Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Fugly, Football, Random

Looks like I spoke too soon. So what if Jeremy Irons didn't make the cut for in his Golden Globe ensemble. He still had the SAG awards to prove a point. Gosh. I saw the pictures and my first thought was "Oh, boy. Will that make the fugly list or what." It sure did. In all fairness though, the outfit isn't all that bad. I blame the Willy Wonka sun glasses. Well, I guess mid life crisis's express themselves differently for different people. Some people probably just need to dress weird. Mr. Irons Sir, I totally get that. I still like you. Just thought you should know.

On the topic of Jeremy Irons, my DVD's of Brideshead Revisited and Elizabeth I shall be arriving soon. That makes my happy. *Insert obligatory mile wide grin just thinking about the viewing pleasure those videos will give me*

In other random news, Marco Materazzi got headbutted - again. I'm sorry but I really can't control my urge to laugh at this. I hate that Inter is having such a good season - bleh, bleh, bleh - they are like the Italian Chelsea. BLEH!!! Milan have been terribly bad this season. At this point I am hoping that Ronaldo has a good season ahead - even if that means having to see those gawd awful teeth.

Right. End randomness.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

All Shades Of Brown

Siena was hands down the most charming place I visited in Italy. I realise that it is a grossly unfair comparison to make, since every city, every region in Italy is so different. Each place has its own charm, but for me Siena was special.

After Rome, Florence was a bit of a disappointment. Don't get me wrong, it is a wonderful place. And the art you can see is just amazing (it probably deserves another post all together). But it isn't an open and public city like Rome is. Almost everything worth seeing in Florence is inside. Or has been put inside (except the Piazza della Signora). So after Firenze, Siena was like a breath of fresh air. Getting out of the bus once you have reached Siena, is almost like stepping out of a time machine and finding yourself in a strangely medieval city.

From the 13th to the 15th centuries Florence and Siena were economic and military rivals in the Tuscan region. Numerous battles were fought between the two city states but Florence eventually had the upper hand and Siena was incorporated into Florentine territory and administration. No longer the important city state it once was , the city in a way, remained in limbo, locked in the middle ages. Built over three hills, the city is like a maze of concentric circles with the Piazza del Campo at its heart. The fan shaped square has to be one of the most beautiful in the world. It is here that Siena's famous horse race, the bi-annual Palio is held.

The Duomo is the other major landmark of the city. Along with St. Marks in Venice, the Duomo was my favourite out of all the churches I visited in Italy. The exterior of the Duomo in Florence, with Giotto's campanile by its side, takes your breath away and just standing in St. Peter's square is overwhelming, but on the inside both were a bit of a let down. The Duomo is Siena, has a most interesting exterior. When I first saw it's pictures I wondered what I would make of it in when I finally saw it - after all, it does have a strange black and white striped pattern. In reality it somehow manages to look absolutely beautiful and regal. The interiors are just as stunning and have some fabulous artwork.

There's so much more to see and do in Siena, but I suspect I have rambled on enough already. But I do need to mention Panforte. The terribly rich and delicious speciality of the town. The cake is a traditional Christmas dish and was being sold everywhere when I was there. The Italians really do have great desserts.
Anyway, I could go on and on about Siena, but I could never do the place justice. So, if you are ever in Italy - just go there!

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Movies, movies and more movies

It seems that the only events news worthy enough to make the front pages of the Indian dailies last week were (a) the entire Shilpa Shetty racism fracas and (b) the Aishwarya RaiAbhishek Bachchan engagement. Terribly irritating, especially all the silly engagement interviews. More so because they all posed AB Jr. said question: Will you allow Aishwarya to continue working after marriage? What. The. Fuck. When will people learn that it’s not up to him to allow her to do anything? Oh, well, whatever.

In other news, last week was spent slacking, lazing and watching many, many movies. Three new ones, three not-so-new/old Shakespeare adaptations. So in keeping with the theme of my last two posts this one shall be about movies as well. The new ones first.

Pan’s Labyrinth: I actually really liked it. The movie brilliantly balances two worlds – that of little Ofelia’s fantasies and the reality of the Spanish Civil War. The reality of the Civil War is violent, bleak and all too real (Sergi López is excellent as the brutal, masochist Captain Vidal). While the world of Ofelia’s imagination is a refuge it is still dark and dangerous with everything and everybody seeming a bit dubious. The parallel stories play out brilliantly against each other with Ofelia, Mercedes and the rebels and their belief, idealism and rebellion serving as a foil for the Captains fascism. The ending of the movie is poignant, beautiful and unresolved, asking us to decide for ourselves what Ofelia’s fate is, what is fiction and what reality. Amongst all this Pan’s Labyrinth is also a tale about the importance of imagination and belief. If only to dull the pain of the real world.

