A Cock and Bull Experiment: Tristram Shandy

[Note: Spoilers in this review]

Lawrence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy [Google Books preview] was a difficult read, to say the least. It defied conventions of writing: probably the most frequently mentioned example is that a single black page in the book signifies the death of the parson, Yorick. Some chapters are just a short paragraph. The book begins with Tristram as an adult, a few pages later he is an infant; he is born in the middle of the novel, after which the rest of the novel concerns events that took place before his birth. It was amusing, though language didn’t make it an easy read. So when I read in a review that the book was considered unfilmable, I wasn’t particularly surprised.

Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story, directed by Michael Winterbottom is, unexpectedly, not a movie based on the novel, but about the filming process and the difficulties faced during film-making. It was similar at times to Topsy Turvy, but not half as amusing, and a lot more realistic. It is likely that a less informed audience might mistake this movie for a ‘Behind the Scenes’ preview, and could be left waiting for an hour and a half for the adaptation of the novel to be screened, lest they leave sooner. This is a movie made for the film fests.

Steve Coogan plays Steve Coogan in the movie, and Tristram Shandy and Walter Shandy (Tristram’s father) in the movie within the movie. Rob Brydon plays Rob Brydon in the movie and Toby Shandy (Tristram’s uncle) in the movie within the movie. It’s a similar scenario with the rest of the cast. There are two Jenny’s; rather – one is Jennie and the other Jenny – and both characters are constantly after Steve. Jennie is a runner, who’s supposed to assist Steve Coogan. Jenny is Steve’s girlfriend.

The film depicts the complexities of film making and pressures that actors face, juggling both a career and a family life. At one point, Steve is simultaneously caught between ego problems due to the addition of Gillian Anderson to the cast (hence, another “star”), the expected increase in Rob Brydon’s role vis-a-vis his own, the problem of handling the movie-crazy Jennie, the runner whom he has made out with, a possible scandal concerning Steve and a lap dancer, and the demands of his girlfriend Jenny who’s travelled a couple of hundred miles with their baby, just to have sex with Steve. Not a comfortable situation to be in, you’ll agree. There’s also a question of the height of Steve’s boots, which he wants increased in comparison to that of Rob, since Steve is the star. He also considers a nose job, and wonders whether he has a character actors nose or a leading mans nose.

For me, the standout performance was from Naomie Harris as Jennie the runner, playing the part of a naive film-struck assistant to perfection. She lapses into glorification of scenes in movies, elaborating on their beauty, the symbolism and the metaphors – something we’re all guilty of from time to time. (No?) She also falls for Steve Coogan, which most of us are not guilty of, and exchanges a few star-struck kisses, only for Steve to suddenly realise that with one scandal not yet suppressed, he can’t really afford another. Jennie is made fun of behind her back, as probably most film crazy people are by the people who make films. Kelly MacDonald as Steve’s girlfriend plays the domesticated girlfriend to perfection.

There’s subtle humour, a few faux pas’, Groucho Marx references and brushings off. Steve Coogan is helped while practicing a scene where a hot chestnut drops down the protagonists pants by actually having a hot chestnut dropped down his pants. He also hangs upside down in a gigantic womb, in the nude.

Then there’s a little about attraction between actors when Rob Brydon learns that Gillian Anderson might play his Toby Shandy’s love interest:

Rob Brydon: The thing is, I can’t act…
Steve Coogan: I know that.
Rob Brydon: …with Gillian Anderson. I have proper a sexual thing for Gillian Anderson. I covet her. If I have to do a love scene with her, I will…blush.

The perfectionists and experts are also parodied: an expert on history asks the cast about a particular battle scene. Not sure of how to respond, they play it safe and say that the battle scene was quite good, only to be shot down with a Shite. It was shite from beginning to end. Woefully inaccurate. We wouldn’t be interested in doing a pantomine like that. This was in addition to a lecture on how to make the battle scene in Tristram Shandy more realistic (give the actors names of actual men who fought the battle, and have them shout it out in the movie), all of which seems inconsequential to the final film.

In Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story, there are few obvious links with the book – a few scenes from the movie as well as their filming is shown, the filming of the black page is discussed, even though Yorick doesn’t feature in the movie. The real connection with the novel is in the complexity and the biographical nature of the movie. It’s more engaging than entertaining, while the book was exactly the opposite.

