Rightwing Film Geek

It’s time to get things restarted

SMALL FRY (Angus McClane, USA, 2011, 7)
THE MUPPETS (James Bobin, USA, 2011, 8)

I saw a movie this week in which a character enters a years-unused performance arena caked with dust and cobwebs but decides to use it again for one last show … cut to a montage of people sprucing the place up. I also saw THE MUPPETS.

I saw a movie this week in which a children’s-genre character wants to become one of pre-existing group of similar characters. I also saw THE MUPPETS.

The former is a reference to THE MUSIC ROOM — and I couldn’t help chuckle at the same scene in a musical fantasy like THE MUPPETS immediately after that powerful tragic drama. Or was I laughing at how that powerful tragic drama used a trope long favored in musical fantasies — “hey kids, let’s fix up the old place and put on a show!!”?

The latter is a reference to SMALL FRY, the Pixar “Toy Story”-series short that played before THE MUPPETS. A mini-Buzz fast-food toy escapes from the restaurant, switches himself with the “real” Buzz and joins the rest of the gang. Woody et al aren’t buying that he’s Buzz — the size and voice make the ruse so absurd it’s funny, like a kid pretending to be his dad and expecting mom to buy it. Meanwhile, in the comic heart of the film, Buzz is trapped in a support group for discarded toys (all from previous fast-food promotions of ‘fictional’ movies with probably real-life analogs). These absurd little trinkets sit in a circle and say things like “even though I’ve been thrown away, I am not garbage,” while Buzz is rolling his eyes and saying he hasn’t been thrown away (“you’re in denial”). It doesn’t tread ground Stewart Smalley didn’t, but it’s funny, and the merchandizing parodies are creative, if fish-barrel territory.

But the thematic similarity with THE MUPPETS (and … ahem … Kiarostami’s CERTIFIED COPY) was striking; if I were a pretentious frog-philosopher type, I would call it The Issue of the Simulacrum in Post-Modernity. As it is, I’ll say that both the short and the feature grapple with the “copy” problem, if in the specific context of pop-culture familiarity with the original. In SMALL FRY, the issue is more existential — what space can a barely-valued knock-off have; while in THE MUPPETS, the textual issue is more the original’s obsolescence decades after its success, and there’s also the critical background question, “why make this movie at all, Jason Segel?” Or why is Victor, a 45-year-old man, watching this movie with no children in tow (I got a weird look when I bought a single ticket to WINNIE THE POOH earlier this year).

Both the TV show (I’m told) and the original MUPPET MOVIE, as I argued the other day, were totally self-referential entertainments, which makes it fair and in the originals’ spirit for Segel, as star, writer and executive-producer, to make the film about those very problems. Why get the Muppets back together (in the story) or make a Muppet movie (Segel’s issue), now that they’re obsolete? It also becomes a fair solution to use as the story entree two new “muppets,” Segel’s character Gary and the puppet Walter, supposedly the most identical twins since Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzenegger. The issue of “man or muppet” even comes up later, now that the two have grown apart in the obvious physical way. But in the very fact of their Muppet-worship, their disappointment to see the disrepair of Muppet Studios and their determination to get the gang together for one last movie show to foil Evil Nefarious Villain, they become surrogates for an audience that has shelled out $10 or more to watch a Muppets film in 2011 — a new generation for whom Kermit, Miss Piggy and Fozzie are memories, if that, whom we want to see back together.

That would be moot if the film weren’t surface entertaining, but it most definitely is. I was bothered by the fact that, even as a non-Muppet boy-fan, I could tell Miss Piggy and Kermit weren’t the same voices, but I forgot about it soon enough.It has fun with its own anachronisms (I lost it at the sound of a dial-up modem) and its self-aware elements — Chris Cooper isn’t gonna win any Oscars for the role of Evil Oil Magnate Tex Richman (“rich man,” get it?) but he does exactly what’s required with rap songs and lines like “maniacal laugh” and plays them utterly straight.

