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Archive for December, 2011

By Bob Clark

Masamune Shirow is a curious mangaka to study in terms of the total body of his career. Today, he’s mostly known for the franchises of anime films and television series his comics have sired– even without considering the subject of this article, the likes of Appleseed, DominionTank Police and Ghost Hound would be a tidy, respectable impact on the otaku community, to say the least (at the very least, a reasonably profitable one). Those works mostly lived in much of the same futuristic entertainment/fantasia element that a lot of manga and anime aim at, providing wholly imagined worlds tethered just enough to our present-day circumstances to feel recognizable and contemporary, even while projecting themselves and the scope of their intrigues at a scale that would far exceed even some of the most high-concept of big-budget Hollywood sci-fi spectacles. The first two works also share in common a strict adherence to the police procedural genre, following special tactical cop forces as they seek to maintain order in worlds decimated by some series of far-flung apocalyptic disasters, dictatorial dystopian states or an out-of-control criminal element consisting mainly of twin cat-girl bombshells (or, of course, all of the above). Shirow’s use of the model is something you see a lot in sci-fi, and works in anime and manga especially, where you can detect a faint aura of militarist wish-fulfillment in all of the high-tech weaponry that the various detectives and officers have at their disposal and the ways in which they’re used in cases of high international intrigue throughout their city-wide beats– Japan may not have a standing army that can fight wars overseas anymore, but there’s always ways to bring the war home and fight it with just the same kind of hardware, especially in the information age.

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by Allan Fish

(Iran 2011 121m) DVD1/2

Aka. Jodaeiye Nazer az Simin

A trip to the doctor’s

p  Ashgar Farhadi  d/w  Ashgar Farhadi  ph  Mahmoud Kalari  ed  Hayedeh Safayari  m  Sattar Oraki  art  Keyvan Moghaddam 

Peyman Moaadi (Nader), Leila Hatami (Simin), Sareh Bayat (Razieh), Shahab Hosseini (Hodjat), Sarina Farhadi (Termeh), Merila Zara’i (Miss Ghahraii), Ali-Ashgar Sharbazi (Nader’s father), Babak Karimi (judge), Kimia Hosseini (Somayeh),

Consider the talents that Iranian cinema has thrown up over the last twenty-five years; of Abbas Kiarostami, their great colossus, of Mohsen and Samira Makhmalbaf, of Bahman Gobadhi, of Jafar Penahi.  All have illuminated a small corner of an otherwise unseen world, a country whose political relations with the west have been, at best, shaky for over 30 years.  To this list one can add Ashgar Farhadi who may just have even given us a film that tops the lot. 

            It opens on a couple, Nader and Simin, who are at a hearing because the former wants a divorce.  She wants to leave Iran with her daughter because she thinks her daughter would be better off abroad.  He won’t go with them because he has a father suffering with Alzheimer’s who he can’t leave.  When the divorce is refused, she feels she has little choice but to take a break for a couple of weeks and leaves him and their 11 year old daughter Termeh.  This means that Nader needs to get a helper in to look after his father while he goes to work.  They get in Razieh, who needs the money to pay her husband’s debts accrued since he lost his job.  One day, however, she leaves because she has to go to the doctor’s and leaves the old man tied up on the bed.  Nader returns to find him locked in his room and fallen off the floor, barely breathing.  When Razieh comes back, finding that money is also missing, Nader throws Razieh out, but in doing so, she apparently gets an ailment that causes a miscarriage. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(India 1957 141m) DVD1/2

How can I sing of joy and live in pain?

p  Guru Dutt  d  Guru Dutt  w  Abrar Alvi  ph  V.K.Murthy  ed  Y.G.Chawhan  m/ly  Sachin Dev Burman, Sahir Ludhianvi  art  Biren Nag

Guru Dutt (Vijay), Mala Sinha (Meena), Waheeda Rehman (Gulabo), Rehman (Mr Ghosh), Johnny Walker (Abdul Sattar), Kumkum (Juhi), Leela Mishra (Vijay’s mother),

In the same year as Mother India, often referred to as the Gone With the Wind of Indian cinema, Guru Dutt set about making a different sort of musical extravaganza.  For starters, extravaganza is not a word one could really associate with it; it’s subdued, dark even, for a Bollywood movie.  Dutt’s world was not escapist, and though his films are still punctuated by the songs that turn many people off the entire genre – myself included in the vast majority of cases – they are of such sombre feeling, that they seem less intrusive, less outrageous than in other films.

Pyaasa is the tale of Vijay, a young poet who, despite a college education, can find no-one to publish his poems.  His brothers ridicule and despise him and, despite his mother’s love, he’s forced to leave home.  He even finds that his work has been sold on to a scrap paper merchant, and from there picked up by a young prostitute, Gulabo, who connects deeply with them.  When he comes looking for them, however, she at first doesn’t realise he is actually the author of them and sends him packing.  But they meet again, fall in love, but an accident involving a beggar and his coat leads people to believe Vijay is dead and the publisher does everything in his power to have Vijay committed as a fraud when he turns up after the poems are published and a great success. (more…)

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by Jaime Grijalba.

