Madras Cafe (2013)

madras_cafe_xlgI watched the espionage/political thriller called Madras Café recently. It was set in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. The director of the film, Shoojit Sircar went on record to say that this film was ‘fiction created from facts’. The events that formed the backdrop for the movie were the Sri Lankan Civil War, and the assassination of India’s former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. The film opened a few months ago on August 23rd, 2013.

The star is John  Abraham, who usually plays hunky leading men. Playing the fictitious, Major Vikram Singh, Abraham had to shed some pounds and some muscle. To be an effective covert operative, he’d have to blend into a crowd. The role of the foreign (British) correspondent, Jaya Sahni, went to an American woman, Nargis Fakhri, who was born and grew up in Queens, NY.

As a thriller, the film is fairly effective although it is partially hamstrung due to the merging of two stories. One story line is the fact that India sent in covert operatives as a means to try to get the Sri Lankan Sinhalese majority to reach an accord with the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka.  This would, if accomplished, a political solution to the ongoing and extremely bloody Sri Lankan civil war. This pretty much takes up the first half of the film.

The second story thread is that in the course of events, Major Vikram Singh, with Sahni’s help, discovers a plot to assassinate an unnamed Ex-PM. We know that Gandhi was assassinated when a woman carrying a bomb beneath her clothes blew herself and him up at a political rally in a South Indian town. So there’s no real suspense about that. Even so, the race to try to prevent it and save Gandhi was thrilling.

Okay, Abraham and Fakhri are good-looking, attractive people. Director Sircar filmed in Malaysia, Thailand, India and the UK. With the attractive leads, and the great locations shoots, the film looks beautiful.  The extremely high body count is another factor. While not quite as heavy as what we saw in The Killing Fields, it is certainly not a film to bring the kids to.

Another aspect that makes this a film that is far different from much of the Bollywood fare we see, is that there’s no song and dance numbers. Singh and Sahni are not suddenly transported to some alpine setting for a love song. In fact there are no love scenes. Singh is a married man, and true blue. And Sahni is all business.

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Happy Thanksgiving 2013

Happy Thanksgiving !

It has been my custom, and tradition, to offer my thanks on this American holiday by sharing some works of art with you. The works selected for this year’s Thanksgiving Day post share no common theme, no particular style, and are clearly not Thanksgiving based works of art.

I’ve offered the famous Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving Day painting at least twice before so we won’t see it again this year. I also won’t be offering any of my long time favorite artists either. So we won’t have anything by James Bama, Steve Hanks, Alfredo Rodriguez, or Robert Duncan (all subjects in previous Thanksgiving posts) this time. This year is a no-repeat artist offering.

As usual, there are a myriad of things that people will do on this day, many of which are weather dependent. But besides activities like watching football, carving a turkey, traveling to Grandma’s or Grandpa’s home, or simply taking some time to relax, this year, Black Friday starts on Thursday in many places. And that means people will be manning the cash registers and working the shopping aisles in many stores.

So they won’t be relaxing. If shopping is part of your agenda for Thursday evening, so be it. Hopefully you will run into the bargains you seek. And be sure to thank those who are working on Thanksgiving.

But now it is time for the art. We will start with an art work where the subjects are clearly not happy about Thanksgiving.

Three and a Half Toms by Guy Coheleach

Three and a Half Toms by Guy Coheleach

It is called Three and a Half Toms. The artist is Guy Coheleach. Guy is an American Wildlife artist, and he was born in 1933 which makes him about 80 years old. His works have been featured in our own White House.

American Bald Eagle  by Guy Coheleach

American Bald Eagle by Guy Coheleach

In fact, prints from Coheleach American Eagle series have been given to visiting Heads of State. As for the turkeys in Tom’s painting, I can only offer my best wishes.

I’m not sure if fox-hunting is something that is done on Thanksgiving, but it does have a fall seasonal flavor to it. Below is a painting called Waiting for a Friend by Carol Lee Thompson.

Waiting for a Friend by Carol Lee Thompson

Waiting for a Friend by Carol Lee Thompson

Carol is a Signature Member of the OPA (Oil Painters of America). She resides in Maryland. Doesn’t that rolling hill country look great.

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Homeland – Where We Are, and Where We Are Going – A Recap

So with 3/4 of the season already aired and now sitting in the Showtime’s archives, the head honchos for Homeland, finally decided to kick-start the show, and get it running fast, or at minimum, a whole lot faster than what we’ve seen over the first 8 episodes. Gearing up for the home stretch is an expression that seems to fit.

