Monday, December 24, 2007

Wishing you folks a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!!!!

Pic found via a google image search sourced from Larissa's blog

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Darwin’s Nightmare (2004)

Director: Hubert Sauper

Writer: Hubert Sauper


Runtime: 107 min

Official website:

I finally managed to watch Hubert Sauper’s Oscar nominated documentary Darwin’s Nightmare I had the DVD for about 2 months from Netflix). This is really a “must watch” documentary.

The idea for this documentary was born during Sauper’s research on another documentary KISANGANI DIARY that follows Rwandese refugees during the Congolese rebellion.

In 1997, I witnessed for the first time the bizarre juxtaposition of two gigantic airplanes, both bursting with food. The first cargo jet brought 45 tons of yellow peas from America to feed the refugees in the nearby UN camps. The second plane took off for the European Union, weight with 50 tons of fresh fish.
I met the Russian pilots and we became "kamarads". But soon it turned out that the rescue planes with yellow peas also carried arms to the same destinations, so that the same refugees that were benefiting from the yellow peas could be shot at later during the nights.

At some point in the 60’s someone introduced the “Nile Perch” (It is one the largest fresh water fish capable of growing up to six feet and weigh almost 200 kg about 440 lb) a fish that is not native to Lake Victoria in Tanzania as a kind of scientific experiment. The perch is a fierce natural predator and has since taken over the lake and can be held responsible for causing the extinction or near-extinction of several hundred native species especially the native cichlids. In the face of the declining numbers of cichlids, in a macabre twist it has now taken to devouring its own young. So while the perch has destroyed native species it has given rise to a booming commercial fish industry almost completely dependent on the perch, a fish so expensive that the Tanzanians cannot afford it, but is made in to filets and exported to European markets with a huge appetite for the fish.

Saupert armed with a hand held camera and the barest of narration, documents the lives and conditions under which they live and work. The documentary is framed by the arrival and departure of gigantic Soviet made cargo planes, at an airport in Mwanza, Tanzania along Lake Victoria. Each plane will carry 55 tons of perch fillets processed by a local factory and caught by local fishermen.

Saupert examines the economy and ecology around the lake. As the documentary unfolds we learn of the famine in Central Tanzania which causes migration of people from the hinterlands to the lake. The people working in the industry around the fish settle in one of “thousand islands” working colonies which consist of young fishermen and prostitutes from the back country who work amongst them and call themselves as girlfriends of the many “pilots” of the planes that fly out with perch filets.

Particularly touching is the story of Eliza who is a girlfriend to many pilots (photo is of hers from the documentary), who wants to get out and go to school. She is killed by an Australian client of hers.

There also those here afflicted with the scourge of AIDS who have nowhere left to go but back to their homes to die.

These aren’t the only players that we get to meet, we see the fish factory managers, African ministers, street children some of whom are fighting over scraps of food cooked from the skeletal remains of perch and getting high from sniffing the melting plastic containers used to pack the fish and EU officials all interested in furthering this trade in fish. I have seen a lot of poverty in India but that scene of the children fighting over the scraps of food just broke my heart.

But these are not the only scenes in the movie that will grab you, there are shots of rows of fish heads sticking out of the ground, rotting skeletal remains of the fish being hung out to dry, or being eaten after cooked in open air pits and also serving as make shift toys. There are shots of the remains of some planes on the banks of the lake Victoria that were so overloaded with fish that they could not make it out. The natural shots of the lake are stunning and for a moment lulled me to the nature of the ecological disaster within its waters.

Saupert’s movie is a visual masterpiece because it does not have much of a narration. It lets the story reveal itself thru the riveting images of the people simple conversations and of landscape in a place where all their lives are tied to this fish.

Darwin’s Nightmare” is a harrowing look at the human cost of untrammeled globalization, which does not leave anyone untouched and is meant to appeal to our conscience. I will quote Saupert’s words to end this post..

The old question, which social and political structure is the best for the world seems to have been answered. Capitalism has won. The ultimate forms for future societies are "consumer democracies", which are seen as "civilized" and "good". In a Darwinian sense the "good system" won. It won by either convincing its enemies or eliminating them.

In DARWIN’S NIGHTMARE I tried to transform the bizarre success story of a fish and the ephemeral boom around this "fittest" animal into an ironic, frightening allegory for what is called the New World Order. I could make the same kind of movie in Sierra Leone, only the fish would be diamonds, in Honduras, bananas, and in Libya, Nigeria or Angola, crude oil.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Bolivia.. Not a movie review.

Bolivia (2001), Argentina, Director: Adrián Caetano

Bolivia is a bleak, gray movie shot in black and white with a grainy look to it, which I thought just added to the mood of this absorbing movie. It examines the intersection of anger, poverty, and harsh economic conditions that almost always bring xenophobia boiling to the surface.

The setting is the somewhat rundown Parrilla restaurant in Buenos Aires, Argentina in the days of that nation’s economic crisis that began in the end of 1999. (link) but it could be anywhere in the world. Adrián Caetano's direction coupled with the excellent camera work make this rather simple story that revolves around the lives of characters at the bottom rung of the ladder in society gripping, human and yet horrifying.

