Monday, June 28, 2004

bland guilt: selznickized hitchcock

The Paradine Case features a plot/premise that should be very familiar to people who have seen Jagged Edge (which hits the extremities of the obsession) or its outrageous embarassing Hindi remake Kasoor (which made the news for the "bold"[sic] bedroom moments shared by dubbed-by-Divya-Dutta-in-all-probability Lisa Ray and the dubbed-by-Vikram-Bhatt-in-all-probability Aftab Shivdasani).
This was Hitchcock's last film for Selznick and the burden and obligation of their association shows. The film feels more like a Selznick mush romp rather than a work of the master. The Hitch touches are there (the expressionist use of blinds, POV shots, a cool high angle courtroom shot) but the annoyances dominate (Waxman's running undulating strings-heavy score only augments my respect for Herrmann's work, the tacked-on pointless ending). If only Hitch could have exploited the moral dilemma at the core of the tale to greater effect. Still, I've seen it now. Just for the record.

Sunday, June 27, 2004

trikal: dali, marquez and more

The first time I saw Shyam Benegal's Trikal I was too young to remember much except a haunting (would call it Marquez-ian now, because I hadn't heard of GGM then!) panning shot of a family gathered in grief. This time around, there was a lot of information pouring in (triviamongers alert!) in addition to a nice flowing narrative. Wish they had taken pains to get a decent print transfer! Naseeruddin Shah (as in Party) has precious little to do. He is the narrator and our guide into a complex journey into the past. The cast is another who's who led by Leela Naidu as the aging matron of the house who refuses to accept the passing on of her philandering husband, Neena Gupta, the tiresome Anita Kanwar (who has a character so close enough to life that she must be pardoned), the cute Sushma Prakash (where o where have I seen her before?), Dalip Tahil, a mostly ineffectual Nikhil Bhagat, K K Raina, Soni Razdan, Keith Stevenson, Akash Khurana (credited as Khorana), Ila Arun, Kulbhushan Kharbanda and a few faces then introduced and now familiar (Maqsoom Ali aka Lucky Ali, Remo Fernandes and Alisha Chinai). There's a lot of tradition and pain as the family is forced to deal in whole or part with a legacy of murder, a promising nuptial shattered by the recent death, illicit true love, serenades, and the incumbent merging of Goa into India. I haven't read One Hundred Years of Solitude, but this film made me think of it a lot. And there are a few Dali-esque visions to boot. This is a side of Benegal that deserved more exposure.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

clause 27

That's the red herring in Hitchcock's Foreign Correspondent, the viewing of which gained a touch of irony given the release of Lakshya featuring Preity Zinta as a TV newsreporter (which triggered off another superficial Rediff feature). There's a lot to relish in the film as far as Hitchcock touches are concerned: deadpan humour, a protagonist unable to get people to believe him or anything he has to say. Specific classic sequences must include the famous windmill sequence (see also: The Manchurian Candidate) and the sequence where Scott Ffolliott (George Sanders) and Johnny Jones (Joel McCrea) use Carol Fisher (Loraine Day) as "kidnapped" bait to force Stephen Fisher 's (Herbert Marshall) hand, only to have Carol walk out on Jones and end up back home with deathly timing. Not a bad link in the Hitchcock ouevre.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

RGV madness continues ...

Vishnu Prasad Gayab Ho Gaya becomes the less interesting but still adequate Gayab. This would mark the first time for Tusshar with RGV (or am I mistaken?). And RGV is up to his usual gimmicks. The official website opens up as a blank white page. Somewhere there's an active hyperlink (with the helpful tooltip "Gayab"), which takes you to new full-screen presentation. Currently, there's Vishnu Prasad's bio (which is tailored to give you the teaser synopsis), and a few audio clips from The Factory.
Hyderabad Blues II: the sounds of a rearranged marriage

The first time I found out Kukunoor was making a sequel was when I was listening to Fuzon's moraa saiyaa.N (Kamaaj) and started Googling around for more information about this Pakistani band. That's when I found not one but two of their songs featuring on the soundtrack to NK's sequel to his shoestring sleeper début. The soundtrack's up on Raaga and it's an eclectic mix and a welcome break from assembly-line demand-satisfying soundtracks generated by monolithic uninspired entities (aka "music directors"). aDiTappaa was Caliche's pop hit (or was it?) a few years ago (composed by Raju Singh). That's Candy, Liesel and Cheryl, get it? Fuzon's first contribution tere binaa kicks in next with strong echoes of Junoon, Strings and RDB's raamaa o raamaa. Up next is the salacious punchline of the original film extended to serve as the muse and motif for a full-length song that mixes pop, street talk, and lots of electric guitar riffs that unfortunately fail to overshadow some relatively flat lead vocals. Slipping through your fingers is the first of three Trickbaby songs. This is a Brit fusion effort mixing new age sounds with traditional Indian sounds. Mo' Bhangra Blues adds in a melange of sounds including an obligatory oye-oye chorus while centering itself around a simple guitar riff. more saiyaa.N is up next. The guitar melody that opens is oh-so-familiar (see also: tuu from Mumbai Matinee [movie notes, music notes]). Trickbaby returns with One Man and Sea of Stories. And we end with the dance-beat heavy strongly-reminiscent-of-Goan-party-songs Palace on Wheels, Aaj kii Raat. Stuff here isn't all that cohesive. And it doesn't make me want to jump out and grab myself a copy. Which means I'll have to wait to see how things get used in the film to get (hopefully) a better context.

