Call for Music Writers... Rock, Indie, Urban, Electronic, Americana, Metal, World and More

 
Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Friday, Mar 16, 2007


300 defies description. Every attempt by mainstream critics to categorize or contextualize the film is more or less wrong. This is not some manner of anti-war propaganda piece (or worse, a pro-US boast for its Arab/Persian aggression). About the only real connection to the world of video games comes in the stylized presentation of violence which, frankly, is no more poetic than what Frances Ford Coppolla accomplished with the infamous “baptism” scene at the end of The Godfather. It is neither a historically accurate recreation of a famous battle, nor is it a slam against any specific region or peoples. What Zach Snyder has accomplished here is something quite miraculous. What he’s made—thanks in part to Frank Miller’s imagination and a ton of computer processing power—is a real Rorschach test for why people go to the movies. 


Think on that for a moment—why DO you go to the movies. To be entertained? To spend a few hours away from the family? To lose yourself in worlds only imaginable through the lens of a cinematic artist? To be moved? To laugh? To cry? As the famous one-line once said, to kiss $8.50 goodbye? Within each or all of these questions lies some element of the answer. Of all the mediums, it is often said that film is the least personal and most group-oriented. There are those who argue that horror films are scarier with an angst-filled audience surrounding you, sharing the dread. Others recognize that the mob mentality of such a communal experience renders even the most routine comedy uproarious. So it’s clear we come to film as kind of a litmus test, to weigh our opinion against that of our fellow filmgoers to determine an entertainment’s true value.


So in truth, 300 cannot work the same for all of us because it is the kind of movie that challenges the very nature of why we love, or hate, film. It takes a decidedly hoary old genre—the sword and sandal epic—infuses it with all the technological magic it can, and then sticks a fuse of fantasy straight into its belly. Once said wick is lit, the resulting fireworks either inspire or enrage you. There is no real middle ground here—people either adore or deplore this incredibly well choreographed dance with death. Far better than the highly overrated Gladiator (a true blight on Oscar’s already tenuous history) and a mighty millennia away from the pulpy peplum of the ‘50s and ‘60s, Synder wants to turn such tales back on their origins. He wants to use celluloid to re-establish the literal meaning of such a tale’s ‘epic poem’ status.


No two words better describe this film. This is vision amplified by ability, lyricism made manly by the imposition of well-formed physiques. Make no doubt about it, the Sparta at the center of the story is a brutal world overloaded with ego, testosterone and sweat. It’s the kind of country that kills off the weak and unwieldy, even hours after they are born, and believes in such forgotten human virtues as duty, honor, and glory. It may seem overly simplistic and a tad shortsighted, but this is not the modern world. This is not a planet interconnected and constantly communicating with each other. This is the land of myths and legends, oracles and gods. This is a place of men, in all their strengths - and all their superstitions.


As a result, some may be put off with all the moralizing and mysticism. They will see the sequence where the diseased priests prophesize—with the help of their naked teenage girl Oracle—that no war can occur during the High Holy days and scoff at such a suggestion. They will see Xerxes in his fey, flouncing demeanor, face painted up like an Egyptian drag queen, and giggle at the implied femininity. They will wonder where the various monsters come from, how an executioner can look like a boss from their favorite Playstation product, and believe this a film for an entirely different generation. But the truth is that 300 is a return to the world of visual storytelling, a place rarely visited by our mainstream manufacturing plant known as the Hollywood film business.


Indeed, we have forgotten the power in images. We forget what it felt like when the Mothership first appeared over Devil’s Tower in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, or when Neo first realized he could defy both time and physics in The Matrix. Peter Jackson or George Lucas can overwhelm us with their ideas (and the realization of same) and yet the effects seem to fade the minute we leave the theater. This is home video’s truest legacy. As a result of such overwhelming access to any and all cinematic stimulus, we’ve lost the inherent naiveté required to really enjoy someone’s creative approach. Instead, we play a never ending game of considered comparison, wondering what that scene reminds us of, contemplating if said shot actually adds to a film’s overall narrative language.


