Thursday, December 31, 2009

great decuman dancing derrieres!


As the year draws to a close, it is time to unveil another gem from Englishkaran. The hour is ripe to introduce the heroine of the film's second half. Namitha's the name of Lady Lipids. She put a bikini to shame in Billa and returns in this film to challenge the limits of human acceptance of size, proportion and taste. Jiggles has a burning desire to win prizes in running. That little detail alone justifies that familiar disclaimer about stuff like this being works of fiction (no stretch is too much). We are treated to enough footage of her running and –- wait for it -- winning!! didHisOwnStunts Since she appears in a flashback that is crucial to tie up the loose ends about Sathyaraj's character (whom the title refers to, puTTan), it is not surprising that we have a romantic song and dance sequence featuring the two prancing about in domestic jungle-like setups (pages torn out of books like Rangeela). Given the rather obviously significant difference in size, it would make sense for Namitha to do the lifting and posing. However, convention requires the man to be the lifter, poser and support system for the female form. Consequently, we are treated to visuals of Sathyaraj doing his own stunts (supporting Namitha in various romantic poses) and of Namitha mooning the camera and challenging the widescreen format (on paper this must have been designed as a booty teaser for the lascivious laddies sitting in the dress circle). All this is accompanied by a song whose lyrics employ metaphors from war (the boy is compared to Mohammad Gazni -- who gave his name to two commercial potboilers exploiting anterograde amnesia; the girl and her assets are compared to bastions of defence). It's a strange howlarious mix that could cause you to choke on your lunch.

Without much ado, oglers and gigglers, I present the transcript of the subtitles for this fascinating romantic romp

oh gajini mohammad!
wage a war!
wage a war against the
eighteen year old fortress
overcoming all ups and downs
and passing over forests and hills
venture into the capital city, win over
the head lady and hoist the flag
let the ten fingers ignite
let the flowers bloom in this cannon

oh kattabomman!
come to pay the taxes
come to pay taxes with interest
there is still more
break the bones
make this volcano turn
into a 'cherapunji hill'
would vegetarian suffice for a lion?
can river cauvery be contained in a pot?
use the sari as the mast
to cross the 'river of lust'
you looted me without my knowledge
oh dear! take me to
the place never gone before
i would be with you like
a bow with an arrow
would whitewash the
never dawning night
suffocate me with kisses
why are you so stingy with desires?

oh gajini mohammad!
wage a war!
wage a war against the
eighteen year old fortress

in the beauty of...
cavalry would lose
seeing the footprints
the infantry would lose
at my wink, elephant troops
would become cat troops
soldiers would lose
at your smile
navy would lose
at seeing your navel
not an army but the eye arrows
are enough to defeat you
wind me with your eye keys
and satisfy me, oh dear!
issue an order with your hands and ignite
my dreams with the flowers in your tress
flowers are there, tress is there
snap and ask whatever you want

oh gajini mohammad!
wage a war!
wage a war against the
eighteen year old fortress
overcoming all ups and downs
and passing over forests and hills
venture into the capital city, win over
the head lady and hoist the flag
let the ten fingers ignite
let the flowers bloom in this cannon

let the ten fingers ignite
let the flowers bloom in this cannon

bits and pieces: short notes about movies viewed

Superman Returns: [Friday, June 30, 2006]: it's a yawn in the sky. Over $200 million, months of shooting, marketing and teasers later, Bryan Singer and Warner Bros. rewarded our anticipation with a chick-flick spiced up with nostalgia for the original Superman movies, a digitally recreated Marlon Brando, top-notch heartless SFX, delicious production design and a megalomaniacal villain with a laughable goal.

Iqbal: [Saturday, February 11, 2006]: With this feel-good film about aspirations and cricket based on the classic template in Hollywood for a film about the successful struggle of an unlucky talented sod in sports, Nagesh Kukunoor opens the door into mainstream cinema wider. There are good performances all around (Shreyas Talpade, Shweta Prasad, Yatin Karyekar, Prateeksha Lonkar). Naseer's drunk reminded me, simply because of the kind of character, of Dennis Hopper in Hoosiers. Salim-Sulaiman's songs work well (although आशाएँ gets played too often), but the background score ends up being a tad too intrusive at times. Nagesh shows a good sense of cinema when he often lets visuals do more than dialogue-laden scenes. I also liked how sign language got used in the film without drawing attention to itself (something that would've been standard practice in a regular Bollywood flick). The film loses some of its ground in the predictable third act that relies on setups that don't feel right (the Ranji trophy cricket matches, the inevitable fate of the pivotal game, the Kapil Dev cameo), but it achieves enough in the first two acts to hold its merit.

eklavya: a Shakespearean almost-tragedy of dharmatic proportions

February 17, 2007

Vidhu Vinod Chopra's conceit of years finally finds its home in this film with an iTrans-friendly title. The immensely talented and abrasively outspoken filmmaker finally manages a marriage of story and spectacle with his quietly dramatic and visually magnificent mix of royal custom, intrigue, duty, vengeance and Shakespeare. His pride and confidence in this powerhouse of a simple film are justified. The script makes way for showpieces (the pre-intermission camel/train sequence, the killing of Uday; the killing of Jyoti) while including little details in a manner similar to that lovely little murder mystery called Khamosh made several years ago. There's a lot of craft on display to aid the telling of this tale (lots of low angle shots and even a vertigo zoom).

It's hard not to miss VVC's reference to his oeuvre. Uday (Jimmy Shergill –- or Sheirgill, according to the credits) sits in his private theatre watching Parinda, VVC's last memorable film. The scene unfolding is the killing of Prakash (Anupam Kher) at Kabutarkhana. This is when Eklavya arrives to kill him and, risking either scorn or acclaim, VVC stages the whole killing in darkness (playing on Eklavya's ability to follow sound). As a triviamonger, it's hard not to read into these references. In Parinda, as Karan and Francis make their way through the hotel room, there's a film playing on the television set: the scene in question features a TV set playing the shower scene in Psycho. If memory serves me right, that's Khamosh. And now VVC adds a reference to Parinda in this film. All we have to do now, presumably, is wait to spot a reference to this film and we'll discover the next edition in this series of smaller, more interesting films from the man.

The other setpiece appears near the end of the film as a wonderful tracking shot over chhatriis (thanks to a 175 ft rail erected in 3 days on top of a hill).

The background score is loaded with puriyaa dhaanashrii and there's just one song, चन्दा रे चन्दा रे, with which VVC weaves the familiar Bollywood cinematic device deftly into the narrative; it's a simple melody set in a 14-beat cycle, just like बावरा मन, the Moitra creation from Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi, which it reminds me of. The mild orchestration denies the song any diegetic value, much like दो नैनों में आँसू भरे हैं from Gulzar's Khushboo. The vocal channels S. D. Burman in the lyricless refrain and the percussion strongly echoes मेघा छाये from Sharmilee.

The credits contain several familiar names (Rajendra Hirani, Pradeep Sarkar as visual director) and twists (in Salil Chowdhury/Do Bigha Zameen fashion, music director Shantanu Moitra has a credit for assistance on the script). There's also an acknowledgement for L K Advani and special thanks to Shah Rukh Khan.

The making of the film has a long history and was something I scoured the Internet for after having watched the film. I have to admit entering the hall with some trepidation and doubt (after all, since Parinda it looked like VVC was still struggling with his craft and the compromise of the Bollywood idiom and churning out unsatisfying fare like Kareeb and 1942: A Love Story). Eklavya: The Royal Guard, thankfully, proved that the craftsman was still alive and kicking. Welcome back VVC.

cape fear: a triumph of departments

J. Lee Thompson's 1962 film is perhaps not as well known to a newer generation of film-goers as the remake directed by Martin Scorsese. This is quite a shame, because the film's a very effective thriller boasting some excellent acting, a creepy score by Bernard Herrmann (whose rejected score for Hitchcock's Torn Curtain adorned Scorsese's remake), great cinematography and sharp editing. I had watched the remake first and it's interesting to see the differences. Being more familiar with Scorsese's oeuvre now, I can see why the key players in the remake are morally unsteady (there are no clear good and bad guys); I can also see how the intense religious baggage (tattoos, quotations from the Bible) of De Niro's interpretation of Max Cady fit perfectly. The original black and white thriller, however, succeeds on its own merits, which, thankfully, are different from those of the remake. Max Cady is clearly sadistic and evil while Max Bowden is, for the most part, a diluted version of Atticus Finch. It's a clear case of good versus evil (with an obvious outcome). Given the inevitability of the proceedings, the excellent writing and performances lend each scene its modicum of suspense and dread. The film also succeeds by implying a lot without either saying or showing much (the word "rape" is never uttered and yet its spectre looms large; a lot of the violence is suggested and not shown, although the film is not completely without violence). The influence of Hitchcock is evident and I wonder if the Psycho house was just a coincidence because this was a Universal release. Given the film's effectiveness, it's hard to believe that it was a financial failure when it was released in 1962 -- perhaps the implied extent of Cady's obsession with Bowden's teenage daughter left people too uneasy for comfort.

Travel Silly, America?

After the unfortunately timed incident on Flight 253, the TSA predictably came up with reactive changes to their airport security process. The second security check at boarding gates from Bombay went from being a slow yet short procedure involving the familiar scanner to a primitive manual effort with very few people rummaging through your carry-on bags with white gloves. I can personally attest to two zippered pockets in my carry-on bag going untouched -- so much for "additional security."

