Friday, 1 December 2017

Creepy Indian Longlegs

Unlike a fortnight ago, I've watched several films this week which are worth discussing.

First up is "Bhaag Milkha Bhaag" (2013) an Indian movie which translates to "Run Milkha Run", a biopic of the runner Milkha Singh, known on the sub-continent as 'the flying Sikh'. I've previously mentioned that Channel Four runs the occasional Indian film season, usually buried in the wee hours of their schedules. I no longer watch all of them although they've screened some amazing classics in the past, but do try to 'set' the more promising ones on my Digibox and try to get them cleared when I can. This movie, all three hours plus of it, was certainly a worthwhile and inspiring watch, although I have no long-buried interest in Indian athletics.

The film opens with Milkha competing at the 1960 Olympics where he appears destined for gold, until he looks back over his shoulder to see the rest of the field overtaking. However from this disappointment the film looks considers the triumphs of his career and the very dark factors that shaped him. Born in a poor Sikh village on the new border between India and Pakistan after the Partition, his extended family choose to fight rather than be forced to live in Pakistan and to convert to Islam. He watches them being slaughtered by soldiers on horseback, creating the first occasion where he was beseeched (by his dying father) to 'run Milkha run'. After a hand-to-mouth existence as a refugee, he joins the Indian army where his talent is spotted and he sees this as a way to make something of his life. He succeeds despite various setbacks including being nearly maimed by a group of bumptious athletes and discovering that the village girl he loves has been forcibly wed to another. The crunch comes when Nehru asks him to run for India at a meet in Pakistan which is meant to repair the strained relationship between the two countries and Milkha is hard-pressed to agree to go back to a country which holds such terrible memories.

Milkha is played by the versatile actor Farhan Akhtar, who is not himself a Sikh, but who is believable with his large topknot -- covered by what looks like a small tea cosy when he is not wearing a turban. Of course no Indian movie would be complete without frequent musical interludes -- which is part of the problem I have with Indian movies in general since my Western ear is not attuned to what often sounds like caterwauling. However in this movie, most of the music came from the male characters and was made all the more enjoyable by their very muscular and athletic dancing.

While I'm on the subject of Indian movies, let me very briefly mention one that I watched a few weeks back: "Piku" (2015.). What made this tale of the high-flying female executive kept in domestic thrall by her demanding father whose main topic of conversation revolves about his bowel movements highly watchable was the presence of veteran actor Amitabh Bachan as the dominating, poo-obsessed bully.

Let me swiftly move on. When I noticed that "Daddy Longlegs" (1955) was being aired, I wondered why this was one of the very few Hollywood musicals of the period which I did not have in my own collection. So I watched it again to conclude that although Fred Astaire is always highly watchable and although Leslie Caron makes one of his more charming dance partners and although the pair are nicely supported by Fred Clark and Thelma Ritter (always good value in any movie) and although there is a fine Johnny Mercer score including the Oscar-nominated standard 'Something's Gotta Give', the director Jean Negulesco was a poor choice with his tendencies towards schmaltziness. The film if overly long, poorly paced, with hideous d├ęcor to fill the new cinemascope format and far too much time is devoted to Caron's badly staged ballets. It's a true parson's egg!   

I'm running out of time and energy, so I'll only briefly mention the Japanese film "Creepy" (2016) directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa -- no relation to the great Akira K. A retired police detective, now a university lecturer on serial killers, moves to a new house with his young wife and their big fluffy white dog. They try to make friends with their new neighbours but mainly encounter hostile rejection. In particular the wife tries to befriend Mr Nishino next door with his invalid wife (whom she never gets to see) and his teenaged daughter Mio. Nishino is played by Teruyuki Kagawa, who also starred in the director's odd "Tokyo Sonata" (2008) and here he makes your skin crawl. Seems he is himself a serial murderer who never kills his victims himself but who somehow insinuates himself into families and gets them to kill each other. Mio briefly confides that he is not her father and a complete stranger, yet she is completely within his power as the young wife is beginning to be. This is not a particularly good or well-made film, but it certainly holds one's attention and yes, it is seriously creepy. 
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