The Islamabad Literature Festival

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The Islamabad Literature Festival, hashtagged on Twitter as #IsbLF, is the latest in a series of literary events taking the country by storm. I had the opportunity, this Labor Day, of driving over to Margalla Hotel, and attending a series of enlightening talks. Having recently attended the Lahore Literature Festival (#LLF), I had high expectations. ILF boasted the likes of Kamila Shamsie, Shehryar Fazli, Zia Mohyeddin, Osman Khalid Butt and names that have become familiar to those at LLF: H. M. Naqvi, Mohammed Hanif, etc. Some particularly delightful bits included the fabulous stand up comedian Beo Zafar, and one-woman-show Nimra Bucha, who performed Mohammed Hanif’s thought-provoking play, A Dictator’s Wife.

“Making fun of dictators is not such a big deal – it’s just, you know, fun.” – Mohammed Hanif

My day started off with Kamila Shamsie, an author I have heard so much about. She published her first book when she was 14 (all the aspiring writers in the room gasped with a mixed sense of jealousy and elation when this was announced) and is now working on her sixth book, which is set in Peshawar. She spoke to us about her experiences as a writer, and how she felt a sense of duty to do right by her characters. Reading a passage from her work in progress, she spoke of the extensive research that was involved when writing about a city and place that you don’t know, ex: Peshawar in the 1930s, and how oftentimes, when writing about the past, versions of the present before you can become distracting. Something that particularly resonated with me, as an aspiring novelist, was her concern for young writers feeling influenced by the political and economic conditions of the country today. “I worry that it makes them feel pressurized or restrained,” she said, and to quote Ilona Yusuf, a commentator at another session, “writers need to tell the truth, and self-censorship will kill the novel”.

Kamila Shamsie
Kamila Shamsie

The next session I attended was titled “Afghanistan & Pakistan: Conflict and Extremism” with a distinguished panel: Riaz Khokhar, Zahid Hussain, Mohammad Amir Rana, and Ashraf Jehangir Qazi. With this bureacratic-academic panel on stage, the political debate was lively and kept everyone in the audience hooked. From interpretations of the Afghan struggle, to Pakistan’s interests in the neighboring country, not a topic was left unexplored.

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It was the author of Our Lady of Alice Bhatti and A Case of Exploding Mangoes that I went to see next. Mohammed Hanif had delivered some lively speeches at the Lahore Literary Festival, and I was not about to miss out on his ribald humor here in Islamabad. With commentator Navid Shahzad, whom Hanif reffered to as his childhood crush, Hanif first explored the character of Alice Bhatti – “I wanted to write a superwoman sort of character.” – and then moved on to the more serious issue of missing people in Balochistan. Speaking of his new pamphlet, a series of six case studies detailing the tragedies taking place in Balochistan today, Hanif called out to the audience to realize the reality of the situation. Balochistan is not a past history that has yet to be told, but a current story that we can still change –  that was his message.

“To ban YouTube is the most stupid thing any government in the world can do.” Ahmed Rashid

M. Hanif
M. Hanif

The lunch break was a series of exclamations at the outrageous prices – Rs. 270 for a small sandwich with some sort of orange paste in it, and nothing else. Rs. 60 for a water bottle that is normally available for Rs. 20. And Rs. 300 for a biryani that has the smallest possible chicken piece in it. A fellow IsbLF attendee said, “That’s a baby chicken leg. It makes me feel a paedophile just to look at it.”

By far the best session of the day was Selected Readings in English by Zia Mohyeddin, in which the renowned dramatist read out from his own work, A Carrot is a Carrot. With an austere British accent dancing daintily around the humor in the passages he read, Mohyeddin kept the audience on its feet for the entire 60 minutes he was reading, with Punjabi and Urdu interludes sparking laughter. As a first-time listener, I was immediately fascinated, and ran to the book stalls after the session searching for a copy of the text.

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“Sometimes there is the notion that there is not a big enough market for English language literature in Pakistan. But I don’t believe that.” –  Muneeza Sahmsie

The How to Write a Novel session was the last of the day. Authors H. M. Naqvi and Irshad Abdul Kadir shared their own writing styles and work ethics with the audience and then went on to talk about the methodology behind how they chose or came to know their characters. I’m itching to pick up a copy of Home Boy after hearing H. M. Naqvi say, “I don’t wish I could write like Dan Brown, but I wish I could sell like him.”

The day ended with Nimra Bucha’s performance of A Dictator’s Wife. The audience stood shoulder to shoulder outside the hall in desperate anticipation for over an hour as the set was prepared. No one was spared the pushing and discomfort associated with being much too close to much too many people at any particular moment in time. The doors opened suddenly, and the press of the crowd threatened to trample an old man at the front. After the audience had settled, Ms. Bucha started the show, when a pesky gentleman in the back repeatedly interrupted with frivolous comments. She was forced to break character a number of times to appease him, and when this did not stop his antics, she even threatened to walk out of the play. That was what it took to get him to take a seat quietly and let the audience enjoy the performance.

