Cheeni Kum

Cheeni Kum, which is Hindi and translates to Less Sugar, is the story of a 64 year chef and owner of the best Indian restaurant in London, and a 34 year software engineer from Delhi, India, off for a holiday in London. That sets the film up as a romance. But that is only a part of the story. What makes this film so enjoyable is that the two leads sort of work through their courtship via sarcasm. That may make the story line a wee bit cloudy, so I’ll help you through it with some more detail.

Amitabh Bachchan (68 in real life but playing 64 in this film) is an older man, Buddhadev Gupta, who is unmarried, and has never been married. He is full of himself, as in egotistical. He runs his restaurant which is actually his whole life (he’s not missed a day in 22 years) with a certain amount of sternness as well as heavy handedness. He tolerates no mistakes, and requires all the staff to devote every ounce of their beings towards making each and every dish that the restaurant serves – perfect. He is sort of a culinary Captain Bligh.

One night a waiter returns to the kitchen carrying  plate of the Zafrani Pulao (sort of a mutton biryani). He says that the customer sent it back claiming that it tasted of sugar, and sugar is not used in a meat and rice dish of this type. That was the equivalent of waving the red flag at the bull as Gupta could not believe or even accept that one of his chefs made such a mistake. As you might expect, he belittles and challenges the customer before basically calling her a tourist and worse. She calmly gets up and leaves.

This is none other than the beautiful Tabu, here playing the role of Nina Verma.

A few nights later, the same waiter comes into the kitchen carrying another plate of the Zafrani Pulao. Gupta is all over him, and before this waiter can say a thing, Gupta has gotten out a spoon and tasted the food. He then claims it is perfect. Only at that moment does the waiter tell him that this dish was not being sent back by a customer. Instead it was being sent in by the customer who prepared and cooked the dish herself.

Yes it was Nina Verma. And so the relationship begins. Gupta is a confirmed lifetime bachelor, and is not so sure of himself when it comes to women. The two of them toss each other lines and each of the responses is more sarcastic then what came before. Pitch perfect lines delivered with flawless timing. It doesn’t get any better than that.

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A Good Year

Max: This place doesn’t suit my life …

Fanny: No Max, it’s your life that doesn’t suit this place ..

This little bit of the dialogue from the 2006 Ridley Scott film, A Good Year, might say more about the directorial effort than the film itself. Many critics have said that this film wants to be a rom/com but is neither funny nor particularly romantic. They further state that Scott is out of his element in doing this type of film.

The former I don’t agree with, and the latter I do agree with, but, when you take a look at the movie as a whole, for sure it is a beautiful film to look at, and it certainly pleased this viewer.

Yes it is true that when we look at Ridley Scott’s portfolio,; his Cinematic CV, we do find Alien, Blade Runner, Black Rain, Gladiator, Black Hawk Down, American Gangster, and Robin Hood. All of these films were heavy on action and laughs were non-existent. That is Scott’s pedigree. But even if we say that this film was off the mark with its slapstick humor, and even if we agree that the romantic elements seemed to be more on the side of attraction and passion and less so about romance, that still leaves you with more plusses than minuses.

Probably, the reason I decided to watch and review A Good Year now was because I had just seen The Next Few Days, well … a few days ago, and Russell Crowe was fresh in my mind. Though Gladiator was a 2000 release, and A Good Year was a 2006 release, Crowe was still doing a Max. While General Maximus rallied his Roman legions in Germania, Max Skinner rallied his ‘troops’ on the trading floor of a large financial firm in London. Max calls them ‘lab rats’.

Good morning lab rats ...

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Thanksgiving 2010

Thanksgiving 2010

In America today, we celebrate the holiday of Thanksgiving. As has been my custom for a few years, on this day I offer my thanks to the explorers, pioneers, settlers, and frontiersmen and women, who long ago sailed across the seas and then trekked overland to build their futures in the land we call America.

While many of us will spend today watching football, and then carving a roast turkey and sharing a meal with our families, like the family to the left in the classic Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving painting from 1943 …

… we can be thankful for this day off from our work. But we are fortunate that there are many others who will do their jobs today to make our holiday enjoyable while we give thanks.

On this day I set aside my film reviews and my looks at Japanese bikini beauties which are my usual topics. But my way to say thanks is to share some beautiful art with you. On this day, I offer a look at some of our best artists who portray both the Old West as well as the modern day West of America. Though many of us live and work in cities, there is the charm and the allure of living in the west where there are more opportunities to see trees and mountains, wild life, and much of the bounty that nature provides us with. Let’s get started.