The movie opens with a sign on the window “Cook Wanted”. The owner is the brusque Enrique (Enrique Liporace) who hires Freddy (Freddy Flores) a poker faced immigrant who has just arrived from his native La Paz, Bolivia, for 15 pesos a day. While the movie opens there is also a soccer game on between Argentina and Bolivia, with the latter being thrashed on the field and trashed by the announcer for their poor defense. This was an allegorical moment in this movie, laying the setting for a nationalistically tinged dismissive attitude towards the Bolivians that is then repeated in the movie in numerous ways that the camera captures brilliantly. “Bolivia” has an understated way of stating its case and uses a no frills approach that works for it surely had my attention.

The livelihood of Freddy is tied to that restaurant, as is that of another immigrant Rosa (Rosa Sánchez), who is hit upon by many customers of the cafe and being Paraguayan also the recipient of slurs, that she deals with a calm face, but has none of the wariness of the more recently arrived Freddy. I wondered if that was her “been there ..heard that one before” weariness hidden beneath a peaceful looking exterior.

The restaurant is a place to eat and commiserate and for those struggling on the margins of society in their own country a lifeline of sorts. It is that for the down on his luck Oso (Oscar Bertea), who is broke and almost going under and relies on Enrique for food and drink on his steadily growing tab. Freddy is an easy target for Oso, but also for pretty much any one else who chooses to pick on him. It takes the form of the very telling looks of the guys who are running an unauthorized telephone call center when they know where he is from, to the two policemen who stop Freddy the first night after work, who are openly disdainful of him.

That first night Freddy goes to sleep in another restaurant paying a peso for his coffee and begins another day filled with cleaning tables, working the grill and enduring the hostile stares and words of customers who resent the fact that Freddy an interloper gets to work while they, the citizens of their country struggle. Lest you wonder that there are no tender moments in the movie, there are.. the brusque Enrique while exploiting them for the cheap labor does have his nice side and Rosa and Freddy after a night out, come together in a frenzied, desperate intimacy born of people who are both outsiders in that country.

The movie ends in a stunning climax where all the resentments that have festered just boil and explode in one life altering moment. The movie ends as it began, with Enrique seen putting up a sign “Cook Wanted” on his restaurant window coming a full metaphorical circle, about the lives of those that are often invisible at the margins of society.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

"Outsourced" Not a movie review

It has been almost two weeks since my last post..sheesh! Oh well.

Writers (WGA):
George Wing (written by) &
John Jeffcoat (written by)
Rated PG-13 for some sexual content.
USA:103 min (theatrical version) / Canada:98 min (Toronto International Film Festival)

A couple of weeks ago I managed to catch the independent movie "Outsourced" at the TheaterN in Wilmington. I absolutely loved the movie. Here is a link to the movie's website, the producer Tom Gorai has a facebook site too! link

If you believe that indie cinema is good for you and you want to try and spread the word about this film and try to see if you can get it screened in your area, here is a link to what you can do.

Trailer of the movie and my "Not A Review" after that.

"Outsourced" begins when a Seattle call center manager ,Todd (Josh Hamilton) is told he is being downsized, his only option is to go to India as a consultant to train the call center people there, in things like sounding "American" and to try and get the MPI (minutes per incident) on the phone down to 6 minutes from the 13-15 minutes they were spending per customer.

Todd has little choice, he has no interest in going to India, so naturally it is not going to surprise you to see Todd go thru all the things that people fighting something undergo especially in a place he does not want to be in initially. The cultural and other differences are almost overwhelming for Todd (he misses the guy who has come to pick him up because the sign he is holding up for him is misspelled as "Toad" instead of "Todd" and he misses him in the crush of humanity outside the arrival area. On his own Todd manages to reach the town of Gharapuri away from Bombay where he finally meets Puro (shortened from Purohit) played by Asif Basra the "future" call center manager. He convinces Todd to stay at his aunt's place rather than at the only hotel in town as he will be looked after better and the food and water will be hygienic.

Todd agrees reluctantly and is educated in a few more of the differences when his hosts get shocked that he eats with his left hand and gets a demo about why that is not done, this was pretty hilarious. He also gets grilled about not being married (is it because he is gay?), no living with his parents and not seeing them often. Todd being American does not have as strong a sense of his identity as do the Indians around him especially when it comes to family ties and social obligations.

Todd's goal to improve the MPI is helped both by Puro but even more by the smart, charming and outspoken Asha (played brilliantly by Ayesha Dharker) his best employee who has a crush on him. She asks Todd why it's necessary for Indian call-center workers to pose as Americans while selling cheap junk made in China (Made me crack up!).

He is however not challenged by his job and has a tough time believing that the employees like some of the tacky stuff their company sells, but his transformation has slowly begun. While on an impulsive trip to a McDonald's knockoff he meets a fellow American who offers him a simple bit of advice "I was resisting India. Once I gave in, I did much better".

His transformation is complete when he takes a dip in a local water tank (that he overlooks from his host's house) following his dousing with colors after the Indian festival of Holi. I could not help but notice the metaphorical reference here to baptism and to a spiritual meaning attached to the cleansing of oneself in water something prominent in Hinduism as well.

