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Garam Coat (1955)
Good, not great.
Rajinder Singh Bedi has a repute as one of the big guns of progressive Urdu/Hindi literature, so when I saw his name in the credits, I expected a much better film than what ultimately unfolded. Well, maybe as a writer he didn't have much say as compared to the director; then again, Bedi himself was the producer so he can't be acquitted of the blame entirely. In any case, this is certainly not in the league of 'Dastak' (1970), which Bedi directed himself. The storyline and subject matter are handled with competence, though the pace is a bit awkward and the numerous songs tend to dilute the dramatic intensity. The sudden mood swings and behavioral changes of the central character are at times mystifying and actors are often called on to perform hysterically. At other times, the performances are grounded and subtle, as per the milieu. I would have liked it better if the film didn't become so melodramatic as often as it does, but still, it is a decent enough effort. Nirupa Roy is excellent as the housewife and mother coping with poverty and strife.
Fukushû suru wa ware ni ari (1979)
Strange, haunting, genre-hopping tale of a serial killer
I can't honestly say that I 'got' the film 100%, but it sure kept me glued to the screen it's 2+ hour running time. Starts off as a docudrama look at a serial killer and his exploits, which is fine but you've been there before. However, via fractured narrative and by focusing far more on the killer, his family, and the characters they interacts with, the film immediately breaks away from the tradition of giving equal (if not more) time to the investigation. But even the in-depth look at the past and present of the antagonist doesn't quite explain his motivations. Expecting a 'pat' resolve, and not finding it herein, would be my only gripe with the film, which otherwise is a strange and hypnotic beast of rare quality, hard to pigeon-hole or categorize by the end, even if I thought I had it pegged at the beginning. The director, Shohei Imamura, who had a pretty wild style in his feature films, had been doing documentaries for a decade before he returned to fiction with this film. Maybe the documentary set-up was a deliberate ploy to keep the audience off-balance as Imamura undermines and/or breaks away from the genre every so often. At least 2 scenes will immediately pop out of the film as if they belong to another film altogether, and yet it all combines to great, surreal and creepy effect, when you consider the breadth of the themes and subplots and undercurrents introduced and explored. Whew!
It was enough to make my head spin for a while (even so, I'm pumped to see it again).
Ambitious, complex project from a guy infamous for his more slam-bang action epics of the extended (indeed, never-ending) shootouts variety. Fredianelli is not only improving his skill as a filmmaker with each new film, but also broadening his horizons, it seems. It could've all gone horribly wrong; a multi-character, multi-problem drama with all the elements that could easily push this into soap opera territory. Kudos to our guy for not letting that happen. Aside from a few missteps, this is powerful and intelligent material. The sex scene right at the beginning seems a bit gratuitous, but in light of the character arc we're following, it kinda fits in. The dialogue is mostly true-to-life, but at times veers towards corny. Performances are generally strong, with everyone doing justice to their roles, with a few standouts along the way (the face-off with Rust Meyers' agent being a delight). It is heartening to see more and more 'professional' actors appearing in WD films. Also, it was good to see some humour interspersed with the generally melancholy tone. However, a missed opportunity was when a bimbo starlet says to our Hollywood producer that she's "got an ass like Jessica Biel's. Can you do something with it?" while shoving her butt his way. That scene was begging for the guy to "do something" to/with her butt and add a witty remark!
Another memorable scene is the Shakespearian rehearsal. Mike really lets loose with the improv, but due to his inability to stretch his mouth to, say, Gerard Butler levels, he ends up lisping a lot (that must've been one spit-soaked set!), which makes the scene even more entertaining. Man, it reminded me of Bill the cat from Bloom County in all his "thpppppt!" vocabulary.