Steve Hanks - Road Less Traveled

Our first artist for today is Steve Hanks. He has been called the best American watercolorist. His topics are often women and children, but he has also been drawn to the sea shore. Rather than simply conveying a specific message in each painting, Hanks gives us a chance to explore our own memories and emotions. Hanks describes his works:

“My paintings speak to the vulnerability that we all feel from time to time. They evoke nostalgia, transporting us back in time. All art is an escape to somewhere you want to be or a feeling you want to have. People see different things in my paintings because we all have different backgrounds and feelings.”

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Morning Glory

Morning Glory was a hoot. It was a howl. Besides those, it was also hilarious. One of the funniest films I’ve seen in ages. Okay, maybe not that far back. Funniest film I’ve seen since … it’s Complicated which was a holiday release last December.

Morning Glory is the story of a Jersey girl who comes to the big city. Okay, it wasn’t all that far of a trip. If we were to board the ferry at the pier in North Hoboken, NJ, like Becky did, we’d land in Manhattan in about seven or eight minutes later.

Rachel McAdams stars as Becky Fuller. She’s just been laid off from her job as a TV producer on a New Jersey local morning show. Prospects are slim. Her mother (played by Patti D’Arbanville) talks to Becky about her ambitions and the reality.

“When you were 8, it was cute, when you were 18, it was inspiring. But at 28, it is embarrassing.”

You see, Becky is one of those Type-A’s who have just one speed – 120%, full throttle wide open, pedal to the metal, all the time. As she later will breathlessly tell prospective employer Jeff Barnes (played with much cool by Jeff Goldblum) “I’m always the first one in and the last one out.”

Her middle name is intensity. But there’s a price to pay for investing everything you have in your job. She’s single, alone, and there’s no Mr. Right or Prince Charming waiting to sweep her off her feet. She’s a dynamo in the office, but otherwise she’s social sludge.

Barnes (Jeff Goldblum) interviews Becky

Meanwhile, the aforementioned Barnes has to hire a new Executive Producer for the IBS Network’s TV morning show called Daybreak. Of course motor-mouth Becky blows the interview. Or so she thinks. Before she’s even out of the building’s shadow – Barnes calls and offers her the job.

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The Next Three Days

It used to be that Russell Crowe had a great marquee name. What with Gladiator, Robin Hood, State of Play, A Beautiful Mind, and American Gangster where he was second billed to Denzel Washington, when you saw ‘Crowe’ on the marquee you sort of auto-programmed yourself to put that movie on your list of must sees.

But, according to a recent Time Magazine article, Crowe’s box-office numbers haven’t met expectations lately. In fact, his The Next Three Days, which just opened three days ago on the 19th, took in only about $6.75 million over its first weekend. Granted it opened against the latest installment of Harry Potter, but that number was quite weak.

I saw the film today, on the 22nd, and while I won’t call it a dud, it did seem lacking.

The story is that Crowe’s wife in the film,  Lara, played by Elizabeth Banks, is arrested for murder, convicted and locked up. This happens so quickly, that they don’t even bother with showing any part of the trial. But Crowe’s character, John Brennan, a community college Lit professor, steadfastly believes that his wife is innocent.

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A saddened and forlorn father visits a powerful man. He is asking for justice. His daughter had been raped. Instead of receiving justice in the courts, his daughter had been painted as a woman of loose morals. Case dismissed. This daughter could not bear the shame, and so, she took her own life. The Godfather, right?

No, this is a scene basically lifted in theme and even in style, if not exactly in content, from the Francis Ford Coppola classic.  But this 2005 film is called Sarkar.

As the film Sarkar opens, we see a text panel referencing The Godfather from the Director, Ram Gopal Varma:

“Yes, Sarkar has been inspired by the classic film. I have been deeply influenced by Francis Ford Coppola’s unforgettable movie, both in technical style and content.”

Well that was the written homage. As Sarkar plays we see similarity between some Godfather scenes and some Godfather characters. This is not a remake of Coppola’s Godfather, or even a partial reenactment. It is as if Varma decided to pick and choose certain aspects of The Godfather and then incorporate them into his own film. It was as if he not only encouraged comparisons, but also that he liked the comparison.