So it’s wrong to dismiss THE MUPPETS as mere nostalgia, though nostalgia is definitely its subject, it’s more about the process of realizing a dream, specifically that the elements of Segel’s one’s childhood can be vital and made relevant today. The film also introduces both the difference between good nostalgia and bad nostalgia, in the story of what Fozzie is doing “now” in Reno, and the reason why even the “anachronistic” Muppets might be valuable today, in the TV programmers scenes (#TeamPunchTeacher should join #TeamPunchSimon). Nor is it fair to pick on THE MUPPETS too hard for foregrounding Walter and Gary for the first half-hour, since their relationship is so Muppet-like and that part of the film shares the same sense of humor. It’s absolutely NOT like the “normal” characters in MGM’s Marx Brothers movies, who clearly WERE residing in a different, totally-flat and utterly-uninteresting universe from that of the Brothers. For example, the music number “Everything Is Perfect” is much more sly than its Precisely Too Much on the Nose title, in lines like “Life is like a filet fish” (puzzled look for a rhyme) “yes, it is” and gestures like the whole town collapsing in “glad THAT was over” exhaustion and saying “OK, they’re gone” once Gary and Walter get on a Greyhound bus to leave Smalltown and its FW Woolworth on the square. It’s fun to pretend the world is perfect and everyone can be happy, even while knowing it can’t be; the artificial pretence is the fun. Even if only for the lovers, the dreamers and me.

To make one more wack comparison and confirm that this Nostalgia Is Its Own Glory theme is an official Trend, let me also cite 2006’s ROCKY BALBOA, in which the iconic character gets a bid for a last moment of Old School glory against Classless Newcomer (hey, *more* shades of THE MUSIC ROOM). Rocky doesn’t quite succeed but puts up such a good fight that he leaves the ring to the cheers of the crowd before the decision is even announced, the fight’s loser on the books but the winner in everybody’s eyes. Of course, Stallone’s pulling this film off this late in his career means he gets Rocky’s glory-in-defeat reflected back on himself, only as pure glory. Appropriate changes in the proper nouns, that is more or less what happens in the story-conflict of THE MUPPETS.


December 2, 2011 Posted by | James Bobin, Muppets | Leave a comment

It’s time to get things started

THE MUPPET MOVIE (James Frawley, USA, 1979, 0)

I’ve seen detergents that leave a better film than this.

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November 23, 2011 Posted by | James Frawley, Kids films, Muppets | 2 Comments

Chris rocks


GOOD HAIR (Jeff Stilson/Chris Rock, USA, 2009) — 8

ChemistI don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie that got me more in touch with my Inner Clueless Honky than this one. Even Rock’s famous “Niggas-vs.-Black-People” routine, as “inside” as that was about how black people talk among themselves, it at least concerned matters I was familiar with. This movie — good, bad or indifferent — was an eye-opener about the ins-and-outs of a subject (black hair, mostly women’s) of which I had zero knowledge. People have contests? Like this? Is that what “nappy” means? Sodium hydroxide — um, wouldn’t that stuff be caustic (there is a one-scene white chemistry professor who practically defined my reaction to that stuff)? Thousand-dollar hairdos? Really? Selling real hair? Naw …

GOOD HAIR is formally indifferent even for an info-“documentary. You can often see the camera and equipment do more than “edge” into the frame (look particularly at some interview-react shots while Rock is sitting — amateurish stuff). And I don’t know how it would seem to someone already familiar with the subject, whether it’d play like one long “No shit, Sherlock.” But for me, a white dude with naturally straight, blond, very fine hair — it was literally an educational experience

I went in with fairly low expectations, going at all only because I love Chris Rock when he’s not trying to act (as clearly wasn’t the case here). I’d expected an extended comedy routine about the relentless triviality of hairdos, which might be fun but the lowest form of pleasure — stroking one’s existing dispositions. For a sense of how indifferent I am to the subject matter, I sport a buzzcut, spent much of last night on Twitter making fun of Manny Ramirez’s hair, have never spent more than $20 on a haircut, and had to call a beauty shop a couple of weeks ago at work to ask what exactly was the legitimate use for the hydrogen peroxide product terror-suspect Zazi was supposedly stockpiling.