It’s been almost a year since I talked about the books of the peruvian Nobel Prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa, and many new readers, and I’m sure that most of the old ones as well, completely forgot that I was in charge of reading and reviewing all of his prose work in a chronological fashion, an endeavour that stopped right on its tracks after I reviewed his first novel, the amazingly written and entertaining ‘The Time of the Hero’, that went into personal territory as it dwelved in his own memories on the military school ‘Leoncio Prado’. Why did I stop? Did my constant hate for his political viewings and speeches of hate towards the left that rules certain south american countries, as well as his constant forgiveness for right wing political and social mistakes? I mean, just read the freaking speech he made when he received the Nobel, all my claims can be taken into account as subjective opinions on an objective attitude he has vented through the press during the whole year that he was the center of the literature world during 2010-11. But no, that’s not the reason why I ended (supposedly) my series on his books, after all, I made a promise to do so, and I never break my promises.

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by Allan Fish

In response to all the hoo-ha! about the onset of that hellish time known as awards season, and following Joel’s departure leaving a gap on Sundays, I propose a new series to run on Sundays.

These will not be essays, they will rather be a poll to be conducted in the form of comments.  It’s going to be my version of the Alternate Oscars but devoted to the performance categories alone and will be compensating for those occasions when a film/performance has been in contention in a year after its original showing.  Hence for example Women in Love and Glenda Jackson will be up for 1969, not 1970.

What I will be doing each Sunday is listing the nominees in each acting category starting with 1921 as this was the year when performances really came to the fore.  On that first post I will publish my winners for 1913-1920 as a prologue.  For 1921-1929 I will do just Best Actor and Actress.  From 1930, supporting performances will come into play.  So this Sunday I will post the winners for 1913-1920 and the nominations for 1921.  Comments to be left and the most votes to decide the winners.  I will then give my choices for 1921 the following Sunday int eh first part of the 1922 post…and so on and so on until 2011… (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(India 1957 160m) DVD1/2

Aka. Bharat Mata

From a village where the stars twinkle

p  uncredited  d  Mehboob Khan  w  Mehboob Khan, S.Ali Razu, Vajahat Mirza  ph  Faredoon A.Irani  ed  Shamsudin Kadri  m  Naushad  m/ly  Shakeel Badayuni  ch  Chimani Seth  art  V.H.Palnitkar  cos  Fazal Din

Nargis (Radha), Sunil Dutt (Birju), Rajendra Kumar (Ramu), Raaj Kumar (Shamu), Kanhaiyalal (Sukhilala), Kumkum (Champa), Sheila Nail (Kamla), Mukri (Shamru), Sajid Khan (young Birju), Azra (Chandra), Jilloo Maa, Chanchal, Siddiqi, Fakir Mohammed,

There’s something of the miraculous about Mehboob Khan’s legendary Bollywood epic.  It shouldn’t be anything special; it’s as subtle as a WWF headliner bout and about as sophisticated as a Judd Apatow comedy.  One might think we had no right to expect anything else from a film labelled ‘the Indian Gone Wirth the Wind’ and yet it still resounds to new audiences over half a century after its premiere.

Let’s take a young girl, Radha, who we first see leaving her family village and her crying parents to be married to Shamu.  Shamu’s mother has paid for the marriage by raising a loan from the vile moneylender Sukhilala, and when they dispute the details of the loan, they are forced to pay Sukhilala a portion of their crop as interest against the loan in such a manner as they will never finish paying back the original 500.  Shamu and Radha decide to try and work the dormant field nearby to pay it off, but it’s filled with tree stumps and huge boulders.  Trying to move one such boulder, one of their oxen is killed, so Radha gives up her last precious belongings to buy another ox.  However, in an attempt to move another boulder, Shamu’s arms and crushed and have to be amputated.  Seeing himself as a burden he leaves and never returns, so Radha is left to cater for her children while falling prey to the advances of the lecherous Sukhilala.  (more…)

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Shubhajit Laheri, Cinemascope’s tireless film scholar

 by Sam Juliano

     Note:  This is the tenth feature in an ongoing series devoted to creative bloggers who have made their mark online.

The movie blogsite Cinemascope was launched on May of 2008 by an Indian university student named Shubhajit Lahiri.  The site’s prolific output is remarkably diverse, as Laheri’s knowledge and appreciation of world cinema is matched by his expertise in Bengali and Hindi cinema and a noted focus on the work of some of the form’s most renowned artists.  Laheri manages his home base with the agility of a veteran juggler, alternating genre and countries, while simultaneously negotiating a rich and demanding personal life that for the last year has had him living at school to complete a two-year graduate course in business management, one the tireless operator hopes to assist him in a career dedicated to professional service.  Lahiri is from a family that includes a bevy of post-graduates and holders of PhDs.