The play itself was a sharp insight into the behind-the-scenes life of a dictator in a developing country. It showcased the wife, often forgotten in the background, losing the man she married to power and the media and obsession with nuclear codes, her resentment eventually building up to irreparable heights. It highlighted a new perspective, and really got me thinking about the man beneath the uniform – what’s really behind the public figure? Sure they love and are loved, have passions and worries and clothes besides that brown and green army dress? It was enlightening, to say the least.

Nimra Bucha
Nimra Bucha

All in all, though a notch or two below the Lahore Literature Festival, IsbLF was a resounding success.

 

America: Land of my dreams and home of the Whopper

Balky (left) and Larry (right) are the best of  friends.
Balky (left) and Larry (right) are the best of friends.

Perfect Strangers was an American sitcom that ran for eight years straight, until 1993, that showcased the lives of two best friends: Larry Appleton, a good old boy from the American Midwest  and Balky Bartokomous, his “related by rumour” cousin from an imaginary island kingdom called Mypos, in Midwestern Europe. The sitcom is a wildly hilarious comedy, playing out in a series of unrelated thirty-minute episodes. (Which is perfect for a quick break in-between study sessions!) Balki is a proud immigrant, an ex-shepherd who has moved to America to live out the American dream, and make a life for himself. Throughout the eight seasons, we are taken on a seemingly endless joy ride as Balki interprets various life situations with his own recollections of American pop culture, one of which I have showcased in the title of this blog.

While most of Balky’s comedy comes from his persistently innocent childish demeanor, and his sense of wonder and joy at all things American, Larry is no wise old man. His range of comedy comes from his obstinate insistence that “that’s not how we do things here in America” - his over-the-top surety of direction, and his scheming to get rich fast.

Supporting characters include the boys’ female friends (that later evolve from crushes to girlfriends, and then wives – major win for monogamy!), their boss at the Ritz Discount Store, Donald “Twinkie” Twinkacetti, their friends at the Chicago Chronicle,  where they later go on to work, and various neighbors that make periodic entrances to the main story line.

The series provides a window for us to see what American society was like in the late eighties and early nineties. There is clear mockery of “the immigrant” and a sense of superiority in knowing how “it’s done, here in the US of A.” There is no talk of same-sex relationships (even heterosexual relationships are displayed at a side-angle, so that there are virtually no kissing scenes in the first few seasons), infidelity in marriages, the internet, or the quick-irritation that is so common today. It is the last bit that really hit home with me. Watching Larry and Balki continuously flounder through various aspects of their lives, stumbling through their relationship, mistakes and successes included – I was amazed at how they never cursed, or schemed, or backstabbed – how, no matter what, they always forgave each other. Maybe the show painted an idealistic picture, but if that is the case, then I wish that was reality. There is none of the angry violence depicted in the sitcoms of today. There is only laughter and lessons, and the outstanding ability of those two men to find joy in life.

Makes you think a little about how we are today, doesn’t it? Have things such as sex, money, and violence come to play such a dominant role in our reality that prime-time television barely has any “homely”, “good ol’” shows now?

Bronson Pinchot, the actor who played Balki, astounded me with his ability to be such a versatile character. The accents, the attitudes, the blatant childish emotion  - I thought it was truly fantastic. Without his superb acting skills, the show would not have been even half an entertaining.

 

Pawnay 14 August

Islamabad‘s got it’s fair share of theatre-goers – you know, the sophisticated aunties, and the foreign-influenced teens, and the old couples that have Ph.D’s in drawing-room politics. Though I’ve never been a regular member of this group, I do enjoy the occasional play at the Pakistan National Council of Arts. There’s something serene and yet very impressive about the old brick building, and the dimly lit hall. When I heard buzz about the latest play, I swatted it away as one would a pleasant and yet, insignificant social event that everyone was hoo-ing and haa-ing about. I had university work to do, a million extra curriculars demanding my attentions, and midterms just around the corner. Just the latest trend to hit the Facebook share-ing and like-ing addicts. Little did I know that I was very, very wrong. Luckily, my mother and father had heard about the play, and actually taken the time to find out what it was about, and bought us tickets to attend. In retrospect, I am extremely grateful that they did.

The play was called Pawnay 14 August, a masterpiece put together by Anwar Maqsood, and directed and produced by Dawar Mehmood and Raihan Merchant respectively. I managed to catch the second last viewing in Islamabad and considered myself extremely lucky as I saw several people having to turn back because there were no empty seats left in the theater.

The play opens in the lobby of an airport in Karachi, with Quaid-e-AzamAllama Iqbal and Maulana Shaukat Ali standing before us. Three of the most important people in Pakistan’s history – brought to life by three very courageous actors. I applaud not only their bravery in filling such large historical boots, but in doing their jobs exceptionally well. A special kudos to the costume design and makeup teams, for these three fellows looked genuinely aged and realistic.

A one-act play, Pawnay 14 August takes us through a day in the lives of these three giants of history as they are stuck in an airport lobby, and meet numerous travelers as they pass through, catching their flights. Among their guests: Veena Malik, a very stylish Imran Khan supporter, and PML (N) man, a Sindhi wazir, etc. They have spent four days in Karachi, and so far, no one has recognized them. To read more about the basic outline of the play, check out this article by The Express Tribune.