It’s a shame our eyes are so jaded now, because lying in wait, right outside the typical and the remade, are persons ready to reinvent the old magic. They will take a sword fight between two Spartans and hundred of Persians and manufacture it in such a way that every clang of metal, every spray of blood, becomes another stroke on a grand master’s canvas. They will render even the most meaningless scene—a conversation between husband and wife, king and queen—into a stunning experiment in shadow and light. Call it an attempt to jumpstart our imagination or a metaphoric map to rediscovering our inner joy, but 300 is built for spectacle, not scholarship. All it wants to do is present a piece of the movies’ past in a new and novel light. And it accomplishes said goal amiably.


This is a rousing, reinvigorating effort, the traditional reason why people USED to go to the movies. A couple of famed critics who sadly stand as the last of a literally dying breed used to say that movies act as kind of a mental vacation. They are meant to whisk you away to places, and introduce you to people, that you wouldn’t normally visit in reality. Like 300, film is supposed to inspire awe and disregard expectations. It is its main purpose for being. But for some reason, perhaps due to their ready availability and post-modern disposable nature, we no longer value such statements. To the new moviegoer, film is fodder for endless online conversations, debates over issues that, more times than not, have very little to do with the movie in question.


But Zach Snyder steps up and asks—nay, DEMANDS—to be taken seriously as a director of sound mind and superb vision. This is a movie as sumptuous feast, an eye candy extravaganza that never once becomes overpowering or overblown. Instead, all the stunningly stylized violence fills a void usually lacking in this kind of action film—the sadistic nature of war and battle. Where once gore was avoided to keep the nobility of the heroes intact, Snyder uses it as a symbol of determination. The more blood that’s shed, the lesser the enemy’s resolve. He also accomplishes his fatalistic determination by careful, clever casting. No one would ever imagine the man behind the mask in Joel Schumacher’s Phantom of the Opera would pack on the pounds, bulk up his body, and turn into the very emblem of Spartan pride. But Gerard Butler is a stellar King Leonides, containing everything we’ve come to expect from such a character. When he makes his stand against Xerxes, determining the fate of his men, and his country, the power within his persona—and the performance - shows through. 


In addition, 300 does indeed reinvent the notion of how action accentuates and accessories a film. In something as obvious as a battle scene, where we know blows will be exchanged, it is up to the filmmaker in charge to keep us engaged and interested, less it all become a mere free for all. With his carefully controlled compositions, expert framing, and desire to deliver both the Spartan and Persian attacks in grand operatic style, Snyder gives us real insight into combat. We learn the strategies meant to conquer as well as the mistakes that lead to defeat. We also recognize where heroism and valor lie. It’s not in the remarkable moments where heads leave bodies in balletic grace, nor is it in the sequences where arms and legs are sheered away. No, where true gallantry lies is in the guts to face almost impossible odds, and laugh squarely in the face of said annihilation. And nothing cackles quite as convincingly as 300.


So complain all you want to about the lack of factual accuracy. Argue that Snyder is all style and no substance, or that his cast is made up of out of work Chippendale dancers trying to turn slaughter into something serene. But whatever you do, don’t dismiss 300 as anything less than a work of visionary expertise. While your aesthetic complaints may have merit (albeit a minor amount), from a truly technical standpoint, this is what the cinematic artform actually looks and feels like. Instead of chastising a movie for taking such a risk, we should be celebrating. It’s a shame we’ve lost that ability. Thankfully, we have electrifying efforts like these to remind us of what we are missing.


