Tuesday, August 24, 2010

mr blandings builds his dream home . peepli live. ghajini. bheema. a better tomorrow. im a cyborg but thats ok. ten

jim blandings is cary grant, an advertising executive trying to do his best coming up with slogans to sell the american dream, when disgruntled with the daily turmoil of living in the bog city, he decides to buy a home out in connecticut where he and the three women in his life can live the 'blueberry pie' american dream. the house turns out to be a dump that has to be torn down. of building a new home drives his almost completely broke and is full of endless discussions and diatribes against his architect, his contractors and his wife. at the end of i all though all is stable and satisfied in that ideal suburban getaway from it all. he sits in an armchair in the garden surrounded by his loving family and friends inviting us to drop in if we are in the neighbourhood.

if you have seen the trailer of 'peepli live' you've seen the film. nothing in the film surprises you- for a incisive take on the 24 hour news network industry, its insights are pedestrian; and as far as narrative and characters go, they don't rise beyond the one dimensional- innocent villager, corrupt politician, cold hearted media.

now, this is not the aamir khan 'ghajini' but the original one in tamil with surya as the man who loses his memory every fifteen minutes. based on memento, this film does not bother with the logic of the backward storytelling, the piece by piece mental puzzle of that film. instead it goes for revenge drama. asin plays the wife and like most women in these films she is relentlessly happy and jolly. the man broods and stares intensely, he patronizes her eccentricities and when she is killed for stopping an evil marwadi from smuggling 'good tamil girls' to mumbai to be sold- she is killed. but these are all incidental- because the film is about nothing much but the making of a hero. a soft tough man.

like 'bheema'. in the beginning the very hard and tough, perpetually macho guy puts you off; until the back story and bheema's obsession for the small time robin hood in his hometown is introduced. from that point on the love story is of these two men- the young protégé and the older mentor. the women come and go and eventually become one of the reasons for the grand tragedy at the end. this is the real thing about gangster films- the male-male love stories, from 'once upon a time in america' to 'bheema' and john woo's 'a better tomorrow'. in this film a gangster tries to go straight but is pulled into his earlier life because of his love for his brother and his friend. again the girl here is incidental as she tries to make peace between the warring brothers (one is a thief and the other a policeman) and mostly fails.

a young woman believes she is a cyborg and in the beginning sequence tries to recharge herself by plugging her own body into a socket. the rest of the film takes place in a mental hospital filled with other deranged individuals played up for so-called comedy. because she believes she is a machine she refuses to take any food until a co-inmate who is in love with her fits a convertor in her that makes the food into a electrical energy. trying to be profound by using the hospital as some kind of allegory the film merely ends up appearing pretentious and silly. 'oldboy' was so much better.

another film with a conceit was 'ten'- but in this case it did seem tow work. made of ten segments all shot by a stationary camera placed in a car sometimes looking at the woman driver and sometimes at the person sitting besides her. the life of the driver of the car and her relationship with her ex-hsband and her son are explored in long dialogue bits interrupted by trivial discussion regarding directions or the nature of the roads or arguments with other drivers on the roads.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

once . raise the red lantern . koolhaas houselife . sleeper . the trial . the house of usher. The Ladies of the Bois de Boulogne. velu . baraka .

a new age musical love story, where easygoing laidback likeable characters trying to make a living in contemporary dublin meet- and almost fall in love. he sings songs with a guitar on the street and she sells flowers. very sweet and with some generic singer-songwriter music. it is just unusual to hear this kind of music on screen. its like they belong to two different worlds.

the house in 'raise the red lantern' stands outside time. a prison/labyrinth of roofs and courtyards and cleanliness; there are domains and rituals marking every space. three wives compete for the attention of the man of the house. red lanterns are lit every night in the house which he favours. the roof seems like the only space for accidental encounters outside ritual.

we follow the housekeeper through the day as she tries to make sense of and clean rem koolhaas' much loved and analysed recent (relatively) 'masterpiece' - the house in bordeaux . the odd openings, the strange juxtapositions of spaces, the too clever by half discourse so far removed from the space of domesticity seems to be the theme- and there is a 'mon oncle' reference in there too; but the critique does not seem to be that vicious. the house makes for some unusual beauty and the film maker seems to love it too.

in the 1973 woody allen futuristic 'sleeper' a man wakes up 200 years after he checked into a hospital for a small operation. the architecture of the future it would seem is all high modern blankness for the office/factory which seems like an i m pei building and the 'safe house' is retro-futuristic streamlined curves from the 1970's- which is in reality a house by charles deaton. meanwhile in the forest a revolution is rising.

almost the whole of orson welles version of kafka's 'the trial' was shot inside an abandoned railway station in paris. and as a set it works incredible well. enormous floor plates as far as the eye can see where men sit in repetitive cubicles; or the new classical grandeur of large vaulted spaces and dark shadows- the building is a labyrinth of doors and darkness. outside this madness is the housing colony where he lives- modernist slabs relentlessly marching on in a desolate blankness. anthony perkins plays josef k. incredibly well made- but a difficult book to make into a film.

