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Dev.D

Dev.D

Ever since the growth of the so called ‘multiplex cinema’ it has been fashionable among some quarters to keep stating at regular intervals that the Hindi film industry has finally come of age. In other words, the Hindi film industry has finally shed its insane plots and acquired a global persona that everyone from San Francisco to Sydney can relate to. For a long time I believed that to be mostly empty hype. Having seen Dev.D yesterday changed my opinion. If a crazy, beautiful, hilarious, sad, mad, ugly beast of a film like this could get made in the context of mainstream cinema and receive a wide release then indeed Hindi cinema has come of age like no other language cinema of India I know of has.

Anurag Kashyap always had a reputation as a talented and controversial director and through Dev.D he demonstrates why he is one of the best directors Hindi cinema is lucky to possess. Saratchandra’s Bengali novel ‘Devdas’ has been a perennial favorite among Indian film directors with as many as 9 versions already made using it as a source. Kashyap’s film is anything but faithful to the novel. Along with co-writer Vikramaditya Motwane he twists, bludgeons, and mutates the novel into a contemporary setting. He wisely avoids going the melodrama way like other directors before and instead concentrates on the core, the emotional attyachar if you will, of all the central characters and especially of Dev.

Abhay Deol is steadily building his reputation as cross over cinema favorite and with this film he demonstrates why he is so good in such ‘auteur’ films. After a stunning performance in his recent ‘Oye Lucky, Lucky Oye’ he cements his indie status with a sterling modern take on Devdas.

Newcomers Mahi Gill and Kalki Koechlin are equally stunning in their roles as Paro and Chanda aka Chandramukhi. Mahi as the headstrong Paro and Koechlin as the disarmingly seductive Chanda prop up the emotional core of the film with star making turns. The transition of Koechlin, in particular, from an unconventional school girl to a professional seductress of great charm is both stunning and shocking.

What is even more remarkable is how strong Paro and Chanda are. They are completely unlike the simpering, crying-behind-closed-doors, always-waiting-for-the-hero ‘Bharatiya naris’ that you usually find on Indian film screens. Spurned brutally by Dev Paro soon moves on to her new life without a second thought or signs of weakness. Spurned by her parents and a hypocritical society Chanda soon makes a life for herself, and even if she has to sell her body and voice for that life, she does it on her own terms. I wonder what the regressive Indian right wing organizations will think of such strong characterizations?

The cinematography by Rajeev Ravi is another aspect of the film that hits you with a solid fist in your visual guts. While the camera starts sedately, almost conventionally it steadily deteriorates into extremely ugly close-ups, insane time lapse sequences, flashy over saturated colors and kinetic character driven movements mimicking the emotional upheaval of the film’s central characters. The frenetic, adrenalin-infused editing needs special mention even if in certain segments of the film the edits should have been much tighter.

The soundtrack by Amit Trivedi, to put it simply, is mind blowing. It is music that grabs you by your auditory balls and just does not let go. Be it the raunchy Bihari twang overloaded but hilarious ‘Emosanal Attyachar’ or the world weary beauty of ‘Saali Kushi’ the music is an aural romp through ever shifting soundscapes.

Final word-get out and immediately drive to the nearest film theater and watch this mad fuck film. It will be a blinking benchmark on your filmy radar. And if you can, watch the film after sampling a few choice shots of vodka. Taken over and ruled completely by the film for 172 minutes your roughly surprised senses will thank you for it.

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Seminal Rock Albums

It is oft repeated but really rock music is well and truly dead these days. It can be argued that most of the truly great rock music was made between the 1950s and 70s. I’ve always wondered how it would have been to have lived through the 60s when there was a palpable excitement in the music that was being made. It was perhaps the feeling of hope. Perhaps it was the knowledge that this was something new and great. Or perhaps it was the feeling of living in a time where you felt you could truly change the world with a guitar slung over your shoulder. It was all of that and more but what is indubitable is that it was the golden age of rock music with so many bands making such glorious music. I doubt if I’ll ever get to see such a thing happen in my lifetime.

The other day I was wondering about how indifferent I had become about contemporary music. Mainstream hip hop with its talk of money, bling and women makes me want to rip out someone’s heart while the mindless pap that is churned out in the name of pop bores me to tears. Alternative rock has mostly lost its soul while indie rock spends too much time navel gazing. Of course, I’m not a loyal follower of the current music scene. In fact, I’m usually at least five years behind the current music scene so I might be missing a lot of great music. But the few times I’ve listened to music on the radio or on the net has only reinforced my opinion.

