What Kind of Day Has It Been?

What kind of day has it been?

 

I took a warm shower.

Could it put you to sleep?

It burnt my bones.

 

My day was waves.

Did they come crashing down?

They made pebbles in my soul.

 

I saw a homeless man.

Did he ask for a penny?

“Have a nice day”, he said.

 

My day was blood.

A rush to the brain?

A trickle down the sink.

 

I wrote some words.

Poetry?

Numbers, one to ten.

 

My day was wind.

Did you let your hair down?

I did, for a while.

 

I found an alley.

Close to home?

At home.

 

My day was well.

Could I make it better?

I doubt it.

 

But you could stay and clean up,

Or call for help,

Or hold me close enough,

And help me forget.

 

What kind of day has it been?

I don’t remember.

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Art Explorations with Vidhita Raina

A new month, a new challenge. I’ve been planning a few things for a while now, but in between the end of college, some planning for the future, catching up with old friends, and summer sleeping, there was just never enough time (and inspiration) to actually pull them through. However, with a bit of help (and lots of random talking and buzzing) from a very special friend, I am finally introducing the theme of Art Exploration and Appreciation on my blog this month! It is my first collaboration with someone who has a special interest in the subject, and shares my passion for art in every sense of the word.

With a bachelor’s degree in History from Hindu College, University of Delhi, she’s a little bit shy when it comes to the writing department, but I assure you, she’s absolutely lovely with her words nonetheless. In our first post, Vidhita Raina gives you a glimpse of what art means to her, as well as what you can expect to take back from our humble attempts at bringing the subject closer to people. Go ahead now, indulge yourselves.

VR

Original Artwork by Vidhita Raina

 

It would be remarkable if artistic explorations were a part of our basic instincts. That everybody was a lover of art, that all would be able to view it from an inner eye that allows us to see more than there is to see.  There are individuals, myself included, who believe that art is indeed everywhere – you simply need to look into the greater details. It is in that couch you’re sitting on, that mug you’re sipping your tea from, even the fork you’re eating your croissant from. These are of course, purposeful art, art that has been created to utilize in your ordinary life. But, it is art undeniably.

Moving upwards, there is a zone of ‘high art’ which is accessible to a select few. Traditionally, this is synonymous to the ‘High Culture’, a culture of music, art, theatre, and dance produced for the entertainment of the upper classes. What is slightly upsetting is that it’s quite a similar situation even today. Now, I don’t mean to generalize this for all the art that is created today since there is art today of all forms that attacks the social, political or cultural constructs.

While engaging my father in conversation on the subject of art appreciation, the question of ‘who’ can or more importantly who is ‘able’ to appreciate art, arose. His argument simply was what is known as ‘Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs’. According to Abraham Maslow, there are four levels of human survival beginning with the most basic requirements of food, water and sleep to the top most level of ‘self-actualization’ wherein the individual has achieved all previous needs of safety, love and esteem, and can focus all his creative energies to perform to the best of his abilities in any chosen livelihood. Thus, wouldn’t it make more sense if art is valued by those who understand its worth?

At other times I contemplate whether all art must hide a meaning behind all its colors, lines and form? Sure the artist goes through a process of what he wants to portray through his art, but is it always that idea comes before the work? Is it not possible that an image appears and it sticks with you and perhaps some backstage conscious is at play, but you delve on further to give it meaning? A visual evolves in your brain and you want to bring it alive, and so you go through the labor of crafting it. Sometimes I feel that artists drawing from the current social settings are doing it for the sake of being talked about at that point in time. What really draws you to art cannot just be a social or political wrong doing. There has to be more to it. Even Picasso wasn’t the most political of human beings before the Spanish Civil War.

In some strange way, this has been about too many questions but hopefully questions that will open up dialogue among people who are willing to learn more about art and its subjective issues.

 

Alternative Film Reviews | Limitless (2011) – Part II

Limitless

Cast

Bradley Cooper as Eddie Morra

Robert De Niro as Carl Van Loon

Abbie Cornish as Lindy

Andrew Howard as Gennady

Anna Friel as Melissa

Directed by

Neil Burger

Written by

Leslie Dixon

Based on a novel by

Alan Glynn

Drama, Fantasy, Science-Fiction, Thriller

Rated PG-13

105 minutes 

I know writer’s block can be very depressing. It creeps up on those parts of your conscience responsible for making you feel like a waste of human DNA. So when Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) struggles to write the first ninety pages of his book with a deadline banging on his door, its a real situation we’ve got on our hands. But I think it would also be safe to say that Eddie is a very lucky man, because its not everyday that we run into our ex-brother-in-law and get hold of a pill that can solve all our problems. Could it be on the day of that important, life-changing deadline? May the odds be ever in your favor.