i wasn't much taken by 'the fall of the house of usher' an early silent based on a poe story. here there are strange goings on at the house of usher- a mansion far away in the woods. the husband is painting a portrait of his wife and as the portrait gets more precise it steals life away from the real woman until she dies. anyway, i am not one for horror films, but in this one the special effects and the story were dated and plain silly.

robert bresson's early film The Ladies of the Bois de Boulogne is nowhere as brilliant as some of the later films- but is still very watchable. a jilted high society lady hatches a plan to take revenge on her ex-lover by making him fall head over heels in love with an innocent poor girl who was once a prostitute.

'baraka' reminded me of koyaanisqatsi- another film of images that makes sublime nature and civilization. beginning with the himalayas and religion to industry and dereliction it returns to religion and death in varanasi. not much to recommend in terms of any serious philosophising- in fact it makes all the ridiculous orientalist clichés in the way it treats other cultures. its amazing how dated the gaze seems ot be. some jaw dropping locations in long slow exposures though.

if 'velu' is any indication tamil films seem to be in a time warp for us who have gotten used to the new avatar of bollywood. while here the audience seems to be a world of airheaded fashion conscious yuppies or nri's the tamil films continues to address what it sees as core issues of a rural hinterland. and the film seems uncannily dated t the 1980s. twins seperated at birth- one a policeman (of sorts- he actually works in a detective agency) and the other a goon in a village being held to ransom by an evil landlord. it might have all been quite passé if it wasn't for surya who is the centre of all action- as velu and as vasu. extremely good looking in a macho kind of way, it is difficult to take your eyes off him. he is a real star. forget the effete dandies of bombay/mumbai- all their six packs are merely lipstick and nail-polish- this is manhood in an old fashioned- pre-metrosexual, misogynistic way, that no longer exists when aamir khan wants to save the world single handedly and shah rukh flirts and peddles his sophistication everywhere; lets not even talk about ranir kapoor and imran khan. thank god for salman khan.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

once upon a time in america . equus . the city of lost children . modern times . brutality in stone . red cliff . moolaade

‘once upon a time in america’ is enormous epic saga set in new york spanning decades. lovingly detailed and almost four hours long. comfortable with long silences and very long takes; the film follows the friendship of two hoods turned gangsters through three time zones in flashbacks and forwards. i wonder whether the title of ‘once upon a time in mumbai’ plays homage to this film. robber de niro and james caan play the friends. fantastic production design.

the silly parallels being made between masculinity and horse, religion, repression and deviancy might be ludicrous- especially when played with such gravitas by all concerned. richard burton as the classicist psychoanalyst is terrific and maybe if i was not in such an irreverent mood the film with its trite observations on freedom and normality might have felt less pretentious. the sex scene with the horse in particular was hilarious- but then how in the world is one to stage that without raising giggles?

in ‘the city of lost children’ production design again rules. somewhere in an alternate universe children are being kidnapped and taken to a tower far away to steal their dreams. the raiders are blind men who having one artificial eye are called the cyclops. the city is a three dimensional dickensian nightmare- criss crossing bridges over the overflowing drains, brick clad warehouses in a perpetual night. the clones stealing the dreams include six nitwits and one brain in a fish tank with a camera for an eye.

i saw a charlie chaplin film after a very long time and loved ‘the beginning sequence of ‘modern times’ where chaplin becomes apart of the machine. more fantastic sequences include the skateboarding at night in the mall and the house on the edge of the city where he ad the girl-tramp try and make a home.

although we would like to believe in the seamless connection between culture and architecture- like the buildings in themselves are testimonies to a certain historical fact; very often this is difficult to establish. buildings are far more slippery than that. they refuse to be one liners. they, in so many ways, speak also for themselves. perhaps ideology and th form through which it is made tangible are not so esily connected. unfortunately, based on the film ‘brutality in stone’ where black and white shots of the monuments of the third reich are intercut with party speeches and patriotic songs, with nazi architecture this connections seems unbroken. enormous frightening monuments to ideas of purity, nostalgia and supermen make diminutive all things human.

john woo takes his swashbuckling action film drama and splices it with ‘crouching tiger hidden dragon’. china exotica complete with armies that move in choreographed unison, flying coloured robes and a enormous war epic about a smaller kingdom standing up to a much larger juggernaut. in the middle of this is a love triangle. the battle sequences are jaw dropping- the first with the tortoise formation – like something out of the mahabharat; and the finale with fire.

it must be something that eagerness to do something useful that comes from being educated and therefore privileged in the ‘third’ world; but this self imposed morality to make sure the film (in the case) has an important ‘message’. in ‘moolaade’ this message is very clear- ‘stop female circumcision!’ the second wife of a man, in an idyllic and very pretty village, takes a few girls under her wing for protection against the wishes of the red robed women performing the operation and the men of the village who hold her responsible for corrupting the women of the village. it is her and the radio that bring the corruption of the city to the village and the latter are burnt in a pile of screaming voices in front of the village mosque. she is beaten up but does not relent.

