Kaludiya Pokuna Tapovanaya, Mihinthale


The world of media has been full of flash, bang, and pizzazz ever since color TV, slick editing, and digital music started finding its way into the hands of filmmakers with a penchant for flamboyance. Sometimes, as an observer of film, I find myself automatically putting myself on guard when I watch big budget flicks. Maybe it’s because I’m one of those peculiar “Sundance” creepers who values simplicity and efficiency over pyrotechnics and car chases. That’s possibly a reason why James Bond films don’t really entertain me much. I find the idea of a globetrotting, invincible, hyper-masculine super spy to be a little too farfetched to engage seriously. You Only Live Twice was yet another Bond movie that tried to make a story out of the prominent issues that were shaping the social landscape of the mid 60’s. Unfortunately, the movie favored high speeds, slick thingamajigs, submissive and sparsely clad Japanese spy girls, and a smattering of improbable pyrotechnic scenarios over giving more prominence to dainty details like an INTERESTING PLOT.

You Only Live Twice was a movie that was made and released during a time where the global arena of politics was experiencing historic ripples that would later make it to the textbooks of our times. The world was experiencing the frantic excitement of two superpowers in the world vying to explore the vast unknown of space that had eluded mankind for millennia. The war on Vietnam was being fought over in the tropics of Southeast Asia and the world had new problems to face while having no new answers to solve them with. I feel that the James Bond franchise would have been the ideal medication for moviegoers who wanted entertainment that could give them an action packed ride full of thrills, lust, and testosterone while being played out in a reality where the issues of the real world were diluted and made easier to digest.

In the movie, James Bond, played by that maverick of the silver screen Sean Connery, is dispatched to crack down on the mysterious disappearances of American spacecraft orbiting the earth. Confusion and puzzlement follow as Soviet spacecraft start disappearing, and neither the Soviets nor Americans claim any responsibility for the vanishing space shuttles. As Bond cracks down on the mystery, a much more sinister plan by a much more ominous source is revealed. The SPECTRE organization, a secret superpower with greater technological sophistication than the Americans or Russians, led by its diabolical leader Ernst Stavro Blofeld, is revealed to be the shuttle-nappers. Without any rational reason, SPECTRE plans to create complete chaos between the super powers, and it seemed like Ernst Stavro Blofeld had his popcorn and kitty delights ready to enjoy the pandemonium that ensued. But that was only until 007 had something to say about it.

This is what evil looks like.

Predictably, the movie ends with Sean Connery vanquishing all the evil in the world and proceeding to reward himself by indulging in the carnal pleasures only known to those who have enjoyed the personal company of beautiful female Japanese super spies. Roger Ebert got it spot on when he said the movie was “top-heavy with gadgets but weak on plotting and getting everything to work at the same time.” Something that surely didn’t work with You Only Live Twice might have been the fact that they probably failed to tickle the funnybones of modern day feminists. The overt sexism in the movie goes to show how 40 years can make things of the past seem extremely out of place today. Not only do the Bond women have to look, act, talk, and breathe sex, lust, and seduction, they also have to do typical female things like overcome the tough volcanic terrains of coastal Japan wearing nothing but a bikini. While Bond and the rest of the ballsy boys of his ninja team would thrash around Blofeld’s volcanic hideaway in hardy bodysuits, the traditional sacramental female offering to James Bond would avoid bullets and other harmful projectiles by the divine grace of her smooth skin and skimpy two-piece swimsuit.

The contrast in the portrayal of women today, compared to the days of Sean Connery’s adventures, should make us feel fortunate that we live in a time of greater sophistication and humanity. The filmmaker displaced the real world conflict between the cold war superpowers and shifted it to an unusual looking psychopath in a Nehru suit and an undisclosed Asian country that could only be personified by China. While I felt that issues such as the complicated political climate of the time should have given more prominence in the storyline, the experience and expertise of the filmmaker clearly told him that juicy cleavage shots, together with a bunch of space age gadgetry making things go “bang!” would get the audience into a frenzy of action packed delight faster than you could say “stirred, not shaken.” Unfortunately, that’s what James Bond was and still is; a celluloid dreamworld where reality is thrust to the background while sex, guns, and masculinity blows you away.

