Wednesday, December 10, 2008

There Will Be Blood (8/10)

If there is one word that can sum up this movie, it is 'intense'. The settings, the dialogues, the music, the acting and above all the intensely passionate and complex protagonist, Daniel Plainview. The movie charts the rise of this 'oilman' from poverty to riches, on the way showing how far he's prepared to go, and how deep he's willing to fall, to fulfill his ambition. By the end of the movie we see his material success (witnessed by his palatial mansion with a built-in bowling alley), and his complete moral decay (witnessed, ironically, by the same bowling alley). An intensely religious preacher plays a perfect foil to our protagonist and completes the plot, giving us the tagline : "When ambition meets faith".

Daniel Day-Lewis is, as we've come to expect of him, quite simply brilliant in this role. It couldn't have been easy to understand this incredibly complex character, but he plays it very convincingly. This man, who has no qualms about bludgeoning someone to death, and yet at the same time who cares about a little girl being beaten by her father. This man who seems to love his (adopted) son fervently, yet always seems to have a higher fervour for his career and work. As soon as you start liking something about this guy, he does something to alienate you. As a spectator, there's very little purely good in Daniel Plainview, and quite a lot to dislike. But what keeps you riveted is his passion and single-minded, almost insane, devotion to his work.

The movie's abrupt ending is very apt for a movie like this that doesn't make moral judgemnts, but rather seems to say that this is what happens to people consumed by their passion, and lets the audience draw its own conclusions.

An intensely good movie!

Monday, December 01, 2008

Body of Lies (8/10)

Finally a movie on the middle-east that is more than the usual hollywoood mishmash of false bravado and nauseating hypocrisy. Ridley Scott is back to his best with this intriguing tale of lies, treachery and misinformation.

A CIA operative(Leonardo DiCaprio) based in the middle-east, is on the trail of a major islamist terrorist. He is being ordered, aided, guided and controlled by his boss (Russell Crowe) who is based in the USA and monitoring every movement of his field agent. An ingenious plot is hatched and executed perfectly to smoke out the terrorist, but it goes wrong. All this leads to a denouement in which the intelligence chief of Jordan (played immaculately by Mark Strong) plays an important role.

What makes this movie stand out from the rest of the crap thats supposedly protraying the middle east? A brilliantly restrained, and thus realistic direction. A very coherent plot thats never allowed to get too convoluted. A refreshing sense of perspective where realities of life are faced, instead of the mindless glorification of all things connected to the US of A. And brilliant acting. DiCaprio, Crowe and Strong are near-perfect in their roles. The dialogue is minimal and to the point, and most of the time, the visuals, the music and the circumstances do the talking. The action, similarly, is economical; for the most part eschewing with melodramatic action sequences for more realistic street chases and hand-to-hand combat.

At the end of the movie, one can't help but ponder over Crowe's line, "Nobodys innocent in this shit", and the possibly improper use the good guys could make, of this incontrovertible fact. Sure this kind of battle is dirty, messy and unclean, but does it mean that its impossible to retain any shred of morals and principles for the ultimate aim?

A thought-provoking film.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

No Country for Old Men (7/10)

"What's the most you ever lost on a coin toss?"

A Coen brothers movie hardly contains groundbreaking script. Most of the time, the story is fairly straightforward - something slightly unusal gone more than slightly wrong. There is usually one main interesting character and a host of other minor, but intriguing characters. 'No Country...' is no different. A hunter comes across a drug-deal gone horribly wrong and finds a whole lot of money. He decides to keep the money, which leads to the inevitable pursuit by the ultimate bad-guy. The psychopathic killer on the trail of the hunter is a chilling character. He has a very clear, logical mind and not a shred of compassion, plus a liberal dosage of brutality. The pursuit leaves a trial of death in its wake.

