Archives for the month of: October, 2015

Do you remember the strange several years when everyone was convinced that Russell Crowe was both good-looking and a good actor? Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary on both fronts? We gave this man an Academy Award!

Just…wow.

Anyway, Master and Commander is probably my favorite Russell Crowe movie, and that’s mostly in spite of him, and in spite of its…not really being all that good. When I saw it the first time, I hadn’t read any of the Aubrey-Maturin novels on which it is ostensibly based, and I rather liked it. Now I have read fourteen of the Aubrey-Maturin novels on which it is ostensibly based, and I like it no less.  This movie follows the plot of no single O’Brian novel, neither the one called Master and Commander nor the one called The Far Side of the World. Nor of any other. Which is fine, really; those novels succeed better at atmosphere than at plot. I have heard on good authority that this is a fairly verisimilitudinous reflection of naval life. The film also aims for atmosphere, sketching your favorite characters from the books in a pastiche of more or less plausible events that take place near the Galapagos and involve fighting the French navy.

Jack Aubrey (Crowe), the titular master and commander, is blond, sanguine, and incipiently fat. He’s smirkingly terrible and his accent is worse. Stephen Maturin (Paul Bettany) is as unattractive as they can make him as the doctor and naturalist who spends most of his time kvetching that a warship is not his private exploratory vessel. He has no Irish accent and is not a spy, so devotés of the books may resent it; I enjoy that he can walk in a straight line and probably add. James D’Arcy plays the good-looking lieutenant Tom Pullings, and I love him. That’s all Tom Pullings ever does–be good-looking and lieutenant as well as he bloody can. Billy Boyd is awful as the boatswain Bonden, but they don’t give Bonden a damn thing to do, so that’s the real problem.

Max Pirkis is an amalgam of various tiny midshipmen, including one named Reade and one named Blakeney, and he, as also playing Octavian in HBO’s Rome, is a revelatory, heartbreaking gem. Early on he loses an arm, and Aubrey gives him a biography of Lord Nelson, and I cry. So much. Later on, he squeakingly collects beetles for Maturin, still later he squeakingly helps decide the course of a battle with the French vessel Acheron. He’s wonderful.

This film’s chief failure is that it captures neither the unremitting navy-ness of the books nor the rather charming blink-and-you-missed-it humor. In addition it’s scattershot, trying to cobble together one full plot from a dozen loosely connected episodes. But, if you like movies about old boats and aren’t terrifically particular, you’ll love this. If not, you’ll be annoyed by the winking in-jokes, the borderline incoherence, and Russell Crowe.

Stray observations:

  • This film makes heavy, heavy use of Ralph Vaughan Williams’s “Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis,” and, while I deeply love that piece of music in all its forms, the anachronism makes me insane.
  • I really wish there had been more of these movies, as it clearly looked like they were planned, and I would eat them up like candy. However, I also see why there weren’t more–the movie strikes a bad balance between pleasing lovers of the books and pleasing neophytes, and ends up pleasing no-one. Also it made $50 million less than it cost.

Director: Peter Weir
Rating: PG-13
Length: 138 minutes
Score: 4/5

I didn’t realize that this movie came out five whole years ago, and I’m a little shocked about it. Why? Because the romantic pairing a) gets drunk, b) makes out, and c) has sex, all onscreen, and no one gets pregnant or a hideous disease or is ostracized or anything. (For perspective, in 2004’s Phir Milenge, the heroine has sex–and gets HIV. In 2005’s Salaam Namaste, the whole marketing campaign was about how crazy it was that Saif Ali Khan and Preity Zinta kissed onscreen, and then their characters move in together and of course she gets pregnant and there is angst. 2007’s Jab We Met ends, surprisingly, with an actual make-out. In 2010, Chance Pe Dance has a romantic relationship progress to the stage where “I love you” is said, but the dude still has to sleep in his car because it is unimaginable that he might, say, sleep on the girl’s couch or something. Bollywood movies of the last couple of years are relaxing on the make-outs, but instant nudity is still legitimately shocking. Also this might be literally the first time I’ve seen a respectable woman get drunk in a Bollywood movie, and, as you can see, my sample size is pretty large.)

So, besides that what is there? Well, Bittoo (Ranveer Singh) and Shruti (Anushka Sharma) meet-cute when he sort of crashes a wedding she’s planning, for the food. Soon they start a wedding-planning business which is wildly successful until they sleep together and it gets weird. You know, like it does, with people. Along the way you get to see that it is apparently expected of a wedding planner in India that he has in his back pocket a dance and light show worthy of Shah Rukh Khan.

I dunno, this movie is pretty great. Everyone in it mostly acts like a real person, with real person foibles. Bittoo is kind of a jackass for a while, but in a way that young men actually often are, not in an imaginary insane Bollywood way. People change gradually and plausibly, which is also a surprisingly normal thing (for rom-coms generally, not just in Bollywood). The movie only has one plot, and it holds together. The songs aren’t memorable, but they aren’t annoying either. Everyone can dance on the beat. Solidly above average across the board, really, and also it’s nice to see a rom-com in which a girl is good at her job but not consequently an insane person.

Director: Maneesh Sharma
Rating: PG-13 ish?
Length: 139 minutes
Score: 4/5

Wow.  Wow, this movie is bad. And for no reason! You’ve got Priyanka Chopra, Shahid Kapoor, and a fairly promising love-across-time premise!

Unfortunately, you also have catastrophic screen-writing, the conviction that assy dudes are secretly adorable, and some seriously dodgy stubble on Mr. Kapoor from 1910.

Right, so: the couple exists (different names, different jobs, whatever) in 1910 in a garrisoned village in what is now Pakistan, in the 60s in Mumbai, and nowish in England. They meet by chance, they fall in love, and then something occurs to break them up (in two out of three options, it’s that Mr. Kapoor is a jackwagon; in the other it’s that he gets arrested for sticking it to the British–because he wants to impress a girl, so…yeah).

It’s not unusual for Bollywood movies to be tonally discordant, but this one is especially jarring, partly because it’s not long enough (I know, right?) to give each story due time. The 60s segment is basically a screwball comedy, complete with goofy sound effects. It is the most charming. The 1910s segment also has a few of those sound effects and everything is a hilarious sexy joke, but also Ms. Chopra’s character is politically active and then suddenly Mr. Kapoor goes to jail and religion is a thing (which, yes, I understand as pertinent issues, but…you haven’t seen how dumb this movie is). The 2012 segment doesn’t even try at all to do anything except Shakespeare gags? So, okay, sure.

Nothing is done with much conviction (except Ms. Chopra’s weeping, which was largely convincing and also picturesque), up to and including the dance sequences. Since the story makes no sense and the pacing is generally bad and Mr. Kapoor is unappealing in all three roles….  This director also made Hum Tum, in which Saif Ali Khan was a little bratty, but there’s a pretty big gulf between “a little bratty” and “simply the worst,” which is where Mr. Kapoor pretty much lands.

Director: Kunal Kohli
Rating: NR
Length: Only 117 minutes, but still too long!
Score: 1/5