Review: Jodhaa Akbar

If you ever harbored doubts about whether beautiful people get all the breaks in life, look no further than Jodhaa Akbar, a movie that’s practically the epitome of all things Bollywood. One could say Ashutosh Gowariker packs in extravagant set-pieces, gory battle-scenes, an epic romance, jealousy, betrayal, and lots and lots of swelling music in his latest venture. Only, it feels wrong to use the term “packs in” when describing a 195 minute long movie.

After a preliminary nod at the somewhat dubious origins of this story, Gowariker quickly gets on with his tale of romance between Mughal Emperor Jalaluddin Akbar and his Hindu bride Jodhaa. Every third or so minute, one starts losing patience with what is essentially a Velveeta cheese factory (make no mistake, for all its beauty this is no gourmet cheese farm). But a nanosecond before one crosses over to anger, along comes Hrithik Roshan (or the younger Mrs. Bachchan – depending on personal sexual orientation) with his / her green eyes and you forget all about the lactose-overdose.

After one or both of these almost too-gorgeous people move away from the camera, and you regain the use of your grey cells, you realize that were this man around today, he’d be the perfect Republican presidential candidate. Forget about McCain and Huckabee and their wannabe conservatism – we’re talking about a ruler who’s waged (and won, which is always nice) more wars than our current one might have even had wet dreams about, and whose idea of economic reform is a permanent abolishment of tax on religious travel. And if the evangelicals had any doubts about his social conservatism, they only need to be reminded that not only did Akbar and his wife wait till they were married, but what’s more – they waited till they truly fell in love (this being your cue to go “Awwww”). Yes, this chap does harbor an unnatural penchant for tolerating other religions, but surely, with time, he can be made to see the light.

One has to congratulate Gowariker on his casting. Among the current crop of Bollywood heroes, Roshan is perhaps the only one who can get away with a wink and a smile, appearing almost humble in a story whose only intent appears to be to get everyone to either worship or fall madly in love (preferably both) with the character he plays. If the movie only had the lead couple, you might be tempted to write it off as a story about an alien species of human-like creatures characterized by their stunning good looks. But Gowariker fills the rest of the cast with a fine collection of gargoyles who constantly remind you that Roshan and Rai are indeed earthlings, only more special than you and I could ever be.

Final verdict: cheap cheese in a near-perfect package. How can you not fall for it?

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Review: No Smoking

It is not often that a Hindi movie reminds you of a Murakami short story*. Make that never ever. But that is precisely what director Anurag Kashyap accomplishes with No Smoking. This phantasmagorical allegory explores the idea of addiction, and by extension of non-conformity. It takes a dark and cynical view of the the price one has to pay – to kick the habit, to survive, in fact to do both, as one can’t be accomplished without the other. The explicit addiction in this case is smoking, but replace it with a compulsion of your choice (“vice” according to the rest of the word) and the movie would work just as well.

In telling his story, Kashyap dispenses with or even intentionally subverts many standard Bollywood props, starting with the name of the hero (John Abraham). He is K, just K. And if you must know, his brother’s J. Yes, there are dream sequences involving pristine snow covered slopes. Only, they are nightmares, presumably set in Uzbekistan (up yours, Switzerland), and there’s no singing. There is a Bipasha Basu item number, but only if you aren’t such a boor as to walk out of the theater immediately after the credits start rolling.

K is a chain smoker and when his wife threatens to leave him because of it, he reluctantly agrees to check out this rehab center that appears to be all the rage among his friends. Sinister and bizarre things start happening after he signs up for the program, and the fun is in sitting back and watching him deal with every new lemon that life throws at him. There is some fine black humor, dark thoughts that no doubt every smoker has experienced. There’s even some slapstick thrown in, but thankfully not too much.

