MovieMavenGal Introduction – Why I Love Indian Cinema

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2016 – My Movie Year

 

Letterboxd.com is where I keep a diary of all the films I watch, including films I rewatch.  They have a very cool year in review feature.  I was inspired by this Matt Bowes post about all the media he consumed in 2016, to make this post.  I’ll just talk about the movies here, but I love how he listed all the comics, podcasts, etc., too!

So, according to Letterboxd, I saw 222 films in 2016, which includes short films and rewatches.  That averages out to over 18 a month, and over 4 a week.  Weeks like our visit to the Sundance Film Festival, where we saw 30 films (including shorts) certainly help to bump up that average, but I am an avid movie viewer no matter how you slice it.  I just started this blog in April, but I had been posting short reviews on most films to Letterboxd before that.

2016 started with The Hateful Eight (which I didn’t love) and ended with Zootopia, which I did love.  There were mostly older films, but I did watch 82 films that were released in 2016.  It won’t surprise any of my readers that fully half were films from India, 111 of them.

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Interestingly, the actor with the most films I saw was not Shahrukh Khan (who was second with 12), but Nasser with 14!  That man is in EVERYTHING!

This year I discovered Telegu cinema megastar Mahesh Babu (9 movies) and Malayalam cinema star  Prithviraj.  I’ve got a stack of more Prithviraj movies to watch — the man has made so many!  I’m amused that Prithviraj’s early film Stop Violence – which I watched without subs! – Letterboxd lists as my “most obscure movie”.

The highest rated (by people on Letterboxd) film I saw in 2016 is Moonlight, which is heading to the Oscars.  The lowest rated is Yoga Hosers.  Yeah.  Have to pretty much agree with that — but Assassin’s Creed is giving it a run for it’s money on that score. Yoga Hosers is just crazy silly (Brat Nazis!) but it was worth it to go to the midnight premiere just to see Kevin Smith.

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2016 will always be in my memory, because this was the year that a movie I helped get made premiered at Sundance.

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 How To Tell You’re A Douchebag is the movie I saw the most times this year, as I attended screenings of the film, and showed it to friends and family.  I’m so proud of writer/director Tahir Jetter’s achievement.  It was bought by BET and aired this summer.  You can watch it on iTunes, Amazon video or Google play now!

Top films from 2016 I saw in Hollywood and Indian cinema coming soon.

Pakistani soaps Humsafar and Zindagi Gulzar Hai now on Netflix!

I finished up watching The Crown (so good!) and all of a sudden there were new recommended for me shows on Netflix.  Usually, Netflix turns over new content at the beginning of the month, but this time, it was mid-month.  My jaw dropped.

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The Pakistani soaps Humsafar (Soulmates) and Zindagi Gulzar Hai (Life is a Rose Garden) are now streaming in glorious HD with subs on Netflix!  Netflix gave me an early holiday gift!  To say I was excited would be an understatement.

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I was literally jumping up and down in my family room.

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Why was I so excited?  I fell, and fell hard for Pakistani actor Fawad Khan when he debuted in the Bollywood/Disney film Khoobsurat with Sonam Kapoor in 2014.

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At that time, I wanted to see more of his work, and there was nothing else on film, but he had done two soaps in Pakistan that were sensations in both that country and India.  ErosNow.com put all the episodes of Humsafar to stream on their site with subs and I was totally hooked.

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These soaps are not like American soaps that are open ended.  These productions are just one season or about 25 episodes long.  They have a complete story arc.

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Humsafar also stars Pakistani actress Mahira Khan who will debut in the Bollywood film Raees opposite Shahrukh Khan next month.  (Bonus!  There’s another Mahira Khan soap on Netflix, Saqday Tumharay).

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In Humsafar, Mahira is the poor cousin of Fawad.  Her mother is dying of cancer and asks Fawad’s father to arrange their marriage so she knows her daughter will be taken care of.  It’s rich boy/poor girl with a love triangle and a scheming mother-in-law.  To me, it was absolutely fascinating to get a glimpse of life in Pakistan and Fawad is amazing.

