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Posts Tagged ‘film review’

Film Review: 3 Idiots

Posted by anandrr on January 17, 2010

3 Idiots starts swimmingly, a gentleman on an Air India flight gets a call that his friend Rancho whom he has not seen for almost 10 years has recently been found, this new information causes him to fake a heart attack thus forcing the plane to head back and he then scurries away from the emergency personnel as soon as he is on solid ground. It ends quite beautifully, set against the shore of a clear blue lake with the Himalayas for a backdrop, it seems like cinematographer heaven. Between these bookends, the film is filled with such fetid garbage that one wonders what the film makers were thinking. It reminded me of those not-so-rare piles of garbage on Indian streets that one walks past and struck by the sudden stench of the situation, one walks past again wondering if it really stank as much as it did, and yes it stank, in fact it stank worse than it just did a moment ago. Every successive scene in 3 Idiots is like that: can it really stink any worse, why yes it can, just wait for them to serve it up to you.

Superficially, it is a movie about one Rancho a smart student at ICE, India’s best engineering college, and his two friends who are less smart but at the same premier engineering college, trying to get through their four years as best as they can while at the same time having fun. It is supposedly a jolly ride through college, nostalgic scenes about hostels and dorm rooms abound, but it is also a vain attempt to take the education system to task for taking some of our best people and turning them into something they would never have wanted to be.

Spoilers after the jump!
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Posted in Education, Films, Reviews, Showbiz, wtf | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

Film Review: Incarnations

Posted by anandrr on January 2, 2010

Avatar is the unfortunate consequence of taking a large dose of white liberal guilt and adding half a billion dollars overseen by a master of visual style who couldn’t write to save his life. The story deals with humans out to plunder a new found utopia (named Pandora) that is full of a great new mineral, Unobtainium. This name is announced to us very early in the movie, perhaps we are to realize now that Cameron doesn’t really enjoy writing so we should give up now and just sit back and take in the luscious special effects. But this is a long film, and we movie watchers do not live by special effects alone. You cannot help but hear nails on the blackboard every time you hear people say the word with reverence, “Unobtainium!”

The “avatar” in the movie refers to a trance-like state that humans enter when they are asked to “drive” laboratory-made specimens of Pandora’s native people. When they enter this trance, their avatar wakes up and “lives” in the “outside world,” when the avatar goes to sleep, the humans wake up out of the trance and live in the “real world” inside the lab. Pandora is a beautiful world full of lush greenery, wonderful animals, pretty blue people, and plants and trees that are all connected to each other via their roots. It is a wonderfully imagined world in which one can lose oneself, one imagines repeated watchings of the movie would reveal new rich detail that one had previously missed, the effort that went into the design of this world is obvious. The viewer is easily lost in this beauty, almost trance-like one might say, until he hears a clunker of a line and is jarred back into the harsh reality of an especially poorly written Hollywood blockbuster.

We recommend that this movie be watched in Imax 3-D, preferably with the sound turned off. As a spectacle this movie has no peers. It reminded us of the first time we watched Toy Story, or the Matrix, or even, Terminator 2, each of those times we left the movie theater feeling as if we had just participated in a very moving experience, but even those movies are not a scratch on Avatar’s beauty. With a less obvious plot and better writing, Avatar could have made our list of greatest movies of the decade, as it is, it makes the grade of movies that must be watched, but once only.

Many people have written quite eloquently about the obvious anti-imperialist white-guilt message of the movie. We have but one thing to add. Not all societies plundered by the white man were like the native Americans. That is all.

