Reviews written by registered user
|33 reviews in total|
This movie is so funny, moving, charming, intelligent - such a totally
engaging illustration of the never-old truth that wit, ambition,
creativity, and ingenuity can turn up anyplace at any time.
In a poor and, to most of the rest of the world, not-known part of India, some people make, screen, and enjoy their own low-budget, high-effort versions of famous movies, from Bollywood and, in the adventure narrated here, Hollywood - in this one they're filming the story of Superman, re-presented as a local superhero, retaining of course his distinctive caped costume. Highlights include an interruption for the (very skinny) actor to attend his own wedding, and the wonderful story of the crew solving the problem of making Superman fly.
This is the kind of very slight story, held together by little but a
theme of inconsequential seeming-naughtiness, that was carried off much
better by somebody like Hrishikesh Mukherjee in, say, Chupke Chupke -
the necessary sparkly script mostly isn't there. But I found it
watchable-to-enjoyable nonetheless, mostly owing to Uttam Kumar's
charisma and the overall gentleness of the story-telling.
Anjana Bhowmick is Urmita, a young Hindi film actress who doesn't seem very enthusiastic even though she's apparently just become a star. When she accidentally is stranded in a remote Bengali town -- curiosity has impelled her to get off a train she is riding, and it leaves without her -- Uttam Kumar, the bachelor stationmaster, accommodates her in his quarters. A servant assumes she is his wife and spreads this news to the genteel neighbors.
That's about it. We find out a bit more about the characters. A positive here is -- no hysteria at all, and a bonus is a trip that the couple makes to a local fair, which looks to me as if its filming made documentary use of an actual local fair somewhere in Bengal in the middle 60s. The crowds of people and animals and odd attractions, like an aged man who uses a pet pigeon to tell the customer's fortune, or some traditional folk-singers of a kind I haven't run into in movies, make it more than worth a watch, as does the irrepressible beautiful smile of Uttam Kumar.
The period right before the sexual revolution of the 60s seems to have
produced some movies with an astonishing degree of hatred of women as
themes, almost as if America's collective unconscious knew that women
were about to take charge of their lives and had to put up a fight.
This is one of them. Even though she is provided with a really lovely
wardrobe (oddly - or not - at least half the items in it are in the
lingerie category -- things you wear only inside the house), Doris Day
here plays the infantilized chattel of her handsome, boorish doctor
husband, James Garner.
She's offered a job as a spokeslady for a soap company looking for a wholesome image, and when she starts to enjoy it, her husband does everything he can to ruin things for her and mess with her head. This is nothing like the sparring of previous eras, among pairs of people like Katherine Hepburn, Myrna Loy, Rosalind Russell, Barbara Stanwyck, and whoever they were dealing with. Here Doris Day is sweet, sincere, and childish -- she can't figure out what $1500 a week would amount to for a year!! -- her husband holds all the power, clearly needs to give her permission to do things, and is not above psychopathy. These games are no fun when only one player has any adult power.
I love movies about the movies, and this one is a standout.
Often I've thought about the dawn of cinema - that first heady round, the rush of making a picture that moved. Here's an appropriately joyful - and funny! - glimpse of that moment in India, home of the world's biggest movie business, the story of the making of India's first full-length film.
It starts when the man known as Dadasaheb Phalke sees a film for the first time -- British, short, Jesus dying and rising from dead, in a no-frills sort of way -- and gets the idea of making a movie like this for Indians, about Indian culture. It ends with the completion and recognition of the full-length Rajah Harishchandra, an historical film of a virtuous long-ago king. (The present film's title means "Harishchandra's Factory": in India in about 1913, if you've got a job on a film, what do you tell your neighbors who've never seen one? Phalke's advice -- say you work at a "factory" -- the foreign word will impress them and keep them out of your hair.)
The character of Phalke, as played with warmth and charm by Nandu Madhav, would be optimistic "to a fault," except that his persistence is so right, even when he goes to London alone and unannounced to get the advice and equipment he needs. He is in some ways the preoccupied technician/professor type, and in a pitch-perfect decision, director/writer Paresh Mokashi gives us a larger world that meets his somewhat blinkered but brilliant obsession with more or less unfailing appreciation and support. Local appreciation may be slower in coming, but of course we know that it did.
The story, all very solidly researched, is carried more by our itch to see his film get made and shown than by any manufactured tension about too many bad things happening. And by our anticipation of the next comic moment - expect special delight once casting problems arise where no woman will go near the camera, and mustache-retention problems arise when compromise casting for ladies' roles is accomplished.
The husband-wife partnership shines, Vishawai Deshpande's lovely and grounded Mrs P learns to develop film, and whatever is in her heart lets her survive furniture sales and big risks without resorting to nagging. Especially elegant, the matter-of-fact cooperation between Phalke and British film guys, who "get" him more or less right away, the way artists worldwide have pretty much always loved each other and their work in fellowship, irrespective of national tensions and problems.
Finally - production values are high, this looks as beautiful as it should and - for any worried western viewer - this is not a musical!! it's a "regular movie."
I love screwball comedy, but this one isn't so high on my list. I was
surprised to see it wasn't a play to start with - it's more visually
confined and talky than the usual movie farce, and for my money reduced
Gary Cooper, as the nerdy "English language" guy on an encyclopedia team, realizes he's been so cloistered he doesn't know current slang, so he bumbles around nerd-style in low-life NY of about 1940 and finds some characters to set him straight. Stanwyck, a nightclub performer, happens to need a hide-out -- unexpected complications in mobster boyfriend's life -- so she joins the seven scholars in their oppressive Victorian townhouse as a "research assistant." Some history value - I always like the assortment of European character actors in movies of this time, mostly driven to Hollywood by the war and accommodated there -- but I found most scenes of the 6 old guys (Cooper much younger) more suffocating and repetitive than amusing. The joke of 7 men who know nothing about women doesn't have legs for me, ditto the disapproving elderly housekeeper, and I got tired of their stuffy library and dining room. Gene Krupa in nightclub scene a welcome change.
Whole thing plays too much for "cute," which most screwball spares us. Slang focus also on the annoying side, like your mom saying "word" or something. Don't like Cooper as nerd, but Stanwyck can do no wrong and it's fun to see which slang new-minted in 1940 is still around 70 years later.
PS I think I glimpsed Cab Calloway, did I?
Boman Irani dances to Mambo Italiano - can this fail to charm?
I've seen Little Zizou twice at film festivals, and hope to see it again on a big screen in a US theatre -- it's so fresh, funny, smart, and accessible. Parsi people from India love the depiction of their unique world, and I have totally loved the glimpse this movie gives me.
Zizou, a cool-eyed boy, is our guide to his busy universe. He's ignored by a foolish father with a messiah complex all about "Parsi Purity." He watches the romantic adventures of his teen-age brother (his graphic novels appear on screen from time to time), longs for the mom he lost at birth, and schemes for the love of the mom next door. The happily-married dad next door and lover of old Rosemary Clooney tunes, Boman Irani (the always-appealing and charismatic character actor), is an adult moral center, as a newsman who knows dangerous nonsense when he sees it and is ready to do what it takes to oppose it.
Sooni Taraporevala, who has collaborated as a writer on many of Mira Nair's projects, gives us a sketch of the insanity of religious secularism, drawn with a light touch and observed by kids who are free of illusion and delightfully involved in lives, loves, and plots of their own.
Director, almost all the actors, and most of the characters in the story are Parsis, members of the Zoroastrian group that fled Persia for India about 1000 years ago and are still a colorful thread in the fabric of life in Mumbai. An exception is the sweet and glamorous Bollywood star John Abraham, who puts in a dreamy special appearance. All performances are stellar - besides Boman I particularly loved Zenobia Shroff as the warm and sexy mom next door, and her actual mom, Mahabanoo Mody-Kotwal, as her beautiful, blowsy movie mom.
PS just learned DVD will be released in India July 09. PPS it's now on Netflix
Manish Acharya's highly original comedy has the bounce, bubbling
eccentricity, and perfect comic timing of the best of the screwball
era. It's like a visit to an updated and internationalized version of
the days when you could count on a movie for an hour and a half of fun
and leave your cringe-protection gear at home.
A movie-song singing contest takes places over the course of one weekend in a hotel deep in Indian-occupied New Jersey. The setup provides a sturdy structure for the kind of surprise-a-minute hilarity that gives screwball its velocity. Maybe something about Indian ex-patriate culture, as well as Acharya's talent, produces the lovely mix of naiveté and sophistication, the obvious and the unexpected (and the unexpected obvious, like the Indian-American guy whose job has been outsourced to India) that keeps all the balls spinning.
Acharya (director, co-writer, actor) manages the much-harder-than-it-looks task of braiding together the stories of a set of at least a dozen contestants and side-characters in a way that keeps us consistently laughing about them, caring about them, and even thinking, in an off-hand way, about one or two things bigger than the contest outcome.
In one of the film's many comic peaks, the slogan "Foreigner Go Home!!" is hurled at contestant Josh Cohen by fellow New Jersey residents, but the moment is just a stop on the road to a near-throwaway last word, both idiotic and profound, uttered by a man in crocodile-patterned Lurex, that dizzily pulls to the foreground a thought or two that have been there all along about who, in our country at its most diverse best, is inside, who's outside, and whether it matters if there even is an "inside" anyhow.
If you're worried about having to sit through too much "Indian singing" don't be! Very few songs are rendered all the way through, and, as in a Bollywood movie, the story almost always keeps going on during the song. And: the show-stopping bhangra rap song is entirely in English, as is the whole movie for that matter..
PS for non-South Asians the vindictive socialite, Rrita Kapoor, is played by Shabana Azmi, India's equivalent of Meryl Streep (apologies to both), a great and beautiful actress known for decades of roles in serious movies and also for courageous activities on behalf of social causes in India.
This was worth seeing for me just to see and hear the Warhol icons Paul
Morrissey and Joe d'Alessandro "now," or close to now, as they were
characters I watched from a small distance long ago. Also as someone
has already noted - the environments of the people interviewed bring
back the East Village of the 60s and 70s. Now in their own 60s
probably, they are probably the last generation of young artists who
were able to live in Manhattan.
If you remember the Max's Kansas City/Andy Warhol era, this will bring something back for you. If you don't, you might get a breath of a so-different, now-gone downtown artistic atmosphere of the East Village in the 60s and 70s.
The movie does a nice job of introducing the gender-shifting performer Jackie Curtis and a kind of outrageous whacked-out druggy boundary-trashing theatre/movie scene, part of the moment of giant culture shifts where gender and sex were concerned.
It's well-paced, intelligent, and always interesting. To some extent it's about the Jackie Curtis phenomenon, but the very articulate woman performer called Penny Arcade communicates a feeling for the person himself, and Holly Woodlawn - I am glad she is still with us - is sad when she remembers his death in his 30s.
The DVD extras - don't skip them. If I recall correctly, that's where we hear from the man who tells us about the seven chihuahuas that Curtis' grandmother kept on top of her breasts.
The main thing I thought of while I was watching this movie was, when
and how did America become so infantile and idiotic about sex? I've
spent the last few weeks with some of the great comedies of the 30s,
40s, 50s - The Lady Eve, Palm Beach Story, Love in the Afternoon --
it's honestly shocking to encounter a script with a line in it (from a
man to his wife, in public) like "You old bat!! you old bat!!! you old
I don't categorically mind misogyny in a comedy, but this movie provides no relief and no charm -- there is not a single exchange of dialogue between a man and a woman that is anything but dopey and vulgar. At the inception of the plot - Jack Lemmon "meets" Virna Lisi when she pops out of a cake at a bachelor party -- the woman can't actually speak English at all, but once she learns she doesn't say anything, she's just a big beautiful smooching doll, whereas the wife of the male friend and lawyer is a harridan.
Virna Lisi is beautiful, and wears some clothes worth taking notes on. Terry Thomas always holds the screen when he's on it, and of course Jack Lemmon does anything well, but it's too bad he had to do this!!
The glamour of India, the glamour of the 1920s, the depth-sounding
drumbeat of the ancient mythic world, and the woman who loves the wrong
kind of man Nina Paley gets them all together, along with a relevant
chunk of autobiography about a disappointing husband of her own, in her
dazzling first full-length animated feature.
In the ancient Indian story, the Ramayana, Sita is the wife of the man-god Rama, and the embodiment of the Virtuous Wife. She suffers one awful punishment and test after another from her mistrustful and apparently other-directed (what will people think? etc) husband. In Paley's movie, Sita steps forward from time to time to sing a torch-y Jazz Era song ("Mean to Me," and the like) in the voice of Annette Hanshaw, a stylistically elegant and not-well-enough-known voice of the '20s.
Sita's story (kidnapping by 9-headed king, rescue by Rama, rejection by Rama, monkey-god help) alternates with modern-day episodes about Nina's own real-life inexplicably disintegrating marriage, and also with the occasional very funny and illuminating conversation about the Ramayana and its meanings among several of the filmmaker's witty and well-educated Indian friends ("The king had four wives . . . no, three wives . . . three wives and four sons, that's right!!. . . . " "You know if Sita had just gone with the monkey a lot of lives would have been spared . . . ").
You can enjoy it just for the luxurious pleasure of Paley's use of Indian artistic styles in motion, from powerful ancient Hindu motifs, to detailed Moghul-ish backgrounds, to deliriously gaudy street-market devotional calendar art.
For myself, I also came away with the best grasp I've had yet on the Rama-Sita story, more than worth knowing both on the archetypal front (Some Things Never Change) and as background to the hundreds of Indian movie stories that take it up from one angle or another.
July 28, 2009 NOTE - now on DVD!!
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