Monday, December 27, 2010


Just the way one looks forward to a Pixar movie to see what new way they're going to find to take your breath away, one goes to watch a DreamWorks movie with the comfort of expecting a funny, pop culture referency, slightly predictable but overall n i c e movie. Megamind doesn't disappoint.

A planet in a distant galaxy is about to be destroyed; a baby is placed on board a space shuttle and sent away to fulfill his destiny-- what exactly that destiny is, he doesn't know. The space shuttle lands in a prison and the little baby is lovingly brought up by a bunch of hardened criminals to become the ultimate supervillian of all time-- MEGAMIND!

But all of Megamind's dastardly plots are stopped by the greatest superhero of all time-- MetroMan! And round and round the mulberry bush they go every time: beautiful and daring reporter Roxanne kidnapped, evil plot, alligators, death ray guns, day is saved by MetroMan, Megamind thrown behind bars, yada yada... all in a day's work. Till of course, one of the cogs in the machine stop working. That's when the other cogs in the machine realize that they have no purpose.

What I loved about the movie:

The exploring of the relationship between a superhero and a supervillian, albeit in a lighter vein. You can see influences from the Batman-Joker universe from Alan Moore’s A Killing Joke/ Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. A superhero and a supervillian are nothing without each other. And perhaps, they are the only two who truly get each other. Okay yes, Megamind didn’t explore very great creative depths, but I’m always for movies that question traditional stories of good versus evil. And a supervillian with an existential crisis is just super-adorable.

What I didn't love so much:

Like I said, while DreamWorks always makes excellent watchable movies, it doesn't really push its creative boundaries. Shrek worked so well, because they realized that animated movies are as much an attraction to adults as children. The whole turning-fairy-tales-upside-down thing? Genius. But they’ve gone and made that a formula. You know, with the whole kung-fu-movie-retold thing, and the scary-dragon-Viking-retold thing and now the superhero-supervillian-upside-down thing. The movies are just not standing out any more. They’re all great, heartwarming and funny movies, but none of them are “one for the ages”.

What They will hate about the movie:

I will call out anybody who called DreamWorks “poor man’s Pixar”. Both studios have totally different USPs and creative methods, so just because they both make animated movies does not make them comparable. I’m very much in agreement with Danish who has always held that animated movies are no longer a genre, but merely a mode of storytelling (The inclusion of Up in last year's Oscar nominees means that people are finally paying heed to Danish).

Then they will say that’s all very well, but what about Despicable Me (2010) which released just a few months ago and is about the exact same supervillian thing? Okay yes, the plot is similar to the extent that both movies are about adorable super-villians, but the premise is totally different. In Despicable Me, Gru was trying to be the greatest supervillian of all time; in Megamind, Megamind already IS the greatest supervillian. Also, in Despicable Me, there is no interaction between the superhero and the supervillian. Finally, Megamind isn’t a supervillian out of choice, but out of a sense of fatality. That makes all the difference.

They will also say “The whole deeper message thing is so unsubtle!”

There JUST isn’t any pleasing them, is there? I’m not going to counter this by saying, “It’s a children’s movie!” Sure, some movies end up heavy handed and amateurish because of the (Not-So) Deep Symbolism and the OMG Important and Deep Message effect, but it doesn’t affect others. Some movies are all about the message. This is one of those.

Bottom line? This movie won’t make it to your All-Time Greatest Movies shelf, but it will give you excellent value for overpriced ticket and popcorn money.

Sunday, December 26, 2010


Queer Cinema.

It’s a genre that one would think is slowly moving into the realms of the obsolete, at least as far as Hollywood is concerned, with an increasing volume of mainstream movies featuring lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender characters in prominent roles. With such rainbow-tinged splashes onscreen, it would seem that the idea of the “gay movie” is giving way to stories where the alternate sexuality of the characters is merely incidental to the narrative.

