Sunday, February 7, 2016

[D.C. Untied 1] A Day to Unite, February 6, 2015

Welcome to the inaugural post of "D.C. Untied", a mini-series of posts talking about my experiences as a D.C. United Season Ticket Holder and fan. The title comes from one of my favorite typos, because #librarian #gonna #librarian.

As I wrote before, I've been going to D.C. United games with my brother for close to 20 years. But I was always just a casual fan. I enjoyed the camaraderie, the game atmosphere, and having a socially sanctioned opportunity to yell at the top of my lungs for 90 minutes. Something changed last year; I changed last year. In the middle of illness, death, and general life shittiness, D.C. United was there for me, giving me something to cheer for. Seeing them work so hard out on the field, coming back from one goal down in game-after-game, really inspired me.

And it is still all about that game day experience. Now that I no longer perform on stage and even attending concerts has become rare and (in the United States) mostly unpleasant thanks to late start times and audiences more interested in recording grainy footage on their phones than being in the moment, the 90 minutes spent with my attention focused only on what's right in front of me at RFK, were incredible, electric. Standing with the District Ultras, waving flags, singing, chanting... no time to look at a phone until halftime for fear that I'll miss something. I was hooked. I even took the trip to Red Bull Arena on November 8 for the second leg of the playoff series. My first away game and one of the most intense fan experiences I've had. All of us who went felt that mix of excitement, anticipation, the hope that maybe we'd win. The endorphins kicked in and I felt no hunger, no thirst, just the all-natural high of being a fan. We marched to Red Bull Arena, chanting and singing, waving flags and banging drums. Red Bull fans yelled profanity at us, told us to go fuck ourselves, but their hostility only heightened the high I was riding. One of the men I was walking with stopped to give a small child a high five. D.C. fans are nice like that.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Assorted Thoughts: D.C. United Preseason and American Ballet Theater's "Sleeping Beauty" at the Kennedy Center 1/28/2016

American Ballet Theater's "Sleeping Beauty" at the Kennedy Center

Anybody who follows me on Twitter was treated to a classic Filmi Girl rant the evening of the 28th. I went to see the American Ballet Company's production of Sleeping Beauty and the Kennedy Center and was utterly horrified and frustrated by the behavior of the audience. It was enough to put me off attending anything at the Kennedy Center for a few months. (I can only hope I'll have recovered in time for the staging of Wagner's Ring Cycle.) Does sitting in the second balcony instead of sitting on the orchestra level change the behavior of the audience? Is it that the stage from the second balcony appears more like a television screen, boxed in and far off, so we feel free to act as if we are at home in front of the television? Or does the cheaper price simply encourage cheaper behavior? Either way, I was treated to a running commentary from a mother and daughter sitting behind me, gossiping about the dancers on stage. And when I asked them to keep it down, they looked at me as if I was the one with poor manners! It reminded me of the time I went to see Black Swan and had a couple on a date sitting behind me, the male half of which was unnecessarily "explaining" everything to his girlfriend, to include--and I'll never forget this--saying, "She's free." at the very end when Natalie Portman collapses. Thanks, bro. Thanks for "explaining" that to me.

The frustration at the constant whispering about so-and-so being nice and so-and-so being "only 17" took me out of that zen audience mindspace and kept me pinned to my uncomfortable seat. It made the moldy smell of my neighbor's coat that much more unbearable, the occasional mucusy cough that much more annoying, tolerating the fidgety 7 year old beside me became next to impossible.

Is it myopic selfishness, people prioritizing their own enjoyment over everybody else's, or a fundamental misunderstanding of how to be in an audience that isn't in front of their own television screens? Is the overture and entr'acte simply background garbage noise? Is it so wrong to want to listen to Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty score rather than treating it as a score to inane chatter? You can talk anywhere, I can only listen to a live orchestra playing Tchaikovsky here.

