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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Legend of AVB

In a dimly lit pub, an unshaven man quietly sips his drink. He looks up and sees a score of 4-1 flash on the tv. His head sinks down and his shoulders look like those of a defeated man. He gets up from his stool, puts his hat on and walks out without even finishing his drink.

Someone asks "who was that?"

The bartender, Rango, replies: "They call him AVB"

"I have never heard of this AVB"

Rango: "He was brought here to restore order & build for a bright future. But he didn't know this town already had 3 sheriffs. They drove him out. Every now and then, his ghost appears here."

"What!!! He's not real?"

Rango: "Who is partner, who is?"


Thus ends "The Strange Case of André Villas-Boas", a chapter from "Mysteries of Porto", a previously unpublished work found by a sailor in Valparaiso. The sailor reportedly paid three crowns for this work.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Miss Bala

Miss Bala (2011, Mexico, Gerardo Naranjo)

Gerardo Naranjo’s remarkable Miss Bala can perfectly be described by the phrase “wrong place, wrong time”. Unfortunately, in the case of Laura Guerrero (Stephanie Sigman), her presence at such a place manages to turn her life into a nightmare hours after she wins a dream spot in the Miss Baja beauty pageant.

Miss Bala Laura

Laura only manages to get an audition thanks to her friend Suzu (Lakshmi Picazo). Later that night, Laura goes to a party to find Suzu but comes across cartel members who secretly enter through the washroom.

Miss Bala party

Laura is spared by the gang leader Lino (Noe Hernandez) but Suzu disappears and several people at the party are killed. Suzu’s absence also causes Laura to lose her spot in the pageant so Laura is desperate to find her friend.

Miss Bala Police car

Laura finds a police officer and honestly tells him about the previous night’s happenings. However, the officer leads Laura to the gangsters and Lino.

Miss Bala Lino

Lino has feelings for Laura and uses her as a pawn in his operations. In return, he gets Laura her spot spot back in the beauty contest.

miss bala laura contest number

Laura pays a heavy price for finally realizing her pageant dream because her life becomes a living nightmare in which the cartel shuttle her from location to location, including border crossings. The cartel is omnipresent and its tentacles infiltrate every aspect of society around Laura. As a result, everyone that Laura reaches out to for help is either captured or eliminated by the cartel.

Miss Bala ongoing war

The film is loosely based on a real life story and shows how a constant war between police and criminals forces innocent people to choose sides and even conduct illegal operations. Choosing sides also involves acting as an informer and providing tips either for money or pure survival. With such an uncertain environment, it is not a surprize that many meetings are conducted away from plain view, either in the confines of a car or in a dark room. Naranjo smartly depicts this by framing many critical transactions in a car, including Lino’s rape of Laura.

Miss Bala opening credits

The opening credits of the film shows an interesting poster collage of models and beauty contest winners. However, Naranjo also places the word “Fashion victim” on the wall as a nod towards the inspiration for the film’s story. Also, as noted by Satish Naidu, the collage contains a picture of Priyanka Chopra’s character from Madhur Bhandarkar’s film Fashion.

Miss Bala poster collage

This placement is not a coincidence as Laura’s profile evokes Priyanka Chopra’s character from Fashion. Both characters can rightly be called fashion victims and are beautiful women whose lives are effected by the crime and corruption around them.

miss bala laura miss baja
miss bala laura miss baja contest

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Andrew Niccol's In Time

In Time (2011, USA, Andrew Niccol)

Films based on Andrew Niccol's stories have always presented fascinating ideas in an accessible manner, thereby allowing audience to be exposed to engaging topics within the safe confines of a Hollywood framework. This has applied to his three directed films (Gattaca, S1m0ne, Lord of War) and those directed by others (The Truman Show and The Terminal). In Time continues this trend by packaging an intelligent idea in a multiplex friendly package. The story is set in a future where humans stop aging at 25 years of age and only have one more year to live after that unless they can buy, steal or inherit more time. This has the potential to allow some humans to be immortal and live as long as they can keep gaining more time, much like how video game characters continue to stay aline by gaining extra time. These time centric ideas kick the film off nicely but unfortunately the multiplex friendly side of the production steers the film into autopilot mode resulting in a run of the mill second half which does not utilize the promising setup. Still, the film contains many memorable scenarios and dialogues.

