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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

F3TV: Luther - episode 4

Film Flam Flummox

After the top-to-bottom intensity and major character and story arc shifts of last week's installment, it's not at all shocking that the fourth episode of Luther finds the tone and pace dialed down a bit. What is surprising, though, is that this episode is not merely calmer relative to the last, but that director Sam Miller (who also helmed episode 3) uses a gentler hand and a lower key, period--and for an episode that, while not as pivotal as the previous one, does not lack for either important overall plot developments or lurid subject matter. The latter respect comes by way of DCI John Luther's (Idris Elba) Case of the Week, which centers on no less than not only a serial murderer of women, but one with a serious handbag fetish. While this storyline does build to a rather graphically violent climax, it ultimately feels a bit mundane, for writer/series creator Neil Cross does not use the week's criminal concern to either illuminate and enrich Luther (except for revealing him to be a David Bowie fan) or the other characters, nor does it inform the continuing story arcs in any way. It's the first time in the series' run where the self-contained plot of the week plays like a routine procedural episode.

Thankfully Cross continues to not be routine when it comes to the ongoing character matters, which take turns both expected and not. With the exposure of his career-threatening secret appearing all but inevitable, Luther finally seeks to make a decisively clean break from any sort of contact with the ever-eager-to-"help," ever-batshit-crazy Alice Morgan (Ruth Wilson), which sets her off even more--and brings about an unexpectedly abrupt resolution (though not exactly closure) to one of the longer-looming issues. After the previous episode's events, Luther and wife Zoe (Indira Varma) begin the hour not exactly estranged, but the rediscovered closeness proves to create new complications that may leave them even further apart. These aren't exactly insignificant developments at all, but Cross and Miller play them (aside from one requisite freak-out apiece for Luther and Alice, that is) in an unusually understated fashion, which is a bit refreshing coming after the frantic previous installment not to mention a rather surprising choice overall. But such an approach paired with a less than thrilling Case of the Week leaves the episode feeling a bit minor and wanting. With only two more weeks to go, here's hoping next week's penultimate chapter finds the tension and energy level jumpstarted in preparation for the big finish.

Buy the Luther DVD here.

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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Review: Legacy

The Movie Report

The review of Legacy, written and directed by Thomas Ikimi and starring Idris Elba, is now up.

More coverage on the film to come, and more review updates coming shortly...

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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

F3TV: Luther - episode 3

Film Flam Flummox

Within the first ten minutes of the third episode of Luther, the audience is treated to a man thrusting his tongue at and then licking a woman's face, words scrawled on walls in fresh human blood, and one of the series regulars washing his bloody face after suffering a brutal beating. Such newly in-your-face boldness I initially completely chalked up to a change in director--at the helm this time is Sam Miller, taking over from the first two's Brian Kirk--but it soon becomes apparent that this episode serves as a pivot that signals a dramatically (in every sense) dark and intense turn for the back half of the series. For a start, stories don't come much darker or more intense than DCI John Luther's (Idris Elba) Case of the Week, that of a satanic kidnapper and murderer who keeps his victims in a freezer while he does all sorts of nasty business with their blood.

For all the surface, sensationalistic shocks that come with exploring such grisly territory (including an instance of blood drinking, no less--not for nothing did the usually lax BBC affix a content advisory), writer/series creator Neil Cross cannily packs his biggest punches in how this case impacts the much larger picture of no less than the entire series. In my post on episode 2, I predicted that in this episode "the week's case will be closed in one way or another, but ongoing saga of John Luther will more likely be untidier than ever," and while I was correct, I had no idea quite to the degree, nor just how Cross would organically, seamlessly intertwine the concerns of the week's procedural case with further enriching the characters, relationships, and larger story arcs--to say nothing of just how much Cross corrupts the already-shaky status quo. For all his investigative acumen, Luther finds that the only way to nab this latest psycho on the scene is to enlist the counsel of another, the ever-present, ever-unhinged Alice Morgan (Ruth Wilson, creepy-crazy-captivating as ever)--who on her own has already been serving up unsolicited "help" in trying to bring Luther and estranged wife Zoe (Indira Varma) back together. But whatever immediate results this uneasy alliance may yield on both those fronts, the lasting overall fallout promises to be detrimental, if not outright devastating, to Luther. Indeed, by the hour's end, not only is Luther back in even lesser graces with his superiors, his relationship with supportive but straight-arrow partner DS Justin Ripley (Warren Brown, finally getting a bit more to do) has been severely tested, and Alice's sense of spiritual kinship with him is proven to be not so much twisted than it is true. The real suspense for the remaining three episodes lies not in the question of if Luther will suffer his ultimate downfall but if he will care enough to save himself.

