The first time I watched Damien Chazelle’s musical, La La Land, I thought a lot about how it worked, about its form, his craft and how the lickable candy-colored costumes bring to mind both M&M’s and Jacques Demy. I thought about how Mr. Chazelle and his stars, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, fit into the history of the film musical. When I went to see La La Land again, I was in a terrible state, and this time I just fell into it, gratefully. I surrendered. Afterward, I realized that this is what it must have been like to watch Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers during the Great Depression.
I have a passion for musicals. Back in the day — gather children and hear about the dark ages before DVDs – I would set my alarm to get up in the middle of the night when an old Fred Astaire movie was playing on TV. Then we got a VCR and I’d tape them to watch over and over. It was pure magic. The dance becoming part of the expression of the characters that she describes in La La Land is just what I found in Astaire/Rogers numbers like ‘Night And Day’ from my favorite of their films, The Gay Divorcee. That exquisite Cole Porter music, and their magical romance through movement.
I watched the Gene Kelly musicals, too, but Fred was my first love. He even dances in roller skates with Ginger in ‘Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off’ in Shall We Dance.
Hollywood has done musicals in the modern era — God bless you Baz Luhrmann for your crazy wonderful movies like Moulin Rouge.
And there have been the sporadic adaptations of Broadway hits, like the dark cynical Chicago and the recent Into the Woods. (Which gives me the perfect excuse to include my favorite song from Into the Woods, the ‘Agony’ duet of Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen.)
There has really only been a sporadic spotty record of musicals from Hollywood in recent years, and not the steady diet I craved.
Then, I discovered Indian Cinema, and that void in my life was finally filled. For others, the music numbers are an excuse to visit the bathroom, but they are the main event for me. I love the earnest love stories and the emotions, and just ….ALL of it. I love the BIG numbers, and the intimate duets in mustard fields.
Contemporary American movies could use more s’wonderful, more music and dance, and way, way more surrealism. They’re too dull, too ordinary, and too straight, whether they’re mired in superhero cliches or remodeled kitchen-sink realism. One of the transformative pleasures of musicals is at even at their most choreographed, they break from conformity, the dos and don’ts of regimented life, suggesting the possibility that everyone can move to their own beat.
Amen, sister. Amen.
Manohla talks about Damien Chazelle’s passion for the old musicals I love, the Fred and Ginger movies, the Gene Kelly masterpieces. Every article I’ve read about La La Land just raves and raves that “they don’t make movies like this anymore.” Thank God someone in Hollywood finally is….again. I. Can’t. WAIT! December 9th can not come fast enough.
Manchester By The Sea is out right now in limited release. If you can find it, I urge you to go see this incredible film. I saw this film in January at Sundance going in knowing next to nothing. All there was in the program was this picture of Kyle Chandler and Casey Affleck who play brothers in the film. And the name Kenneth Lonergan, the writer director. That’s the name that made this film a must see for me. He has only written and directed three films. His first feature, You Can Count On Me gave us an incredible debut by Mark Ruffalo as Laura Linney’s ne’er do well brother. His second film, Margaret, starring Anna Paquin, was finally released on DVD recently.
This is the short review of Manchester By The Sea I wrote on Letterboxd after I returned from Sundance:
Casey Affleck plays a janitor who has to return to his hometown when his brother (Kyle Chandler) suddenly dies of a heart attack. He’s named guardian for his teenage nephew, and you come to understand through flashbacks why he is so reluctant to assume that role. Michelle Williams plays his ex-wife, in a fantastic supporting role. Lucas Hedges is the 16 year old nephew, and he is amazing. This is a break out role for this young actor.
But Casey Affleck’s melancholy superb acting had me sobbing, not just tears down my face but holding my hand over my mouth to keep quiet in the theater sobbing. This is a masterful movie about real people and their grief.
If you can, go see this film without watching the trailer, because the trailer shows part of a key scene between Casey Affleck and his ex-wife, Michelle Williams. I think it has more impact if you don’t know what’s coming.
