Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Picking Oskaahs !

Actor in a leading role

Philip Seymour Hoffman for “Capote”

Actor in a supporting role

Jake Gyllenhaal for Brokeback Mountain

Actress in a leading role

Felicity Huffman for “Transamerica”

Actress in a supporting role

Amy Adams for “Junebug”

Best Director

“Good Night, and Good Luck.” - George Clooney

Motion picture of the year

Brokeback Mountain

Monday, February 27, 2006

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room - (2005)

My political views mostly fall on the left side of the spectrum. So it does surprise people when they find out that am a staunch capitalist. Sure there are evils associated with the capitalist model. But its benefits outweigh the pros of any other alternate model. I grew up in a society which was (and still is to some extent) clinging on to socialist principles. I have seen both its postives and negatives.

Every society needs to evolve to incorporate the varying needs of its constituents. When trying to build a society from scratch a socialistic model seems to be a fair enough approach. It allows the government to channel the available resources into building the basic infrastructure.

But once this is accomplished, the system needs to evolve into one which provides impetus to growth. That is where most socialistic states failed. Government has no business to be in business. My state tried to ignore that rule and as a result ran so many businesses to the ground. The factory where my father worked was one among them. And my family and many others suffered as a result. Of course corporate greed has also resulted in similar situations. But I would argue that the inherent inefficiency of governments make them more prone to such mistakes.

Back to the movie, at hand.

"Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room " (nominated for Best Documentary) gives us a fairly detailed account of how the smoke screen of success was created by a group of unscrupulous managers, unethical financial institutions and to some extent, by the media with their superficial analysis. The central players in the story are Jeff Skilling and Ken Lay. They were aided by Andy Fastow. The myriad of insider trading deals and illegal accounting procedures, finally culminated in the fall of the firm in 2001. The upper management made millions but thousands lost their means of living.

Since then Andy Fastow has been sentenced to nearly 10 years in prison, which he will start serving once he has finished his duties as a key witness in this case. And the financial institutions involved will pay nearly $6 billon. The Enron debacle is one of the many that has resulted in the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002

The trials of Lay and Skilling are currently in progress. And most likely these will result in convictions. There has been too much of public outcry for them to walk away free.

The most impressive aspect of this movie is that it has not let its heart rule its head or vice-versa. It doesn't go into an endless tirade of corporations like what The Corporation did. It deals with this case as it should be - as the greed for power and wealth.

At times it is almost reminiscent of high school drama - where a wallflower suddenly becomes Mr. Popular and he revels in his new found popularity. Going back to obscurity scares him so much that he finds any misdeed acceptable as long as it will let him keep his new found status.

The movie also brings up some interesting points about the media. How they touted Enron as a golden child while they knew very little about it. The superficial and rudimentary nature of their research is mind boggling. Maybe it is indicative of the human nature and society that we live in today.

My rating : 4.5/5

Friday, February 24, 2006

Weekend Recommendation - Born into Brothels (2004)

It was Martin Luther King Jr. who said "The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great moral conflict". You must be wondering how is this quote relevant to this movie. Let me explain.

Soon after I saw the movie, I had a discussion with one of my friends who is also a documentary film-maker. She disliked the movie (primarily the second half) for the reason that the filmmaker got too involved in the lives of the characters. She felt that Zana Briski tried to aggrandize herself as a saviour of sorts.

While I see her view point, I continue to question the approach of staying inert while there is so much you can do to help. That is probably where this MLK quote becomes relevant. Also it would be sad to see yet another Kevin Carter.

Back to the topic at hand. The movie won the Oscar for the Best Documentary last year. The movie is dear to me for a multitude of reasons. The fact that it is shot in India, the place I was born and spent 22 years of life, makes it special for me. Probably more importantly, it illustrates the harsh realities that India faces. While the educated upper middle-class is riding the crest of economic growth, there is this lower strata of society which is being left behind. The ever widening gulf between them is alarming to say the least. And the sad part is very few people really care.