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Thursday, Mar 15, 2007


Going through the possible motion picture presentations every week, it’s fascinating to see how the premium movie channels are expanding and diversifying. For example, Moveiplex (a division of Starz) has just announced the start-up of two new services – Indieplex and Retroplex. Each one addresses what the company sees as underserved cinematic categories – in this case, independent films and classics from the past – and each one is hoping that rabid film fans will agree. It’s not an unusual move – Encore (another Starz subsidiary) has always divided up its content into mysteries, romance, westerns, etc. But as more and more outlets open up – channels devoted exclusively to foreign films, or horror – it becomes harder and harder to keep track of the options. With the big pay networks offering multiple feeds and On-Demand services as well, the choices are almost limitless. Thankfully, for the weekend beginning 17 March, one easily accessible feature clearly stands out:


Premiere Pick
Silent Hill


It’s all about the creepy in this big screen adaptation of the popular videogame series. Thanks to the brilliant direction of Brotherhood of the Wolf‘s Christophe Ganz, and the spectacular set design and F/X work of his capable crew, what could have been your standard scary movie becomes a troubling look at an (after)world gone insane. Many of the more frightening moments have very little to do with the odd assortment of monsters and mayhem that actresses Rahda Mitchell and Laurie Holden must overcome. No, the real terror lies in not knowing the rules of this particular locale, and the consequences that occur whenever an eerie air raid siren sounds, signaling the return of ‘the darkness’. It’s hard to describe how vibrant and visceral this movie is, especially in an era which substitutes blood and brutality for genuine scares. In a year of many excellent fright fests, Silent Hill stands as one of the genre’s best. (17 March, Starz, 9PM EST)

Additional Choices
Take the Lead


Antonio Banderas goes Mad Hot Ballroom on a group of troubled New York kids, arguing that there is no problem in life that cannot be overcome through dance. While it’s territory that’s been covered a hundred times before, something about the sight of Mr. Melanie Griffith shaking his moneymaker has an indescribable charm. If you can overcome the schmaltz, you might enjoy this feel good urban pulp. (17 March, HBO, 8PM EST)

The Family Stone


One of last year’s under the radar delights, former fashion executive Thomas Bezucha deconstructs the knotty connections between kinfolk with this fresh, occasionally formulaic comedy. Sarah Jessica Parker is the uptight, Type-A personality who finds herself awash in the title clan’s free-spirited spontaneity. Dermot Mulroney is her boyfriend, and the prodigal Stone. While there is much more drama here than humor, Bezucha keeps the revelations and the reactions honest. (17 March, Cinemax, 10PM EST)


The Devil’s Rejects


Rob Zombie taps into the long lost exploitation zeitgeist to create this superior follow up to his 2003 film House of 1000 Corpses. Less stylized than said spook show debut, and featuring some amazing moments of disturbing viciousness, this shock cinema vérité is unbelievably accomplished. Sadly, this promising terror auteur seems to be going backwards with his upcoming Halloween remake. (17 March, Showtime, 10PM EST)

Indie Pick
Audition


Ten years ago, he was literally unknown to Western audiences. Then this startlingly original movie came along, and cinephiles everywhere stood up and took notice. Noted for his combination of the beautiful and the grotesque, and never sparring his audience the onscreen shivers that can come from both, the talented Takashi Miike has since gone on to become a certified cult icon. From Ichi the Killer to his banned Masters of Horror episode, Imprint, he has consistently pushed the envelope when it comes to blood and guts. That’s clearly the case here, the story of a widower holding ‘try outs’ for a nonexistent film as part of a plan to choose a new bride. To say the tables are turned on this lonely lothario is an understatement. While there are many who believe Miike merely makes geek shows, there is a lot of artistry here as well. (20 March, Sundance, 12AM EST)

Additional Choices
Boogie Nights


After Hard Eight failed to deliver anything but major critical kudos, writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson decided to fully explore his Robert Altman-esque muse with this multi-layered, multi-character look at porn through the ‘70s and ‘80s. Featuring a star making turn for Mark Wahlberg, and a momentary career rebirth for Burt Reynolds, this impressive human dramedy remains one of the ‘90s great masterworks. (18 March, IFC, 9PM EST)

sex, lies and videotape


It was the film that announced the independent film renaissance, a stunning dissection of life and love between detached, alienated individuals. Introducing Stephen Soderbergh as a director to watch, and giving the brilliant James Spader the role of a lifetime, this Cannes Film Festival winner remains a powerful, personal statement.  (19 March, IFC, 7:10PM EST)

