Sunday, August 31, 2008

Hoping for an Indian summer

I'm not exactly a movie buff or an authority on the silver screen, but I have a healthy interest and like to think I have a broad, if shallow knowledge of film.
There are precious few films I won't watch and have enjoyed films from a number of countries in every genre, but one area that is daunting to get into is also one prolific sources world-wide: Bollywood.

There are lots of generalisations that you could vicariously pick up about mainstream Indian cinema- the size of the business globally, the long running times and the fondness of musical numbers, but the films themselves present a barrier to those outside the Indian community.
Being a fan of film I don't want to miss out, wherever cinematic goodness can potentially be found, so thought I'd start of safe with a film called One 2 Ka 4. It had a tempting 18 certificate stuck to the cover with Bollywood superstar Sharukh Khan looking moody and armed, and the blurb on the reverse telling a tale of cops, revenge and such.

First thing to mention is that One 2 Ka 4 was actually rated 15 by the BBFC so it's odd that the distribution company, Spark Worldwide limited, went and plastered an 18 rating sticker on the DVD case. This is what they had to say on the back:
"Javed (Jakie Shroff) and Arun (Shah Rukh Khan) are members of a special task force that combats drug trafficking. Their main target is a notorious drug lord called KKV (Nirmal Pandey). After a tense encounter, they do succeed in arresting him, but KKV, with his powerful connection manages to get acquitted in court. Javed entire life revolves around his four motherless children. Into this idyllic existence, comes a dastardly ambush; a sudden and cruel burst of gun fire that kills Javed. Arun is devastated. He decides that from now on he will look after Javed's orphaned children. But the children hate him and refuse to have anything to do with him. In sheer desperation, he turns to Geeta (Juhi Chawla) a loud and talkative rustic girl whom Javed had befriended. Geeta comes home with Arun and wins over the children. And then, one day,. as he tails KKV to a nightclub, Arun sees him dancing with a stunningly sexy woman. Its Geeta! Shocked out of his wits, he rushes home angrily confronts Geets. She bursts into tears and swears she was at home all the while. Arun is confussed but all the more determined to solve the mystery and get to the truth."

A fairly familiar story of a pair of cops, one a widower with children, who is killed during a drug lead and leaves his children in the care of the younger partner, played by Bollywood heartthrob Sharukh Khan.

There is a very strange moment (although probably normal in Bollywood films) when the film gets an intermission. The film pauses precisely at the point of when Khan realises his village-girl nanny has a secret identity, blacks out, and then resumes but in reverse, rewinding through the scene. The film then starts up again to bring us up to the point of a cliffhanger, which is a fairly useful device to give you a reminder of what’s going on, were you to be mucking about in the cinema looking for snacks and things for fifteen minutes.

The action scenes are inept with the cops running about like they're in an amateur production, pistols in both fists pointing and firing seemingly without aiming. There is slow-motion and acrobatics, but the overall feel is that of a parody rather than of pleasingly balletic gunplay. Not only is this strange after years of decent action films from both Hollywood and Hong Kong to draw influence from, but when taking into account the care and attention taken in the choreography of the songs it seems odd that some of that wasn’t applied to the action. Obviously the priorities of Bollywood lie elsewhere, but it is strange to think that the majority of Bollywood productions are essentially romantic comedy musicals.
I would of course be happy for anyone to point out a wider range of genre explorations within Bollywood (as opposed to the more arthouse side of Indian cinema), but from what little I know every film will essentially boil down to some romance and songs, possibly with comedy.

The climactic action scene is pretty good though, despite the awkward combat there is lots going on with a truck driving into a plane, a massive shoot-out with people leaping through the air, explosions and Khan pasting the guy who killed his partner before killing him with a prototype engine fan.

Kahn’s love interest, played by Juhi Chawla, is absolutely beautiful and a great comic actress, but the main villain KKV, played by Nirmal Pandey, is a revelation, so scenery-chewingly over the top that he comes out the other side of hammy, convincing you as a slimy drug dealer who is totally and utterly unhinged.

All in all it’s entertaining and funny, the songs are either good or good enough to put up with and most have inventive or bizarre settings, but it really does feel its full three hours.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Only when I fall

Having pretty much given up such vices as drugs and booze the extent of my indulgence into illicit substances chiefly involves diet Coke, in all its corporate, chemical saturated glory. I’ve talked about this before, and specifically my overwhelming affection for the limited run of vanilla flavoured diet Coke, which encompassed both my addiction to the fizzy brown liquid and my preference for the blander side of confection. Unfortunately for me, the evil multinational Coca Cola company decided to terminate the infusion of synthetic vanilla flavour and went back to the same old cherry crap, along with the lime version that seems to have been around for ages.
For a number of months my life had that bit less colour, until one day I happened to visit a shop specialising in the importation of foreign confection and found a sliver of fizzy hope. A hope named Jazz.

