Sparrow- Johnnie To’s ballet with pick-pocketing

 

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I continue my obsession with this film and director’s works…

 

Johnnie To is currently the only ‘action auteur’ working in cinema anywhere in the world. And Sparrow is To’s exercise with the ‘lyrical’. It is essentially a caper-comedy playing out like a musical. And it hearkens back to French capers (To definitely has Melville on his mind in many of the film’s exquisite set-pieces).

A gang of pickpockets led by Simon Yam is beguiled by a mysterious lady on the run (Kelly Lin), and their schemes start to fall apart. As often with To, the conception of the film is slim, but the execution is rich. There are the games and competitions, the symmetries and repetitions, the offhand motifs (here, cigarettes, cigars, and pipes), the geometrical and arithmetical plot mechanics. To has become perhaps the world’s most unpretentiously, unapologetically formalist director.

It’s a procession of twists and set-pieces. There are the funny one-off shots, like the two grifters with symmetrically broken legs and the gang flashing the razor blades they hide in their mouths.

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Some sequences are unpredictable miniatures, like the scenes that show how many camera angles you can find in an elevator car, even with a fishtank squeezed in. There’s also a delirious bit with a lipstick-stained cigarette.

Other set-pieces unfold more majestically. There’s a sweeping crane shot of the gang vacuuming up wallets of passersby, and an elaborate theft of a pendant during massage therapy.

The film climaxes with a showdown between two master pickpockets, Kei (the suave Simon Yam) and Mr. Fu (Lo Hoi-pang), and their gangs in the drizzling Hong Kong night.

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The objective: Whoever ends up with the passport of the lovely Chun-lei (Kelly Lin) decides her fate. Mr. Fu wants to own her; Kei wants to set her free, much like the bird of the title (“sparrow” is also Cantonese slang for a pickpocket).

The bravura, slow-motion centerpiece sequence would seem more at home in an MGM musical than in a Hong Kong action flick. Armed with umbrellas and well-tailored suits and backed by an infectious musical score, gleaming neon lights and a downpour worthy of Gene Kelly, the pickpockets go “slingin’ in the rain”. You can watch this breathtaking sequence below-

 

 

The Sparrow is at once a loving tribute to old Hong Kong island (Simon’s hobby is black-and-white photography), an unpredictable genre piece (or a genre-bender), and an exercise in light-fingered filmmaking. It is also a lesson to the hollywood directors who think that ‘action’ is all about ‘frenzy’ and ‘mayhem’.

Ambling through sights and sounds in Sparrow (Johnnie To- 2008, Hong Kong)

 

-Sound can bypass the conscious mind, working directly on our most visceral impulses such as ‘fight or flight’!

I have long believed that Johnnie To’s formal technique and his mastery in sound and visuals is second to none in contemporary world cinema. So I have decided to walk through a scene from his utterly masterful minimalist crime-thriller, Sparrow. Here is a sort of walk-through of that sequence-

 

The elusive Chun Lei (Kelly Lin) has gulled a quartet of pickpockets, and they pursue her to a rooftop. As the men explore it, we hear traffic and a distant plane, which evokes Chun Lei’s plan to flee Hong Kong.

 

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They spot her on the roof. The suggestion that she might jump is underscored by distant traffic horns.

 

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As the men approach Chun Lei, we hear distant sirens and a soft wind.

 

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An extreme long-shot of the gang provides a still broader sound canvas, with traffic sounds predominating.

 

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In a much tighter shot, as the actors come closer to the camera, the ambiance thins and softens. Now here To smartly times the traffic to underline the dialogue.” Chun Lei leans forward to kiss Bo (Lam Ka-Tung), trying to provoke the leader Kei (Simon Yam) to jealousy. We hear echoes of a passing truck, almost as a warning.

 

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Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s “Broken Horses”

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This is Vidhu Chopra’s next directorial project and his début Hollywood venture.  The cast includes Vincent D’Onofrio, Anton Yelchin, Chris Marquette, Maria Velverde, Sean Patrick Flanery and Thomas Jane. The screenplay for the film has been written by Chopra and Abhijat Joshi (of 3 Idiots and Lage Raho Munna Bhai fame).