Instead, GOOD HAIR is the best Michael Moore movie Michael Moore hasn’t made since ROGER & ME — filled with dry, caustic but never-ugly humor tossed in at unsuspecting onscreen persons from the quizzical Everyjournalist narrator at the side. Like the majority of my Tweets, I realized during GOOD HAIR. Also like the Moore of 20 years ago, GOOD HAIR has a clear and pointed POV that it doesn’t try to hide, but one that never takes over the film. The women Rock interviews in beauty shops are in on the jokes at their expense without ever being reduced to a “target” for the sake of elucidating some authorial thesis.

The film has five large sections — the framing devices, to which the film frequently recurs, of an Atlanta haircutting contest (fun) and Chris asking himself what he’d tell his daughters (unneeded) about their hair. The other sections consecutively concern hair relaxants, the use of weaves, where the hair comes from, and how hair affects relations (in every sense) between black men and black women. Rock interviews the contest teams, ordinary people in barber and beauty shops, and lots of big-name black Americans, including artists and singers who need to keep a certain public image. Salt-n-PepaThey and he all deliver — both intellectually and comedically, and often both at the same time. Maya Angelou’s first weave, the backstory of Salt-N-Pepa’s “Push It” video, Al Sharpton’s first straightening (the story involves James Brown), a 6-year-old describing why you get perms, “kiddie beer,” “creamy crack,” etc. There are even some priceless scenes where Rock tries to sell black hair to salons, and the owners — mostly Asian, but one black — react like he’s trying to sell them crap sandwiches. Rock’s persona manages to keep this subject matter interesting and make palatable an angry subtext against using white looks as the standard for black beauty, against narcissism and beauty-worship, and misguided priorities. It takes a special movie to have me nodding along in agreement with Al Sharpton.

October 9, 2009 Posted by | Chris Rock, Jeff Stilson | Leave a comment

The Wrath of Khan

On a somewhat lighter note …

Shahrukh KhanI could hardly stop laughing last week at the news that Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan had been detained at Newark Airport and the resulting international stir, focusing on charges of ethnic-religious profiling and/or American ignorance of foreign movie stars. We’re now at the point where Arnold Schwarzenegger is inviting him to dinner, though it’s coming out that Khan himself may not have been the target of the detention and it may have had more to do with a legitimate investigation of the genuinely shady world of Bollywood financing than any kind of ethnic profiling.

But the circumstances under which the detention apparently happened is the stuff of high comedy. The Muslim star was in the US for, among other things, efforts to promote a film called MY NAME IS KHAN. About ethnic profiling of Muslims in the post 9/11 U.S. Inspired by a real-life incident.¹

As Jon Stewart said “ohmigawd, it’s a perpetual motion picture machine.”

(I can’t seem to get the embed to work … just click on “Shah Rukh Khan Detained at Newark,” and that takes you to the video on the Comedy Central site.)

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Shah Rukh Khan Detained at Newark
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political Humor Healthcare Protests

Jon Stewart does not know how many inputs this perpetual motion-picture machine has, because he doesn’t know what I do.

AsokaThe first time I ever saw Khan in person was at the Toronto Film Festival a few years ago, where he appeared with director Santosh Sivan for the screening of their film ASOKA. The reason for my interest was that Sivan had made a great Tamil film that had made my previous year’s Top 10 (and people should check it out). It’s called … ahem … THE TERRORIST. And it’s about … uh … a suicide-bombing mission.

Wait … there’s more. ASOKA was about the life of the king who conquered most of what is now South Asia in the 3rd century BC. King Asoka became a pacifist, rejected war and devoted his life to spreading Buddhism after seeing the mass carnage of the final battle of his war of conquest.² When introducing the film, Khan mentioned that theme. He said something like (and despite the quote marks, this is paraphrase from memory), “this film is about love and gentleness and rejecting violence — a message now more important than ever in the wake of the week’s horrible events. We always wanted to make a film that can bring people together in love and peace, and nothing is more important right now.”

This screening took place Sept. 15, 2001.

