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Spring Drought: some random thoughts (on movies)

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There is much ‘random’ness in the blog-universe (I am tired of saying blogosphere). This and this are two (non-random) examples but a simple google search yields many many more.

So here are some of the wide ranging thoughts going through my mind – random but all related to movies.
Lots of italics, broken sentences, exclamations, hand-waving etc. to follow.

January to April is not a good time for film-buffs, especially theatre-goers. All the Oscar contenders were released back in December. Summer is still some way off for the big blockbusters. For the artsy folks, some good comes out of the indie films that get picked up at Sundance. Lately though, I have noticed that independant cinema has been caught in its own formulaic sameness (a little bit more on it below and a full discussion perhaps in another post).

From the audience side, I think something has to be wrong with people when Big Momma’s House is the week’s top grosser. Just look at this still from the movie and tell me it doesn’t gross you out. What worries me is that the audience appeared to prefer this ugly abomination over the rather cute-sort-of-ugly Nanny McPhee. And it won’t get better – they are releasing Final Destination 3 in a few weeks – Part 3 – for gods sake ! Now my deep dark secret is that I have seen Final Destination part 1! In my defense, I will say that it was in one of those ‘dollar’ theatres (where you spend $2.00 for weekend, $1 on Tuesday and and matinees etc to watch movies that aren’t running in the main theatres anymore). But how do you keep repeating that premise two more times. Also among the future releases – there is Scream 4. ’nuff said.

The only hope in the theatres I see in the next month or so is the Pink Panther remake. When I heard about this, I went no way (eyes rolling, trying to imitate the typical American teen) – how do you top Peter Sellers and his ‘min-key‘ and ‘reum‘ ? But the trailer gives me some hope. Looks like Steve Martin interpreted and attempted the role of Clouseau in his own way instead of trying to ape Sellers. Which is good. Also Kato‘s role has been redefined – the original Chinaman thing would not have gone down well in these politically correct times. However, I somehow don’t quite see Kevin Kline in Dreyfus’ role. I hope he can pull off some of the neurotic quality played by the original actor.
Personally speaking, I think this is a good time to run through your Netflix queue and get some return of investment on that 20 odd dollars per month. Unfortunately, this winter has been pretty mild so far – very few ‘light up the fireplace and sit cozily in front of the TV with steamimg hot chocolate days’. Its going to be 70 (Farenheit) today ! When you find crisp sunshine and mild mid60s temperature outside, its tough to stay in. Still we haven’t done too badly since the start of this year. Here are some of movies we have gone through and some quick mini-reviews (perhaps some spoilers ahead).

The Island – good time pass. Begins with a dystopian (but not in the dark Bladerunner/Brazil sort of way) future where people live in a completely controlled and closed environment. Of course, Big Brother is always watching you . And I mean always; it is monitoring your sleep, your pee (so that it can recommend a healthy diet), who you make friends with (contact with opposite sex is discouraged) etc. All this is being done ostensibly to protect the populace from harmful germs that have enveloped the outside world and made it uninhabiatble. People’s only hope is a daily lottery, where someone is chosen, supposedly at random, to spend the rest of their lives in an ‘Island’, the only germ-free open air place left on the planet and looks like paradise. The protagonist, played by Ewan McGreggor, is however not very happy with the state of things and stumbles upon the secret of their existense. Whereupon, all hell breaks loose, the film shifts gear and goes into a high-energy regular ‘Micheal Bay cars blowing up and related collateral damage’ mode. In this case its quite a few flying cars that blow up. Scarlett Johanssen doesn’t have much role except to look scared most of the time and follow the guy, although, she does pitch in a bit at the end with some rescuing stuff. Like I said – not bad – maybe just marginally better than The Rock.

Lord of War – Again, quite watchable – but nothing great. If you wanted to know everything about the gun and other weapons of mass destruction racketeering market and how it is run, this is the movie to rent. Nicholas Cage is tailor made for the role (I have said this so many times about Cage. I guess he is such a good actor, he seems to fit effortless into every role). He plays an Ukranian-origin, Brooklyn-raised man who one fine day realizes the power of guns and switches into the gun-running market from looking after the run-down family restaurant (pretty effortlessly I must say). In the process of becoming a big-shot arms dealer, he also manages to convert his brother into a cocaine addict, marries the girl of his dreams (a super-model come aspiring actor and painter), cross a dedicated but honest to the point of fault Interpol agent (played by Ethan Hawke – not quite convincingly), make friends with a brutal African dictator etc. The film takes customary digs at the US as well as other powers such as UK, France, Russia, Germany, but to its credit, comes a little short of laying all the blame for the civil strifes in Africa at their feet (something that the Constant Gardener tried to do last year). Some of the scenes in Africa are quite heart-breaking though. Interesting trivia – in one particular scence, A R Rahman’s ‘Bombay Theme’ is used. Worth checking out the movie – it will keep you engaged.

