Monday, March 29, 2010

My Name Is Khan

Upon release, the film broke opening box office records overseas for an Indian film. It was the highest-grossing film in its opening weekend overseas and had the highest opening day overseas for a Bollywood film. It is also the second-highest worldwide grosser in its opening weekend, behind 3 Idiots, and the third-highest net collections in the first week for a Bollywood film. Within four weeks, the film crossed the INR 700 million mark in India and became the first film of 2010 to do so. The film also created a new box office record for a release in the first quarter of a year (January to March), breaking the previous record set by Race. It is also the second highest-grossing film to be released in the first half of the year (January to June), behind Krrish.

Rizwan Khan (Tanay Chheda) is a Muslim child who grew up with his brother Zakir and his mother (Zarina Wahab) in a middle class family in the Borivali section of Mumbai. Rizwan is different from the other children and no one, including his mother, can understand why. However, he has certain gifts, particularly a special ability to repair things. His difference leads to special tutoring from a reclusive scholar and extra attention from his mother, all which leads to a heightened level of jealousy from his brother Zakir, who eventually leaves his family for a life in the United States .

Despite this resentment, as an adult Zakir (Jimmy Shergill) sponsors Rizwan (Shahrukh Khan) to come and live with him in San Francisco after the death of their mother. It is at this time that Zakir's wife, Haseena (Sonya Jehan) diagnoses Rizwan as having Asperger's syndrome. Rizwan also begins to work for Zakir and in the process he meets a Hindu woman, Mandira (Kajol) and her young son, Sameer or Sam (Yuvaan Makaar), from a previous marriage. Mandira is a hairdresser by profession. Despite Zakir's hostility to the match, they marry and settle down in the fictional town of Banville, where both Mandira and Sameer take Rizwan's last name as their own. They also live next door to the Garrick family. Sameer is close to their young son, Reese (Kenton Duty and Michael Arnold) while Mark (Dominic Renda) is a reporter and Sarah (Katie A. Keane) is a friend of Mandira.

The Khan's perfect existence gets disrupted, however, after the September 11 attacks on the twin towers in New York City. Mark goes to cover the war in Afghanistan and dies there. At the same time, the Khan family begins to experience post 9-11 prejudice in their community and Reese begins to turn against Sam as well. One afternoon, an argument between them turns into a racially motivated schoolyard fight between Sameer and a number of older students. Reese tries to stop the fight but is held back and Sam is beaten so badly that he dies. A shattered Mandira blames Rizwan for his death stating that Sameer "died only because his name was Khan." She then tells Rizwan that she no longer wants to be with him. When he asks her what he has to do to be together with Mandira, she tells him that he has to tell the people of the United States and the President that his name is Khan and that he is not a terrorist .

Rizwan thus sets out on a journey that takes him from one US state to another, in order to first meet President George W. Bush and later President-elect Barack Obama. During this quest, he travels to Wilhemina, Georgia and befriends Mama Jenny and her son Joel. Later, in Los Angeles, he prays in a Mosque and overhears violent rhetoric from Faisal Rahman (Arif Zakaria). He reports this to the FBI but there is no response at that moment. Later, while waiting in a crowd to meet President Bush and repeating again and again, "My name is Khan and I am not a terrorist," Rizwan is arrested and placed in a prison by police who misinterpret his statement.

While in the prison he is tortured as a terrorist suspect and meets the psychiatrist Radha (Sheetal Menon) who believes he is innocent. He is later released after a media campaign by some Indian student reporters Raj (Arjun Mathur) and Komal (Sugandha Garg) and Bobby Ahuja (Parvin Dabas), who prove his innocence by unearthing his attempts to inform the FBI about Faisal Rahman. After his release, he returns to hurricane-hit Wilhemina to help Mama Jenny and her son. His efforts attract media attention and numerous Muslims come to help as well. At the same time, Reese confesses to Mandira and reveals the identity of the boys who beat up Sam. She informs Detective Garcia (Benny Nieves) who has been assisting her on the case, and Detective Garcia arrests them.

After they are brought to justice, she joins Rizwan in Georgia. At the moment she arrives, Rizwan is stabbed by a follower of Faisal Rahman and is rushed to the hospital. With Mandira's help, Rizwan survives and meets President-elect Barack Obama (Christopher B. Duncan) who tells him: "Your name is Khan and you are not a terrorist . "
My Name Is Khan

This is the typical maudlin dramatic farce where unnecessary side stories are woven to get the 161 minutes of film. For example the section where Rizwan is stabbed was necessary for the character development in fact it neither affected the direction of the movie before the incident or afterward and was simply a reset button technique.

