Wednesday, July 21, 2004

a smattering of movies

* Red Rock West: Before he made The Last Seduction (where Linda Fiorentino's good performance was denied an Oscar nomination only on the technicality that the movie opened on HBO and not in the theatre) and Rounders, John Dahl made another little best-enjoyed-on-the-small-screen nugget that mixes film noir, westerns, twisty con game films and deadpan black humour. Nicholas Cage's understated near-dead demeanour is perfect for the part he plays. The plot crunches in a lot of twists, surprises, turns and macabre humour. While frequent viewers of such lesser-known flicks will not be thrown off-guard, it still makes for decent viewing. Besides, how many Dennis Hopper flicks can you think of where he doesn't say "man" even once!

* Main Hoon Na [notes on the soundtrack]: I must be suffering from an early second childhood or something. This is the second SRK flick that I enjoyed. Farah Khan makes her directorial début with a safe homage (albeit with modern yuppie updates) to the twisty-turny entertainers of yore that mixed coincidence, high emotion, action, and song-n-dance and wrapped them up into a tidy package. SRK plays Major Ramprasad Sharma, which should have Gol Maal fans momentarily tickled. Naseeruddin Shah cameos as SRK's dad -- both are army dudes -- who is killed by Raghavan (Suniel Shetty, who proves yet again that there is no profession employing human beings that he could possibly apply for). Naseer also provides the lost-and-found angle by revealing to SRK that (a) he is the result of a brief fling that Naseer had (strong echoes of Masoom are probably intentional) (b) he has a brother (Zayed Khan, who takes to most of his role like a fish to water), the product of a legit marriage with Kiron Kher (competent, restrained and adequate). Around the same time, Kabir Bedi asks SRK to go undercover as a student (strong echoes of Back to School) to protect his daughter Sanjana (a sprightly Amrita Rao enjoying a grungy look for most of the film and switching to a cleaner makeover later on) from Raghavan. The link: SRK's brother Laxmanprasad 'Lucky' Sharma (Gol Maal déjà vu) is in the same school. That takes us to the first song (Javed Akhtar's sanan sanan for Anu Malik), which begins from a photograph (gaffe goblins will note the anachronism of the photograph) and proceeds as a single take for the most part (ruup teraa mastaanaa anyone?) , except near the point where Zayed Khan enters the scene, and then it's another single take. Interesting. What follows is a Sumeet-mixie concoction of Manmohan Desai (moments from Naseeb) and Nasir Hussain (check out the best product of the Malik/Akhtar collaboration tumase mil ke dil kaa). Sushmita Sen relishes her short part as SRK's muse, Boman Irani digs into his role as the principal who can barely remember anything, and Bindu's cameo is mercifully brief. The problems with the film lie in the technical department. The SFX are bad. And yes, that's not the focus of the film, but defying physics can be done tastefully. And the general look and feel was pedestrian. Farah Khan's brother Sajid Khan pops up hamming it to the hilt as the prom night band leader. And FK manages an interestingly warm touch for the end credits giving us a match several familiar names (Abbas Tyrewala yet again, for one). Overall, SRK didn't grate as much. And the emotional moments don't get as leaking-shower-tub mushy as Munnabhai MBBS). Unfortunately, this could start off a volley of revisionist nostalgic cinema ... I guess Bollywood will never grow up.

* Friday double bill: First up, Spider-Man 2. A good improvement on the first one. Sam Raimi packs a lot of human drama and adequate thrills into the running time. Everyone's casting makes a strange kind of sense, and Alfred Molina truly rocks as Dr Octopus. The story adheres to and deviates from the mythology of the comic books, but struck a decent balance as far as I was concerned (although it would have been nice if Gwen Stacy had figured in part I, if the Mary Jane Watson relationship had been given more time). Loved the opening credit design. Next up, Isaac Asimov's famous Laws and the series of stories based upon them takes a severe beating as Dark City director Alex Proyas takes a giant leap backwards to helm a Will Smith ego trip called I, Robot (was that meant to be a pun?). The best part of the experience is being able to listen to an extract of Stevie Wonder's Superstition (Led Zeppelin alert: John Paul Jones looped a twisted fragment of this song's riff for Trampled Underfoot) [of course, you have to deal with the inexplicably ghastly sight of Smith Saar nude in the shower!]. There's action, specious emotion, a few cool shots, a wasted cameo by James Cromwell, and a simple algorithm to prove that this film ultimately belongs with Minority Report as a visually entertaining failed adaptation of a much richer literary opus/corpus.

* Sunday double bill part I: Jim Jarmusch's Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai is a good cross-genre exercise featuring Forest Whitaker as a professional hit-man on contract for a dysfunctional Italian Mafia mini-mob, who tries to live by the code of the Samurai (Hagakure is the handy reference he quotes from) and uses a carrier pigeon for communication. His "best" (and perhaps only) friend is a French illegal immigrant who can't speak or understand a word of English (delightfully played by Isaach De Bankolé) [and Ghost Dog doesn't understand French]. There's a nod to Bird. There was something I noticed in the flashbacks to how Louie (John Tormey) saved Ghost Dog's life (thus putting GD in his debt): GD is being attacked by some punks in an alley, when Louie drives by. Louie stops, walks out and asks them what the problem is. The way GD remembers it, one of the punks points his gun back at GD, about to shoot, when Louie ices them. The way Louie remembers it, he fires when the punk points his gun at Louie in response to his query. I wonder if this was an intentional reference to Rashomon (the book being the obvious doff-of-the-hat).

* Sunday double bill part II: John Frankenheimer (irony: he passed away earlier this month) exercises his filmmaking toolkit admirably in making Seconds a gloriously creepy journey in "suffocating paranoia" (to borrow a phrase from the IMDB page). All the exercises in framing, wide angle lenses, sharp editing and good performances that made The Manchurian Candidate a shocker are evident. Two additions would be the score by Jerry Goldsmith (who ironically passed away recently: Jerry Goldsmith), and another classic opening credit sequence by Saul Bass (TRIVIA: Bass revisited unused portions of this sequence for Scorsese's Cape Fear). Trivia mongers and film students will have a lot to relish in Frankenheimer's commentary.

addendum: original draft post for Friday and Sunday double bill destroyed by events resulting from an ISP crash [grr!]

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