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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Asian Spotlight: India, Part II

Aks / reflection / double / doppelganger / kagemusha:

A look-alike is discovered and asked to shadow the original. Strange consequences take the original out of the equation. Then the look-alike steps out of the shadow and becomes the very person that he was trying to shadow. But something even stranger then happens. The look-alike starts losing his self and he starts to identify with the original. This was the story of Akira Kurosawa's Kagemusha.


But recently two Indian film-makers have take this double idea and adapted it to two completely different stories, even though the leads in both movies play characters who are film extras dreaming of making it big in Bollywood. Rajat Kapoor uses the double idea and adds a nod to John Woo's Face Off in his dark and engaging film Mithya. Whereas, Rohit Jugraj takes a different approach and creates Super Star where a film extra has the same appearance with a new Bollywood actor and gets mistaken for the upcoming superstar. Mithya starts off with a touch of humour gets darker and darker until it ends in complete darkness, although that is the only possible ending. Super Star could have ended on an ironic twist at the 90 minute mark but continues for another hour to end on a customary Bollywood ending where happiness is ushered in.

I loved Mithya not only for the dark story but for the brilliant performances put in by Ranvir Shorey, Vinay Pathak & Naseeruddin Shah. Naseeruddin plays a gangster similar to the one he played to great effect in Kaizad Gustad's Bombay Boys. Shorey & Pathak have been putting in great performances recently and they have continued that trend here.


Sensuality, beauty, magic, myth, death and reincarnation:

I absolutely adored Pan Nalin's first film Samsara which was an intoxicating mix of Buddhism and sensuality. So I was looking forward to his second feature A Valley of Flowers. Like his first film, the mountainous locales are stunning, the female lead gorgeous (Mylène Jampanoï) and the sexual chemistry electric. Even though the story is much more imaginative than Samsara, the screenplay and editing let this film down slightly. Still, the movie is worth watching.

A thief (Jalan played by Milind Soman)

comes across a woman (Ushna played by Mylène Jampanoï) during his looting quests.


Ushna wants to travel with Jalan and is not afraid of his rugged looks and band of thieves. She quickly asserts her presence in the group and promises to lead the men to untold riches. On their heels is a mysterious man (Naseeruddin Shah) who is after Ushna.


Jalan is slowly intoxicated by Ushna and turns against his friends.

The two go around stealing powers from priests and tantrics in their quest for immortality. In one of my favourite sequences in the film, Ushna steals the shadows of people with good luck so as to change her misfortune. Things take a very interesting turn when the two lovers are confronted by the mysterious man in the valley of silence (another interesting sequence in the film). From then on, the movie moves ahead a few centuries in Japan before the karmic cycle catches up with the two lovers.



Displaced by Politics:

When Mani Ratnam tackles films about political situations, he carefully manages to weave stories about relationships and family within a political context. In his political films, the focus is always on the individuals and how their lives are effected by the chaos around them. In Roja the backdrop was Kashmir and terrorism, in Bombay he set a love story against the Bombay riots while Dil Se was a passionate love story with a core thread about suicide bombers and Eastern Indian issues; Yuva was about how the younger generation in Calcutta handled politics. Now in A Peck on the Cheek, Ratnam has shifted focus to Sri Lanka where struggles between the army and militants has resulted in mass migration of people to Southern India where they were known to have languished in refugee camps.

In terms of story, screenplay and acting A Peck on the Cheek is clearly superior to Roja, Bombay, Dil Se & even Yuva. A Peck on the Cheek tackles the difficult questions of adoption and displacement in a very mature and intelligent manner. Although, Ratnam carefully avoids taking any political sides and shows the militants cause as a matter of fact without attempting to judge or put down one side. I could have done without some of the songs but the visuals in the videos are breathtaking. In terms of technical support, the stellar crew of A.R Rehman (music), Ravi K. Chandran (cinematography), Sreekar Prasad (editing) and Sabu Cyril (art direction) are in fine form and help to beautify this solid story.


Serving up an old style as a new one:

True to form, a film titled 'Style' offers no substance whatsoever. Tashan means style in Hindi slang and the film is too concerned with being cool and having smooth characters. The waver thin story is just an excuse to hop around India, having the actors dance in a few songs and dressing in funky clothing. The biggest talking point about the movie has to be Kareena Kapoor's well toned body. In this respect, she continues the recent trend of Bollywood actresses to hit the gym.

In 1989 when Maine Pyar Kiya was released, Salman Khan become the first Bollywood lead to have a six pack and a well toned body. A few years after that, hitting the gym become the in-thing in Bollywood and the film industry was packed with macho studs. With the exception of Shilpa Shetty, no other Bollywood actresses were concerned with going to the gym and this trend was limited to the male actors. But that changed in 2006 when Aishwarya Rai & Bipasha Basu showed off their well toned female form in Dhoom 2. A few other actresses followed suit after that like Esha Deol. And now Kareena Kapoor has joined the list. She is so happy with her results that she shows it off to all those interested in the video for Tashan -- Chaliya (note: the following is only a clip of the song).

At the video's start, she emerges from the ocean in a yellow bikini and the camera ensures we get a good look. And in case someone missed the view, director Vijay Krishna Acharya ensures the camera goes back for a second and third look.

Ofcourse, the six pack rush in the male actors was given another lease of life last year when Shah Rukh Khan decided to beef up and showed off his results as well in Om Shanti Om:




Religion & Inspiration:
Bhavna Talwar's Dharm received a good deal of buzz last year. Even though the film is beautifully shot, the story of a Hindu priest's values being tested was a bit weak for me. In fact, one could see where the conflict points would take place in the story long time before they happened. And also, the sermon in the end was good natured enough but once again common place in Indian movies.

I was looking forward to seeing my first film from Gautam Ghosh -- Yatra. Unfortunately, my severe disappointment with the film leaves me with little words to say. I like the overall framework of a writer's life and the writer attempting to visit his muse again, but when the inspiration was to be found in the kothas (brothel), I lost interest as this was a topic covered enough times in Hindi films since the 60's.


From Bombay to Bangkok, India to Thailand:

Nagesh Kukunoor's 1998 film Hyderabad Blues was a breath of fresh air. It was a good film put together on a shoe string budget. I missed his second film Rockford but Kukunoor took a major mis-step with 2001's Bollywood Calling, his parody about the Bollywood film industry. He brushed that failure aside and delivered a very poetic film in 2003 with 3 Deewarein. However after that he delivered a dud in Hyderabad Blues 2, a needless sequel to his debut film. A sweet coming of age cricket film in 2005 (Iqbal) was followed by his most mature film to date in 2006 with the emotionally touching Dor. So I was curious to see how his new flick Bombay to Bangkok would fare.