Yes, I saw Shah Rukh Khan in person for the first, and to-date only, time, just days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks — a topic he directly brought up.³
¹ I should add that I would be surprised if there isn’t some name(s) on the terrorist watch list (and which should be on said list) that resembles Khan’s — something like S. R. Khan or Sheikh R. Khan or Shah Rokan or something else that would let me forgive someone making an honest initial mistake. What IS inexplicable is the hour-plus delay in letting him go, assuming that Khan was the target. I mean … how difficult can it be to establish that this guy is (arguably) the biggest star in (by some measures) the world’s biggest film industry. Do airports block Mr. Google or something? Are there any significant-sized employers in Newark (like, oh say, an international airport) with no Indians on staff?
² … rather conveniently, I cynically note. It’s the easiest thing in the world to do to reject war once you’ve won. Indeed, one of the things that unendeared me to ASOKA (which I graded a 5) was that if the movie was supposed to be about a religious conversion turning a king against war, it’s chickencrap to basically make the whole movie about his conquests, ending at the final climactic battle. There’s a few-minute coda showing Asoka’s tear-filled conversion as he roams over the battlefield and a couple of vague closing title cards about Asoka’s post-conversion rule — that’s it.
³ To be fair, most filmmakers and stars did bring up the terrorist attacks, even if to apologize by telegram for being unable to arrive in Canada (Takashi Miike did that). In one of their less important impacts, the attacks played havoc with the festival. Partly because of the cancellation of most Sept. 11 screenings, but mostly because the several-day shutdown of North American airspace meant many film prints (and less importantly stars and directors) could not arrive in Toronto or could do so only after their already-scheduled screenings. The festival had to extend itself one day to accommodate as many films as possible.

August 24, 2009 Posted by | Shah Rukhkhan | 1 Comment

Doris Day, pornographer


PILLOW TALK (Mark Gordon, USA, 1959, 8)
LOVER COME BACK (Delbert Mann, USA, 1961, 7)

I am officially becoming a prude in my old age. My days of loving EYES WIDE SHUT, LAST TANGO IN PARIS, THE ARISTOCRATS and Chris Rock standup are coming to an end. Twice within the last couple of weeks, Doris Day movies have given me the subject-matter willies. If I’m making any of this up, may God … etc.

First of all, a couple of weeks ago, a coworker (born 1958) told me that he is able to get his 10- and 12-year-old daughters to watch and enjoy the big-budget widescreen color films of the 50s and early 60s that he loved as a boy. So I loaned him my DVD of MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION, with Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson, and Douglas Sirk directing. A few days later, I planned to bring into work ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS (Wyman and Hudson again in Sirk’s greatest melodramatic weepie) and PILLOW TALK (the first and best-regarded of the Hudson/Doris Day comedies).

But when I was checking my DVD of PILLOW TALK (a regular check to make sure it was successful “burn” off the TCM broadcast), I watched the intro material with host Ben Mankiewicz. And he reminds me that there is a couple-of-scenes thread where Hudson pretends to bat from the other side, just to mess with Doris’s head. Rock plays two roles in the film. In the first of the two scenes cut into this clip here, he’s a greasy, unseen neighbor whom Doris detests but with whom she must share a party line; in the second, he changes his voice and plays a good country boy who suavely gets Doris to fall in love with him.

As you can see, there’s nothing terribly explicit …. this being a 1959 Doris Day film and all … a couple of double entendres and stereotype-mannerism jokes. But still I felt obliged to say “I would not be bothering you with this, Dean, except that I’m loaning you PILLOW TALK on the assumption that you think your girls will like it — which I think they will, but I forgot about this one scene …”

Then a few days later, I’m watching for the first time LOVER COME BACK, the second of the Day-Hudson films and the last to be seen by me. I must honestly say that my reaction was “ick,” though I hasten to add that all three films (SEND ME NO FLOWERS being the third, but it’s not a courtship comedy like the other two) are expertly done entertainments, comparable to all but the very summit of the 30s and 40s screwball comedies. But still I couldn’t shake the feeling of being debased by what I was watching. Here’s a couple of clips from LOVER COME BACK to illustrate what I’m getting at. The first one is an early scene starting with Day showing up at a CEO’s penthouse for an ad-campaign appointment, only Hudson had gotten to him the previous night, impressed him with a wild party, and nabbed the contract. The second is a fake advertising campaign Hudson cooks up to buy a “party girl’s” silence about that night.

