Monday, August 30, 2004

a rotten concert, and a pentateuch of viewings

Had a chance to attend a concert in Lilburn. The venue was a hall provided by a public school. The hosts were the Dharmic Sabha (don't even ask me how they mangled the pronunciation on that one) of Georgia. The performers were old favourites. But things refused to go up the slope of improvement. The performances focussed on Krishna bhajans and the like, and the performers were assisted by some "local talent" student who seemed like a candidate for Indian Idol rather than a performance of this nature. And the audience underscored the definition of "clueless and just here to be seen". This was the first time I took the interval as an opportunity to join a few friends who were fleeing for dear life. A pity really, since I had hoped I would never have to do this. The only plus of the evening was finally getting hold of a handful of audio CDs a friend had got back for me from desiland.

Resident Evil: This film gets full points for simple couch entertainment. I haven't played the game, and know little-to-nothing about it. Which was probably just as well. The film itself is a conventional mix of high concept ingredients: a perfect laboratory setting is violated unleashing another of HAL's siblings and tons of mutated scientists ... to quote from IMDB: A special military unit fights a powerful, out-of-control supercomputer and hundreds of scientists who have mutated into flesh-eating creatures after a laboratory accident. Apparently this is also the first (and only?) film that Marilyn Manson scored. Choosing someone like Manson also qualifies as another cliché if you're familiar with Trent Reznor's work for Id's Quake games. That kind of music[sic] is perfect for the stuff that unfolds (don't ask me why, find a psychology major somewhere). The cutest thing about the movie was the line in the opening narration: At the beginning of the 21st century, the Umbrella Corporation had become the largest commercial entity in the United States. And if you're alert enough you can even spot the references to Alice in Wonderland and George Romero's Dead trilogy. It's fun in the "give your brain a rest" category. And since this was a DVD from the Public Library, it's another win-win situation.

Gayab: After the well-crafted Darna Mana Hai, Prawal Raman crafts a tale of lesser quality for The Factory. Taking off on the Aftab Shivadasani segment and borrowing from Memoirs of an Invisible Man, PR gives us Tusshar Kapoor in another role that gives innocent-expressionless-wooden-face TK a chance to do something of merit. With the uncool moniker of Vishnu Prasad, he is the quiet shy confused bundle of nerves who loves Mohini (Antara Mali; wonder if this name was chosen for its Madhuri-ness and for Mali's homage in MMDBCH). Tusshar gets more mustard than his other outings for Bollywood (including the ones exclusively sponsored -- read: inflicted on us -- by his ghastly K-fetishist sister). Raghubir Yadav is adequate, but Rasika Joshi scores top honours (see also: Ek Hasina Thi) as Vishnu's haranguing mother. The film itself has some nicely shot moments, and I also liked (a) the ideas employed for ##I love## tum se, and (b) the cartoon boards that form the backdrop for the end credits. The ring of familiarity denies this film a strong thumbs-up. But hopefully PR will make amends with his next venture.

Raghu Romeo: It's always nice when you look forward to a film after reading about it, and then, when you finally get to watch it, it meets every expectation and even gives you more than you wanted (see also: Maqbool, Darna Mana Hai). Rajat Kapoor's follow-up to Private Detective is a deliciously dark comedy that, at its core, spoofs television soaps wonderfully. His official website even has details on the unique approach to funding he had to adopt for this film. Raghu (Vijay Raaz in a performance worth awards) is a waiter in a dance bar, who has fallen for Neetaji (a character played by Reshma(Maria Goretti) in a TV soap). Also in the mix are Sweety (Sadia Siddiqui), who nurses a soft spot for Raghu, and Mario (Rajat Kapoor's buddy Saurabh Shukla), a hit man who loves Sweety. Some of the innumerable goodies in this flick that earned a lot less acclaim than it deserved are: the outrageous take on all the mushy tadpole-intellect tripe generated by Balaji Arts on cable television; the Buster Keaton-esque sequence as Raghu attempts to find a dry spot for his television accompanied by a riff that owes a debt to flight of the bumblebee; the background score that might owe a subliminal debt to Nino Rota's work on The Godfather; the wonderfully edited and timed evening at Raghu's house where Virendra Saxena and Surekha Sikri argue in the real world while Raghu watches the latest episode of Dard ka Rishta. Everything that the elders discuss finds a clichéd echo in the TV world that Raghu's mind has meshed into reality. His responses to the show and ostensibly on occasion to the arguing elders are clear evidence. Yet, the fact that he is smitten not by Neeta [the character played by Reshma played by Maria Goretti], but by the complete pure (yet fake and unreal) goodness that she embodies is a piece of perfect irony; The personalized vision of Neetaji that Raghu sees on the screen of a television set that a guy is cradling in the back seat of a cycle-rickshaw; the wonderful joke of Krishna ancestory; the conversation Raghu has with Neetaji's photograph [another great piece of editing which exploits the cut to span time and thought (see also: Chhal) right before the first musical impromptu flourish. What lyrics! And then we cut to the female vocal, about the artificiality of the world around us, set against every prop and artifice you could see on a shooting stage. Hats off to the imagination of everyone involved. I'd be really impressed if someone discussing Kunal Ganjawala's promise as a vocalist would note his work here]; the first murder attempt on Neetaji with a trippy mix of the reflective surface of a glass pane and the kaDak-lakshmii at the Hiranandani Complex; another wonderful montage follows in the aftermath of the botched murder attempt (interview snippets counterpointed by soap opera sequences and an excerpt from a,Nkhiyo.n se golii maare, and an astrologer's predictions for Reshma's future); a much better use of the laughter club than the could-have-been-a-much-better-flick Munna bhai MBBS. Here's looking forward to Rajat Kapoor's next.

