Categories
TV

Mondays with Mason: Chapter Four

“Why do you do this, papi?”

Some time in between things, Perry Mason’s occasional love interest asks him, it’s after he has been beaten into a ball inside a telephone booth, a vestige from an earlier case. 

While the life of the detective is one that seems to be exciting, it is not impressed upon about how much physically demanding the role is, basically next to the level of taking blows like a boxer on the backfoot; and with the detective it’s not just the physical blows but mental ones too, those begin to strike when the detectives hit the wall in a case. 

If you are not used to daily failure, then no point being a detective, guess that’s why writers love the detective novel, it’s similar to their daily drudgery of having to come up with words with much difficulty, and most of it won’t make the final print and most of most of what makes print, won’t be read at all. But then there’s always the law of averages and they crack the case. 

A break. 

Not in this episode though, which delves deep into failure, we are still giving the spotlight, not to Perry and his work partner (a most wonderful Shia Wingham, whose presence I had failed to devote even a few words to in preceding episodes) who are logically pursuing with what they have (a dead body with a broken mouth), but whatever they might come up with, might not be enough. 

This time the system is coming at them with the biggest hammer possible, last time it was just cutting our heroes out of business, but now it could be reputation or in fact, even careers. 

Oh I’m beginning to love the series, which understands what it really wants to be, a show that breathes life into characters who have appeared in multiple plot focussed novels and the iconic TV shows. It doesn’t want to be more of the same, but this is not a whimsical decision, but one that’s been carefully worked out in writing. 

Well I should stop referring to the whole HBO series as “it” and explain that Erle’s books and the early TV shows would be the end result of this one, a true character builder, so that we go chomp away case after case that Perry’s been in. Thanks to Matthew Rhys and associates, we get a sense of what makes Perry,well Perry. It’s the answer to our “why do you do this Papi?” opening, if you didn’t notice, just saying. 

Good job. It’s character development that should make other writers envious. It makes me and I’m not even a writer. To make something out of something that’s already made, good job Rolin Jones and Ron Fitzgerald and all the others in the writers room. 

Back to failure. What I feared about E.B Jonathan, John Lithgow’s defense lawyer seems to come true, an old man in a time and profession where being an old man is the surefire path to destruction. But there’s only so much failure, a man at the end of his life can take, there’s only so much that E.B can push back and I think I saw the last of those pushbacks. Lithgow, in prison, with his client trying to explain that he believes her but he could only go so much ahead is a brilliant one, one in which he goes from being hopeless to hope-giver and his eyes do more than the talking. John Lithgow is a treasure. 

I have a theory, hear me out, it’s simple, it’s a theory about judging conviction on screen, it takes time. Yes, that simple. Maybe like in real life, you need to know the person to really believe in their convictions. The first three episodes have been that time,so when Della Street means that she is angry at the inability of society to do the decent thing, I believe it, it’s not some angsty twitter account, it’s a person. 

Apply my theory to why so many ‘socially conscious’ movies feel hollow even when they are loaded with good intentions all through. No real character, just empty words and good intentions of course. 

Besides meditating on failure, Chapter 4 also makes some inroads, but these inroads only seem to deepen the mystery, but all I can say at halfway point, that Perry Mason now almost knows about the Charlie Dodson murder that the viewers knew two episodes ago. 

That doesn’t seem much. Four down, four to go. Stay tuned. 

Perry Mason Chapter 4 teleplay by Steven Hanna and Sarah Kelly Kaplan. 

Directed by Deniz Gamze Ergüven

Categories
TV

Mondays with Mason: Chapter Three

The second chapter opened a door and the third one just pulled me down a winding staircase. 

If the layers are coming off, they are not coming off in thin peels but with thick history. 

The last time we left our hero, Perry Mason turning the corner, he had decided to go ahead, system broken or not. And the first few moments beautifully capture how broken the city is, it is told in cross cuts between John Lithgow’s E.B and the crooked DA Maynard Barnes. It is almost played like arguments and counter arguments, only out of court and they have Lithgow visiting a barber. Now what’s a classic American crime show without a shaving scene? So far Perry Mason has been putting in the right genre signals but this episode seemed a little more brighter than the last one, still a two-tone but less noir. 

Yet another classic American crime show trope is a fast talking detective and that’s what Perry says when he means “that words have a tendency to go beyond his mind and through his mouth.” Smart. But Perry has very little to do in this episode, it’s an outing for the others- Della, E.B and Paul Drake. 

E.B and Della are trying to put together the case for Emily Dodson’s bail, with hope to get some sympathy from the judge- while now innocent Matthew Dodson is unable to come to terms with his wife’s infidelity. The whole scene takes place within a prison cell and gives the impression of Emily Dodson being boxed into feeling guilty, which is what reflects in court. It’s a brilliant piece of filmmaking, this has been consistent in all three episodes, so far. 