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Zindagi Gulzar Hai is even better but was much more of a challenge to find with subtitles, and there were a few episodes I never could find with subs, but I watched anyway because I was hooked right from the first episode.  I am thrilled to be able to watch this with subs, and in high def since I was scrounging on Youtube and Pakistani sites to find the episodes in questionable quality.  Again, we have the poor girl (Sanam Saeed as Khasaf) and the rich boy (Fawad Khan as Zaroon) dynamic but both characters are flawed and complex.  It’s also hate-to-love which is just about my favorite romance trope.

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Zaroon and Khasaf meet in college, and Zaroon is frosted that this arrogant girl bests him in the class rankings.  Khasaf thinks Zaroon is a shallow playboy, and Zaroon thinks Khasaf is a too traditional stick in the mud.  It’s just delicious to see their feelings change over time.  Your heart aches for Khasaf who has so many struggles in her life, but she’s also so prickly a character.  I loved what a spitfire she is.  Pakistani actor Javed Sheikh, who was SRK’s father in Om Shanti Om, plays Fawad Khan’s father.

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The proposal scene (which I can’t find with subs) is just the ultimate.  Khasaf can’t believe the guy who hated her through college now wants to marry her, but is convinced he’s changed when he catches hot chai in his hands when it’s about to spill on her.

 

But it doesn’t just end there — there’s more to the story as they adjust to each other in their marriage and have to accommodate for Khasaf’s career in the civil service.  The reason Khasaf scoffs at marriage and men is because of her complex relationship with her father who married a second wife to get a son, and abandoned his first wife and daughters.  I just loved getting to see these actors portray complex characters who grow and change over time.  Highly, highly recommend both soaps.  I’m going to enjoy watching those episodes I couldn’t find previously with subs, and trying Mahira’s other soap.  I love how Netflix is getting content from all over the world!

Check out this post on BrownGirl to get a sense of what a sensation both Humsafar and Zindagi Gulzar Hai were in Pakistan and India when they first aired.

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Another new addition to the Netflix line up is the excellent Israeli film Sand Storm.  It was the winner at Sundance for World Cinema last January.  It’s set in the Bedouin community in Israel. Sand Storm is a family drama where the father in the family marries a second wife, and his headstrong daughter has a secret affair with a boy from another tribe she’s met at college.  Such a great film!  The Q and A was fascinating with the Israeli director Elite Dexer.  She said that most audiences see the film as an intense drama, but when she showed it to the Bedouin community where she was allowed to film it, they laughed and viewed it as a comedy, especially the put upon husband dealing with two strong willed wives.

 

Check out AccessBollywood for an up to date list of Indian content on Netflix and Amazon Prime.

How To Tell You’re A Douchebag on BET tonight!

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Our movie comes out on BET Saturday night at 8 p.m. Eastern/ 7 p.m. Central.  Set your DVR’s!

If you don’t live in the US, the movie is available for rental and purchase on iTunes.

Charles Brice, the lead actor, did a fun interview yesterday on BET Facebook Live.

My husband and I were the first investors in director Tahir Jetter’s debut feature film.  It premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January, and it’s just a fun modern romantic comedy set in Brooklyn.

So proud and excited for tonight!

How To Tell You’re A Douchebag – Tahir Jetter’s Debut Feature out on iTunes today!

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“How To Tell You’re A Douchebag” Premiere during the 2016 Sundance Film Festival on January 25, 2016 in Park City, Utah.

Tahir Jetter’s first feature film How To Tell You’re A Douchebag is out on iTunes for rental and purchase today!  The film premiered last January at the Sundance Film Festival.

Full disclosure.  I met Tahir Jetter when he first came to Sundance in 2011 with his short film Close.  We were sitting next to each other at the midnight showing of Martha Marcy May  Marlene (man that movie is weird!).  We struck up a conversation that four years later led to us investing in Tahir’s debut feature film How To Tell You’re A Douchebag.  I’m biased, but for a very limited budget, I thought it was great.  Here’s a balanced review from The Guardian.

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Ray Livingston (Charles Brice) is a blogger (Occasionally Dating Black Women) and plays the field — dating multiple women at once. He confronts a woman on the street, and she gives him the dressing down of his life, calling him out as a douchebag.

His friend Jake (William Jackson Harper) tells him the woman he just accosted is none other than Rochelle Marseilles (DeWanda Wise), a   famous writer for Mahogany. Ray tries to apologize, but puts his foot in his mouth yet again as he blogs while drunk. But the sparks have been flying between the two. Rochelle agrees to go out with him, and they have a wonderful weekend together.