And yet, as I looked back over the last decade, the 2 prime mainstream movies that jumped out at me were Brokeback Mountain and Milk. Where Brokeback gave us a heartbreaking, star-crossed gay romance, Milk chronicled the rise and tragic fall of the Mayor of Castro Street. Both constituted well-told, complex cinema, with sympathetic characters at the core, one drawing from the well of real life, the other, from fiction. But what both these movies, and a large proportion of other mainstream fare with queer characters at the fore in Hollywood feature, is the idea of the sexuality of the characters at the fulcrum of the narrative: sexuality as an issue so to speak, either personal, as in Brokeback, or political, as in Milk. And yes, that kind of cinema was necessary. It was absolutely integral, and served its purpose of dispelling the cloak of invisibility that seemed to remain permanently cast over the idea. But what about the next step, the point where we have a movie that gives us 2 A-listers in the lead, a queer romance to boot, but somehow manages to not actually be ABOUT the sexuality of the characters at all? Where we establish the queerness of the characters from the onset, issues be damned, and set off to spin a rollicking good yarn?

Well, Hollywood’s finally given us that story too. It’s called I Love you, Phillip Morris, it’s got Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor in the lead, it manages to check off the criteria I’ve named, and its — hold your breath- also very, very good.

Phillip Morris tells us the story of Steven Jay Russell (Jim Carrey) a gay man whose penchant for the decadent life finds him doing con jobs — lots of them. He’s good, but not good enough to avoid getting caught, and soon enough he’s in prison, and very much in love with fellow inmate Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor).

As their relationship progresses, the movie centres around Carrey’s increasingly desperate – and hilarious – attempts at getting the couple out of prison.

Successful prison breaks often prove to be rather ineffective when Russell is unable to control his inner con man even on the run.

Sounds like an incredulous tale? Here’s the best bit – it’s all true. Based on the slice of biography I Love You Phillip Morris: A True Story of Life, Love, and Prison Breaks penned by Steve McVicker, Phillip Morris goes to show that sometimes, life really is stranger ( and grander, and larger) than fiction.

Jim Carrey gets the somewhat tricky job of essaying the manipulative, near-sociopathic protagonist – and rises magnificently to the challenge. I’ve seen reviewers calling this his best performance, and while I wouldn’t go so far (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind anyone?), his manic energy really does carry the movie throw some of its more incredulous stretches. This is a character who’d be rather hard to like on paper, and yet, buoyed with Carrey’s winning charm and leavened with a few key sympathetic moments, you’re rooting for him to get what he wants – his way.

It helps that what he wants most of all is Phillip Morris, of course. Ewan McGregor is heartbreakingly endearing, an oft-wronged man who resolutely refuses to see the bad side in anyone (thus blinding him to his con man boyfriend), and gives a wonderfully restrained performance that balances out the thousand volt jolt Carrey constantly exudes.

For all the con games in the movie — and there are many — it comes down to being a bruisingly romantic tale, often funny, and finally very moving. And as mentioned earlier, there is the wonderful way the issue of sexuality is handled here – by not making it an issue at all. Except for one instance where Russell decides to take a few tentative steps back in the closet at his workplace, the universe of the movie is a joyously freewheeling one : starting from the matter-of-fact meet cute between Carrey and McGregor, through a montage of their prison-romance, down to the obligatory final impassioned speech : this is a story about two people in love, fighting to stay together inspite of the choices they’ve made, and inspite of each other.

And that really is a story for the ages – gay or straight.

As published in the New Indian Express - Sexualities.

Friday, December 24, 2010


The opening credits look familiar—white Windsor Light Condensed font against a black background; the jazz music is familiar, but that’s where the familiarity ends.

It was like watching Husbands and Wives without the wry humour; like Match Point without the rollercoaster of emotions; like Crimes and Misdemeanors but without the drama. It feels like Woody Allen has become jaded with life and it is beginning to show in his characters—they just won’t fight any more. In all his previous movies, his characters ended up sadder and wiser, but did not look to the future helplessly; the sadness was bittersweet. In this movie though, there was this bitterness in the end— bitterness with a life’s worth of bad decisions. And a sense of utter hopelessness (which persisted after the movie ended and was responsible for a sleepless night). Could it be, Woody, that your bad choices too have caught up with you?

