Monday, December 29, 2014

The Whys of the Worst of 2014




Even the worst films of [my] year taught me a thing or two. 


"But it's so inventive in its depiction of the human condition!" Oy vey.


Finding Fanny (2014) man. Dang Finding Fanny. I don't think it has as much in common with Wes Anderson's other films as everybody says, but it certainly shares the same problems as The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014). Both are more substance than soul. And death. Enough with the death. I also think there's something bothering me under the surface here. Something about using arguably mentally regressed characters as a mouthpiece for whatever grand philosophy the writer wants to express. TGBH has a host of odd folks dispelling unwanted nuggets of truth at every turn. And, Naseeruddin Shaw's childlike "wisdom" in Finding Fanny doesn't make me cry or laugh, it makes me wince. More pity than pathos. Plus, all the death in TGBH doesn't make me ponder the meaning of life. It's manipulative. I can see all the production's strings reaching for me, and I feel claustrophobic. Don't tell me that life is short and meaningless and yet beautiful. Show me that life is meaningful and then I'll see the beauty without you straining a single cinematic muscle. 


Beefy men solving all their problems through beefiness


This is probably self explanatory, but ... all due respect to your Sunil Dutt and Dharmendra MANLY MAN moments, the more trouble a director goes to in order to impress me with victories of arm and chest, the less I care. Until it crosses over into pure camp. Then it might be fine. Patthar aur Payal (1974), everything I saw with Feroz Khan this year (Nagin, Kaala Sona, Qurbani, Dharmatma), most '80s and '90s masala films [as far as I can tell], and some of my least favorite television stuff from the year fits in this category. Amrapali (1966) almost does, except that it's more of a cautionary tale AGAINST beefy problem-solving by the end. Still, I had to see a lot of Sunil's chest* to get there.  

Subcategory: Heroes whose beefiness is painfully fictive. 

Super-category: Hack masala.

*You could also accuse me of preferring my action heroes lanky and my romantic heroes chunky.


Unmotivated injustice


Sometimes, when the police go bad TOO, I lose all respect for a story. I need there to be a semblance of adherence to law formalities, or evidence of self-originated thought from lawmen. Yes, I HAVE been paying attention to the news this year, but the widespread banality of lawmen in Hindi films makes New York, etc. look like Santa's Nice list.* Aar Paar and Amanush's easily brainwashed policemen were perhaps the last straw, for me. Sure, human interest stories need injustice, but I personally need a reason. Just one reason for a policewallah to not be doing his job. 

Exception #1: Something that leans noir. I can't remember what Talaash did specifically, but police incompetence or corruption works for that sort of atmospheric mystery. 

Exception #2: Iftekhar. He always has a reason, as one of the Powers that Be; I may just not be worthy of knowing it. 

*Hyperbole.


Unnecessarily paagal


We've all endured these films. Everything is building to a nice showdown, all the pieces have been moved into final alignment, and then somebody perfectly sane loses their sh*t, Cage style. I guess, in lieu of writing a climax, someone decided "HEY. WHAT IF SHE WENT CRAZY? That'll take care of all those disparate plot threads." Andaz (1949) is my canonical example, but it's a deeply ingrained filmi phenomenon. 

Subcategory: Self-maiming. Aag (1948) and Yahudi (1958) should be slapped with parental warnings for violence and gore. Towards oneself, but still. No one under 17 should be exposed to such virulent expressions of self-harm. Ok, obviously, I'm not an advocate for increased censorship. But I wish people wouldn't cut off parts of their own bodies, you know what I'm saying?  Perfectly decent things like Shikar (1968), or even Ankhon Dekhi (2013) lose some of their re-watchability after you've seen an important character recklessly setting aside personal safety. 

Exception: Films that pass krrrrrazy right out of the station. Deep Jele Jai (1959) is set in a mental hospital, and you know what you're in for. The dubious hero of Dhuan (1981) makes gaslighting one of the main characters a key aspect of his grand plan. Haathi Mere Saathi's descent into krrazy was a given as soon as Tanuja showed up with zero animal experience and married a zookeeper. [Just realizing now that this is probably a metaphor for marrying a widower with children. Mind blown.]


Women who are only projections of the hero's needs


This could be applied to A LOT of cinematic roles. But I'm not as picky as I could be. I expect filmi females' lives to revolve around men or their families' desires. What annoys me is when a woman is introduced as a main character, yet might as well be a hallucination, for all that she reflects ANYTHING outside the male protagonist's head. Even good films fall into this, like Ray's Seemabaddha (1971), in which I almost pegged Sharmila for a ghost, so much did she exist as the embodiment of the hero's struggling conscience.  

Subcategory: Ladies set up as an example of moral failure. Like bad bahus ... such as Bindu in Do Raaste (1969) and Nadira in Dil Apna Aur Preet Parai (1960). These women exist to show us why we shouldn't be mustache-twirling, eviction-happy, materialistic bitches. They're also a great way to make the hero look better than the lowest common denominator. 


Look who's missing?!


"Baby in danger!" is not my cup of tea. It is also not my idea of a comedy. I'm not sure who started this trope in cinema, probably someone fab like Moe Howard or Charlie Chaplin, but it's NEVER FUNNY. [Ok, maybe as someone who half-raised her infant siblings from a young age, I will never find childcare, or the lack of it, amusing.] For some reason I've been inundated with lost child comedies this year. From a Ghostbusters 2 rewatch, to an oddly unresolved child kidnapping in Hawk's Monkey Business (1952), to the worst of the lot, Tum Haseen Main Jawaan's (1970) central problem and comedic centerpiece: a newborn heir who is lost, hidden in various objects, kidnapped, unofficially adopted by sailors, thrown through the air, left loose on a carseat during a high-speed chase, and threatened with a gun to its head. 

Super-category: Characters who should have NEVER become parents. 

Next up: Unsung Favorites of 2014

See updates over the next two days under A Year at the Movies 2014 for more end of the year lists, stats, and rankings. 

2 comments:

  1. As you may have seen, I chose TGBH as one of my favorite films of 2014. Yes, it's artificial and manipulative, like other Wes Anderson movies. But the connection I made was to Czech writer Bohumil Hrabal's novel I Served The King of England (1983), which follows the adventures of an apolitical (and largely passive) hotel waiter through the cataclysms of economic upheaval, war, and Nazi and Soviet occupation. Its tone might best be described as absurdist, and I think (at least in places) Anderson was paying homage to the novel. Even the title of the film seems like it's a sideways allusion to Hrabal's book: when we first meet its protagonist-narrator, he's working at the Golden Prague Hotel.

    Couldn't agree with you more, though, about your other worsts of 2014, and I'm looking forward to your unsung favorites.

    Best,

    P.

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  2. I did notice our WIDELY differing opinions on TGBH. My brother and I found this a dividing watch of the year as well (and usually we have closer opinions on new releases). I think I dislike the form of black humor, altho I agree with you that it fits well with the tone and aesthetics of post-war Eastern European film/lit--although it's interesting to hear some more specific comparisons. Part of the reason I gave up on plans to study Slavic languages/literatures once upon a time had to do with this peculiar kind of fatalism infused into so many E. European cultures. It's fascinating, but also kinda bums me out, lol. I am off and on with Wes Anderson, too. I adored his last two--but despise The Royal Tenenbaums. Thus, I was asking for it. This was a more constructive story, I felt, but it still didn't work for me.

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