Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The newest edition of the North London Derby

The following are some positive words about tomorrow’s opponents:

Who am I kidding? I have nothing positive to say about Arsenal’s neighbours.

The numbers game, 12, then 21...

In the 12+ years that Arsene Wenger has been in charge of Arsenal, Spurs have had 12 managerial changes, with Harry Redknapp being the 12th. Although, they have not had 12 unique people in charge as David Pleat took over the club on three occasions. Here is a good link to the dozen managerial changes at Spurs. This statistic does tell something about the nature of Spurs over the last decade as they have struggled to find any consistent management of the team, while spending lavishly year after year in the hopes of achieving success.

No Arsenal fan needs to be reminded of the last game between these two. Arsenal held a 21 game unbeaten record against Spurs when the two last met appropriately on Jan 22 when Arsenal were crudely denied a chance to make it 22 games unbeaten and gain a place in the Carling Cup Final.

Thy shall try to emulate thy neighbour

I am sure Spurs have their own history and tradition but it seems the clock for their uniqueness stopped in 1919 when due to some handshakes, they were relegated at the expense of Arsenal. Since then, Spurs have had multiple chances to etch out their own identity but no matter what happens, their fan’s hatred for Arsenal takes centre stage. And with each passing year and subsequent failure to match Arsenal’s glory, Spurs have been more and more desperate.

In the last decade or so, their managerial hirings do indicate an attempt to replicate Arsenal’s glory. First they hired George Graham, the man responsible for dragging Arsenal from the shadows into the limelight and whose solid defense paved the way for Arsene Wenger’s success. Then Spurs hired their own French manager, Jacques Santini, in the hopes of glory but Santini left in mysterious circumstances citing "personal reasons". Then came Martin Jol and while Jol may have endeared himself to Spurs cause by being the only manager to physically confront Wenger, he too left in failure to finish above Arsenal. The hiring of Juande Ramos was meant to usher in a reign of sexy football at White Hart lane and in the initial days, there was plenty of speculation about big name players wanting to move to Tottenham. But nothing came of that and Ramos left Spurs in worse shape than before.

But the biggest attempt to steal a page out of Arsenal’s book had to be in the hiring of Damien Comolli. Spurs believed they had a man who could find them the precious talent that Arsenal were able to discover. This article explains the extent of that misbelief. As per chief Arsenal scout Steve Rowley, the only player Comolli found for Arsenal was Clichy. ”I always thought he [Comolli] was very ambitious. He was a hard-working member of my staff for about seven or eight years and the player he found for us was Gaël Clichy. He was enthusiastic and ambitious and now he's got a different role at Spurs."

The article does not mince words when it comes to Comolli: In fact, the man who did not discover Cesc Fabregas, Theo Walcott, Bacary Sagna, Abou Diaby or Philippe Senderos and had bugger all to do with uncovering the talent of Denilson, Johan Djourou, Nicklas Bendtner, Armand Traoré or Emmanuel Eboué got more than a different role. He got a job at Tottenham that made him even more powerful than the manager.

And the timing of Harry Redknapp’s hiring does indicate that Spurs wanted a change before they met Arsenal. Why was Ramos not fired after the league defeat to Stoke? Why not on Friday after Udinese beat them in the UEFA Cup? Could Ramos not have been left in charge until the Arsenal game? It would have quite an occasion for Arsenal to have taken on a Spurs side lacking confidence. But that was not too be. Spurs turned on the bat signal and Harry has come to save the day. His presence apparently helped Spurs on Sunday but the real litmus test will be against Arsenal.

Cycle of Hatred..

Having followed Arsenal outside of England, I didn’t despise Spurs to begin with. But having met Spurs fans “born and bred” into hatred for Arsenal, I could not remain neutral. And it seems that the hatred is not only limited to fans as quite a few players have experienced how passionate this derby can get. Thierry Henry understood this hatred and made sure he rubbed salt into Spurs always open wounds. Even though Henry is at Barca, you can be sure he will be keeping an eye on this game.

Adebayor has established himself as a derby day man with 7 goals against Spurs in the last two seasons.

Arsenal need to win on wednesday to climb further up the table but more importantly they have to win this game to ensure that Spurs stay rooted at the bottom of the league.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The week that was..

It took a while but the 2008/09 European season finally took off this past week. While the financial markets around the world continue to collapse on the basis of poor decisions made by greedy @##@, European soccer provided a timely reminder why the game can be beautiful and continues to hold people’s attention.

The Champions league

  • Romania rising...sort of

  • There may be a new wave of Romanian cinema currently washing up on European shores, but its national soccer team is far from the high heights they hit in the early 1990’s when Hagi’s amazing skills put Romanian football on the map. But on a positive note two Romanian clubs have shown plenty of heart so far in the Champions league. On Oct 21, Steaua Bucharest almost pulled off an amazing victory over French powerhouse Lyon as they raced into an early 2-0 lead. And even after Lyon tied the game up, Steaua went into the interval with a 3-2 lead. But things went badly in the second half and Lyon capped a superb comeback and won 5-3. Despite the defeat it was a very good effort from a team that was considered too light in a very tough group of Bayern Munich, Fiorentina and Lyon. The loss caused Steaua boss Marius Lăcătuş to hand in his resignation, although the following words from team owner George Becali probably didn’t help matters: "I said that I would never sack Lăcătuş and I will respect my promise, so I will leave him alone until he drowns."