Jazz diet Pepsi comes in two flavours, or at least two flavours that were in the shop’s fridge and hinted at the possibility of a near match.
First there is Jazz diet Pepsi Caramel Cream “Indulge your senses”. It says that above the name, trying to give you a reason to take it out of the fridge.

It tastes like the description suggests – creamy with a hint of caramel, a heavier, chocolatey taste that wasn’t found in the vanilla version of diet Coke. However, the aftertaste is less pleasing, being on the tinny side of metallic rather than the bloody copper taste of straight Coke and Coke Zero (which is also less than pleasant). I find a bit of the metallic aftertaste in diet Pepsi, so this could just be a Pepsi thing.

Also, the can looks the same but the volume is stated as 355ml rather than the 330ml UK (and possibly European) standard, most likely due to the metric division, with us getting around a third of a litre whilst the yanks go for 12 fluid ounces.

About a third of the way through the can and the caramel comes across as more unnatural, an unpleasing plasticness I tend to associate with cheap confectionary, whilst the cream is far less prominent than that of vanilla Coke and so can’t take up the slack.

Ultimately the choice of caramel may initially seem a good idea as the whole nature of fizzy drinks is a luxury, as with sweets and chocolate, and therefore more luxuriousness is surely more tempting (hence double choc chip etc.). However, the key flavouring in the sparkling water that is the cola has caramel origins in any case; can you have double caramel?

Jazz diet Pepsi Strawberries and Cream tastes more like a lollipop than any natural strawberry flavour, which is to be expected. There is a hint of cream that gives a tantalising glimpse of vanilla cola, but this is mostly drowned out by the boiled sweet tang of the strawberry. In this case there is no unpleasant aftertaste and no metallic hint, though it should be noted that this time I drank from a glass instead of the can, so it could just be the poor quality US can type that was affecting the flavour of the caramel Pepsi. The fact that this is closer to vanilla Coke makes it worse than the caramel in a way, like a prostitute wearing a mask of your dead wife.

It’s interesting that some (but not all) of the ingredients include explanations (eg. Potassium Benzoate (preserves freshness), Calcium Disodium EDTA (to protect flavor) and that the UK food market hasn’t gone this way, considering the current fashion for healthy eating, organic food and such and such. The caffeine content is also quantified on the caramel flavour (38mg per can) that is another detail I’ve not seen in the UK.
As for the actual ingredients themselves, there are some old friends I remember from my piece after the launch of Coke Zero – Phosphoric Acid, Aspartame, Acesulfame K and Caramel colouring (E150d) all come as standard in your fizzy cola, but these two explained ingredients are new to me. Perhaps this is precisely why they feature explanations; the savvy cola connoisseur is perfectly aware of the make up of their favourite fizzy beverage, but confronted with some rogue elements they need to be soothed by the reasoning behind the introductions. We obviously won’t argue with preserving freshness, and the flavour is one of our chief reasons for consumption, surely? Therefore, Potassium Benzoate and Calcium Disodium EDTA can only be good things. As a preservative, Potassium Benzoate (E212) “inhibits the growth of mold, yeast and some bacteria” (Source:Wiki), which definitely sounds like a good thing, although there is a warning that mixing the substance with vitamin C can create the carcinogen Benzene. Whilst cancer is no laughing matter I rarely find myself mixing coke and orange, but it’s useful to know what you shouldn’t be washing vitamin pills down with. A time frame between coke and vitamin C ingestion would be useful, but I don’t fancy risking cancer in order to carry out the tests.
Calcium Disodium EDTA (or ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid) is actually used in soft drinks to help prevent the formation of benzene, so we can all rest easy when partaking of the luxury alternative to water.

Ultimately disappointing, ‘normal’ diet Coke, diet Pepsi and Pepsi Max are preferable (though maybe not Zero), let alone the holy grail of vanilla diet Coke.

Filthy Jazz Pepsi.

Also, the pictures are crap because of my camera and because my eyesight has withered after two years of a desk bound screen based job.


My latest DVD review (of Pulse) can be found in the links to the right.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Three decades in and none the wiser

Everything works this time around. These upstairs neighbours aren't particularly more noisy than the last ones, but have been at times when you might want to sleep. Other than that it's lovely, although quite often cold which will probably be more of a problem this winter. Gloves inside?
You can get to the terrace through the kitchen, which is nice, or has been for about two weekends this summer. Aaah, great British weather.