Casey Affleck is a lock for a best actor Oscar nomination, and Manchester By The Sea is at the top of best of 2016 film lists, right after La La Land. I haven’t seen La La Land yet (Dec. 9th can’t come fast enough), but Manchester By The Sea is the best film I’ve seen so far this year.
I unabashedly loved Dear Zindagi. It’s a true measure of my love of my family that I didn’t see Dear Zindagi the day it came out in the US due to our Thanksgiving holiday travels. I have been looking forward to this movie for some time, hoping it would live up to my sky high expectations, and it did. I have yet to see director Gauri Shinde’s feature film debut English Vinglish, which evidently deservedly garnered accolades. (I actually downloaded English Vinglish to watch on my trip but the subtitles were in Arabic. ARGH!)
I’m not saying a male director can’t tell the story of a woman, but there’s a different special perspective a woman writer/director brings to a film. Alia Bhatt’s Kaira (Koko) is allowed to be a complex young cinematographer who is troubled, and frankly, sometimes unlikeable. She is no manic pixie dream girl for anyone. And that is just refreshing to see in itself. The film totally passes the Bechdel test! Kaira has a tight knit group of friends who she can be totally herself with, but a tense awkward relationship with her parents.
She has a working and romantic relationship with producer Kunal Kapoor. He offers her a dream job directing her first feature film in NYC, but admits his ex-girlfriend will also be working on the project. He wants to make his relationship with Kaira more serious, but she demurs. Then she can’t sleep thinking about her quandary — should she go to New York even though it will be incredibly awkward?
Kunal is one of 4 men in her life in this movie (not including SRK). There’s Sid, the handsome restaurant owner (Angad Bedi) and Rumi (Ali Zafar), a charming musician she meets when she returns to her hometown of Goa. She has to go back to Goa because her landlord in Mumbai makes her move out because she’s a single woman. And he’s not the only one harassing her for being single, once she gets home she is barraged by her parents and her aunt and uncle for continuing to work, and not settling down.
She happens to overhear SRK speaking at a therapist conference and goes to see him. If only all therapists looked like Shahrukh Khan. When through several sessions, they get to the root of her insecurities, I was crying right along with Alia. She is just fantastic in this film. She has this quality about her that reveals her vulnerability and she sucks me right in. It’s hard to believe how far she’s come as an actress since Student of the Year. Highway was my first glimpse and then this year she was devastating in Udta Punjab. I can’t wait to see her work in the future.
Some reviewers have questioned the epilogue at the end of the film, but I liked it. As suspected, Aditya Roy Kapoor is the final cameo man in her life. I liked that the movie left us at a hopeful point — that she’s moved on and is ready for new possibilities. I like that kind of ending in my romance novels, and I liked it here.
Shahrukh Khan is fantastic in this as her therapist and mentor. He has unorthodox methods, like playing Kabbadi with the surf on the beach outside his office. But best of all is his message to young girls through the words he says to Kaira (Alia). She thinks everyone thinks she’s a slut because she’s had relationships with more than one man. SRK asks her if she’s ever bought a chair. “Did you buy the first one you saw without trying it out?” as he pops from chair to chair in his office. He gives her permission to live her life without worrying so much what “everyone” else thinks.
The music in the film didn’t send me, but the title track is decent. It’s not that kind of movie. There’s mostly montage type song sequences. Really this is sort of a bridge film between Parallel type cinema (The Lunch Box, etc.) and mainstream Hindi fare.
I’m glad Kaira found support with her Dr. Jehangir Khan, and that director Gauri Shinde has backing from producers SRK (Red Chilies) and Karan Johar (Dharma). She’s a great talent. Loved this film, and already have plans to see it again in a few days. I’m taking some friends who don’t even watch Bollywood films. This is a great crossover type of film.
One of my followers suggested I try to catch Sahasam Swasaga Sagipo (Live Adventurously) with Naga Chaitanya in theaters this week, after he read my Premamreview. I’m so thankful T.J. told me about it before it was gone! It’s the start of the hectic holiday season here, and I did not even realize Naga had a new film in theaters. I caught the ONE showtime it played today, and it was pretty darn good. Guarav Menon filmed it concurrently in Tamil with another lead actor, but the same lead actress.