In essence the film is sort of half-way between his best and worst works. There are some promising moments, a very honest performance from Shreyas Talpade (who stars in his 3rd straight Kukunoor film) and some hilarious characters like the wanna be rapper son of a gangster (Naseeruddin Shah plays another don). Kukunoor tips a nod towards Iqbal and includes a replica scene from that movie in a moment when Talpade runs onto some hay to the background of music from Iqbal.

What I liked most about the movie is the title, as it indicates the next country in my Asian film spotlight: Thailand.


Film (Year, Director): Rating:

  • Mithya (2008, Rajat Kapoor): 9


  • Super Star (2008, Rohit Jugraj): 7.5


  • A Peck on the Cheek (2002, Mani Ratnam): 8.5


  • Valley of Flowers (2006, Pan Nalin): 8.5


  • Tashan (2008, Vijay Krishna Acharya): 4.5


  • Yatra (2006, Gautam Ghosh): 5


  • Dharm (2007, Bhavna Talwar): 6.5


  • Bombay to Bangkok (2008, Nagesh Kukunoor): 6.5


  • Tuesday, April 29, 2008

    Cinema of the Philippines, Part I

    Asian Spotlight, Filipino Films

    Two years I had not seen a single film from the Philippines. Then at VIFF 2006, I came across Jeffrey Jeturian's Kubrador (The Bet Collector) and was left in awe. Kubrador, shot on digital camera, followed the lead character Amy (played by Gina Pareño) as she went around a shanty town slum collecting money from her neighborhood to place on a local numbers game (Jeuteng). We watch Amy move from street to street, gossiping along the way, and honestly talking people out of their hard earned money. The people Amy hits for money are already poor and winning the Jeuteng lottery is their ticket to a better life. I enjoyed the verite style and liked how the camera invited us to spend some time in Amy's life. Also at VIFF 2006, John Torres won the Dragons and Tiger Award for his debut feature Todo Todo Teros, a film that I saw shortly after VIFF. Torres' film was an interesting blend of video journal, fiction, documentary, improvised dialogue and poetry.

    I was looking forward to seeing some Filipino films at VIFF 2007 and I was not disappointed -- I loved Brillante Mendoza's two films Slingshot & Foster Child. But I was still woefully shy of knowing much about Filipino cinema and had not gotten anywhere near a list of some well known films.

    Part I features 4 titles:

  • A good personal starting point for a Filipino spotlight had to be with the earlier films of Brillante Mendoza. And luckily I managed to find his first two features Masahista (The Masseur) and Kaleldo (Summer Heat).


  • Macho Dancer -- I wanted to pick a film by a Lino Brocka, a film-maker I had read about quite a bit but not seen anything from until last week. Interestingly last week, Mendoza's new film Serbis was selected in the Cannes 2008 competition category. The last time a Filipino film was selected for the Cannes competition was one by Lino Brocka.


  • Naglalayag (The Silent Passage) directed by Maryo J. De los Reyes


  • Earning a living in the dark:

    It turns out that Mendoza's The Masseur & Brocka's Macho Dancer form an appropriate double bill as both are about men who leave their small town and head to the city where they sell their bodies to earn a living. In The Masseur, the lead character has to leave his home to work in a massage parlour while the main character in Macho Dancer works in a nightclub, pleasuring men and dancing his way to their hearts. Both films show a slice of the harsh reality in the Philippines but differ in their technique and intention -- The Masseur splices scenes from the character's present with his past and draws parallels between sexuality and certain rituals (funeral rites), while Macho Dancer is a linear narrative that is more interested in depicting the story of the main characters.

    Relationships:

    In Kaleldo (Summer Heat) Mendoza shows the lives of three sisters and their affairs and relationships. The film is divided into three sections (Wind, Earth and Fire) with each element representing the different personalities of the women. Hot, sultry, emotional and an engaging drama.

    The core story of Naglalayag is about the relationship between an older woman and a young man but the love story is surrounded by topics of class difference, crime and poverty.

    Film (Year, Director): Rating out of 10

    The Masseur (2005, Brillante Mendoza): 6
    Kaleldo (2004, Brillante Mendoza): 8
    Macho Dancer (1988, Lino Brocka): 6.5
    Naglalayag (2004, Maryo J. De los Reyes): 7

    Thursday, April 24, 2008

    Thierry Henry gets Framed by Paz Vega


    It seems every time Henry has a bad touch of the ball, two articles get written in Spain about Henry's failure. Considering that Henry gave Arsenal fans so many great memories, it is not very pleasant to see Henry criticized so much. Negative articles about him were being written in the first half of the season but recently they have increased as end of the European season approaches. So in a way it was very refreshing to see a mini documentary film on Henry on the Independent Film Channel (IFC) last month. The film was directed by the lovely Paz Vega (yes the actress) and was part of IFC's Framed series where celebrities will make their first documentary film on sports stars.

    Henry's film was the third episode in this series. It was a real treat to watch Henry being comfortable, happy, honest & even a wee bit flirtatious (I am sure Miss Vega has that effect). In reality, the doc film is only 5 minutes long but the rest of 20 or so minutes are about the setup.

    The full film can be found here: Click on the Henry & Paz Vega link, and choose the full episode option. Although, I found this link a bit slow even though the sound quality was very good. Alternatively, here is the film in three parts (the sound quality is not the greatest in some sections):

    Part One -- the set-up where Henry meets Paz Vega and they discuss the project.



    Part Two -- the actual audition


    Part Three -- the Interview and final shots.


    Here's a very good quality clip of the penalty sequence between Henry and Vega.

    Just a delightful film to watch.

    Wednesday, April 23, 2008

    Cannes 2008

    The Cannes 2008 Line-up is out. A quick look by the Guardian at the films and directors.

    What interests me is that Matteo Garrone's Gomorra is in the competition. I recently finished reading the book and loved it, so I am curious to see how a fictional tale based on the non-fiction book would stack up. Plenty of big names in the line-up but I am thrilled to see Brillante Mendoza's new film Serbis there. I loved his two previous movies Slingshot and Foster Child at VIFF last year. During the Q&A session after Slingshot at VIFF someone in the audience asked Mendoza what his next project was. He looked towards his producer before answering something along the lines of "sex in a movie theater" and that this was "something which happens in Philippines". Reading the brief description of Serbis, this might be the film that Mendoza talked about.

    So I guess the film festival 2008 season is now officially open. Let the film anticipation begin!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Saturday, April 19, 2008

    Another look at Southern Italy

    I was lucky enough to chance upon Francesco Rosi's wonderful film Le Mani sulla città (Hands on the City) late last year. The film presented plenty of food for thought and encouraged me to find other films by Rosi. A mini spotlight on him showed that he was not afraid to tackle the political side of Italian life while giving voice to Southern Italy, something left out from a majority of Italian films. Rosi's Salvatore Giuliano gives a good look into the political/revolutionary past of Sicily and encouraged me to finally pick up John Dickie's book Cosa Nostra. Dickie's book forms a nice pair with Salvatore Giuliano and one can sense similar shadows lurking in both works.

