Happy 100th birthday, Bollywood!

From Raja Harishchandra.

 

100 years ago today, the first all-Indian black-and-white silent film, Raja Harishchandra, screened in then-Bombay.  Since then, Bollywood has exploded into the largest film industry in the world, only recently eclipsed by Nollywood in Nigeria. Notoriously prolific, and often accused of swapping quality for quantity, Bollywood has gone through several phases, starting out as a medium for depictions of Hindu stories, then morphing into a grittier entity more concerned with social issues, and now presently enjoying the success that comes with providing endless escapism through unbelievably overblown love stories, no matter how absurd.  This is basically a magical potion for film success anywhere in the world, but Bollywood movies prove that if you add in a little song and dance and approximately another hour and a half of running time, you can win over just about anybody.

I’m a firm believer of the value of escapism through film, which is something I actually learned to love through Bollywood.  The mainstream films I’ve seen are pretty bad at tackling social stigma that India, as a nation, hasn’t really dealt with yet with a meaningful public dialogue (example: the clumsy take on a bi-racial couple in Salaam-e-Ishq), but expertly portrays the social issues that plague India on a larger scale, often with the sympathy and sorrow that can only come from familiarity (example: a romance buried under class tensions, and the tremendous price paid, in Devdas). Let’s not discount Indian cinema regarding social issues, though. If you want to see some beautifully made, socially-conscious film-making, watch Water.

One thing that I think isn’t really mentioned enough when people discuss Bollywood is how proud everyone is to be Indian without being offensive about it (most of the time). This is a craft American directors haven’t figured out yet (Michael Bay, I’m looking at you).  To be a very clear-cut “patriot” in American films is to posture yourself against an enemy of the entire nation, not to take any tongue-in-cheek appreciation of what really makes America great (like the restaurant chain Waffle House, which will be the subject of my first, and only, documentary). Bollywood’s Veer-Zaara is tremendously critical of the Pakistani-Indian divide and the resulting social fallout (but the Indian democratic process gives all parties hope again); Kal Ho Naa Ho exposes the difficulties not just of being a single mother, but being a single mother that’s also expected to adhere to Indian social norms (the biggest challenge seems to be taking care of her mother-in-law, since she’s an unforgivably horrible human being) while running a (failing) business, but an extremely Indian marriage (and a hilarious and embarrassing song by the groom’s parents) brings everyone together.

That’s not to say it’s without flaws. On the contrary:  it can be tremendously sexist- such as one of the ending scenes in Salaam-e-ishq, where Priyanka Chopra’s character, a diva actress hell-bent on fame and fortune, stops being a vain, stuck-up bitch long enough to fall in love with a man, but it’s not really good enough just to be in love with him- she has to sacrifice her stardom and the one thing she wants the most throughout the entire movie- to be in a Karan Johar film- in order to show her devotion.  Sorry, but that’s pretty fucked up. You make that money, girl, and never let a man stand between you and your dreams.  Then there’s the creepily “patriotic” (but like… the aforementioned over-the-top American type of patriotism) movie Fanaa, where Kajol- playing a blind, virtuous, patriotic young lady- sleeps with Aamir Khan (playing kind of a sleazy tour guide) and coincidentally has surgery so she can finally see, but he’s nowhere to be found because he’s taken off to go be a terrorist somewhere.  And obviously, because she was unmarried and had sex, she has a baby. And obviously, because she was unmarried and had sex and then a baby, she lives in isolated, snowy mountains with her father instead of living somewhere where her kid can maybe interact with other kids, because, y’know, shame and all that. Also… Waqt: The Race Against Time, which is basically one big ball of fail.

To the TL;DR crowd: happy birthday Bollywood.  Here is something lovely: “Dola Re Dola,” from Devdas, starring Aishwarya Rai and Madhuri Dixit. Madhuri was knocked up for like half of this movie and powered through it, choreography and all, because she’s a boss. Aishwarya Rai got the blood of a decapitated crewman on her, but powered through it, because she is also a boss.

File under: “stuff that should have been directed by Errol Morris”

This is the official trailer for Finding Vivian Maier, a documentary about the discovery and exploration of the work of a lonely and enigmatic nanny who kept her massive stash of amazing street photography all to herself.  It was discovered in 2007.  I’ve seen some of her work in New York and it is absolutely fantastic, not to mention Ms. Maier’s trailblazing work as the first person to perfect the “selfie:”

Doing it right. From VivianMaierPrints.com

I’m definitely jumping the gun by saying it should have been directed by Errol Morris. The actual director, Charles Siskel, seems to be doing a bang-up job.  But I absolutely love something about Errol Morris’s style.  It’s unique and strange and if he could make the bizarre and creepy tale of the Manacled Mormon humorous, he could probably find a way to crack a smile in a film about a woman who, apparently, never smiled at all.