Having said that, this is a decent watch. A bad or mediocre Woody Allen film is still a head and shoulder above most of the dross that gets churned out of Hollywood. Unlike many other directors, Woody leaves his imprints all over his movies—they are so bound to him that no discussion of his movie is complete without a discussion of him and his previous works.

The problem with having such a magnificent oeuvre of works is that every single project thereafter will always be judged in comparison, and that’s a double edged dagger because there will come a day when you won’t be able to better yourself. To give credit where it is due, Woody Allen is definitely trying something new with the last few films—trying to move away from the Diane Keaton/ Mia Farrow in New York dating the neurotic Jewish guy and the cerebral dialogue style that really defined him in the past.

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger follows the lives of the members of a family, each of whom are dissatisfied with their current state of affairs and decide to go out and change their lives. And then have to face the consequences of those decisions. The grass always looks greener on the other side of the fence, and the girl from the opposite building looks much more beautiful than the one in your room.

Some of the actors were phoning it in, while the others were laying it on thick to compensate. Antonio Banderas was completely under-utilized. Freida Pindo—I can’t tell if she was giving it her all or if she was trying to fly under the radar, but we ought to cut her some slack; it would overwhelm anybody to work with such industry heavyweights. Also, what was with all her red outfits? It became silly and contrived after a point. And the narrator! That chipper, Ryan Seacrest-y voice annoyed me thoroughly— I almost expected the characters break into song and then be put down by an abrasive British man. Have someone with a nice, comforting voice like Alec Baldwin in The Royal Tenenbaums.

Anthony Hopkins was definitely my favourite—as an old man who didn’t like the fact that his wife had grown old and decided he needed a younger, feistier thing, he was superb. I think of all the characters, his coming to terms with the choices one makes was the most touching, and his "fall" endears him to the audience. The way he has to take Viagra to keep up with his gorgeous young wife, who is sprawled on a fur coat wearing sheer lingerie, asking him to make sweet, sweet love to her and he says, “Three more minutes, darling. He was pretty much the only character whose motivations were clear, and the only character with any sort of development.

They say one must write only about what you know. I assume the same is true for movies too, which is why I can understand why Woody Allen is comfortable with making movies about relationships and marriage; he really gets them. And nobody has even come close to depicting marriage so humorously, and yet, so tenderly.

While you may not agree with the endings of his movies, one left sated and fulfilled. No niggling feelings. Ever since Scoop though, the endings have failed to satisfy, including this movie. It is almost as if Woody doesn't know the ending to his stories anymore. I think it’s the weather in London, Woody—go back to New York. You made that city come alive in a way London never will. That’s where you belong.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


Lekha speaks :

It’s that time of the year again—when you don your comfiest pair of pyjamas, uncork a bottle of red wine, curl up in your warmest quilt and settle down for the Annual Christmas Movie Marathon! Okay, that’s what I do.

Yes, some of the movies on this list are barely about Christmas, but then Christmas hasn’t been about Christmas since, oh I don’t know, 1 AD. Technically, any movie that has a significant Christmas Eve/Day scene and is also a really nice movie ought to make it to this list. But, since we’ve already established in the past that I am arbitrary, this is my list of favourite Christmas movies:

Love Actually (2003): Ten stories about love, the week before Christmas and a superb ensemble cast. This movie NEVER gets old. I could watch it a hundred times, and I know I’m not the only one. Make sure you don’t watch the one that’s shown on Star Movies/HBO—they have edited out an entire story about two porn stars, which also happens to be the most adorable story of the lot.

Die Hard (1988): Christmas Eve, but with less Santa Claus and more bullets. Yippie-ki-yay, motherfuckers.

The Apartment (1960)/ An Affair to Remember (1957)/ The Shop Around the Corner (1940): All starring the dreamiest Hollywood stars, all of them timeless love stories, all iconic movies… and all with rather tenuous links to Christmas. Okay fine, these aren’t really “Christmas movies”, but heck, these are awesome movies and Christmas is as good a time as any, and maybe better because they are perfect for chasing away the End-of-the-Year-What-Have-I-Accomplished Blues.

