The Bog of Lost Scholars

October 22, 2009

Recent Movies: Two Samples of Indian Cinema

Filed under: Film and Media — castiron @ 11:47 pm

I checked out a couple Indian movies from the library, based on recommendations in Lois McMaster Bujold’s blog.

Koi…Mil Gaya. A Bollywood science fiction movie. A mentally disabled young man meets the aliens his father was trying to detect. Good music, a plot no cornier than many American SF films, mindless action scenes, and overall a great three hours’ entertainment. And the mother is just perfect.

Kandukondain Kandukondain. A Kollywood adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, set in modern southern India. It works as a romantic movie; it works as a S&S retelling (Mammooty does for Major Bala what Alan Rickman did for Colonel Brandon); it’s another worthwhile use of 150 minutes.

Having seen this movie, I’m now possessed by the thought that Indian cinema could do Mansfield Park right. (Come on, can’t you just see Fanny Price in a huge song and dance number showing all the emotions that she keeps concealed in public? It would be awesome.)

May 31, 2009

North & South: The Movie

Filed under: Film and Media — castiron @ 2:09 pm

Just finished watching the DVD of the BBC 2004 version of North and South; I saw it for the first time a few weeks ago while visiting family and decided it was worth getting my own copy. (At some point, I need to read the book again; the movie stands on its own, but I can’t remember the book well enough to judge it as an adaptation.)

It gives the character interest of a Jane Austen movie (and the period costumes and settings), but with the addition of social and economic issues that aren’t as blatant in an Austen production. And the textiles person in me keeps trying to figure out what exactly they’re doing with different machines. I greatly enjoyed it.

I have to ask, though, is the public affection at the end something that would’ve been tolerated in period, or is it there for the modern audience? I’d have bought it more if they’d waited until they were in the train….

October 25, 2008

Summer Movies

Filed under: Film and Media — castiron @ 2:44 pm

Movies I watched over the summer:

  • Drumline. Great music, interesting characters (though I found myself rooting for Leonard Roberts’s character rather than for the protagonist), and in general a fun movie for anyone who’s been in a marching band.
  • Samurai Rebellion. Beautiful and tragic. I predicted a couple of the plot turns, but still found them moving. Not a movie for days when you need a happy and hopeful ending.
  • Animal Crackers and A Day at the Races. Continuing my education in Marxist thought.
  • Vertigo. Continuing my education in Hitchcock films. Wow.
  • The Incredibles. The ending is particularly fun to watch with a fussy newborn.
  • Yellow Submarine. Its main redeeming value is a lot of good puns and of course Beatles songs; the aesthetics are interesting but did nothing for me.
  • Penn & Teller’s Magic & Mystery Tour. Penn & Teller talk to street magicians in China, India, and Egypt. Fascinating, though not for the weak of stomach.

May 2, 2008

Dr. Wholittle???

Filed under: Film and Media — castiron @ 6:15 pm

After watching Rex Harrison in Dr. Doolittle, all I can think is that the world badly needs a Dr. Doolittle/Doctor Who crossover.

(Which was about the only thing of value I got from the movie. It would’ve been a much better film if it were just Dr. Doolittle and the animals, or if Emma had decided she was interested in the fishmonger instead. And while it’s fun to see “Talk to the Animals”, Roger Moore’s version on the Muppet Show was much better.)

August 19, 2007

Various Movies

Filed under: Film and Media — castiron @ 11:38 am

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Actually, technically I still haven’t seen this all the way through; I only saw the second half while visitng my boyfriend’s mother. But it’s a very interesting movie, what I saw of it, and still apropros today.

Guys and Dolls, 1952 version with Marlon Brando, Jean Simmons, Frank Sinatra and Vivian Blaine. A fun version of the musical (and oh my, if that’s the stuff that got through the censors, what’s on the cutting room floor?).

The Best of Benny Hill. A little goes a long way; I don’t have the urge to buy this and watch it over and over like I do Monty Python. But it’s fun to watch once every ten years or so.

Hairspray, the original version. Hilarious and sweet with a punch.

Nero Wolfe, Season 1. After watching a few episodes, the preponderance of young female murder victims started to be noticable. (We’re in the middle of watching season 2 now, and it becomes a bit more balanced. No one seems to ever murder elderly women, though.) That aside, these are great fun. I haven’t read a lot of the books, so I can’t speak to the accuracy, but the characters are well acted, the sets are gorgeous, and the Wolfe-Godwin relationship is beautifully portrayed. My one huge gripe, and why I’m probably not going to buy my own copy: Subtitles, lack of. There were several places where I had trouble understanding what was being said, and my hearing’s still relatively good.