    The other Romanian team in the Champions League, Cluj, lost 1-0 away to Bordeaux but are still in second place in their group behind Chelsea and one point ahead of Roma and Bordeaux. Cluj’s opening day win away in Rome was easily one of the biggest upsets in recent European footballing memory.

  • Whoever gets more goals, wins..

  • Arsenal won their away fixture in Turkey quite easily but their 5-2 win over Fenerbahçe was down to them taking their chances much better than their opponents. The defending from both sides was quite poor, although Fenerbahçe probably displayed one of the most woeful examples of playing the offside trap seen in recent competitive European level.

    In Spain, Villarreal overcame a surprize lead by the Danish Champions Aalborg to run riot and win 6-3. Joseba Llorente scored a second half hat-trick but it was good to see Robert Pires getting a goal and beautifully setting up another just like in his old Arsenal days.

    Barcelona are hitting goals again and put 5 past Basel in Switzerland. Hleb is fit and appears to combining well with Messi in carving up opponents while the youngster Bojan Krkic is getting better with each game.

  • Some things never change

  • Once upon a time Ruud Van Nistelrooy was the king of scoring offside goals for Manchester United. After Ruud boy left Manchester for Madrid, Ferguson’s side had to try to score proper goals. But it seems they have now found a new offside goal king in Dimitar Berbatov as he scored two offside goals against Celtic in a 3-0 win. But Manchester continue to get away with dubious goals.

    Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan team beat Cypriot champions Anorthosis 1-0. Now, Jose promised attacking football for Inter this year but back in his Chelsea days, his team was known for grinding out boring 1-0 wins. While Inter’s games this season in the Italian league have ended 1-1, 2-1, 3-1, 1-0, 0-1, 2-1, 4-0, 0-0 and their previous two Champions league games were 1-1 and 2-0 results, it might still be early to brush off Jose’s boring tactical tag as his team have not impressed at all. When Jose was in England, he constantly complained about the English league and just two months in Italy, he is complaining about the Italian league. Hmmm...

  • Old Giants wake up finally

  • Juventus finally put on a good performance to outplay Real Madrid 2-1. The opening Juventus goal was a thing of beauty, scored by Del Pierro who certainly rolled back the clock and masterfully powered his shot past a stunned Iker Casillas.

    Bayern Munich are finally starting to put some wins together and easily won 3-0 at home to Fiorentina.

    English Premier League

  • A long record is over

  • Liverpool finally ended Chelsea’s 4.5 year unbeaten home record with a 1-0 win at Stamford Bridge. Prior to sunday's result, the last team to win at Stamford Bridge was Arsenal who won 2-1 against Ranieri’s Chelsea team.

  • The history of Arsenal through the eyes of Zola

  • Gianfranco Zola has certainly had his fair share of encounters with Arsenal and has faced four generations of the Arsenal team. Zola’s first encounter with Arsenal came in the 1994 Cup Winner’s Cup final when as a player for Parma, he took on George Graham’s Arsenal team. Back then Zola played for a dazzling Parma side packed with attacking talent but the Italians were undone by a solitary strike from Alan Smith while Arsenal’s resolute defense held firm to win by 1-0. Under George Graham, Arsenal were a strong defensive team who made it a habit of winning games 1-0, hence the “boring boring Arsenal” tag. But when Zola arrived in England as a professional player for Chelsea in 1996, he witnessed the transformation of Arsenal from a dull team to a fascinating attacking force. Zola arrived in England less than 2 months after Wenger took over at Arsenal. As a result, he came across Wenger’s first generation Arsenal side, including coming on as a sub in the 70th minute when Chelsea were leading 2-0 over Arsenal at Stamford Bridge back on Oct 1999. Five minutes after Zola’s arrival, Kanu struck a hat-trick in the last 15 minutes to grab a 3-2 win over Chelsea. Interestingly in another encounter with Arsenal in the 2002 F.A Cup, Arsenal opened the scoring just minutes after Zola took to the field. Of the many goals that Zola scored for Chelsea (including that back heel goal against Norwich), he found the back of the net against Arsenal on three occasions and was involved in some cracking games against the Gunners. Before Zola finally left England in 2003, he also encountered the second wave of Wenger’s Arsenal side led by Thierry Henry and Robert Pires.

    And on Sunday, Oct 25, 2008 Zola took on Wenger’s third generation of Arsenal team but this time Zola was not a player, but a manager. Zola is just 5 games into his managerial career with West Ham and it is still too early to predict which direction his new career will take. But on sunday, his West Ham side worked quite hard to keep up with Arsenal. Zola’s tactics might have right but in the end, Arsenal won a fascinating game thanks to Adebayor’s appearance as a game winning substitute.