Remember, we wrote about Perry Mason’s character philosophy? Well he ain’t developed one yet and Della Street rightly points it to him, this is when things don’t begin to go too well for E.B who seems older than usual, time seems to have swept away while he slept, his tiredness comes through, I am afraid there is not much ahead for the lawyer. 

And this is where the trio get fired out of their own case. 

Does Perry Mason really believe that Emily Dodson is innocent? At least that’s what he says when he meets Paul Drake. Does Sister Alice really speak to God, as she claims and can she see an end to this case?

I don’t know, we began with a single string but there are a lot of strands out there now, the case could go any way, it is beginning to feel like a real dense crime novel now and I love it!

Who killed baby Charlie Dodson and why? 

Stay tuned on Mondays with Mason until next week. 

Categories
cinema

Kalank (2019)

As the Swivel Chair Spins #11

If you were to ask any resident of Husnabad as it appears in this film, the route to Hira Mandi, the notorious locality where courtesans and blacksmiths co-inhabit, the resident would probably come up with something like this 

“ No eagle requires direction to fly, it knows they way from its heart” 

The Streets of Husnabad from Kalank
all day song, dance and poetry

Very difficult to deal with such daily poetry, so it is always better to carry modern tools such as Google maps when visiting Hira Mandi. The visitor will likely be awed by the erected sets of Husnabad, which seems to be the combination of Istanbul and Venice, but is labelled as pre-Partition Pakistan. For example you would need a gondola to reach the mahal of courtesan Baahar Begum, to whose voice the whole city goes to sleep; much like Vaidehi Kaathirundhal. But unlike the older Tamil film, here the songs are not about loss but about longing. 

Madhuri Dixit as Baahar Begum, once courtesan now music teacher
once courtesan now music teacher

Naturally our heroine Roop, who is new to Husnabad and who has been forced into a contract marriage with nice guy template Dev Chaudhary because his first wife Satya is in her last stretch of her life, death quickened by cancer; but normally we wouldn’t notice because even cancer here is beautiful or atleast made to look beautiful. 

Making everything beautiful, does not make this a Bhansali film, nor does the classical number or the rose tinted look of Pakistan of the time; but hey they tried a lot. As another Husnabad resident would immediately come up with lines like 

“Only the blind would look for story, in a film about love” 

Alia Bhatt and Varun Dhawan from Kalank
love boating

Maybe that Husnabad resident is right, I should indeed focus on the gondola ride at the end of the street and the mega burning Raavan before whose embers that our lovers Roop and Zafar meet. Obviously it is love at first sight, the complication in this love story ( as in most love stories) comes from the fact that Roop is a recently married woman. But as the movie which upends the Partition says “love has no borders” who am I to question. 

While even with a healthy level of cynicism I do accept this love, but Kalank tries to push another theme called ‘respect’, all the characters here are looking for one of the two or both. 

Roop says to Dev that she will not be able to love him, but she will respect him and she has given up on her lover Zafar,  because she no longer respects him. 

Right, so that was a streaming pause moment for me. Maybe you should go back and read that again. Maybe movie love is different from all this, better to leave abstract things to the poets in the streets of Hira Mandi and focus on characters. 

Alia Bhatt plays Roop, a free spirited like a kite without restraint-stubborn Rajputana girl whose dreams are cut short until they are rekindled when they meet Varun Dhawan’s Zafar, a brooding blacksmith whose eyes light up like a furnace when he hears the word “Inteqam”.

Their love story is a given, obviously since they are the leads of the movie and their story would be championed over the others, every side glance cements it, but director Abhishek Varman tends towards maximising this supposed poetry in the hope to make another Bhansali. 

But as the Husnabad street poet would quote beautifully

“Chandeliers and Courtesans alone don’t make a Bhansali

Like how a melting clock doesn’t make a Dali” 

My biggest issue with the film is not the confusion between love, sex and respect, it’s not even the over insistence n beauty, decor and makeup, it’s not even the off-mood Baahubali type bull fight that Zafar gets into, it’s not even the dullness of the senior actors (Madhuri and Sanjay) who have seen far better times but are unable to recreate it now, heck it’s not even the overblow Dusshera celebrations that I touched upon earlier. 

Nice Guys Get Nothing 
Aditya Roy Kapur as Nice Guy Dev Chowdary

It’s about the nice guy, Dev Choudhary; it is not good to be a good guy in Bollywood. As in, if we crystallize all of Bollywood films into the single line as “who gets the girl”, the good guy would never get it. 

Everyone in Bollywood hates nice guys, the character is always given to the ‘other’ hero, not the lead. His character undergoes no change that even if he has the means and need to express his feelings (for the heroine, what else), he won’t do it, his character won’t do it. 