Actually it started at the end of the previous episode called A Red Wheelbarrow, when Saul Berenson showed up in Caracas, Venezuela, of all places. As far as we knew before hand, he had little reason to even think about Caracas, except for the fact that Farah had developed a case that linked Javadi to Venezuela. But as for going there – it didn’t figure at all. But as we’ve discovered, plot twists and surprises are not unheard of on this show.

Specifically, Saul arrived at The Tower of David, a decidedly down market, a building that was unfinished and abandoned to squatters,  apartment complex, where Nicholas Brody lived or existed in squalor. Brody didn’t much care about anything except when could he next jab a spike into his arm which would deliver his dose of smack.

The stench of the rat shit, cat shit, and likely bat shit, was enough to get Saul to reach for handkerchief to cover his nose and mouth. Likely, Brody wasn’t at his freshest either. Then again, I wasn’t there in person. Anyway that’s how Episode 8 ended.

This episode, called Horse and Wagon begins in the hospital where Carrie is recovering from the gunshot wound. She was shot by Peter Quinn, intentionally, so she wouldn’t blow up a mission of major importance to Saul. Carrie’s now smoking and is basically indifferent to the fact of her pregnancy. When her doctor says, You know, you are 13 weeks pregnant? Carrie is like Yeah, so? Carrie and Saul will also have to work on their simmering distrust.

Brody has to be brought back to the states and coaxed, or whipped into shape. At the moment he’s not even interested in standing up much less working with Saul on the forthcoming mission. Saul pays the $10 million ransom to El Nino and his vaqueros, and Berenson, Brody, and the boys say hasta la vista to the Tower of David.

It’s not like Saul can march Brody into the Naval Hospital at Bethesda, or Walter Reed. No, they have to stay off the reservation. Saul insists that Brody go through his drug withdrawal and detox cold turkey, but that might kill him. Dar Adal suggests, and recommends from personal experience, that they use ibogaine.

The last time I heard about Ibogaine, was back in the 70’s in the Hunter Thompson book Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail 1972. Thompson suggested that Democratic Presidential hopeful Ed Muskie basically blew up his chances for running as the Democratic candidate by ingesting the hallucinogenic Ibogaine. Thompson was clear to state that all of this was unsubstantiated as well as unproven. Some suggested that it wasn’t Muskie that took the ibogaine, but rather it was Thompson himself. And that was never proven either. But it did make for interesting reading.

But in a bit les than three weeks, Brody did make it through his withdrawal, and if he wasn’t quite the standard image of a spit and polished Marine in full dress, at least he was out of the crapper and functioning.

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Once Upon a Time in Mumbai Again

Once Upon a Time in Mumbai Again opened a bit more than three months ago on August 15th in India  as well as select markets here in the USA. Directed by Milan Luthria and written by Rajat Arora, the film was billed as the sequel to Once Upon a Time in Mumbai which I reviewed here. At the end of that film, a big gangster, Sultan Mirza, aka The Don, and played by Ajay Devgn, was assassinated by Shoaib Khan. This film begins 12 years later.

Don't even think of saying no to this man

Don’t even think of saying no to this man

Shoaib is played here by Akshay Kumar. He’s all flash, and dazzle, sartorially splendid in his neatly pressed and well-tailored clothes, and his trademark sunglasses which he wears night or day. He carries himself as if he knows that he really does look like he is capable of imposing fear or snuffing out the lives of those who oppose him. In fact, that is his calling card. He gets what he wants either by taking it outright, or by being scary enough that folks won’t dare to protest. That’s how the role is written. Akshay does his best to fill Devgn’s shoes as The Don, and the boss of all of Mumbai’s underworld. But he has a staff of just three or four guys on hand. Yes, they can hire street thugs, goondah’s in Hindi, or goons in English, at a moments notice, but his whole operation seems a tad flimsy.

Early on, Shoaib befriends a young teen-age boy, one Aslam, who of course will grow up and become Shoaib’s right hand man. The adult Aslam is played by Imran Khan.

Of course, there’s a woman – Jasmine who is played by Sonakshi Sinha. She’s an aspiring actress, from Kashmir, and she really doesn’t know anything at all about Mumbai’s underworld, or the fact that Shoaib is the kingpin. Naturally she will come to the attention of Shoaib, who as a big time crime lord, has his finger into a lot of things – including the movie business.

She’s not all that impressed by Shoaib’s power moves, in fact, she’s unaware that he is even making moves on her. She has no sense of who or what he is. And that captures his attention. Who is this girl to stand up to me is what circles round and round in his head. Of course, he is not at all used to women reacting this way towards him, so he is intrigued more and more with each day.

Meanwhile, Jasmine will meet Aslam in a completely different context. He doesn’t tell her he works for a gangster, instead he tells her that he is a tailor. He too is smitten almost immediately.