    Monday, October 20, 2008

    Champions League, Round Three

    pics from Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul

    Arsenal visit the Sükrü Saraçoglu Stadium in Istanbul on Tuesday to take on Luis Aragonés’ Fenerbahçe side. While Aragonés may be credited as the architect of Spain’s Euro 2008 triumph, he will forever be associated in my mind as the man who destroyed any chances of a healthy partnership between Henry and Jose Antonio Reyes. But personal dislike aside, he has largely inherited Zico’s team from last year garnished with a good slice of Brazilian flavoring in the form of 4 players. The most well known of those Brazilian players is ofcourse Roberto Carlos, who at the tender age of 35 still continues to play at the highest level.

    By their usual high domestic standards, Fenerbahçe are currently struggling in the Turkish League. Out of 7 rounds, Fenerbahçe have already lost 4 games and lie in 10th spot. In the Champions league, they are also bottom of the group with a point to show from round 2’s 0-0 tie with Kiev. Considering that Fenerbahçe’s home form in Europe is better than their away form, they will be looking to get something against Arsenal on Tuesday to keep their hopes of progressing out of the group stage alive. The 0-0 draw with Dynamo Kiev halted Fenerbahçe’s run of 8 successive home wins in the Champions league, including last season’s wins over Chelsea (2-1), Seville (3-2), Inter (1-0), PSV (2-0), CSKA Moscow (3-0). The last away team to register a Champions league win (including both the group stages and qualifiers) in the Sükrü Saraçoglu stadium was AC Milan in the 2005-06 season with a 4-0 win. Fenerbahçe did not make the group stages in the 2006-07 season but returned for a surprize quarter-final run in the 2007-08 season.

    Worthy Test

    Fenerbahçe provide a good test for Arsenal’s current injury riddled squad as they are neither light weight nor too difficult. The current Fenerbahçe team is beatable provided the Gunners can cope mentally with the intimidating atmosphere in the Sükrü Saraçoglu and put away their chances. The absence of Toure, Gallas and Sagna will leave Arsenal weaker at the back, but Fenerbahçe are not that much of a defensive force either. In his youth, Carlos was known to be a tad slow in returning to his defensive role after his forays up the field, so it remains to be seen how much slower he is now in getting back and if Arsenal can make him pay for that.

    Those other games on Oct 21, 2008

    There are seven other games on Tuesday as well, with the Man Utd vs Celtic and Juventus vs Real Madrid games getting top billing. These two games may look mouth watering on paper but in theory the on-field action might not match the high anticipation because Celtic have an awful away record in Europe and stand very little chance of putting up a fight in Manchester; Juventus, on the other hand, are going through a mini-slump in the Italian league and face a must win home game against Madrid. Real Madrid have still not impressed me enough even though they continue to churn out results.

    Bayern Munich are another team who are struggling this year and their home fixture against Fiorentina should be an interesting attacking battle. It remains to be seen if Luca Toni regains fitness to start for Bayern in what would be an emotional fixture for him given his successful past with Fiorentina.

    Overall, this year the Champions League has still not impressed after the first two round of games. Round Three should hopefully change that as some teams cannot afford to fail this week as that would severely dent their chances of advancing to the next round.

    Sunday, October 19, 2008


    The title of Nishikant Kamat's Mumbai Meri Jaan comes from this amazing melodious song sung by Mohammed Rafi & Geeta Dutt:

    Aye dil hai mushkil jeena yahan
    Zara hat ke zara bach ke, yeh hai Bombay meri jaan

    While the song is cheery and uplifting, the film deals with a topic that is anything but happy. Mumbai Meri Jaan shows how the lives of a few characters is affected by the Mumbai train bomb blasts of 2006. To Nishikant's & writer Yogesh Vinayak Joshi's credit, they have crafted a film with such grace and beauty that there is no room for melodrama and no speech about why the terrorists continue to kill innocent people. Instead, we are given ordinary every day characters and observe how a drastic event shakes things up for them. The film ends with a moment's silence for the victims and while we watch the characters observe the silence, the Rafi song comes on, and the screen fades to black as the words "yeh hai Bombay meri jaan.." echo in the background, a perfect way to end the film.

    In a way, Mumbai Meri Jaan is a testament to the human spirit of Mumbai, one of the most vibrant cities in the world. Unfortunately, it is also a city that suffers a lot as it constantly has to bear the brunt of terrorists who continue to kill innocents for a cause that even they could not name. After each attack, the citizens are expected to return to their life and forget the violence. But if a citizen is angered, what can he/she do?

    Neeraj Pandey's debut film A Wednesday answers that question by portraying a situation where an ordinary citizen, "a common man", decides to take matters in his own hands and get revenge for the constant violence that rocks his city. The film depicts how a mysterious man has the Mumbai police on the run to stop further possible bomb explosions in the city. I would hate to give anything away as I watched the film without knowing the story and enjoyed how things unfolded, although I did guess on where things were going.

