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Posts Tagged ‘hollywood’

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: Star Trek

Posted by anandrr on June 2, 2009

I had the misfortune to watch the new Star Trek flick over the weekend. Normally I would write a long essay on the many ways I didn’t like it. Works as a camp movie, but not as a good movie. But why waste precious pixels when Antony Lane has already covered it all in the New Yorker? The bit about not wanting to have my hero origin myths explained to me was particularly on-point.

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Like A Rock

Posted by anandrr on May 11, 2009

Like a virgin
Touched for the very first time

— Madonna, Like a Virgin

Mr Pink: “Like a Virgin” is all about a girl who digs a guy with a big dick. The whole song is a metaphor for big dicks.
Mr Blue: No it’s not. It’s about a girl who is very vulnerable and she’s been fucked over a few times. Then she meets some guy who’s really sensitive–
Mr Pink: –Whoa…whoa…time out Greenbay. Tell that bullshit to the tourists.
Joe: (looking through his address book) Toby…who the fuck is Toby? Toby…Toby…think…think…think…
Mr Pink: It’s not about a nice girl who meets a sensitive boy. Now granted that’s what “True Blue” is about, no argument about that.
Mr Orange: Which one is “True Blue?”
Nice Guy Eddie: You don’t remember “True Blue?” That was a big ass hit for Madonna. Shit, I don’t even follow this Tops In Pops shit, and I’ve at least heard of “True Blue.”
Mr Orange: Look, asshole, I didn’t say I ain’t heard of it. All I asked was how does it go? Excuse me for not being the world’s biggest Madonna fan.
Mr Brown: I hate Madonna.
Mr Blue: I like her early stuff. You know, “Lucky Star,” “Borderline” – but once she got into her “Papa Don’t Preach” phase, I don’t know, I tuned out.
Mr Pink: Hey, fuck all that, I’m making a point here. You’re gonna make me lose my train of thought.
Joe: Oh fuck, Toby’s that little china girl.
Mr White: What’s that?
Joe: I found this old address book in a jacket I ain’t worn in a coon’s age. Toby what? What the fuck was her last name?
Mr Pink: Where was I?
Mr Orange: You said “True Blue” was about a nice girl who finds a sensitive fella. But “Like a Virgin” was a metaphor for big dicks.
Mr Pink: Let me tell ya what “Like a Virgin”‘s about. It’s about some cooze who’s a regular fuck machine. I mean all the time, morning, day, night, afternoon, dick, dick, dick, dick, dick, dick, dick, dick, dick, dick, dick.
Mr Blue: How many dicks was that?
Mr White: A lot.
Mr Pink: Then one day she meets a John Holmes motherfucker, and it’s like, whoa baby. This mother fucker’s like Charles Bronson in “The Great Escape.” He’s diggin tunnels. Now she’s gettin this serious dick action, she’s feelin something she ain’t felt since forever. Pain.
Joe: Chew? Toby Chew? No.
Mr Pink: It hurts. It hurts her. It shouldn’t hurt. Her pussy should be Bubble-Yum by now. But when this cat fucks her, it hurts. It hurts like the first time. The pain is reminding a fuck machine what is was like to be a virgin. Hence, “Like a Virgin.”

— Opening Scene, Reservoir Dogs

I was doing a brief tour of Indian mythology the other day and was reminded of the story of Ahalya. Ahalya, wife of Gautama the rishi, was supposedly the most beautiful woman of her time (hence the name). But presumably not entirely happy with her relationship with a mere rishi, she promptly fell for the seductions of Lord Indra, the chief of the Devas. Gautama on his discovery of this infidelity, got so enraged he turned Ahalya into a rock, and cursed Indra to have a thousand vaginas all over his body. Ahalya was released from her curse when Lord Rama stumbled on her during his teenage expedition with his brother Laxmana and the sage Vishwamitra.

As I was thinking of this story, the arc of Ahalya from promiscuity to frigidity and then back to life on being touched by Lord Rama, the curse of Indra to be covered by a thousand vaginas (for some reason I had once thought a thousand penises, which gives “Dick, dick, dick, dick…” a whole new meaning) all of this indicates to me that perhaps Quentin Tarantino missed the real meaning of Like a Virgin.