As Todd and Asha draw closer he comes to understand India better. He comes to understand the circle of preservation, destruction and creation as exemplified by Kali. He also find out about the significance of the Shiva lingam and the Yoni, the oneness of and the complimentary nature of the male and the female, through his interaction with Asha. Dharker is brilliant here and in several more scenes. Certain things are not as easy to talk about for her and her inner conflict, her reticence and her intelligence and outspokenness and the feelings that Todd evokes in her are portrayed very well by Dharker with her expressive features and body language.

Asha in a lot of ways exemplified the changing face of the Indian woman who, thanks to education and economic freedoms appears to be stepping out of the box that tradition and culture create for her. She is engaged to be married to a guy from a family (that her family knows for generations) since she was a child, and in Todd she sees someone who will let her express her freedom. So is what they feel for each other love?

Asha explains to him that given the cultural background that this time with him is like a "Vacation in Goa". He asks her if that is all he means to her a vacation? Asha responds to him, tears in her eyes "You are the only vacation in Goa".

I thought this was a more honest portrayal of a modern Indian woman than one often sees in some of the Bollywood movies. Where do Todd and Asha go from here? There relationship has something deeper in it and I would let you watch the movie to figure that one out.

There are quite a few funny moments in the movie including one where the Indian and American words for an eraser had me in splits. Indians call an eraser "rubber" which causes confusion with their American customers. "Rubber" is slang for a condom as Todd tells them, much to the chagrin, shock and amusement of the Indian employees. The funniest part was when one of them looks at it and wonders aloud "How does that work?" Look for a hilarious scene where Asha does the American accent and Todd the Indian way of talking, including the shake of the head (Clip below).

The movie has captured India very well, and everything about India as we see in the movie is genuine..the taste, culture, sights (you can almost get the myriad smells of the place too) , the people and their humanity.

I thought the director John Jeffcoat, does a great job here in how he uses a light hearted movie to portray the different cultural nuances on both sides, their effects on love, work and friendship. He also examines the effects of globalization on people and their sense of identity.. personal, cultural and national. He does it in a light hearted manner using humor and some astute observations that make the message subtle but a very important one.

Events in the movie reflect the reality that the individual on all sides of this issue is powerless before the economic forces. Traditional values and notions do get questioned and change is scary but it is often how one reacts to change that matters what the movie is saying to its audience and that the call is to be pragmatic about it.

This is one heck of a charming movie.

Hilarious clip from the movie where Asha and Todd imitate each others ways of speaking (American and Indian).

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Jane Austen Book Club (Not A Review)
Rated PG-13 Drama

I went to this movie not quite knowing what to expect, all I knew was it had a 68% rating and it was about a book club. I was I would say it is one of those movies that has its funny moments and this one of those light hearted movies that are easy to watch. This is not meant as a back handed compliment, the movie is very enjoyable.

And one does not need to be familiar with Jane Austen to be able to “get” this movie, although knowing some of the details about characters like Mr. Darcy would surely help. I have read four of the six Austen books but that was years ago, and other than “Pride and Prejudice” I don’t remember much about the others. However this did not prevent me from enjoying the movie.

This movie is about a book club that focuses on books by Jane Austen over a period of six months covering her 6 books. The club has six members and is founded by Bernadette (Kathy Baker) who has been married six times. The club is an attempt to help her friend Jocelyn (Maria Bello) who is dealing with the loss of her dog and no man in her life. The other members of the club are Prudie (Emily Blunt) a high school French teacher and her husband (Marc Blucas) with whom she seems to be growing distant. This is further complicate by a growing attraction between her and one of her high school students with whom she seems to be falling in love.

Sylvia (Amy Brenneman) is soon to be divorced by Daniel (Jimmy Smits), and has no idea that something is wrong with her daughter. Sylvia's lesbian daughter Allegra (Maggie Grace), appears to be in love with her friend and all seems well there. Prudie's mother (Lynn Redgrave), an ex-hippie dominates her life and casts her shadow across it even when she is not there.

The sole male member of the club is Grigg (Hugh Dancy), who appears to have made his money in software and has never read Austen but has a thing for science fiction. Jocelyn attempts to pair off Sylvia with him. What Jocelyn does not see is that Grigg has a thing for her instead. In this respect Jocelyn does seem like an Austen heroine in that she is blind to true love that is staring her right in the eyes.

The members meet at each others homes and these moments are inter-cut with scenes of them reading the books. While these may not seem much to viewers, I mean how else do you convey to the viewer that the characters are enjoying reading the book? But there lies the charm of the movie. All the meetings coincide with emotional upheavals in the lives of the characters, Daniel realizes how much he loves Sylvia, Allegra breaks up with her lover, Jocelyn starts to realize what she feels for Grigg and Prudie stands at a crossroad (figuratively and literally) as she is about to make one of the most significant decisions of her life.

What I loved about the movie was how in many ways the romance, emotional lives of the characters paralleled those of Austen’s characters. Also loved how the characters would obliquely refer to those events while talking about that particular Austen book either to buttress or rebut a point. We watch as these characters evolve over the course of the books and I for one was very curious to find out how it ended.

Some might refer to this movie as a chick flick. I kind of don’t like using that term for it implies that there is nothing of substance in the movie for men, and I strongly disagree. The movie is akin to curling up to read a comfortable book and the lessons about life and love from Austen’s books are timeless as can be attested to by how popular they continue to be.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

A Schmooze Award (or two) & "Down The Nile" Not A Book Review

I have been awarded the "Schmooze Award" by Lotus Reads (Thank you my friend!) and Naina Ashley (Thanks!).