This is the story of how Ms Briski befriended a group of children while living in the red light district of Calcutta. She goes on to get them interested in photography by giving them simple point and shoot cameras. It follows this beautiful journey where one of the really talented kids gets to attend a photography conference in Amsterdam.

I have been part of a mentoring program similar to Big Brothers and Big Sisters for over two years now. So I very well understand how much of difference it can make in the lives of kids from tough backgrounds. All these kids need are some positives to focus on. It makes us realize the true value of the things we take for granted.

Going back to my friend's comment about Zana Briski being there 'too much' in the movie, I say this. I too get similar criticism because I always talk about the non-profits I am involved with. Some people feel that I am tooting my own horn. My usual reply is "If my talking about these non-profits, gets atleast one or two people interested to find out more and get involved, then I really don't care of what other people think of me".

In case you are still wondering how I felt about the movie, I own the DVD and the book.

My rating: 5/5

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Caché a.k.a Hidden (2005)

If you went to the theatre expecting a conventional thriller, you would obviously have been disappointed. Because it lacks most of the elements of a stereotypical psychological thriller like hyper background music, primordial screams and people running for their lives. Then again Caché is not your run of the mill psychological thriller.

This story of Georges and Anne unfolds in a way such that with each growing moment our uneasiness increases. From the first scene which is a long shot of their house, we sense something off-key. The amateurish feel of that shot conveys that it is actually someone else filming the house. And that is the key element of the story. The trouble starts with the couple getting tapes accompanied by infantile drawings of violent images.

The role of Anne is played by Juliet Binoche. (Who happens to be one of my favorite actresses. And also one actress whom I firmly believe that wakes up looking as beautiful as she is the movies). She handles the role with absolute ease. She portrays that blend of anxiety, anger and suspicion in an effortless manner. For someone who played the lead in "The Unbearable Lightness of Being", "Chocolat" and "The English Patient" this must have been a walk in the park.

Georges is played by Daniel Auteuil. He portrays a man stricken with guilt, anxiety and absolute fear in a very convincing manner.

Michael Haneke uses deft lighting, unconventional comera angles and prelonged silences to make us squirm in our seats. He defies conventional principles which dictate that a movie should answer all questions it initiates. Maybe it does. Maybe the answers are just Caché

There are couple of scenes of explicit violence. The way they catch you offguard is the troubling part rather than the scenes themselves.

My rating : 4/5

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Weekend Recommendation - Playing by Heart (1998)

I know. Am late on this. But hey ! I have a day job, ya know ? Anywhoo...

This is the movie which spawned the famous line

"Talking about love is like dancing about architecture."

I love the genre of maze movies. Another movie which springs to mind is "13 Conversations about One Thing". I enjoy how it almost mirrors life in a way. There are no random events in life. The twists and turns are mere components in the beautiful tapestry of life. And each one of them is necessary to complete the picture.

The movie has an outstanding cast of actors - Sean Connery, Gena Rownlands, Angelina Jolie, Dennis Quaid, Madeline Stowe (HOT!!!) and Gillian Anderson. Like the title of the movie, it plays every chord and tone the heart is capable of. From teen romance to senior citizen marital issues, it almost covers the entire spectrum. Almost.

And the movie is filled with delightful reparte. Lines which stay with you long since you finish watching the movie. As the poster of the movie declares "Seductively funny". I would like to add 'and charming' also to that. Ideal for lazy saturday/sunday afternoon.

Hope y'all have a good long weekend !

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

A kiss is just a kiss...

MSNBC is running this article on the most memorable kisses.

I am thrilled two of my personal favorites figure in that.

The first one is an easy pick. Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca. Need I say more ?

The second is probably a less known one. It again features Humphrey Bogart. And probably the most sultry actress to have appeared on film, Lauren Bacall. The movie is "To Have and To Have Not". The movie is filled with such crisp lines ("You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve?") but none better than this.

