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:
-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????

Kristy Watches Dallas: Part I

I have vague memories of the original Dallas, but they’re mostly limited to the opening credits (it was a tradition in my family to sing the theme song every time we drove into Dallas, just to annoy the menfolk in the family) and what I’ve seen in retrospectives. Imagine my delight at realizing my mother had the first and second season on DVD!

We start off with a nice hook. Bobby Ewing and Pamela Barnes have just gotten married (presumably an elopement) without telling their families. This becomes a nice way to weave in plenty of exposition. We learn quickly that the Barnes and the Ewings have a long standing family feud. We know that Jock Ewing is a big oil baron, and his wife Miss Ellie is from an old cattle family. Work in an old gunfighter and a dark eyed señorita somewhere and you’ve kind of got all your Texas essentials rolled up in one family.

Older brother JR has apparently been taking over the family oil business while Bobby’s been out doing the wheeling and dealing to cover their butts politically. There was a good-for-nothing middle brother in there somewhere, but he ran off, leaving behind a good-for-nothing daughter (more on this later). JR is a little resentful when Bobby announces now that he’s married he wants to settle down and move into the office with his big brother. And you kind of feel for him (even though JR is an underhanded snake); he’s worked hard for years to get where he is and his brother just walks in and wants to be in the same place. (In episode 2 we also learn that Bobby was a football star in his younger days. As the younger sister of a teen model I can imagine how much it must suck to be the older brother of a football star in Texas).

Bobby’s new wife Pamela is a nice girl. You can tell because she wears such demure dresses and has soft brown hair and a soft voice to match. We don’t know much about JR’s wife Sue Ellen other than from a few comments she makes to Pamela we can gather she’s a snob. Miss Ellie is sweet and loving like matriarchs often are in soap families where they have a patriarch to do the dirty work. She’s a good southern woman who is always nice to people’s faces, though you gather she’d have no problems doing a little smack talk behind someone’s back.

Then there’s Lucy. Jock and Ellie’s aforementioned good-for-nothing granddaughter. She’s our resident slut. You can tell because she wears lots of red. She’s also, perhaps not coincidentally the only blonde on the show. Lucy serves as a constant reminder that the show started in the 1970s and that the 70s were a dark, dark time for fashion. In her first scene she’s scrumping Ray Krebbs, foreman on the Ewing ranch. By the way, Ray used to date Pamela, and is more than a bit of a slimebag, but not a terribly smart one.

Lucy warns Pamela she’s not tough enough to survive the Ewing family. Pamela responds by showing Lucy how tough she is: she makes her start going to school, spoils her plans to get a teacher fired with a bogus attempted rape charge, and exposes her affair with Ray. Lucy does not enjoy any of this, but is moved by the realization that Pamela actually cares for her. Aw!

I’m not totally sure what I think about Pamela. Pamela’s such a good girl she wears a white turtleneck to a disco and puts her hair in a Gibson girl style bun. But she’s a little too street smart for a nice girl. And a little too comfortable using blackmail. I’m not complaining though. These are the things which will allow her to survive in this family. Speaking of survival skills—I have to admit that I love the way Lucy smirks every time a fight breaks out in the house.

In Episode 3 we learn that JR could have married his redheaded, deviously loyal secretary and that his marriage to Sue Ellen is not exactly happy. Their honeymoon is definitely over. We’re not real clear on why he married Sue Ellen at all, but my best guess is she had family connections and he liked the status of a former beauty queen for a wife. When Sue Ellen buys a lacy black nightie to wear for JR he dismissively declares it’s not her and instructs her to take it back. I’m starting to worry about JR—what kind of good Texas boy turns down sex for work? I can’t blame him for running out when she starts crying about them not making love anymore though. There’s no way to use “make love” in a sentence and not have it sound awkward.

I can blame him a little for leaving to go scrump his secretary (who is begging him the whole time to stop the bootie calls so she can move on.) He dismisses secretary’s urging to stay the night and leaves her with a $100 bill to buy herself something “real nice.” Oh… JR. That’s no way to treat a lady who knows all your dirty secrets. And has Cliff Barnes’s phone number.

So far… I’m enjoying it. I’m not exactly loving it. Like I know I should be rooting for Jim and Pam and their love to triumph over all. But really I’m just itching for more scandalous, soapy goodness. Maybe that’s what this type of show is really all about though. I’m diverted enough to keep watching.