    Both Mumbai Meri Jaan and A Wednesday are a rare commodity in Bollywood in depicting the police as hard working and sincere human beings. That is a refreshing thing to see plus both films contain excellent performances from some of the best actors in the industry such as Paresh Rawal, Kay Kay Menon, Irfan Khan (Mumbai Meri Jaan) and Naseeruddin Shah, Anupam Kher (A Wednesday).

    Ratings out of 10:
    Mumbai Meri Jaan: 9
    A Wedneday: 8.5

    Wednesday, October 15, 2008

    Spotlight on Nordic Countries, part I

    I had been meaning to do a cinematic spotlight on Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden for a while now. I didn't have any predetermined themes to explore but was hoping to watch a few films from the region and then extract some common threads. As it turns out with a majority of my cinematic spotlights, soccer formed a common unifying thread. In fact, it was solely because of soccer that I picked the first film from Finland, FC Venus.

    Soccer -- ability to unite or divide

    When I read the synopsis of FC Venus, I knew I had to watch the film:

    Anna's love for Pete is put to the test when she finds out to her shock that Pete has ordered tickets with his teammates to the Football World Cup in Germany, putting his team first and her second.

    In a fit of anger, Anna ends up making a bet with Pete: She puts together a team from the wives and girlfriends of the FC HeMan players and challenges the men to a match at the end of the summer. If the women win, the men will have to give up football. If the men win, the women will never again give the men a hard time about their hobby.

    Very early on in my high school years, I discovered the struggle of dividing time between women and soccer. In fact, the first time I found out that loving soccer might be a problem was regarding the success of a Nordic nation, Denmark. Euro 1992 was something I had looked forward to for a few months. My two favourite teams were Yugoslavia and France -- I had expected Yugoslavia to prevail but was hoping from some attacking football from Platini's French team. But things didn't go as per plan. Days before the tournament was to start in Sweden, Yugoslavia was kicked out due to their war and Denmark were drafted in as replacements. The attacking French team was absent as well because Platini fielded a defensive French team that duly got knocked out. But the real story of the tournament was the attacking Danish team who thrilled and impressed most neutrals, like myself. Their 2-0 win over Germany in the final was quite unexpected. Even 24 hours after the win I was still giddy and could not stop talking about the game. After having bored friends and family about Denmark, I finally decided to talk about it with my then girlfriend. I cannot recall how I started the conversation but I remember not being able to finish my statement as she abruptly told me to shut up and not "bore her". I was taken aback by her bluntness but for some reason, I kept quiet and continued talking nonsense with her. I was quite naive back then and even though there were other signs that this girl was the wrong one for me, I continued on for a few more months before sanity finally kicked in. Since that incident, I have actively believed that one must not have to make a choice between soccer and a woman. Although I have seen friends fight and lose this battle over soccer with their significant others, many many times. So with these feelings and sentiments in mind, I tuned into FC Venus.

    I honestly cannot remember the last time I shouted at the tv while watching a film but I did that multiple times during FC Venus because I thought that the main character, Pete, was making a mistake by staying with Anna. In my opinion, the two were not meant to be together but thanks to the wonders of the script, their relationship remains in tact, despite the on and off field battles they endure. The first signs of trouble appear when one morning Pete jumps out of bed to watch a soccer show where former national iconic coach, Lauri, is being interviewed. Anna wants Pete to turn the tv off immediately but Pete just thinks that maybe it has do with his watching soccer. It turns out that Lauri is Anna's father and she was often neglected by her father in pursuit of foreign coaching assignments. Also, Anna could have been a professional soccer player but she gave up playing the game because she was frustrated with the injuries and sacrifices she had to endure to fulfill her father's dream of her becoming a professional. In a way the script nicely manages to put forward plenty of issues about relationships, not only between a couple but one of expectations between a parent and their child. There are plenty of humourous incidents, including an assortment of clichéd characters, but overall I have to admit that the film makes for a light hearted enjoyable viewing.

    While soccer splits a daughter from her father in FC Venus, soccer is used as a tool by a father to bridge the gap with his son in Ragnar Bragason's Children. One of the multiple stories in the well made Icelandic film involves how a father tries to win his son's approval and love by getting his son a spot in the local soccer team. The son had not known of his father’s existence because his mother kept him away from the father's gang activities. Despite the mother’s repeated warnings, the son starts to believe that his father may have changed. But when the son shows up to the soccer session and sees the coach's broken nose, he knows his father was responsible and runs away. Eventually after a series of highly charged dramatic events, the father and son are able to start fresh and are seen watching a soccer game together before the screen fades to black.

    The Danish film Kick 'n Rush distills the turbulent coming of age emotions via a soccer blender. Jacob, Mikkel and Bo are good friends who play on the same soccer team and while Bo scores most of the goals and takes the glory, it is Jacob who creates the chances that Bo puts away. The team is coached by Jacob's dad who is in love with Manchester United and turns to a picture of Alex Ferguson for inspiration; in fact Jacob's dad has given a Man Utd player name for all the young soccer players on his team. Things get complicated when a girl, Mathlide, enters Jacob's life. On top of that, Jacob eventually lets his jealously of Bo get in the way of helping Bo's chances with the professional soccer scouts. The scenes where a hung-over Bo fails to convert his chances shows the pressure that can affect kids wanting to have a career in professional soccer.

