Posts Tagged India

Gangsters, Dinosaurs, and Naked Girls

A trio of updates.

NAKED GIRL KILLED IN THE PARK
Guest writer Miguel Rodriguez says, “After some scenes of seduction and intrigue, Chris manages to get invited to a quiet weekend at the family villa in the country. It becomes clear that the set pieces of the amusement park and now the Spanish villa are the reasons for making this film. The locations are beautiful and ripe for filming and populating with gorgeous people. Add to the cast two servants and a voyeuristic mute stable boy and you start to have the eccentric group needed for an honest-to-god Giallo. Unfortunately, Brescia’s film neglects the base titillation and stylishly surreal nihilism of proper Gialli in favor of absurd family soap opera dramatics.”
KING KONG
A little late for “No, Not THAT One,” but still…Little time is wasted before the thrills commence, and with the entrance of an agitated group of soldiers we learn of a fearsome creature that is terrorizing the countryside. Hingoo dispatches King Kong, his personal strongman, to deal with the beast, and with that we cut to what will probably be the biggest surprise for any seasoned Bollywood viewer having his or her first introduction to the stunt film genre. It’s an honest-to-goodness man-in-a-suit giant monster, in this case looking like a cross between a dinosaur, a giant cow and a wild boar and which breathes steam out of its giant, flaring nostrils for good measure.
CRUEL GUN STORY
Cruel Gun Story tells the story of Togawa, a con who is sprung from prison early via the machinations of a mysterious underworld kingpin who communicates with him through an emissary, a former mob lawyer named Ito. Ito and his boss want Togawa to carry out a robbery that they’ve planned, involving an armored car shipment of racetrack receipts worth 120 million yen, and have hand selected a crew of four men to assist him in the task.

Keith Allison is the chief bacchanologist at MEZZANOTTE.

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Bollywood Giallo Dance-Off

The latest action.

GUMNAAM
The Bollywood thriller Gumnaam isn’t shy about the sort of films that have influenced it. Adopting the sort of jet set internationality of the 1960s, it becomes an amalgamation of old-fashioned “old dark house” murder mysteries and pop-art modernism filtered through the lens of films like Arabesque, the James Bond franchise, and Charade starring Cary Grant, the title theme of which (by Bobby Darin) is adapted into “Gumnaam Hai Koi” (sung by Lata Mangeshkar), which in turn becomes the primary musical motif running through film.
UNDERWORLD BEAUTY
Ever since his rediscovery, it seems like Seijun Suzuki has had the term “Maverick Director” permanently affixed to his name like some kind of mandatory honorific. However, given the rigidity of the Japanese studio system within which he spent his peak years, Suzuki never would have had the opportunity to achieve that maverick status had he not at some point been able to tow the line and deliver the straightforward genre pictures that he had been hired to create. That he was capable of doing that and then some is more than amply demonstrated by Underworld Beauty, an outstanding little noir programmer that he directed during his early years at Nikkatsu.
EYE IN THE LABYRINTH
Rosemary Dexter is perhaps best known, though never talked about, for her role as Colonel Mortimer’s sister in 1965’s For a Few Dollars More. While uncredited, and with nary a line of dialogue, she provides the film and the Lee van Cleef character with a personal, forceful motivation other than bounty killing. Dexter had a natural charm and talent for acting, and it doesn’t hurt any that she was a breathtaking beauty who was willing to doff her clothes onscreen. The slyly wounded quality she brings to Mario Caiano’s Eye in the Labyrinth elevates the film beyond the more arch portrayals that are given by (and expected from) her co-stars, which include Adolfo Celi and Alida Valli. In fact, the film is more measured and understated on the whole than a great many of the films that can be classified as gialli.
DO ANKHEN BARAH HAATH
At the time of making 1957’s Do Ankhen Barah Haath (Two Eyes, Twelve Hands), Shantaram, while by no means in artistic decline, was a good few years beyond his most acclaimed works — those being a trilogy of social realist dramas Kunku, Manoos, and Shevari — that the director made while a partner in the Prabhat Film Company between 1937 and 1941. His previous film, 1955’s Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baaje, had been an uncharacteristic bid for commercial success, as would be the film that followed Do Ankhen Barah Haath, 1959’s NavrangDo Ankhen Barah Haath, on the other hand, was a clear return to form for him: a serious drama, shot in sober black and white, that dealt with a serious social issue.

Keith Allison is the chief bacchanologist at MEZZANOTTE.

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Ghosts and Gangsters

I’m running behind on my Roundtable contribution, but in the meantime, here’s what’s been happening lately on Teleport City…

CHINESE GHOST STORY

feat14Chinese Ghost Story is one of the first Hong Kong films I watched, and certainly one that got me interested in the incredibly vibrant and imaginative cinema of that small island nation. I knew, at the time, basically nothing about Hong Kong or the Hong Kong film industry, but a tape containing Project A, Once Upon a Time in China, the final shoot-out from A Better Tomorrow 2, and Chinese Ghost Story launched me into a crash course on both the films and the history of what is now the former British colony of Hong Kong. Throughout the earl 1990s, I devoured Hong Kong cinema with a voracious appetite, often to the exclusion of just about any other type of cinema.

GANGS OF WASSEYPUR
gowWhen writers tag Gangs of Wasseypur as the next big Bollywood cross-over hit, they seem to be missing the point. First, Gangs of Wasseypurwasn’t a hit in India. It made a profit purely because the budget was tiny (US$3 million; in contrast, the budget for slick, shiny Bollywood action blockbuster Dhoom 3 was US$25 million, at least $10 million of which went to buying derbies for Aamir Khan’s Sahir), but it wasn’t loved by audiences, who — perhaps by design — found it too dark, too depressing, too violent, and too willing to show filth and misery instead of dazzling them with aspirational scenes of cleanliness and wealth. But more than that, Gangs of Wasseypur isn’t a potential Bollywood cross-over hit because it isn’t a Bollywood film. If anything, it is the antithesis of a Bollywood movie.
ASAMBHAV
feat1It’s been said that in an effort to appeal to as massive a population as possible, the average Hindi film tries to cram every film genre into a single movie. Asambhav is the rare entry that maintains a relatively narrow thematic focus — this is an action film, stripped of the romantic comedy and estranged mother that appear in almost every other film, be they action or horror or whatever — but it makes up for its lack of schizophrenic genre-hopping by trying to cram every single editing and camera trick from the last fifteen years into one film, and often into one scene, and occasionally into a single shot.
OH WHAT A LOVELY WAR
oh-what-a-lovely-warAttenborough’s film differed from Littlewood’s play in a number of notable ways — so much so that the playwright considered the film a complete ruin of her work. Firstly, it used historically accurate costumes and military uniforms. Secondly, where the play had been an absurdist comedy played out on top of harrowing statistics and battlefield photographs, the movie realistically depicted things like trench warfare and poison gas. And there is death, lots and lots of death. In the play, no one died. Littlefield wanted people to laugh at the pointlessness of war, wanted to highlight that head-shaking absurdity rather than explicitly depicting it. She was horrified when she saw that the cinematic adaptation of her play was positively caked in the filth and blood of the First World War.

Keith Allison is the chief bacchanologist at MEZZANOTTE.

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