In the Storm: The More Serious-er Sharknado

Guest Post from our Loyal Reader, Mary reviewing the summer action flick Into The Storm which opened last weekend:

Yes. I spent money on this movie.  Yes. I spent money on this movie the weekend that it opened.  Yes. I spent money on this movie the weekend that it opened and pulled Cammy and a local friend into the funnel cloud of summer blockbuster cheese Read the rest of this entry »

Gedeck-Fest!

I declared this weekend Gedeck-Fest! I wound up having an impromptu marathon of Martina Gedeck movies the other day.  Who is Martina Gedeck?  She’s the first German actor or actress I could name (truth be told, the total number has grown to a whopping two–I can also name Sibylle Canonica*.  I’d have 3 if I could ever remember the name of the chick from Run Lola Run–she’s been in plenty of other stuff, including The Bourne Identity, but I can never remember her name for more than about 5 minutes.  No commentary on her skill, only on my crappy memory).

Out of the 5 of you here, I’m sure at least 3 of you have seen Mostly Martha.  This means you’ve seen Martina Gedeck.  She’s Martha.

Gedeck-fest did not actually start with Mostly Martha.  It began by accident when I finally decided to watch Night Train to Lisbon.  It looked interesting, and I recognized her name on the summary of the cast.  At this point, other than Mostly Martha, I’ve only seen her in one other film, The Baader Meinhof Complex, which was disturbing, but good.  Still, two movies with good performances was enough to give her street cred with me.  The scales were tipped and I opted to give it a shot.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Book Thief Stole My Time

I am not going to say the recent film adaptation of The Book Thief was a bad movie.  I’m just saying that in my expectations that it would be as good as the book, I walked out feeling like my time had been vampire’d because I could have waited to let it come out on video and been just as well off.

First off, I do recommend The Book Thief as a book.  I had originally shied away from it because coming of age stories in Nazi Germany with the obligatory hidden Jew element are, frankly, almost a cliché.  Been there, read that.  When I finally picked up the book and read it, I ate a bit of crow because while this may have some of the necessary ingredients for the same old same old, it is put together in a way that made it a fabulous read.

What I should have realized before I saw the film was that what I love about the book are the little details, and the awesome narrator.  If anything is sacrificed in a film, it is the details, and narrators are usually under-utilized.  So, clearly, I was doomed.

Of course, being doomed in this way won’t stop me from complaining.  For the narrator, I will only say that the narrator of the book was one of my favorite narrators in any book I’ve ever read.  Full of insight and dark humor.  I can more or less forgive the drastically reduced role the narrator plays as I know that it can be tricky handling narration on film without the whole thing sucking.  I’ll grudgingly give the film a pass on this.

I’m not giving on the details, though.  Not completely.  There are some that, okay, fine, so the house didn’t fit the description completely.  And the random German words were minimized.  I can live with that.

But I  maintain that other details do matter.  When an author specifically calls out the main character’s eye color, and does so in terms connected to the time and setting (the author specified that Liesel had “dangerous” brown eyes.  Kinda mattered in Germany at the time), maybe the filmmakers ought not to go dead opposite (we’re talking full on Elijah-Wood-hobbit-ass big baby blues).  Really, there’s a detail that’s not too much to ask, in my opinion.  Also, if you are going to insert a death scene in the film that was not shown in the book?  Do not give it to a person who, while all right enough on screen otherwise, cannot actually act a decent death scene (if you watch, you will know this one when you see it.  It screams out for a whole new award category for Most Terrible Death Scene That Should Not Even Be In The Film). But the real kicker was a seemingly tiny change that I am sure the film makers thought nothing of, but which changes a fundamental element.  In the book, Liesel has an innate gift with words.  She struggles with reading and writing, but actually forming sentences and choosing how to describe something she does without any help or assistance, and does remarkably well.  She does not necessarily realize it is a gift until it is pointed out to her by another character, but it already exists in her.  In the film, rather than having her produce the description on her own, they chose to have that other character coach her to better describe something.  Totally killed a fundamental for me.  There is a difference between doing something naturally and having someone coach you to do it.

I hated that moment.