Silent Night (2002): Silent Night is a delightful Hallmark film that used to play regularly on the Hallmark channel. Based on a true story from WW II, it is about three German soldiers and three American soldiers who put aside their differences to share a Christmas dinner, in the home of a German woman.

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946): No Christmas movie list is complete without this Jimmy Stewart classic. About a man who is on the brink of suicide because he thinks he is a humungous waste of space but is reminded of his importance to all the people in his life. This is the Holy Grail of Christmas movies. All those paint by numbers Christmas movies that are released in December year after year owe a debt to this movie. Someone told me it is up for free download on Internet Archives, so do check it out.

Bridget Jones’ Diary (2001): Having to choose between the handsome bad boy Lothario and the handsome serious nice guy—yup, sounds like any other day. Well, at least for Bridget Jones, a cheeky (in every sense of the word) single woman and her battle with cigarettes, booze and men. Apart from being a fantastic movie, it deserves to make it on the list for the yummy Colin Firth, who makes the Ugly Christmas Sweater look great.

Miracle on 34th Street (1994): Another one of those Christmas movie list regulars, and with good reason! It reminds us that there is whimsy and fantasy in the world, if we just care to look. Santa Claus (played by the cuddlesome Richard Attenborough) must convince the world that he’s the real deal—by filing a law suit. Trust me, you’ll bawl like a baby through the movie; like when you clapped so hard when Tinker Bell was dying.

White Christmas (1954): Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney and the Chrismas-iest of Christmas songs. ‘Nuff said.

The plot is really just an excuse to have all these amazing song and dance numbers (“God bless the sister, who comes between me and my Mister”). One does slightly tire of the sheer number of times White Christmas is sung during the movie, but how can one resist Bing Crosby’s delicious baritone voice?

Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984): Christmas is just not complete without a slasher film, in my personal opinion. Of course, I can’t really wax eloquent on this subject having never watched a slasher film after the horror that was Friday the 13th scarred me for life. But for the strong of heart and stomach, a film about Santa going on a bloody rampage (with cookies? Bits of coal? Fairy lights?), is just the ticket to balance out all those fruity movies you just watched.

In the spirit of Christmas and in the hope that we will be watching this movie in December 2011, I give unto Hollywood this awesome movie idea:

Nuclear Noel in the North-Pole: Santa versus The Grinch.
Tag line: Christmas hangs on a string. A string of fairy lights.



Danish's two cents :

So I mostly agree with Lekha's list here, atleast for the movies I've seen. I just have one addition, and, hold on, I'll just come to it in a bit. For me, there is something inherently melancholic about Christmas. I don't know how much of this understanding is a direct outflow of Western pop culture overload, but when I think of the season, I think of people desperately coming together to battle loneliness, and celebrating that idea of togetherness, and of community : that wonderful little coda in Love Actually to the story of Bill Nighy's aging rock star sitting in a crummy room with his one good friend in the world is one of my favourite "christmas moments".

So its appropriate I think, to round off this list with one of the oddest - and most touching- instances of an unlikely community coming together on Christmas Eve. The 2005 release Joyeux Noel, is centered on the incredible true event of Scottish, French and German soldiers in a trench along the Western Front during the First World War, who set their weapons aside on Christmas Eve, united by carols and mass. Its a wonderful little ode to humanity fighting to come through in the darkest of hours , as much as it is a obtuse commentary on the futility of war.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Sunday, December 19, 2010


Remember those words? They are from a cartoon show so badass, it made me weep with joy whenever I heard them.

There are whispers in the interwebs, of talks to make a Jonny Quest movie. That's right-- the team comprising of Dr. Benton Quest, Jonny Quest, Hadji, Race Bannon, Jessie Bannon and Bandit are set to grace the silver screen in 2012 (tentatively)! The IMDB page was most unhelpful—they wont even tell us if it is going to be Real Adventures or the 1960s Jonny Quest that’s being adapted (I’m going to go ahead and assume it is Real Adventures¸ because I liked it better), but it appears they've finally cottoned on to the idea of making one of the greatest cartoon shows of all times into a movie.