That is not to say that great music isn’t being made anymore. There are still artists/bands out there that are still carrying on often against the odds to make the music they believe in. But somehow that fire and excitement is not there in my opinion that was there in rock music’s heyday. Now it is all about sleek studio over-production and marketing to the right demographic.

Maybe I’ve become too old and cranky but there was a time during my undergraduate years when music meant so much. It was part of your soul and the songs literally formed the soundtrack of your life. There was a thrill, a thrill which was equal parts envy and enthusiasm, in watching someone play the song you would give your left hand to play but would never be able to even if you could do that. And every time you attended a rock concert, even with a bad band playing, you earned to be on stage singing those lines and playing those searing solos. Not because you could look cool and attract women (well maybe for that too) but because there was something cathartic about singing your heart out in front of thousands of strangers. It was a perfect medium to let out all that you were feeling into the open through song. It is a pity that that unique pleasure of discovering great music and sharing it with your friends seems to have been lost, perhaps forever.

During that time (and later) I discovered some truly great rock music. Music that has stood the test of time and manages to speak to you with clarity and passion even after so many years. And so even if I have never lived during the golden age of rock here is a list of rock albums that have had a palpable influence and at one point or the other transformed themselves into religious texts for me. Not all of these albums are from the 60s or 70s, there are some from recent times too, but all of them have a touch of greatness in them. These are albums that you should listen to at least once in your lifetime.

Dark Side

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Pink Floyd – Eclipse

Pink Floyd-The Dark Side of the Moon: I’ve this inexplicable, almost mystical connection with the music and songs of Pink Floyd. I actually did not like them when I first heard them. I still remember vividly when I first ‘got’ their music. I was sitting under the shed in Nizam’s one afternoon alone and listening to the live version of ‘Wish You Were Here’ from their otherwise bland ‘Delicate Sound of Thunder’ album on a walkman. And there was this moment which I’ll never forget when something clicked and a whole new world opened in front of me. It was magical. After that there was no turning back.

They have made such great music backed by some of the greatest lyrics ever written that it is hard to select the best. In fact, I’m tempted to include at least half their discography in this list!

It took me an insanely long time to really like Dark Side. Even now I don’t think it is my favorite Floyd album but this is the record where everything came together in the correct amount for the band. Water’s profound lyrics, Gilmour’s beautiful guitar playing, Wright’s melodic keyboards and Mason’s tight drumming. Add to this an almost flawless and intricate production and you have one of the greatest rock albums ever made. With its themes of madness, depression, loneliness and greed it is definitely not an easy album to listen to. In fact, it is rather depressing when you really listen to the songs. But that still should not deter you from enjoying ‘The Great Gig In The Sky’s yearning melody or ‘Us and Them’s soulful theme of separation or the epic finality of ‘Eclipse’. However, for me the greatest thing about the album (apart from the iconic cover art) is the lyrics of ‘Time’. Here are the lyrics from the last half of the song:

So you run and you run to catch up with the sun but it’s sinking
Racing around to come up behind you again.
The sun is the same in a relative way but you’re older,
Shorter of breath and one day closer to death.

Every year is getting shorter never seem to find the time.
Plans that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled lines
Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way
The time is gone, the song is over,
Thought I’d something more to say.

It is breathtakingly sad but beautiful poetry. Please, go get the album.

Astral Weeks

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Van Morrison – Astral Weeks

Van Morrison-Astral Weeks: Someone once said that Van Morrison could sing the phone book and make it sound good. And that is quite true. This album is a testament to that. It is hard to explain the almost mystical quality this album has. Perhaps it comes from Morrison’s Irish Catholic background and Celtic influence. Whatever the reasons it is one of the strangest rock albums. The jazz inflected music perfectly complements the often incomprehensible lyrics.

If I ventured in the slipstream
Between the viaducts of your dream
Where immobile steel rims crack
And the ditch in the back roads stop
Could you find me?
Would you kiss-a my eyes?
To lay me down
In silence easy
To be born again
To be born again

But it is all brought to life by Morrison’s singing. There is a certain pain and yearning in his voice. It is not the pain of anger; it is the pain of loss. You cannot help but get affected by his singing; by the way he brings the dense lyrics to life. It is a 47 minute trip into a different land. A journey you will want to repeat every time the smile around your lips begins to fade under the weight of circumstances.

