Life as it ain't

"I'm not really from outer space. I'm just mentally divergent."

Posts Tagged ‘review’

Breaking Bad

Posted by Ronak M Soni on September 21, 2012

Originally published at madaboutmoviez.com.

Probably useless reading this if you are not familiar with the show.

So, I decided I wanted to chronicle the reasons Breaking Bad went from one of my favourite TV shows to something I consider well-made crap, partly because it’s a case study in how you lose momentum and partly because I don’t think I’ve ever written a proper rant (dismissive pieces about Christopher Nolan’s movies don’t count, since I find the hullaballoo surrounding his movies funny more than anything else).

So, when I first started watching the series I thought it was pretty good but not too good. But this changed in the third episode when Walt has to kill Krazzy-8, the whole decision running with the unearthing of Walt’s sociopathic tendencies*. But, the moment he had done it, something was over; the muck out in the open, and anything that followed would be but a logical progression. The show itself understood this, and shifted half the focus on Jesse, who’s streetwise but really in over his head with Walt. Similarly, it was wise to include and develop a whole host of supporting characters and their transformations.

Now, I was pretty excited about the show till the end of the third season, but the fourth season is so utterly terrible it’s a wonder I got through it (I’m yet to watch the fifth). To tell you why, let me run character by character.

Walt:

As I said, he killed Krazzy-8, and then his arc inevitably kept on losing steam. But, it managed to not completely lose it for three whole seasons. Part of the reason for this is Bryan Cranston’s marvellous performance in which he very effectively juxtaposes the original meek-mannered, house-trained schoolteacher and the sociopath for whom the previous description is a mask. There is much pleasure in watching the one in action under the other.

As many greater minds have noted, Walt’s transformation had much to do with traditional ideas of manliness and the associated misogyny; the belief that a man must provide for his family, must be in control, be always strong, must inflict unwanted sex on his wife, etc. For the first three seasons these tendencies are very much there, and teased out and questioned by the show (but, let’s be honest, not adequately; V Gilligan and co know there is something messed up here but really are not too properly aware of it, and honestly the show could do much better here, but this sort of thing is a flaw I’m usually willing to tolerate to quite an extent – I love Kill Bill, for example, and there’s this to be said about Breaking Bad itself**), but also there’s always the sense of a complex matrix of motives inside Walt. One of the best things this did was tease out the relation between the ‘coldly logical’ and the culture from which such a mindset grows. (Inserting accusing stare towards The Big Bang Theory.)

Then there was the end of the third season, where when Walt tells Mike about his successful ploy for staying alive, he’s completely the badass he always wanted to be. So completely, in fact, that for the whole of the fourth season he’s basically an annoyingly hotheaded and stupider version of Gustavo Fring. But the fact that Cranston’s a pain to watch is logical; I can live with it while being annoyed that there’s no pleasure in watching the protagonist any more.

The real problem here is that it stops being a logical progression for the character (have I stressed enough how important the idea of logical progression and its logistics are to this show?). It’s as if the makers read all the feminist critiques and decided to incorporate it into their show more fully but they don’t have a real understanding of it. Earlier, the tensions were strained out through his son and Hank and the parallels between Hank’s and Walt’s stories. Now, they go at it head-on: give Skyler a more active role (more on that later) and by having Walt retcon.

There are at least two speeches in the whole season (for a show of thirteen episodes a season that relies so heavily on silences, that’s a lot) in which Walt explicitly states his belief in the aforementioned ‘male’ ideals, which completely flattens out all the nuance and desperation of his decisions. Yes, it makes sense that Walt would build such a mythology about himself, but there is a general feeling that this is now the accepted version of Walt (for example, Jesse pretty much says that he was always badass).

To be clear, I’m not furious about it for social justice reasons (I’m too immune to that), but because it completely destroys a great character. As for the other characters, while they are not so utterly destroyed, they are kept in monotonous arcs that don’t tell us anything new about them.

Jesse:

As I said, the show drew much of its steam from Jesse’s dislocation. But then, when he kills Gale at the end of the third season, the writers have effectively written themselves into a narrative dead-end. All that can happen is his slow disintegration (very well-observed and something which made me bear annoying Mr White for three whole episodes without complaining) till something pulls him out, or alternatively till he hits rock-bottom.

