Wednesday, September 29, 2010

antichrist . pierrot le fou . the quiet american . the italian job . the fountainhead

another suffering heroine in a lars von trier film. here after losing her son in an accident her psychoanalyst husband takes her deep in the woods to 'eden' where she is to confront her fear of nature. nature is the garden of death. but it is also woman- and herself. evil resides in her as passion as she rebels against reason and the phallus; and her own womanhood in gruesome scenes of genital mutilation. gratuitous violence that i could not bear to watch. incredibly well made with all kinds of biblical allusions thrown in. not that i figured out most of them. but nowhere as complex as dogville.

a similar conversation that pits male rationality against female romanticism occurs in the middle of pierrot le fou, jean luc godard's wild ride with ferdinand or pierrot and anna karina- the wild child that leads him away from his stultifying bourgeois life- wife and kids and parties where the latest commodity is discussed in detail through coloured filters. pop culture and cultural references pop up everywhere- from proust and james joyce to film noir. film genres switch in staccato rhythms. seemed like a pop art film with its in-jokes about film making, its palette of primary colours and its set design with posters o art reproductions and designer chairs. lenin and coke are discussed in the sun drenched south of france; in the genteel sun and sand american culture is lampooned and loved, the vietnam war becomes a game.

graham greene's hero in 'the quiet american' is a world weary british reporter in love with a beautiful vietnamese woman, when a young american arrives in saigon with visions of a different future for the country. this white man's burden is to save the vietnamese from the evils of communism and the ineffectual colonial rule of the french; no matter what the cost in human lives. after all it is the larger ideological battle that must be won. echoes of every american war since. iraq especially.

'the italian job' is good american pulp. mark walberg and a huge bunch of stars including donald sutherland and edward norton in a oceans eleven style crime caper. something about gold bricks and a double crossing partner. with all the cool gadgets and lines this really should be much better.

in the film version of ayn rand's 'the fountainhead' gary cooper as howard roark is the first laugh. and then there is the dominique francon who gets an orgasm everytime she sees his sweat drenched shirt- or when she sees him drill the limestone with his strong arms; or the 'radical' architecture that roark is supposed to have built which all look like bad renderings of modern architecture that you find in every architecture magazine even today. the film manages to stay true to the book and brings out its inherent silliness. the 'inspiring' speech at the end when roark justifies his individuality over the collective is hilarious especially since he has just blown up a low income housing settlement because the evil mediocrities have prettied it up. the howlers in the dialogue make this a must watch for all architects.

Friday, September 24, 2010

high noon . the searchers . things to come . el topo . dabangg . raja babu . hum dono. once upon a time in mumbaai . vincere

so many films to review. i am falling behind every week. maybe i should start off with the westerns- two of them- the first one 'high noon' in which gary cooper plays a lawman recently married waiting for two hours for a train to arrive that carries his nemesis. as he goes from house to pub to church to enlist deputy sheriffs to help him fight the villain, all of them desert him, cursing him instead for the violence that is sure to follow. the two women in his life- his mexican ex-girlfriend and his very white and blonde wife also desert him until one of them has a change of heart at the end. no prises for guessing which one. the stereotypes are all there. what really works is the tension of the impending arrival through the whole film. the climax at the end ends up being a let down. john ford's 'the searchers' places a few twists in the typical western. far from being a white washed hero, john wayne plays a racist cowboy who snarls his contempt for anything red indian. his companion is a 'half breed' as they travel the gorgeous utah deserts in search of a young girl kidnapped by avenging tribes of ululating, horse riding, teepee living indians. when she is found she is a squaw of the tribe leader, which leads to our hero wanting to kill her for miscegenation. the final reunion at the end is lovely in spite of the cringe inducing racism that underlies the whole film- in spite of its relatively progressive stance.

i finally got down to seeing 'el topo'- the mole- a western of sorts but packed to the brim with allegories and symbols that i assumed to have profound importance but could not for the life of me understand. not that it mattered. the film seemed to be divided in three parts. in the first 'el topo' rescues a community from a murdering tribe and leaves his son in their care. in the second he travles with a woman through the desert to defeat 4 people, each with their own powers and geometric symbols; and in the third he helps a band of deformed underground people dig a tunnel to the world above. mesmerising and completely obscure.