elsewhere: the indiafm review

notes of relationships

Sai Paranjpye's Saaz boasts an interesting soundtrack, which unfortunately features way too many songs to fit perfectly into a narrative that is also hampered by clumsy dialogue, staging and general hi-jinx. Although the rumour mill noted the marginal similarities to the famous Mangeshkar family, there's more this film has to offer. On the interesting front, there's the masculine name (Bansi -- short for Bansidhar) for Shabana Azmi's character, the sibling rivalry, the incident which echoes the stories behind ae mere watan ke logo.n, and best of all, the introduction of Zakir Hussain's character. Mildly Pancham-esque (in his music being radically different, his playful nature, his eccentricities), he also adds value to my favourite scene in the film when his character tells Bansi that he loves her, and rationally explains his feelings and emotions without spoiling the moment with either shock value or maudlin mush. And his contribution to the soundtrack (kyaa tumane hai kah diyaa) is a treat -- a great introduction to how different rhythm patterns can sound off-kilter and isolation and yet make perfect sense when overlaid onto each other. And then there's a reference to Henry VIII's "alas what shall i do for love" and its similarities to raag paTadiip. The Parikshit Sahni cult with relish his turn as Bansi's psychiatrist (complete with pipe!). And trivia-mongers will note the trademark good-luck-charm cameo by SP's daughter Winnie. All in all, the film merits a viewing, but a few trims and tighter execution without such a thin narrative would have given it that extra something.

Saturday, June 19, 2004

woo and woo

John Woo becomes the reason I (a) get a long-overdue Movies Worth Seeing membership (b) rent movies (the Indian store rentals aside).

Woo has often noted Bullet in the Head as a personal favourite [ref: the concise yet superficial Ten Thousand Bullets: The Cinematic Journey of John Woo]. It's interesting to see that a director so widely acknowledged as a visionary with action sequences would pick a film like this. There is action, most assuredly. Woo trademarks all over the place. But there's also a good storyline, with doses of humour. The overall tone, though, is downbeat. Things to note (aside from tagging off trademark action) include the use of [a cover of, AFAIR] I'm a Believer by the Monkees. An authoritative print is a rarity, and even the video tape we watched seemed to have omissions.

Next up was Woo's shot at an action/comedy excursion, which has Chow Yun-Fat and Leslie Cheung as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (Woo acknowledges this debt with a poster featured in the house near the close of the film). The overall tone is light, and some of the jokes are funny. There is, however, a certain synthetic quality to the film, which makes even the action sequences (admittedly Woo's forte) seem a tad disjoint. While I enjoyed watching the flick (how they could make a DVD for this one and ignore Bullet in the Head is beyond me!), it's not really something I might readily recommend to someone who wants to sample Woo. There's also a cool villain in the climax whose weapons include a boundless cornucopia of razor-edged playing cards and flame throwers.

Must also note the eerie coincidence of a wrong phone call in the middle of the first flick: an asian voice began speaking at the other end ...

deification of humility

E. C. was here June 18, 2004. Philips Arena, Atlanta, GA. Three years plus since the last time I saw him perform. Closer to the stage than the last time around, but still a little way to go before I get up close there (succumbing to the commercial overheads of $$$-hungry Ticketmaster might get me there). Familiar faces all around: Steve Gadd on drums, Nathan East on bass. Billy Preston was to man the Hammond, but was sick, giving me a chance to catch Tim Carmon instead. Chris Stainton manned the keyboards on the right (my POV, looking at the stage). Doyle Bramhall II had opened with a clique called Smokestack in 2001. Now he was the accompanying guitarist (replacing and offering a different set of skills more suited to the song list than regular Andy Fairweather-Love). Sharon White and Michelle John provided backing vocals. Jimmy Vaughan opened with his backing band, but we caught the tail end of the act (thanks to an usher who insisted that he was right and the signs weren't!).

What a song list. An EC triviamonger's dream come true, aside from the regulars and the expected selections from the new album. And the Crash3 Fender looked really really cool. [CAVEAT: memory lapses may have affected the order of songs]

* Let it Rain: audacious. Off his eponymous début album, this track should have come as no surprise even to the casual Clapton listener who owns The Cream of Clapton. Unsteady sound levels here, but mercifully they got sorted out somewhere near the end of the second song.

