Thursday, September 29, 2011

Showgirls (1995)

Paul Verhoeven's Bad Piece of Cult Cinema

My T.V is gonna smell like hairspray for a week. That, other things and my saliva. So we know Paul Verhoeven's 1995 cult classic Showgirls (the winner of a record 8 Golden Raspberry awards out of a whopping 14 nominations including worst picture, worst director, worst screenplay, worst debut and many more) works on at least one level, with at least one person. Bull-dumb lust, however, is pretty easy to stir up; the question is whether the movie works in any other way. The answer is, undeniably, no.

The NC 17 rated Showgirls clocks in at 131 tooth-extracting minutes, time mostly spent watching as our agitated heroine Nomi Malone (Elizabeth Berkley), for no apparent reason, shoves people and tells them to go fuck themselves. By the time I was an hour into it, I'd been overcome with a rabid urge to reach inside my television and give the paroxysmal Nomi a time-out.

What Showgirls wants to be is another Horatio Alger story gone wrong, where the small- town girl seeks her kismet in a dazzling showcase of the American dream (yes, that would be Las Vegas), only to find that the American dream is hogwash, that she can trust no one, and that before she can find triumph, she must sell her soul.

This is naturally a problem straight out of the gate, since the Horatio Alger myth was pretty well discredited a half-century ago. The Vegas of movies that came out during that time along with Show Girls such as the heartbreaking Nicholas Cage's Leaving Las Vegas (1995), Swingers (1996); or even Tim Burton's hilarious Mars Attacks! (1996) is already a wasteland before the opening credits roll. People come to Vegas to either die, kill themselves with drugs ala Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998), profiteer, or score cheap unprotected sex. As a result Showgirls works for two hours to get us to the Vegas these other, better films use as a place of exit.

Our first taste of Nomi's exasperating rage comes before the movie is two minutes underway, when she catches a ride with Jeff (Dewey Weber), the creepy stranger in a dirty pickup most movie females get stuck with when they hitchhike. His predictable advance is really rather harmless, almost unimposing but the volatile Nomi responds by pulling a switchblade on him. Now who's battering whom, exactly?

This continues as Nomi abuses everyone around her, first at the Cheetah, a strip bar, then at the Stardust, the hotel-cum-dinner-club where she gets a popular job as a chorus girl. Several folks the Stardust headline - Cristal Connors (Gina Gershon), for one, as well as James Smith (Glenn Plummer), an sober but also corrupt amateur choreographer testify to Nomi's natural dancing talent after watching her thrust her pelvis or kick people in the balls. Nomi takes the compliments none too gracefully by shoving, kicking, or spitting at her fans before calling them bitches, whores, or assholes.

When her frenzied behavior is eventually explained – that she comes from an abusive family and is trying to leave behind a life of drug addiction and prostitution - it's a little too late to be heartrending since you've spent the last hour and a half hoping the movie will somehow punish her. Unfortunately, the Horatio Alger dynamic hinges on your caring about Nomi in some way but because this is so hard, everything else the movie tries to do falls flat.

Those expecting gratuitous nudity or considering a straightforward sex romp into B-movie crapdom or a guilty T&A inspired soft core carnal treat could do better than watching Showgirls, no matter its cult status. Since seeing it last night, I've already shoved two of my office colleagues for no reason I could figure out, and I divine being in a pissed frame of mind for the rest of the day.

To put it another way: Anyone who sees Showgirls can go fuck themselves! Asshole! Now why did I say that?

Free Streaming/Movie Download - Avi Video Link: VeeHD

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Zen and Then

Zen and the Art of Enlightenment

I have been revisiting Zen philosophy lately. The key theme in Zen is that to become the enlightened being, one must know their true self, one’s true character. During my College Days, reading Zen was a frustrating and elusive experience until I realized that my true nature was not to become enlightened. I was not the Zen type you see.

Besides, there is one thing I never liked in reading in Zen beliefs is how often the teachers hit their students. It was very telling in an old tale where the monk asked his master some obscure question and was hit in reply. The master said "If I do not hit you for that question the other masters will laugh at me."

Hitting is part of being a Zen teacher. Being hit is part of being a Zen student. Yet hitting in and of itself does not lead to enlightenment, nor does it not lead to enlightenment. It merely is what Zen teachers do. Part of their true nature, rather their expected role. Pity the poor Zen master.