As for the much talked-about third act, I didn't really find it out of place, let alone out of left field (or at least a lot less so than the afore-mentioned excursion with Molinee Green). The ending of it all could've been better, though. Another thing I felt was that the gay character was too obviously so from the second he appeared. It seemed to be a stereotype out of a sketch from SNL or something. This would've been fine in Higgy & Puffs territory, but this otherwise accomplished drama demanded a bit more depth. And the scenes between his wife and her lover could've done with a bit more heat (especially in comparison to the first - and only - sex scene in the film), it was hard to imagine why these two would've got together. I could've also done without the excruciating songs, but maybe that was Mike's way of poking fun of those 'swishy' singer/songwriters of the mushy/romantic variety. And finally, a technical gaff: what's with the shadow of the boom mike where the two women are walking along the street? Surely, somebody must've noticed it? !?
Those minor criticisms aside, this is a solid piece of work from Mike Fredianelli, and I hope to see even better stuff from him in the future.
Good gory fun, with a few chuckles, to boot!
One thing was very clear to me even before I saw the film: this was an ultra-low-budget production, made by a non-professional. Therefore, I wasn't expecting much, and that's exactly what I got. I also knew that the director, Omar Khan, was an enthusiast of cult, horror, and trash cinema, as evidenced by his loving attention to obscure Indian and Pakistani films on his website. Zibahkhana works well enough insofar as an amateur homage/reworking of some of the most famous horror staples, albeit with some local color and at least one ingenious touch (a burqa-clad slasher? Sweet!). It would be fair enough to sum this up as a cross between Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Hostel, set in Pakistan, with a dash of zombies for good measure. I just wish the writers could've developed the screenplay a little beyond the gleeful regurgitation of clichés that we get, because this could've been so much better (a case in point is the zombie subplot which is abandoned soon after the gut- munchers appear more's the pity, because these guys looked awesome).
Anyway, let's move on beyond the script. There are some technical flaws, but one can overlook those as it was obviously shot on the cheap, using digital cameras. Still, the interior of the van at night was way over-lit, which could've been remedied without much hassle. The look of the film is fine, enhanced by a ubiquitous wide-angle lens. The acting by the young cast of protagonists isn't anything to write home about, either, but then they didn't really have good material to work with. What Khan does get right is an atmosphere of creepiness, and what he excels in is the level of violence and gore in the film. Yes sir, he really lets loose with the red stuff. Gore hounds won't have much to complain about here. And since that seems to have been the focus of Khan's energies, it may have been a wise decision to keep the running time short (78min approx), because clearly, the 'exposition' scenes were not going to keep audience interest levels up. Another nice touch is the soundtrack which is littered with retro Lollywood music. A clip from Zinda Lash (The Living Corpse) makes an appearance and the actor who played the vampire in that film, Rehan, is also featured in a bit part, where he hams it up hilariously.
So if like me, you go into the film with low expectations, you're likely to enjoy it for what it is: a gory, lurid and fast-paced pastiche of better known horror films, made by fans and for fans (with the novelty value of being a Pakistani gore film
really, how many of those do you see around?). If, however, you want something more substantial than that, you might be let down. Me, I had a pretty good time. Here's hoping Khan's next project improves upon his debut.
A Bird in the Bush (2008)
Fresh, funny, fantastic film from the underground!
