jon-stewart-jim-cramer

Like most people, I thoroughly enjoyed Jon Stewart‘s drawing and quartering of Jim Cramer on The Daily Show last week. It tells you something about the cultural zeitgeist when a television comedian is the one who ends up taking the mantle of journalism.

The episode, despite being immensely uncomfortable to watch, was catharsis in many ways. It was also refreshing to see Stewart finally come down on Cramer (unfortunately, a scapegoat for the real problem – financial news networks) in an expletive laden interview/skewering.

But isn’t that part of the problem? Selling this idea that you don’t have to do anything. Anytime you sell people the idea that sit back and you’ll get 10 to 20 percent on your money, don’t you always know that that’s going to be a lie? When are we going to realize in this country that our wealth is work? That we’re workers and by selling this idea that of “Hey man, I’ll teach you how to be rich”…how is that any different than an infomercial?

I gotta tell you. I understand that you want to make finance entertaining, but it’s not a fucking game. When I watch that, I get, I can’t tell you how angry it makes me because it says to me, “You all know.” You all know what’s going on. You can draw a straight line from those shenanigans to the stuff that was being pulled at Bear and at AIG and all this derivative market stuff that is this weird Wall Street side bet.

How come journalists back in India never hold our politicians’ feet to the fire like Stewart did?

(PS: I did feel sorry for Cramer.)


Adaptation

09Mar09

Brilliant article by Salman Rushide on what makes a good literary adaptation. 

What are the things we think of as essential in our lives? The answers could be: our children, a daily walk in the park, a good stiff drink, the reading of books, a job, a vacation, a baseball team, a cigarette, or love. And yet life has a way of making us rethink. Our children move away from home, we move away from our favourite park, the doctor forbids us to drink or smoke, we lose our eyesight, we get fired, there’s no time or money to take a vacation, our baseball team sucks, our heart is broken. At such times our picture of the world hangs crookedly on the wall. Then, if we can manage it, we adapt. And what this shows us is that essence is something deeper than any of that, it’s the thing that gets us through. 

But those who do not know who they are, are doomed too: individuals who sacrifice themselves for the sake of pleasing others, comedians who stop telling jokes because they find themselves in a humourless world, serious people who start trying to tell jokes because they fear being thought humourless, people in a new situation, a new relationship, a new university, who act against their natures because they think that’s the way to make things easy for themselves.

Whole societies can lose their way through a process of bad adaptation. Striving to save themselves, they can oppress others. Hoping to defend themselves, they can damage the very liberties they believed to be under attack. Claiming to defend freedom, they can make themselves and others less free. Or, seeking to calm the violent hotheads in their midst, societies can try to appease them, and so give the violent hotheads the notion that their violence and hotheadedness is effective. 

[Tip of the hat to The Mute Oracle and Kalafudra]


watchmen-teaser-header

I stand by what I said – Watchmen is an unnecessary adaptation of the graphic novel. As a piece of visual pulp art, the film succeeds. But as an adaptation of Alan Moore‘s ideas, Watchmen is a failure albeit an interesting one.

The opening credit sequence is a brilliant slow motion montage set to Bob Dylan’s Times They Are A-Changin’. This establishes the Watchmen universe – an alternate reality where Nixon is in his fifth term, superheroes are real, a giant blue man wins the Vietnam conflict for America and the Cold War has escalated to a nuclear stand-off. The plot follows a masked anti-hero, Rorschach as he tries to uncover clues to the murder of a former masked vigilante, The Comedian.

Visually, Dave Gibbons‘ frames are perfectly translated on celluloid and despite what I feared, the slow motion shots and fight sequences are quite nicely staged when compared to lazy quick cuts prevelant in action films today. The colour palette suits the dark tone of the film. Dave Gibbon’s choice of colour in the book was unlike those of most comics at the time (case in point, Frank Miller‘s revival of Batman) and was an attempt at highlighting the absurdity of masked men running around in tights; that doesn’t seem to have been lost on Snyder.

The plot and narrative lean heavily on Alan Moore’s writing and for most part, doesn’t stray away from the brilliant source material. Where the film fails (and disastrously s0) is when it tries to come up with an original alternative for the ending. There is a huge tonal shift in the third act and character motivations are never obvious to a viewer unfamiliar with the book. Honestly, it was downright silly. However, my favourite bit from the book – Doctor Manhattan’s self imposed exile to Mars – was perfectly done. Doc Manhattan is a naked blue godlike being who has since his freak accident (physics lab accident, of course) become detached from humanity. He teleports himself to Mars after learning he may have been the reason his old friends and lovers seem to have developed cancer. This is perhaps the most outrageous and fantastic arc in the book but it fits right in with the rest of the film.