Again, this is a 1961 Doris Day film, so there is nothing that could be considered objectively pornographic or even really explicit per-se to any but the most Puritanical. But what was bothering me was that the film had so much innuendo and seemed so intent on skating right up to the line as asymptotically close as it could manage, that the overall effect was “ick.”

loverposterIn the second clip, notice how the behavior, costumes and setting advance through the stages of courtship, and when you listen to the dialogue, substitute the word “sex” in your head for every mention of “vip” and the dialogue makes just as much sense, if not more. (Yes, I understand that the point is advertising satire and how “sex can sell anything” … it is genuine well-done double-entendre humor, not simple crudity.) In addition, notice how in the first clip the jokes are mostly on Doris’s virginal puritanism at what she’s coming across and not getting that boys will be boys — see that “Doris Day ‘shocked, shocked’ reaction” shot at the 50-second mark, and look at the stiff gestures, clipped high-throated diction and sensible clothes that put one in mind of Dana Carvey’s Church Lady. Then, when Doris goes to complain to her boss, to see whether anything can be done with the advertising standards board, she demands that he think about “what else went on there.” His reaction? A wistful “yeeeeeees.” Then there’s Doris’s walk-off line, which is quite funny, but so obviously so that your reaction is, “doesn’t she realize what she said?”

There’s a lot more in this vein throughout LOVER COME BACK (and PILLOW TALK) — a visit to the Playboy Club, concentrating on Doris’s “shocked shocked” reaction shots; an early editing-cut punch line involving the phrase “the most attractive can” (of wax); and a set of so-absurd-they-had-to-be-deliberately-so narrative contrivances at the end that have Doris being both married on the night of conception and the date of birth, but not in between.

It was as if this 1961 movie was chomping at the bit, waiting for “the 60s” and the end of restraint and morality, in the name of authenticity and “truth.” Watching LOVER COME BACK was seeing the result of non-belief in the studio-era content-codes, while being formally still bound by them and thus not having the ability to take that lack-of-belief to its logical conclusion. Viewed from the vantage point of 2009, the film was like a high-school senior eager to go exactly as far as he can in the time before adulthood officially arrives and the parental authority evaporates. Time and again, you see the edges of the envelope being pushed and pushed and pushed and pushed and pushed and pushed and pushed — and while the edges never exactly break, they became weak enough for the next round of romantic comedies to … ahem … go all the way and rip the envelope to shreds. When LOVER COME BACK is at a Playboy Club show but concentrates on a woman’s appalled reaction without ever showing what she is reacting to, the unconventional cutting (or lack of cutting, mostly) actually makes what it is NOT showing you (let’s just say it: “the boobs”) more present than a less-ostentatious actual showing might have.

February 13, 2009 Posted by | Doris Day, Risque films, Rock Hudson | Leave a comment

Camp is not dead


GRAN TORINO (Clint Eastwood, USA, 2008, 6)

I don’t have for Clint Eastwood the boundless contempt that I do for Jean-Luc Godard, but I have the same rating problem with GRAN TORINO that I had with SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL last year, namely how does one rate a movie that is terrible by every possible objective standard, but which you yourself had a high ol’ time laughing at.

In fact, I enjoyed GRAN TORINO so much that I nearly did a Mike D’Angelo last night and retitled my blog in its honor. I was told by Craig Lindsey of the Raleigh News-Observer via Twitter that I wasn’t “a part of the crew” until I contributed an alternative title for the film based on its jaw-droppingly awful dialog (plenty of samples coming). I eventually decided on “OVEREDUCATED 27-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN” and decided I’ll renominate my sight that, at least for the temporariliness. But alas, the font size on the WordPress template’s header was too big to make it work.