But instead of something interesting doing this job, pulling him out becomes part of Gus’s ploy to get rid of Walt. Overall, a good ploy, but a story that works exclusively on the level of events (I can’t count how many well-made movies and well-written books I have abandoned because of this particular malaise): Jesse’s disintegration isn’t righted or taken to its logical end but simply postponed.

Hank:

He learns to be hopeful despite his newfound impotence (he can’t walk for a while). Absolutely nothing we didn’t see or infer from his previous crisis about the shooting and the bombing. Things happen, and we tread over trod ground.

Marie:

Three scenes of her stealing something because of the stress she gets from Hank. “See, we didn’t forget her – we are perfectly capable of giving a shit about our female characters too.” Obviously, every woman is defined solely by her kleptomania.

Walt Jr:

The only vaguely sympathetic character in the show, and – because of being a potential foil to Hank’s and Walt’s idea of manliness – also the most criminally underused (“hey, we put him in so we had the thought and that’s what counts right?”).

Skyler:

This could have been an amazing arc, her coming into her own as a woman and a partner and foil to Walt. Except, you know, the show crams the transformation into a few episodes in a previous season (so sudden that I thought that Anna Gunn had changed physically – lost or put on weight or something – till I realised that was just how hardened Skyler looked), and just had her perform some events. No acclimatisation to new evilness or anything. This is especially sad since she was one of the most well-crafted characters on the show in the early seasons.

Gus:

Watching Giancarlo Esposito play ruthless and logical mafia boss was never anything short of a pleasure, and honestly I was rooting for him to get rid of Walt (have I said that Walt is now just annoying stupid*** Gus?) so that we could watch a show about the machinations of this man’s brain. But no; black man can’t but be an enemy, and can’t but be eventually vanquished.

The only saving grace here was the development of his hate for Tio (the deepest – and only halfway fascinating – exhibition of the season-long theme that you can be possessed in body but not in spirit is Tio’s refusal to look at Gus) and the fact that that last vestige of sentimentality was how Walt got to him.

The camera:

Anyone remember the pleasure of watching wheels roll in close-up, first because it’s a wonderfully refreshing shot and second since it’s a reflection of the fact of process? Those shots have now been plagiarised into dumb crap like hitching a camera onto a spade that Jesse is walking around with. You know, because Breaking Bad is still weird at its core, not the residue from the vapourisation of a perfectly good show (chemistry analogy! Already one step above the title card (which I always found exceedingly dumb)).

*I use the word consideredly, in its meaning of a person whose attitude towards normal codes of conduct is logical followal at best and scornful disregard at worst.

**Because I know I won’t be alone in thinking this, I’ll state that I briefly toyed after reading that article – middle of the second season – that it was an allegory for racism, but… just no.

***But Walt can’t be stupider, because he got to Gus! Well, this was only made possible by the two asymmetries that Walt had to his advantage: that between offense and defense, and that between creator and manager. Inverted, Gus would have got that guy in no time. But, even I’ll admit that his final manipulation of Jesse was worthy of Gus.

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Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!

Posted by Ronak M Soni on June 8, 2012

Realising he’s trapped by the police.

Because Shanghai – which I’ve now watched and highly recommend – was coming out this week, I decided to revisit my favourite of Dibakar Banerjee’s films. It turned out to be even better than I remembered.

When you hear that a movie is being made about the life of a thief, you assume that it is either a damning of the thief, a critique of society (“the honest people are the real evil!”) or – if the filmmakers are really awesome – a metaphysical examination of the nature of property. Dibakar Banerjee’s stellar Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! has element s of all these, but one of its basic statements is their rejection.

