Movie Madness

May 8th, 2006

Last week – or rather, the weekend starting Friday before last – was a mad movie weekend. Not as mad as some that I’ve had before – I remember one time I watched six movies in a single day and then added another three the next, but that’s another story!

Coming back to the mad movie weekend recently, A and I watched a range of movies, and finally didn’t end up seeing the movie that we had planned to watch finally!

It started off with us watching Gangster with a few of A’s colleagues. Of course, the plan was to go watch Darna Zaroori Hai, but due to a lack of planning and co-ordination, all the tickets were sold out (I guess most people forgot that it was opening night!).

I went into the movie with trepidation considering that I quite dislike one of the two heroes of the movie, Emraan Hashmi, otherwise known as the Serial Kisser of Bollywood! I really can’t figure out why he’s considered so great. In any case, the other male star Shiney Ahuja, I really like, so it wasn’t like I didn’t want to watch the movie at all.

And I was pleasantly surprised at the movie. Remember this is a commercial Hindi movie, so those of you who can’t handle the style will not like the movie; but for those of you who can – well, be prepared for a interesting, but not great flick.

A young bargirl in Mumbai has a gangster fall in love with her and take her away from her horrid life. But he is hunted by the cops and his former criminal associates and has to send her off to Seoul after a young boy they adopted is shot by the cops. Being a *good* guy (inspite of his criminal tendencies), he hasn’t slept with her because they’re not married yet. In Seoul, all alone and getting drunk every night, she meets the other guy (Emraan), who takes care of her and seduces her at the same time. I won’t let out any more otherwise I’ll give away the ending.

While Kangana as the girl was good in bits, she has a funny way of speaking, so I found that a bit distracting. Emraan Hashmi was his usual self, if you’ve seen any of his other movies, you’ll know what I mean. But Shiney truly carried the movie. He was brilliant in almost every single scene.

The movie was a decent thriller with good music especially compared to the crap coming out of Bollywood nowadays. The camera-work up close was odd considering there were too many close-ups of the actors noses for some reason!

Not a great recommendation, but watch it if you have some time on your hands and nothing better to do.

Neither A nor I felt like stirring out to watch a movie in the theatre the next day. So we decided to do pick up something to watch at home. After not watching some of the Oscar movies before, we took a plunge and picked up both Walk the Line and Brokeback Mountain.

First up was Brokeback. When Ang Lee’s previous movie, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon came out, both of us were hugely underwhelmed. I really couldn’t see what the hype was about. And this time too, I was prepared for disappointment. Unfortunately, some of my fears were not unfounded.

Let me start off by saying – Yes, this is a brave movie. Yes, we need more movies like this. Yes, congrats and all that. BUT(t?) it is not a great MOVIE by any means. I am sorry, but Heath Ledger cannot act. Mumbling your lines doesn’t make you a mid-western cowboy. And where is his passion for Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhall)? It’s supposed to be a romance for god’s sake. What about the chemistry (rather lack of it)? I’ve seen more chemistry between men on Will and Grace for god’s sake! I thought it wasn’t supposed to be about two men who f**k just because they aren’t getting any with the women. But the first time they do it, it seems just like that.

I am really glad that the Oscar went to Crash. As a work of movie making, it’s far far better than Brokeback. I understand that movies talking about uncomfortable topics are necessary, but one needs to make a good movie as well. Remember Philadelphia? It talks about homosexuality, AIDS, racism – you name it. And it was a brilliantly made, brilliantly acted movie.

Watch Brokeback, if nothing else, for the visual beauty. And for Jake – he was good, but let down by his partner!

Walk the Line, on the other hand, is a really good movie. The story of Johnny Cash well told. I hadn’t expected much from the movie and wasn’t sure why Reese Witherspoon won best actress. But after watching the movie, I can understand. Understatedly made, with really good performances from Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash and Reese as June Carter.

Watch the movie – it’s really one of the best movies of the last year.

The next day, we again planned to watch DZH, this time with A’s mom and brother, but he didn’t want to watch it, so we switched to Mistress of Spices. A had read the book, and I had skimmed through it, so we knew the plot. Don’t bother reading the book, it’s not worth it. Of course, the reviews of the movie weren’t great either, so we didn’t have any high expectations of the movie.

Unfortunately our fears were not unfounded. Aishwarya Rai cannot act to save her life. The few roles where she was better than a mannequin were those with really great directors (in Raincoat, Devdas and Chokher Bali) and even there she was limited. Dylan McDermott was better, but there was no chemistry between the two of them. Some reviewers have harped on the inane conversations between Aishwarya and the spices in her spice shop, but seem to forget that these conversations are there in the original text (and are just as inane)!

The movie is so bad that I won’t waste any time telling you the plot – just imagine a watered down version of Chocolat. There are just too many things wrong with the movie. The director for some reason seemed to have insisted on the voice-overs being spoken extra slowly in order to make everyone sound short of intelligence. He also doesn’t seem to know much about India – while he sets the opening scenes very obviously in Kerala, the younger version of Aishwarya screams ‘Mummy’ and ‘Papa’ when her parents are attacked by thugs!

The only real redeeming factors about the movie are visual. The spice shop is beautifully created and Santosh Sivan’s cinematography is stunning.

Don’t watch the movie except as a visual treat. In fact, just turn off the sound and play a nice blues cd in the background. It might be far more worthwhile thatway!