I LOVE the film allusions right in the dialogue itself. First there’s a title card that says “Inspired by a scene in The Godfather“. It has been a loooooong time since I saw The Godfather, so I had to look it up when I got home. It was the hospital scene. That is key to the action second half.
Another interesting thing is that the hero’s name is never revealed until the very end of the film, and it has a dramatic punch when it is revealed — And a touch of humor to it. The heroine doesn’t even know his name until almost the end. She jokingly puts his number in her phone under “Unknown”.
The first half is swoony innocent romance and the second half action thriller. Sort of like how Kali had two very different moods to the two halves of the film, but here the romance is almost Premamlevel innocent and sweet.
There’s a prologue where we see a man and woman attacked in their home, and then we see our hero beat up 6 guys who had been harassing his sister. “Stalking like that is so 80’s!”
He sees them approach backlit and there’s overlay voiceover that had me chuckling.
“Four men suddenly appeared approaching me like in a Mani Ratnam film so I knew I was in trouble.” LOL! He dispatches them easily and comments on how it was his first taste of violence.
Then the friend of his sister, Leela, moves into their family house for a few weeks, and they shyly say not much more than “Hi” to each other for awhile, and then gradually, sweetly become friends. Naga finished with school and wants to travel before settling down, and plots to hit the road on his motorcycle with a friend “His girlfriend probably won’t let him go.”
Leela unexpectedly shows up when he’s leaving and asks to go with him. I LOVED this. That she asks to just be one of the guys and share the adventure, not be his girlfriend/lover right away. They have a wonderful trip to Kanyakumari, the southern most tip of Tamil Nadu to see the sunrise. It was spectacular scenery of a place I’d never seen before.
There is a really exceptional “I’m a good decent boy” moment in the romance. For money’s sake, they book a hotel room in Kanyakumari with two twin beds. When it’s her turn to shower, he offers to leave the hotel room so she’ll be more comfortable.
THEN the whole movie turns on a dime into a thriller. They should part, as she is due home in Maharashtra, and he offers to take her all the way home. Their trip has been a secret from everyone. Neither family knows they are together.
There’s a road accident, and then The Godfather moment comes. It was her parents that were attacked in the beginning, and our hero rises to the occasion to protect Leela and her family. The cops are corrupt, and there’s one particular bad cop that is their nemesis. The action is pretty gripping and I didn’t know what was going to happen from one scene to the next. Not quite the unbearable tension of Kali, but pretty darn good.
The final resolution ending is SO satisfying as only South Indian films can be. They’re so violent, but there’s just a YEAH!! moment when the villain is vanquished and the hero is triumphant.
The lead actress, Manjima Mohan, was okay, but I am continually impressed by our boy Akkineni Naga Chaitanya. Innocent romance he excels at, and he was very, very convincing as an everyman who rises to the occasion in the action sequences. He was very good in the fight scenes. I think the cinematographer was non-Indian, maybe from Hollywood because it was more of a Hollywood close camera work kind of style in the fist fights.
The music is A R Rahman which is always good, but it didn’t blow me away like Mental Manadhil from O K Kanmani. I did really like this haunting love song which in the film is intercut with the road accident, which was a really interesting editing choice. This slow passionate song –
So, T.J. thank YOU for giving me another reason to be thankful this week of American Thanksgiving!
On a shallow note, I was also thankful that Menon gave us a few Naga shirtless scenes (he’s been working out!) and this particular shot. 😉
Ever since I watched the Telugu remake of the Malayalam blockbuster Premam, I have been playing the song Evare, and the original Malare over and over. The sweeping melody and the lyrical voice of Vijay Yesudas in both versions just transport me into a place of peace.
The Malayalam song video I found has English subtitles.
I watched Pyaar Kiya To Darna Kya (If you loved someone, don’t be afraid) written and directed by Sohail Khan (brother of Salman Khan) over the last two days. I bought it super cheap in one of my DVD orders from India and it had no subs, but Youtube to the rescue.