As for the ballet itself, I did enjoy what I could focus on. The view from above is provides a different perspective from sitting on the orchestra level. In some ways, it's preferable to be up high and see the large bits of choreography as a whole but I think I prefer sitting closer to the stage and seeing the faces of the dancers.

The American Ballet Theater's production was almost the complete opposite of the modern, fresh A Winter's Tale I had seen the week before. The choreography, from Marius Petipa, dates to the late 19th century and the ballet, while beautiful, felt very much like it was preserved in amber. I have to admit, I was more charmed by the costumes than many of the dancers, but there a few stand-outs. Hee Seo as the Sleeping Beauty herself was wonderful to watch. And I enjoyed Catherine Hurlin as the saucy white cat in the ending number.

D.C. United Preseason 2016

Dear readers, prepare yourselves because it's about to get soccer-ific up in here. D.C. United is currently in the midst of pre-season and created this delightful video for me. I don't know if my favorite part is Rolfe's resigned face at having to be in the fan with the "kids", the Boz being the Boz, or Dykstra's extremely dorky Jeff Goldblum impression.

I don't know what 2016 will bring for the team but it will bring lots of dumb blog posts from me because I am a season ticket holder this year (!!) and am going to throw myself into being a fan 100%. It has been such an invigorating experience to just throw myself into this odd corner of fandom. Learning the rules, learning the storylines, learning which self-important fans to avoid... the one thing it's been hard to remember is just how small the fanbase really is. Tweeting at an MLS player is very different from tweeting a big-name Bollywood actor. My tweet will probably get read! Horrifying! Best control your enthusiasm, Filmi Girl.

I am determined to enjoy myself and learn everything there is to know. I'm also hoping to be able to do some interviews with long time fans because I'm genuinely interested in how this all works.

One thing you might not know, dear readers, is that I (me, Filmi Girl) was... a cheerleader in high school! I do indeed have an excess of pep and am extremely grateful to have found a pep outlet in D.C. United and their fan groups, who have been so welcoming. ♥

(I'm on the far left.)

Broken Horses: Bollywood in America: Does it work? I say yes.

If Broken Horses was Vidhu Vinod Chopra asking, “Will American audiences connect with a Bollywood-style story told with white Americans set in America?” The answer was a resounding, “No.” The film is currently sitting at a 21% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. The critics hated it and mainstream audiences, for the most part, ignored it. But does that make it a bad film?

The plot of Broken Horses is rooted in Chopra’s 1989 film Parinda. Set in the rural, hardscrabble West, the film follows two brothers, Buddy (the elder, Chris Marquette) and Jake (the younger, Anton Yelchin), who lose their father (Thomas Jane) as children. Jake is an aspiring concert violinist and when the film begins, we find out he has run off to New York City and is about to get married to the beautiful Vittoria (Maria Valverde). He gets a call from his brother, Buddy, who says he has a wedding present for him but it needs to be given in person. Vittoria encourages Jake to return home for a visit and, reluctantly, Jake does just that.

Buddy is mentally slow and has fallen under the spell of local bad guy Julius Hench (Vincent D'Onofrio) and Hench has paired Buddy up with a babysitter, Eric (Juan Riedinger), whom Buddy seems to think of as a surrogate brother. Jake is wary of Eric from the beginning, but we (and I think Jake himself) are unsure whether it’s jealousy or fear. Jake feels a growing dread, an unease that reaches an early peak as he drives out to meet his old music teacher, Ignacio (Sean Patrick Flannery). What he finds is horrifying. Ignacio reduced to utter squalor, jerkily driving a wheelchair around a fire kept burning in the middle of the living room. Ignacio has been broken. He speaks in odd phrases: “Two legs for two tickets.”

Jake has no idea what to do. One senses he’s ready to run all the way back to New York but something stops him. Eric, who has been sent to kill him. Jake is faced with a choice and when it comes right down to it, Jake chooses to stay and fight for his brother.