Lauren Bacall lands on Bogart’s lap and kisses him.

He (smiling): What was that for?

She: Been wondering whether I’d like it.

He: What’s the decision?

She: I don’t know yet.

At this point she goes in for another; this time he kisses her back.

Finally she stands, gives him a sidelong glance and says, “It’s even better when you help.”

Now THAT kind of sexiness cannot be produced by no amount of skin-show. And there in lies its charm.

Gaaaawd ! Am I born in the wrong era or what ?

Saturday, February 11, 2006

A Dedication...

While I am not a big fan of the Hallmark prescribed day for love, I love the lengths to which people go to make this day special for the other. To have someone who will do that has to be a wonderful feeling.

So I dedicate this poem (something I wrote quite a while back) to all of my friends and their significant others who bring them so much happiness. Here's to you and here's to love.

I Love to...

Say silly things just because it makes her laugh
Argue intelligently just because it challenges her
Call her between work just because she loves that attention
Whisper 'I love you' just because of the glow it brings to her eyes

Feel her fingers run through my hair, because its the ultimate relaxer
Feel her body next to mine while we dance, because its the ultimate foreplay
Feel her arms around me when I cook for her, because its the ultimate appetizer
Feel her hand in mine when we walk, because its the ultimate reassurance

Rest my lips on her, because it feels so right
Smell her hair in the morning, because it makes me feel truly lucky
Rest her head on my shoulder, because I know she trusts me
Hold her tight, because she loves me as much as I love her

Be away from her just because of the joy I get when I see her again
Be close to her just because she makes the worst of days seem right
Talk endlessly because I know we never get bored of each other
Say nothing because I know words are no longer a neccessity

Friday, February 03, 2006

The past week in review and Weekend Recommendation

So far I have refrained from posting anything personal, this past week was too bizarre/interesting not to share.

Incident One

I meet Miss Gorgeous at a friend's party on Jan 21st. Start talking to her at around 11pm. And it goes on till 2:30am. The connection was too good to be true. The same love for classic movies, the liking for jazz, the same classic sense of style. By the end we were completing each other's sentences. I almost had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn't dreaming. We were the last leave the party. No, we did not leave together. But I did get her number.

The next morning I wake up beaming like a child on Christmas day. But all this was short lived. It turns out Miss Gorgeous had given me a wrong number. Why God? Why?

Oh well...the story of my life !

Incident Two

Wednesday I wore a lavenderish-pink sweater to work. (Stop it! You have to be man enough to wear pink!). That day evening, a random hot woman stops by my room at work and pays me a big compliment about my sweater. I have never met her. Except for the few times we passed each other in the hallway. The weird part was she even knew my name.

Ya, I know.

Incident Three

I get a call out of the blue to make a trip to NY for a business meeting. I am not going to go into the details. As I was sitting in a room with around ten people, making this presentation I get that feeling inside "I was born to do this".

Now THAT felt really good.

Incident Four

A good friend of mine calls me up after 4-5 months. We used to talk more often. But she started dating someone and everything else stopped. And it required a breakup for her to call me. I am ok with that. Because all of us have been guilty of this at some point. I am glad to be of help to her.

The weird part is that it is very uncanny how nearly all of my friends reach out to me during the disasters of their hearts.

So all in all it made for a very eventful few days. And now back to your regularly scheduled programming.

Weekend Recommendation

In Her Shoes (2005)

I added this to my netflix queue on a whim as I was browsing 'New Releases'. And I would like to say that I was pleasantly surprised by how charming this movie was.

It is the story of two sisters. Cameron Diaz plays the spunky getting-drunk-sex-in-the-bathroom sister. While Toni Colette plays the plain jane successful sibling. Sounds like a over-used plot, right ?