It’s almost impossible for me to unravel the layers of nuance here and tell you what (I think) Banerjee was going for. Just as an example, take the whole real crimes show which brackets the movie: it seems to be a frame but it’s not, because when was the last time one of these episodes was over two hours long, starred the real criminal (we know Abhay Deol is playing Lucky and not the guy who plays Lucky because of the photo interludes, which are obviously from the show), and had a scene where the anchor complains about the word ‘sansani khez’? (I’ve grown up with that phrase – in exactly this type of show, actually – and take it so much for granted that I don’t have the slightest clue whether it’s one word or two and whether it means sensational or sensational news,) It’s in fact a sub-plot that acts as a simple critique of the role of the media (life is just not sansani khez, damn it) and also a synecdoche of the attitudes of society (notice that these shows at the same time vilify and hero-fy the criminals).

Lucky is above our society, a trailblazer and an outcast, and yet is so only in his own imagination. If it’s possible to fit OLLO into one sentence, that last is probably it. He is not an abstract moral anti-hero who hates his society, but a brilliant, arrogant man who considers himself a level above all those around him; the central conflict of the movie is that no one else agrees. His family considers him a nuisance, his colleagues think of him as a troublesome ‘un who can be profitable if handled right, the world at large thinks of him as a menace, and his girlfriend (Neetu Chandra) considers him just another dude who happens to have a weird career choice.

It’s telling how Lucky fights these perceptions. He tries to appear penitent to his father, impress the older brother with his wealth and power, bribes his younger brother to turn up at his wedding, tries superhuman-seeming stunts for his girlfriend, and treats his colleagues like shit just expecting them to lick his feet anyway; because, respectively, he wants to win his father’s approval, his older brother’s respect, his younger’s love and his girlfriend’s awe, and to him his colleagues are just annoying people who give him shit while he’s doing what he’s great at.

Speaking of his relationships, the juxtaposition between of and above comes out perfectly in his relationship with his girlfriend Sonal; well, it’s seen in many places actually, but it’s easier for me to write about this because I’ve been really learning about the politics of discrimination the past few months. He lives in a deeply sexist society, where a girl is ‘asking for it’ just by being a dancer or wearing a revealing dress. On the surface, he rejects this sexism, fighting violently on the behalf of women where others just say that nothing can be done because the harasser is too powerful a person and winning Sonal’s heart rather than asking her family for her hand; and yet when you really look at it, throughout the movie he often treats her like shit, first stalking her till she falls for him (that she falls for him after that is itself a symptom of society’s sexism and its effect on women), always trying to keep her in awe of his power and manliness and afterwards constantly pushing her aside, abandoning her on camels, whatnot. This is exactly how we’d expect someone who takes the “respecting women as our mothers” part of our culture very seriously indeed: love women but always remember that they aren’t men.

Looking at this essay, you might be forgiven for thinking that OLLO is rather a pessimistic movie. For most of its running time, it is; even though it is almost unrelentingly funny, the jokes usually range from the throwaway moment to the morbid, rarely if ever venturing into the territory of happy. But, it redeems humanity too; yes, it doesn’t pretend to offer a real solution to the various muddles Indian society has got itself into, but there are two scenes at the end of the movie where we are allowed to see the world stripped of it baggage, where we are allowed to see that the trouble here is in the culture not in the people in it.

The first is an extended scene where Lucky cheerily arbitrates the reclamation of property. The police love the guy; there’s both the fact that he’s something of an icon and the fact that he’s very co-operative and charming. There’s one bit here where he meets a couple who doesn’t remember him but whom he remembers: he reminds them how he robbed them, and where to find the stuff he stole. The couple and he take each other’s leave with a respectful Namaste.

The second is with a paan-walla who may or may not know who he is. Maybe he is a man who just thinks this guy is a TV star and is honestly honoured to have him eat paan at his shop, and maybe he knows who Lucky is, and he’s a fan of this icon. But whichever be the case, he is nice in the simplest, most pure fashion possible – an affliction rarely seen in this movie.

Posted in Banerjee, Dibakar, Movie Reviews, Movies | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

“It’s something we are all intimately involved with.”

Posted by Ronak M Soni on June 1, 2012

Originally published at madaboutmoviez.com.