The Queen: I highly suspect the main reason this movie was made was to showcase the awesome talent of Helen Mirren. It’s witty and insightful at times but almost all those moments are centered around Mirren. Michael Sheen is not bad as Tony Blair, once you get past his pixieish face and very white teeth. Everyone else is really quite a caricature and thank god they are usually just in the back ground. Still worth a watch just for Dame Helen. I’ll eat my hat if she doesn’t win an Oscar for it. (Though considering how the Oscars almost always muck up, I should perhaps take that back.)

Babel: Frustrating. That’s the perfect word to describe the movie. I saw it after it won for best dramatic film at the Globes. How bad can it be, I thought. Well, it’s really bad. I should have known better, especially after reading Roswitha’s post on it (and also considering that we really don’t disagree on anything). In this case though I think she’s been generous in her assessment. The theme that Iñárritu seems to be exploring is interesting, but it is also reminiscent of his earlier work, 21 Grams, which was much better (and I didn’t like it all that much in any case). Perhaps it has to do with the fact that that story was rawer, the actors were better, that it didn’t seem so manipulative. Sean Penn and Benicio del Toro have a certain intensity that Brad Pitt just doesn’t. He’s not bad, but he just doesn’t fit. I kept wondering why Gael García Bernal was in the movie – he was completely underused. The story of Chieko, the deaf girl simply disturbed me. The Japanese connection seemed contrived. Sigh, I could go on. The parts of the movie I did like were those where Iñárritu was working with local actors. They made the story more real, interesting and believable than all the star power of Pitt, Blanchett et al did. The Mexican wedding, the interaction between Pitt and his Moroccan guide, those sequences I liked. But that’s about it. And don’t even get me started on the completely stereotypical images of cultures the movie paints. Let’s just not go there.

Falstaff gives his take on the above here. He also reviews The History Boys. I haven’t seen the movie, but caught the musical on Westend when I was in London. It was excellent, highly recommended. Alrighty then. In addition to above mentioned movies I also watched three excellent adaptations of Shakespeare.

The Merchant Of Venice: I reread the play before I saw the movie. I had first read it quite a while back and it had left me confused as to what to make of it. Michael Radford does a good job bringing it to the screen. While he is quite faithful to the original text he does add a few montages before and after the main happenings that make Shylock and Jessica (to an extent) more sympathetic. (I understand that for Shylock, whose character was very well handled in the film but Jessica is such an appalling character I really don’t get why anyone would want to make her more sympathetic). I expected Pacino as Shylock to be completely over the top but he is shockingly good. Menacing, vindictive, vulnerable, passionate in his hatred – he manages to convey all that. Joseph Fiennes is suitably effeminate to make a good Bassanio. Jeremy Irons, well, I really can’t say anything bad about the man, but he manages to make Antonio more interesting than I would have thought possible. Lynn Collins, despite her perpetual breathlessness in the initial scenes, does a good job as Portia. She convincingly portrays a girl who starts of having no control over her life to one who is completely in charge of things. For me, the most problematic part of the play is the last act. It seems like such a dampener after the drama of the courtroom. Amazingly Radford manages to make that scene work, which left me very impressed. The whole the movie is less theatrical than I expected. There a lot of subtle undercurrents, a lot of close ups, a lot of acting through expressions. It is also beautifully shot – rich, luscious, and very real. On the whole the movie somehow managed to pull off the tragicomic tone of the play, which is quite a feat.

Richard III: Ian McKellen plays Richard in this version, which sets the events of the play in a 1930’s fascist England. Though the movie omits large portions of the play it works in toto. The most glaring cuts are in the lines of Clarence and Queen Margaret. Still some of the damage is curtailed by the fact that the actors playing these characters (Nigel Hawthorne and Maggie Smith, respectively) are just so fabulous that they managed to remain in my mind long after they were off screen. The movie is highly theatrical but doesn’t become overly campy. The brutality of the murders never lets you forget Richards’s villainy. McKellen is excellent of course. One half of his face perpetually droops and he excellently conveys the characters physical deformity. He drips sweetness one minute and then like a chameleon changes to ruthlessness and brutality. As the setting of the movie is different from the play it makes for a few interesting sequences. Richard delivers the first part of “Now is the winter of our discontent” speech at a gala celebrating the victory of the house of York. The remaining parts are acted out in the men’s room with him looking into a mirror and snarling, “I am determined to prove a villain; And hate the idle pleasures of these days.” Then there is Richard stuck in a car in the middle of battle screaming the famous lines “A horse! A horse! My Kingdom for a horse!” Terribly ingenious.

