Now and Then.

Who the...?

Harendra Kapur.
Kyra Mathews.
Tejas Menon.

Michael Jackson's This Is It: A Review

Friday, October 30, 2009

Ello All,

Due to some miscommunication between us, I ended up watching This is it before him, and so, quite humbly, I'll go through with the review for it.
The film, as most of you will know, is a filmed record of what was happening behind the scenes of "One last curtain call" as Michael put it himself.
Unfortunately, as you will also know, a few days before the final dress rehearsals, The King of Pop, passed away- thus making the whole shabang only what would have been the greatest concert he ever put together. And compared to some of the things he's put on stage, that's one hell of a show we're talking about.
The film starts with some testimonials from the supporting dance troupe, about how honoured they are to be dancing alongside their hero. The testimonials continue throughout the film and we see, essentially how awesome his crew, his band and his dancers all thought he was, or at the time, 'is.'
Essentially it's a collection of videos showing the rehearsals and creative process of Jackson and Ortega (The director, and his choreographer). I won't describe or point out what stood out as stunning to me, in too much detail. I will say, however, the preparation, the planning and the way all the performances come together is thrilling. The music, the dancing, the stage set up, the background videos, all merge to form one hugely inspiring, moving and simply stunning performance after the other.
What struck me most though, and I think will strike you most as well, is not only how Michael treats the whole thing, but how everyone treats Michael.
There are many times when the band continues on cue, or the dancers continue as choreographed, and MJ stops them to make them do it the way he thinks it ought to be. What's incredible about this, is not his eye and ear for detail, but the way he feels so instinctively, when to let things 'simmer' and when to let things 'pop'. I've always felt, that one of his greatest stage moves was his mastery of the stance. Of holding, pausing or abruptly halting the whole thing to grip you with expectation. To let the audience cheer and scream and hope for the imminent powerful BURST back into groove.
The powerful dancing, the 'oomph' choreography, the music would all mean nothing, if it weren't given to us viewers with the expert timing and precision that MJ commands. It's like the right full stop in the middle. Of a sentence.
A command, further elucidated by the fact that MJ asks for what he does, not in technical terms, but ALWAYS in metaphor. "Play with love." "No. Do it like you're dragging yourself out of bed." (A fact Ishaan, my roommate and a bassist in several bands, found very very irritating, saying that it was very childish and very annoying when people expect other people to technically respond to emotive commands. He did agree though, after seeing MJ do his thing in a rehearsal of Billie Jean, that it was the smallest price to pay to be a part of something that awesome happening.)
And that's the amazing thing. How very much like a child MJ seems throughout. Not in being exuberant, but in being reserved to the point of seeming shy. His polite requests always come off, more as encouraging someone to do better, rather than discouraging them from doing worse- if that makes sense at all.
Even the stage technicians and choreographers- always polite, always patient, as if they were dealing with a 4 year old. Careful not to push him too much, at the same time making sure they don't misunderstand him and incite a tantrum. A tantrum, which incredibly, never seemed to come, as one would perhaps expect from a 'genius' like Jackson.
What we end up getting with this film, is a real sense of HOW he functioned and what motivated him to do what he does. At times it feels a bit corny but his innate fragility makes you wonder why you'd ever doubt it at all.
When I came out of this movie, I felt the need to MOVE! To groove and to express like I'd die doing it. To PANG and BOOM, the way most of the performances do. To stand tall, chest out and yell as loud and clear as I freaking can.
The thing about Michael Jackson is not that he could dance well and sing nice notes. It's not that he wrote beautiful songs and made excellent concerts- it's that above all else, he FELT it, man. He felt every time he pumped his crotch, he FELT every time he clenched his fist and sang out loud, he FELT every time he looked at the audience and said 'I love you and God Bless you.'
To love what you're doing, to feel in your gut, everything that you convey, if there is one thing I have learnt from Michael Jackson- This is it.
Rest in peace, dear Michael. For never growing up, for never losing heart and for ALWAYS loving, rest in peace.