Hench is more than a bit mentally unbalanced himself and as the film unfolds we--and Jake--realize just how strong his hold over Buddy is. In Jake’s absence, Hench and his henchmen (prominently featuring Wes Chatham as the loyal “Ace” and Jeremy Luke as “Franco”) have become a surrogate family for Buddy, which Hench encourages. Jake realizes the only way to get to Buddy is to join the gang and destroy that trust from the inside.

Running behind all this is a feud between Hench and a Mexican drug lord named Garza (Jordi Caballero) as well as Buddy’s wedding present, a beautiful ranch he’s built for his brother.

For all intents and purposes Broken Horses is classic Hindi masala filmmaking and it works surprisingly well without songs. It takes a few minutes to sink into the heightened emotional reality of the world but once you’re in, it’s all heartbreak. Chopra builds toward an exquisite peak of pure emotion, a fear and dread mixed with empathy. We know one of our brothers must perform a horrible act of betrayal and Chopra let’s us hang, on edge, waiting for it.

Chopra’s script, written with Abhijat Joshi (3 Idiots, PK), is very well served by actors pulled from the heightened worlds of genre film and soap opera. Ironically enough I think it’s a better film with American soap opera actors than it would have been using the bulked up producer’s sons and fashion model-cum-actresses cluttering up mainstream movies in Bollywood. Anton Yelchin, as Jake, isn’t quite a Michael Corleone, deliberately turning his back on the family business. Yelchin shows us a conflicted Jake, one who half-knew there was something to avoid at home but it was almost as if he didn’t know then he wouldn’t be responsible. What I liked about Jake that I don’t often like about these white college boys returning home is that Jake wasn’t the director’s stand-in, he was just another character. And so Jake--and Yelchin--were allowed more complexity. We didn’t have to like him unconditionally in order to feel something about the story. Yelchin’s Jake is subtle and very human.

Chris Marquette as Buddy is really the heart of the film, though. Buddy is so innocent and so trusting but there’s also depth. Marquette really sells Buddy as a complex character, despite his limited intellect, Buddy is allowed to hold secrets of his own, all the more powerful because nobody suspects him. I was genuinely touched when Buddy’s face lights up as he realizes that his brother does in fact love him, that it’s not just words. In the hands of a different kind of actor, an actor not willing to commit, a character like Buddy could easily veer into parody, a knowing, winking “take” on Lon Chaney Jr in Of Mice and Men rather than a fully realized person.

The featured cast are just as good-- Jordi Caballero as the oily Mexican crime lord, Sean Patrick Flannery’s unhinged Ignacio, and Maria Valverde as the sweet natured Vittoria. And Vincent D'Onofrio as Mr. Hench is pure villainous gold. He chewed through the scenery just as well as Nana Patekar did in Parinda and that is a huge compliment coming from me. I’d suggest any Indian producers looking for an exotic villain for their next masala film check out his performance here. It’s just the right balance of campy and creepy.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve been re-watching Twin Peaks over the last month but what struck me most of all about Broken Horses was how much Bollywood in America looks like David Lynch: the heightened reality, the stagy dialogue and set-pieces, the way emotion is amped up, the moodiness, the humor, the incredible earnestness underpinning everything, the darkness of the human soul. If Broken Horses didn’t work with general American audiences, it did work with me. And maybe it will work with you. The title comes from a speech Hench gives Buddy towards the end of the film. Has Buddy has been "broken", is he in control of Hench? It’s certainly worth watching to find out if you’re in the mood for melodrama.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Dear Hollywood Entertainment Journalists: Bollywood is not synonymous with Indian.

Blame the blizzard, if you must. It's been so long since I've written one of these but today I can't help myself. So, my man Dhanush is going to be in some English language middlebrow flick also starring Uma Thurman. Thankfully I've only seen one usage of "Bollywood star" (so far), which was in that Variety piece I linked to but just in case other entertainment beat reporters are googling around for information about Dhanush, let me throw a few facts at you:

Bollywood is not synonymous with Indian. "Bollywood" is one of many entertainment industries in India. "Indian" is a nationality. Some Indian actors work in Bollywood; many do not. Some actors who work in Bollywood are Bollywood stars but some are better described as actors who occasionally work in Bollywood film. Most actors who work in Bollywood are Indian but not all of them are.