Recently, while reading about alternative gender identities like transgenderism and pangenderism, I came across a type of person known in porn circles as a “shemale,” usually a trans-woman who has had breasts grown with estrogen but hasn’t had the surgery to replace the penis with a vagina (less offensive term: gynandromorph). Apparently, there’s a whole sub-genre of porn devoted to gynandromorphs. Now, in the minds of most, this raises an important question: who is turned on by this? Definitely, there is a small subset of humanity for whom they are the ideal sexual partners, or one of a set of equally preferable ones, but I feel safe in assuming that the porn industry isn’t interested in targeting them; if they went down that road, the first milestone would have been porn aimed at women. So, the conclusion is that heterosexual men are turned on by gynandromorphs. But while you are pondering this question, there are more obvious ones, like why are men so often turned on by lesbian sex? For that matter, why are men turned on by women and women by men?

For the last question, we can easily fill in some platitudes about reproductive instinct and whatnot, but the fact remains that, experientially, in our head is a black box that takes certain images and sensations as input and gives feelings of arousal as output. J G Ballard’s book and David Cronenberg’s movie Crash are about people for whom these black boxes have wiring very, very strange to us; they make a gynandromorph fetish look like something you’d be willing to discuss with your mother.

The movie begins with a woman making love to an airplane wing, before she is joined by a man who gives her what the wing can’t: fingers. She is Catherine Ballard (Deborah Kara Unger), wife of movie producer James Ballard (James Spader), who is at that moment having sex with his camerawoman just off set. Later, they compare notes – “did you finish?,” “did she finish?” – before themselves having sex, aroused by the notes.

Cut to James driving. He drops a script, veers into the wrong side of the road, and crashes. The man in the passenger seat shoots into his car and immediately dies. The woman (Holly Hunter), like James himself, was wearing a seatbelt and so is still in place. She shows him her breast.

James wakes up in hospital. Catherine describes the ruins to him, in the tone of dirty talk. There’s a man (Elias Koteas) who seems very interested in his injuries.

James, after months healing, still morbidly fascinated by the experience, visits what’s left of his car and there meets Dr. Helen Remington, the other driver. He gives her a lift, they narrowly avoid another accident, they fuck, she takes him to a staging of the car crash in which James Dean died by Vaughan (Koteas) and a couple of his stunt driver friends – no seat belts, real cars crashing into each other – and they go back to Vaughan’s, where he and one of the drivers (who’s still concussed) start discussing the Jayne Mansfield crash (“we can do the dead dog”).

So, here’s the big secret: Vaughan, Helen and their posse are turned on by car crashes. Vaughan, the ringleader, has a load of words about why that is so – apparently the sexual energy of a crash victim is concentrated into a crash. He very much has the dangerous allure of a cult leader. When James tells Catherine, they have the most passionate sex they’ve had in a while.

The most amazing thing about this movie is not that it depicts such a subculture, but that it depicts it without the slightest hint of judgement. Yes, their blackboxes are oddly wired but they are their personal boxes and none of our business and all Cronenberg does is portray them; pop psychology is completely absent (most of the Holvudine idiocracy would try to add something about childhood molestation or abandonment issues) and the mainstream culture only exists in so far as these guys couldn’t care less about it.

Modern western culture is more tolerant than many others, but it’s still remarkably churlish about sex. Many people have stopped watching this movie because it is too “sick,” but, as Roger Ebert insightfully points out, replace crashes with your favourite fetish and this is pornography.

Another thing we have difficulty with is the value of individual life; in that we wish to rank it highly, but never really do except with our nears and dears. Let me put it this way: how many people here would like to see criminals behind bars (or, better yet, dead)? How many of you have watched and been deeply affected by a gangster movie where there is no black and white only grey? (Note: in real life, there’s almost never black and white.) There’s a story a friend of mine likes to tell people, about how a European traveller found a tribe where there’s a guy whose only purpose in life is to serve as the chief’s chair; the traveller, of course, was shocked, and the tribals amused at his shock. They’ve been taught to believe that there’s a social order that’s more important than they are (and despite our discomfort with this notion, the martyr is a common form of hero in our mythologies).

Where does this tie in with the movie, you ask? Remember the cult whose leader just told the whole cult to drink poison and they did? Well, in the movie, soon after the happenings discussed above, one of the stunt drivers does the Mansfield crash. And dies. And kills god only knows how many innocent bystanders (and a dog). And arouses Vaughan, James and Catherine.