    And even if one makes it into professional soccer, the pressure never really lets up as shown by the opening minutes of the Icelandic film, Eleven Men Out. Despite working himself into the ground, Ottar is not thrilled that his soccer exploits are not front page news. So in order to garner attention for himself, he tells the journalist that he is gay. Well not only does that get him front page news but also gets him kicked out from the team. With no team to play for, Ottar joins an amateur team which has some gay players. But after Ottar's arrival, more gay players show up and soon opponents are forfeiting their games in order to avoid playing Ottar's team. Clichés and crude jokes are plenty in this film but my favourite joke revolves around how Ottar's team coach is able to live on the reputation that he once scored a goal to tie a European game against Arsenal while playing for Rosenborg. In reality, the Norwegian team Rosenborg did tie a home game 1-1 against Arsenal back in Sept 2004. Ofcourse, I was not laughing back then, although I was much happier when Arsenal thrashed Rosenborg 5-1 in the return game.

    When work gets in the way...

    Soccer is just only one thing that can get in the way of a relationship. While soccer is a hobby for most people that has certain fixed hours, a job can often result in stress for unlimited hours. In Per Fly's excellent film, The Inheritance, we see how the pressures of running a family business tear apart Christoffer and Maria. What is interesting about the film is how the action is mostly shown as events happening to Christoffer. This gives us a chance to actually draw our own conclusions such as how Christoffer is being manipulated by his mother or how he is being lied to. As we observe him go about his duties, it becomes apparent that he is just a puppet, be it to his internal emotions or external forces like his family. All of this makes for a fascinating character study!

    A job is hard as it is but what if you had a boss that constantly made irrational decisions to screw you up? And what made things worse was that you never saw this boss and as a result had no place to take out your frustrations? Lars von Trier's The Boss of it All takes some of these ideas, tears a leaf out of Ricky Gervais's The Office while adding his own unique directorial style. There are plenty of ideas explored here from employee frustration to poking fun at perceived cultural differences (Denmark vs Iceland), office romances, incompetent managers throwing around buzz tech words and even appreciation of the arts. While I find some aspects interesting, there were plenty of moments which frustrated me. David Bordwell has an excellent entry on the film's style. I wish I had read this entry before I saw the film as it would have allowed me to key in on some of the unique tricks.

    I will look at Norway and Sweden in part II. From the film picks, it looks like soccer won't be on the agenda for those selections.
    Ratings out of 10:
    FC Venus (2005, Finland, Joona Tena): 7.5
    Children (2006, Iceland, Ragnar Bragason): 10
    Eleven Men Out (2005, Iceland, Róbert I. Douglas): 5
    Kick 'N Rush (2003, Denmark, Aage Rais-Nordentoft): 7
    The Inheritance (2003, Denmark co-production, Per Fly): 9
    The Boss of it All (2006, Denmark co-production, Lars von Trier): 7

    The same same laugh

    Sometimes the political situation in this country feels straight out of the Eddie Murphy movie, The Distinguished Gentleman, where his character plays a candidate who wins because he shares the same name as a dead long time serving congressman. Well in Canada it appears that most of the people who bothered to vote last night (the lowest total ever?) blindly voted for the party colour they have always voted for. True there were some tight races in a few ridings but overall same same. Some of the candidates who won by a landslide, as they were expected to, are hardly ever seen or heard from. I sometimes wonder if are even alive or not?

    Thank God we have Rick Mercer to help us laugh at the sheer stupidity that exists here. Yes, none of the candidates are capable to run the country on their own. But between all 5, we might actually have a chance to have a worthy elected government. I have long given up on the idea of having an intelligent government. Right now, I just want one that is competent!!

    And then there is Jon Stewart & The Daily Show -- another reason to smile. This NY Times article manages to capture some of the show's spirit.

    Here are some great excerpts:

    the sometimes somber stories he refers to as his "morning cup of sadness."

    What the staff is always looking for, Mr. Stewart said, are "those types of stories that can, almost like the guy in 'The Green Mile' " — the Stephen King story and film in which a character has the apparent ability to heal others by drawing out their ailments and pain — "suck in all the toxins and allow you to do something with it that is palatable."

    He's the guy willing to say the emperor has no clothes, to wonder why in Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton's "It's 3 a.m." ad no one picks up the phone in the White House before six rings, to ask why a preinvasion meeting in March 2003 between President Bush and his allies took all of an hour — the "time it takes LensCrafters to make you a pair of bifocals" to discuss "a war that could destroy the global order."

    Tuesday, October 14, 2008

    Voting Day!!

    Canada heads to the polls today!! Will something change? More importantly, will a majority of the Canadians even bother to exercise their democratic right? All the questions will be duly answered before the night is over. Ofcourse, chances are we will have a new set of questions once the votes have been accounted for.

    Until then, X marks the spot.....

    Monday, October 13, 2008

    The Emotional Trader & Manipulative Money Man

    Two films that could describe the current financial mess are Ben Younger's Boiler Room and Sameer Hanchate's Gafla.

