Thursday, 24 December 2015

Movie Review: Dilwale/Loving A Vegetable (2015)
I’m kind of surprised and, honestly, kind of disappointed that it’s taken me this long into the year to talk about another Bollywood movie. Given how we had not one but three arrive at my local last year, I honestly thought that we’d get more coming in this year. However, probably as a result of the release drought in response to no-one wanting to directly to compete with Star Wars, as well as the mass releases on Christmas Day, this is one of the few new releases that have come in in the last few weeks. Well, even given my admittedly limited exposure to Indian cinema, I reckon I’ve taken a look at a semi-decent sample: There was Kick, which started out shaky but ended up pretty good, there was Happy New Year, which was alright but a bit forgettable, and then there was PK, which was legitimately surprising in the best way possible. Time to see how today’s film measures up to the minor experience I’ve had previously: This is Dilwale.

The plot: Veer (Varun Dhawan) is a mechanic who works with his brother Raj (Shah Rukh Khan), whose repair shop is frequently getting robbed as well as being shaken down local crime boss King (Boman Irani). He finds himself falling in love with Ishita (Kriti Sanon) but, because of a previous incident involving a woman named Meera (Kajol) that ended badly, Raj doesn’t want him doing anything stupid. In the ensuing conflict, we see both sides trying to make up/break up the relationships around them.

I had the ‘privilege’ to see this in a theatre where the guy working the sound system was apparently asleep at the wheel, since the volume was roughly fifty times louder than any other film I’d seen previously at my local. I’m just going to chalk that up to a fault with the cinema rather than the film itself just to be safe, although the sound design in this thing is extremely annoying regardless of that point. Not since Inspector Gadget have I heard a film be this obnoxious when it comes to its sound effects; it’s at the point where they actually think playing the ‘wah-wah-wah’ trombone sans irony was a good idea. However, even that would be excusable if it weren’t for the random I-can-only-assumed-to-be-comedic noises that are littered throughout the film. Of course, this is nothing compared to what happens during the ‘dramatic’ scenes, where things actually start to become funny… for a time, at least. There’s a scene that features a slew of dramatic revelations said one right after the other, and all of them have a dramatic music sting right after them. These get exceptionally soap-opera in how melodramatic they are, but they are made even worse by how badly the music wants us to take them seriously. But even the ironic comedy value is short-lived since, for as funny as it is the first time they do it, it is significantly less humourous the tenth or eleventh time it’s done in the space of a single minute.

The premise is pretty convoluted and the star-crossed lovers aspect has been done to death; however, that isn’t what makes this plot fail. Instead, it’s because of just how badly the relationships are written, even the platonic ones. Everyone comes across as incredibly na├»ve or insultingly hypocritical towards each other. For some reason, characters are more than willing to forgive each other for stealing from right under their noses or nearly getting someone killed. It gets that hokey that I kept expecting one of them to go full Ferris Bueller and admit that they were faking it; if only this film was that self-aware. Then there’s the main relationship between Raj and Meera, which consists mainly of alternating acts of rampant double-crossing, and then somehow acting surprised when the other person acts cold towards them for it. Don’t get me wrong, Shah Rukh Khan is very good at badass portrayals of coldness, as he showed last year with Happy New Year, but it doesn’t work nearly as well here because of the dickish context it’s given. Then there’s the classic ‘conflict fuelled by misunderstanding/lie’, which reduces the film to just being yet another ticking reconciliation clock that makes everything around it feel like a drag.

Speaking of everything surrounding the main plot, this film has an extremely weak sense of humour, not to mention desperate. How desperate, I hope you’re not asking a page full of text? Try “Just because he’s fast doesn’t mean you have to be furious” and “Dude, where’s my car?” I think my facepalm in the theatre resonated through the entire cinema, I did it so hard after hearing those lines. Then there’s the outright bizarre dialogue choices, like the fence Oscar who talks in a mangled version of rhyming slang; it’s not funny, it just makes him sound like a Berkshire Hunt. Or the scene that involves a hefty amount of bullshitting in the form of using whatever is on a nearby TV to construct their story, because that’s something that needed to be brought back.

What makes all of this film’s faults that much more irritating is that, every few scenes, something comes along that actually looks good. The fight scenes, while a little too flashy in their editing and wonky in their choreography, are nice and visceral when we actually get them. Raj and Meera’s five minute date is well shot, looking like something from a stage production that manages to translate well to film. And the musical numbers, while a bit lacklustre in terms of the actual music, are definitely shot with a certain level of ambition and damn good use of landscape. Save for the final sequence which is played during the credits; it was done in a hurry and, both visually and aurally, it shows.

All in all, this is a right ol’ mess. The sound design is shoddy, the acting is very off in places, the properly entertaining moments are few and far between and the plot is up there with some of the most insipid rom-coms I’ve had to sit through in the name of these reviews. It is admittedly good to see Shah Rukh Khan on screen again, and when he gets a chance to he definitely impresses, but he sadly isn’t enough to rescue the rest of the film around him. It’s worse than Strange Magic as, while both definitely have their moments that are unintentionally hilarious, that film didn’t manage to sabotage itself in that regard whereas this film did. However, since this doesn’t reek of missed opportunities as the plot doesn’t offer nearly enough of them, it fares better than Poltergeist.