Going in, I knew nothing about the film other than it was a love story with Kajol and Salman Khan coming out the same year as Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. I didn’t know that Dharmendra has a key role as Kajol’s uncle. Kajol is an orphan raised by her brother Vishal (Arbaaz Khan) and her uncle. Vishal is extremely overprotective of her, driving away suitors by beating them up. Kajol finally convinces her brother to let her attend college, and that’s where she meets Salman Khan, a rather goof off student. Salman starts the movie shirtless! This is his intro scene for the movie — the famous “O O Jaane Jaana” song.
Wastrel Salman first wins over Kajol, and then has to win over her family, especially her skeptical brother Vishal. Salman is particularly ridiculous in many scenes playing his role for broad comedy, and I was wondering if he let the Vishal brother of Kajol character upstage him so much because it was his actual brother. I literally had no idea Arbaaz Khan was Salman Khan’s brother AND that he was the producer of Dabangg. He is such a looker in Pyaar Kiya Toh Darna Kya! I think this is one of his first movies, and he did a great job.
It was interesting that Arbaaz got a whole seduction song with the Ujala character. (Kajol’s friend Ujala is the one doing the seducing.) He’s a secondary character that in most movies would not get his own song. Especially these days Salman is so, well, SALMAN that he overshadows everyone else. In this earlier movie, he wasn’t quite so much larger than life, if you get what I mean.
I don’t know that Kajol and Salman had any smolder whatsoever, but they were sweet and cute together. The first half didn’t grab me, but the second half songs are great, and the finale scene with Dharmendra, Salman and Arbaaz fighting together to rescue Kajol is really something to see.
One other minor note. The director made Kajol dance in what looked to be the most awkward type sandals for dancing, unless they had a strap on the back I couldn’t see. Like slip on wedges or something.
Lots of shirtless or nearly so Salman and great songs so worth the watch!
I also don’t remember seeing another movie yet in my watching history, at least, where Dharmendra is playing this uncle fatherly type of role. That was interesting, too.
I’ve spent most of the last week stunned and in depression after the election. I didn’t really watch many movies. Moving on, and sharing some of my distractions!
Who else is watching The Crown on Netflix? My jaw DROPPED when Matt Smith playing Price Phillip sleeps nude and graces us with more than one look at his
“bum” in just the first two episodes. Yowza. Great interview with Matt in Entertainment Weekly: “Shit gets interesting.” So cool that he’s getting such a plum role and something completely different.
How big fans of Matt Smith are we in this house? We went to the 50th Doctor Who convention in London and my youngest son ran up and just hugged him before our photo op. Look at that grin on my son Ben’s face.
Someone has done a Mashup of the Dangal trailer with The Powerpuff Girls and it’s just glorious, even shared by one of the young actresses in the film.
The battle isn’t over, it’s just begun. Grandpa fought in World War II and when he came home this country handed him an opportunity to make a great life for his family. I will not hand his granddaughter a country shaped by hateful and stupid men. Your tears last night woke me up, and I’ll never go to sleep on you again.
I’m voraciously reading on the internet most of the day. I’m starting a new feature today similar to the email newsletters I get, passing on to you what I find interesting and am reading. David Carr of the NYT (who I miss like an amputated limb) once wrote an article about the new curated email newsletters that pass on all the funky articles and links these journalists find. I subscribe to several that he recommended. These three newsletters are favorites:
How happy are we that Koffee With Karan is back?! I finally was able to sit down and watch the full episode, and it was a doozy. I didn’t think I’d love Alia and SRK together so much, but the best part may be Karan’s new addition from Ellen – having them act as each other, and act reading random things. SRK pretending he’s orgasming to a butter chicken recipe!! (I’ll never eat butter chicken the same again.) But the best thing about Koffee With Karan being back? New GIF’s from KoffeeWithKjo! Seriously, you must follow her on tumblr.
I love Ajay Devgn. Unabashedly love him. In Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, I am totally Team Ajay. One of my Desi friends expressed amazement that I like Ajay and was looking forward to Shivaay, “What? He’s so ugly!” She’s still my friend even though I now wonder both about her eyesight and her mental acuity. He has superb screen presence and can actually act, but he just has an unmistakable swagger as an action star. The Shivaay trailer just blew me away. We’ve never seen this level of stunt work and action cinematography in Indian cinema. I had heard mixed things about Shivaay once it came out, but there was no way I was going to miss this film on the big screen.