The movie is not without its flaws. At 135 minutes it is too long. For starters, a little less of Ms. Takia (particularly in the second half) and lots more of Messrs. Shorey and Rawal would have made a better movie. And ending the story about fifteen minutes before it actually does would have made it a lot sharper and edgier. While one admires Kashyap’s ambitious attempts at pulling a Tarantino with the soundtrack, the places where the music does actually work best is when it is original. Overall, the more had Kashyap stuck to the ‘less is more’ rule, the better this movie will have been.

It is impossible to watch or write about this movie without also thinking about all the bad press it has been receiving. It is a pity that the critic community in India has decided to hate this movie. And it is an even bigger pity that Indian audiences set such store by reviews. I was one of five people at this evening’s show.

 

Kashyap has been accused of being arrogant, confusing, and inaccessible to just mention a few of the labels being thrown at him. To be fair to Kashyap, none of these labels are justified, excepting perhaps the one about arrogance – after all, he did go and make a movie with no bad guys (or good guys for that matter), no romance (the only terms of er, endearment used by the leads are “bitch” and “bastard”), and to top it all uses humor that will make no sense whatsoever to three year olds. Kashyap in turn has been far less diplomatic in his response. All of this drama makes what is essentially a rather tame story by indie movie standards into something bigger. So that, despite its best efforts, this movie ends up being not very different from the scores of others that are made back home – Indian cinema will have its pound of melodrama, if not inside a movie then outside it.

As mentioned before, this movie is far from perfect. But to hate a movie simply because it does not stick to standard Bollywood formulae seems a bit much. And this new found thirst for logic from a country raised on utterly illogical cinema is both amusing and annoying. Kudos to Kashyap for pushing the envelope on Hindi-cinema narrative, and hats off to him for refusing to dumb down his vision as well as his sheer optimism in daring to hope that Indian audiences will still “get it”. Better luck next time, pal. Hope you keep ‘em coming.

* The story am thinking about is ‘UFO in Kushiro’ from ‘After the Quake’. There are also elements of ‘Sputnik Sweetheart’. For the record, I haven’t read or watched Stephen King’s Cat’s Eye, parts of which are also supposed inspiration for this movie.

NYFF ’07 etc.

I spent the last weekend at the New York Film Festival. Brief reviews follow in the order of least to most enjoyed films:

1. The Man from London
I know Falstaff liked this one – but am going to have to disagree. I found this supposed film noir boring, in the extreme. Yes, there is a murder, even a suitcase full of cash, but given the pacing, these otherwise standard noir props lose their mystery. The black and white cinematography looks striking, but surely, a little more than imagery is needed when you decide to spread a movie over 135 painful minutes. Tarr’s refusal to move forward starts to feel cruel after a while, especially once you realize that this movie is never going to pick up its pace and you have no choice but to wait in quiet desperation for something, anything to happen. And just when something finally does happen, you realize that what you’re watching hasn’t anything to do with the story – for instance, you might spend many, many minutes watching people getting off a boat and into a train, or an old man in a cafe eating a bowl of soup, tearing his way through a hard piece of bread, or said soup man (yes, irrelevant characters make multiple reappearances) dancing with another old man to an accordion, etc. – and even as you realize that whatever you’re watching is irrelevant crap, you know that it’s going to take forever before you’ll be shown something else, and who knows if that will matter.

I suspect this is one of those movies where you’re supposed to “contemplate” about oh, the nature of man or of death or goodness knows what else while that old man finishes his soup. I used the time to catch up on sleep (on short supply thanks to a midnight show followed by an early morning show), made a list of all the things I wanted to do in life or whatever life was left to me by the end of this movie. I got far enough to include big picture goals such as “travel and exercise more”, which as you know, get added on the list after you’ve dealt with more mundane, but pressing tasks like “pay credit card bill” and “mail rent check”.

At one point, about 15 -20 minutes before the movie actually ended, something went wrong with the projector, and it looked liked this was it. Someone started clapping – in sheer relief, I suspect. But no, the evil folks behind the projector fixed it up, and we had to sit through the rest. But I did survive it, and after this movie, I was determined to watch something good. So I purchased tickets for Lust, Caution, which takes us to the next movie on the list – one I ended up watching because I had four hours to kill before the Ang Lee movie started.