I’m pretty excited about this, though. Well, as excited as I can be around all my envy of John Maloof, who bought a case of her negatives at an auction in Chicago for a jaw-droppingly small amount of money and wound up uncovering the woman who Alex Kotlowitz of Mother Jones refers to as “The Best Street Photographer You’ve Never Heard Of.”  The last line of the trailer is a fellow saying, “I wish I woulda found those negatives instead of you.” I won’t be that greedy. I would settle for “I wish half of that case of negatives turned up on my porch.  In temperate weather to prevent melting.”

The Fifth Estate and modern villainy

“Every fairytale needs a good old-fashioned villain.”
-Jim Moriarty, Sherlock.

He’s a staunch advocate of a more transparent government and leadership accountability… but by any means necessary. He’s a renegade, but also a bit of an egomaniac.  He’s an enemy of the state but a fan favorite. And last, but certainly not least, he’s accused of rape and sexual assault. Let’s not forget that minor detail.

The work of Julian Assange and WikiLeaks practically makes him a walking advertisement for ambivalence, which is why I find it a bit odd that they’re making a movie (on top of book after book and documentary after documentary…) about this guy.  The Fifth Estate, which is coming out in November, stars Benedict Cumberbatch and this creepy wig:

Photo: Dreamworks

It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out, only because superficially it seems so easy. Assange is almost a textbook villain, the kind that’s only really existed onscreen. A nerdy hacker-turned-government-saboteur?  Yeah, we’ve all seen Goldeneye (unfortunately). But when the textbook villain pops up in real life, things get a bit more complicated.

His villainy is of a dubious nature to begin with.  He was TIME Magazine’s readers’ choice for Person of the Year in 2010, and he still has a loyal base of followers.  There’s something kind of empowering about his type of underdog figure: when I see him, I think of the Lone Gunmen from The X-Files. Admittedly, this could go either way- I can understand people getting uncomfortable whenever anything from The X-Files transcends into reality, but find comfort in the fact that the Lone Gunmen were way cooler than Julian Assange, who seems like kind of a dick (and maybe a rapist).

Then again, maybe they just made his wig out of Langley’s hair.

Other past real-life villains are easy to write about because they’re 100% deplorable. The first example that comes to mind is Helter Skelter, the film about Charles Manson.  But Assange? It’s not so black and white.  His tug in the direction of government transparency and openness pulls in the completely opposite direction of the American government, which seems to be getting more and more opaque by the day. It was a bit jarring. A more open government is unfathomable to a lot of people and seeing confidential information laid out in the newspapers like you would read about Fashion Week was ethically questionable, but still a little refreshing.  Some say the nobility of this act is negated by how many people he compromised in the process. Others disagree. That polarity is why this movie will be irresistible to a lot of people.

Assange has referred to the movie as a “propaganda attack,” but his reasoning is rather awkward:

Reading from the script, Assange said the opening scene was set inside a military complex in Iran with documents containing nuclear symbols. “How does this have anything to do with us?” Assange asked.

To me, this sends a message of tremendous vanity. If he’s really gonna go down that route, what he should really be upset about is the fact that this movie will lead some people to believe he has a face as perfectly chiseled as Benedict Cumberbatch’s, which is inaccurate to the point of cruelty.  Seriously though: this comment seems sort of like a Bridezilla that kicks out all the flower girls because, really, what do flowers have to do with her as a bride?! I think it’s also worth noting that we don’t even know what’s taking place in this scene: maybe someone’s talking about Wikileaks, or reading about it.  Either way, it’s setting a scene, Julian Assange/Bridezilla. Maybe there’s a little creative liberty. Relax.  It’s not like you have to worry about  jeopardizing your chances of being allowed back in the United States.

Speaking of that, it’ll be interesting to see how American audiences take to the film, since he’s considered an enemy of the state and there’s absolutely no way this movie can have a conclusive ending, because so far, there hasn’t been one in real life.  If it ends with him sitting around in the Ecuadorian Embassy eating Ho-Hos and watching Downton Abbey, I’ll be pretty pissed off, but then again, if something conclusive is completely fabricated, I’ll be pissed off about that, too. Dreamworks is walking a fine line with the Fifth Estate, very obviously going after the success and controversy of Zero Dark Thirty, but there’s no ending to this one. Not yet.

NPR: Sundance Subsidy Stirs Conservative Pushback

NPR: Sundance Subsidy Stirs Conservative Pushback

Here’s something I never thought of: the ethical considerations behind the location of a film festival. This is a really interesting NPR article/segment about conservatives in Utah and their qualms with the Sundance Film Festival, which, they feel, “don’t reflect the values of the state.”

