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Introduction

In his acceptance speech during the 2019 Golden Globes Awards, Bong Joon-ho said:

“Once you overcome the 1-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films,”

That line was a perfectly formed dagger that was slid between the ribs of certain moviegoers and critics. I was certain that someone would cop the title for exactly the purpose of this blog.

“I think we use just one language — the cinema.”

Now, I do have a bias. But it isn’t against foreign language films or world cinema. My bias is that I’m far more likely to watch genre films (action, horror, crime, thriller, etc). So that filter may influence my posts here. Right now I am watching a lot of Asian cinema (Hong Kong, Korean, Chinese) and recently started diving into Indian cinema. But I am an omnivore viewer and will try just about anything. 

Bottom line is that I love movies. This blog will be a humble attempt to elevate and celebrate some of the world of subtitled films. I will share reviews, poster art, links of interest to other sites, trailers, and whatever else is appropriate.

I hope you find something at this blog helpful. 

If you’d like to help out, get in touch. If you’d like to see something covered here, let me know.

Please note: This is a pro Wakaliwood site, any anti-Wakaliwood sentiments will not be accepted.

–Brian Lindenmuth

Amar Akbar Anthony: 45th Anniversary

According to Wikipedia, yesterday was the 45th anniversary of Amar Akbar Anthony so I wanted to jot down a couple of thoughts to mark the occasion and recommend it.

Masala films are movies where many genres are mixed together often with musical numbers. Instead of being one thing they often try to be everything in an attempt to reach as large an audience as possible. They can be a little disorienting due to the constant tone switching. 

For many seasoned lovers of Bollywood, Amar Akbar Anthony encapsulates all of the joys of classic Masala cinema at its most manic and convoluted–a fact which likely accounts for it being the most fondly remembered title from Manmohan Desai’s 1977 quartet of “superhits” (the other three being Parvarish, Chacha Bhatija, and the bi-polar period epic Dharam Veer).

For Bollywood novices, however, Amar Akbar Anthony might prove to be something of an acid test. One’s reaction to it can be a pretty clear indication of whether he or she should venture further into this branch of world cinema or simply close the gate and walk away.

Funky Bollywood: The World of 1970’s Indian Action Cinema by Todd Stadtman

The over simplified synopsis of Amar Akbar Anthony is that after three brothers are separated at birth they are each raised in different religions (Hinduism, Islam, Christianity). When they meet up again they don’t know about their shared history but they will join forces to stop the bad guy.

Akar Akbar Anthony could be described as Plot Twists: The Movie. There are so many plot twists, reveals, and elements of chance and coincidence that you might get whiplash. But here’s the thing, it’s charming and fun as hell and everyone in it is having a grand time. Just don’t expect anything resembling traditional plot structure or coherence, you just have to go with its manic screwball comedy energy.

When I first watched Amar Akbar Anthony it was immediately after watching Sholay for the first time. These were also my first two Amitabh Bachchan movies. Bachchan is a towering figure in Indian cinema and one of the most popular movie stars of all time anywhere in the world. He has a huge filmography so I wanted to hit a couple of the greatest hits. At least of the ones available to stream. I’m glad I chose these two as an unintentional double feature because I wound up very impressed with the broad range they show.

In Sholay, Bachchan has a stern countenance and an intense personality. He smolders. He’s the ultimate quiet tough guy you know can handle himself and you don’t want to mess with. When Bachchan first started he was given the “angry young man” descriptor. With that in mind it was easy for me to see him in a tough guy role.

Bachchan’s performance in Amar Akbar Anthony was a revelation because what I wasn’t expecting was for him to be such a gifted comedic actor too. I had seen him work in one mode in Sholay and now here was a completely different mode. It was a great experience and deepened my appreciation of him.

Two Bachchan scenes to highlight.

First is the song “My Name is Anthony Gonsalves”. A giant egg is rolled out that says Happy Easter, Bachchan pops out wearing a tuxedo, a top hat, and a monocle, and does a comedic Chaplin-esque soft shoe number while trying to win the girl and fend off her dance partner (who we know she doesn’t want to be with and is one of the bad guys). It’s silly, fun(ny), and the best thing ever. You’ll be singing the chorus right along with Bachchan. 