And that’s what Hollywood is all about. Limitless might not be absolutely the best cinematic feature out there, but it does prove something more fundamental. The boundaries of the human imagination are truly, limitless. The film has a rather simple premise – we’ve been told (perhaps tricked into believing) that we only use 20% of our brain power, and there is enough left to potentially transform the world. A pharmaceutical company has developed a pill called NZT-48 that enables the user to use all of their brain power. Eddie runs into his ex-brother-in-law Vernon Grant who works for that company and offers him a single pill of NZT. Unware of its precise effects, Eddie takes it.

The film tries to work around the problem of individuals having a limited amount of intelligence, logic, and visual/semantic retention capacities at their disposal. However, it makes a lean attempt at actually communicating this concept effectively through dialogue and drama. The first  60 minutes are leisurely, save for the opening sequence which quickly lapses into a flashback. The audience is served a cheerful course of the classic rags to riches tale, as Eddie comes out his limbo by finishing his book in 4 hours, taking on the stock market and making millions of dollars in 10 days, and ultimately transforming into something of a financial wizard. The dream run continues with the appearance of business mogul Carl Van Loon (Robert De Niro) who wants Eddie to look at the stocks of a company he’s about to make a deal with. The script features some weak quasi-criminal elements; a few hits and misses later, all hell breaks loose in Eddie’s life.

The plot picks up speed eventually, and director Neil Burger makes good use of visuals effects to bring the audience into Eddie’s high-functioning world. In terms of acting, Bradley Cooper does well as Eddie, and makes the character transformation look effortless. Robert De Niro is a firm supporting leg for the story, while Abbie Cornish is used sparsely to make up for any lack of emotional vibe in the film.  In terms of screenplay, Limitless is passable.

Overall, if something like NZT does exist out there, Limitless only gets you a slight taste of what such a drug might do to a person. Nevertheless, it manages to package itself smartly and makes for a decent watch on a lazy afternoon.

Alternative Film Reviews | Limitless (2011) – Part I

It’s been a crazy month, June. But I’m determined to keep going with this blog and post as frequently as I can. In fact, I’ve got something new lined up for July, and I’m now trying to stretch the boundaries of my writing space even further. But more on that later.

This week, I’m doing an alternative film review of Limitless. The film was released on March 18, 2011 in the United States. It is directed by Neil Burger, and stars Bradley Cooper, Abbie Cornish, and Robert De Niro, among others. The IMDb link for the film is: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1219289/. Here’s the official trailer for the film :- (As always, you are free to not watch the video and skip straight to Part I, but watching it will only make things more interesting!)

 

Limitless is a thriller film, and I’ve always believed that thrillers deserve trailers that are short and never too revealing. So when I watch the trailer for Limitless, I expect it to be a lot of things. For starters, the film’s protagonist Eddie is introduced to the audience as a writer, who looks more like a homeless man with a drug problem *because* he’s a writer. Maybe I’m willing to forgive this bit because Bradley Cooper cleans up pretty good. Meanwhile, Abbie Cornish is seen as Eddie’s girlfriend, and it almost seems like she’s responsible for the beauty and sex department for most part of the trailer at least. It remains to be seen whether she’s actually a pivotal to the plot.

The crux of the story line is this: Eddie’s all down and out (read living in a waste dump because that’s what writer’s block can do to you), until he meets a man who gives him a mysterious pill that enables you to access 100% of your brain power. Eddie is then seen as something of a computer and math wizard, all suited up and ready to take on the world. His magnificent rise to the top doesn’t go unnoticed of course, as businessman Carl Van Loon (Robert De Niro) now wants to tap into Eddie’s potential by using him as a money making machine.

What really excites me about this film is the fact that Robert De Niro and Bradley Cooper teamed up for Limitless before they did for Silver Linings Playbook, and there’s no denying the fact that they are absolutely two of the best that Hollywood has ever had.  If the trailer is anything to go by, limitless brain power also means a limitless web of danger for the protagonist, and this is perhaps the thrill factor that the film’s director is trying to deliver to the audiences. All in all, the first look of the film is crafty, but far from clean. Yet, from what I’ve heard, Limitless is one of those films that might not be blockbuster material, but the premise on which it has been built definitely is.

The film’s screenplay has been written by Leslie Dixon, based on the book The Dark Fields written by Alan Glynn. It is produced by Leslie Dixon, Ryan Kavanaugh, and Scott Kroopf, distributed by Relativity Media, and the music is by Paul Leonard-Morgan.

Part II coming up in a bit! *fingers crossed*

 

The Almost Quarter Life of Eve

I’m starting a new series which is going to be based entirely on dialogue. The story shall develop over the coming weeks, each post being a dialogue between two or three people at most, each featuring the main character called Eve. A little background: Eve is a young woman, and that is all you need to know about her at the onset in order to follow the series. This is my first attempt with dialogue, and hopefully I can polish the rougher edges with time. The reader is at complete liberty to assume the finer details.