All that said, the costumes were great, and I appreciated that they did retain a modest amount of the little German words and phrases thrown throughout the book (which I totally ate up).  And there were some fantastic performances from the cast (bad, unnecessary death scene notwithstanding).  It’s the first time that I’ve watched a movie with Geoffrey Rush where he didn’t creep  me out (not saying he’s been bad in other things, just that I’ve found him creepy–on that list of people I don’t want to meet in a dark alley, like Christopher Lee).

Since it was in such a limited theater release in my area before the holidays, I assume that by now, I probably don’t need to warn anyone not to pop for theater prices, but if you see it screening, go see something like The Hobbit instead and wait for this one to come out on Netflix.

Or, just read the book.

Movie Review: Chori Chori

Title: Chori Chori – 2003
Director:  Milan Luthria
Starring: Ajay Devgan and (wait for iiiiiiiiiit) Rani Mukerji

First, the highly truncated, Cammy-fied summary of this film:

Rani Mukerji is surprisingly funny acting opposite stuffed monkeys.

That oughta get your attention.  Truly, this film is loosely based on the American movie Housesitter with Steve Martin and Goldie Hawn.  Orphan Khushi (Mukerji) is a happy-go-lucky nut of a gal, living on her own in Delhi and fibbing her way out of work whenever possible.  Ranbir (Devgan) is an architect who was building a dream home in the mountains for his love, Pooja….who refuses him and his house saying that he’s too much of a dreamer and not serious/financially responsible enough.  A depressed Ranbir is doodling the unfinished dream home on a party napkin on the one night when Khushi apparently decides to show up and do her job at the hotel hosting the event.  Good thing for her, too, because the next day her boss decides that her efforts at the party weren’t enough to make up for all the other days she’d made excuses not to work.  He not only fires her, but evicts her from the one room flat where she lives with her roommate and constant companion, stuffed monkey, Jonathan (no, not making that last part up.).  With the napkin sketch in hand, she sets off and takes up housekeeping in the half-finished dream home in the mountains (and if you’re thinking some of those mountains look like Switzerland, you’re right…Bollywood is obsessed with shooting stuff in the Alps, just roll with this), faking to Ranbir’s family that she’s his fiance.  He shows up, and plays along, hoping to make Pooja jealous enough to return to him.

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand, it’s Bollywood romance, so you kinda know how this one ends.

So you know the plot isn’t complex.  It is, in fact, cheeZe with a Z, much like other B-wood movies I’ve reviewed.  But what about the acting?

Remember when I said that Mukerji is acting opposite stuffed monkeys?  Plural?  One of them clearly, is Jonathan, the literal stuffed monkey she totes around the entire movie.  The other is Devgan.  Totally sorry to his fans, but while the man is decent enough to look at, and seems to be good for the quiet, brooding type…he just isn’t dialed in for most of this movie.  It might be the script and an attempt to show a contrast between Ranbir and Khushi, but I’m not sure that’s all of it. I–no lie–actually recall more scenes with Khushie interacting with Jonathan than with Ranbir.  I’ve seen way worse couplings, but this pairing is not going to have the chemistry of a Shah Rukh Khan-Kajol or Rani Mukerji-Saif Ali Khan flick.

Mukerji, on the other hand, brings it pretty well.  I mean, she manages to make me adore scenes where she’s conversing with a stuffed animal enough that I went out and bought the DVD and I’ve watched the damn thing 5 times.  Khushie as a character has the potential to be so saccharine and unreal that she’s detestable (I was actually very afraid of this when I read the summary of the film), but somehow, at least for me, Mukerji manages to make the character nutty and endearing and does what I find to be a great job with her first comedic role.  Her performance makes the movie (well, her’s and Jonathan’s.  Actually, I’m giving most of the credit to Jonathan because while she’s funny enough, the fact that she’s talking to a stuffed monkey is what makes hilarious).

The film has some other problems, but I found out after watching that the producer died in the middle of the film and the final release was delayed over a year.  I can only imagine how much didn’t get done that could have been better without issues.  Smoother scene transitions, a little more build up on the romance, clarity on some of the shots (some seem fuzzy).

While not a Bollywood classic, or anything deeply meaningful, it’s a fun, easy-to-watch film.  I find it a good one for a Sunday afternoon, or as background noise while puttering around in the evening.  It’s also a really nice gateway drug to Bollycrack for westerners who may not be ready for anything too over-the-top.  At 2 hours, it’s shorter than some of the other introductory Bollywood options available, and with a simple story and lots of humor

So, to sum it up in Kristy style:

Things I liked:
-Jonathan, the stuffed monkey
-Khushie’s lonely-but-upbeat Dilwali
-Khushie’s conned meal
-Mukerji proves hands down that she’s good for more than weepy drama
-Did I mention Jonathan, the stuffed monkey?

Things I didn’t like:
-Some of the subtitles in a few places just didn’t make sense!
-Lack of build up of the romance
-Romantic lead participates less than Jonathan
-Poor scene transitions/seemingly missing background info

All told, I’ll give it 3 and a quarter jars of peanut butter.

One Review More

By now if you have any interest in the new movie version of the musical Les Miserables, you’ve read a bunch of reviews already on much more legitimate websites than this one. And you’ve probably seen it for yourself already. So I really have no idea why you’d want to read another review, and yet, I feel compelled to write one. It’s not so much a review as it is my spontaneous thoughts on the movie.

First of all, you have to understand my relationship with Les Miserables. My parents took us to see a touring production of the stage musical when I was nine. That production was what made me fall in love with musicals. I was crushing on them pretty hard after seeing Cats the year before. But Cats just had a lot of awesome dancing and some catchy music. What little storyline there is, eight-year-old me didn’t understand at all. Les Mis is a whole other thing. It’s about love and (in)justice and social issues… I think my weakness for revolutionaries probably started with Enjolras. Twenty-three years later, minute details of the staging are still etched in my brain—it made that much of an impression.

Second of all, you have to understand how long I’ve been waiting for this. When I saw the musical in February of 1990 there was a blurb in the program announcing that in 1992 “She’s coming to the cinema”. It stated that a film version of the musical was in the works. Before anyone asks, no, I’m not talking about the 1998 non-musical film. In fact, when that one came out, I read an article about it stating that the movie version of the musical was still “waiting in the wings.” So for me this movie is over twenty years late.

Les Mis is simultaneously my first love and an old friend. I’m sure there was a lot of it nine year-old me didn’t get at all. Over the years, listening to the sound track over and over, I still notice new little things. Not things I was unaware of before, but I will suddenly notice how awesome something is. I know the show isn’t perfect, but I don’t want to think about its flaws. I’m blinded by love and nostalgia.

I’m aware enough of the power of that nostalgia that I was a little wary going into the film. As excited as I was, I knew I was going to have to let go of a lot. There would have been no point in making this big budget movie if it was just a video of the stage production. And while I would love to be able to watch the stage production any time I want, I didn’t honestly want the movie to be that. A quick glance at the running time reveals that a lot has been cut. And while I totally understand why that was necessary, the part of me that has listened to the three-CD soundtrack over and over didn’t want anything to be cut. Because every second is so amazing, how could you cut any of it? On the other hand, I was super excited about the cast, and forced myself to be open-minded about everything else.

The verdict: I love it.

To be more specific: Read the rest of this entry »

Movie Review: Kuch Kuch Hota Hai

Title:  Kuch Kuch Hota Hai
Director:  Karan Johar
Starring:  Shah Rukh Khan, Kajol, Rani Mukerji

This movie fits into the category of Secret Heresy.  I should not like this movie.  It’s ridiculous, campy (literally and figuratively), and more full of cheeZe than a Velveeta factory…but it’s also strangely addictive and a rather essential film to watch if you’re going to get educated on Hindi films.

In Bollywood watching circles liking Kuch Kuch Hota Hai isn’t really heretical.  It’s pretty well liked over at Bollywhat, and if you’re getting into Hindi films, you will probably encounter plenty of references to this both in discussions and in movies themselves (Kabie Khushie Khabie Gham, by the same director, and also starring Kajol and Shahrukh Khan has plenty of KKHH in-jokes) but when surrounded by non-Bollywood film fans, this probably isn’t the thing you’re going to trot out on movie-night.

Let’s summarize this Cammy-style starting with the first half of the film, most of which is a flashback.  Imagine Bayside High from Saved By the Bell.  Now stick it in India.  And add song and dance numbers (if you’re picturing the infamous “I’m So Excited” episode, know that you’re not alone, but no one here will have a drug problem–this is family style Bollywood–and we’ve expanded our dance troupe way beyond The Max), slap brand name logos on everything that stands still for 5 seconds, include people who cannot dribble a basketball with any level of respectability and stir in liberal use of wind machines.

The second half, hmmmm, imagine a one-kid, highly condensed, musical version of The Parent Trap, mixed with The Sound of Music’s rain-soaked gazebo scene (only better and fulfilling the semi-obligatory wet-sari criteria for most Bollywood films), a kid who sees dead people, the decorations from a church basement kindergarten Sunday School classroom, a smattering of anti-British Indian patriotism, and a last minute wedding-crisis averted scene.  In Hindi.

You want to see it now, don’t you?

The real summary is more like this:  Little Anjali is given a mission from beyond the grave.  Little Anjali’s mother, Tina, knew she was dying right after her daughter was born, and so wrote her one letter for each of her first 8 birthdays.  Little Anjali is chomping at the bit to open the final letter when the movie opens…but this one is different.  Tina tells her daughter the story of how she met Little Anjali’s father, Rahul–and how their meeting ended his relationship with his tomboyish best friend, Anjali (hereinafter known as “Original Anjali”).  Tina knew Rahul and Original Anjali belonged together, and she’s using the only tool at her disposal to rectify the situation she caused:  from beyond the grave she instructs her little girl to play matchmaker.  So, Little Anjali and her Grandma figure out where Original Anjali wound up….they track her to a kids’ summer camp, and wherever Little Anjali disappears off to, her doting Dad must follow, so there, in the middle of singing, dancing kids, Original Anjali–who is no longer a tomboy and now engaged to be married–and Rahul re-unite.  Of course there’s some drama, what with the fiance (who is not a bad guy so it’s not like you’re rooting for his ultimate demise), but it’s classic Bollywood, so you know it all comes out right in the end (but only after multiple song-and-dance numbers and a lot of glycerin tears).

The good:
-It’s fun
-It’s colorful
-It’s got great Bollywood Song and dance numbers (and if the title theme doesn’t get stuck in your head, I kinda hate you)
-The love triangle between Rahul, Tina and Anjali is the first love triangle I’ve ever encountered on film, tv or in a book where I really didn’t hate one of the pairings.  I mean, it’s a given that Rahul and Anjali belong together, but I don’t hate Tina, not even in the flashbacks.  It’s to the point where I literally cannot understand the people who are avowed “Tina Haters.”
-The little boy counting the stars.
-What Anjali sees at the wedding
-You will wind up spotting references in other films

The delightfully bad:
-Re-living Saved by the Bell for the first half of the film.  ZOMG, it’s wrong to miss the early 90s this much….
-The most unrealistic basketball playing ever in the history of ever
-Even MORE unrealistic “playing” of musical instruments (Rani Mukherji and Shahruhk Khan, have you REALLY never watched people play a guitar?!?!?)
-Obligatory random song scene in a painfully European location

The Just Bad:
– The outcome of the second basketball game (so much for sportsmanship and women)
– Miss Burganza and Principal Malhotra (WTF was all that??)
– Every time “The Neelam Show” was on
– They couldn’t put Little A in a better outfit for the wedding?  Really?

The part of me that wants to shun cheese, cliche, over-the-top acting moments (“CHEATER CHEATER CHEATER!”) wants to put this as a 2, but that part is way smaller than it ought to be.  I’m embarrassed to say it, but for the cheesy fun, and the educational reference for further Bollywood watching, I give this 3.75 jars of peanut butter.

Movie Review: Bunty aur Babli

Title:  Bunty aur Babli
Director: Shaad Ali
Starring: Rani Mukerji, Abhishek Bachchan

This film was one of the 10-run Rani-Mukerji-stalking-my-Netflix-recs incidents. The first time I watched it, I wasn’t sure I’d ever watch it again.  A month later, I owned a copy and was working on a true effort to be able to replicate the dance steps to “Nache Ballye”

I just had so many misgivings. Despite the safety net I had going on (the ever-present, inescapable Rani Mukerji), I was unsure.  Who was this Abhishek Bachchan guy?  This con-artist jaunt across India….would this be too over the top?  Did I even like the idea of a movie centered on criminals?  That cover art looked awfully….bright.   How head trippy were the musical numbers going to be?  Would Rani Mukerji continue to be someone who delivered good performances?

Oh, me, of little faith.

I really did resist.  Even after seeing Abhishek and acknowledging that I had here a Bollywood candidate for the “Mama liiiiiiiiiiiiiike” category of male attractiveness, I remained aloof.

I tried to dismiss the first song based on Rani rockin’ the side ponytail.
I tried to dismiss the proliferation of the bright-and-shiny colors.
I tried to dismiss the fantastic montage of con-artist wackiness presented with an overlay of the Bunty aur Babli song.
I tried to dismiss the delightfully over-the-top cheeZe of Vimmi’s sobbing  “MUMMMMMMYYYYYYY!”
I tried to dismiss the appearance of Abhishek’s Daddy Amitabh-the-Awesome and of Abhishek’s wife Aishwayra Rai (the sickeningly beautiful).
I tried to dismiss the cliches, the completely BollyWTF moment that is the Nache Ballye dance number, and the totally X-Files/Men-In-Black ending.

I actually walked away after the first viewing saying, “Well, that was entertaining.  I’ve seen something else from Rani Mukerji, which is adds to my unwilling collection….but I don’t need to see that again.”

But about a week and a half later, I had a moment where I realized the “Dhadak Dhadak” was stuck in my head I thought I’d watch just the one song.  That was all she wrote.

It’s just a fun movie.  The songs are very peppy, very danceable, and very catchy.  Abischek is funny (and fun to look at), and Rani once again proves she’s got acting talent every time Vimmi sobs and you laugh instead of rolling your eyes.

Maybe it’s just the lack of a fun, whacky, colorful movie in my collection that made this one so entertaining that I bought a copy, but when I try to find an English language equivalent of this type of straight up fun?  I’m at a loss.

I wouldn’t count this one as an Intro-To-Bollywood flick for the average viewer, but for the Glee-lovin’, Broadway-worshiping type?  Bunty aur Babli might just be a fabulous starting point.

Things I Liked:
-Abhishek
-Way more of Vimmi and Babli’s outfits that I ought to admit (really want the blue dress from the first con)
-The wedding and wedding night scenes
-Every.  Single.  Song.
-The old Sikh with the bus who stops to help
-The federal agent ending

Things I didn’t Like:
-Amitabh’s hair (but this is a universal problem, not just this flick)
-I could have done with a little more non-musical development during the series of cons (discussion of what they would vs. wouldn’t do…clearly Babli drew some boundaries)
-I want more after the Fed-wear ensues!  Where’s Bunty aur Babli II????

Documenting Coffee

Would we have coffee with Ken Burns?

Cammy:  Absolutely.  I love this man’s work.  One of my earliest memories is of watching his documentary on the Shakers.  From his use of still photographs, to his careful incorporation of music, he has a style that sucks me in like no other documentarian I’ve ever watched–and I’ve watched a crap-ton of documentaries.  For the pure awesomeness he’s shared with us through The Civil War, Thomas Jefferson, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, I owe this man whatever beverage he likes.  I’d love to know what other person/era/event he has in his targets for the future (I know there are plans out to at least 2018–I’m particularly looking forward to the planned Country Music).  Are there any subjects/people that he has marked as just too difficult to cover properly?  And while I definitely love that he covers American history, is there anything outside the US that he’s ever considered focusing on?  How does he narrow the material down for his documentaries?  I’m more willing than normal to pepper this man with questions.  Kristy might need to restrain me.

Kristy: Sure. I’m ashamed to admit I’ve seen very little of his work. I saw some of The Civil War, but remember very little of it. But even if I don’t watch as many of them as I feel I should, I find documentary films very interesting. I’m interested to know if there’s anything he found while working on any of his documentaries that changed his mind/feelings about anything. I’m interested to know what got left out of them, and why. And I’d even be interested to know how he wound up going into documentary film in the first place.