Sita Sings the Blues is available for high quality download on a Creative Commons license on the film maker’s website. In a world of poor-quality torrents downloaded by eager yet thrifty flat-screen-TV-owning movie buffs, that alone would qualify it for a dekko. Of all the characters in the Ramayana, Sita cuts the most tragic figure. She loves deeply and is married to God-incarnate, the most just and pious man as well as one of the greatest archers in the history of the universe, and yet she is always forsaken by Rama, until she finally takes matters into her own hands and leaves him (and the Earth) forever. This movie is dedicated to telling Sita’s story, as a universal story of womanhood. The movie is animated by Nina Paley who inserts her own story in parallel, one of having her heart broken by a man who leaves her for good when he gets a job in India. The animation is of varying quality, sometimes it is represented by Mughal-era and other ancient Indian paintings speaking the lines of Rama, Sita and so on, sometimes in crude drawings of a South Park like quality, and at other times by an impossibly curvy Sita and equally impossibly muscular Rama doing their Bollywood-inspired movie singing to the backing blues-vocals of Annette Hanshaw. But at all times the animation works. All along, the story of Sita (and Rama and the rest of the Ramayana cast) is told by apparently India-born youth trying to recollect as best as they can the story of the Ramayana, interspersed with musings on a childhood story by adults as they try to mine hidden-depths and back-stories of an ill-remembered epic. A certain irreverence pervades the movie, but it never descends to crude parody or atheistic preaching. Mostly it sounds like the story of the Ramayana as would be discussed by Indian youth today when they are sure their parents are out of earshot. The movie comes with an incredibly beautiful soundtrack. Almost all the songs are by Annette Hanshaw whose turn of the early-20th-century songs seem to have been written precisely for use in this movie. One of those that are not by her, the Rama-praising song sung by Lava and Kusha is comedic genius. We hummed it for days afterward.

For those of us of a certain age, the Channel-V promotions featuring Quick Gun Murugan hold a special place in our hearts. The 30-second parodies of Westerns, Rajnikanth, and south Indians in general made in the service of our MTV variant captured perfectly the adolescent zeitgeist of early 90s India. We were very excited when Quick Gun the movie was released and finally got a chance to watch it recently. The film delivers on every count: as a rich parody of Tamil and other South Indian films, as a parody of Westerns and most of all as a way to lose yourself for an hour and a half in well written and almost always well executed comedy. Dr Rajendra Prasad is brilliant as Quick Gun Murugan, he even manages to parody himself very effectively. Both Sita and Quick Gun are well-timed reminders that one does not need a lot of money to make a great movie just good writing, good acting, and a lot of imagination.

Posted in Films, Reviews, Showbiz | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Film Review: Anvil

Posted by anandrr on May 11, 2009

I watched Anvil over the weekend. Going into the movie, I had not heard about the rock band, and had no idea what the movie was about. Only the sub-head on the marquee gave me any idea what I was getting into. “This is not Spinal Tap,” it read. But as the movie opened to shots from a rock festival held in Tokyo in the mid-80s where the performers included the Scorpions, Metallica and Anthrax all of whom went on to sell millions of records and also Anvil which went on to oblivion, and then moved to interviews with Lars Ulrich from Metallica telling us how the sound of Anvil was the best sound he’d ever heard and Slash telling us that Anvil practically invented metal, it was hard not to imagine that far from not being Spinal Tap, I had indeed walked into a This is Spinal Tap tribute, another mockumentary only this time the band recedes into oblivion instead of making it big. It only gets worse from here: the drummer is called Robb Reiner, and the equipment that their album is being recorded on has dials that go to eleven. Could I be faulted for thinking that this was not a documentary but a work of fiction?

The story picks up in the present where the principals behind Anvil, Robb Reiner and the lead singer Lips Kudlow (both Canadian Jews one of them with an Auschwitz history concerning his grandfather), are consigned to the dustbin of metal history, both of them in their 50s, the former involved in manual labour of some kind with power tools, the latter a catering service delivery man. They have been together for 30+ years, and still meet to rock together. The documentary follows their story arc over the next few months, and the comparisons to Spinal Tap don’t end. The band goes on a tour of Europe, and their manager can never manage to book their tickets, or get to the railway station on time, or even get to the gig in time. On the tour, they play to a lone rocker sitting in a lazy-boy and banging his head, to a meager 170-odd audience in a venue that can hold a couple thousand, and wait eagerly back-stage to meet with Ted Nugent. Eventually the manager marries one of the band members (and we’re told at the end of the movie is now arranging a tour of the Scorpions and wishes to move on to the opera). But throughout, Kudlow stays optimistic. He throws out such Zen as, “at least there was a tour for things to go wrong on,” and, “at the end of the day after all has been said and done, I can say that all has been said and done.”

And it is that which makes Anvil so likeable and human. Both Reiner and Kudlow have been together for a long time. They agreed when they met as teenagers to keep rocking, and they do keep rocking. They are supported (financially and otherwise) by family most of whom also want them to finally make it big, they are devoted family men, sometimes rockers have to play badminton in the backyard with their little children too you know.