Posted in Culture, Films, Funny, Sexuality, Showbiz | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Oscars and the Matthew Effect

Posted by anandrr on February 23, 2009

Anand (Sr) writes about the Matthew Effect and the Oscars. To which we say:

  • Of course the Matthew Effect is dominant. Oscar nominations are a function of PR and lobbying more than anything else,  the marginal PR required for the ninth nom is much less than the marginal PR for the first.
  • Some noms make no sense at all. Button for editing? One imagines even the Academy is somewhat unsure what they are honoring. Or perhaps they think a consolation prize is in order so they nominate it anyway.
  • Winning an Oscar is all about being in the right place at the right time, so yes the Matthew Effect must dominate again. You have to find the right combination of Hollywood liberal guilt, Hollywood elitist condescension, and Hollywood self-preening and then make it work in your movie’s favor. If all of those are pointing in your direction, you win. (Sean Penn just had to win last night, or else who else could lecture all of us for voting against Prop. 8 last year? If Frost/Nixon had been nominated last year, it would have been a lock for many Oscars, perfect opportunity for Hollywood to tell us all how to vote in the upcoming general, but now that the great Hope and Changer has been elected in, its time is past.)

Final semantic consideration: who knew that “the rich getting richer” effect had such a good name and what’s more that the Matthew in question is the Matthew of the Bible specifically endorsing such unequal outcomes? This raises a theological question:

And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.  — Matthew 19:24

For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath. — Matthew 25:29

One surmises that the kingdom of God is not all that it is cracked up to be, or that between 19 and 25, Matthew went from being a commie to an unrepentant capitalist. Perhaps Ayn Rand had made an appearance as understudy prophet. One imagines Matthew 31 being all about the subprime debacle that followed.

Posted in Capitalism, Communism, Culture, Economics, Films, Funny, Media, Philosophy, Showbiz | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

And the Oscar For the Most Ungracious Acceptance Goes To

Posted by anandrr on February 23, 2009

Danny Boyle, for not mentioning any of his cast members who surely helped him direct the movie and get it done (not least his Co-Director)?

Posted in Capitalism, Culture, Films, Showbiz | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Hellboy II: Watch It

Posted by anandrr on August 28, 2008

We watched Hellboy II quite by accident. We thoroughly recommend it. It’s directed by Guillermo del Toro, who knew? And it’s brilliant. Ok, not totally brilliant, but still quite good. It’s thoroughly self aware and very post-modernly winking at the audience. But more than that the visualization is lavish, colors are every where (show me a modern day comic movie that’s not all dark and noiry throughout), and del Toro has imagination enough for 10 of us mortals. And it has Jeffrey Tambor. As the head of the Bureau for Paranormal Research. Looking all serious and head of Paranormal Research like. And Seth Macfarlane! What could possibly go wrong? Not much as it turns out.

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Film Review: Kung Fu Panda

Posted by anandrr on August 23, 2008

We recently watched Kung Fu Panda on the flight from Hong Kong to San Francisco. It was a tiny screen, we were packed close and uncomfortable on the flight, and the headset only cancels out so much noise. But despite all this, we simply loved this movie.

For the longest time, I’ve had a problem with modern animated movies. Gone are the movies from my childhood when an animated movie meant either a Grimm’s fairy tale dressed up to last 90 minutes or a simple tale that involved animals acting like humans except that anvils fell on their head every now and then. And oh we roared with laughter, there are few things funnier than an anvil falling on someone’s head. Not today though, kids these days are expected to understand such Randian themes as “if every one is special, no one is special,” or that a chef creating a franchise is selling out and really should be staying true to his traditions. And then they’re full of inside jokes that only adults could be expected to understand, anything to keep the adults in the seats while the kids enjoy the animation, no doubt. Ellen Degeneres providing the voice of a fish but making subtle references to her sexuality, or other pop-culture jokes like reusing De Niro to play a “mafia shark.” Happily, Kung Fu Panda manages to stay almost entirely clear of these, the plot is a simple story of a young panda wanting to be the Kung Fu master and subsequently attaining his dream (but of course), the jokes are funny, but not overly reliant on pop culture references, the action is frenzied, and the animation is splendid.