Ok Computer

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Radiohead – Climbing Up The Walls

Radiohead-Ok Computer: In many ways I prefer their earlier The Bends album for its simple, more mainstream melodic music that is instantly accessible. But the sheer scope and depth of this album has to be appreciated. It is perhaps the best rock album out of the 90s, Nirvana, Pearl Jam and R.E.M. notwithstanding. Dense production and the droning drawl of Thom Yorke are the signature elements of this record. The guitars swirl in layers, the electronic drums are sonorous, the bass throbs with a certain quiet intensity and all of this is tied together by the almost incomprehensible singing of Yorke. The album is quintessentially post-modern in feel with its vague but cool art work and themes of pre-millennial alienation and the coldness caused by technology. There are no instantly hummable tunes here or catchy choruses. The songs have a certain moodiness to them. The moodiness of modern melancholia. But there is melody beneath all that fuzzy distortion and the album grows on you. It is truly an album in which you will discover something new every time you listen to it.

The Beatles

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The Beatles – While My Guitar Gently Weeps

The Beatles a.k.a The White Album: The Beatles made many great albums with their Sgt. Peppers album often touted to be the best rock album ever made. But I like this sprawling and uneven masterpiece the most. This is also the album where the cracks first began to show between the band members with most recording sessions often done individually in separate recording studios. And in that regard this is not the work of a band but more the work of the individuals. It was the beginning of the end for the band. But even with all the friction between them what glorious music they made. Abbey Road might be their swan song but this is the album which truly gave them time and space to experiment individually and also move towards a new clean sound. Most of this album was actually written in India where The Beatles had gone to study transcendental meditation under Maharishi Mahesh Yogi at Rishikesh. That influence clearly shows in the simple but strong song writing even if the band were ultimately disillusioned by their experience at the ashram.

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World Cinema Wonderland 3

Once Upon

Once Upon a Time In America: Forget the spaghetti westerns for which Sergio Leone is famous. This (along with his Once Upon a Time in the West – see below) is his masterpiece. A big flop when it was first released as the studio had chopped up the film into an incoherent mess the film’s reputation was restored when the original director’s cut was subsequently released. It is a slow but beautiful film underscored by the haunting score of Morricone that deals with the consequences of memory, betrayal, loyalty and loss. Finely nuanced performances by De Niro and James Woods add to the moody nostalgia of the film. The city of New York in which the film is set in is in itself a major character of the film whose growth and problems mirror those of the film’s characters. If you like Leone’s Westerns then do not miss this. Also marks the debut of the luminous Jennifer Connelly.

Once Upon a Time in the West: As mentioned above another of the masterpieces directed by Leone. An epic western starring Henry Fonda, Charles Bronson and Jason Robards it forms the beginning of a loose trilogy which ended with the above film. Featuring yet another masterful and melodic score by Morricone this film like the one above slowly grows on you with each passing minute. It examines at leisure with slow tracking shots that lack much dialog life on the edge of civilization and the choices men make in those circumstances. The painstakingly choreographed gun fights are a sight to watch even if they are over in a flash.

The Motorcycle Diaries

Diarios de Motocicleta (The Motorcycle Diaries): A moving and inspiring film about the epic journey made by Che Guevara and his friend on a motorcycle across South America and how the journey played a major role in the awakening of political consciousness in the young medical student.

The Conversation: In some ways this is the best film made by Coppola. More intimate than his Godfather and Vietnam War epics this little film about a quiet and intensely private man who spies on other people works on so many levels. Suffused with an intense sense of paranoia in keeping with the subject matter of the film and the conspiracy riddled time it was released in (just after the Watergate scandal broke) the film is still hugely relevant today with its themes of erosion of privacy with increasing technology and personal responsibility. Gene Hackman is pitch perfect as the audio surveillance expert.

One Flew Cuckoo

One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest: One of my favorite films. Milos Forman stayed mostly true to Kesey’s novel and in the process crafted a fine jewel about non-conformism and its effect on rigid authority. The film works because of some excellent performances by the lead actors. Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher deserved their Oscars for the roles of McMurphy and Nurse Ratched, which they made their own so well that you cannot imagine anyone else in their roles.

La Battaglia di Algeri (The Battle of Algiers): A landmark film based on the Algerian War against French rule that has been highly influential. Gillo Pontecorvo’s fiercely independent film refuses to take sides and in that process exposes the cruelty that both sides resorted to in the name of freedom and colonization. The film’s semi-documentary style lends it an authenticity and rawness that very few films dealing with a historical topic manage to achieve.