He should be used for an Axe ad!

Hairspray (2007)

Despite my aversion to musicals, I would be lying if I said that the new Hairspray was completely awful. Even though it included teeny bop sensation Zac Effron and many cheesy, feel good songs that would make a misanthropic cynic such as yours truly retch his insides out, the new Hairspray was unexpectedly bearable for a teen musical. The new version was almost identical to its predecessor, although I personally felt that it was less “campier”, had more moments of seriousness, and briefly diverted its course to address a few more issues than John Waters’ 1988 original.

“Pleasantly plump” Tracy Turnblad (Nikki Blonski) is a dreamer in a time where America needed much dreaming as Martin Luther King famously asserted on the hallowed steps of the Lincoln Memorial, not too far from the time of Tracy’s melodic escapades. Chubby though she may be, her unassuming mobility and nimbleness when in dance mode lands her on the popular Baltimore dance program, the “Corny Collins Show” hosted by the show’s namesake, and peculiarly named Corny Collins, played by James Mardsen. The cats on the dance floor of the Corny Collins show are a bunch of white teenagers attired in the gaudy garbs of 60’s, churning out twists, turns, and fancy shuffles to the tunes of 60’s pop music. Tracy’s weight and her radical idea of integrating the all white show with the monthly Corny Collins “Negro Day” make her instantly unpopular with the show’s racist producer Velma von Tussle (Michelle Pfeiffer) and her bratty daughter Amber, who happens to be the reigning queen of the show’s annual Miss Teenage Hairspray contest. Tracy’s popularity in the show leads her, her friends, and family through a series of events that would ultimately end up in the glorious unification of black and white on the TV’s of Baltimore for the first time in history. The story has a happy ending, as anyone would predict by looking at the poster of the film or the cover of the DVD, and Tracy manages to score with the Corny Collins Show’s teenage heartthrob Link Larkin (Zac Effron), while getting her bashful mom (played by John Travolta in a fat suit) to burn up the dance floor in an epic display of gloriously portly boogieing.

Like the previous Hairspray, the new installment goes against the established order and tries to defy popular stereotypes, even though those confrontations are accompanied by the cheesy sound of 60’s pop . Chubby Tracy Turnblad personifies the stab at the establishment by dancing her way to being a hero that the director would hope that all teenagers could take a cue from. She characterizes the new age of young Americans that were not afraid of taking on the misguided prejudices of the previous generation. The new Hairspray also gives more screen time to blacks compared to its predecessor, and gives a good share of the movie to Tracy’s escapades with the “notorious” bunch of Motormouth Maybelle’s (Queen Latifah) posse of “troublemakers.” The film also takes a stab at addressing contemporary issues such as adultery by having John “Fat Suit” Travolta walk in on (her?) Tracy’s joke shop proprietor dad (Christopher Walken) at the climax of Velma von Tussle’s out-and-out attempt to tempt him into poking his pogo stick into unlawful territories. It also seems like religion is not in the good graces of the filmmaker as Christianity takes a hit with the portrayal of Prudence Pingleton, Tracy’s best friend’s fundamentalist acolyte mother. Although these episodes occur inside the larger plot of Tracy’s radical boogie bop to moral triumph, they do not distract the viewer too much from the main story, and these diversions add more color to the film’s final outcome.

“How can you not like a movie in which John Travolta and Christopher Walken sing a love song to each other?” asks DVDTown.com’s John J. Puccio. Although I may personally digress from Puccio’s opinion because I didn’t entirely warm up to the film since its musical and campy character, I do agree that much of the film’s success was due to Travolta and Walken playing their parts well, and with great relish. The movie wasn’t horrible overall, and I was reasonably happy to have a musical get my feet tapping, although I usually don’t find myself doing that. Plus, I don’t see how Michelle Pfeiffer’s erotic nastiness wouldn’t rub off well on the men in the movie theater. Kinkiness would never be a bad thing, as long as it’s coming from Michelle Pfeiffer, Charlize Theron, Mila Kunis, or any Hollywood starlet for that matter. I’m sure the guys (and some girls of course) wouldn’t disagree. And let us chant to the tone and tempo of the undying rallying cry of the modern protester: Conservatism never! Kinkiness forever!