He is the well educated, understanding, silent and “aapko books pasand hai” type guy who loses or in most cases willing to ‘sacrifice’ the girl to the street corner romeo who says sweet things to your wife like “ let the willingness of your eyes not be marred by the obstacle that is your eyelids”. Our man can never say such things, he is probably editing a cabinet report committee on steel factories in his library somewhere. Nice guys are not exciting (for the heroine, hence audience), nice guys are nice, but that’s just it. 

It’s even verbally said in Kalank, for those who might not appreciate this reading of the film, when Baahar Begum tells Roop that Dev (Aditya Roy Kapoor) is an ‘achcha ladka”, Roop responds by saying, is being “achcha” enough to spend a lifetime with? 

Umm, his plight continues, he loses his wife to cancer, who is another ‘achcha ladki’ Sonakshi Sinha who sacrifices her position  of bahu in the family, so that her husband can have a happy future. Has a wandering father (Sanjay Dutt) who from reports seems to be the Zafar of the previous generations, naturally the Begum fell for him! 

All of Dev’s credentials of being a London educated, progressive news editor and sensitive husband all fall to zero before the first class rascal nature of the romeos, because that is where Mohabbat is. 

Love is strange, but Bollywood is stranger. Maybe the end is a bit of a surprise, going against tradition, he does ‘get’ the girl, but her heart? Oh it is floating somewhere in the clouds or in the Gondolas of Husnabad. Nice guys, even when they win, they lose. 

Nice guys get nothing and that’s my biggest issue with Kalank. 

PS

Oh yeah I forgot to mention about the good old zero sum bollywood socialism sub plot, where Zafar instigates rebels against the coming of a steel plant which can only mean local industries will go bankrupt. Naturally this leads to a riot. 

Kalank is streaming on Amazon Prime and pardon my Hindi, I am learning through subtitles. 

Categories
cinema FRS

FRS: Dragon Blade

So everyone knows what an FRS is right? 

-40: To us, the pandemic has made us seek out the absolute bottom of what Amazon Prime Video barrel had to offer, not that we had really seen the other films, but nothing was as exciting as an epic Chinese film about how Jackie Chan defends the silk road from 100,000 Romans! Yes you read that right. 

+300: To the director who convinced Jackie Chan to invest in a film by telling the above one line, yes Jackie is also the producer, apart from being the action director and action here of the piece. 

-21: Movie does not begin with narration, but with our second favourite irritation, the phrase “based on real events”. We mean…nevermind. 

+67: Jackie Chan plays Captain Huo An of the Silk Route Protection Corps formed in 48BC to maintain peace along the trade route. 

This would mean that he will have film-worthy goals like word peace and mutual anbu. Since this an epic film he will have goals which are unrealistic by even film standards such as “I will unite all the 36 nations who use this silk road kind of thing’ 

+34: Subversion of audience expectation: which is critic-speak for “movie sucks, but cant tell it openly”. If anyone had bought a ticket to Dragon Blade thinking that they would at least get to see Jackie Chan do some fighting, he would be slightly disappointed, because he is part of the peace corps. Which means that he would be preventing other kingdoms from fighting, really. 

-27: Hero beats girl in an altercation, means that the girl will fall in love with him cliche, applicable even to ancient chinese dynasty heroes. 

-32: Hero is peace loving means surely some mentor in a flashback would have told him about the importance of peace, otherwise how da. 

-61.2: Hero, back home from peace corp, we get to know is married to sweet school teacher cliche, teacher says she will work towards race equality etc. This reminded us of the Kajal Agarwal paatu class in Vivegam. 

+78: Movie becomes slightly exciting when John Cusack appears as a Roman General invading a Chinese outpost fort city, but is he really attacking or is he out here for something else? Shhh

-11: If there is a plot involving a kid and Romans in the movie, it is rest assured that the kid is in line to the throne cliche. 

+100: Sandstorm Ex Machina, a sandstorm threatens the whole fight between Jackie Chan and John Cusack and we never get to know who the better fighter is. 

+54: Natpu da! Nanben da mode, these two go into. 

In one conversation involving the difference in Chinese army and Roman army, Jackie Chan says Chinese Army is present only to maintain peace in the world

<crickets> <crickets> 

+56: John Cusack character seems sensible and is motivated by revenge against those who have done bad things to him, Jackie Chan however being the hero is still preaching peace, in short anbu selling. 

-24: Sudden target of building humongous wall within 15 days extremely sudden. 

+101: It’s done, it’s a Sino-Roman joint venture, the scenes in which Jackie’s corps and Cusack’s centurions flex their muscles and engage in a bit of play fighting are the most enjoyable in the film. 

-77.2: But as this is the movies, mutual happiness does not last more than five minutes and there needs to be an even bigger villain who should spoil these guys’ friendship. 