But there are some nice ideas that you can acquire from Zen. In Buddhist thought, there is this mention of being and becoming - of the action and the object, the thought and the thinker. It all seems to come down to two natures - things and actions which is summed in the two words - being and becoming. Things exist or they are coming into existence, though to be coming into existence is to exist. The action is not the thing and the thing is not the action. Everything is. Also everything does. (Action does not always imply movement.) Confused? Get a Zen primer.

Anyhow the main message of Zen, and most or all religions for that matter, is to grasp your true nature by self- realization. That wouldn't be a bad motto to have sitting on a desk or on the wall to see regularly.

Sometimes I say "know thyself" and sit there with no thoughts and then go, "now what?" But if thinking is imperative (and thinking is part of my true character) then it is always possible to come up with things that are not part of my personality and even some ideas of things that are. The ruse is that these ideas can be effortless and observable, they do not have to be philosophical.

When trying to realize your true nature it is easy to look at the affectations picked up over the years, character traits, and say that is part of my true temperament. While such persona will point to some aspect of our nature (there must be a reason why we have adopted them) they are often shallow. Left long enough, they become part of who we think we are.

Yet it is these basic qualities - are the underlying core that defines who we really are. Our perceptions of ourselves, our social situations and our accomplishments create judgments we bring upon ourselves. But what is it that we really are? Being and Becoming? Food for thought, eh?

Monday, September 19, 2011

A.R. Rahman and World Music

Why World Music Needs More Recognition

On my recent trip to Jakarta, I met a fellow white traveler who had a sack load of CDs with him. In these days of Mp3s and Ipods, I wondered what he was doing with a back pack full of music CDs. Apparently; he was a fusion artist/producer of sorts but with his fancy watch, expensive gadgets and flashy demeanor, I suspect more of the latter. He was one his way to a recording gig with a Gamelan troupe whose name he didn’t remember! Now Gamelan is Indonesia’s most popular form of local music – an ethnic homegrown percussion based ensemble interlaced with flutes, rebab (spike fiddles), other musical instruments and occasional vocals too. We spoke for the entire duration of the flight but one thing was certain – he was no ‘real’ fusion expert but he was talking world music.

That’s the absurdity with world music. It would be naive to think that anybody sitting in the comfort of their Western home or office enjoying a standard of living absolutely unthinkable for more than half the world's population - could possibly be able to perceive the rest of the world's music properly, let alone understand it, realize it, and enjoy it in its relevant perspective, in its lingo or in its specific forms of expression.

I am not criticizing the good intentions of thousands of people in the western hemisphere - artists, producers and fans alike (and my fellow traveler included) who wish to open their minds to other cultures and experiences. However, we are a long way from some people's idea of world music.

The western attitude, marked for centuries by matchless political, military and cultural barbarism and arrogance towards other cultures, cannot pretend that equal values and interests exist with regard to the planet's countless individual regional cultures simply because one aspect has suddenly been opened up.

I have met world music freaks kitted out with all the latest hi-fi music gadgetry, surrounded by hundreds of CDs, DVDs and Memory drives who listen to African music one minute, Celtic music the next, and then Bollywood style Hindi Indian music and when you talk to them about their musical tastes, you realize that they (at least most of them) don't understand the first thing about the music, that they haven't got a clue about the cultural, geographical or the human background. What is more, lots of greedy producers and desperate record labels are churning out a kind of homogeneous world music by throwing together fragments of different musical cultures and blending them with all the available technology of today's studios.

Multiple Oscar, Grammy and Bafta winner - A.R. Rahman is an archetypal example. Post the extraordinary success of Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire, his varied music produce has been widely heard worldwide but many hardly know anything about him or where he comes from. Many don’t even know that Tamil – his mother tongue or Tamil Cinema (which originally made him popular) do exist! That’s the irony. Perhaps, his inclusion in the Mick Jagger – Dave Stewart’s rock group – Super Heavy is also more for his exotic Indian appeal and his super successful Midas touch than to really bring in a true blue Indian influence.

I don’t mean to be contemptuous but if we are going to be able to truly appreciate the wide variety of music which exists in the world, we should try to forge a deeper understanding of what it is. Listening to live world music can be good start.

Any Music, especially world music should be seen as an inner and outer journey, in which any attempt to approach the various musical genres of the world also has to involve an positive reception of the musicians themselves and the geography and culture he or she belongs to. We are still a long way from achieving that, and it is still far too early—if at all—to talk about music – world music particularly.

Friday, September 16, 2011

9/11 and The Kingdom

Understanding America's Dirty Oil Connection, Hollywood Style!

