Ang Lee's allegorical "The Life of Pi" (2012) is a film to appreciate slowly and carefully. It is a friendly post-modern, global fantasy, making the "Wizard of Oz" seem like a clunky product from a nation that now only exists in triumphalist superhero fables as it fights mercilessly for its final gasps of air. This is a smart film, the most intelligent meditation on religion in quite some time. Lee's masterful direction fills us with dramatic, wonderful visuals, and the type of relentless unpredictability we starve for as we wade through the usual zombie-like assortment of formulaic blockbuster crime movies.
In the classroom lesson that wraps up the romantic and thematic threads of "The Amazing Spider-Man," a high school English teacher takes issue with the old saw about there being only ten (or so) stories in all of human history. She says she believes there's only one: "Who am I?" This being a remake-reboot of the Peter Parker Becomes Spider-Man origin story, that's a good thing for this, or any, coming-of-age movie to focus on.
An appealing cast headed by Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone provides all the special effects the movie needs, and they're far more engaging (for adults, anyway, I would imagine) than the usual clinical computer visuals. (Yes, I *liked* it. Hey, Mikey!) The emphasis is on charm, emotion and comedy -- until the third act CGI blowout, but even those scenes give Spidey some real weight and mass for the first time as he swings through the skyscraper canyons of Manhattan. (There's even a built-in joke about it, with two students of Midtown Science High School discussing some user-uploaded YouTube footage.) The way director Marc Webb (" Days of Summer") and DP John Schwartzman shoot Spidey and the city, they both seem to occupy a common, more-or-less real physical space. The camerawork isn't all "Avatar" floaty and fakey, and there's a lovely shot of Spidey on the Oscorp building with sunlight shimmering off the windows that looks like real glass and steel and sunlight, even though the Oscorp building itself is a CGI creation. (So are the hallways of Morse Science er, Midtown Science High, but you'd never know it.)
With the perspective of history, the '90s SNL brats' "The Big Chill," known as "Grown Ups," may well retain its reputation for being the lowest the movies sunk in 2010. Who knows? It's hard to beat with that cast. But the Hindustan Times offers us another perspective -- and some hilarious capsule descriptions -- in an article on "The best of the worst of 2010." In other words, a list of abominable Bollywood films that may be worth not avoiding: "You unfortunately stay away from them, not realising they can offer you pleasures just as really great films can. If nothing else, they make your own lives seem less bizarre." A few samples:
6. Mahesh Nair's "Accident On Hill Road": It's been over 24 hours. A man's bum has been stuck to the windshield of a parked car. A girl had crashed this car on to the old man's bum the night before. She wakes up in the morning, and instead of helping him out, beats the hell out of him with a cricket bat. Her boyfriend fishes out a gun to kill him. The old man, still stuck, recounts conversations with his daughter in his head. Eh? The bum belongs to the great Farooque Sheikh. What more to say. Except, I'm serious. [...]
3. Mani Shankar's "Knock Out": The film's entirely a knock-off (Phone Booth). Except, here's what the hero (Sanjay Dutt) instructs the villain (Irrfan Khan, a political henchman) to do as he's forcibly stuck to a phone booth. He asks him to transfer public funds siphoned off into Swiss banks by his political bosses. The villain fits a Reliance data card to his crummy laptop, gets into the Swiss account, transfers black money into Reserve Bank treasury. Crowds gather outside the phone booth. Click after click, money in Rs 500 crore installments keep getting deposited to the Government of India. Everyone cheers. What an idea. It's so simple, CBI. Why take that long investigating CWG, 2G...
1. Gurinder Chadha's "It's A Wonderful Afterlife": Chatty Mrs Sethi (Shabana Azmi), a sweet caring mom, doubles up as a sickened "curry killer", who can see dead people. Her serial murders make tabloid headlines. Dead bodies are found with "chili content way off human tolerance levels", crazy kitchen implements like the seekh of the seekh kabab, inserted into body parts. Now that's a concept, I tell you. But the scene that completely takes the cake: The only non-brown character in a movie set in the western world's called Linda. It's her engagement party, and everyone's happily high on "ganja pakodas" (what should've been 'bhaang pakodas'). Linda turns into the character of the same name from "Exorcist," scarily screams and levitates, her entire body dripping in red chutney, curries fly off serving tables, so do plates and other assortments.... You think this world's goin' mental? Calm down, watch this film, feel better.
(tip: Corey Creekmur)