There’s a bit where a drunk Bachchan has been beaten up and is talking to himself in a mirror that is one of the greatest comedic bits I’ve ever seen. Bachchan does a great job playing “drunk” (something hard to do). I’m honestly surprised it hasn’t been swiped by another filmmaker. A real gem hiding out in plain sight. Here is the scene:

At 184 minutes Amar Akbar Anthony won’t be for everyone. But there’s a reason it’s considered something of a classic and is fairly well regarded. I personally loved it.

Saani Kaayidham – review

South India getting into the rape/revenge game. While rape has featured in other Indian films I can’t think of any others that fit so squarely into the rape/revenge category. Maybe there are some. Saani Kaayidham is a rape/revenge story filtered through a more crime/drama lens than an exploitation film one.

Saani Kaayidham opens with a black and white 4 minute long single shot that show a man and a woman torturing a woman in an abandoned building to get information. Once they get what they want, they set her on fire. Who are these people, why are they here, and what led them here? The next hour will be in color and answer those questions before returning to that moment from a different camera angle and staying in color.

There are at least three timelines at play here. The present is shown in color. The past is shown in black and white. Further in the past is shown in black and white but uses a different aspect ratio. Not only is it a stylish way to handle the story but it gives a distinct look to it.

These types of stories are known for being fairly violent. There are some minor censorship moments that are blurred out but they don’t distract in any meaningful way. It never ventures into full graphic territory but by and large this is as violent as it needs to be to tell this type of story. And that’s pretty damned violent.

Saani Kaayidham has a lot to say about the caste system and how power is abused in that system. In the rapists minds there is literally nothing to fear because who would dare retaliate? And expecially a woman. One of the rapists (I don’t don’t know the actor’s name (full credit information doesn’t seem to have caught up tot he movie sites yet) is so menacing on screen that he might just be the “best” bad guy of the year. There’s nothing cartoonish in his portrayal, just feral toughness. He really is a menacing presence.

There’s a wonderful visual moment that comes later in the film where our heroine gets her revenge in a movie theater. The projection light illuminates her in such a way that she seems to be an unreal presence coming out of the screen to exact her revenge.

Keerthy Suresh gives a steely determined performance. Nothing will get in her way. Selvaraghavan turns in a haggard performance as a man with his own reasons for assisting in this hell fury of revenge.

There are a couple of small cgi moments later in the film that look wonky and, arguably, some of the relationships could be better developed. But I have no problem recommending this.

Calling Saani Kaayidham a Tamil language Kill Bill or I Spit on Your Grave might not be a perfect match but it’s close enough (in structure at least) to get people in the door. Especially if they are just starting to explore what’s out there. Not for the faint of heart or those that don’t like rape/revenge stories.

This is the director’s 2nd movie. I’m still hoping that his first film, Rocky, will drop on a more mainstream streaming platform soon.

Currently streaming on Prime

A Family – #noirvember review

The subtitle for A Family should be An Elegy for the Yakuza. A Family spans two decades and is neatly divided into two parts.

In Part one we meet Kenji, a young man without a father who is full of aggression and energy and promise. Of a certain type anyway. He crosses paths with gang boss Hiroshi who sees something in him. Young men of a certain temperament, unwilling or unable to live the life of an average citizen, join a different family. 

This first half is filled with Yakuza movie moments that we’ve seen before. Honor codes, talk of family and loyalty. A charismatic father figure boss. A more chaotic gang that doesn’t believe in the traditions of the life vying for control. A war brews. All of which is entertaining as hell but sets the stage for the more melancholic and human second half. A jail sentence.

Japan passed strict anti-Yakuza laws that comes down hard on Yakuza members, former members, their friends, family, and associates.  

When Kenji gets out of prison these laws are in place. The life he once knew is done and over. Very few people from those days are around. These new laws isolate him and prevent anyone from getting close to him in any meaningful way. This is emotionally complex harrowing stuff. You pinball back and forth between he got what he deserved and wanting him to have a chance because of how different he is. 

If you are deep in the yakuza movie game much of this will feel familiar to you, especially the first half. However, this is a perfect entry point for those new to the genre and maybe it being on Netflix can serve as a great entry point to the genre. 

