Movies, Toons

An obnoxious reason for walking out of a movie

Have you ever walked out of a movie theater? I have. I walked out of Supari, once upon a decade ago, and I walked out after 30 minutes of that Vishal Bharadwaj film with Pankaj Kapur and Imran Khan whose name I cannot recall, it was that bad. Oh yes, Matru Ki Bijli. A screening of Profundo Rosso that was part of a double-feature, and it was so late in the night that my brain had turned to mush. I am fairly sure this number would have been higher had I not been with other people in the theater. Rajkumar Hirani’s PK, for example, and even the first Hobbit movie. In all these cases, I walked out because the films did not engage me in any way; there was some amount of revulsion involved, and the thought that if I did not allow more of my time to be wasted in that darkened theater, it would imply redemption of some sort.

Yesterday, I walked out of a theater for another reason altogether. It’s possible that in doing so, I startled the rest of the audience. I had been the first person to arrive at the theater, half an hour before showtime, and was able to pick the best seat in that sea of red faux-leather, that perfectly centered spot that brings the rectangular screen, uh, square in the center of your vision. There I sat, indulging myself in butter-covered food of the gods, acknowledging the matinee crowd that traipsed in slowly, film buffs, couples out on dates, parents with young children in tow, or the other way round. We laughed as the ads played, and the sounds of my chewing found sympathetic patterns in the mastication of other film-goers. The film trailers got over; the passive-aggressive switch-off-cellphone ads got some of us to double-check our devices, and we clapped as the theater darkened for the main feature. And once the movie began, it took me about 20 horrific seconds to realize what I was in for. To decide I did not want to see it anymore.

The movie was Mamoru Hosoda’s Boy and the Beast, and you see, the version playing on that particular screening was the one dubbed into English.

No. No no no no.

In my head, there is a clear breach of expectation that happens when I go to watch a film in one language and get another. It does not have to be Japanese anime; I have found myself cringing when listening to Pixar movies dubbed in Spanish, or even a Cantonese film in Mandarin. For anime, it hits me in the worst kind of way; the closest analogy I can give is when you go to a restaurant and order a plate of samosas. When the waiter brings the plate in, you smell the delicious samosa-smell and your mouth begins to water. The waiter has even remembered to bring chutney, and it’s the right kind of chutney, the syrupy, tangy tamarind recipe that goes perfectly with samosas. Eagerly, you pick up one of them. It is the perfect temperature too; freshly fried and kept aside for just the perfect amount of time that you know there will be no waiting for the filling to cool down, and that your tongue is safe. You dip the samosa in the tamarind chutney and bite into it. How would you feel if that samosa, for some reason, is sweet, instead of salty?

When the opening narration in the movie began in English, in my head, I was sure that there was A Problem, and only Swift Decisive Action could solve it. I remembered that I had double-checked to see if the matinee show had the original language or not, and the website said that only the 4 PM show would be dubbed. [ref]This had happened once before, you see, with a screening of a Ghibli movie, where but for an epiphany just before clicking the buy-button, I would have been sobbing through a dubbed movie after having taken a bus across town.[/ref] I could be that hero the rest of the audience needed. I ran outside, and the girl selling tickets was gone, and so was the manager, who had been lounging around reading a newspaper. There was only the guy selling popcorn, and he agreed with me, that the movie playing should be a subbed version. The manager came into view, finally, and he pointed out that Saturdays they only have two shows, and the 7 PM screening is when I would see the subbed version, if I wanted to come back. Unsure about my plans for the rest of the day, I got a refund. At 7 PM, however, I had come back. This time I did not buy the popcorn, and I made sure to ask about which language would play, before getting my ticket.


The movie? It was okay. Visually stunning, like Mamoru Hosoda films are. Hosoda and Makoto Shinkai are two anime film-makers who have distinct visual styles of storytelling. More importantly, their films contain stories with an emotional depth that other, more lackadaisical animation film-makers either glaze over or dumb down. This however has the fortunate (or unfortunate, depending on your point of view) of appending any discussion of the two film-makers’ work with a comparison to Hayao Miyazaki’s ouevre. I am guilty of making the same analogy when it comes to selling any of their work to my friends, to be honest. But here’s an admission — I think Hosoda and Shinkai, the latter in particular, bring in more emotional honesty and vulnerability into their work than Miyazaki ever did. Miyazaki protagonists are idealized archetypes, asexual and wide-eyed. These latter-day filmmakers make their characters more fragile and human, and that makes their work much more appealing to me.

