Svend and I are hopelessly behind in our movie-watching, so we don’t even try to keep up with them as they come out. Still, I try to regularly expose my own inability to keep up with cultural developments by providing rough and ready reviews of books and movies. If you wish to avoid spoilers, – well, don’t read the reviews.
*PAN’S LABYRINTH: This was the best movie I’ve seen in a while. It’s set in Franco’s Spain, and involves the rebel forces and some military skirmishes, but a young girl of about 10 is the central character. She is immersed in the world of books and fairytales, many of them quite dark and somber, and they become her reality in a dark and yet hopeful way. Do not watch this with children, and if you have a sensitive heart or weak stomach, keep the remote handy throughout. There are some very sudden violent scenes in this movie, which are very regrettable. Without them, it could easily have been a great movie for adults and kids. The violence could not only have been veiled, it could have been less gruesome. Except for that, it’s a deeply moving movie for lovers of fantasy and non-fantasy. Spanish with English subtitles.
*THE TRANSPORTER 2: With embarrassment I admit that I’m an occasional lover of action. I have watched Die Hard many times and when faced with a choice, will pick an action-thriller over a romance or comedy or drama ANY day. Readers may judge me as shallow for this, but I do not approach movies to give me a “slice of life.” Life is sufficient for that purpose. So yes, I enjoyed “The Transporter.” I like Jason Statham’s poker face and his cool, professional, generally unemotional demeanour in that movie. So it was with high hopes that I ordered the sequel on netflix. Big mistake to have hopes of a sequel. In my book, it’s a dud. It screams implausible. Yes, movies are not supposed to be, strictly speaking, “realistic.” But the viewer and the producer have a deal: don’t make it so far away from “realistic” as to insult the viewer’s intelligence. The action, the plot, the characters are implausible. Statham’s character is mawkish from the very start. Not only is he driving a cutesy little kid around (I do NOT sound like a mother, I know) but he is a little too cutesy, and not particularly childlike – he is constantly chattering with the kid, making him promises and telling him to trust him like Amitabh out of the 80’s Bollywood movies. Quite unnecessary, and disappointing for the character. Not just that – but the kid’s mother, within 5 minutes of the movie, appears, and the romantic and sexual tension causes the viewer to depart with her barf-bag in disgust. The Transporter, in other words, has left the building. The worst feature of the movie is the vamp, who does most of the fighting on the part of the unpleasant villain – unpleasant not in an Alan Rickman as terrorist sense, but in an “ew, you’re not watchable on the screen” sense. Rickman as Hans the terrorist is eminently watchable. The villain in this movie is not. The vamp is created for an adolescent audience. She never appears unless she is either naked or dressed in the trashiest Victoria’s Secret has to offer. She fights, runs and jumps in 6″ stilettoes, bras and little boyshorts. It’s uncomfortable to watch, and though probably appealing to a 14 year old boy, reduces everyone else to tears and nausea.
*BAGHBAN: Most readers of my blog know that I am a lover of old desi movies. I rarely watch modern desi stuff, and mostly I wonder if I’m really missing some gems. So I ordered “Baghban” on netflix. I was hard-pressed to think of an old movie that was so heavy-handed as this one. Amitabh and Hema Malini are a loving “elderly” couple, but their love is carried on and on and on to the point of nausea. Plus this movie is a nonstop opportunity for them to not only be the elderly objects of reverence for the younger generation, but also the hot kids on the dance floor. I remember at least 3 annoying numbers when the Hema tucked in her fancy silk sari and hit the floor, and Amitabh started jigging with 6 guys behind him – and they’re supposed to be 60+ with grownup married sons. The disrespectful and nasty treatment by the sons is overdone. The picture of benevolent patriarchy is, as was expected, perfect. And it is patriarchy. The father (Amitabh) is at the center of the storyline, and the mother sort of gets kicked around without getting much credit. The movie is also schizophrenic on its treatment of Western-style modernity. Hema/grandma disapproves of her young granddaughter going out with her boyfriend, yet the boy in America (Salman Khan) cavorts with a miniskirted girlfriend (and that’s all great, say the “parents:” as long as she’s pretty). There is a schizophrenic juxtaposition of dance scenes: badbad granddaughter bopping in a Western-style nightclub, and Amitabh (hero) celebrating Valentine’s Day with a team of youngsters dressed and dancing as if they were in a trashy MTV piece. One is bad, the other is good – and why one or the other? BTW that Valentine’s Day sequence with teddy bears and “will you be my valentine,” all set in an Indian cafe, is sad. The mistreated father becomes a famous Booker Prize winner author, gets hundreds of thousands of rupees, and doesn’t want to look at his sons again. Salman Khan is the growup orphan whose education was financed by the kindness of Amitabh: his canned filial piety is delivered with all the natural emotion of an axe-murderer. His perpetual worship (no exaggeration: he and his wife go for their morning prayers and address Amitabh and Hema’s photograph) weighs heavy upon the nerves: perhaps the heavy-handed unnaturalness of the devotion would be salvaged by a bit of humour, or other emotion.