Matters only headed down dark comic/silly lane during the flight. People who checked in were told that the inflight entertainment systems were going to be off for the flight. This may not be such a big deal for a domestic flight (do they have these systems on domestic flights?) but it's traumatic for a 16-hour flight across timezones. Mercifully, they decided to leave the systems on.

The culmination of the silliness came with the announcement that during the last hour before touchdown, everyone had to stay strapped in their seats. No excuses. No exceptions. Nature's call? Defer it. Leak time? Plug it (I can see the market for adult pampers going up). And your laps must be bare. No jackets. No pillows. No blankets.

After getting to a computer several hours later, it was not hard to find out more about these new rules. The "leaked" version was online. Now this is merely "official" confirmation for the silliness anyone flying after December 25 would have experienced. And yet, the TSA goes one step further into the realm of "doh!" by issuing subpoenas to the bloggers who received the "leaked" rules and posted them for all to see. I'm baffled. What's the point? The only reactive people in this battle against terrorism are organisations like the TSA. The terrorists have always made the first move and there's enough in the system for them to exploit and cause more havoc.

Dear administrators of airport security, please reconsider your reactive approach to this mess. I'm sure you can do better.

update [january 01, 2010]: The new year brings good news. The TSA has withdrawn the subpoenas. It's a great plug for the value of public outcry. Of course, the damaged hard disks and the threats issued by the agents will remain as exhibits of an ugly PR mess.

no smoking: random puffs on the soundtrack

[cross-posted on the Passion For Cinema blog]

A sign in the lobby of the marriott said: "welcome trial of K., liberty ballroom A/B", and in smaller letters underneath: "a smoke-free building"
-- K for Fake (Jonathan Lethem)

A darkness prevails over the soundtrack of No Smoking. It's the hypnotic darkness of clubs and lounges drenched in shadows and light diffused through clouds of smoke. Vishal and Gulzar serve a surreal stew of potent metaphors, appropriate musical styles (the jazz club song, trance, psychedelia) in their second collaboration on a film that neither directs. This is Vishal's second soundtrack for Anurag Kashyap; the first one was for the yet-unreleased Paanch -- that soundtrack packed some of the best rock songs in Hindi films along with light pop and the plaintive fusion of अँखियाँ चिपकी जाए. It also contained the only other song that I know Deva Sengupta to have sung. He returns after तमस with Ash Tray, where Gulzar adroitly injects the English phrase into an otherwise Hindi song. There is a nice flat texture to the voice and it so appropriately sounds like the voice of a smoker. There were times I thought of Shivaji Chattopadhyay singing ये सफ़र. Vishal seals the wounds of dissonance with his trademark lingering melodic endings and strong arrangements. The arrangements reinforce the feeling that you're sharing the depressing soliloquy of a smoker -- listen to how layers of the chorus intoning धुआँ धुआँ swirl in and strongly about a crescendo conjuring images of fresh smoke blown into the air. This chorus rising from the dark recesses of the song's ambience in what is probably the most compelling metaphor for smoke ever arranged in 2007. The version on CD isn't in standard tuning: I wonder if this was done when mastering the song to preserve a certain texture in the song or if everything was moved a bit up the fretboard.
Everything dark and introspective about Ash Tray is turned inside out by the bucolic कश लगा. It's an exhortation to smoke that works like a folk ditty you'd hear as you walked along the banks of a river in the morning. Vishal joins Sukhwinder Singh and Daler Mehndi in an interesting vocal collaboration and his trademark breathing works in favour of the film's theme. Gulzar bounces from the combustible stacks of cowdung to mixed signals about the addiction (ज़िंदगी के कश लगा हसरतों की राख उड़ा) to his metaphoric pronouncements (ये जहान फानी है बुलबुला है पानी है / बुलबुलों पे रुकना क्या / पानियों पे बहता जा). The second a.ntaraa is evidence of how far Gulzar and Vishal have come since छोड़ आये हम: छोडी हुयी बस्तियां जाता हूँ बार बार घूम-घूम के / मिलते नहीं वो निशाँ छोड़े थे दहलीज़ चूम-चूम के.

The bass in Rekha's voice seems to get chopped as she belts out फूँक दे while the earthy rhythms give the song a percussive immediacy. हयात फूँक दे हवास फूँक दे / ये साँस से सिला हुआ लिबास फूँक दे seem to be the successor to न ग़िलाफ़ न लिहाफ़ ठँडी हवा भी ख़िलाफ़ (or I'm just reading too much into the song). The female voice that opens the song fades away reminding us of the breath of death, before Rekha takes over with another paean to kicking the habit (or rather "blow" it away). Sukhwinder's version hits the surreal without wasting time (पीले पीले से जंगल में बहता है धुआँ). This version is faster and more aggressive. It also boasts a female voice intoning some of the best psychobabble ever heard in an Indian film:

You have just traversed a hole(?) in space-time
You are no longer confined to physical objects, aspects or surfaces or contained within them
You will now experience power to identify and change the semantic sensory field that influences the final consequences of your journey
You are now at the limits of the multiverse but not beyond the space of this dream(?)

जब भी सिगरॅट (why ciggaret instead of cigarette in the track listing?) with its mix of jazz and lounge sets up the right milieu of a club with trails of smoke wafting about. The song unfolds like the thoughts of the compulsive smoker, whose craving has begun to itch as dusk approaches. Gulzar spins out images (शाम होने लगी है/लाल होने लगी है) and similes (उपले जैसा सुलगता हूँ) with ease and aplomb (the eyebrow hardly rises when the smoker/cigarette is compared to a smoldering cow patty). For his first collaboration with Vishal, Adnan Sami croons away in typical style. Sunidhi Chauhan's version opens with a vocal loop (statutory warning) dedicated to the deplorable disclaimer on cigarette packs (the vocal loop also closes the song). The brass riff from the Sami version becomes a wonderful guitar lick in the tradition of Badalamenti's theme for Twin Peaks, Chris Isaak's Wicked Game and Boy George's The Crying Game. Lounge and jazz are replaced by trance. Interestingly, the lyrics remain from a masculine perspective. Belting out the song with characteristic gusto, Sunidhi gets to employ the falsetto to good effect and curiously rolls the 'r' in cigarette just as Sami does.

Vishal and Gulzar manage a coup yet again as they explore the dark, hypnotic world of the smoker where shards of light are drawn through curtains of smoke. This is perhaps the closest a Hindi film soundtrack has come to working remarkably well as a concept album as well.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

gulzar's lyrics according to B4U

आजा आजा दिल निचोड़ें
रात की मटकी तोड़ें
कोई good luck निकालें
आज गुल्लक तो फोड़ें
तिल तिल तारामीरा bleep
कौड़ी कौड़ी पैसा पैसा, पैसे का खेल
चल चल सड़कों पे होगी ढेन ढेन

and so it goes

Saturday, December 26, 2009

asheem joins the ocean above

Indian Ocean lost Asheem Chakravarty to cardiac failure in the wee hours of Christmas morning. I can't believe I was shaking the great man's hand backstage when the band visited Atlanta for the very first time in 2007. He epitomised the joie de vivre of the band and grabbed all the attention as he effortlessly balanced taans and taals, singing with gusto while churning out rhythmic gifts on the tabalaa. Watching Leaving Home will now be even more poignant. डूब गया है शाम का तारा. RIP Asheem. The ocean will never quite feel the same again.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

innovations in city planning

Zebra crossing, India style (TM): As part of the latest wave of converting roads to one-ways without enough planning, the civic authorities rolled out the most intellectually baffling version of a zebra crossing ever known to civilised man. Here's how it works: once a suitable spot is chosen (using brown magic of some kind), the familiar strip of white stripes is painted over it across the width of the road. At this point, the most obvious next step would be to set up a pair of traffic lights, one light on either side of the road, so that pedestrians could cross when needed while vehicles waited for the light to go green. This is where the immensely gifted pan-chewing minds occupying the various administrative structures in the city unleashed their gift upon the tax-paying residents. They created a speed breaker just before the zebra crossing and pocketed the money for the lights. Lest you start screaming in administrative angst, let me remind you that this ensures compliance with the prevailing state of affairs: a constant race between vehicles and pedestrians for a slice of the road. The speed breaker is a supreme stroke of genius – try sitting with a splitting headache in a rickshaw. By the time the journey's done, your head will probably feel like an Olympic race track. Did I neglect to mention that each speed breaker has its own design? (watch out for the squiggly, the ramp-walking camel, the war veteran and the inverted pothole)

how to destroy the experience of watching a movie on the glass teat

It's a pity that no movie channel learns from Turner Classic Movies, which, IMNSHO, is the only channel that understands its target audience. Everyone else is out to get money from advertising and subject your average middle-class viewer to movie frames decorated with enough logos and tickers to put the Dubai videotapes of yore to shame. There are a couple of differences between the equivalence class of AMC, TNT and their ilk and the equivalence class of the South Asian hatchet job-men (SET Max, 9X, Sahara Filmy, Zee Cinema): the breaks seem longer in IST and the number of unique ads is severely low (in other words, repetition is the "need of the hour"). Here's a simple test: pick one of the South Asian movie channels and watch what transpires for about 40 minutes. If you're lucky you could get by with just one break; if you're unlucky, be prepared for two. Count the number of repeated ads. Don't be surprised to get something greater than 0. This is how bad things are.