The biggest asset of this fairly common story is its disturbing, ruthless, brutal antagonist, Anton Chigurh, who decides whether or not to kill perfectly innocent victims based on a coin toss, and asks the victim to call it. He is not completely devoid of principles, but does seems to possess a very twisted, sadistic turn of mind. The dry, barren & unforgiving landscape of the film perfectly complements this soulless, inhuman psychopath wandering around in it. The dialogue is minimal and the settings are bare, yet very apt and leave an impression on the viewer. The only problem is that there doesnt seem to be a point to the movie, besides the portrayal of this bad guy.

A very well-made film, but lacking substance!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Madagascar : Escape 2 Africa (7/10)

After watching the utter disaster that is the latest Bond movie, I was in desperate need of my own quantum of solace. Thankfully, Madagascar-2 was on hand to provide the much-needed respite.

The sequel does not mess around, and quite literally takes off from the word 'go'. Our dear friends leave Madagascar on a plane, repaired by the ever-resourceful penguins. Unfortunately, they end up crash-landing in the African plains. Discoveries ensue, such as, Alex re-uniting with his family, Gloria finding excitement (and a date), Melman taking his love of medicines to its logical conclusion, and Marty realizing how 'unique' he really is! The penguins continue their resourcefulness, providing by far the best laughs of the movie.
There are plenty of new characters, most notably the chimps with British accents and a shark that just won't give up. But the old characters are as good as ever. The penguins have absolutely surpassed themselves in this instalment. Every single scene with the penguins is an absolute treat, and it wouldn't be inaccurate to say they make up half of the entertainment value of this movie.
An absolute joy to watch.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Quantum of Solace (6/10)

A Quantum Failure!

Reinventing a successful franchise is not easy. The makers of 'Quantum of Solace' have proved this by trying to redefine James Bond, and failing miserably. The re-invention that started with 'Casino Royale' comes to a staggering halt in this instalment. While 'Casino Royale' made a decent fist of this daunting task, 'Quantum of Solace' is extremely disappointing in almost every aspect.

Where to start? The plot, or rather the more-than-usual-flimsy storyline, which passes for a plot in Bond movies, involves a mysterious organization 'Quantum' that has tentacles everywhere, is trying to take over control of a natural resource, water, and de-stabilizing the world in the bargain. Unfortunately for them, they crossed James Bond's path, and so of course, mayhem ensues. No need to explain too many things because this is James Bond, after all. It doesn't have to make perfect sense. Suffice to say that theres plenty of action, adrenaline, big bangs, pursuits over land, water and air, and a tour of half the world.

Now, the problems. While the Bond movies have never traditionally made sense, what they had in common was the protrayal of Bond as this ultra-chic, super-suave, charming spy who doesn't need to work too hard; a perfect case in point being Pierce Brosnan, whose immaculate hair and tux are never affected, whether he's fighting the baddies, or riding cars, fighter jets or even tanks. With Daniel Craig this super-cool persona has been dropped and Bond has become more human, or to put it bluntly, normal.

The attempt of the movie makers was obviously to fuse the Bond charisma with the Bourne canniness, thus getting the best of both worlds. Unfortunately, this backfired big time. This bond has neither the suaveness, coolness and elegance of Brosnan, nor the lethal efficiency of Jason Bourne. Where Bourne's every move is clearly thought-out and executed flawlessly, Criag's Bond seems to do things for no apparent reason and continuously gets lucky (and I don't mean just in bed).

The action sequences borrow so heavily from the Bourne series that some of the ripoffs are embarassingly blatant. Daniel Craig, undoubtedly a good actor, just doesn't have the aura of control that Matt Damon protrays, nor does he possess the charms of Pierce Brosnan. His attempts to make Bond more human just reveal the too many flaws in the storyline. Ultimately, he ends up dragging Bond down to the level of an average, unspectacular spy.

A disappointing movie.

Shalimar The Clown

A slow, ponderous and plodding narrative!