At times it seemed the screenwriter had very little knowledge of how things are done in the USA. Take for example the return to hurricane-hit Wilhemina where the first set of reporters and then the whole brigade of volunteers come wading in chest high waters carrying their supplies on their heads with dead bodies floating by. Well we are a civilization that craves its capital and high tech mechanical devices. If the victims (204 according to the story) was not actually airlifted by helicopter they surely would have been rescued by some boat and taken to safety until the water receded. Reminds me of a live news cast where the reporter is in a boat doing his report and a couple of people just happen to walk by with the water actually about knee deep.

I also doubt that any Mosque in the US would be that concerned about Hinduism and so the rant about Hindus was just for the Indian audience-I can assume. The time frame is also strange in the sense that the screenwriter still thinks that violence against Muslims is still an issue and the few reported cases was in the few months afterwards and nearly all died down after a year. Here we are to assume that 9 years later we have rampant animosity is hard to match with reality. Not that it was going to be unbiased to the two Presidents, it seems to paint the former President Bush as not helping the situation and I credit him with lessening the animosity actually.

Overall a fine film although again I am sure my copy was boot-legged...

Friday, March 12, 2010

Prix De Beauté (1930)

The French Prix de Beaute stars cult figure Louise Brooks as a nondescript typist for a Parisian newspaper. On a whim, Brooks submits her photograph to the Miss France Contest. To everyone's amazement--and her boyfriend Andre's (Georges Charlia) displeasure--she wins the contest, and is sucked into a whirlwind of photo ops and interviews at the Miss Europe contest in Spain. Here she is confronted by Andre, who angrily demands that she give up this foolishness and return home. But the lure of fame and fortune is much too strong, and before long Brooks has signed a movie contract. The heart-stopping tragic climax brilliantly juxtaposes the image of the dead Brooks with her "live" screen image. Not as highly regarded as Louise Brooks' German films for G. W. Pabst, Prix de Beaute nonetheless succeeds in terms of visual dynamics and the naturalness of the star's performance. Available in both sound and silent versions, the film never received a formal American release. Augusto Genina replaced the film's original director Rene Clair during the pre-production stages. ~ Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide

Theatrical Feature Running Time: 88 mins
Prix De Beauté (1930)
Like a lot of movies, the endings sometimes break down from reality. I like the contrast between the dead Brooks and the screen image in the sense that the song was nearly a love song to her husband. He was extremely domineering in the relationship and in the cab ride she asks her if she loved him and she said yes but when she asked in return it was silence...

Nice little film and enjoyed the opening portions the best. I almost thought the film was going to be similar to Roxanne or Cyrano de Bergerac (1990 film) as the "nerd" showed interest in Brooks and was the more intelligent and caring of the group. I suppose he was included to show the cruelty of Andre. But it does not follow that just because he is cruel to his male friends that he would be just as bad to his girlfriend and then wife. In fact the scenes where she is married she wears such tattered and torn clothes that even in B&W it was so obvious as mere rags on her body which made the lure of stardom that much more attractive. There was clearly no grey areas in this movie.