Here's a handy cheat sheet:

* Kunal Nayyar from the Big Bang Theory and Freida Pinto from Slumdog Millionaire are Indian actors but do not and have not worked in Bollywood. (Not Bollywood stars.)

* Kal Penn of Harold and Kumar, Aziz Ansari, and Mindy Kaling are all Americans. Archie Panjabi aka "Kalinda" and Dev Patel from Slumdog Millionaire are British. None of the above have worked in Bollywood film. (None are Bollywood stars.)

* Kumail Nanjiani is Pakistani. (Not a Bollywood star.)

* Irrfan Khan is an Indian actor who sometimes works in Bollywood but is better known for his artsier films. (Not a Bollywood star.)

* Anupam Kher is an Indian actor works in Bollywood ALL THE FREAKING TIME but he's better known a character actor playing fathers, crazy uncles, and villains, etc. I suppose you could call him a "Bollywood actor".

* Purab Kohli from Sense8 has worked in Bollywood but it's a huge stretch to say "star." He's much better known as a former MTV VJ. (Yes, they still have those in India.)

* Pitobash from Million Dollar Arm is an Indian actor who, like Irrfan Khan, is known for work in artier films. (Not a Bollywood star but he is a sweetheart.)

* Anil Kapoor and Priyanka Chopra have starred in many, many Bollywood films are legitimate Bollywood stars.

Dhanush is Indian and has starred in one legit Bollywood film (Raanjhanaa) and acted in a great Hindi language film (Shamitabh) but he's not a Bollywood star. His main fanbase and most of his best work is done in Tamil films, not Bollywood. You can call him a Tamil film star if you must but for a middlebrow arthouse film like The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir is set to be, why not respect him as an actor and just say "award-winning Indian actor Dhanush" or something and perhaps list some of his films. He has some great ones; his performance in Maryan was phenomenal for a start.

When Bollywood is used as a synonym for "Indian" it's not only inaccurate and lazy reporting but it also erases the humanity of actors of South Asian descent working in Hollywood and turns them into caricatures. Years of lazy and biased criticism have turned "Bollywood" into a huge punchline in the West and, sadly, that's not going to change anytime soon. I've stopped expecting useful discussion of any popular Indian film out of the Western media but at the very least they should be treating the actors who make those films (and the people who happen to share an ethnicity with the people who make those films) with some respect and dignity. Throwing the word "Bollywood" around at anybody with brown skin is not a useful descriptor.

The point is this: Bollywood is one of many film industries in India; Bollywood is not an ethnicity.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Christopher Wheeldon's "A Winter's Tale" : Kennedy Center 1/19/2016

One of my goals for 2016 is to make an effort to attend more live performances. Although I often travel to see performances--sometimes all the way to Japan--I realized I also needed to make more of an effort to see things locally. With my own performing days long over (unless somebody needs a trombonist) one of the greatest pleasures I have in life is being part of an audience and, lucky me, I have easy access to the Kennedy Center, a monument to a type of civic engagement with the arts that is almost extinct.

(Image from Kennedy Center website)

The performance I had the pleasure of seeing on Tuesday was the Canadian National Ballet’s production of choreographer Christopher Wheeldon’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

A few thoughts around the Fitoor Trailer

After watching the Fitoor trailer, I'm tentatively on board the bandwagon. Although I admit that if it wasn't Katrina as the heroine, I probably wouldn't be as forgiving.