Solyaris

Solyaris (Solaris): Often termed as the Russian answer to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey this Tarkovsky film is a masterpiece in its own right. Based on a novella by the Czech writer Stanislaw Lem the film is an exploration of the hubris of man and his overconfident dependence on science and technology as the answer to everything even when it utterly fails when confronted with an alien intelligence. Deliberately paced and at times irritatingly slow (the car driving sequence) this is not a typical science fiction film as there are no epic space battles or spectacular spaceships to feast your eyes on. On the contrary the film is a psychologically intense examination of man and the alienating effects technology and space exploration has on him as well as the resulting loneliness. (The film was recently remade by Steven Soderbergh as Solaris with George Clooney in the lead which although better than most Hollywood science fiction and featuring an intensely moody score still falls short of Tarkovsky’s version).

Earth: The second part in Deepa Mehta’s elemental trilogy is based on Bapsi Sidhwa’s novel Ice Candy Man (later published as Cracking India). Set during the turbulent times of India’s partition and the subsequent Hindu-Muslim riots that engulfed many parts of India as seen through the eyes of a young Parsi girl. A fine film if a little rough around the edges. It somehow lacks the edge that Fire, the first part of the trilogy, had even though it deals with a horrific period in India’s history. The somewhat tepid nature of the film is redeemed by the intense performance of Aamir Khan.

Baise Moi

Baise Moi (Fuck Me): A highly controversial film, co-directed by a former pornographic actress and a former massage parlor employee turned writer, that was banned in many countries upon initial release. It divided Western media over whether the film was blatantly exploitative or had a genuine point to make. The film is highly graphic in its depiction of sex and violence and most of the actors come from a pornographic background. In spite of its often exploitative nature the film I felt had a point in its depiction of two women who after being exposed to the brutality of men and society embark upon a killing spree. Shot on grainy digital video using available light the film seems more like an amateurish porn video than an actual film but the look of the film somehow suits its subject matter very well. While it is debatable whether their actions are justified or not one should at least commend the directors for offering an unflinching view of the ghettoized nature of modern French society in all its stark hypocrisy. But it never comes close to the masterful restraint and finesse shown by La Haine which dealt with some of the same issues although from a more obviously masculine perspective.

The Shawshank Redemption

The Shawshank Redemption: Another of my favorite films, Frank Darabont’s almost perfect adaptation of Stephen King’s novella is a modern masterpiece. It is a film that revels in the simple joy of telling a good story. Criminally ignored upon its initial release this film has developed a huge fan following after its DVD release and rightly so. It even managed to creep up to the #2 position in IMDB’s list of top 250 films of all time. A simple, warm and touching story set in an American prison the film is above all about one man’s hope. A hope that he will never let die. Morgan Freeman is simply brilliant and disappears into his character with his warm voice overs (that actually started an irritating trend for using his voice for narration in many other films) and gentle smile. This is a film you will keep coming back to over and over again and in the process find something new to like every time.

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Heroes

Heroes

Humans are by their very nature afraid of the other. Evolution has given us instincts that make us fear people different from us. So we build invisible walls, draw arbitrary lines that separate us into homogeneous groups based on color, caste, race and creed. We fence ourselves inside these artificial barriers. When placed outside our comfort zones we instantly gravitate towards the familiar, someone who speaks the same language or is from the same country or city. This is because there is safety in numbers, there is safety in the familiar. This must have helped us in our evolutionary struggles when the world was a fearful place where dangerous predators and unforgiving nature picked off the weaker ones or sometimes even the ones who did not conform.

But what if evolution sprang a surprise on us by throwing an unexpected curve ball? What if the next stage of evolution makes us look obsolete? What if, say through genetic engineering or purely evolutionary means, a new breed of humanity is born, equipped with powers we can only dream of or perhaps read only in comic books? How would we deal with that reality? Would we learn to exist in the midst of such ‘different’ people or would we give in to our instincts and try to destroy the emerging threat? Would it be our turn to become extinct?

It is in such a world Heroes is set in. A world where anything is possible. A world where being special takes on an entirely different meaning. A world on the cusp of immense change.

(To know more about the series go here).