Let me also include Louise Brooks Movies:
The daughter of a Kansas attorney, Louise Brooks was 15 when she accompanied her mother to New York. A talented if not inspired dancer, Brooks performed with the Denishawn dance troupe, then worked in such annual revues as George White's Scandals and The Ziegfeld Follies. Signed to a Paramount film contract in 1925, she was largely confined to nondescript leading lady roles in such films as W.C. Fields' It's the Old Army Game (1926), directed by her then-husband Eddie Sutherland. Better roles came her way in Howard Hawks' A Girl in Every Port (1927) and William Wellman's Beggars of Life (1928). With her darkly exotic good looks and distinctively bobbed-and-banged haircut, Brooks gained popularity with filmgoers, but neither critics nor studio executives were particularly impressed with her acting ability. All this changed when she was invited to work in Berlin by director G.W. Pabst. Her haunting, provocative performances in Pabst's Pandora's Box (1928) and Diary of a Lost Girl (1929) not only established her as a screen personality of the first rank, but also fostered a Louise Brooks "cult" which continued to flourish.
Alas, when the temperamental Brooks refused to return to Hollywood to film sound retakes for her silent picture The Canary Murder Case (1929), she was effectively blacklisted in Hollywood. Despite another brilliant performance in René Clair's Prix de Beaute (1930), Brooks found herself consigned to thankless supporting roles when she returned to America. Soon she was scrounging for work in two-reel comedies and bit roles; her last screen appearance was a demeaning leading lady assignment in the 1938 Three Mesquiteers Western, Overland Stage Raiders, which she accepted because she needed 300 dollars in a hurry. She spent the next two decades in virtual obscurity, occasionally obtaining radio work, but generally limited to clerical and salesgirl jobs. She was rescued in the mid-'50s by a millionaire media executive with whom she'd allegedly had an affair, and who provided her with a modest monthly annuity for the rest of her life. She moved to Rochester where she formed a lasting friendship with film buff/curator James Card of the George Eastman House. It was Card who drew the reclusive Brooks out of her shell with a series of well-received Louise Brooks retrospectives. In her last two decades, she began a whole new career as a writer, producing well-researched and well-balanced articles on movie history. Still, she remained a mercurial personality to the end, alternately attracting and repelling her admirers with her unpredictable behavior. In 1982, Louise Brooks collaborated with Hollis Alpert on her witty, extremely candid autobiography, Lulu in Hollywood. ~ Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Guerrilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst (2003)

Guerrilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst is a documentary about the short-lived radical political group that caused a media frenzy in the early '70s. Filmmaker Robert Stone incorporates archival footage, news clips, and contemporary interviews with SLA founder Russ Little and member Mike Bortin. Most of the film focuses on their much-publicized act of domestic terrorism: the kidnapping of Patty Hearst in 1974. The group held the 19-year-old college student hostage, demanding that her father, William Randolph Hearst, give millions of dollars to the poor. Later, the girl was said to have joined the group on a crime spree throughout the West Coast. Guerrilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst was shown was shown at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival as part of the documentary competition (under the working title Neverland: The Rise and Fall of the Symbionese LIberation Army), and later aired on the PBS documentary series American Experience. ~ Andrea LeVasseur, All Movie Guide

Theatrical Feature Running Time: 89 mins
Guerrilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst (2003)
Although it was not explicitly stated all possible tie-ins between The Weather Underground and the ALS but it does cover the basic atmosphere of the "rhizome" groups that rose up in the Berkeley radical centers. So for me it filled in more of the background information about the other groups. Just like the Weather Underground, they had most of their tapes played on KPFA in Berkeley and one of the communiqués was the same voice used in the broadcast of the WU ones also which must have been by a radio announcer at the time.

One of the special features was the director, Robert Stone, providing the commentator tract. A very insightful special feature that showed that he studied the ALS in depth including he noted that after them going underground they became more cult like than a movement for change. He compared them to the Jim Jones cult and upon reflection that is exactly the outcome of the WU "sect" also, IMHO. They also in essence became media whores as they relished the limelight more than the glorious revolution.

The director said he limited the number that were interviewed so that he felt it avoided a bias film as well as falling into a he said, she said scenario. He did not even interview Patty Hearst and only included a small interview that was publicly aired aside from the audio tapes when she was part of the gang.

They also included the camera recordings of the bank robberies. The most unsettling special feature was when Bill Harris directly spoke to John {?} Opsahl without remorse and more like excusing himself. I did not watch it all because it was so condescending. When John had his turn, I would have used his words against him when he had the chance.

Another glorious revolution that ended in some senseless murders...

PS: The movie time-line ended with the convictions so Wiki can fill in some details at Symbionese Liberation Army.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Queen Kelly (1929)