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Then Rochelle has brunch with her girlfriends and meets Yasmin (Jenna Williams), who had been dating Ray. Ray doesn’t understand when Rochelle doesn’t want to see him again — why didn’t she feel the magic he did?

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Charles Brice is fantastic as Ray — he’s a jerk, but a very charming one! Dewanda Wise is an arrogant and flawed Rochelle — she may seem to have her act together, but the relationship misfire is not all on Ray. The highlight of the film is the supporting players, Jenna Williams as Yasmin, Alexander Mulzac as Rochelle’s boyfriend Paul, and especially William Jackson Harper as Ray’s friend Jake.

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The film has its limitations because it was filmed on a shoestring budget.  Ray’s apartment is Tahir’s actual apartment, and they had a a tight shooting schedule.  But it’s still a very enjoyable romantic comedy, the kind of film that is simply rarely being made today.  More importantly it’s an African-American romantic comedy set in Brooklyn, something even rarer.

Tahir Jetter, the writer/director, did a fun interview at Sundance that talks about how he came up with the idea for the film and its somewhat autobiographical nature:

 

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I’m really excited to see William Jackson Harper who plays Ray’s best friend Jake in the upcoming NBC comedy The Good Place with Kristen Bell and Ted Danson.  He had some of the best comedic lines in How To Tell You’re A Douchebag, and he’s so funny in it!

DeWanda Wise who plays Rochelle can be seen in the upcoming Fox drama series Shots Fired:

Thunder Road – Watch the top short film of Sundance 2016

You can now watch the entire fantastic one-take short film Thunder Road by Jim Cummings.  Jim stars as a policemane giving a eulogy at a funeral.  It’s heart rending and hilarious all at the same time.  It’s amazing.  Totally deserving of the grand prize at Sundance for shorts.

I was fortunate to meet and talk with  Jim Cummings and his cinematographer at the fest.  This little gem shows how creative you can be with very little.  Do yourself a favor and watch the whole 13 minute short.

Jim Cummings wrote an open letter to Bruce Springsteen asking for digital rights to the song Thunder Road, so that could show his short for free on Vimeo.  It worked!  And now you can see this short online yourself, without having to go to a film festival.

 

Slow West – My favorite narrative film from the 2015 Sundance Film Festival

2015-05-11-1431344951-6115353-slowest3Slow West was my favorite narrative film of the 2015 Sundance Film Festival.  This past weekend there were two things that made me think back to this excellent film.  I was visiting with someone at a party who asked me about my favorite films at Sundance, and I read an old article in EW about Rogue One.

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I had no idea before I saw this picture that Ben Mendelsohn who was the villain in Slow West is the Empire evil general of Rogue One.

Ben Mendelsohn had two films at the 2015 Sundance.  Slow West and the not quite as good gambling drama Mississippi Grind with Ryan Reynolds.  I’ll never forget that he wore the huge bearskin coat from Slow West to the premiere.

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Slow West is a Western, the debut feature film of English director John Maclean.  It was filmed in New Zealand to stand in for the American West of the late 19th century.  The scenery is drop dead gorgeous.  (Seriously, if you ever have the opportunity, GO to New Zealand.  The mountain range near Queenstown is called The Incredibles for a reason.)

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Of course, the taciturn Michael Fassbender is perfect to play Silas, a loner bounty hunter in the old West, He has the presence to express much while saying nothing, like the perfect Western hero.

Kodi Smit-McPhee (who I saw in the futuristic set Western Young Ones at the 2014 Sundance fest) plays Jay, a young nobleman on the search for his lost love. He is fresh off the boat from Scotland, and Silas rescues him , and then offers his services as protector for a steep fee.

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The movie moves at a measured pace as they travel together, punctuated with startling action scenes — all the more startling coming suddenly out of the slow quiet we have been lulled into.  I really liked the relationship that develops between the green romantic Jay and the reserved jaded Silas.

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Along their journey, they run into the gang of another bounty hunter, played by Ben Mendelsohn in an outrageous big bearskin coat,. (The actor wore the very coat to the premiere). We find out that there is a huge bounty on the girl that Jay is infatuated with, and her father, and there are many bounty hunters looking for the pair. Silas is among them, although he hides that fact from young Jay.