Altogether moving in wasn't as stressful as I feared, but next time I will be paying for people to do it, or hiring a big van at the very least. If ever there was a time when you needed Mary Poppins....

...then get out of the kitchen

Despite Michael Mann’s seeming fixation with the urban and its unnatural light, Heat is literally a modern day Western.
Pacino’s Vincent and Deniro’s Neil are the Sheriff and the Outlaw, their paths fated to cross in the literal Wild West, albeit after decades of development and modernisation.

The film opens with a classic Western motif, a train pulling into town as smoke billows across the tracks, only now the ‘town’ is present day L.A. and the train is a smaller, more delicate relation to the iron horses of the old West. Mann’s use of little seen locations also invoke the old West at times, a remarkable achievement in the urban sprawl of the city, with the scene where Neil’s crew trick Vincent’s team into being themselves surveyed using the wide open space surrounded by industrial works and cargo containers standing in for the mountains and valleys of the genre.

In the Old West of cowboys and indians, men were defined by their jobs, the role of the sheriff, the outlaw or the ranch hand being that man’s life, but in the modern West, as with that of what we refer to as the Western world, the separation between work and life has become much more pronounced with leisure time and relationships receiving a keener focus than in the centuries gone by.
This is reflected in Heat with the conflict in both men’s lives between work and the rest. Our introduction to Vincent is him making love with his wife, whilst Neil’s mantra is a piece of wisdom passed onto him by outlaws past – that you should have nothing in your life that you are not prepared to walk out on in thirty seconds should you feel the Heat around the corner.

Our first sight of Neil is as he leaves that train, walking into town with a one-track mind, the score. His efficiency is remarkable as he infiltrates a hospital in order to secure an ambulance for the job, quickly striding through the corridors with the air of an employee who has paced the same trail a thousand times, and a scene echoed at the end of the film in his pursuit of Waingro at the hotel. This second time is Neil’s undoing – throughout the film we see him falter at his dedication to the score, giving in to the desire to have a life outside work like the world around him. At the hotel he is motivated by revenge and is more subtle indication that he has violated his own code than the girlfriend waiting in the car outside. Not being able to sever connections to his friends is his undoing, leaving the sheriff and the side of ‘good’ to succeed, although Vincent doesn’t win.

Despite opening with the love scene and hints that he is a better father to his step-daughter than her flesh and blood, followed by the brief domestic staple of the husband rushing off to work at breakfast, the sheriff’s work rules over his life. His third wife Justine finds the opportunity more than once to deliver a speech about how, even though he is with her in body, his mind is with the dead of his cases.
Pacino’s performance in Heat is famous for his barking, eye-bulging delivery in a many scenes, his face contorting on a number of occasions in a way much more frightening than when he was called on to play the devil. But many seem to miss that this bombast is entirely fitting with this entirely driven character, a man totally focused on the chase, or more aptly the hunt. Like Neil, Vincent strides around fuelled with purpose, sometimes chewing vigorously, impatient with seemingly time-wasting informants and abrupt even with his own men (though clearly with no disrespect). The scene that encapsulates his passion comes toward the end of the film, comforting his wife after her daughter’s suicide attempt; he confirms that they as a couple are not going to work and she reluctantly releases him back to his work. He speeds down the stairs out of the hospital and you can practically see the scent of hunt in his nose.

After three failed marriages Vincent has accepted that his will not be a normal life, that his role is his life as it was in the Old West, whereas Neil has spent the majority of his life assuming that was how it should be for him, and only now is realising that he has a void, that there is something missing that he needs. But this does not fit with his role and breaking from his code means doom. As with the act of revenge, his reactions at having to abandon his new love Eady don’t fit with the code, and there are several cuts between Neil watching Vincent approach, but not easily processing the idea that he has to leave Eady behind.
It is now too late for him, and he is not undone by the light of the airport runway – as he pulls from cover a smile plays across his face – Vincent is in his sights and so is his freedom. But this emotion of pride or joy betrays his attitude earlier in the film, when during their single conversation Neil tells Vincent that he will not hesitate to put him down if that’s the way it plays. In the event, it is Vincent who does not hesitate – whirling and firing instantly on seeing Neil’s shadow, and despite the first shot disarming the outlaw the sheriff drills him in the chest.

But in the same way Vincent feels release in acceptance that the normal life is not his life, knowing that he lives for the hunt isn’t necessarily a good thing. The sheriff may have got his man, but he knows that nobody wins.