This is a book that is ostentatiously about the transformation of a Kashmiri stage performer into a vengeful assassin, but ends up being about too many things. The plot is the scorned love of the protagonist and his Kashmiri dancer wife. An American ambassador to India, an illegitimate daughter (named India), and the consequent murder of the ambassador by Shalimar The Clown, complete the plotline. In between, while giving a remarkable insight into the Kashmiri way of life, which sadly includes the terrorist camps operating at the Kashmir border, we see how Shalimar goes from being a fun-loving, talented gymnast to becoming a brutal, inhuman killing machine.

The story has many potential winning points, but there are so many sidetracks in the narrative that its very difficult to remain invested in the actual story. The author seems confused about the purpose of this book - is it a description of the Kashmir conflict, is it scorned love, is it obsessions, is it the pitfalls of ambition, or is it communal politics? In the end, apparenty unable to decide among those choices, he decides to talk about a little bit of all the above. And so, for pages on end, the actual story is put aside while the author expounds on all manner of subjects. Not surprisingly, this leads to a very disjointed narrative.

I believe that the main purpose of a fictional book should be the telling of a story. And if, through the telling of this story, you throw light on real-life subjects, issues or philosophies, its an added plus; but the story should at all times remain the focal point of the book. This book spectacularly fails to do that. And so it is very difficult to retain interest or any kind of continuity in the narrative.

Of course, considering that the writer is actually a genius, there are inevitable flashes of brilliance, like this line : "you never know the answers to the questions of life until you are asked". But such lines are few and far apart, and ultimately unable to redeem the book.

Not one of Rushdie's better works.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Vision

I have a vision, of a beauty so pristine;
Such as on earth, never has been seen.
Sculpted from snow, her form exquisite;
Mesmeric her gaze, her smile's hypnotic.

Her spirit, wilder than wildest flames,
Toys with hearts, plays tenuous games.
Darkest of shadows, she makes light;
All my life's wrongs, she makes right.
Defying all of nature's laws;
She truly is, without flaws.
But such flawless beauty, on this earth cannot be;
Visible not to mortal eyes, only to my ethereal eyes is she.
In high heavens she is, not on this earth low;
For when He'd created her, even He couldn't let her go!

--- dreamcatcher

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Ode to Perfection

God created all things good, and better things too;
Then He thought "Best", and He created you!
The glow of your skin, makes sunshine blush;
Night pines for day, seeing your dark tresses lush.
Softer than snow, those wrists tender;
Sinuous waist, defines the word slender.
Just a colour trivial, is the sky's blue;
Magical, nay divine! is your eyes' hue.
Your eyes bewitch, your words beguile;
Leaves me witless, your entrancing smile.
Those lips, those eyes, all that grace;
Fairies go green, seeing your pretty face.

Greatest creation of the greatest creator;

Perfect you are, there's none better!

--- dreamcatcher

Monday, August 25, 2008

Perfect Fit?

you fit into me
like a hook into an eye

a fish hook
an open eye

--- Margaret Atwood

Monday, August 18, 2008

"Lament"

Enough of these tortuous games,
no more withstand I can.
This agony try to understand, my Lady,
after all, I'm just a man!

Long have you toyed with my heart,
like a flame with naive moths.
Knowing full well my enamour of you,
nary a hint of your own thoughts.

Harshest of flames gives warmth,
atones thus for what is its wont,
then consumes the moth, leaving not a trace;
Empty hopes & false dreams you give, where's my quantum of solace?

Say 'yes', and this tale ends happily,
Say 'no', and I try to cope... NOT easily,
You say nothing, and what is that really,
but another shot to prolong my misery?

Go on then, try to find the one for you,
an Adam for every Eve, we were all made in a pair;
When futile your search ends, think of me and I'll be there,
I'm the one for you, I swear!