* Hoochie Coochie Man. Off From the Cradle (now there's a concert I would give anything to have been able to attend!)

* Walk out in the rain: Dylan wrote this for EC's Backless (the title itself was a back-handed reference to Dylan!). Interesting pick, and a nice pleasant song (glad Dylan never sang it!)

* I Want a Little Girl: this one came off Reptile. At this point I was really impressed with the track list. A great variety, if ever, although this was probably the safest pick given that he couldn't have the Impressions back just for one number!

* I Shot the Sheriff: the last time I saw him live, EC played infectious misleading extended openers for both My Father's Eyes (thus relieving it of some of the electronica crud) and Layla. This time he did something similar by grooving into a riff that was slightly off-kilter ... just enough to marginally disguise the reggae beat. But once he dove into the classic riff, the place went up in a roar.

The laconic EC now says that they would now be playing a few Robert Johnson songs and is now seated centre stage with his acoustic guitar, Bramhall to his right, and East to his left.

* Me and the Devil Blues: o how I wish Jerry Portnoy was performing too!

* They're Red Hot

* If I Had Possession (Over Judgement Day): a switch to the electric.

* Milk Cow Blues

* Kind-Hearted Woman Blues

And with that we got back into the mainstream segment ...

* Got to Get Better in a Little While: moment to fall out of my seat. This was a track on the abandoned second Derek and the Dominos album (restored with love on the excellent Crossroads box set). Great wah-wah guitar.

* Have You Ever Loved a Woman: a song that benefits from EC's maturing voice while still staying cheekily relevant to his past (... But all the time you know/She belongs to your very best friend). Another great soloing break.

* Badge: Yeah, Cream time. The backing riff sounds as open as it did on the other live recordings I've heard. I somehow liked the cleanness of the studio take on the riff ...

* Wonderful Tonight: Time for couples to dance and be captured on the large screens overhead ...

* Layla: EC dove straight into this without any misleading prelude or soloing. Bramhall did a decent job on the slide, but was unable to make up for Duane Allman's absence. And this song must rank as the *best* rock song ever (Stairway to Heaven builds up to a crescendo; this song goes the other way around, grabbing you from the opening riff, before gently simmering down into the extended piano segment).

* Cocaine: The closer boasted another great EC solo. Just watching him play is both an inspiring and humbling experience for aspiring guitarists.

* Encore/Sunshine of your Love: Yep, it had to be. Am proud to say I clapped for every second from the band's exit to the moment they reappeared. Red palms and aching arms. But it was worth it.

* Encore/Sweet Home Chicago: Jimmie Vaughan joined the band for a solo exchange jam. Tim Carmon even played one back at EC by keying out a guitar-toned solo on the ivories.

By the time I was out of the place, the burgeoning perspiration clogging my collar didn't matter much. Even waiting for the train in a crowd didn't seem to be a problem. Someone was holding up a "Clapton is God" poster on the other side of the platform. Truer words were never spoken.

Friday, June 18, 2004

a peck on midtown

Not long after I caught Mani Ratnam's Kannathil Muthamittal during the 2004 Indian Film Festival at the High Museum, I see that my soon-to-be-top-pick theatre in town, Midtown Art Cinema, has begun an engagement for the same film. Although I am sure that the film had received international distribution when it was first released, this still marks one of the few rare instances of a mainstream Indian film notching a spot in the city's (yes, I'm sure it's more common in other parts of the US -- like CA, for instance) regular (read: not catering solely to desi product like Galaxy Cinema or Bollywood Cinema) theatres.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

whither chastity?

Shaolin Chastity Kung fu is another DVD in the Wu Tang set. This is a vastly more action-packed flick than 18 deadly strikes. There's a fair amount of blood-letting, random violence, decapitation with a deadly punch, strange weapons, a monk who travels in discrete jumps (the first time you see him, it's in-the-background, poof, closer-to-you, poof, right-where-the-action is!), his rather artless pupil, tiring utterings of "Buddha be praised", another esoteric martial art form (named for the Buddha, but renamed to give the flick its bizarre title), a gang of kids who form the bulk of the resistance to the attack of a gang of nine no-gooders. All that and some stale village humour. Worse than B, overall, but still outstanding fun for some of that action.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

the indian call centre mishap

I've had discussions with my American colleagues and friends about the whole outsourcing drama. Of course, I haven't had too many diverse backgrounds to deal with. The cogent inputs have acknowledged the insanity of the backlash. But I seriously have issues with the ballooning call centre nightmare. All good things for desi wannabe yuppaahs and yuppees aside, it's sad to see elements of IT being officially reduced to graveyard shift work. Staying up late occasionally, because there's this feature you *want* (as opposed to *have*, something that is disagreeable and unacceptable) to put in, is cool. Not staying up late to respond to phone calls across miles of ocean. And what is least acceptable is having to fake accents and names. The fake accents don't really work. Why not get them to just speak proper English? The Indian accent (with its mixed Raj and Umriikaa heritage) is fine. Honest. The Indianised fake-Amru accent is one of the worst things that can hit your ears. Indians who have lived here a long while, and who have let the ambient intonations gradually seep into their pronunciations manage to get the transition right. Every other FOB anxious to mix in with the crowd starts butchering everything that was right about the English they learnt back home. That aside. At least on this side of the shores, you have some native aural feeds to serve as corrective hints. Back home, you've got only a handful of cable channels.

