Thursday, March 31, 2011

Four Lions

Just watched “Four Lions” a very dark and very funny comedy that finds humor in attempted mass slaughter, accidental assassination, bumbling, badly targeted police raids, illegal rendition of the falsely accused and in general, dumb people doing dumb things with terrible consequences. It is extraordinarily transgressive: Omar, the closest thing to a protagonist, has a beautiful, loving wife who calmly encourages him in his murderous pursuits and a son who adores him and who wants to hear the end of the bedtime story about Simba the Lion King’s jihad.

There is a strong strain of the voyeurism involved in high tech snooping—we see parts of scenes through CTV security camera loops, video from spy drones over Pakistan and greenish tinged footage from police night vision recorders. The lions of the title are British blockheads. Four are of Pakistani heritage while one, the most insanely militant (he wants to bomb a mosque in order to “mobilize the moderates”, is a local guy with a blond beard. Everything they try goes wrong, often hilariously so. There are lots of sight gags, some very broad humor that last through the closing credits and what looks in the subtitles to be creative and entertaining cursing in Urdu. It might be even funnier to those who understand the slang and argot of the post-industrial wasteland of northern England but there are laughs aplenty for everyone.

And there is also shocking violence—not the cinematic eye-ball gouging and blood splattering grand guiginol cruelty that barely has an impact anymore but a more casual brutality that was all the more horrifying. A costumed marathon runner was killed by a sniper who thought his wookie outfit was supposed to be a bear and a man who comes out of a pub to help one of the terrorists who is choking on a swallowed SIM card dies when he triggers the explosive belt worn by the person he is helping. No one who dies does so heroically.

I laughed at the first line in “Four Lions”. It stayed funny throughout even as the body count rose. It is in the viciously satiric artistic/cultural lineage of Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” and Kubrick’s “Dr. Strangelove”. There is a hilarious bit of physical comedy in a scene with two of the bumbling terrorist wannabes trying to fire a seemingly simple weapon while in a training camp in the mountains of tribal Pakistan. It goes horribly wrong and is very funny when it happens but one of the last lines of the movie turns out to be a completely punch line to the scene.

English actress Preeya Kalidas with whom I hadn’t been familiar before “Four Lions” made a great impression.

A domestic scene with Riz Ahmed who plays her husband Omar, relaxing at the breakfast table before she leaves for work as a nurse in a casualty ward and after encouraging Omar in his quest for jihad:

Reaction to her fundamentalist brother-in-law who comes to their apartment door but won't enter because he can't be in the same room with a woman:

At work as a bureaucratic angel of mercy:

Monday, March 28, 2011

Shu Qi, Karen Mok, Zhao Wei in "So Close"

In "So Close" director Corey Yuen Kwai went with his strength: whenever it made sense to the story and a few times that it didn't he went with a screen filling close-up of one of the three leads. He was right to do so--while Shu Qi, Karen Mok and Zhao Wei are talented performers they are also gorgeous and each in her own distinctive fashion. No point in trying to describe the plot since the more one explains who is doing what to whom and why they are doing it the less sense it makes--but it works well as a story on the screen. The first couple of scenes tell us that we had should not only suspend our disbelief but check it at the door. Once that is done the viewer can enjoy the car chases, gunfights, hand to hand combat, awe inspiring high tech gadgets and strong hints of Sapphic attraction. It begins with Shu Qi jumping off the top of a skyscraper and being lowered to the ground on a thin steel wire after killing an ultra-evil guy in what he thought was his impregnable fortress. She uses a perfect combination of low cunning and high fashion. The ending is Zhao Wei and Karen Mok fighting the way to the top of another skyscraper to kill an even more evil guy. They (literally in many cases) cut a path through a couple of hundred heavily armed retainers before facing the big man himself.

