Friday, May 28, 2010

where have i heard it before?

Does anyone remember Anu Malik's non-film album Ho Raha Hai Sama? That's right; it's the one with the song धुआँ धुआँ हो रहा है समा (yeah yeah, लगी लगी ये दिल की लगी न समझो इसे दिल्लगी). That album had a song called पागल पागल, whose tune was quite familiar and simple to remember: the Cambridge Chimes made famous by the Big Ben. To put it politely, Malik quotes the melody and riffs on it; to put it plainly, he stole it. The case for theft isn't a strong one, because the authorship of the melody is disputed and the tune's probably in the public domain. Fans of R. D. Burman will probably see another source of inspiration -- the mood of रात Christmas की थी.

दे दे दे दे दिल दे दे मुझको might have been the most famous song on Alisha's album Bombay Girl released by the now-deceased Magnasound in the early 90s, but the title track was guilty of quoting (filching?) the famous riff from Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye. Wonder if producer Leslie Lewis had something to do with that.

The brothers Pandit have never been subtle about the influence of R. D. Burman on their music. शहर की परियों from Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar (whose a.ntaraas owed a debt to जीना क्या from Dhan Daulat) finds a cousin in जान-ए-मन जाने दो from Dhoondte Reh Jaaoge; the source? क्या हुआ यारों from Bundal Baaz.

Last year, Suhel Rais Khan, the song of legendary sitar player Ustad Rais Khan, delivered a new album called Jazbah to the masses. The album featured him sharing the microphone with the likes of Shreya Ghoshal, Bhupinder Singh, Mitali and Sadhna Sargam on a melange of semi-classical pop. The opening song मेरी आँखों में owes a debt to the late R. D. Burman: All you have to do is cue up किसी से दोस्ती from Dil Diwana.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

travis von trapp: are you singing to me?

A review of Harry Brown in the Daily Mail includes this:

Harry Brown makes any Quentin Tarantino film seem like The Magic Roundabout. Makes Taxi Driver look like The Sound Of Music. Makes The Long Good Friday feel like a Pixar movie

This makes me wonder about the ultimate saccharine fuzzy family-friendly feel-good film: what kind of movie would make The Sound Of Music look like Taxi Driver?

Monday, May 24, 2010

linty barroom

It appears that you can count on the French (and especially Jean-Pierre Melville) to take a mystery thriller and lace it with tragedy and world weariness. The most recent example for me was Tell No One. In the hands of a genre hack, this film might well have been a flashy tank of cliché laced with anxious motifs and herrings. But director Guillame Canet makes judicious use of good performances, an understated use of action sequences and serves up an engaging drama embellished with a background score employing bass, dissonance and chords and bends on an electric guitar.

It turned out the film was based on a novel by an American writer named Harlan Coben. All this was not without precedent (Truffaut had adapted David Goodis; René Clément had adapted Patricia Highsmith). There was just one problem: I had not heard of Harlan Coben. This was unfortunate, because he's quite famous and well-lauded. So I did the only thing I could: I ventured forth to the public library to mend my ways. I picked up Tell No One (still unread), Fade Away, Drop Shot and Promise Me.

The last three happened to be be part of the canon dedicated to his creation Myron Bolitar, a star college basketball player with a degree from Harvard Law School, who is now a sports agent, who ends up becoming a gumshoe while trying to protect or defend the interests of his clients. His closest friend and associate is, perhaps, the most curious character I have seen in detective fiction. Windsor "Win" Lock-Horne III is rich, smart, extremely loyal and coldly dispassionate; he could be trading trivia about the West/Ward Batman TV show or crisply sending a couple of no-good goons to their maker. Then there's Esperanza Diaz, Myron's associate at his company MBSportsReps; Esperanza used to be a professional wrestler bearing the moniker "Little Pocahontas." Then there's Coben penchant for loading the books with witticisms and word play. It's the kind of wisecracking that brought the 007 films to their knees in the days of Roger Moore, but it seems to work rather well here. Consider the following extract from Fade Away:

"[...] It took a while to get the ducks all in a row. It's a balance, you know. Got to keep the ducks on an even keel. Losing Greg really knocked the wind from our sails, but we finally got those ducks back up. Now you come along, see. Clip doesn't tell us why , but he insists we add you to the roster. Fine, Clip is the big chief, no question. But we worry about getting our ducks back sailing straight, you see?"
The mixing of metaphors was making Myron dizzy. "Sure, I don't want to cause any problems."
"I know that." He stood, put the chair back with a sweeping motion. "You're a good guy, Myron. Always were a straight arrow. We need that now. A team-comes-first kinda guy, am I right?"
Myron nodded. "A straight-sailing duck."

