Jan 16, 2010

3 Idiots

As much as I have enjoyed watching Bollywood films all my life, never before that the enjoyment is brought to a new height like what 3 Idiots has brought.

The biggest Bollywood hit of all time, so far, turns out to be a pleasing work with the right dose of heart, and firm assurance of its own standpoint. The issue of education being a stepping stone to wealth and prosperity rather than characters building hits home to audiences everywhere, making this easily a critical and commercial cross over success.

As shown in his previous film Lage Raho Munna Bhai, director Rajkumar Hirani believes that as long as the content is able to stand on its own, he can take care of the rest of a film's production values. While many contemporary Indian films try hard to win over foreign markets by slowly distancing themselves from Bollywood fun roots, 3 Idiots does a fair share to make it distinctively Bollywood.

Yet Hirani pumps the film with sleeker and slicker look than Munna Bhai, which viewers everywhere can be lured easily with gorgeously photographed panoramic views. 

It may not challenge the convention of typical Bollywood film in its cinematic look, with song-and-dancing breakout scenes are still kept intact to which one number will please any musical fans with reference to Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire 1930s MGM style.
Still, the film manages to bring that to lesser dominance, with the educational content that surely hits the pang of many who have gone through such rigorous educational experience reigns above. 

The indicator of a good film is simplified by this film: it shall never bore its audiences to yawn. Throughout the entire 3-hour plus duration, not a single sleepy moment.

Add that with the usual strong, believable performance by Aamir Khan, and the ever pitch-perfect comic timing of Boman Irani, in particular when he sees his daughter being taken away, we see a Bollywood commercial, mainstream film that manages to achieve what many films aim to: be inspiring.

A film like this does not come every year.

(courtesy of Filmicafe.com)

(Watched in Blitzmegaplex Grand Indonesia, Tuesday, January 12, 2010. With Edwin, Iskandar, Kenny, and their friends.)

Jan 8, 2010

Not Quite Hollywood

The last time I connected Australia and genre film was a few years ago, when I watched Picnic at Hanging Rock, an eerie coming-of-age horror that brought Peter Weir to global fame.

Little did I know that there had been many exploitation films happening in Down Under way before that, and even Picnic did not actually start the revolution. It came on the last remaining years of the genre's popularity in Australia, at the time when the country started to concern about its exported film and started paying attention to literary classics or period pieces.
Thus came Picnic and subsequent films, including My Brilliant Career if we'd like to expand our common brief knowledge of Australian film.

With that preconception of not many people in the world are aware of the country's illustrious film output, Not Quite Hollywood sets itself as a highly informative documentary that never forgets the root of its subject: being unpretentious, gory and fun.

Director Mark Hartley clearly shows his passion in the subject, as evidenced by his no-holds-barred methods in getting direct, many political-incorrect statements from the interviewees.
You cannot get better explanatory work of a country's cinema than from the people who lived the heydays of the industry and the sparks in their eyes still tell how much they care about the film.

It is indeed a labor of love, which in the case of documentary film can be self-indulgent. Yet, extensive research and galore of clips showing excessive force-for-fun and envelope-pushing sex are enough as reminders to keep Hartley on track.
His tight, focused script makes viewing the film like flipping through a well-designed magazine: each chapter is given a clear-cut category, and inevitable crossing-over is presented with determined degrees of importance easy for one to differentiate.

If the sentence tries to outsmart the film, believe me, nothing can.
What else can beat boobs, pubes, kung-fu kicks, buckets of blood, all presented in a sassy style with brain and getting the endorsement from Quentin Tarantino himself? There!

(photo courtesy of Outnow)

(Watched on DVD, Region 4, Sunday, January 3, 2010. Bonus features include a press conference of the film's premiere in Melbourne International Film Festival.)

Jan 7, 2010

Sherlock Holmes

Is there anything that Robert Downey, Jr. cannot pull off with his mischievous smile and gorgeous stare? (Even before I finished the question, my mind immediately thought of Chaplin and Gingerbread Man. And to some extent, Tropic Thunder.)

This is a man whose career built from his charisma. Put him together with George Clooney, the world will melt immediately. 
It does not take us that far though, to prove the theory in the grey-ish Sherlock Holmes, where Downey dons his charm to a great degree that we cannot help but thinking: where is the old, pipe-cracking Englishman we've come to know of all these centuries?

It remains there, slightly buried within the screen persona.

At ease with a newly equipped accent, Downey's Holmes is a fresh characterization that balances the words and actions. Helmed by Guy Ritchie, the film is surely filled with fists and elaborate fighting elements with angles that often border Chinese martial art cinema.