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What I loved about Slow West is how it took the audience expectations of what happens in the Western genre, and turned them on their head. The final climax shoot out scene, which we all see coming, goes nothing like what I expected, and I loved the movie for it. I won’t spoil it by listing in detail what surprised me, but I especially loved that Rose (the object of Jay’s infatuation) was quite simply kick ass and no damsel in distress.  Rose is played by Caren Pistorius, who will appear again with Fassbender later this year in The Light Between Oceans.

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While you could complain that Slow West was too slow in parts, I felt like it just added to the impact of the action scenes and the New Zealand scenery was gorgeously shot. It’s hard to believe that this is the debut feature of director/writer John Maclean. It well deserved the World Cinema Dramatic Jury prize it won at Sundance.  I’m a huge Michael Fassbender fan, and this is one of my all time favorite Fassbender films, and he’s been in so many good ones.

Slow West is available now for rental on Amazon Video (it’s free with Amazon Prime) and on Google Play.

Five stars out of five.

Captain Fantastic – My favorite Movie at Sundance

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Captain Fantastic may have been my favorite film of Sundance 2016. Viggo Mortenson is a home schooling father with six children in the wilderness forest somewhere in the Pacific Northwest, completely off the grid. The film opens with him teaching his oldest son to hunt a deer by making him kill it with only a knife and wrestling it to the ground.

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(l to r) George MacKay stars as Bo, Charlie Shotwell as Nai, Nicholas Hamilton as Rellian and Samantha Isler as Kielyr in CAPTAIN FANTASTIC

The young actor, Brit George MacKay,  who plays the oldest son, Bo,  was amazing. The family must leave their forest home to attend a funeral, and the children come to realize how isolated they are from the real material world, and how they may have book knowledge, but they don’t know how to interact with other people outside the family. In one of my favorite scenes a young girl flirts with him at a campsite on route.  They kiss, and then he falls to his knees to propose and ask her mother for her permission to marry her daughter.  They both laugh and think he’s just kidding, but he’s acting just as he’s read about in all the classic novels he’s read.   He afterwards confronts his father, “I don’t know anything!”  The oldest son wants to go away to college, but fears his father’s reaction.

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Viggo is the only person I can imagine in this role. He is exceptional, and this may be the finest role of his career.  (And that’s really saying something, after Aragorn, Eastern Promises and A History of Violence) He has the intelligence and the screen presence that makes you believe this is a charismatic father who could raise his children to be philosopher kings.  And that he could take it all too far.  He doesn’t let the kids believe in Christmas, but they celebrate Noam Chomsky Day!

Writer/Director Matt Ross premiered Captain Fantastic at Sundance in January.  He’s known more for his work as an actor in series like HBO’s Big Love and Silicon Valley.   Matt Ross talked at the Q&A about how he grew up in communes himself in California.   He shows us the simple pleasures of this life, singing around the campfire together in the evening — but also how isolating it is.

All the kids are terrific, and have great chemistry together and with Viggo.  You could see the rapport they still have with him at the Q&A.  I was stunned at the performances Matt Ross and Viggo got out of these very young child actors.

Frank Langhella (always excellent) plays Viggo’s father-in-law, and they have a confrontation over the way he is raising the children.  After one of the kids has an accident, Langhella wants to take the children away and sue for custody.  You need someone as powerful and imposing on screen as Langhella to be a worthy antagonist for Viggo Mortenson.

This film is quirky and heartfelt like Little Miss Sunshine.  I got teary eyed, and it has a very satisfying hopeful ending.

Captain Fantastic released today in a limited number of theaters.  It’s playing in downtown Chicago, and I hope it will move out to suburban theaters in the coming weeks.  I’m hoping Viggo gets an Oscar nomination for this role.

Five stars out of five.  Cannot recommend highly enough.

Brahman Naman – Hilarious Indian teen sex comedy now on Netflix – The Indian American Pie

Brahman Naman is an absolutely hilariouos teen sex comedy set in the 80’s. It’s the Indian Superbad or American Pie with major homage to John Hughes movies, too.

screen-shot-2016-04-28-at-22-45-23Naman is the leader of his Bangalore college quiz team, and the leader of nerds in the same way Anthony Michael Hall was the leader of his group of nerds in Sixteen Candles. They delight in throwing trivia at each other and quoting Noel Coward.

The film opens with Naman waking up in the middle of the night to masturbate in the refrigerator door, wrapping his arms around the appliance to held the door tight. Really.