I’m not really sure how your values could be so compromised you’d turn down $80 million in tourist money made in a span of 10 days, but Utah is also fucking bizarre (a conclusion based solely on episodes of Big Love).  For that much money, I’ll happily screen it at my house, because a cluttered house in suburban New Jersey is a close runner-up to the breathtaking beauty of Utah, right? Right.

Okay, maybe not. (Park City, Utah. Courtesy of sandiego.edu)

Proof that Maroon 5 is punking the whole world

Obviously this is not a music blog.  That’s why I don’t consider it a genre issue if I post about Maroon 5.

Actually, this is more about their videos anyway. Let’s have a look, shall we?

This is the video for “Payphone,” your average generic pop song reflecting intimately on the frustrations of love and loss with lyrics such as “I’m at a payphone trying to call home/all of my change I spent on you” (GET IT IT’S A CLEVER PLAY ON WORDS BECAUSE ADAM LEVINE IS A MASTER WORDSMITH):

Be sure to carefully note that the song, as noted, is a generic pop song. It’s not even catchy.

SO WHY THE FUCK DOES THE VIDEO LOOK LIKE IT WAS DIRECTED BY MICHAEL BAY? Jesus Christ. Features: Adam Levine wearing creepy glasses to signify his “normal” lifestyle, a woman who’s totally irrelevant eye candy, a police chase in a vintage sports car, and walking away while a car is exploding. It could definitely be assumed that people died in this video. Meanwhile Adam Levine is just like “you turned your back on tomorrow/’cause you forgot yesterday/I gave you my love to borrow/but just gave it away.” What… WHAT?! Maybe they gave it away because you are clearly completely insane with no impulse control at all. Just a thought.

Meanwhile…

The song “One More Night” is about, I can surmise, a dysfunctional relationship based strictly on sexual attraction where the protagonist is aware that it’s not healthy, but “your lipstick got me so out of breath.” Sorry your lover is trying to asphyxiate you, dude. Sounds a little unfortunate. But again, totally lighthearted, stupid shit that’s strictly about sex. Literally nothing else. Which is fine, because, well:

I’m only human.

Bafflingly, the video is REALLY dark. Like, Adam Levine is a dedicated father (as far as we know) and has a decently functional home life, he goes to “work” (he’s a boxer and wins the fight), comes back and the woman has packed and left with the kid. Total abandonment. He’s devastated. We’re not really sure why the mom decided to leave, and maybe it has something to do with the content of the song (an affair?) but there is literally no allusion to this whatsoever. She even took the fish. THE FISH.

I’m just remarking on this because it’s like they’re testing people. “Let’s make a bunch of videos that literally are the opposite of the song’s content and see if anyone notices.” I did, Maroon 5. And as of now, so have all 5 of my readers. So take THAT.

Also are there other people in Maroon 5? Wikipedia says yes. These videos say no.  Well played, Maroon 5. Well played.

It’s the most wonderful time of January!

Award season is upon us! Because I’m too lazy to post my own summary of the nominations, I’ve selected some of the better articles I’ve seen about the Oscars and the Baftas and posted them here.

SNUBBED: Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s makeup artist in Looper, who took human perfection and turned it into… Bruce Willis.

Here is the Guardian’s article listing the Bafta nominations. Among them is the Norwegian film Headhunters, which was fantastic.  I think there should be a separate category made just for this movie, and the category should be “best film where a guy hides in a pool of human feces underneath an outhouse to avoid getting caught by the man whose art he stole.”

Personally I think it’s a little odd that the British Academy has given more nominations to Lincoln, a film about an American president, than Skyfall, which is about an iconic British badass, but whatever.  Javier Bardem’s nomination might as well go to Heath Ledger anyway, since he pulled so much inspiration from the Joker that it was actually ridiculous.

Here’s a list of Oscar nominations. To approximately no one’s surprise, Leonardo DiCaprio is not on this list.  I haven’t seen Django Unchained, but I’m starting to agree with people who think there’s some weird system going where, somehow, Leonardo DiCaprio gets left out, one way or the other, every year.  I guess this is more incentive to not fuck up The Great Gatsby, but since they’ve thrown Tobey Maguire in the mix the whole thing is destroyed anyway.

Yes, Leonardo “please give me a fucking Oscar already” DiCaprio, we see you there, but too bad.

The Oscars are also special this year because they feature the youngest and oldest ever Best Actress nominees. Emmanuelle Riva for Amour, at age 85, is the oldest; at 9, Quevenzhane Wallis for Beasts of the Southern Wild is the youngest.

Here’s an article from the LA Times that goes into a little more depth about the quirks and surprises of this year’s nominations.

I haven’t figured out yet what I’m wearing to the F- Lister’s section of the audience, also known as the Internet. Suggestions for high-end pajamas are welcome.

