Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Nine Lives (2005)

I love short stories. I read a lot of them and write a few as well. The beauty of a short story lies in its ability to connect with the reader in such a raw manner. There are hardly buildups or character definitions. The length of a short story does not allow this luxury. The author should be able to strike that chord with the reader in those brief pages. And there in lies, both the beauty and the challenge of a good short story.

You must be wondering why I am talking about short stories in a movie review. Well, this movie is just that. A collection of nine vignettes portraying women of different age, backgrounds and lifestyle. As the saying goes "the apple does not fall far from the tree". Rodrigo Garcia is the son of the legendary Colombia writer Gabriel Garcia Márquez (Am a huge fan). Marquez is an absolute genius when it comes to the portrayal of human emotions. Rodrigo Garcia is just as accomplished. But film is his chosen medium of expression.

The movie boasts of an incredible cast of actors including Robin Wright-Penn, Holly Hunter, Glenn Close, Dakota Fanning and more. Each of them appear in a vignette which captures a slice of their life. In each of those short 10-15 minutes Rodrigo Garcia manages to say more than what most movies do in their entire length.

The 'nine lives' portrayed in it share a beautiful undertone of poignancy. It is that what makes us feel connected with each of these characters.

My favorite one among these was the one with Robin Wright-Penn. Ms Penn is one of those actresses who make acting seem so easy (She has one of the best smiles ever). There never a hint of strain or rehearsal.

The clip shows Ms Penn, a married and pregnant woman, running into her ex-lover at a grocery store (Reminded me of the Dan Fogelberg song "Same Auld Lang Syne"). The subtle nature in which Ms Penn portrays a woman trying to hold back a flood of emotions and trying to act coy, is outstanding. She uses all her elements to convey the turmoil which the character is going through. Whether it is the quickly diverted glance or the measured sentences, it leaves us with a heavy heart.

Rest of the 'lives' range from a teenage girl who is the bridge between her at loggerheads parents, to the woman who is petrified of her operation. These vignettes (I love this word) capture the different shades of a woman in a manner which very few have.

My rating: 4 out of 5

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Michael Bublé Concert at Berkeley

Yes people, I was at the Michael Bublé concert at the Berkeley Community Theatre this Saturday.


I have been to my share of concerts. And there have been some really good ones. But this just raised the bar way up high. I am going to a couple more concerts soon. And they have to be out of their skin to catch up to this.

More details...Firstly any jazz concert is incredible. Allows me to feel as if I have been transported back in time (probably the era I should have been born). And add to that the seduction, the energy and the intimacy of jazz, there are few things better in life.

Now coming to Michael Bublé. There are plenty of good singers in this world. And probably lot of them can sing as well as him. But there is that little bit extra which makes the difference between great and slap-dashin-friggin-awesome.

It is how the performer connects with the audience and lets them feel it is almost a private performance even though they are surrounded by thousand other people. He did that to absolute perfection. The guy is absolute charming and funny, in addition to his Sinatra-esque voice.

In case you didn't get to watch the concert and can't wait till the next time, rent "Caught in the Act". It is the recording of a show he did for PBS. I saw this on PBS and it was incredible. Chris Botti and Laura Pausini are guests on this show.

My rating : 6 out of 5 :)

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Weekend Watch

I watched two movies this weekend. They were almost polar opposites in terms of genre and directorial approach.

A History of Violence (2005)

This was the first movie I saw. It seems like ages since I have seen a good action/thriller flick. And this didn't let me down. It was everything an action/thriller is meant to be. The narrative is a sprint. David Cronenberg just straps you in and takes you for a spin through the beautiful roads of a small town in Indiana. There are no pit stops or rest areas. This is not a marathon but a sprint.

One of the most beautiful aspects of this movie, is the characterization of the 'bad guys'. Ed Harris and William Hurt play these with an exquisite blend of coldness and creepiness, that has been very rarely been seen on film. Also the shorter length of the movie (96 min) was a refreshing change.

Tom Stall is your ideal family man. Great father, great husband and a diner owner who is loved by the people of this small town. The family portrait is disturbed one day when two criminals on a murder spree turn up at Tom Stall's diner. He reacts with alacrity to save his female worker and send these criminals to their fate. With that comes the swarm of TV cameras. And that brings some visitors from out of town. What follows is a peek into Tom Stall's past.

Is he the family man that his wife, kids, community and us believe him to be?

Warning: It has some serious graphic violence. Not over drawn out gore but authentic depictions of violence which may make you squirm.

I should also mention that this movie contains one of the most intense sex scenes seen on film in the recent past. As with all the best scenes of this nature, it is not about the nudity but about the two people involved in it.

My Rating - 4 out of 5

Broken Flowers (2005)

A movie of this nature demands certain characterstics of its viewers. A certain level of maturity and a contemplative nature is just a few of them. Without these, it maybe difficult to appreciate the elegance of its movie.

Jim Jarmusch's directorial style is very non-invasive. His camera is content to observe than to sneek in and peak within.

Don Johnston (Bill Murray) is at that stage in his life where he is passive about most things. Even when his current girlfriend (The oh-so-beautiful Julie Delpy) decides to leave him, his reaction is one of an inert nature. He just lies down on his couch and takes a nap. Literally.