What I want to talk about is the trajectory of emotions that the play forced the audience through. As the various travelers pass through the airport lobby, they inadvertently mock not only Jinnah and Iqbal, but the very notion of Pakistan as a prosperous, stable country. Veena Malik justifies her nude photos by quoting one of Iqbal’s greatest poems, the Sindhi wazir is grateful to have been granted his lofty position “by the grace of Asif” – a play on the traditional phrase, “by the grace of God”, and the society woman-turned-Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf supporter can’t stop going on about “the tsunami” and all her “loves” and “darlings”. A Junoon song takes a famous Allama Iqbal quote and turns it into a pop melody, much to the dismay of our national poet.

Khudi ko kar buland itna ke har taqder se pehle

Khuda bande se ye poche bata teri raza kia hai”

Iconic words about the selflessness and egoism of man that philosophers have studied since Iqbal penned them – turned into a fun jingle. As the song plays through the airport lobby, we see the poet upset and distraught, saying that not only have his words been wrongly used, but also misinterpreted. This is one of the main themes of the play, which involved various plays on Iqbal’s poetry, showing how each ignoble character uses iconic verses to justify his or her behavior in the name of all that is Pakistan.

Systematically, Anwar Maqsood, through his brilliant wit and serious undertones shows us what it means to be a Pakistani in 2012 – through the eyes of those who envisioned it in 1947. In the words of my friend Zaina Batool: It was a play about cathartic humor at a very hopeless situation, and the audience was certainly not sparing in their appreciation of the acid wit and satire. I laughed every few minutes during the play, even though some of the references were dated and hard for me to follow.

However, this wasn’t just a comedy play. It was a glimpse of the disappointment Pakistan’s founding fathers would feel if they knew what it had become, and it was heart-wrenching. After an intense and emotionally charged final scene – in which a young girl named Fatima lifts our hopes up by quoting Jinnah’s words of religious equality and then dashes them to pieces with a high-pitched girlish squeal screaming the name Christopher Lee – the play ended on a note of hope. It was empty hope. It was Anwar Maqsood’s consolation prize to us: false hope in the absence of real hope. The prospect of the youth effecting change in our country was overridden by thoughts of how past generations have failed this country.

It was a devastating blow to our hearts. The Quaid’s emotion was tangible. I could feel the love and hope in his voice as he beheld young Fatima in front of him, asking for his autograph, quoting his famous speech. My heart soared for that moment, a smile lit up my face. I was transported into an idyllic state of delusion, because two seconds later, Fatima turned into a squealing teenage girl, happy that she had just met a famous actor. My heart broke, and I felt tears flowing freely down my cheeks. She had not recognized Jinnah, the man I hold in great esteem, the man who made this country, but a mere actor – a man who played his part in a movie some years go – a lesser being, by far.

The most memorable part of the play was Quaid’s monologue at the end – his face contorted with pain after realizing his country was a failed state, his voice breaking as he repeated bits from his famous 15th August speech in a last attempt to shame the audience into becoming better and less unscrupulous citizens. [Insert actor’s name]’s performance was haunting. The atmosphere in the hall had changed. An almost tangible sorrow had descended upon the audience; the kind of pain that accompanies the realization that your country is well on its way to self-destruction.

After a standing ovation, I left the play with a heavy heart. I couldn’t help but think things had gone wrong for Pakistan, and I am still searching for a way to believe that our country’s fate isn’t as bleak as its history would suggest.

Afterwards, I read a retweet by Raza Rumi saying how Pakistanis never felt guilty, and I just want to say, I was guilty. I was ashamed. Through my tears, I felt dirty. It was my fault. I was a contributor. It would be a shame if those of us who can afford to pay Rs. 1500 and dress up in our best clothes to go watch an exclusive play in the country’s capital cannot learn a long-term lesson from that very play. On my way out of the theater, I saw a girl stooping to pick up dropped candy wrappers from between the seats. I don’t know her, and I’ll probably never see her again, but I said a little prayer for her in my heart, and I can only hope that everyone stops to clean up the trash we’ve littered this country with.

Battle of the Best: iPhone 5 vs. Samsung Galaxy S3

 

Nun chucks, light sabers and stand tall towers. We’ve all seen the iPhone 5 meme’s come out as soon as the phone did. With competition coming out strong against Apple in the form of the Samsung Galaxy S3 in US market, lawsuits were thrown left and right before the release of Apple’s latest device. Although Apple managed to win the lawsuit but the popular opinion went in Samsung’s favor after a meme inspired hoax claimed that…

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This post was published on Chillopedia. Click here to continue reading

 

 

How Bridget Jones’ Diary is Just Perfect

 

In a movie made legendary by Renee Zellweger in 2001, Helen Fielding‘s portrayal of the thirty-something, pseudo-feminist, chain-smoking, ideal-toting ‘Bridget Jones’ was brought to life. I caught glimpses of the movie throughout my childhood, when passing through the cable channels, or camping out in my brother’s room, but I only managed to watch the whole thing in one go a few years ago. Needless to say, it was a delight. Inspired, I recently purchased the book the movie was based on – in accordance with my rule that the books are always better than the movies – and I was not disappointed.

