First Friday Films Take Five
Coming-of-age Indian dramas, Irfan Khan (three times), sex with horses assumed to be Jesus incarnate...December was a busy month.
Anthony Minghella. Minghellaaaaaahhhhh...breathe a sigh of appreciation for such classic favorites as English Patient, Talented Mr. Ripley, and now... The Warrior. The Warrior is not a new film, it's just new to me. I was wandering through Tower looking for a Plan B when I discovered The Namesake was already checked out when I stumbled upon...you guessed it...Irfan Khan. Minus the growing handful of American films he's in, Kahn is best known for glittering mouthfuls of cotton Bollywood candy. In The Warrior, however, he says maybe 50 words the entire time. It's sensuous and haunting. To say that his eyes, his incredibly subtle facial expressions, completely make this film is an understatement.
I found this description online (and get your law suits ready because no, I don't remember where I found it) and I think it's perfect: "Set in ancient India, this is the epic tale of a lone warrior, Lafcadia, who quits his job as the enforcer of the war lord of the Red Fort after an encounter with a mystical force during a mission to raid a village in the deserts of Rajasthan for unpaid taxes. Abandoning his old life, The warrior is chased into the Himalayan Mountains, pursued by his former employees forces... ultimately facing them there." In other words, he used to be a hit man and has a run-in with his conscience that completely turns his life around. It's a story about redemption, ultimately. It is, unlike other films I saw this month (keep reading), truly epic and has some of the most beautiful cinematography I've seen in a long time.
A+. A sweet coming of age story about three brothers traveling through India in search of their absentee mother just after their father's funeral. I capital-A Adore Wes Anderson. I Adore his quirky humor contrasted with bouts of extensive cinematic silence. I Adore his who's who indy soundtracks. I Adore Adrian Brody. I Adore Jason Swartzman. I Adore this pitch perfect movie. It's odd, sad, witty, quiet, awkward, honest, and I think it's Wes Anderson's best (which means something coming from me). Also, while only a small role but continuing my monthly theme, Irfan Khan is spotted along the Darjeeling rails. See the movie and keep your eyes peeled. It's way cooler than Waldo.
Sticking with this month's coming-of-age theme, I rented The Namesake and relived this lushly gorgeous film. I didn't struggle with etnhic and/or racial identity growing up in America as the child of immigrants, but the brilliant thing about this movie is that it manages to be completely universal. At its core The Namesake speaks to anyone who has struggled to consciously define any part of themselves. It traces Gogol Ganguli's life from pre-birth, by way of his parent's immigration from India to America, through his school years, college graduation, first love, second love, marriage, divorce, death of a parent, in other words...it covers a lot of ground and it's beautiful. And yes, as predicted, Irfan Khan plays Gogol's father and he does so perfectly. Kal Penn is also spot on in the lead role. He's definitely one to watch (minus that one unfortunate movie about hamburgers which I never saw).
Iron Jawed Angels
I had forgotten how much I love this movie. I saw it in the theatre years ago and remember loving how hip and sexy they managed to make the women's suffrage movement. It was such a fresh take. Passionate young suffragettes marching on Washington to the beat of a Lauryn Hill soundtrack. It's even cooler than I remembered. HBO did a brilliant job contrasting old school politics to the more radical activism of Alice Paul and Lucy Burns.
I wish that more people, men and women, would realize and appreciate this bit of our country's history. It's completely unfathomable to me that any woman watching this film would be capable of not voting, not caring, not honoring the sacrifices of so many gone before. It also made me think of one of my favorite Ani DiFranco slam poems, which was subsequently stuck in my head for days and days after watching this movie: "People been raising up their voices since it just ain't been right with all the righteous rage and bitter spite that will accompany us out of this long night. [...] Shocked to tears by each new vision of what my ancestors have done, say the women who gave their lives so that I could have one. We're standing at ground zero of the feminist revolution. It was an inside job, stoic and sly, one we're supposed to forget and downplay and deny, but I think the time is nothing if not nigh to let the truth out. The coolest f-word every deserves a fuckin' shout. Why can't all decent men and women call themselves feminists? Out of respect for those who fought for this." Right on.