Rest of the crew includes Oscar nominated Tom Stern (The Hunger Games, Changeling, Million Dollar Baby) as Director of Photography, Toby Corbett (Crossing Over, Bad Lieutenant) as Production Designer and Emmy nominated Mary Vogt (Men In Black 3, Batman Returns) as Costume Designer.

Plot- Set in the shadows of the US-Mexico border gang wars, Broken Horses is an epic thriller about the bonds of brotherhood, the laws of loyalty and the futility of violence.

For more on the film follow the LINK

Vintage Poster- Rocket Tarzan

 

This has to be probably the wackiest and zaniest poster I have come across as far as Hindi cinema is concerned. This piece of sublimity was apparently by a certain B. J. Patel and it was released in 1963. Sadly I can’t locate any transfer/print/copy of the film anywhere

 

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She Saved The World A Lot

As I told my fanboy-at-heart co-blogger some time ago, I thought a piece on Buffy was inevitable but I just didn’t know what I could say about it that hasn’t been said, countered, dissected, blogged, reviewed and forumed all over the web over the past 15 years, since throwing people and more importantly, the internet, into a tizzy when it first aired in 1997. But here it goes.

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Buffy was a ‘progenitor’ TV series in some ways. The genre is definitely nothing new but it was one of the first modern TV shows that inspired the mushrooming of genre shows that have now firmly established themselves into a mainstream space. A small show about a tiny blonde sucked into the supernatural, it gradually became a cult phenomenon, but was firmly ensconced within the ‘cult’ space for most of its run. People would snicker and mock you if you admitted to being a Buffy fan, it was mostly a ‘weirdo nerd’ thing. But Buffy is largely responsible for the cult genres basically becoming mainstream and accepted as such today. It contributed to people worshipping at the altar of Battlestar Galactica, True Blood being nominated for Golden Globes and Emmys and adults on the wrong side of the 50’s making office water cooler chit chat about Game of Thrones. Buffy transformed the ‘cult’ into the ‘mainstream’, so much so that every other TV show being made, conceived, developed or pitched today comes with one of those genre twists. It removed the shame from being a nerd and made fandom cool. Although the space has become very crowded now, the phenomenon of wider acceptance of the weird, which is mostly a good thing, can be traced back to Buffy. It was also one of the first shows which made the internet explode, largely due to the timing of its first broadcast. For once, nerds across continents could talk about how awesome Buffy was, which made them feel less nerdy, even though it may not have made them any less so.

The series was first conceived as a small 1992 action comedy horror film written by Whedon, with which he attempted to turn the “little blonde girl who goes into a dark alley and gets killed” trope (yes, Certain Commentators, I used the word Trope. SHUT UP!) on its head. Whedon, who was disappointed with the final product, developed the original concept into a TV series. The short first season aired as a midseason replacement series, but quickly found fandom and critical acclaim. It is probably also one of the few TV shows that has gained more fan following and popularity as time has gone by. It was largely ignored for mainstream awards while it aired, the Emmy academy decided to pacify the outrage by holding a special honor ceremony for the series after it finished its run in 2003.

While converting a film idea into a full-fledged TV series, Joss and Co. take the concept further as “high school is hell”. Only in this case, literally. It follows a group of high school students, dealing with the general hell of their day-to-day existence, while also fighting the forces of evil, since their school is located on the Hellmouth in the fictional town of Sunnydale, California. At the center of the group is a ditzy, shallow, blonde valley girl from LA,  an only child of divorced parents, whose main concerns in life are shopping and cheerleading. Until she is called to her duty as a Slayer. The series picks up after the events of the movie which happened in LA, she has been thrown out of school due to being “troublesome” and moves to the small town of Sunnydale with her mother. The delusion of starting fresh cannot last long though, especially if you live on the Hellmouth, so Buffy cannot ignore her calling even if she’d like to. She has to fight growing pains and the demons of adolescence, all the while fighting real demons. Not that she doesn’t resist it in the beginning, sometimes she has to be dragged into it kicking and screaming. One of the most emotionally affecting sequences comes at end of Season 1 when Buffy learns that she is destined to die fighting the Master; she breaks down and tells her Watcher she doesn’t want to die; her struggle to come to terms with her own mortality at the age of 16 is one of the most honest moments of the series. Owning her destiny comes a little later.