Time = Money

In the film, humans can transfer or gain time by grabbing each other’s hands which updates the time counter on their forearm. This exchange gives new meaning to the phrase “money changes hands”. When a person runs out of time, their counter resets to 00’s leading to their inevitable death.

Time is the only currency required for financial transactions which gives literal meaning to “Time is Money” and other associated phrases. The ability to pay for things with their time makes each human a walking ATM machine with no need for a wallet or a purse. So humans can use their time to pay for a restaurant meal or bus fare.

A wealthy person is clearly visible by the amount of time they have displayed on their forearm counter. So the phrase “You must come from time” describes those with ample time.

When a character gives Will Salas (Justin Timberlake) a century of his time, he leaves a simple message on the window:

“Don’t waste my time”

These words take on a much more positive meaning in the film's context.

And common everyday phrases such as the following take on a deadly meaning in the film:

“Give me some time”
“I am not giving you a second”
“Your time’s up”
“Out of time”
“By tomorrow, you won’t have time to stand around”

When someone gets a new lease of life thanks to borrowed time, the following words take on a richer meaning:

“I never got to properly thank you for your time”

Or the following perfectly describes a thief: “All the time he has taken”

A father upset at his daughter’s time wastage: “I am not about to see those years go to waste”

The famous deep throat phrase “Follow the money” also gets a new twist in the film. After Will Salas leaves town (“The Time left town”) with his new time gift, the law (appropriately named timekeepers) wonder what to do. The answer by their supervisor Raymond Leon (Cillian Murphy) is simple:

“What we always do. Follow the time”.

A city/state is divided into time zones so a border crossing into a wealthier time zone requires varying time deposits from a month to a year:

“Please deposit one month”

The timekeepers are able to track all the time counters in a zone. A poor time zone consists of people with hours/months to live so naturally if an influx of decades shows up on someone’s counter, then something is wrong.

The richest time zone suburb is appropriately called New Greenwich. While people struggle to survive on hours and days in the poor time zones, in New Greenwich the wealthy have so much time that they waste it away in a casino. With his new found wealth, Will decides to go gambling where he encounters Philippe Weis (Vincent Kartheiser). The following words appropriately describe Will’s reckless wager on a game of cards:

Will Salas In Time

“You could say I am gambling my inheritance”

Philippe is part of the evil corrupt rich who justifies his rich time lifestyle as “Darwinian capitalism”. The words “quality time” or “a man with a million years” easily apply to him as well.

Philippe Weis In Time

Mother, Sister or Daughter

A direct consequence of stagnant aging process is that everyone looks 25 years old, which makes it difficult to recognize certain relationships. So when Salas eyes Sylvia Weis (Amanda Seyfried), Philippe reads Will’s mind:

“Is she my mother, my sister or my daughter”?

And then at a party, Philippe introduces Will to his mother-in-law, mother and daughter (from left to right):

In Time Film

Of course, the most confusing aspect of this time relationship is watching Olivia Wilde play Will Salas’ mother.

Comments

Several scenarios and dialogues in the film are fascinating because of the literal meaning placed on time vs money phrases. That is why it is such a disappointment to see the film settle into a conventional good vs evil chase story and not fully explore the potential laid out by the setup. In this regard, the film is as disappointing as Pitch Black, another film with a great setup but an all too conventional second half.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Agneepath

Agneepath (2012, India, Karan Malhotra)

Agneepath poster

Karan Malhotra’s Agneepath conveys the essence of 1980's Bollywood revenge tales in a technically sharp framework that smartly uses silence when needed and in other moments, confidently lets the heightened background score serve as an emotional guide. The end result is that Malhotra’s film is a completely different beast from Mukul Anand’s 1990 Agneepath. The 2012 film cannot be called a remake by any standards and is a true homage as noted by producer Karan Johar at the start of the film. Karan Johar’s father, Yash Johar, was the producer of the original film so understandably Karan wanted to do his father proud and that is exactly what the entire team of the 2012 film have achieved.