They know not only how to use a pistol but how to look good while doing so:

Karen Mok:

Shu Qi:

Vicky Zhao Wei:

Before this there is Shu Qi's leap into the void, wearing a jumpsuit that only a costume designer could love:

She is the picture of insouciant confidence on the way down, smiling while listening to Zhao Wei (her sister) tell her where the car will be when she lands:

Zhao Wei tries to seduce Karen Mok from across the street with a look:

There is some attraction/avoidance going on between them:

Which they were kind enough to recreate for the press while hyping the movie:

When Karen Mok and Shu Qi get together it is serious stuff but true to form they look wonderful while trying to kill each other:

Ultimate honors go to Karen Mok when two thugs dispatched by a mobster to kill her in an elevator. Not a good move on their part. That's her new assistant cowering in the background:

She obviously has the drop on them but just one look at Karen Mok's face would be enough for me to surrender:

"So Close" is a fun movie.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Maggie Cheung in Marrakech (last year)

We don't get to see much of Her Magginess lately. Her fans have to be satisfied with glimpses of her at openings for Dior or Valentino, a luxury watch ad here, a film festival there. She was in Morocco this past December as a judge for the 10th Marrakech International Film Festival.

Here she is looking relaxed and elegant at the opening ceremonies:

Meeting the Crown Prince although with the civil unrest and armed struggle occurring in three of the five nations of the Maghreb he may not hold that title at the festival next year. Two pictures from slightly different angles. It must have been a cold evening in Marrakech. Not only is Maggie wearing her zebra print coat for the reception but John Malkovich, the president of the jury, did the meet the prince number with a huge scarf wrapped around his neck a few times. I am pretty sure he is the tall bald guy with his back to the camera.

I posted both pictures to point out the thoroughness (or obsessiveness) of copy editors. In the caption on the top picture--I picked it up from "Emirates 24/7" and news source in the Gulf--Maggie is identified as being on the right as if simply listing the prince and the actress would be too confusing. Strange but true.

Here she is with her two latest BFFs, Egyptian actress Yousra (they do a lot of single names in the entertainment biz in Egypt) and French actress Irene Jacob. Love the shoes in the top picture:

A shot of the entire jury. The concept of business casual has yet to take root on the sun-kissed southwestern shores of the Mediterranean although for men "sloppy" seems to be doing pretty well. The women and John Malkovich seem relaxed while the guys standing in the back look half asleep and Italian actor Ricardo Camarcio gives Moroccan director Faouzi Bensaidi a "You talkin' to me" look.

Looking pleased with things and adorable in pale dusty pink at the closing ceremonies:

Marrakech International Film Festival

Friday, March 25, 2011

Dr. Nick, Ph.D.

Nick Schlegel, a delightful man who I have known for several years, recently finished his Ph.D. Unlike, it seems, a lot of film scholars, he really loves movies and television. When we first talked about film I was surprised that he was knew a lot about and enjoyed musicals, documentaries, animated TV shows and a bunch of other stuff that was definitely not part of his field. He knows his specialty, Spanish horror films and their counterparts in Italy and England, dead sold perfect. Anything he can't tell you about Mario Bava, Jess Franco, Paul Naschy or Dario Argento probably isn't worth knowing.

Take a look at Nick's under construction website that shows some of his work behind the camera as well as the academic projects.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The tribulations of the Japanese people

A couple of hours ago I teared up while listening to story on National Public Radio about the NHK Orchestra deciding to carry out a tour of the United States even though many of the players would have been very concerned about their families and two of its members wouldn't be with them because their homes had been destroyed. It may be a function of getting old but I have been reacting very emotionally at some of the coverage of the multiple disasters the Japanese people are facing. The extraordinary patience and quiet integrity they continue to show is very moving--more so than I can describe, so here is a link that sums up what I and probably many others are feeling.

WEBS OF SIGNIFICANCE: Japanese encounters over the years

The brief NPR story.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Gong Li and Fan Bingbing make the rounds during Paris Fashion Week

Fan Bingbing and Gong Li were all over the place during the closing days of Paris Fashion Week, the final stop on this season's imperial march of shameless hype, wretched excess and ceaseless self-promotion. Since both are representatives of Louis Vuitton they bumped into each other (or at least were photographed together) quite often.