2. Across the Universe
While I am a Beatles fan, as a rule I do not like musicals, especially ones in which they eschew dialogue in favor of singing. That all the songs in this one are familiar help, but only so much. I don’t object to newer renditions of classic songs, and in fact enjoyed almost all the big production numbers. But after a while the shiny happy people that inhabit musicals start to get to you – even if they’re pretending to be heart-broken over something or the other. After all, how sad can you be if you’re fit enough to participate in a Broadway production number? And while the Beatles were a prolific band, it does not mean that one has to use practically every song they ever sung. Oh well, this movie is OK if like me, you have four hours to kill and absolutely nothing else to do, but otherwise, I’d simply load the Beatles on to the i-Pod and take a long walk. Much less painful, and definitely more healthy.

On an aside, Evan Rachel Wood displays much wholesome American goodness in this movie. Every time I saw her cherubic face, I couldn’t help thinking to myself, “Veshakari! I know who you hang out with once you get off the sets, missy…”

3. Hamlet
This silent German (yes, the cards were in German with English subtitles) version of Hamlet had a couple of interesting things going for it: a) it cast Hamlet as a woman – the premise was that Hamlet was born a princess, but raised a boy in order to keep the throne b) it came with live music – yes, the music that accompanies a silent movie in this case was performed by a live pianist. Making Hamlet a woman, one felt, could be used to explain so much. Instead it is squandered, only used to work out relatively trivial kinks such as explaining Ophelia’s death (Hamlet pines for Horatio who’s himself interested in Ophelia, and the jealous but cross dressing Hamlet leads Ophelia on and betrays her). The problem is that irrespective of the “liberties” this movie takes with the original – Gertrude is more villainous, Fortinbras is Hamlet’s old college buddy and wants to help reinstate his friend to throne, etc. – one ends up with the exact same end as Shakespeare, aka “everyone dies”. So it all feels a bit pointless at the end of the day.

The highlight of the movie is the chap who plays Claudius. He reminded me of the Frankenstein monster – you can clearly see that someone told him “here, you have to look evil”, and the poor dear took it to heart. So he spends the entire movie wearing liberal helpings of dark eyeshadow and squints at everything and everyone, oozing eeeevil, of course. This brute was easily the most adorable thing about the movie.

4. Le Scaphandre et Le Papillon
This inspiring story of a man who suffers from “ locked-in syndrome“, but goes on to blink out an entire book one alphabet at a time is quite a crowd pleaser. For a moving story, unexpectedly enough, I also found it to be warm and funny. Mathieu Amalric turns in an adequate performance, and Max von Sydow in a small but important role provides the mandatory Kleenex moments you’d expect from such a story. I admit that it is unfair to compare this movie with Mar adentro, but I can’t help it. And in my books, team Amenábar-Bardem easily wins over Schnabel-Amalric. Bardem’s Ramon Sampedro is a force of life even as he battles for his right to die. Moving as Amalric’s Jean-Do is, he is ultimately a silent participant, despite all the voice-overs. Perhaps the difference is simply that one movie seeks to make you think and consider your stance on a controversial topic from multiple angles, while the other merely seeks to tell a good story that might just inspire you. Prepared as I was to have my gut wrung out to dry, I came away merely entertained, and somewhat moved. By all counts, this is a good movie. Only, it isn’t an excellent one.

5. El Orfanato
This otherwise unremarkable horror movie turned out to be a lot of fun because I hadn’t seen it coming. I’d gone in expecting something similar to Pan’s Labyrinth (Guillermo del Toro produced El Orfanato, a fact heavily advertised by the makers of this movie), but was instead treated to a something much darker. Not being a horror fan, I’m unable to compare this movie with other recent movies of this genre. I don’t care for the “so gross it’s scary” stuff – severed limbs, technicolor-body fluids and the like, and fortunately, El Orfanato has very little of this. I do, however, enjoy jumping out my skin because the director just threw another completely unexpected shot at the audience. The NY crowd helped too – at the end of every scary scene, people would laugh out, as a nod to the movie makers for having gotten them that once, until it happened all over again – felt like we were all in it together. Good fun.