thank god for 'dabanng'. i am sick and tired of the smooth over produced chic of multiplex films- those that dont aim for more than a smooth surface finish, or (even worse) those that claim to have a social conscience - think 'peepli live'. dabanng has no such pretentions. i was afraid with the image of salman's sunglasses reflecting the lighted heart, that the film might be too self conscious about its own masalagiri to really go out and enjoy it. always keeping a respectful distance from getting down and dirty in the genre and instead 'appreciating' it as a clever 'take'. 'wanted' had no such inhibitions and 'dabanng' had only a few. salman khan is salman khan, no matter if you call his chulbul- and he is great- especially in the action sequences- a closed warehouse with a bunch of goondas where he flexes his muscles to get out of the clutches of the villains or the way in which his shirt comes off in the final scene. sonakshi sinha is stunning but had little to do. and the story... i cant remember. on a whim i also saw david dhawan's 'raja babu' yesterday. entertaining if you can carry your brain with you and pretend to read too much in everything- otherwise it can simply be shrill and hackneyed. govinda's comic timing is fantastic and so are the dance sequences- the sari lifting in 'aa aa ee' being a highlight and of course the multiple and complex pelvic thrusts. the groin is the centre of the film - whether that is the phallus/candle that karisma burns for govinda or the nadas- in stiff and limp state that shjakti kapoor fights with.

i have always loved the songs in 'hum dono' but had never seen it (ages ago on doordarshan does not count) what struck me in the film were long silences and the gentle ease y which the story is told from the very first scene where an entire silent flirtation leads into 'abhi na jaao'. in fact all the songs are placed beautifully. as a weepy it is totally successful; i sobbed away. partly becasue the music - especially 'allah tero naam' is just simply divine.

'once upon a time in mumbaai' tries so hard to be cool. the narrator speaks in a decorous monotone, so do all the actors - no one screams, ajay devgan mumbles and scowls, the photography is lush period homage and very tasteful. everything is so smooth that the film is completely flat. it plods along from incident to incident. the only one who tries to fight the eternal smoothness is emraan hashmi who manages for some time to look human enough to be petulant and vulnerable. prachi desai as his girlfriend benefits from this, but poor kangna ranaut is submerged under the perpetual good taste of the film. boring.

'vincere' follows an affair that Mussolini had with a woman who he later discarded and declared insane along with the son they had together. high on production design and operatic staging. every moment is pushed to the extremes of high tension through stylized photography and sound design. i did not hate the film- but it did not leave me with much either.

inkheart . high school musical 3 . savage planet . antonio gaudi. force of evil . the band wagon . khel khel mein

i should really have liked 'inkheart'. i fall for most films where fantasy is an excuse for some really spectacular special effects. in this case brandan fraser plays a man gifted with the power to make what he reads come true. a fairy tale called inkheart comes alive and takes his wife in leaving a band of murdering villains instead. fraser wants his wife back and some mummy-like action follows. not nearly as lovely as it could have been. brain dead disney silliness is 'high school musical 3' so forgettable. at least the music could have been less annoying.

the french fantasy animation film ' fantastic planet' pits humans against a race of blue giants on a strange planet. the humans are kept as pets while the wild ones live free in an abandoned garden. when one domesticated animal escapes with all the knowledge of the blue people there is a revolution. scientific thought can save the world. a similar sentiment is seen in 'things to come' a 1936 science fiction fantasy. written by h g wells as a polemic of sorts against irrationality and its dangers. the film is set in everytown, where a war breaks out on christmas eve and over a few years the world is plunged into a dark age where tribes battle with one another headed by a chieftain like figure. but somewhere around the Mediterranean scientists, teachers and professionals have evolved an idyllic bastion against this madness. a grey haired wise man arrives in this devastated town as a beacon of a better life spreading his peace gas over the population. everytown then is transformed into a perfect city with a baroque inspired plan and futuristic white high rise living. but as the scientists reach for even greater heights, a sculptor rues the loss of the 'human' and creates a propaganda war against progress. as a rocket shoots towards the sky mad mobs invade the launch pad. good film for my theory of design modernism class.