How can anyone say no to this?


The word “camp” was given a redefinition after I read Susan Sontag’s “Notes on Camp” last night. I really didn’t know what to expect before I read the article. For me, “camp” signified a place that was defined by a sense of adventure. An isolated haven; a retreat; which people could escape to. A camp was a place where you take a break to go and kill a few small animals, roast them over a spit and consume them. It was fun. Adventurous. But this NEW “camp” redefined the word to describe the feeling of “cheesiness”, or exaggeration created by watching an overacted, ostentatious movie for example. You know, that feeling when you get when you see an overly eager actor trying too hard? Imagine that; except everyone is doing it. In that sense, Hairspray (delightfully) earned my recognition as being the *campiest* movie I’ve seen. Although I didn’t enjoy the movie very much at the outset, I realized that Hairspray has more serious than it appeared to be when I started doing some background research on it.

The movie was directed by John Waters and was released in 1988. It tells the story of Tracy Turnbald, a plump young teenage dance sensation in 1960’s Baltimore and her showbiz stint that led to the desegregation of a popular teenage dance show. The movie is overly melodramatic and stylized, complete with outrageous hairstyles, deliberate exaggeration, and moments of complete outlandishness. But the story carried a greater significance; that of political and moral change, in its larger-than-life storyline. Inspired by real events and a time of radical change that was sparked by the civil rights movement, Hairspray joined the ranks of movies that sought to create a story that addressed issues such as racism and female empowerment. Personally, watching the movie was less appealing than reading more about its context and understanding the background of this movie.

The movie’s heroine, Tracy Turnbald, is a complete departure from the conventional movie heroine of the time. She is the kind of person who would appeal to those who lived by the adage “bigger is better” or “the bigger the cushion, the sweeter the pushin'” (thank you for that Spinal Tap. You are the masters of the universe).  Chubby though she was, Tracy personified the very essence of change that characterized the 60’s. She was a woman. She was chubby. And she wanted change. She was the antithesis to the standard movie hero and ordinary white Southerner that the 60’s and 70’s were used to seeing. Change was going to come. And Tracy Turnbald was going to dance her way to making that happen.

Tracy in all her glory.

Kim Newman of Empire Magazine says that Hairspray was “thoroughly deserving of its cult status”. I personally hate musicals, so I didn’t really enjoy watching the movie and its over-acted antics. But looking back on its context, I can see how the film would have made an impression on a lot of people. It was an underdog story. Here was a girl who everyone would hardly ever notice (except at the lunch counter), getting out there, giving the downtrodden some hope, and the unrealistic klutzes some sense. It was an adventure just like heading out to real a camp. Cheesy it might have been, but I don’t have any scruples with something with a timely and feel good message like that.

Or a hairstyle like that!

I fear that the word “badass” is somehow going to have a serious impact in my life thanks to the films we’ve been watching as of late in Film Studies class. A couple more movies along the same lines and I might even have to add a nickname in the middle of my real name and call myself Yasas “Badass” Ratnayake; not because I’m badass, but because I’m compelled to use that word way too often thanks to films like Shaft and Do the Right Thing; the movie I’m reviewing right now. The former was overtly badass, and mashed pigheaded goons and cruised on raw masculinity on its way to “badassery” (think Chuck Norris), but the latter was the kind of badass that was subtle, intellectually intimidating, and viscerally emotional (think Malcolm X, or Chuck Norris) in a way that kept you rocking in its impact like the eerie ringing in your ears that would persist for days after being in the front row of a rock concert. If I had to choose between which badass I’d choose, Do the Right Thing would get my vote before two shakes of a lamb’s tail; and not even Chuck Norris could stop that without having to kill me with the bristles of his invincible beard.

He will kick you in the face AND your brain.