It was exactly 10 years ago, this week, when America was devastated by the daring 9/11 attacks that killed over 3000 people. But two costly wars later and Osama Bin Laden now dead, many folks - Americans especially still fail to understand the real reasons for the attacks or bother to decipher the intricate dynamics of America's murky involvement in the Middle East since the 1930s.

On the 10nth anniversary of the 9/11 Attacks, here's a stunning intro from Peter Berg's The Kingdom (2007) - a high octane actioner starring Jennifer Garner, Jamie Foxx and Chris Cooper that succinctly explains it all - why the US is dependent on Middle East Oil, how Oil has transformed the Arabian political landscape, the growth of Osama, Anti-americanism, 9/11 and more. Its not 100% accurate but the intro sequence does a great job - all under 210 Secs.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Writing about Giant Robot

Secrets of My Clandestine Writing Career

Every so often people ask me why I blog. I am after all a shameless fantasist utterly subsumed by conspiracy theories. Why I write would be appropriate, I guess. Honestly, I just wanted to glue that in my rejoinder because I accomplish both. Ok, back when I began writing rather genuinely – that is some time during my seventh or eighth grade - I guess I wrote simply because I just could.

I suppose I was adept at it, and it actually gave me something better to do besides lazy friends, endless afternoon TV and clumsy science projects. Then, in the ninth/tenth grade, I went into text overdrive. I began writing serious stuff - verbal graffiti, stupid poems and unplumbed essays on anything I could get my eyes on – comic heroes, pirates, UFOs, race bikes, how to guides on making your own fire rockets and plastic kites; narratives on historical figures who caught my fancy - Alexander, Genghis Khan, Asoka and not to forget weekend cartoons and TV series reruns - Spiderman, He Man, Knight Rider, Remington Steele, Star Trek and Giant Robot, that great Japanese cult retro TV show about the heroic Johnny Sokko and his fearsome flying Giant Robot. (originally known as Daisaku Kusama and Jaianto Robo in Japanese)

These influences had two enormous effects on me. First of all, I started writing pompous, ersatz trash that I never showed to anyone. Secondly, it got me hooked to writing as an actual creative outlet. Very soon, I was whipping out pages and pages of self indulgent, arrogant chatter but of barely any worth. However, it at least made me realize that I could write after all!

After Christmas holidays, everything (almost) changed with a concerned but rock-hard reality check at school from my old English teacher. It was my essay on O Henry’s Gift of the Magi - she liked it (or so it seemed) but she critiqued my writing style so deeply that it made me grasp the finer nuances of the English language.

For some strange reason, this episode had a profound life changing impact and so began my rapid metamorphosis – a welcome change from my trite and self-opinionated writings to something more of substance. Many years have gone by since then so let us not turn autobiographical – I will just state that my writing has indeed matured to a pickled perfection from those days and I am unfortunately getting now into serious fulltime adulthood!

Anyway, lets get back to the basics on why I blog/write/put pen to paper. You could say I do it with selfish motives - to add purpose to my muddled existence, to give my restless mind some cerebral work outs and lastly (for all its clich├ęd notions) - to express my true out of sight thoughts and emotions. Let’s face it – everyone has a diversion – for some, it’s the arts, travel or photography; for some, its music, cinema or books; for many, its collecting stamps and coins or cooking, pets, volunteering…I could go on. For me, it’s a blend of everything above and writing.

So, we could end this with three indispensable reasons - I write for the reason that I can, I write for the reason that I want to and I write for the reason that I really must. Now you know!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

20 Rules To Save Yourself From Serial Killers, Monsters, Aliens and other Assorted Bad Things!

Last night, I watched 3 Horror movies back 2 back – Paris Hilton’s tepid House Of Wax (2005), the Norwegian Dead Snow (2009) featuring resurrected Nazi Zombies and the rather well made, Giallo inspired Italian slasher Deliria (1987). But the one common strand in all the three – were mostly stupid people doing utterly unintelligent things and consequently getting killed, maimed, abused and mutilated or being subjected to even more gruesome ordeals.

So far as I can tell, there are some basic common sense rules which all people (not just pubescent teens) ought to observe, pretty much all the time, in cinema or in every day reality – that can save their lives from demons, ogres, maniacs, psychopaths, serial killers, aliens, monsters and their many assorted kinds

So, here are the Top 20 Rules (you need to remember) to save yourself.