And WTFF do you have to change your name? Every excuse offered is a load of Godzilla kakkaa for all I care. If the same person were at the other end of a customer support line in the USA, there would be no put-on accent and no fake name. I've dealt with both kinds of people, so I know. It's just embarrassing (after being hilarious) to hear some Indian lad or lassie stumble verbally on the wet linguistic toilet floor with prepared statements and a fake name. Friends of mine often enjoy breaking the delicate algorithm of responses. I might do that if it gets more annoying. And you know what "Susan"? You don't sound like no "Susan" to me. I've read articles where some call centre employees have expressed their resentment at this fake-name business. I really wish their employers would see the light (but then how could they in IST?) and quit the charade. Customer support sucks, generally speaking. Don't make a vacuum cleaner out of it.


Google celebrates 100 years since the legendary single day of streaming consciousness made famous by Joyce in Ulysses.

Google Joyce 2004. Where Stephen Daldry "proves by algebra that Hamlet's grandson is Shakespeare's grandfather and that he himself is the ghost of his own father".

CORRIGENDUM: That should be Stephen Daedalus not Daldry. Thanks to Nakul for that comment. Wonder why I wrote Daldry down? Can't recall any train of thought that would have caused this cognitive interference...

Monday, June 14, 2004

lock, stock and two smoking barrels

The first movie I caught at Midtown Art Cinema (it was UA Midtown then) was Guy Ritchie's followup to LSAnd2SB, Snatch. The first thing my friend said when we stepped out was that it was so similar to LSAnd2SB. I hadn't seen LSAnd2SB, but now that I have, I can see his point. However, there is a lot that sets the two films apart. In terms of technique and narrative style, Ritchie's Snatch takes the slow-mo moments and montage-on-speed razor-rapid cutting from his first flick and spikes them with abundant amounts of rocket fuel. Both films are funny, but LSAnd2SB benefits from being the predecessor. Cool cockney slang (the DVD even has a primer under the special features) [see also: Ocean's Eleven, The Limey]. The mechanics of the goings-on won't be unfamiliar to people who have seen other flicks that seem to turn noir inside out thus getting it to regard itself in a comical manner. The good guys almost win, the bad guys lose (and they lose bad!), everything is connected in a web more intricate than the most complex graphs ever dreamt by a theoretician. A cool soundtrack as well. All in all, great fun.

Trust the guys at White Feather Films to take this film and distill out a piece of sorry bull dung like Plan. As if that wasn't bad enough, they took the first part of LSAnd2SB, diluted it with bad dialogue, bad performances, bad boring songs and cheap style to get the first part of their sorry flick. Now that they had four friends losing out to a gambling cheat and owing an NP-complete sum of money, they now needed a good way for them to get it back. LSAnd2SB's drugs angle would not work for the hapless Hindi film audience. So they ripped off another flick, Suicide Kings. Thus, Sanjay Gupta once again (even though he didn't direct the sorry meld) managed to take at least two foreign flicks and splice them to create a piece of dreck so uniquely his own.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

the fallen madonna and darkly funny new england

Thanks to a friend and some technology, I got a chance to relive some memories of bellyaches of laughter -- the cause: the pilot for the outragous ribald 'Allo 'Allo. One thing that went by unnoticed the last time I caught the series (when Star Plus was not infested with soaps and dimwit detergent dunderfests from the K-fetishist and her satellites!): Michelle's fake French accent differs from Rene's. The creators Jeremy Lloyd and David Croft were also responsible for the other ribald (and admittedly more risqué) Are you being served?. Now if only I could get my hands on the whole series and the other ribald rocker The New Statesman.

Finally, finally, finally, I caught The Trouble With Harry (on a collector's edition DVD at that). Although significant as being the first film that Hitchcock collaborated with Bernard Herrmann, this black comedy set in New England (sourced from a novel set in England) has been a rare gem. Very few Hitchcock studies or retros give it as much attention as his other defining works, despite it being a composite of elements that came the closest to defining this enigmatic director with the manners of a gentleman, and a wit so dry and droll it perfectly matched his obsession with death and all things related. Herrmann even collected some of the motifs of the film and created a suite (A Portrait of Hitch). The dialogues and the gory goings-on both complement and contrast the mindblowing Vermont colours. Keep an eye out for Hitchcock's cameo and a sharp ear for the first exchange of words between Sam Marlowe and Jennifer Rogers, as well as the temporally mind-bending discussion that Sam has with Jennifer's son Arnie. At one point in the film, Edmund Gwenn's character Captain Wiles notes "Blessed are they who expect nothing, for they shall not be disappointed". In agreeing with him, I'd only be faithful to the tone of the film.