A young professional who postponed marriage to pursue her career, Bridget finds herself unsatisfied. Her career has refused to take off, her thighs now resemble tree trunks, and…

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This post was published on Chillopedia. To read more, click here

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Julia Roberts at the end of her rope.

We all know that Snow White was dragged out of her peaceful fairy-tale heaven and made over twice this year – once in Snow White & the Huntsman and once in Mirror, Mirror. (To read my review on Snow White & the Huntsman, click here.) You can almost imagine the poor babe plucked from her world of children’s imaginations and that Happily Ever After she fought so hard for, only to be trussed up in Hollywood’s latest attempt to continue making movies. Let’s face it – Hollywood is, for the most part, out of ideas. We have not only seen several recreations of Spiderman, Batman, Superman, all Marvel comics basically. Let’s throw that Green Lantern movie into the mix,  the Avengers, Iron Man – I mean, come on. What’s here that we haven’t seen before?

So here’s to our latest remake – Snow White, powder-puffed to whiteness and stuffed into dresses that look like impossible runway designs brought to life. Haute couture in the eighteenth century, when people were still using horse drawn carriages. Some of the outfits were truly interesting, and really brought home the point of the Queen’s ostentation vs. the kingdom’s poverty. But still, this is a movie drowning in flamboyant design elements and in need of a stiff shot of enchantment.

This rambling version of Snow White’s tale is a pretty, spun-sugar confection, airy as a plate of Easter egg-coloured macarons and similarly devoid of substance.

- Linda Barnard, Toronto Star

Like all Snow White movies, the evil Queen Ravenna is obsessed with staying young, only in this version, it is precisely this obsession which has led to the impoverishment of the kingdom. In a very literal sense, the common man pays for her beauty. She uses taxes to fund her poultices, face creams, intensive beauty treatments, along with her outrageous gowns and galas and balls. This desperately-young but surely aging Queen has a store of magic she’s just about used up, and an empty treasury to deal with. She resorts to the most Gossip Girl solution the scriptwriters could have come up with and decides to marry a rich young prince – who wait for it is also darling Snow White’s love interest.

The fairy tale villainess subjects herself to a super-duper deluxe — and disgusting! — beauty treatment which involves fresh bird poop on her face, maggots in her ear, bumblebees on her lips, and even the sting of a scorpion.

Unlike in Snow White and the Huntsman (SW&H from here on), the Queen is not any icy cold grande beauty. Charlize Theron pulled off the whole so beautiful and dangerous vibe. Julia Roberts just ends up looking silly. It must be admitted that this is a comedic remake – the film was meant to be funny, but I would say somehow the funny just didn’t come through. Julia Roberts comes off looking as an actress who went from the graceful grandeur of Perfect Woman, and topping the Hollywood Reporters annual “power list” of top-earning female stars from 2005 to 2006… to an aging actress playing a childishly immature role in a substandard movie. Her performance is not of a powerful, devious, wretched Queen, but of a whiny kid – spoiled, silly and frankly, a little wimpy. If that’s what the role called for, then bravo.

The difference between the two movies and the two roles is clear. Each called for a different sort of acting, and both actresses embodied different characters.

Also, unlike SW&H, this ‘pretty to look at, but hard to keep watching’ remake features a clearly defined Prince Charming. The prince is Armie Hammer, the stunner who played both Twinklevoss twins in the Zuckerburg-bashing The Social Network. There’s no confusion and frankly, there’s no huntsman. I was personally disappointed by Hammer. This role as the dumbstruck prince only furthers the Twinklevoss image of a blonde rich kid without much sense and brilliance. A dumb blonde, so to speak. The big, slow one.

The story is also twisted to keep Daddy Dearest alive, and he makes an emotional comeback towards the end of the film, which in true dramatic fashion, the queen withers away. The dwarfs play a much more prominent role in this film, having cool leg-extending boots that make them seem like giants. They take Snow in, and have a referendum as to whether or not she’s allowed to stay.

Lily Collins’ acting as Snow White was great – she did a nice job of portraying innocence, purity and resolve. When she is given the idea to venture out of the castle to see the townspeople, she portrays innocence embodied, as if it had never even occurred to her that she could do this. She is apparently completely lost in her own world, and before being told that the Queen is wretched, believed that she ran the kingdom fairly. Ridiculously enough, when she tries to leave, the Darth Vader-esque guards have no idea whether she is allowed to do so or not, and decided they won’t ‘tell on each other’.

I also thought the dwarfs were pretty awesome. They play their role to the fullest, angered at any discrimination towards short people, compassionate yet gruff, loving yet skilled fighters. If any of the movie actually comes out as a successful comedy, it’s the dwarfs who pull it off. One of the dwarfs seems to be skilled in the act of applying makeup, and gives Snow a new look, complete with strawberry lipstick.

Snow White & her dwarfs

Just like SW&H put a twist on the magical mirror, Mirror, Mirror does the same. Not only do you have to slide through a ripply secret entryway, but you also emerge with a 360 degree flip out of an endless sea and must walk up a wooden plank gangway to a secret hut where the mirror is enclosed, and staring up out of that mirror in Queenie’s alter ego herself.