The most remarkable thing about this movie, strangely enough, is its website. Even if you don’t see the movie, or read the book, just go through the site for its sheer inventiveness. Looks exactly like a desktop, with all the icons. In true Tristram Shandy style, you’re greeted with windows with email messages from those who’re behind the site. Click on the recycle bin to see samples of discarded designs for the site and movie posters. Click on the MS Outlook icon for ’email’ to read informal messages sent to the designer. A click on ‘Tristram pix’ lets you see captures from the movie. A desktop feel and functionality, and a brilliant concept and design.

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Closer: a review

(Stumbled upon this review of Closer, and realised that I hadn’t posted mine on ze blog (even the old one), though it is up on Motif, here. I think this was the second time I attempted to seriously review a film, and it is the only one I like. Heh, so much so that if I hadn’t seen my name there, I would have thought it was someone elses. I wrote the following on Feb 17th)

Closer is as much about love and madness as it is about sex and madness. Madness, when applied to love and sex, often culminates in deceit, which is the driving force behind changes in the lives of the characters played by Jude Law, Natalie Portman, Julia Roberts and Clive Owen.

The movie is set in contemporary London, and it all begins with a car hitting Alice the stripper (Portman), who has run away from New York, and the struggling writer called Dan (Jude Law) who writes epiphany studded obituaries for a living, taking her to the hospital. A year on, while he is still with Alice, Dan�s advances are rejected by Anna (Julia Roberts), a photographer who hangs out at the Aquarium. Dan, posing as Anna, and with mischief on his mind, sends a sex-crazed dermatologist, Larry (Clive Owen), via Internet sex chat, to meet Anna at the Aquarium. As luck would have it, Dan ends up being named �cupid� by the two.

Clich�d, you�d say, but the way things progress from there on, is a series of fallings-over in love or sex; the protagonists cant seem to decide which. There are times when, to the viewer who puts his movie stars on a high pedestal, the movie seems crude. The sex chat with the dermatologist, the fights among lovers while breaking up, the reasons for making up � all are explicit and full of references, often colloquial, to private parts. It�s as if Julia Roberts, Natalie Portman and Jude Law decided to step down from their high pedestals, smack you in the balls and sneer �I�m also human, you prude.�

The acting, as expected, is seamless. Particularly memorable are the performances of Clive Owen as the vain and deceitful dermatologist with caveman urges, and Jude Law as the smooth-talking charmer who can’t make up his mind, and keeps messing up: he is always sorry about something. Natalie Portman, though, doesn�t fit the bill of a wild child. And as much as she might try and tease in the strip bar scenes, she is too much in the Winona Ryder mould. Free, yes. Wild, no. She is direct and trusting, but not deceitful; has childlike honesty, which sets her apart from all the other characters in the film.

Closer isn�t for younger audiences, rated �R�. Someone I know labelled it �almost-semi-porn�. It could well have been titled Closure, because that�s what that�s what the protagonists keep seeking; yet avoiding it all the time. There is no mercy for the frail. But if you look beyond the sex talk and the sex, (I know, I know, its hard but do try and think of someone ugly like the Grinch), you�ll find that the story has more flip-flops than a register circuit, and you�re hooked because you want to know what happens next, and who�s lying and who�s not. The movie begins with a stumble, and ends with one. Too many questions asked, the women would say. Too many questions.

END

Which brings me this- how did you chance upon it today, Jai? Same route? Co-incidence?

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The Motorcycle Diaries – an exhibition of subtleties

The Motorcycle Diaries is an exhibition of subtleties. It depicts the journey that Che Guevara, then a med student, and his friend took across the continent of South America- first on a bike and later by hitchhiking.

The movie began promising much fun and adventures, dangers and escapades, and sex and violence. There was plenty of that, but what caught my eye was what seemed a hark back to beat literature, sans the catharsis. There was rarely a loud moment in the film, rarely a moment that jolted you because you knew what was coming next. As the movie progressed, I became aware of the undercurrents, of what was dawning on the protagonist himself. While a capitalist revolution was making slaves of the without imprisoning them, here were two adventurers traveling for traveling’s sake (to quote the movie), for adventure and ecstacy, while others traveled great distances for work for sustenance.

