcile its probably loony plot, but ignorance is bliss. The hero is of that wave that to me reads as blancmange sweater uncle with no appeal whatsoever, but the internet informs me that this spawn of N. T. Rama Rao was indeed the shizz at the time this film was made. * shrug * The heroine is similarly bland and has much less to do, and she cannot even muster up enough oomph to win that danceoff, which frankly is kind of embarrassing. The kid is slightly obnoxious—he'd get thrown out of my museum for such behavior—but not whiny or cutesy. Large swathes of Love Story 2050 and Action Replayyyyyy have fled my memory, but there are particular elements of Aditya 369 that feel familiar, like the look and general demeanor of the avuncular scientist and the shape of the time machine. The only real flaw I can find is that there is far too little of Amrish Puri cackling and stomping around in knee breeches and thus no real sense of what menace he poses. It's all very good-natured, if perhaps not particularly exciting. To demand more of a film than giant gold thrones, plastic gems, time travel, and theft of cultural heritage seems like hubris.

Truly, you must see for yourself in this annotated slide show.

* I beg you to click here if you have not seen the Saturday Night Live skit of Matt Damon re-enacting the Justin Timberlake/Britney Spears angry danceoff of 2002.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Bengali mini-review multi-pack

By way of introduction: a bunch of Bengali films I've seen lately, all in under 100 words each. (Ray's Seemabaddha should be in here too, but I need to see it again before I write anything. And of anything on this list it merits far more than 100 words.)

Chutir Phandey 1975 
An experiment in whether vintage Soumitra Chatterjee in plaid offsets a lack of subtitles. It seems to be a comedy of errors (i.e. "wackadoodle shenanigans") hinging on Aparna Sen (his wife) and Utpal Dutt (his boss?)
in a hotel/conference center somewhere vaguely Himalayan. Faces are pulled (ugh) and wigs and wild patterns are worn (yay!).
It might be as funny as Hrishikesh Mukherjee if one knows what's being said; even though I don't, this has no sign of being nearly as fun as the lead pair is in Baksha Badal (written by Ray).

Kony 1984
I've never seen this title in lists of sports movies, despite it having won a national award for "wholesome entertainment." The story has personal focus: it's more about a coach being ousted from his club and a poor girl triumphing through talent despite people trying to rip her down than about Bengal winning. I care deeply about everyone in Chak De India, which is also about outsiders coming together, but Kony is sullen and predictable. However, I appreciate a sports film 30 years ago focusing on a young woman who wears her swimsuit like an athlete instead of a pageant contestant.

Aside: it's so hard to take this category seriously given that DarrDabangg, and Devdas have won it. Has anyone written a good rant about this?

Asookh 1999
To its credit, the film is not afraid to center on an unlikable and mostly unsympathetic woman who makes poor decisions in her personal life while maintaining competence and control in her work. The daughter-father (Soumitra again, endearing in his concern for the women in his life) relationship is also very welcome and, while imperfect, resonant. But overall, it's too long-suffering for my taste. Like this picture hints: not only is there ridiculous drama, it's all overseen and punctuated by Rabindranath Tagore, in case you did not already get that this was a vaguely arty Bengali film.
The eyes of RaTag are upon thee!
Titli 2002
Speaking of lists, Titli, with its touches of Ray's Nayak, should come up more often when we discuss movies about film industries. While that's not its principal concern (mother-daughter relationships are), it makes plenty of observations. In some ways, the three leads play versions of themselves, yet I catch no lazy writing that depends on, say, Aparna and Konkona being actual mother and daughter. It's so sweet, with people who actually talk to each other and its wistfulness cocooned in the mists of forests around Darjeeling.
One of my favorite moments: when Aparna says to Mithun something like "The magazines say crowds come to the city just to catch a glimpse of your house," he responds with this. Heehee.  

Ballygunge Court 2007 
AVOID, YAAR. What an awful movie. It's Baghban times five, the number of older couples who whine about mistreatment by youth of today.
Feluda & Feluda. Which would be a much better movie than this one.
It's the only film I've ever seen whose emotional reunion in the waves at the finale is...a father and son.
What's Bengali for "oy"?
It's an ensemble cast full of people I've liked in other things, but they don't all seem to be in the same movie here—maybe the director just couldn't wrangle them all into coherence. But let me be clear: no one could do anything good with this script, and I can't understand why anyone even tried.
No she doesn't, and OKAY WE GET IT, YOU HAVE SEEN AT LEAST ONE RAY FILM. Good for you.