Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham... (Sometimes Happiness Sometimes Sorrow...) Movie: Karan Johar's star-studded 2001 family melodrama boils down to a fairly simple plot: a young man named Rohan (Hrithik Roshan) tries to heal the rift between his older, adopted brother Rahul (Shahrukh Khan) and their father (Amitabh Bachchan). But that syrupy-sounding summary--not to mention the even sappier tagline, "It's all about loving your parents," which actually caps off the opening credits--hardly does Johar's skillful, delicate balancing act any justice. He seamlessly melds comedy (mostly courtesy the luminous Kajol, who plays Rahul's perky wife Anjali), romance (Khan and Kajol, justly one of Bollywood's most beloved screen couples, have both flighty charm and intense, smoldering chemistry), highly emotional drama, and a genuinely moving message--the latter two brought about by beautifully shaded performances by Khan; Kajol; both Bachchans (Amitabh's real-life wife Jaya plays the same here); a too-briefly seen Rani Mukerji (as a friend and possible romantic match to Rahul); and Roshan, whose solid acting chops are often overshadowed by his matinee idol looks and phenomenal dancing ability. There is a weak link in the ensemble, however, and that is the insufferable Kareena Kapoor as Anjali's sassy, Alicia Silverstone-in-Clueless-wannabe younger sister Pooja, but not even her obnoxious mugging and general inability act or dance can ruin the film nor its spectacular production numbers, which help make the three-and-a-half-hour (!) run time fly by. Special credit must go to the team of songwriters, whose tunes echo strongly in the memory; the Rohan/Pooja duet "You Are My Soniya" (sung by playback singers Sonu Nigam and Alka Yagnik) may be Western-influenced dance pop at its bubblegum-stickiest, but good luck trying to get the song out of your head afterward.
Yash Raj Home Entertainment's impressive collector's double-disc set includes a number of insightful supplements. Johar's creative process and the production of the film is not only covered in a fairly comprehensive 45-minute making-of feature, but also in over 30 minutes worth of deleted scenes, which Johar introduces himself. Sadly, the deleted scenes are in unsubtitled Hindi, but Johar provides all the necessary context both in terms of the narrative and their reasons for deletion. The theatrical trailer and many television spots round out the on-disc extras, but this limited edition also includes a bookmark, collector's booklet, a set of ten commemorative postcards, and a 2003 wallet calendar card, all housed with the two DVD's in an oversize, book-like case.
Apparently writer-director Glen Morgan is keenly aware of a certain expectation of camp from the rats-gone-wild epic Willard, for his remake of the straightfaced 1971 thriller (which spawned the more famous 1972 sequel, Ben) is to horror films what Charlie's Angels attempted--and largely failed--to be in relation to action flicks: a tongue-in-cheek entertainment that acknowledges its inherent cheesiness while delivering the popcorn goods.
Whatever true scares that come from Willard, though, do not come from the hordes of rats that wreak havoc but of their master, the title character Willard Stiles. Mousy (yes, pun intended) Willard is played by Crispin Glover, whose rather (to put it mildly) specialized screen charisma hasn't been this ideally used in years. From the first frames, Glover perfectly embodies the pathetic yet menacing, sympathetic yet highly disturbing persona of the put-upon Willard, who, on top of being disrespected on a daily basis by his boss (R. Lee Ermey, chewing his own fair share of scenery) and constantly nagged by his invalid mother (Jackie Burroughs, ditto), has to deal with a worsening rodent problem in his dilapidated home. But he soon turns that last negative into a positive as precocious rat Socrates becomes his most loyal, loving companion, and Willard trains his furry friends to do his bidding.
The sequence in which Willard trains the rats perfectly sums up Morgan's off-kilter tone. Watching the rats climb ropes like aspiring Olympians is, indeed, hilarious, there's an undeniable creep factor to seeing these rodents ravenously tear into everything and anything. The most dangerous rat, the infamous Ben (he of the sequel's title and the treacly Michael Jackson ditty--which is used in one scene for macabre comic effect), is indeed a menacing presence, a triumph of smart, seamless use of actual rats, CGI, and animatronics. But not even the hundreds of critters can upstage Glover; no one can do the funny/scary/crazy/creepy high-decibel wig-out/breakdown scene nearly as well as he can, and the mere existence of this is film is absolutely unthinkable without him, let alone what an absolute blast it is.
A nine-minute rape scene? Tasteless! A graphic bludgeoning death? Exploitative! A backwards time structure? Pretentious! Gaspar Noé's audacious film has all of those three things, and those three same complaints have been leveled against it since it premiered at last year's Cannes Film Festival. Indeed, the complaints do hold water: the story is no more than a rather trite rape-and-revenge plotline ripped from '70s exploitation cinema; Noé's constant reiteration of the "time destroys everything" theme is as bludgeoning as those deadly blows that come early in the film; the infamous sexual assault sequence indeed crosses the boundaries of comfort (as it should). But Noé weaves together the off-putting elements into something that sears itself permanently in the memory and grows more haunting and profoundly touching over time. The key to the latter is the superb performance by Monica Bellucci as the rape victim; while the film's backward progression gradually reveals layers to her character and relationship with her later-vengeful boyfriend (real-life husband Vincent Cassel), Bellucci adds even greater dimension through silent yet eloquent expressions by her face and body. When I saw the film, the final shots struck me as being a bit sugary and (yes) pretentious, but in the case of Irréversible, time hasn't destroyed everything, as in my mind the conclusion is one of the most transcendently beautiful and tragic sights I've seen on the screen in a long while.