Saturday marked my first concert at the Hindu Temple of Atlanta in Riverdale, GA. The performers: Pt Ajay Pohankar (vocal), his son Abhijit Pohankar (keyboards, harmonium), Aditya Kalyanpur (tabla). The programme began with Abhijit performing three fragments on keyboard (yep, you heard that right) accompanied by vigorous tabla executions by Aditya Kalyanpur (given that he has received tutelage from both the Late Ustad Allah Rakha and Zakir Hussain, it was not surprising to see him execute crisp runs of percussive delight). The keyboard was set to a tone approximating a santoor, and this was the first time I had heard someone play the keyboard as if it were a santoor (not surprising again given that Abhijit has received training from Pt Shiv Kumar Sharma). Starting off with raag jhinjhoTii, Abhijit proceeded to a dhun in pahaa.Dii before ending with a composition in raag bihaag (related RDB song plug: zi.ndagii ke saphar me.n from AAP KI KASAM) dedicated to his mother.

Pt Ajay Pohankar came on for the second half of the programme with a swarama.nDal, but thanks to some unfortunately constrained miking, the sounds barely carried over to the audience. (shocking trivia break: Pt Pohankar delivered his first public performance at the age of 9!). There was no mistaking Pt Ajay Pohankar's mastery and experience as he began with a ba.ndish in raag jaijaiwa.ntii. (plug again: in the ICMS concerts -- this was merely an affiliation, not part of their concert schedule for the year -- I have noticed that the majority of the rasik audience has a Maharashtrian background. When the performers are non-Maharashtrian -- Bengali, for example -- the audience gets a boost from the appropriate regional clique, which vanishes for subsequent non-regional performers. The Maharashtrian audience, however, remains faithful!). Thanks to the Zee Heritage Festival and an overlapping Maharashtra Mandal meeting, there were many empty seats (and these were uncomfortable hard chairs more suited for wedding receptions and less for events of this nature), but Pt Ajay Pohankar did his best to establish a rapport with the audience (something that the rasiks didn't need to be prodded on anyways). Abhijit had to retire from the keyboard owing to a backache, leaving Pt Ajay Pohankar stranded until someone from the audience volunteered to "hold the swar" as it were on the harmonium. The next rendition, a Thumarii (kaise kaTe din rain) had Abhijit return, but on the keyboard. This is the first time I've seen the keyboard accompany the vocalist in the ICMS concerts I have attended, and despite my relative lack of depth in this matter, it definitely classified as unorthodox. Pt Pohankar had to only joke about it being "fusion", when someone in the audience screamed out that they didn't want fusion! Gah, as if just adding a keyboard (that it was being played by an exponent, who, despite his age, had garnered respect in the musical community) was going to transform the song into a remix! Pooh. Regardless, the performance was not captured on video (on Pt Ajay Pohankar's request), but it was nothing short of entrancing (as S tells me, it's on Piya Bawari, which makes that another addition to my acquisition list). And then the event closed with the hypnotic bhairavii. An evening well spent.

kung fu laughfest

A colleague generously lent me a 5-DVD set of obscure kung fu flicks, packaged as volume I in the "Wu Tang Clan presents" series. The first of these flicks was this standard by-the-numbers movie called 18 fatal strikes. The film follows the classic 3-stage approach: (a) We have a talented exponent (in this case a Shaolin monk) of an famous[sic] Martial art bearing a numerically or lexicographically qualified moniker (the DVD says the 18 Buddha palm, but the bad dubbing hints at an art form which has 18 variants, of which the monk knows only 6!) (b) A clash with a foe leaves the exponent on the verge of death. The exponent is then rescued and resuscitated by some simpleton/simpletons with a pure heart, mischievous ways, and a superficial knowledge of/interest in Martial arts. (c) an emotional tragedy fuels in the simpleton(s) a renewed desire and motivation to learn from the monk, leading to an inevitable showdown with the foe (who, for narrative ease, has been the cause of grief to the simpleton(s) as well) where all is resolved.

The standard elements of such imports are evident: a randomly constructed standard-format version of a widescreen film, strange closeups, obstreperous background music, bad dubbing by people faking an insulting faux-Asian-imitation mix of British and American English, strange sounds, obscure dialogue, and action sequences.