hiroshi teshigahara's antonio gaudi is a relief. unlike 'my architect' that aims for some profound psychlogical insight from louis kahns work, in this film the buildings speak for themselves by intercutting what might have been gaudis sources with the voluptuous sensuality of gaudis buildings. not having a voiceover telling us what to see was a great help.

i love the moral ambiguity of film noir. in 'force of evil' a brother who has sold his soul to the devil to make a million overnight is confronted by his morally upright, but weak brother who runs a gambling joint. as the lawyer brother tries to make amends for being the black sheep he is consistently snubbed by the older brother. who is good and evil is debateable. the sequences in new york are beautifully shot- wall street deserted in morning light and especially, at the end' the descent to the banks of the river where the body of his brother lies.

more new york sequences (and lovely ones) are in 'the band wagon'. the first being the shoe shine song in the penny arcade on 42nd street where a black man shines fred astaires shoes like a happy slave; and the second the lovely romantic dance in central park with fred astiare and cyd charise. astaire plays a has-been Hollywood star trying to make it big again in a stage version of 'faust' by playing opposite a ballet dancer. the show fails because it is serious. the message being that nothing should be taken seriously- all is airheaded happiness- 'that's entertainment' the world is a stage and the stage is a world.

more airheaded happiness leads to a multiple murders in 'khel khel mein'. rishi kapoor, neetu singh and rakesh roshan play teenagers who love to flirt with danger. one day a prank goes wrong and they are implicated in a crime involving the murder of a jeweller and the evil 'black cobra'. poor aruna irani plays the suffering vamp- 'sherri'- she had to be christian.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

police story. once upon a time in china 1-6 steamboy. the best days of our lives . bride wars .

it is the opening of police story and that incredible chase down the hill through the slums that most sticks in my mind. no stunt compares to that one through the rest of the story about a policeman assigned to guard a potential witness. jackie chang is fantastic fun. the other hong kong kung fu king whose films i have been watching back to back is jet li.

while chang plays the action for comedy, jet li makes it ballet. and it is not as if his characters are all tension like bruce lee. instead there is a gentle sweetness and often a sort of buffoonery that offsets his seriousness. in fact when he plays wong fei-hung his self-seriousness is often what is funny as he surrounded by his girlfriend and disciples who seem instead to have a better understanding of the world. ji is the distanced slightly eccentric pure soul. he is the star of only 4 of the six films and when he is not around the films suffer terribly. his charisma more than makes up for the interminable lion and dragon dances in the third film and the pseudo cowboy and indian story in the sixth. every film has a white man to hate- the first being american, then the russians, then the germans.. the list goes on. these white people are conniving through business to take over the china. wong fei-hung westernizes just enough to be able to fight them on their terms- but only in the later films. in the first two it is good old fashioned kung-fu that helps win all the battles.

i love the way that space is used in these films. it serves as both obstacle and prop for the body. while containing the action it also becomes something that can be used against the opponent. the body traces out the space in all dimensions and maps the structure and material of the building. the scale of the spaces, their strong and weak joints, the way that they come together are all unravelled the the action proceeds. some of my favourite sequences happen again in the first two films when cgi and wire tricks have not completely made the body weightless.

the action in the anime 'steamboy' occurs during the london exhibition of 1866. across from the crystal palace an enormous steam castle is built which is going to change the world. superb animation includes brilliantly designed steam engines that run off tracks and gorgeous visuals when the steam castle runs out of control over the city of london. the story involves the grandson of a family of inventors and a rivalry between his father and grandfather over science and its relationship with rampant capitalism.

'the best days of our lives' begins with three war veterans meeting in an airport trying to get back home to boone city where the women wait to care for them. the men have trouble fitting in again- one drinks too much, the other is ashamed of his disability and disfigurement and the third comes back to find himself jobless. . the women that they come back to are strong and supportive as they are supposed to be- and if they are not- as one veterans wife is portrayed, she very quicly in villianized. a propoganda film like no other- beautifully made and acted. for me the most beautiful sequence involves the airfield with the discarded carcasses of planes. i am a sucker for ruins.