About the award :- This award is for the bloggers who “effortlessly weave their way in and out of the blogosphere, leaving friendly trails and smiles, happily making new friends along the way. They don’t limit their visits to only the rich and successful, but spend some time to say hello to new blogs as well. They are the ones who engage others in meaningful conversations, refusing to let it end at a mere hello - all the while fostering a sense of closeness and friendship.”

Down the Nile: Alone in a Fisherman's Skiff (Hardcover)
by Rosemary Mahoney
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company

Travel never makes one cheerful. But it makes one thoughtful. It washes one’s eyes and clears away the dust.

With this take on Gustave Flaubert’s quote from one of his travels on the Nile, ends Rosemary Mahoney’s wonderful travel memoir about her solo trip in a rowboat down the Nile from Aswan in Egypt. While this might not seem like a big deal in itself, consider the fact that Egyptian women are never seen rowing on the Nile and tourists are not allowed for their own safety and that makes her feat all the more impressive.

However it is not this mere fact that is notable (the author is a self described loner), Rosemary Mahoney is an excellent chronicler of the sights, sounds, her feel of and for the people and places that she encounters. She has a keen eye for all these and a talent for narrating her experiences in vivid and rich layered detail. She integrates her own sense of the place very well with historical narratives from two Victorian era explorers Gustave Flaubert (more known for his novel “Madame Bovary”) and Florence Nightingale (who I only knew about for her achievements as an pioneer in nursing, something I remember from my days in school) who were also on the Nile at around the same time. The past is so seeped in to the earth of this place and is borne out in lines such as those when the author writes about being “startled by the sight of a mummy’s linen-wrapped skull and shoulders poking out from the side of a mound of dirt” and of stepping over old bones and pieces of pottery.

The author has to buy a boat to begin her rowing trip, and while that does not seem like a big deal, it is a big thing in the male dominated culture of Egypt where women are just not seen as doing certain tasks. The men do want to help her, by dissuading her from her quest with reactions that range from disbelief, to offering to row for her as that is too far for her to go. She even comes up with an excuse to make this job of buying a boat easy, coming up with the boat being a gift for a fictitious husband!

And she does tire of the constant questions, the ridicule, the banter, the haggling over money, the stares, the declaration of love, flirtation and desire to have sex with her and requests for money from most of the men that she encounters. But while this is tiring for her on one level she also feels sad for the state of some of these men for being caught as they are due to their circumstances and geography, in a culture that permits no intermingling of the sexes. And their cheap come hither is often comical and sad as the men invariably turn to talking about sex.

There are a couple of interesting conversations that she has with Egyptian men including a male prostitute Ahmed in his 20s, in Luxor whose clientele consists of mostly older women who are foreign tourists. This was very instructive in many levels and provided a glimpse in to that strange world where some Egyptian men think nothing of providing sex for money but are willing to kill an Egyptian woman who could be their sister but who may not be a virgin prior to marriage.

At the end of this book is her chilling encounter with Mahmoud a poor fisherman who pursues her one moonlit night that suddenly turns ominous after he startles her while she is asleep in her boat just before Qena her final destination. What is it that he really wants and Rosemary’s reaction to him are very instructive about the gulf between two people owing to difference in culture, language and gender.

But not all men in this book are the same, the one that stands out is Amr, a Nubian so unlike most Egyptian men in his reserved, polite manner reflected in his offer for Rosemary to take his boat, no questions asked.

The development of the friendship between the author and Amr despite their many differences is heartwarming. But despite being different he too is very much a part of his milieu for in his view women should be at home too “Nubian way from long time ago. ... Nubian woman should not be doing nothing. Nothing. They should only be staying home and minding the house.”
We get to meet his beautiful sister Hoda, who will likely be condemned to being a spinster owing to a deformed foot. Your heart will also go out to Safaa who Rosemary encounters working at a hotel (with her propensity to use the word “Crap”) who tells her “Rose, I tell you. I wish I could be free like you.

Mahoney excels at her narrative especially as she rows down the river and her description of it, the lands around it are vivid enough that you can actually feel the strength of the river, its calm and the history that it has witnessed and been a part of. The searing heat and the wild exotic birds are as very much a part of her journey, especially the heat which Mahoney brings very much to life with prose like…

The heat was borderline equatorial; it asserted a heavy downward pressure. Dogs and humans felt under duress here, flattened and exhausted and flayed. When I removed my hat, the sun had made the top of my head sting in a vivid, concentrated way – it was like having a freshly baked nail driven into my skull.

I enjoyed reading this book and the part that I got bogged down was the part where the author seems to take forever to find the boat, but now that I look back I think I was feeling what the author felt as she was badgered and tired by the countless questions from the fishermen about why she wanted a boat.

The distance Mahoney covered and how she did it may not rank up there in terms of solo adventures, but I found that the well worn adage “Focus on the journey, not the destination” to be particularly true after reading this fine book.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Militants Draw New Front Line Inside Pakistan

I read the above headline and the attached article in today’s NYTimes with some trepidation and concern.