1. Always keep kitchen knives sharpened but out of easy reach of little green things from Mars, monsters and homicidal psychopaths.
2. As a general rule, it is an insanely bad (and very stupid) idea to complete any puzzle named Hellraiser and not expect to open a portal to Hell.
3. Be prepared. Always carry a sacred talisman – like a rosary, a crucifix, a wooden stake or a loaded pistol with silver bullets. There's always someone you can offend or defend yourself from with one or all of these.
4. Dont accept clandestine dates from strangers with unusually pointed teeth and glowing blue eyes, no matter how twilight hot they look or how cool their outfit is.
5. Never wear sexy clothes or lingerie on a night out in the woods unless you wish to awaken sex starved fiends waiting for a soul mate.
6. Don't wear unusable shoes or stilettos to go walking in the woods, especially if the forest is near a mental asylum.
7. Even if you feel sympathetic, don't give a free ride to a hitcher on a deserted highway. It might be your last ride of your life.
8. Flashlights need batteries, guns need bullets, brains need to be used, at least when your survival is at stake.
9. Don’t stay in old abandoned houses or morbid motels which have "a fascinating past" or which are run by guys named Norman, Jason or Freddy!
10. If the creepy, ghostly voice tells you to “go” or "get out!”, pls heed its advice.
11. If the door is locked and sealed with bizarre, mysterious and magical symbols, you probably shouldn't open it, no matter how much treasure you think is on the other side.
12. If the heavy-breather on the phone has a funereal voice, chances are good that he's calling from one. And don't accept collect calls from the dead either: you might be accepting fatal consequences.
13. If the weird noise coming from the window turns out to be your pet black cat, the next one won't.
14. If you have just killed the giant alien monster, do not stick around to check if it’s truly dead: it isn't (unless you plan to do this "checking" with a full can of petrol and a fire match.)
15. Inviting spirits, ghosts in a seance or the Devil on Halloween is serious business best left to Satanists and demonic professionals. Whatever you do, don't ever try this at home.
16. No matter how kinky it sounds, don’t make love in a haunted house. It might be the last orgasm you will ever have!
17. On calendar dates linked with murderous anniversaries like Friday the 13nth - avoid booze, drugs, frat parties and thrill rides. Oh, and don't go swimming, either.
18. Remember, lifeless bodies, statues and objects which suddenly come to life are not scientific phenomenons. Run!
19. Transylvania and Area 51 are real places. Stay away.
20. And please, never buy any doll that has the name Chucky!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Whither Horror Cinema

Why Horror Cinema is No More Scary!

I just finished watching the latest installment of Wes Craven’s slasher franchise – Scream 4 (2011). It was OK but not scary. That's not to say I don't like a like a slasher flick occasionally, but I really am not frightened by screaming, stupid teens in distress, needless bloodletting or pointless gore. Sometimes nauseated, maybe, raised to sarcastic snickering, certainly, but frightened? Nada!

If you ask me, they simply don’t make real scary movies anymore (or don’t know how to make one). Well, Peter Friedkin's Exorcist (1973) and Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead (1981) petrified me the first time I saw it. Stanley Kubricks The Shining (1980) based on novel by Stephen King creeped me out and so did Dario Argento's Suspiria (1977) and Wes Craven's A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). That’s what's scary: playing with our fears; hints and memories of things that reduced you to a delirious mass of panic in the past; the things that live in the darkness of your soul and the shunned and shuttered compartments of your mind, nasty things lurking in the dark…

Most recently or should I say after a very long time, Insidious (2010) (only the first half though) gave me nightmares, or rather, it just revived the ones I'd had as a kid. In fact, of all the many horror movies released in the last few years, only a very small number have had an impact on me. Martyrs, Descent, Eden Lake, Rec, High Tension, Hills Have Eyes (remake), Inside, Wolf Creek, 28 Days Later, Them ..are some of ‘em that deserve a mention.

Anyway, coming back to the Slasher variety, I really cannot see why anyone likes them or is ever scared by them. Not a crazy killer with a bloody knife and a bad attitude. Hell, I say shoot the psycho and have done. In fact, shoot him twice, thrice.. with a machine gun.

Besides, the lame storyline is always pretty much the same, every time. I particularly also hate the fact that they seem to dress them up as little morality tales and stick them in: anyone under the age of 30 who has sex or even thinks about it - is going to be the next Seekh kebab on the bad guy's menu. Talk about un-safe sex.... Spare me.

P.S: If you are a Slasher aficionado, here are some great original “slasher” movies that you may have missed - April Fools Day, Burning, Black Christmas, Curtains, Cut, Maniac, Maniac Cop, Mortuary, My Bloody Valentine, Pieces, Prom Night, Prowler, Toolbox Murders...
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