On the surface, Hosoda’s style is much more aligned with the aesthetics of Studio Ghibli — a little-known fact is that he was tapped to direct Howl’s Moving Castle, but Miyazaki took over due to creative differences. Much like the veteran film-maker, Hosoda’s work is rooted in Japanese tradition. Scenes from Wolf Children play out like extended homages to My Neighbor Totoro, and both Wolf and Summer Wars are as much about family ties and bonds with nature as any Ghibli movie you can think of. In Boy and The Beast, there are striking similarities to Spirited Away, especially with the concept of a parallel world that exists just beyond our world, and one human child that makes his way to the other side. There, Chihiro became Sen, with a flick of the characters in her name; here Ren becomes Kyuta because he is aged nine. There, our heroine was trapped in the land of the Others, who are unfamiliar and mostly horrific and unkind to trespassers; here, Kyuta willingly crosses over into a world of beasts who, though suspicious of the motives of the runaway human, mostly accept him in time. The theme of finding your family — blood or surrogate — loom large throughout the movie’s storyline, as does the idea of belonging.

My main issue is that most parts of the film feel rushed. It opens with a narrator explaining the situation, skimming through the world-building, telling us more than we can see. We never really understand certain characters’ motivations. There are too many montages — one where the characters go on a journey of self-discovery, for example, and meet a variety of powerful beasts in that world —no payoff to those scenes follow. Things get interesting when Kyuta begins his training under Kumatetsu, and the central theme of the film, that of these two unlike creatures finding themselves through each other, is cemented in this all-too-brief sequence. The third act falls apart almost completely, especially as grown-up Kyuta begins going back to the real world. Subplot brimming with threats and conflicts come out of nowhere, as do the resolutions; the romantic angle is all Jungle Book meets anime cliche, Ren’s meeting with his biological father is angst and adolescent fury, and the final boss-fight involves a character who is woefully under-explained. The only place, therefore, where Boy and The Beast really succeeds is in making us root for the titular characters right off the bat.

All in all, the movie suffers just because Hosoda’s previous work has been so good. Of course it’s a wonderful movie, full of wit and charm and moments, but it manages to not live up to expectations. But hey, this is from the guy that hated Howl’s Moving Castle the first time he saw it, and changed his mind later. If you get a chance to watch it, please do — and if you haven’t seen any of Hosoda’s previous work, check them out after this one.



Movies, Myself

Which movie?

No, this is not a quiz question. This is actually pretty embarrassing, but I am kind of in need of some pop culture help here.

So there was this Scandinavian film that I saw a few years ago. I say ‘Scandinavian’ because, among other things, I do not remember which language it was. What I remember is the storyline – ‘normal’ girl has issues, her boyfriend gets arrested, and she needs to find a job. She gets one at the local comic-book shop, and meets a quirky bunch of people there. The rest of the story follows a somewhat-predictable pattern, where she slowly becomes friends with her weird, RPG-loving co-workers. She hangs out with them, and role-plays with them in the evenings – and this is the cool part, the in-game story (where everyone is a stock RPG character, a warrior, a thief and so on) and the actual, real-world story kind of happen in parallel. It gets more interesting when the girl’s asshole boyfriend escapes from prison and comes to find her.

I enjoyed the movie quite a bit. Sure, it was cheesy at times and the fantasy sequences were not multi-million SFX events, but it was fun and made me laugh, and hey, it was set in a comicbook store. What’s not to like?