6. Lust, Caution (Some spoilers)
Ang Lee’s latest period drama is a gorgeous treat of a movie. Set in 1940s Hong Kong and Shanghai, it follows the intrigues between rebels and collaborators in Japanese occupied territory. The plot feels a tad improbable – it is difficult to imagine that a bunch of students can identify let alone penetrate someone’s who’s apparently a highly placed collaborator so easily. But once you get over that hiccup, it’s beautiful going from there.

In Lust, Caution Tony Leung cures you of whatever hang ups you may have left over from In the Mood for Love and 2046. He plays a character who is difficult to like, let alone fall in love with. Not until the last half hour of the movie does he let you in on the fact that he too is capable of emotions, when he makes a wry comment equating his collaborating with the Japanese with whoring. Till that point, you only think of him as as an opportunist and a monster, something that is heavily suggested by the resistance, and which his own persistent reticence does nothing to dispel. This comment and what follows finally allow both Mak Tai Tai (Wei Tang’s character) and the audience a glimpse into the man. By then, it is almost too late to fall in love with him, but fall Mak Tai Tai does, with tragic consequences.

This movie reminded me not so much of In the Mood for Love as it did of When we were orphans, although the Ishiguro novel takes place about a decade earlier. It is one thing to imagine old world Shanghai, but to watch it, especially as created by someone with an unerring eye for beauty as Lee, is altogether different. I actually wish Lee would use the props left over from this movie to make When We Were Orphans, as I really can’t imagine any one else making a movie from that novel.

A note about the controversial rating this movie received – it is well deserved. But what is even more shocking than the explicit sex is the movie’s one stabbing scene. It almost feels false, little we may have seen in other movies prepares you for this one. The victim seems to take forever to die and every time he emerges from a fresh stab, you wish he would have the decency to just die instead of making us watch him get stabbed once more. More than anything else that comes before or after, this scene reinforces how green these wannabe spies really are. Only one of them – pretty boy Kuang Yu Min played by real life rock star Lee-Hom Wang appears to have zeal enough to kill someone in cold blood. One can’t help thinking that we could have replaced this brutal act with almost anything else – drinking or drugs or any other less gruesome vice – and you’d likely end up with the same outcome. There is one boy who thinks that doing this (whatever “this” is) is the right thing to do, and others join in because they don’t want to be left out or laughed at later, which makes this murder all the more shocking. Some take up cigarettes because of peer pressure, some of these characters stab a man to death.

And with this movie also, I have to disagree with Falstaff. I didn’t find Lust, Caution one bit boring. Especially since I had The Man from London for comparison. Yes, the story takes time to unfold, but at least you don’t spend three quarters of this movie feeling trapped – you could easily amuse yourself trying to guess what the devil the rest of the audience found so amusing. And even if one has to sometimes sit back and watch Wei Tang do little other than ride around in cars or get dressed, I’d much rather watch her than a potato faced man stare at a bunch of people leaving a boat.

Relaxing massage, anyone?

The last couple of days were spent in a Pennsylvanian resort, part of my team’s annual “retreat”.  I wasn’t looking forward to it. A curmudgeon since birth, I don’t do ‘groups’. And memories of past retreats did nothing to cheer me up. The last one involved a group of fifty or more people divvied up into groups, literally running up and down another resort, in hunt of some lame treasure. We didn’t want to run, but since at least one boss-type individual was in each team, we had to demonstrate suitable levels of enthusiasm. 

