Movies, Myself

Over and over

Christmas Eve last year promised to be a sedate affair. I was recuperating from my (nearly) month-long trip, and all I had on my mind was an evening of peace and quiet, alone with three cats in the house. But Bryan Lee O’Malley, he of Scott Pilgrim fame, tweeted about the movie Battle Royale being screened at the Silent Movie theater. That’s a quaint-looking location on Fairfax I remembered passing by and wondering about quite a few times on the way to Hollywood. Battle Royale being one of the few movies that fall in the viewed-5-times-and-above category for me, I was tempted. Despite having owned and seen multiple DVD versions – The Regular version, the Extended Director’s Cut and the Uncut Edition had all appeared in National Market, I had never seen it in a theater. Further investigation revealed that the film had never seen a theatrical release in the US, thanks to the Columbine incident occurring the  same year it released in Japan. So this screening would be the first official screening, based on a high definition conversion of the upcoming Blu-ray release by Anchor Bay. All of the above reasons were enough for me to drop my plans of lying back on my couch with a purring cat on my belly and sipping on metaphorical pennyroyal tea. Off I went.

Needless to say, I had an amazing time, and even met O’Malley at the popcorn stand.

Cheesy and show-off-y picture proof

The last time I saw Battle Royale was in 2007. None of my love for the movie had waned in five years, but there was a strange outsider-level objectivity that crept in this time. I never realized, for example, how annoyingly earnest the two lead characters were. Both Shuya and Noriko were too sugary, too good to be true. Maybe it was the Hunger Games experience from a few weeks ago that had supplanted my blind devotion to this movie. Or maybe it was the manga I read a few years ago, which made the characters of Mitsuko and Kiriyama so much more engaging than the one-note killing machines they turn out in the movie. I also found myself chuckling along at some of the over-the-top acting – Nobu’s death, the dramatic gestures some of the students make when they exit the classroom at the beginning, Kitano’s star-tinted turn.

I like re-watching movies with different people. Primarily because of the fresh perspective such a viewing brings. The odd little reactions you happen to notice in others at scenes that you reacted to differently. Or because you are focusing on a something other than the primary plot and pay more attention to the details that passed you by the first time. Maybe a snatch of a soundtrack, an in-joke that you did not get the first time. Something that resonates from an article you read about the movie, maybe.

But real life has been catching up. I did not watch too many films the past couple of months, barring the occasional Laemmle marathon and the quickies at the Rave theaters next door to my office. I cannot seem to sit down before the laptop/TV and watch anything at a stretch. Terabytes of old movie dumps have been “liberated” on random whims, because I know I will never get around to watching them.

Yesterday, I went and watched Lagaan – this time with a group of people of which I knew only one. We made a proper movie evening out of it, with bhelpuri, samosas and popcorn aplenty and a generous smattering of enthusiasm in the audience, most of whom had seen it already. It was my 20th viewing of Lagaan, my obsession with that movie having lasted through multiple cities, different levels of Aamir-Khan-reaction and Rahman-adulation, and a constant loathing of cricket. (And yes, I started keeping count after the 8th viewing) I enjoyed it thoroughly. It still makes me laugh at the right story and character moments. Paul Blackthorne as Captain Russell and Chris England as Yardley fill me with fanboy glee, and I am tempted to reread England’s book as soon as I can (it’s called From Balham to Bollywood, and it was a great read the first time).

There is a peculiar happiness also to noticing the same somewhat-bloopers – like Bhuvan saying Radha’s husband is Anay, instead of the correct Ayan, or the presence of two cricketers named Smith and Wesson in the English XI, especially the fact that Elizabeth dances with just the two of them at the ball.  Thanks to the DVD being an American release, the scenes with the British characters alone had English dialogues, instead of Amitabh Bachchan’s baritone explaining the proceedings. We did skip over the ‘O Paalanhare’ song, which to me is the nadir of the movie, an unnecessary face-palm of a sequence rendered even more painful by Lata Mangeshkar’s voice.  1

I spent a total of 4 hours on the bus, both ways. But totally worth it.