All the Bolitar novels pack in multiple twists at the end and, if you've been a good reader of thrillers with obligatory twists, you can probably figure out what's going to unfold. To Coben's credit, he doesn't write to set you up for a big payoff. He just writes matter that's straight and engaging with characters that are fun to follow. It's also a relief that Coben doesn't indulge in the bestseller fetish for dumping paragraphs of informative discourse as evidence of the writer having spent hours in the library and on the Internet. All three Bolitar novels have been "unputdownable" and I hope the rest are just as entertaining.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

disregard all bells

I picked up Up the Down Staircase from the shelf in the library for two reasons. The first was simply because it had been on that shelf for weeks with the title plastered on the jacket in an interesting font and layout. The second was because I was interested in what else Robert Mulligan had done besides To Kill A Mockingbird, which might be the film he is most famous for. The film stars Sandy Dennis as a teacher with ideals and dreams in her first teaching assignment at an inner-city school. If you've seen Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, it is hard to forget Sandy Dennis; the neurotic interpretation of characters is evident in her portrayal of Sylvia Barrett. The film also covers aspects of a teacher's life often not seen in movies of this genre -- the emphasis on forms and procedures is reminiscent of its use for satire in The Ipcress File. I can't think of another film that contained references to Delaney cards. You also hear of nerts and darklings in addition to references to Emily Dickinson and Idylls of the King. That's not bad for a visit to the school. [February 05, 2010]

Thursday, May 20, 2010

tropical muse

Siddhartha points me to one of the many articles dedicated to the cyclone assailing South-East India: Cyclone Laila Kills 12 screams the headline. The reasons for choosing the name are clear, but I can't help wondering that the guy who chose this name was watching Madhur Bhandarkar's revelatory opus Aan: Men at Work featuring that Sunidhi Chauhan club song that began thus:

एक लैला ने दिल उछाला है
सारे आलम को मार डाला है

The subtitles, for those who were not as privileged as I to witness them, were one juliet has offered her heart/she has killed the whole atmosphere.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

word clouds for reels

Two Mules for Sister Sara: Boetticher's original screenplay was transformed to suit the players. Don Siegel directs Clint Eastwood singing The Ballad of Sam Hall and Shirley MacLaine, who despite reportedly having enjoyed working on the film bravely serves up a performance of gusto and the occasional loudness. There are moments that remind you of Sergio Leone and Ennio Morricone's score reinforces the feeling (there's a motif that seems to quote from one of his cues for The Good the Bad and the Ugly. [September 26, 2009]

It is difficult to forget Paul Scofield after his performance as Thomas More in A Man for all Seasons. Fred Zinnemann's film opens with a shot of the hands of Orson Welles, who plays Cardinal Wolsey. It's a small part that prevents Welles from even think of stealing the show from Scofield. [April 03, 2009]

Saturday, May 15, 2010

LA in atlanta

As he drove the golf cart slowly towards the second model unit, the couple considered the irony: The location was bland, eerie. The populace looked scary. A montage would look like it had come out of Training Day or Colors. But the apartment they had just seen had a great floor plan. The rooms felt spacious instead of merely being so by virtue of geometry. It was strange, however, to see a walk-in closet attached to the secondary bedroom while the master bedroom was relegated to a carpeted aisle sandwiched between a simple wall closet and a washbasin.

Their attention went back to him as he talked about noting the tag on a car, an Infiniti. The reason: a smashed windshield. Lest we think that he was doing a great job as a sardonic wit, he pulled up next to the said car. The guilty rock lying next to the front wheel added to the texture of the event. The lady who pulled up in her SUV nearby noted that she had seen this when she returned at 2 AM. Nobody seemed shocked or surprised or even alarmed. It was like people talking about the pollen in the Spring.

The perfect coda came when he asked the couple if they could guess who owned this place back in the 70s and the 80s. The answer, quite unguessably, was Larry Flynt.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

they said it

This Rediff article is one of the few going gaga about Ashutosh Gowariker signing on Karl Walter Lindenlaub (हा कोण?) for Buddha (hopefully the conclusion of what will, several years later, be known as his Period Trilogy). After formally noting what a joy (what a joy) it was to work with Lindenlaub, Gowariker goes on to justify the choice of English as the language of the film:

The first important decision that Dr Modi (producer) took was to make Buddha in English and that got me immediately interested because I have always felt that when it comes to religion, you must cater to an international audience, especially so in the case of Buddha.