Mixed positive/recommended

Streaming on Netflix

2021 japanese yakuza movie called A Family streaming on netflix a family movie poster

The Man on the Roof – #noirvember review

Let’s get this out of the way up front. The Man on the Roof isn’t really a noir. It’s a glorious 1970’s crime procedural. Hell, the first two acts are a fairly mundane procedural but the mundaneness is a strength. It’s an adaptation of the seventh book in the Martin Beck series, The Abominable Man. The Martin Beck books have been adapted for film, TV, and radio many dozens of times. For US audiences, the Walter Mathau version of Martin Beck from The Laughing Policeman is probably most well known. The Man on the Roof, from 1976, was directed by Bo Widerberg. Here the Beck character is played by Carl-Gustaf Lindstedt.

I had been looking for a copy of another Swedish movie when I found this one on Youtube instead. Trying to scratch the same itch, I gave it a shot without knowing a lot about these earlier Beck movies. I’m glad I took the chance. 

I have not read all of the Martin Beck books but I have greatly enjoyed those that I have read. It’s worth mentioning that, while the series is named after Beck, and he is the titular series character, other detectives in the squad share the storylines. Like in Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct books. The movie is the same, in addition to Beck we spec equal time with Detectives Kollberg and Rönn. 

We actually meet Detective Rönn first, at the station. He’s wrapping up a case and he’s been awake since 8am yesterday. He’s exhausted. Is black coffee noir a thing, how about exhausted noir? I’ve never seen a movie where the detectives look so exhausted before. Especially Rönn. At one point, he and Beck are questioning someone to gather more information and Rönn literally falls asleep while sitting up. 

The doggedness of the detective is often told to us and presented as an act of moral righteousness. My favorite types of detectives are the police as civil servants trying to finish up and go home. Here again, McBain’s 87th precinct books provide some guidance:

“The men in this room are part of a tired routine, somewhat shabby about the edges, as faded and as gloomy as the room itself, with its cigarette-scarred desks and its smudged green walls. This could be the office of a failing insurance company were it not for the evidence of the holstered pistols hanging from belts on the backs of wooden chairs painted a darker green than the walls. The furniture is ancient, the typewriters are ancient, the building itself is ancient which is perhaps only fitting since these men are involved in what is an ancient pursuit, a pursuit once considered honorable. They are law enforcers. They are, in the words of the drunk still hurling epithets from the grilled detention cage across the room rotten prick cop bastards”

This is my first movie with this incarnation of Beck and I hope to track down some of the others. I really enjoyed this one. 

Positive/highly recommended

Streamed on Youtube

The Girl and The Gun – #Noirvember review

The Girl and The Gun is a 2019 Tagalog language film directed by Rae Red.

A young woman who has been abused by an abusive patriarchal system finds a gun in the alleyway by her house. The gun gives her power, an increased confidence level, and arguably more agency. 

When we first meet her she is working at a department store with a strict dress code. The employees have to line up in front of their manager and have their appearance inspected and scrutinized in front of everyone. The manager is a man and of course the fixation of his ire is the women. The protagonist doesn’t have a lot of money and so she is constantly singled out. This is a stark illustration of systemic abuse. 

From systemic abuse we turn to individual abuse because a system in place such as this can only attract or be a breeding ground for monsters, right? The protagonist always stays behind in the employee locker room so she doesn’t have to participate in the after work social activities that her peers and co-workers enjoy. She just doesn’t have the extra money to do so. A male co-worker often stays after and when they are alone he asks her how she’s doing. Seems like a nice guy, right? Nah. One day he buys her a new pair or hose because the boss yelled at her again. But creeps don’t give gifts without expecting something in return. Don’t want to sugarcoat it. He rapes her. Still trying to process this traumatic event that just happened to her, she stumbles home. Now she gets exposed to community abuse. She gets catcalled, men hit on her and proposition her. 

In this vulnerable state, the gun enters her life. It becomes a catalyst. With it she finds power. She finds a voice. She finds an increased agency. She finds the men treat her differently when confronted with the open end of a barrel. 

the girl and the gun 2019  Babae at Baril netflix

Thus, the titular Girl and Gun. Or is it.

