Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Weekend Watch: Lucy and Begin Again


Luc Besson's latest feature is the most giddily stupid movie I have seen in a very long time. It also an incredible amount of fun.Please note that I do not use the adjective "stupid" lightly - the stupidity displayed in Lucy is daringly reckless, almost like the creators and performers are challenging the audience to not laugh. 

Well, I laughed.

I giggled when we first have our protagonist (Scarlett Johansson is such a superstar) being closed in upon by the bad guys, and since the ominous music may not be enough indication to the audience, Besson intercuts the scene with a gazelle being stalked by a lion. When she is finally captured, Besson makes sure you know she is captured by showing you the lion capturing the gazelle.  

I chortled through the movie's philosophical ruminations on what it means to be human - it turns out that time is really the key to everything, and again to make sure we get it, we're treated to Lucy sitting in an orthopaedic chair whizzing past the creation of mankind to the start of the universe itself. It's kind of like the Tree of Life sequence with scarier dinosaurs and less breathless whispering. 

There is more, much more. There is an Exorcist-like possession, there is Morgan Freeman giving a presentation on the magic of the human brain that sort of goes on for half the length of the film, there is an unearthly magical flash drive. This movie is nothing if not generous. 

I had a blast.

Begin Again

John Carney hit the big league with his charming musical Once, and on the surface of it, this follow up feature could just as easily be titled Once Again. Originally called "Can A Song Save Your Life?" (which, again, kind of describes the plot of Once), Begin Again trades in the almost claustrophobic intimacy of the earlier movie for a bigger scope and New York City setting. Also, stars - besides headlining Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightley, here's Adam Maroon 5 Levine somewhat innocuously making his Hollywood debut. The end result - it's not the all out triumph that was Once, but it works in its own way.

This is a "let's get together and make beautiful music" movie, and the most crucial criterion of its success lies in how good the music is. Well, it starts off as somewhat unmemorable, but at the halfway mark, the songs start to take on an earwormy quality, and by the climactic soaring falsettos of Levine, I knew I'd be playing atleast a few songs on repeat. Keira Knightley in particular is an unexpected treat, finally eschewing her period dramas for this role as a spunky song writer; she plays off well against Mark Ruffalo's jaded music exec. There are frequent moments of banality in the screenplay, and yet whenever it comes down to Knightley and Ruffalo talking about - and making - music, the movie soars.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Graphic Novel Review: Watchmen/ Spandex

Two extremely different kinds of superhero stories this week: one a genre defining classic; the other a frothy-till-it's-not new entrant.

Watchmen has always been one of my big cultural blind spots. I only seriously began to read graphic novels about two years ago, and as anyone barely cognizant with the medium will tell you, this is one of its seminal works - by many accounts, this is the greatest graphic novel, period. Now having finally gotten through it, I realize that this may in fact be a true statement, in the same way that Citizen Kane gets described as the greatest movie of all time. These aren't necessarily the most entertaining or moving examples of their respective mediums, but their contribution is one that is paradigm altering - taking a medium that has shown a certain amount of promise, and irrevocably altering it for good, doing things that just weren't thought possible and conducting them with a breathless flair. 

Watchmen's fantastic conceit is grounding the superhero myth in as concrete a reality as possible; then trying to see how the consequences of truly inexplicable power might play out in this world. Masked crusaders are part of its tableau, but the real gamechanger is Dr. Manhattan's god-like being, with the ability to manipulate matter. What might look like everlasting peace is only seemingly the delayed onset of inevitable war, as the world grapples with potentially being rendered obsolete. This is of course only one strand happening among many, and part of the achievement of Watchmen is how it juggles everything so effortlessly, how it weaves in past and present to create rich psychological profiles of its heroes. Time is a meaningless concept for the omniscience of Manhattan, and so it seems to become for the other characters as they find tendrils from their past seeping into the actions of their present. This narrative complexity is aided by a simple layout - every page consisting of 9 equally sized panels, every chapter ending with a different piece of narrative from a fictional work in the Watchmen universe. It's all dazzlingly ambitious, it all works perfectly well, and it justifies its pride of place in the literary canon. I will however say that there are simply better works from this medium that I have experienced. (edit: more on these, soon!)

