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

 

 

Ghulam- Spaces, Memories and the ‘Deewar Reversal’

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In a crucial scene in Vikram Bhatt’s Ghulam quite a few characters participate in a local meeting to discuss the violence in the neighbourhood. There is Fatima (Mita Vashisht), the Muslim lawyer who plays an important role in the protagonist Sidhu’s (Aamir Khan) life. Then we have a Tamilian vegetable seller, and a crippled Muslim man from Uttar Pradesh. And of course Sidhu himself is presented at the meeting as a Maharashtrian identified by his last name Marathe. Taking the context of Bombay’s linguistic  and cultural hybridity amidst a compressed landscape of architectural chaos, Ghulam presents the urban crowd not as an abstract force but as a multicultural presence. The presence of the crowd and urban chaos are relationally structured around the Marxist idea of ‘empty space’. By contrasting ‘real’ space (the space of the crowd, the street, and the home) with fetishized ‘empty space’, Ghulam creates a conflictual movement between the ‘everyday’ present and the ‘traumatized’ past. This is most vividly imagined in the scenes on the river-bank (‘ghaat’).

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Arguing With Gangs of Wasseypur- Satyam on GoW

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It is needless to say that everyone should be reading this gem of a piece.In my humble view Satyam is possibly the finest writer on India cinema anywhere in this world. His blog, which apart from him also has the services of exceptionally fine writers like GF and Qalandar, is also one of the best places to discuss Indian films (and often Hollywood and World Cinema).

It is fascinating that Anurag Kashyap does not discern or at least chooses not to excavate the much greater film that lies hidden within the husk of his ambitious and in many ways formidable epic. He scatters clues of this more important project throughout the first part of the existing film and yet never quite fleshes out their meaning except in the most desultory ways. As ethnography his efforts succeed admirably. His journalistic choices vividly and often searingly portray what becomes in his telling a singular slice of the Indian hinterland. Kashyap clearly knows this landscape well as he does the lives of those who inhabit it. He is also astutely keyed into many of its socio-economic, cultural and ultimately political fault-lines. He knows the relevant cinematic histories from Hollywood to Bombay. His auteurist eye often creates extraordinary visuals. He has the ironic post-modern distance from his world which perhaps of necessity asserts itself at this late date in the medium’s history and certainly that of the genres he tackles. And yet even with everything perfectly located Kashyap frustratingly misses the encounter with that greater work. The reasons for this will turn out not to be accidental…

FOR MORE FOLLOW THE LINK

Apex on SLP- “Silver Linings Playbook (SLP): Shared neurosis, ‘triggers’ & Ballroom Dancing- Isnt it Over- rated??”

 

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(Apex left it as a comment here but I thought it deserved a separate post)

Don’t get me wrong, this is certainly a good film, but nothing kills a good product than overhype and overpraise. Overheard some folks today who were praising this to the skies, making it appear like some bonafide modern cult classic, which it surely is not!!Now what makes this film appear better to some than it really is? (in my humble opinion)

This plot device of integrating ball-room dancing and semi-serious/seriocomic elements of ‘traditional’ romcoms with dark topics of addiction & neuroses gets people thinking just to tickle them into believing they are seeing something novel and ‘thought-provoking’ (but not enough to really make them ‘disturbed’!). The females (at least the ones I heard anecdotally) loved Cooper pursuing his ex-wife even after being jailed, even after catching her in the shower with another guy and even to the point of becoming a stalker ‘technically’. Because hey, its ok to be a stalker as long as you are desirable and good-looking ahem. For the guys there was enough to latch on. The oldies seem to love this whole ‘family thing’ and the whole obsession and betting angle of deNiro and who can forget his crying!! And last but not the least, a widower trying to sort out her vacuum in life by sleeping around and claiming proudly that she has ‘slept with everyone at her workplace’!! Now this gets brownie points in the Oscars old guys club—this sort of meterial is a sign of ‘emoting talent’!!

It has always been a curiosity of mine whether this so-called ‘sex addiction’ is actually technically a ‘psychiatric disorder’ or just someone not keeping control of his/her mental (& physical discipline!). In other words, is it a psychological issue or a disciplinary/law and order issue. Any psychiatrist(s) reading this are welcome to answer this please. The one really original point I thought came out of this film was the concept of shared treatment of neuroses by ‘intermingling of the sufferers’ and letting the rough edges rub off each other. Perhaps one dysfunctional person empathises with another and this interface leads to therapeutic effects?

Now pasting some random thoughts I posted earlier elsewhere –
If there was a recent film for psychiatrists and their ‘clients’, this is one of them. Cooper plays a bipolar who returns to his parents and tries to win back his estranged wife. And to help him, he takes the help of (listen to this!) a recently widowed sexual addiction patient Jen Lawrence. To mix it up (and keep the target audience happy, Jen Law agrees to help him in return of a favour –hold on, not what you think—but to partner her in a dancing competition. Now doesn’t this ‘twist’ remind one of the convenient Bollywood screenplays. But hey, the Oscars seem to have found the same thing inventive and ‘original’. Cooper and Jen share their neuroses and that helps them ‘cope’ with it better. No, it doesn’t end there. His dad De Niro aint ‘normal’ either. He has OCD and has gambling/ superstition addictive tendencies. Dig deeper and remember reading somewhere that even the director has a history of psychos in his family. And apparently this is based on a novel and the writer was himself an ex-depressed !