***

 

MARCH: EVE BUYS A LBD

“Good Evening, Ma’am. My name is Helen. May I help you?”

“Hi, yes. I’m looking for a little black dress.”

“What kind?”

“Um, the regular kind.”

“We have it in bandage, halter neck, strapless, and sleeveless.”

“I’ll try the sleeveless.”

“Lace cotton? It’s a straight fit.”

“Alright, any others?”

“This is a la Audrey Hepburn. Except, the hemline falls one inch above the knee. The look is completed with the gloves.”

“But I can have it without the gloves as well?”

“Yes. The gloves come for an additional $25.”

“I’ll look at another one before I try these on.”

“How about something more vintage? Dior?”

“I’m not really looking for anything too expensive.”

“Oh. For your size, we have a backless piece as well, embellished with gold.”

“I’ll try it out.”

 

“Ma’am?”

“I’ll go with the Hepburn. It fits the best.”

“Would you like to try some more?”

“Not really. I’m in bit of a rush.”

“I’ll bill it then? It’s $45.”

“That’s fine.”

“You’ll be paying by cash or card?”

“Cash. Here you go.”

“Your change, Ma’am. Here’s your dress. It’s a very popular number, this was the last piece.

“I guess Hepburn is a universal favourite.”

“Oh yes. If I may ask, is this for a special occasion of sorts?”

“I’m graduating day after. This is for the ceremony, and the formal luncheon after.”

 

Alternative Film Reviews | August: Osage County (2013) – Part II

August Osage County

Cast

Meryl Streep as Violet Weston

Julia Roberts as Barbara Weston

Juliette Lewis as Karen Weston

Julianne Nicholson as Ivy Weston

Sam Shepard as Beverly Weston

Benedict Cumberbatch as ‘Little’ Charles Aiken

Ewan McGregor as Bill Fordham

Abigail Breslin as Jean Fordham

Chris Cooper as Charles Aiken

Margo Martindale as Mattie Fae Aiken

Dermot Mulroney as Steve

Misty Upham as Johnna

Director

John Wells

Screenplay

Tracy Letts

Comedy, Drama

Rated R

120 minutes

A-a-aand here we are! Oklahoma, where the scorching heat and unrelenting winds ain’t no match for the venom that escapes from the mouths of the female members in the dysfunctional Weston family. August: Osage County is a film that inspires, and it does so riding on the effortless performances by Meryl Streep, who has truly surpassed herself as the seething matriarch Violet Weston; and Julia Roberts, as Violet’s eldest daughter Barbara Weston-Fordham. The Weston family is brought together by the death of Violet’s husband and family patriarch, Beverly Weston, and the larger theme of love and respect between family members plays out evenly throughout this movie adaptation of Tracy Letts’ award winning play.

The play has been adapted by Letts herself, who has written the screenplay for the film, and as the story progresses it becomes exceedingly clear that Letts’ writing dominates the narrative in more ways than one. The film’s director John Wells does well in terms of bringing the star-studded cast together and ensuring the best possible balance in their acting, however in terms of actually telling a story through the camera, Wells seems to succumb to the wit of Letts’ writing. The narrative is infused with drama, revelations, nastiness and unparalleled tension, however the journey of these elements from paper to picture is slow.

It all begins with a melancholic calm, as the coarse voice of Beverly Weston (Sam Shepard) is heard, quoting T.S Eliot: “Life is very long. Absolutely goddamn right.” What follows is the sudden disappearance of Beverly, leaving his ailing wife Violet with a native American house-help whom he hired to look after her. Violet calls upon her family, especially her three daughters in this time of need. The first 30 minutes of the film are dull, and it is the sheer beauty of Streep’s rendition of Violet, that keeps the viewer seated and ready to take in more. As the news of Beverly’s death is revealed to the family, dark humor and delicious taunts grip the dialogue between Violet and her daughters. One of the most powerful sequences in this film is the one at the dinner table featuring each member of the Weston family – each holding on to their emotions, and each letting go of them as the film progresses.

The cast of the film is loaded with its fair share of Academy award winners and nominees, yet few get their chance to shine. While Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts no doubt run the show, others especially Abigail Breslin, as Barbara’s pot-smoking 14 year old daughter, and Benedict Cumberbatch, as the family underdog, are wasted talent. Ewan McGregor, as Barbara’s husband Bill, is forced to lie low as well. Overall, the heavy cast ensemble is unfortunately forced to under-perform against the shining vitality of the two leading ladies.

Nonetheless, August: Osage County is worth a watch if family drama is a genre you tend to enjoy. Even if you don’t, the film might just leave you with a sense of satisfaction and harmony within yourself, as well as a renewed respect for your family despite its usual faults and shortcomings. Tracy Letts and John Wells succeed in whipping out a unique concoction, one that must be sipped on slowly for the flavor to settle in.