The action isn't all that great, but what really appeals is the villain, a white-haired pony-tailed, red-gown-clad effeminate-faced dude called Shaking Eagle. His performance represents an interesting visualization of the workings of a capacitor. His move-set is apparently so complicated that he has to perform an eager load of the complete instruction set and cache it for use. We know this because every time he is about to switch to this set, he begins flailing about kung-fu fashion and his arms trace strange wing patterns. Furthermore, the soundtrack is filled with a mix of samples of flapping bird wings and canine squeals. The interesting thing about these squeals is that they even extend beyond the charge-up phase, and often, given the complete lack of dubbing synchronization, seem to be produced both verbally as well as via merely him lashing out with arm and limb (sound-enabled kung-fu moves, if you will). ASIDE: When the monk is training the revenge-driven simpleton, he notes the caveat with the whole enterprise -- the monk knows only 6 moves in the canon of 18, and even if the simpleton managed to master the remaining moves as well (perhaps by going to the nearest Kung Pao Net Café and Googling it), it would not be enough to defeat Shaking Eagle. Given this caveat, nature has to play an important role in bringing about the downfall of the Eagle. What happens is this: Eagle inadvertantly steps into a booby trap mine comprising wooden stakes. One of these makes amazing headway into his foot leaving him momentarily crippled with pain. Infuriated and confused, Eagle does what no one else would do in this situation: he lets his anger fuel a decision to finish off the good guys once and for all. He begins to charge up again, but realises too late to his dismay (and our pleasure) that the stake has effectively caused a break in the circuit, and thus, failing to charge up, he is defeated. Touché.

Friday, June 11, 2004

R. I. P. Ray Charles

Ray Charles, one of the most influential people in soul music, passed away last night. Coincidentally, I was listening to Clapton covering Hard Times on Journeyman and later Come Back Baby on Reptile yesterday.

Followup [June 16, 2004]: Rhino Records pays tribute

Thursday, June 10, 2004

caffeine, nicotine and quirky conversation

I was glad to make Coffee and Cigarettes my first Jim Jarmusch film in the cinema hall. And I must also sum up more points for Midtown Art Cinema (formerly UA Midtown and now nestling in the umbrella of Landmark Theatres), which is close to becoming my favourite movie theatre in town. With that little plug out of the way, onward ho to JJ's often brilliant, sometimes so-so, but always interesting series of vignettes featuring famous personalities put together in hilarious (Iggy Pop and Tom Waits), curious (RZA, GZA, and Bill Murray), or experimentally piquant (Cate Blanchett with Cate Blanchett) combinations yakking away on topics ranging from addiction to the beverage and the smoke, to Nikola Tesla, to explorations of human nature. This is your chance to see (a) why Roberto Benigni always seems so wired up, (b) a bout of one-upmanship as Iggy and Waits seem to offer and take offense where there is none, (c) a convincing presentation by Steve Buscemi's waiter of how Elvis was replaced by his twin brother, (d) Cate Blanchett's cousin (played by Blanchett again) being patronized by her fame, (e) a polite Alfred Molina informing a stiff condescending Steve Coogan that they are related. And then there's the little segment with a waiter trying to offer Renee French a fresh serving of coffee, while she flips through catalogues that seem to echo her state of mind with each interruption. This is a nice little grab bag. TRIVIA NOTE: RZA wears a ski cap(?) which reads "Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai", which happens to be the title of the Jim Jarmusch-directed Forest Whitaker film about a black Mafia hit-man who lives by the code of the ancient samurai. SUB-TRIVIA NOTE: RZA was responsible for the original music of that flick, and also had a role in the film.
hitchcock meets steinbeck on a lifeboat

Triviamongers have much to relish from Lifeboat, another of those mostly ignored works in Hitchcock's variegated ouevre: this is the only time Hitch collaborated with John Steinbeck (a strange combination, admittedly, and, according to reports and Donald Spoto, a very turbulent -- no pun intended -- one). Apparently, Steinbeck did not take too kindly to Hitchcock's idea of filming his original story on a closed set (all the action takes place on and in the vicinity of a lifeboat in the middle of a turbulent war-torn sea). There are several interesting exchanges of dialogue in the film, and a fair exploration of the issues of hatred and racism. Tallulah Bankhead easily takes top honours in the acting department, relishing a well-written part with aplomb. Being a minor Hitchcock work, you wouldn't find much of the master's trademarks to catch, except for my favourite Hitchcock cameo: in a newspaper ad for a weight reduction product called Reduco (the cyclorama skyline in Rope -- another closed set drama with the added twist of long extended takes -- also included an ad for Reduco, marking most striking similarities between any two cameos).

