Thursday, April 30, 2009

Parlez-Vous Italiano? No.

If I have one major regret it would be my lack of skills in the language department. I'd be considered an average Dhivehi speaker, at best, and have no foreign language skills.

Understanding Hindi because I, as most Maldivians, have been exposed to Hindi/Indian films from a very young age does not count and neither does having a very basic understanding of Singhala (Sinhalese?!?!) and Bahasa Malaysia.

Okay, I am better than average at English, BUT that's mostly due to the fact that it was almost our first language – I mean except for Dhivehi and Islam we were taught everything in English so I really didn't have an excuse to suck at it (although a lot of our recent graduates strive to prove me wrong). Plus, while I was growing up there weren't really any Dhivehi stories for all demographics – none as diverse, in genre and subject matter, as those in English anyway.

Movie poster for 'Les quatre cents coups'

So here I am, three decades in... finding out to my utter frustration, that I like foreign films and authors better than their local/English equivalent... well actually I've known for quite a while now that I appreciate foreign films... well before I reached the three decade mark but... [moving on]

Films the likes of Malèna (2000) [Italian], Cinema Paradiso (1988) [Italian], Les quatre cents coups (1959) [French], Nueve reinas (2000) [Spanish], 36 Quai des Orfèvres (2004) [French]... are just the tip of the iceberg and would easily put any of their Hollywood counterparts to shame.

Then there are the more recent discoveries; Haruki Murakami and Gabriel García Márquez. Though I've so far read very little, a handful of Murakami and just the one García Márquez, these authors are so far off the typical 'reservation' that it makes no sense that I like them – but I do, immensely!

García Márquez's 'Memories Of My Melancholy Whores' 
(2004; English translation 2005)

I read English translations of the books and switch on the subtitles for the films and experience everything 'second hand' (I abhor switching the audio to English – the voice overs almost always lack the feeling and the emotion of the original performers). Yet they're ever so gratifying and I'm left to wonder if it could have been more so – and what was lost in translation...

For those of you who can enjoy such stories in their original form, I envy you... and hope that you're partaking in some of those exquisite pleasures...

And for the rest of us, who are well past their prime to learn that many languages, we'll happily take what we can get... because they are that good.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Domo arigato, Kunio Kato.

Animators are a curious bunch... I might not be too justified in saying that but... work with me here.

I've actually been lucky enough to know an animator. Just the one – that I would classify as a true animator. Others, like most of you, I've experienced through YouTube and the occasional special feature on DVDs/Blu-rays. But, disclaimer aside...

Character design/sketch

Animators are a curious bunch. Often uncompromising. Even more so, I'm told and can imagine, than most prima donna Hollywood directors – but in a non Michael Bay way. They either don't compromise on the technical quality of their work OR the quality of their storyline... and some won't compromise on either... This makes them either;
a) Technical geniuses,
b) Masterful storytellers

Having had the privileged to work with, and observe, a real animator at work I imagine several factors help fit animators into one of these boxes. Many who rely on the skill to make a decent enough living will willingly shuttle between the first two choices depending on their project requirements, time, technology they have to work with, etc. – this is no mean feat. AND they, the real animators (extrapolating here from just the one that I know – but I imagine, cos of the YouTube videos and the special features, others would probably work along the same lines), will nearly always deliver a finished product that is, not withstanding CRAZY, unreasonable project requirements, always top notch.

Often times than not, animators control everything on their projects, performing multiples roles that, in normal circumstances, would be left up to a whole crew – from character design to lighting, to cinematography and the actual animating.

They truly suffer for their art – more so than in any other media related profession I'm sure...

Which, long winded as it is, brings me to my point. The one animator that I know and who I call a dear friend, Yamin Rasheed – the creator/producer of 'The Maakana Show', was called up recently by someone we both know and respect(ed) and accused of being a sell out.

A scene from 'The Maakana Show'

Now, neither I nor Yamin will pretend 'The Maakana Show' to be a great masterpiece of animation. Far from it – it is almost entirely entertainment, with just a little bit of social commentary and satire thrown in. It does not strive to be great. Rather, it strives to be relevant to the time it is based in – our social condition that is the here and now! And I believe, several short coming aside, that the show does indeed achieve this – maybe, right now, not to the best of its potential but give them time... if not in 'The Maakana Show' maybe in the next Cellmin production.