The Bourne Ultimatum
Between Live Free, Die Hard and The Bourne Ultimatum, I had an explosive summer with uncharacteristically intelligent action flicks. I saw this final film in the Bourne trilogy many times and when it was at the $1 theatre in my 'hood I saw it yet again. It was definitely the best out of the trilogy and that says a lot. It's very near the pinnacle of what thoughtful action films can be. The choreography of the chase scene at Waterloo station? Genius. The fist fight between Bourne and the asset Desh in Tangier, with no sound but raw fists and grunting and breaking bones? Genius. If Hollywood insists on blowing stuff up and bombarding us with obnoxious sights and sounds to overload our senses each summer, can't they all be as brilliant as Bourne? Um, or at least all star Matt Damon...?
I'm not in the large legion of Superbad / Knocked Up fans, it's just not for me. However, post-Juno, I have a little thing for Michael Cera. Gotta be honest with you. Ellen Page is Janeane Garofalo en utero. I hope she sticks around and hits her full stride. She's like the wicked smart, bitter but warmly funny lesbian at the cocktail party that you can't help but crush on. Anyone? Just me? Anyway, it's a simple story that's told with such humanity (that sounds pretentious and we should reserve words like "humanity" for the Hindenberg and Gandhi), you can't help but find yourself in at least one of the characters. I think that the married couple who may adopt Juno's baby (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner) stole the show. The acting, yes, but their plot line was much more compelling to me than Juno's. At any rate, well done. It's the best of what indy can be.
"Before time began, there was the cube!" Huh. So this was my first-ever encounter with Transformers. I've never been a ten year old boy, never been a thirty-something boy wishing he was ten again, never watched cartoons and comic book television of the like growing up, so other than the previews I saw last spring, I had absolutely no context for this movie. I actually thought it was pretty cool, interesting special effects, and while Shia Leboeuf overacts like a horny high school thespian, he's jailbait cute and the movie pulled me in. Well, it pulled me in until the robot car things started talking and suddenly had personalities, completing the posse with a token black robot. It was at this point that I became very confused.
I was cool with the sneaky scorpion thing fighting the U.S. army in Qatar (that was the raddest thing I've ever seen) and I was even cool with Shia's car acting out and playing hair band ballads for his porn star classmate crush, but when the Transfomers become anthropomorphic characters for whom we're meant to form an emotional bond...it totally lost me. But then...things started blowing up. Things blew up for like 50 minutes straight and I was back on board at about minute 10. Relentless special effects. Relentless. Very cool.
I think I must be hungry for a truly epic film because I went to Atonement for that fix and was let down. All the reviews, all the people I know who've seen it, apparently everyone but me thinks this is the most heart-wrenching historical epic ever sent to the big screen. I mean, it won the Golden Globe for Best Drama, so someone thinks it's epic. I liked it, don't get me wrong. I've posted about James McAvoy before and to borrow my friend's favorite expression, I want to take a bath in James McAvoy. He (along with Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale, and a handful of others) is one of the best actors of my generation, but the movie could never quite reach epic status. I kept leaning toward the screen and waiting for it, waiting for it, and thinking...now. Then no. Another sweeping moment would arrive and I would lean in thinking...now is the moment it reaches heart-wrenching epic status. Then no. I don't know quite what it is that held it back. I liked the movie a lot and I plan to see it again and eventually own it, I guess I just wanted it to be more than it is.
Ibid on my previous comments about wanting an epic and being disappointed in that respect. I had just barely, like within a couple weeks, finished Hosseini's book and went into this movie with very high expectations. Again, like Atonement, I loved it (this movie is actually better than Atonement in many ways)...but I wanted it to be so much more. I tore through the novel so quickly and felt such an ownership and investment in the story that I could see every frame of the film as I would have made it. I suppose that's the difficulty of reading a book and then seeing a movie adaptation. I understand that it was a major studio release and two hours is a long time to ask of antsy American audiences, but I would have sat through six hours BBC style to get every word of that book onto the sliver screen.