The townspeople are a poor, sad folk – no talk of rebellion, which seemed a bit silly. I mean, if you’ve got a queen who spends more on her facials than you do on a week’s food, wouldn’t you be rebelling? Somewhere in the midst of this failed comedy, the queen’s adviser turns into a cockroach, Snow White dresses up like a swan, and the prince makes an appearance in his underpants. You’re left with a feeling of blandness.

Mirror Mirror is a film that’s all picture and no propulsion, each scene static in a basic set-decoration color scheme of teabag and banana.

- Liza Shwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly

 

Macaulay Culkin between Home Alone & Drug Addiction

Remember this cutie? Is it just me or does her look very svelte, like his name should be some strange Nordic concoction with a bunch of J’s and D’s oddly placed throughout (like Djordjockovich or something)?
Above-photographed cutie, Version 2.0 (See how cool teenagers can be?)
“Oh no! Look at Future Me! He’s lost all his svelte!”

So now that we all know Macaulay Culkin (the one responsible for the Home Alone laugh attack family comedy that took America by storm) has joined the ranks of failed child stars – oh you know, like the kids from The Cosby Show that you never heard of again, or that sweet little girl in that sweet little movie you watched when you were a wee little thing – Now that we all know that, let’s try and get over it and focus on the actual movie review, shall we?

This 1991 family-friendly feel-good was recommended to me, and I’ve got to say, I’m glad it was. The movie focuses on a small town community, with a particular focus on a little girl (Anna Chlumsky as Vada Sultenfuss) and her daddy (Dan Aykroyd), bringing in a surprisingly elfish and young Jamie Lee Curtis as his love interest turned (within a few minutes of screen time!) wife. Vada’s mum has passed away in some before-movie off-the-screen way that the director didn’t think it was important for us to know about and now little Vada is obsessed with death.

Just to make things a little more fun, Mr. Daddy Sultenfuss runs a funeral parlor. Where, you might ask? Well, that’s the cherry on this sundae – in their basement. Vada grows up around several deceased individuals, reads the ‘Cause of Death’ slot on their info cards and furiously bicycles to the town doctor, insisting she is now afflicted with the aforementioned Cause of Death.

Now, there is method to all madness. (I think someone smart and well-known once said that.) And this blog post is NOT titled after Macaulay Culkin for the following reasons:

a) I am obsessed with him. I have 43 and a half posters of his six-year-old svelte self all over my room.

b) I didn’t know that blog posts are usually titled after the main topic discussed therewith and decided to name it after him even though the movie is about a little girl.

c) I think Macaulay Culkin is a little girl.

There. I’m glad we’ve cleared the air. So why do I keep talking about this failed child star? Well because before he failed, he was pretty darn good. Alas, all that potential had gone to waste. Ah, but we may still reminisce, may we not?

Even though Vada was supposed to be the star of the movie and was given the chunk of air time, for me, Culkin’s character Thomas J. Sennet stole the show. Constant companion to little Vada, he plays the role of understanding friend, childhood sweetheart, best bud and manages to pull quiet, shy and wiser than his age all together into a stellar performance. While Chlumsky’s acting comes across as sincere and emotional, it is perhaps Thomas J.’s dramatic death or quiet role-playing that wins him my vote.

I think he is what what spices are to food – the essential condiment that brings the whole to life. In that same way, I believe his death is what brings the movie full circle. It starts of with a fear of death hanging in the air and ends with an acceptance of death and an understanding of love.

Experiments by the lake. Ah, remember when America was innocent? Fast forward to 2012 and you’ve got 13-year olds dressed up like, in the words of Dan Aykroyd, “$2 hookers”.

The movie also makes one nostalgic for “the good old days” and such a display of sweet innocence makes today’s blaring realities even harder to ignore. The children, and even the adults, portrayed in My Girl are well-meaning folks earning an honest day’s bread and butter and living their lives with love and and simple enjoyment. There’s a teacher painting his house – when was the last time you didn’t see a hired construction worker doing that? There’s a kindly doctor who attends to a troubled young girl that he’s known ever since she was a babe, without worrying about wasted time, missed appointments or his ego. There is no talk of deadlines, bottom lines, smart phones and the little girl is not dying to be grown up and wear sexy dresses, lipstick and go clubbing. Also, interestingly, Jamie Lee Curtis is the girlfriend and the mother-figure, but ironically not the evil stepmother. She is kind and attentive to Vada even when Vada’s father is not, and indeed, encourages him to take care of his daughter.

It’s just an eye-opening experience into how much society has changed since then, and the stereotypes that have evolved. It’s also a bit of a shocker how many serious undercurrents the movie plays upon. There is a girl who has lost her mother, a husband who buries himself in his work, a girlfriend who is escaping an ex-husband, a little girl developing an understanding of what it truly means to love and the loss of a dear friend.

Let’s end the review with a fun picture of Jamie Lee.

Hipster.

 

Johnny Depp – Alcoholic & Hopeless Romantic

I heard about the movie driving to work one day with my mother. One of the street beggars on the Jinnah Avenue underpass was selling newspapers, and as the familiar guilt crept into our hearts, we rolled down the car window and bought a copy, whispering a prayer for the one-and-a-half-legged man as he hobbled away on his crutches. It was in that newspaper that I read that Johnny Depp and his life partner were separating, and in the nitty gritty, there was some mention of a new movie.

