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.


Monday, December 7, 2015

1789: -バスティーユの恋人たち- and a little introduction to Takarazuka Theater Company

One of the first stereotypes to be shattered when I began watching Japanese television dramas all those years ago was that of the television drama heroine. Sure, the long-suffering “Cinderella” heroine remains popular but she’s not the only heroine to be found. Tall, broad shouldered, and very charismatic, there is a class of actress with no equivalent anywhere else in the world. They play policewomen, doctors, detectives, and sometimes even just regular moms. But there’s something different even when they play traditional female roles. Their bodies take up physical space as if they were entitled to it, like men. That Japan--Japan with its alleged submissive schoolgirl obsession--also had these magnificent, powerful women? I couldn’t wrap my mind around it.

As I gradually learned more about Japanese show business, it dawned on me that these tall, charismatic actresses didn’t just spring into existence like Athena from the head of Zeus. Amami Yuki, Maya Miki, and others, they were former stars of the all-female Takarazuka theater company (宝塚歌劇団). Takarazuka productions are known for glitz, glamor, romance, incredible costuming, and a final number always danced upon a giant staircase. And, most importantly, the company is known for its 男役 (otokoyaku, lit. male-role), the actresses in the company that play the male roles in their productions.


Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Does Go Goa Gone hold up after a couple of years? Yes. Yes, it does.

Go Goa Gone was a film I enjoyed quite a bit when it came out in the theater, enough so that I’d had an itch to watch it again. So I did. I purchased the DVD. And I don’t regret a penny. Despite surface similarities--the lack of sync songs, the casting of Vir Das, the use of a “global” trope like zombies--Go Goa Gone doesn’t feel like one of those Hollywood-chasing “indie” films, it feels like what it is, a modern Hindi film made for people with modern attention spans. The film is certainly aware of globalization--hilariously punctured in the dialogues in regards to why the zombies have finally come to India--but Raj & DK make no concessions to “international” anything in their storytelling or otherwise. This is a Hindi film.

The action starts off in Mumbai where we meet our heroes, three buddies Hardik (Kunal Khemu), Luv (Vir Das), and Bunny (Anand Tiwari) who both live together and work together in some sort of generic white collar office job. Hardik passes his days in clouds of marijuana smoke, Luv is a “m’lady”, and Bunny resents both of them and overcompensates by taking all his responsibilities very seriously. In other words, the three are comedic gold.

After Hardik gets fired (way past due) and Luv gets dumped (really way past due, m’lady), the two tag along with Bunny on a business trip to Goa, hive of scum and villainy and bikini babes looking to party. While on the prowl, Luv stumbles into Facebook-friend-not-real-friend Luna (the lovely Puja Gupta), who invites the buddies to a super-secret-super-cool rave being held on an island just off the coast.... a super-secret-super-cool rave held by Russian gangsters looking to test out a new drug.

One trippy song picturization featuring a friendly appearance from Pitobash later (“Slowly Slowly”), the buddies wake up the next morning to find their world turned upside down. Zombies. They rescue Luna from certain death, are rescued themselves from certain death by Russian gangsters “Boris” (Saif Ali Khan, who simply nails it) and Nikolai (Ross Bucharn?), and get in a lot of good bonding moments while running for their lives.

Revisiting the film, I already knew how the plot would unfold so I was able to really sit back and enjoy the characters and storytelling (and great filmmaking) itself. The mix of comedy, horror, action, mysticism, and just enough melodrama to make us care about the strength of the bond between the friends. That interplay of emotional tones is what I love about Indian filmmaking. No country in the world does it better. (One of the biggest disappointments in “indie” films I’ve suffered through was the paucity of tones. Whether dreary or whimsical or “authentic”, too much of anything leaves this audience member feeling fatigued and bored.)

Zombie movies generally mean bodies and Go Goa Gone does not disappoint. My favorite special effect was obviously the incredible charisma contained in Kunal Khemu’s megawatt smile but I thought the use of zombies was really well done. Rather than pile them all on screen at all times, scenes alternated between crowded and sparse, from the packed rave to empty beach to a trickle of zombies back to a dreadful absence of zombies to one zombie to a pile of zombies… again, the interplay of tone. Instead of a driving, relentless slog through zombies, I really enjoyed how both the audience and the characters were given a few chances to catch our breath before having the rug pulled out from under us… again.

But above all else, I really enjoyed spending time with these characters. Hardik’s easy charm and quick wit, Bunny’s hapless existence, the glee in which Luv’s “m’lady”ing is shut down time and again by Luna, the fact that Luna herself is treated like an actual real person and not a “lady”, even Boris and Nikolai’s bittersweet ending… it was oddly relaxing, despite the zombies. I didn’t have to worry about a buffed up producer’s son with monotone dialogue delivery or a shrill bikini bimbo invading my screen, just filthy ex-hippies on a blood bender.

As long time readers have surely noticed, I am not even remotely as invested in Hindi films as I was a few years ago. Partly this is due to access, for example even Prem Ratan Dhan Payo was out of my local theater in a week and only had one show at a very inconvenient time at the next closest theater… and the other areas it’s showing in are at least an hour of travel time away. Would it be worth it? Probably, but the friend I used to go to films like this with has long since had two children and no longer has the free time to spend all day in pursuit of a Salman Khan film. Additionally, watching online or even on DVD can be really unsatisfying. A movie I might have enjoyed well enough in the buzzed atmosphere of a packed theater might turn into a movie I flip off after 30 minutes watching at home because, well, I have better things to do than suffer through an adaptation of Hamlet that seems to have left all the manic energy and mysticism of the original on the cutting room floor in exchange for extra self-seriousness at making High Art.

But when it comes right down to it, there aren’t many Hindi films coming out that interest me anymore… I don’t care for Miramax-style “international cinema” films. I don’t care for those write-what-you-know slice-of-life films about wacky families living in Delhi or rom-coms and subpar Southern masala remakes. Some may find them enjoyable and that’s fine. They just aren’t for me.

But all that said, what I do still enjoy is the overwrought melodrama of a film like Brothers, Akshay Kumar and Jackie Shroff and Siddharth Malhotra, all manly and on the verge of tears. I love the beauty of the Rakesh Roshan worldview in a film like Krrish 3. I love the sharp meta-masala of Vicky Acharya’s films… and I love the Hindi films from filmmakers like Rajat Kapoor... and Raj & DK. And I cannot wait for their next.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

AIRLIFT TEASER IS HERE!

Look, I'm only human. I don't particularly enjoy "based on true events" films or patriotic films in and of themselves but, that being said, do you know what I do enjoy? SCRUFFY AKSHAY KUMAR CRYING AND SAVING PEOPLE!

A whole movie of this?! YES PLEASE!!


Because when it comes right down to it, Akshay is my all-time number-one favorite hero and I would watch him (loudly) read a phone book if he put his heart into it.

I'm also more willing to watch a film like Airlift because the politics appear to be more straightforward, without the poisonous topic of "Islamic" terrorism that makes my skin boil. (Hopefully) We can all agree that Saddam was a giant dick for invading Kuwait back in 1990 and the airlift of 100,000 Indian nationals back to India was pretty darn cool:

“It’s not like we didn’t make mistakes," said [Air India regional director M.P.] Mascarenhas. “We misjudged numbers a lot and, remember, we didn’t have mobile phones there. When people ask me how we did it, I say, I looked up at heaven and said, god help me.”

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Deep cuts.

As some of you may have guessed from my brand new instagram I spent last weekend with my grandparents out in the country. It was really nice to see them, to spend time with family, away from everything. My grandfather is an even earlier riser than I am and we spent a few mornings engaged in some pretty intense discussions over coffee before the rest of the house began to stir. My grandfather is a thinker, an observer, a creator--you can see some of his work here--and he’s extremely frustrated with mainstream media. A frustration I share. (I come by it honestly.) Of particular irritation to Grumps was an article in a recent issue of Time magazine on modern art… Here’s a topic I know really well, said Grumps, and this article is all nonsense! He didn’t understand how Time magazine, a respected (“respected”) mainstream outlet could publish such trash and, on top of that, if their modern art coverage was so lousy, did that extend to everything else in the magazine?? What is happening?

You see, Grumps is not online. He doesn’t read or care about listicles or “hot takes” or care about who’s trending on twitter. What Grumps sees, though he didn’t understand why, is the end result of our J-School media culture that prizes an odd sort of “objectiveism” in which the journalist doesn’t need to know anything about the topic on which he or she is writing. All the journalist needs is quotes from two sources on “opposite” sides and some buzzwords to generate interest. No need to fact check, to research and develop an informed opinion, to take responsibility when things go wrong… just find a angle, cobble together some quotes, post, and move on to the next piece.