The hunt for a "new face" to play सिद्धार्थ गौतम is on. Once they find him, expect an article titled Buddha मिल गया.

caffeinated predictability

He knows the benefits of coffee because it helps to free decision making. (Laughter.) Thank you very much. So let's have some coffee because it helps to free decision making. (Laughter.) Thank you very much. So let's have some coffee because it helps to free decision making. (Laughter.) Thank you very much. So let's have some coffee because it helps to free decision making. (Laughter.) Thank you very much. So let's have some coffee because it helps to free decision making. (Laughter.) Thank you very much. So let's have some coffee because it helps to free decision making. (Laughter.) Thank you very much. So let's have some coffee because it helps to free decision making. (Laughter.) Thank you very much. So let's have some coffee because it helps to free decision making. (Laughter.) Thank you very much. So let's have some coffee because it helps to free decision making. (Laughter.) Thank you very much. So let's have some coffee in the morning to get us all extremely excited.

{generated by selecting coffee as all the inputs to tedPAD}

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

a stalker in a taurus

Jim Jarmusch's Broken Flowers is less layered than Dead Man, less adventurous than Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai and not as unpredictable as Coffee and Cigarettes. But it's still a nice, calm little story with a great cast (Bill Murray, Jeffrey Wright, Sharon Stone, Francis Conroy, Jessica Lange, Tilda Swinton, Julie Delpy), a wonderfully eclectic soundtrack and product placement (MSN, MapQuest, Ford, Budget): Don Johnston, a ladies man in his youth has done well in computers and lives life listening to music and watching old films. An innocuous pink envelope arrives on the day his current girlfriend is moving out -- the envelope contains a letter from one of his former girlfriends telling him that he has a 19-year old son who may be out looking for his father. The only problem is that the girlfriend does not write her name. Don's neighbour Winston (Wright) convinces him to track the writer of the letter down. What follows is a journey from one interesting encounter to another.

Bill Murray turns in another performance dominated by his ability to convey a lot by appearing to do nothing. Call it expressive nothingness, if you will. Jarmusch raises the stakes with the ladies and only underscores the humour of Murray's performance. He is ably supported by Jeffrey Wright in a performance that is as different from his turn in Syriana as it is from his interpretation of Felix Leiter in Casino Royale. The film offers several mysteries, most of which remain unresolved even as the end credits roll. But it is undeniably a familiar trope -- the road movie -- attacked in a most charmingly unfamiliar way. And I'm sure the fact that Pell James and Chloe Sevigny were also in Zodiac has no bearing on the proceedings. [June 28, 2008]

Sunday, May 09, 2010

It's All About Love: apocalyptic ailings

Thomas Vinterberg's It's All About Love has Joaquin Phoenix and Claire Daines playing a couple on the verge of a divorce in a world that's falling apart. There are flying Ugandans, there is snow in July, people are falling dead all over the place because they have no love, and there is a brother (played by Sean Penn), who used to be afraid of flying, but now can't do anything but fly about in a plane. There's also some intrigue tossed in perhaps to add some vim to this often sober exploration of love in a time out of joint (I stole that from Philip K Dick who appropriated it from the Bard). The DVD transfer looks and sounds gorgeous and, if you have the patience to sit through a not-so-moving love story set in a world resigned to its doom, offers a fairly rewarding viewing experience. [june 23, 2008]

Saturday, May 08, 2010

the things people do and still get paid

The programmers who are paid well and get promoted while being completely ignorant of the implications of a package name for a Java source file. While it seems stentorian to expect everyone to read the Java Language Specification (Chapter 7, in this case, and section 7.2.1 to be precise), it surely isn't too much to ask that people heed the complaints of javac when it fails to successfully compile files whose package names have nothing to do with where the file is located on the disk.

The programmers who flaunt experience with the newer versions of the JDK (5.0 and 6.0) on their résumé but ignore javac's warnings about all the raw types abundant in their freshly written code, simply because they do not understand why the compiler has a problem with code that works.

The programmers who just don't understand why XSLT (from the wikipedia page: XSLT (XSL Transformations) is a declarative, XML-based language used for the transformation of XML documents...) does not work on a document that is not XML.