Buy the Luther DVD here.

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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A Decade of Dance with Hrithik

Film Flam Flummox

Monday night I had a rare advance press screening for a major Bollywood release, Anurag Basu's Kites, starring Hindi film superstar Hrithik Roshan in his first starring release since 2008's spectacular historical epic Jodhaa Akbar. I am embargoed from writing in any depth on the film until the global release this Friday, May 21, but Roshan's characteristically terrific dance number in the film got me remembering (and YouTube-ing) some of the great dance performances he's given over his career, which turns a decade old this year.

Directed by his father Rakesh Roshan, his 2000 debut Kaho Naa... Pyaar Hai (Won't You Say... You Love Me), is, on the whole, pretty damn terrible, but what most definitely isn't is the younger Roshan's charisma and dancing ability. The "Ek Pal Ka Jeena" ("There's Only a Moment in Life") number (part of a very solid song score with which this very bad movie was blessed) became an instant classic and singlehandedly turned him into a major movie star overnight, and his effortless grace and presence make it easy to see why.

The first film I actually saw Roshan in was Karan Johar's all-star 2001 family drama Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham... (Sometimes Happiness Sometimes Sorrow...), which features what is probably my favorite Bollywood song/number of all time, "You Are My Soniya." Yes, it's the epitome of bubblegum pop in any language, but damn it if I don't have it frequently pop into my head at random moments in the years since I first heard the song--which has just about as much to do with Roshan's dancing as it does the song's catchy melody.

To this day, the most unique and challenging number I've seen Roshan perform is the limb-twisting "Main Aisa Kyun Hoon?" ("Why Am I Like This?") number in Farhan Akhtar's 2004 war drama Lakshya (Aim). Choreographed by the great Prabhu Deva, it's a dramatic departure from the dance club or traditional dress numbers actors are most often called on to do in Bollywood.

The last time Roshan danced onscreen in a major showcase prior to Kites (not counting his cameo role in last year's Luck by Chance nor an end credits snippet in 2008's Krazzy 4; Jodhaa Akbar exercised just about all of his skills except dancing) was in 2006's actioner Dhoom:2 (Blast:2), which marked his long-awaited first on-screen pairing with arguably the best female dancer currently active in Bollywood, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan--and they did not disappoint.

More on Kites this Friday.

Buy the Kites soundtrack here.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

F3TV: Luther - episode 2

Film Flam Flummox

The second episode of Luther finds writer/series creator Neil Cross settling into what I fully expect to be the series' standard formula groove for at least the next three installments: DCI John Luther (Idris Elba) applying his incomparable investigative and deductive skills to a Case of the Week while the more overarching concerns--Luther's relationship with his estranged wife Zoe (Indira Varma); the ongoing psychological chess game with the sociopath Alice Morgan (Ruth Wilson); the ticking time bomb secret of the currently comatose perp Luther let take a life-threatening fall--further progress in the background. This isn't necessarily a bad thing--such is the nature of a crime procedural television series, after all--especially as practiced by Cross and director Brian Kirk here.

