White Zombie [January 29, 2007]: It's hard to be interested in horror films and their history and not have heard of White Zombie. Besides, once you've seen Bela Lugosi as Murder Legendre sporting Jack Pierce's makeup, you can't quite forget that close-up. The film's a cheapie that reuses sets on the Universal lot, but has, to its credit, some moments rich in atmosphere. There's unfortunately not much to applaud in the acting department. Lugosi is himself and makes this perhaps his most memorable role after having sealed the fate of his career playing the sanguinary Count. The background score makes up for the film's limited use of dialogue and there's a chant you hear over the opening credits that sounds like the parent of the chant of initiation in Finding Nemo.
Chak De! India [October 06, 2007]: After directing the wonderful Ab Tak Chhappan (aah, the iTrans-friendly title), Shimit Amin quit RGV's Factory (something that a lot of the talented people there have been doing for the last few years). When he landed at Yash Raj Films, it was hard to contain the surprise and shock. The fear was that he had sold out. Talent had turned pragmatic. When he roped in Shah Rukh Khan (not surprising since SRK's the leading contract player of sorts there and over the fence at Dharma Productions), one could only fear the worst. Then we found out it was a sports film (now, how many of those do you have?). We then noticed that Jaideep Sahni (the man who wrote Jungle, Company Bunty aur Babli and Khosla ka Ghosla), another RGV expat, was handling the writing and the lyrics. All this set the stage for something that might satisfy both camps -- those who cared for films that looked like they were made by people who had their wits about them and those that cared merely for star vehicles. As it turned out, this engaging ensemble effort did. Shah Rukh Khan did another Swades, but with far less grandeur. There seemed to be no moments for the camera. Kabir Khan instead seemed like a man who had borne the religious bigotry and the bad luck of failure well and who had let it drive his rage to snag one last shot at glory, even though it would be from the shadows. The structure of the film was familiar to those used to watching all those sports films about underdogs that played on cable television here in the US and on Star Movies back home (The Miracle, Hoosiers). The film unfolded with one familiar flourish after another, but each was delivered with competence. What you got at the end was something that you could watch without adjusting your derriere on the couch or letting your mind drift to times better spent. There were great scenes (Bindiya Naik coming on to Kabir, the locker room speech that could have become a crowd-pulling rabble rouser but ended up being more of something else) seasoned with clichés both welcome and unwelcome. You got interesting characters (Kabir Khan, Bindiya Naik) who shared the screen with stock characters played well. All this still didn't acquit Amin. One had to wait for his next film to find out what turn he wanted to take.