Cable TV advertising finds a new low (no pun intended) by treating hapless viewers to the sight of a baby's bouncing naked behind (the product is Huggies Dry Comfort). Gratuitous (3 shots, I say!), shocking (the jaw very nearly becomes part of the wa.Daa sambhar) and exploitative of the gluteus minimus. Where are the taste pundits? Where are those who man (or woman) the ramparts of network decency? Surely a naked butt is a naked butt!? Or is there some unwritten law inherited from the yellowed railway rulebook about exemptions for children under a certain age? Walking the ramp in the emperor's clothes is not quite the same as free travel. Where's my uncensored morning coffee?

PS: Was presented with a shot of an infant derriere in an ad for Mamy Poko. Is this the new secret for high TRPs?

ads and Ishqiya

A Taaza ad makes a great case for the belief that drinking a cup at the right time can give you great ideas for a change in career.

A Colgate MaxFresh ad has us believe that the breath it confers is enough to make a hot ticket attendant horny. (they owe a lot to the Axe elevator ads)

A FasTrack Move On ad has the guy talking to his webcam use the word s*xy

Why, then, does the censor board have a problem with the Ishqiya promo?

Do these people even watch the shocking dross that already runs on television?

Saturday, December 05, 2009

just jhaag

written just after sitting through an episode of यहाँ मैं घर घर खेली and पवित्र रिश्ता

  • Alok Nath is alive and kicking! Good grief! The man was around rinsing emotions when we got our first television set; ThespiaNath seems to have perfected a new "bhaarii" tone and now wanders about with a thevar moustache, a brooding drooping anti-smile and a set of facial expressions that make you think he's trying to recover from having consumed a dose of laxative that is well past its expiry date
  • (Of course it took me a while to see the most obvious reason he showed up in this show -- it's a Rajshri production; duh!)
  • The script (a grandiose word for this enterprise) and dialogues were written in bullet time and filmed at 100 FPS; nothing else can account to about 15 minutes spent on close-ups, shots featuring a camera trying to adjust its focus and preposterous wide-eyed reaction shots

  • The paucity of useful material is quite evident when the most significant thing that happens in 20 minutes (surrounded by zooms in, cuts to XCUs featuring gnashing teeth, appearances of faces in slow motion) is a slap. It's not a simple, effective slap. It's a completely fake exercise in sleight of hand

  • These soaps owe a lot to theatre: how else can you explain the expressionist faces that support voiceovers?

  • The only lighting scheme employed is what we used to refer to in college theatre as "doing it with generals" -- this means that all you do is turn on every light you have, ignoring the difference between spots and foot lights and you end up with everyone looking like a fresh candle with nary a shadow around; there's no sense of mise en scène; clearly no one looked at something like The X Files to understand how useful lighting can be

  • Although it's clear that it's a work of fiction, soaps like this make an even stronger assertion: it's impossible for anyone to behave like this in real life.

Friday, November 27, 2009

itsy bits and phrases

Someone at ADP seems to have been sending website development work to IT yutzes with questionable chops in the English grammar department. How else can one explain an FAQ item titled I clicked a pay date and my statement isn't displaying. One wonders what the statement should display? Its blooming rear? Itself? Its innards? Bravery? Cowardice?

The next time you explore someone's Picasa Web Albums after following some URL in an email, look at that innocent line below each photograph: Sign in to like this photo. It's an interesting way of trying to appear friendlier than the average note on web pages to sign in to drop comments and the like, but it has this vibe of Big Brotherly love in it.

When Sears prompts you for a user name and password for your online profile, there's a cute hint below the text box for the password warning you that Your password is cAsE SeNsItIve. It's cute but it gives me the feeling I get when I read chatspeak.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

a sight to raise you up (on the last day)

I love the many annoyances of Vista: from the beautiful dialog boxes that tell you nothing in eye-pleasing fashion to the extra barricades laid to make even an evening walk seem like a hop and skip in Purgatory; from the refusal to come to terms with whatever works to the insistence of let even the simplest task be left unencumbered. After having nearly given myself a homemade Ghajini cut (right down to Aamir's evil Spock-ian sneer of constipated rage), I can only resign myself to chuckles at the silly creativity in the error message I saw most often while I tried to get a laptop to understand what "being on the network" meant (it was only a reboot that rendered this melange of metal incapable of sending its packets across over the fence of the modem to named parties on the outside -- that I can ping it on the local network is an example of black humour in Class C). Some creative dunderhead decided to exacerbate the pain of having to switch to Administrative mode by giving it a phrase of its own. To see this phrase, all you have to do is run something like "ipconfig /flushdns" in the command window you managed to open after searching high and low for a shortcut. Since you didn't bother to use the intuitive "Run as Administrator" option in the context menu, you will now see the beatific message the requested operation requires elevation.

This suggests several possible things: perhaps administrative commands can only be run in a rarefied environment much like that in hill stations or up in the stratosphere or perhaps even in space (where no one can hear you installing updates); perhaps such commands require a bust uplift; perhaps one needs to be in an elevator going up to the penthouse when one attempts to effect a clearing of the DNS cache; perhaps one needs to be free of all vestiges of the disgust that one has been feeling so far -- flush with a smile.

Just give me some unbleached bathroom tissue instead.

PS: if anyone knows how to fix my problem, drop me a line. Until then don't even tell me that Windows 7 is better. Escaping with multiple fractures is likely to be preceived as better than death, but it ain't holdin' no candle to whooshing through life without a scratch.

Monday, November 16, 2009

accidental people

How does it feel to realise one day that you've missed the abuse of with in the United States? How does it feel when you don't understand why people stopped visiting other people and choose instead to visit with them? When did visiting with start getting used for the "visitee" instead of the sidekick? Your brother no longer visits your aunt with you; he visits with your aunt (and you are presumably left playing games on the Wii at home).

If you thought that was bad, consider what happened to meeting people. You may no longer meet with an accident; your efforts are no longer permitted to meet with failure or success. This is because people no longer merely meet their friends; they meet with them. Friends are accidents; friends are epitomes of success or failure. More is right. Less is ancient. Any efforts to thwart this winning streak of incorrect lard will be met with failure.

now it's 7: husband one locked in

If the buzz is to be given credence, Vishal's next will be called Seven (or 7) and not 7 Husbands. Given the insurmountable strength of David Fincher's moody piece on the Internet, one can see problems when using Google to find out more. The buzz also tells us that Vishal has, after much persistence, signed up the first of the seven: Mohanlal. Given Vishal's track record, this might undo the damage done by RGV's fiery in-sippy-d flick and bolster the ouevre established with Company. Now muster your best Malayali impression and repeat after me लोहा गरम है.

[Cross-posted on the Vishal Bhardwaj blog]

Thursday, November 12, 2009

geekish crapspeak

Apache POI 3.5 hit the stands last month (woo hoo!) and infoQ had a nice post about this that talks about the implications of and concerns about Microsoft's participation in the support for OOXML. Near the middle of the article we get a quote from Vijay Rajagopalan, Microsoft's technical lead for the POI project. The quote begins with this interesting line (my emphasis):

Enabling developers to accomplish their common tasks with OpenXML file formats is our highest order bit.

Those of you who managed to make sense of the binary world of computers will have, no doubt, figured out that highest order bit is nothing but the most significant bit, which happens to be the bit in the position of greatest value. The number 2 gets the highest power when you get the highest order bit or the most significant bit of a binary number. In plain English (a variant on its way to extinction) this means that "Enabling developers to blah blah blah" is the most important thing for them (Now why didn't you say so?!). I can't help thinking of signed binary numbers -- the most significant bit acquires veto status, flipping the number above or below 0. Does that imply vacillation? Or "constantly changing priorities?"

On an unrelated note, does anyone know why you would want to call a zip file an installer?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

welcome to thackerayville?

Since I'm not a newsmonger, the bit of news about Raj Thackeray's Misguided Nationalist Scum showing up to throw a tantrum at MAMI 2009 in Bombay a few days ago escaped my eyes until a random search for news about Anurag Kashyap took me a video on Youtube. Herr Kashyap is quoted as using the adjective अश्लील for HeWhoInsistsOnSpeakingOnlyInMarathiButEndsUpUsingEnglishOccasionally. The tantrum was because the MNS had decided that a certain Danish film at the festival was obscene. This is a case of sticky fingers, of course unless the confedracy of dunces had decided to pronounce judgement based on random selection.

What came as a big surprise for me was my inability to find a news article that contained the title of this "guilty" film. "Danish film" made me think of Lars von Trier's latest film Antichrist, which has been the critical hot potato this year and which also qualified for a summarily dismissive stamp of "obscene." The screening schedule tells me that the film was on display. Should I just connect the dots or did I just miss the definitive news article?

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

bollywood RFC

Real-life beau Saif Ali Khan and peep Kareena Kapoor are reportedly turning up the steam in Kurbaan -- the audience draw coefficient of them as an on-screen pair has been augmented by flashes of skin (don't believe the rumours -- Ms KK has already shown her bare back in Omkara, which also starred Saif Ali Khan). The CD bears an interesting soundtrack from Salim-Sulaiman mixing rock -- Vishal Dadlani returns after singing for the Merchant brothers in 8 X 10 Tasveer, Sufi, hindustani classical (puriyaa dhaanashrii, unless I'm mistaken). The photographs adorning the sleeves of the CD tell you that things are going to be bolly-dark, bolly-bloody (some love stories have blood on them -- the blood of mosquitoes swatted on the storyboards, no doubt). It's that desaturated colour scheme with an emphasis on the sanguine.