May 21, 2007

My Big Fat Greek Wedding

Filed under: Film and Media — castiron @ 10:56 pm

Only five years late on this movie; not too bad by my standards!

My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Eh. It had some nice moments, but it had a lot of moments where I could barely resist making snarky comments to my boyfriend about chick flicks. Ian was moderately attractive and quite pleasant, but the entirety of his personality seems to be summed up as 1. he’s bored with his background, and 2. he thinks Toula’s cute and interesting. And Toula can pretty well be summed up as 1. she wants to get some distance from her crazy Greek family, and….no, that’s about it. I don’t have any real sense of what (other than hormones) holds this couple together in the face of a major cultural difference; it’s just “ooh! I’ve found a man who I have the hots for and who isn’t scared off by my crazy family!” And that isn’t satisfying.

I actually found the family much more engaging than the romance. The parents and aunts and uncles were entertaining (and I’ve met women like the mother). The brother’s practical jokes on Ian were a bit embarrassing to watch, but what made it hilarious was when the parents immediately knew who’d set Ian up. Watching the various interesting cultural bits made me think about the whole issue of assimilation/”Americanization” — a lamb roasted whole on a spit in the front yard isn’t any less “American” than grilling the same lamb sliced up on a barbeque, but a lot of the folks who are really loud about wanting immigrants to assimilate would probably object to said lamb on a spit. The dancing was kind of neat, though speaking as a folk dancer, the dancing would have been a lot more interesting if there were more scenes where you could actually see their feet.

And I totally called it on the location of the house.

March 22, 2007

Mummies on the Big Screen!

Filed under: Film and Media — castiron @ 8:35 am

I’d been given a free ticket to the local IMAX theater, so I went to see Mummies: Secrets of the Pharaohs.


Overall, this isn’t the kind of movie that translates well to IMAX. The views of ancient Egyptian statuary and temples, now, were nifty; the IMAX scene conveys the size and majesty in a way my television doesn’t. So as an advertisement for Egyptian tourism (assuming any of those sites are open to the public), it worked.

(On a tangent, I have to put in a plug for a forthcoming UTP book that I kept thinking of while watching this movie: L. L. Wynn, Pyramids and Nightclubs. Wynn compares Western and Arab tourism of Egypt: Westerners go for the archaeology, the grand treasures of an ancient civilization, while Arabs go for the modern culture, the live entertainment — rather like Americans go to Vegas.)

The dramatizations of scenes from ancient Egypt were quite neat too, although they’d have worked as well on a small screen. The temple scenes were especially interesting. And they picked a very, er, visually intriguing actor to play Ramses. Ramses the Great, indeed! (wipes off drool)

But mummified human bodies aren’t especially enhanced by presentation on big screen. And the dramatization of the search for and finding of the mummies of Egyptian pharaohs — well, it certainly made me ponder European colonialism, if that’s what they intended to do. And while I learned a little bit from the movie, I left wishing there’d been a little more information presented. (Yes, I can certainly go find out more on my own at places like the British Museum’s Egypt page. But since my free hours are limited, it’d have been nice to have a bit more meat in the one I just spent.)

So overall, if I’d seen this on PBS, it would have been a reasonably enjoyable program to watch. If I’d actually paid for the ticket instead of receiving it as a freebie, I’d feel a little cheated.

February 25, 2007

Brief Praise of a Good Movie, and Long Rant on a Bad One

Filed under: Film and Media — castiron @ 1:10 pm

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Yes, I’m slow about getting around to seeing movies, even movies that all my friends say are fabulous. The cheap DVD in Target finally convinced me, and I’m glad I did. The movie is gorgeous; the actors are subtle and powerful; the fight scenes are delightfully over-the-top; it’s a tragedy that Sophocles would be proud of. And it has strong women with swords. I loved it.

Alas, I can’t say the same for the Alfonso Cuaron version of A Little Princess, which I bought because it was in a bargain set with The Secret Garden.

(Spoilers ahoy!)