No-one will ever be able to predict how much I’ve wanted to talk about the director of today’s film on this blog, because this is truly one of those oddities that you can only stumble across by sheer accident: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the world of Bill Zebub. For this one, I once again have friend of the blog Diamanda Hagan to thank, as she reviewed not one but three of the man’s films: Forgive Me For Raping You, Zombiechrist and Dolla Morte, the last review of which looked so insane that I just had to find out for myself and wound up purchasing the film on DVD. Cut to a few months ago, and my mother texting me if I had heard about the film ‘Antfarm Dickhole’, no doubt the most infamous of his filmography. I then ran straight into her room, clutching my copy of Dolla Morte and proceeded to educate her a bit more on the subject. After trying (and failing) to convince her to watch it with me, I went to the mighty Google and found out that he had two new films out this year. As if I needed a better excuse to check out more from Zebub. Let’s get started with today’s subject: This is Loving A Vegetable… which, in terms of film names, is about as innocuous as Lucio Fulci’s Don’t Torture A Duckling. I can only hope that it doesn’t involve mating with produce.

The plot: Lydia (Lydia Lael), a woman in a wheelchair, is looking to sell her house. Steve (Steve Nebesni) arrives at her front door under the pretence of buying it. However, once she lets him inside, it turns out that his motives are far more sinister: Since she’s in a wheelchair, he believes that as she won’t physically feel anything, it won’t be as traumatic if he rapes her. A few other women (Scarlett Storm, Vanna Blondelle, Andrea Hall) arrive at her house over the day, but none of them are prepared for what Steve has in store for them.

This film is only 74 minutes long. It is also brain-numbingly drawn out as there are really only four scenes in the entire film, each one centred on a different girl being raped by Steve with monologues by the rapist in-between them. The sex is incredibly slow and awkward in ways beyond the obvious, the blocking is stilted as hell and… yeah, there is literally nothing else to it than that. A quote from the film’s Vimeo page claims that “the style of these depictions was carefully chosen to heighten discomfort” and, to be fair, it is genuinely uncomfortable to sit through… but probably not for the reasons Zebub was aiming for. Rather than bringing attention to how immoral and vile the actions themselves are, it instead is filmed and staged in such a way as to induce boredom out of repetition. It stops being shocking when we are stuck looking at the same badly-simulated sex scene for several minutes on end.

As for the dialogue, if I’m being honest, it’s actually more uncomfortable to sit through than the rape scenes. Aside from his fixation on rape, Zebub is probably the only militant Atheist filmmaker that I’ve come across as everything I’ve seen of his contains some form of commentary on religion. The entire motive behind the rapist’s actions is that, because Lydia has no feeling in her legs, she suffer any physical trauma from the rape. This is then connected to the door-to-door Christian that conveniently arrives at their door, where Steve brings up how born-again Christians use their faith like a crutch… or a wheelchair. Yeah, this is going to be my back-up if I ever get called out for being anti-theist in some of my other reviews, as this kind of rampant insensitivity is easily the other side to God’s Not Dead’s coin. I maintain that GND is far more insulting, as it not only attacks every group possible but thinks it’s taking the moral high ground by doing so, but this is definitely more negatively affecting in its bluntness. However, funnily enough, the big thing that got to me in this film is Steve's dialogue. This isn't even because of how bluntly he talks about what he's going to do these women but that he constantly makes sub-sub-par jokes during and always ends it with "Get it?" and explaining the joke. This gets aggressively annoying before too long, especially when he does it several times in the space of a few minutes.

What makes this weird though is that I’ve seen Zebub do some pretty decent religious satire before that, while close to this level, had a far better point to it.I mentioned Forgive Me For Raping You before, and the core behind that film was pointing out the hypocrisy of the church about how they give rapist priests a slap on the wrist for their transgressions, giving the main character of that film the idea that they just allow priests to rape people. That is venomous but remarkably sharp at the same time, not to mention being aimed at a more than reasonable target. Nothing nearly that pointed is to be found here. Actually, speaking of Forgive Me For Raping You, this is pretty much the same film just with even cheaper production values: Same non-acting, same horribly staged rape scenes, same espousing about religion; all that’s different is that it all takes place in the same house and there are four victims here instead of five. So, not only this film unpleasant for none of the fulfilling reasons and badly made, it’s also redundant because it already exists under another name.

All in all, I wasn’t expecting anything truly spectacular out of this. That said, between the sheer insanity of Dolla Morte, where Osama Bin Laden tells the Pope to “let Jesus fuck [him]”, and the surprisingly sharp writing in some of his other works like Forgive Me For Raping You, I was definitely expecting at least a little better than this. Even for a less than 80 minute film, this is excruciatingly slow and feels like it takes forever to get anything done. Or, at least, it would if anything was actually getting done other than showing women getting raped for the film’s running time. It’s uncomfortable, but not for any reason that warrants even suggesting to watch this for yourself. It can be found on Vimeo along with some of the director’s other work but, honestly, I’d find a better way to spend your hard-earned $6.66. Yeah, the guy named Bill Zebub seriously marked up one of his films with that price; some things in life are so trite that they hurt. It’s worse than Superfast! as, despite how baffling its aim was, its target was definitely clear throughout; here, the religious barbs only make up a handful of moments while the rest… I don’t even know what. However, I went into this with a rough idea of what kind of film I was getting myself into, so it doesn’t come packaged with the baffling failure that makes Fantastic Four so depressing to recollect.

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