Road to Guantanamo


It’s an odd experiment in narrative assemblage – a part documentary, part fiction film revolving around the Tipton Three, a trio of British Muslims arrested and held in the infamous American military prison for two years – only to be released, uncharged. Thanks in part to the shocking recreations, based on the testimony of the men involved, we get a window into the way in which our current government manages the so-called ‘war’ on terror. (19 March, Sundance, 10:15PM EST)

Outsider Option
Spider Baby


It had a reputation of carnival barker proportions. Supposedly lost, then rumored to be too “shocking” for release, this low budget brain bender from writer producer Jack Hill still stands as an idiosyncratic eye-opener. Featuring Lon Chaney Jr. in one of his last roles, as well as the sensationally surreal sight of newcomer Sid Haig as the repugnant Ralph, this madcap macabre touches on murder, mayhem, and that tasty taboo of the post-modern world – cannibalism. Presented as part of Turner Classic Movie’s new Underground series (though typical host Rob Zombie is AWOL thanks to present production commitments), you will not spend a better 81 schlock filled minutes in your fright fan lifetime. They just don’t make ‘em like this anymore – and once you’ve seen Spider Baby, you’ll know why. This is one seriously screwed up horror comedy. (16 March, Turner Classic Movies, 2AM EST)

Additional Choices
The Hills Have Eyes (2006)


Taking on the classic (?!?) Wes Craven cannibal epic, French fright master Alexandre Aja (the wonderful Haute Tension) decided to explore the backstory of the horrifying mutants at the center of the scares. The result was one of the most startling last act confrontations in recent cinema, and a remake that surpasses the original freak show gratuity. The upcoming sequel will apparently offer more of the same. (19 March, ActionMax, 8PM EST)

Babette’s Feast


Food is frequently used as a metaphor in film – as an extension of, reason for, or substitute to living. Here, Danish filmmaker Gabriel Axel uses the title repast as a way of bridging the gap between family, religion and the past. Winner of the 1988 Oscar for Best Foreign Film, it’s the kind of movie that whets your appetite as it simultaneously stimulates your emotional core. It’s indeed a meal fit for a king. (19 March, Indieplex, 11:45PM EST)

The Long Goodbye


When approached about remaking the classic Raymond Chandler story, American auteur Robert Altman felt a little uneasy. The material, in his mind, needed to be modernized and filtered through a post-counterculture concept of cynicism and mistrust. In the end, he delivered one of the ‘70s defining films, a narrative perfectly in sync with the Watergate weakened resolve of a stunned society. (21 March, Retroplex, 8PM EST)

 


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Wednesday, Mar 14, 2007


Even 45 years after he first appeared on motion pictures screens, James Bond remains an elusive entertainment icon. Scholars and critics have spent inordinate amounts of page space contemplating why this stalwart symbol of the Cold War, with his debonair demeanor, laser like libido and government issue licensed to kill, is still considered a viable hero. While producers have made sure that the face of the franchise has changed with the changing times (perhaps one of the most unique marketing ploys in motion picture history), the character’s resolve has remained steadfast and undeterred. Bond is wish fulfillment made flesh, danger and intrigue experienced vicariously through the magic of film.


Perhaps this is why the recent “reboot” of the series, Casino Royale, was met with so much initial resistance. People like their traditions untainted, maintained in the same stoic form that they had decades before. Film fans are even worse. Working within the confines of the so-called ‘artform’, they mistake the constants within a series for the inherent creative element and balk at any suggestion of manipulating or removing same. A perfect example was the casting of Daniel Craig as 007. While his look was definitely a radical departure from the “dark and mysterious” manner of the character (though not as seismic as the Sean Connery/Roger Moore shift), the obsessed feared that Craig was destined to fail in two key areas – moving the series into the 21st Century while preserving all the mandates from the past.