The biggest underlying theme is probably the sense of ‘otherness’ that pervades the narrative. The popular cheerleader from LA promptly becomes an outsider once she responds to a higher calling. Somewhat difficult to lead a normal life when you spend your evenings patrolling the cemetery to hunt vampires, have to skip class to avert apocalypses and your school principal gets eaten by zombie hyenas or is swallowed by giant reptiles at Graduation (that last one is not necessarily a bad thing, Principal Snyder was mean). This is probably why her high school nemesis is mean girl Cordelia, who is basically just what Buffy used to be, before being forced to protect humanity. This sense of otherness gets deeper and darker as the series progresses. Dating vampires gets tricky when you are supposed to be hunting them. And when you die and get pulled out of heaven by well-meaning friends, it can cause you to have a downward spiral. Viewers and critics complained about the series getting too dark and depressing as it went on, the last two seasons were especially widely criticized as the show lost a lot of that sense of light-footedness and humor even in the midst of death and destruction that made it tick. Nevertheless, it was somewhat important in the trajectory of a show that was all about finding the gray areas in the world of black-and-white morality, so Buffy discovering her dark nature and coming to terms with it was part of the package. Although the feminist theme of the show was always a subtle undercurrent, the last season may have gone a little too obvious with that one too. Overall, the transition into adulthood and college didn’t go down as smoothly as earlier seasons would have suggested, but then maybe, that was the point.

One of the reasons that dark depressing tone didn’t gel well with the rest of the series is that the thing that made it such a cult favorite when it initially started airing was its trademark humor. Buffy had some of the smoothest writing with a finely balanced mix of quirky wit, gut wrenching melodrama, romance and supernatural thriller blended together with razor sharp dialogue cherry topped with zingy one-liners. It was peppered with literary references, pop-culture jokes and meta commentary. Way before all of those things became cool and crowded the template of our network television and movie line-up. ‘Buffyspeak’ not only slowly crept up into the American lexicon, it has majorly influenced the language of TV and Film since then. Personally, when watching an uninteresting show or movie, feeling uninvolved with work or study or just faced with a particularly ineffective conversationalist at the dinner table, I still find myself channeling my inner Willow – “Bored Now”. Though I haven’t bothered with the comic book continuation of the series, a particularly funny sequence therein that someone told me about, apparently involves Buffy traveling to the future and finding out that she is singlehandedly responsible for the destruction of the English language! The crackling dialogue and the repartee between characters kept the audience on its toes, even when the narrative material itself may not have worked as well. Not just the language but the themes in Buffy have been used and reused all over popular television since then, most fans can spot a Buffy rip-off a mile away. But it is hard to avoid the repetitive nature of these themes in follow-up shows when Buffy did practically every one of them out there. Here’s an episode about sense of adolescent invisibility going from metaphorical to literal, here’s one about stage fright, another one about our worst nightmares coming true, there’s an episode with no dialogue while here’s a musical one. Buffy covered the entire gamut in its seven year run, so the frustration of fans with the recycling of themes by others, as well as the unavoidable nature of such recycling, is understandable. It’s all the more inevitable when most writers working in the medium today openly admit to being Joss worshippers and to being highly influenced by Buffy and Angel (It was particularly and hilariously evident when another show “The Vampire Diaries” locked its male protagonist in a metal box and threw him under water in the most recent season finale. The fans gasped in collective shock, not because it was a cool twist; a wave of outrage had washed over the internet because it was a direct rip-off from Angel!)