    Everything that exists passes through here. Through the port of Naples. There's not a product, fabric, piece of plastic, toy, hammer, show, screwdriver, bolt, video game, jacket, pair of pants, drill, or watch that doesn't come through the port. The port of Naples is an open wound. Roberto Saviano, Gomorrah, Chapter: The Port.

    I once again thought of Rosi while recently reading Roberto Saviano's brilliant book Gomorrah. Saviano's book not only looks at the workings of the mafia in and around Naples, it examines the economic and political structure that allows the group such power. Both Saviano and Rosi are born in Naples and through their intelligent and well researched works, Gomorrah and Le Mani sulla città, have shown their disgust at how their city has been ruined by those in power. Rosi made Le Mani sulla città back in 1963 and could never have forseen how his city went into decline they way it did. Although in 1992, he revisited Naples with the documentary Diario napoletano and got a sense of how some things unfolded the way his movie predicted. Saviano does not mention Rosi in his book but I can imagine he would be familiar with Rosi's works. And likewise, I would like to imagine Rosi has read a thing or two from Saviano who is 57 years younger than Rosi -- Rosi was born in 1922 & Saviano in 1979. Rosi has not made a film since 1997 and if he were to make just one more film, I wish he and Saviano could collaborate together to peel away the layers of corruption that exists in their beloved city. But that does not seem likely as a film version of Gomorrah is slated to be directed by Matteo Garrone.

    Tuesday, April 15, 2008

    Asian Spotlight: Cambodia

    I was exhausted after a series of travels across India and South East Asia. But when I woke up on 4 am, Sunday, Dec 17 (2006), I was energized because in an hour's time I would be standing in front of Angkor Wat, a place I had wanted to visit for the longest time. A private taxi dropped me off at the entrance. With the exception of a few street lights, darkness surrounded me. I crossed the main bridge to slowly walk towards the temple. Pitch black. Yet, despite the darkness I could sense the presence of something at the end of the path. I had seen the pictures enough times so maybe that played a part. But in the darkness, I could make out something large and imposing.



    The above picture was taken between 5:20 - 5:40 am. The early pictures at 5:20 am came out dark and using a flash didn't make a difference. Initially when I got there only a few people wandered about. After 5:30 am or so, the tourist buses arrived with groups of people arriving with flashlights and making a lot of noise. Eventually, everyone headed to find their favourite spot to observe the temple during sunrise. I continued to stand in front of the temple, even though that may not have been the best spot.

    The next few pictures show the gradual arrival of light:



    The lotus lake around the temple appeared to be the best spot to take pictures as I found out later on.

    Interestingly, this lotus lake was transformed into a fake floating market in Tomb Raider. In the movie, Lara Croft (Angelina Jolie) arrives on a boat as other locals row their boat around her. She gets off the boat and enters the temple.


    The name of Angelina Jolie is to be found around Siem Reap quite a bit. All the local guides know the spots where the movie was shot and point that out to travelers. As it turned out, the Red Piano hotel I stayed in had a restaurant where Miss Jolie had a drink and the spot is quite famous. Although, I didn't bother venturing in the restaurant (which was 2 blocks or so from the hotel), here's a picture of it from the outside.


    The Angkor Wat temples were quite an experience. But one of the most surprizing things was to find that the walls were covered with myths from The Ramayana and Mahabharta. Even though I knew the temples were dedicated to Hinduism, it was eye-opening to see those myths charted out in beautiful detail and accuracy on the walls.

    One of the most haunting images for me was the Ta Phrom temple. The temple is famous for having the trees taking over the rocky structures. It was surreal to see the following:



    This was an example which showed that if humans were not around, nature would take over. It appears that since the Angkor civilization had disappeared, seeds dropped by birds in the cracks between the stones started sprouting into plants, which grew into large tree like structures. The trees grew so long and strong (almost as strong as metal in parts as I found out) that they started cracking the temple. Incredible!

    Symbols, Streets and pace of life



    While Angkor Wat has become a positive symbol of Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge is the opposing negative symbol. Unfortunately, most international news only focus on a country to cover the horror and evil present there. And in Cambodia's case, its legacy of horror and killings still threatens to hog the headlines, even though all around Siem Reap expensive tourist hotels are being built to anticipate more and more tourists heading to the temples. Also, the old legacies of Khmer Rouge's torture spots are being made into tourist attractions. During conversations with the locales, they may refer to "the war" as a matter of fact without attempting to explain which war because they know that everyone knows what they are talking about. All around Siem Reap one can see books on the Khmer Rouge and even DVD's which keep the memory of those dark years fresh in everyone's minds.

    While I picked up a few books on Cambodian history, for some bizarre reason in a lapse of judgment I didn't buy a DVD copy of S-21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine. Recently, I made amends and finally saw the movie. Rithy Panh's documentary brings together an old survivor of the regime along with some tortured victims and even the S21 prisoner torturers. At times, it is painful to see all these people trying to make sense of pure evil. The regime engaged in extreme torture via interrogations. Most times, it was innocent people who were being tortured. Since the victims had no information to give, the prison guards only increased the tortures because they were under instructions to get some information. One can imagine similar techniques being used by almost all countries around the world engaged in interrogation of spies, terrorists and rebels.

    I have not seen the film The Killing Fields but I have Christopher Hudson's book by the same name. It has been on my reading list for some time now but after having read Francois Bizot's The Gate, I decided to space out reading more books on Cambodia. Bizot's book talked about his time as a captured prisoner in one of the Khmer Rouge's camps. While watching Werner Herzog's film Rescue Dawn last year, I thought of Bizot's book and his experiences in the camp. Words and images meshed together in my mind even though it was a different experience portrayed on the screen in front of me.

    At the end of the day, memories of my brief stay in Siem Reap are regarding the hauntingly beautiful temples and works of man's achievements. It was fascinating to see how the forests around the temples took over the structures in the absence of any humans. It was a reminder that in the distant future, nature will eventually take over all our current civilizations.

    Sunday, April 13, 2008

    Curtains, finally!

    The Collapse:

    In the future when football scholars will look back at the 2007/08 season, they may prefer to use the format from Jared Diamond's book Collapse to examine what went wrong with Arsenal. Diamond's book examines how and why some of the world's greatest civilizations disappeared. Well, Arsenal have collapsed in the worst possible fashion, losing all 4 titles by defeats to their bitterest rivals.

    Same Same but different

    The First half: Arsenal played well, moved the ball with purpose but could not take the lead. Adebayor was the most guilty wasting two glorious chances, the first with a neat 1-2, the second after Hleb's great dance set up him. In both cases, Adebayor went for the safe option and choosing to put the ball on target as opposed to testing the keeper. Also, in the first half the show called Eboue or Football Learnings of Arsenal for Make Benefit Glorious Premier team continued.

