Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Instant Bollywood gratification

I was recently asked to provide some movie suggestions for the Bollywood novice that can be found on Netflix's Watch Instantly service. It will come as no surprise to those that know me that I went a little overboard in answering this request, providing titles, my comments, links etc. Because I've had a few people over the years ask for suggestions, I thought it would be prudent to post them here as well.

Though not nearly as many of my favorites are available as I'd like, there are quite a few good Bollywood movies on Watch Instantly. I've broken them down into categories (which I have essentially made up) for easier decision-making. Sadly, few of my favorite 1970's Bollywood movies are on Watch Instantly - an era for which I have a particular soft spot. So all of my choices here are relatively newish. All of these selections qualify as both "movies to watch if you've never seen Bollywood" and "movies Laura really likes." Keep in mind that I am not a film snob. There is some serious cheese in some of these films, and I embrace this cheese wholeheartedly.  

"Gateway" Bollywood

"Gateway" Bollywood essentially means, "Non-Bollywood Indian movies for people who like indie films." If your favorite movies are the ones shown at tiny art house theaters, you might very well be turned off by the often hamfisted, commercial, song-and-dance spectacle of an all-out Bollywood film. These two movies are lighter on the cheese factor - more real. If you like 'em, move on to one of the others on this list!

Kahaani (2012) "A pregnant woman's search for her missing husband takes her from London to Kolkata, but everyone she questions denies having ever met her husband."

Kahaani was my favorite movie of 2012. Vidya Balan is easily my favorite actress at the moment, and her performance in this movie could make anybody a believer. It is one of those films that can be easily spoiled if you read too much about it before watching, so just jump right in!

Monsoon Wedding (2001) "A stressed father, a bride-to-be with a secret, a smitten event planner, and relatives from around the world create much ado about the preparations for an arranged marriage in India." 

There is no formal occasion more beautiful and captivating to me than an Indian wedding. So! Many! Marigolds! This movie is a sweet and very beautiful exploration of human emotion and relationships.  

Classic Masala 

"Masala" is the term used to describe your quintessential Bollywood movie - perfect specimens of what Hindi cinema is all about. Want a roller coaster ride through basically all the genres (emphasis on romance and adventure) with lavish song and dance numbers? You got it. Pure escapism.

Bunty Aur Babli (2005) "Two mismatched characters go on a wild road trip in Uttar Pradesh and, while being dogged by a policeman, fall in love."
So. Much. Fun. Rani Mukarjee is one of my favorite actresses. Please don't judge her based on her fake crying at the beginning of this movie. Even though it is hard not to. Huge hat tip to one of my favorite bloggers, Beth Loves Bollywood, for recommending this movie to me.

Over-the-Top Melodrama

The only thing that really separates my Over-the-Top Melodrama category from the Classic Masala category, is more crying. That, and a plot with a more serious focus.

Fanaa (2006) "Set in Delhi and the Kashmir Valley, a blind woman falls in love with a rakish tour guide who hides a terrible secret...

If you can look past Aamir Khan's bad wig this movie (bad wigs being a serious problem in Bollywood for some reason) Fanaa is melodrama gold.

Over-the-Top Action

Suspension of disbelief is important in all Bollywood viewing, but particularly for action films. Bollywood can make Hollywood action movies seem realistic. So much fun.

Ghajini (2008) "A student is endangered after she warns a wealthy male that a crazed recluse with short term memory loss is out to kill him, not knowing the reason behind the recluse's actions."

The quickest way to describe this is "the Bollywood version of Momento." Keep in mind that Bollywood movies based on Hollywood movies veer off the plot early and rarely come back. So don't expect anything but loose parallells between them. That said, this is excellent fun.

Singham (2011) "A humiliated gangster uses his influence and goon power to terrorize a newly transferred police officer.

This movie has a tremendous action scene in which the hero pulls a man out of a car that's flying through the air with his bare hands. I don't see why I have to say anything else here.

Race (2008) "Ranvir Singh runs a successful business he inherited from his father. His younger brother Rajiv Singh mooches off of Ranvir and is an alcoholic."

Mix in girls, jealousy, betrayal and horse racing. Stir. Lots of plot twists. Explosions. 

Tashan (2008) "A woman runs off with her gangster boss's money, and he hires her betrayed ex-lover and a bounty hunter to bring her back."

One of the stars is Anil Kapoor who you'll recognize from 'Slumdog Millionare.' 