Sunday, June 06, 2004

manic marxism

The Unknown Marx Brothers is a documentary that explores the lives of some of the greatest comedians of our time. If your introduction to the Marx Brothers has been merely through their films and compilations of Groucho's cynical wit, this documentary offers a lot more. The second half provides insight into their lives after their movie career came to an end, and includes priceless footage of Groucho hosting "You Bet Your Life", and miscellaneous TV appearances by Groucho, Chico and Harpo. There is no attempt to offer a multi-layered narrative, although the makers do a fine job with the editing when it comes to the different explanations offered for the nicknames that the brothers Julius, Leonard and Adolph/Arthur. Wish they had more to tell us about Zeppo and Gummo (who merely get marginal mention throughout the film).
the problem with biographical tomes

After having finished reading both Ray Coleman's official biography (Clapton!) and Michael Schumacher's journalistic exploration of Clapton's life and music (Crossroads, the 1996 edition), it's interesting to note that the little nuggets of informtion that have delighted F&M triviamongers are the ones most in shadow -- the origin of his nickname "Slowhand" being a good example. Both books, however, make for interesting reading, although the Schumacher book wins for covering more detail on the albums. Clapton has always thought of himself as a bluesman, and like some of the legendary bluesmen, he has had his share of personal tragedies (the destruction of his marriage to Patty, the loss of his son Conor) and downfalls (the years of drug addiction followed by the years as an alcoholic). What shines through is an unflinching dedication to his music, his willingness to explore different kinds of music and melding them with his vision, and the simply breathtaking expanse of his collaborations with the cream (no pun intended) of his time -- Sonny Boy Williamson, Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters, the Beatles, Sting, every group he was part of (the Yardbirds, the BluesBreakers, Cream, Blind Faith, Derek and the Dominos). And the man refuses to stop (his collaboration with B B King being a very good example). A good shot in the arm for my desire to procure all his albums.

Friday, June 04, 2004

light of day

An 80s tale of siblings played by Michael J Fox and Joan Jett. Can't believe this is Paul Schrader. The film fits the television rerun format, but that doesn't necessarily make it a bad thing. Triviamongers will have a lot to dig out of this one. Joan Jett's acting credit, for one. Jett belting out Aerosmith's Sweet Emotion. A bunch of rocking tunes. A song written and performed by Michael J Fox. A cameo by Trent Reznor as the keyboard player for a band called The Problems. And to top it off a title song written by The Boss himself. Schrader had discussed the film with Springsteen. Springsteen was wishy-washy on his interest, and ended up recording an album. He used the title of Schrader's film for the album (crediting Schrader, of course), and in return, wrote the title song for this film. The original title? Born in the USA.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

corporate bloatware, nominal equivalents

I am about to throw in the towel on IBM/Rational XDE once again. I like software engineering and acknowledge the importance of UML in OOD, and all the power that XDE can offer a developer (two-way synchronization between model and generated code is a big plus). But, the experience of using XDE has been unpleasant for the most part. The first time I tried to use it it would die randomly, and leave zombies running (complete with truncated 6~1.3 filenames in the process list). That Eclipse sits at the core is some encouragement, but the tool suffers from every flaw that identifies corporate bloatware. It's huge and complex, and is not quite intuitive straight out of the box. There's a complete lack of useful and current documentation (tutorials, even if they are discovered deep down in the cavernous set of hyperlinked files, are out of date). Dialog boxes fail to pop up, and some features no longer exist (that you cannot apply the Core J2EE Patterns anymore is a huge minus). First your company (there's no way a sane individual would shell out so many $$$ for this, is there?) drops a Godzilla poopload of money to purchase this chaotic piece of inflateware. Then you have to pay for documentation. And training. And even then there always the sense of missing out on something. I might lean more towards building up a development infrastructure from smaller components. Gives you a sense of plug n' play, and does not leave you locked into the tool. Oh, and did I mention that the codebase reveals a hotchy potchy marriage of Java and COM Automation. Talk about completely tying you down. I hope they use "Iron Maiden" as the codename for the next release.

My Japanese name is Gennosuke Chikamatsu.
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Wednesday, June 02, 2004


The opening credits for Woody Allen's Sleeper are enough to tell you that this is a Woody Allen film. The same fonts, some familiar names, the simple scheme, and jazz music running along in the background. The film itself rings closer to other early efforts like Bananas besides being an homage to the Marx Brothers, and the silent comedy film with its masterful exponents Keaton and Chaplin. Being a futuristic movie (set in 2173), there are digs at 2001: A Space Odyssey (and HAL's voice Douglas Rain can be heard enjoying a dig at himself!). There's a lot of funny dialogue and several entertaining sequences of slapstick and buffoonery, but the eventual direction of Allen's work rears its ugly head occasionally: you can see the growing obsession with sex, women, Jewish humour, New York, himself, and strains of neurotic behaviour. Keep watching for references to A Streetcar named Desire, The Navigator, Duck Soup, Modern Times, THX 1138 and A Clockwork Orange. And cool buildings too ("The Sculptured House" in Denver, CO, which serves as the rebel hideout, and The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) Foothils Laboratory in Boulder, CO).