    Arsenal took the lead early in the second half thanks to Van Persie's cross being headed home by Adebayor -- his first league goal in the league since his new haircut. But like last Tuesday's horror show, the lead didn't last long, once again due to a penalty being given. Clear cut or not, the cocky Ronaldo stepped up and put it away, only to be asked to have it retaken. Lehmann did his best to put the smug Portuguese off but Ronaldo repeated his stutter step and scored to level the game. As per the laws of the game, a stutter step is not allowed for spot-kicks but refs have stopped caring for years as Figo has made this into a trademark spot kick. And then the horror increased with a free-kick from Owen H.

    To rub salt into wounds, Ronaldo returned to his pony dog roots in the closing stages to finally draw a curtain on Arsenal's 2007/08 season.

    Friday, April 11, 2008

    2008: A football odyssey

    [Climatic Scene of 2008: A football odyssey]

    The Hero walks into a room packed with 88 opponents. The young Hero is brave and confident and calmly proceeds to take on each opponent one by one. After he has dispatched about 40 or so men, he is still standing strong yet panting a little. However, by the time he has taken out 66 men, he is clearly tired. Unfortunately, there is no time for rest as the Hero only came by himself, leaving all his sidekicks home. Also, some of the Hero's sidekicks were still nursing their wounds from previous battles. The last 12 opponents prove to be quite tough for the hero as he is repeatedly beaten up and injured.

    The Hero is knocked out and finds himself lying on the floor, almost lifeless. Just before his eyes shut, he remembers why he is fighting in the first place. He is fighting for a better future, a future where good and virtue would prevail. Images of his 19 year old son flash before his eyes, and with the speed and agility of a young boy, he gets up and knocks out the 88th person. Victory is achieved. Or so the hero thinks.

    A rule for an action movie is to only celebrate when all the corpses have been confirmed terminated. One never turns their back on some half-dead opponents. As the Hero is limping away, one solitary opponent rises and delivers one final blow to the hero. The hero is knocked unconscious. The room doors open and in walks Fernaldooney, an old rival of the hero. Fernaldooney looks at the lying body of the hero and is delighted. He can finally put his rival to rest.

    [Flashback]: The Hero and Fernaldooney have a long history of rivalry. In total, the two have been involved in 202 fights with Fernaldooney winning 81 and the hero claiming 76 wins. The remaining 45 fights had to be abandoned for various reasons like the arrival of police, etc. However, in the last 13 Premier fights Fernaldooney and the Hero are tied with each claiming 4 wins & the remaining 5 bouts drawn. There have been some memorable victories claimed by each rival with the Hero winning historic fights in 1998, 2002 and even in 2006/2007 while also suffering some humiliating defeats as well. Also, there was one fight in 2004 where Fernaldooney cheated and won a fight unfairly. [End Flashback]

    Fernaldooney feels no threat from the Hero and is moving in for the final kick. However, the camera pans towards the ground and shows slight movement in the hero's right hand.

    ###@@@@@@ ##%#%#%#%# Missing Reel ##%#%#%##$###%#$######

    [End. Roll credits]

    Confused Audience Member #1: "What the f*** was that about?"
    Audience Member #2: "Damn. That bastard Tyler Durden took the final reel home, again!"
    Audience Member #1: "Who the hell is Tyler Durden?"
    AM #2: "You know that guy who worked over at Fincher's Club F. on 19th and 99th"
    AM #1: "Nope, no idea who he is."
    AM#2: "Well he often takes reels from movies and then splices them on matinee shows on Sat and Sun."
    AM#1: "So when will this reel show up?"
    Audience Member #3: "I believe going by his track record, he might show it on a morning show on Sunday."
    AM #2: "At this theater?"
    AM #3: "No, probably at Theater D"
    AM #1: "Well, hopefully the ending is worth it"
    AM #2: "Yeah who knows, if things go good for the Hero, there might even be a sequel."
    AM #1: "Who knows. The Hero was pretty badly bruised."
    AM #2: "Yeah. But come on, who does not like a happy ending?"
    Am #1: "Well, let's see what Sunday brings."

    Wednesday, April 09, 2008

    A story revisited.....

    The Story: The Gallant Mane

    Author: Anonymous. The story was mysteriously found near the old garbage dump in the borough of Islington.

    A quick scan of the story reveals the following:

    Hero: A young fast horse named The Red Mane. The horse's name comes from the combination of two French movies by Albert Lamorisse -- The Red Balloon and White Mane.

    Villains: 4 horses named Mud, Chester, Ringo & Spurtz. Also, an unknown mystery man named Raul Bendez also falls under the villain role.

    As per the story, the young horse Red Mane was a joy to watch as he effortlessly glided past all the other horses to win race after race. The more races he won for his owners, the more annoyed the rivals got. Just when things were looking good for the Red Mane, a minor stumble resulted. In the middle of the regular Premier Stallion Championship, the Red Mane's team accepted an invitation to participate in a charity trophy. There the Red Mane came across his rival Spurtz. Red Mane held an amazing record over Spurtz in that he had finished ahead of Spurtz in 21 previous attempts. But on this charity trophy event, Spurtz finished 4 seconds ahead of Red Mane. Such a margin was a huge shock but Red Mane's owners dismissed it as meaningless as it was just a charity trophy. The real prize lay in the Premier and European crowns. However, a few weeks after the charity loss, Red Mane lost yet another trophy, this time a friendly association title to rival Mud by once again a 4 second margin. Questions were being asked about Red Mane's capacity. Was the young horse getting burnt out? Or was the jockey not able to control Red Mane?

    The management team decided to bring in a young fresh jockey (Alves) for a Premier race to shake things up. Unfortunately tragedy struck just 3 meters after the horses left the gate. The worst horse on the track, the old aging Maylor, charged towards Red Mane. Maylor raised his front two legs and knocked the young Alves off Red Mane. As Alves was knocked off & his legs were caught in the saddle, Maylor stomped on Alves. The sight of a 1500 pound horse falling on Alves made everyone present in the stands cringe. As per some rumours, Red Mane witnessed his new owner crying out in pain and even shed a tear.

    After the tragedy, the owners of Red Mane struggled to find a new jockey. They cycled through 4 jockeys in the next few races but lost all of the races Nothing worked. They turned to a trusted experienced jockey only to lose a 5th straight race, this time to Chester. Things were getting grim for the owners of Red Mane. They had banked heavily on Red Mane pulling them through the year and had even released their other experienced horses and jockeys in the off season. Debate raged among the owners on what to do regarding the fate of Red Mane. Some said that the horse was done, burnt out, finished and should be laid to rest. Others wanted to give Red Mane some time.

    It was agreed that the European crown was the final chance for Red Mane to shine. Unfortunately, some owners did not want to take a chance. They talked about bringing in the cold executioner Raul Bendez.

