Archives for the month of: July, 2014

Sir Alec Guinness was born 100 years ago this year, and my local slightly artsy cinema is doing a retrospective. Four comedies and Lawrence of Arabia, which I find a suspect selection, but they did a David Lean series last summer and no one wants to watch Bridge on the River Kwai again so soon.

Anyhow, they started with Kind Hearts and Coronets. Briefly, a young man, born of a mésalliance, does away with everyone between him and the dukedom, all eight of whom are played by Sir Alec. These range from the autocratic duke who is happy to watch poachers being flogged to a doddering old parson to the robust and hilarious suffragist Lady Agatha. He is brilliant in all eight parts and you should see this movie if you haven’t yet. I mean, it’s only been out for sixty-five years.

Stray observations:

  • The women suffer from the prejudices of the period; Sibella particularly speaks in that unbearable pouty voice apparently found irresistible by men in the late forties. Her hats are…fantastic. In all senses of the word.
  • I want to go on a cycling tour of old churches in the English countryside. I promise not to murder anyone on the way.

Director: Robert Hamer
Rating: NR
Length: 106 min.
Score: 4/5. Points deducted for Sibella’s being unbearable. Sir Alec himself gets 5/5, especially for Lady Agatha, who is not subtle but whose presence onscreen convulses me.

This movie is basically Love Actually but sadder and more French. I had an actual post but managed to hit the backspace in the wrong field and so that’s all you get for now. Maybe I’ll update later.

Edited: Right, okay, I’m now less annoyed, and fortunately I remembered not to close the TextEdit window with my notes in it.

The framework of this movie: each of twenty directors gets five minutes and Paris. You get roughly what you’d expect out of these; in the Coen Brothers’ contribution, Steve Buscemi gets beat up in a métro station. There’s only the most half-hearted attempt to relate the stories to one another, and I think maybe I wish they’d not bothered. Anyway, I’ve seen more irritating love letters to Paris, and at least this one puts it out there with its title.

Since the movie is a bit fragmented, I’ll move straight to the stray observations. I won’t treat each vignette, because some of them are just too predictable and unmemorable (Gus Van Sant, I’m looking at you).

  • Unlike Love Actually, this film has people who are actually poor or desperately unlucky, not just amusingly bohemian Kris Marshall. Unsurprisingly, this is sad. In fact, one of my notes just says: “sad immigrant from Lagos oh my god so sad.”
  • A horrible French child with a pea-shooter annoys Steve Buscemi as well. The horrible French child is the best part of that sketch.
  • Juliet Binoche sure has a face for tragedy.
  • Rufus Sewell and Emily Mortimer visit Oscar Wilde’s grave in Père Lachaise. She accuses him of being humorless, although this is not true (his offering for that brilliant man’s last words–“Bury me under something ugly”–made me laugh out loud), because what she wants from a man is that he is so hilarious that he quotes Wilde all the time. I submit, honey, that you might be doing it wrong, romance-wise.
  • I hate mimes. And I know everyone hates mimes, but there’s a reason for that.
  • Maggie Gyllenhaal’s character is appearing in a period drama. I’d laugh, but I saw Hysteria, so it just isn’t funny.
  • When you hear English in a French film, it sounds slow and stilted. Native English speakers sound as though they have some sort of aphasia. It’s not quite as painful as a sudden American in a British movie.
  • I did not expect Olga Kurylenko to be my first doubled actor.

Director: Everybody ever; or: Olivier Assayas, Frédéric Auburtin & Gérard Depardieu, Emmanuel Benbihy, Gurinder Chadha, Sylvain Chomet, Joel & Ethan Coen, Isabel Coixet, Wes Craven, Alfonso Cuarón, Christopher Doyle, Richard LaGravenese, Vincenzo Natali, Alexander Payne, Bruno Podalydès, Walter Salles & Daniela Thomas, Oliver Schmitz, Nobuhiro Suwa, Tom Tykwer, Gus Van Sant
Length: 120 min.
Rating: R, for not a lot of reason except maybe the swearing in the Coen Brothers bit
Score: 2/5? I found exactly one vignette touching (“Place des Fêtes”), a few pretty, and the Gurinder Chadha one (“Quais de Seine”) cute if fairy-tale. I’m not mad at it.

So it is my opinion that you should see this movie the next time you have four spare hours. It’s about the Mughal emperor Akbar the Great and his wife, the Rajput princess Jodhaa. And, while it suffers from the general problem of stories of true love that involve kings with harems (i.e. they are inherently ridiculous), it is nonetheless pretty terrific.

What’s so great about it? Well, it has pretty good production values, including a less fancy but also less irritating battle with war elephants than Alexander had, and also a billion amazing funny bejewelled hats. It is sweepingly gorgeous in general, and the Red Fort at Agra is stunning. The songs are pretty and not especially shoe-horned into the narrative; one of the most memorable is in fact a performance by Sufis. And Hrithik Roshan’s hair is just fantastic.