The progress of the movie is similar to a teenager who starts off masturbating to women in bikinis, and then goes into pornography because bikinis don’t do it for him any more, and then… what starts off as better sex with his wife ends up with James putting his penis into a crash victim’s scar (and, for good measure, every time Cronenberg lets us see it before that it looks rather vaginal) turns into climaxing with the crashing of cars turns into Vaughan killing himself by driving off the road and landing on the roof of a bus turns into James crashing Catherine and, when she assures him she’s all right, him saying “Maybe next time” followed by a nice fuck.

The tendency here is to regard these people as damaged somehow; but remember, for you will have to understand and deal with certain truths about your own moral code, whatever such conclusion you come to is yours and yours alone – the movie merely presented the facts of the case, merely put aberration in our faces to make us think things that we really ought not to be proud of.

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“She knew this music–knew it down to the very core of her being–but she had never heard it before.”

Posted by Ronak M Soni on May 19, 2011

This review comes nine months late, but not with any the less love for it. In fact, if anything, it comes with all the more, now that the wounds caused by the overabundant bad writing in The Little Country have worn off.

So, before I go further, let me just get this one sticky issue dealt with: yes, this book is not well-written at all, but it’s not bad writing born out of laziness – wherein the writer substitutes tropes for actual thought – but that born out of just plain idiocy; deLint knows what he wants to say, knows how he wants to say it, but is not very good in the execution, falling back repeatedly on stylistic tropes like the way a thriller goes around jumping viewpoints for a page here and a page there, giving us ‘depth’ by making the in-view character think about the event most significant to the story right after introducing us to the fact that this character exists. It basically sounds like this: “Abed was coming home that day, and as he stared at the clickety-clack of the window-panes, he got to reminiscing about his failed relationship with Janey. They had been in love for years before calamity struck. And so this had happened, and so that had happened” and whatnot. This, in my opinon, is the worst stylistic trope there is. Yes, even worse than the art novel’s angsty voice (well-parodied in Prashant Bhawalkar’s Unruly Times and J M Coetzee’s Diary of a Bad Year); at least there are people like Coetzee, Chandler and Eliot use the angsty voice to beautiful effect. The thriller introduction is so obviously the laziest way of doing things and so nakedly trying to hold a pretence of thought-realism that I honestly doubt it can be used well, except for the purposes of parody (even the estimable farce artist Terry Pratchett falls for this). Of course, this isn’t confined just to introductions. Any and all knowledge that one of the characters has which the writer wants to convey to us is conveyed in a similar fashion. And it makes me gag.

But, there’s a beautiful book behind this excrescence. It’s a book about art and how we relate with our art. And it’s told as a parable about the art that I find it hardest to relate to – music – and the art that I find easiest to relate to – writing. What’s not to love?

De Lint seems to be saying that our art needs to be ascribed a life of its own if we are to ascribe it with any power whatsoever. This power, the power to connect to our surroundings and channel it through ourselves and thereby make others connect to us, is magic (an alarmingly common notion actually).

She knew this music–knew it down to the very core of her being–but she had never heard it before. Unfamiliar, it had still always been there inside her, waiting to be woken. It grew from the core of mystery that gives a secret its special delight, religion its awe. It demanded to be accepted by simple faith, not dissected or questioned, and at the same time, it begged to be doubted and probed.

And there’s no power in the supposed magic unless there’s life in it.

Simple as that, really. That’s what the book is about. There’s a book within the book that’s different for every person who reads it; because it’s magical, because it channels another real world and lets you read about someone who corresponds to you in that world. And music is what’s common to both worlds.

But, of course, you’ll notice, what I’ve said the book is about is just a setup, a description of how things are. There’s epiphany too, as is necessary for a book to be good. Don’t worry. This is a lovely book; it won’t let you down thematically.

Posted in Book reviews, Books, de Lint, Charles | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

It’s got ideas and shit!

Posted by Ronak M Soni on January 22, 2011

Originally published at PassionforCinema.