What I liked most was that there were no The-Passion-of-Christ-like moments that whipped you into feeling pain for those suffering.

There are, of course, things which I did not like about the movie. Che Guevara is projected as a ‘goody-two-shoes’ character. That, and the fact that some of his outbursts, and the swim across the river seeemed concocted and quite out of character. Also, the movie ended rather suddenly. Even after two hours, I wished that they’d told more. This is, perhaps, where the History Channel beats everyone else.

What the movie has done is made me cancel plans for the weekend, and take a trip to Jaipur. Badly need a break. Was hoping to meet a certain muse to help me start writing again, but thats not worked out. (Finish your book, man. Finish your book)

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Time Far Past (Osian’s Cinefan 7th Annual Asian Film Festival)

My second day at the Osian’s Cinefan Asian Film Festival ended rather tragically. I tripped over a protrusion in a barrier yesterday, apparently not the first person to manage that. Drove back 25 odd km with one arm operational. Just found out that it’s just a muscle pull, not a fracture or a ligament pull. I don’t know if I’ll be able to go again this year. Will try.

Day before yesterday, I made a last minute program with Deepan and Priya to watch The House of Sands and Fog, which was tragic, yet engrossing. A little more on that later. For now, I’m going to do my assignment in Group Dynamics, and base it on the movie I watched yesterday:

Time Far Past (Vietnam)

Family is the first group that an individual joins, and for most people, it is one that influences their behaviour and priorities for the rest of their lives. ‘A Time Far Past’, directed by Ho Quang Minh, is based on a Le Lu’s famous book, Thoi xa vang (A Distant Past), published in 1886. The film is set in North Vietnam in the 1950’s, where, after the departure of the French, communism was taking root. All across North Vietnam, local village administrations were being replaced by communes, and under the euphoria of veil of independence from the French, the Communist Party was developing structures for control. This is the story of how a family’s need for power destroys the lives and dreams of two pawns.

The movie begins with Sai, a young 10-12 year old boy swimming in the river. As Sai exits the water, his mother catches hold of him, and makes him change his clothes. Before we know it, Sai, who was just swimming in the river, is married to Tuyet, a woman 18-22 years old. Sai isn’t mature enough for marriage yet, and faced with ridicule from his friends, he develops an intense and immediate dislike for Tuyet. Tuyet is married into this family because it is respectable and among the more powerful families in the village. ‘This is the best we can do for you in these hard times. Have patience’ her mother tells Tuyet. While Sai’s family tries intermittently to bring the two together, Sai does his best to avoid her.

Other than Sai, their family includes his father, mother, Tuyet, and his elder brother Tinh and his wife. Tinh is a member of the communist party. His uncle is the district secretary of the Party, and the image of their family is crucial to their future in the Party. Due to their influence, Sai has been chosen to be one of the ‘Children of the Revolution’. Sai is more enthusiastic about Young Pioneers, the communists� youth organisation which is gaining power in his village, and continues to cast off his wife.

The scene that I’d like to consider for this assignment involves a decision in a crisis situation that can impact the future of three members of the family – Sai, Tuyet and Tinh. Sai, still a child, hits out at Tuyet and she leaves for her maternal home. Sai’s family has a conference over dinner to decide on a course of action.

Sai’s father recommends that for the happiness of both Sai and Tuyet, they be divorced. Sai’s mother feels that by leaving their household, Tuyet has insulted the family, and Sai shouldn’t be made to suffer the humiliation of being a 12 year old divorcee because of Tuyet’s inability to adapt.

Tinh steps in and says that the divorce would be bad for the familys image, and catastrophic for his and his uncle’s political career in the Communist Party. He convinces his family, that it is best for the future prospects of the family for them to retain a respectable image among the party cadre, and thus for Sai not to divorce. He agrees that the marriage was never a good idea, but what is done is done. It is best for Sai to go an apologise, and bring Tuyet back home. As long as they project an image that everything is hunky-dory, things will be okay.