It’s gotten to the point where the only mainstream outlets I read on a regular basis are the Onion and the New York Review of Books (and sometimes Harpers or Roling Stone). I’ve just grown so tired of sifting through self-important hackery, re-written press releases, “hot takes”, and groupthink. It’s all content with no context.

Grumps says I should write the book that blows the lid on the whole thing but even if I did--and that’s a big “if”--who would read it? We’re all so distracted and up our own butts. Reading and watching in order to be able to comment on things. Carving out a domain of authority in an obscure fandom in order to appear important, whether or not he knows anything about the topic at all or even speaks the language, Ronald. (I seriously can’t believe they PAY this guy for this shit.) Or mistaking access to celebrity for celebrity itself--If he’s important and I’m friendly with him then I am important--bashing anybody who might crack the elaborately constructed ego-facade.

One of the few good things to happen to me this year, a year of serious illness and death for me and my family, was bonding with my brother at D.C. United games. Once I was healthy enough to be outside and on my feet for a couple of hours, there was no place I wanted to be more than in the stands at RFK stadium, waving a flag around and cheering for the men in black and red. In the stands, surrounded by fellow fans, there’s no past, no future, only the seconds immediately in front of you as the game plays out. A fast burst of action towards goal, the time slowing to molasses as Hamid kicks some long balls which cycle endlessly back to him. Feeling the rain, the sun, the occasional beer shower, the body heat from newfound friends on either side. You are there. I am there. You can’t check your phone--what if Rolfie ends up with the ball?? No time for hot twitter takes when Pontius is racing up the wing. Eyes can’t leave the field, though my voice is hoarse from screaming encouraging phrases in Taylor Kemp’s direction and my beer cup has tumbled to the floor. Why would you want to want to watch the game from anywhere else when you could be in the middle of all that?!

And nothing gets the heart racing like treading on enemy territory. A couple of weeks ago I traveled with the fan club to New Jersey for a game at Red Bull Arena and the air was electric with hostility and excitement. Marching through the streets, banging drums and waving flags, we were there. We were D.C. United. I was there.

Soccer Twitter and the Soccer Interwebs have been considerably less enjoyable than actual soccer and the actual soccer fans I've met. Possibly because I haven’t been around long enough to find and mute all those self-important “obscure fandom” douches like I have with my other interests. I’ll tell you what I do know. I’ve been inspired by these D.C. United players, all of them, but especially Bill Hamid and Chris Rolfe. Digging through some D.C United youtube deep cuts I came across a gem of gloriously unslick PR video schlock (there are so many, Ben Olsen "off mic" is another gem) with the D.C. United “reporter” asking Rolfie to “hot or not” certain things. She asks him about “Chicago Fire, the TV show” and he’s like, “Nope” and she’s like, “WHY?!” and he’s like, “I don’t really watch TV.” And it struck me-- why would he watch TV? He’s out on the field. My grandfather doesn’t watch TV, he still gets more creative work done in a day than I do all week.

I don’t know where I’m going with this other than… inspirado. I was feeling the lack of it but it feels good to write something.

Naanum Rowdy Dhaan

Although he’s the son of a cop, Pandi (Vijay Sethupathi) thinks rowdies are way cooler. So while Pandi placates his policewoman mother (the delightful Raadhika Sarathkumar) by taking the police entrance exam, he also has a side business going in amateur rowdy-ism. But Pandi is a sweet boy and doesn’t really have it in him to actually commit acts of violence. His version of rowdy-ism is based on the filmi image and mainly seems to involve threats, con artistry, and showmanship. The menace is in the threat of the follow-through.

Pandi doesn’t seem to understand that he’s not the typical rowdy until, yes, he meets a girl. A girl who’s got a real rowdy problem. Kaadambhari (Nayantara), you see, wants revenge against the man who destroyed her family, a real rowdy named Killivalivan (Parthiban). Can a cream puff of a rowdy help a lady take on a dangerous criminal? I have to say, it was a fun ride finding out!!

Naanum Rowdy Dhaan was the first new(ish) film I’ve seen in some time and I’m glad I took the time. Although I’m sure some of the jokes went over my head because of the language barrier, what did come through was delightful. The police-rowdy revenge drama has been done a million times but what struck me with Naanum Rowdy Dhaan was how much care had been taken with the story and characters. Nobody was sleepwalking through their roles because they all had such great material to work with, even the women in minor roles--like bubbly Meenakshi playing Killi’s wife “Baby”--got some chances to steal scenes.

Vijay Sethupathi, our hero, was playing a one of my favorite hero types--the slacker. As @indraneelm commented to me on twitter, “Pandi” is the type of hero that Govinda or Mithun would have played once upon a time, just a normal guy hanging out on the street corner. Vijay doesn’t have their dance skills but he does have a likable, relaxed manner about him. And as Hindi heroes have become increasingly waxed and gym-buffed, their skill sets limited to burning through daddy’s money and influence, their moods artificial, the heroes of these small-scale Tamil films have been such a breath of fresh air.

And of course Pandi would want to emulate the rowdy-heroes he sees in films. The cops are always so uptight. Given the choice, who wants to be Singam when you could be Vikram in Rajapattai just hanging out with your buddies?

With Vijay so solid in the role of slacker, it allowed heroine Nayantara to take some risks as the girl out for revenge. Kaadambhari was an unusually complicated role not only because she had a lot of emoting to do but… (spoiler) because she is deaf! And guess which rowdy is responsible for that? Nayantara--and director Vignesh Shivan--do a great job with the showing not telling of Kaadambhari’s deafness. From having the sound cut out when we switch to Kaadambhari’s perspective to Nayantara having to focus on character’s lips rather than their eyes in order to show she’s lip-reading. And even with all that extra “acting” in the role, Kaadambhari still comes across as playful and fun, rather like Kajol playing the blind Zooni in the first half of ill-fated Fanaa. Nayantara never veers into disabled burlesque. It’s a wonderful, very fresh, very real performance.

There was a lot to like from the rest of the cast, as well. Director Vignesh Shivan seems to share my love of minor characters and packed his cast with so many I can’t possibly name them all. The random Tamil speaking white girl, the guy with the big hair, the 1 minute sub-sub-sub-subplot featuring the staring guy, the grandpa in Pandi’s gang, a cameo from Rajendran, scene stealing Meenakshi, dear Azhagam Perumal as Kaadambhari’s beloved father, the hilarious lady playing Pandi’s policewoman mother’s sidekick, RJ Balaji in the comedy sidekick role…

The music from Anirudh Ravichander was also fantastic. He’s really been on a roll with his soundtracks. Plus, on the few articles I read it seems like he was responsible for getting the film made, so kudos to Anirudh! I look forward to your next project (#4yearsofKoliveriDi.)

Enjoy a song picturization, the wistful “Thangamey”, and see the appeal for yourself. Those looks Vijay throws...

Friday, November 6, 2015

To be on stage...

Benny Olsen's "There you go, Taylor! Much better!" made me laugh really hard for some reason. Possibly because it's pretty much what I was yelling last Sunday. We're all pulling for you, Kemp!

It's halftime in the Eastern Conference Semifinals and D.C. United is one down. Of course, coming back from one down after halftime is what we've excelled at all season so anything could happen on Sunday. ANY. THING. Anything.

The more I think things over, the more I keep coming back around to what Penn Jillette says about show business. Namely, that all we, as an audience want, is to feel a connection with our fellow human beings. Juggling, soccer, music, acting... at the most elemental level, they are the excuse we need to watch. The craft facilities a window into the soul. The deep pleasures of soccer's kinesthetic empathy. The emotional empathy. The satisfaction of seeing these men work so hard on the field and, like in Columbus, the frustration when we see them give up. The joy of winning. The emptiness of loss. These are emotions that tie us to life. We need an outlet for them, a safe outlet.

When people mock fans of heroes, of idols, of fandoms like Star Trek, I always wonder what those mockers would have us do instead? Where are we supposed to channel these feelings? The need for connection, the desire to feel like a part of something bigger. Religion? Ethnic identity? Directed back into the family? How is that marriage-is-one-true-love-romance-forever-bullshit working out for everyone? Into ourselves? Identity politics? Sometimes I feel like our American culture has suffocated us to the point where all those normal feels are putrefying. And we see the swamp gas of the result all over the news everyday...