There’s your set up, as well as story construct. Think of a wheel – Sonakshi as Jasmine is at the hub, and Akshay and Imran are at either end of the spoke. The wheel goes round and round. Some how and quite implausibly, Boss and Right Hand Man remain blissfully unaware that each is after the same woman.

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The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Show Business meets the Gladiator games in the dystopian future – is merely a good starting point of a description for Catching Fire. Of course this film isn’t really about show business nor gladiators in the days of ancient Rome. But the connections are inescapable.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is the second film of the series adapted from the Suzanne Collins YA novels.

Opening: Katniss sits in the forest waiting for something to kill for dinner, and pondering her situation

Opening: Katniss sits in the forest waiting for something to kill for dinner, and pondering her situation

With Jennifer Lawrence returning as Katniss Everdeen and a new director, Francis Lawrence, at the helm, I entered the theater eager for this film despite the lingering thought that the whole idea of Panem, and its authoritarian Capitol, along with young people fighting to the death for the amusement of the multitudes, was no longer new to me.

For those of you who haven’t read the books, the first film of the series ended with Katniss and Peeta, rather than one killing the other to emerge victorious and remain alive, decide to commit suicide in a joint pact. That didn’t happen, and they were declared co-winners. Across Panem, and particularly in the poorer Districts, this was considered extremely brave, meritorious, and delighted the rank and file.

President Snow and GamesMaster Plutarch Heavensbee discuss the Katniss 'problem'

President Snow and Gamesmaster Plutarch Heavensbee discuss the Katniss ‘problem’

But this didn’t go down all that well in the Capitol’s corridors of power. Especially with President Snow who felt that the breaking of the tradition (one victor) was a personal affront to him and the regime. But he could do nothing, as Katniss and Peeta were universally the country’s darlings, except in the minds of the true hardliners.

Just like in the first film, Gale is not going with Katniss to the Games

Just like in the first film, Gale is not going with Katniss to the Games

The thinking was that if these two could defy, then surely more would follow. And if that happened, abject acceptance of Panem’s laws might no longer be as sure of a thing as it had always been. Armed with hope, the populace could become dangerous.

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Drug War (2012)

In China,
Manufacturing Over 50 Grams of METH
Will Get You the DEATH PENALTY.
Timmy Choi Has Manufactured TONS.

In acclaimed director Johnny To‘s film Drug War (2012), early on, Timmy Choi played by Louis Koo, is captured by the cops after his lab blows up killing his wife and her two brothers. Choi was also on the scene, but he survives the explosion, but his subsequent car crash into a restaurant leads to his arrest. That’s how we meet Choi.

Meanwhile, Police Captain Zhang  played by Sun Honglei is on an undercover assignment on an inter-city bus that is carrying a bunch of drug mules cross-country. Of course the mules have ingested the drug pods, and will have to expel them for the police at the hospital. This is beyond realism. almost more realistic than you might want. However, we don’t see see the actual expulsions.

But that’s how we meet the two leads.

In his interrogation, Choi is told that he will soon be executed. I don’t wanna die, he says. Is there anything I can do?

Louis Koo as Timmy Choi

Louis Koo as Timmy Choi

Of course there is. The cops want more than just Choi. They want to bring down the whole cartel. Choi is tasked with leading the cops to the heads of the cartel, and to set up a sit down with them bringing along the undercover cop as his buyer. Choi will be wearing some high-tech video and audio micro transmitters of course, and the stakes are high. Very high, or said yet another way – Choi as well as the undercover cop, Captain Zhang, were soon going to be in grave danger. Yes, the question about grave danger, first posed by Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men certainly applies here – Is there any other kind?

Choi is truly between a rock and hard place. If he screws the cops, they will track him down and kill him. I shouldn’t have to say that by screwing the cartel, Choi is also signing his own death warrant.

Have a look at the trailer –

There’s your set up.

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About Time

Though I am still struggling mightily with jet lag, I managed to see About Time yesterday. Yes it is true, that Domhnall Gleeson‘s Tim Lake does use this time travel tool for his own ends and the results are clearly the objectification of the women he encounters. You can see this ever so clearly in the trailers. But I must add the following qualifier – it is only to begin with.

My son, although it will be hard for you to believe, we have a family secret that I must pass on to you, now that you are 21

My son, although it will be hard for you to believe, we have a family secret that I must pass on to you, now that you are 21

Bill Nighy as Dad

Bill Nighy as Dad

Once Dad (Bill Nighy) passes on the family secret upon Tim’s 21st birthday, to the disbelieving Tim, that the men in the family do have this power (which is limited to time travel only within their own lifetimes and strictly not for avarice or greed), you might wonder about the how. Quite simple, actually. Find a dark closet, clench your fist, think of where you want to be – and that gets it done.  Tim says he hopes he can use it to find himself a girl friend.