--- dreamcatcher

Thursday, August 07, 2008

" WHY "

Pray! do tell,
why never you look my way?
Even as i compel,
my eyes from you not to stray.
Remind of something sad,
does my visage to you?
Memories past and bad,
of people you once knew?
Look at me, I am I!
Not from your past a lament.
Trust me, see it in my eye,
for me you were meant!
Do you think me ugly, not worth the glance of your eye,
or is it...(hush, heart! dont be silly), are you just shy?
--- dreamcatcher

Saturday, August 02, 2008

The Four Ages of Man

He with body waged a fight;
But body won; it walks upright.
Then he struggled with the heart;
Innocence and peace depart.
Then he struggled with the mind;
His proud heart he left behind.
Now his wars on God begin;
At stroke of midnight God shall win.
--- W.B. Yeats

Saturday, July 26, 2008

"Agony"
Lord! The agony of knowing not!
She likes me, she likes me not?
How do I undo this knot?
Of these things I know naught!
On her, rests my lot!
In her spell I'm caught!
The real me, she knows not,
Coz near her, myself I'm not!
Around others, I'm cool,
Near her, what's talk, even breathe I can not!
When she smiled at me,
My very name I forgot!
Talking to her makes me sweat,
It'd be easier to get shot!
On my 'i', she's the dot,
To my 'this', she's 'that',
Girls, there are a lot,
Like her, they're not!
Lord! The agony of knowing not,
She likes me, she likes me not?
--- dreamcatcher

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Reverie

you,
and i,
and the sky...

(sigh...)

hint of a smile,
gazelle eyes,
oh, my!!!

you avoid my eye,
why?
you meet my eye,
i could fly!

come to me,
wondrous tales have i,
now you're here
i'm tongue-tied!

i need you,
you're my joy!
once you're mine,
happy i'll die.

--- dreamcatcher

Friday, July 11, 2008

Another series of unfortunate incidents

Its time to commit memories to paper when they start getting dimmed by time and blurred by nostalgia. In July 2006, I posted here 'A series of unfortunate events', the story of how I reached Sicily for the start of a business trip. As luck(or fate?) would have it, my trip ended 9 months later with another(more horrible) Series of Unfortunate Events. Heres what happened...

March 2007 was my last month in Sicily and having visited 7 european countries and almost 20 cities, I planned a final trip, to Sweden. I set out on a cold, windy & rainy night from Catania(in sicily), to board a train to Rome, en route to Stockholm. If I believed in omens, I would have recognized that the rain was a harbinger of worse things. But I had had such an amazing time in Europe until then that I couldn't care less about inauspicious signs. Anyway, I reached Rome the next day, and spent a rather enjoyable day in the Vatican City. At night I took the metro to go the city centre. Thats when things started going horribly wrong.

At the central station, I was pickpocketed! I clearly remember the overcrowded train, someone asking me if I was getting down as the station approached, and then bumping into me several times. It was only when I had gotten down, and changed to a different platform that I realized that my pockets were lighter. My first reaction was panic, which was surprisingly quickly followed by one of relief, as I remembered that all my important documents were still safely in my knapsack, along with a bundle of contingency cash. So having recovered my composture, I found a policeman on the platform, but he didn't speak English. Just when I was despairing and about to give up, a passing girl helped me out with the policeman. I was told that I'd have to lodge a complaint at the police station which was on the main platform.

While I tried to find my way through the labyrinth that is the Rome central station, I called up my banks to cancel my credit cards. I must really have offended the gods that day because the person who answered the Visa hotline, is THE MOST slow-talking person I've ever encountered. To this day, I don't understand how someone answering a lost credit-cards hotline, can talk so slow. This guy was literally taking a deep breath between every word he spoke - "Hello...how....can...i....help...you....sir". It took me more than 15 minutes to get it across that I wished all my credit cards cancelled due to the robbery. I could only hope that the thieves hadn't used my cards in that time. Having gotten through the ordeal of trying to talk slow while being in an heightened state of panic, I reached the police station. This place looked like a regular government office. I saw several people waiting patiently to lodge their reports. It did help me gain a bit of perspective to see that I was not the only one who had been robbed that day. Astonishingly, it took me 45 minutes to lodge a report of the pickpocketing, a testament to the speed with which these matters are handled in Rome!