The biggest triumph of the show is its ability to rise above its own humble beginnings – overcome its chessiness and shoddy production values, defy its flawed teen dramedy with supernatural backdrop origins, milk the monster-of-the-week format and become more than oh-it’s-the-end-of-the-world-again storytelling. It used its innocent charm and fresh writing to grow out of its own painful adolescence and became a shining example of the underdog with a heart that came out on top. Its overarching themes of moral ambiguity, honor, duty, friendship, love, loss, redemption and above all humanity and grace even when surrounded by overwhelming evil and tragedy, is what made it shine like a beacon. One that’s still showing the way to others.

Buffy: If the apocalypse comes, beep me.

Rangan On Zanjeer

Rangan hardly ever downright trashes a film (even when he should) but it’s hilarious when he does. I don’t even need to watch this drivel to know that it absolutely deserves this. And worse. And oh, SHUT UP PRIYANKA!

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Richard Brody (The New Yorker) on Chan-wook’s ‘Stoker’

 

I have not seen the film yet but this is an exceptionally well-written piece. A certain Chan-wook fan on the blog had promised to me that she would she would write something on it (though she can educate us on the first paragraph, or more specifically the first sentence, of this article.)- regrettably she has not even seen it till now (probably because she is deeply saddened by the news that Josh Brolin is going to do a number on his Korean counterpart in the Spike Lee directed remake of Chan-wook’s Oldboy!).

 

“Stoker”: The Fears and Fantasies of Everyteen

 

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Posted by Richard Brody

March 5, 2013

LINK

“The proper translation for Freud’s 1909 coinage “Familienroman,” or “family romance”—regarding the child’s liberation fantasy of “the replacement of both parents or of the father alone by grander people”—is actually the “family novel,” and there’s something agreeably, engagingly novelistic about “Stoker,” the South Korean director Park Chan-wook’s incursion into a cushy corner of Connecticut and the tangled-up desires, dreams, memories, and impulses of one long-deluded teen-age girl, India Stoker (played by Mia Wasikowska). What the movie most resembles is a young-adult novel, of the sort that was the subject of controversy a couple of years ago for being “too dark.” For all the movie’s melodramatic twists, hyperbolic doings, and posh surroundings, its substance is very much the fears and fantasies and family loam of Everyteen (in particular, of familiar media versions of teen-age girls).

It starts out as a variation on a theme by Alfred Hitchcock—that of “Shadow of a Doubt” and the arrival of the mysterious, glamorous, seductive, long-absent Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode). But where Hitchcock brings the uncle into a stable home that he then sets on its ear, Park and the screenwriter Wentworth Miller (with contributions by Erin Cressida Wilson) catch the family at a moment of utter vulnerability: India has just lost her father (Dermot Mulroney), with whom she was very close. Charlie, whom she had never met, finally shows up at the sumptuous and isolated family estate and ingratiates himself, rapidly and pressingly, with his brother’s widow (Nicole Kidman).

Things are quickly revealed to be even worse than they seem, as Charlie takes decisive steps to edge out of the picture anyone—the longtime housekeeper, an elderly great-aunt (Jacki Weaver)—who comes to doubt his motives. At first, it appears as if he covets both his brother’s wife and her fortune, and India becomes suspicious as well—but she also seems flickeringly jealous, and, where the young woman in Hitchcock kept her incestuous fantasies tightly contained, India avows them with a full-throated ecstasy (achieved, as it were, with yet another Hitchcockian touch). Yet the violence to which Uncle Charlie sinks is doubled by India’s own rough, physical response to a bullying classmate’s crude aggression. It’s hard to avoid spoilers at this point, but let’s leave it at this: India discovers that her parents have been concealing something very important regarding her uncle—and, given her emotionally close relationship with him, something very important about herself, about character traits that are a part of her own blood. When the truth comes out, her world is overturned, her monsters are unleashed, and she finds herself without the solid footing of character, self-knowledge, and moral clarity to fight them”…..

 

Read more HERE

 

 

Stills- Nayanthara

I was thinking that while Anu takes care of the serious and intellectual side of the blog (since she is the one with classy and cultivated tastes), I will handle the ‘silly’ bit. So here are some stills of one of the most beautiful actresses in India along with Alia, the gorgeous Nayanthara. More HERE

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More Stills HERE