Here's the thing-- I like Abhishek Kapoor as a director. I loved Rock On and Kai Po Che and think he has a talent for wringing likable performances out of otherwise soggy actors. In other words, there's a good chance I might even find the notably soggy Aditya Roy Kapur tolerable. However. Charles Dickens's Great Expectations, on which the film is based, is a tricky work to get right. Much like Romeo & Juliet it is often misread as a modern romance, which it is not. This isn't poor boy meets rich girl, some troubles, happily ever after. Pip, the main character of Dickens's work, is a total dick... a fact that often gets left out of adaptations. He's the kind of guy who feels that the world OWES him things because he wants them, including the heart of a beautiful rich girl. Estella, the heroine, is often depicted as a cold-hearted bitch but how much of that is because we get given the story through that dick Pip's eyes? You know?

If Abhishek Kapoor understands the story this way, I'm going to be fine with this adaptation and with dickish Aditya Roy Kapur as the hero. Actually, as long as we're not supposed to sympathize with a dickish Pip, see Estella as cold-hearted bitch, and there's no "happy" ending, I'll probably be okay.

When I first read Great Expectations in high school, I did think it was a romance but coming back to it later, as a young woman with a little more experience in life, I understood that it wasn't. And over the years I have really grown to dislike stories of hearts "owed" to pining heroes or heroines, especially when they are "nice guys (tm)" like Pip, who is exactly the type of character to whine about getting friendzoned instead of respecting a woman's autonomy to chose whatever the hell life she wants for herself.

That said, over the weekend I re-watched one of my all time favorite films: The Cutting Edge. It's a film that's remembered fondly today by a large number of women but has gotten zero critical respect and I think that's a shame because it's a remarkable work. On the surface it's a romance. Kate, a cold-hearted figure skater, meets Doug, a hot-blooded hockey player. Shades of "Taming of the Shrew", right? WRONG. It's Doug, the prototypical American dude, who learns that "women's work" (aka figure skating) is not only really difficult but also worthwhile. It's Doug who learns to respect his partner as a human being, not just some babe for sleeping with, and it's Doug who falls in love first. Kate's growth has nothing to do with being "tamed" and everything to do with acknowledging her own emotions. It's an intoxicating fairytale of female empowerment and respect and one I return to again and again for that reason... as well as the fun of the figure skating, the humor in the writing, and the great performances.

What I'm saying is I don't dislike romances but I do dislike romances where the woman is an object to be won. Great Expectations is sometimes interpreted that way rather than how I see it: a cautionary tale about a dick who gets butthurt when he can't "have" a lady he wants. We'll see how Fitoor handles it. I like Katrina, Tabu, and Abhishek Kapoor enough to give it a chance.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Taking a look at the Krrish Series: Koi... Mil Gaya, Krrish, and Krrish 3

Rakesh Roshan may not have began the Krrish Trilogy intending to make a trilogy of any sort and yet somehow these three films--Koi... Mil Gaya (2003), Krrish (2006), and Krrish 3 (2013)--fit incredibly well together. Watching them back to back, as I did over the weekend, the films tell a story not just of father and son, Rohit (Hrithik Roshan) and Krishna (also Hrithik Roshan), but also of the evolution of Bollywood itself over the decade separating the first and last films.

Friday, December 11, 2015

If I had the wings of an eagle... #NewDCU ready to go!

(A NEW ERA IN D.C. UNITED HISTORY IS BEGINNING! And we have a #Brand #Narrative video with "in a world" style voiceover to go with it!! DAMN I AM PUMPED UP! IS IT MARCH YET?!)

Last night was the big unveiling party for the new D.C. United logo and though ever so slightly butthurt at not getting to attend, it did give me a chance to reflect on a few things:

1) I cannot wait until March when games start back up again.

2) I'm pretty sure I need this sweatshirt featuring the new logo.

3) It's been three months after my switch flipped from casual supporter to D.C. United superfan.

Note from Filmi Girl:

I love Bollywood - and all the ridiculous things that happen in Bollywood - but it doesn't mean that I can't occasionally make fun of various celebrities and films.

If you don't like my sense of humor, please just move on by - Trolls are not appreciated and nasty comments will be deleted.

xoxo Filmi Girl