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World Cinema Wonderland 2

Here is another round of word cinema goodness:

12 Monkeys

12 Monkeys: Terry Gilliam has always been very good when it comes to dealing with dystopian futures (Brazil anyone?). And this film is another prime example. A mind bending exercise in alternate pasts and grim reality. This is what happens when a present collides with a meddlesome future. Brad Pitt needs to be singled out for his delightful but edgy performance.

2001: A Space Odyssey : A stoner paradise for many but behind that spacey, chilled out vibe is the quietly effective brilliance of Kubrick. From the scientifically accurate special effects, minimalist set design and vague dialog to the brilliant marriage of music and motion Kubrick shows why he is one of the best directors of all time. This is how science fiction should be. And that sequence of docking spaceships set to Strauss’s Blue Danube? So delicate, so graceful and oh so beautiful. Go watch it please.

21 Grams: Stark, hard hitting and sad. Inarritu’s use of non linear narrative continues with this film from where he left off in Amores Perros. Naomi Watts is the pick of a talented ensemble cast.

Almost Famous

Almost Famous: An ode to all that was good about rock music before it got lost in self-indulgence and soulless stadium rock. This film is about the fallibility of rock musicians seen through the eyes of a wide eyed rock fan. Based on Crowe’s own experiences as a writer for Rolling Stone and touring with rock bands. Essential viewing for anyone with a passing interest in rock music.

American Psycho: Less disturbing than the book but still quite effective as a window into the vacuous greed of the yuppie culture in the late 80s and early 90s. Christian Bale gets into the skin of the character and behind his glassy persona you glimpse the other side of the American dream and it is scary for the depth of its emptiness.

Battle Royale

Battle Royale: Fukasaku offers this inventive but violent vision of the future. What if troublesome and rebellious school kids were packed off to an island and given lethal weapons with license to kill? Would that solve society’s problems and the travails of parents? See the film to know the answer.

Battleship Potemkin: A masterpiece in every sense of the word. I’d see this film again and again just for that famous Odessa steps sequence. Makes it hard to believe that the film was made way back in 1925.

Zodiac

Zodiac: Fincher’s return to form. A dark and edgy thriller dealing with a true story about a serial killer who was never caught. Fincher’s films always have this distinctive look and this is no different. The muted, slightly desaturated cinematography is highly effective in creating a confined world where danger seems to lurk around the corner. Jake Gyllenhaal is surprisingly effective as the reporter who is not willing to give up.

Training Day: Mainly known as the film that finally netted Denzel Washington his best actor Oscar. But beyond that the film is a disturbing exploration of the corruption that power unleashes. Apart from Washington’s bravura (but slightly over the top) performance watch out for Ethan Hawke’s sensitive portrayal of a rookie cop.

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Battlestar Galactica

Battlestar Galactica

I do not watch television. Not just because here everything is broadcast in German (even Hollywood and Hindi films are dubbed into it) but due to a habit borne out of the way my parents regulated me and my brother’s TV viewing habits. For academic reasons they never allowed cable TV so I was never part of the MTV, Friends (and other such popular TV series) phenomena. I grew up on good old DD and DD Metro. It is only recently, through the persistent recommendations of a lab colleague, that I’ve gotten around to viewing complete seasons of a few American TV series. Great TV shows like 24, Scrubs, House M.D. and Dexter have changed my perception on how TV shows can deal with serious issues in often convincing as well as entertaining ways. But more than all these series the one TV series that has impressed and even surprised me is the 2004 reimagining of Battlestar Galactica. Three seasons of the show have been broadcast so far on Sci Fi Channel in the US and Sky One in the United Kingdom and Ireland. A fourth and final season is slated to begin in April 2008.

Battlestar Galactica started originally as a TV series with a huge Stars Wars hangover in 1978 and became a cult hit. The 2004 reimagining is a complete reboot of the original series with significant changes to the storyline. The basic storyline as mentioned on Wikipedia is as follows:

Battlestar Galactica chronicles the journey of the last surviving humans from the Twelve Colonies of Man after their nuclear annihilation by the Cylons. The survivors are led by President Laura Roslin and Commander William Adama in a ragtag fleet of ships with the Battlestar Galactica, a powerful but out-dated warship at its head. Pursued by Cylons intent on wiping out the remnants of the human race, the survivors travel across the galaxy looking for the fabled and long-lost thirteenth colony: Earth.