Agneepath 1990 poster

Of course, doing a scene-by-scene remake of the original film would have been an impossible task because the 1990 film was powered by a riveting performance by Amitabh Bachchan who channeled the voice of Marlon Brando’s Vito Corleone (Godfather) in his portrayal of Vijay Dinanath Chavan. There were many memorable characters in Mukul Anand’s film but none towered over Amitabh's character. However, in Malhotra’s film the character of Vijay (played by Hrithik Roshan) does not displace the other characters as Roshan turns the anger of the original character inward and hides his burning revenge quite nicely. Instead, it is the two villains in Malhotra’s film who manage to steal the show.

Kancha & Rauf Lala

Kancha Agneepath

Sanjay Dutt plays the drug lord Kancha, a behemoth monster, whose appearance terrifies those around him. In fact, he is so terrifying that even he is afraid of his own reflection. His fear has roots in his childhood when he was picked on by other kids for his ugly appearance and whenever Kancha looks at a mirror, he is transported back to his painful past. In two instances in the film, Kancha smashes a mirror which dares show him his face. A mirror is his weak point much like fire was Anna’s (Nana Patekar) in Parinda. In Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s classic 1990 film, Anna was a fierce gangster whose childhood fear of fire was his ultimate undoing. In Agneepath, Vijay is not privy to the knowledge of Kancha’s weakness and is unable to use a mirror to defeat Kancha.

Kancha quotes the Gita in a similar manner to Manoj Bhajpai’s character from Aks but overall he appears to be a cartoonish villain much like Amrish Puri’s Mogambo from Mr. India. Therefore, the responsibility of portraying pure evil falls to Rishi Kapoor, an actor not known for playing a negative character.

Rauf Lala Agneepath

Rishi Kapoor’s ruthless portrayal of Rauf Lala comes as a real surprize given the warm loving characters that Kapoor has played in the past. Yet, Rishi Kapoor is able to extract enough charm from his past characters and transform it into the sinister Rauf Lala who appears to be trustworthy when needed and is ruthless when he wants to eliminate his enemies. He also does not expose his true emotions to those around him, including his own son. In a key moment in the film, Rauf's son is surprized when Lala drops a hint that one day the trusted Vijay will be bumped off. Rauf Lala delivers these lines while smiling and lovingly waving at Vijay. Many ruthless villains often compromise or grovel in their final moments but Rauf Lala is evil until his last breath and manages to unleash the violent animal inside of Vijay. Vijay does not want to resort to pure violence but Rauf Lala incites him. This incitement echoes a famous scene from Priyadarshan’s Virasat when Anil Kapoor’s character of Shakti Thakur asks his opponent to back off because Shakti does not want to become a "janwar" (animal) like his opponent. But when his opponent does not back down, Shakti has no choice but to resort to ultimate violence.

The Indian film industry has seen an incredible range of villains from Gabbar (Amjad Khan in Sholay) to Anna (Nana Patekar in Parinda) to Bhiku Mhatre (Manoj Bajpai in Satya) that it is hard to imagine that anyone could add a new dimension in portraying a gangster. Therefore, full credit to Rishi Kapoor for carving out a unique persona with his portrayal of Rauf Lala.


Finally....

Katrina Kaif nails the "Chikni Chameli" song.


The song is not required in the film but Kaif’s energetic & technically perfect performance ensures that the song keeps up the frenzied tempo of the film. The song itself manages to evoke elements from three other memorable Bollywood numbers -- "Beedi" (Omkara), "Humko Aajkal" (Madhuri Dixit in Sailaab) and "Jumma Chumma De De" (Hum).

Friday, March 02, 2012

Forza Bastia

Jacques Tati's last directed work was a football film!

Tati directed Forza Bastia, a 26 minute documentary, in 1978 but the film only surfaced in 2001 thanks to his daughter Sophie Tatischeff. The film was shown at the Kicking + Screening Soccer Film Festival in Amsterdam 2011 and can currently be viewed online in its entirety.

It is a remarkable film that shows the excitement in Bastia leading up to their first leg of the 1978 UEFA Cup final against PSV Eindhoven. Tati's focus is on the dedicated and loyal fans, showing their pre-game rituals along with their tension and anxiety during the game. There are some amazing sounds captured of the game itself which was played out on a water logged pitch and ended 0-0. Overall, this film is a great treasure not only of football's history but of cinema itself.

For the record, PSV won the second leg 3-0 to win the 1978 UEFA Cup.