and 'bride wars'.. if it wasn't for anne hathaway and kate hudson, who really are too lovely for this film, it would be completely unwatchable. like two bridezilla episodes rolled into one. the best of friends vying over each other to have the most perfect wedding which involves every cliché in the book. vera wang wedding clothes and a location to die for. after a while you cant care less about these women and their annoying tiffs.

chandramukhi . public housing. this film is not yet rated. terminator- salvation

in a fantastic entry sequence that begins with the sole of his shoe rajnikanth enters the film as a psychoanalyst who has made up his mind to debunk the myth of the ghost of a dancer that haunts the rooms of the palace. from a room to the rear of the building she is said to look down at her lover's house who was killed mercilessly by the tyrant husband. in the climax an easy solution is found to the tamilian schizophernia that pits science (all those iit-ians) against the mystical/religious (tirupati/ rajnikant) by making the yogi and analyst work together to rid the heroine of her poltergeist. whether it was a real spirit infestation or only a manifestation of internally repressed feelings is never resolved.

frederick wiseman's 'public housing' is a curious film. almost three hours of fly-on-the-wall gazing at everyday life in a housing scheme in chicago. except that the everyday life he has access to comes from the chicago housing authority which also has a special police squad for the colony. so we spend most of the time watching the poor, drug infested, dysfunctional neighbourhood on its best behaviour under the gaze of figures of authority- whether that is the social worker, the policeman or the plumber. the film is strangely un-self-conscious about the camera and its power to transform the object that i looks upon.

'this film is not yet rated' is an expose of the film rating system in the usa which is controlled by a secretive group of parents who work as a moral police for the nation. the premise to expose these people to the general public and he hires a lesbian couple as a private detective agency to help him. pretty straightforward with a michael moore kind of humour where the filmmaker submits his own film for rating.

the latest of the terminator series was damp and vapid compared to the others. in fact, i think after 2 the films have gone downhill very fast. some great action sequences and sets. the world i now almost completely run over by machines and a revolutionary army is trying to overthrow them. nothing to remember except for the thrill of two or three chases in gorges and river beds.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

son of india . mandi . bhumika . le million. follow the fleet . los angeles plays itself

mehboob khans mega nationalistic epic gets its metaphors mixed up- i think. the 'son of india' leaves dehradun and traipses through new delhi monuments singing and gets to the evil city of bombay to find the father who has abandoned his mother and him. while two street songs catalogue Bombay's postcard images- gateway of india, marine drive, etc; it is the set piece that really explores the darkness of the evil empire with the degrading conditions of living in slums/ villages -a brilliant rooftop chase sequence to a bridge below which the homeless father lives, to the huge elephanta statue just off a village street where god delivers his protection and judgement. but for me the images that really stay in my head are the action scenes in the sewers below the city that lead directly from the warehouse of the villain.

the brothel in mandi reminded me of another house of women in beijing in 'raise the red lantern'. but here the rules are made by the doyenne played brilliantly by shabana azmi. under her protection are a collection of terrific women actors- smita patil plays the virgin illegitimate child of a local powerbroker, soni razdan a brazen prostitute, neena gupta a childlike dancer- and the list goes on. it is a relief to say the least that the film does not make complete victims of these women, even when they are asked to be removed from the city by the moral police of the town, by keeping the tone tragi-comic rather than out and out melodrama. that cant be said about 'bhumika' though. based on a real life, i guess it does not have a choice. smita patil plays an actress caught in a marriage with a gold digger husband who controls her every move. his jealousies and manipulations drive her to other men who each creates a prison for her in their own way. the tragedies and disappointments do not end. naseeruddin shah and amrish puri play love interests. but if there is anything that makes the film constantly watchable it is smite patil who looks searingly beautiful throughout.

the first shot of 'le million' is a pan across the roofs of paris until we look through a dormer into a large hall where celebrations are on. the early french musical plays like a p g wodehouse comedy of errors when a lottery ticket is won by a down-on-his-luck artist- and then is lost by his fiance. through the rest of the film the jacket with the ticket is chased through town with a group of underground thieves and an opera singer. one beautiful sequence is the love song in the opera where the real love story and the operatic love story intertwine. the false setting and paper flowers are loved and adored for their artificiality and their fakeness.

no such moments of magic in the american musical 'follow the fleet' with fred astaire and ginger rogers although some terrific dancing. two sailors come into town and fall for two sisters; and then leave. one particularly memorable dance sequence is the sailors performance for the guests on the ship who are longing for some american music.