With Shivaay, it’s almost like Ajay the director is trying to combine an action thriller like Taken with the emotion and family heart of Bajrangi Bhaijaan. The action sequences are fantastic, and really thrilling. They measure up to the quality of Hollywood films, and the Bulgarian scenery is just gorgeous.
I absolutely adored Ajay’s relationship with his young mute daughter. She was a terrific child actress. Did she have to be mute? — maybe that was a way to get around the plot point that she doesn’t look like her Indian father and the actress wouldn’t be able to speak good enough Hindi. As Margaret of Don’t Call It Bollywood points out, this is really a special father/daughter relationship on screen. It has nothing to do with a daughter leaving home for marriage, and we have an adoring single father.
Why did this film not touch me in the heart the same way Bajrangi Bhaijaan did? It has more serious peril with human trafficking by the Russian mafia, and a cute kid and all, I can’t quite put my finger on why it didn’t work for me. Shivaay was just that much darker and had few moments of lightness and fun. Ajay also didn’t have anyone supporting him of the quality of Nawaz or Kareena.
There was maybe too much time spent in this romance plot with Polish actress Erika Kaar, who does not have the acting chops of Kareena Kapoor Khan. The villains are also mostly interchangeable Eastern European bad guys. The big reveal of the ultimate bad guy mastermind was pretty predictable, and the final battle was pretty damn awesome. The title track by Badshah is great, but the rest of the music tracks also don’t have level of Bajrangi Bhaijaan’s soundtrack.
Ajay is a solid action director. I wish the script had been a bit better, and aside from the delightful child actress, the supporting players of better caliber to match Ajay’s intensity. I would still recommend catching Shivaay in the theater, because the action scenes look amazing on the big screen. Ajay’s showing the way — you can play a dad, and still have swagger and cool.
And wield wicked weapons like those rock climbing hooks!
Three and a half stars out of five for the great action.
Shahrukh Khan was my entree into Indian Cinema. And it’s all because of Netflix. Netflix streaming’s algorithm recommended Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge to me because I love romantic movies. Then I watched Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi and I was a goner. I think my story is similar to many other non-Desi fans of Indian Cinema — Shahrukh Khan is our gateway to this wonderful world of film. And the internet and Netflix makes it so easy now to really dive into an obsession.
How big a fan of Shahrukh Khan am I? This is my phone’s lock screen background:
I’ve seen 50 of Shahrukh Khan’s 70 plus movies. Picking my favorite Shahrukh Khan films after the top two is like picking my favorite children. SRK brings something special even in the worst of films.
The only Shahrukh Khan film I really can’t stand and won’t watch again is King Uncle, and really that’s a Jackie Shroff Annie remake and SRK is barely in it.
But enough of the worst, on to my favorite Shahrukh Khan films:
My love of this movie about an NRI who returns home to India is particularly for this song sequence. In Yeh Tara Woh Tara, when the projector won’t work in the village, SRK leads the children in a song about the stars. And we get that classic arms outstretched pose projected on the sheet used for the screen. Just a magical moment of a song.
9. Chak De India
I love that SRK did this film about a girl’s field hockey team. Just a masterful performance and a great message. He’s let his female co-stars have top billing in his films, and here he lets a whole team of them take center stage.
I recently watched the original Don with Amitabh Bachchan, and I am now even more impressed with how Farhan Akhtar kept the spirit of the original, while updating it and giving it a new twist. Plus he has the cool seventies music from the original updated and incorporated in this fantastic film. I love Shahrukh Khan in double roles, just love seeing him create two different personas in the same film, from Baazigar to Fan. This is one of the best, and so delicious to see him in a dark sexy villain role.
7. Kuch Kuch Hota Hai
Kuch Kuch Hota Hai can be silly, but Karan Johar can just get me right in the gut with his love story triangles (or quadrangles). This gazebo scene is just so sexy. That SRKajol magic! We get SRK/Rani plus a sweet Salman Khan as a bonus.