The film is mostly all in English with the occasional “yaar” or other term. Naman and his friends are Brahman, and there’s a sweet scene of him doing rituals with his father. Ash, is a nerdy girl who yearns to be on the quiz team with Naman and his friends, and has a major crush on Naman that is not reciprocated. He uses every excuse in the book to avoid her, even though his friends point out that she is Brahman, too.

The boys are sex obsessed, but don’t have today’s internet porn. All they have are racy magazines and sneaking into porno movie theaters. Naman has an elaborate gadget attached to his ceiling fan for a masturbation aide, but the ultimate was his putting his erect penis into a fish tank and the ejaculation was shown in close up. (!!!) Netflix bought the movie, and I wonder if that scene will need to be edited out even for streaming.

For all their bravado, the boys run away from being set up with a prostitute for their first real experience.

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My favorite part of the film, however, is when their quiz team takes a trip to Calcutta for a quiz competition. On the train they meet a female team from Chennai, and Naman falls for the leader, Naina. As his friend points out, she is Naman in female form, cutting him down to size with her wit.

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I was probably the only one in the Sundance theater to recognize  Biswa Kalyan Rath from the Pretentious Movie Reviews team. He’s a standup comedian in India, too, and has the small role in the movie as a guy at their college always trying to impress Naman and his pals with his sexual exploits on trains, planes, etc.

It’s an enjoyable comedy. and although my son was confused by the references to Brahmans and caste, I thought the film does a good job pointing out the issues with jokes understandable for non-Desi’s.

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At the Sundance showing after the film, I asked the director, Q, about censorship of films in India and he went on a rant about the restrictive censor board.  This is certainly not like any Indian film I’ve ever seen.  Q said in a recent interview “that the film is far from misogynistic. “We’re showing the boys for who they are — sexually starved and confused. And at the same time, we give women power. What you expect is definitely not what you’ll end up with,” he promised.”

Highly recommend this quirky film.  Four stars out of five.  Available July 6 streaming on Netflix!

Swiss Army Man – The craziest weirdest movie I saw at Sundance 2016

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Swiss Army Man was the craziest film we saw at Sundance 2016. (And we saw 22 films, so that’s really, really saying something.)  I saw the trailer before my viewing of The Lobster this weekend, and that reminded me that Swiss Army Man is coming to theaters June 24th.

The film begins with Paul Dano trying to hang himself on a deserted island.  A dead body (Daniel Radcliffe) washes ashore and begins to fart.  Copiously.

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Dano rides Radcliffes’ flatulent body like a jet ski off the island.  This is the first 10 minutes of the film, and it sets the tone of magical realism.  I don’t think I’ve ever been at a Sundance showing at Eccles Theater (the largest venue) with so many walk outs.  I was seated 7 rows from the front, and two groups of 4 people in seats in front of ours walked out only half an hour into the film.  From an article in Variety, they weren’t the only ones.  And this was after there were huge lines of people trying to get in to the showing.

This film was very divisive at the fest.  My husband hated it and found it juvenile.  My 23 year old son loved it, and gave it four stars (out of four).  I think it was his favorite of the whole festival.  I was in the middle.  I laughed quite a bit, but it wasn’t my favorite, by any means.

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The title, Swiss Army Man refers to all the ways that Daniel Radcliffe’s dead body saves Paul Dano’s on their journey back to civilization. Strike a spark, and the farting corpse lights a fire. Dripping rain fills the body with drinkable water (gross!). The body begins to talk, and they have conversations on the meaning of life, and what it means to be alive. It’s philosophical, and crazy weird. The body sees a picture of a girl on Dano’s phone, and his erect penis becomes a compass. Really.

The acting is great, and I have to give kudos to Daniel Radcliffe for his physical work.  He had to hold what looked like extremely uncomfortable poses as a dead corpse with a broken neck.

“The Daniels”, the directing duo of Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan, won a special jury prize for directing this film at Sundance. I wasn’t familiar with them before the fest.  Evidently, they “broke the internet” with their music video Turn Down For What.  Daniel Kwan, one of the directing Daniels duo stars in the music video:

 

You, dear reader, have the advantage over all those festival goers at the premiere.  You can watch the trailer below and decide if this is your kind of movie.  It’s certainly one I will never forget.

Two and a half stars out of five.