Their fears were unqualified, and Casino Royale is the reason why. A sensational action film in the purest sense of the genre, the 2006 version of the famed British spy has been overhauled and deconstructed, returning to author Ian Fleming’s original concept for the M16 agent. Purists praised the refusal to bow to popular PC pronouncements, bringing the he-man back to his casual sex stratagem. Others enjoyed the renewed brutality, instilling this fierce fireplug of a Bond with less of the black tie elegance previous incarnations lived by. In Craig, the character has rediscovered his roots, illustrating the cutthroat realities of a life in secret service of God, Queen, and Country. Not only is Casino Royale the best 007 feature in quite a long time, but it betters many of the stylized attempts of recent that have tried to reconfigure the tired action genre.


In the hands of Martin Campbell, the man responsible for the last major Bond revamp (1995’s GoldenEye, when fan favorite Pierce Brosnan made his remarkable debut), Royale overcomes a couple of narrative deficits to make the mythical man its own. The plot, involving terrorists, a money-laundering maniac who literally weeps blood, and a decisive game of…poker (it was baccarat in the book) can be quite knotty at times. Indeed, our hero moves around from country to country so quickly in the first hour of the film that we wonder if his recent change to “00” status came with frequent flyer miles. Similarly, the card game that makes up the last act catalyst to the narrative is an interesting, if anticlimactic suspense spectacle. You know you’re filmmaker understands this fact when he stops the contest cold more than once to introduce another adrenalin rush of action.


In previous installments of the series, these stunt-loaded set pieces were the most memorable element of the entire film. In fact, more fans remember the various chase scenes (down snow-covered mountains, within shark-infested seas) than they do the assorted intricacies in the plotting. Here, Campbell perfectly melds spectacle with the storyline, delivering one stellar eye-popping thrill after another. The opening foot chase, with its bows to “free running” (or parkour, as its often called) and vertigo-inspiring heights is terrific, as is an attempt to stop a bomber in the Miami airport. The finale, featuring a Venetian building slowly sinking into the canals, is a tad too League of Extraordinary Gentlemen to stand-out, but Campbell handles the histrionics in ways that still continually astound the viewer.


Even in the quieter moments – and there are several – the director understands the pressure he is under. His is the job of delivering Bond to the post-9/11 world, to create an image that will hold up under both political and personal scrutiny. One of the ways he accomplishes this is by thwarting expectation. While there are two very sexy ladies for 007 to play off of (and with), both Eva Green (as a British Treasury agent) and Caterina Murino (as Solange, the wife of a Bahamian bad man) are eye candy in name only. Indeed, it is Bond himself who is the sex appeal. Seen shirtless, water cascading off his immaculately toned torso, or tied-up, nude, for a sinister torture session, it’s our hero who is objectified. As a result, it deflates many of the criticisms surrounding the character. It’s hard to complain about his womanizing when it’s 007, not the gal, whose supplying most of the onscreen gratuity.


Still, such a position requires careful and considered casting, and this is Casino Royale‘s greatest artistic triumph. There is not a single moment where Daniel Craig doesn’t own the screen. Anyone who saw him in the criminally underrated Infamous (where he played Perry to Toby Jones’ effete Truman Capote) or Steven Spielberg’s amazing Munich recognized that this was an actor to watch. But James Bond is more than a role – he’s a religion, the kind of cinematic symbol that instills a special sense of satisfaction in his devotees. Under-perform, as one Timothy Dalton did, or fail to meet the constituencies rabid requirements (Roger Moore from about 1977 on) and you end up losing that last bit of motion picture leeway – the benefit of the doubt. Craig had more than just the role to reject him. Blond, far more “common” in his appearance, his was to be a journeyman Bond, a by the bootstraps sort of bloke who suddenly finds himself in Her Majesty’s secret service.


