Saturday, February 28, 2009

then again it feels like some sort of inspiration

To tell the truth, I wanted to dislike Sita Sings the Blues. Or I should say, I fully expected to dislike it. I’m not a particularly religious person, but I feel about Sita, Mirabai and Radha the way some girls must feel about Cinderella, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty. Since we were marooned in EBF, my father was more than happy to indulge my interest in reading by getting me every book I requested that had to do with anything Indian. I read Jawarhalal Nehru’s letters to Indira Gandhi, I read a version of the Ramayana, I read cartoon depictions of the Mahabharata, tales of Mirabai, books on Prahlad. Anything I could get my hands on. Maybe that’s why, when I ran out of these books, I found it easy to read Frank L. Baum, C.S. Lewis, or Madeline L'Engle- all that other-worldliness seemed to me just part and parcel of reading.

But the story of Sita always stuck with me. I remember reading every bit of information about her as I could gather. And I remember, from a very young age, thinking it’s rough out there for a girl. But even though I had my quibbles with the story of Sita and Rama, I have always been fiercely protective about it.

So I approached the film, fully expecting to be annoyed that it was misappropriated. But I will tell you what- Sita Sings the Blues deserves all the accolades it has been getting. It is extremely clever, not just in terms of the story it presents, not just in terms of the graphics and music, but also in terms of how the story is told. There is fascinating discourse as the story proceeds, fascinating to me because it’s exactly the kind of conversation that used to transpire in my family’s living room. Aunties and uncles would be sitting late at night dissecting the stories, picking them apart for their inconsistencies, everyone having heard a slightly different version of the story.

I’d seen clips of the movie before, and from it, the movie had just struck me as something kitschy. It’s way, way more than that. I’m honestly a bit jealous of it. When I was in college, I tried to mine the whole tale of Sita to write a story for a writing class. It was okay, but it nagged at me; it never quite connected the dots. It was always the idea that I thought, if I actually knew how to write, I would go back and get right. Along comes Nina Paley and she has figured out exactly how to explain how universal Sita’s story is. And she managed to do it while injecting healthy doses of clever humor where it is needed.

The jazz vocals used in the movie have apparently created some problems in terms of getting the film distributed. That’s a shame. I hope anyone who wants to gets a chance to see this movie, because it truly is brilliant. Currently, it's possible to watch it in its entirety here, and it's currently screening in New York.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

just a bad movie where there's no crying

It seems that it’s worth posting something kind of silly and superficial at the moment. So here’s a little rundown on the Oscars, or more accurately, my rationale for why I watched various Oscar-baiting movies, why I did not watch others, and my unsolicited opinion of them. It turned out to be a lot longer than I expected it to be, but I haven't been posting much of late, and have some things going on that will prevent me from posting for a while yet, so here's some drivel in the meanwhile.

Oscar Bait #1: Slumdog Millionaire
Why I watched it:
Anil Kapoor. Danny Boyle. A desire to escape the doledrums of December after finals.
Unsolicited opinion:
Light as a feather, substantial as cotton candy, but as fun as a pillow fight or munching on a confection. I am kind of shocked at how likely it is that this movie could take home an Oscar or two, but then I realize that Gladiator and Titanic have won Oscars, and it becomes clear that the academy is all for slick entertainment over substance if the mood is right. When Network was released, Rocky beat it out because it’s a feel-good film. Sorry, Milk.

Oscar Bait #2: Frost/Nixon
Why I didn’t watch it:
I watched NPH’s Frost/Everyone skits instead (I know this is a poor excuse, but there are really only so many movies a person can watch in a few months while trying to bake various things and not fail out of school). Also, I am not a fan of Ron Howard movies.