Margot Robbie as Charlotte

Margot Robbie as Charlotte

It works favorably (in a do-over sense rather than the carnal sense) with the gorgeous Charlotte (Margot Robbie who appeared in the failed Pan Am TV series and has a role in the forthcoming The Wolf of Wall Street), but Tim learns that the ‘power’ can not create love where it doesn’t exist. So Charlotte moves on and out of Tim’s life (however not quite forever).

Rachel McAdams as Mary

Rachel McAdams as Mary

Then Tim meets Mary, played winsomely by the always likeable Rachel McAdams. And yes – with Mary, Tim exploits her, but only up to a point.

The thing of it is – that Tim doesn’t use the time travel thing indiscriminately and just for his own sexual needs. There’s Harry the  playwright whom he helps, and Rory, an associate at the law-firm where Tim works, and then Kit-Kat, his own sister, who has the knack of acquiring the worst guys as b/f’s.

Basically what I am saying is that Tim begins on the path of the gratification of his own desires. But he does makes a course correction. And to be fair, it wasn’t always a one-sided thing. Tim desired Mary, and Mary also desired Tim.

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Last Full Day in Hong Kong

Today, Tuesday the 12th of November is my last full day in Hong Kong. I’ve just two things planned. Sometime after 9:35 AM, but definitely before 10:20 AM I would head down from the Mid-Levels towards Hong Kong Station. There I would be able to check in for my 9:35 Cathay Pacific flight to New York on Wednesday, get a boarding pass, and hand over my 30 inch, red, and wheeled Kipling duffel bag.

Getting there is easy - just follow the great signs which read In-town Check-In

Getting there is easy – just follow the great signs which read In-town Check-In

The time frame had to be just so because I could not use the in-town check-in until less than 24 hours before my flight, and I had to leave before the Down Only Mid-Level Escalator became the Up Only Mid-Level Escalator.

The all-important round trip ticket between the Airport and Hong Kong Station - purchased on the plane for just $21 US dollars

The all-important round trip ticket between the Airport and Hong Kong Station – purchased on the plane for just $21 US dollars

It worked like a charm. By the time I was done with the down escalator, and the covered walkways above the city streets, I’d then be entering the IFC Mall. From there it was all indoors.

Check in at Cathay Pacific

Check in at Cathay Pacific

I presented myself and my passport and my duffel at the Cathay Pacific counter. The young lady checked her watch, then proceeded to get me all checked in and set. Shortly after, I had a boarding pass in hand and had some time to kill. I found a Delifrance shop and had myself a ham and scrambled egg on baguette and a coffee. I had time to kill because I had to wait for the escalators to change directions.

The only other plan was to meet Jeannette and Yu Ling for dinner that night. Jeannette had mentioned that she would be in in Mongkok, and that is where Yu Ling worked. I had only been to Mongkok once before and that was with Jeannette who gave me a brief tour of the street markets. But that was years ago.

A street view of an entrance to Langham Place. I camefrom the MTR station below the building

A street view of an entrance to Langham Place. I came from the MTR station below the building

Now Mongkok still has the street markets, but it also has the up-market Langham Place, a towering structure which you can enter directly from the MTR. There are shops, a hotel, and above all that is an office tower.

The architecture is new and modern. Like nothing you’ve ever seen before, at least on the interior. It is easy to lose track of what floor you are on because one of the escalators is 83 meters long – that’s 272 feet or nearly the lengthy of a football field. Basically, the central core is an atrium, and the escalators seem to stretch toward the sky, only we are in doors.

I ultimately met Jeannette at the Starbucks whch turned out to be on the 4th level rather than the third. Or maybe it was the other way around. But she found me.

Yu Ling worked upstairs so we knew she would find us.

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Monday Night, November 11th – My Penultimate Night in Hong Kong

The 11th of November was my penultimate night in Hong Kong. I was going to do the solo bit tonight. Dinner was at the Zabon Ramen shop on Hollywood Road. At this point, Hollywood Road ran as an underpass for traffic and pedestrians beneath the escalator/covered walkway overhead.. The Zabon Ramen shop was just about beneath the escalator.

As you enter the shop – all the staff will announce that they are welcoming you – Iraahaimase!

You are directed to a space at the counter, or to a table for groups of three or more. In the above photo, I sat where the man (on the left side, drinking from a cup or glass is seated.

There’s a menu with pictures and text, and a notepad with check boxes for you to enter your selections. There’s also a place for you to advise how you want your ramen noodles: firm, soft, or normal.

After scanning the menu, I opted for some small pork dumplings (gyoza) and a large bowl of miso ramen.

Plus a Kirin Beer.

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