Thursday, September 13, 2007

Graceless under pressure

Justin Henin defeated Serena Williams at the US Open. But judging from Serena's response, it would appear that Henin did not have to do anything special to defeat her. For a woman, who appears to depend so much on being in the limelight, she definitely has very poor manners. This is not an aberration. This is a common sight at press conferences after losses. I hope her sponsors pull out of their deals with her. Maybe then she would learn to acknowledge that the opponent across the net may have had something to do with it.

Specifically, this is what she had to say about Justine Henin's performance: "I just think she made a lot of lucky shots."

Contrast her responses with how Novak Djokovic talked about Roger Federer after the men's final, specifically in response to a loaded question where he was asked:

Q. You're talking about you being unlucky. Yesterday Davydenko said of Roger when asked, what's the one thing Roger does best, he said, Lucky. There were a couple of set points of his that the ball literally landed on the line. Were you feeling, Wow, this guy really is lucky?

NOVAK DJOKOVIC: As I was saying before, next to all those elements, all the positive strengths you have in your game, in your mind, you need a bit of luck. I cannot say that he is No. 1 player of the world because he's lucky (laughter). You know, that's a bit strange to say. You know, he's a big worker, very talented, a great player. That's why he deserves to be there where he is. But, of course, he is lucky and he gets these lines and lucky shots, I can say, because he's going for them. He's not trying to play safe. He's really being aggressive.

Djokovic is just 20 years old and had just lost in his first Grand Slam final after holding numerous opportunities in a match that he dominated for extended periods of time. Yet, not an ounce of bitterness exuded from him. You can read the entire transcript of his interview here.

Serena should be made to read that interview. Maybe she will learn something from it.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Clean transportation

In San Jose, I came across a Toyota Prius. Nothing great since a hybrid car is more likely to be found there than anywhere else. What was interesting was that it was a taxicab!

It inspires me to go and buy one for myself. If a cabbie can care about the environment, so can I.

Maggi Noodle Review: 3:10 to Yuma

Riding high

After the disappointment that I had last week, I stumbled onto a gem of a movie this week.

I walked into the theatre to watch "3:10 to Yuma" because of the two stars in the movie - Russell Crowe and Christian Bale. And boy, did they deliver?! Ram Gopal Varma should be hogtied and made to watch this movie to learn how to take a very simple story, let the actors talk (yes, the characters talk a lot more than they shoot), and build the tension and excitement.

Crowe plays a wanted bandit, who is captured and has to be transported to a town where he can be put on the train to Yuma, to be tried, and subsequently hung, for his offences. Bale plays a down-on-his-luck rancher, who desperately needs the money he will get for accompanying the men who will help transport Crowe. Lying in wait are Crowe's henchmen, hell-bent on retrieving their boss, regardless of personal loss or consequences.

Along the way Crowe and Bale elevate the movie from a simple shoot-em-up to something more engrossing. In a time where explosions and 3 second shots are supposed to reflect the attention span and intellect of the audience, it is great to see a director pan his camera slowly to catch the action and let the dialogues substitute for thrills.

Don't get me wrong - there is a lot of shooting, features one or two seemingly improbable gun battles, lots of folks die, and in many different ways. But through it all it somehow does not seem contrived. There are genuine moments of tension, anxiety, tenderness, and a whole lot of other emotions that you would not expect.

I'd write a lot more but I shall let the movie do its own talking. I hope this movie manages to do well at the box office. But I fear for its fate in this day and age when teeny-bopper slasher movies are the rage.

It is one of the best Westerns I have ever seen. Watch it and tell me what you think.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Maggi Noodle Review: RGV's Aag

Severely burnt toast

This past weekend I was walking around Manhattan (well, sort of), when I wandered into a movie theatre (check out the "pun"ny name of the theatre) to watch Ram Gopal Varma's ode to Sholay - the grand-daddy of contemporary Indian movies .

His movie is very humbly titled "Ram Gopal Varma Ki Aag".

I have seen some bad movies in my life. In my opinion, the worst I had ever seen was Battlefield Earth. I think I have found a competitor.

The star cast is fairly talented - Amitabh Bachchan, Mohanlal, Ajay Devgan, Sushmita Sen, Rajpal Yadav, Sushant Singh, and (in guest appearances) Urmila Matondkar and Abishek Bachchan. (Don't worry if I just ruined a "surprise" - it is a "blink-and-you-miss-it" cameo).

Just a few years ago RGV made a great adaptation of the Godfather, called Sarkar. While keeping the basic premise of the story he diverged greatly from the script, retained the tautness and the tension, and got great performances from his cast. I thought he'd do something similar with this one. Not so.

The biggest problem with the movie is also its draw card - Amitabh Bachchan. He plays Babban Khan as a growling, brooding, dark, Darth Vader-like character, unfortunately without the corresponding aura. In an attempt to be different from Amjad Khan's portrayal, Amitabh hogs the camera and does not let it go for hours at a time. You can see what he wants to say but the character takes so long you wonder why so many people still work for such a dimwit like him. Not once in the movie does he do anything to inspire fear or awe amongst the people that work for or against him. At least with Gabbar you could see why the other dacoits would want to hang out with him. With Babban Singh, all that his henchmen get for their troubles is an unnaturally dark room, heavy breathing, horse-hooved boots, a dry cough that is actually supposed to be a laugh, and lines that would make the victim kill himself to avoid the agony of listening to him any more. The only time in the movie Babban is menacing is when he leads into the scene that mirrors the "Ye haath mujhe dede, Thakur" scene from Sholay.

Mohanlal is a fine actor. But he is horribly miscast, his distinctly thick South Indian accent working against him. It was absolutely fine in Company where he played a similar role, but here it distracts, especially as he is the character with the most plot-critical dialogues. I have two words for you RGV - Boman Irani.

Ajay Devgan is terrible, sleepwalking through a role that he probably signed on for without looking at a script. Sushmita Sen spends the whole movie either crying or trying to act all serious and gambhir. Did I already use the word miscast?

The two relative newbies are the rickshaw-driver girlfriend of Devgan and Devgan's sidekick Raj. The girl cannot act. I looked at her profile on and was shocked to see that she is appearing or has appeared in 7 RGV connected films, out of the 11 in her career. I'd have thought one screen test would have sifted her out. Apparently not. She must really ace those screen tests. What else could explain RGV's infatuation, I mean admiration, of her acting skills?

As for Devgan's sidekick, he does not have much of a role and no memorable lines. His idea of becoming serious is to frown. Otherwise he has a bland expression - like a guy who has not yet made up his mind, waiting in line to order a pizza.

It all comes down to RGV. His camera work is shoddy. He needs to fire the guy that did the background score. Moreover, he needs to go back and watch his own movies to learn how to use silence as a way of communicating fear. In the first half-hour I thought (sincerely) that the movie was a parody of the original. Later on it gets so heavy with its seriousness that it is clear the director thought he was improving on the original. Yikes!

Oh yes, I think he forgot to pay his electricity bill on time. The whole movie is so dark, I swear it could have been filmed in the prehistoric ages and not a single scene would have changed. If anything, the flickering flames (pun intended) would have probably improved the movie.

Somewhere, Ramesh Sippy is cackling in delight. His movie's legendary reputation has further been enhanced by this abomination.