Romantic Comedies
If you want something fun and light, these two movies should do the trick. When the conservative cultural conventions of India clash with the modern views of contemporary life, it makes for some really great romantic tension, drama and comedy.

Mere Brother Ki Dulhan (2011) "A young man tries to arrange a marriage for his brother, but finds himself falling in love with the chosen fiancée."

A silly, sweet romantic comedy with fun music and wedding scenes. Plus, I happen to think Imran Khan (no relation to Aamir) is super cute and charming.

I Hate Luv Storys (2010) "Jay doesn't believe in love Stories, and Simran, is a girl who's in love with the idea of Love itself."

Another silly, sweet romantic comedy starring Imran Khan. In this one, he plays somebody who works in the movie industry, but is cynical about the romantic stories in the very movies he helps make! You can see where this is going...

Super Fucking Long Historical Movies

Into historic costumes and battle scenes? Well, Bollywood serves 'em up in spades. One of my favorite movies is the 4-hour Lagaan, which sadly isn't available on Watch Instantly, but it certainly prepared me for Bollywood's typically long run times. Now when somebody says, "Wow, such-and-such film is over 2 hours long, I roll my eyes. Please. I watch Bollywood.

Jodhaa Akbar (2008) "A sixteenth century love story about a marriage of alliance that gave birth to true love between a great Mughal emperor, Akbar, and a Rajput princess, Jodha." 

I have only seen the first half hour of this, but that's because I started watching it at an inopportune time. Been meaning to get back to it. Fun fact: The star, Hrithik Roshan, has two thumbs on one of his hands.

So there you have it! Give one of these films a chance and let me know what you think. 

Monday, January 28, 2013

"You can't hide your love forever..."

If you missed my recent post about my favorite records of 2012, you might still be unaware of the band This Many Boyfriends. Watching the new video for their song "Tina Weymouth" will help you familiarize yourself with their greatness. It seems especially appropriate considering the weather today.

Bonus: If you can tell me the one thing I don't like about this video, you'll get a prize.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Dear Mr. President: End the War on Pot. Start a War on Rape.

Dear Mr. President:

Welcome back for a second term as the President of the United States of America! I, along with millions of other people, are really glad you won this election. Your opponent's campaign was a poorly run mess and large parts of the Republican platform revealed a party that is out of touch with reality and terrible at prioritizing. You, on the other hand, represent the promise of a forward-thinking, progressive America. A country ready to tackle inequality and to reevaluate policies that are antiquated, inadequate and harmful to the citizens of this country.

Now, I know that you've got some serious obstacles in your way. Mainly, Congress. A body politic so reviled by the American people that a recent Public Policy Poll revealed that voters think more highly of head lice and Nickelback than the outgoing 112th Congress. Yes, you read that correctly – Nickelback is more popular than these clowns. Yikes. We both know that, despite some change ups, the 113th Congress is gonna kick just as much sand in your face and make your life as difficult as possible every chance they get. So good luck with that.

But sometimes your administration makes bad decisions that can't be blamed on the insanity of Congress. Decisions that make you look as out of touch with reality and terrible at prioritizing as your political opponents. The case of Aaron Sandusky is a perfect example of this. Sandusky faces 10 years behind bars for selling pot through his dispensaries in the state of California. Where medical marijuana is legal. But, since federal law trumps state law, the federal government decided to go after him anyway. The U.S. Attorney's office recently announced his conviction and sentence without any hint of shame or embarrassment. Which is in and of itself a shame and an embarrassment.

People all over this country have watched helplessly as money for police, firefighters, schools and public services has disappeared from their communities. It's no surprise that voters in two states legalized marijuana this past election. Because it doesn't take a degree in law or political science to recognize that our country has far greater problems than the neighbors smoking weed – whether for their glaucoma or because they had a stressful day at work. Who gives a shit when, because your city has had to cut their police force to the bone, you're not even sure the cops will come if you have an actual emergency. 

It has puzzled me for some time as to why so much of our law enforcement hours and dollars are wasted on marijuana. There is so much evidence pointing to the drug's potential benefits, as well as refuting the ridiculous claims about it being harmful. Alcohol is physically addictive and, if ingested to excess, can kill you. It also, if judging by the actions of my across-the-street neighbor, can cause you to violently kick and punch your front door while screaming horrible, threatening obscenities at your girlfriend for over an hour on CHRISTMAS DAY. Marijuana, on the other hand, does none of these things. And yet it is illegal and alcohol isn't. I can't tell you how much I wished the asshole across the street was stoned out of his mind on the Lord's birthday rather than being lit up on hooch. It would have made our annual holiday viewing of Home Alone a lot more peaceful and less scary.