But the promo bears the real goods. You have Om Puri's voiceover to tell you that he's probably a terrorist and this is slated to be another film in the "Bollywood 9/11" genre (see also: New York). Skip the skin and watch the captions (the scarlet fetish continues). The best one works not just as a warning to the cautious reader but also, if you think abbreviations, a tip of the hat to computer science: Feel The Pain.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

deus ex musica: kollywood kenodoxy

It is time now, O faithful followers of Kollykrap, to return to uncovering the gems of Englishkaran. largeFlower We turn our lens to two other people on the cast roster. The first is la femme Madhumitha (for those unfamiliar with the South Indian fetish for the 'h' as a suffix, please read this as Madhumita). She plays a lass named Sandhya who bears the conventional undiscovered great voice (aka Shreya Ghoshal). For the first half of the film, she's also our heroine. She happens to sing a song surrounded by pastoral props and that song manages to make it to a CD that plays in the car of a famous music director named Deva played, dear attentive reader, by Deva himself. Deva is also the second person, who interests us today, because he also happens to be the music director of the film; put another way, dear reader with a nose of navel-gazing nods, Deva gets to pretend to be impressed by a voice carrying a tune that he composed. It comes with complete orchestration, of course -- something that, in the world of desii-wood, you get for free (especially in farms, fields, jungles and any other place that was chosen to host a ProTools exhibition). Of course, Deva appears pleased with the discovery and makes an attempt to sign the lass up (She don't look like no Shreya Ghoshal, but she shoor sounds like 'er).

Now, with your permission, dear bearer of a patient pair of eyes, I will leap across the intermission to the tail of the film, where, to our bountiful befuddlement, we find that the lass has managed to flit past all obstacles and made it to the recording studio to sing (gasp!) another of Deva's compositions. This song, dear anxious ones, is what you have been waiting for. Here is the complete unadulterated dump of the subtitles accompanying the fictitious warbling in a fictitious world.

oh friend! oh friend!
my dear friend!
touch the peak sans wings!
oh friend! oh friend!
my dear friend!
touch the peak sans wings!
oh friend! oh friend!
my dear friend!
bundle the sorrow and
throw into the fire
moon doesn't have legs
still, isn't it walking in the sky?
clouds doesn't have hands
still, isn't it swimming?
streams doesn't have a mouth
but don't they sing?
oh friend! oh friend!
my dear friend!
touch the peak sans wings!
without curves
can we climb mountains?
flowers smile even
if they live for a day
don't the kites fly sans wings?
waterfall doesn't bother for
the fall and yet it smiles
oh friend! rubber tree has
many wounds on its body
oh friend! it secretes milk
despite the wounds
whatever vanishing in the west
doesn't mean death
east has never forgotten to brighten
the stitching needle
has only one eye
it doesn't feel for its disability
but it stitches clothes
troubles are not thorns but
a ladder to a forthcoming success
even if a torch is held upside down
it would glow upwards
no heights sans sorrows
rainbow won't be visible
if you bow down
make a floor design
after the full stop
sleep with one eye until you succeed
oh friend! oh friend!
my dear friend!
touch the peak sans wings!
oh friend! oh friend!
my dear friend!
bundle the sorrow and
throw into the fire


Saturday, October 17, 2009

it's all in the details

It happened when I was watching Three Days Of The Condor a week ago. I had caught the film on some cable channel years ago and surprisingly seemed to remember most of the important details and events in the film. I had completely forgotten what Condor (Robert Redford) managed to find out through the course of the film; I had also missed the 70s thriller earmarks the film bore: All The President's Men (Redford was in that too), The Parallax View are just two other examples. I also hadn't earned my share of viewed films to understand the various techniques employed in the film. cleanup Watching it again was thus, in several ways, quite rewarding. I have also started noticing all those little details that excite trivia-mongers: licence plates, phone numbers (both fake and the unfortunately real), posters, marquees, commercial brands (subtle product placement) and little things that pop up in the wee corner of the frame. That annoying tic surfaced during the scene when a clean-up crew arrives to "dust" the American Literary Historical Society (the cover for a CIA hub whose crew lay dead). As the van passed I noticed the name of the company: Augean Cleaning Service Inc. Although clearly a front in the context of the film, the firm probably doesn't exist in real life (Google gave me nothing). If it's an invention for the film, it's a great one. Here's why. Augean clearly refers to the King Augeas in Greek mythology, most famous for his stables that housed the most cattle in the nation. These stables were never cleaned until Hercules got his famous assignment (the 12 Labours). The fifth labour was cleaning out these stables. Now you see why the name makes sense. Bravo.

Friday, October 09, 2009

college hijinks: kollywood style

It all started with finding the wrong DVD in a case that purported to contain the digital dreck of International Khiladi. Sathyaraj doesn't look like Akshay Kumar; Namita and Twinkle Khanna are sufficiently unsuitable as lookalikes. And Tamil script does not look like English (what was the last Bollywood DVD that had devanaagarii on it?). collegeDude Still, Englishkaran (loosely translated: English dude, aka अंग्रेज़ीवाला) had supposedly been a big commercial hit. Since successful mainstream cinema -- be it any flavour of देसीwood -- usually promises to be rather easy on the brain and high on vacuous ambition and a misplaced sense of greatness, this movie didn't seem like a bad alternative with a pinch of iodised salt.
As it turned out, the film was a minor gold mine. As a paladin of piacular pictures, I am compelled to share some of this wealth with you, dear reader. The songs make the most accessible offering. The subtitlers clearly learnt their language in some IT park and nursed lofty ambitions of being poets in the vein of an unholy union between the Romantics and Borges. Without further ado, I present, the title song. As a bonus, there's a shot at the end from a moment in the film during which a rather unusual prop makes its appearance.

these are hard, medial and nasal consonants respectively
good tamil, rich tamil, threesome tamil i can talk all types of 'tamil'
still i am an english person
whatever you can give, offer it
don't refuse whatever offer
don't advertise your wealth
don't lose confidence
shouldn't attain studies
accept criticism
in water scarcity
our nation is struggling
but a nursery rhyme says
'rain rain go away'
a movie song says 'digital gandhi'
movie climax would have cops coming in the end
scientists are our guys,
...go and check it
sprinkle some pepper and ...
it is said to treat sneezing problem
still i am an english person
all tamil nadu ornaments are off to speak hindi
ask the kids to sing
'best dear it is the best'
if the road side neem tree
sports a dot
an hundi is hung on it
like a fast food joint...
... egg and milk are poured into snake mounds
even if hundred periyars come...
...the nation wouldn't reform
there were 3 tamil academies earlier
but now there are umpteen caste parties
i am a chaste tamil
still i am an english person


Wednesday, October 07, 2009

logo bar, search baar baar

Google's new logo is dedicated to the bar code. It's as good as being a tribute to The White Album or Led Zeppelin's fourth album. Two in one. Just for fun.

Google Barcode 2009

Saturday, October 03, 2009

nominal atavism

After hitting the marquee Wake Up Sid is making news not for being a clone of Farhan Akhtar's ouevre but for having caught the ears of Raj Thackeray, the paladin of puerile pugilism and ringleader of the band of boeotian baboons called the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena. All because, predictably, for having characters in the film refer to the city now officially known as Mumbai as what it was formerly known as (Bombay). In the interest of commerce, Karan Johar rushed to make amends. MNS isn't happy and wants more. The chief minister Ashok Chavan insists that "Raj Thackeray is not a constitutional authority. Karan Johar should have come to the state government if he thought that the issue was so serious." The issue was serious and Raj Thackeray has, in the practical sense of the word, more power than most constitutional authorities (whatever that term means). After all, Raj Thackeray can still stand after pronouncing that "no film producer had the right to change the name of the city from Mumbai to Bombay."

the turning of the phrase

I finally managed to get to The Reel Truth: Everything You Didn't Know You Need to Know About Making an Independent Film, which contains lots of information about the things you have to worry about when you are trying to make your movie. I jumped right to chapter 8, which is all about what you have to do just to use your favourite song or piece of music in your film. The nuggets of trivia, however, did not grab my attention in the chapter as much as a couple of phrases I don't remember seeing before and some unfortunate examples of lazy talk and English abuse.

A quote from Rosalind Lawton ended with "Of course, you can try to negotiate, but if it's after the fact, they have you completely over a barrel." Despite having understood what she was saying, I was curious about the phrase. It turns out to have its origins in America and means that they (she is referring to companies that hold rights to the music you want to use) have you at a disadvantage; you are helpless and in their power. Although the local flavour was welcome, I wish she had just chosen simple words instead.

Adam Fields, the producer of Johnny Be Good describes how Chuck Berry got paid $100,000 for the use of his song in the film. He starts with "We could never get in touch with him, and we were down to the wire on the movie." This is one of the numerous contributions from the world of sport and has evolved to describe a tense situation whose outcome is impossible to predict until the end.

Finally we get Jennifer Lane talking about the problems involved in getting rid of a song from the film prints. Her quote ends with a sentence that reeks of laziness: "It's a tremendous hassle financially, emotionally and timewise." Times like this make you wish "timeally" was a word (or would she have settled for "temporally"?)

Thursday, October 01, 2009

from 12 to 7: vishal gets the raashee rash

If articles floating online are to be believed, Vishal Bhardwaj is working on a script called 7 Husbands and seems to have to roped Priyanka Chopra in to play 7 brides for 7 men. Since the rushes of What's Your Raashee? are mentioned, one is inclined to dismiss this as another case of striking the hot iron. Satte pe Satta becomes Ek Sati Saat Pati?