Do the Right Thing is a 1989 movie by Spike Lee that tells the story of a Pizza shop, a heat wave, three Italians, a black neighborhood in Brooklyn, a pizza delivery guy, a big guy with a big boombox, a virtuous drunkard, a mentally handicapped civil rights movement devotee named Smiley, an Asian grocery store, a radio love doctor, a wall of fame, and a riot. The story would be clearer to those who watch it, because accurately summarizing such a complex, yet emotionally engaging film such as this would take more than the desired space needed for a film review. For those who have watched 2005’s Academy Award winning ‘Crash’ and had to put all that information onto a 5-6 paragraph article; you would know what I’m going through right now. Do the Right Thing is a visually arresting composition that challenges the viewer to critically analyze many complex social values, norms, and mores and question: what IS the right thing to do?

As Jonathan Rosenbaum of the Chicago Reader says Do the Right Thing is “A powerful and persuasive look at an ethnic community and what makes it tick–funky, entertaining, packed with insight, and political in the best, most responsible sense”. The main story portrays the inconsequential goings on of a hot summer day in Brooklyn manifesting into an ugly race riot. The movie revolves around Mookie, a scrawny pizza delivery guy (played by Spike Lee), who works for the only white establishment, a well known Pizzeria called Sal’s, in a predominantly black neighborhood. Even the most minor characters in the movie carry a great amount of depth and each person in the movie tells his or her own story to give the film a rich, bittersweet texture much like a helping of good tiramisu. Do the Right Thing weaves in good measures of comedy, historical allusions, political ideals, profanity, modernist movie dynamics, and frequent repetitions of Public Enemy’s hit “Fight the Power” (thank you for that, Radio Raheem) to create a multicolored patchwork that is complex, yet beautiful to behold. I wouldn’t know how to fit in a brief, yet accurate summary of the movie into a single sentence without missing out on many important parts, so I won’t try. Instead, if there is anyone who’s reading this blog who isn’t in my Film class (which I highly doubt; but hey, thanks for stopping by!) and you haven’t watched Do the Right Thing, I highly recommend that you grab your popcorn, soda, Black Panther beret and WATCH IT!

John Turturro telling Spike that he should be delivering them pizzas.

Watching it with a focus in trying to decipher references to a deeper message than what is communicated on the surface, I believe the way the movie ended threw the cat out of the bag and left the meaning to be inferred with the subjective lens the viewer saw and understood it with. Where did the cat go? Is it in the basement? Or is on a tree, trying to catch a pigeon of some kind? One could say, especially if he or she is more of the Malcolm X type, that Mookie DID do the right thing and justified Radio Raheem’s death by inciting the riot, which I personally thought was something that Raheem brought about himself. I guess my opinion is shaped by the fact that Martin Luther King’s writing stirred a lot of meaning in me thanks to my First Year Seminar, which was dedicated to study the civil rights movement. But I think that this is exactly the point that Spike Lee is trying to make with the movie.

Ultimately, the viewer must face the question and conclude what the right choice was; based on everything he or she saw in the film. The viewer was given insight into Sal and his two sons, and also given an insight into the rest of the community that crowded that street and ultimately turned Sal’s Famous Pizzeria into a heap of worthless ember that’s burnt to the crust. The fact that Smiley pins the picture of MLK and Malcolm X in a friendly moment (they were known to be divided in their belief of how to win civil rights) on what was once the wall of fame at Sal’s, might symbolize the ambiguous ending where the viewer is called to identify whether the right thing was accomplished in the end of the film or not. What was the right thing to do? Was MLK right? Was Malcolm X right?

Personally, I’m with the Sonny the Korean guy. He says “I no white! I black! You, me, same! We same!” Although this might have been interpreted incorrectly by the rioters, I think it stood for the real message that Lee tried to convey. Like the words of all great people in history whose messages have been distorted, modified, and ignored, the Korean guy too, was dismissed by the mob as probably being some kooky Asian dude with schizophrenic tendencies, although he WAS pointing to an essential truth that transcends race. All in all, I personally thought that no one really did the right thing in the end of the film. I suppose that’s why the guy who sincerely wants everyone to do the right thing and does it by example is good ol’ Mayor, the drunkard. Who wouldn’t be drunk when he or she understands the truth is so simple to see, yet everyone’s too foolish to realize it? Let’s just leave that possibility to be inferred by the intellectual badasses.

