Sunday, September 23, 2018

Are you a 21st Century Woman?


Taking Calculated Risks and Returning to the Basics

I had this rather challenging assignment to finish today. How does a new women-centric publishing company define an ideal 21st-century woman in its vision statement and even if it can, is it correct to generalize it? But what is the 21st century woman? Or rather, how does one perceive 21st-century womanhood? 

If you are a woman, perhaps the biggest paradox on the horizon is the new resurgence in feminism - abortion rights, #metoo activism, corporate equality, women safety, and much, more. While many would say "we've come a long way baby", yet, women continue to be bombarded by society's continuing entourage of conflicting and mostly self-defeating messages - thin is in, fat is all that, be sexy, be modest, burn your bra, be Barbie, don’t be Barbie, get fake boobs, please your man, be your own, be perfect, be natural, be independent, make a career, stay at home, have babies, raise your kids, let someone else do it, be promiscuous, stand up, fight back, tolerate - the list is endless and ever-changing. 

This is where the risk-taking comes in - you must define who you are and who you want to be, not what society expects you to. Sometimes what you want is going to go against the grain, sometimes you'll find yourself going with it. No matter the path you choose - it is your choice and yours alone and it always must be yours. But that doesn't mean that you don't need or want a little help along the way, or maybe just some acknowledgment and understanding as you wrestle with life's choices. If you are lucky enough, a good boyfriend, a supporting husband, loving parents, helpful siblings, caring friends, all can make this journey a less complex. 

However, ultimately, life is what we make of it and when it all just seems a little too overwhelming, that's when it's time to remember that it doesn't have to be tough, that it doesn't have to be complicated, that really what it all boils down to is quite basic. 

The basics are this: Nothing much has changed - our societal values and beliefs may fluctuate over time, but the basic instincts, responses, drives and motivations of people - of men and women - remain the same - and no one can truly argue that. We all are creatures of needs, worldly wants, and vain desires - things sexual, instinctual, and even cerebral. But, whether you tout the moral majority or the bra-burning 60's, or pick your battles somewhere in between - when it comes to matters of the flesh - in the end our hearts and bodies rule our heads, it just may take some folks longer to realize or accept that than others. 

So, if you consider yourself a 21st century woman, it's all about taking risks worth taking and returning to basics, but pragmatically. So that's where you stand, for those of you who know what you want out of life, from men, from women, from relationships, from careers, from marriage, from your heart, your mind, your selves – you are your own forum, your sounding board, your recreation, your "push" when you feel you need pushing. And it is the push that is actually the pivot point here - taking calculated risks and returning to basics of being a woman. Ah yes, there's nothing more fitting for the ever-changing 21st century woman no better than a good paradox.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Turning on the Girls - Cheryl Benard


A wickedly amusing novel with a feminist dystopian premise 

I will make a confession: I didn't really want to read this dystopian battle of the sexes satire where women rule the world sometime in the future after a great revolution. A future where patriarchy and testosterone male hood has been banished, stiletto heels, romantic novels and rape fantasies banned and vegetarianism is mandatory. 

Behind its innocent looking, flowery cover, the pitch sounded so blatantly feminist, it screamed “feminazi". A bit though provoking indeed but too "pro-women, anti-men" for my tastes. Yet, the preview still piqued my interest, and I thought I'd just buy it and read a bit to confirm my curiosities. Secondhand books can surprise you a lot. 

I barely got through the very first page, it was as if Cheryl Benard knew what was going through my head because it was as if she had started to talk to me. No, I'm not exaggerating or crazy, the author literally breaks into the story to do a little explaining for us. About four pages later, I actually liked her unconventional prose and silly sense of wicked humor and continued to read. Much to my delight, I must add. 

You can read the preview or an excerpt online to find out about the outlandish Orwellian plot with a feminist spin so I won't repeat it all here. I just have to say that it’s been a while since I read a radically inventive novel quite like this in the recent years. Weird sci-fi movies yes but a totalitarian gender-centric novel laced with erotica and dark humour? no. 

It wasn't just the plot that had a remarkable twist, it was also the way the story was told. It’s almost as if Cheryl Benard forgot to read the rules of storytelling and skipped her writing classes in college watching Terry Gilliam's terrific 1985 gem "Brazil" for inspiration instead. And much to the reader's joy, it works most of the time. The way she pokes fun at the differences between men and women without taking sides or condemnation is a comic relief throughout. 

As long as you don’t take this very seriously and ignore the many silly clich├ęs and unnecessary gender arguments, the subtle humor placed throughout (like Justin sipping on a "Bloody Henry") is crafty and witty, alone makes a fun breezy read. If you thought women would make the world the better place, this bizarre novel turns this idea inside out, over its head, and still surprisingly succeeds.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Love is the Solution, Loving Yourself actually


Women, love the shit out of yourself! 