Oscar Bait #3: Milk
Why I watched it:
San Francisco shout-outs galore. I love Harvey Milk-lore. SpyDaddy plays the mayor of SF!
Unsolicited opinion:
I am kind of shocked at how unlikely it is that this movie could take home Oscars, and that it hasn’t been an awards darling. I only saw this movie recently (a true sign that I no longer live in SF, it was impossible to find companions willing to go see this movie with me out here in EBF), and I was amazed by it. Sean Penn is obviously a fantastic actor, because he didn’t seem self-important or like the d.b he comes off as when defending Jude Law’s honor. I’m not really kidding about Harvey Milk-lore. If you read about San Francisco, specifically about the Castro, the stories about Harvey Milk are boundless, and he is always known for being a genuinely nice guy. And wonders upon wonders, Spiccoli actually comes across as genuinely good-hearted. Josh Brolin is creepily good. The shots of the Castro and Eureka Valley made my heart swell three sizes. And the film is talking about a lot that is relevant. One reason I love Milk-lore and the Castro is that it’s a demonstration of what has to happen. If you think that gay folks only live in the Castro in San Francisco, you’re sadly mistaken. Similarly, all the Indians in the Bay Area do not live in Fremont. But sometimes, you need to have a home base, a place to have enough of a presence that you have to be acknowledged, and then you can actually be accepted everywhere else as a result. And perhaps my favorite thing to think about in the movie is one of the first things Milk says to his boyfriend before he moves to San Francisco and becomes the Milk everyone knows: “Forty years old and I haven’t done a thing that I’m proud of.

Oscar Bait #4: Doubt
Why I didn’t watch it:
I didn’t get around to it. I think I would prefer to see Amy Adams in Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day. And I figure if Meryl Streep wins the Oscar, her acceptance speech will be more entertaining than her film performance, only because the woman seems to be innately hilarious, moreso as she has grown older. It’s my not-so-secret fantasy that Meryl Streep, Emma Thompson and Helen Mirren should perform stand-up together. Maybe Tracy Ullman could help write it for them.

Oscar Bait #5: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Why I watched it:
I’ve asked myself every day since I’ve seen the movie. I blame David Fincher. Come on. The dude made Fight Club, and I think that might have been the last time Brad Pitt was truly entertaining in a movie.
Unsolicited opinion:
I’ve revealed myself as a sap in the past (I mean, put Before Sunrise and Before Sunset in front of me, give me some See’s, and call it a day), but I’m not this much of a sap. I think you can determine whether you will like this movie or not based on the following: did you and do you still like Forrest Gump? If so, then by all means, run out to the theater. If, like me, you thought Gump was overrated even when it came out, then this movie is probably going to drive you crazy. Blanchett looks a little befuddled to be in the movie. Swinton shows up and decides she is the new Meryl Streep- she doesn’t care if she’s in the middle of a sh*t-fest, she’s going to come in and steal every scene. The special effects are, of course, well done, but unless you’re crazy about Brad Pitt, and long for his Thelma and Louise days, they’re not enough to be captivating.

Oscar Bait #6: The Wrestler
Why I didn’t watch it:
Mickey Fricking Rourke. Sorry, but I already took a chance on one reformed sleazebag, and the gamble paid off with Colin Farrell in In Bruges. I’m not going to tempt fate. Plus everyone who has seen it has remarked on how depressing the movie is.

Oscar Bait #7: Rachel Getting Married
Why I watched it:
Small movie. I heard there were saris. The idea of Anne Hathaway playing someone edgy seemed funny to me.
Unsolicited opinion:
Surprisingly good movie. I quickly forgave the saris especially because I feel like they might have been there just so Hathaway got a chance to make a sarcastic comment about the necessity for ‘fittings.’ What was refreshing about the movie was also what was frustrating about the movie. The wedding itself, to me, was the most interesting part of the movie—how did these two people meet, how did they get together, how did the wedding turn into the ceremony it became? But everything takes a backseat to Hathaway’s troubled character- which might have been the entire point of the film. Anyway, not great, but not horrible. I’m not really sure Hathaway deserves to beat out a powerhouse such as Viola Davis, however.

Oscar Bait #8: The Reader
Why I didn’t watch it:
Already saw Kate Winslet in Revolutionary Road. Nothing about The Reader compelled me to see it, except perhaps the Extras episode where Gervais basically got Winslet to make a crack about getting an Oscar for getting into a movie about the Holocaust. This allowed Gervais to give himself a shout-out at the Golden Globes, which only 50% of people understood was a reference. I thought Revolutionary Road was alright.

Oscar Bait #9: In Bruges
Why I watched it:
No explanation except good luck. The trailer kind of entertained me.
Unsolicited opinion:
What a surprise. This movie has messed me up for good about Colin Farrell. He and Brendan Gleeson were fantastic together in this movie. Gleeson’s performances are always great though. But watching Ralph Fiennes relish a villainous role was also a nice, unexpected turn. What’s more, as much as Farrell’s character endlessly makes fun of it, Bruges grows on you over the course of the movie. Now I’d like to visit.