    The Myth of Raul: The Spaniard Bendez, born in Madrid, was considered by some to be a cold executioner who could put down any horse without blinking. He was known to always formulate a perfect poison to kill each horse based on each horse's weight and age. Bendez was known to have studied his art of killing under the famed Hungarian Keyser Söze. Söze's greatest trick was to convince the world that he that never existed. Bendez learned from Söze and devised a poison that some say never existed, meaning his so called poison was just a placebo. His critics believed Bendez merely showed up at a stable in a white coat and glasses, had a syringe with no poison, injected the horse and by pure luck, the horse went down maybe due to fear. Others claimed that as nonsense and vouched that Bendez did indeed brew a vicious poison. Bendez made his career by putting down a prized horse named Rosso and from then on was respected in the industry. There are others who have a different version on the death of Rosso. They say after Bendez injected the horse, nothing happened. The horse in fact kicked into life and tried to run out of the stable. But as the horse was running out, a bucket from a height of 6 meters fell onto Rosso's head, bounced off his head and settled into a corner on some hay. Slowly and quietly Rosso fell on his knees and died. It is believed that the bucket killed Rosso but others say it was all part of Bendez's plan. The legend of Bendez grew from there.

    So the owners of Red Mane wanted to use Bendez to put down their prized horse rather than face a possible defeat in the upcoming European crown race. This European race was to be held at a venue where Red Mane had failed to win the previous 4 Premier races, although Red Mane won Charity trophies within the last year at that ground. The venue was known for its beautiful architecture and contained an entire stand made out of copper and known as the copper end. Since the eyes of the European elite were focused on this race, defeat here would be costly. Plans were drafted to bring in Bendez. However, Red Mane's coach came up with a compromise. He proposed that if upon seeing Bendez approach with a syringe, if his horse kicked his leg and showed signs of life, he should be allowed to live. Otherwise, he would accept whatever the owners proposed.

    Moments before the European Race, Bendez entered the stable in a white coat with his patent goggles. As he quietly approached Red Mane, Bendez had a giant syringe in his hands. When Bendez was just 12 inches away from Red Mane, the horse kicked both his hind legs. Suddenly, Red Mane's coach exclaimed that the young horse still had some life so he should be given another chance. Reluctantly, the owners allowed Red Mane to compete in the prestigious European Crown race. Red Mane started off slowly in the race but never lost sight of his main challenger Ringo at any point during the course. As the horses came down the final stretch, Red Mane inched ahead of Ringo. With 6 meters to go, victory appeared to be Red Mane's until shockingly, the horse stumbled and fell on his knees. Ringo raced onto victory, much to the joy of the copper end faithful. Questions were asked on how Red Mane stumbled? There are some that say a mysterious man in the crowd appeared to throw something in the path of Red Mane. No one can confirm this rumour but those people swear that this man did exist and was dressed in a black trench coat and appeared to be a character out of the Swedish film The Seventh Seal. Others say that the problem lay in the middle portion of the race when Red Mane missed some glaring chances to pull ahead and was pegged back. Interestingly, the outcome of the race only increased the myth of Bendez. His supporters believed that Red Mane was already fading away but only kicked into life before the race thanks to Bendez -- the mere sight of Raul allowed the horse to live on borrowed time. Critics of Bendez argued that Bendez was brought in to quietly put down Red Mane but he was unable to do so because Red Mane kicked his legs of his own accord and didn't allow himself to be injected. The truth may not matter as history is mostly written by those win, leaving Red Mane and his owners to quietly accept the bitter outcome.

    The owners of Red Mane decided to hold a crisis meeting that very night. They were concerned that their prized horse had lost a race to all his 4 major rivals through the course of a few months. In fact, the horse had only won 2 of the last 12 races it took part in all competitions and they had to decide what to do regarding the future. The meeting lasted throughout the night and after 8.5 hours, a decision was reached.

    The Ending: Unfortunately, the story mysteriously ends here. The strange thing is that after the above words, there are exactly 5 blank pages to be found. It is unclear if those pages were meant to be filled in or if the ink faded away? Either way, the story is left without any ending. Maybe in an alternate universe, the missing 5 pages exist and might point towards a happy ending.

    Tuesday, April 08, 2008

    Asian spotlight: India, part I

    Part I: Books

    Currently, we are in the third phase of the Western fascination with India over the course of the last century. The first phase took place during the British occupation and its "Raj" rule over India. The second phase started sometime in the 1960's when India's spirituality was deemed the cool thing in the West. Also, the Indian beaches of Goa, Madras and Kerala formed a trilogy of hot spots in South Asian adventure travels through the late 60's and early 70's. But then the changing political situation with the emergency rule and India's increasingly closed economy put it off the international map from the mid 70's through the 1980's. In the early 1990's when the Indian economy first opened to let Western corporations in, the Americanization of India started. However, it wasn't until the year 2000 did things really kick in gear. The outsourcing of computer jobs to solve the Y2K computer bug meant that India was able to provide a valuable service to the West. The third phase started around this time. After the Y2K work was over, India's contribution did not go unnoticed. Ofcourse, in a capitalist economy profit is king. So the cheap Indian labour certainly made Western eyes gleam and the outsourcing of jobs began in earnest. Along with jobs came foreign investment and investors seeking to maximize their profits by tapping into a new eager consumer market.

    Nowadays, not a single day goes by when India is not in the headlines. The business sections of newspapers often talk about India and the emerging Asian sector and what it means to the West. Even today, The Globe and Mail has started a new series called "Made in India" to look at some of India's biggest companies. And bookstores have plenty of books about India, looking to provide the inside story about the "World's largest democracy".

    Here's a look at three recent books:

  • In Spite of the Gods by Edward Luce


  • Luce is well aware of the number of books that get written about India. So he begins with these words: This book is not about a love affair with the culture and antiquities of India.‭ ‬I have read too many paeans to India by foreigners to have any thoughts of adding to that extensive list.‭ ‬It is about the changing political economy and society of a country whose future will increasingly affect the rest of the world.

    Indeed, his book is a good look at the Indian economy & society and covers aspects such as corruption, law & order, religious conflicts, nuclear power, political parties, class hierarchies, etc. What impressed me the most was Luce's covering of two topics that I have not seen in print but only seen covered by a few Bollywood films:

    1) Kidnapings in Bihar: Bihar is considered a hot-bed of politics, a state where the political mind is fired up in college itself. There are plenty of politicians in Bihar who may not know how to read or write but understand the limitations of law so much so that they can bend it. Ofcourse, I learned all this first from watching Indian movies. When it comes to Bihar, Prakash Jha completely understands the state. His well made films go beyond the news headlines and show the reality of Bihar's criminal and political life. For example, Gangaajal shows how corruption in Bihar can reduce law officers to take matters into their own hands; his 2005 film Apaharan introduced me to the topic of kidnapings in Bihar. The movie shows the political game behind the kidnapings and how a cop tries to get to its root. Edward Luce dives into the social conditions of Bihar and examines this topic in good detail.