November 2, 2007
Militants Draw New Front Line Inside Pakistan
PESHAWAR, Pakistan,
Nov. 1 — For much of the last century, the mountainous region of Swat was ruled
as a princely kingdom where a benign autocrat, the wali, bestowed schools for
girls, health care for everyone and the chance to get a degree abroad for the talented.
Now the region is the newest front line in the battle between Islamic militants, who are sympathetic to the
Taliban and Al Qaeda, and Pakistan’s nervous security forces. For the first time, heavy fighting has moved beyond Pakistan’s tribal fringe and into more settled areas of the country.
The battles are part of what has become an expanding insurgency within Pakistan, aimed directly at the government of Gen.
Pervez Musharraf, the president, rather than at the NATO and American forces across the Afghan border who have been the target for several years.
Many here say the militancy is fueled by anger over the government alliance with the Bush administration and what is seen as a pro-American agenda that has grown in prominence with the return of the opposition leader Benazir Bhutto. She has accused the militants of trying to take over the country.
The conflict in Swat reflects many of the reasons Pakistan has become such a
dangerous place in recent years: the aggressiveness of the militants, the passivity of the government and its security forces, and the starved civilian apparatus, including schools and hospitals, which has failed to provide the backbone for a counterinsurgency strategy.

With the Iraq war costing upwards of 200 million a day (not to mention the cost in lives and the indirect costs like interest on borrowing and care of the wounded) and the saber rattling with Iran, and an overstretched military, I am afraid we again continue to ignore the peril of what is going on in Pakistan.
I could go on but I am just frustrated at the state of affairs and the fact that things may not change soon.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Once “Not A Review”

You would think that if you saw a movie that so thrilled and captivated you, its music, characters, story touched you so deeply (even when you have a bit of a tin ear for music like I do) and you thought that it was easily the best film of the year that you had seen so far, you would talk about it right?

But not me, for some reason that I could not fathom and seems just out of reach, I did not write about it. I have gone back to this movie often in my thoughts marveling at it and hearing the songs in my head, and before the fog of time completely obscures my recall of this gem of a movie, I better talk about it. I caught this movie at the Newark film festival almost 2 months ago and it has stayed with me for a while.

Once is a delightful Irish movie and won the world cinema dramatic audience award at Sundance this year and rightly so. The movie is brilliantly directed by John Carney and is a clear testament that a really good movie even one that is a musical does not need the slick, expensive production numbers like say “Dreamgirls”. Shot mostly on the street and indoors with a few scenes of the glorious Irish coast, the power of this movie comes from the two principal characters in the movie whose names are never mentioned. The “guy” is played by Glen Hansard, lead singer of the Irish group “The Frames” and the “girl” by Marketa Irglova a Czech musician he has worked with in the past.

The “guy” is a street singer performing songs for spare change, in fact when we first hear him sing he seems ordinary yet earnest as he strums his guitar singing a brand of pop that is full of songs of heartbreak and stylistically more like folk. He has recently broken up with his girlfriend a fact that is elicited out of him by the “girl” who happens to chance upon him on the street. She is a recent Czech immigrant, a mom and is living with her mother in a cramped apartment and she sells flowers and cleans homes for a living. She speaks English with an accent that I found adorable especially the way she added “yeah” at the end of some of her lines that seemed like part question, part looking for affirmation, her direct nature and inquisitiveness a charming contrast to his reticent openness.

His day job is helping out in his dad’s vacuum shop and he helps her fix her vacuum and makes a half hearted pass which is rejected very bluntly, and so begins the formation of a bond between two people.

On the way to the repair shop he tells her his story and sings about being "a broken-hearted Hoover fixer sucker guy." A sucker because his girlfriend was cheating on him with another guy.

The girl is a musician too (she plays the piano) and the only chance she ever gets to play the piano is on a demo model at a music showroom. The guy comes to hear her, his guitar in tow and so enthralled with her playing that he asks her to team up with him on one of his songs. It was at this point that the movie completely captivated me. Watching them piece together the beautiful, heart tugging “Falling Slowly” is sheer magic and is a movie moment that you won’t forget.

(Here is a youtube video of the song from the movie courtesy of FoxSearchLight pictures). More videos at the movie web site too.

The camera does a great job of setting up the stage and letting the two principals work their magic thru their music and chemistry and uses the peripheral characters brilliantly (like the way the store owner notices the pair playing). There is an intimacy that is born of small, simple moments and I fell in love with these two characters at the same moment they fell in love with each other.

What makes this movie all the more impressive is that neither of the two are professional actors, which brings a welcome freshness and prevents it from being overtly sentimental. There is no big message in this movie, the high point is making of a demo tape, but it is about approaching the challenges of life with good humor, determination and desire.

The movie has great music (that is unpretentious) and songs, combined with the great cast, this is one film I will add to my permanent collection and will watch it more than once.

Yes, this is a love story but one which will end happily but not like you expect it to, and as the New York Times film critic A.O. Scott put it so eloquently in his review “Some Love Stories Have a Better Ending Than the Altar”. I just loved everything about this movie!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Cool Ads.. Have A Good Laugh..

Fancy Some Canned Silkworms?
Via Wired

Eclipstore: Double opaque shutters

Build Strong Teeth

Oh Those Innovative Japanese..
Japanese Manufacturer Introduces New Portable Toilet for Vehicles
A company in Japan called Kaneko Sangyo, who is a manufacturer of plastic vehicle accessories, has introduced their newest addition, which is a portable toilet for your vehicle. Just in case you were wondering, this toilet comes with a plastic bag to gather all of your waste.