Miscellaneous Oscar Bait Performances:
  • Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight: so I know Ledger is going to win. And there’s no doubt that his creepy turn as the Joker was his best performance ever, and redefined the way villains are played (sorry, and see ya, Nicholson). But I have to say that I think both the performance and the movie are hyped. The Dark Knight is impressive for its genre, but a lot of its messages are murky, and I am really tired of the incapability of summer blockbusters to write anything interesting as far as women’s roles go.
  • Robert Downey Jr in Tropic Thunder: I think this is a ‘good job RDJ, stay off the sauce’ nomination by the academy. Unlike Ledger’s performance, I think Robert Downey Jr’s performance got overshadowed a bit by all the glee regarding Tom Cruise’s performance as a fat, foul-mouthed, gyrating studio head. But the fact is, someone else could have played that goofy studio head role. I can’t think of another actor that could have pulled off RDJ’s role, which could have been a political landmine that, in anyone else’s hands, probably would have blown up in everyone’s faces. I’m not a big Ben Stiller fan, but I have to give him credit for having the good sense to cast RDJ.
  • Penelope Cruz in Vicky Cristina Barcelona: All I can say about this is that, prior to watching this movie (I had not seen Elegy yet), I put Cruz in kind of the same category as Colin Farrell. But wow, throw her opposite a powerhouse like Javier Bardem, and she steals every scene she’s in?!? I wouldn't have guessed that. The problem with Vicky Cristina Barcelona is that you very quickly don’t give a crap about Vicky or Cristina, because you’re far more interested in screen time being devoted to Cruz’ Maria Elena. Then I saw Penelope Cruz in Elegy, and now I have to begrudgingly admit that the woman can act. And her English is improving considerably.
  • Richard Jenkins in The Visitor: Jenkins first caught my attention in Flirting with Disaster. The he became well known for his sometimes somber, sometimes hilarious portrayal of a dead father in Six Feet Under. The Visitor seems to have been tailor-made for him. He is so quiet about his performance that he takes what could have been schlocky cheese and turns it into a believable and compelling metamorphosis. He has no chance in hell of winning any awards for it, but maybe more people will go see The Visitor as a result of the nomination.

Wow, that was probably all rather haughty. I'd be more curious to hear what others thought of various performances this year. It should be noted that I didn't see any of the animated films in contention this year. This is because medical school is filled with cartoons, so I could not bring myself to watch them on the large screen.

Monday, February 16, 2009

the history books forgot about us

I'm always posting songs here that are ancient. This is not exactly the place to discover new music, but then again, that's not really my intention. The thing is, sometimes a song has to age a little to have any meaning to me. But ironically enough, not this one.

In this case, it's more a difficulty of sharing this song, or writing anything about it. This song feels to me about perspective. When I first heard about this song, it reminded me of a quote from the movie Before Sunrise:
"You know what's the worst thing about somebody breaking up with you? It's when you remember how little you thought about the people you broke up with and you realize that is how little they're thinking of you. You know, you'd like to think you're both in all this pain but they're just like 'Hey, I'm glad you're gone'."

And then it also brought a little Neruda to mind:
If suddenly
you forget me
do not look for me,
for I shall already have forgotten you.

It's like a prism with all these different facets. Somewhere in there is the truth. Spektor's song is about someone who is reminding someone that she existed, that they existed. Jesse in Before Sunrise knows he's been forgotten, but knows he's done plenty of forgetting in his time. And Neruda makes it seem like simpler math, an eye for an eye. But were that true, Neruda couldn't write this kind of poetry:
love is so short, forgetting is so long

It's interesting, to me, though, that common sense says forget, move on, get over it. When all most people ever want to do is be remembered. And some of us feel compelled to do the remembering.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

you laugh until you cry, you cry until you laugh

You might not guess it from the ramblings here, but my biggest defense mechanism to stress is not baking: it’s humor. I can’t write with much humor, not the way one of my favorite bloggers did. But in person, I will do almost anything to make myself laugh when I get stressed out. And it doesn’t take much, because usually just the inherent absurdity of whatever stressful situation I find myself in is enough to crack me up. Today was not that sort of day, unfortunately. It took a lot longer to laugh, and it felt wrong when I giggled, but I made someone else laugh, a necessary release, a useful distraction. So I don’t mind.