And it’s just the sort of shock to the system the series needed. For decades now, critics have clamored that, if Bond wished to remain relevant in a rapidly evolving world, he needed to get away from his tailored suits and shaken martini mandates. Many have even argued that the only way to do this was to allow big name directors – filmmakers with their own unique styles like Quentin Tarantino, John Woo or even Michael Bay – to take over and frame the franchise. In their minds, an actor couldn’t create the kind of change necessary to make such an old world artifact relevant again. But in Craig, and indeed, in Casino Royale itself, we realize the flaw in such an argument. True, the movie is about 20 minutes too long, and playing poker for such incredibly high stakes seems so plebian. But thanks to Craig’s onscreen magnetism, and Campbell’s care behind the camera, the movie manages to maintain its impressive power.


It’s the same with the recent DVD release. For a film with such a broad, overreaching scope, Royale loses very little on the small screen. Perhaps its because Campbell’s approach is more inside out than visa versa. His action sequences always provide enough spatial and pragmatic logic to avoid confusing or simply losing us. Similarly, there are very few of the stuntman hiding long shots that work against our involvement in the cinematic melee. There will be those who bellyache over the paltry selection of extras (you’d figure a film as important to the franchise as this would warrant something more than a standard behind the scene doc and an EPK style look back at the Bond girls) and wonder about the lack of overall context, but they would be missing the much bigger picture. In an era where action is defined by size, style and CGI, to bring back a character whose name alone inspires visions of old school stodginess, is a massive entertainment risk. But that is perhaps why James Bond remains so enigmatic. Somehow, he succeeds, and Casino Royale is proof positive of such stellar staying power.


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Tuesday, Mar 13, 2007

Are movie stars really artists? The Industry seldom subordinates commerce for the sake of craft. In the medium of the moving image, it’s difficult for both the filmmakers and audience not to get caught up in precisely that - image. Physical beauty is magnified, charm and style is worshiped from a distance. But how much of the star’s appeal is really related to talent?


Similar to the situation in Hollywood, what separated Indian movie stars from serious actors was theatrical training. The Indian drama is a nexus of ancient Vedic sagas, medieval Persian tragedies, and contemporary morality plays. The “true artists” of the ‘40s and ‘50s toted their stage makeup, personal dressers, and could speak in flawless Urdu diction so Persianized you could weave carpets out of it. The actors who make up this list include the great traditionalists and the bold innovators. All fall subject to duty of Bollywood commercialism, the occasional fluff movie, the gratuitous publicity campaigns and commercials - who in show business doesn’t nowadays? But watch them closely and you’ll see the kind of unflinching concentration and inwardness that comes with the best of screen acting.


Prithviraj Kapoor, the looming patriarch of the Kapoor performing dynasty, was the first popular star to have an “art” appeal. A longtime thespian, he took to cinema in the late ‘40s and his career was marked by a string of historical hits, playing larger-than-life figures such as Alexander the Great and The Mughal Emperor Akbar. Always placing his love of classical theatre before the commercialization of cinema, Prithiviraj set the standard for acting in period films, as well as the quality of the way those films were made. In the ‘60s, Prithviraj’s son Shashi Kapoor carried on his father’s theatrical tradition. He played the introspective leading man in early Merchant-Ivory movies, the anguished professor in The Householder, the self-involved playboy in Shakespeare Wallah and the frustrated movie star in Bombay Talkies. In an industry where movies are made quickly, cheaply and in bulk, both Prithviraj and Shashi Kapoor held out for the cerebral parts, often incurring the disdain of the seasoned producers who ran Bollywood. But their movies are all some of the most well-crafted in all of Indian cinema, and the father and son team star make a stunning pair of thespians.