Steve Park is doing the right thing. Two thumbs up man!

And for those who watched and enjoyed the movie, here’s something to check out. It’s pretty badass.

Shaft (2000)

Just when you thought that Samuel L Jackson couldn’t get any more badass, he himself proves to you that he CAN. And that he will. And, unfortunately, that’s the problem with Samuel L is that almost all his roles are somewhat generic and predictable, yet entertaining at the same time. This is the case with the sequel to 1971’s iconic blaxploitation film Shaft. The sequel, made in 2000, doesn’t carry the same kind of sophistication and finesse as its predecessor, but is entertaining if you want it to be.

John Shaft (junior?), played by Samuel L Jackson, is a maverick NYPD cop that specializes in busting people who happen to escape in the most exciting, adrenaline packed, commotion rousing manner ever. When faced with the task of apprehending a millionaire convicted of beating a black person to death, Shaft takes on more than he would have liked to handle, as he gets entrenched in an epic struggle to apprehend the culprit Walter Wade, played by Christian Bale with a devil-may-care disposition, in a gang busting, gun toting, face smashing extravaganza of blood, adrenaline, and pure machismo. The movie features a cameo appearance from the original John Shaft (senior?), Richard Roundtree, who, although much older, hasn’t lost his penchant for attracting the ladies, as the filmmaker would want us to assume. The movie also features rap star Busta Rhymes as a loud, obnoxious, and positively horrible sidekick to Samuel L, and a host of other minor characters that give the movie some entertaining quirks. The film takes the audience through a rough-and-tumble progression of underworld violence instigated by Christian Bale and his for hire Dominican drug running buddy Peoples Hernandez, played by Jeffery Wright. The story’s action packed narrative unfold as Walter Wade’s (unsuccessful) attempts to snuff out the only witness to his crime intertwine with Shaft’s determination to protect the witness and convict Wade.

As Widget Walls of needcoffee.com puts it; “This is a film where if you decide to take it too seriously, you will be seriously disappointed.” The key to enjoying the remake is to forget little details like the several cheesy lines of dialogue between Samuel L and some of the ladies that are craving his “L.D” (one can only guess what that is), the ease of which an expert gangbuster like Shaft can be located and followed by his enemies, and the fact that Peoples Hernandez can repeatedly drive a sharp weapon into himself out of frustration and still find the energy (and blood) to chase down the good guys through the streets of New York, among other things. Besides the obvious shortcomings and the fact that the sequel can’t be held in the same respect as its predecessor (even with Isaac Hayes’ smooth sounds from the original movie), the film isn’t as horrible as many would think. It will surely be entertaining for fans of Samuel L Jackson, lovers of the crime and action genres, and those who love guns, bullets, knives, speeding cars, the streets of New York; all materializing at the same time; but it would be a disappointment for those who expect the same Shaft from 1971.

Rich; white; black guy killer, Walter Wade

The movie attempts to displace broader issues of institutionalized racism, class conflict, police corruption, and gang violence in its narrative. The fact that the villain, Walter Wade, is a millionaire white guy, and the fact that he beat up an ordinary black guy to death with a nightclub fixture carries a certain undertone that seems to be a deliberate attempt by the moviemaker to convey a message. The complicity of the Dominican drug runner, Peoples Hernandez, in Wade’s machinations also show how income status, race, and extralegal activity can all be arbitrated by money in a world of chaos and confusion. I also wonder whether the fact that all the characters in the movie, good or bad, being able to expertly sneak up on each other in various parts of the movie was a kind of message that was being conveyed by the filmmaker; but then again, it could just be the filmmaker taking cues off the “Action Movies 101” manual to try and make the film more exciting than it should be.