The first few minutes of the movie are beautiful. They seem to be hand painted not computer generated, and tell the story of Po the Kung Fu expert who seems to have all of China in his thrall. It all turns out to be a dream, dreamt by Po an obese Panda whose life consists of working in his father’s (a bird of some sort) noodle shop and idolising the Kung Fu masters who live way up on the nearby hill (Masters Oogway and Shifu and the next generation of fighters imaginatively named Tigress, Viper, Mantis, Crane and Monkey). The rest of the movie is conventionally animated using computers and immediately soon after the dream, the movie breaks into a riot of colour and scenery that beautifully evokes middle-ages China. Po is voiced by Jack Black than whom there are few funnier actors today. He has done the obsessive fan before in High Fidelity and the martial arts yearner in Nacho Libre. In a role that requires him to be both, he is pitch perfect. The movie itself is both homage and spoof of all the best Chinese martial arts movies you have seen. Fighters seem to defy gravity and all other physical laws when they fight, the old venerable Master Oogway speaks in riddles and sees what other people can’t, and Master Shifu is authoritarian and yet willing to have his heart melted. Some scenes are pure beauty, the introduction of Master Oogway where what appears to be a totem pole turns out to be a turtle (upside down!) with a walking stick, Master Oogway “passing on” in a flurry of flower petals, and best of all arrows raining down in true bad-ass Chinese martial arts style. Of course there are your standard story lines, the misfit who would be master; the guru who learns to love and respect his misfit student and so on, but those only serve as a basis to tell a good story, and some very funny jokes. Po ends up learning kung fu via his food addiction, and the “dumpling” scene between him and Shifu are alone worth the price of entry. But most of all, we liked that the film makers didn’t shy away from physical humour. When you have Angelina Jolie providing one of the voices, the temptation was surely high to have a few scenes and lines namecheck Brad Pitt or spoof Tomb Raider, instead we have a Panda being hit in the crotch by Kung Fu training equipment. For my money, and my adolescent sensibilities, I’ll take a solid whack on the crotch any day.

It might be that children will enjoy Kung Fu Panda more than adults to which Master Oogway would probably suggest that we need only to find the child within ourselves. Early in the movie, in the aforesaid dream scene, one of the awe-struck villagers remarks on how awesome Kung Fu master Po is and wonders how he can be repaid. To which Po replies, “There is no charge for awesomeness.”  To which we say, “Thank You Jack Black, for this pure awesomeness.”

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Choosing a DVD Rental Service: Seventymm

Posted by anandrr on June 30, 2008

Seventymm has less than BigFlix, it’s missing all the same ones as BigFlix, and is also missing Infernal Affairs. Also they don’t redeem themselves by stocking Blood Simple. 5/10, very poor!

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Choosing a DVD Rental Service: Bigflix

Posted by anandrr on June 30, 2008

Bigflix stocks 6 out of our gold standard list of 10 DVDs. 6 isn’t bad. Not good, but not too shabby for a new Indian service. They don’t stock Fargo, but they do have Blood Simple, go figure. They also don’t have Rashomon, Jesus Camp or Enthusiasm.

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Choosing a DVD Rental Service

Posted by anandrr on June 30, 2008

Any DVD rental service worth its salt should stock the following DVDs:

  1. An Inconvenient Truth
  2. Infernal Affairs
  3. Rashomon
  4. Pather Panchali
  5. High Noon
  6. Fargo
  7. Reservoir Dogs
  8. Jesus Camp
  9. Curb Your Enthusiasm
  10. The Motorcycle Diaries

Most of these are the best in their respective genre. A couple are in there just because I haven’t watched them yet. The great thing about Netflix was that it stocked all of these as well as all your standards, both Hollywood as well as Bollywood. How do the Indian rental services compete?

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