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


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.

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