Tuesday, June 01, 2004


Not long after having caught a colour-drained version of Distant Thunder on VHS, I got a chance to watch the second installment in Ray's legendary Road trilogy, Aparajito on DVD. The credits on this Sony release included references and acknowledgements to the Merchant Ivory foundation (who have been responsible for a lot of remastering and repackaging of Ray's classics, which have been, sad to say, neglected by good old India!). The film itself is a solid fluid blend of technique and narrative. I haven't read the source novels, but I remember reading about Ray taking liberties in translating the literary works to screen. This in itself is something one must expect because the two media are so different (something that even Isaac Asimov discusses in his introduction to the print version of Harlan Ellison's I, Robot screenplay, which lays a strong claim for being "the greatest screenplay never filmed" -- the upcoming Will Smith movie promises only upsets for me). But whatever I get to see on screen works marvellously. The adept use of film technique to tell a story more effectively is something I have seen in Hitchcock's films (although on several occasions, it is easier to read Hitch's films than Ray's). And Ray makes all this look so effortless. Ravi Shankar's music didn't help much though, and I might side with Ray's decision later on to compose the music for his films himself -- given that the score for Distant Thunder worked well IMHO. The film is full of great sequences (including the famous montage when Harihar breathes his last and Apu has to perform the last rites) and my favourites would be the fireflies appearing the decorate Sarbojaya's view as she waits and watches hoping that Apu will come home, and the moment when Apu collapses in grief at the base of an old tree and the camera moves back to accomodate a younger tree in the same frame. It was a pity that the only opportunity I had back home to watch Ray's movies was the badly managed rushed retrospective that Doordarshan plunged into when Ray passed away. But I hope I get a chance to watch 'em all again. Time well spent with quality cinema.
yugpurush/the idiot, the french connection

A Nana Patekar vehicle helmed by Parto Ghosh (who even makes a dialogue-less cameo near the end of the film) that seems to be inspired by elements in Dostoevsky's The Idiot. Interesting. The film itself is a mishmash, and clearly qualifies as an example of interesting material in the wrong hands. Rajesh Roshan manages a few decent tunes (including ye jiivan path meraa by Ravindra Sathe, ko_ii jaise mere dil kaa by Asha, and ba.ndhan khulaa by Preeti Uttam -- daughter of composer/arranger Uttam Singh) and horrors like ##hello hello##. Of the cast, only Nana manages to make it clean. Everyone else succumbs to the "acting bug". Manisha's dialogue delivery and mannerisms seem like leftovers from First Love Letter, Ashwini Bhave fails to convince me that she can work just as well in Hindi cinema as in Marathi cinema, and everyone else should have opted to be part of the scenery. And Jackie Shroff only manages to convince you that his heart is in the right place, and that everything else is purely incidental. The dialogue and the editing are uneven. Had someone more competent been given the reins of this project, it might have been a strong worthy feather in Nana's cap. As it is, NP had had enough disappointments straddling mainstream and quality cinema: Krantiveer (where his performance was marginally appealing in a morass of mediocrity), Wajood, Yashwant. ATC got him a bit of both worlds: satisfaction as an actor, and a return to mainstream audiences. Here's hoping his directorial project with RGV goes well. And could some writer step up and give him something decent to do?

Which brings me (somehow) to The French Connection. This two DVD release has the original film, and goodies like commentary tracks, a BBC documentary. Apart from holding the record for the best car chase sequence ever put on film (was that record ever equalled or surpassed?), the film boasts a cool soundtrack, great performances and dialogue, and a feather in the cap for neglected director William Friedkin. The racial slurs might startle people used to sanitized politically-correct film and television. 'Tis a pity Friedkin never made it really big. Now if only I could get my hands on Sorceror.

smitten by smithee

Hellraiser: Bloodline is the fourth edition in the series based on Clive Barker's gory graphic work about an evil Rubik's Cube that opens a gateway into a version of hell dominated by human pincushions that inflict and feed on pain. What makes this mostly by-the-numbers flick memorable is that it's my first "directed by Alan Smithee" movie. Alan Smithee in this case would be SFX specialist Kevin Yagher, who disowned the film after changes were made without his approval. The premise itself offers a modicum of interest: In the year 2127, a scientist steals a space station in order to close the gates to hell forever. He is the last in a line that began with an 18th century toymaker, who was commissioned by an occultist to design the evil Rubik's cube. Horrified at the true purpose of the cube, the toymaker designs a solution to reverse the process, but is unable to implement it. Several generations down the line (we are treated to just one) are driven to build something from this design, but fail for various reasons, until the scientist manages to get it working. This entry thus functions as a prequel and a sequel, but offers no thrills beyond the usual gory sequences of pain, a modicum of skin content and generally bad acting across the board. Even Doug Bradley's dedication fails to elevate the proceedings from the general TV-movie feeling that pervades the goings on.
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