Anyways. Some muggy Friday morning deep cuts for you. THERE YOU GO, TAYLOR! MUCH BETTER!

Monday, November 2, 2015

DCU vs. Red Bull at RFK. Losing really sucks, huh.

What a sour feeling it is, losing. Sitting in the stands at your home stadium while the opposing team's fans, in this case, the evil corporate RED BULLS supporters, explode into celebratory cheers. I'm surprised our collective doom and gloom, the combined force of thousands of disappointed D.C. United fans, didn't summon a personal rain cloud, localized over the "loud" section of RFK. I think we saw the ball maybe 3 times in the second half from our seats in section 127, by the Red Bull goal. Depressing. You cheer your ass off for 90+ minutes and the team still doesn't win. The gorgeous fall afternoon mocking our collective butthurt. How dare the team lose when we were there cheering? At least that was the mood of the crowd filing out...

Well, losing is a part of life. Losing is part of being a fan, whether it's sitting through a terrible film from your favorite hero or excitedly pre-ordering an album from your favorite band only to have it be a coke-fueled wankfest.


Shahrukh's Fan Teaser: SRK in Darr x SRK in Billu x I would need a lot of money to sit through this



So... the long Fan teaser has been released. And if you are a super Shahrukh fan, I'm sure you're excited since this seems to be the culmination of everything his career is about these days, i.e. Shahrukh. If you don't particularly care for him, there is nothing in this teaser to win you over since it is the culmination of everything his career seems to be about these days, i.e. Shahrukh.

The concept seems to be Darr crossed with Billu Barber but only with about a million times more Shahrukh packed into every frame. I have zero interest... less than zero interest. I have negative interest. I know Shahrukh has fans. I know he does. But for me, personally, as not his fan, this constant need to assert his own superstardom just rings of an inner desperation that a real superstar doesn't have.

Shahrukh is a media star. He loves the media and they reflect the him he wants to see back to himself. I don't think it's a coincidence that so much of this trailer footage is existing media footage of Shahrukh. More than any other star, Shahrukh has figured out how to play on the Bollywood media's own desperation for "access," for importance. He throws soundbites at the press and they swallow it all with stars in their eyes.

The odd thing about Shahrukh is that because of this desperation for attention, his fanbase actually holds a lot of power over him. If he stops producing content of the type they want to see, they have the power to vanish and take his "superstardom" with them. The constant displays of "superstardom" surely must come out of this fear. "They're still here, they're still here..." Until they're not.

I know I have a reputation as a Shahrukh-hater but I'm really not. I'll absolutely own up to strongly disliking his current persona. Without a doubt. I've hated almost everything he's done starting with the tonedeaf "cool" Don: The Chase Begins Again back in 2006... but that doesn't mean I'm not still hoping for another Chak De India or a return to the sweet-natured, non-smug, non-cloying Shahrukh of Main Hoon Na... Veer-Zaara, Asoka... I really enjoyed these films. But they don't have Shahrukh oozing from every frame like all his current films seem to.

All I can do is wait for him to put out a film I want to see. A film that doesn't star the "Superstar," just Shahrukh, the actor.











Sunday, November 1, 2015

ゲスの極み乙女。 single review: 『オトナチック』 / Otonatic

Last week, four-piece Japanese rock band ゲスの極み乙女。(Gesu no Kiwami Otome., literally meaning "Girl at the height of rudeness." The period is part of the name, which is super confusing, I know.) released their fourth single, titled, 『オトナチック』 (Otonatic). The title is play on words, combining otona (meaning "adult" or "grown-up") with the -tic ending of automatic. And the lyrics speak to an ambivalence from Enon about becoming a real adult if it means swallowing your words and forcing yourself to smile.

The imagery of the video certainly speaks to that ambivalence, the band's tuxedo costumes making them look like kids playing dress-up. We see Enon's frustration written out ("正解の正解がわからない" or "I don't what the right answer to the right answer is") and we also see how those words can hurt if spoken. When the other members get hit with Enon's words, they're hurt. Hona Ikoka, the drummer, is splashed with ink; keyboardist ChanMari finds her hair hacked off; and bass player Kachou's bow tie is knocked askew.

But, like my all-time favorite band Belle & Sebastian, Gesu no Kiwami Otome. take those lyrics on the painful nature of existing in the world when you actually pay attention to it, and set them against unexpectedly beautiful, unusual musical arrangements. "Otonatic" goes from a quietly funky verse to a driving call-and-response pre-chorus leading into the chanted もう忘れて ("mou wasurete", "just forget it") before exploding into a harsh minor key indie rock chorus. The mix is far richer than computer speakers can provide, drums often echoing the keyboard and guitar riffs, the bass finding hooks in the rhythm you wouldn't have expected.

What sets Gesu no Kiwami Otome. apart from other groups, however, is that they weren't even supposed to be a band. They started out as a group of musicians who simply enjoyed playing together. Hona Ikoka, the drummer, asked Kawatani Enon, the singer, if he wanted to jam sometime. He said yes and invited along his friend Kyuujitsu Kachou, the bass player, who had just quit their other band, Indigo La End, in order to become a regular guy with a regular office job. Hona Ikoka brought along keyboardist ChanMARI because Hona Ikoka always used to see ChanMARI dragging her giant keyboard around the hip neighborhood Shimakitazawa (think Tokyo's Brooklyn) and thought she seemed cool. A few jam sessions led to a few gigs which led to a self-released single, which led to another, and another, and then a major record deal.

Coming from this background of four musicians playing together, we get a balance of instruments that's weighted extremely equally. The difference between Gesu no Kiwami Otome.'s sound and Kawatani Enon's other band, Indigo La End, for which he also writes and sings the songs, is striking. Indigo La End sound like a normal indie rock band. Anchored by Hona Ikoka's off kilter, self-taught drumming and Kyuujitsu Kachou's barely on this planet bass-stylings, Gesu no Kiwami Otome. take the same indie rock themes and pull them up to levels of pure sublimity.

The second track on the single is 「無垢な季節」 or "Muku na Kisetsu", meaning "The Season of Purity", a bittersweet song of awakening emotion and the beauty of a relationship that blooms and fades, which makes copious use of my number one vocal kink: male falsetto. Enon does these great vocal leaps from chest voice to falsetto, adding a whole other layer of pathos to the song. The lily, yuri in Japanese, symbolizes purity in the language of flowers. The hook in the chorus is a repeated 泣けて、泣けて、泣けてくれんだ ("Nakete, nakete, naketekurunda", "I could finally cry, cry, cry...") leading to the final line of the song: 僕だけがいつも取り残されて、夏が終わっていてく ("I'm always the only one left behind, when summer comes to an end.") You can't get more Belle & Sebastian-y than that.

The song is a high energy disco, pushing ahead so fast it's almost at the verge of tripping over Hona Ikoka's drum rolls. And just as the pace seems to slow and catch its breath, ChanMari glissandoes right back into the groove.

The other two tracks on the single don't have video or streaming so you'll have to take my word for it. 「O.I.A.」 is a solid fast-driving rock B-side. The title stands for:

俺は (Ore wa)

井の中に蛙で (I no naka ni kawazu de)

あった。。。 (Atta...)

I was

A frog

trapped in a well.

The final song on the single is my favorite, a moody indie rock number titled 「灰になるまで」 ("Hai ni naru made", "Until I become ash"). The song is done in a straight rock style, no funk. The verses, which Enon sings in his spoken word "rap" style, are quiet and sparse, switching to a pounding straight beat with some angry shouting on the chorus. "1, 2, 3 で灰になるまで歌う" ("I'll sing until I become ash with a 1,2,3...") everybody slamming the distortion in unison with ChanMARI's gentle piano providing the only bright spot of color. It's a powerful song. Listening the first time, walking around my neighborhood, I almost had to stop and sit down when the chorus kicked in. My skin prickled in pleasure at the cacophony of sound.

On the limited edition version of the single, which I bought, there's also a DVD with a few bonus goodies. Two live recordings, bass player Kachou showing us how to cook curry, and the group doing a Japanese variety show schtick in which they have to go out and interview random passers by. They are still raw on film but definitely have the charisma if they want to move forward with variety show work like other acts, such as The Bawdies, with their monthly TV show The Bawdies A Go Go!