    Emotional meltdown...

    In Boiler Room we see how young men are trained and even encouraged to cheat people out of their money. The brokers lie and do whatever it takes to get their clients to throw away their hard earned money because they all want to be quickly rich so as to emulate their hero in the form of Gordon Gekko (played by Michael Douglas) from Oliver Stone's Wall Street. There is a scene near the film's where the brokers are taught, from Ben Affleck's character, not to sell stocks to women because they are told that women are too emotional and would constantly phone in when the stocks fluctuate every hour. While Ben Younger may have gotten away with writing this line back in 2000, he could not have inserted these words if he had to make the film today. That's because in today's wall street it is the male brokers and traders who are emotional and are simply gripped in a panic state. Some male traders have suspended their rationale and are even emotionally judging the cold hard logic of software programs. In last month's New York Times, there was an article which talked about how automated trades are triggered by robotic algorithms. This certainly has the potential to cause a lot of damage as it did back on Sept 7 when in "a matter of about 12 minutes more than $1 billion in stock-market value [of United Airlines] evaporated".

    This is how things unfolded:

    At 1:36 a.m. E.D.T. last Sunday, Sept. 7, Google’s search “crawler” picked up a 2002 news article about United filing for bankruptcy from the Web site of The South Florida Sun-Sentinel; for some reason the outdated story had been listed on The Sun-Sentinel’s list of most popular business stories. (United emerged from bankruptcy protection in 2006.)

    The next morning, an employee of the investment advisory firm Income Securities Advisors saw the story and posted it to the company’s own wire service, which is available over Bloomberg’s trading terminals. United’s stock plummeted soon after.

    The story tries to underplay the human error: Human error seems to have played only a minor role. The financial damage was mostly the result of the interplay between the algorithms that search and compile information from the Web and the ones that Wall Street firms and hedge funds use to make trades automatically.

    I disagree. The problem with this flow of events is clearly down to human error. The first fault lies with the programmers who created the web robot -- the algorithm should only have picked up new stories but in this case it picked up an old story. Even if the story was posted on Sept 7, I am sure a timestamp somewhere on the story would have indicated it was an old story. But the bigger error took place when the employee unleashed the story on their wire service without even checking the timeline of the events.

    Can any of these panicked men take a minute to calmly think things through? Seriously...

    Manipulating the markets..

    What was more worrisome about the above story was the following situation:
    Witness another recent case that had the potential to cause a stock market wipeout, but benefited from serendipitous timing: after the close of trading on Aug. 27, Bloomberg News inadvertently released an obituary of Steve Jobs, the chief executive of Apple — who, despite frequent rumors of ill health, was, and is, very much alive. The story was quickly retracted.

    How on earth does someone "inadvertently" release an obituary of someone? The story does not elaborate on this at all. But in another article, the following lines attempt to justify this mistake: It's not out of the ordinary at all that Bloomberg would have this written; all major news outlets have notable persons' obituaries prepared in advance so that only minor changes need be made at the actual time of death. That way, the news can be reported almost immediately and can be updated with further detail.

    Uh-huh. Sure. But did it occur to anyone that this might be a ploy to actually manipulate the stocks? Maybe someone was not happy with release of the iPhone?

    Sameer Hanchate's Gafla is based on the life of Harshad Mehta, a man charged with stock manipulation. But the film shows a different take on the situation and depicts powerful men purposely trying to manipulate the stock market for their own interests, while turning Mehta into a scape-goat. Ofcourse, the truth will never be known because Mehta died in jail but it is not hard to believe that the markets can sometimes be manipulated to suit certain people's needs.

    [Update, Oct 14: It seems there was a temporary relaxing of the panic state in Canada today, following the record surges in Wall Street on Monday, Oct 13.]

    Sunday, October 12, 2008

    VIFF 2008 Trailers

    For the last two years I have enjoyed the VIFF trailers shown before all the film screenings. I missed out on VIFF this year but thankfully the trailers are online. All the 8 Trailers hilariously describe the possible audience members who attend a VIFF screening.

    But these are my three favourites in order of preference:

    1) Overanalyzer:

    2) Die Hard -- I narrowly avoided being this person last year.

    3) Foreign Film -- Love this. I have been guilty of dragging people into a film they didn't want to see. If they had seen this trailer, they might have run away :)

    The Blame Game

    It is a universal human trait to blame one's problems on someone else. But in Friday's Globe and Mail, Marcus Gee took the blame game to absurd heights in his column "China Should save less, spend more". Gee agrees with U.S. Treasury Secretary, Henry Paulson, that China should "encourage its citizens to be more like Americans and open their wallets". In his explanation:

    China's government, too, has been building up a hoard. Years of huge trade surpluses and rising foreign investment has given Beijing foreign exchange reserves of $1.8-trillion (U.S.), a staggering figure that is rising more and more quickly. This surplus sloshes around dangerously in China's bilges, causing inflation and overinvestment.