Analysis:

The family is a team, more than a group. There seems to be shared leadership, and a common goal – the well being of the family. There is individual and mutual accountability, and well specified roles: The father is a teacher, the women are labourers and bread earners. Tinh affords them political power. While there is low differentiation, the integration is very high. Decisions are made based on discussions, and there is no apparent heirarchy, only influence. Collectively, their family exhibits a high group serving need, and the success of an individual within the team serves group goals. The team is governed more by goals than targets, and they trust each other to do what is best for the family. Communication is informal, open, direct and straight-forward. Members make an effort to understand each others’ viewpoint. There is no formal leader of this family.

However, Tinh’s self serving need, throughout the movie, overrides the group serving need. He is more reactive than proactive and seeks to hard-sell self-serving decisions by making them seem group-serving. He takes initiative to grab power, and involves members of the family to facilitate quicker decision making, in order to retain control of the situation, while at the same time making it seem that he is working for the betterment of the family. He ignores conflicts between members until they become destructive. His behaviour is primarily negative socio-emotional. He uses a combination of both personal appeals and pressure in order to make his family accept his suggestion. He uses power that is based both on connections and referrals.

Parson’s sequence for group formation: ALIG – First the group structure and roles are worked out, Stability allowed to develop before structures are adjusted for effective working. Finally, they work towards attainment of common goals.

Another scene, that I feel deserves a mention here is the last scene of the movie, when for a family photograph with his daughter, Sai invites his family members to stand next to him. At last, he brings Tuyet and she bursts out crying, standing next to him. This is his first sign of acceptance in 25 years of married life, and she is overwhelmed by her emotions at that moment. The photographer’s repeated requests asking her to stop crying and smile for the photograph are superfluous in the context of the moment. One can, however, still argue that Sai’s actions were socio-emotional: she was the only family member not present in the photograph.

*

(Loved the movie. Damn that barrier.)

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Sin City

In one word – Slick.

The storyline wasn’t unexpected – the movie was going to be full of crime. I’ve never heard of Frank Miller, but with Robert Rodriguez co-directing Sin City, I’d expected plenty of one liners, magazines of bullets and truckloads of action.

I love it when a movie has stories that run parallel to each other, and everything falls into place in the end. Much like Pulp fiction. You can read plot summaries here.

The dialogues are witty, often tongue in cheek.There’s hardly a moment in the movie where you get time to catch your breath. You’re involved, every second. Which is why its a movie that I would recommend you either watch alone, or without me – I have this (often irritating) habit of making ludicrous predictions of what is about to happen. Not always, though. Anyhoo, I was involved with the movie, completely oblivious to the surroundings.

What I loved about the movie was the picturisation – I loved the fact that it was in black and white, and occasionally they raised the contrast to give it that graphic novel sort of feel. Like white rain that looks like acid. There was colour, but used to great effect.

Given the language, the violence and the occasional nudity, it’s unlikely to hit Indian theatres. Nonetheless – it’s a must watch.

I watched the movie a week ago. I think I’ll watch it again, and add to this review. Shwe – Which scene was directed by Tarantino?

Addendum

Another thing I forgot to mention – Elijah Wood’s role is forgettable. He looks out of place – like a ‘pretty boy’ in a jail cell. He just wasn’t as extreme a figure (contrast with Micky Rourke as Marv) to make an impression. Alternatively, he did stand out. His goggles were bright white, which stood out and looked cool.

Bruce Willis looked as if he’d walked out of Last Man Standing’s sets and into this one. Same sore-throated drone, same cynical attitude. Just older and a different attire.

Micky Rourke as Marv (how did they manage to make him look like this?) was the stand out character – much like Hulk on rampage, although with a little more tact.

Clive Owen was excellent as Dwight, a sort of knight in detective garb role. Street smart, risk taking and lucky as hell.

Shades of a James Hadlee Chase novel, this movie. I’d give it 10/10 for entertainment. For once, I didn’t nitpick, so you can imagine how much I liked it, eh? More later… 😀

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Batman Begins: a not-so-serious review

Disclaimer: I don’t think there are any spoilers in this review. But, with a movie based on a superhero, can you have spoilers? It wasn’t intended to be serious, but does seem that way in places. For ‘propah’, shorter reviews: The Bride and Twisted View, and An interessin post by The Rhymebawd on Batman.

In one of the flashbacks in �Batman Begins�, Katie Holmes differentiates between revenge and justice, for the young and recklessly-endangering Bruce Wayne. I don�t quite remember what she said about revenge, but justice, she says, is the restoration of balance between good and evil. While trying to restore the balance between the ludicrous and the realistic, I feel, some injustice has been done to Batman.