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adam’s H2G2 ‘trilogy in five novels’ happens to be one of my favorite books. I was initially anticipating the movie version,but was then disappointed by early reviews and gave it skip at the theatres. Having sufficently downgraded my expectations, I must say I sort of enjoyed watching it on DVD. I wonder if people who have not read the book (a sacriledge in my opinion, but we must be kind and considerate to our fellow human beings – they are an ignorant and do not know what they are missing) could follow the story properly. There was quite a but of jumping around the themes- especially towards the end. I liked the way they presented the Guide entries through voice over and animation. But why they chose to delete a scence regarding the Guide entry on Earth I don’t know – it would have added only a few seconds more. I also had more expectations from the planet making factory scenes and wished that Marvin (my favorite character) had a few more lines. Alan Rickman’s voice for Marvin is probably the best casting calls of all times. The ‘dolphins opera’ sequence at the beginning is precious.

Broken Flowers – Bill Murray stepped off the sets of Lost into Translation and walked straight into Jim Jarmusch’s Broken Flower. Here he plays Don Johnston, a guy who was quite the Don Juan in his prime, having had seemingly endless affairs. Now he is reasonably well-off, having made money in ‘computers’ (how exactly isn’t mentioned and isn’t relevant) and going through the customary mid-life crisis while his current girl-friend (the beautiful Julie Delpy) is walking out on him. He spends most of his time lying on his couch watching old cartoons and movies on a high-def TV and drinking wine. Counterweighing his character is that of the neighbour, Winston, an Ethiopian immigrant who is juggling three jobs to maintain a family with five kids but is always cheerful and lfancies himself as an amateur detective in his spare time. As the film begins, Don gets a letter in a pink envelope with no return address and a smudged post-mark. Someone claims to have had a son by him who is now seventeen years of age and has started on journey to find his father. Winston is intrigued by the letter and senses a chance to use his detecting skills. He coaxes Don into making a list women he had affairs with 17 years ago. Don shows an apparent indifference, but still makes a list. Winston takes it upon himself to investigate these women through the internet and makes elaborate arrangements for Don to fly to various cities and visit these women. He also suggests bringing them pink flowers to ‘observe their reaction’ and look for clues to determine which of these women might have sent the mysterious letter. Don undertakes these trips and has a variety of experiences, though he never gets close to finding the truth. In the end, the movie is more about Don’s discovery of what he really wants in life (e.g a family and probably children) rather than revealing who actually wrote the letter.
It’s really difficult to find fault with films like this – good direction, good acting, decent story – delving into the human mind and all that. But then, so what ? What’s new ? The slow or still camera movements, long periods of no dialog while the actor stares introspectively into space and the audience is supposed to come to a deep appreciation of the character – all this is simply getting repetetive. Same goes for Junebug – again an excellent film – but I just could not take more than an hour of the movie with its long shots of some woodlands while nothing happens. (Amy Adams was wonderful though and completely deserves her Oscar nod). Call me a philistine for this, but I am overcome by what I call indie-fatigue. I guess I am bit vague about my compaints here – I will try to tackle this in details in another post.

Layer Cake – British drama on the lines of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch (same producer), involving the murky world of drug dealers. Enjoyable if you can understand all the cockney accent and make out what the *#@! they are saying to each other. I could not follow most of it other than *#@( and *^%# and suchlike 🙂 and had to turn on the subtitles. Not as good as LSTSB.

5 x 2: One of my favorite contemporary director, Fracois Ozon’s latest (it was released in 2004). Previously, I have seen and enjoyed his delightful musical-murder-mystery-comedy, ‘8 Women‘*, the slightly dark and whacky ‘Sitcom’ and the suspense thriller ‘Swimming Pool‘. This movie belongs to this new ‘genre’ of reverse-chronologial storytelling a la Memento and Irreversible. Not as edgy or fast paced as the other movies, 5×2 (five times two not 5 by 2) looks at five moments in the life of a French couple, starting from their divorce and going backwards to the time they first met. The pay-off in terms of suspense is when you get to the final segment that shows how the two met, you also understand why a relationship between them was doomed from the start. There is also a small twist in the penultimate segment that depicts the marriage.

* – anybody who loves French films and its actresses must not miss this. It has an all female cast that reads like a who’s-who of French cinema through the ages: from Catherine Deneuve and Fanny Ardant through Isabelle Huppert to Ludivine Sagnier. Each plays a femme fatale role. And they sing.

Not seen on Netflix but really liked: Woody Allen’s Match Point – now that’s a must see. Will post details on that soon.

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Written by BongoP'o'ndit

February 3, 2006 at 3:26 pm

Posted in Films, Life

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