Gesu no Kiwami Otome. are now positioned firmly in the middle tier of Japanese rock, the equivalent of which has almost completely disappeared from the American music industry. For one thing, the industry hasn't yet conceded their product to the tech companies, as happened in America, where the product became the iPod and streaming services, not the songs themselves. Bands also take interaction with fans very seriously and fans return the favor by signing up for official fan clubs (which I can't do here in America) and buying physical CDs for all the "extras" that are included (making this my main form of support). These mid-tier bands also benefit greatly from tie-ins with movie soundtracks, TV drama and anime soundtracks, and commercials, meaning that even though physical sales of CDs are down, like they are all around the world, bands still have alternate sources of income. Otonatic, itself, is a tie-in with cell phone company NTT DoCoMo.

They have a new album coming out in January. I am just waiting for the pre-orders announcement to show up.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Smell ya later, Revs!

On Wednesday, I stood in the rain with a few thousand other similarly crazy people and watched our D.C. United run the New England Revolution into the ground. We fans were nervous going in for a few reasons, not the least of which is that we were coming off that horrible 5-0 loss to Columbus and if we lost this game, too, our season was over. Would the team be demoralized? Angry? Ambivalent? Determined? And then there was the addition of volatile referee Mark Geiger, whose antics had been dubbed "The Geiger Show" by our coach Ben Olsen a few years ago. Would the ringmaster unleash chaos on the field?

The evening was wet but unseasonably warm as we filed into our seats. The crowd at RFK a bit sparse due to weather and the short notice of the scheduling of the game. A tense opening 15 minutes was finally broken by a bicycle kick from New England's Juan Agudelo that sent the ball flying over Bill Hamid's reach as we all stood there stunned. The score was 1-0 to New England. But the tide would soon turn. A fantastic save from Hamid kept us in the game; Pontius equalized the score just before halftime with a skillful header.

And then the second half. The energy in the stands was electric, at least in our corner. Flags waving, chanting, a mist of water and beer in the harsh floodlights of RFK. New England was falling to pieces and it was only a matter of time before they completely collapsed... which they did, spectacularly.

The moment comes after my boy Rolfe misses a chance to take the lead when he misses his first penalty kick all season in the 75th minute. As he explained later, "I kept believing that I was going to get another chance and I was going to score. There was a split second there, maybe a minute or two after the PK where its running through my head and I’m like 'Wow, it’s just one of those days, you know, I don’t know what’s going to happen. I haven’t played 90 minutes in a long time, I don’t know if they’re gonna take me out.’ So I just cleared my head and tried to stay optimistic and kept making runs."

That's what it's all about, right there. Olsen trusting Rolfe enough to keep him in game. Rolfe trusting himself enough to brush off the missed chances. Nick DeLeon is seemingly cornered by some New England defenders, defenders so focused on the ball they don't mark Fabi running right past them. He picks up the ball on a backheel from Nick DeLeon and sends it gliding through the crowd of confused white-and-red shirts to Rolfe who puts it in the goal clean and simple. No theatrics. It was the communication, the teamwork that was thrilling... much more so than a single bicycle kick.

Because when it comes right down to it, what good is a single bicycle kick when it leaves you injured and having to come off? What's really impressive is staying in there, keeping focused through missed chances, keeping an eye on your teammates to be in the right position when the time comes. I got chills reading Rolfe's postgame quotes later; I honestly did. The ability to focus, to concentrate, to get the job done. In this age of smartphones and analysis via gif, of endless tweets and shortened attention spans, I aspire to that attitude. It's something I struggle with everyday. Trying my best to keep my head in the game and off the hamster wheel of mental distraction.

Soccer is 90 minutes away from all of that distraction. It's 90 minutes of being present in the present right in front of your face, something all too difficult to find these days. Bill Hamid--in a very sweet video you absolutely should watch--says a soccer game is like a symphony. Who am I to disagree? (Side note: #TeamSully)

Standing in the pissy weather, Rolfe jersey thrown on over my office clothes, I should have been exhausted from work and from 90 minutes spent yelling my ass off, but I was under the spell. Coming home and watching the highlights reel a million times, trying to hold onto the feeling of standing in RFK stadium in the mist, under the harsh light, breathless from excitement... It was a good game.

On Sunday we face our arch rivals, the hideously named New York Red Bulls, in the semifinals. What will happen? Who can say... but I know I'll be there.


(Yup, just thrown on over my librarian duds... I have so much laundry to do today. Oof. Dry cleaning bill sent to D.C. United? Heh. I promise I have movie-arts related posts coming. I PROMISE!!)

P.S. Thoughts are with Chris Pontius and his hamstring. I can't even imagine how shitty a mental place it sends you to as a professional athlete with a chronic injury like that. It must be really hard to push through the mental block. Stay strong, dude. See you at Whole Foods some time.

P.P.S. BOBBY BOSWELL, YOU BETTER COME JOIN US IN THE STANDS! (Or I'm linking everybody to your 2006 Cosmopolitan Man of the Year video...)

Monday, October 26, 2015

DC United goes down 5-0 against Columbus and I'm compelled to write on being a fan.

It's taken me many, many years to come around to professional sports. For one thing, here in America, a lot of sports-talk is dominated by the same assholes who tormented me when I was in school and who made me feel like shit for not looking like a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model. Anything they liked must be shitty, right? Multimillionaire athletes, drug scandals, wife-beating, concussions, gun violence, homophobia, bullying, and now the shitshow that is Draft Kings... that is the image of professional sports. Why would I want to get involved in that mess?

Well, I'll tell you. I became a real DC United fan. That's right, Major League Soccer. MLS.


(Little bro, DC United Mascot "Talon", and me... way back in 1998)


(Me, photo taken by little bro, in 2015. Yup. But I now often spot myself in photos of the crowds.)

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

I know. I'm sorry. I can't stop thinking about BIGBANG.

I spent the last day or so trying to pick apart my BIGBANG experience, much like picking apart a ball of yarn tangled by my cat. I can't let it go. My librarian-brain needs to figure this thing out. I read over a handful of "professional" reviews of the concert and some other pieces and I keep returning to the same handful of threads. Americans have a limited tolerance for spectacle; at least 95% of "professional" arts critics are full of shit; what gets lost in translation when pop goes global; and BIGBANG is fucking awesome. (The last one is most important.)


Tuesday, October 13, 2015

BIGBANG-- random thoughts from the New Jersey concert

BIGBANG! Yes, I went to see BIGBANG this past weekend at the Prudential Center in New Jersey. And even in my nosebleed seats, the show was incredible.

I'm not sure where to start my discussion of BIGBANG. I've spent the last ten-plus years or so immersed in East Asian pop music and my feelings and opinions are colored by all of that. One angle overlooked by the professional music guys over here is that BIGBANG aren't just awesome but are an awesome Korean idol group-- with all the connotations that brings.


Friday, October 9, 2015

Friday Morning rambling. The Last Samurai takes on A.B.C-Z, A.B.C-Z wins.

Just a Friday morning rant that's been percolating for a while. I am working on a more coherent intro to J-Pop, specifically idol pop, but I'm also thinking of starting to do Japanese music reviews. Most of what is available in English is uninformed bullshit written by white guys of middling talent who fled to East Asian media in order to feel special. Because only in cultures where speaking English is considered a huge talent can these guys feel important. Just check out the writings of Donald Richie. (#Burn.) More seriously, I hate the idea of these imbecilic white guys dominating the cultural conversation in English around a product I love: Japanese pop music. Much, much more seriously: Huge congratulations to A.B.C-Z on getting your very first NUMBER 1 SINGLE!!! A.B.C-Z、1位、おめでとうございます!!! 本当に感動した。 「Moonlight Walker」は楽しかった!!  I haven't been overly inspired by Indian film of late. I watched half of Uttama Villain last weekend before giving up in boredom...

One of the reasons I started studying Japanese all those years ago was because the things I wanted access to were not getting translated--movies, tv shows, books, magazine articles. Japan generates a lot of media but only a very small percentage makes it out to the wider world and much of what does make it out is specially handpicked by just a handful of cultural gatekeepers. What you find is that Japanese media available in English is either "world cinema" type stuff--Murakami, Kurosawa, etc.--or deliberately niche nerd stuff--Cowboy Bebop and Baby Metal. Neither of these things represents truly mainstream Japanese tastes or opinions. In order to learn more, I needed to be able to understand, to read Japanese. My grasp of the language remains far from perfect but in the process of studying the language I've learned a lot about the culture.


Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Singh is Culture-Specific Clutter.