    2) Encounter killings: Once again, I first heard of this through Bollywood films. The law system in India is flawed and slow. So criminals caught by the police often find themselves freed quickly and back on the street to commit more crimes. This frustration led (leads?) a few rogue police officers to execute the criminals by making the killing look like an "encounter" or a confrontation. Often the bullets are found in the back of the criminals bodies as they were running away from the police officers. After they are killed, a gun is slipped into the criminals hands. The brilliant film Ab Tak Chhappan covers this topic of encounters perfectly. The title translates to "so far 56" indicating the number of criminals killed by the lead inspector in such a manner. Edward Luce meets a Bombay police cop with more than 50 encounter killings to his name and covers a lot of similar ground to that shown in the movie. Considering that Ab Tak Chhappan is produced by Ram Gopal Varma, it is not surprizing to learn that a real cop would have been used an inspiration for his movie. Varma has based his crime movies (both directed and produced ventures) Company, D, Sarkar around real life characters but he will not openly admit it as that could lead to potential law suits, yet everyone knows who his characters are based on.

    Edward Luce has spent time doing his research and each chapter is properly dedicated to a specific topic.

  • Planet India by Mira Kamdar


  • On the other hand, Mira Kamdar's book covers a vast amount of topics, often giving them just a page or two. Her book makes for a quick reading and can allow someone to believe they are an expert on modern India after a mere 2 hour read. She covers the entertainment industry (films, animation, etc), clothing sector (FabIndia gets the credit it deserves) and Technological side (Infosys, covered in great depth in Thomas Friedman's The World is Flat, makes an appearance) along with nods towards the rural and agricultural life in India. One topic that Mira Kamdar covers that Luce did not is regarding the influence of genetically modified crops on the Indian agricultural industry and how poor yields has led to suicides among farmers.

    Both Kamdar and Luce also talk about the damage to the environment from India's rapid growth, as that is indeed a pressing issue. However, one disappointment I have of both books is that they disregard the topics regarding how Western companies are attempting to steal & patent Indian crops and farming techniques. Vandana Shiva has been a voice in this fight for almost a decade now. Even tough Mira Kamdar heads into the direction of such a topic, she steers clear of any controversy. Edward Luce does not even talk about this. Why is this topic important? One of the problems facing India as it grows at a fast pace is how to sustain its population and food supply is an important piece of the puzzle. If there are influences that can limit the Indian food supply and even hamper the export of such crops outside the nation, then that would lead to food shortages in the country and dent the income received via exports.

  • The elephant, the tiger, and the cell phone by Shashi Tharoor


  • Shashi Tharoor is a well known writer whose older book India: From Midnight to the Millennium and Beyond gives an excellent insight into the complex Indian landscape and its turbulent history. In The elephant, the tiger, and the cell phone, a collection of essays, he looks at the current growing Indian economy while revisiting some of the topics he touched upon in his earlier book India: From Midnight to the Millennium and Beyond. Most of the essays are only 2 pages in length and make for a quick read. Interestingly, Tharoor also talks about the Edward Luce and Mira Kamdar book and includes his praise and shortcomings about both efforts.

    It's official

    The story The Gallant Mane does not have a happy ending after all. Red Mane is cruelly put down with the sinister Raul Bendez laughing. There are rumours that Red Mane was cheated out of his final two races, most notably thanks to two people --a Dutch and a Swede. The invisible arms reached out and made a difference.

    For now, silencio.

    Fade to Black.

    Monday, April 07, 2008

    Once Upon a Time.....

    The Story: The Gallant Mane

    Author: Anonymous. The story was mysteriously found near the old garbage dump in the borough of Islington.

    A quick scan of the story reveals the following:

    Hero: A young fast horse named The Red Mane. The horse's name comes from the combination of two French movie titles by Albert Lamorisse -- The Red Balloon and White Mane.

    Villains: 4 horses named Mud, Chester, Ringo & Spurtz. Also, an unknown mystery man named Raul Bendez also falls under the villain role.

    As per the story, the young horse Red Mane was a joy to watch as he effortlessly glided past all the other horses to win race after race. The more races he won for his owners, the more annoyed the rivals got. Just when things were looking good for the Red Mane, a minor stumble resulted. In the middle of the regular Premier Stallion Championship, the Red Mane's team accepted an invitation to participate in a charity trophy. There the Red Mane came across his rival Spurtz. Red Mane held an amazing record over Spurtz in that he had finished ahead of Spurtz in 21 previous attempts. But on this charity trophy event, Spurtz finished 4 seconds ahead of Red Mane. Such a margin was a huge shock but Red Mane's owners dismissed it as meaningless as it was just a charity trophy. The real prize lay in the Premier and European crowns. However, a few weeks after the charity loss, Red Mane lost yet another trophy, this time a friendly association title to rival Mud by once again a 4second margin. Questions were being asked about Red Mane's capacity. Was the young horse getting burnt out? Or was the jockey not able to control Red Mane?

    The management team decided to bring in a young fresh jockey (Alves) for a Premier race to shake things up. Unfortunately tragedy struck just 3 meters after the horses left the gate. The worst horse on the track, the old aging Maylor charged towards Red Mane. Maylor raised his front two legs and knocked the young Alves off Red Mane. As Alves was knocked off & his legs were caught in the saddle, Maylor stomped on Alves. The sight of a 1500 pound horse falling on Alves made everyone present in the stands cringe. As per some rumours, Red Mane witnessed his new owner crying out in pain and even shed a tear.

    After the tragedy, the owners of Red Mane struggled to find a new jockey. They cycled through 4 jockeys in the next few races but lost all of the races Nothing worked. They turned to a trusted experienced jockey only to lose a 5th straight race, this time to Chester. Things were getting grim for the owners of Red Mane. They had banked heavily on Red Mane pulling them through the year and had even released their other experienced horses and jockeys in the off season. Debate raged among the owners on what to do regarding the fate of Red Mane. Some said that the horse was done, burnt out, finished and should be laid to rest. Others wanted to give Red Mane some time.

    It was agreed that the European crown was the final chance for Red Mane to shine. Unfortunately, some owners did not want to take a chance. They talked about bringing in the cold executioner Raul Bendez.

    The Myth of Raul: The Spaniard Bendez, born in Madrid, was considered by some to be a cold executioner who could put down any horse without blinking. He was known to always formulate a perfect poison to kill each horse based on each horse's weight and age. Bendez was known to have studied his art of killing under the famed Hungarian Keyser Söze. Söze's greatest trick was to convince the world that he that never existed. Bendez learned from Söze and devised a poison that some say never existed, meaning his so called poison was just a placebo. His critics believed Bendez merely showed up at a stable in a white coat and glasses, had a syringe with no poison, injected the horse and by pure luck, the horse went down maybe due to fear. Others claimed that as nonsense and vouched that Bendez did indeed brew a vicious poison. Bendez made his career by putting down a prized horse named Rosso and from then on was respected in the industry. There are others who have a different version on the death of Rosso. They say after Bendez injected the horse, nothing happened. The horse in fact kicked into life and tried to run out of the stable. But as the horse was running out, a bucket from a height of 6 meters fell onto Rosso's head, bounced off his head and settled into a corner on some hay. Slowly and quietly Rosso fell on his knees and died. It is believed that the bucket killed Rosso but others say it was all part of Bendez's plan. The legend of Bendez grew from there.

