Sunday, August 12, 2012

Cinema Babble: Not Jason. Not Bourne. Not Bad.

The Flick: The Bourne Legacy

The Peeps: Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz, Scott Glenn, Stacy Keach, Matt Damon's photo, Edward Norton, etc, etc.

The Dealio: In one sentence? 'There was never just one.' Told in a series of inter-slashing scenes that ricochet between the past and the present-and even uses scenes from the last Bourne installment- this is the story behind the story. Jason Bourne was not a one-off. But, there is a taddy bit of a blast from the past in the very first scene: a man is seen floating, spread-eagled, in the water, (an exact duplicate of a scene opening both the original book on Bourne and the first movie). This time around, we focus in on super-strong and -strategic loner, Aaron Cross (Renner), how he came to be part of the mysterious Outcomes program and also, what all of this has to do with a series of inexplicable-and violent- events in disparate parts of the globe. Weisz' Dr. Marta Shearing is another piece of the puzzle, and witnesses a terrifying shoot 'em up, barely escaping with her life. And, then, things get really chaotic. Someone, somewhere (my money is on DC), pushes fast-forward and the game is afoot. But what, exactly, is the game? What are the stakes? And why are all these people such terrible drivers?

The Grading Session: 4.78 pengies out of 5. A worthy successor to the Jason Bourne stories/films, this tale has both roots in the past and growth in its future. Renner goes from zero to ninety, emotionally, in the space of a single conversation. The support cast is well chosen- but I would have wished for an actress as doughty as Weisz is, to have been allowed to show a little more gumption earlier on in the movie, vice saving it till the last quarter of the film. Your mileage may differ.

Lessons Learned: If a two-person team shows up at your door unexpectedly, keep your eye on both. Also this: wolves are not simply doggies in the wild. Forget this at your own peril. Lastly this: apparently, no matter where you live, work, eat, shop, escape, no matter how off the grid you think you are, there are literally TONS of cameras/satellites/eavesdropping and filming devices ready to be re-tasked to reveal your every freckle, grimace  and syllable. AKA: the Person of Interest plot is real, man!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Biblio Babble: The Non-Fiction Book You Wish Was Fiction

The Read: Behind The Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity

The Writer: Katherine Boo

The Dealio: Set smack up against the incredible beauty and modernism of Mumbai Airport, and flanked by high-rise hotels of unimaginable luxury is Annawadi, a makeshift slum (undercity, in local terms),  populated by people who feel privileged to have pulled themselves up to this crown jewel of undercities. Alternately dedicating  long, hard hours goudging out a living from the trash and cast-offs of the airport and hotels located just there, and trying to work some sort of a deal that will catapault them, effortlessly, into the high life, these people are full of life, hopes and mordant reality. And Boo brings them to us in an almost motion-picture  immediacy. As the citizens of Annawaddy watch a ticking clock intent on the distruction of their slum, they also spin dreams and hopes and plans that see them moving up, and eventually, away. Abdul is a  teenager of few words, but many ambitions, seeing a future of success, built upon his entrepreneurial efforts with trash. Meanwhile, Asha, a woman who yearns to be a voice, a representative, but more than that, a real power-broker in Annawadi, operates behind the scenes of every major event in the undercity, to cement her role as 'the ultimate fixer'. At turns amusing and horrifying, we open the tale with a woman dousing herself with gas and setting herself on fire. Why? In order to embroil neighbors she perceives as more affluent, in the justice systems which may provide some financial relief to her and her family. The events begin to unspool at a hectic rate, interspliced with peeks at the justice system, the pay-offs ('facilitation fees') that bankrupt families, and the yearning of all to live a better life.

The Grading Session: 4.89 pengies out of 5. This was a very difficult book to read-several times, I put it aside to read other, more lightweight ones- because the scenes, all very vividly recounted, made me feel, at once, scalded by their violence, and ashamed of myself for my petty complaints about  my day-to-day inconveniences. However, it was a book that was also hard to put down. Boo spent over three years living in and around Annawadi, researching the book, getting to know the  undercity dwellers and their struggles and victories, as well as the unspeakable, grinding tragedies that were a part of their everyday world. If you are looking for a book with a great, uplifting finale...pass this one on by. But do so at your own peril. You will miss a hell of a story. Your mileage may differ.

Lessons Learned: Wealth is a relative term. For those who live in the undercities, it means having an actual wall between you and your neighbors. Having the money to get medical care. Being able to go to school. Not worrying that you will be unable to keep rats out of your kids' cribs and having water that will not kill them, if they survive the infected bites. It really does not resemble anything you may have seen on My Super Sweet Sixteen.
And, lastly, if superhuman effort were enough, several major players in this story would be wildly successful and set for several lifetimes. Unfortunately, it is not.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Cinema Babble: What you think about this flick probably depends on your age

The Flick: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

The Peeps: Bill Nighy, Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson, Dev Patel, etc.

The Dealio: Several Brits 'of a certain age' decide that their retirement funds will go a whole lot further if they are only willing to transplant to The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. In India. While each person who elects to relocate has a different reason for doing so, all have the same mixed feeling of anxiety, fear of the unknown and excitement at their daring, at this point in their lives. Their ability to settle in and make a new life for themselves, however, is highly dependent on their flexibility and unstaunchable Brit 'can do' attitude. Some have it in spades (Wilkinson's Graham in particular has nothing but positive enthusiasm and relish  for the changes), others are finding this a real mistake (Wilton's Jean is appalled at every turn by what she sees as a total breakdown in the privilege and culture she has come to rely upon in England). What will happen next? Simply put: everything.

The Grading Session: 4.23 pengies out of 5. This was a really good flick, but not a  really great one. I think the world of Maggie Smith, but I found her attitude change, in particular,  to be a bit...incredible. Not unwelcome, just hard to buy. I thought Bill Nighy and Judi Dench to be delightful and enjoyable in nearly every scene- talk about chem and riveting acting! Although fairly predictable and finally, a bit too pat, I did enjoy this movie and felt the participants did a wonderful job of distracting me from the meringue-weight lightness of the entire endeavor.

Lessons Learned: Apparently, having something of weight to do is all the distraction I will need once I am of retirement age, to make me forget what doesn't work as automatically as once happened. Also this: if you are a fish out of water- get back into the water. You will never figure out the knack of breathing air. Lastly this: all manner of short-comings can be swept under the (non-existent) carpet if a host is charming and engaging enough.

Notable Quotables: Just one. And it is a honey: 'We have a saying that all will be right in the end. If everything is not all is not yet the end.' I need to remember that.