Avid Johnny Depp fan that I am, I couldn’t wait to get home and Google my heart out. The Rum Diary. Download. Play.

I suppose it must be taken into account that I am biased in favor of any movie starring Depp. My favorite actor, and the multi-talented chameleon of cinema, he never fails to impress. Whether it’s as Edward Scissorhands, Willy Wonka, or the psychotic novelist in The Secret Window, Depp always commits to his roles wholeheartedly. And I haven’t even mentioned his stellar performance in Pirates of the Caribbean yet!

Here’s a little background: This movie is based on a book of the same name written by Hunter S. Thompson that takes the late 1950′s as its setting. The 200 page novella “encompasses a tangled love story of jealousy, treachery and violent alcoholic lust” amongst American columnists working at a Puerto Rican newspaper. Google the Great tells us that “The prominent characters are typical of Thompson’s work: violent, maniacal and alcoholic, stumbling through life. It is written in a highly paced and rather exciting style, also typical of his work.”

Now to the movie: Depp plays the character Paul Kemp, an author without a publisher, who decides to try actually “writing for money” and comes to Puerto Rico to work for an ailing newspaper. His boss is a bit neurotic, wears a toupee, and has sold his soul to Da Man. Kemp meets the girl of his dreams while paddle-boating, stumbles after her like the drunken fool he is, briefly has her and loses her, loses a well-paying-yet-morally-evil job opportunity, and makes some fun Hitler-loving, cockfighting friends along the way. Oh, and he decides to take down the mega-millionaire capitalist junta that’s trying to turn the beautiful Puerto Rico into an island hotel extravaganza. He chooses to describe them as:

Beasts of obesity. Asses that wouldn’t feel an arrow. The great whites. Probably the most dangerous creatures on earth.

We are introduced to Kemp’s alcoholic lust early on in the story.

He’s a hopeless alcoholic, but this is addressed in a very natural, subtle way. Few direct references are made to it, but you see him chugging down a swig or two in almost every shot. The whole movie is bathed in a sort of Fitzgerlad-esque light, a vintage Instgram filter for the mind, and the stunning Puerto Rican landscapes scenes only add to the visual wows. The alcoholism is no exception. In the same way, it is made eerily beautiful. Kemp’s uncontrollable need is only fuel to his genius. Those little bottles of rum become an artistic accessory.

He wants to be a real journalist, expose the Powers That Be that are ravaging little Puerto Rico for all it’s worth, but is instead sidelined to writing horoscopes to fill newspaper pages.

“I want to make a promise to you, the reader. And I don’t know if I can fulfill it tomorrow, or even the day after that. But I put the bastards of this world on notice that I do not have their best interests at heart. I will try and speak for my reader. That is my promise. And it will be a voice made of ink and rage.”

Kemp and his love interest, Chenault.

Lotterman, editor of the newspaper, Kemp’s boss. In a funny scene, a disgruntled worker rips off his hair piece.

The Hitler-loving Moburg

One of the more interesting characters is Moburg, a co-worker who never really shows up to work, and Kemp’s absentee roommate. There are several references to his continuous state of intoxication throughout the movie. With so much alcohol in his system that it has begun to erode his mind, Moburg drunkenly stumbles through several scenes in the movie, his words sometimes slurred and sometimes prophetic. He supplies Kemp and friend Sala with a strange drug, which apparently the US ships to the Communists, to make sure they can never think straight. Kemp and Sala cannot resist taking it, and when they do, start to hallucinate and panic.

Moburg: Maybe I can interest you gentlemen in something else.
Paul Kemp: Like what? Death?
Moburg: Like the most powerful drug in the history of narcotics. I’m not at liberty to discuss or disclose; all I can tell you is: this stuff is so powerful, they give it to communists.
Paul Kemp: Who does?
Moburg: The FBI.
Sala: Why would the FBI get communists high?
Moburg: That I can’t help you with.

He also steals alcohol filters from factories to make the purest and deadliest alcohol imaginable, and friendly as ever, is willing to share. In one scene, we find him drunk, dressed in his Hitler uniform and listening to the Fuhrer’s speech on the record player.

 If the Bible´s God´s book, why didn´t he give it to everyone? – Moburg

Sala, friend and advisor to Kemp, here shown in the dingy apartment they share with Moburg

This country was built on genocide and slavery. We killed all the black guys over here and then we shipped in new black guys of our own. And then we brought in Jesus like a bar of soap.  - Moburg

Now most of the reviews I’ve read of this movie describe it as lackluster and unimaginative, stating that it has “no real action” and that the plot is a wishy-washy, scattered affair. Depp’s acting is simultaneously applauded and criticized, with some claiming that it’s just another example of his narcissism. Comparisons are made to Thompson’s book, and conclusions are drawn that it either wasn’t at par with the book, or that the book sucked, so the movie sucked too. There is also some controversy regarded a statement that Depp made, saying that the US public did not like watching intelligent movies.

What did I think about all this?  I loved the snappy editing, the atmospheric or original imagery; like the moment of a rum bottle bowling strike. I admire the classic, at times profound, lines, assumably penned by Hunter himself. No wonder Johnny Depp pounced on the 50′s script, an evolving prelude to 60′s hallucinogenic Fear and Loathing. A uniquely lighthearted slant on trouble in breathtakingly beautiful, darkly alcoholic, cockfighting Puerto Rico.