Feminism and women rights are all over the news lately. Credit Harvey Weinstein and the #MeToo movement. And it’s good. Finally, some real chatter on sexual harassment, healthy debates on gender discrimination and meaningful discussions on women empowerment but let’s face it, will it bring about real change? How long is the buzz going to last? The corporate world just sees this a good opportunity for free PR and the most of the mainstream media, shamelessly as ever, crass and voyeuristic. 

Unfortunately, expecting men to change is still a complicated work in slow progress. In my not so unpretentious opinion, I think women don’t need men to bring about this transformation. I doubt if the whole “menkind” will ever evolve to really respect womanhood. Maybe women should stop living in this vicious blame game and move on with a real new spin on the “change is good” philosophy. 

There’s always been a straightforward solution and it ain’t rocket science. Women must start loving themselves. It's really that simple. That’s the real cure. No opportunity to be used or abused! You don’t need anybody’s approval; you don’t have to ‘fit in’, simply learn to love yourself. 

If you are a woman, I know it sounds like something you'd already heard on some TV show. Now, before you twirl barefoot under falling cherry blossoms while remembering your womanly spirit, get real. Think of how many women and girls in your life who truly love themselves? Fact is, too many girls, young 20something – 30something women, and I'm sure quite a few mature women, DON'T love themselves. It is evident in their actions, the people they chose to be with, and the way they let those people treat them. 

So is it nature, nurture or just circumstances? I'm sure we can also chalk it up to chemical imbalance and pin it to low self-esteem. However, we are also affected by what society teaches us, no brainwashes us about love and who is loveable, about being a man and being a woman. The stereotyping never ends.

If you are one of those confused women, maybe you never really thought about it and never asked the million dollar question, "do I love myself?" 

Here are some tell-tale signs that you don't: 

a. You feel good about yourself only if you are in a romantic relationship. 
b. You don't accept that you are beautiful unless somebody tells you that you are. 
c. Your self-worth is based on acceptance by your boyfriend, husband, peers, your boss… 

d. And sometimes, you let this agony get even worse – like allowing yourself to be physically exploited and harmed, getting beaten up by your significant other even if the relationship has turned abusive, doing excessive drugs, unrestrained drinking…I could go on 

Maybe you don't need to be told this - you KNOW you HATE yourself and A through D are some of the reasons. Hold on! These are NOT reasons to hate yourself. Again, they are only symptoms. You are simply all these things because you DON’T love yourself. 

So how did you get so harrowingly low? It could be anything, from the fact that you were born in a dysfunctional family and your parents ignored you, to a traumatic personal episode you had in your life to the consumerist bombardment of thin, "make up heavy" models and fashion magazines that are a parody of life where only anorexic waifs and glamorous movie stars deserve love. Perhaps you were a loner at school with no friends, maybe you were poor watching all the rich, popular kids living fabulously. Or perhaps you were really the unfortunate unlucky one. 

Regardless of how you got here, how miserable your life has been so far, you've got to deal with it. Stop this victimhood and figure out a way to love get free and love yourself. This may be a long, hard journey but a journey of discovery none the less. Your eventual goal must be to truly understand, independently of the opinions of others, that you are a beautiful happy person. Then you'll be self-sufficient and confident, you'll love yourself, and you won't need anybody to love you back (that's just an added bonus). 

In order to get to this point, you have to start with a very simple affirmation - You are a good person. Its really a simple mind - body spirit kind of happy affirmation. Everybody can find one good thing about themselves. Think of as many lines you can to fill "I'm a good person because (fill in the blanks)" . Just start from there and the rest, will follow. Have Faith. 

If you have already started this journey, remember, you’ve still got a long way to go, but savour the progress you’ve made. Maybe, you hate a less little than yesterday and some days, you like yourself independently of what your colleagues or your boyfriend or your parents think. Become an influencer. Help your sisters out to rediscover themselves. Don't get caught with petty jealousy and catty politics. You're all in it together! Girls of the world, unite, love yourself and be happy!


Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Cool Hand Luke (1967)


What we've got here is a failure to communicate

Paul Newman gives one of his strongest performances in this superbly acted and gripping anti-establishment prison drama that released in 1967, the height of America’s disastrous involvement in the Vietnam War. Set in the early 1950s and based on Donn Pearce's 1965 novel of the same name, Cool Hand Luke received many positive reviews during its release and catapulted Paul Newman (who was 42 years old then) to a superstar, even fetching him a Best Actor Oscar nomination. 

The selection was well deserved as Luke is unquestionably the quintessential anti-hero, a nonconformist who resists and rebels against the system. His role is also a potent character study with shades of sadism and masochism, persuasive anti-war and religious symbolism as the story consciously parallels Luke’s prison struggles with the life of Jesus Christ. Seeing how many bits of Christian imagery you can spot in this movie is one more side pleasure of this landmark film. 