[Cross-posted on the Vishal Bhardwaj blog]

Friday, September 18, 2009

she's the man

Dil Bole Hadippa!, the latest snowball of Bollyturd from the guaniferous garden of YRF rolls down the slopes of mediocrity towards the marquee. It brings with it enough dirt to bury all the good Shahid Kapoor may have done with Kaminey, expected references to every dazzling dingleberry ever doled out by the camp in the last 20 years and enough regressive filmmaking to send us back into the Bollycaves. But what it really offers is a chance to watch Raspy Rani come out of the closet -- it's going to be a pleasant surprise to see a face (with a beard and turban to boot) to match that manly voice. This might be a welcome change after the scary visages of Thoda Pyaar Thoda Magic (very very tragic).

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

the third rogue

Who else but the director of the Tamil remake of that royal star vehicle to helm the Hindi remake? Prabhu Deva is all set to start his Bollywood chargesheet with Salman Khan replacing The Prince and Joseph Vijay and Ayesha Takia (who had declined the role in the Telugu original) replacing Ileana D'Cruz (she with the strange hips) and Asin (Suryaamir) Thottumkal. Topless Khan seems like the perfect star to take the place of that smirking stylistically misguided missile of ineptitude.

The soundtrack's not as rewarding as the promos. There's the promo that boasts some great voiceovers over what is otherwise a standard issue trailer showcasing a star, a pretty face, nauseatingly bland stylised action intercut with more nauseatingly bland stylised action and the obligatory dance sequences.

he walks casually
he talks casually
he eats casually
he loves casually
he kills casually
but (pronounced: buh -- rhymes with 'duh' -- T) he dances seriously

मुझे खुद को भी नहीं पता कि मैं कितना कमीना हूँ is the kind of line that would never have made it to Vishal Bhardwaj's film.

The second trailer's the official high-quality loud monster that features font styles that might fit well in video games and graphic novels (in fact, all the stills seem like they came from pages of some violent graphic novel). It opens with agonising an blinky-winky display of shots with ASLs that you would need a vernier calliper to measure. Lack of content tossed at you at the speed of constipated humming birds. The South Indian spelling bug takes over as you are told that it's a Prabhu Dheva film. That the action director is someone called Vijayan is quite obvious when you see goons spinning into the air on a semi-vertical axis after being punched. But the best is yet to come. You realise that the filmmakers have sprung a conceptual coup. This film is not merely a remake of a brain-dead actioner. It happens to be a showcase for Bollywood's version of a human transaction manager -- one that will leaving CICS, MTS and Tuxedo light years behind. It is all clear when you hear the last line on the trailer.

एक बार जो मैंने commitment कर दिया उसके बाद तो मैं खुद की भी नहीं सुनता

Monday, September 14, 2009

reel me this, reel me that

Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore [October 22, 2006]: From the opening sequence (a bleeding Technicolor 1.33:1 frame within the 1.85:1 frame offering a rather wicked version of Dorothy in Kansas with a tip no doubt to Douglas Sirk as well) to the restrained optimism of the end, this film is a showcase for great performances (led by Ellen Burstyn whose Alice is a fascinating study of the steadfast, determined American woman who hasn't lost her sense of humour) and for Martin Scorsese's enthusiastic mix of a variety of techniques: filters, tracking shots, a nuanced choice of songs on the soundtrack, movie references -- The Postman Always Rings Twice -- and showpiece scenes (my favourite one is Vera's bad day intercut with Alice and Flo talking about Alice's problems). The DVD also has another rarity -- a commentary track featuring Martin Scorsese (it is always a pleasure to hear him fire one exuberant salvo of words after another).

Waitress [October 01, 2008]: It's not hard to be reminded of Scorsese's film when watching Keri Russell in a fantastic performance as Jenna Hunterson. The film's trailer was an exceptionally good one (the kind that piques your interest in a film instead of being a showcase of the best bits of a piece of creative guano). It was only several months later that I settled down with the DVD in the player. The film confidently mixes the essence of a chick flick with a compassionate study of characters and humanity laced with broad strokes of whimsy and constant cheer. Unfortunately, the senseless murder of Adrienne Shelly has robbed us of a filmmaker who seemed poised to offer so much more.

what is dev benegal up to?

(If you've been following Dev Benegal's blog, you already know)

The man who helmed that fine cinematic adaptation of Upamanyu Chatterjee's English, August years ago and the under-sung darkly funny Split Wide Open has been struggling for years to get a DVD of the film out. Despite several posts that promised salvation and some that were quite depressing, a post appeared with a ray of hope. This, of course, comes amid posts dedicated to his new film Road, Movie (that comma seems like a tribute to the Madna movie) starring the ever-adventurous Abhay Deol. There's a teaser for those interested. Those lucky enough to be in attendance at the Toronto International Film Festival on September the 18th are even luckier.

[october 07, 2009]: Another trailer's up -- it's a montage of moments after we get the general idea that our protagonist is out to discover himself. I don't see anything extra being revealed; and I love that background score.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

the successful tamperer

The recent release of Tere Bagair on the YRF Music label marked yet another success for Sanjeev Kohli, the son of the late Madan Mohan, who has made a name for himself as a Lucasian archaeologist. Digging through HMV's cavernous vaults, he unearthed many a rarity (including several not-so-rare elements made "rare" simply thanks to the myopic dullards running the shop) and converted them into compilations for release. These compilations were often marred by the liberties taken with the source material -- musical prologues, interludes and outros were summarily clipped to make way for more songs on a single cassette or CD; faders were twirled arbitrarily to produce a continuous stream of music rendered creatively unsatisfying thanks to being tampered with. The crown jewel of this series of commercial ventures came with the Revival series, where present-day session players and hacks were unleashed on the creative output of acknowledged greats from the Golden and Silver ages of music (don't you love those anachronistic soulless synthesizer motifs?).

There are hints of foul play in the taglines on the cover: a rare treasure ... 15 unreleased songs revived and digitally mastered in 2009. The word revived when Sanjeev Kohli is nearby can mean only one thing. More evidence comes from two places.

The first is this bit of text below the track list:

all songs composed and recorded by madan mohan during his lifetime
these songs were from shelved films between 1964 and 1972
instruments added in 2009 to enhance the quality of old recordings

The second is the credit for additional musicians in the inlay sheets (Incidentally, technical supervisor Victor Dantes was a comrade-in-arms in a similar successful experiment called the "Legends" series).

This is what happens when you have people with insufficient technical chops to pull off a remastering job. One must also credit the purchasing majority that doesn't really care.

An interview with Sanjeev Kohli posted over at PFC contained some revelatory comments from the man himself. Here is what was said on the subject of the reverbs and other confetti added to the tracks:

I have one serious complaint against the ‘Legends’ series of music compilations. I feel that by adding reverb, the digitized songs on these CDs lost their rich depth of original vocals and acoustic orchestration. They sound hollow!

You are right in your observation. But the reverb effect was added to nullify the hiss and scratchy sounds of old records. That does muffle the sound a bit but the general public seemed to have liked the sound! Perhaps the connoisseurs might feel differently about it.

Earlier in the interview, Kohli talks about Tere Bagair (I have taken the liberty of emphasising the portions of interest for you, O patient reader)

Now the new album- 'Tere Bagair' (released by Yashraj Music) will present all the ten songs from 'Treasure Unrevealed' in full, extended versions and it will also have five more tracks originally recorded by Madan Mohan. This album will be a treat not only for the fans of Madan Mohan but also for the fans of singers like Lata, Asha, Rafi and Kishore because they will get an opportunity to experience many original Madan Mohan recordings in their favourite singer's voice. Moreover these songs were previously either unreleased or inaccessible. Even those listeners who had already heard 'Treasure revealed' would find many new things in 'Tere Bagair'. The recording quality of the album is excellent since the master tapes have been used to reproduce the songs. In some songs, I have re-recorded the tabla tracks and added some harp sounds but even that is done in such a way that it would perfectly fit in the sound of the 60s, when those songs were originally recorded.
You can't compare 'Tere Bagair' to 'Veer Zaara' because ' Tere Bagair' is an album of out and out Madan Mohan originals whereas in 'Veer Zaara', his tunes were modified to suit the times and also the film's requirements.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is a man of commerce talking.

stereotypes on the streets of Pune

(being an unpolished draft from a visit back home several months ago)

There is a reason Pune roads are never going to get better no matter how many flyovers you build, no matter how many streets you convert to one-way traps, no matter how many regulations you prescribe on termite-eaten papers of law, no matter how much you try to subvert the laws of physics with the power of unenforced law. That reason, dear hapless smoke-ingesting, Brownian reader is the rich and variegated set of stereotypes of riders and commuters unleashed on the streets of Pune. This helpless spectator presents a few.
The Light Brigade: Even if Tennyson's poem loses its impact because people no longer cared about the Crimean war, it would survive thanks to finding another image in the real world –- this is the critical mass revving up near a traffic signal awaiting the change from red to green desperately like the incontinent in search of a ceramic throne. Even before the chromatic switch, a deluge of multimodal impatience sweeps the intersection and intersecting streets. It's the chariot race from Ben Hur duplicated across space and time.

Neo wannabes in the Metropolitan Matrix: You're familiar with the commuters who behave as if they had received an internal memo saying they were Neo Anderson and that they were the One. Assuming all surrounding traffic to represent the Matrix, these people waltz across crowded intersections (causing even graver deadlocks), shimmy through cracks between cars, along invisible tracks connecting the front wheel of a scooter to the rear wheel of a motorcycle making a game of snakes and ladders look like an exercise in drawing perfectly straight lines.