Perhaps what I most enjoy about Jodhaa Akbar is that, as with 300, everything that made you go, “Seriously? Pssh!” was in fact a recorded historical datum. Akbar throwing his vizier Adham Khan off a balcony twice because the first toss didn’t take? Recorded in the histories and in fact the subject of a print in the Victoria & Albert. Akbar unable to read his wife’s gorgeous calligraphy? It seems he never did learn to read (I know, as emperor that’s just asking to be embezzled, but oh well). Akbar’s rather overdone religious tolerance? Generally true, until he went crazy and started his own religion with himself at its head. (But that was in his old age, when the opium he used to mull his wine had gotten to him. Cf. Alexander, not the movie.) Akbar also (unfortunately not in the film) played polo at night with a ball that was on fire.

It’s a beautiful movie, and it makes sense, and my guess is you don’t know that much about Akbar the Great. This isn’t much of an introduction to the larger historical framework, but if it makes you curious, I’m all for it.

Notes and asides:

  • People are helpfully color-coded; the rebel Sharifuddin and his entire army wear evil black when Akbar wears gold.
  • In case the subtitles ever let you down, the soundtrack will always, always help you to know what’s going on, especially if it is extremely dramatic.
  • Aishwarya Rai sleeps in costumes that are Amidala levels of uncomfortable; the upside is that Hrithik Roshan has epic, epic bedhead.
  • If you liked the Wallace Collection, you’ll love this movie.

Director: Ashutosh Gowariker
Rating: Irrelevant. Some elephant battles.
Length: 213 min., but you don’t really mind
Score: 4/5. What it lacks in dialogue it makes up in compelling visuals and stories. And Hrithik Roshan’s hair.

This movie (called Priceless in my own civilized tongue), appropriately, is rather like a champagne cocktail. It’s fizzy, it’s charming, you’re not paying attention, and you slightly regret it later. That’s really it. Audrey Tautou is a precariously kept woman, Gad Elmaleh is a waiter. Misunderstandings occur. Yadda yadda yadda. You come out of this movie sort of wishing you were rich and could stay in fancy hotels and drink cocktails with umbrellas in and stick them in your updo when you’re done, but not really because you could just drink gin in your chair at home like a normal person, not having to sell your body or soul to do so.

Gad Elmaleh is his bumbling, appealing self; Audrey Tautou is still gamine and gorgeous. France looks nice too.

Oh, and you probably want a Vespa.

Director: Pierre Salvadori
Rating: PG-13, but the French kind, with extra nudity
Length: 106 min.
Score: 2/5. It’s capably made and catchy, like a good pop song. I will forget it tomorrow.

Well, this is now my favorite movie that uses the Empire State Building’s observation deck in pivotal scenes, because instead of stupid Meg Ryan crap, it has this:

And how can man die better
than facing fearful odds
for the ashes of his fathers
and the temples of his gods?

Which is clearly better.

So this is where I stop apologizing for Tom Cruise. I never wanted to in the first place, but people judge you for liking him. And, yeah, the movie had annoying Tom Cruise things: the Yankees ballcap, the flannel shirts, the motorbike, the baseball generally, the making Olga Kurylenko pretend to be four inches shorter than she is, the jutting jaw as moral certainty arrives. But whatever. The man makes good movies and he looks good doing it.

Sure, Oblivion had some downsides. The science was slightly dubious, but they just got it out of the way in the opening monologue so you could accept it and move on. Tom Cruise flies what is essentially a modified B-Wing, and it therefore kind of sucks. He also fixes a nuclear-powered machine with literal chewing gum. And apparently in a post-apocalyptic wasteland the desperate refugees have time to kit themselves out in cool steampunk cloaks. Whatever.

But. This movie–an alien invasion, post-nuclear-holocaust type movie–should have been entirely predictable, and it was not. I lost track of what was going on at least twice. I’ve seen a million of these movies and sort of figured I didn’t really need to pay attention. But I did, and not just to the plot. This movie looks stunning. The nukes and the war have made seas rise and earth move, and the canyons of the New York City avenues are now truly canyons. It is a very different kind of love letter to New York than was Inside Llewyn Davis, but in its own way I think it perhaps does better. The ruined reading room of the main branch of the Public Library serves as the backdrop for a battle. It is still beautiful. Outside Manhattan, a devastated Pentagon is covered in moss, and the Brooklyn Bridge is buried to halfway up the iconic arches. Plus, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau.

I’m not sure I can say much more without giving away important points, so I’ll move on to the stray observations.