Macbeth: Roman Polanski’s version of Macbeth is one of the bloodiest, goriest films I have seen in a really long time. Apt, I think, the theme of blood permeates the play. I thought it was very good. It left me with the same numbness I felt when I finished reading the play. Jon Finch is excellent as Macbeth. Francesca Annis’s Lady Macbeth comes of as a somewhat sympathetic character as compared to the wily, over ambitious woman she is generally portrayed as. I did however feel that Macduff’s character wasn’t suitably developed and that as a result didn’t add enough drama to the climax. Another small irritant – I thought Polanski used too many back shots making it impossible to see the actors’ faces. Jai wrote an excellent post on the movie a while back and there really isn’t anything I can add to his analysis. Pretty much agree with him.

So, that pretty much sums up the happenings of last week. Viewing for this week includes (repeat viewings) of Yes Minister and The Lion in Winter. And….ummmDawson’s Creek. Sigh. And I am not even ashamed to admit that.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Monsieur Humbert Humbert

How timely was my last post I ask you? Just after I rave about British actors they go and sweep the Golden Globes. Then there's also the question of Jeremy Irons. I blog about him and suddenly everywhere I look - he's there! For one I’ve been trying to get my hands on Brideshead Revisited (to no avail) and he’s in that. I saw the Merchant of Venice day before and he played Antonio. And then he was at the Globes where he won for Elizabeth I. I haven’t seen the series but that didn’t stop me from cheering and saying “He totally deserved that!” But that’s only because he is always good.

Interestingly, he was wearing a Chinese shirt with red buttons, a pattern of red roses and sleeves that were much too long. When I saw that I was quite sure he would make it to’s list of offenders (he hasn’t yet). Oh dear, I thought. Sir, I love you and all but red roses? Really?? Oh well, who am I kidding, he still looked totally hot.

Right. And then in the library I stumbled upon this little gem. The audio book version of Lolita. No prizes for guessing who it’s been narrated by. (For the record, Irons was also in the 1997 movie of the book.) I didn’t hear the whole thing (its eleven hours long!!), but just listening to Irons’ voice as he read Nabokovs prose lends a completely different perspective to the book. I have read Lolita, but I just had to read it again, and I am. It’s even better than I remembered. And like all truly great literature there are tiny details, nuances you missed the first time, what you make of certain lines changes.

The opening paragraph of Lolita is not only one of my favorites but also one of the most beautiful I have ever read. And now all I hear when I read it is Irons’ voice narrating it with such love, passion and sadness all at once. The beauty of it just breaks my heart.

“Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.

She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita.”

Saturday, January 13, 2007

British thespians, Borat and other random mumblings

A friend of mine, P, was in town on break from her studies at Columbia. It was good fun to meet up with her after months really. The evening was spent talking about my trip, books, authors (Pamuk teaches at Columbia. She said he’s a bit of a diva, but a really good teacher anyway), and watching a ridiculous amount of E!
Including a show they had on called ‘The 100 Hottest Bodies in Showbiz’. Ralph Fiennes was #95. It was terribly amusing to see his deadpan reaction. “Uh? When was this? Ten years ago?” I didn’t see anymore of the show after that. Seeing Fiennes on E! was more than I could have hoped for. He also probably brought more class to the channel than they could handle so it was probably be safe to assume that it would only go down hill from there.

Right. Anyway. Ralph Fiennes is currently acting in Samuel Becketts ‘First Love’, down under, in Sydney. How much does it suck that he wasn’t on stage when I was in London. I mean, really. It sucks.
The theatre scene in London in general, however, makes me go green with envy when I think of people who get to actually live there. It’s so unfair. Given my love for British thespians, I just think it’s so unfair that Londoners get to see them all over. Before I left, the RSC was heavily advertising its production of ‘Antony and Cleopatra’, with Patrick Stewart as Antony. It made me wish I could postpone my return by a few days just so that I could catch the opening night.

Then there was all that heavy promotion for the movie ‘Venus’ (it releases later this month in the UK). I have only heard superlative praise for Peter O’Toole’s performance in the movie and I really, really want to see it. O’Toole has been nominated for the Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild awards for the movie already, and I really do hope he gets an Oscar nod. Plus, the script is by Hanif Kureishi, which in itself raises my expectations, as he happens to be one of the most bitterly funny authors I have ever read.

I was loitering around HMV the day before I met P. And I happened to find the DVD of ‘Brideshead Revisited’, (Jeremy Irons plays Charles Ryder). Had it not been terribly expensive, I would have bought the set in a flash. When I told P she asked me, “But you have seen it, haven’t you??” When I replied in the negative, she whacked me with the nearest cushion she could find, “How can you not have??!!” I have of course known about the mini series for a while, but I just never went out of my way to look for it. P told me that it is the best adaptation of a book she has ever seen and anyone who has ever read and loved the book (how can anyone not like Brideshead Revisited?!) must see it. Anyway, I found out my library has a copy, but only for “restricted use”, which explains why I have never seen it there. So am headed there soon to find out what the hell this restricted use thing is. Seriously, wtf?