One example is Amir's fist fight with Asef, when they are adults and Asef is a Taliban leader. Pages and pages and pages of detail in the book and half way through reading the scene I realized I was holding my breath. The movie translation? About sixty seconds and not even a fraction of the tension portrayed in the book. When the scene ended I thought, was that the same scene from the book? That was it? I understand that they had to fit A LOT of material into a commercially viable film, and the movie is still better than most anything else in the megaplex, but I guess I wanted more art house.
Did I say I wanted more art house? Um, I spoke too soon. Licking the sweat off a horse's neck while you climax from your gallop on the beast you assume to be a surrogate Christ...? Art house? I guess I got it with Equus. The stage version of Equus is huge in London and has been playing for years, the film version I picked up at the library is from 1977, so it's not like this disturbing journey is a new phenomenon. In all honesty, the reason it's new to me and why I'm just now discovering the world of Equus is because I have a friend who is obsessed with Daniel Radcliffe. No, I'm not playing therapy games. It's not me. I really do have a friend in love with the Harry little Potter. When news that he was playing the lead in Equus broke (and subsequent announcement of New York tour dates), and that the lead has significantly lengthy nude scenes, the Google hits were burning up the monitors of thirty-something Potter fans all across this great nation.
When on the shelf of my neighborhood library I saw the film adaptation of the London stage play, I thought I'd check it out. I still, to this day and all those showers later, feel completely violated. I will admit that the concept is fascinating. The psychology, the dialogue, the narration from the Psychiatrist assigned to work with the boy who loooves his horses, it's all completely engrossing and you can't look away. You honestly want to know what happens and feel invested in the boy's pending therapeutic breakthrough. What hits you out of left field is the fact that the boy somehow mixes up Jesus and his sacrifice with the thought that the horses he tends in the country club's stable sacrifice for him by submitting to his whip, his desire to ride, allowing him to set the pace, "they could crush me in an instant, but instead give themselves over to me, a mere human..." So the thought (not new to Equus and actually found in religious traditions all over the world) that sexual intimacy is a connection to a higher source of power becomes the boy's reason for sneaking the horse out at night and galloping around naked until he comes and then rubs the horse down, licking it's sweaty mane until they both calm down. Huh. So yeah.
So the boy starts dating a girl who also works at the country club and at the end of one of their dates they end up in the stable, fooling around and very nearly having sex. The boy freaks out because the horses are watching (keep in mind that to him the horses are Jesus-eqsue), and his childhood Christian guilt kicks in and he can't bring himself to have sex with the girl. He also can't bear the thought that Jesus/Equus would watch him have 'shamefuly dirty' sex with this girl. When she leaves the barn he takes some sort of huge pick axe thing and stabs all six horses in the eyes and stands under each, covered in blood, screaming "Equus!!" Hence the psychiatrist visits. Dude. I feel dirty just recounting this brief narrative.
High School Musical 1 - Remix Edition
That's right. Two-disc Remix Edition. I told you I wanted this sugary treat in my stocking at Christmas and I was not disappointed. I thought I enjoyed watching the pop-up version on the Disney Channel (at home with the 'rents for Thanksgiving) but the sing along version is even cooler. The only thing that would have made it perfect is if a bouncing Mickey Mouse head would highlight each of the words as the song cruises on. Don't all 26 year olds need a little help keeping pace with the sing along subtitles? What? Of course all 26 year olds are obsessed with this movie as I am. Oh and you can bet I totally watched the special features where Zac teaches me the dance steps to "Getcha Head in da' Game" and I can now rock those moves by heart. It's my new favorite party trick. It sure beats pulling a quarter out of the host's ear.