A two-week-long retrospective of Studio Ghibli films begins this Thursday. They include fifteen classic Miyazaki and Takahata films being screened at the Egyptian theater in Hollywood and the Aero theater in Santa Monica. I have made up my mind to attend every one of them. Sure, I own all the DVDs, and have seen the films multiple times, but the joy of the rewatch compells me. Besides, I’ve heard enough shit from pal Jussi about how he saw them screened in theaters in Helsinki and it’s high time I get back at him.

The only ones not being screened are EarthSea, Ponyo, Arrietty and Grave of the Fireflies. I can understand the absence of the fourth film, but not the first three. Oh well.


  1. Earlier musings on Lagaan here and here.

Pop Culture Update: Books

I haven’t really been writing much about things that matter, like books and comics and things that make me want to run around my room shrieking with happiness. This post tries to fill that gaping void in your life.

There are a lot of shitty fantasy trilogies around, but Hunger Games is not one of them. The books were recommended to me by a librarian who sat next to me at a Neil Gaiman show. The movie trailer came out a little while ago, and no doubt I would have dismissed it as another of those post-Twilight teen-angst bubbles. But hey, librarian-recommendation. So I read book 1, and was blown away, and finished books 2 and 3 the same week. It’s hard to read when you’re on vacation, but these were just that good.

What’s the series about? If you’ve read/watched Battle Royale or The Running Man and The Long Walk by Stephen King, you will understand that Suzanne Collins takes familiar tropes, at least in the first book, and then takes those to their logical conclusion in the sequels. The protagonist is a girl that plays with metaphorical fire, and kicks up a political hornet’s nest of epic proportions. The cast of characters features a gruff Mentor-figure, a star-crossed relationship , a Diabolical Villain (who does not even make a proper appearance until the beginning of the second book – well-played there, Ms Collins), a Faithful Confidante, and surprisingly, the most awesome Fictional Fashion Designer you’ve ever seen. The three books work beautifully well together, and I loved the way how the storyline unraveled the world’s back-story slowly, the characters acquiring voices of their own. The books brought me on the brink of tears multiple times, and made me skip a healthy regime of sleep just so that I get my pulse-rate back to normal.

I read Max Brooks’ World War Z: An Oral History Of The Zombie War on a recent flight. Had heard good things about the book on Joe Hill’s Twitter Geek list, even though I had known of Brooks as a parody guy. Expectations were low – how much more can this whole zombie fad be milked anyway? Turns out it can, and wonderfully at that.

Brooks looks at the zombie outbreak as an actual worldwide event and examines its sociopolitical implications. He presents it like a documentary-style set of interviews with survivors, soldiers, politicians, inventors, people from all over the world – much unlike traditional zombie media, where the focus is on a small band of individuals. The interviews lay out the timeline of the “war”, from the time the zombie outbreak caused society to break down, the slow and eventual return to some form of normalcy, and finally, the climactic showdown. In the process, it covers how every aspect of society is changed as a result – from racism to film-making, military strategy to everyday slang, how certain countries take the lead in containing the social meltdown, and how society mutates to keep up. The interviews lead into one another, jumping across continents, showing just how random events on one side of the globe affect other countries.

The book has tonnes of disturbing moments – a traumatized young girl’s account of a zombie attack, political shenanigans that lead to loss of lives, a zombie vaccine that turns out to be a marketing placebo, the build-up to nuclear war between unlikely enemies. And it has moments of stunning epicness – I refer to them as F!$* Yeah Moments. The Japan arc, for example, blindsides you completely, with two unlikely “protagonists” undergoing their own trials against the zombies. Pay close attention to the real-world nudge in the South Africa arc – where a plan concocted during the apartheid years to contain race mobs is resurrected to contain the zombie attack.

The movie is in production right now, but with stars like Brad Pitt attached to the movie, I have a feeling that the everyday aspect of the book will be abandoned in the favor of focusing on specific individuals. This book offers the refreshing view that human society as a whole can be heroic, somehow I do not see Hollywood subscribing to that utopian ideal. Oh well.