Passionate people such as these affect our lives through their work and to question their work in a petty, baseless, self serving manner is something that we should avoid at ANY cost. And I wouldn't just limit that thought to animators alone – this, I feel, is true of ALL art.

OK – what's the relationship between Yamin and the title of the post AND which box does he fit into you ask?

A scene from 'La maison en petits cubes'

Kunio Kato is the 2009 Oscar winner for Animated Short Feature – his film entitled 'La maison en petits cubes' is phenomenal and I'd say he's definitely in box (c).

Yamin is a Technical genius when it comes to animation. His work on, 'Abu' (a 15 minute short feature we both worked on during our time at TVM, around 1999) speaks to his need to tell entertaining and affecting stories... so right now he's in box (a)... but heading toward box (c)...

In short, the title is my way of saying 'thank you' to ALL the animators that I've come to appreciate, each for their unique talents – from everyone working at Disney/PIXAR to Matt Groening and everyone in between.

Be sure to catch 'La maison en petits cubes' – it's probably on YouTube.

And 'The Maakana Show' is on VTV every Friday, 10:00 at night.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The night is darkest just before the dawn...

Adaptations are a tricky business. Just ask Alan Moore or Uwe Boll – though, admittedly, not for the same reasons.

Promotional Art for Frank Miller's 'Batman Year One' Trade Paperback

At the best of times your source material has a rabid following who will, once you've announced your intentions, scrutinize your every move – down to the the colour of underpants your hero may, or may not, wear under, or over, their costumes.

And at the worst of times... well... you should click on the Alan Moore link (above) before you go on to the rest of what I've got to say...

Most times our worst fears are realised (see Uwe Boll for the worst case scenario) but sometimes... sometimes the  improbable does actually happen...

The planets align and everything in the universe works in harmony and in sync with the efforts of a select few individuals who have the patience and the tenacity to get it just right – in the manner most suited to the medium in which they operate and wield almost magical powers over.

Such are the Batman films by Christopher Nolan (collaborating in no small part with David S. Goyer and Jonathan Nolan).

Promotional Art for 'Batman Begins'

I've already pissed and moaned about 'The Dark Knight' (2008) not getting more Oscar nominations, at the least, for best adapted screenplay.

My short, unvarnished, opinion; it should not only have been nominated but should  have won.

The adaptation of Batman ['Batman Begins' (2005) and 'The Dark Knight'], by Nolan and Co. is spot on. They jettison what really would not work in a film adaptation and even when they keep stuff, they adapt it to propel the story forward;

Rā's al Ghūl is no longer an ageless alchemist who is forever resurrected via Lazarus Pits – rather he is a succession of  individuals who take over the mantle, with more or less the same objectives as their predecessor, thereby sustaining the myth that is Rā's through the centuries.

The money stored in the warehouse is burnt – in the comics by Batman, but in the film, because this story requires it and rings true to its almost organic development, by the Joker.

 A comparison – Comic [Batman: The Long Halloween]
vs. Film [The Dark Knight]

There are several more such instances, and not all of them big – some so seemingly insignificant that one might wonder why the effort was made to put them there. Yet even those little extras contribute and enrich our experience of the film.

Then there are the new bits – still ringing true to the core of the character. The Tumbler and the Bat-pod would irrefutably be the most 'iconic' changes. They're very different to what we see in the comics BUT they're raw, utilitarian beasts with a focus on function; to get the job done efficiently –  sacrifices have been made in the design, much like that of the Bat-suit, but even then it's an exercise in the maintaining of efficiency and efficacy.

And how about the symbolism that is alluded to in Batman Begins (and the comics) of being 'more than just a man', of being 'incorruptible'?

Turns out that this Batman is so hardcore he's not only incorruptible by evil – he won't be corrupted, technically one might say, by  good either (go see the films if you haven't already – it's seriously more than comic book, bubblegum pop – seriously!).

Artist Jim Lee's rendition of Batman

If this is not classic Batman, the core of the character brought forth, then you sir/madam don't get Batman.

Remember, his unrelenting cause is justice and justice is not always black and white and neither is it, at times, immediate or fair.