That was the good news. The bad news? Zac Efron is in talks to play Jonny Quest. The debatable news? Race Bannon may be played by Dwayne Johnson.

Yeah. My heart stopped too. Way to alienate your fan base, Warner Brothers.

Sometimes, you have to wonder why Hollywood hates our childhood so much, that they have to desecrate every last memory of it. First, there was Michael Bay who destroyed the Transformers cartoons, and then there was that horrible movie Of Which We Shall Not Speak. The Scooby Doo cartoons were sickeningly campy to begin with, so it was no great shakes to maintain the campy persona through a feature film. The Yogi Bear movie just released (which means we will probably see the movie hit the theatres in a few months, hopefully) and early reviews have panned the movie; despite the fact that it remained faithful to its source material.

That's the problem,– the most faithful audience for any film adapted from cartoons are always the kids who grew up watching it and are now obsessive, border-line crazy adults. We have this way of always seeing everything from our childhood through rose-tinted glasses, which is why it feels like cartoons in them yester years were WAY better than the tripe they have on Cartoon Network these days (seriously, why are they so awful?). And these adult-fanboys are the WORST. The. Worst. They remember every insignificant detail from all 300 episodes of a show; they find each other online and remind each other about little now-forgotten factoids and build up anticipation for a movie to a frenzy, thereby dooming the movie.

If it remains faithful to the original show, it means that it will be completely out of place, anachronistic, and inaccessible to new audience; but the fanboys wont admit it. They would rather die rather than admit that in the harsh light of day, their much-loved cartoon is perhaps a teeny-tiny bit silly. They will say it is the fault of the film-maker. The movie bombs because nobody who didn't watch the show gets it.


If the movie is updated, fast forwarded, made relevant to this day and age; previously racist characters are removed or cardboard cutout characters are fleshed out, the fanboys get ticked off, usually with reason because of Hollywood’s aforesaid ability to destroy childhoods. "How DARE they make the previously racist character less racist? How DARE they not follow canon? We Hates it! We hates it forever!" they will shriek and tear their hair out, and proceed to blog furiously about it. The movie is a moderate success, because new audience liked it, but there just wasn't anybody to RAVE about it.

There just isn't any victory.

However, lessons can be learnt from the success story of Star Trek. New audience found it accessible, and the fanboys loved it to bits. It was an enormous hit. Oh yes, there were a few cave-dwellers who thought it was outrageous and that some blah-de-blah-yawn detail was contrary to canon in Episode 12, 00:39 mins. The secret was that J.J. Abrams was a true blue Trekkie, but also a pragmatist. He put in enough easter eggs for his fellow-Trekkies, but didn’t make the entire movie one big nod and wink. It can stand on its own too.

The same thing needs to be repeated for Jonny Quest too; because the manic frenzy has already started. The criticism is cautious because the studio has not released any details. All we know is that Zac and Dwayne are in talks. We are already frothing at the mouth at the IDEA of that emotion-less, pretty-boy brat befouling the memory of Jonny Quest.

However, since we know that Zac Efron is in talks, it is almost definite that it wont be the 60s series they will be adapting—because Jonny was just eleven years old in that series. Frankly, I’d much rather watch an older Jonny Quest, because eleven-year olds—even the ass-kicking ones, are tedious. Also, I love Jessie Bannon—she’s pretty, smart and knows how to use a sub-machine gun (And there was that one episode when her and Jonny kissed, which I will treasure forever as one of the greatest moments in television).

I’d also be happy with a fast-forwarded Jonny Quest, targeted at the young adult demographic. By all mean, put them in 2010 as opposed to 1960 or even 1995. This way they wont have to use technology which looks really cool, but has large labels on the controls like “Fuel Dump” or “Really Fast”. And they wont have to spout dialogue like “Hold on there Jessie, now that’s just too strange for school" or "Too tall for TV", because stuff like that is just not done any more.