***

So this was Part II of the review. I kept it short and crisp, since lengthy reviews have never appealed to me personally. I’ll be doing more in the coming weeks. As always, feedback is welcome!

Alternative Film Reviews | August: Osage County (2013) – Part I

When I’m not writing fiction, I like to indulge in film reviews. Cinema is one of my many obsessions, and film critics (in particular, Roger Ebert) have contributed immensely to my understanding of modern day cinematic projects and/or undertakings. However, my attempt here is not to recreate the magic of the Eberts or Kazmis (of the TOI fame), but to evaluate films in a way we all do – complete with a before and after paradigm. Our film viewing journeys begin the moment we hear about the film, beginning with the name of the production house, the cast ensemble, and the directorial hand in the production process. I live in a country where the masses tend to prefer ‘masala’ movies (of course, this is a highly debatable issue), and even before the film is released, fans are locked in a wager as to which big star is going to steal the box office collections. In the spirit of Bollywood masala and Hollywood eccentricity, Alternative Film Reviews is my attempt to provide an extra layer to the exercise of film reviews. The first part of the review will deal primarily with the response the theatrical trailer of the film elicits in my conscience, no holds barred. I wish to keep the source simple, and hence would not be going too much into the publicity campaigns of films because most people don’t follow these strongly enough anyway. It will be a review of the film based on what we know, and what we don’t. Most importantly, it will be a review of what we as film lovers want a film to be. I encourage feedback and criticism on this, as well as ways in which I can make the analysis better. Regarding film selection, it may or may not be a film I have already seen before, however for the first month I shall only focus on films that have been stored in my hard drive for the past gazillion years, patiently waiting on me.

For the first edition, I am reviewing August: Osage Country. The film was released on December 27, 2013 in the United States. It is directed by John Wells, and is based on a Pulitzer Prize winning play of the same name by Tracy Letts. The IMDb link for the film is: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1322269/. Here is the theatrical trailer for the film, you’re free to watch it or go straight ahead and read Part I of the review:

 

So I’m just going to put this out there. My most favorite bit from the trailer is undoubtedly – “Look at your boobs. Last time I saw you, you looked like a little boy.”

Nah, kidding.

What strikes the viewer almost immediately is obviously Benedict Cumberbatch’s delicious accent, but more importantly the fantastic cast ensemble that the film has. In fact, given that each individual cast member of consequence has an introduction in the trailer, it’s safe to conclude at the outset that the film heavily relies on the amount of influence names can have on first impressions.

Jane Austen should have stuck to that title.

First things first, in  terms of storyline, the context is well-established and communicated to the audience with an adequate infusion of dark humor. A daughter returns to her mother’s home, with her own daughter and ex-husband. Uncle Bev is dead, and the dysfunctional family is reuniting in remembrance. I don’t know what it is with Hollywood and brilliant background score; this trailer gets a straight A for music. In terms of conceptualization and editing, the trailer scores. (I should point out, although there are two trailers for this film, Trailer #2 is the one officially included in the IMDb catalogue. I shall be using elements from Trailer #1 as well, however as a rule of thumb, the reviews would be looking at final cuts only.)

But here’s the thing. A single watch communicates a little bit about story which is a dark comedy, and gives a sneak peak into the dialogue writing along with a visual presentation of the titular time and location. However, the over-emphasis on the cast proves to be a detrimental in terms of the amount of focus the audience pays on the underlying plot. It is not out of spite or prejudice towards the ensemble either, because it is in fact, of extremely respectable cinematic stature. The problem lies in the over-bearing influence the cast seems to have on the essence of the story itself. A strong cast means strong acting, yet the sheer power of a frame containing both Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts overwhelms the eyes, and the mind.

The characters, especially that of Meryl Streep, are presented in an extraordinary fashion. The trailer’s merit lies not in individual performances, but in what the individual actors can bring to the whole – for instance, the comedic drama of the moments shared by the family at the dinner table. It leaves you begging for more, and while the heart wishes to declare it an instant hit, the mind wishes to proceed with a little more caution. Nevertheless, the film promises keeps the fans of both Streep and Roberts, perhaps even Cumberbatch, in a happy place. The film’s screenplay has been written by Tracy Letts herself – this bit of trivia is definitely encouraging. It is produced by George Clooney and Grant Heslov among others, distributed by The Weinstein Company, and the music is by Gustav Santaolalla. If you haven’t watched the trailer, my advice to you is: do it now. Part II coming up in a bit!

***

This is my first post on this blog, and I’d be delighted to receive feedback. Just drop in a comment below! Since I have not seen the film yet in its entirety, resist posting any spoilers. For those of you who have seen the film, I hope that the review could provide a fresh insight on what you already knew, and that you will be looking forward to Part II.  :)