Now the embarrassing part – this is a movie I’ve recommended to other people before, and when I was trying to recollect the name recently, my mind went completely, totally blank. I know that the name of the film was the name of the comic-book shop, but no, the actual name eludes me. It drove me completely nuts last week. And the worst thing is, forgetting the name of this movie is only a small fragment in the grand scheme of things. I have this sneaking suspicion that I am beginning to lose my memory, slowly. Like my neurons are beginning to realize that they cannot spark and retrieve information when I need them to. It shows in the oddest of instances – like when my boss was talking about River Tam from Serenity, and forgot the name of the actress, and I realized I had too. I knew that she had acted in Dollhouse and The Big Bang Theory, hell, I even knew which episode of TBBT she appeared in, but I. Could. Not. Remember. Her. Name. (Summer Glau. It came to me a few hours later) Then the other day, I could not remember the Cornelia Funke book that I hated, about the father and daughter who bring stories to life. I remembered the Funke book that was not part of this series (The Thief Lord) and I even remembered the other Funke book that I had not read (Dragon Rider), and probably never will because I did not like her writing anyway. I had to Google for the answer, which was Inkheart.

There are three conclusions I draw from this:

  • I am getting old. My brain cells realize this and are slowly committing harakiri. I like that mental image, actually. Billions and billions of microscopic katana in my head slicing through axons (axii?) in I-am-too-old-for-this-shit bursts.
  • I think I am all set to become an unreliable narrator. I have a valid excuse.
  • This space intentionally left blank. I forgot what I had to say. (See? SEE?)
Post-script: Somewhere in the middle of writing this post, the name of the movie just popped in my head. And it was the audible, life-affirming sort of pop, like when you suddenly swallow and the buzzing in your ear goes away and everything sounds so much clearer. It does not do anything about my feeling of losing-it-all, but whew. I know what the name is. Yes, that defeats the whole purpose of this post, but hey, what’s a nice redundant post between friends, huh?
As you were, folks. Keep calm and carry on.
Post post-script: The name of the film, for those of you interested, is Astrópía. It’s Icelandic. Here’s a link to the trailer. The US release of the film, according to IMDB is Dorks and Damsels. Pardon me while I vomit all over my keyboard.

Just stuff.

I saw True Romance last night, the Uncut Director’s Cut. I have to admit that except for the Quentin Tarantino association, I knew virtually nothing about the movie. Was taken aback by the Sonny Chiba references. Too many monologues abound – but hey, what’s a Tarantino-scripted movie without monologues? Dennis Hopper waxes forth on Sicilians, Christopher Walken makes a chilling guest appearance, Christian Slater talks about Oscar movies, Sonny Chiba, Elvis Presley, James Gandolfini gets poetic about killing, and Tom Sizemore and Chris Penn get into detail about the how prison life contributes to a happy marriage. Probably the best Doctor Zhivago reference in any movie I’ve seen. What also struck me was the uncanny resemblence to some of the plot points in Preacher ( the comic book) – the “Mentor” appearances in the restrooms ( Val Kilmer played that? Wow! ), the way the characters Alabama Worley and Tulip O’Hare have this inherent ass-kicking ability inside themselves that manifests in odd, scary ways.

My DVD ( bought for 20 Rs in Kathmandu ) appears to have three commentary tracks, the deleted scenes and the alternate ending. Heard the first fifteen minutes of the Tarantino commentary today morning – yum!

Awesome music find of the week: Balligomingo. Luscious female vocals over soaring, lush electronic soundscapes.


On the Pile

Blossom has copies of both Apollo’s Song and Ode to Kirihito, two Osamu Tezuka classics being reprinted by Vertical books, with snazzy cover designs by Chip Kidd and a very very readable English translation. I had bought Kirihito when I was in the US, and was just about to order Apollo’s Song, when a friend called up to inform me about its availability in Bangalore. He also went to the trouble of buying it for me and sending it through someone who was travelling to Hyderabad, and as a result – new Tezuka book for me to read. Yes! 541 pages of Tezuka goodness! Though I honestly hope that people aren’t buying this book for their kids – its dipped in mature themes, I see loads of cartoon nudity as I flip through the book, and the opening sequence is bizarre look at human reproduction.

The next Tezuka offering by Vertical is another 600+ tome called MW, available for pre-order on Amazon. It’s due for release in the US in November. Am I getting it? You betcha!

The other item on the pile is an Indo-Russian production which I bought because (a) I remember being totally floored by the movie when I saw it as a kid and (b) It was available for half-price at a Planet M sale. Bless you, Indian DVD companies, for understanding the necessity of price cuts in your offerings. I bought and watched Raghu Romeo on the same day and would have also bought Benegal’s Junoon, but I got into an argument with the salesman. The MRP had been slashed from 350 Rs to 199 Rs, and then there was a 50% discount. The salesman had put the discount on the original price, not the revised MRP, and no amount of cajoling would make him budge. The hell with it, I will just buy Junoon some other time.