Just another day at the office for Louis Vuitton CEO Yves Carcelle.

Gong Li with her trademark smile, Fan Bingbing looking perfect, English model Daisy Lowe with a 1,000 yard stare.

Gong Li in her element snuggling up to uber-designer Marc Jacobs with Yves Carcelle in attendance and a hulking bodyguard just behind them.

Almost a great dress for Fan Bingbing, marred by the unfortunate lace panel which was made necessary (I assume) when someone realized that the split on the skirt started a few inches below her waist. Perfect for the runway but not for the street so a quick alteration was needed. She seems to have gotten instrutions not to smile ever during Paris Fashion Week and followed them perfectly.

Gong Li strikes a pose for the cameras on this side of the scrum.

Fan Bingbing does the same.

Gong Li and Yves Carcelle on a power stroll very familiar to both of them.

Lovely outfit: Cut like a tuxedo jacket with satin lapels over a lacy top and her best accessory, that million dollar smile.

Fan Bingbing look as good as one can in this riot in beige by Elie Saab. Jeweled turban, lacy cape, perfectly cut and draped dress with an asymmetrical waist, all in a color guaranteed to fade into any background.

 And one more: Gong Li hangs on to Yves Carcell and Daisy Lowe while ultra-hip leather clad architect Peter Marino (BFF of Maggie Cheung) gets a quick nap beneath the visor of his cap.

Images from FashionWindows and Sina

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Fan Bingbing in Paris for Dior

Fan Bingbing was spotted making her way to the Christian Dior Fall 2011 show during Paris Fashion Week a few days ago wearing a classic Christian Dior ensemble, a white cap-sleeved belted top  paired with a simple pencil black skirt. She looked fabulous, of course, and made fashion statements with her accessories.

First a classic model pose:

And a nice movie star semi-pout:

Odd sunglasses with a black Dior bow. At first I thought that Fan Bingbing had injured her eye and was wearing a patch beneath the lens of her glasses. She could have gone with a parrot her shoulder to complete a pirate look.

Her redder than red lipstick, dark eye make-up and deep black hair are simple and simply perfect. Check out the uber-bouffant hairdo, copied from Annette Funicello in Beach Party:

Annette Funicello, circa 1963:

Cute but impractical gloves:

However even movie stars who are flown to European capitals to wear great outfits have to pay a price--such as wearing these patent leather and suede monstrosities for more than 30 seconds:

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Michelle Yeoh and Jean Todt--Part I

It would be a cliche and unkind as well to call this "Beauty and the Beast" or "Princess and the Frog" although those terms spring to mind when thinking of the very long term relationship (don't call it an engagement, at least yet) between Hong Kong and international film actress and producer Michelle Yeoh and Formula One honcho and former Ferrari CEO Jean Todt. At least twice Todt has announced that they were engaged to be married; each time Yeoh denied that was the case. While both of them are very successful, Michelle Yeoh is an ethnically Chinese citizen of Malaysia. She is tall, elegant and athletic, much in demand by fashion houses the world over to wear their outfits at the world's most publicized film festivals, charity galas and fashion shows. Jean Todt is a Frenchman whose father was a Polish Jew who came to France to get away from the Nazis. He is short, inelegant and might be paid by men's clothing designers not to wear their lines in public.

Todt is highly thought of in the world of motor racing. He took over the moribund Ferrari F-1 constructors team and put it back on top of the standings. Ferrari rewarded him by making the CEO of the entire company, a position he left in order to campaign for and be elected as president of FIA, the world-wide governing body of F-1, the richest and most watched racing operation in the world.

I have long been intrigued by this odd couple from different cultures, continents and professions and have been collecting bits and pieces of information and images. Below are very recent pictures from the Fall/Winter collection of Robert Cavalli in Milan featuring the two of them in the front row.

An oddly framed but effective shot from the other side of the runway:

In case anyone was wondering who interested the photographers:

All images from Zimbio.