I'm reading a wonderful little book of essays from Tim Parks called, Where I'm Reading From: The Changing World of Books. Parks is not only an author but a translator and he has some insightful pieces," including one titled "The Dull New Global Novel," whose topic is self-explanatory. Here is Parks: In particular one notes a tendency to remove obstacles to international comprehension...Kazuo Ishiguro has spoken of the importance of avoiding word play and allusion to make things easy for the translator...If culture-specific clutter and linguistic virtuosity have become impediments, other strategies are seen positively: the deployment of highly visible tropes immediately recognizable as "literary" and "imaginative," analogous to the wearisome lingua franca of special effects in contemporary cinema, and the foregrounding of a political sensibility that places the author among those "working for world peace."

Change a few words and he may as well be writing about the "The Dull New World Cinema".

This is the passage that came to mind when I was debating on inviting a new friend along to see a Bollywood film. What's playing this weekend is Singh is Bliing and, after watching the trailer, it struck me that this would be utterly incomprehensible to somebody not versed in the "culture-specific clutter" of Bollywood.

Take the title: Singh is Bliing.

If that was the only hint given to you, my dear friends, I bet most of you would bring it back to 2008 Akshay-starrer Singh is Kinng and assume that this was also a wacky Punjabi-flavored comedy, probably starring Akshay Kumar.

But imagine if you didn't know Singh is Kinng; if you didn't immediately peg "Singh" as a surname; if you didn't know about the numerological habits of starry types to expect weird spellings! Despite the English, the title itself is jam-packed with "culture-specific clutter."

Watching the trailer, the film seems straightforward enough. We all know the filmi Punjabi stereotypes. We've all seen enough comedy films with Akshay playing a dopey hero to guess at the plot. We all know very well that Amy Jackson isn't desi, so we read her character as exotic with no prompting. The teleport to Switzerland song implies the two are going to hook up. Kay Kay Menon and Lara Dutta highlighted in the trailer means they are going to have supporting roles of some sort. Even the Goa setting itself implies a certain easy-breezy quality to the comedy.

But without that knowledge... it's all nonsensical. A blur of faces, settings, and jokes with no context. What's the deal with the whiskey? Why is that guy with a lion? Is Goa different from Punjab? Who's that guy? Why doesn't that girl speak Indian?

The Akshay Kumar comedy film may not be "high art" but take a moment to appreciate how difficult it can be to understand a film like this. And remember that the next time you see some dumbass outsider try to "review" a film like this as if it was "world cinema."

Speaking of which there was another delightful little section in a different Parks essay, "A Game Without Rules": Magical Realism was not, of course, confined to South America. Among others, a number of Anglo-Indian authors used their own versions of the style to create a new vision of India for international readers; one of those authors was so spectacularly out of touch with the nation he was supposedly presenting to the West that the violent reaction to his Satanic Verses after its publication in India caught him entirely by surprise.

SHOTS FIRED! Also, strip away the exoticism and Rushdie is rather a dull storyteller if you ask me.

Parks again: Translation, [scholar Francesca Orsini] remarked, could make a novel available, but the real exoticism of the truly foreign text remained a barrier to most readers.

Kind of like the difference between Midnight's Children the movie and adding subtitles to a film like Singh is Bliing, translated but still inaccessible to outsiders.

Anyways, the book is worth checking out! Very interesting stuff. And I am going to try my best to get to Singh is Bliing this weekend. Probably Saturday? We'll see!

Friday, September 25, 2015

Let's talk Tamasha.

The tagline to the film is: "Why always the same story?"

Indeed.

It's deeply ironic that many of the same dudes who lecture us about how awful "escapist" cinema is, identify with all these films about escaping ordinary life, generally via romance. What is so bad about getting up and going to the office everyday? Nothing. Nothing is bad about that. What is bad is externalizing your sense of self-fulfillment, waiting for something to fulfill you, instead of buckling down and working to turn your "boring" job and life into something not boring. Take up cooking, get married and have a family, join an intramural sports team or something.

Escapist cinema, masala films, have their flaws. I'm not denying that. But what those escapist masala films don't do is tell the audience that their lives as good, productive citizens are worthless garbage. Escapist films are a stress release from the pressures of daily life but we're not supposed to actually emulate Salim & Anarkali, Jai & Veeru. We live vicariously, taking some comfort in a happy ending and poking at the painful catharsis of a tragic one. But who wants all that fuss in their life? Don't we all have enough problems? Why add to the stress of being alive by putting the pressure on yourself to have One True Love? One True Artistic Profession That's Definitely Not Office Work? That's a fantasy that should stay on the screen. Isn't it enough in real life just to love and be loved? To find a way to make your work fulfilling rather than seeking out some elusive Perfect Job?

Do you know who gets up everyday, eats breakfast, and then goes to work? Me. I didn't realize my life was so boring and worthless, Tamasha. And, as long as I'm on the subject, I got a few "fuck you" tweets for saying this but I'll say it again, it's more than a little condescending to have Richie Rich Star Son playacting a "dreary" office worker. I don't need some dude bankrolled by daddy telling me how I should be living. Give me some of that cash to fund my lifestyle and the power to gain a toehold in any profession I want and then we'll talk.

I'll also say this. All these "you need to escape ordinary life" films, Hollywood and Bollywood, have the musty odor of the post-60s flower child about them. It's as if an entire generation swallowed whole The Graduate, Easy Rider, and Bonnie & Clyde etc. without actually thinking about the messages they contained. We can't be petulant teenagers forever. What's cute at 17 is far less appealing at 27 and even less appealing at 47. Who is the real douchebag? The petulant kid at the bottom of the pool or the guy actually doing something useful with his life: making plastic. Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper end up DEAD at the end of their adventure... is that really the way to live?

Monday, September 21, 2015

Some thoughts on re-watching Student of the Year

At the very end of Student of the Year (2012), Rishi Kapoor’s character, Dean Yoginder Vasisht, says he started the Student of the Year competition to fill an emotional void in his life, to stave off the social isolation that came with his (heavily implied) closeted homosexuality. Sir Ian McKellen said something very similar on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast a few weeks ago, that when he began acting, it was a release for emotions he wasn’t allowed to have in public life, because of his (at the time) closeted homosexuality. Perhaps this is a reason that so many homosexual men (and women) have been attracted to a life in show business. The performative nature of hiding a double life is already second nature, so why not put those talents to good use?


Sunday, September 13, 2015

A Detective Three-fer for August: MOZU, SPEC, and Veronica Mars

As you may or may not have known, August was a very difficult month with the Filmi Girl clan. Three funerals for family and close family friends and both my father and grandfather were hospitalized. I haven’t particularly been in the mood to write or think about anything serious. The last person we lost has been the hardest. She was only 44 and always at the center of making plans for family to be together. Although one may think we “know” life can be random and unfair sometimes, it’s not always easy to process a loss. Perhaps that’s why detective stories can be so cathartic at times like this. Not so much the crime-and-punishment angle but the fantasy that everything has meaning, everything is a clue, everything is leading to some bigger picture.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

今日も超ハッピー、みんなバリハピ!

To quote the football chant we were singing last night as DC United crushed the opposition 3-0, "Na na na na... na na na na... hey, hey, hey, GOOD-BYE!"

That's right! GOOD BYE, ONE DIRECTION! Don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out of town. Or better yet, let it hit you in the ass and be done with you.

I've been (slowly) working on another mini e-book that will be an introduction to Japanese idol pop and one of the things that annoys me the most about One Direction is their utter lack of respect for the "boy band" as an art form. As their video for the song, "Best Song Ever" makes clear, they think dancing is gay, bright costumes are gay, being pleasing to female audiences is gay... with gay as code for bad, obviously.

This attitude infuriates me. As a person who adores dancing, bright costumes, and entertainers who respect me as a female audience member... 1D have been tarnishing the "boy band" tag with their shit attitudes for far too long!

I'll never forget the time they appeared on the live Japanese music show ミュージックステーション (Music Station) and had the gall to mock one of the other groups that was on!!! Okay, so maybe Sexy Zone is a silly sounding name in English but the boys in Sexy Zone at the time were all very sweet faced, very earnest teenagers dressed in dapper white suits with wintery white feathered collars, performing a medley of all their singles so far (to include the uber peppy "Lady Diamond" and their charming theme song, the self-titled "Sexy Zone") to a horde of adoring fangirls. Basically, performing Sexy Zone were performing ALL THE KEY RESPONSIBILITIES OF A BOY BAND while 1D was dressed in schlubby outfits and spent zero time being charming and all their time mocking Sexy Zone, the host of the show, and making asshole faces to camera.