And if you are a modest person there is no reason to fear, because this toilet comes with a curtain that is large enough to completely conceal the toilet user. One of the company’s officials told reporters, “The commode will come in handy during major disasters such as earthquakes or when you are caught in a traffic jam.”

Another benefit to this new portable toilet is that it is small enough to fit inside of a person’s suitcase. However, all of you anxious customers will have to wait until the product is available for purchase, which will be on November 15. I don’t know if I can wait that long!

Bill Maher - Pope On Fire - Vatican Declares Holy Bonfire

This is pretty funny, especially towards the end. Clip is less than 2 minutes long.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Fotografias (2007).. A documentary

Theater N in Wilmington held the Latin Beat Film Festival 2007 this past week. While I have no idea what kind of an audience most of the films on the slate got, I have to say I was one of the five audience members who got to see an interesting Argentine documentary Fotografias” (Photographs), made by Andrés Di Tella. On good days you may get a decent audience for independent cinema in a small city like Wilmington but documentaries have it much harder. Not a lot of people want to see documentaries, and making good documentaries is truly an art.

This fact was brought home to me as I watched Fotografias. It took a while for the documentary to catch on with me. It is however a noble effort and has its moments. It appealed to me since it deals with issues of identity, what makes you who you are and it is not an easy question to answer if at all there is an answer.

The documentary tracks the story of Andrés Di Tella son of an Argentine father and sociologist Torcuato Di Tella , and an Indian mother (Kamala Aparao) who is from a princely family in Southern India, a rather unusual union. Andrés claims that he was not really that much in to the Indian part of his identity, not till his mother passed away although he was aware of it. I wondered how much of that had to with his experiences with racism while at school in England, in addition to the fact that his mother shielded him from that part of his identity.

It is this part of this identity that he starts to explore in an attempt to understand how and why so little of it his mother has left behind. And he does not have a lot to go on, just a few letters, pictures and film that his mother has shot. In addition to that he has memories of his visit to India when he was 11. And so begins his quest on which he takes his wife and son Rocco along, which begins with trying to track down someone who is not related to his family but happens to be Indian (a Ramachandra Gowda, the adopted son of the wife of an Argentine spiritual guru who had his awakening in India). This was the part of the documentary that I thought just dragged, I thought Andrés was profiling this part as he really had no other connections to build on and in a sense it almost felt like he was grasping at straws, but at the same time it perhaps was borne of a more serious question of one's identity, especially when it is fractured the way Andre’s seems to be. There is also some footage of Andre’s son Rocco playing with dinosaurs. I understand the need to introduce him as he becomes a part of the film maker’s search to resolve, integrate and comprehend his dual cultural identity, but I thought we could have done without this part.

Given the dearth of material Andrés has to carry out his research using the few artifacts he has from his mother’s life, talk to his father and her many relatives back in India. It was here that the film got the most interesting for me as bits and pieces about his mother start coming together through interviews, pictures and fascinating anecdotes from her life as narrated by her relatives and friends and visits to homes including her ancestral land and palace.

The mixing of Argentine and Indian culture coupled with the gaps left by Andre’s mother will make you empathize with Andre’s journey and his need to resolve questions of his fractured identity, multiculturalism and self in relation to the world around.

So what exactly are the gaps left by Andre’s mother Kamala? Born in a conservative royal family, where women were expected to conform with little personality of their own, she became something of a rebel and identified with the socialist cause. Perhaps the die was cast then and further grew stronger with her relationship and marriage to Andre’s father and her move to Argentina. How do you hold on to your cultural identity when you have no sense of it in your surroundings? How do hold on to it, what is your identity when you don’t have strong roots to begin with (as is Kamala’s case). There are really no answers here and things don’t get tied up neatly.

Andrés recalls a memory of himself and his mother when he was a child of being in a car when they were almost out of gas, and they were going downhill and his mother was not worried. “She felt so carefree.. free of the bonds/issues of race, religion, ethnicity, nationality and culture” (not verbatim). And perhaps that is what she was trying to be in her life.. free, while some of us celebrate this aspect of ourselves and take a lot of pride in our culture and heritage, not everyone feels this pull as strongly. I can certainly identify with that.

While I will not call this an excellent documentary it certainly was interesting to watch, and I know at least one other audience member did not share that sentiment. As she walked out behind me I heard her mention to one of the theater volunteers "What was all that about?" .

Friday, October 19, 2007

Friday Word "Fear"

As per Mona, the Friday word is "Fear". I present two takes on it.


Her words sharper than a rapier

Piercing skin and sinew

To the very depth of his soul

He felt himself ebbing in to

A bottomless chasm.. welcoming him

With arms wide open to oblivion

A chill shot up his spine..

A cold sweat on his brow

An absinthian bile bubbled up

Into his veins seeping thru his insides

Turning flesh and blood

And his world to black

His heart beat beneath

In vain awaiting an echo from hers

A primal fear rising

Of abandonment

Of being left alone and heart broken

Of just being… boring

Of perishing in his own personal hell

Lit by the fire of her eyes

Licking at every inch of his being

Just as she had…

Once in love and carnal lust

That she promised would never dim

Fear of being a broken marionette

Tossed out when a new one came along

Ragged and crumpled.. limbs askew

A macabre dance of

The one damned to be a

Love of yesterday.