Of course there are always changes that a filmmaker has to make when converting a book to a movie. And sometimes there are changes that the filmmaker makes for artistic reasons, to make us see the story from a different angle or to explain a character’s behavior in a way that the book glosses over, or to make it easier for a modern audience to understand the characters’ actions. When these work, they add greatly to the viewer’s appreciation of the original text; for example, Ang Lee’s version of Sense and Sensibility made me really believe that Marianne could ultimately be happy with Colonel Brandon, in a way that the book didn’t.

But after a certain point, the story’s so changed that it might as well lose the name of the original book.

I can somewhat buy setting A Little Princess in WWI instead of twenty to forty years earlier. I can buy putting Miss Minchin’s school in NYC rather than London. Portraying Becky as a black servant rather than as a lower-class white servant is easier for an American audience to understand quickly; we don’t grok the British class system, but we grok race.


I wouldn’t be half as annoyed with this movie if the neighbor’s son had survived while attempting to rescue Captain Crewe, and Crewe had asked him with his dying breath to look after his little girl. That would at least have been true to the spirit of the book, even if not quite what happened. But to have Captain Crewe survive amnesiac? Some kid is going to be very shocked when they read the real thing.

Folks, children may not be orphaned as often today as they were a hundred years ago, but it still happens, especially to kids of soldiers. Might as well be honest about that fact in a movie.

Also, I found Sara’s behavior in the movie decidedly less princess-like than in the book. That bit with the soot? Nope. That “curse” on Lavinia? Nope. Sara Crewe in the book was the master of Miss Manners’ dictum that the best revenge is to act like your foe’s deeds had no effect on you. Sara in the movie doesn’t nearly meet that standard.

Fortunately I didn’t spend good money on this movie. I bought this DVD for The Secret Garden on the flip side, which still has its flaws but is overall true to the book. A Little Princess was just added baggage that I can ignore.

January 30, 2007

Jane, Jane, Jane

Filed under: Film and Media — castiron @ 1:40 am

It was sheer luck that I happened to catch the recent version of Jane Eyre on Masterpiece Theatre; we’d happened to have PBS on earlier, and when I saw the announcement, I decided to see if it was any good.

Things I liked:

  • Jane.
  • Rochester.
  • Young Jane. (I thought she looked familiar….)
  • The way the movie showed how utterly creepy Jane and Rochester’s relationship really is.
  • And the way it showed how it’s nonetheless an improvement over Jane’s past life.
  • Bertha Rochester. Very different from how I visualized her madness, but it worked. Perhaps sometime I’ll gird my loins and go read Wide Sargasso Sea.
  • Jane’s return to Thornfield.
  • St. John, and how he’s even more creepy than Rochester.

Things that annoyed me:

  • The condensation of Jane’s early life. Ten chapters in fifteen minutes. Anyone who hadn’t read the book (like my boyfriend) would be going “what the heck’s going on here, and who cares about this Helen person?” Of course they had to trim stuff to fit the book into a four-hour movie, but the beginning was clipped to the point of disjointedness. And Bessie made no sense later in the movie, since she’d barely been on stage earlier.
  • That stuff about twins is not in the book that I recall.
  • Okay, it’s more believable that Rochester would have hired a third party than that he would have dressed in drag and passed unrecognized, but I still wanted to see Rochester in disguise.
  • I was a bit distracted while watching, so I’m not sure whether movie-Jane actually had amnesia or was just faking it, but in either case, oh please.
  • Why the heck was St. John going to Africa rather than India? Is this British PC-ness, or what?

Overall, it had a lot of good moments. I could see myself shelling out $15 for the DVD, but not $25.

August 17, 2006

Crossing the Bridge

Filed under: Film and Media — castiron @ 11:19 pm

Some days one lucks out. I heard about the movie Crossing the Bridge on the last day that it was playing in town, so I took my boyfriend to see it.

It’s a documentary, narrated by a German rock musician, about music in Istanbul. The music is amazing — everything from tradition-based singers to grunge rock bands to itinerant street musicians to rappers. (Yes. Turkish rap. It works. Well, I don’t know the language well enough to tell whether it works when you can understand the words, but the sounds and rhythms definitely work.)

Interspersed with the music, there’s views of Istanbul, the scenic and the seedy. There’s political commentary. There’s an elderly father commenting on his son’s interest in hip-hop. There’s random dogs. There’s a Rom wedding. There’s a haunting story of the origin of the Turkish flag.

I’m very glad we saw it. Of course, now I want the soundtrack….

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