All in all, the movie wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Even though Samuel L. has turned into a generic badass over the years, watching him is somewhat like humoring yourself by watching Will Ferrell movies for kicks (Yes. I don’t mind doing that from time to time). It was reasonably enjoyable, as long as I chose to forget the little details, and it wasn’t as bad to have left people gouging their eyes out for watching it. A word for Samuel L though; even if you spit out the same old brutal rhetoric till the day you die, don’t forget that no matter how old or hacked your taunts may be, there will never be anyone as bloody good at it as you are. Respect.


Bad Motherf***er!

Shaft (1971)

The BBC’s Micheal Thomson in a revised review 30 years after his original article writes “‘Shaft’ has long since reached icon status, and is thus deemed to be beyond the reach of criticism.” Besides a moderate grilling from Roger Ebert, Shaft really does seem to live up to Thomson’s statement, as it is nearly impossible to find a harshly criticized review of Shaft. Being one of the breakthrough blaxploitation movies after Melvin van Peebles’ pioneering film Sweet Sweetback’s Baadassss Song, Shaft enjoys widespread critical praise from film critics and filmmakers; and for good reasons.

The movie was memorable for two main reasons. Firstly, it was a film that shattered the conventional movie scene and defied the dominant ideology of the time. Even though Sidney Poitier, the legendary Bahamian/American black actor had won critical acclaim for his roles in anti-establishment movies such as In the Heat of the Night, and Guess Who’s Coming for Dinner a few years prior to the blaxploitation breakthrough for portraying a similar role as Richard Rountree in Shaft, it was Shaft that really shook the foundations of the film industry, and brought new meaning to Black cinema. Rather than being a technical masterpiece, Shaft was significant for its cultural impact; especially given its context in the years following the civil rights movement, the formation of the Black Panther Party, and the death of Martin Luther King Jr. The movie was a story of empowerment, defiance, sheer bravado, and a fresh brand of in-your-face humor that probably rocked the socks offa’ the 70’s.

Secondly, it was the music. Who could ignore that iconic, fresh and funky, groovalicious soundtrack by Isaac Hayes? Right from the beginning, Shaft takes place inside an edgy, big city, big risk soundscape which went on to win tremendous critical acclaim. These two factors alone would have been enough to make Shaft the important cultural achievement it truly is.

The story takes the viewer through the smog filled, dodgy streets of New York City as the slick and suave John Shaft, a black detective, makes his way through the dark alleyways and seedy hotels to rescue the kidnapped daughter of Bumpy, another funnily named Gangster that seems to be a pretty big deal in the Big Apple (where DO these guys get their names anyway?). Shaft, a quick witted, street smart, chick magnet detective, takes on the Italian Mafioso to, guess what; RESCUE the girl in the end! No big surprise there. The story itself isn’t very complicated, but the style and approach that Shaft pulls off the task with is what was truly revolutionary about this movie. Not only does it have a black man doing what is usually expected to be pulled off by a white, no nonsense, straight talking cop in a time of cinema that was completely saturated by white Hollywood; he does it with a fresh new, radical take on law enforcement. The movie has several references to the civil rights movement, beginning with Shaft’s “movement” buddy Ben Buford, and ending in a pretty violent scene that also includes a high pressure hose; a clear allusion to the police brutality that blacks endured not so long ago before the making of the movie. The film also has Sharp stepping into pretty sensitive territory with a pretty raunchy scene with a white girl he picks up at the bar as a kind of reward for unabashedly slamming a mafia goon’s head with a big bottle of whiskey. Interracial sex aside, you’ve got to admit that smashing bottles over the heads of villains is a pretty timeless strategy of attack.

The film was a pathbreaking creation that led the way for a boom in African American cinema. Besides, Shaft’s cultural influence went onto inspire filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino and managed to penetrate the white dominated movie business, with temporary, but memorable success. It was too bad that the whole blaxploitation genre was to soon run aground thanks to a proliferation of outrageously silly films like Blacula (Yes. A black Dracula), but Shaft was remembered above most of the other movies that came following its success. It was a film that empowered the masses of African Americans at the time, and still continues to be that same empowering force to this day.

And no. Martin Lawrence and his stupid fat suits don’t empower anyone.