Terrible Trailer: I Love You, Patrick Bateman


A spoof trailer from Alex Curro.

I think everyone pretty much agrees that American Psycho, an adaptation of the Bret Easton Ellis novel starring Christian Bale, is a pretty sick movie, and I mean that in the colloquial “dude, that’s SICK!” way as well as the “holy shit, that guy’s sick” way. I’ve seen some decent parody trailers for it. This is not one of them.

Good hustle though

This is a re-cut trailer for the movie to frame it like a romantic comedy, but to be honest, there’s not a way to make it look like a  romantic comedy. At all. Ever. Between the prostitutes Patrick Bateman beats with hangers, Reese Witherspoon’s role as his throwaway girlfriend, his lover who’s so doped up all the time that she can barely function, and Chloe Sevigny’s narrow avoidance of his psychotic appreciation for nail guns, this trailer only proves one thing: there is no romantic element in this movie.

The trailer tries. It really does. But I think it’s interesting that when people re-cut trailers, they can usually finagle it to be in whatever genre they want it to be, but this one (and the other attempt at this that I watched) fails catastrophically. I think a small portion of it is that it’s just bad, but it also says something about Patrick Bateman; namely, that he is totally bankrupt of any humanity at all. There are a couple of re-cut trailers that do a pretty good job of making the film look like a comedy (or, in better terms, emphasizing the parts of the movie that already are funny). This is because, I think, sociopathic behavior is so absurd that, when magnified, it’s so unbelievable it can strike some people as funny- but take that same terrifyingly disconnected attitude and apply it to attempts at earnest and/or loving interactions with people and it only magnifies how alone and insane Bateman really is, and how little he actually cares. Or in other words:

Add in Christian Bale’s bare ass (and with it, my undying gratitude) and throwing a chainsaw down a stairwell, though, and suddenly it’s hilarious.

Ren McCormack, teenage imperialist

So a white guy moves to a quiet town from a place he views as far more advanced. He gets into confrontations when it’s established he doesn’t quite fit in, but instead of keeping a low profile and trying to understand the locals, he sees their way of life as internally flawed.  It doesn’t have the amenities he’s used to. It doesn’t have the same laws and mores that he’s lived with for so long. So, with the savior complex at full blast, he teaches the natives about the life he’s come from and sets out to change the town to be more to his liking- more sophisticated, more edgy- with no regard for the consequences, which include vandalism of a home of a loved one, threats, and fights.

Sound a little like the basic tenets of imperialism? It’s not.

It’s the plot of Footloose.

The other day when I was watching it, I realized that Ren McCormack (played by Kevin Bacon) is a perfect example of the glorification of imperialism.  Look at these people! They aren’t allowed to dance! The rules are so Draconian! They’re so pitiful living in a small, isolated suburb-  how could they possibly advance and catch up with the “real world?” And let’s not even mention the wardrobe at that final dance.

No but seriously GET OUT.

The basic feeling is that he’s using his *~rebellious nature to shake things up and show these people what they’re missing, when really, he’s rolled up with his savior complex out the yin-yang and once he figures out that things aren’t running the way he thinks they should be, he works to educate them and change everything for the supposed “greater good.” Yeah, okay, obviously it’s pretty stupid that the kids can’t listen to rock music and dance. But who is this urban elitist punk-ass newcomer to decide to represent the whole youth base of Bomont?! Because he knows what’s good for them, goddamnit! He can make them better! He can cure them of their ignorance!

It’s probably also worth mentioning that Ren’s going up against a powerful figure in the town, a preacher played by John Lithgow. After his role in Dexter, I’m sure that I would cross the street if I saw him in public, but maybe back then he wasn’t nearly as terrifying.

I told you little bastards not to dance.

By messing around with Arthur Mitchell’s Reverend Moore’s daughter Ariel (Lori Singer), Ren has succeeded in pissing him off, thus striking at the heart of the power in the town (and then look what happens… a few roles later and he’s a fucking serial murderer).

Shit gets real when one night some guys throw a brick through the window of the house where Ren is living with his mother and some other relatives.  This is reminiscent of how people react when something important and groundbreaking is happening that makes them panic; it also functions as a sufficient reminder that you’re putting your family in jeopardy for the great and noble cause of the freedom to furiously dance in a barn.  But that wouldn’t deter a guy like Ren. Alas, after much tension, a game of chicken with tractors, some weirdly tangential domestic violence, and staging a protest  at a town meeting, the town of Bomont finally gets to have their prom and Ren becomes the hero who freed them all. Good job, Ren McCormack. You overcame a struggle that actually wasn’t a struggle at all.

After this absurdly heavyweight analysis of a lighthearted and rather amazing 80s movie, I bring you this, because clearly I lack the ability to cut loose. Footloose.