SHOW SOME FUCKING RESPECT!

One of the many things I've found so appealing in the world of Japanese idol pop is this dedication to pleasing the audience. A level of trust is built between the boy (and girl) groups and their audiences. We know they are going to deliver us the goods and by-and-large they do. That trust is why the Japanese idol groups are able to take risks and lead us down weird artistic rabbit holes. We follow, even if wary, because that relationship is there, built up over years. Yes, years.

While 1D seems to think 5 years is a "long" time for a boy band to carry on, Japanese boy band SMAP has been working steadily since 1991. That's right, 1991. 1991. 1991. AND THEY ARE STILL AMAZINGLY POPULAR with one of the best rated shows on television and a steady stream of number one singles. You've probably already seen SMAP members in movies like 13 Assassins and Sukiyaki Western Django and just didn't realize they were super popular singing-dancing-silly costume wearing idols.

There is so much that I love about the boy band as a art form. I've written about it here, here, and here... I won't bore you anymore with it today.

But I will (hopefully) delight your ears with one boy band song that I've been obsessed with for a couple of weeks now: the aptly titled 「バリ ハピ」!!! Which means, literally, bari hapi! Say it out loud! VERY HAPPY!

「バリ ハピ」 is an insanely catchy ditty ripped directly from a Bavarian beer tent and performed with great gusto by the group Johnny's West. The lyrics are essentially saying, "I know we all have our troubles and woes but sing along with us anyways!" The super happy accompanying dance echoes the German line-dance feel, the guys all kicking their legs out in time with the blustery accordion riffs. You can't hear in the video but on the recording there is a fairly loud shouted chorus, too. Explicitly encouraging a sing along. It's a song meant to be sung at great volume, with all your friends, in a crowded karaoke booth. As are all of Johnny's West's songs, actually.

In short, it's a genre of pop song we here in the West, have almost completely forgotten* how to make here in the West. Pop music not meant for the clubs or the gym. Pop music meant to cheer on the listener. Pop music meant to be shared. Pop music meant to be sung together, at full volume.

And I love it. 今日も超ハッピー、みんなバリハピ! "Today we're super happy, everybody's very happy!"

* With the huge exception of Pharrell's "Happy" obviously. But that song is an outlier in a way that Johnny's West catalog is not.

BROTHERS review via podcast!


Asim and I recorded an episode about Akshay's Brothers! It is available on the upodcast website over here. Please check it out!

We go into the use of Catholic imagery a bit and I want to underscore that I found the use really effective. Anybody who has been to a traditional Catholic church knows the prominence with which the naked, tortured body of Christ is displayed. In the end, Akshay's character David has nothing but his own body and there was definitely a resonance between David's tortured body on display for our amusement and his tattoo of Jesus Christ, who put his tortured body on display for our salvation. The other bit of Catholic-ness that really got me was the forgiveness. Although we may not always follow it, Catholic teaching is big on forgiveness. And guilt. But forgiving and turning the other cheek, as well. Anyways, I found all of this really worked for me.

I will also say that I got so caught up in the world of the film that I left the theater in a bit of a daze. Perhaps because I know nothing about MMA fighting, I was on the edge of my seat for the entire second half of the film just waiting to see how the fights would play out. I suppose logically I "knew" who would end up being the final two but kudos to Karan Malhotra in that it still felt tense.

Definitely go check it out if you can!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Purampokku Engira Podhuvudamai: In the end, the little guy always gets screwed.

This past weekend I caught up with Purampokku Engira Podhuvudamai, a pointed social commentary of a masala film that took me to places I did not at all expect. The posters had led me to believe this was going to be a film about Arya being a badass revolutionary hero, which was true to an extent, but his badassery was shaded with some pretty heavy moral gray areas.


Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Shaandaar: Yes, please.

My favorite trailer before the screening of Brothers was for Shaandaar, starring Shahid Kapoor and Alia Bhatt. I know I've gone on record as loathing the rom-com genre but that doesn't mean I don't like fluffy comedic romances when they're done well, as this one seems to likely to be. What I hate about the rom-com genre, in any industry, is the laziness and disdain so often on display. Laziness in execution, in casting, in vision, in storytelling... like, seriously, another self-serious dude-bro who doesn't know what love is? Another career woman who finds out that what she was really missing was a man to take care of? BORING!

But do you know who isn't lazy? SHAHID KAPOOR. And paired with the adorable Alia Bhatt. And with some extra charm from daddy Pankaj. From the team behind Queen. I think we'll be in for a treat.

Watching the trailer for Shaandaar, it made me think about something else that's been on my mind. I've been reading a good book about girls' culture in Japan and one of the points the author raises is that "girls culture" is something that Hollywood has basically ignored in recent decades... despite the fact that the success of movies like Twilight prove that girls and women are desperate for shared cultural products that reflect their fantasies. The author also raises the (VERY IMPORTANT) point that just because girls and women might enjoy a story like Twilight doesn't mean we're taking the relationships in it literally or even that we have to identify with the female lead character. We can enjoy stories without wanting the events in them to happen in real life, you know. Duh. We're not idiots.

So, why does Hollywood ignore women's fantasies in favor of YET MORE STUPID MALE FANTASY SUPERHERO FILMS despite the fact that we are 50% of the population and have money to spend?

Well, Rose McGowan was just on my favorite radio show NPR's On Point with the fabulous Tom Ashbrook and she has a lot to say on the topic of male dominated Hollywood. The biggest point she made was that besides the strangeness of alleged capitalists refusing to provide product to a female audience, the male-dominated Hollywood movies are just... boring. If all the movie writers are upper middle class white men who are told time and again to "write what you know" and what they know is in that closed world of upper middle class white men, well then... we get really boring movies. Which is one of the main reasons I tuned out of Hollywood years ago. They weren't making anything I was interested in.

What is nice about the trailer for Shaandaar is that it looks very much like Shahid and Alia are on equal ground. It may still be a fantasy that a woman and man can meet on equal footing, romantically, but that doesn't mean I can't enjoy watching it.

Long story short. I am looking forward to this one!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Indru Netru Naalai: Time travel with all the timey-wimey bits left in.

Hi, friends. I'm sorry it's been so long between updates. Things have been busy. I attended two funerals last week, one for my auntie and one for a dear family friend. Both had been sick for some time but that doesn't make it easy to say good-bye. I will miss them both. So maybe I am feeling more sentimental than usual but there was something so sweet and human about this movie. I liked that there wasn't any boring explanation of the fake science going into the time machine and I liked that the adventure was on such a human scale. Maybe you will prefer something more epic but for me this movie hit the spot. Please enjoy my write-up!


Most time travel stories aren’t really about time travel, instead using the time travel conceit for variations on the classic fish out water scenario, sending somebody from our era backwards or forwards in time. Whether it’s Harman Baweja in Love Story 2050 or Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, the drama in the story arises from the clash of cultures rather than from a real engagement with timey-wimey issues.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Bajrangi Bhaijaan. Sometimes we do get the Hero we need.


As the parade of trailers before Bajrangi Bhaijaan amply demonstrated Bollywood is no longer making films for Heroes, honest-to-goodness capital “H” heroes. There are only a handful left in Bombay and not one under 40 with the strength to challenge the 3 Khans. I’ve written about this many times before but, to my mind, what separates a real Hero from just an actor is us, the audience. A Hero’s career is a dialogue with the audience. Sometimes a Hero makes a film for us, sometimes he makes a film for himself, and sometimes he makes a film as a favor for a buddy. The point, whether or not a Hero intends to convey anything at all with his film choices, we, the audience, are going to see a linear progression. We see films sequentially, as they are released, one frame following the next.

Although the past is never past these days, with old mistakes lingering online like Raj & DK’s globalized zombies, nobody can deny that Salman Khan has spent much of the last few years trying to put something good into the world. No matter what the “critical consensus” was on the quality of a film like Veer, it was clearly made with a lot of love and joy. The same with a film like Ready or Bodyguard, films intended to delight audiences, to provide a little hit of pleasure. Not everybody likes everything Salman has made over the course of his career but most of us can find at least one film to enjoy in his recent filmography. Because Salman is just that kind of Hero. He may not be the greatest actor who ever lived but he’s a superb Hero and his on-screen image is subtle, supple, and flexible enough to handle almost any type of persona, infusing each character, no matter how cheeky they’re written, with a sense of real goodness.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Baahubali: The Beginning... Hey, wait, that means... God damn it I have to wait another YEAR for the end?!