Laheri is a master of what is known in the trade as the ‘capsule’ review.  This exact science of feature writing features brief sketches of the film in question, a style that leaves not a single wasted word, and engages the reader with engaging prose and an uncommonly fine talent of pointing to the elements that both define the work and delineate it’s artistry.  A visit to Cinemascope invariably rewards the reader with a no-nonsence review, free of stifling ostentation and an acute focus on the varying historical, sociological, thematic and artistic components that are part of the cinematic landscape.  Lahiri’s prose is often poetic, and his attention to detail through striking descriptive makes his writing a joy for movie fans looking for something deeper than just a sketch summary.  Lahiri’s art is one of compression, and it’s an eternal challenge not to concede important insights because of a pre-determined length.  Modestly, Lahiri asserts that the initial intent for adopting this approach was a practical one, and one that was ultimately preferred over the alternative of penning longer critiques. Writing concise reviews has allowed Lahiri to compose a far greater number of reviews, and amazingly the Calcutta born and raised writer has penned a staggering 580 reviews, all of which are stored in the site’s vast archives. (more…)

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screen cap from film 'Coriolanus,' based on Shakespeare's play

by Sam Juliano

The countdown for Christmas Day 2011 is now nearing the single digits, and holiday shopping is at a peak at a time when the weather has at least been cooperative.  The action at Wonders in the Dark has abated considerably since the conclusion of the musical countdown, but this down period is being experienced all over the blogosphere, as readers are understandably pre-occupied with more pressing responsibilities at this time.  The site is in a kind of a holding pattern, with Ford and Kuibrick projects nearing and a massive spring ‘comedy countdown’ presently being discussed at the preliminary level.

The critics’ groups are naming their annual awards at a feverish pace, with Los Angeles, Boston, the New York Critics Online and Detroit all weighing in over the weekend.  The Artist continues to dominate, though LA rocked the boat by going with The Descendants and Terrence Malick for The Tree of Life.

     Late last night the San Francisco Film Critics Circle chimed in with the best results of all so far by going with The Tree of Life as Best Picture, Terrence Malick as Best Director and among other excellent choices, Vanessa Redgrave for Best Supporting Actress for Coriolanus. Way to go San Fran!

In any case it was business as usual at the site over the past week with Jim Clark chiming in with an ever-impressive essay on the Coens’ A Serious Man, Jamie Uhler’s “Getting Over the Beatles” series reaching an astounding 53rd installment, and both the Fish Obscuro and Bob Clark’s comic-to-screen series offering up memorable pieces. (more…)

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By Bob Clark

The term is film noir, but it could just as easily be comics noir, couldn’t it? Really, you’d have to go all out and use the French term bande dessinee, but that wouldn’t really be a good fit. After all, when one thinks of French comics, even the harder and more mature stuff, it tends to arrive either in the slick ligne claire style of the Belgian master Herge (even much of the more sordid works of guys like Jacques Tardi bear his inimitable influence) or in the high-concept fantasy school of Jean “Moebius” Giraud. American comics, however, are full of the stuff that noir dreams are made of, especially if you look back to the time of funny-page works like Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy, which began in 1931, around the same time that the earliest recognized noirs were taking shape on celluloid.  Gould’s bold, determined style has shown plenty of influence on countless artists both in comics (Art Spiegelman’s pre-Maus experiments play like absurdist detective fantasies) and in film (don’t be surprised if a certain Warren Beatty movie finds itself covered in this column sooner or later– don’t hold your breath for it, either, because I’m likelier to go digging up The Rocketeer if I can locate a copy of the Dave Stevens comics). It’s especially interesting to read Gould’s colorful, grotesquely amusing adventures in crimefighting fantasy and think of them being run in the same papers that might’ve run headlines reporting the same kind of gangland wars that Tracy himself was fighting on the front lines of. It makes a certain amount of sense that you can see the genre cementing in those two primary forms of media during the depression– in cinema and in print.

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by Allan Fish

(India 1975 210m) DVD2

Aka. Flames

The art of crushing a snake

p  G.P.Sippy  d  Ramesh Sippy  w  Salim Khan, Javed Akhtar  ph  Dwarka Divecha  ed  M.S.Shinde  m  Rahul Dev Burman  ly  Anand Bakshi  ch  P.L.Raj  art  Ram Yedekar  cos  Shalini Shah

Dharmendra (Veeru), Abitabh Bachchan (Jai), Sanjeev Kumar (Thakur), Hema Malini (Basanti), Amjad Khan (Gabbar Singh), Jaya Badhuri (Radha), A.K.Hangal (Imaam Saheb), Leela Mishra (Mausie), Satyendra Kapoor (Ramlal), Iftekahr (Narmalaji), Vikas Anand (jailer), Mac Mohan (Sambha), Keshto Mukherjee (Hariram),

When the British Film Institute conducted a poll as to the greatest Indian films of all time, the results might have been seen as surprising.  It may have been taken as a given that the films of Satyajit Ray would dominate, and yet only two of his films made the top 10 (Pather Panchali at 2 and Charulata at 6), the same number as Ritwik Ghatak.  Their films went against the grain of Indian cinema, however, not Bollywood musical or genre productions but humanist dramas influenced by western and Japanese ideals.  Several Bollywood films made the top 10 as well, including Mother India, Pyaasa and Awaara, all also included in this selection.  It was neither, however, that took the premiere spot.  That honour was set aside for the Sippys’ Sholay(more…)

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