Friday, April 30, 2010

Bollywood Movie of the Week: Chance Pe Dance

(Can I just say, Netflix streaming on the Wii is awesome!)

Chance Pe Dance, 2010

Directed by: Ken Ghosh

Produced by: Ronnie Screwvala

Starring: Shahid Kapoor, Genelia D'Souza

It's Kinda Like: One of those "I'm going to make my way in B/Hollywood!" films, plus a dash of So You Think You Can Dance and a smidgin of (Insert Underdog Dance Team Film Here)

Overall, I found this movie delightful, though hardly a Serious Film Experience. Shahid Kapoor (the New Bollywood Hotness) is teen-idol dreamy, AND in this film, also adorably goofy and a funny physical actor (which I think is even better). The opening sequence with one long take of well-timed morning routine tasks, gently reminiscent of Chaplin and/or Rube Goldberg, is a great example of the carefree and slightly wacky tone of this film.

I mean, the base premise already has my attention: Young Person making their way in the world, taking odd jobs while slogging through the bottom ranks of the film industry. After everything in his life of course goes wrong, he winds up having to sleep in his car and take a job as a dance teacher for a crew of ornery middle-schoolers. (Sound familiar, people who know me? ;o)

Shahid is clearly the draw in this film -- his female star Genelia D'Souza is kind of a cipher, without much interesting to add (in fact, Wikipedia tells me they filmed half of it with a different female star first). Again, the plot is more or less your typical underdog film, but like all of these things, it's the details that make the movie unique. All the scenes of his Acting Career are really funny (like warming up in the mirror, and trying to audition for a commercial with a six-year-old costar), and the kids he winds up teaching are also hilarious and endearing. Awwww! And, most of the music sequences in the movie are stylized and/or cheesy-retro, very lighthearted and fresh-feeling.

It also feels a *little* like a kids' film (not that Bollywood really differentiates, which I think is great) -- for example, there's a number convincing the students that dance is Actually Awesome and Not For Losers -- it actually contains the lines (and yes, actually in English) "Dance is smokin, dance is moonwalk, Dance is groovin, makes the world round" and "Dance is super cool, Dance is hot hot ... You wanna hit big, there is no shorcut, So now get up, you gotta move your butt butt butt." But it's adorable, so it's OK. Here's the Music Video version, with some cheesy/hilarious editing:

Having what feels like a very similar career, I can't help being fascinated by the random details revealed. When he auditions on-camera, they have him hold up a chalkboard under his face, with his name and *phone number* on it. That seems odd, right? Is that normal? And the enormous, gorgeous multipurpose room at that school (a room still filled with crap, like every multi-use room) looks more like a church, with its huge banks of skylights, its second-level balcony and its excellent hardwood floors. Again -- normal, or movie-ridiculous? (And those bathrooms -- they're cavernous! Not to mention his crappy bare studio apartment. Is land really that cheap in Mumbai?)

Cute goofy star, endearing hilarious children (a cameo of a HUGE So You Think You Can Dance poster!) AND to top it all off, Shahid is also a genuinely good dancer. I watched the Making Of video for the song "Pump It Up," and it was amusing to hear the director recount how he realized that Shahid could actually do the whole dance all the way through (gasp!) so they could shoot the number more like a concert film than a music video. Here's the song in question, the video from the movie (look out ladies; he's even Super Ripped . . . they also point out in the Making Of video that he hasn't just got a six-pack, but an eight-pack -- videos of which you can ALSO find on YouTube):

Verdict: Adorable and not *too* silly; actors, dancers, and/or educators will probably find it extra adorable. A nice modernish take on the classic Underdog Showbiz Movie (can you say reality show?).

Thursday, April 1, 2010

"Understanding Comics" = Understanding Everything

When I was in college, I spent some time between quarters volunteering in my friend Colleen's classroom -- the most well-connected kindergarten teacher you'll ever meet. I had a great time with the kids; my task was primarily helping them with computer literacy. (FYI -- naming things makes a big difference in kindergarten-land; there was MUCH DISTRESS whenever Pooky was on the fritz.)

I love reading to kids (if my job consisted entirely of reading stories to children all day long, I'd be the happiest person on earth) so I would bring in some of MY favorite books to read to them, and towards the end of my volunteering time, I brought in the book pictured at left: The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish -- words by Neil Gaiman, pictures by Dave McKean. (It's delightful -- here's a preview and some more info.) One little girl piped up, "Hey, I know that book! He's my godfather!"

It's true. This little girl was named Sky McCloud, which I knew. What I then learned from Colleen after school was that her dad, Scott McCloud, is a comics artist who pals around with Neil Gaiman (the girls' godfather) and Dave McKean and all sorts of other cool people. AND, he wrote this awesome book which I just read: Understanding Comics. (See! That story totally had a point.)

Now, I may be tooootally behind the times here -- Understanding Comics came out in 1993, and I've only just read it now. BUT, I highly recommend it -- to anyone who's interested at ALL in art, storytelling, or the art of storytelling.

It's so awesomely meta: a comic book about comics. Within its pages, he manages to work in thoughts on: line, color, the Bayeux Tapestry, Dadaism, hieroglyphs, manga, cave paintings, movies, space, time, and human perception. Among other things. All with a witty, unassuming, measured, clear style that makes Total Sense.

McCloud uses the modern conceptions of comics as a starting place, and then strips away everything you thought you knew about it. He builds up a basic definition of the form, and then starts building it back up again from scratch, beginning with the dawn of history and the perception of the human face. Cool, huh?

And take note, engineer-types: there are GRAPHS. GRAPHS about ART. (It reminded me of Un-Scripted's flashes of brilliant improv-math.)

Within his many-inclusive definition of comics he includes Hogarth's The Harlot's Progress and The Rake's Progress (I love Hogarth!), Egyptian tomb paintings, and your favorite picture book from childhood. What other tome could draw lines between Rene Magritte, Edvard Munch, and Scrooge McDuck?

Understanding Comics is a fantastically thoughtful book that, indeed, also made me laugh quite often -- either with humor, or with glee in just how awesome a point he was making. Using the language of comics, he explains the language of comics. Each chapter is simple and well-thought-out, with the chapter's storyline laid out with great use of words, pictures, and/or lack of either and/or both. The book shows great artistic skill and an enormous breadth of knowledge of the subject at hand. It will cause you to think about, oh, Everything, with new perspective. (And there's a great concise definition/defense of art in the last chapter. Hooray!)

I say again, if you're interested at all in how stories are made and/or perceived, you should read this book. What's it called again? Understanding Comics, by Scott McCloud. (Hey, I know that guy . . . . . .'s wife and kids. Hope they're all doing great--it's been years!)

Side note: The McCloud girls were returned to my peripheral brain in 2006 when it was announced (on BoingBoing?) that the whole family was going on a 50-state road trip for the book-tour launch of Making Comics. The whole family was going, including the girls, who'd be taking a year off school -- they took that opportunity to be "home-schooled," using their trip as an excuse to write, do research, and create and produce interviews. Is that not the coolest?!?