I’ll end with one of the movie’s most profound lines:

“Human beings are the only creatures on Earth that claim a God, and the only living things that behave like they haven’t got one.”

Snow White & the Huntsman

 

 

the three main characters: (left to right) Snow White, Ravenna/Queen, the Huntsman

Some of the fairy tale effects are marvelous; but the odyssey from darkness to light is unduly long and sloggy, and Stewart, with her contemporary edge, seems to be acting in the wrong era. – Peter Rainer, Christian Science Monitor

After hearing mountains of praise from my friend Summiya, I happily settled down to watch Snow White & the Huntsman after a long work day. I was willing to give the movie a chance despite my dislike of Kirsten Stewart’s acting skills. Like most bookworms, I felt that (as is usual in these cases) the movie did not do the Twilight series justice.

Snow White & the Huntsman puts a twist on the original story, with Hollywood heavy-weight Charlize Theron as the icy queen Ravenna who sucks the life out of young girls around the kingdom to maintain her eternal youth. Why she wants to live forever, I’m not quite sure. She does however maintain a strict girl-power mantra that all men are scumbags that will double-cross you silly. The only man she trusts is her slimy-looking brother, her partner in nefarious activities, and even this trust is brought into question when a moment of tender weakness allows Snow White to escape his grasp.

Also, Theron’s mirror is a bit of a wow-er. It’s what looks like a large brass plate hammered smooth, that turns gooey with magic and – lo and behold – a bronze/gold version of Darth Vader flows out of it to stand before the queen and tell me who exactly is fairest of them all. 

Ravenna and Golden Darth Vader Wannabe

Men are evil. They will use you and throw you away.

One thing that I found a little meh about the movie is aptly summed up in the following excerpt:

If you can suspend your disbelief that Kristen Stewart is “the fairest of all them all” in a beauty contest with Charlize Theron…

The question of what exactly fairest of them all means is also left a little to question. Ravenna’s physical beauty which the Mirror Man says is the greatest in the realm (until Snow White turns 18), is based on her sorcery and dark magic. It is an evil beauty which she used to seduce the king and then kill him on their marriage bed. In contrast Snow White’s beauty, with lips and red as a rose, raven-black hair, and skin as fair as fresh snow, is directly equated with her innocence and purity. Now this might just be me and my cynical self, but maybe that purity has something to do with her being locked up in a tower for most of her life?

I’m pretty sure anyone who spends their life in a lonely little cell comes out pretty ‘pure’. Somehow though, it is clear that Snow White is The Chosen One – the rightful heir, yes, but more than that. The almost-divinity associated with many monarchs of the past is embodied in her followers’ unwavering devotion to supporting a girl they just met, who has absolutely no charisma, no governing skills (and perhaps not many other skills besides, since she’s been rotting away in a tower forever) based solely on faith that she will not,cannot be as evil as power-hungry Ravenna.

And without even a single motivating speech, she’s got seven dwarfs in her entourage, and an army of rebels ready to champion her cause – which she doesn’t have. She runs away from the castle, yes, braving some bad guys, but at no time during her escape does she declare a desire to claim her throne or anything like that.

The Huntsman is a sour (albeit ruggedly handsome) drunkard whose wife died and is sent into the dark forest to capture Snow White and return her to the queen. He, however, quickly realizes the monarch isn’t exactly one to keep her word, and switches over to helping the beautiful Snow White instead. In a few quick scenes, we’re shown that he takes to training her. And voila, pretty soon, we have Snow White riding a horse like nobody’s business in the middle of a raging battlefield, heavy iron shield in hand, in full-body armor. Yes, that’s totally realistic. But fairy-tales were never meant to be realistic, now were they?

She morphs into this powerful Joan-of-Arc type leader.

The twisting of the original fairy-tale is so complete that more than half the movie passes before we even hear of a poisoned apple. Ravenna, who can apparently transform into a bunch of ravens at will and shape-shift to boot, tricks her into eating it.

In the anti-climatic ending, it is the Huntsman’s kiss that saves her – something she doesn’t find out. I waited the whole time for a love-ending, but maybe that’s just cliche of me.

His kiss saved her life.

 The most interesting character in the movie is, by far, Ravenna. We’re given a little blast-into-the-past when she’s taking a creepy milk bath and I personally came to sympathize with the evil blonde. She’s obviously been betrayed (she mentions a king who used her once and replaced her) and she’s extremely insecure.

Theron brings an imperious grandeur to Ravenna’s wicked plotting, as well as a trace of sympathy for the hard-knock life that turned her heart so cold

- Sean Means, Salt Lake Tribune

.The movie has some awesome effects, like these cool mythical beasts:

This is a troll, believe it or not.

Feels confused, directionless and overstuffed, with an uneven pace and a tone that lurches from dark gothic horror to candy-coloured fairy garden to epic fantasy battle.