The soundtrack unfortunately is grating and very out of place. Apart from the opening and closing credits, the songs feel like they were picked out of a Greatest Hits collection from the 80s (Cindy Lauper, Simon and Garfunkel etc). Audiences laughed at what was supposed to be a disturbing sex scene only because Leonard Cohen and a church choir crooned ‘Hallelujah’ in the background. Alan Moore would roll in his grave if he were dead.

I walked out with pretty much the same feeling I had after 300. The film is beautiful to look at but is a muddled mess with flashes of brilliance here and there. Zack Snyder may be a devout fanboy but he may have missed out on what Moore really tried to say – there is no civility in civilization. 

6.5/10


watchmen

Right now, the upcoming Watchmen film ought to be the least of my worries; but I’ve seriously considered not watching Zack Snyder’s apparently faithful adaptation of the seminal graphic novel. You see, a comic geek scorned is a force to be reckoned with.

The first comic book I remember falling in love with was an issue of Batman (a Man Bat story arc) sometime around 1993. Frequent trips to India allowed me to source comics from airport stalls. Ever read the now discontinued and forgotten Thunderbolt? I have. And I remember specific frames from the book. Perhaps it was an escape from my relatively drama free childhood or maybe it was a rite of passage every young boy went through; whatever it was, I never got over the medium.

Third year of college. Holed up in that room, Watchmen convinced me that the comic book was far more than just colourful frames with conversation bubbles. The Comic Book had become The Graphic Novel. Characters had become morally ambiguous all of a sudden, heroes had become fallible and lofty ideals seemed suspicious. The Superhero concept had been deconstructed. Alan Moore joined the ranks of Faulkner and Fitzgerald and Dave Gibbons that of Rembrandt and Picasso. (Oh yes, comic book nerds are known to make wild exaggerations.)

I’ve been reading the book again; taking in every frame, digesting every line and assimilating concepts, some of which still strain my primitive frontal lobe. The book is an assault on the senses like no other; a work that perhaps was best left untouched.

However, I am mildly curious to see how Snyder translates something this complicated. 300 wasn’t exactly a brilliant film. If he does pull it off, will audiences be able to sit through 3 hours of an uncaring superman, an impotent vigilante and a masked anti hero who goes by the name Rorschach?


Wonderful little video/track by Oren Lavie. 

Tip of the hat to The Mute Oracle.


Respect

03Feb09

All people deserve respect, but not all ideas do. I don’t respect the idea that a man was born of a virgin, walked on water and rose from the dead. I don’t respect the idea that we should follow a “Prophet” who at the age of 53 had sex with a nine-year old girl, and ordered the murder of whole villages of Jews because they wouldn’t follow him.

I don’t respect the idea that the West Bank was handed to Jews by God and the Palestinians should be bombed or bullied into surrendering it. I don’t respect the idea that we may have lived before as goats, and could live again as woodlice. This is not because of “prejudice” or “ignorance”, but because there is no evidence for these claims. They belong to the childhood of our species, and will in time look as preposterous as believing in Zeus or Thor or Baal.

When you demand “respect”, you are demanding we lie to you. I have too much real respect for you as a human being to engage in that charade.

But a free society cannot be structured to soothe the hardcore faithful. It is based on a deal. You have an absolute right to voice your beliefs – but the price is that I too have a right to respond as I wish. Neither of us can set aside the rules and demand to be protected from offence.

Read this beautifully articulated argument by Johann Hari in its entirety here.


Gran Torino

01Feb09

gran-torino-trailer-eastwoo

Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;  Where but to think is to be full of sorrow.

I remember reading Philip Roth’s Everyman a couple of years ago and then Garcia Marquez’s Memories of My Melancholy Whores more recently; both of which tell rather morbidly, the stories of old men who after living lives of  regret and philandering are faced with their imminent mortality and unfulfilled desires. Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino draws strong parallels to these stories. Walt Kowalski, however, shuts his emotions in and redeems himself in the strangest and, for a film with so much profanity and tongue-in-cheek political incorrectness,  most gut wrenching of ways.

Eastwood plays a tired and lonely version of Dirty Harry or even, Blondie, who finds himself as an antique from a bygone era in drastically different times. Like most scowling old people, Walt Kowalski is an irate old man who feels the world truly went under after the 60s. He invariably ends up helping a young Hmong immigrant find his bearings in a gang infested neighbourhood. Unlike the terrible Seven Pounds, Gran Torino lets us empathize with a character who learns how to finally let go of life. I do realize suicide is an ethically sketchy subject, but rarely has a film tackled it with such grace. 

And that final scene where Tao drives off in the Grand Torino – such catharsis.

8.5/10

PS: Oh yeah, spoilers.