  • Morgan Freeman is drastically less wasted than usual, and I think this is a much less annoying movie than Lucy will be, so hooray!
  • Does anyone else dislike Andrea Riseborough automatically, or is that just because I saw her first on “Party Animals,” and she was just so deeply hateful?
  • Yes, of course there is a mostly-buried Statue of Liberty. This movie isn’t crazy.

Director: Joseph Kosinski
Rating: PG-13, for pretty standard sci-fi shoot-’em-ups
Length: a sliiiightly too long 124 minutes
Score: 4/5. Not even sorry. And I might have given Edge of Tomorrow 5/5 if I’d had this blog at the time, so come at me, bro.

In an attempt, apparently, to give my brain whiplash, I followed up Inside Llewyn Davis with a movie that may be its opposite in every way, and, well, it’s never that enjoyable to watch a movie in which everyone involved is embarrassed. This is no exception. Austenland is a sad pastiche of Austen clichés and the inevitable American-in-Britain nominally hilarious garbage. At least, this time, the idiocy happens mostly at a theme park, so it’s slightly more bearable. Although the four hundredth time a person says “tally-ho,” you do sort of want to scream.

Anyhow, sad single Keri Russell as “Jane” goes to an Austen theme park, where she gets to act the part of the poor relation. There, she is surrounded by veterans of BBC period productions (Georgia King of Little Dorrit, JJ Feild of Northanger Abbey, and, in a slightly charming stroke, the chap who plays Bingley’s drunk brother-in-law in the Colin Firth Pride & Prejudice, in an identical rôle), who play other sad ladies or actors meant to help them live out their sad lady fantasies. For some reason, Bret McKenzie is also around, and Jane is too ignorant to notice that his accent is not British (this really bothered me; if you’re that into Austen, you probably have enough ambient anglophilia to spot a Kiwi a mile away). None of this bodes especially well. But the worst thing is the tragic waste of Jennifer Coolidge’s comic talent. She’s just loud and crude and large. I know this is what she has been doing for some time, but to reduce her to a vulgar caricature is cruel and pointless.

The movie does, amazingly, sort of keep you guessing about the final upshot, though that’s the only thing that shows any care at all. Even within the artificial and insane confines of the theme park, nothing makes a great deal of sense. It’s supposed to be a super-authentic Regency experience, so naturally the women go out shooting.

Also, whatever personal growth Jane achieves, she starts out the movie as an insane person. It literally spells out “Darcy was here” in wooden letters above her bed. What does that even mean? In what fevered imagination is that reasonable, cute, or funny? I ask this of the film-makers. You can be single, thirty, and a little depressed about it and/or fond of Jane Austen without being deranged.


Stray considerations, as usual:

This movie deploys “Bette Davis Eyes.” Not well, but points for the song regardless.

James Callis, like everyone else, looks embarrassed, but also as though he might be enjoying himself, so that’s…a plus, I guess.


Director: Jerusha Hess

Rating: PG-13, for non-innuendo

Length: 97 min., and I kept checking how much was left

Score: 2/5

I was struggling with the genre on this one, but I figured “Coen Brothers” fit the bill. Two points to start:

1. I missed when Justin Timberlake became a proper actor, and I’ve seen nothing else he’s done, so that threw me.

2. I desperately hate movies about people who, for whatever reason, feel entitled not to be fully paid-up members of the human race.

So. The music is amazing, and early 60s New York is lovingly (too lovingly, perhaps) sketched out for us. And that’s…about as far as this movie got me. This is a movie about crappy people, who are crappy to each other, and to whom crappy things happen. Fair enough, I guess.

But also: almost nothing does happen. You start out being sorry that you have to watch Oscar Isaac get hit in the face, because you figure it’s unlikely that he really needed to be hit in the face, and at the end you maybe still think that he didn’t need to be hit in the face, but you don’t really care one way or the other. I’m not asking for grand personal growth on the part of the protagonist, or his friends, or his damn cat, but something would be nice. I know with Mausam I was complaining that it went off the rails, but with this I was honestly waiting–hoping, even–that someone would shoot Brad Pitt in the head. He wasn’t even in the movie.


Stray points:

I could not understand a word Garrett Hedlund said. I can’t tell if this is an improvement on either Troy or Tron.

Conversely, Carey Mulligan’s accent was well-enunciated but terrible, as were her bangs. At least she didn’t smirk.

John Goodman observing that everyone knows that you jump off the Brooklyn Bridge, not the George Washington, was painfully hilarious.

There is something about Adam Driver that really, really puts me off. I think it’s his face.

Directors: Joel & Ethan Coen
Stars: Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, Garrett Hedlund, Justin Timberlake
Rating: R, for a really impressive number of four-letter words
Length: 104 min.
Score: 3/5. You can’t ignore how carefully it was made, or how good the music is. But oof.

I’ve been out of the blogging game for a while, and I didn’t really miss it. But I watch so many movies, and I’m pretty sure that all of my real friends are not particularly interested in all of them (I’ll set up an about page to give you a vibe), so to save some relationships, I thought I’d try this format.