To elaborate, the Cylons were a form of AI created by man who later rebelled against their creators. After the First Cylon War and a subsequent armistice agreement the Cylons leave humanity to disappear into space. They reappear 40 years later and launch a sneak nuclear attack on the human colonies nearly wiping out humanity. About 50,000 human survivors manage to escape with the Battlestar Galactica and try to survive in the long and arduous journey in search of a mythical Earth as a new home for humanity.

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World Cinema Wonderland

To paraphrase a soft drink ad from the past, I eat, drink and sleep world cinema. It is one of the few things that keeps me from going mad from the endless tedium of research. I usually have my favorite films running in the background even if I’m doing something else. And come weekends I love to curl up on my couch and lose myself in film after film from around the world. So as you can imagine I’ve seen a LOT of films, especially in the past four years. And every time I see a film I think about posting a detailed review here but as usual my laziness trips my good intentions. So instead I’ve decided to come up with short blurbs for some of the remarkable films I’ve seen, enjoyed, loved and even disliked. So without further ado here is the first part in what will hopefully be a regular series:

1. Apocalypse Now Redux: A difficult film both in terms of production as well as viewing but it is worth all the trouble. One of Coppola’s best with Brando’s brooding presence adding to the other worldly atmosphere of the second half. War is indeed the preserve of psychotics. And seminal use of music, be it 60s rock and roll or Wagner. Look for the Redux version.

Full Metal Jacket

2. Full Metal Jacket: Another Vietnam War film but with the distinctive touch of Kubrick. The boot camp sequence is still one of the most intense cinematic moments I’ve seen on film. Kubrick extracts superlative performances from lesser known faces and captures the pointlessness and dark comedy of the Vietnam War perfectly.

3. Amadeus: F. Murray Abraham. Watch it for him. And the music. And the period detail. Enough said.

Frida

4. Frida: Hayek excels but the film suffers. All biographies are not equal.

5. Lost Highway: The twisted universe of Lynch. Anything and everything is possible. From surveillance video tapes to meetings with weird people in the desert. Will you be able to unravel the madness?

Mulholland Drive

6. Mulholland Drive: Another Lynch masterpiece. And the hottest woman-woman love scene I’ve ever seen on film. That scene alone is worth the price of rental but the rest of the film is a tour de force of deception, betrayal and the cut throat hunger for fame.

7. Three Days of the Condor: Pollack at his finest. 70s paranoia translated brilliantly onto the screen. The enigmatic but very sexy Dunaway and quietly dashing Redford perform well.

Elephant

8. Elephant: Gus Van Sant’s sensitive exploration of the Columbine massacre. A chilling tale set in the world of seemingly normal school kids but madness is waiting to be unleashed.

9. Paris, Texas: Wim Wenders sometimes takes too long to get to the point but even then a brilliant film about love and loss set in Paris. No, not that one. The other Paris.

10. Miller’s Crossing: The Coen brothers are in fine form here. A brilliant film noir with really nice cinematography and strong story telling. The cast also shines.

11. Picnic at Hanging Rock: A breakthrough film for Australian cinema as a whole. Weir’s film is enigmatic, surreal and intensely moody. Leaves a lasting impression.

Silkwood

12. Silkwood: Based on a true story. Streep deserved an Oscar for her superb portrayal of a nuclear industry whistle blower.

13. The Hours: Superb screenplay and brilliant acting by three very talented women at the peak of their powers.

The Color Purple

14. The Color Purple: Whoopi and Oprah excel in this film based on Walker’s celebrated novel. One of Spielberg’s more serious films.

15. A Fish Called Wanda: British humor at its best. More accessible than the Python films featuring many of the Python regulars. If you like black comedies then do not miss this.

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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

It is 06:17 am and I’m done. I’ve finished the book after having read it through the night. And even me, never a big fan of the series, am strangely content. No, I’m not elated. I’m not even sad that the series has come to an end and that perhaps there will be nothing more. No, I’m just content. Content that I’ve finished a rollicking good read. Something that I was not expecting to say as I plodded my way through the first half of the book, through pedestrian prose and middling dialog. But from that point on the book picked up like a beast unleashed. And I found myself getting caught up with the events hurtling towards their singular conclusion. Who had time to pay attention to the language then? Who had time to stop and raise eyebrows at the derivative ideas that drove the story forward, the horcrux which was eerily similar to Tolkien’s great ring, the parallel quest of the Three and the Fellowship and many more similar literary devices and themes? There will be critics in the days to come who will go into excruciating detail over such things. But in the end I’ve to give Ms. Rowling credit where it is due. She excelled herself with the second half of the book and gave a fitting and cinematic end to the series (I can only imagine how exciting it would be for many to eventually see all that easily translatable action on the big screen). The last fifty or so pages passed by in a blur of breathless action and never ending danger. Even if the end is to be expected and perhaps mocked at she brought it to a close with confidence and without resorting to mawkishness.