Friday, September 11, 2009

reel notes from long ago

(Being another little collection of thoughts about films viewed months and years ago)

Equilibrium [December 29, 2006]: This tale of dystopia chooses to be a thriller instead of exploring familiar ideas like the suppression of emotion using drugs (Brave New World's soma -- an idea seen in movies like THX 1138 -- becomes Prozium, a portmanteau of Prozac and Valium), the destruction of art (just books in Fahrenheit 451) and the totalitarian state that is constantly monitoring its people (1984). It chooses to be an action thriller and a showcase of Gun Kata. I liked Gun Kata and that's the sole reason I have to watch Ultraviolet some day. Christian Bale does no wrong with the character of John Preston both in the dramatic and the action sequences. Another William Butler Yeats poem makes it to the canon of sci-fi/apocalyptic films. Knowing about Tetragrammaton helps, as does finding out why that fight sequence in Aan: Men at Work looked so familiar.

Eye of the Needle [August 06, 2006]: This, as far as I can tell, is the only adaptation of a Ken Follett novel for the big screen. It also happens to be directed by Richard Marquand, who, thanks to this film, was chosen to direct Return of the Jedi, the most famous film in his ouevre. I had enjoyed reading the book years ago and still remembered the essential narrative elements when I finally got down to watch Donald Sutherland lead a strong cast in a competent well-paced cinematic adaptation. The camera angles and the editing seem representative of the 70s, even though the film was released in 1981. When Sutherland bumps into a motorcycle near a station building, I loved the cut to the sound of the bike as the camera follows the countryside he is riding through. I also noticed the not-so-uncommon technique of allowing scenes top open with sounds from the previous scene. Both elements are probably examples of "the hook" (see also: a lovely essay on this by David Bordwell). Oscar Wilde's The Happy Prince gets some great promotion here when Faber reads from it to little Jo. Miklós Rózsa's score, unfortunately, amplifies the attempt of the production to sound and feel very monumental; the dramatic appeal of the domestic conflict suffers as a consequence. A minimalist score exploring the various emotional textures of a few motifs might have been a better companion. Those familiar with either this film or Follett's source novel will have noted the unacknowledged debt Fanaa's second half owed to this film (with a few necessary alterations for the film to go down well with national lovers of such ingenuous cinema and nostalgic NRIs dying to throw their dollars at paeans to trite familial ideals and values). Ironically, a few years later, Marquand helmed another film, which served as carrion for the rapacious rodins of Bollywood -- the film was called Jagged Edge and we all know it well as Kasoor (in which Aftab Shivdasani became Jeff Bridges and Lisa Ray became Glenn Close).

Alag [August 05, 2006]: Powder is transmogrified into a Bollyversion seasoned with all the delicacies that make a Bollywood movie suck -- the Hindi/English nonsense mix (say it in English; now say it in Hindi; now mix 'em up), retrograde exposition (A scientist from California!) and irritating song breaks (apun kii Tolii deserves an award and a place in the Hall of Non Sequitur Shame). Plaudits must be reserved for the "story" credited to Tagore Almeida (lovely name that) and a "screenplay" churned out by Almeida and director Ashu Y. Trikha. The film tries to be a showcase for Akhay Kapoor's "talents" (he can dance! he can brood! but can he act?) and a breeding ground for bad subtitles (सिंह becomes "singh" and माहिया वे राँझना वे becomes "lover ... ranjhana! you are only my home!"). When the subtitles on the DVD got stuck, the people at the Indian store whence this VHS rip came from were kind enough to stop the DVD player and hit play again to fix the problem (the evidence was recorded for all you caring customers). It's also an exhibition of bad editing (like most Bollywood films) and a slavish adoption of technique without just cause (shoot me in bullet time!). It also had a hidden lure which drew a host of Bollywood A-listers to feature in a song at the end (this is your cheapest opportunity to see Shah Rukh Khan, Karan Johar, Abhishek Bachchan, Arjun Rampal, Bipasha Basu, Lara Dutta, Bobby Deol, Priyanka Chopra and Preity Zinta). But the film truly belongs to Tom Alter's bid for a Razzie for Worst Actor in a Foreign Film as Doctor Richard Dyer, the villain of the piece claiming to be a crusader against epilepsy, Parkinson's Disease, Alzheimer's and पागलपन. Watch him as he deliciously mouths inane phrases like "Human mind," proclaims himself "The greatest genius in the entire universe" and delivers pronouncements like "Emotion Revolution का दुश्मन है"). That, a decent opening title sequence and abuse of the Doom fireball sound make this film worth your while (barely). I leave you with a priceless piece of dialogue from the film:

tejas (akshay kapoor): क्या हम थोड़ी देर रुक सकते हैं?
purvaa (dia mirza): हाँ , sure, brake है न गाडी में

Thursday, September 10, 2009

what a big search box you have!

And I thought my eyes were playing tricks! Even though I use the Firefox Search Bar for my Google searches, I still see the search text box on the page of results. Last night, the text box and that "Search" button looked bigger. I thought I had accidentally hit "Ctrl and +" as I am wont to on occasion. It turns out that this was a little flourish from the owners of that recently granted patent.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

bollywood's chameleon car

Despite its lofty meta-cinematic ambitions, Tashan manages to bore you out of your wits while also tossing one delicious gaffe after another. The continuity department was out smoking maTakaa while reels of footage were captured, digitally created and spliced into specious brouhaha. In this post we consider one of the most visible paws of the fox starring one of the two most important vehicles in the film. It's a red beauty of ambiguous parentage and schizophrenic identity.

SLK 320 front

The film opens with a red mercedes SLK 320 on the wild road accompanied by a stereo switching between a little ode to 80s rock ("She's a highway to hell" courtesy Ranjit Barot) and kabhii kabhii (the plaintive voice of the late Mukesh).

SLK 320 rear

It's a red Mercedes SLK 320 with a spoiler. UGR 9403.

And then it veers out of control and drives off the road, to the side and over the edge. The landscape looks fake, the milestone flying by is bad CG. But the worst is yet to come. A montage of obviously fake VFX shots follows to illustrate the inevitable -- the descent of the car succumbing to gravity into the water below.

wrong plate front

It's at this point that things become confusing. The car's licence plate goes into the witness protection programme in midair relocating, in a manner of registration, to the state of Maharashtra.

SLK 320 mustang?

A fine shot of the automobile's derriere laced with dust is marred by the word embossed on the rear bumper. I'm confused -- when did Ford team up with Mercedes?

Several minutes later, we return to the car under water.

wrong plate under water

The licence plate continues to be the same as it was before the car hit the water. It is also clear that the car is an SLK 320; I can't see lower part of the bumper, so it's hard to see if the embossed Mustang is still there (I wish I had a better angle).

SLK 320 under water

Peculiar. Very peculiar.

Since this is a film laced with references to other films (with, as a later blog post may reveal, the choice of films bears a strong bias for the Yash Raj canon) and especially recent YRF productions, it is possible to construe an explanation for this gaffe and credit it as being a little in-joke. Remember the Mustang fetish in Dhoom? Remember especially that red set of wheels bearing the likes of Esha Deol? That, kemo sabe, was a Mustang. Perhaps bhaiyaajii created his own motor mash-up (Benz+Ford = Bored?). Or perhaps we're just dealing with an overpaid sloppy crew obsessed with bringing fruition to an overbaked balloon of nothing built on an idea that deserved a creative mind.

blunt beaks and stellar opposition

What compels the majority of Indian writers of English to abuse the word against in various blog posts, paid articles and various parochial portals? Does not the damage implied by the collision worry them? Do they fail to appreciate the use of opposite instead? How does one explain some random actress appearing against a superstar? Was it a game of tennis? Was it sumo wrestling? Was it a game of cards? Was it arm wrestling? Or was it squash? It seems to be none of these, for the "writers" (who really have no business wielding the pen in the language) choose this word to mean that said starlet was appearing along with said superstar. They're on the same team, on the same side. Talk about dushaasan appearing against duryodhan in the mahaabhaarat. It's time to rally against the opposition.

Monday, August 24, 2009

a blast of bappi

As we lament the passing of an age of lyrical dross so bad it was hilarious, let us pause to shower laurels on one such master stroke in the late 90s from the jewel-clad master. Boppi-da ensured the cult credentials of the Sunil Shetty/Jeetendra law and odour flick Judge Mujrim with Jolly Mukherjee belting out lailaa o lailaa. Was this Boppi-da's tribute to the Shah brothers? Perhaps we will never know. Meanwhile, we can surely sit back and relish the interplay of language, the blending of metaphors in this abbatoir of rhyme embellished with the obligatory bridge of rap. Presented below is the "neat" version of the song (no repetitions, no loops)

हम तुम दोनों मिल गए
प्यार की tuning हो गयी
हर morning तेरी हो गयी
हर evening तेरी हो गयी

लैला हो लैला तू है लैला
छैला मैं छैला मैं तेरा छैला

आ हा नज़र क्या तेरी है
आ हा कमर क्या तेरी है
आ हा अदा क्या तेरी है
आ हा उम्र क्या तेरी है

आ हा ये गाल टमाटर से
आ हा ये होंठ गाजर से
आ हा तू बोतल शरबत की
आ हा टू गोरी पनघट की

तेरे रूप की बिजली से
मेरे दिल में lighting हो गयी

आ हा तू गुडिया जापानी
आ हा तू परियों की रानी
आ हा तू चाँद पूनम का
आ हा तू कतरा शबनम का

आ हा छलकता जाम है तू
आ हा सुनहरी शाम है तू
आ हा तू model 96
आ हा तू गोरी गोरी miss

मेरे दिल के garden में
तेरे प्यार की कलियाँ खिल गयीं
हर morning तेरी हो गयी
हर evening तेरी हो गयी

Monday, August 17, 2009

kaminey: genesis

[in which it is obvious that I've seen the film]

be warned that some elements herein may be regarded as spoilers

Kaminey opens with very little of the dross that inundates most Bollywood releases these days. The dross comprises acknowledgements to various media partners, outdoor partners, brand partners, various names both familiar and unfamiliar, miscellaneous logos and the like (My Name Is Anthony Gonsalves might have set a new record with about 1 minute and 54 seconds of such sycophantic fellatio before the film's title came up).

