Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Finding Fanny & But Always

Two days, two day-and-date releases of Asian movies at Fenway, both of which offered the opportunity grumble a bit about how the quality of everyone's English!

In all seriousness, Finding Fanny was kind of weird on that count. If you've ever watched an Indian movie, you'll notice that there are a lot of English phrases dropped right in the middle of Hindi dialogue, but generally still subtitled because it can be hard for one's brain to shift from reading to listening at just the right time. Fanny is subtitled, so it took ten minutes or so for me to realize that the whole thing was actually in English, period, with almost no Hindi dialogue but just a few words dropped in mid-sentence. The subtitles were helpful with the accents, much like Americans sometimes need it with Scots and working-class Englishmen, although I wonder if I'd have been able to understand better if they weren't there as a crutch.

In But Always, well, it's more of the usual - English that probably sounds pretty good to the Mandarin-speakers who make up the film's main audience but off to us Americans, including the supposedly native-speakers they meet in New York. Someday I want to find a polite way to ask someone how it happens - do Chinese studios just grab any western-looking people they can get off the street and offer them $20 for a day's work even if they're not actors or is this conscious direction, getting people who speak English perfectly well to use rhythms and emphasis that correspond to Mandarin much more than the language they're speaking so that the audience will pick up the right emotional cues?

Both of these movies turned out pretty rough in their own ways: As much as Finding Fanny made me laugh big at times, it had some bits in between that you have to grind through. And But Always... look, I'm probably the least gung-ho person I know when the subject of 9/11 comes up, but I felt like it was used pretty cheaply here, a specter raised in the very first scene that doesn't actually mean anything in the story aside from a potential extra tragedy/obstacle thrown into these two people's love story when the movie catches up, then a footnote implying that the world outside China is scary and dangerous and folks should stay home.

Ah, well. At least China Lion no longer seems to be strictly tied to AMC in America any more, and given how the folks booking movies for Fenway seem fairly willing to serve expatriate audiences with the Indian things, maybe they'll be more reliable in picking these movies up than Boston Common was (and if they could get Iceman next week and keep it around long enough for me to get back from Austin, that would be great too).

Finding Fanny

* * * (out of four)
Seen 14 September 2014 in Regal Fenway #8 (first-run, DCP)

After a year or so of going to the Indian movies at the local multiplex, one gets a certain idea of what to expect, generally a musical masala picture that's odd by conventional Hollywood standards. Sometimes, though, you get something like Finding Fanny, which is an entirely different sort of weird: A quirky indie-style comedy that's okay when cute but better when the claws come out.

It starts in Pocolim, Goa - the sort of village you won't find on a map and where life passes at the same speed you're moving, to quote narrator Angelina (Deepika Padukone). Ferdinand Pinto (Naseeruddin Shah) is the postmaster there, so it's odd that he has a letter in which he proposed to one Stefanie "Fanny" Fernandes returned forty-six years after it was sent. Angie sees that the only thing to do is to bring Ferdie to Fanny, but actually doing it will also involve Savio de Gama (Arjun Kapoor), just back from six years in Mumbai for his father's funeral, Don Pedro Cleto Colaco (Pankaj Kapur), a world-renowned artist who has recently taken up residence in the town, and Rosalie Eucharistica (Dimple Kapadia), Angie's busybody mother-in-law whom Don Pedro wished to be his voluptuous muse. It should just be a simple morning drive, but it's not surprising that things don't go according to plan for this group.

The initial burst of narration and character introductions may have viewers bracing themselves for an onslaught of too-cute small-town eccentricity, and it's not exactly unwarranted. The movie is filled with oddballs who seem to mostly spend their time being odd rather than accomplishing anything, with Angie fitting into the pixie slot while Savio comes off a bit of a curmudgeon. It's not unpleasant, most of the time, and in fact has some nice little moments as the cast plays off of each other. Director Homi Adajania and co-writer Kersi Khambatta just seem to make the common assumption that weird automatically implies funny or delightful.

Full review at EFC

Yi Sheng Yi Shi (But Always)

* * (out of four)
Seen 15 September 2014 in Regal Fenway #12 (first-run, DCP)

Is it cynical of me to start counting shots between a "New York 2001" caption and the first glimpse of the World Trade Center, or of writer/director Snow Zou for putting the audience in that position? That's not the worst thing about But Always, though; which takes an inoffensive but enjoyable romance and finds ways to make it uncomfortable when a little bit of thought is applied.

After that opening, the film jumps back to 1976 Beijing, when a doctor goes off on a dangerous mission to help earthquake victims, but gives her 4-year-old daughter Anran the dream of following in her footsteps. Five years later, her father sends Anran to a school in a different neighborhood where she meets poor orphan Zhao Yongyuan, although his uncle Ji (Lam Suet) takes him out of town when his grandmother dies. Come 1993, Yongyuan (Nicholas Tse) returns to Beijing, where Anran (Gao Yuanyuan) is finishing college with an eye toward medical school in America. Their paths cross, and they fall in love, but it won't be that easy.

The thing is, it could be that easy. The story pivots on Yongyuan deciding to break things off for Arjan's own good, which is kind of insulting even in the best of uses, but Zou never seems to see it that way, and the New York set latter segments of the movie not only fail to acknowledge this, but actually push Anran's and Yongyuan's reunion to a kind of creepy place. It's that area where men are applying pressure disguised as grand gestures and what choices the woman makes are either born out of guilt or what men will either give permission or deny opportunity to do. It looks romantic because nobody seems to have consciously bad intentions and scenes call back to earlier moments that were the real deal, but there's something not right underneath.

Full review at EFC

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