This is, hands down, one of the best productions from Wild Dogs, ever! Off-beat, quirky, and highly successful mix of humor, romance, action and adventure in this one, with a lean running time, to boot. Really, I was just gob-smacked by the film, and the way it always (ok, mostly) dodged the inevitable genre trappings with something unexpected or at least differently spun. My wife also tuned in, and we both laughed our asses off. If I was to be nit- picky, there were some parts that seemed to stretch out needlessly, or some that seemed undercooked, but when the overall package is this good, one can be generous. Mike Fredianelli, in his best performance yet, does a superb nebbish/nerdy character, and gets paired up with a sexy blonde who often keeps pace with his spot-on act. They also have a palpable chemistry between them, an essential ingredient which makes the central relationship seem credible and genuine (all this, without any gratuitous nudity or sex). The 2 detectives are also well-performed by the actors, and then there is that 'flatulent hobo', once again a short but sweet role for Aaron Steelydanextra , whose later 'trampling' scene is one of the hilarious highlights of the film. However, the one scene that had my sides splitting was the 'Vietnamese orphan' bit. My God! And Mr. Nose looked like a dead ringer for the Dalai Lama in that get-up. Sheer comedy genius. The film is peppered with many precise and perfectly timed comic moments, perhaps thrice as many as the average Hollywood 'comedy' (Sure enough, the next day I tried watching Meet The Spartans, only to turn it off after 15 minutes. Too bad more people have seen this turd-fest than have been lucky enough to witness Mike's home-grown effort, which shows 'em all how it's done. Hell, the outtakes from Mike's film were more enjoyable than those 15 minutes of MTS ).
Speaking of which, the missus was amazed when she realized I wasn't watching a mainstream film, but a film made by AND starring my friend Mike from San Jose! She hadn't recognized him, and was incredulous when she found out. The next evening, her cousin came over, and he was made to see this film on her insistence. More guffaws, more laughter, and more amazement followed. Mike, you've got one more admirer on your list now. And we intend to show this film around some more.
Kudos to all involved, even to the guy playing Daddy Don Guido, who didn't seem to be all there. Excellent production values also, considering the budget (or lack thereof). Oh, and this is probably the first WD film that doesn't warrant subtitles (nice clear audio). The bar has been raised yet again by WD, and it ain't gonna be easy topping it. But that don't mean you shouldn't try. As the guy says: "Think positive, man!"
Ek Chalis Ki Last Local (2007)
A pleasantly different and more enjoyable ride from Bollywood!
Surprisingly off-beat-yet-mainstream adventure/comedy/thriller from Bollywood, starting with a guy missing his local train ride home ('Last local train at 1.40 a.m' is how the title would translate, roughly). While it owes a huge debt to Tarantino in terms of some of the plotting and some of the tone, and a few direct nods to scenes from his films (as well as others, like Lock, Stock, etc), it is not a rip-off by any means (unlike Kaante, or others). The whole film takes place on one night, from 1.40 a.m to a few hours later, when the next train is leaving. The script remains interesting enough, even though it begins to drag a bit in a few parts (the 143 minutes could've used some trimming), and always has a twist up its sleeve. Characterization is good, especially of our hero, who is perhaps the most realistic and believable hero I've seen in Indian cinema for a long, long time. Abhay Deol plays the role not as a typical, hunky, macho superhero, but as a slightly cowardly, greedy, horny, and put-upon guy. Neha Dhupia is sublime in the first half as the 'average middle-class girl' who tags along with our hero, having missed the same train. In the latter part, she is a bit loud and unbelievable, but it may be the scriptwriter's fault here. The other characters, mostly of the dubious variety, are also fine (I especially loved the in-jokes, like the rickshaw driver aping Nana Patekar's dialogue delivery & poking fun at some of NP's most iconic lines.....obviously this kind of reference can only be enjoyed by people tuned into Bollywood cinema). Thankfully the music is used sparingly and instead of musical numbers to disrupt the proceedings, it is incorporated in the story smoothly. I was led to believe that the film contained quite a bit of raunch, but other than a passionate kiss, there's nothing. Which is amazing, considering most 'family oriented' Bollywood fare these days has more risqué stuff than this film. All the more surprising, since Neha is known for her 'revealing' roles in steamy thrillers, but she keeps her clothes on the whole time here (still, she looks ravishing even in her demure appearance). This would have been a drawback for me in a typical Indian film, but this one actually doesn't need to rely on such 'lowest common denominators'. Despite a few rough edges and a slightly bloated running time, this is a superior Bollywood thriller that I wouldn't mind watching again soon.
Strategia del ragno (1970)
Fascinating, lyrical, memorable.