Fear… (On a brighter note) :-)

A sweet longing, an unending hunger coursed thru her…

How she missed..

The touch of his hand..

The little things and sweet nothings

Their tangled embrace of soft kisses

That set her nerve endings on fire

Of the way he lost himself in her eyes

In the scented silken forest of her hair

And how he slept like a baby

In the glen between her breasts

The goose bumps as he said her name

Along the delicate arch of her collarbone

The feel of his breath

As it cut a swath across her being

The touch of his fingers

As he closed his eyes to sense her contours

And the soft swell of her rising breasts

And the whorls of her navel

The sensuous dance of his fingers

Along the ridges of her spine

Weaving a troubadour of amour

The feel of his tongue as he painted her

In the iridescent colors of his love

His breath as it wafted across

Her aching yoni lips

His lips whispering a paean to her feminine divine

A sweet delirium an unusual fear

Of being alive in strange new places

Of opening doors to a celestial ecstasy and love

She ached to breathe with his breath

To inhabit this world of waking dreams

And a love so complete

She held her arms out to him

Welcoming him to her heart

Silently whispering to herself

“I won’t fear this love”.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Decline of the American Empire (Not a movie review)

I was drawn to “
The decline of the American empire” after I first watched Denys Arcand’s “The Barbarian Invasions” a few years ago. In the “Barbarian Invasions” a dying Remy Girard and his brethren gather at a lakeside cottage in Quebec. They reminisce about their past loves, escapades and their lives watched over by Remy’s estranged son Sebastien who is visiting his father after years. This movie is also about looking back, taking stock about their lives and introspection especially at a point when the blush of youth is pretty much gone and their metamorphoses both physical and within them are so very obvious. This movie was in a lot of ways a celebration of life, love, family and friendships.

Observing these self absorbed, but witty and very human characters made me curious about “The decline of the American empire” which preceded this movie. I finally managed to watch it a few days back. When made originally in 1986 it was celebrated as an excellent example of film making. While some movies that may examine the zeitgeist of their times age remarkably well, holding their relevance over time, the same cannot be said about “The decline of the American empire”. And I am not talking about the “oh so” obviously visible signs of the 80s such as the fashions and the hairstyles.

This movie happens over a fall evening as four academics, Remy (Remy Girard) married and a professor of history, Claude (Yves Jacques) who is gay, Pierre (Pierre Curzi) who is divorced and living with a student Danielle (who he meets at a massage parlor), and Alain (Daniel Briere) who is single talk about sex, women their loves and their affairs as they cook dinner for the four women.

Their women guests are Louis (Remy’s wife played by Dorothee Berryman, has no idea of his dalliances), Dominique (Dominique Michel) a writer and a colleague of the guys, Diane (Louise Portal) has left her husband and begun a sadomasochistic affair with Mario (Gabriel Arcand), a rough, leather-jacket clad drug dealer, and Danielle (Genevieve Rioux) are working out at a health gym. They also discuss sex, the female body and of course men!

Although I watched the English version (dubbed), I have to say I would rather have preferred hearing the French dialog( although I don’t understand the language, I love the sound of it).

Having said that, I could not shake the feeling that I was watching something dated. I just thought that while at that point (1980s) this movie might have captured the mood of the times perfectly, it was hard to believe that the fall of Western civilization/ America was going to be laid at the doorstep of a few oversexed academic intellectuals. I mean come on look at what seems to be doing us in today?

But back on to the movie. There really is not much of a plot here, but the dialog is witty, sharp and funny and the characters are quite compelling and well fleshed out in all their foibles, phobias and compulsions. The movie is not all talky and wordy, there are flashbacks that help the viewer get a good sense of the characters. As the evening proceeds, there is turmoil as Dominique, reveals that she has slept with both Remy and Pierre, but her current lover (for the night) is the young student Alain who is besotted with her sophistication.

But perhaps the best line in the movie belongs to, Mario, Diane’s boyfriend who waits around while the men are cooking and at dinner states "They talked about sex all afternoon as if they were getting ready for an orgy. Instead, the big deal is a fish pie!"

The movie does ask some interesting questions and explores the nature of sex and its relationship to middle age, marriage and cultural mores. But I don’t think the decline of Western civilization can be laid at the doorstep of over sexed intellectuals no?

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Poem.. Cool Ad..

His Id...

His feet pounded the black space beneath his feet
Speckled with dry, wizened brown leaves

Falling silent sighs lost to the wind

Of dreams deferred

A canopy of the dying and withered
Welcomed in to its dark embrace

Memories crunching.. pulverized

From his consciousness

Tossed into a bottomless chasm

Of distant loved ones

Receding figures in his rear view mirror

Fast fading, sepia tinged memories

And he kept running in to the arms of his id.

Cool Ad

via Ads of the world

Friday, October 12, 2007

Feeling Bookish...