Vishal's film opens with an acknowledgement to Mira Nair and the Maisha Film Lab in Kampala. Then there are two screens of names (including familiar ones like Abhishek Chaubey) after which we get a screen proclaiming "UTV Motion Pictures presents." The next screen bears the interesting "based on an idea by Cajetan Boy."

Maisha is the brainchild of Mira Nair and aims to be "a film makers laboratory dedicated to developing and supporting visionary screenwriters and directors from East Africa and South Asia." The first lab for screenwriters was held in Kampala, Uganda from August 3rd to August 13th, 2005. The mentors for the workshop were Mira Nair, Matthew Robbins, Vishal Bhardwaj, Steve Cohen, Sabrina Dhawan, and Sooni Taraporevala. Vishal fans will probably recognise the name of Matthew Robbins. One of the 10 screenplays chosen for the workshop was titled Roho and it was written by a Kenyan named Cajetan Boy. Vishal had more in an interview:

Where did Kaminey originate? Was it an incident or a film or a book that inspired you?
Four years ago, Mira Nair assembled writers from America, India and Canada to mentor ten students from Asia and Africa. This scriptwriting workshop was held in Kampala, Yuganda[sic]. A young writer from Nairobi showed me a script which was a story about twin brothers and what happens in their life in a span of 24 hours. It was like parallel cutting and I really liked that approach. Mira and I spoke about it at length and both of us felt that it was a typical Bollywood masala movie. I was in touch with that writer for the next six months. He also sent me another draft. Then two-three years later I asked him to sell me the idea. He was in need of money so I sent him some 4000 dollars and bought the script to make any time. I picked up that idea and added Bollywood masala and my dark and serious side to it. So now, one brother stammers and the other has a lisp.

Vishal didn't stop with merely adding the disabilities, the wide array of colourful characters, his trademark dialogue and the other elements reinforcing his belief in the utility of Bollywood conventions in interesting ways. He also tossed in a credit for Cajetan Boy. And that was not all -- Vishal decides to use the name Cajetan for one of the many characters in his tapestry. This gets us more than a couple (if memory serves me right) of utterances of the name. It is also a credited appearance, so we read the name in the end credits (those who stomped over all the popcorn on the floor the moment the dissolve to black happened can pretend they saw this).

The film's merits notwithstanding, this is one of those simple yet masterful gestures that makes people like Vishal stand out in a sea full of plagiarising halfwits and mendacious morons.

Cajetan, one is happy to report, is pleased with all this.

Friday, August 14, 2009

makes sense and whatever

being a collection of news crumbs about developments that can be explained, are unfortunate and yet predictable (given my cheery cynical disposition) -- things only make me go "what else could I expect?"

Celebrate India's Independence with another round of the twin-blade sword from MARTA -- that's route cuts combined with a fare increase, dearies. The usual reasons unfold -- the refusal of those who manage the affairs of the state to give more than lip service to the importance of public transit being the most familiar. MARTA had done this a few years ago; the consequences are easily explained -- even fewer people will consider trying transit worth their while; even fewer people will see it as a way to save money; the transit system's sole saving grace continues to be the train (and the airport is the most important destination). CCT, meanwhile, continues to remain a 6-day affair, taking time off on Sundays. This continues to a lot of streets in the county viable as locations for I Am Legend: II. Oh, and before I forget, fares will go up by a quarter on the eve of Gandhi Jayanti. Surely some celebrations must be organised at the Martin Luther King Centre (you can take the train).

After promising to fix the much-abused and rather pathetic immigration system and policies of the USA during his campaign and after assuming office, President Barack Obama has rescheduled it for 2010. The current blockbuster is the healthcare (such a contradiction in terms) system. David and Goliath, ladies and gentlemen. I appreciate any effort to make the system more meaningful and useful instead of resembling something like outtakes from Brazil, but being the well-meaning cynic that I am, I'll wait till something happens. Meanwhile, the insurance companies will continue to run as well-oiled businesses funded by the healthy and denied to the sick.

As for all you people out there working with an H-1B and an honest résumé (if you're one of those douchebags with dilated credentials furnished by brethren from the back offices, please ignore this and drink from a can of expired milk) -- rest assured that the government will accept all your money through various agencies. The government also offers faster service at a higher price (remember H-1B renewals, I-140 applications?) -- which makes one wonder what they were doing when offering regular service that took so long.

The rant has ended. Go in peace to shed some more dead presidents.

kaminey: early praise

Vishal Bhardwaj seems destined to be the guinea pig for all sorts of strange SNAFUs associated with film releases. Anurag Kashyap's problems were limited to censor bans. But the creative and talented Mr. Bhardwaj has had to deal with obscurity (Maqbool seems to have gained its admirers and fans almost completely by word of mouth and the occasional articles lavishing praise), hype dying with a whimper (a lot more was written about The Blue Umbrella before it finally hit the marquee, at which point it seemed to slide all the way out), strangely disappointing initial collections followed by a backlash of prudery (Omkara). And now it's the H1N1 wave that has prevented it from hitting the marquee back home in Bombay and Pune. The film has hit the marquee overseas and, as with Omkara, seems destined to get most of its early reviews from abroad (local limited screenings for critics notwithstanding).

And the early notes are promising. Nay! They are extremely encouraging in an eerie way. Raja Sen ends his enthusiastic take with Awefome!; Another positive review ends with praise for the director; Nikhat Kazmi gives it a full-star rating before gushing about it as does the Indian Express and Vasan Bala is drooling over at PFC. Anupama Chopra, writing for NDTV, starts by calling it the best Bollywood film she's seen this year. Taran Adarsh, the reviewer from hell, who pretends to be a critic while looking at films like a baniyaa, also has good things to say, ending with four stars out of five. Lisa Tsering (reportedly "the first Western journalist to write about Bollywood and Indian pop culture for the Indian press") calls it a smart vivid thriller. Baradwaj appreciates Vishal's respect for the audience's intelligence as he unfurls a favourable review. Rajeev Masand gives "this imaginative and original film" four stars out of five. Over at The Hindu, Sudhish Kamath is "dying to watch it again." Minty Tejpal loves the film (adding a disclaimer that he worked with Vishal on the screenplay of The Blue Umbrella) and can't get the tune out of his head.

And if you thought I was just looking at the good notes, allow me to offer Khalid Mohamed's take (the guy can't even spell "Bhardwaj" right, though).

[Cross-posted on the Vishal Bhardwaj blog]

Saturday, August 08, 2009

mind it! see it!

It started in 1993 or 1994 with shorts on Channel [V] featuring a South Indian cowboy mouthing lines and attitude reminiscent of Rajnikant, but with an attitude of his own. The cowboy became an unbeatably original icon of Indian pop/pulp culture and Shashank Ghosh was famous. Well, to be precise, Quick Gun Murugan was famous and Shashank Ghosh was a name that rang a bell for credit watchers and trivia-mongers.

Years later, Ghosh made his first full length feature, Waisa Bhi Hota Hai, Part II, an irreverant undersung darkly comic tale of Bombay, the underworld, urban angst, pop fantasies and Bollywood clichés, machismo and the first time we heard of Rabbi Shergill. It was destined to become a cult favourite.

Several years later, word floats about a full-length feature adventure of everyone's favourite South Indian cowboy. Then Shashank Ghosh started blogging on PFC. And then, the film sprang out on screen at IFFLA 2009 and the reviews indicated that all was well.

And now, the trailers have flooded the Internet. Rajendra Prasad with his Sivaji Ganesan looks mouths lines destined to be immortal (I am cowboy / this is my duty); there are odes to The Terminator, Rajnikant and his physics-defying sticks of nicotine, there are tips of the hat to Vijaykant (can you go wrong with these two? you can't!) and the priceless resounding ballast from Tridev:

[hindi version]
करमभूमी मेरा आँगन (आँगन (आँगन (आँगन (आँगन ))))
terrace मेरा नील गगन (गगन (गगन))
ये पूरा दुनिया मेरा वतन (वतन (वतन (वतन (वतन ))))

my name is मुरुगन
क्विक गण मुरुगन

[english version]
the (दे) earth (यर्त) is my bed (bed (bed (bed (bed))))
the sky is my ceiling
the whole creation is my native place

my name is murugan
quick gun murugan

The theatrical trailer snags immortality with the coolest pair of intertitles in a while (they made him a past tense / now he will make their future tense).

There's Nasser as the deliciously named villain, Rice Plate Reddy; Rambha as Mango Dolly and Raju Sundaram as Rowdy MBA. Watch out for Ranvir Shorey and Vinay Pathak. The ears are already licking their drums in glee. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting.

mind it!