If anyone really paid a price for their nonconformist vision, it was actor/director Guru Dutt. Dutt was Indian’s first auteur, a great creative control freak like Orson Welles whose involvement in every aspect of the picture satisfied his unyielding perfectionism. His 1959 film, Kaagaz ke Phool (Paper Flowers) was, like Citizen Kane was for Welles, both his swansong and his undoing. The film was an autobiographical look at the power of the movie industry and the precariousness of celebrity in a world where illusion and fantasy mean everything. It was a startlingly frank look at the life of movie stars and directors, and its two protagonists, the anguished married director (Dutt) and his ingénue (Waheeda Rahman), shocked audiences because of their depiction as adulterous, but sympathetic characters. The film flopped, leaving Dutt devastated.  He did go on to make a few more movies, notably the romantic fairy-tale Chaudvin ka Chand (Full Moon) and the epic Brideshead Revisited-style family saga Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam (Master, Wife, and Servant). But years of alcohol and drug addiction caught up with him and in 1964 he died of an overdose at the age of 39. Dutt’s premature death is heartbreaking to cinephiles; one can only imagine what else he might have made had he lived longer.


Shabana Azmi is the only woman in this group for the simple reason that out of all the actresses that have graced the screen in Indian cinema, she is the only one who never once acted for the camera. She has always believed in the quality of the material and the strength of her performance rather than relying on her physical appearance alone. Like Susan Sarandon and Jane Fonda, Azmi is willing to take risks at the expense of her career and her choice of roles challenge the conventional stereotypes of Indian women: the resilient, daydreaming seamstress in Muzzaffir Ali’s postmodern Cinderalla story, Anjuman (The Congregation), the bored trophy wife growing into her own sense of self after divorce in Arth (Value) and her most complex role, the quietly suffering wife trapped in a stifling arranged marriage who turns to her daughter-in-law for affection and ultimately, physical love in Deepa Mehta’s Fire.  Azmi values the impact she can make as a celebrity in challenging the complacencies of her audience, and her films show us the real India, the hypocrisies underneath the gold and glittering lights.


Every once in a while a movie star makes a complete transformation in his screen personality. Aamir Khan went from the teen playboy of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s specializing in bubblegum romances to a brooding, thought-provoking actor. It’s like Zach Morris evolving into Ralph Fiennes. But even more than a gifted actor, Khan is a born impresario, bringing talented actors, directors, cinematographers and composers together to create some of the best films to come out of India in the last ten years. Lagaan, the rousing cricket epic of poor villagers vs. arrogant British aristocrats, signaled the birth of the new Aamir Khan and was India’s first massive cross-over hit. Khan’s subsequent films, The Rising and Rang de Basanti, are deeply patriotic studies of the loss of heritage due to colonial oppression, bereavement, and the hope of reconciliation. As he grows older, Khan seems to be verging into Warren Beatty territory - incessant political commentary. But the quality of his acting is far superior to his contemporaries and, along his gift for making great movies, come together into something to be admired and enjoyed.


Contrary to public opinion, many Indian actors are fairly intellectual. They’re well read, believe in the power and truth of narrative, and want desperately to do bold and innovative films. But then, somewhere along the line, their vanity overtakes them. They become preoccupied with the flattering camera angles and what their fans want, and then they become just another movie star. All the stars detailed here have resisted their vanity. That’s not to say they don’t have any because all actors do, but that they’ve put it aside for the sake of the story and the character. And if that’s not what real acting is all about I don’t know what is.




Shashi Kapoor, in Satyam, Shivam, Sundaram, early ‘70s



Prithviraj Kapoor, in Mughal-E-Azam, ‘60s



Guru Dutt, in Kaagaz ke Phool, late ‘50s



Shabana Azmi, in Ankur, early ‘70s



Aamir Khan, in Sarfarosh, early ‘90s


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Monday, Mar 12, 2007


It’s almost here – the Summer movie season is just a mere eight weeks away. Time to drop as many of 2006’s late arrival titles on the unsuspecting DVD audience as possible. Once a certain spidered man starts slinging his webs around the 6th of May, the suits inside the studios will be concentrating on how well their would-be blockbusters are doing at the Cineplex, not how many copies of last year’s lamentable romantic comedy they’ve sold. So be wary when traveling to your favorite home theater depot. Interspersed among the timeless classics and new-fangled franchise efforts are a boatload of bullstuff, all aiming to drain away the last of your yet to be determined dollars. So choose wisely as you walk the aisles this 13 March, and try to avoid the elephantine hype surrounding our SE&L selection for this week:


Casino Royale


It seems like, every few years, spy film fans go through the James Bond jitters, Either they’re fed up with Roger Moore’s aging aimlessness, or angry that longtime producer Albert “Chubby” Broccoli can’t keep the one man they feel was perfect for the role (Pierce Brosnan) from bolting to bigger and better things. The latest row was over the casting of British blond himbo Daniel Craig as the new, post-millennial 007. The only glimmer of hope inside this otherwise dismissed bit of hiring was the promise that this version of the classic UK agent would be a “real return to form” (meaning a creative call back to the days of Sean Connery). Sure enough, this kinetic update delivered the best Bond movie in a long time – a legitimate action film with heart and head to match. Craig may still have to win over the Ian Fleming faithful, but at the box offices, he’s more than renewed his character’s license to kill.

Other Titles of Interest


The Burmese Harp: The Criterion Collection


As one of two classics by Kon Ichikawa to be released by DVD’s definitive preservationists, this story of a WWII Japanese platoon who sing to keep their spirits up represents war at its most insidious. Instead of focusing on death and destruction along the battlefield, Ichikawa follows the fallout of battle on man’s inner strength and resolve. The results are dark and devastating.

Fire on the Plain: The Criterion Collection


The second Ichikawa film from Criterion focuses on the ravages of combat from the psychological outward. When a group of Japanese soldiers are trapped in a Philippine’s jungle, the stress of waiting for death drives them insane. Some even resort to murder and cannibalism. As strong an anti-war message as you are likely to find anywhere, this amazing film fits perfectly into the company’s creative dynamic.

The Holiday


It’s a shame that Nancy Meyers isn’t a more skilled filmmaker. She had a great idea here, and a certifiably star-driven cast. Just the thought of Jack Black hooking up with Kate Winslet had stocky guys all across the world celebrating in vicarious triumph. Unfortunately, most critics found this routine romantic comedy to contain more hackwork than humor…or heart…or hope.

Shortbus


Here it is – John Cameron Mitchell’s notorious follow-up to his madcap musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Following the failing fortunes of a bunch of beleaguered New Yorkers, Mitchell made the unprecedented decision to ignore the MPAA and show all the sexual acts in their full blown, X-rated reality. What you wind up with is a surreal cinematic experiment, a character study that suddenly breaks into hardcore porn honesty.

Volver


While other foreign filmmakers seem to mellow and wane with age, Spain’s Pedro Almodovar is only getting feistier and more confrontational. For his latest look at women on the verge of interpersonal freefall, he casts Penelope Cruz in a story of ravaging emotional erosion. So successful was the combination that Ms. Cruz became the first Spanish actress to be nominated for a Best Actress Oscar.


And Now for Something Completely Different
Open Water 2


It’s quite the motion picture pickle – how do you make a sequel to a film where both of the main characters died in the end? Easy - avoid everything that the first movie stood for, and strike out on your own; borrow the name for some instant audience recognizability and hope no one in the fooled fanbase hollers “FOUL!” That’s what the makers of Adrift did when they discovered that the lame-os over at Lionsgate were picking up their effort for direct to DVD release. This German joke of an aquatic horror film is so illogical, so laced with ridiculous decisions by both the characters on screen and the creative team behind the lens that the individuals responsible for the original ‘you are there” sharkfest ought to consider an immediate injunction. The only thing this stupid storyline has in common with the 2003 hit is the vastness of the ocean – that’s it.

 


Now on PopMatters
PM Picks
Announcements

© 1999-2014 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters.com™ and PopMatters™ are trademarks
of PopMatters Media, Inc.

PopMatters is wholly independently owned and operated.