Yes, read the book. Not just the fans but those of you who look down their long noses and wrinkling brows at a world gone crazy in the grip pf Potter mania, get off your high horse and immerse yourself for a few hours in a world which while inevitably simple is exciting. Take off that chip from your shoulder and place it aside for a few days. While you may justly mourn the death of good children’s literature, put it off for a few page turning hours and give yourself up to the hollow but unique charm of the book. I assure you, like me, you will forget time between those pages.

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20,000 Watt R.S.L.

20,000 Watt R.S.L.

The Dead Heart – Midnight Oil

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I’ll go out on a limb and say it; this has to be one of the best greatest hits compilations, ever. There I said it and now you can start throwing whatever it is you throw at people who make one sided statements like that! Wait, there’s more sacrilege coming, apart from this collection I haven’t heard any of their individual albums but I’ll still argue that they are one of the best bands in rock. Do you feel like calling me names like hypocrite and shallow now? I mean shouldn’t a true fan hear each and every one of their songs on every one of their albums and then make such statements? Well, perhaps one day I’ll, but right now I’ll still argue they are great based on this one collection.

Midnight Oil is or rather was an Australian rock band from Sydney who were (and still are) famous for their hard rock sound, strong espousal of left wing causes, incendiary live shows and of course their powerful and hard hitting songs. Led by the charismatic and outspoken Peter Garrett (who actually ran for the Australian Senate on a Nuclear Disarmament Party ticket) the band brought a new sense of left wing activism seldom seen in the mainstream music scene. They were fiercely independent and refused to tone down their commitment to sometimes unpopular causes. Famously, they performed in front of the Exxon headquarters in New York in 1990 in protest of the Exxon Valdez spill carrying a banner that read, “Midnight Oil Makes You Dance, Exxon Oil Makes Us Sick”. They also created a stir with their performance at the closing ceremony of the Sydney 2000 Olympics where they performed wearing shirts that were emblazoned with the word ‘SORRY’, a public apology for the suffering Australian aboriginals went through for more than 200 years under white rule and a direct affront to the Australian PM John Howard sitting in the audience who had refused to apologize to the aboriginals in a gesture of symbolic reconciliation. The band was unfortunately dissolved in 2002 as Garrett left to concentrate on his political career. Apart from Garrett the band consisted of Rob Hirst on drums, Jim Moginie on keyboard/guitar, Martin Rotsey on guitar and a changing line up of bassists.

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The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana

The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana

The publication of a novel by Umberto Eco is a big thing in my universe. After all, his ‘Foucault’s Pendulum’ is one of my all time favorite books. He is a master at mixing the arcane with the ordinary. So it was with a great deal of anticipation that I started reading his latest novel, ‘The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana’. Unfortunately, the book has been a big disappointment.

The book deals mostly with the period of World War II although the main character is said to be living in the recent past. The novel is clearly autobiographical in parts as it reflects the experiences Eco underwent as a child, when he went with his mother to live in a village in the mountains of Piedmont, as well as his experiences of growing up in Fascist Italy under Mussolini.

The novel is about a Milanese old books dealer called Yambo, who loses episodic memory (the ability to recall events) due to a stroke. He wakes up in the hospital to realize that he does not remember anything about his adult life. He cannot recognize his wife, daughter or his friends. However, he finds that he has excellent recall for all the books he has read. He attempts to somehow get his memory back. With that intention he goes back to his childhood home in Solara where he discovers all the comics and records he used to read and listen to as a child during the pre-war and war years. However, he is unsuccessful in recalling anything although he does get to know through the above sources and through his old housekeeper how his life must have been during that time.

One day, in the attic of the house he unearths a sensational find, the First Folio of Shakespeare. The shock of the discovery gives him another stroke and he goes into a coma. In the coma, he begins to discover aspects of his childhood life in the region as well as his adolescent sweetheart whose name he knows but whose face he cannot recall. In the coma, using the literary characters he knows from his comic books he tries to divine her face. Does he get his memory back? Is he successful in recollecting his first big love’s face? Does he wake up? You will have to read the book to find that out but I had stopped caring by then.

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