The problem with GRAN TORINO is very basic. The acting is appallingly bad, from top to bottom; the script is worse. We’re not talking weak — we’re talking jaw-dropping, head-grabbing, “I can’t believe I’m seeing this” bad. It’s the story of a very grumpy old man Walt Kowalski, played by Eastwood. A Korean War veteran and retired Ford factory worker, he can barely tolerate his family (the film begins with his wife’s funeral) and he sees his working-class neighborhood being “taken over” by “Hamung” immigrants, whom he calls by every ethnic slur in the book. Not that he discriminates, mind you; he refers to everybody by such lingo.

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January 3, 2009 Posted by | Clint Eastwood | 12 Comments

Don’t judge the book by the auteur


I intend to see GRAN TORINO later tonight, after having prepared myself to take advantage of Mike D’Angelo’s suggestion that this movie, which he has dubbed LISTEN, EGGROLL, might be the funniest movie ever if you watched it drunk. Many are called, few are chosen …

But anyhoo, recently Clint went off in “Grumpy Old Man” mode (HT: Steve Skojec) that he’s apparently playing in GRAN TORINO, saying that America has gone to hell in a welter of psychologizing and sensitivity.

Tough guy Clint Eastwood believes America is getting soft around the middle – and the iconic Oscar winner thinks he knows when the problem began.
“Maybe when people started asking about the meaning of life,” Eastwood, 78, growls in the January issue of Esquire.
The actor/director recalls the deeper questions were rarely posed during his Depression-era California childhood – and says that wasn’t a bad thing.
“People barely got by,” Eastwood recounts. “People were tougher then.”

That mentality is gone, he laments.
“Everyone’s become used to saying, ‘Well, how do we handle it psychologically?'” Eastwood says. “In those days, you punched the bully back and duked it out.”

Now, I agree heartily with what Clint says … US foreign policy in particular, especially under liberal administration but also somewhat under conservative ones too, has become indistinguishable from therapy. (Or as Sicinski put it in his review of STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURE: “But there is something to be said for Robert Frost’s old joke about liberals being too broad-minded to take their own side in an argument.” As if we think Hamas just needs to be understood and have its legitimate concerns addressed.)

But most of Eastwood’s last several movies, at least the ones I’ve seen, are exactly what Dirty Harry and The Man With No Name preaches against (at least in part; several are more complicated obviously).

What is UNFORGIVEN but a movie about the psychological burden of killing? What is FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS if not a film about how war and having to kill people screws people up in the head (oh … the strawberry sauce) … especially if you’re from an Official Oppressed Ethnicity? What is LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA but an attempt at psychological understanding of The Enemy, and a painting of Japan’s wartime army as Modern Asian-Americans? What is MILLION DOLLAR BABY but an apologia for euthanizing people who don’t think their lives have any more meaning? How is MYSTIC RIVER a tragedy, or indeed anything but a meaningless tale full of sound and fury signifying nothing, unless its audience is the introspective sort that frets over the meaning of life?

January 2, 2009 Posted by | Clint Eastwood | 7 Comments

The music, not the words

I’ll only take a slight excuse to put up a Bollywood clip. But I was inspired by a couple of recent things: I got a comment from a young Indian cinephile that “Indian cinema … produces gems that have the power of creating a frenzy”; and saying myself that Depeche Mode’s “People Are People” would be my all-time favorite song if I didn’t understand a word of English.

Even though I did not like the film at all, one of the most important movies I’ve seen this decade was GHOST WORLD because the opening credits and the trailer both made extensive use of the song “Jaan Pahechaan Ho.” This song was so memorable that, combined with a couple of other events in 2001-02, it quickly got me interested in the Hindi pop cinema of “Bollywood,” which is the biggest film industry in the world by some measures, and it’s been a minor interest of mine ever since.

The “Jaan Pahechan Ho” song-and-dance number is from the 1965 film GUMNAAM and is without question the greatest musical number ever to open up a serial killer movie. (I finally found a VHS tape of the film, loosely based on Agatha Christie’s AND THEN THERE WERE NONE, in a mom-and-pop shop in the tourist section of St. Maarten while on a Caribbean cruise. The scene is from a nightclub dance contest at the start of the movie.)

