Monday, October 31, 2011

The secret life of the clergy

Re-posting an earlier review of this film with edits as a submission for the Reel-life Bloggers contest run by the fine folks at wogma and reviewgang.

Ed Norton, as always, a prime pick. I tend to choose films by directors and not actors - Chris Nolan and Baz Luhrmann being directors whose works I enjoy, with Steven Spielberg and Cameron Crowe high on the list too. Ed Norton's an exception. Primal Fear, Fight Club and The 25th Hour later, Ed Norton's a guy whose films you watch, simply because he's chosen them.

Keeping the Faith was similarly recommended. Picking up the DVD, I realized that he's directed the movie as well. This gets better.

The premise is simple. Two guys. One girl. They've been friends forever. She left when they were in eighth grade and went to the other coast. Now she's back. She's beautiful, smart, the kind they both fall for.So, a love triangle, right?

Not completely. He's a priest. Catholic at that. His best friend's a Rabbi. She's not Jewish - complications all around. He wants to tell her. His friend already has. She likes him (the Rabbi, that is) as well. Problem: He cannot see her and continue his relationship with his mother or the Synagogue. Ah, the tangled webs we weave.

For me, the film was a revelation in some ways. It showed a couple of clergymen of two of America's most prominent religions as regular guys. They wear shades, play basketball, and yes, occasionally swear too. Seeing them out of their robes was a surprise by itself. (I don't know, imagining our batt-ru in a leather jacket doesn't quite gel).

They falter, as all humans do, and find the faith (in themselves and those around them) to carry on. The film is reasonably well written, offering all three - Ed Norton (the priest), Ben Stiller (the Rabbi) and Jenna Elfman enough to do. Ed Norton as always lives the role, something he did frighteningly well in Primal Fear. Ben Stiller is subtler than some of his more recent roles, showing he's capable of better, and Dharma fits the role to a T.

The whole love triangle thing gets a tad awkward at times, but nothing to kill the movie completely. Some laughs, some tears, a drunk scene, a showdown, a punch and all's well with the world again. I admit, I probably liked the film more than I should have but smart rom-coms are so hard to come by that good ones are worth the watch.

Everyone thinks his story is the one with a twist.

On Rocky and the Underdog

Re-posting an earlier review of this film with edits as a submission for the Reel-life Bloggers contest run by the fine folks at wogma and reviewgang.

Spoiler alert: For someone who's not seen the movie and cares to not know the ending to a non-thriller with a non-Shyamalanesque twist, don’t read this post!

Rocky is one of cinema's big cliché movies. The story of the underdog who overcame the odds to become something bigger than himself. The backstory of the movie itself is similar, with Stallone pushing the script door-to-door, refusing to make the movie unless he got to be Rocky as well. The story to trump all stories, the movie won multiple Oscars, including Oscars for Best Film and Director, and nominations for Stallone for the screenplay and (gulp) for his acting. Rocky got so crazy that there were eventually five Rocky movies. Stallone went on to become a billionaire, giving us other classics like the Rambo series, The Expendables and some really bad acting.

When I first saw the movie, I was underwhelmed. There was a bit to the tale, but I didn't see much. One of the explanations that me and my friend (whom I saw the movie with) could muster for the success and resonance of the movie was that it was arguably a function of the times. The late 70s with a bad economy and general doom and gloom in the Carter years meant that the movie symbolized hope for the underdog in some ways. Maybe in the more prosperous '0s, that wasn't so true anymore, and we couldn't (and could never) 'get' the movie.

I was wrong. I’ve caught parts of it on TV later, and as I think back to the movie now, it (the movie) makes more and more sense. Part of it is arguably that I've grown older and seen more of life since then. The character-building itself is one thing, but what holds the key to the film is the last, actual boxing match. The night before the match, Rocky says to Adrian, "Cause all I wanna do is go the distance."

And go the distance he does. Even as Apollo pummels Rocky, he just keeps coming back, doesn't he? He really shows no sign of giving up. He does go the full 15 rounds to lose on points. What matters there is the fact that he goes the distance. Every blow that he gets, he manages to get up again, ready to fight.

Like Simon and Garfunkel sing poignantly,(not about Rocky, though this could apply)

In the clearing stands a boxer, and a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminders of every glove that laid him down or cut him
’til he cried out in his anger and his shame
I am leaving, I am leaving, but the fighter still remains
Yes he still remains.

Hell, yeah. Rocky's my hero. Now, if only they hadn't made those sequels...

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Celluloid City

Bollywood films typically exist in some sort of never-land. This has been true from way back when. Even when Raj Kapoor’s films wanted to portray the struggles of the Everyman struggling to retain his soul in the Big, Bad City, the city itself was amorphous. A Bombay look-alike, but not quite the real thing. Clichéd stock shots of V.T. and the city’s Fort area were meant to depict the Metropolis in all its glory.
And so it went. A lot of films from the 60s and 70s all the way through the 80s tend to repeat this theme. The reasons may have been varied – catering to an India-wide audience or maybe just the hassle of shooting on location. Stock shots, sound stages and compromises. It’s a time where it’s hard to remember mainstream films with a great sense of place. Unlike, say, New York in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, or the gritty city seen through new eyes in Scorsese’s and Woody Allen’s 70s masterworks, we did not have our own filmi City of Dreams, as it were.
The first memory I have of a film with a more unique city view than most, is for some vague reason, Chashme Baddoor. Being shot in New Delhi gives the film a visual style that quite varies it from the smaller Amol Palekar films that are its genre and period brethren. Those films too were shot on location in Bombay – waiting at bus stops along Worli seemed a favorite past-time, but still, it all seems very generic.
However, what really brought the power of stage-setting home for me personally was Ram Gopal Verma’s Satya. I somehow associate it with the city very strongly – location, sensibility, plotting (there’s a whole bit explaining the geographical distribution of territories between Bhau’s lieutenants). The ending in a very Mumbai milieu – the Ganapati visarjan at Chowpatty just drives the whole thing home: this is a Bombay (was it Mumbai already then?) gangster film.
What has changed in the intervening 15 years? The multiplex boom does mean that there are diverse settings that film-makers can now explore. Be it the soul-sucking environs of an industrial town (Jamshedpur, Udaan) or interior Rajasthan (Manorama: Six Feet Under), it’s all game, if only the filmmaker is brave enough to reach for it. Even the quintessential Mumbai film has moved from a state of mind like in Dil Chahta Hai to films where there’s some level of effort to include non-cliched parts of the city(Bluffmaster, Jaane Tu…)
However, the most remarkable trend I’ve noticed in the past few years has been the rise of the “Delhi film”. AG observed in a conversation just four or so years back that Rang De Basanti was the only real Delhi film we’d seen in years. But the past 3-4 years has seen the explosion of a variety of Delhi films, the likes of which Bombay/Mumbai never really saw. Dev D, Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!, Delhi-6, Do Dooni Chaar, Band Baaja Baaraat, Delhi Belly all show the country’s capital from different eyes. The seedy underbelly of Paharganj contrasts with the tony wedding soirees of Sainik Farms in various ways, with detours through middle class neighborhoods along the way.
Fittingly, over 50 years after Yeh hai Bambai Meri Jaan, Delhi got its own Bollywood anthem this year. Gai kaat kalejaa indeed.