George Kennedy chips in with a powerful Oscar-winning supporting role and Dennis Hopper, Harry Dean Stanton, and Wayne Rogers contribute in minor parts. You also get to see Prison Warden Strother Martin in an equally solid performance as Newman’s powerful adversary. Seeing him delivering the iconic line "What we've got here is a failure to communicate" hailed as one of the 100 most memorable movie lines by American Film Institute, is a small pleasure in itself. Lalo Schifrin adds to the drama with an Oscar-nominated lovely score. Stuart Rosenberg's direction is mostly spot on. 

In 2005, the United States Library of Congress selected “Cool Hand Luke” for the National Film Registry, calling it a "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” film. It is one of the those few films to earn and sustain a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. If you are one of those oddballs who doesn’t know about this movie, watch it before Hollywood decides to malign it in an unnecessary reboot.



Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The Cured (2018)


Irish Zombie reboot of In The Flesh

The Cured (2018) is a blatant Irish rip-off of teenage zombie TV series "In The Flesh". Considering this is an Irish production and "In the Flesh" was a 2013-14 BBC TV series, it's baffling how a script with a strikingly similar storyline was greenlighted especially when they were also able to get established actors to star.

Nonetheless, The Cured holds its own as a dark zombie-themed thriller with some good scenes that remind you of "28 Days Later", and mature social commentary on issues like PTSD, class struggles and discrimination. Yet, despite all these social overtones, the fact that you know where this movie is headed dampens your enthusiasm.  

While Tom Vaughan-Lawlor and Sam Keeley are the main protagonists with more screentime, it is X-men and Juno fame, Ellen Page in a supporting role who stands out with a restrained performance as a sad single mother who has lost her husband in the zombie apocalypse. 

If you haven't watched "In The Flesh", you may probably like it too but for others like me, this is a slow zombie fest which has seen better days.


Thursday, June 21, 2018

How to Go Bald in Style


A Requiem for Receding Hairlines

Today is my friend’s birthday (a very close comrade) and if I could buy him the perfect gift, I would gift him a magic potion for his MPB problem or simply ‘Male Pattern Baldness’.

My buddy started balding at the syrupy age of sixteen. In the sunshine years of his life, when we all stood before our mirrors, affectionately examining our emerging whiskers, he stood there anxiously fingering his barren temples. Like most mere mortals, his initial reaction to this impending disaster was one of immense and soul-stirring self-pity. For a time, he spent sleepless nights pondering over the whys and wherefores of his unlucky destiny, wondering why it had to be him and his poor pate alone.

Being however, a man of enormous resilience and coaxed by my inspirational hair-raising sermons, he decided that it was valor in the mind to take arms against a sea of troubles that to suffer the slings and arrows of an outrageous tragedy. He stood up to fights the menace of baldness that the flesh is heir… hair… too.

He purchased herbal hair oils, ayurvedic hair creams, and imported hair vitalizers and massaged them into his scalp each morning and night, outwards from the crown and not inwards from the forehead, as the label erringly advised - with a religious fervor that must have impressed even the man Upstairs. Come to think of it. I wonder if He ever had to face such a ‘hair-loss' situation!!!

The results were not exactly gratifying but he didn’t give up. After all, the number of hair strands in the bathroom following each bath had registered an remarkable decline of four and a half percent in a month. Besides, he could always try the other herbal brand I’d seen at the chemist's shop, the one with the glossy cover or the green concoction in the shapely bottle or… or… It took him one year and ten thousand rupees to realize the grave truth about hair oils and hair creams - they make you poor, they give you pimples but as a rule, they never give you hair.

A friend suggested seeing a celebrated trichologist at Bangkok, who had found a connection between sex and hair-loss and had become world famous reviving hairlines of the rich and famous but my friend having already spent a huge fortune vetoed this. One of his relatives recommended a hair-growing pilgrimage to a temple in Srilanka known for fulfilling all bodily needs while an Astrologer suggested getting the bald patches licked by a cow – apparently, a foolproof method for generating new hair but this suggestion too had to be discarded for want of an understanding and obliging cow!

During these days of unsuccessful experimentation, he had also honed up his skills of improvisation – he had developed strategic haircut patterns to camouflage the bald spots and give the barren thatch a ‘fuller’ appearance and if the situation demanded, he also wore a wig.

I shall be unfair if I do pause at this point of the chronicle to pay respects to his venerable 50 something barber who being bald himself understood the gravity of the situation. A word of advice to all balding brethren on the choice of a barber – the balder, the better. The barber who has all the hair on his head intact views a thinning plumage solely as a lucrative financial prospect. The bald barber, on the other hand, having himself been a victim to the vagaries of his disappointing genes beholds his customer with an air of compassion and views the task ahead of him as a philanthropic deed and not a materialistic undertaking. Well, barber or not - slowly but surely, he resigned himself to the terrible fact that his baldness had come to stay.