This retreat ended up being closer to its definition. Each of us was allowed to pick an “activity” in advance. Choices included horse-back riding (which ended up being mule-back riding, or ass-back riding, depending on whether or not you signed up for it), shooting, fly-fishing, and an hour at the spa. I chose the one activity that involved the least amount of exertion, and the least amount of company – a massage. In these days of hedonism, it is embarrassing to admit this – I’d never had a massage. When the lady asked me when my last massage had been, I felt not unlike being at a doctor’s. There, I usually answer questions that begin with “do you have a history of …?” or “when was the last time you …?” with a raised eyebrow. It works like a charm. On the off-chance that the person asking the question fails to notice the color of my skin, the raised eye-brow makes them look up my name from a chart, the sheer un-pronounceability of which lets these inquirers know that not only are they being perfectly silly in asking me these questions, but they are potentially offending my spiritual and cultural sensibilities. 

But as I said, this usually unbeatable cultural advantage didn’t seem to help with my massage-situation. One is expected to “pamper” oneself these days, no matter what part of the world you hail from. My idea of pampering myself consists of washing my face with some fancy soap I purchased a few months ago. But my gut told me that this wouldn’t satisfy the massage-lady. So I bit the bullet, and told her the shameful truth. She was nice about it. And proceeded with a smile to torture me for the next hour. From my sole experience of this er, relaxing activity, a massage has three essential components: 80% is excruciating torture, 10% is serious concentration at not giggling, and 10% of feeling taken care of that almost makes up for the remaining 90% of un-fun-ness. 

I suppose I could’ve told her she was hurting me, but am always confused about whether it’s OK protest.  Whether a dentist or a masseuse, by my understanding, the contract by default involves a certain amount of pain. Doesn’t complaining about it make you something of a sissy, or worse a drama queen? And there’s also the “it’s good for you” sort of pain – the idea that present agony is going to save you untold future agony… all hogwash, if you ask me – because all they’re saying is that you’ll be in pain no matter what. But even the pain, I could take. It was the not-giggling part that was the toughest. Once the thought entered my head that giggling would be unwelcome (c’mon! one is supposed to be “relaxing”, soaking in vague mood music, breathing in aromatic oils – giggling does NOT belong in this environment), everything felt ticklish. But, determined as I was to survive this version of the comfy chair, I gnashed my teeth and thought of community banks. 

At the end of the hour, I emerged, feeling and looking like an oily rag. People waiting for their own massage commented on how relaxed I looked. I was too tired to protest that having used up all of my energy in trying not to scream or giggle or both, the slacker look was all I was capable of. Instead, I nodded along and let it be known that I felt wonderful. 

After a shower, I felt somewhat human again. I took out my book, sat in a swing by a lake, and spent the rest of the afternoon there. A couple of colleagues attempted to fish nearby. I watched in horror as these two cut some poor earth worm into little bits and hooked it on to their rod. They didn’t catch anything, and essentially spent the afternoon feeding the fish in that lake little bits of worm. I got up and walked around a bit, in an attempt to soak in more nature. A dyed in the wool city-girl, I can’t help thinking that nature’s a bit overrated. Sure, it’s pretty and peaceful (if you call replacing honks with cheeps and other scary noises as peace), but there seems to be nothing but dead pieces of assorted beings all over. Bits of worm left over from my colleagues’ ill-fated fishing expedition, a pair of claws from what I assume used to be a crab, discarded by some predator… In fact, I saw more partial creatures than I did whole ones. Whenever am away from a city, I ask myself if I’d be happy living in this valley or that neck of woods… and the answer is what it always has been – yes, but for no more than a few weeks at the most.

Dinner consisted of a whole baked potato, some sour cream and some ice-cream (there was lobster and chicken and beef, but what good was that to me?) Thankfully the massage had so tired me out that I fell asleep at 10:30, something I haven’t done this whole year, if not longer. The next day, we had a two-hour session on ‘time management’, at the end of which we concluded that none of the advice the nice lady gave was going to be practical. After the session, a few colleagues and I walked for a couple of miles to go see a water-fall, and then it was time to get on the bus to get back to the city. 

We’ll pay for this little retreat, when we get back to work on Monday, as work’s been piling up since Wednesday. But Monday’s still 24 hours away. Hopefully, that’s enough time for my body to recover from my relaxing getaway… At least the next time I’m asked when my last massage was, I’ll have an answer.

