Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Last Thursday: Jazbaa & Coming Home

Don't put things off until the last day of its run, because the schedule just may not work out. Case in point: I would have much rather used half of my last-chance double feature to see Pawn Sacrifice rather than Jazbaa, but it had no 7pm show. It seems slugs like myself who do try and scramble are going to have to take the increasing number of Thursday-night previews into consideration and start doing catch-up on Wednesday night.

Maybe I should have passed on Jazbaa anyway, even if it's easier for me to actually convince myself to see a two-multiplex double-feature than one 9:30pm movie on a weeknight, because as I mention in the review, I had a pretty good idea that it was going to be a bad movie before going in, and that attitude can often be a self-fulfilling prophecy. I'm pretty sure that Jazbaa was just going to stink anyway, but I don't want to be the guy with the crappy attitude accused of being biased.

One thing that surprised me was that Coming Home came out in China back in May of 2014, and I've gotten so used to major Chinese movies arriving in the United States at the same time as China that a seventeen-month delay seems way out of the ordinary now, even though it was once just what you expected. I suspect that there may still be a few stragglers, movies with directors like Zhang Yimou who are well-known to American audiences and therefore have studios looking to acquire them and fit them onto a schedule and thus making us wait a year and a half.

That's kind of crazy. Sure, I realize that Coming Home probably made more money in America than even Lost in Hong Kong, but that didn't have much if any advertising targeting anyone but the expatriate crowd. I wouldn't be surprised if very few of those didn't bother with the American release because they've probably had legal import DVDs for a year, and my question is whether something has to be either/or - is it possible for a rapid release to get to non-Chinese-American art-house crowds in order to capture a films entire prospective audience, or are we just too conditioned to having our boutique houses curated to actually jump into foreign films sight unseen?


* ½ (out of four)
Seen 15 October 2015 in Apple Cinemas Cambridge #7 (first-run, DCP)

I don't know a lot about Bollywood, but there are a few names I recognize. Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, top star often celebrated as one of the world's most beautiful women and returning from a long maternity break; Irrfan Khan, an actor also getting a fair amount of work on this side of the planet; and Sanjay Gupta, a hack director best known for remaking non-Indian films without necessarily giving the original filmmakers credit. Put them together, and you get something a lot of movie-lovers dread - a picture that will almost certainly be terrible but which one feels almost compelled to check out anyway. Jazbaa lives down to expectations.

Aishwarya Rai Bachchan plays Anuradha Verma, one of Mumbai's top criminal attorneys, albeit one who seems to be a loving and attentive mother to her daughter Sanaya (Priya Banerjee) when she's not keeping gangsters and corrupt executives from serving their time. That is how she comes by her newest case - she is blackmailed into preventing Niyaz (Chandan Roy Sanyal) from receiving the death sentence after being convicted for raping and murdering an art student at his hearing four days from now when someone kidnaps Sanaya. Fortunately the arresting officer, Detective Yohaan (Irrfan Khan), is both on suspension and a long-time friend of Anu, quite willing to introduce her to the victim's mother Garima (Shabana Azmi) and help her track down Sam (Siddhanth Kapoor), a potential witness that suggests Niyaz may not be guilty at all - but who is willing to go so far to prove this?

This time around, Gupta's film credits its source - South Korean film Seven Days, noteworthy for Yunjin Kim shooting it between seasons of Lost - and it follows the same beats even as it compresses the timeframe (to be fair, the original seemed to be stretched). The original was also surprisingly gruesome at points, and Gupta scales the gore down, as the difference between what Indian and South Korean audiences expect from a crime thriller is not small. He handwaves the legal inanities away in a moderately funny moment as Yohaan tells a suspect asking for his rights that he's watched too many Hollywood movies, and this is Bollywood.

Full review on EFC.

Gui lai (Coming Home)

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 15 October 2015 in Landmark Kendall Square #6 (first-run, DCP)

If Coming Home were just the movie it looked like from the trailer for its American release, it would likely be worth seeing - Zhang Yimou and Gong Li have the track record together and separately that certainly suggests that they could elevate a simple medical weepy into something more than maudlin. As it turns out, that conventional story winds up less interesting than what goes on around it, which makes the film well worth standing alongside Zhang's and Gong's other great collaborations.

It opens in 1975, with Lu Yanshi (Chen Daoming), a dissident who has been in prison for ten years, escaping while being transferred between trains in his hometown. Officials immediately come to his family - teacher Feng Wanyu (Gong Li) and daughter Dandan (Zhang Huiwen) - and impress upon them how important it is they turn him in should they see him. Several years later, after the end of the Cultural Revolution, Lu is deemed "rehabilitated" and released, but when Dandan picks him up at the train station, there is bad news: "Yu" has developed a mental disorder that affects her memory, and her husband's face is among the things she can't remember.

The opening act of Coming Home is something approaching sublime in how it deals less with the principles involved - those are easy - than with the practical human reactions to the situation. Dandan is a gifted dancer, and this sequence plays out with the beautiful precision of a ballet, with the straight-backed daughter who grew up in this system seeming to flit between fealty to the state and loyalty to her mother, her movements complemented by how Lu sneaks around the apartment building and Yu attempts to watch her daughter and watch for her husband. This goes on against a situation built to push a teenager's buttons, with Zhang and screenwriter Zou Jingzhi (working from Yan Geling's novel) respecting the audience enough to keep things low-key; even as characters sometimes seem to reverse twice in a minute, everything is relayed elegantly, without pauses to explain the obvious.

Full review on EFC.

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