Some of you may have noticed I have this little thing on the right sidebar where I have a link and the cover of the book I am currently reading. I normally try and write a "Not A Review" once I am done reading. But there are times that a book will just completely grab you from the very first page and won't let go, just because the story is so very real and compelling. The book I am reading is "Where War Lives" by the Pulitzer prize winning photojournalist Paul Watson. From the book's description...
Paul Watson was born a rebel with one hand, who grew up thinking it took two to fire an assault rifle, or play jazz piano. So he became a journalist. At first, he loved war. He fed his lust for the bang-bang, by spending vacations with guerilla fighters in Angola, Eritrea, Sudan, and Somalia, and writing about conflicts on the frontlines of the Cold War. Soon he graduated to assignments covering some of the world’s most important conflicts, including South Africa, Rwanda, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

Watson reported on Osama bin Laden’s first battlefield victory in Somalia. Unwittingly, Watson’s Pulitzer Prize—winning photo of Staff Sgt. David Cleveland — whose Black Hawk was shot down over the streets of Mogadishu — helped hand bin Laden one of his earliest propaganda coups, one that proved barbarity is a powerful weapon in a modern media war. Public outrage over the pictures of Cleveland’s corpse forced President Clinton to order the world’s most powerful military into retreat. With each new beheading announced on the news, Watson wonders whether he helped teach the terrorists one of their most valuable lessons.
Much more than a journalist’s memoir, Where War Lives connects the dots of the historic continuum from Mogadishu through Rwanda to Afghanistan and Iraq.
In the prologue Paul Watson quotes from Camus...
He wrote in his notebook that he had solved the mystery of where war lives. It lives in all of us. He described the internal conflict that consumes us, whether it's in the heart of soldiers on the battlefield, or those of folks safe back home, wondering, and regretting "That they can't share the way the others are going to die."

"It's there, that's where it really is, and we were looking got it in the blue sky and the world's indifference. It is in this terrible loneliness both of the combatants and of the noncombatants, in this humiliated despair that we all feel, in the baseness that we feel growing in our faces as the days go by. The reign of the beasts has begun."
I am almost halfway through the book now and it is a gripping read about war and the effect it has, not just on those in the midst of it but also on those that document it. It is about anger and guilt and also about decisions made in the blink of an eye and their ability to alter history.
It is also very relevant, dear leader is said to have read Camus, but I seriously doubt he gets it.

Cool Book Ads...
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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Random Stuff
You should really talk to your daughter...
before the beauty industry does. An interesting PSA from Dove's Campaign For Real Beauty Youtube link.

Neat eh? I would probably applaud it too, except that Dove is owned by Unilever.
Now what might be the problem with that you say? Unilever also owns the Axe brand of deodorant/body spray/shower gels.
Have you seen some of their ads? What is the image of women that they seek to portray here? Here is a sample below. Many more here (may not be all work safe).

No larger message here, just makes you wonder doesn't it at the incongruity of it?

Chili Club Restaurant: Woman on fire / Man on fire
via Ads of the World

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

So You Wanna Go Noonhatting?
Image from Andrew Saeger / Seattle P-I

So what is Noonhatting? It is the name of a website that lets you enter your e-mail address, what day you want to have lunch and what general area you want to have a lunch in and then a computer program matches you up with up to three other random strangers who want to do lunch in the same geographical area. That’s it… there is no matching for gender and/or age and this is not a dating site and there are no background checks or registration. The potential for discomfort of just two strangers doing lunch on their first (and possibly last) meet is sought to be alleviated by having a group of no larger than four.

Noonhat is the brainchild of Brian Dorsey a software developer in the Seattle area. Link

At first, Dorsey, a software developer at Vulcan, had doubts. When he told
people about the Web site, he said, "I got a lot of blank stares.’What? Huh? Why
would anyone do that?' "
Turns out people do want to break bread with total
strangers. Since Noonhat was launched in June, more than 400 lunches have been
scheduled (although Dorsey doesn't know how many have actually happened).

"I was just kind of thinking that I wanted to have lunch with new people all
the time," said Dorsey, who is 33. "Just from a selfish standpoint, I wanted to
have lunch with a really wide variety of people."
Noonhat offers its service
all over North America, but most of the users so far are in the Seattle metro
area. Dorsey also thinks the site is a good way for out-of-town visitors to meet
up with locals.

There is more at the article from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the reporter Kristin Dizon writes about her own experience “Noonhatting” if anyone is interested in reading.

Personally, I think it is a neat idea although I am not sure I would want to have lunch with complete strangers.

But perhaps there is something to be said for just taking a chance, who knows? But as a fairly private person I would rather rely on my own instincts and means to decide if I want to converse with a stranger on the train, over lunch or at any public spot.

What do you folks think?

And while I was writing this post up it reminded me of another program I heard on
NPR a while back.

Couple Finds Good Will in Taste Tests
All Things Considered, June 29, 2007 · A food-loving couple from San Diego has launched a quirky social experiment: They go to restaurants and ask if they can taste other people's food. Surprisingly, most people happily comply — even offering
their own forks!

While I am all for sharing what I eat with other folks if asked (even strangers), the whole offering their own forks to sample what they were having does sound very icky!
Are social networks and networking websites a hot thing?

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Sometimes Bill Maher Says It A Lot Better


"Diet and exercise don’t fail, a fact brought home last week by a new Duke University study that showed diet and exercise is just an effective a cure for depression as Paxil and Zoloft. So ask your doctor if getting off your --- is right for you."