The Michael Sheen trilogy: A Review

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Ello All,
I love movies. I Love Football. And like most of you, dear readers, I like British people.
So when I find a young, talented Welsh actor, who chose drama over sport, and still regrets that choice, it makes me jump up and down in little happy fits. That's happy. Not gay. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
The title of this post would suggest Michael Sheen has only three films to his name. That's just not true. He's done several other little performances, most notably in the Underworld series and the excellent Kingdom of Heaven.
But the fact remains, that his largely Theatre centric career, is most famous for three films- The Queen, Frost/Nixon and recently, The Damned United. I've seen all three now, in that order, and anyone who's seen them will agree they are excellent films.
All three represent real life characters, and as is the case with most depictions of real life characters, all are said to be flawed representations.
In the Queen, he plays a young, enthusiastic Tony Blair. His wide smile and charming demeanour immediately convince you he looks exactly like Tony Blair. He's impassioned, he's witty and above all else he's very very confused.
He then plays David Frost, the journalist who yanked out of Nixon what an entire American public failed to. His wide smile and charming demeanour immediately convince you he's some kind of awesome. He's impassioned, he's witty and he's also very very confused.
He then plays Brian Clough, the brilliant manager who led several shitty teams to great things. His wry smile, and self serving charm lead you to believe he IS 'Cloughie.' He's impassioned, he's witty, and above all else, he's very very stubborn.
Now it's clear that in all three cases there are many similarities, and in fact, a lazy watcher could say, he plays the same person over and over again.
To them, I would offer this quote from the man himself:
"It's interesting that in searching for monsters to play you often end up playing leaders."
The thing is, unlike Tom Cruise, who almost ALWAYS does play the same guy with a different name, Sheen tends to play, as he puts himself- himself.
Most great actors tend to put themselves into their part. In fact, our very own Tejas used it as a means to play his last, comparatively smaller part.
What amazes me about Sheen though, is that unlike Cruise, I am excited to see his next film, not because he is bad ass- but simply because I know how thoroughly flawed and innately big headed his characters(and he) can be.
In The Damned United, a film criticised, as always, for being untrue he changes his accent, his mannerisms and even the very core of his personality. The characters all have very different motivations, yet there is something about all of them, something in the way they all smile through their own personal problems and fight on to a greater clarity.
At this point, I think the best way I can describe my opinion of Michael Sheen is in one word- Intrigue.
I am thoroughly psyched to see him in Alice in Wonderland where he'll be playing the White Rabbit.
I have a feeling I know how he'll approach the role, and I have a feeling it will feel a little familiar again, but just like the last 2 films of his I saw, I cannot wait to see what happens with it.
To anyone who is yet to experience a Michael Sheen performance, I suggest you find yourself a copy of any of the three films mentioned here.
It will be a thoroughly intriguing watch, especially after you read this.

Street Thief: A Review...sort of

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Ello All

A few months ago I saw a movie called 'Smokin' Aces'. I loved it. I rate it as one of the best action films I have ever seen. As soon as it was done, I did my usual web analysis of it and like several films before- it partly ruined the film for me. Everyone hated it. Everyone mocked it and just about no one agreed with me.

Tonight I have watched a film called Street Thief. The movie is shot documentary style and is probably one of the best documentaries you'll see. Problem is it's not a freaking documentary.

After watching the film, I was stunned. It's slick and edgy and thoroughly real, in a very very raw way. I won't say it changed how I feel about the subject matter (Film makers follow a 'professional' burglar as he stakes out, plans and steals from several different places.) I won't say it's made some huge impact on my life, but the film really is quite amazing. It's thrilling, it's entertaining, and contains one of the best scores I've heard in a while.

The end of the film makes you doubt how real, or actually just 'how' the entire film amounts to what it does.

The weird part is the widespread debate about whether or not the film is real. I'd just like to clarify, to anyone else who was as confused as me, that the film itself is NOT real. The director plays the main 'subject', the 'director' in the film is played by an actor and the only other character of note is also played by an actor.

Clearly then, the film is not real. It IS entertaining, it IS gripping, and it IS a superb new way of showing burglars and the truth about professional robbery (let's just say, George Clooney may have misled us a teensy bit.) but the fact of the matter is, no matter how great a film is and no matter how many truths it can convey, if you're pretending to be a documentary, to the point that you do not mention your actual cast in the end credits, and you depict timelines and factual indicators throughout your film, then you're just a big fat steaming stinking Blair Witch ripping liar.