Sacha Gervasi who made the documentary has made a masterpiece of a documentary. You might go in not caring for rock or metal, you might even go in thinking Anvil is a poor poor band, in no way comparable to Slayer or Anthrax, or what have you, but even the most hard hearted person will melt a little by the end. As I read a little about Gervasi, it was quickly obvious where his empathy for the underdog comes from: Gervasi started his career as a musician, he founded a band with his friend, then left it because he thought they had no talent, his band then renamed itself to … Bush, he then became a screen writer and turned down a Warner Bros opportunity to adapt a screen play about a young wizard named … Harry Potter.

But in a real life documentary, there can be no redemption. Life sucks. And Anvil’s does too. The tour of Europe is a disaster. An album is recorded, nobody will distribute it, many days will be spent meeting with record execs and such, but a 50+ year old rocker is an old rocker, whichever way you cut it. The film reaches its slow climax when a tour opportunity arises in Japan butwhen they get to the Tokyo venue, the scene of their last big success 20+ years ago, their show is scheduled for 11:30 in the morning. Will anyone come to a metal show at 11:30 am? We know what the answer would have been if this were a Hollywood fantasy, but how will it play out in real life? We also know that Kudlow won’t much mind either way, but we want him to succeed, we want to will the Japanese to show up for their act.

And ultimately that is why this documentary wins. Two old rockers, their long hair barely covering their bald spots, leading sad lives, and yet continuing to live the dream, and as it happens, still making good music, and we care about them. We want the dream to succeed. This is probably the best documentary you will watch this year. Which means that with Kanchivaram earlier this year, I should probably stop watching movies altogether for the year.

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Quickie Film Review: Sarkar Raj

Posted by anandrr on January 1, 2009

We watched Sarkar Raj recently. We waited so long because we had watched Sarkar and had been rather unimpressed. We are not big fans of derivative movies. Except when we are, of course. But Sarkar Raj was good! We enjoyed it thoroughly.  Watching it, we were struck by two things: First, an open-collar-black-jacket, clean shaven Abhishek could stand in for Obama in the movie version of 2008. Second, as often as Abhishek utters the word “change” (except he calls it badlav) in Sarkar Raj, heck, he probably is Obama. I doubt that the word change has ever been uttered more pointlessly and vacuously anywhere else except in the Obama campaign?

Posted in Corruption, Films, Politics, Reviews, Showbiz | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Film Review: Slumdog Millionaire

Posted by anandrr on November 14, 2008

We got to watch Slumdog Millionaire recently, and we liked it quite a bit. It is set largely in Mumbai (some diversions to Agra), and chronicles how a little kid from Dharavi (Jamal) grew up to win it all at the desi version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire and also finally reunited with the love of his life. He is not particularly interested in the money, just the girl.

By itself, that’s a very conventional story line, there are probably a hundred Bollywood movies that cover the same basic storyline: Young kid from the slums gets rich on his wits alone and also gets the girl. What makes Slumdog different is how well it works as a movie. From the first scene, it establishes that the fairy tale you’re about to see is grounded in reality: Jamal is being interrogated at a police station (Enhanced Interrogation Techniques, naturally) because after all, there is no way that a “slumdog” like him could know enough to win it all in the quiz show. From there the movie begins to run. As Jamal tells us the story of his life in flashback segments, one thing is apparent: to live and make it in Mumbai is always to be running. The camera work is astounding, it brilliantly captures the frenetic pace of the movie while not forgetting to emphasize the color and variety all around it, not to mention the little ironies that surround life in India. While the boys are running the soundtrack keeps pace: A.R. Rahman scores the music and M.I.A supplies vocals (Paper Airplane and damned if I can find the other song).

All of the movie is grounded in the “real India” (and by extension the “real Mumbai”). Slums, rampaging mobs, kids picking around in huge piles of trash, an “orphanage” running a beggar business, guides ripping off foreign tourists, call centers full of young people selling the Family and Friends plan to unsuspecting foreigners and ugliest of all: the slums turning into the Hiranandani towers. It is this connection to the real India at once visceral and beautiful that sets the movie apart.

There are a couple false note in the movie: Anil Kapoor as the oily host of the Millionaire show. I can see why his character had to be dirty, but it’s unclear to me why he had to be unlikable. On the real show, he would have lasted less than a whole episode as host. The other of course is that fairy tales don’t really happen in the seamy side of Mumbai.

Also, Frieda Pinto: Beautiful!

Posted in Films, Reviews, Showbiz | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »