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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.
Good horror + bad humor + cheesy musical numbers = ?!?
I had first seen this film more than 15 years back. Recently I got the film on VCD (although there is a DVD out there as well), and thought I'd revisit it in light of the current interest in Indian horror films. Well, the story is quite interesting:
An entrepreneur asks his assistant to go to a hillside area and acquire some land for building a hotel. The assistant is led astray by the corrupt contractor- builder, who convinces him that they can make a huge profit if they build the hotel over an old Christian cemetery. They dupe the priest in charge of the cemetery, telling him they need the land for building an orphanage. They also implicate some government officials, by bribing them. In all this manipulation, the contractor-builder guy is helped by his foxy secretary, whose sex appeal is often used to their benefit. When the construction starts, they dig up all the corpses (some very bizarre faces there) and skeletons, and dump them all into a mass grave, marked only by some stones. However, the spirits of the dead are apparently outraged at this desecration, and seek revenge.
Sounds like a perfect setting for a Fulci-style zombie epic, right? Yes, only this is directed by the Ramsay brothers, and the country is India. So while we do get some cool zombie scenes, blood and gore, and creepy atmosphere...we also get 4-6 (I lost count) song-and-dance numbers and cringe-inducing 'comedy relief' that the film could have done well without (except maybe the disco-ish number performed by Ms. Narayan, at the inauguration of the hotel. Or am I just partial to the charms of this under-used Bollywood beauty?).
Still, for the adventurous cult/horror buffs amongst you, this should be reasonably entertaining. As long as you don't go in expecting a typical zombie film, and keep your expectations low...
Noce blanche (1989)
Gripping & moving look at a Lolita-type relationship.
It's been over a decade since I saw this film, but I do remember it rather fondly. It showed sensitivity for the characters as well as the subject matter, instead of being exploitative. At the same time, it was quite frank in dealing with the story and of course, it ends tragically. I also remember being impressed with Vanessa Paradis, both for playing a difficult role deftly, and for her physical beauty. It was only recently that I became aware of her real-life relationship (being Johnny Depp's girlfriend).
I would love to see the film again, but it seems it hasn't been widely circulated on DVD, and the R2 disc is hard to find. What a pity.
Interesting and odd mish-mash!
Here's an oddball mix: A Canadian film dealing with a Sikh-Muslim love story set against the partition of India in 1947, with Kristin Kreuk playing the lead Muslim girl (Naseem), Neve Campbell playing a British Indian, and everyone from the villagers to the city folk, despite being mostly uneducated - speaking English of various accent!!! The director (himself of Kashmiri descent) has SOME gall, I must say.
The camera loves Kreuk, as it should, and surprisingly enough, she gets the physical nuances right. Campbell also gives one of her more subtle performances, but the standout here is Jimi Mistry as the Sikh ex-soldier. The central love story is nothing new (the film seems like a different handling of the loud, crude, jingoistic, and ultimately inferior Indian film Gadar), and no aspect of it covers any new ground. There are some moments of poignancy and warmth, but the director moves the story along with broad strokes, instead of letting it flow and fleshing out the surrounding events. As it stands, it is all quite predictable, and some of the dialogue is atrocious. Many characters (notably Naseem's family) come across as shallow and are simply used as stereotypes, so there goes any complexity that might have been developed.
There are some beautiful shots throughout, and thankfully there are no musical interludes (which would have been likely if the film had been made in Bollywood). The child actor was also good, and I wish we could have seen more of Irrfan Khan than the bit part he plays. The scene where Naseem dances in the rain with only a shirt on, is pure fantasy on the director's part, and nobody kissed that openly back in the 40s and 50s, even married couples. A reality check was in order, Mr. Sarin.
Still, despite the hodge-podge of ideas and unrealistic scenes, the film is watchable, and even moving at times. But it could easily have been much better, and the backdrop of cultural conflict deserves a more in-depth, intelligent handling.
Zinda Laash (1967)
Introducing: Professor Tabani (a.k.a Count Dracula)
Here is an oddity if ever there was one: A 'Dracula' film from Pakistan, one of the few horror films ever attempted in the country, and certainly the first and most famous. In this variation on Stoker's novel, the count is actually a scientist (quasi-mad, perhaps) seeking the elixir of life, a potion that would defy death. But from here on, all similarities to The Fountain end, when the good doc (Professor Tabani to you, dear) not only succeeds in making the life-up soda, he proceeds to drink it himself (Hugh Jackman should have sought this guy's help)! No terminally ill wife to bother with, in fact no family or servants either, except for a full-figured lady assistant, who discovers the professor's inert body behind a sofa. For whatever improbable reason, the scientist had left a note saying that if he was to be found dead, his body should be put into the coffin down in the basement of his isolated mansion. And so it goes. Interestingly, the word Dracula is never used in the film, and people refer to the vampire as "khabees rooh", which literally translates as "evil spirit".
This was not a big-budget affair, and it is therefore quite heartening to see how much they managed to pull off on meager resources. The film retains a lot of Stoker's original plot, despite a contemporary setting, and the inclusion of some silly musical interludes. Some of the direction is er wooden, as is some of the acting. But there are also eerie, suspenseful scenes, and good lighting and set design, evoking a Gothic and creepy atmosphere (in black and white).
There are a couple of odd 'fade-outs' at the most inappropriate moments, but I suspect this was done at the behest of the censor board, who were initially aghast at the mere idea of a local horror film. They only passed the film after the producer-hero and director promised that they'd never ever make such a film again. And sure enough, they never did, despite the film becoming an unexpected hit. Even more surprising is that for an industry steeped in plagiarism, nobody else jumped on the bandwagon, either.
Not really scary (but not suitable for young children, either), the film is nonetheless reasonably engrossing and one of the more unique takes on the familiar tale. Horror and cult fans should definitely check it out.
Porr i skandalskolan (1974)
Pretty good erotic romp
I saw this film - by chance - way back in 1995 on VHS. This was recorded as a second feature on a tape I had bought, and I was pretty pleased with this unexpected bonus. The film is good enough in terms of erotica, without being anything special. The version I saw was edited crudely from the hardcore version, so that while it was ostensibly 'softcore', you could tell that the performers were really doing the deed. However, this is an old film, when even porn took time to focus on things like story, character, etc, unlike the mechanized, by-the-numbers contemporary porn. Hence, the camera doesn't often close in on the 'action', and therefore the cuts were few and far between. I realized fairly recently that the director of this film is a famed cinematographer and has worked in that capacity on many mainstream Hollywood films (The Brady Bunch Movie, etc), and a lot of famous horror films (House, Re-Animator, etc)! No worries, Mac...this film is certainly nothing to be ashamed of, in your list of credits.
Too bad a mate pinched my copy of the VHS, as I'd love to revisit this film. Oh, well...maybe I can find the uncut version this time...
Unns: Love... Forever (2006)
Shallow exploration of serious topic
Indian drama about romantic relationships and affairs is seriously flawed. On the one hand, it's at least a different story from the typical Bollywood fare. On the other hand, they don't really go anywhere with the interesting angles in the story. Plus, much as I liked the lead actress (Rituparna Sengupta) in 'Main, Meri Patni Aur Woh', she comes across rather wooden here, especially in the intimate scenes, where she is least convincing. A few songs just pad out the proceedings, and the contrived finale lacks credibility. Why tackle adult themes and issues if you are going to deal with them in childish fashion? This film just scratches the surface and avoids going any deeper.
Zabriskie Point (1970)
Unique, underrated, unforgettable!
This is the film in Antonioni's middle period that most critics dismiss quickly, as a 'flawed' look at 60s American youth culture/politics. For what it's worth, I found it more touching and memorable than his more acclaimed films like L'AVVENTURA, perhaps because he shows more emotion & empathy here than anywhere else. The story is simple, but it is used as a frame for Antonioni's brilliant observations of, and critique on American consumerist culture, student life, the counter-culture, and the whole anti-establishment, anti-war backlash that was so prominent then.
Even from a purely technical point of view, it is a remarkably crafted film; from the opening credits sequence to the bizarre desert 'love-in', to the use of billboards, and right down to that jaw-dropping, cathartic finale that used 17 camera set-ups (in it's own way, as powerful as the climax of The Wild Bunch). Also, Antonioni chose one hell of a leading lady with Daria Halperin, one of the most beautiful ever to grace the screen. There isn't much 'acting' involved, as this feels more like a docu-drama, and so the use of non- professionals as the lead couple works quite effectively within that context. And the soundtrack is not only filled with marvelous music, its use is impressive as well (I can't forget the start of the film, mostly due to the selection of music - by Pink Floyd - that grooms the visuals so well).
Contrary to popular opinion, this is quite an achievement in cinema, and one I would enthusiastically recommend to anyone with a taste or tolerance for the off- beat. Well worth seeking out, and one of those key films of the 60s that demands a DVD restoration/release.
American Beauty goes Bollywood, by way of Ayn Rand
While early word on this film was "Bollywood's Lolita", it's actually more like a subdued "Indian Beauty". Only, in this case the protagonist is not a loser, but a rather dignified old gent, well-respected and loved by his wife and daughter. The director claims that some of the inspiration for the story came from the real- life entanglement of Ayn Rand and Netthil Brandon, her young male disciple (both parties were married to other people at the time). Could be, but the shadow of American Beauty nonetheless looms over this film.
Amitabh Bachhan has developed a penchant for playing his roles a bit too stoically in his 'second innings' at the cinema (that and his stupid goatee make it look like he's always playing just another side to the same character), but conveys the feelings and emotions of his character reasonably well. Jiah Khan, the newcomer, does better in a difficult role that is deceptively shrill and tacky, but is actually quite insightfully written if you can see beyond the attitude. What is poorly written is the way the relationship develops between the old man and the sassy nymphet, and the roles of the wife and daughter are also under- written. That is especially a shame in the case of Revathy, as she is such a good actress. There is also an over-reliance on blue filters and panoramic shots of nature, and a general tendency to skirt the seamier or more base aspects of the relationship. In other words, "no sex please, we're Indian". Which is odd, since the director is clearly interested in exploiting (to some degree) the physical attributes of our young heroine, judging from the way he shoots her (to be fair, that dilemma has plagued Indian cinema for ages). He just doesn't seem to have the nerve to go all the way with his desires, which makes for an uneven tone for the film's basic story.
On the plus side, the film is devoid of stupid song and dance numbers (a couple of gentle tunes aside), and does pose some intriguing questions (even if the resolutions provided to some of the problems raised, are a wee bit too pat). An interesting experiment, but with not with enough conviction to follow through to the end, it is only partially successful. From a filmmaker like Ram Gopal Verma, more was expected than is delivered here.
Being Cyrus (2005)
Great little film-noir from Bollywood!
This recent Bollywood film had been lurking around the shops and I'd hear people refer to it as a 'different' 'offbeat' or 'art' film, not the usual 'masala' entertainment at all. Even though I fully realize that the hey-day of the Indian parallel cinema is over, I do keep on the lookout for the odd experiment or mixing of genres that filmmakers attempt every so often. Well, this turned out to be a hugely underrated little gem. It's off-beat alright, and doesn't have any silly musical numbers that plague the more mainstream Indian films. But what most reviewers and critics have failed to point out about it, is that it is really a good old-fashioned 'film noir', (albeit minus the moody lighting, and with a generous dose of humor) given a bit of post-modern sheen. It's a little too soft-edged (read: wholesome) and could have been a bit more atmospheric, but I suppose that for a first-time attempt, this is pretty good. The script is not as twisty or clever as it may seem at first (certainly won't fool any experienced film-noir buff), and I even guessed the 'big reveal' at the end, long before it came. But these minor quibbles do not get in the way of a thoroughly enjoyable tale, with many finely etched, memorable scenes (including a bizarre dream sequence). The performances vary, and the director seems unsure of the tone he wants his actors to take, but overall they are all good. Honey Chayya is particularly outstanding as the semi-senile old man Sethna. Naseeruddin Shah is wasted as the pot-head pottery maestro, but he plays the role well enough. Dimple Kapadia is a perfect portrait of a shrill, conniving, slutty middle-aged housewife. But Simone Singh is a little too pure and straight-laced (even when she's being shown 'rebelling' behind her hubby's back). Saif Ali Khan is just fine as the protagonist. All in all, a great little comedy/drama/thriller that doesn't outstay it's welcome, and at 83 minutes, is paced quite efficiently. No surprises for noir fans, but a pleasant enough ride through somewhat familiar territories, and an unexpected gem from the outskirts of Bollywood.
The Baron and the Kid (1984)
pleasant but clichéd drama
Johnny Cash stars as a legendary pool hustler, back in town after a long absence (21 years, I think). He encounters a young punk who's got more swagger than skill at pool, and who turns out to be - hey! - his son. Yes, this film is a tired old vehicle made up of mostly clichés, and reminders of better films like The Hustler or The Cincinatti Kid. But it does have some decent performances, and then there's Cash himself. Some of his wardrobe is decidedly hoot-worthy, but I think his fans will happily overlook that. He also performs on the soundtrack, so that's another plus for fans. Watch out for the amusing scene where he pretends to be an undercover cop. Richard Roundtree has a memorable bit where he brings a welcome note of menace to the proceedings. Not really a good film, but a decent enough way of killing time if you've got nothing better to do.
One of a kind!
I have seen plenty of cop shows on TV, but nothing comes close to Target, especially from amongst its contemporaries (Minder, The Sweeney, Van Der Valk, Switch, Streets Of San Francisco, etc). Consistently well-written and tautly directed, this was an intelligent cop show as well as an unpredictable one (the cops didn't always win). It was at times brutal, violent, and bleak, but always kept you on the edge of your seat, which happens all too rarely on TV. Miami Vice may have upped the gloss and glamor, but it couldn't manage half the grit. Or even the performances: Patrick Mower played Hackett like a British 'Dirty Harry', and would have eaten Crocket & Tubbs for breakfast. This is a series that begs for a full-on DVD treatment. If only someone was listening...
Lubie nietoperze (1986)
a different kind of vampire film!
Initially I thought this would be a horror film, and indeed there are some creepy, atmospheric scenes to suggest so. but this is in fact more of a drama, with liberal doses of romance and even some (black) comedy. The staples of vampire films are almost completely missing, or underplayed. I was pleasantly surprised by the change of pace and the off-beat approach. The story isn't always convincing, but it keeps up the interest. Also, the production values are excellent (quite obvious, despite the bad print I was watching). If you don't go in expecting a horror film, you will probably enjoy it. That is, if you can find this rare title...
Nelle pieghe della carne (1970)
Trippy & suspenseful thriller!
an above-average mystery/suspense thriller (almost a 'giallo') by Sergio Bergonzelli, with an engrossing story, dubious characters galore (including a main role played by the late Pier Angeli, credited here as Anna Maria Pierangeli), by turns wacky & stylish direction, and a half trippy/half creepy atmosphere about it. kept me guessing almost till the very end, always coming up with a twist, a revelation, or a grabbing visual up it's sleeve (it's even got a scene with WW2-era featuring Nazis!). gotta love a movie that begins with some Freud psycho-babble text, and immediately cuts to a shot of a severed head on a carpeted floor! somebody needs to release this crazy film on DVD pronto (hello Blue Underground, NoShame, Synapse, etc...). anyone with even a passing interest in this kind of film would be well adviced to check out this little known gem.
Giddh: The Vulture (1984)
harrowing, intense, moving
This is one of the best Indian films dealing with poverty and the social evils it breeds. There is no 'Bollywood' artifice to be found here, no comedy relief or 'entertainment' as such. it is a tragic tale, told realistically without pulling any punches. you are not likely to feel good after watching it, but you are not likely to forget the vivid, bleak, gut-wrenching atmosphere of oppression any time soon. Smita Patel, Om Puri and Nana Patekar give superbly nuanced performances. i saw this on VHS about 15 years back, but it seems to have disappeared into obscurity (along with many other quality Indian 'art' films) since the advent of VCDs and DVDs.
Crude and simple, but utterly fascinating!
wow! i wasn't expecting a lot from this documentary since it seemed to deal with a dry subject, but it just sucked me right in. using only 'found footage' (satellite feeds from across the USA broadcast networks, which include on-the-fly footage and almost imperceptible ostensibly-off-camera conversations, all of which are not supposed to be recorded, let alone aired!?), Brian Springer has fashioned an eye-opening exposé of media manipulation and those ruthlessly efficient and mechanically precise 'spin doctors', around the time of the 1992 presidential election. some of the candid conversations and expressions caught unawares, are jaw-dropping, alarming, and hilarious...often at the same time. the way Larry Agran, a strong (initially, that is) candidate was 'blanked out' by the media to the point where probably nobody even remembers him running for the post, is spine-chilling stuff, all the more so for being non-fiction! unlike Michael Moore, however, there is no manipulation, or bias towards (or against) any party. what we see is so matter-of-fact, it makes you wonder if these people really belong to the human race at all.
this 56 minute film is a must-see for students of mass media, politics, propaganda, and American history. as per usual with this kind of 'subversive, controversial, potentially damaging' stuff, this film is not widely available. thanks to the wonderful invention called internet (possibly the only area where nobody has any real authority or monopoly on anything), i downloaded this from a site for free. three cheers for the last (relatively) untamed frontier.