So why the continued assault on stoners? I think I have a good hunch. It boils down to the United States Prison Industrial Complex. You need to fill the cells. We now boast 7 to 10 times more inmates than most other developed nations. This is staggering. And insane. But what's most insane is how many people we have locked up on drug charges. I'll go ahead and quote Fareed Zakaria's Time article from this past April called "Incarceration Nation" here, because he says it better than I could:

Drug convictions went from 15 inmates per 100,000 adults in 1980 to 148 in 1996, an almost tenfold increase. More than half of America's federal inmates today are in prison on drug convictions. In 2009 alone, 1.66 million Americans were arrested on drug charges, more than were arrested on assault or larceny charges. And 4 of 5 of those arrests were simply for possession.

The part that sticks out the most to me here is "more than were arrested on assault or larceny charges." As I'm sure you're aware, there have been some staggeringly horrific stories in the news recently about sexual assault and rape. From Steubenville, Ohio to India, the problem of violence against women is getting a lot of attention right now. It's a pandemic of the worst kind. One that has a profound effect on the world, particularly as it relates to the safety and well being of half of the human population. This is by far a bigger, scarier and more important scourge than marijuana. Yet I can't help but notice it is not being treated as such. And that needs to change. Now. Lets trade those pot heads for rapists in our prison population.

Here's my idea: You know all that money we're spending on this failed "war on pot?" It's time to allocate some of it to a war we should be fighting: The war on rape. The best way to start this? Take the law enforcement dollars we're wasting on weed and use it to test rape kits. There's an estimated 400,000 rape kits currently backlogged in this country. 11,000 in the city of Detroit alone. These numbers make me physically ill. We can find the resources to lock up thousands of people on possession charges, but not to test evidence that would put away violent criminals? That, Mr. President, is unconscionable. So is the fact that House Republicans just killed a bill addressing this very issue. But if one of the GOP hang ups about the Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Registry (SAFER) Act was how to pay for it, this reallocation of law enforcement funds seems like just as great an answer as you're likely to find. Let's be an example to the rest of the world and show that our priorities are in the right place. Americans deserve better than this. We demand better than this. Do the right thing, Mr. President. The citizens of this country are watching you, and the world is watching our country. 

So end the war on pot. Start a war on rape. 


Laura in MI, though I suspect I'm far from alone

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Top 20 albums I managed to give a shit about in 2012

The cynical title of this year's year-end music best of list begs many questions, all of which I've asked myself several times over the course of 2012: What's wrong with me? Am I getting old? Do I not care about music as much now? Am I just a hardened jerk who doesn't understand what these kids are into nowadays?

The truth of the matter is, I am getting older and I don't understand what the kids are into nowadays. But I embrace and accept this as part of my transition to being a grown ass woman. My passion for music is still there, but my OCD focus on music releases has waned a little. And that's a good thing. Now, instead of spending the entire year counting down the days until the new "band-I-love-or-am-at-least-obsessed-with" record comes out, I spend a lot more time in the present. A lot more time enjoying what it is I am currently listening to and listening to what I want to hear. There's no more race, no more obligation. 

My girlfriend pointed out to me a couple of years ago that I listen to a new record once or twice and then discard it for the next new release, never giving anything that much of a chance. Which is totally true. I'd feel guilty if I liked a record so much I wanted to listen to it over and over - there's no time! I must move on! Otherwise I'll miss something! But now I realize that this mentality meant I was missing something. Lots of things. Because I was too busy looking over my shoulder to see what was coming up next to really enjoy what was happening at that moment. This is dumb. And I'm done with it. 

But that doesn't mean I didn't listen to an obscene amount of music in 2012. Or that I didn't love some records a great deal. I did! You may notice that a lot of the more obvious, critically acclaimed records that make up the bulk of other year-end lists are not included here. This isn't because I missed them. I'm not that off my game. It's because I didn't like them or care about them. But that's more Jack White and Walkmen for you, right? Right. Here are 20 records I think are worth your time. Enjoy.

Top 20 Favorite Records of 2012

1. Sharon Van Etten - Tramp

I knew right away that Tramp would be my favorite album of the year, and that feeling never subsided. This record is on virtually every year end list for a reason. Sharon Van Etten deserves every bit of praise she's gotten for this record. If I ever saw her live I would probably make a fool out of myself by gushing like a little fan girl. So maybe it's best she doesn't often make it to Detroit to play shows.