    Beijing could reduce the surplus by letting its currency rise against the U.S. dollar, a natural evolution for a country whose goods are in high demand. That would make Chinese products more expensive for Americans, reduce China's trade surplus with the United States and slow the flood of dollars to China.

    The statement that it is up to China to make their "products more expensive" for Americans is completely absurd. The truth is that American companies have been taking their business to China in order to maximize their profits. The American companies (and even some British companies) play hard ball to ensure they can get Chinese products for as little money as possible. Proof is provided by the insightful documentary China Blue which shows how a representative from one of the big jean corporations negotiates the per jean price to a lowly figure of $1 and some odd cents. I cannot remember the exact figure but the representative brings the price down from $1.20 to something like $1.13. The Chinese factory owner in the film complains that if he didn't comply, another company would have beat them to the huge order. In the film's end, we follow the jeans from this factory via a gigantic ship containers to its destination in an American mall. There a sales girl opens the box of fresh jeans and puts them on the rack under a sign proclaiming "SALE" for a price of $40. Ofcourse, the same jeans would be sold for $80 at a different time during the shop's non-sale. Either way, there is a huge profit margin being made. So who gets the profit? Not China or the Chinese factory workers but the Multinational company.

    If China starts demanding more money for its products, then you can be sure these companies will take their business to another country who would make the products for less. The basis of the capitalist system is that companies will take their business to where they can get more profits. So why is Marcus Gee not concerned with this? To prove his point Marcus quotes an American author: "As the U.S. author Ted Fishman put it in China Inc., "China lends America all the money it needs to spend itself silly." Why is Marcus not questioning the inherent greed that is buried in a capitalist system? At the end of the day, the current problems are down to greed, not only from the companies but individuals who spent more than they could have afforded to, and not about another nation.

    The Carrie Bradshaw School of Journalism

    This is not the first time Marcus Gee has written an article which reeks of personal agenda. In fact, this problem plagues a majority of the newspaper writers in Canada, especially those writing for the Globe and Mail and even the National Post. It seems most of the newspaper writers in this country do very little investigation or original thinking but merely voice their personal opinions just like Carrie Bradshaw did on her show Sex and the City. So are these personal newspaper articles considered a journalistic output or a personal blog? Are a majority of the newspaper writers merely churning out blogs but only in print? Considering how so many recent newspaper film critics have attacked film blogs for not being creditable, I find the same criticism can be thrown towards the newspapers writers who simply spend too much telling us how they feel on a particular morning or simply get their frustrations out.

    Friday, October 10, 2008

    Psst...Have you heard?

    In these times of financial crisis, we need strong leadership! We need someone to tell us the word. Thankfully, we now know the word!

    Family Guy BIRD IS THE WORD! - The most popular videos are a click away

    Thursday, October 09, 2008

    The 2008 Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded today to Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio. Unfortunately, I have never read anything by him because very few of his books have been translated into English. But hopefully this award addresses that and English translations of his work appear in the near future.

    Tuesday, October 07, 2008

    When the truth is much scarier than scripted fiction...

    Imagine a scene 6 years or so ago.

    A meeting room packed with “important men”.

    Man #1: War, War, War.
    Man #2: Oil, Oil, Oil.
    Man #3: Is this all really good for us?
    Man #1: No doubt sir. We will win in one week. Everyone will love us.
    Man #2: Who Cares if we are loved or not? We are who we are. We are #1. The rest can go to hell.

    And so it was. A one hour meeting. And the nightmare continues 6 years on. The worst part of all of this is that these men will get away without any blame. They have washed their hands of this problem and the rest of the world is left to pick up the pieces.

    Now Imagine another scene about three decades ago.

    A university room packed with some “intelligent minds”, plus some world politicians and a dictator or two.

    Professor #1: There is only one perfect system. Open everything up. Privatize and free markets.
    Dictator #1: But there will be problems.
    Professor’s follower #1: No pain, no gain. The people will suffer but they will get used to it.
    Professor’s follower #2: For those people that cause problem or oppose the ideas, lock them up and throw away the keys.

    Men sitting in rooms thinking they had all the answers. Men who never traveled outside of their country yet they treated the world as their private experiment. Men who are still called “intelligent”. Well the truth is out now. Those men were fucking wrong. They were plain fucking wrong. The think tanks were full with men with no practical experience. There were no computer simulations back then. And even if there was evidence to show that these men were wrong, they would have ignored the advice. These men were just too arrogant to factor in the human element into their “intelligent” ideas.

    And this is where we find ourselves in. These “intelligent” men still make more money than the average person. Yet it is their mistakes that are fucking the system up.

    History is filled with instances where people fail to learn from the mistakes of the past. Systems and ideas can fail. Sure that is acceptable. But if one is arrogant and convinced they are right while everyone else is wrong, then they are doomed to failure.

    For the last 4 years, the team which plays the best football on the planet continues to make the same mistakes and constantly fails. If an intelligent man like Arsene Wenger can continue to make the same mistakes, then what about the countless arrogant men who are in charge of much more important issues which they have no idea how to solve? Ha, they will never admit their mistakes. But even if they did, what good will that do now?