If you can resist that, you are hereby forbidden from reading this site. I really do think the “Jaan Pahechan Ho” scene deserves mentioning in the same breath as “Singin’ In The Rain,” “Cabaret,” “The Trolley Song,” “That’s Entertainment!” “Make Em Laugh,” and the rest of the legendary Hollywood musical numbers. The voice is the legendary playback singer Mohammed Rafi (and I’ve been told it’s him onscreen) he gets to sink his high, smooth voice around a melody that is the Platonic form “Catchiness,” a singular mixture of hyperactive jazz, American beach music and early pop-rock.

The lead-dancing woman is Glomesh Ganesh whose gold lame dress deserves a spot alongside Rita Hayworth’s black getup in GILDA for sheer … sheerness, and Ganesh puts a lot more mileage on her dress than Hayworth does (one wonders how many Advil she had to take between takes). She’s no Ginger Rogers as a pure dancer, but she handles a whole line of male dancers like Monroe in “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.” More than anything else though, Ganesh just exudes sheer brassiness and “joy of performance,” simply illustrating the catchy melody by sharing in its pure infectious fun, with all the shots cut perfectly to rhythm and repeating and riffing movements when the song repeats lines.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about “Jaan Pahechan Ho” is that we Westerners may be able to enjoy it better than Indians can because it is, at its heart, a light-as-a-feather song. One Indian co-worker told me that the words of most of the best and best-known Bollywood songs are really rather simple in terms of ideas, but it’s all a “poetic-sound” tradition, going back to classic Urdu poetry. Here are the lyrics of “Jaan Pahechan Ho” in Hindi and opposite them what the words mean in English, according to another Indian co-worker (I just asked Ashish for the literal meaning, without any consideration of what would be usable English lyrics for this melody).

I dunno about you, but singing lyrics like that with a straight face requires real conviction.

October 18, 2008 Posted by | Glomesh Ganesh, Mohammed Rafi, Musicals | 4 Comments

Zeit fur Funkyzeit

To quote G-Money: “We’ll be seeing a lot more of these.

Sacha Baron Cohen is working on a BORAT sequel, based on Bruno, a garishly gay Austrian fashionista who is the only one of Cohen’s three principal characters who hasn’t had a movie yet (Ali G had a British-made film ALI G INDAHOUSE that went straight to video in the US). And some MMA fans reportedly were not amused as a supposed fight turned into a gay sex scene. Nor was a Dallas-area audience last month, lured out for a talk-show that turned into public gay passes and a 2-year-old “gay baby.”

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July 15, 2008 Posted by | Homosexuality, Sacha Baron Cohen | Leave a comment

Charlton Heston can’t RIP

Here is the Washington Times obituary, a second-day piece for Monday’s paper. Heston died so late Saturday night, that all the late-night crew could get before the last print run was a four-paragraph brief noting the bare facts. (I insisted Sunday that if the Washington Times ever needed a staff-byline on an actor’s obituary, it would be for Charlton Heston, and I’d have written it myself if I’d had to.)

Heston was a political figure and by design, we had a lot of that material up high. But there also was a Newsbusters account, the basis for the following paragraphs:

Such devotion offended liberal firebrands, however. Filmmaker Michael Moore sprung what many considered an unfair on-camera interview on Mr. Heston at the actors home in the 2002 film “Bowling for Columbine.” Mr. Heston was starting to display neurological symptoms at the time.
Yesterday, some progressive bloggers offered less than flattering comments about Mr. Heston’s passing.
Warner Todd Huston, who monitors liberal media for the conservative watchdog Newsbusters, yesterday drew attention to the Daily Kos, citing dozens of contributors who called Mr. Heston a “gun nut” — that’s one of the printable epithets — shortly after his death was made public.
“Too often people confuse the politics with the man and the passion for the issues overwhelms civil behavior,” Mr. Huston said.