6. Om Shanti Ohm
I love Farah Khan and her collaborations with Shahrukh. Main Hoon Na barely missed the cut for this list, but I have to give it up to OSO. Farah has given us an homage to classic Bollywood film, launched the debut of Deepika Pudakone, and the song sequences are just amazing. Farah was a choreographer first, and the great music is paramount in this film. I will love her forever for making SRK the item guy in the sexy Dard-e-Disco. We won’t talk about how many times I’ve seen the Dard-e-Disco song video.
I saw Om Shanti Ohm early on in my watching of Hindi films, and I don’t know if I recognized anyone except Kajol the first time I watched Deewangi Deewangi. This song is my yardstick of how far I’ve come in watching Hindi films. Farah Khan loves allusions to other Hindi films in her movies, and cameos and this is the king of cameo songs. I didn’t know Dharmendra or why Shahrukh made that hair gesture with the thin guy I now know is Zayed Khan. These days, I’m so advanced I know the guy playing Shahrukh’s father in the second half is a big Pakistani soap star (And I’ve watched him play Fawad Khan’s father in Zindagi Gulzar Hai)! OSO is just that much funnier and you just appreciate it so much more knowing filmi background. I laughed so hard at the Filmfare scene on a subsequent watch with Abhishek being nominated for Dhoom 4 and SRK being nominated for two identical looking romances in the Swiss Alps with sweaters.
5. My Name Is Khan
This may have been the first movie I saw with SRK where he wasn’t playing a version of the SRK persona, but was really acting a character. Shahrukh plays a man with Asperger’s and his relationship with Kajol in the first half of the film is just wondrous. The second half of the film is like looking at my country through a fun house mirror. The flood scene somewhere in the South where SRK is taken in by an African American family is a little weird, but it’s still a very moving film with a powerful message.
4. Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham
KKKG feels like the ultimate Bollywood film. It’s got just about everybody in it! I’ve shown this movie as a first Hindi movie to friends because it introduces you to all the major players. I’ve posted just the reunion scene of SRK with Jaya who plays his mother, and without subtitles, I’ve had people demand to know where they could see this film because of the emotion they saw. This song, Yeh Ladka Hai Allah, may be my ultimate SRK and Kajol dance and fall in love number ever. It is just so, so swoony. Yeh Ladka Hai Allah, indeed. And the outfit Shahrukh is wearing is so, so gorgeous.
Veer-Zaara is Yash Chopra at his peak. Lush scenery, beautiful songs, and an interfaith romance that just makes me tear up each and every time I watch it. My favorite song sequence of Shahrukh’s ever is Main Yahan Hoon from Veer-Zaara. Oh, my gosh. The way Priety is trying to forget Shahrukh as her father forces her to become engaged to Manoj, and yet, she sees Shahrukh everywhere. He haunts her. And then goes in for her collarbone in the rain and I swoon. Every. Single. Time.
2. Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi
Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi (Match Made in Heaven) was the second Shahrukh Khan I ever saw, and I watched it right after DDLJ. This is how new I was to my love of SRK. I actually paused the movie and looked it up, because I could not believe Raj and Suri were the same actor. I loved the comedic Raj, but quiet nerdy steadfast Suri stole my heart. Such a great film. Aditya Chopra is the master. I watch this film over and over.. It is my comfort and my solace. Watching this film cemented my love of Shahrukh Khan forever.
DDLJ (Could there be any other?)
Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (The Bravehearted Wins the Bride) is the one that started it all. The first half can be a little silly, reminding me sometimes of a prank filled John Hughes film. But, oh, man, the second half hits you. I can’t even really express what watching DDLJ did to me the first time (and every time). It touched my heart and gave me something I didn’t even know I was missing. Hollywood rarely makes Rom-Coms anymore, much less musicals. This film opened my world and gave me the gift that is Indian cinema. Since I watched DDLJ in the summer of 2014, I’ve watched over 300 Indian films. Thanks, Shahrukh for making me fall in love! And Happy Birthday!