Perfect Balance

I didn’t watch Jab We Met for three years simply in my scepticism about the existence of a good Bollywood romantic movie, these days when most Hindi movies seem to me like ugly mashups of Bollywood and clichéd Hollywood aesthetics (Mr. Ali thankfully stays away from Hollywood style editing and scriptwriting)..

While Jab We Met is not a great or even a good movie, it sure as hell is not a slight movie.

It could have been great, if it had ended around an hour earlier. The guy’s left the girl with her boyfriend and is crafting himself a successful life of his own.He’s entering a boardroom and suddenly the girl’s next to him (“Naa hai yeh paana… na khona bhi hai… Tera naa hona… jaane… kyun hano hi hai“; “This is neither being with you nor is it losing you; your absence, I feel, is as your presence”). He takes her hand as she leads him into the room and they dance in front of the board members, and the ending of the dance fades into their applause: he’s learned something, he used to be stuck-up and sad and about to kill himself (by jumping in front of what Ali shows to be a toy train, as if the stakes were somehow low) and then he met a woman,  uninhibited and irresponsible and ultimately beautiful, and he’s learned from her and now he has achieved perfect balance, that thing that is so rare when two opposing yet neither untrue worldviews come into contact.

After this, how can the fact that he eventually gets the girl be anything but incidental?

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“Religion is deemed by the masses as true, by the wise as false… and by the rulers as necessary.”

Posted by Ronak M Soni on January 19, 2011

Originally published at PassionforCinema.

Franklyn, directed and written by Gerald McMorrow, starring Eva Green, Ryan Philippe, Bernard Hill, Sam Riley and William Faulkner (not the writer)

The Fall, written by Dan Golroy, Nico Soultanakis and Tarsem, directed by Tarsem, starring Catinca Untaru and Lee Pace

Many spoilers be here, for there is nothing to be said about these movies without discussing their endings, and I don’t see that they spoil the movies.

Milo: I heard this story once when I was a kid, or read it. It was about a storyteller who was so good at telling stories that everything he made up became real. So the storyteller creates a world for himself where he’s the king of the castle, has a beautiful princess on his arm. And then, one day, he wakes up. He looks around. He kisses her on the cheek and… legs it.

Dan: Why?
Milo: I don’t know. Even though his life was perfect, absolutely perfect, he had the feeling he should be somewhere else. With someone else.

From The Fall; this is a typical example of the respect that Tarsem has for the laws of optics

Promotional image for Franklyn; from left to right, Sam Riley as bereft lover, Ryan Philippe as masked man, Meanwhile City and Eva Green as disrubed art student

Now, finally, is the time I have to admit that I’ve never been quite comfortable with the classification of art into “great” and “not great.” Yes, I’ve myself indulged in it; but only in cases when I’ve been utterly certain. The reason that it is now that is the time is that I’m going to write about two utterly amazing fantastical movies which I cannot in honesty call great but which I don’t think I’ll ever be forgetting.

Franklyn is about four people: a masked man in Meanwhile City (the other three are in London) – a steampunk city in which it is the law to belong to religion, whether it be deep or based on washing machine instructions and in which the masked man is the only religionless man – trying to kill the head of a murderous religion (called, in a fit of inspiration, The Individual), an art student who enjoys attempting suicide, a bereft lover whose fiancé has just left him, and a father whose son escaped from the mental asylum on the eve of his home visit. Well, technically there’s also the guy who insists that your actions’ consequences are felt by people you haven’t met.

The Fall is about a five-year-old Latina girl Alexandria who’s broken her arm and by accident meets a stuntman with broken legs, Roy, in the hospital. Roy starts telling her a story about five bandits who have sworn to kill the terrible Governor Odious. Roy, however, has a death wish and… what he does about it, he invites my profoundest contempt (till the end, anyway, but I’ll come to that shortly).

The first thing in common between these two (apart from the fact that I watched them both this weekend) is that they are about the power of storytelling. The second thing in common is that I proudly admit that I don’t really understand them, though I have an emotional sympathy for them.

First, Franklyn. How can I describe the formidability of Mr. McMorrow’s vision without going on for a thousand words about the plot? Simple: the fifth guy disappears. Ka-boom, we feel as the camera slowly zooms in on an unmanned mop.