“Special Effects Blockbuster” are three words Hollywood has trained me to avoid. They signal the hollow spectacle of dreck like JJ Abrams new Star Trek films, which ditched the moral and human aspects of the original series and replaced them with lens flares glinting of CGI space ships, and Michael Bay’s Transformers series, films so dull the only thing preventing me from falling asleep while giant robots battled it out on screen at the theater was the rowdy group of middle schoolers sitting in front of me--and whose antics were more entertaining than the giant mess of CGI on screen by miles. “Special Effects Blockbuster” usually means a film in special effects are not a means to an end, but the end in themselves.

Baahulbali is being touted as the biggest Indian special effects blockbuster to ever grace the screen. A marketing line like this is red meat for the box office obsessed, blockbuster-watchers of the 24-hour, English language global news cycle. And soon enough we find Internet Critics are bickering over whether or not the CGI are As Good As Hollywood™, generating rupee for rupee comparisons with Red Chilies output like Ra.1 (Shahrukh Cannot Be Defeated™), and attempting to find the special effects clip, like the one from Magadheera, most likely to catch the attention of Reddit and go viral. Meanwhile, any discussion of the real pleasure in a film like Baahubali gets lost in the shuffle.

But Baahubali is not a “Special Effects Blockbuster.”

What SS Rajamouli gave us is a “Fucking Epic Blockbuster.”


Monday, July 6, 2015

Iceland 2015! All Tomorrow's Parties!

Good morning, friends! Is it morning still? I am back from Iceland and only a teeny bit jet lagged.

The only film song I could find filmed in Iceland is "Heartalliro" from the Kannada film Brindavana:

But you can see how striking the scenery is. Come on, producers! Go film a love song in June to take advantage of the fields of purple Lupine…


(The Lupine)

Plus Iceland is just awesome!


(Eating a waffle from a waffle truck in Reykjavik in my cool A.B.C-Z concert t-shirt!)

I really, really enjoyed my time there. I traveled with my sister and we spent three days in the capital of Reykjavik and then 3 days at the All Tomorrow's Parties festival out by Keflavik at the old NATO base.

A few things I noticed:

1. Iceland is COLD. I was completely underprepared and had to buy a sweatshirt my first day. I wore it EVERYDAY. I was expecting cool weather but I didn't really understand how cold it is up by the Arctic circle. Even in summer.

2. Iceland loves coffee. And the coffee is strong and very good. My sister and I really enjoyed the coffee at this one place where you get it in a giant french press. We also has so much delicious yogurt and cheese. And fish. Just delicious foods everywhere!

3. Iceland loves sarcasm. I haven't laughed as hard at anything in a long time as I did at all the Icelandic humor. At times I felt like I was living in Mad Magazine's "Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions." No matter what I asked, I'd get some sort of snappy answer in response.

4. Iceland is the one place where I can blend in as a local. Seriously, people. In Iceland I was of average height, average weight, average skin and hair color. And my glasses and clothes fit right in. People would start speaking Icelandic to me before they realized I wasn't. I just need one of those nice sweaters everybody was wearing!


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

It's the theater, darling!

Yesterday I happened across a couple of interesting essays on the state of American acting. This one from the Atlantic titled, "The Decline of the American Actor" and this one from the New Yorker, in response to the first, titled, "Free Yourself from the Cult of Marlon Brando."

I agree and disagree with parts of both but I thought discussion of what makes "good" acting was relevant especially with the Hollywood-turn Bollywood has been taking the last few years. Personally, as a viewer, I couldn't give less of a fuck about "good" acting. What matters to me to an actor's ability to connect with the audience, to connect with me. If an actor can convey the emotions necessary for the scene, then that's "good" acting as far as I'm concerned. The rest is all inside baseball (inside cricket?) nobody other than critics and/or industry watchers cares about.

BUT I did think it was interesting to hear the talk about training. I do really enjoy the theatrical, showy style of acting and, coincidence or not, most of my favorite character actors in any industry turn out to be theater actors. The theater just works for me. I just enjoy theater-trained (British) actors more than the "method"-style (American) ones. Relevant to Bollywood, I've also found that DANCERS and/or martial artists who become actors have a style that works for me, rooted in getting the physicality right to the part. Which is why I'll always value something like Varun's performance in that one song I linked to a couple days back in ABCD 2 over the more American-style Imran or Abhishek acting. One connects with me, the other doesn't.

Brody has a great line in his piece on why British actors are generally cast in American period pieces:

"[F]ew can summon the granitic opacity of people from half a century ago or far earlier, yet British actors can imitate it."

Which gets to why British actors are generally the ones cast as aliens/monsters on American sci-fi shows. You don't have to summon any alienness from within yourself, you just have to be able to act the part.

Lately I've been working my way through the SyFy Network series Defiance. It's in the third season right now but I've been catching up with seasons one and two on Amazon Prime. The first season starts off a little shaky but the series finds its feet soon enough. There are aliens and weird mystical things and political drama (as well as excellent use of women characters and non-white people in the main cast) but what really caught my interest was the story of the Tarr family. The Tarrs are aliens who immigrated to Earth and have spent the last two seasons attempting to navigate the cultural divide. It's a fascinating portrait of a family having to figure out how to bridge the gap between the old world and easy-breezy Western culture. The link here is that the parents are both played by Brits--Tony Curran and Jaime Murray--while the son is played by Jesse Rath, the Canadian son of immigrant parents himself. Seeing Jesse's very contemporary, very Western, very free mannerisms opposite the formalness of the actors playing his parents has just been so compelling. The conflicts, the negotiations of, "Well, yeah, but HERE they do things this way!" and his choice of occupation: Record Producer. Ha! (Where's my Tarr Traxx T-shirt, yo?!)

Anyways, I've really been enjoying the show.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Masss: Was it a Mass?!

Running for their lives towards the beginning of Massu Engira Masilamani aka Masss, our orphan hero Massu (Suriya) and his buddy Jet Li (Premgi Amaren) run right into a temple. In this temple is a holy man who tells them--and I’m paraphrasing from the subtitles here--“A rock outside is just a rock but if you see in the temple then it becomes a God. The mind is what gives meaning.” It’s an odd little moment of quiet shoehorned into a very loud, very busy film and the message stuck with me after the film was over, as I tried to piece together what it was, exactly, that I’d just seen. Masss is a lot of things all at once, what you see depends on where your brain places the meaning.


Saturday, June 13, 2015

Jyothi Lakshmi… A Charmme Production.

I said the other day that I've been thinking a lot about Heroes recently but watching this trailer for Jyothi Lakshmi reminds me of the old debate about "female Heroes" in films. What's the difference between an "author-backed role" for a heroine, a "woman-centric film", and a "female hero"? I feel like we have strong heroines, who may even be the protagonist, like Katrina Kaif in Bang Bang, but they are still heroines. "Women-centric film" is usually the tag put on those dull, Miramax-ish movies where the lead role goes to an actress either looking to break out of heroine-ing or an actress past her heroine-ing prime but who still attracts media interest. (YAWN!)

A female hero is something different. It's something in the way the camera films her. The way she faces the audience. We can desire her, as we desire male heroes, but we also want to be her. Male heroes aren't all powerful nor are they always in control. And they can be fetishized by the camera as much as any item girl can be but there is something in the way a hero is portrayed… a magnetism. To see a woman in the same light. I think that's what Puri Jagannadh manages to capture with Charmme in this trailer. You can't take your eyes off her.

At least I couldn't.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Do I deserve this much Beefcake?! DO I?!

Friends!!! Good morning! Can I just say that I think I was spoiled by Japan? I have a ticket to Belle & Sebastian tonight but I didn't quite realize until right now that the venue is SO FAR from public transportation that it would be extremely difficult to get to without driving but if I drive then parking is like $30!!!!!! ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! On top of that, I forgot that unlike in Japan, concerts here start really late. So, instead of a nice evening out, having a beer or two, seeing one of my favorite bands, and getting home at a reasonable time (11pm ish) in order to get to work in the morning, I'd be paying at least $30 for parking but then not having even a beer OR paying even more and getting a taxi AND the show probably wouldn't even start until 10-10:30pm… UGH! And the venue itself seriously sucks, according to Yelp. Seriously, America, get it together. I think I might just sit this one out.

I'll be seeing Belle & Sebastian at the end of the month anyways at All Tomorrow's Parties in Iceland so yeah. Basically, FUCK YOU, ECHOSTAGE and fuck you, lack of public transportation options in the United States!