    So the owners of Red Mane wanted to use Bendez to put down their prized horse rather than face a possible defeat in the upcoming European crown race. This European race was to be held at a venue where Red Mane had failed to win the previous 4 Premier races, although Red Mane won Charity trophies within the last year at that ground. The venue was known for its beautiful architecture and contained an entire stand made out of copper and known as the copper end. Since the eyes of the European elite were focused on this race, defeat here would be costly. Plans were drafted to bring in Bendez. However, Red Mane's coach came up with a compromise. He proposed that if upon seeing Bendez approach with a syringe, if his horse kicked his leg and showed signs of life, he should be allowed to live. Otherwise, he would accept whatever the owners proposed.

    The Ending: Unfortunately, this story has no end. Mysteriously, the final page in the story is blank. Either it has not been written or it has been wiped out. So each reader is allowed to draw their own happy ending.

    Friday, April 04, 2008

    Arsenal vs Liverpool, Round 2

    Time for game 2 of the Arsenal and Liverpool series. Even though it may look tiring to play the same opponent in quick succession, each game presents a different flavour and in turn a unique challenge. The first game was meant for Arsenal to gain a good advantage, maybe a 1-0 or even a two goal lead while Liverpool's intentions were to sit back and limit Arsenal to just one goal, or get an away goal themselves. The second game means more to Arsenal than Liverpool as Arsenal need 3 precious points, while a single point might do for Liverpool; the game itself should present some of the Liverpool subs with a chance to make their mark. It is only in the third game that one would see Liverpool try to attack and get a goal in front of their home crowd. Prior to the three games, Liverpool would have been happy with two goal-less draws in the first two games, with a 1-0 win in the third. In Arsenal's case, it was always about winning the three games and scoring goals. So Arsenal's task was always going to be harder, while Liverpool would be content to sit back for 2 of the three games.

    History and all that:

    In the 200 games that the two teams have played against each other, Liverpool hold a slight edge with 80 wins compared to Arsenal's 70 with 50 games being tied. The 10 game winning margin presents itself in the 167 league meetings between as Liverpool have 68 wins compared to Arsenal's 58. The first time these teams played each other was in the old second Division when Liverpool thumped Arsenal 5-0 back on Oct 1893. In fact, Liverpool won the first 4 meetings with Arsenal, outscoring the Gunners 12-0. It was only in 1905 when both teams were in Division 1 did Arsenal manage a 3-1 victory over Liverpool.

    Historically, there have been cases where both these teams played each other more than 3 times in a season. In the 1979/80 season, the two played each other 7 times, with 4 of those games being an F.A Cup tie in the days of playing replays until a winner was found. In the 1981/82 season, the two met 4 times, while a 5 game meeting took place in that eventful 1988/89 season when Arsenal won that memorable away game to Anfield 2-0 to take the title. Arsenal played Livepool 4 times in the 1989/90 season, with another 4 games taking place last season thanks to the two Cup games in quick succession when Arsenal went to Anfield and came away with 6-3 (League Cup) and 3-1 wins (F.A Cup).

    Given the number of games between Arsenal and Liverpool, there have been plenty of memorable moments from matches. Anfield 1989 stands out because that title provided the foundation for the current era of Arsenal success. The 4-2 Highbury win provided a calm path towards the unbeaten title in 2004. The F.A Cup loss in 2001 also stands out because of the manner in which Arsenal lost -- Arsenal dominated the game, created plenty of chances yet only took a 1-0 lead, before two late goals sunk them. Arsenal would find that pattern of dominating possession, creating plenty of chances, yet not winning repeated again and again over the last 7 years.

    Create at one end, prevent at the other:

    In a match if a team creates atleast 7-10 goal scoring chances, then it would be a good result if they scored 2 or 3 goals. Also, it is important on how many chances the team limits the opposition to. If the opponent is limited to a few chances and either only one goal is conceded or the team keeps a clean sheet, then victory is assured. In order to win, a good balance is required between the attack and defense. However, wins can still be achieved if one part is much more stronger than the other. George Graham's Arsenal teams had a rock solid defense and had a good chance to keep a clean sheet, so the attack could get away with only one goal (Alan Smith's lone strike in the 1994 Cup Winner's Cup final is a perfect example). When Wenger took over, he inherited that solid defense. So that allowed Wenger to build on that and modify the team's attack. The goals flowed in and the defense held firm. When GG's defense started aging away and disappearing, at first it was not a problem as Arsenal kept creating plenty of changes and scoring enough goals to get by. Only when the chances were limited and the goals dried up, the limitations of the poor defense came into focus.

    Given that plenty of Wenger teams have fallen prey to similar defensive mistakes like being caught out by long balls, poor at defending set-pieces, it does not seem likely that over-night the Arsenal team would start having a rock solid defense. If the mistakes have not been fixed over a span over 4-5 years, they certainly won't start correcting themselves in a matter of weeks. So that leaves more pressure to ensure that the attack can carry a large burden on their shoulders. But in order to score goals, chances have to be created. If in a game a team only creates 5 chances, then the pressure is on the team to take full advantage. Out of those 5 changes, if one chance is incorrectly called back for off-side, or a valid penalty not given, then the pressure on the team increases as they have to extra sharp in front of goal as the next chance might not come for a long while.

    Advantage creator vs Advantage destructor:

    As history and every day life show, it is easy to destruct rather than create. Likewise, it is easier to break up a team's creative play than it is for a team to creatively split open an opponent's defense. Liverpool have flaunted their destructive mentality in the Champions league for the last 3 years and Wednesday's game was no exception. So on Sat, once again the pressure will be on Arsenal again to take advantage of Liverpool's sit-back & watch approach. Arsenal need an early goal on Sat to break Liverpool's shell mentality. But before a goal is scored, a chance has to be created.

    Thursday, April 03, 2008

    The oilman cometh

    An interesting story in the Sunday NY Times regarding how an oilman managed to swindle people out of money by the promise of oil wealth. This certainly makes Daniel Plainview look like a clean-cut honest man in There Will be Blood. And even if Daniel Plainview is indeed out there today, you can be sure he won't flaunt his wealth and instead would stay hidden away in a mansion somewhere where he would either bowl or enjoy using that straw. A Milkshake maybe?

    Wednesday, April 02, 2008

    Alien x 3

    Sometimes key scenes of a film find a way into popular culture and end up serving as inspiration for other movies including spoofs. Such is the case with the Alien movies and its shots of the Alien creature encountering Sigourney Weaver's character of Ripley. During a recent conversation with friends, the talk of the Alien films came up. Even though I had a visual memory of some of the scenes that they were talking about, I had no recollection of the films themselves. I believed I had only seen the second film but I remembered scenes from the first movie only via other sources like tv clips. So I decided to sit down and watch the first three movies, leaving the fourth film as a possible option.