Even when he gets an anonymous letter from one of his past lovers informing him of a son who maybe looking for him, he is not very roused. It is his neighbor (played by a delightful Jeffrey Wright) who gets excited at the prospect and gets him all planned for a trip around the country to meet all his past lovers in an attempt to figure out who the mother could be.

How does Don Johnston's journey end ? Well, that would be a spoiler. So I will refrain from it.

I can't think of any other living actor that could have played the character of Don Johnston any better. Bill Murray's performance is a study in subtlety. He conveys the inertness, the disappointments, regret and fascinations with minimal histrionics.

In the end you find yourself leaving Don Johnston with the hope that you don't have to live through the regrets that he has.

My Rating : 4 out of 5

Friday, March 10, 2006

Weekend Recommendation - The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

I actually thought twice before recommending this book. Then I remembered a conversation with one of my good friends about this book. She did not like it that much. And I rave about it endlessly. She was particularly unimpressed by the lack of plot. And I agree with her.

"The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter" is not about complex plotlines. That is not Carson McCullers style of writing. Her works are entrenched in the vivid dimensions of the characters. Understanding the psyche of these souls and maybe even empathizing with them to some degree, is what makes such a novel enjoyable. Miss McCullers style of writing, almost demands that you do.

For anyone who decides to venture into this novel, I have to put in a warning. For me, this has been the most heartwrenching novel I have ever read. I think I fell in love with this book right from its title. Due to some odd reason this title reminds of a line which I have read ages ago. The original line is in malayalam, which roughly translates to "Life - An oasis destroyed by memories". Hopefully when I get around to writing my first novel, I too will be able to come up with such a eloquent and insightful title.

The central character is John Singer, a deaf mute. The people around him tend to put their worries and questions at rest with him. They see him as a larger than life character who will be able to help through in their times of anguish. But he too is lonely and has his own set of worries.

The beauty of Singer's character lies in how he is able to help those people even though he is unable to listen or talk to them. Because the craving to have someone interesting to talk to or listen to is driven by our brain. But all our heart really needs is...someone.

My Rating: 5/5

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Oscar de La RANTA ! - Part Deux

Let me say this once again - The Academy needs to stick its head in a toilet because it has shit for brains !

This is going to be a stream of rants. So be ready.

First one - Supporting Actress. Amy Adams not winning ? Come one give me an effin break. Don't get me wrong. Rachel Weisz did a wonderful job. But we have seen several performances like these. But Amy Adams' portrayal of Ashley was such a unique one. It is just incredibly sad that she didn't win.

Second one - Leading Actress. See, I saw 'Walk the Line' yesterday. Reese Witherspoon's performance was good. But just not good enough to outpace Felicity Huffman. The same reasoning from the previous one applies here too. Felicity Huffman's brilliant acting was the cornerstone of the 'Transamerica'.

Third One - The biggest joke of all ! 'Crash' winning Best Picture ? Come on ! It was bad enough that it (and 'Munich') got nominated ahead of 'Syriana'. And it winning the Oscar ahead of 'Brokeback Mountain', 'Capote' and 'Good Night and Good Luck'. That's just bloody ludicrous. It made a mockery of all those three brilliant movies.


I loved how Jon Stewart carried off the show with such ease. The best joke was the one about Bjork where he said "Unfortunately Bjork won't be able to join us. She was trying on her dress and Dick Cheney shot her" (A reference to the dress she wore at the 2001 Oscars).

My favorite moments from the show

- Philip Seymour Hoffman's acceptance speech

- The lovely riff between Lily Tomlin and Meryl Streep

- Dolly Parton's performance

Friday, March 03, 2006

Verses for the Weekend

Since the weekend is going to be all about movies - with the Independent Spirit Awards and the Oscars, I have decided to stay off the movie recommendation. I am just posting one of my favorite poems and one of mine as well.

Have a good weekend, y'all !

Perhaps - (To R A L)
Vera Brittain

Perhaps some day the sun will shine again,
And I shall see that still the skies are blue,
And feel once more I do not live in vain,
Although bereft of You.

Perhaps the golden meadows at my feet
Will make the sunny hours of spring seem gay,
And I shall find the white May-blossoms sweet,
Though You have passed away.

Perhaps the summer woods will shimmer bright,
And crimson roses once again be fair,
And autumn harvest fields a rich delight,
Although You are not there.

But though kind Time may many joys renew,
There is one greatest joy I shall not know
Again, because my heart for loss of You
Was broken, long ago.

The Woman Within
Balaji Rajam

Her mis-timed giggles
Her non-chalant hair toss
Her pouts of fake anger
Are just glimpses of the lil' girl within

The tears on her cheek
The compassion in her eyes
The affection in her heart
Are just shades of the mother within

Her playful ruffling of my hair
Her burst of laughter at my jokes
Her reassuring grip on my hand
Are just traits of the good friend within

Her furrowed eyebrows at my laziness
Her anger at my reckless spending
Her concern at my falling sick
Are just faces of the wife within

Her changing of roles
Faster than she changes her clothes
And her ease in every single one
Is nothing but just the true woman within.