Here though the movie takes an unexpected turn. The movie switches gears and we get the backstory of the gun and the events that lead to the girl finding it. The Gun in the title is now separated out. 

Once we revisit the girl finding the gun from a different perspective, they are now joined. With this new found power she is at a crossroads and has to decide what to do and who she wants to be. This isn’t fully a revenge story. It’s a story about self empowerment, self discovery, and confronting.

Mixed positive/recommended

Currently streaming on Netflix

the girl and the gun 2019  Babae at Baril poster
the girl and the giu

Malik – #noirvember review

Malik is a Malayalam epic gangster film. It is influenced by, and a part of a lineage that includes The Godfather and an influential 80s Tamil language gangster film called Nayakan. 

It follows a Muslum man, Sulaiman, as he works to better his community and the Christian community across the water. The setup is  Sulaiman as an older man has decided to finally take Hajj and he is secretly arrested by the government at the airport. While in jail, the powers that be want to arrange his assassination while he’s in custody and already have the triggerman selected, his nephew. Four people come to visit the young man and would-be assassin to tell him their stories. Through their stories, we learn Sulaiman’s story and the story of the two communities, leaving the young man with a terrible decision to make.

I sometimes fear that Western audiences aren’t always fully aware of the great actors from other countries, in this case India. One of India’s greatest actors, and one of the all-time big movie stars, is a man who has appeared in approximately 2 minutes of only one Western film (Amitabh Bachchan in The Great Gatsby). All of which is kind of a ramble to hastily build an on-ramp to discuss Fahadh Faasil (Fazil). Faasil is one of the finest actors working in India today and his body of work stands toe to toe with other actors in the world. He possesses a formidable presence and radiaties intensity. The rest of the cast bring their A game too.

Malik is a gorgeous film with some brilliant shots. There’s a great single shot that follows two men who plant a bomb in a building and hop on a motorcycle to make their getaway. The camera stays in front of them as they drive away before the building eventually explodes in the background.

Positive/highly recommended

Currently streaming on Prime

Nayattu – #noirvember review

Dare I call this a noir? This is probably my favorite new release crime flick of the year so far, definitely in the running.

Here’s the set-up. A very contentious election is a week away and a minority group with newly recognized legal rights has an important swing vote. Three off duty cops, a veteran who is willing to please his superiors by being a little dirty, a young man new to the force whose father was a cop also, and a young female officer, hit a member of the minority group on the way home from a wedding. When he dies, the entire political system and the police force are after the three cops. Bring them in before election day by any means necessary. 

I’ve written before about how noir can be about larger systemis forces defeating (if not crushing) the individual. As always in these discussions, the David Simon notion of the “essential triumph of institutions over individuals” comes to mind. It’s not a spoiler (if you know these types of stories) to say that these three cops are going to be thoroughly crushed by these larger systemic forces because the house always wins. It’s just a question of how bad will they be crushed.

Nayattu isn’t a crime thriller. As we ease out of the 2nd act and the dragnet is closing in. It may seem like some 3rd act genre histrionics may show up. Instead the third act becomes solely about inevitability and it’s been a long time since I’ve seen characters so throughly chewed up by larger systemic forces. I was knocked flat by how fucked and fucked over they were.

Nayattu made the shortlist for India’s selection for Best International film at 94th Academy Awards

Positive/highly recommended

Currently streaming: Netflix

Poster for Indian Malayalam 2021 movie Nayattu

OddTaxi – #noirvember review

OddTaxi is an anime available for free on Crunchyroll consisting of thirteen 25 minute episodes.

I hesitate to even say this much, but there is a season end reveal to be had here so any online discussion should be avoided and I’ll try not to spoil it here.

It’s about a taxi driver who works at night and the interactions with his customers and the people he knows. At the end of episode 1 it is revealed that a girl is missing, the police are looking for her, and that the main character is a kind of person of interest because she was a customer of his.

More and more characters are introduced and their relationships create a rich web of intrigue including yakuza, the music business, escort services, online gaming, and so much more.

There are definitely some neo-noir elements in the mix here.

The plot is tight with little tidbits of info dropped early on coming back for a payoff later on.

Zootopia meets The Usual Suspects

Positive/Highly recommended

Poster for anime tv show Odd Taxi
OddTaxi Poster