Batman comics, the movies, and the fun-when-you-watched-it-silly-when-you-think-about-it TV series, all have relied on abnormalities of the villains to create an interest. Batman was best portrayed by Val Kilmer as the brooding-type in Batman Forever. The villains were crazed men with outrageous appearances. Even with my limited knowledge of Batman villains, I can safely say that Batman Begins had the most believable villains; mad, yes, but not caricatures. Other than his unkempt French beard, Liam Neeson comes across as seriously insane, and is most convincing. His appeal to Bruce Wayne, whom he tutors in the art of the ninja, to choose execution over compassion, shows just how much he believes in his cause, and he remains deluded without being deranged, if you know what I mean.

On a tangent, I think Neeson�s unkempt French beard won the �who�s got the weirder beard� competition against his sidekick Ra’s Al Ghul, whose role was unfortunately minimal. Ra’s Al Ghul reminded me of Morpheus sitting on a throne, initially. Blue Pill or Red Pill, Bruce? Inexorable or compassionate? One is also left wondering about who the boss was � Ducard (Neeson) or Ra’s Al Ghul? If Neeson will be remembered in this movie, it will be because he was a convincing villain, albeit with a limited role; because he wasn�t a caricature. There was desperation in his conviction. The scarecrow too, was very real, and convincingly mercenary, and yet again � not a caricature.

The balance was restored, unfortunately, with the antics of Bruce Wayne. Firstly they made him run around seeking salvation in crime. Secondly, from Batman, they made of him a Batninja. The starting sequence in the mountains was so unfamiliar, that Harneet got up and asked the steward whether we were in the right theatre in the multiplex, or not. Not kidding. (We�d missed the opening credits because we were buying popcorn). I half expected Batman to perform Pai Mei�s Five Point Heart Exploding Technique on Katie Holmes. Deepan said it should have been the other way round, because the hottie�s supposed to use that technique. So I guess he found Pai Mei hot.

The movie borrowed heavily from several other movies: Like Clark Kent, Bruce Wayne climbed the mountain. Then there was a karate kid sequence of training Bruce Wayne that made me feel sleepy. On a positive note, they did not make him paint fences and wax cars; just a dip in ice cold water. The also had Bruce pick up a hallucinogenic flower and take it up the mountain. An egg would have been more difficult, and it would have also helped demonstrate whether or not Bruce would make a good father.

I also found the goody two shoes daddy that Bruce had, trying to cleanse the city and do good blah blah blah, BORING. The most ludicrous comment of the movie, undoubtedly, was the �I�ve left the care of our company to others, while I work at the hospital�. INTERMISSION needed for a chuckling break, no?

And then there was the Spiderman doubt � If I hadn�t wanted to leave the opera early, my parents wouldn�t have been mugged. Grow up Bruce- everyone wants to leave the opera early. If only they�d make the fat lady sing sooner.

I�m not feeling too kind right now, so I�ll give this a 6.5/10. On the whole, this was one of the best batman movies. I almost forgot � Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman were excellent, as usual. Other than the occasional utterance of an accentuated �Never� by Caine as Alfred, he was perfect. Butlers may smile, briefly, but they do not make funny faces when they say �Never�. Impalpable was also the first-name relationship between Alfred and Fox (Lucius?). AND, the new Batmobile looks fun, but it�s not cool anymore. It lacks the sleekness and the �Wow� value that the Val Kilmer�s had. It looks like more fun to drive, ramming into and crushing everything in its way, but Batman can not say �It�s the car. Chicks love the car� about the new Bat-tank. The entry to the new bat-cave rocks!

Oh and what’s really funny is the change in voice whenever Bruce Wayne puts on the Batsuit.

I tend to nitpick sometimes, so take my review as that. It�s a good movie, comparable to Batman Forever. That the movie focuses on Batman and not the villains was also good. Much better than Batman and Robin, which I couldn�t finish watching, in spite of Alicia Silverstone. I do think Batman Begins has great spoof-potential. That should be proof enough that it�s at least worth watching once. Even thought it�s inappropriately named as Batman Begins, instead of Batninja..

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