Introducing the Dwights

If Little Miss Sunshine grew up and moved to Australia, the result will probably be quite close to Introducing the Dwights. This Australian dramedy tells the story of a charming family whose members are odd not because they are dysfunctional, but precisely because they are functional despite having every reason not to be. Jean (Brenda Blethyn) is a stand-up comedian whose career once showed great promise, but hasn’t really gone places. Her life revolves around her day job at a fast food joint, her late night gigs at a local casino, and her two sons. Mark (Richard Wilson in an endearing and credible turn out) is mentally challenged. But it is her other son, Tim (Khan Chittenden) who is Jean’s biggest concern. For unlike his brother, Tim is growing up, adding further cracks to Jean’s already imperfect world.

Tim’s gorgeous sex-pot of a girlfriend, Jill (Emma Booth) forces his family to confront several issues that are long over due, and over the course of the movie they do so, with considerable drama, but also with great grace. The best things about this movie are Blethyn, at her best in this role that was written for her, and Keith Thompson’s writing. Thompson, whose mother used to be a club singer, draws on personal experience to create something that is as honest as it is warm and funny.

The pity is that as fine a performance as Blethyn creates, we’ve already attended the dress rehearsals. One has seen glimpses of this character all the way from Secrets and Lies, and Little Voice, to Pride and Prejudice. Like Infamous, another fine movie damned only by its timing, one hopes that all those other fine performances don’t take anything away from Blethyn’s latest.

Ye Yan

Going into Ye Yan expecting a prettified action flick is like walking into a thirty course banquet hoping for some pizza and beer. And yes, there is also pizza and beer. Writers Gangjian Qiu and Heyu Sheng take Hamlet, cut out the bit parts, flesh out the principals and throw in some additional intrigue. Who knew that replacing the verse in Shakespeare with choreographed stunts and primary colors could work so well.

Empress Wan (Ziyi Zhang) is an awe-inspiring mixture of Gertrude and Lady Macbeth, without the weepy, ranting or guilty bits. She also happens to be Hamlet’s (Prince Wu Lian) ex-lover, step-mother, and aunt. “Sometimes soft and charming, sometimes frightening”, Empress Wan leaves you guessing till the very end.

The plot is just the icing. The real cake is the cinematography and the choreography. God as they say is in the detail – snow splashed with warm blood doesn’t just look pretty, it melts. But thanks to Xiaogang Feng you don’t end up feeling like a goose in the pre-pâté stage. The Empress’ bathroom (I cringe to call it that – English is so utilitarian about rooms) is bathed in golden light, but we see it through a dark doorway. All of this perfection comes at a price though – one is torn between watching the actors, admiring the stunts, reading the subtitles, and catching a fleeting glimpse of this or that beautiful, fascinating thing at the periphery. All in all, move over Zhang Yimou. There’s a new standard in town.

Death at a Funeral

Frank Oz’s Death at a Funeral can teach a thing or two about humor to the plot-less, one-man, one-joke efforts that pass for comedy today. With its ensemble cast of delightfully odd characters and quirky subplots, it defies a one line summary. Suffice to say that there are dead bodies, hallucinogens, nutty uncles, insecure lovers, and oh yes, one little person.

Thanks to our ever shortening attention spans the most successful forms of humor today are ones that are episodic – short bursts of wit strung together with a piece of floss. Borat, Apatow, Kolbert and youtube are the current kings of comedy. However, it is worth while to remember that sometimes keeping track of a plot and a large cast of characters can yield rich dividends.

Death at a Funeral is not the funniest movie or even the best British comedy out there. What it is is ambitious. One can’t help but cheer that effort given the current draw. Once the pieces are set up, the gags that follow are endearing, possibly because you do see them coming. But just when you think you’re all settled into a typical Brit ensemble piece, writer Dean Craig yanks you into something you don’t expect from a sweet little story like this, and then quietly takes you back to where you were a few minutes ago. It is amazing how expressive American actors seem to get after they cross the ocean – drugged-to-the-gills Alan Tudyk and Peter Dinklage draw more laughs per minute than those stoners from Knocked Up do over the entire movie.