Monday, August 09, 2010

reassemblage . heavy metal . family viewing . summer wars . touch of evil.

trinh t minha's still incredible 'reassemblage' takes the national geographic anthropological film and deconstructs it to place on the mat the expectations of the gaze and the performance of the subject as subject. the camera lingers on exposed breasts daring us to continue seeing, it pans is jerky motions and every cut slices any remnants of comfort we might settle into.

there are no apologies for the male gaze in the animated 'heavy metal'. like the music it is blatantly sexist and violent. an green globe spreads evil across the universe in episodes that each recall one hollywood genre film after another- from alien film to war film to sex film. actually all of it is really a sex film, especially when in the final episode when the very sexy saviour strips of her old clothes to wear the fetish leather and wields a sword.

family viewing was atom egoyan's 1980s take on north american obsessions with television and cameras. the film's narrative about a boy and his love for his grandmother- and the affair he has with his fathers misteress seems like an excuse to play with the images and image making as fetish, as fifteen minutes of fame, as memory keepers, as surveillance. little check-list like, and felt forced.

'summer wars' was a recent anime in which the cyberworld of oz is taken over by an evil virus making chaos across the world. parallel to this fantastical landscape is the real world where the battle is fought- a traditional japanese extended family in an idyllic home complete with kindly grandmother and eccentric uncles. terrific drawings.

from the first long take swooping across the border from mexico to the united states, 'touch of evil' does not let go. when a bomb goes off on the american side suspicions fly about who is responsible for the murder. charlton heston plays the mexican upstanding cop and orson welles the (possibly) corrupt american one. in the madness of the bordertowns, jurisdictions overlap and nationalism and racism are exaggerated. crazy light and shadow play and mad expressionist shots, great dialogue- i loved the film.

berlin alexanderplatz . breathless . criminal lovers . upkar . architecture of doom . the flight of the red balloon .

completionist that i am, i had to sit through all of the 14 episodes of the fassbinder mega film set in berlin betwene the wars. franz biberkopf is the innocent, pimp, burglar, lover trying to go straight after he spent 4 years in a jail for murdering his girlfriend. melodramatically staged, most of the film takes place in dingy apartment interior bathed in a perpetual golden light; or if it is night the flashing lights from the neon signs outside the window. biberkopf gradually becomes more and more implicated in complications emerging from sexuality and survival. along the way he loses his hand when hsi best friend throws him out of a running car. franz is such an innocent that he even forgives the villain that. it is only when the man kills his true love that franz finally realised what a dog the man he trusted was. it all ends with a massive epilogue in which franz's delirium collages pieces of his past through the city of berlin- sometimes as stage, sometimes as projection. the music sources everyone from strauss to janis joplin.

the cinema city screenings at edward are quite the rage. we trudged there on a rainy thursday and saw godard's breathless. the first time i had seen the film i was pretty underwhelmed; but this time, perhaps because i finally got the film noir references- like a love song to those films; i loved it. the everyday landscape and people of paris trying to become american through costume and gesture- the cool dude and the sweet innocent girl who ends up being the femme fatale.

another french femme fatale is the teenager in a french school who seduces her boyfriend to kill another student with algerian background who she lusts after and hates equally- or maybe she hate the fact that she lusts after him. when on the run they in turn are kidnapped and molested by a stranger as the boyfriend struggles with own sexuality. nasty violent fun.

upkar is unbearable mostly. in spite of the few flairs in image making- the high perspetive and deep focus, the temple in the barren ground around which the film revolves, even (in an amusing way) the diptych song picturization of gulaabi raatein/ kaali raatein that makes horribly juvenile dichotomies. as far as ideology goes it can't get any more one dimensional than this- jai jawan - second half / jai kisan - first half. manoj kumar plays both.

'the architecture of doom' systematically and carefully described the relationship of culture to national socialism from the degenerate art shows to the paintings that hitler thought represented the german ideal to the grand plans for berlin as spectacle. so efficiently told and so informative- but i am more than a little tired of the nazis as documentary material.

a single mother finds a chinese nanny for her child; and has difficulties with her tenant. nothing much happens really except a red balloon floats aimlessly over paris as hope or as a dream. on the streets the film is shot as if one is standing on the edge of a pavement seeing reflections on shop windows and eavesdropping on conversations. as much as breathless imagines an america in paris, this film plays with the imaginations about paris from faraway, perhaps in the film makers head after watching the city in so many other french classic films.