In any case, P told me that though she thinks Jeremy Irons is the most beautiful man ever, and as excellent an actor he is, the actor playing Sebastian (Anthony Andrews) is excellent and is probably the most brilliant piece of casting ever. This of course has piqued my curiosity and now I really just have to see the series. For the record, Jeremy Irons is another one of those British actors I adore. If a movie version of 'Death in Venice' is ever made Irons should be cast as Gustav von Aschenbach. Well, I think so anyway. Plus, if anyone ever deserved an Oscar for voicing a character it is him. What would the Lion King be if he hadn’t voiced Scar? Not even half as good, that’s what.

While talking to P, I was trying to think of British actors I don’t like and admittedly came up short. I think one reason I like the Harry Potter movies is because they stuck to having British actors in the movies. Alan Rickman (excellent as Snape) Gary Oldman, Maggie Smith, Ralph Fiennes et al – that’s class. And I would have thought it impossible to be able to pull of a TV version of ‘Jeeves and Wooster’, but Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie actually do manage to do the impossible. P, however, had a point when she said that, well, there are some actors who you really can’t not like.
“Who doesn’t like Daniel Day- Lewis?”
“Some people don’t even know who he is!”
“Idiots, needless to say.”

While still on the topic of movies. I finally saw ‘Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan’ yesterday. (Am sorry, but I really couldn’t resist typing out the whole title). Right, so I thought it was ok, but not as funny as it’s been made out to be. I think the Borat clips on youtube are funnier that the movie. Parts of it were hilarious and it could have been so much better. But it kept degenerating into the same old crass toilet humour and that was disappointing. Yes, you do laugh at the stupidity of the Americans – the Rodeo scene was hilarious and the scene with the college guys was, I am sorry to say, reminiscent and a somewhat apt representation of a lot of American undergrad frat boys I know. But in other cases, you just feel pity for the people who are caught up in the whole thing because they are obviously decent people and then whom is the joke on?
Oh well, still probably worth a watch. Just not that funny.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Holiday Over.

So the holiday is officially over. My classes start tomorrow. Talk about being depressed. I miss London terribly. Even the cold, cloudy, grey weather. On the flight back they were showing Love Actually. And despite having seen it, despite thinking it is probably one of the cheesiest movies I have seen, I saw the whole thing. And like when I saw it for the first time I kept laughing and giggling throughout. Really, it speaks volumes about the talent of Liam Neeson, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Colin Forth, Bill Nighy, Hugh Grant and the like that they actually manage to pull off the movie. The only reason I started to watch the movie was, well, because it was set in London and it just seemed apt. At one point they show Liam Neeson and his son sitting somewhere in the South bank with a view of the Millennium Bride and St. Paul’s and I felt so sad.

Probably had something to with the fact that I spent almost 18 days in London. That’s even more time than I spent in Paris. And while for me Paris will always be the greatest city in the world, London was really, really nice as well. There was just so much happening all the time. I loved the area around Leicester Square and Covent Garden. And Westminster. And all those museums! I visited so many of them. The National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, British Museum, Natural History Museum (which is really quite superb), the V&A (I think I spent close to two hours just in the Ottoman and Islamic Middle East section, for obvious reasons it was really interesting for me), Tate Modern, the Royal Academy of Art, Somerset House and the Dali Museum near the London Eye. Phew, I never listed them and now that seems like a lot.

I had planned to visit places close to London, but there was just always so much to do in the city itself that I really didn’t get to do all that. I went to Windsor and was blessed with the most god awful weather the entire time I was there. And I visited Greenwich as well and was officially right in the centre of the world. Cambridge was beautiful. There weren’t many students around and it was quiet, but just so pretty.

No surprise then that school just seems so, um, drab. And I am still jet lagged! There are these stupid freshmen who have moved in next door and they make just so much noise the whole night. I am probably going to end up whacking them very soon because requests to "Please keep it down" have had no effect. Jackasses. The only good thing is that this is my last term and I keep telling myself it’s only another four months and that’s it. Four years of undergrad studies is just really too much. Especially when you have to bear some really idiotic freshman and their equally inane comments in some of the classes. I have to do everything in my power to stop from banging my head against the desk. Hopefully my classes this term will be better than last term. Seriously, advanced macro has to be the greatest kill joy in the world.

Anyway. The point was that I am missing London. I miss the British accent. Miss my daily tube rides. And I miss my free daily copy of London Lite. So ya, I miss London. So much so that I went to the library and borrowed loads of Wodehouse. Because if Jeeves can’t lift your spirits, who can?