Movie Review: Hum Tum

Title: Hum Tum (2004)
Director:  Kunal Kohli
Starring: Rani Mukerji and Saif Ali Khan

Hum Tum was one of my favorite films out of the 10-film run in my previously-mentioned period of being Netflix-stalked by Rani Mukerji.  If you are a romantic comedy fan and looking to give Bollywood a try, this is a great starter film (probably better than the usual intro-to-Bollywood film most of us get, Bride and Prejudice…because that movie wasn’t great over all).  It’s got enough Bollywood to wet your whistle without overwhelming those who may not be used to that style, and the final package is as well, or better polished and delivered than many U.S. mainstream romantic comedies.

Immature cartoonist Karan tries to impress serious Rhea on their flights from India to Amsterdam to New York…and fails.  While on layover in Amsterdam,  they seem to be calling a truce, until Karan crosses the line and plants a kiss on her.  Over the years that follow, Karan and Rhea meet and part several times.  They develop a friendship based predominantly on mutual harassment and Rhea ordering him to “Shut up, Karan!”  Since I’ve already told you it’s a romantic comedy, it should be no surprise that the conflict comes in these two trying to transition from friends to lovers.  The plot is heavily inspired by When Harry Met Sally, a fact openly admitted by the director. Since I only know the one scene from When Harry Met Sally (we all know the one), and that’s not in this version, I can’t really speak to how similar they really are.
Read the rest of this entry »

Movie Review: Please Vote For Me

Title:  Please Vote For Me (2007)

Director:  Weijun Chen

I was all set to plug a Bollywood movie until I turned on a short (58 minute) documentary while I fixed supper.  Please Vote for Me follows a class of elementary school children in China as they experiment with a democratic election for the coveted position of Class Monitor.

It was a completely appropriate choice given that it’s election season around here right now.  The difference is, I found this election far more compelling.

This is a not an overly-slick, Hollywood-ized documentary.  A lot of it is 8 year old kids being 8 year old kids.  Yelling, pouting, fighting, arguing…it’s as real as it gets (and one of these boys is totally going to regret this when he’s a teenager and it gets shown around school with him all up in his undies all the time).   It’s only when you stop to realize that this is China that it gets truly amazing.

Watching the three kids at the center of the election jump into the typical games of politics (back-room negotiations, pushy behavior, gifts to gain favor, empty promises, mud-slinging and general sabotage) you start to wonder if what you’re seeing is the rise of a new way of thinking in China, or if competitive election behavior is just rooted in human DNA.  And it’s not just the kids, the push-to-achieve Chinese parenting style is apparently way more powerful than any loyalty to communist equality as all the parents push their little darlings to practice for each round of the election cycle–some pulling out more stops than others.

It was interesting to watch the way these kids approached the process, and though less heavily featured, it was even more amazing to see the teacher walk them through it.  About the last thing I ever expected was to see a Chinese teacher explaining democracy, and emphasizing the importance of each kid’s vote as their way to control their own destiny.  It would be a throw-away speech for a teacher here, but in a country where the internet is fire-walled by your government and there’s only one party, it becomes a heavy-hitter.

There’s a plain old slice-of-life attraction to it as well.  You follow these kids home and get a little peek at the life of the new “middle class” Chinese family.  And the classroom shots were an eye-opener.  I was surprised that you didn’t see the kids doing all that much school work.  And the way they were wandering around at lunch, in and out of the halls,  doing as they pleased?  That’s not what I expected, especially since the public school classroom where I volunteered in Dallas was a WAY more uniformed, regimented, all-in-a-line kind of place where there was no way a kid set so much as a toe in the hall without being in classroom line, or escorted by a teacher.

Sadly, these kiddos didn’t get much better choices for their leader than you find in most Western elections, so there’s a depressing universality going on here.

It’s an interesting look at both election behavior and at what China is becoming.  The film is not life-changer, but it does inspire a moderate amount of thought.

I give it 3 and a half jars of peanut-butter.