Acting
Jen Law can act but she didn’t deserve the award. My views are unchanged. Theres something about the role and her ‘character’ (or the lack of it) that won the Oscar oldies over, it seems. Also theres something about these explosive screeching acts that people find impressive. A parallel closer Bollywood is something like karisma and even Kajol have been indulging in and getting away with awards sometimes. Also to add, Jen Law seems fine but I do not find her attractive from any angle, dunno why. Brad Cooper is better than his usual self and conveys some vulnerability and intensity. But it’s a bit like Saif-no matter how many ‘langda tyagis’ he does, I will love him more in his trademark urbane salaam namastes, Love aaj kals and Cocktails. Just like cooper was ace in Hangover and the Wedding crasher (and should stay in that world!!). Robert De Niro brings back some ‘dignity’ and ’class’ to this setup inspite of having a smallish role. Anupam Kher does well, I think, as the indian psychiatrist.

Content
Triggers–That was an interesting concept and seemingly well depicted especially the relation to music. The depiction of bipolars, OCDs seemed reasonable though would need a psychiatrists opinion. Also the way all this ‘serious stuff’ is intermingled into this romance and ballroom dancing is creditable for Hollywood (though would have been an easy task for the likes of kjo, Aditya). Spoilers ( don’t matter though)—All this business of ‘good luck charms’ and ‘reading/interpreting the signs’ reminded me of DTPH!!
The other issues I have
‘Love heals all’-well, it is a good thing in principle. But does it mean or intend to show all the psychos around to stop taking their pills and fall into love. That would be a dangerous proposition, isn’t it? Having said that, there is perhaps an un/intended ‘hook’ there. Perhaps I wasn’t paying enough attention but Cooper stopped taking his meds in between. (but beyond a point, one stops caring)
Using bipolars as a plot device does seem somewhat unethical. But its not new and it appears that Oscars have a weakness for anything portraying deranged minds and disability. Also there may be a ‘genetic’ link to the mental problems shared around here that the film may have delved further into.

The ‘Shame’ Connection
I don’t think this has been mentioned before but did strike me while viewing it. I am also unsure whether this ‘sex addiction’ condition is being over represented by Hollywood recently for its own fetishistic ends. Note the association with McQueens Shame wherein Fassbenders sex addiction takes ‘centrestage’. The issue with Fassbender was his problems with ‘intimacy’ where he suddenly stopped ‘functioning’. While ‘Shame’ is a complex slightly dark analysis of addiction and mental issues, SLP intends to take a similar theme(s) and makes it more ‘playful’ and ‘audience friendly’ by adding in ballroom dancing and the romance angle. Though the lead cast act through their skins (relatively speaking) and deliver ‘their’ best performance to date, perhaps the lack of genuine acting skills and sheer charisma showed through (to me!)

& yes to add an afterthought…

For anyone who care for spoilers, there is another one ahead—there is a ‘happy’ ending (for those who couldn’t spot it from the first poster itself!) It didn’t deserve an oscar (under any category) but it did deserve a sequel—only to figure out if Jen Laws sexual addiction ‘neuroses’ did resolve after the so-called happy ending! One can already sense the guys nodding in agreement and handing out another Oscar to Jen Law for that …

My ‘Royale with Cheese’- Saurabh’s sense of Agent Vinod

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“Vincent: All right. Well, you can walk into a movie theater in Amsterdam and buy a beer. And I don’t mean just like in no paper cup; I’m talking about a glass of beer. And in Paris, you can buy a beer at McDonald’s. And you know what they call a Quarter Pounder with Cheese in Paris?

Jules: They don’t call it a Quarter Pounder with Cheese?

Vincent: Nah, man, they got the metric system. They wouldn’t know what the f#$k a Quarter Pounder is.

Jules: What do they call it?

Vincent: They call it a “Royale with Cheese.”

(the above dialogue as we know is from Tarantino’s immortal film “Pulp Fiction”- a film which gave to the American pop-culture as much as it borrowed from it)

At a crucial juncture in this film, the narrative came to a sudden standstill for me- the scene shows an important character, at once, finding herself in the proverbial Hitchcockian motif of ‘the innocent man caught up in a an impossible situation’; the character is stranded, unable to fend off questions asked by our ‘agent’, with his/her only source of proving his/her innocence, seemingly lost. This tense situation in the film, is created by surreptitiously referencing to Bachchan’s ‘Don’, wherein another character, who is a Pakistani Army General named ‘Ifthekar’ (the actor Ifthekar played DCP D’Silva in 1978 Don who also created a similar situation there too), is bumped-off…..

READ MORE HERE-

Saurabh’s take on Vijeta (1982)

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(This piece was originally posted here- http://satyamshot.wordpress.com/2012/08/10/saurabh-on-vijeta/ )

Vijeta is a film which has stayed with me since I first saw it more than a decade back with my father (incidentally). Another superlative effort from the auteur, the film remains a very sharp and hard-hitting work even now. Cleverly masquerading as a coming-of-age story, the film came across to me as a sharp take on the ‘angst’ in the society and also touches upon the prevailing ‘generation gap’ in the late 70’s and 80’s of India. Under any other director this could have ended up being Bollywood’s Top Gun (though in any case the Tony Scott film came later) but Nihalani uses a not so uncommon trope to make a telling statement on a larger issue- how personal crises are often a microcosm of the generational conflicts and conflicting visions plaguing a nation state.

READ MORE HERE-