2. Lightning Love - Blonde Album

I love a lot of Detroit bands, but Lightning Love are my favorite. They also win my "most deserving of big time fame" award. I gleefully listened to this record a million times in 2012. I hope 2013 is the year these guys break out so huge that even Leah Diehl's bird gets her own limo whenever the fuck she wants.

3. Patti Smith - Banga

My absolute favorite music experience of the year was seeing Patti Smith live in the Detroit Film Theatre at the DIA. My girlfriend and I watched from the darkness of the projection booth – it felt like we were in secret, private box seats. Earlier in the week, Smith was wandering around the museum passing out buttons to promote her new record. After witnessing this, my girlfriend told me, "I think a lot of the bewildered people being offered a button thought she was a homeless lady." This just makes me love Patti Smith even more.

4. Allo Darlin' - Europe

Elizabeth Morris writes warm, breezy pop songs that would be perfect on a mixtape for your secret crush. Her lyrics are those perfect words you could never say and her voice has the sweet, beautiful tone you think you're achieving on your best karaoke outing, but that's really just the boozy haze, masking what you really sound like. Sing less and listen to more Allo Darlin' in 2013.

5. Scott Walker - Bish Bosch

As much as I am a sucker for catchy pop songs, I also like to give my brain a good musical challenge. In his long and often odd career, Scott Walker started with catchy pop songs and ended up veering down a musical path that led to him making music that would fit right into a David Lynch movie. Bish Bosch isn't for everybody, but I highly advise giving it a listen. Get outside of your comfort zone for a minute (or nine) and see what happens. That Mumford & Sons record will still be here when you get back. If you get back.

6. Perfume Genius - Put Your Back N 2 It

This guy knows the way to my heart, and that way involves spooky, beautiful, simple songs. I don't know if the album title is a nod to Prince* but if Mike Hadreas came to my door and presented me with a copy of the Watchtower I'd gladly let him in for some Bible study. As long as it took the form of a private house show and we left all that silly God stuff out of it.
*The joke here is that Prince is a Jehovah's Witness. It's weird to me how many people don't seem to know this. 

7. This Many Boyfriends - This Many Boyfriends

I don't know how this record isn't getting more attention from nerdy, sloppy pop loving music geeks everywhere. This Many Boyfriends are everything you love – catchy songs, care-free delivery and band-referencing lyrical abandon. They're named after a Beat Happening song and open their record with a track named after the bassist for the Talking Heads. You owe it to yourself to give this a chance immediately.

8. Bat For Lashes - The Haunted Man

I assume the album name refers to the guy on the cover who is haunted by a recurring dream where he's helplessly carried around constantly by a naked Natasha Khan. When he tells his friends about the dream, they laugh and say "That doesn't sound like a nightmare to me!" as they wink and elbow his ribs. He insists, "You guys, seriously. She never puts me down and never says a word. I just get carried and carried and have no control over the situation. I beg her to release me, but she ignores me. In each dream I eventually freeze or starve to death. It's horrible." His friends laugh at him again and call him a fag. The moral of the story is nobody will ever understand you, haunted man. Nobody

9. First Aid Kit - The Lion's Roar

Pop quiz: Listen to this song, with lyrics that reference country music greats like Emmylou Harris and Johnny Cash, and tell me what country this band is from. If you guessed, perhaps, Nashville it would be understandable. However, such an answer suggests you missed the line, "Stockholm's cold, but I've been told I was born to endure this kind of weather." Because duh, they are obviously from Sweden. Surprised? I was too. But country music is so much more universal than we think it is.

10. Twin Shadow - Confess

This is another record I listened to a whole hell of a lot in 2012. I love his voice which is hardly a surprise considering how often Morrissey comparisons are tossed his way. Confess basically takes every serious, synth drenched, tear-jerker Top 40 song I liked as a child in the 80's, blends them all together and reinterprets them for my grown up listening pleasure. If that's the definition of "adult contemporary," I am perfectly comfortable with this.

11. Fawn - Coastlines

12. Santigold - Master of My Make-Believe

13. Shearwater - Animal Joy

14. The History of Pan!c - Fight! Fight! Fight!

15. Lambchop - Mr. M

16. Stars - The North

17. Lavender Diamond - Incorruptible Heart

18. Damien Jurado - Maraqopa

19. The Magnetic Fields - Love at the Bottom of the Sea

20. Pet Shop Boys - Elysium

Want a Spotify playlist of all these songs? Here you go.

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