Said Case of the Week is an interesting one, revolving around a serial cop killer whose motivation is, naturally, not as clear as it may appear to be. Even if this thread isn't immune to cop show convention (yes, there is a "you're off the case!" moment), and Luther's heated confrontations with an imprisoned murderer with a connection to the culprit are far less tense and engrossing than his with Alice in the premiere episode (Sean Pertwee is a bit too ersatz-Hannibal Lecter-hammy to be as intimidating as obviously intended as the convict), the storyline culminates in truly memorable fashion. The palpable tension and suspense of Luther's face-off with the killer is almost secondary to Elba's harrowing performance, which turns the mere climax of the Case of the Week into a startling illumination of the character and his philosophy. It's a reflection of the care Cross has taken in constructing the series that all of the plot-driven concerns of this episode, from the cop killer thread to the ongoing threat of Alice, who this week creeps even closer to Zoe for anyone's comfort, ultimately serve as a study of the man at the center, who grows even more complicated and fascinating. As more formula-driven as this episode is than the last, it still manages to surprise, if not in plot progression then in the shifting character dynamics (the Luther/Alice relationship intriguingly evolves into more of the classically complex "frenemy" dichotomy as seen with comic book hero/supervillain archnemeses) and the raw immediacy of the performances. Based on the tease, the next episode looks to again follow the formula, but certainly by the end of the hour, the week's case will be closed in one way or another, but ongoing saga of John Luther will more likely be untidier than ever.

Buy the Luther DVD here.

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Thursday, May 6, 2010

Press Junket Potluck: Iron Man 2

Film Flam Flummox

The original plan for coverage for the Iron Man 2 press conference on April 23 was for it to be the inaugural edition of what will be a regular feature here on the blog, "Press Junket Potluck"--for certain press junkets, in particular those featuring large press conferences as opposed to more writer-friendly roundtables, I would cut to the chase and forego all of the would-be florid prose and simply offer an assortment of the most interesting, amusing, and/or informative of the quotes served up by the talent. Paramount and Marvel Studios' press day for the big superhero sequel appeared to be the ideal event on which to use this format, as it was a large group of people--stars Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johansson, and Mickey Rourke; director Jon Favreau; screenwriter Justin Theroux; and producer/Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige--being grouped in a fairly limited span of time.

However, with this sharp, affable bunch, this event became something to behold that random quotage would simply not do justice. While offering some choice tidbits about the production, more than anything this talk evolved into quite the entertaining show, with most everyone ready to drop a witty quip at any given moment. While the folks at Paramount and Marvel have graciously offered video of the session for site posting (and I have done so below), it must be noted that this is not the entire session--and, in fact, it omits what was the best moment of the whole event. During the last two questions of the day, the large banner behind the cast suddenly came crashing down, and the good natured fun that ensued was a testament to the cast's infectious sense of humor and, above all else, the quick-thinking improvisational genius of one Mr. Downey Jr. Hopefully Paramount and Marvel will allow Favreau to include footage of that priceless moment on the DVD.

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Wednesday, May 5, 2010

F3TV: Luther - episode 1

Film Flam Flummox

While Hollywood still struggles to give him a proper post-The Wire showcase (his most recent endeavor, The Losers, being an enjoyable romp but hardly the most strenuous of acting exercises), Idris Elba has returned to his native UK to tackle some more ambitious and challenging projects--a bit ironic, considering he first ventured to the States for the greater opportunities available to actors of color. By nearly all accounts from its recent Glasgow and Tribeca festival showings, the British indie in which he stars and also executive produced, Thomas Ikimi's Legacy, has given Elba a vehicle far more demanding--and rewarding--than any of his big screen projects to date.