ANYWAYS! Enough ranting! Life is good, friends! My health is really, really improving and I'm almost over my jet lag. So now the question is… DO I EVEN DESERVE TO BE ON THIS PLATFORM?

I can't say but I definitely deserve to watch this movie. I'll do it. I'll put my trust in Karan "from the director of Agneepath" Malhotra. The only thing I was worried about was songs (i.e. would there be songs?!) but then I saw Bebo is doing an item so no worries!

And if that's not enough beefcake for a Thursday morning…

DAMN VARUN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The more I see from Varun, the more I like him. I definitely thing ABCD 2 is one to look out for if it features songs like this. What I like about what I've seen from Varun so far is that despite the fact that he's a star kid, he seems to really be putting in the effort to make what could be throwaway roles into something compelling. I mean, Main Tera Hero is an utterly mediocre film but Varun makes his scenes pop. And now ABCD 2 promos… kid has presence, determination, and talent. I got to respect that.

Now to catch up with Badlapur… I wonder if it's on streaming yet.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Selfie Le Le Re~~!

*whistle whistle*

This is going to look incredible on a huge movie screen! God damn, it feels good to see Salman doing his thing again. And I mean that, personally, it feels good to see Salman dancing because it's been far too long since I've seen Salman dancing. And the trailer for Bajrangi Bhaijaan looks great. Just the kind of movie I like: a BIG HEART, over-emotional, action-packed, filmi, but with a nod to the larger world.

I know I've missed out on the drama with Salman and his court case and I also know that there is nothing I can say on the topic that will satisfy anybody, either for or against. My own view is complicated and unavoidably colored by the fact that I am who I am.

And I have been thinking a lot recently about Heroes and how so much of the image is actually the reality. I mean it's not the real reality but it's real to us. I'll never meet Salman and I don't know if I'd want to but I've come to really love and treasure him as a Hero. I don't agree with punishment for punishment's sake but justice must be served. But in punishing Salman Khan, Bollywood Industry Figure, you're punishing a lot of people whose jobs depend on him and who has been working hard to put out a humane, kind image in recent years and who stands for a lot of things for a lot of people, good and bad. It's very different from punishing Salman Khan, private person. What crimes is Salman Khan, Public Figure answering for beyond his own as a private person? I don't know. Can he answer for his crimes as a private person without punishing all of those who depend on the Public Figure? Has he already, in his own way? I don't know. All I can do is trust in the Hero. And perhaps that is my answer.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Baahubali!!! Come to me!!!!

WOW!!!! What a trailer to come home to!!!!! Baahubali looks epic.

And, I know, you're all surprised but I don't think I'll be seeing Dil Dhadakne Do. I have many other things to do instead that will be more fun. Like laundry and grocery shopping! Hee!

Have a great day everybody!

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Bye-bye, Japan! See you next time!!

Yes, I'm back in the USA! And feeling so, so much better than I did when I left. I'm very glad I went on my vacation, even though the timing was not so great and I had to keep my expenses down… I feel quite refreshed and happy. I would love to share some pictures with you!


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

A couple announcements!

GOOD MORNING, FRIENDS!!!!

Guess who is finally almost, almost 100% better? That's right, Filmi Girl!

It has been a long, long couple of months but I had what was hopefully my final appointment on Monday and should be as right as rain soon enough.

I know most of you understand how difficult it is to focus on writing or thinking critically when you are in a lot of pain. There were a lot of times in the past couple months I couldn't even bring myself to read subtitles or watch anything too wild or stressful. I re-watched the Lord of the Rings movies. I re-watched Flight of the Conchords. I listened to a lot of audio books.

Hopefully, I will be back on some sort of writing-reviewing schedule soon. I will be away for a couple of weeks until the beginning of June for some much needed R&R but when I come back things should be picking up again!

In the meantime, I hope everybody enjoyed the hoopla over Bombay Velvet. That was kind of an unexpected backlash! It makes me wonder how Zoya's film will be seen… if critics aren't already tired of these guys.

And please be enjoying… NEW SHINEE PV!!!!

I still hold that Bollywood would be smart to partner with the Korean entertainment industry instead of chasing America. Get SHINee for an item song and start winning back territory lost to Hollywood in Southeast Asia, dudes!

Ah!! And I had some requests for JUST the "Bollywood for Beginners" part of my e-book to pass along to total noobs so here you go:

USA Amazon

UK Amazon

AU Amaazon

Filmi Girl's got you… as long as she's not in crippling pain!

Monday, May 11, 2015

Monday!!

Good morning, friends!

I hope everybody has been well… so, ol' Filmi Girl has slowly been returning to good health. I'm feeling better than I have in months. Fingers crossed I don't have another horrible set-back… I feel like I was a ghost for the last few months and starting to look like one, too!! My roommate joked I'm the only person to ever lose weight on an all ice cream diet. Gallows humor… :))

The silver lining for you is there hasn't been much of interest in the theaters and there will continue to be nothing much of interest in theaters until, what? Brothers? With the exception of, yes, ABCD 2!!!!!!!

THIS IS WHAT I'M TALKING ABOUT! BRING ON THE 3D!!!!!!!!!

What was 3D made for if not to bring us PRABHUDEVA DANCING OUT OF OUR CINEMA SCREENS?!

I was explaining to my family over the weekend how much I live for the razzle-dazzle of show business and how little Bollywood has been providing it over the last few years… with some exceptions. Varun Dhawan has a lot of razzle-dazzle.

And towards the end of this month is Masss! If it comes to my theater, it might be worth shelling out for this one… Suriya! MASS!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

A few thoughts on Mr. Bond.

Good morning, dear friends! I'm so sorry to have abandoned you for so long. As you may or may not have known I've been fighting some very poor health since the end of March and just as I thought I was getting better, I had a major relapse last Thursday. They say two steps forward, one step back but I feel like it's been one step forward, two steps back for me all spring.

And I've been left with a very, very large medical bill. (Thanks, American health care system!) Which means that I probably won't be seeing many new movies in the theater for some time to come because I just can't afford to spend $15 on a ticket for a film that will more than likely not be worth the cost.

But I'm on the mend again and hopefully for good this time. But please be patient with me and hopefully I'll be back to writing on regular basis again in the near future.

I did want to share that I watched Akshay's delightful Mr. Bond the other day, on youtube, without subtitles, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. I really don't understand how it gets ranked at the bottom of the Akshay filmography. HAVE THOSE PEOPLE NEVER SEEN 8 x 10?! My god! I will try to do a proper write-up if I can wrangle my brain back into fighting shape because there doesn't seem to be anything substantial in English on the film online and I feel like it deserves some love. I mean, sure, Akshay is still a very green actor in the film but he's also got an unbelievable magnetism. And his physicality is already all there. His stunts and action sequences are really fun to watch and even his dancing, artless as it is, is still fun and energetic.

It's not easy to play a big shot, sexually magnetic playboy-hero-whatever and still be likable but Akshay manages it in Mr. Bond. The movie is just SO MUCH FUN!

I also really appreciated a) that there was an equal amount of screen time given to male and female eye candy. For every heaving female bosom, we're treated to male cleavage shots of Akki's gloriously hairy chest. Buxuom babes in bathing suits? I RAISE YOU ASS ANGLE SHOTS OF AKSHAY IN HIS SPEEDO. I also appreciated that the babes weren't obnoxious, helpless dum-dums. Sure, nobody in the film was breaking into the brain trust business but the girls used wiles, guns, and will power to get what they wanted. And nobody was raped. Not too shabby for an early 1990s film.

And b) there was some great camera work. I checked and it was directed by Raj Sippy, and the only other film of his I've seen, I think, is Inkaar… which coincidentally or not also features kidnapped children.

But

This whole angle with "Dragon" sending reels of film to the police station where they would watch them and react was so interesting!! The way it was shot was as if the filming and viewing were happening simultaneously but they weren't! Very, very nice trick. And this shot of Dragon's face in the camera was so cool!!

The whole thing left me with a feeling that Akshay had it the worst with the turn away from this kind of full throttle action-comedy-emotion-musical masala towards the division into genre films, the Hum-Tum/Race divide, if you will, in the coming decades. And nobody has benefited more from the return of the full-throttle-action-comedy-musical masala… except maybe Salman?

Anyways, thanks for being patient with me, friends. And if you'd like to help make a dent in my medical bills… well, my e-book is available. And at the request of a friend, I'll be splitting off JUST the "Bollywood for Beginners" section into a separate (and much shorter) book and that will be available soon, as well.

Have a great day! And stay cool!

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