It is indeed so. But this movie is evidence that in the hands of a good director even the simplest of plotlines can produce standout movies. Curtis Hanson ("8 Mile" , "LA Confidential") does a superlative job of ensuring that the movie doesn't walk the cliched lines (pun intended).

One of the best scenes in the movie, is when a blind professor gets the slightly dyslexic Diaz to read a beautiful poem by Elizabeth Bishop and explain what it means. The beautiful way in which he prods and coaxes Diaz into doing this, goes to show the amount of skill and patience required for teaching.

Most people would be quick to label this as a chick flick. Well, if having two female leads makes a movie a chick flick, so be it. I, a heterosexual man, am glad to say that I really enjoyed this 'chick flick'.

Have a good weekend, y'all !

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Oscar de La RANTA !

Ummm...yeah. I am a tad pissed off at the nominations.

Let's go through the list, shall we ?

Actor in a leading role

Philip Seymour Hoffman in “Capote”
Terrence Howard in “Hustle & Flow”
Heath Ledger in “Brokeback Mountain”
Joaquin Phoenix in “Walk the Line”
David Strathairn in “Good Night, and Good Luck”

No real complaints here. Maybe Jeff Daniels for "The Squid and the Whale", Eric Bana for "Munich" and Russell Crowe for "Cinderella Man". But one can have only so many nominees...oh well !

My pick : Philip Seymour Hoffman

Actor in a supporting role

George Clooney in “Syriana”
Matt Dillon in “Crash”
Paul Giamatti in “Cinderella Man”
Jake Gyllenhaal in “Brokeback Mountain”
William Hurt in “A History of Violence”

No real complaints here either. Probably there was case for George Clooney to get a second nomination in this category for "Good Night and Good Luck".

My pick: Jake Gyllenhaal. Simply because it was a more meaty character (pun unintended) than George Clooney's in Syriana.

Actress in a leading role

Judi Dench in “Mrs. Henderson Presents”
Felicity Huffman in “Transamerica”
Keira Knightley in “Pride & Prejudice”
Charlize Theron in “North Country”
Reese Witherspoon in “Walk the Line”

Huge rant here ! Where is Claire Danes in here ? Hello ! The most understated performance of the year and it isn't in the list ? Were Charlize Theron and Reese Witherspoon better than Claire Danes in "Shop Girl". I don't think so.

I am not the only person who think so. Even NPR agrees with me.

My pick: Felicity Huffman

Actress in a supporting role

Amy Adams in “Junebug”
Catherine Keener in “Capote”
Frances McDormand in “North Country”
Rachel Weisz in “The Constant Gardener”
Michelle Williams in “Brokeback Mountain”

My pick : This is probably the most difficult category to pick. I am going to go with Amy Adams because it is unlike any performance I have seen to date.

Best Director

“Brokeback Mountain” - Ang Lee
“Capote” - Bennett Miller
“Crash” - Paul Haggis
“Good Night, and Good Luck.” - George Clooney
“Munich” - Steven Spielberg

Another big rant here. I personally thought "Crash" was an average movie. And it was primarily due to the inability of the director to keep the narrative more taut. And he ends up on the list. Blah!

And Stephen Gaghan, who directed the most rivetting movie of the year - Syriana, gets left out.

Tell me again why is Steven Spielfberg on the list ? Is the Academy still feeling guilty for not having given him an Oscar during his early days?

And where is Woody Allen on this list? "Match Point" was such a brilliant piece of movie making.

Am glad that at least George Clooney is on the list.

My pick - George Clooney. But have a sneaky feeling that Ang Lee might win this.

Motion picture of the year

Brokeback Mountain
Good Night, and Good Luck.

This is the biggest joke of all. How does 'Crash' and 'Munich' figure on the list while 'Syriana', 'Match Point', 'Junebug' and "The squid and the whale' are missing ? The Academy should stick its head in a toilet because it has shit-for-brains !

My (unhappy) pick - Good Night and Good Luck.

Let's see how good my 'picking' is. Till then, smile and be good.