Spandex is not one of these, though then again, it clearly isn't aiming for that kind of greatness. 7 queer superheroes (each a different colour of the rainbow, see) band together in a fight against, mm, destructive 50 ft lesbians, vengeful ninja gay lovers, and the forces of conformity. It's all very irreverent till it gets suprisingly dark, surprisingly quick. The layout can be visually cluttered to the point of incoherence, but it's set off by the sheer amount of fun the creator seems to be having with this work. Love is always the answer in this world, even if it comes after unexpected assassinations and brain damage.  Queer enough for you?

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Fault in Our Stars (2014)

The biggest fault with this movie is simply this: for a story about two terminally ill teenagers in love, it was quite unable to move me. There is much to be said for a story about cancer that largely avoids mawkish sentimentality and is underlined with a gentle humour, but inspite its well structured foundations, there is something curiously lacking at its heart. Shailene Woodley gives a very good performance as the protagonist Hazel Grace but the actor romancing her (I couldn't even bother to find his real name) is unable to transcend what is allready a somewhat ridiculous too-good-to-be-true character. There's a curious inertia and airlessness to a story where the essence of time should have added velocity to the narrative.

One of the few scenes that does succeed on a purely dramatic level has a jerk of an author lashing out at the kids and how they've been pitied to the point of being spoilt all their lives. If nothing, it serves as a fascinating meta commentary on what the movie is doing to its own characters: young people with one foot in the grave get to fall in love with dreamily lit cinematography and well timed indie music. I'm not saying I needed more scenes of grim suffering and anguish - just that the movie was unable to communicate the heft of its very real stakes to me.  

Monday, June 30, 2014

RWB, the Sequel: Leaner, Meaner and Still Kicking

Hello loyal readers (all 3 of you!) and confused googlers who stumbled upon this page following a search for "sad kitty eyes". It has been well over a year since Lekha and I posted anything resembling a  review here, or anything at all for that matter. This must change, we gather. Our excuse for the last year was something along the lines of not wanting to be distracted in our respective pursuits of knowledge at  Oxford and Michigan, but now that we wind up with those particular charades, there is reviewing to be done. 

We will however, shake things up a bit. One, the reviews will for the most part be shorter. Like, paragraph-length short. This is mostly to ensure that we end up actually posting something, but it's also an experiment in trying to work towards a particular kind of precision in writing about pop culture. If we find something we particularly loved (or,  even more fun, hated), you will be subject to  much longer piece of writing, but, largely, this is going to become a more bite-sized blog. 

Two, we're going to try and do a bit more of book reviewing than our present rate (zero, I believe). This should prove to be a bit more challenging with the shorter format, but I'd like to see if we can make it work. 

Oh and three, Queen is the best movie I've seen this year across languages and genres. I take back my numerous past doubts about Kangana Ranaut's acting: what a wonderful, heartwarming performance she gives here. By the time she does the inevitable triumphant stride of pride in the closing moments, set to the allready uplifting Kinare, I was ready with fist pumps and wolf whistles in the privacy of my living room. It's the little details that elevate Queen from just a great central performance to a great film, period - the perfect inflections of Rajouri lingo (thodi hippie type ki hai na?), the moments of quiet wonder that Ranaut's character displays at the seemingly mundane (joke! lip-to-lip kiss!), the sheer goodwill that the movie has towards its characters (there'a s final hug that reconfigures what could have been a mean spirited moment of triumph in lesser films into a complex gesture of forgiveness and acceptance). If there is a false note, it's the unfortunate stereotypes embodied in the Japanese character, Taka. In the midst of feather light grace notes, this de-sexualized man-child seems to have been dragged in from another movie. Still, it only truly jars given how perfect the rest of Queen is.