It’s my brother that is the real comedian of my family. But there is also that natural phenomenon that occurs between siblings- you start speaking in some odd language that is peppered with inside jokes to do with movie quotes or obscure references or shared history. Some are things that only the two of you find funny.

My cousin SD, poor unfortunate soul (not really, in the end he wound up way more successful than either my brother or me), moved from India to the US when he was 12 years old. Could you pick a more unfortunate time, I wonder? As many people who read this blog know, in India, you learn the Queen’s English. But you must understand that my brother and I were 11 and 13 respectively when SD moved. And we had little to amuse ourselves. Certainly at school, we were likely the outcasts, the outliers. Being the little sh*ts that we were, we basically projected that onto SD. If we seemed foreign in EBF, SD seemed to fall from another planet. And we relished this, because it detracted from how weird we were.

SD would say all kinds of things upon which we would seize like hyenas. The most memorable of these, inexplicably, had to do with the simple act of spelling out one word. Once SD had spelled it once, my brother and I would needle him into spelling it again and again. Moreover, to this day, my brother and I spell the word the same way.

It started so innocently. We were introducing SD to one of the finest cuisines this great nation has to offer, and he had never had the good stuff. I can’t remember now why he spelled it out, but spell it out he did. And once we heard him say, “P-I-Zed-Zed-A,” that was it. We were done for.

To this day, my brother and I do not use the word ‘pizza’ with each other. When in each other’s presence, that word is always spelled out, and the “Zed”s are always overexaggerated and celebrated. So stupid really, but as I mentioned earlier, it doesn’t take much to get us laughing.

And today, when there was really no reason for laughing, I retold this story and by the end of the evening, a friend said, “I would like to go over to B’s for some P-I-Zed-Zed-A.” My work here is done.


Of course, I have also baked. And am baking for the rest of the night. I’ll try to charge my camera so that I have some photographic evidence for a change.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

word is there's a new girl in town

Right when muxtape collapsed, I had this idea for a mix. It turned into a CD that I sent to a few tolerant friends. The premise of the CD had to do with derivation. When Jet first released Look What You’ve Done, a whole lot of us thought they were trying to trick people into thinking they were the Beatles. When The Silversun Pickups released Lazy Eye, I had to listen carefully before discerning that it was not in fact an unreleased Smashing Pumpkins song.

Of course, in neither of those instances did I find myself offended by the new songs or bands. I compared that to my reaction of listening to Creed for the first time. I remember feeling absolute rage about that band trying to sound like Pearl Jam. In the 90s, having a deep, low crooning voice filled with angst became so ubiquitous that it turned a lot of people off the original sources.

I like to think the difference has to do with motivation. Those 90s knock-off bands seemed like they sprung up, molded by record companies who seemed to have decided the formula for success was to dress a decent looking fellow in a grunge uniform and put him on stage. It worked too- some of those bands were more accessible, more willing to market themselves and put themselves through the machine, and so they got plenty of radio time.

On the other hand, now when I hear the derivation, when I hear the hints of other songs and bands, I am less cynical about it. I remember now that I’m not a teenager. Now influences from my childhood are blooming forward in interesting ways, I like to think.

If you were going to pick a band to mimic, I doubt a record company would encourage you to try to imitate the Pixies. Critical darlings, sure, but not exactly associated with mainstream, rolling-in-the-green success. So, I don’t really have a bone to pick with Kings of Leon.

W and I used to, sometimes in college, go to these record stores that had listening stations. You threw a big pair of headphones on your head and listened to a few CDs that had just been released. We would, every once in a while, hear something that was familiar. It was familiar because it sounded like some band we had recently heard, or because the lyrics were about something that we seemed to recognize, or because the way something was phrased was just exactly how we would have wanted it put. Whatever the reason, we would glance over at each other and nod, exchanging knowing glances.

I don’t know that W was ever a big Pixies fan. He put up with my fondness for The Breeders, and would patiently listen to me explain the connection. But still, I’d like to think he’d hear these two songs back to back, and we’d be able to smile about the similarities.