I love documentaries and I love fiction. Michael Moore does documentaries to seem as entertaining as fiction. The other way around just feels scummy. (To be fair, to many people, Michael Moore is just plain scummy for his own little lies.) Frankly, I believe that if these guys, had a superior script and better actors, we would have possibly one of the best fiction films of 2006.

Instead, and this is not to put down the exceptional performance of Malik Bader as the lead character, or in fact Ken Seng's exceptional cinematography, we have a film which entertains and excites, only to let you down hard and leave you with a very sour after taste.

While this post may have moved you a long way towards disliking the film even before you've seen it, I strongly recommend you watch the film and BELIEVE it for the 1 and a half hours it plays. It really is excellent viewing, just don't fall for it the way the Bader Brothers would like you to.
Till later, Gators.

FIFA vs Pro Evolution Soccer

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Ello All,
We don't usually do gaming posts though, I feel that's mostly an oversight more than it is some sort of policy.
So the first FIFA I ever played properly was FIFA 07. When I say properly of course I mean Manager Mode, where you play as the manager of a team for several seasons, scouting, making formations, trading, etc.
Within the football video game segment there are two main players- FIFA and Pro Evolution Soccer. FIFA is the undisputed market leader and Pro Evo is the nuanced underdog which people sort of treat like it's an acquired taste.
I've always seen it as chocolate and bitter chocolate. Everyone loves their dairy milk chocolate, but very few will incur the extra costs to stick loyally to bitter chocolate. You can't say either is better, you can only have an over bearing feeling that one is better.
I'd just like to break down what I feel are the real differences between the two, in light of the imminent releases of their latest versions.
Alright, so I'm going to break it down using four main criteria which I feel are very important to playing a football video game. I should point out though, that this involves the Manager Mode specifically. The exhibitions and tournaments are all well and good, but in my experience people spend most of their time in the Manager Mode.
I should of course point out, FIFA's exceptional developments in making the BeAPro and Live Season modes where you can play as one player and as your favorite(or not) team in the real conditions of real time.
1) Gameplay:
Now until, FIFA 09 the PES gameplay was far more realistic and far less flawed than FIFA's. Come 2008 and FIFA fixed the problem making the movement far less candy, and far harder to thrive in. Movements must be exact, headers and crosses timed perfectly and defences in perfect precision.
On this front, I'd have to say FIFA nips it because not only is it as nuanced as PES, I found that on their last versions, the FIFA gameplay required far more focus that the PES game did.
2) Transfers:
Alright, anyone who enjoys playing the matches or not, will agree that the greatest skill one requires to thrive in these games is one's activity in the transfer market.
FIFA has used the same model for years now and frankly it's quite rubbish. There are no swaps allowed, and most importantly you can very often get a completely misguided portrayal of a player from the stats they offer. PES on the other hand, allows for swaps, negotiations involve SEVERAL factors in that, Gerrard will NOT leave Liverpool just like that. In FIFA though you make one single bid and more often than not it works.
PES wins this round hands down.
3) Player treatment:
In PES, I've found, that generally players are better representations of their real life selves. PES sticks solely to a collection of stats while FIFA chooses to generalise using an 'overall' value. Fair enough, except that the players in FIFA, barring an elite few, do not perform the way they do in real life. Perhaps, it's just that they care more, perhaps it's their valuation systems, but for me PES depicts and creates 'lesser players like David Odonkor and even bigger players like Frank Lampard, far more realistically than FIFA does.
Furthermore, I find that in teams you aren't managing yourself, and are up against, the restrictive positional titles FIFA has given, tend to see important players playing unimportant roles, more often than not, nothing like the way they play in real life. Something that unless you're particularly obsessive about, you cannot rectify. It always bothers me that because Gerrard is a CAM, and liverpool's 4-4-2 involves only CMs, he does not fit in. Similarly, even Mascherano as a CDM, does not feature. Initially you relish the unfair advantage you have but after a while, it's just annoying that you cannot play against what you KNOW is Liverpool's best side in the Champions League final.
Suffice it to say, when Gerrard makes a run in PES, his movement, pace and reactions to commands are what I'd expect from the REAL Steven Gerrard.
PES with another one.
4) Details:
In PES, at the end of each season, there is a little image with the top scorer in a suit. There is then a little image with the best player in a little image. I like that. It matters to me that it matters to them.
In FIFA, I can verify the teams and players in more countries and more leagues. When I say more, I mean of course, just about all. The overwhelming number of rights accumulated is incredible and adds a depth and dimension that makes PES feel like a video game, while FIFA feels like a world.
Round 4 to FIFA.
As I said earlier, you cannot decide which is better, only which you prefer. For me PES is an amazing experience, but FIFA offers a greater longevity in that you can't get bored knowing how far down the league system goes in England. And Germany. And Spain. And Italy. And Portugal.