    While looking up the movies, I realized that all the movies were directed by different directors, with the first three movies done by directors in the early stages/start of their careers. I only knew that James Cameron had directed the second movie and was utterly surprized to learn that David Fincher directed the third movie and Jean-Pierre Jeunet was behind the 4th one.


  • Alien (1979, Ridley Scott):
    Ridley Scott directed only his second feature with the 1979 film before he went on to more fame with Blade Runner in 1982. One can assume that Blade Runner was probably only made possible for Scott after the Alien film.
  • Aliens (1986, James Cameron):
    James Cameron directed the second Alien film 2 years after achieving success with Terminator. Ofcourse, after Aliens Cameron found more success with Terminator 2 (1991), True Lies (1994) and that 1997 film about a sinking ship.
  • Aliens 3 (1992, David Fincher):
    David Fincher directed his first feature with the third Alien film. I only learned about Fincher from Seven (1995) before enjoying Fight Club (1999) & even last year's Zodiac.
  • Alien: Resurrection (1997, Jean-Pierre Jeunet)
    Jean-Pierre directed the 4th Aliens film on the back of success with 1995's City of Lost Children and 1991's Delicatessen. The biggest acclaim for Jean-Pierre came with 2001's Amelie, the film he directed immediately after Aliens: Resurrection.

    The Films:

    In a way it was interesting to see the three films back to back as a few similarities showed up.
  • The Alien was disposed of in a similar manner in the ending of both the first and second film.

  • All three films started with the character of Ripley waking up after a state of frozen slumber.

  • In the second and third movie she is only found after someone encounters her space shuttle accidentally. It was amusing to see that at the end of the first and second movie her character escapes in a shuttle to safety, only for the shuttle to drift off course & end up lost before being discovered at the start of the next film.


  • Ripley does find a way back to Earth in the second movie, before heading out to space again and ending up in a different planet in the third movie. One could have imagined an endless cycle of Quantum Leap like films where her character would wake up in a different planet only to continue fighting the same alien. But thankfully, the ending of the third movie squashed any such possibility. That was until Hollywood managed to find a way to resurrect Ripley again for more Alien battles in a 4th movie.

    Aliens 3 was the worst of the bunch and almost painful to watch. The first two movies atleast managed to create a coherent thread despite being separated by a gap of 7 years. I enjoyed the start of the second movie the most where Ripley's character has to justify her actions (like attempting to destroy a multi-million dollar spaceship) before a committee. But three movies was a bit too much to take as all three movies offered up similar concepts of predator-prey and alien hunting episodes. I will have to put off watching that 4th movie for a long time.

    Chasing a Fantasy

    After I recently saw the French film The Russian Dolls, I was reminded of a conversation I had from a vacation trip to Vancouver back in June 2000. To avoid the rain, I decided to grab a drink in a Martini bar. I ended up staying at the bar for a few hours as I was busy chatting with the bar tender, Adam, who decided to share a few of his martini recipes. In between moments of great conversation, I tried to sample some of Adam's proudest martini creations, one of which was an expresso martini, the first of its kind that I ever sampled. The martini bar no longer exists as I found out from subsequent visits but one conversation with Adam still stays fresh in my mind. It was regarding the movie High Fidelity. When I asked him if he had seen it, he replied after a few seconds pause that he made the mistake of taking his girlfriend to see the movie.

    "Did you not like the movie?", I asked in a surprized tone.
    "The movie was good but it revealed too many secrets!" was his response.

    I knew what he meant as High Fidelity was a rare movie that gave an insight into how men thought about women and even approached relationships. Prior to seeing High Fidelity, a majority of Hollywood and Bollywood movies that I had seen showed men as either macho studs who rescued women, womanizers who dumped their lovers as soon as the sun rose or innocent guys who only eyed girls/women through a starry eyed purity. But what about the everyday guy who is conflicted about the love in his life? How does this man finally decide a woman is the one for him? The thought process of when a man finally realizes that his girlfriend is the love of his life is hard to capture on screen but thanks to Nick Hornby's novel, John Cusack's character is able to convey his feelings clearly in a very enjoyable film.

    The Russian Dolls by Cédric Klapisch also follows a similar ground to High Fidelity in that the main character (Xavier played by Romain Duris) realizes that the models he chases are just fantasies while the down to earth Wendy (Kelly Reilly) is his true love. The Russian Dolls is an enjoyable film with some very quirky characters. Klapisch first introduced these set of characters in the 2002 film The Spanish Apartment and it is interesting to see the progress some characters make in The Russian Dolls. Although The Spanish Apartment has some hilarious moments and some tender relationship scenes, I prefer The Russian Dolls as that is a better developed and mature film.

    Tuesday, April 01, 2008

    Arsenal vs Liverpool, Champs League


    Champions League football is back again. Although, the almost month long wait feels like an eternity. That is because days after the joyous March 4 away win to Milan, things have not gone as per a happy script for Arsenal. Dropped points in the league before a loss to London rivals Chelsea threw Arsenal's title hopes into a spin. Things appeared to get more grim after 45 rain soaked minutes away to Bolton; the rain appeared to be drowning Arsenals' promising season down the drain. Yet amazingly this young team took a page out of previous Wenger and even George Graham teams in able to turn a game around when there was absolutely no sign of hope. 3 second half goals, including a snooker like winning goal ensured that there is still some life in this young Arsenal team.

    Liverpool come into this game on the back of an impressive 5 game winning Champs league streak. After a poor start where they only picked up 1 point from their opening 3 games, Liverpool turned things around when staring group elimination in the face by going on an amazing run of 8-0 (Besiktas), 4-1 (Porto) and 4-0 wins (away to Marseille) before their 2-0 home and 1-0 away win to Inter. Arsenal on the other hand started the Champs League group stages in the impressive manner as their league campaign -- stylish wins and a handful of goals. Arsenal were impressive in taking care of a Juande Ramos Sevilla side 2-0 and followed that with a 1-0 away win to Steaua before turning it on against the new comers Slavia 7-0. With qualification in sight, Arsenal let their foot off the pedal and only managed a 0-0 away tie to Slavia and a poor 3-1 away loss to Sevilla cost them top spot in the group before their final 2-1 win over Steaua. However, top spot meant nothing as Arsenal outplayed and completely dominated the defending Champs Milan to reach the Quarter Finals. Liverpool also dominated their Milan opponents, although one can argue they only had to do it against 10 men in both legs.

    Arsenal and Liverpool will get an intimate look at each other over the next week and their 3 meetings will go a long way towards deciding the future of both teams as well. Which team will be left fighting for silver-ware and what will each team's league standing be after all is said and done? The questions should start answering themselves starting Wed, April 2.