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The Pulp Templar

March 25th, 2006

What is it with the Templars and bestsellers? Currently three out of the top ten hardcover fiction works on the New York Times bestseller list have to do with the Templars. Heading the list is of course The Da Vinci Code followed in sixth and eight places by The Templar Legacy and The Last Templar respectively.

Most of us have heard about the Knight’s Templar. We’ve read about them in school and we’ve seen books and movies either denigrating them (remember Ivanhoe?) or making them objects of intense curiosity, as in Dan Brown’s most famous book.

I seem to have been interested in the Templar worlds for as long as I can remember, well before the latest fad. (This may of course be largely due to my thirst for lots of bits of useless facts!) I had done my reading and one of my favourites was Umberto Eco’s brilliant tragic parody of the Templar legacy in Foucault’s Pendulum.

Short Recap about the Templars:

Here were these bunch of guys who went out around the world fighting the enemies of civilization (read: Christian Church). Now, the thing is, although these guys were supposedly monastic, they decided to accumulate a whole lot of wealth. They took money from Kings to fight the Arabs; they took money from the church because they were upholding Christianity in a Pagan part of the world; the took money from traders, priest and other sundries to protect them while they travelled to the Holy Land. And then they became the world’s first truly international bankers. Give them some money, they’d look after it, and give it back to you when and where you wanted, for a fee.

Now, King Philip IV of France wanted some of the Templar’s money, so, he said that they didn’t believe in Christ and were guilty of a dozen odd crimes against the Lord and his Church and he had them all rounded up and tortured.

Of course he never found the money. The then Grand Master Jaques Molay was burnt at the stake apparently not having breathed a word as to the whereabouts of the great wealth of the Templars (which also supposedly included the Holy Grail – another topic of great literary value – also included in DVC!).

End Recap!

The big thing among writers nowadays is the great treasure hunt. Find the pot of gold at the end of the Templar rainbow!

But it doesn’t exist!!!! That’s my point.

Ok. Assume that there were a few million gold coins or whatever among the remaining Templars. They needed to live, so they spent a few. So over the centuries there’d be a hundred thousand less left. And you’ve forgotten inflation. The equivalent of 1 gold coin in the 15th century might be equal to 1 US Dollar (though unlikely – far less to buy beyond food and clothes!) but look around you today. Even if there were half a billion gold coins (highly unlikely to start off with) there are enough people with far more than that nowadays. And that money had to be split up among the few templars! So it has almost no value today!

But coming back to the books themselves. Ok, fine, you’ve got yourself some sort of idea as to how to go about finding the money. If your idea was really practical, would you spend five years writing it into a book that other people would read? No. You’d get on the next flight to Israel and dig up the money with your grubby little hands and tell as few people as possible!

Unless you know that your ideas are a crock of s**t. So you put them down somehow into a 500 page or more page-turner (hopefully) and send it out to the publishers to earn your 10% per book royalty! That’s the good way to make the money.

The only people who suffer are the long-suffering readers. On one hand you’ve got those who buy the book as a way to pass time in hotel airports. This kind of book is okay for them because it’s better than staring at the blank airport walls or at TV screens filled with people speaking in a language you don’t understand. The second kind is the people who read pulp. Whether they read only pulp or whether they also read pulp is besides the point. They know that what they’re reading ain’t exactly literature. So it’s time-pass (as we Indians say!).

The third kind of reader comes into this thinking – Wow! A LITERARY thriller! Now I can boast to all my friends about my LITERARY reading habits. I can talk about the HOLY GRAIL and the KNIGHTS TEMPLAR and can be well read like that show-offy Aditya down the hall!

These are the people I feel sorry for. Because these books are junk. Pure and simple. Da Vinci Code was passable as a thriller, but had nothing great style-wise. The Templar Legacy, which I have the good(?) fortune to be reading now, isn’t even that good. In fact the writing is so bad it’s hard to not put down.

In the second chapter of the book, a bookseller is being questioned at gun point:
He picked up his mug and savored another gulp of beer.

I mean who savors their beer when they are afraid of being shot? And does anyone savor anything when you gulp it down? Wow!

One of the main protagonists, Stephanie, is supposedly someone high up in the US Justice Department. But she is so stupid, that she never listens to any advice, always manages to get into trouble, depends on the help of the man (Malone) she never listens to, and is rude to people she meets even without having met them before!

Also, the classic bad pulp elements are there- two sets of bad guys, or rather one bad guy out to get the money and one bad/good guy out to save the church, the supposedly clever but actually dumb heroine, the ex-SAS type hero who always forgets just the one important thing which would compress the story into just 40 pages, the rich helpful friend, the dying master and the helpful servant.

And the events are so unimaginative themselves. I’ve got to a point in the book where the hero and the heroine are asking the rich for information at his isolated house in Europe. He lives austerely and has few servants. There is no guard at the gate. The bad guys just walk into his compund and start listening to their conversation through the window. Sounds familiar?

Of course I am going to finish the book, if for no other reason than the fact that I’m travelling on work and prefer reading crap to staring at blank hotel walls in the middle of the night.

But unless you are like me, or have a good understanding that this is not even good pulp, I really suggest that you don’t read it. Read Eco instead, or if you don’t want something so heavy, Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown is far more entertaining.

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