After having searched high & low for this ridiculously hard to find film by Bernardo Bertolucci, I finally got a watchable VHS print recently (thanx, Scott). It has been praised by many a critic & film scholar, and deservedly so. Leonard Maltin may not know much, but he was right on the money when he said that this film contains some of the most staggeringly beautiful cinematography ever put on screen. If only somebody would get this on a proper DVD (Criterion, if you're not too busy considering another re-release of The Rock...). The story is, on the surface, a sort of 'search for the truth' mystery/quest that quickly turns into a complex examination of 'the nature of truth'. The pace is slow, and there isn't much in the way of action, mostly just dialog scenes and gorgeous location shots. But I for one was totally engrossed (my wife seemed to dig it as well). Speaking of pace, this struck me as being quite Tarkovsky-esquire a film (barring a few odd cutaway shots), especially with that last scene that puts the whole film into a different spin. Fascinating, heady stuff, but not for all tastes and will be rewarding more to those who are patient and attentive.
Mature, subtle & intelligent 'art' film.
This is an Indian film in the mode of the now-defunct 'parallel' cinema. One of my favorite actors, Nana Patekar, plays against 'type' (read: his most famous roles, where he is invariably angry, hot-headed & explosive) as a soft-spoken, easy-going, yet jaded writer at odds with the world around him. Good performances also from Rekha & Dipti Naval, in this thought-provoking and intelligent film. An interesting script & understated direction mark the film as a literate, intellectually superior film. It only falters in the last quarter with a development that seems needless (and at odds with the lead character's personality & ideas), and I personally could have done without the musical numbers (fewer and in an entirely different vein than the usual Bollywood song- and-dance numbers, but still sort of disposable) even if they are plot-specific. A refreshingly different & subtle film from an industry that is known more for its formulaic & bombastic entertainment. Not quite a classic, but a damned good attempt anyway. I couldn't help wondering how a filmmaker like Gulzar might have handled the story.
Fantasm Comes Again (1977)
In some ways, even better than the first film.
I was led to believe that this sequel to Fantasm was inferior, but i was pleasantly surprised to see that it is better than the first film in many ways. The sex scenes are a lot more erotic in this film, and there is less 'forced' comedy this time around (though there are still humorous bits, especially Serena's segment). And once again there is a swimming pool scene with John Holmes that borders on hardcore, while the girl-girl scene with Uschi is far too mild even for soft-core. The highlight of the film has to be the 'gym massage', which is by far the most arousing vignette of the lot.
Gone is the goofy professor that narrated & hosted the first film, replaced by a middle-aged guy and a young blonde reading aloud 'dear Collette' letters and answering them. Remarkably, the girl looks a lot like the currently active porn- star Jeanie Rivers. Overall, this is decent soft-core erotica.
Breezy mystery-romance thriller from Greece.
The first thing I noticed is that this is not really a 'film' (as in celluloid), but more like a tele-play, shot with TV cameras. The second thing I noticed was the location, which is gorgeous. The story takes places on a picturesque Greek island, where a rich businessman and art gallery-owner has been found dead on his yacht, and an artist (who was the last person to see him alive) is suspected of murder. The artist tries to clear his name, but his only alibi is an enigmatic & attractive young lady who, as it happens, has seemingly disappeared.
The film is briskly-paced, and fills in the back-story via 'flashbacks' (except there is no indication of when the flashback begins or ends, thus adding to the mystery). The cinematography is very pleasing, the shots are really well- composed, etc. The music is also very nice, and the soundtrack even includes parts of Pink Floyd and Deep Purple songs (which I like). The actors are uniformly good, and the 'mysterious' heroine is played by a strikingly beautiful actress, whom I wouldn't mind seeing more of. However, the mystery is slight and not all that hard to fathom, so the story remains just mildly interesting and doesn't really feature any surprises or twists or shocks, as such. Still, it is a pleasant enough distraction for an evening, and at 75 minutes, doesn't seem to outstay its welcome.