For those (everyone, I expect) for whom the last was too vague, here’s the deal: masked man is the “alter-ego” of the son of fourth guy (Meanwhile City exists only in his head), head of the religion is fourth guy and fifth guy… in Meanwhile City he’s the mayor. In London, he is the pastor at some church, a janitor at the hospital in which the art student is a regular who says that you action affects the people you’ve met and a guy in a mental institution who shares the bereft lover’s hallucination of his childhood sweetheart; he’s nothing either more or less than some sort of overseer of stories. And in the end, he disappears, right after some tricks with character placement subtly suggest that all four protagonists exist within each other’s heads, much like this.

Yes, like much good fantasy, Franklyn is about the power of stories. I just don’t know how. Franklyn is the more formidable in terms of vision, but The Fall is the one which stumps me more deeply.

It’s scary. Roy almost kills Alexandria in his attempt to get enough morphine to kill himself and then concludes his story in a way that scares me will traumatise her for life, and yet I’m with him. This is how the story deserves to end, some sort of balance: the real guy doesn’t die, so the people in the story have to. It makes no sense to me, but I’m emotionally completely taken up.

Posted in McMorrow, Gerald, Movie Reviews, Movies, Tarsem, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Waiting for Godot

Posted by Ronak M Soni on January 18, 2011

Cover

Click to look inside

Is there anything I can say about Waiting for Godot without sounding either contrived or clichéd? I can think of five:

1.       It’s hilarious. Uproariously funny, even on paper.

2.       It features that rare representation of a gay couple/pair isomorphic to gay couple in which neither could be replaced by a woman without changing the dynamics.

3.       It’s about the stories we tell ourselves. I could write a long essay defending this sentence, but I don’t care enough.

4.       It’s not very existentialist: there’s much hope in the face of the understanding that Godot is a story as much as any of the side characters’ shifting identities are.

5.       It’s not that great: it provided me neither with enough fun nor with enough freshness of insight to justify its reputation.

Posted in Beckett, Samuel, Book reviews, Books | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Living through life

Posted by Ronak M Soni on January 18, 2011

Movie: Almost Famous (2000), 122 min

Writer/director: Cameron Crowe

Actors: Patrick Fugit, Billy Crudup, Kate Hudson

Story: A high-school boy is given the chance to write a story for Rolling Stone Magazine about an up-and-coming rock band as he accompanies it on their concert tour.

Watching Almost Famous is akin to the experience of living through a whole life.

Okay, it’s not. When all is said and done, it’s only a ninety-minute movie. But that doesn’t change the fact that the one thing I remember about the movie – Keats’ tuneless melody – is a feeling of–– I don’t know how to describe it; suffice it to say that it’s wrong to say that we don’t feel that we’ve lived through a whole life.

There are all these people, and I don’t like or dislike them, I don’t get the slightest inkling of what drives them or what they aspire to, but I’m glad to have met them, and feel as if I know them; much as in real life.

I don’t know whether there’s any more worth saying about this movie, except that I don’t really understand why I like it as much as I do.

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Logicomix: “A Narrative Argument Against Readymade Solutions”

Posted by Ronak M Soni on November 8, 2010

Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth, Bloomsbury (2009)

Writers: Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos H. Papadimitriou

Art: Alecos Papadatos

Colour: Annie di Donna

The creators of the almost brilliant Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth have forgotten a very important fact; that, to be great lecture fiction, a book must first be great fiction. And one of the rules for a book to be great fiction is that it must not lecture.

However nonsensical it may seem, that paragraph does make sense.

The book opens with Apostolos (an obvious stand-in for Mr. Doxiadis, but none of the characters introduce themselves with surnames, and I will follow that) introducing us to this book he’s writing called Foundational Quest and telling us that he is going to meet Christos, who is a computer engineer and, therefore, an expert in mathematical logic (a textbook written by him resides in my college’s library), as a consultant.

“You see,” he informs us, “this isn’t your typical, usual comic book.” Friends who have been told what it is about haven’t taken them seriously, and, when they have, it’s for all the wrong reasons.