Yet the wisdom and wits are left intact, with Downey in equal partnership with Jude Law's Dr. Watson to deliver those convincingly. Alright, wits here may refer to tongue-in-cheek humor instead, which clearly is the product of modern rework on otherwise Victorian-style puns.

Much can be said about the strange inclusion of Rachel McAdams as love interest/damsel-in-distress/supposedly equal kick that turns out to be the weakest link (so weak that I manage to remember Kelly Reilly more, albeit she only appears very few and far in between), however, the film still works as a pure enjoyable entertainment nonetheless.

Footnote: I watched this in Senayan City XXI on a Sunday night, with unbelievable crowd that includes a toddler who cried occasionally, terribly latecomers, and irresponsible audiences who forgot to close the exit door. It was absolutely a devastating filmgoing experience in years. Enough to make the cinema as one of my lower film-outing venue priorities. Truly, inside-the-mall cinemas are defined by the crowd of the mall itself.

(Watched at Senayan City XXI, Sunday, January 3, 2010. With Fahrul. Photo is courtesy of Outnow.)

Jan 6, 2010

The Princess and The Frog

One enters the cinema to watch the first hand-drawn animation from Disney in years with caution: will it be as enchanting as Disney's old classics?

After all, the past few years we have seen Disney relenting itself to Pixar, the master of both storytelling and envelope-pushing state-of-the-art visual sophistication.

Thus, the reason why we anxiously anticipate The Princess and the Frog is mostly derived from the nostalgic feeling, longing of the good old days of the old-school animation.

Alas, audiences of my age (25-35) who grew up watching the glory days of Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, before questioning the subsequent fiascos Hercules, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, are likely those who dwell and highly enjoy the New Orleans-set fairytale.

The expectation came true: we did enjoy the film.

After all, Disney knows how to make its charm works in spinning a classic tale. This time, "The Frog Prince" is transported to 1920s New Orleans, complete with Mardi Grass, old-school street jazz and mythical allegories that serve as the classic battle of good versus evil.

Watching the film now, we cannot help thinking that we see a homage to the glory past works, especially when animals start talking and chanting in dazzling well-choreographed movements. Colors do burst and Randy Newman's familiar yet still marvelous work in scoring is still greatly felt throughout. His numbers are classic of "I am ready to do all it takes to make my dreams come true" that has been told many times before, yet we continue to love them.

This is the first time African-American characters take the center stage in Disney animation. While being confined to practically harmless stereotypes (domestic helpers, voodoo practices to some extent, among many others), The Princess simply aims to please everyone longing for pure entertainment at face value. It shall not leave you thinking. It will leave you grinning and smiling, hardly laughing.

(Watched at Plaza Senayan XXI, Saturday, January 2, 2010. With Dody. Photo is courtesy of Outnow.)

Jan 5, 2010

How to Lose Friends & Alienate People

While the title reads like a self-help book for depressed souls, the film barely scratched the core of its intended nail-biting satire.

Based on a memoir of the same title by Toby Young, the film points out the price of an underground journalism soul in becoming a part of exclusive show business elites. Albeit the cover-ups, we can easily point out real-life references to the media, the people portrayed, the kind of award shows depicted in the film, and the heartbreaking anguish.

The reason why it is easy to do such is simply because the film fails to engage. Not even Simon Pegg, playing the hopeless journalist Sydney Young, with his curious look served well in his comedic staples, could bring up the film to have fun on its own.

It all goes downhill when we are forced to buy his kooky characters to fall head over heels in the tradition of average romantic comedy to Kirsten Dunst, otherwise semi-pro in the genre. While Dunst bears no burden and struts her presence easily, Pegg has to catch up with her, as his uncomfortable performance grows more noticeable by the minutes.

The film cannot decide whether it aims to be fully social satire, or a romantic comedy. The nail-biting story of media manipulation is enough to stand on its own without having to be forced to a dopey love story. How to Lose Friends & Alienate People makes The Devil Wears Prada a worthy Best Picture nominee, indeed.

If anything worth remembering from the film, it is Gillian Anderson's scene-stealing presence rather than Megan Fox's forced insertion that in the end made us wonder: even in her debut, she manages to bring down the whole film.

(Watched in DVD, Saturday, January 2, 2010. Source: Lia's. Picture is courtesy of Outnow.)

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A film festival manager. A writer. An avid moviegoer. An editor. An aspiring culinary fan. A man.