About Ali Baba Aur Chalis Chor – I remember very vividly the innovative design of the “Open sesame” cave, which showed a waterfall flowing in reverse and the cave opening in the cliff. When I watched the opening sequence again today morning, it was surprising how well the scene still holds up today in terms of SFX. Does not look cheesy. The other thing I noticed was the proliferation of Russian actors – and except for the well-known Indian artistes, everybody else seems to speaking in Russian, with the Hindi lines dubbed on. So it was a bilingual production! Most of the production crew was also two-fold, one Indian cameraman and a Russian one, two directors, two production designers – I am keeping an eye out for the other Indo-Russian fantasy film I know of – Ajooba, which I remember was a turkey the first time I saw it, but I don’t mind seeing it again. The scene where Sonam ( playing an Arabian princess ) puts a miniaturized Rishi Kapoor in her blouse deserves an award in itself. Did I just type that? Yes, I just typed that.

Amazing. The complete movie is online on youtube.


Rey Bhaiyya!

Three years ago, I made a post about DVD pricing in India and how it was extremely brain-dead to charge big money for DVDs of movies which come with no special features and bad film transfers. I ended the post with a fingers-crossed comment about Lagaan not having come out on DVD yet and about how I trust Aamir Khan to “rock my socks off”.

I can uncross my fingers now.

Lagaan has just been released on DVD for the first time ever. And not just that, the documentary The Making of Lagaan ( which has two alternate titles – the Indian version is called Chale Chalo and the international version Madness in the Desert) by Satyajit Bhatkal has also been released. I saw the DVD, which has been called the ‘Anniversary Edition’, at Music World last Friday, and I bought it yesterday. Putting my money where my mouth is. I promised myself I would buy it THE MOMENT it was released. Late by three days, but yeah, I paid up. The single DVD set comes with deleted scenes, which I had already seen before, thanks to a pirated DVD I bought off National market. It also includes the song ‘Rey Bhaiyya Chhootey Lagaan’ , previously released as ‘Zin Kinak Zin’ in a double-cassette collection called The Spirit of Lagaan that had background scores, dialogues and the songs from the movie. ( Including the Sadhna Sargam version of ‘O Paalanhaare’, which I think is way, WAY better than the Lata version we are familiar with) Also picked up the documentary, though only the VCD seems to be available right now. Odyssey was offering a copy of the book The Spirit of Lagaan free with the DVD, and so I picked that up too, though I already have a copy.

Watched the movie again last night, with someone who hadn’t seen it before. Both of us LOVED it – c’mon, who wouldn’t? It’s Lagaan, after all. The transfer was perfect, the sound slightly schizophrenic – kept going high and low everytime the music stopped or crescendoed. I have a feeling it might be because we were watching it on stereo speakers. Rachel Shelley looks as beautiful as ever – wonder what she’s up to nowadays?

(breathless) ( gasping for air) (SQUEEEEEEE)

Just did a Google search for her, and…and…Rachel Shelley’s appearing on the third season of The L-Word. And in an episode of Coupling as well. What? WHAT?

It somewhat pains me to think that when I talk to kids today about Rachel Shelley, they will remember her as Helena Peabody from L-Word rather than Elizabeth from Lagaan. *sigh*

Ok, fanboy hat off. This is good news. I can now revel in more Rachel Shelley goodness with ease. Though I thought the first season of LW was pretty boring, hot lesbian women can only take up so much of my attention.

Back to Lagaan. Just when I was being very happy about my acquisition from yesterday, there came a bombshell, when I went to the website. You know, just to check out the press release and shit.

Turns out, there’s a 3-DVD Collectors’ set . That comes in a wooden box. With lots of additional goodies. Priced at a fairly decent 2000 Rs. GODDAMNIT, I knew I should have waited.

So far, I have – two pirated copies of the Lagaan DVD ( one with the deleted scenes that stops midway into the film, and the other with a bad transfer and audio, but works), the official single disc edition. I NEED the three disc edition, and I think I am going to have it. Soon.