Here are the original shorts to watch while you wait: number 1, number 2 and number 3.

update [august 10, 2009]: Siddhartha graciously points me to a video of Mika's song for the film. Ostentatious! ये है rebel without a cow is a stroke of staggering genius.

boppi-da kaa naam: only boppi-da

This is for JR, whose instant message unleashed an investigation of old LP cover scans and the stash of guilty pleasures with Bollywood's own Maaikaal Jeksaan at the composing helm.

It all started with an instant message and a pointer to a post over at PFC dedicated to Bollywood songs with crazy lyrics (the kind of stuff that can keep a blog running for eons, mates). The fragment of interest was:

For the uninitiated it would be interesting to note that Bappida used the pseudonym Basavalingaiah Hiremath when he sang his songs like Jeele le Jee le and I am a Disco Dancer !!

image courtesy: asian image

I'm not one of those Bappi fans who keeps a little altar in the house of the portly plagiarist adorned with gold chains and cheap sunglasses, but his ouevre has been a guilty pleasure -- he has betrayed flashes of brilliance and balanced them with buckets of mediocrity. Toss in a zany accent, a penchant for outrageous lyrics and a warped sense of cool and we get one of the most unique personalities stomping about Bollywood. But I digress. The point is: I've never heard about this pseudonymous business. I have images of the record covers of Tarzan and Chalte Chalte; I have a CD compilation that includes the songs of Disco Dancer; I have several other compilations and record scans of other soundtracks and none (I repeat none) of them choose any appellation other than Bappi Lahiri (the stray Bhappi Lahiri notwithstanding). A fellow Bopper agrees. Unfortunately, it has been quite impossible to find out how this rumour started. It's hard to believe that the real Basavalingaiah Hiremath (a Kannada singer?) indulged in this bit of inspired publicity. The Wikipedia page dedicated to the man cites the results of a Google search as evidence. Pah!

I think it's time for Bappi to sue again.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

that's what it's all about

I wonder why the verbs mention and discuss were robbed of their transitive status. What could have encouraged someone to completely ignore a free spot for the object and choose to make their own along with the preposition about as a prefix. People have decided to stop discussing things and have started discussing about them -- if you want a ghastly visual to match this, please consider Rajesh Khanna and Nanda cavorting about an unidentified garden in The Train. People have stopped mentioning things and have decided to mention about them -- circumlocutory chaos once again. We've got enough wasted clones of that preposition to fill several galaxies. Trim your utterances and sentences; make them a word lighter. There are places where it will be happier. Think about it.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

a-tishoo (Dhishum)

[link courtesy: Siddhartha]

a rose is a rose
a nose is a nose
a toese is a toese

Ditching his cap didn't do much for him (his asphyxiated hair might have breathed gulps of relief, however). A tail of numerologically sound, linguistically challenged onomatopoeiac titular adjustments didn't help either. The bearer of the only voice known to offer serious competition to Madame Mangeshkar's silicate shattering sonance has gambled on another attempt to stupefy his fans, extend the destructive reach of his olfactory astra and gone down to South Africa (inspired by the mondegreen that Prem Granth was really Prem Grunt, no doubt) and funded the addition of a new voice to his laryngeal catalogue:

Himesh has quietly put himself through surgery a couple of months ago and added one more voice, apart from his nasal voice. He has now become the only singer to have two completely different voices and the new voice will be heard in his forthcoming films. He has already recorded songs in his new voice.

Watch out for the next edition of the Sneeze Book of World Records.

Those with a knowledge of music theory and acoustics will find something to relish in the utter fiction of the details of the operation:

Apart from his nasal voice, he has now added a different voice which is a base middle octave. This way, he will have two distinct voices and anybody who indentifies him with his style will never be able to say that the other voice is also his.

If anyone knows what base[sic] middle octave means, please drop me a line or drop a comment hereabouts. Meanwhile, we will await the stridulations consequent of the soniferous surgical stint. merii.n aa.Nwaa.Nze.n su.Nno.n!

the origins of a tribute to armaan kohli?

Unknown [May 06, 2007]: There were two reasons I can think of that made me sit and watch Unknown, when a friend had unearthed the film. The first was that it was, for me, just like the title said (I hadn't heard of it, dummy). The second was that it had Jim "They Call Me Jesus" Caviezel. It seemed like a good thing to find out what else he had been in before he was crucified forever. The film's premise was interesting: a few men wake up in a warehouse with no memory of who they are and what has brought them here. If you wanted a high concept version, think Reservoir Dogs meets Memento meets The Usual Suspects. Things are reasonably engaging but there are plot holes that might compete with the Grand Canyon. There's also a certain ebb in the pace at times. However, given that this was a relatively minor flick, there was no hype to damage my reaction and define expectations for me. It also turned out that Caviezel was not the only familiar name on the roster -- one also had Greg Kinnear, Joe Pantoliano and Peter Stormare.

[the present] Perhaps what kept me from writing about this film two years ago was someone like the Traveller, who whispered into my ear telling me that I wasn't alone in having seen this minor flick. There was another way of describing this film for the high concept crowd: Think Kaante with a twist. Woo hoo! Lo! After having received a tenured position at Sanjay Gupta Cine-Copiers LLC with the variegated Ek Khiladi Ek Hasina, Suparn Varma announced his next directorial venture -- a film called Acid Factory. As a title, this fit the kind of stuff Sanjay Gupta blessed. The teaser trailer sports the familiar tropes of the Gupta school of filmmaking -- leather-clad alpha male figures, chases, automobile crash ballets with pirouettes to put the worst Bollywood physics to shame. But it's the premise -- something that is hardly evident in the teaser -- that gives it all away:

[from the official page]
Acid Factory is about a group of characters whose sense of past has vanished in a haze of coma like sleep they have woken up from only to discover that reality could be a figment of their imagination.
Five men wake up inside the stolid confines of a factory to find themselves locked in this claustrophobic nowhere land.

The page continues to reveal more plot details than you would like to know, if you were planning to watch Unknown. But if it's a Bolly-flick you are interested in, plot hardly matters. You're in it for the obeisance to testosterone, for the objectification of the female form, for the coolness of moronic utterances, for the cheap version of a Michael Bay soundscape. The warehouse becomes the titular entity, while Moynahan becomes Mirza in what looks like another unholy ripoff. It's the 21st century and for every No Smoking, Johnny Gaddaar, 15 Park Avenue, Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi and Dil Dosti, Etc, we still get stuff like this on which star power, cash and kind are showered. Time to return to Streets of Fire ... oops Tezaab. Oh well. Perhaps that old Armaan Kohli classic then. Here are a few tablets to revive your memory, O lover of Bollycrap: hamanashii.n, mai.n kaun huu.N and kitanaa pyaar tumhe.n karate hai.n

Sunday, July 26, 2009

a handful of scribbles

Pokiri [December 11, 2006]: With RGV written all over it, this Mahesh Babu vehicle can appeal only to fans of "Prince." The film is so obsessed with style and the coolness of its star (something that, again, is something only the privileged fanatic masses can see) that it ends up being a parody of its excess. The plot has something to do with the land mafia, but it's mostly about the Prince. Those with an eye for feminine eye candy can spend time analysing the oddities of the bone structure and hip dynamics of Ileana D'Cruz. The songs mix Telugu and Hindi and even features Bollywood staple Kunal Ganjawala on one track. One song adds to the list of Listen to the pouring rain rip-offs. There's a villain who's into S and M. There's some sliding on the knees to get past under a rolling spinwheel. There are surreal lines like I may not be perfect but parts of me are awesome and strange subtitles (s*x-straved[sic] vampires). Don't wait for the Hindi remake; watch the original. Be warned: the DVD was designed by the usual gang of morons, so there's a lot of unskippable content. Use something like VLC on your laptop instead of a regular DVD player to reduce your grief.

Enduring Love [December 18, 2006]: The first movie adapting Ian McEwan (The Good Son doesn't count, because there was no source novel) that I saw taught me what an au pair was. The film opens with a death that's shocking because it happens on a clear innocuous day and in a very matter-of-fact way (since I hadn't read the novel, I had the benefit of ignorance as far as the plot was concerned). A sense of Rashomon and emotional confusion take over as the film walks the thin line between drama and thriller. Nice chilling use of God Only Knows and some interesting use of slow motion followed by quick edits and frenzied camera angles and lenses and sped-up film as Joe rushes home when he finds out that Jed is there with Claire. Watch out the book Awakening The Buddha by Lama Surya Das (yes, LSD). Bland font for the end credits, however. The film's confusion of intent prevents it from being either an engaging psychological experience (something really welcome given the earnest performances) or a less unsubtle version of Fatal Attraction.

The Score [September 21, 2006] (aka 317 946 5839): This film will most likely be remembered more for who was in it rather than what they did in it or the plot. It's about a con with none of the surprises being surprises, peppered with the obligatory yet implausible heist sequence, packed with material for actors to riff with and yet not terribly exciting. The prospect of seeing Robert De Niro and Marlon Brando finally work together and of seeing Edward Norton hold his own foil with these two fine sabres doing their thing is not done justice by a film that only works in parts. One wishes that David Mamet had been involved in scripting stuff for Norton and De Niro; I can't think of anyone who could write anything for the colossal and shockingly unpredictable temperamental Brando. Scenes seem to work simply because we find ourselves watching good actors do their stuff, but the material isn't much up to snuff. You can appreciate some good lighting work by Rob Hahn. The film, however, seems to want to succeed more as a by-the-numbers gadget-laden caper than as something that George Roy Hill might have been at ease with. Oh, did I forget to note that Angela Bassett's here too, wasting her time. Get your kicks by spotting Quake III: Arena.

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