And this is because of the film Mausam, about which I have about a billion feelings.

I have these feelings because Mausam is trying to be too many movies at once, and it does none of them especially well. In fact, here’s a list of movies it could have been, one at a time, and probably been sort of cute and watchable (or, frankly, serious but still watchable).

1. Sikh boy falls in love with Muslim girl, and the usual complications ensue.
2. Sikh boy falls in love with Muslim girl, and neither of them is especially great at tracking people down; the usual complications also ensue.
3. War in Kashmir tears lovers apart.
4. Life in the air force may injure you even if it is generally glamorous what with all the Ray-Bans.
5. September 11 was bad and made some people in the United States be even more awful about Islam.
6. Sectarian violence, even Kashmir apart, is a problem in India.
7. Edinburgh is gorgeous and makes you act goofy.
8. The Punjab also is gorgeous and makes you wear bright colors and dance and ride bicycles (many films have been predicated on this, and they work very well).
9. Anupam Kher, for some reason, is your uncle.

That is not even everything that is going on the movie–there’s a village girl that’s also in love with the hero and makes trouble for no reason, and I thought Anupam Kher might be in some kind of serious political trouble, but either I misread the situation or that just never paid off. And I know what you’re saying: it’s Bollywood, and this is how things work. I get that. I get that you just have to accept that everyone in Britain travels in carriages and goes to formal balls all the time, and that you may have to watch the hero run across Switzerland (in this case playing itself, unusually). I get that families are large and nebulous, and that people travel insane distances at the drop of a hat, and that being laughed at for having once been covered in mud is just the biggest turn-on. I get that you’ll get to an hour from the end and wonder what else could possibly happen, and never expect that it’s that the bride gets set on fire (not the case here, by the way, that’s Vivah). I get that Anupam Kher is somebody’s dad.

I am used to these things, and yet Mausam had way too much going on, and also went insanely off the rails in the second half. Maybe one of the 23432847239487324 complications would have made an actual plot, and maybe also a coherent social or political point. You really can stop at “please don’t murder innocent people with Molotov cocktails and swords.” You don’t have to add a ferris wheel with a child that needs to be rescued. Oh, and a horse. Hell, you could stop at “everyone please find a working phone.”

So why did I watch it? Because I thought it would be Bollywood Top Gun. You show me Shahid Kapoor in aviators and I am there. Seriously, this was my immediate reaction on coming across this movie on IMDb, talking to a sympathetic friend on gchat:

is a movie
in which Shahid Kapoor

And that’s also why I kept watching. Sonam Kapoor is sort of blah, Anupam Kher is wasted completely, the writing is frankly laughable, the songs are deeply unmemorable, and, while the backdrops are gorgeous (the Punjab, Edinburgh, Switzerland), there is really only one reason to watch this movie: Shahid Kapoor is just stupid hot in it.

With basically any other movie, that would be just a shallow and pointless thing to say. We all know that Mr. Kapoor is handsome, and that that’s kind of the point of him. But Hrithik Roshan isn’t good-looking enough to make Kites bearable, and the one-two punch of Christian Bale and Johnny Depp doesn’t save Public Enemies. (Public Enemies is probably better than MausamKites is not.)

When I say “stupid hot,” I mean it. The only person on this production who performed at 100% on his job was the person responsible for whatever Mr. Kapoor was wearing and how he was doing his hair. I will give you two moments that bear this out. First, there is a throwaway, 20-second-long scene in which Harry (Mr. Kapoor’s character) spouts gibberish at an RAF officer just so that we can see him in a British, olive drab, tough-guy flight-suit, because all the time he spends in the boring navy blue of the Indian Air Force is apparently insufficient. Literally nothing happens in this scene. It’s just for the flight-suit. Second, at some point Harry comes through Edinburgh Waverley station, and you see him come up an escalator. He is wearing a dark coat and a scarf and I laughed out loud on my plane ride when this happened because you are clearly just supposed to be blown away by how good he looks. You are, but I still laugh at the cynicism, even while appreciating the effort.

Also, he makes the mustache work. And the beard. Have a google image search. I’ll wait. I mean, holy crap.

So here’s the run-down; the format may change as this blog goes on.

Title: Mausam 
Year: 2011
Director: Pankaj Kapur
Stars: Shahid Kapoor, Sonam Kapoor, Anupam Kher, and also the treat of Vaibhav Talwar
Rating: Dunno; I’d peg it at PG-13 for the unnecessary corpses
Length: 161 min. (too long)
Score: 2/5. It should really be 1/5, but, stupid hot. Movie generally too scattershot, and sometimes nonsensical. Worth watching on a plane or if you really, really like Shahid Kapoor. Maybe have a cocktail first.