For those among you who find yourselves in the same boat, here are a few time-tested techniques to reduce the psychological trauma that accompanies this common but deeply affecting malady;

• Stop Worrying. Stress causes hair loss.

• Grow a beard. It detracts attention away from your head.

• Utilize remaining hair to cover maximum area of your bare scalp. Caution - while doing this, always stay away from ceiling fans.

• Stop being ashamed of your baldhead. Accept gracefully, the fact that your hairline and neckline are working towards a merger. Consider your prematurely bald head a distinguishing feature of your personality – after all, not everyone is lucky enough to have one.

• To counter acid remarks about your empty dome, have a few humorous answers handy. Try saying a bald head is like heaven – there is no dy(e)ing, Or say God created few perfect heads, the rest he covered with hair. Make sure they appear spontaneous. For best results, rehearse before a mirror.

• And when a women makes references to your bald head, put on your deadliest “bedroom-eyes” sexy look and say, “you know, bald men are different!” For all you know, she might want to verify the veracity of your declaration!

Happy Balding!

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Ravenous (1999)


You are what you eat! Revisiting the underrated cannibal cult classic


Plagued by controversy during the production with original Macedonian art house director Milcho Manchevski (Before the Rain/1994) walking out due to studio differences with Laura Ziskin, this hugely underrated gruesome satire starring Guy Pearce and Robert Carlyle was to be then directed by Raja Gosnell who at that time only had Home Alone 3 to his credit. Ziskin's choice however, was outright rejected by the stellar cast and on Carlyle's insistence, his close friend a largely unknown British film maker Antonia Bird was eventually called in to helm Ravenous. And what a fantastic choice she was! 

A bewildering cannibalistic western that blends colonial American history with pockets of black humor and naked satire; it's one of those genre-defying strange films that make you unsure of whether to laugh or cringe, so you frequently end up doing both. Surprisingly, Ravenous largely received mixed reviews when it released and performed dismally at the US box office just scraping around $2 million against a reported budget of $12 million, but over the years, this weird little horror gem has now achieved a cult following and is getting the rightful attention it actually deserves.

Set amidst the bloody Mexican-American War (1846 – 1848), the mesmerizing screenplay by Ted Griffin (Ocean 11) melds the supernatural Native American myth of the Wendigo whose appetite for human flesh is insatiable and is the source of its strength with real historical references like the Donner Party - Alferd Packer cannibalism to create an alluringly savage satire on American capitalism, colonialism, over-consumption and greed. Like the Wendigo, this is a 'on your face' bloody take on the voracious locust-like history of the America's brutal past. 

Staying true to this grim motive, the main character, Second Lieutenant John Boyd (Guy Pearce), is shown as a coward who is sent to an outpost manned by a handful of soldiers during the Mexican-American war. When a ragged man F.W. Colqhoun (Robert Carlyle) stumbles in from the cold and reveals that his fellow travelers resorted to cannibalism when they became snowbound, the commanding officer (Jeffrey Jones) decides to go on a rescue mission. 

The story that follows seems almost predictable, but never stops when you expect it to, with characters popping in and out at the most inopportune times for Boyd and the most unexpected times for us. And that's where lies its magnetic (and grisly) dark charm. 

Guy Pearce is sublime as the weak but upright Boyd; he has surprisingly few lines of dialogue, but his character is intriguing and complex. Carlyle is menacingly superb while Jones and David Arquette provide adequate support. The costumes and makeup are top notch; the mood of the film palpably dense throughout and the bleak landscape shot in Mexico and Slovakia, with its dirty snow and patches of dirt, contributes to the sense of deep isolation and dread that Boyd feels when no one believes his tales of the Wendigo. There is, of course, plenty of foreboding suspense and a lot of blood and gore but its all done with great panache.

Part of the feel good credit undoubtedly goes to the haunting music that permeates throughout the movie. The evocative score, a splendid collaboration between Damon Albarn, the lead singer of  Brit pop band - Blur and Michael Nyman (Piano) elevates Ravenous to an entirely different level adding a surreal omnipresent tone to all the macabre happenings Boyd (and us) have to witness. Nonetheless, it is still appropriately weird, stunning on its own but not at all what you might expect the music of cannibalism and violent death to sound like.

Ravenous is a fantastic example of splendid movie making but horrendous movie marketing. A Hollywood paradox that's sadly yet to be fixed. Until then, see Ravenous again like I did, its still a refreshing watch and the music is a big plus. And for those of you who haven't seen it yet, the time is now especially if you like delicious blood soaked horror! Bon Appetit!  




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