Irony is

a 648 page presentation on “lean transformation”.

Why?

I just got home from a preview of A Mighty Heart. All the way back, I kept asking myself why: why do I watch a movie like this? Why do they make such movies? Why do people act in such movies? This is my first movie “based on horrific recent event”. I did not watch the Oliver Stone movie, nor the Paul Greengrass movie. Don’t get me wrong, A Mighty Heart is a very god movie. Strong narration, good acting, solid cast, excellent score. It is also surprisingly dignified. And yes, it’s lovely to see Irfan in another movie. And no, Jolie doesn’t wreck the movie. 

But I believe there is no winning with such subjects or their treatment. The better they are, the worse they are, aren’t they? This question of whether such a movie is tasteful is so not the point. Is there a tasteful way to tell the story of a person who was beheaded and cut up into ten pieces? Is there a dignified way to watch such a movie? No. And yes, all of this ranting comes from a person who did indeed just watch this movie. Much of this anger is directed towards myself. I tried to defend myself to myself by recalling that a) I’d never seen one of these movies and b) I’d read good reviews. But come on! Seriously.  

At some point during the early part of the movie (before I was too caught up in the story), I felt like Edward Norton’s character from The Fight Club – when he visits all those support groups. These movies feel like the worst possible form of voyeurism. No one wants to be in Mrs. Pearl’s shoes. But clearly, at least some of us are curious to find out what it must’ve felt like. Since the incident was all over the news, you don’t walk into such a movie expecting an education. No, the real motivation is to find out what it feels like to get emotionally shafted, by watching someone else get shafted. 

The same accusation could be made of someone who read Joan Didion’s last book (guilty again). But at least with a book, you have the opportunity to get analytical. You react, and then you measure your reaction by comparing it with others from the past and so on. With a movie, such a luxury is absent. You only have enough time to react and then it’s time to react all over again. 

I thought about whether these movies would be any easier to watch if they waited for some time before they release them. They really can’t, can they? They have to get the movie out before people forget the incident. I understand that. But I still don’t understand why suddenly there are enough of such movies for them to warrant their own genre. Heck, there are enough variations on the stories for there to be subgenres. We’ve had The Queen, United 93, World Trade Center, Black Friday. But we return to my original question – why? Well, no more for me. Some of them are fine movies, and more power to them and all that. But I am through with them. 

PS: When I look at that list, I have to sheepishly admit that I’ve watched 2 of those movies (Queen & Friday). But they don’t really fall in the same class as A Mighty Heart. The Queen is dramatic, not traumatic. And Black Friday is a fine procedural. And yes, these are lame excuses. Gah!

La vie en rose: Bravo, mais pas encore!

This self-consciously gorgeous biopic rehashes the rags to riches to in and out of rehab formula one has had just about enough of. Director Olivier Dahan traces the life of France’s much beloved singer and icon Edith Piaf from her childhood to her last days. Apparently, French singers are no different from American ones – they start poor and miserable, get discovered, betrayed, married, lose loved ones, get addicted to substances legal and illegal, and die. Their music apart, the sequence of these events helps distinguish one singer from another. However, thanks to the chronological collage that passes for editing in this movie, you’re never quite sure when all of these events did happen in Piaf’s life.

This beautifully shot movie packs in a powerful performance from Marion Cotillard, as well as a first-rate soundtrack of French cabaret classics. But too many scenes feel as if created to show the world “And zis is ‘ow you make a biopic!”

The singer biopic has become the summer tentpole for Baby Boomers – story lines and performances to draw them to the theaters and a soundtrack smothered in enough nostalgia to get them to even buy a few records. What happens when we exhaust our supply of singers from the 50s and 60s? Some day, we will run out of singers no one is ashamed to own up to liking a year later. What will they come up with for this generation? Hit me baby one more time. Ouch.