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April 7, 2008 Posted by | Charlton Heston | | 6 Comments

I can fantasize, can’t I?

“Academy Award Nominee Borat”?

Too much to hope for? Maybe not after last night, when Sacha Baron Cohen won the Golden Globe for Best Actor. Admittedly it was the comedy/musical category and Academy voters are notorious for insensitivity to comedy, particularly of a style as aggressively and determinedly lowbrow as BORAT. While the Golden Globe win is not nothing, I’m only 50-50 that Cohen will even get nominated (and he has no chance of winning … I’m no Alex Fung, circa 2000, but Forrest Whitaker looks to be in a “Dead Girl or Live Boy” situation).

Cohen might get completely passed over, partly as I say because BORAT is a comedy, but also partly because the aesthetically-conservative Academy voters might not even consider BORAT a movie, but rather a gonzo reality-TV episode or a kind of documentary; JACKASS with a fake foreign accent. Admittedly, BORAT does resemble a very long (and very very funny) CANDID CAMERA episode and is one more example of the disintegrating division between documentary and fiction. But I don’t there can be any real question that what Cohen does in it should be called “acting.” He’s not a Kazakh journalist. If Cohen “breaks character” as Borat onscreen, the whole schtick becomes an offensive effort at giving offense (I now realize this is largely why I so despised the first JACKASS movie). In my opinion, BORAT didn’t even feature Cohen’s best 2006 performance — that would be his scene-stealing supporting performance in TALLADEGA NIGHTS, though I plan on voting for both performances in a certain movie-nerd poll. Still, no matter what … Cohen stole the whole Golden Globes show with his acceptance speech here.

I was listening closely, trying to write down the best quote lines live for our paper’s Golden Globes story, while trying to keep a straight face while mentally censoring for “what can be printed in a daily newspaper,” while Cohen is bringing down the house, both in Hollywood and in Washington. My favorite line not in the paper: his walkoff when he thanks every American who hasn’t sued him.

On reflection, I also think that part of the reason for the Golden Globe is admiration for everything that happened during the fall runup to the release of BORAT, which all that became part of the movie. With the exception of THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST, I can’t think of a movie that wasn’t obviously a commercial hit but was so successfully “sold” by the single-handed efforts of one man. DA ALI G SHOW was a cult-hit at best, but Cohen did a superb job of “building buzz” (the premiere at Toronto, Cohen staying in character for interviews for months, visiting the White House, baiting the Kazakh government, and so on — creating buzz for his own movie. It was the classic “little film that could,” entirely on Cohen’s back.

January 16, 2007 Posted by | Actors, Golden Globes, Sacha Baron Cohen | Leave a comment

More offense for make benefit glorious nation of Kazakhstan

BoratHeadBorat apparently already has caused one breakup — Pamela and Kid Rock or whatever rock star she was doing that week. And speaking of morally dubious pleasures, here are some ideas for extras on the DVD for BORAT, from the “New Yorker,” though I’m guessing the writer didn’t like the film as much as I did.

“GANGSTA” SECTION: The scene where Borat says something intentionally offensive to the inner-city black guys—where is that scene? I have been unable to find it. Here I definitely suggest a reshoot. In the attachment, I have provided a list of common racial slurs that Sacha could try out on “the brothers,” just to see what they do to him. My thought is, that seems to be the ethos of the rest of the film—i.e., Sacha saying/doing the most offensive things possible, in order to elicit a reaction—so I sense a little inconsistency here. Thoughts?

PENTECOSTAL SECTION: The scene where those wacky Pentecostals offer to take Borat into their homes, as Jesus would have done, and as, in fact, per Josh, many of them actually did? And also, didn’t they, like, take up a collection on Sacha/Borat’s behalf or something? Guess they really walk the walk! This moving-in-with-some-Pentecostals would be good, especially if, once in their home, Sacha could mock one of their children for, say, his/her overly prim table manners. That would really go a long way toward puncturing the sanctimonious posturing of the neocons.

November 28, 2006 Posted by | Sacha Baron Cohen | Leave a comment