'los angeles plays itself' was a perfect cinema city film looking at locations in the city made mythological through cinema and the history of those real spaces, all underpinned by an anger emerging out of a belief that the movie industry has disrespected and lied about the city that it claims to represent and live within.

my architect . breakfast at tiffany's . hedwig and the angry inch. south park - bigger, longer, uncut . the weathering continent. phoenix 2772 .

it has been a long list of films since i last posted; and that is mainly because being at home all day i end up watching all kinds of nonsense back to back until they all dissolve into one giant mess of a image mash up at night when i sleep. so here i try to sift some of these images out into their proper slots.

'my architect' displayed a remarkable facility for ickiness throughout the film. i cant remember the last time a film made me cringe so much. maybe it was the very premise of the film where an illegitimate son tries ot rediscover his absent father through his legacy so every stone or shaft of light in louis kahns work signifies some profound psychological insight into kahns very soul; or maybe it is the fact that the son so shamelessly in the bald confessional tone of an oprah winfrey show asks his mother intimate details about her relationship with his father on camera; or the mystic indian yoginess thrust upon kahn by his devotees in india who make him into a seer; or the bengali architect at the end of the film who simpers and sobs away in the dhaka assembly and credits kahn the american for bringing democracy to his underdeveloped country. at the end of the film the son stares at the son setting behind kahn's monumental tomb like assembly and 'listens to the silence' and finds his father. if this was television it would be a rendezvous with simi garewal. meanwhile kahn's architecture which i so admired for their clarity and monumental sublime become merely enormous phallic replacements for a man desperate to leave a legacy to the world and could only find them in the mute ruins of a classical past. all his buildings become tombs to him.

in new york two loners try and find their selves both by selling their bodies and their youth. the man, a wannabe writer, finds an older woman emntor who takes care of his every need while the girl has escaped from her past to reinvent herself in an permanent nomadic mode wearing fanciful costumes and scouring the city for a rich man to get married to. her only companion is a cat with no name and an obsession with a jewellery store. true happiness lies in this landmark of a capitalist paradise. here even the clerks who know you cant afford any of their wares do not condemn your desire. a similar paradise existed in 'modern times' where in one night of pleasure chaplin and the tramp roam free and play out suburban fantasies inside the shopping mall. in 'breakfast at tiffany's audrey hepburn lives a perpetual fantasy of a richer future until clear and present love reigns at the end. it is a happy ending - of sorts.

hedwig and the angry inch is a movie based on a broadway musical whose central protagonist is a transgendered rock singer who came to america just before the berlin wall fell from east germany. she fell in love with an american marine and lost most of her penis in a botched up surgery leaving her with an angry inch. in america she is betrayed by her teenage lover who uses her songs to top the charts without giving her any credit. the film follows hedwig as she follows this cheat across his tour of america. fantastic over the top fun, and although some of the songs are a little corny the film more than easily carries it along with its flair for fantasy and melodrama.

i am not really so much of a 'south park' fan. i dont really get the humour. i understand it but i dont laugh. in the feature film a tv show is to blame for the spread of cuss words and bad language thorughout the youth of america and the americans blame canada leading to a war between the two nations. the films targets everybody liberals, conservatives, war mongers and peaceniks but much of the jokes are predictable. but then they would say- that's the point. ok i get it, but so what? now if only they had managed to lampoon themselves..

'the weathering continent' feels like a short story for a feature length anime. a boy, a warrior and a gender unspecific mystic are journeying to a town looking for water on a continent buried under sand. on the way they come to a city whose inhabitants have recreated a world of pleasure in death. all the bodies are like wax statues in position performing theatre or dance, but their faces are hollowed out masks. bandits are raiding this city and are going to be cursed. great premise for some fantastic set pieces but the animation is basic and so is the story.

'phoenix 2772' has a typical tale to tale of environmental destruction against technological progress. a shape shifting robot in love with her master is merely one of the many cute osamu tezuka style characters in the film which include a dice with arms and a head, a walking accordion, etc. our hero is to save the world by bringing back the firebird 2772 from a galaxy far far away.