In the meantime, while that film continues to travel the festival circuit en route to a general theatrical release down the line, another showcase for Elba the capital-A Actor (as opposed to simply "the Star" of recent years) is more widely available on the small screen--albeit currently only in Great Britain, on BBC One: Luther. On the surface, the series seems not unlike any modern crime procedural: police detective (the man of the title, Elba's DCI John Luther) whose brilliant investigative skill is in direct proportion to his personal drama and demons. Writer Neil Cross and director Brian Kirk briskly set up the character and scenario, literally cutting to the chase in a pre-title sequence whose consequences promise to reverberate long and hard for Luther for the duration of the six-episode series. In the more immediate time frame, though, these events send Luther into suspension, from which he emerges (conveniently, right after the title sequence) a bit worn and broken down but still sharp as a tack, as he displays in a heated interrogation room showdown with one Alice Morgan (Ruth Wilson, striking the perfectly fascinating, disturbing "off" note), whose family was slaughtered in a brutal murder.

This doesn't sound terribly unique, and from this juncture all signals point toward settling into a familar procedural (for want of a better term) procedure: tormented hero catches the bad guy and thus re-proves his worth and re-discovers his mojo--though only incrementally, for after all this is a series, and the first episode at that. But as they say, the devil (in all senses) is in the details, and this is where Luther carves out its unique identity and offers significant promise. While it remains to be seen if this is a premiere episode exception, what by initial appearance looks to be another Case of the Week plants intriguing seeds for a larger story arc and further enriches the established threads. The more cliche elements, such as Luther's turbulent relationship with his estranged wife (Indira Varma), register positively despite their overwhelming familiarity due to Cross's sharp, unfussed writing and--most crucially--the committed performances.

And there is no performance here more committed than that of the lead, who brings tremendous focus to a character that is, ironically enough, in an ongoing struggle to maintain his. The BBC's official synopsis has termed Luther a "psychological thriller," and while that does apply, more apt would simply be "psycho-thriller" as just as much as this is about the psychology of John Luther, it is also about his psychoses. Elba's finely shaded, painfully authentic performance drives this point home--and not necessarily in the broader scenes such as the opening or a rather rote angry outburst later in the episode, but in his haunted, haunting face, which Kirk is wise enough to often let speak in silent, eloquent closeup. However, Luther, despite his rumpled appearance, is no sad sack, and one feels the charge right along with him when testing his wits on the criminal hunt--but, of course, it's that very excitement when not held in check that got him into trouble in the first place, and, by episode's end, the presence of a especially formidable adversary could lead him into an even bigger mess before long.

This is just the first episode of a scheduled six, so it remains to be seen how the character of Luther develops and his journey unfolds, not to mention if Cross devolves into standard cop show conventions. The teaser for the next episode does raise some warning flags, for while the larger arc looks to be advanced further, there appears to be a Big Bad of the Week in the form of a shaven-headed Sean Pertwee. Who knows how that all turns out, one thing is certain at this point--I will be watching to see exactly how it does.

Buy the Luther DVD here.

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Monday, May 3, 2010

Koffee with Karan

Film Flam Flummox

(photo by Michael Dequina)

This afternoon I had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing one of my favorite writer/producer/directors in Bollywood and the film world as a whole, Karan Johar. For those unfamiliar with his work, he's responsible for some of the best and biggest international successes from the Indian film industry the last decade plus, from his delightful 1998 behind-the-camera debut Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (Something Is Happening); the poignant 2001 blockbuster Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham... (Sometimes Happiness Sometimes Sorrow...); and my personal favorite of the films from his Dharma Productions banner, 2003's excellent Kal Ho Naa Ho (Tomorrow May Never Come), which he wrote and produced and was directed by Nikhil Advani. Our fairly wide-ranging conversation, which went beyond talk of his latest film, My Name Is Khan, a revised version of which opens in the States this Friday, to subjects such as Bollywood/Hollywood "crossover" and his soon-to-return talk show Koffee with Karan, will be posted this weekend.

One topic I did have to bring up is a most unusual project set to hit screens by year's end, Koochie Koochie Hota Hai, an animated remake of Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. It's an intriguing idea, curiosity about which is only further stoked by the film's first trailer, as one sees certain shots and scenes of Shahrukh Khan, Kajol, and Rani Mukerji being duplicated with animated dogs. Posted below are that trailer as well as those for the original film; it makes for an intriguing comparison and study.

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