+561: That person is Adrien Brody, whom I have never seen have so much fun in this film, it seems more fun because our hero is straight as an arrow peace loving average anbu seller 

-23: Watch your accents Romans! While John Cusack sticks to his American accent, Adriend Brody is acting as though this is a West End production. No he is really enjoyable. 

+56.4: What’s more enjoyable are the production values and the movie making magic which leads up to the final battle, great stuff guys!

-300: Something, something happens and the movie becomes 300 for a while and it ends quite predictably with all the tribes coming together and peace finally comes to the silk board…we mean silk road. 

Nooooooo!

All are happy. Except Adrien Brody. 

Also if you have seen the film, let us know why this movie was called Dragon Blade again? 

All numbers are incidental and arbitrary, except the facts provided by our data analytics team.

Team FRS

Subam

Categories
TV

Mondays with Mason: Chapter Two

The Perry Mason Recap: Season 01, Episode 02

I did not mention in our first episode recap that old Erle Stanley Gardner wrote more than 80 novels featuring lawyer Perry Mason, there were short stories too. 

80. 

When we think about it, especially when we clench our teeth to update a blog and that too with almost zero barriers to publish (except our own will), here was a man who wrote 80 novels with just one character and he had other characters too.

I’m sure that old Erle had his own plot making machine to churn out so many stories, I could almost picture him sitting at a desk going rat-at-tat on the typewriter, often with a pencil in his mouth, which would then be used to reorganize a plot. It’s humbling to picture this.

It was the golden age of pulp, people consumed it a lot, so there wasn’t a necessity to look into the soul of any character, just the bare bores, again just like I picture Erle, I picture a reader too, somewhere in a bunker with a lamp, instead of a pencil, a cigarette in his mouth, reading the exploits of Perry Mason & Della Street, only to wake up next day and go fight Nazis. Character development would have hardly been on his mind. It was a different time, a much harder time to live and these 140-200 pages of pulp gave them the excitement, the respite, the breathing space in a densely packed bunker. A way of escape that could fit in your pocket, along with the cigarette. It’s even humbling to picture this, even in our so called times of distress. 

Which is where I come to chapter two. A great man once said, that the unexamined life is not worth living, and the makers of the HBO series have taken this route, to examine the hitherto unexamined Perry Mason, the one who provided short grasps at entertainment to soldiers, is now a soldier himself, only in an earlier war, the great war, where the trenches replaced the bunker. That sort of looking at death changes people often for the worse, but will he change into the person we know from the books?

Seems unlikely, if you thought (like I did) that the first episode was dark, this one even takes a darker turn. In a sense, most of the characters have been introduced in the first episode barring two. Tatiana Maslany, who gets an entire moving sequence as an introduction to her character and to the Radiant Assembly of God. Note this time, we would come back to this soon. 

So yeah, with the introductions done, the episode literally takes a turn towards noir. It is reinforced again and again with Perry looking beyond a corner,to proceed or not, to face what’s ahead or to turn back? But then for a soldier, turning back is worse than death. He has no option but to stare back at the darkness.

Cut to the case. 

Remember,we left Perry with a strand of thread, he still has it, sitting in a corner. The thread that stitched the eyelids open of the dead baby, maybe we have not seen anything horrific than that, but Perry has. The Dodsons, who lost their baby, are trying to find solace and support from a secret benefactor linked to the Radiant Assembly of God led by Sister Alice who apart from running an influential church presents herself as a lightning conductor to God’s wishes. 

There’s another introduction too, one that is a familiar face , Paul Drake (played by The Newsroom’s Chris Chalk), not as the trusted right hand man and detective of Perry Mason, but a beat cop who discovers the effects of the violence from the previous episode. As is the normal, he is too smart for his peers and his deductions start to hit a wall. 

On the other side of this wall, leans Perry, there is yet another clue that is unearthed but he is beginning to realize that much like war, those who do the legwork don’t control the outcomes as much as those old men who sit around in panelled rooms and talk. Old men with power. 

This distinctly gave me a Chinatown feel, readers can ignore this because I get a Chinatown feel for most things. 

But I really like the dark turn (around the corner) that the series is taking, an earlier non-covid me would have been displeased with the complete absence of my ‘Perry Mason’, but hey, people change and these are not normal times.

Gayle Rankin as Emily Dodson I should say has been a revelation in this episode and slowly like the unwinding of the top, the episode also gives us a little more into the lives involved, we have one more clue, another death found and a hero who is willing to turn the corner. 

Great episode, waiting for more. 

PS The look and feel of this series is all film noir, so yeah obviously it is shot in color but the makers have painstakingly tried to limit the color palette to yellow and a deep blue, the nearest visible equivalents to black and white. Did you notice? Mel Gibson’s Payback too had similar styling. Just recollecting. 

HBO’s Perry Mason is streaming on Disney+Hotstar in India.