- Tim Martin, the Mercury

One thing I’m pretty certain of is that The Movie Gods will be making a sequel. Looks like Stewart’s on a run with these ‘series of movies’ huh? They left plenty of room for a follow-up, what with the Huntsman saving her and falling in love with her, the other guy (her childhood friend) who also happens to love her, etc. So, are you looking forward to the next one?

 

Thank you for Big Mama’s House of Yo

Growing up in a manner which many would call ‘privileged’ was something I took for granted when I was younger. As a young child in Houston, going to school meant passing under the mass of concrete that was the very-creatively named Highway 6. At this point, I had usually finished revising the last day’s lessons and had taken the last few minutes as an opportunity to pop my Malaysian music CD in, jamming along to words I could barely pronounce, let alone understand. If I happened to glance to the left, I would see, as we turned into the underpass, several dark-skinned, thin-limbed, dread-lock-bearing individuals crouched near the inclined cement wall, along with the odd shopping cart or two. There was graffiti along the back wall, and I never saw anyone draw it, but assumed that they were the artists behind the creative zig-zagging bubbly letters. In my fifth-grader mind, I imagined Avril Lavigne running through the underpass (obviously during a real-life enactment of one of her punk-girl music videos) and spray-painting pure awesomeness over the cement. In some part of my mind, I knew that such awesomeness was frowned upon by The Law, but that was just silly.

Now if we took a right instead of a left, and didn’t pass through the underpass, we would turn into a shopping complex, a small L-shaped strip with boxy shops, and the occasional fancy (but clearly ailing) chair with a ‘For Free – take it if you want it‘ sign taped to the upholstery. I’m not going to lie – it was a dingy little strip, with dingy shops. I accepted it then, as a fact of life, that some things were dingy and some things were not. I did not connect such dinginess with any socio-economic indicators, tax brackets, cultural or racial stereotypes. It was just there. Like the sky was blue. I mean, hello.

Every Friday, me and my fellow uniform-clad prep-schoolers, accompanied by

Cedric the Entertainer

our teachers (of course), would walk from our lovely little private school across the underpass to The Other Side – a place we were never allowed to venture alone, but always secretly dreamed of going. Even the kids who pretended they were too cool  to care about what was over there secretly wished they could. They never told me, but I just know they did. On The Other Side, there was, among other things, a delightfully run-down, jolly-looking place that in my mind I termed Big Mama’s House of Yo. Do keep in mind that the Barbershop movie had just been released, and was heavily influencing my classmates. In fact, all throughout the fifth, sixth and seventh grades, Black was cool. (The necessary disclaimer: I am not racist and have nothing against people of any skin color. I use the term ‘black’ instead of the more politically correct ‘African American’ because that was Cedric the Entertainer called it in the South Side Chicago barber shop that featured so prominently in that 2002 movie. Also, when I say African American, I imagine a more cultural, African-heritage, traditional roots kind of thing and in my environment, we snotty little schoolkids were of the opinion that that was most definitely NOT cool. When I say ‘black was cool’ – I mean urban African American large-city lifestyles – or at least that which was portrayed in the movies. Escalades, spinning rims, insanely baggy jeans, outrageous hairstyles, lots of bling and loud music of the I’ve got so much money, I’ve got so many women, I’m a success, my songs are the best variety.)

The most happening movie of 2002

But I digress. Where were we? Ah yes, walking across the strip, on our way to the local masjid for our weekly sermon+prayer (think of it as church on Sunday for Christians, except on Friday, in a masjid, with Muslims), I would often gaze at the House of Yo with no particular desire to go there, but with a sense of great excitement. I could just imagine Eve in there, snipping away at some curly hair and putting in a weave, Cedric making some smart-mouth comments, and others dancing, singing, and basically, having the time of their lives. I was certain that was a carbon copy of that amazing shop Mary-Kate and Ashley stumbled into in New York Minute (another movie from my childhood).

Some children might have asked themselves why it was so dingy, but not me. I had that all figured out. Why, it was all un-inviting looking from the outside so that people wouldn’t storm the gates trying to get in on all the fun. You can’t let everyone in a place as cool as that.

You might wonder why I’m talking about all of this – what exactly the purpose is. Well, I’m here, diligently typing away on my netbook because today I realized something. I realized something, as I looked upon another set of thin-limbed, dark-skinned individuals. I realized that they were under-nourished, under-weight, under-everything, and that privilege that I so easily assumed was there for everybody, just the way the sky is blue, is something I was extremely lucky to have.

So this post is a thank you. A thank you to my parents for working so hard to shelter me from the harshness that many my age have had to go through. A thank you to them for allowing me to be creative and silly, in fact for encouraging me to be creative and silly; for defending my right to imagination and make-believe by going to work everyday, bringing work home with them, struggling to make deadlines but still finding time to take me to the movies, to take me to the park, to take me to the mall. Thank you for acting as a shield between me and The Big Bad World and allowing me to have that innocent childhood that so many are deprived of.

Thank you Mom and Dad, for Big Mama’s House of Yo, and all the beautiful things just like it that add color my childhood memories.

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In a strange I-don’t-understand-how-my-mind-works roundabout way, this post was inspired by this wonderful post on Riann’s blog, which led me to a post titled Quashing the Self-Improvement Urge, which I highly recommend for your reading pleasure and general mental health from today on-wards.