Technically, there is a lot that is different between The PixiesGigantic and Kings of Leon’s I Want You. But still, take a listen to the opening bass on both songs and it’s hard to not catch that there’s some connection between the two songs. Me, I’m always going to prefer Gigantic- because that was the first time I heard that moody bass and then the building crush of guitars in Kim Deal’s chorus. Also, I associate the Pixies with adolescence- there was so much subversion in their music that, for an Indian girl growing up in EBF, it always felt like an act of rebellion to listen to them. You always felt you were getting away with something, listening to songs like these.

I Want You, however, is a perfectly respectable song. It’s probably more than that, really. It makes more use of that moody bass, lets it build into a yearning instead of catharsis. It’s not punk like Gigantic. The vibe is more of straight-ahead rock, and so are the lyrics for that matter. Kings of Leon are really good at capturing what the underbelly of a city would sound like.

But I don’t really hold it against them, the similarity between this song and Gigantic, except when I do. A band like Kings of Leon, I’ll always like them. If I was in a bar and their music started playing, I would order myself another drink and settle in for the night. But I find it hard to get hyperbolic in praise about them. It feels instead like they are part of a progression of a sound. So I note them down and think, huh, this is what the Pixies have yielded, cool. I recognize this is faulty thinking- everything was derived from something. Matter is conserved. But still, I find it hard to ignore the past when a bass line in my ear insists on reminding me.

Monday, February 02, 2009

the feeling I get when you walk away

This song I like for how slippery it is. It is also a lovely song, to be sure, which may be a bit surprising when you consider that John Doe is also a bass player for a hardcore punk band. But more than being lovely, it is cleverly tricky, even in its chorus.

Sounds romantic- we are the feeling you get in the Golden State. What does that mean, really? It’s up to you. I was thinking of this because I was thinking that love of people and love of places isn’t really all that different sometimes. That’s probably not the first time I’ve pointed that out in this here navel-gazing repetitive loop.

There are aspects of California for which I’m thoroughly mad. Sweeping vistas, sunshine, and natural abundance. And then there are things about California that are absolutely heartbreaking. So expensive, so transient, so isolating. And both of those feelings can coexist on any given day.

It seems that way with this song too. This song says you are the dream in my nightmare but it also cheerfully points out: you are the pain in my neck. I like to think it’s because this song knows things, things like reality is always some conflicting dichotomy of feelings. They seem contradictory and yet they always, always coexist.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

along may come a bigger one

As much as I have cheered for Rafael Nadal, because I am a sucker for Spaniards and upstarts, it took until this Australian Open for something to occur to me. A bit less than 4 years ago, I was marvelling at Federer's level of play and how, even on an off day, Federer was a hard fellow to beat. In the Australian semi's this year, Roddick threw the kitchen sink at Federer, then went out back and tossed the shed, a wheel barrow and a lawnmower at him, and it still did not come close to keeping the Fed from the finals. That's the thing about the Fed, that's always been the thing- some players can play flawlessly, can play at their best, highest level ever, and still lose to him.

But it took me until today to realize something. Though I've always thought of Nadal as more than a brute, more than just some little punk who keeps nagging at Federer, I really did not understand the shift that has occurred in tennis until today. He's been ranked 1 for a while, but still, Nadal had never won a Slam on hard court. What's more, Federer had nearly a full day of rest on Nadal: Rafa played a day after Federer's semi, and he had to battle through a 5-set, history-making-long match against Verdasco in order to get to the finals. He was less well-rested, he was playing on a court that Federer usually dominates. And throughout the tournament, Federer was playing the tennis that everyone always associates him with- effortless, beautiful, sorry-Roddick-see-ya tennis. Plus, he has some history of his own to make, since he is one Slam away from tying Sampras' record of championship wins.

He didn't play perfectly, mind you, in the finals, but he gave it all he had. When Federer and Nadal play, they push each other past their normal limits. They know they have to. They make more errors than they normally do, because of the way they push each other, press each other's buttons, shake each other up. In the end, there were no excuses. You could blame the rain delays or the failing light at Wimbledon, you could give the clay advantage to Rafa at the French, but at the Australian Open, there was only one conclusion that could be reached, a conclusion no one (not especially Rafael Nadal) is comfortable saying out loud- Rafael Nadal is currently the best tennis player in the world.

Also, who doesn't love bromance?