Friday, May 07, 2010

acronymous apathy

SEVIS. PIMS (more here). SAVE. And now REPAIR. The incongruity is getting a bit more unsubtle. The high concept version is "a healthcare reform proposal for immigration." 'Tis nothing but a case of total flatulence in the absence of excrement.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

the song remains the same

I've been listening to CDs I had heard years ago and as The Best of Simon and Garfunkel spun away, I thought of songs like The Boxer that I had kept listening in a loop. I realised that, years later, things hadn't changed. As soon as the guitar opened the track, I knew that I hadn't forgotten all the things I had relished so long ago: Paul Simon's way with words, the arrangements (the brass, the piccolo trumpet, the pedal steel) and the catchy refrain.

All lies and jest
Still, a man hears what he wants to hear
And disregards the rest

The undergraduate days back home were when I got an education in rock. I had managed to cover some ground with Pink Floyd and The Beatles thanks to spending time in the reference section of The British Council Library. Unfortunately, I had only heard of Led Zeppelin. I had not managed to hear even a single song by the band. This was before the omnipresence of Wikipedia and the numerous portals of streaming radio. The music shops around town lacked an interesting back catalogue. I had struck gold with some Beatles tapes (Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band) and Pink Floyd albums still adorned the shelves, but as far as Plant, Page, Bonham and Jones were concerned, there was just nada. Zilch. Until the day I struck gold on a music store in Pune camp. Innocently sitting on a rack amidst other random unsold tapes was Physical Graffiti. In retrospect, this double album serving as my introduction to the band was rather risky; it's almost like introducing someone to the The Beatles with The White Album. The Zeppelin double, however, was arguably less sprawling in its excess than The White Album. I was hooked as soon as the snarling energetic unapologetic riff of Custard Pie opened the album. As the mix of wah-wah, clavinet, harmonica and (once I paid close attention) the risqué lyrics faded away, I was a fan.

Monday, May 03, 2010

united i stand

From one of the many news items about the proposed merger of Continental Arilines and United Airlines:

"The only people happier than Jeff and I today is our corporate sales team," Tilton said.

An example of the abuse of I (explored hereabout earlier) in the corporate uppersphere. There's the minor matter of trying to match people and is (one could argue about the true subject in that sentence), but it's not worth it. It's truly sad that such gaffes appear instead of the familiar bag of bland yet safe crapspeak (you know, stuff about the union being a strategic initiative in order to serve their customers and patrons better and marking a positive step forward down the runway of air travel).

Sunday, May 02, 2010

all those reels ago

War of the Worlds [april 29, 2007]: This take on the H. G. Wells classic gets the Steven Spielberg treatment complete with great special effects mixed well into a narrative founded in a focus on the immediate believable trope called the family. Cruise was, as he was in Minority Report, bearable enough and Dakota Fanning stays under aural control for the most part. All things considered, the only significant thing in the film for me was that bravura piece of SFX responsible for the opening attack; at the end of a long sequence of death rays and mayhem is this shot of Cruise and the others driving out of the city. That icing on the cake is worth the rest of this film, which, sadly, ends disappointingly. Morgan Freeman's narration, a device that didn't work for me, only underscores the whimper.

Willie Dynamite [july 15, 2007]: Willie is an ambitious pimp in New York City driving a Cadillac (what else) whose plates read WILLIE in the front and DYNAMITE at the back. The funky theme song introduces us to him as he walks with "seven women in the palm of his hand" and this is how we see him. The directness of the visuals is just one of the problems of the film. The other is the rather bland direction of what could have been a fine tragedy bolstered by strong earnest performances. The outrageous costumes, the overtly emphasised acting and dialogue delivery (especially in the meeting of the pimps) stick out like elephant's legs with mumps; they would have fit so well had Gilbert Moses III been more adventurous. Great title, cool music, little else.

This Man Can't Die [january 11, 2007]: If only Bollywood had relied more on Spaghetti Westerns for plot, narrative elements and cinematic style than just music, we'd have had a far better crop of revenge dramas. Consider Gianfranco Baldanello's tale of revenge laced with a persistent catchy guitar theme (as well as an appropriation of Morricone's theme from A Fistful of Dollars) and some nudity to keep the lascivious lads happy. There are murdered parents and a raped mute sister to offer motivation and there are a few twists for good effect. Toss in an interesting saloon brawl and you've got yourself a half-decent flick. I leave you with the lyrics of the song written to the guitar theme, sung almost like a tribute to the theme song for Thunderball:

life is the only precious thing god's given to you
life is too marvellous, too bright to make a man die
if no one can give his own life without someone who cares
it's a shame that you cannot forgive another man

life is too marvellous for you as well as for me
love is the common precious thing to take and to give
if no one can give his own life without someone who cares
it's a shame that you cannot forget your hate
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