And it goes on, till he meets Christos, and starts telling him a story of Bertrand Russell’s lecture in America on the day England declared war on Germany. Mr. Russell meets, outside the hall, a group of protesters insistent that their country stay out of the war. He invites them in for the lecture, “The Role of Logic in Human Affairs” and starts narrating his own life-story. Meanwhile, Christos and Apostolos have got to the studio and meet the artists, Alecos and Annie (Miss di Donna has also worked on the famous Tintin series), and the visual researcher Anne.

From the very beginning, Apostolos and the artists make it clear to Christos that the book is about the interplay between logic and madness, but Christos doesn’t see the point of it being so character-driven.

Needless to say, he eventually comes around, and the exact chain of events that leads to his understanding sheds a non-trivial amount of light on the major theme.

To be honest, I disagree that this book is strictly about the relationship between logic and madness. It is about the madness that comes out of the thirst for knowledge in a strictly rational epistemology.

A minor disagreement, but a disagreement nevertheless.

This book really needs little exposition from my side; the final pages explain everything that has been explored, and a reread in the light of these last pages will illuminate it all.

What this book is really successful at doing, finally, is not at talking about rationality and madness – though it does do that very well – as much as at portraying the world of philosophical/mathematical academia and what drives the leading figures in these circles.

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“The past does live on, in people as well as in cities.”

Posted by Ronak M Soni on October 16, 2010

Click to go to Amazon page

It is 1989, a time of great flux for Samar, as it is for India.

Rajeev gandhi hasd set into motion the machinery for the economic liberalisation that will culminate in the reforms of 1991, and will be defeated very soon in the general election. The next two years will see two diffferent prime ministers, till Narasimha Rao comes and stays from 1991 to 1996.

Samar, a Brahmin autodidact and all-round bookworm who was brought up in a village without any companions and with a not insufficient awareness of his caste and social position, has just moved from Allahabad to Benares, next door to the British Miss West, who will introduce him to Western Classical music and Benares’ teeming Western society.

His strangeness in the world of Westerners who have always had social lives is in fact deeper than just habit. It is a difference in culture itself. He doesn’t think and perceive the world in the same way.

..and the word ‘pretty’ came to be crystallised by the lovely vulnerability of her face, the clear olive skin, the large hazel eyes that looked out at the world with a mixture of uncertainty and sadness, the full lower lip, the dark wavy hair that formed a perfect inverted V over her forehead. After this, her soft French accent seemed oddly childlike, more human, more manageable.

***

But his new social life doesn’t just involve foreigners and Indians who spend time with foreigners; there’s also a violent student activist in the Benares Hindu University who comes from a dirt-poor family and reads Rumi.

***

Things happen and, like in organic chemistry, bonds break and bonds are formed, and, also like organic chemistry, we are interested not by the bonds themselves but by how they break and form.

***

Overall, it works as a complex portrait of a country in flux, but much more compellingly as one of a man in flux, gaining a social life, suddenly finding himself in a mire of feelings, then in a position from where he has to proceed with the utmost caution, and then having his heart broken and retreating ffrom his feelings till they come back and hit him in the face; and then his final confrontation of them – if that is what it is.

***

Even on the writing front, Mishra is pretty much excellent. He combines an immense sensitivity to Samar’s state of mind with a searing eye for detail and adds to it the mildly odd turn of phrase characteristic of Indians who taught themselves fluency of English by reading voraciously.

In some sense, I travelled everywhere and nowhere. The miles clocked up, and there came a point when I could no longer distinguish between the settlements that clattered past my jaded eyes – the overpopulated slums with their tottering houses, fetid alleys and exposed gutters, their cooped-up frustrations and festering violence, their hardened ugliness. The small and big towns where I often spent a sleepless night in tiny bare hotel room all began to merge together. I would often be kept awake by the varied cacophony that emanated from the other rooms, where young men of distinctly criminal appearance drank rum and watched jaunty Hindi musicals together.

***

Is The Romantics a great book? I don’t know; it could well be, and I suspect it in fact is, but it’s certainly one that I love, and one that I will always cherish.

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