    The damage has been done. And it will continue to get worse.

    5 years ago, I thought greed and stupidity of some “intelligent men” was going to result in some severe situations. Yet, I could not have imagined how severe the situations would end up being. My mistake? I truly underestimated the stupidity of these men. These men are beyond stupid. And the only thing worse than stupid men is stupid men with power to implement their foolish ideas.

    There are some things a good soccer game or film cannot cure.

    Thursday, October 02, 2008

    CIFF 2008 Summary

    By the numbers..

  • I saw 18 films over 9 days -- I skipped the opening night gala of Blindness and saw no films on Wed, Sept 24.
  • I ended up seeing three films from Iceland as this year's Spotlight shone on that Northern European nation.
  • Saw single titles from the following countries -- Canada, Brazil, Bulgaria, Colombia, France, Italy, Macedonia, Mexico, Poland, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Thailand, Uruguay and USA.

  • Films in order of preference with some ratings --

  • Wonderful Town (2007, Thailand, Aditya Assarat): 10
    Gomorra (2008, Italy, Matteo Garrone): 10
    Children (2006, Iceland, Ragnar Bragason): 10
    Parents (2007, Iceland, Ragnar Bragason): 10
    Used Parts (2007, Mexico, Aarón Fernández): 9
    Alexandra (2007, Russia/France, Aleksandr Sokurov): 9
    One Week (2008, Canada, Michael McGowan): 8.5
    The Grocer's Son (2007, France, Eric Guirado): 8.5
    Let the Right One in (2008, Sweden, Tomas Alfredson): 8.5
    Corridor #8 (2008, Bulgaria, Boris Despodov): 8
    The Pope's Toilet (2007, Uruguay, César Charlone/Enrique Fernández): 8
    REC (2007, Spain, Jaume Balagueró/Paco Plaza): 8
    Paraiso Travel (2007, Colombia/USA, Simon Brand)
    Time to Die (2007, Poland, Dorota Kedzierzawska)
    Driving to Zigzigland (2007, Zigzigland, Nicole Ballivian)
    Jar City (2006, Iceland, Baltasar Kormákur)
    I am from Titov Veles (2007, Macedonia, Teona Strugar Mitevska)
    Alice’s House (2007, Brazil, Chico Teixeira)

    Favourites and overall comments:

    Thailand’s Wonderful Town was a refreshing film with its dreamy and relaxed feel. It was also the only film which provided me with a genuine satisfaction of having spent my time wisely. Other films that I appreciated were Gomorra, the Icelandic films of Ragnar Bragason (Children & Parents), One Week, Used Parts and Alexandra. Children & Parents were very well made considering the non-existent budget Ragnar had to work with. I also had high hopes for the Canadian film One Week and thankfully the movie delivered -- it was a genuine pleaser.

    There were quite a few films playing at the festival that I had seen previously or previewed. Of that bunch, I think the best film that played overall at CIFF this year had to be José Luis Guerín's beautiful En la ciudad de Sylvia. Also, close behind would be Reygadas' third feature Silent Light. Bill Plympton's wicked and dark animation Idiots & Angels is also worth the watch. There were plenty of excellent docs at this year's festivals with My Life Inside featuring a gut-wrenching topic & Meadowlark being a very brave personal journey by the director Taylor Greeson. Also, the Canadian doc Junior gives a rare insight into the cut-throat world of Canadian junior hockey. Many of the issues depicted in the film could easily apply to the professional world of the NHL.

    It was a great move on CIFF's part this year to book some screenings in a multiplex (Westhills 10) located in the suburbs. From the few screenings I attended there, people showed up in big numbers. On top of that, the French film The Grocer's Son played to a sold out show in this very multiplex hall on Sat, Sept 27. It was great to see people attending a foreign film in a hall that normally only plays Hollywood stuff. I just wish that more international and independent films are booked on multiplex screens across the country as opposed to having all the nation’s screens hogged by a few nonsense flicks.

    Even though I love film festivals, the idea of watching multiple films while working in a day job can become tiring very fast. This year was probably the first time I truly felt the strains, both physical and mental, of attending films while juggling everything else in my life. An ideal film festival viewing situation would involve the one I had in Vancouver last year when I was able to view 24 films over a 6 day period. It was tiring but being on vacation and dedicating all my energy into only seeing the films helped a lot. By the end of the 6 day period, I was knackered but I was still able to walk into each film with high spirits.

    Festival Diary

    Days 1-2

    Day 3, Day 4

    Days 5-7

    Days 8-9, Day 10

    From the archives...

    The Globe and Mail have put up their 1972 film review of The Godfather. The review was published a day after the film was released and it certainly makes for an interesting read. I love the last few lines which describes the movie in a nutshell:

    "Yet the movie isn't just about this family. It's about secret horrors and false fronts. It's about how people turn themselves into monsters to maintain power and wealth -- and that's what makes it the all-American nightmare".

    It is too tempting to apply the last line to a certain financial situation right now. Must resist rant.....

    Also of interest is the article below The Godfather review. It talks about the mobile film studios which have become commonplace now.