April Fool's Day: A harmless piece of Agatha Christie-esque whimsy that echoes the core of Ten Little Indians/And Then There Were None and adds a domestic twist at the end of the whole enterprise. Harmless flick to fill a block of spare time, if you have nothing else to watch.

Hollywood Homicide : I wish I could think of a good reason I wanted to see this movie. The only one I can think of is "for Harrison Ford". Besides, from the looks of it, it didn't seem like a product genre part that he was going in on auto-pilot for. On one hand there's Clint Eastwood who uses genre roles to downplay a composite mystique built on the foundation of the numerous cult figures he has played and made his own: a composite of a renegade nameless gunslinger who values money more than morals, a cop frustrated at working within the restrictive limitations of his job as social law and order fall apart, a veteran member of a prestigious space program about to be entrusted a dangerous mission where men will be men and boys will be boys, a former secret service agent living with the guilt of JFK's death while becoming the chosen one for a sychopath, a retired bounty hunter who reluctantly returns to the world of violence for one last time. Eastwood's career has been easier to follow than Ford's. Ford has been associated with some of the biggest blockbusters of all time as well with some of the most acclaimed films as well (note: the two sets do not intersect, as far as I am concerned). And at this point in his career, he has been playing a lot of roles where he adds a sense of world-weariness to his parts. A rich sense of personal déjà vu if you will. And Ford also underplays his parts, and this is something that actually helps when you are doing comedy. Harrison Ford is no stranger to that genre, and if you even examine his work outside that genre, you can see sparkles of his ability. Which brings me to the movie I had started out with. This film, on the face of it, is a straight police procedural -- two police officers investigate some murders in a club, and this brings them (and us) face-to-face with a vista into how much corruption has seeped into the system and how many people are actually involved. However, with a name like Ron Shelton (Bull Durham, White Men Can't Jump) on the directorial credit, I knew I could expect more. Sure enough, the director's commentary confirmed my assumptions: this film was all about playing the genre for its stereotypes, and giving Ford a chance to do something he can do well: comedy. In addition to the regular narrative, which functions only to push events forward in a linear fashion, something that we all are most familiar with, we also get some interesting insights. Cops and detectives can and do have more than one job. With overtime and comp-time, they can manage to juggle both during a given working day. Ford's character Joe Gavilan is a real-estate agent. And he's desperately trying to get rid of a property on Mount Olympus. His cellphone has the opening bars of My Girl (a Smokey Robinson song sung by The Temptations, also used in the Macaulay Culkin film of the same name). His younger partner, K C Calden, is played by Josh Harnett. KC's cellphone rings with the opening bars of Funkytown. And KC wants to be an actor. Throughout the course of the movie we see him preparing for Brando's part as Stanley Kowalski in Tennesee Williams's A Streetcar named Desire. Personally, I can see a slight resemblance to Brando in Hartnett. And throughout the film he manages not only a few Brando expressions and mannerisms, but also a couple of Brad Pitt ones. As if this was not enough, KC also teaches yoga to a bevy of young nubile nymphets: initially in it purely for the pleasures of the flesh, he now claims to actually believe that there's something to all this. Along the way we see mixed with everything you expect to see in a film like this (more deaths, explosions, gunfights, chase sequences, a car on fire, roof-top chases, showdowns), we meet a bunch of interesting people: Eric Idle in a blink-and-you'll-miss-me cameo as a rusted British celebrity arrested for soliciting, Lou Diamond Phillips in a cameo as "Wanda", an undercover cop in drag (just to see LDP -- who was a painful component of several DOA movies on Star Movies -- in drag is worth it IMHO), Smokey Robinson (who wrote My Girl) pops up in a cameo as a cabbie (and the end credits begin with the original song), Martin Landau as a former producer eager to sell his house, Bruce Greenwood (who looks like Frank Sinatra) plays Bennie Macko (a reference to Sinatra's Ben Marco in The Manchurian Candidate?), while Frank Sinatra Jr. plays Martin Landau's lawyer. And we have a phone psychic who used to date Macko and now dates Gavilan. Phew. Lots of Motown references. And then there's a cameo by Robert Wagner at Grauman's Chinese Theatre. And since this is a Ron Shelton movie there's also a sly baseball reference ("Say it ain't so, Joe"). But trivia aside, this film is loaded with fun. Much much more fun that I had expected. And definitely due a whole lot more credit.

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