And yes, Hadji Singh’s atrocious accent and absurd Preence of thee Keengdom of Bungalore back story needs to go. I know the fans will hate to have anything changed; that the racial stereotyping was all a part of the fun of the show, but a movie that deliberately keeps weak characters/story lines just to be faithful to the original show is not going to do very well. This is a chance for Jonny Quest and Co. to get fleshed out, more nuanced and less child-friendly.

A sensitive film-maker will be true to the spirit of the show— adventure, gruesome deaths, unexplained incidents, paranormal activity, swashbuckling all-or-nothing attitude; that’s what we loved best. Jonny being the reckless one, always up for a new adventure; Hadji as more circumspect but kicking equal amounts of ass; Jessie as the trigger-happy computer geek ; Dr. Quest as the Indiana Jones among scientists and Race Bannon who gets awesome dialogue like:

"Race, I thought you were on our side. You were a government man"

"You're right, I was. Till they made those shades a part of the uniform."

Fuck yeah!

And QuestWorld. Can you even begin to IMAGINE how crazy awesome it would be with the 3D technology they have now? Please hurry up and make a Jonny Quest movie soon. And try not to screw it up. As long as you’re taking notes here, be sure to hold on to the mind-blowing soundtrack!

And please, none of those absurd, allegedly child-friendly “off-screen deaths”.

Friday, December 17, 2010

2001 : A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968)

I first experienced 2001 over a wintry evening a week ago. There was a lot that I wanted to write about that very moment, but I couldn't get myself to come up with anything coherent. I'd been dragged down the terrifying slopes of Stanley Kubrick's imagination, and I wasn't quite sure how to navigate myself out of that particular abyss.

It haunted me, this movie. I'd found the premise hugely intriguing, the numerous gambits over its hefty 150 minute running time rather thrilling, and the end - hugely frustrating. This is not a tidy movie, it doesn't even try to mimic the three act structure of traditional cinema - though it does split itself into roughly 4 frames of reference. I finally did myself a huge favour, and gave up on thinking what the hell Kubrick was thinking when he made the questionable cinematic choices he did. Instead, I just let my mind fashion an answer for itself : or atleast, raise its own questions. And that, then, made 2001 the hugely rewarding experience it ultimately turned out to be.

If I had to break down the plot - well, we start with the very dawn of man, and are plunged into an audacious 20 minutes of increasingly high pitched, guttural communication between humanoid apes. One day, a black monolith appears before them, obviously crafted by hands of a superior intelligence. The presence of the structure triggers the next stage in evolution for the group, and we are whisked 4 million years into the future.

In beautifully balletic sequences in space, with the Blue Danube Waltz led choreography of docking spaceships, we lead up to the next appearance of the monolith.

Another 18 month jump, and we are introduced to the man's first mission to Jupiter, tracing a mysterious signal emitted by the monolith to the planet. On board is the supercomputer HAL, the most iconic character of this piece. Before long, things began to fall apart.

And then comes the monolith again .....

This is such an audacious movie.

More than an hour goes without a single line of dialogue : at one point its just the aforementioned nerve-jangling moans of the apes, at another, its simply a marriage of extraordinary visuals and musical cues. Then there is the gamble of plunging the audience into darkeness for atleast 5 minutes, with just the thunderous classical music score to keep you company. Languorous tracking shots follow starfields and spaceships; chilling sequences in outer space are leached of sound. And of course, there is that famous ending.

These days, we're slowly getting used to increasingly undemanding cinema. Give me a choice even now, and I'd likely pick a fluffy rom-com : its so much easier to just sit back and let the banality of another familiar story wash over. Hollywood realizes this, and just pumps back more stupidity into the cinemas. Which is why we need to remember that there are the likes of 2001 out there. A movie that demands patience, and dedication, and refuses to give easy rewards.

This is the kind of cinema that reminds me just what made me fall in love with movies in the first place.