Once this was done, I was faced with a difficult choice. I could either go back to catania(home), or go on to Stockholm and hope that my contingency cash would be enough to get me through the 3 days I planned on staying there(my flights were already booked). I did a quick calculation and realized that if I could find a bed at an hostel, I could just about make it. So I decided to go on.

MISTAKE!!! Stockholm was COLD! Impossibly so. Even Chamonix(in the french alps) was not as cold. I now think it was the icy-cold wind that lashed the city all 3 days that I was there. Anyway, first thing I had to do was find a hostel. In keeping with the horrible run of luck I'd been having, none of the hostels had any available beds(there was some festival going on in the city and so there were numerous visitors). Just when I thought that God was punishing me for some past misdemeanors, I found an actual hotel that just about fit my budget. The next 3 days weren't exactly fantastic. The highlight of my visit was the visit to the Museum dedicated to the royal warship VASA (pictures elsewhere on this blog), otherwise I found Stockholm fairly ordinary. My flight back to Rome was in the early morning, so I decided to go to the airport late in the nite and spend the few hours there. At this point I had barely enough cash to sustain me a day. I figured I would be ok since my transport was all arranged, so technically I would need money only for food and I would be home by the next nite.

MISTAKE!!! While waiting for my flight, I chanced upon a flight status monitor that showed that my flight to Rome had been cancelled! My heart skipped a beat! I paced around waiting for the Ryanair ticket office to open. When it eventually did, I was told that the Rome airport was closed due to a strike. I was given a choice - an alternative flight to Milan that evening, or a flight to Rome the next morning. I figured it was useless going to Rome the next day - first because my train back home from Rome was scheduled for that nite, so I would miss it anyway; second, because with the little money I had left, I couldn't afford to go through another day; and third, because I just didnt want to stay in Stockholm any longer than I absolutely had to. So I chose the flight to Milan on the same day. Now there the matter of arranging transport to sicily from milan. Since all my credit cards were gone(stolen actually) with my wallet, and I barely had enough cash, I had no option but to ask my friends in Sicily to book a flight for me from Milan to Catania.

My handphone chose that particular moment to stop working! By that time I had gotten so used to misfortune that I barely noticed this betrayal by my phone. I simply set about looking for an alternative. This presented itself in the form of an helpful officer at the Stockholm tourist centre at the airport. He was kind enough to allow me to use the phone at the office to make the necessary calls to Sicily to arrange my flight home. Once this was done, I settled down to wait for my flight to Milan, which was still 8 hours away. I thought I was entitled to think that the worst was behind me.

MISTAKE!!! I was just sitting at the airport reading a book, when 2 airport officers approached me and asked me to accompany them. I couldn't think why they'd want to talk to me as I'd spent a sum total of 3 days in sweden. Anyway, I went with them to a small room in the depths of the airport, where I was told that my face matched that of some missing person. I spent the next 1 hour trying to convince them that I was in fact a free (if somewhat down-on-luck) guy from Sicily, just visiting Stockholm. This wasn't easy considering that I had lost 30kg of weight in the last 3 years. So the picture in my passport was quite different from the way I looked then. Anyway, I finally convinced them and returned to wait for my flight after almost an hour. It turned out that the flight from Milan to Sicily was very early the next morning. I had no choice but to spend another evening at an airport. Having undergone possibly the most draining (physically & mentally) 3 days of my life, I found it hard to remain alert. So I put my glasses to a side and dozed a bit.

MISTAKE!!! When I opened my eyes, the glasses were gone!!! Stolen!!! Who would want to steal someone else's glasses??? I was beyond anger, frustration and disbelief! I just boarded the flight to Sicily, went home and slept for what seemed like a week.

PS : I thought then that this trip was the worst ever I would undertake. As it turns out, I seem to specialize in trips gone wrong. I recently visited Hong Kong & Macau, and this trip turned out even worse. So bad in fact that I dont want to even remember it. Suffice to say that I came back home 4 days early (paid the airline to prepone my ticket actually), and don't remember a single enjoyable moment over the 4 days of the trip!!!