Though filmmaker Erich Von Stroheim's notorious profligacy had made him virtually unhirable in the US by 1929, screen-star Gloria Swanson still had faith in him. She poured a great deal of her own money in Von Stroheim's last silent film, Queen Kelly, and agreed to play the leading role to insure box-office success. When production began, Stroheim had not quite completed his script: all he had was the premise of a young Irish convent girl named Kitty Kelly (Gloria Swanson) being seduced by a German nobleman (Walter Byron) who was slated to marry the mad Queen (Seena Owen) of a tiny European principality. Brandishing a whip, the loony Queen drives the hapless Kitty from the palace. It was after shooting had started that Von Stroheim filled Swanson in on the rest of the plot: Kitty was to inherit all the worldly possessions of her aunt in German East Africa. Arriving to take charge of the estate, Kitty would learn that she was proud possessor of a string of brothels. Realizing that such a plot device would never get past the American censors, Swanson reacted in horror; she frantically called her money men in America and screamed "There's a madman in charge!" In the final release version of Queen Kelly, hastily completed by Swanson to recoup her losses and ultimately released in Europe, Kitty Kelly was forced into a marriage with brothel manager Tully Marshall, a tobacco-juiced stained degenerate. She ultimately returns to the nobleman who'd seduced her, is driven from the palace by Queen Owen, and commits suicide. This version contained dialogue sequences, and one musical interlude, sung by star Swanson. Despite its tawdry plot, Queen Kelly was beautifully photographed; its most famous shot, of Swanson praying in church, her face framed by flickering candles, was excerpted in the actress' much-later talkie Sunset Boulevard. The currently available restored version of Queen Kelly uses still pictures and explanatory titles to fill in the footage that has decomposed over the years. ~ Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide

Theatrical Feature Running Time: 101 mins
Queen Kelly (1929)
Strangely, could not get the commentator track to work. The "Outtake footage" did not have sound and most of it was just repeated scenes from already shot scenes. As noted above, the ending was mostly a few stills and some insert dialogue. It also had the "Swanson Ending" ended like Romeo and Juliet as the prince takes out his sword as he is above Kelly lying in the Church dead, which I assumed she died from throwing herself in the river.
'Gloria Swanson Remembers' was an interview of almost 20 minutes. She talks in three segments meant for the beginning of the film the Epilogue and the ending. In the end piece she talks more about her relationship with Erich Von Stroheim. Although there was a lot of animosity between the two he did agree to play her butler in Sunset Boulevard (1950). She was definitely right about censorship not being a problem later on in the films especially when the ratings systems came out.

It would have been a much greater film if the film was complete, the ending was just a summary and not a complete story thus only 2.5/5 rating.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Autumn Sonata (1978)

Ingrid Bergman, the Swedish expatriate who became one of Hollywood's greatest stars, and Ingmar Bergman, one of the world's most acclaimed filmmakers and Sweden's most honored director, worked together for the first and only time in this intensely personal drama about the troubled relationship between a mother and daughter. Charlotte (Ingrid Bergman) is an acclaimed concert pianist who is visiting her daughter Eva (Liv Ullmann), the wife of a parson in a rural community, for the first time in seven years. While Charlotte and Eva struggle to be civil, there is a deep emotional gulf between them. Eva resents her mother for not caring enough for her as a child, feeling that Charlotte was more interested in her career and her other daughter, Helena (Lena Nyman), who is severely handicapped and can only communicate through inarticulate noises. Charlotte, on the other hand, is uncomfortable with the fact that Helena now lives with Eva, and she is still coming to terms with the emotional devastation of her husband's recent death. Herbstsonate, released in America as Autumn Sonata, earned Ingrid Bergman some of the most enthusiastic acclaim of her career; she received an Oscar nomination for Best Actress, and she won the same honor from the National Board of Review and the New York Film Critics Circle. It was also her last theatrical release; she would appear in only one more project, a TV movie about the life of Golda Meir, before her death in 1982. ~ Mark Deming, All Movie Guide

Theatrical Feature Running Time: 92 mins
Autumn Sonata (1978)
The film started out so slow with almost no direction. It was not until the underlying problems in the relationship between the two daughters and the mother that it became more interesting. Although the above review gives that the handicapped daughter got more love and attention, I did not see that and even near the end Helena calls out to the mother and gets no response or care in return. Thus signifying to me that the estrangement had already been well established long before then. A portion of the text that I found most interesting:
-Mother: Leonardo once said, how did he say it now? "A sense of reality is a matter of talent. Most people lack that talent and maybe it's just as well." Do you know what that meant?
-Daughter: Yes, I do.
-M: How very strange?
-D: Strange?
-M: I've always been afraid of you.
-D: I can't understand that.
-M: I think I wanted you to take care of me. To put your arms around me and comfort me.
-D: I was a child.
-M: Does that matter?
-D: No.

I did not even get the name of the historian that did the commentator but what small portion I listened to, he seemed quite knowledgeable and with more time, I would have loved to watch it again with the comments on.