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

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