Sarkar is a word that can mean government as in ‘in charge’ or it can mean big boss as in in charge like a Godfather, or a powerful Mafia Don. Here, Subhash Nagre aka Sarkar is played by the great Indian actor Amitabh Bachchan.

That opening scene in Sarkar was a match with the mortician Amerigo Bonasera who visits Don Corleone also seeking justice for his daughter., which happened only a few minutes into Godfather.

But there’s more. The Michael Corleone role (Al Pacino) in this film is called Shankar Nagre. He is the prodigal son just returned from America. This role is played by Abhishek Bachchan (below)and in my view he steals the film.

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The Girl Who Played With Fire

Last month while traveling to assorted places in Italy, I had lots of time while riding the trains to read the Stieg Larsson novel, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. After I got home, I watched the DVD via Netflix. This was a case of reading the novel before seeing the film. I felt that I still enjoyed the film even with the element of mystery and suspense removed. The film was very good and my review of it is here.

For the 2nd in the Millenium trilogy, The Girl Who Played With Fire, I reversed the process. This time I watched the film before reading the book. While I am about three quarters of the way through the book, I figured it was time to do the review of the film version of TGWPWF.

As a free standing film, TGWPWF has a lot going for it. The foreign locale for one. The most interesting heroine of the year. A crackling good mystery/police procedural film about the rotten underside of the Swedish society. But…

If you’ve seen the first film, then this one doesn’t come to you as fresh and different. This isn’t a real negative because you can enjoy the film with or without having seen the first one.

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In a democracy, the voters hope for but don’t necessarily believe that all politicians are on the up and up. Many are above board and legitimate and are true public servants. But this is not always the case. When financiers, industrialists, and their lobbyists hook up with political big-wigs with massive egos and unbridled ambition, and get into the same bed with the media moguls, you can be assured that green money will soon become under-the-table black money. What’s more, in short order, the country’s political conditions will destabilize and become chaotic.

That’s a pretty strong statement isn’t it? Before you get yourself all worked up, keep in mind that there are watch dogs in place like alternate arms of the government and the media. Historically we seem to trust the talking heads on TV don’t we? Newscasters like Walter Cronkite, Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw, Douglas Edwards, David Brinkley, and Peter Jennings have garnered strong followings in their days on our televisions.

As does the fictional news broadcaster, Vijay H. Malik. Malik is portrayed by the legendary and veteran Indian film actor, Amitabh Bachchan in the 2010 film Rann which was directed by Ram Gopal Varma. In a nutshell, Malik is not only the Cronkite of today in the world of Indian news broadcasting, he also pioneered the concept of all news all the time. Accordingly he is not only the main talking head, but he also owns the channel.

The competition is fierce for rating points which are a component of how advertising revenue is generated. Malik as a newsman is beloved. He is the trusted father figure to the nation’s newswatchers, and an idol for journalism students across the country. But while his news and editorial content have not been slipping, his channnel’s ratings have. It seems that a competing news network has moved into the lead with a higher share of the viewing public. Every time Malik and his team come up with a new feature or concept, they are scooped by the opposition. With revenues falling, and the corporation stock shares nearly ready to go into free-fall, the fiscal situation is not looking good.

Meanwhile, out in the country, another terrorist bomb has exploded killing hundreds. The Prime Minister not only takes to the airwaves, but also goes to the streets to speak to his countrymen. He calls for reforms in the country’s laws. He wants to beef up security, have the Indian courts give him a wider latitude to pursue terrorism, and have the Indian Parliament allocate more funds for security and police.

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The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2009) is the movie adapted from the international best selling novel by Stieg Larsson, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo or as it was called in its original Swedish: Man Som Hatar KvinnorMen Who Hate Women. I picked up the book – you almost need two hands to do so as it is 644 pages – and tore through it in less than a week. Literally, it was one of those books that you can’t put it down.

That was about 10 days ago. Upon arriving back home on the 27th, I immediately reset my Netflix queue and had the DVD in my hands on the 29th.

“Once you have read a book, seeing the movie afterwards is bound to be a disappointing experience”. This is what many have said. In this case I don’t agree. Yes there was a lot from the book that didn’t make it into the movie. But this is to be expected and should not be the determining factor of the movie’s entertainment values. A movie and a book tell the same story, but are not the same medium so there won’t be a literal transporting of everything.

Michael Nyqvist as Mikael Blmokvist

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