In my little experience with video games however, I must say it's in every player's best interests to just screw it and buy both.
For a much better review though, check these guys out.

Till later.
Sorry for the lack of posts lately. Hectic days lately. For Tejas. I'm just Lazy. And well you know Kyra posts are worth the wait. Do expect more in the near future. I'm going to capitalise on my vacation time.

Let the Wild Rumpus Start.

Friday, October 2, 2009

I have suddenly realized, that before going off to do my Masters in Children's Literature, I should actually KNOW something about Children's Literature. This epiphany led to the discovery, reading, understanding of Maurice Sendak's 1963 classic picturebook, "Where The Wild Things Are" which on the 16th of October 2009, will make its appearance as a full-length feature film.

I must admit, I couldn’t stand the book when I first read it some months ago. I prodded it in disgust and told Harry loudly, "I can't believe THIS is considered one of the greatest examples of children's literature in the world" and he agreed with me, just as loudly.

Then we read it again, and again, and again, and before we knew it, I was saying "That's a beautiful idea", and Harry was saying "That’s one of the most beautiful lines I’ve ever read", and somehow, without us knowing, we had fallen in love with the book - with the way Sendak wrote, with the way Sendak drew his Wild Things, with everything Max and his imagination represented.

The story is of a naughty little boy called Max, who is sent to bed without his dinner, because as his mother says, he is a wild thing. An angry Max, stuck in his room with only his anger to keep him company, imagines a forest, a vast ocean, and he finally reaches "The Wild Things" who "roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws" Obviously, Max tames these wild things, and they make him "King of all Wild Things" Max then leads his wild things into a wild rumpus, and they all revel in glorious rumpus-like revels, until Max's anger begins to fade, and loneliness sets in. From far far away, he smells his dinner, and realises that while rumpus-ing with wild things is fun, a place with dinner and "where someone loved him most of all" was the place he wanted to be. And so, he says goodbye to the wild things, and returns home. Where his dinner is waiting for him..."and it was still hot"

It's a story a 6 year old as well as an adult can relate to. How many us, when angry and unable to express that angry, fall back on fantasy and think of what we would do if we ruled the world, before we calm down and return the real world? All of us. Giving rein to anger through imagination is something we have done as children, and continue to do today.

While I have my misgivings about a children's picturebook being transformed into a feature film (especially a book comprising of 10 sentences) there are a few reasons this is a must-watch film
1) The trailer is most beautiful, and when I watched it in the theatre three months ago, I could hear people around me sniffling (in a good "Oh what a beautiful movie, must want to watch" kind of way) and I was a little goosepimply myself.
2) The movie is a product of the combined efforts of the director and Sendak, who spent around a decade perfecting it.
3) The most important reason of all: Its a Spike Jonze film, of Being John Malkovich and Adaptation fame. Jonze was handpicked by Sendak to bring his 10-sentence masterpiece to celluloid, and Sendak after seeing the completed cut said "I’ve never seen a movie that looked or felt like this. And it’s [Spike Jonze's] personal ‘this.’ And he’s not afraid of himself. He’s a real artist that lets it come through in the work. So he’s touched me. He’s touched me very much"

So while Im fortunate enough to have the wild things in my bookshelf (and in the most furious of my imaginings), I will on the 16th of October, "sail off through night and day and in and out of weeks and almost a year to where the wild things are"

The All of us.

The All of us.