Back to Asia: In praise of AMC River East 21's programming | Bleader

Back to Asia: In praise of AMC River East 21's programming


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From the musical comedy-drama Barfi!
  • From the musical comedy drama Barfi!
Now that summer is officially over—meaning the AMC River East doesn't need to devote ten of its 21 screens to superhero movies—it seems the Streeterville multiplex has resumed its steady programming of Asian genre films. This week the theater hosts not one, but two Bollywood features, a lengthy (150 minutes) musical comedy drama called Barfi! and an even lengthier (167 minutes) coming-of-age saga called Life Is Beautiful (no relation to the 1997 Roberto Benigni vehicle). And next week the theater will screen the very funny Hong Kong comedy Vulgaria, a sterling example of what John Waters has termed "good bad taste."

I haven't seen either of the Indian titles, though I plan to catch at least one of them while they're in town. I'm still pretty green when it comes to Bollywood, so I appreciate any chance to catch up in a public setting. Even more than its U.S. counterpart, India's popular cinema feels designed to be seen in a theater. Well known for their lengthiness, Bollywood films regularly accommodate several genres within the same feature; in addition to providing a variety of moviegoing pleasures, the patchwork storytelling makes it easy to step out for snacks without feeling like you're missing anything essential. I imagine it's a bit like going to a ball game.

I find it commendable that a chain theater like River East should continue to devote space to popular films from other countries. There's an odd misconception among U.S. audiences that any film not in English is automatically an art film (anyway, that's the only plausible explanation as to why foreign movies are mostly relegated to art houses), and the only way to correct the problem is to bring more foreign titles to multiplexes. Given the rich veins of popular filmmaking in India, Hong Kong, mainland China, Spain, and Nigeria, there's no reason why American-made entertainment should monopolize our theaters—especially when so many Hollywood movies continue to be flat, unengaging, or just plain lazy. I can't make any claim for the entertainment value of Barfi! or Life Is Beautiful, but I can't believe they're any less interesting than John Carter, Hope Springs, and The Odd Life of Timothy Green, to name three of the American "entertainments" I've had to watch in recent months.

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