Jim Gordon illustrates this best when, in The Dark Knight, he says of Batman;

'… he's the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now. So we'll hunt him because he can take it. Because he's not our hero. He's a silent guardian, a watchful protector. A dark knight.'


That might not work in the real world but it sure as heck works in film – and it works brilliantly in the capable hands of Chris Nolan.

Promotional Art for 'The Dark Knight'

After the Debacle (yes with a CAPITAL, italicised and bold 'D') that was Batman and Robin (1997) [Shudder.] I had all but given up hope. And when Nolan took over I was hoping just for a more than decent 'reboot' – something that would bring back a semblance of... dignity to the farce the Batman films had become. And maybe, just maybe, hoping, against all odds, that it might be a bit more...

Boy did he pick that ball up and run with it. Heck, he kicked it out the ballpark – out the stratosphere even!

In the words of Mr. Broodypants (Batman) in The Dark Knight;

'… sometimes people deserve more. Sometimes people deserve to have their faith rewarded...'


Messrs Nolan, Goyer and Nolan – thank you.

Thursday, April 23, 2009


[also berakhah] in Judaism, a blessing usually recited
during a ceremony, OR
[also barakah] in Arabic, Islam and Arab-influenced
languages such as Swahili, Urdu, 
Persian, Turkish, meaning
spiritual wisdom and blessing transmitted from God;
or in a Sufi context, "breath of life."

Baraka, means 'Blessing' a spiritual power believed to be
possessed by certain 
persons, objects, tombs, in Arabic,
Swahili, Urdu, Persian and Turkish.

A few months ago I became the proud owner of a Baraka (1992) Blu-ray. I first watched it as part of a college assignment focusing, as I recall, on non-verbal films.

It was enthralling, to say the least. And this was a viewing in standard definition on a 21 inch monitor accompanied by a loud, somewhat agitated, group of college students with a healthy dose of ADD – oh not to worry... I count myself along with the ADD crowd.

Five minutes into the film everyone quieted down – most of us were either trying to figure out where the 'no talking' was headed OR it could have been that the almost serene imagery and music started to resonate with their brain waves... or maybe a bit of both.

Cover art – Baraka [Blu-ray]

In the next 91 minutes we, through no conscious will of our own, found ourselves soothed and calmed to the point where some of us experienced something totally alien – a silence that is never seen (heard?!?! unheard?!?! witnessed?!?! experienced!)... experienced in a college much less a tight screening room packed with students!

Beautiful, peaceful, serene images washed over us – even in the moments where the motion lapse technique was used to show 'herds', repetitions and juxtapositions we were not jarred out of our trance like state... not even when we where shown the 'cruelty' that man, and war, unleash upon nature did we flinch – the 'no blood and gore' philosophy helped... every 'point' that the film made... it made peacefully... serenely... beautifully...

And then we were done... and were faced with the horror of writing about a film with no dialogue... YIKES!

Fast forward five years to two months ago – there I was, holding nostalgia at bay... surely this wouldn't stand up to the first experience ... would it?

In a small-ish room with no natural light, I saw nature unfold and unleashed before me in glorious High Definition...

And I kid you not my friends it DID surpass my first viewing.

A scene from the film

Whether it was the new transfer OR the five year gap that erodes the memory of the first viewings (I saw it multiple times in standard definition that semester in college) I cannot tell...

Oh who am I kidding... it's the HD and the larger TV (36 inches now) AAand the lack of a fidgety, ADD-ish college crowd... and the HD... did I say that already?!?! Well it bears repeating...

Baraka looks AMAZING in High Definition - AM. Ay. ZING!

Filmed at 152 locations in 24 countries which includes several natural wonders of the world (sadly no Maldives) this is a MUST for any film fan AND any human with a cranial space.

I can't wait for Ron Fricke and Co. to unveil Samsara, the sequel to Baraka which is planned to be released around 2009/2010.

What the heck is right with Murakami?

According to my calculations I shouldn't be a fan of Haruki Murakami;

Murakami giving a lecture at MIT in 2005

His characters are WAYYyy off center. His plots are insane. He throws in HUGE doses of fantasy; sometimes mingling them with actual events. And all of this he writes as if it were normal, matter-of-fact, everyday occurrences – as if he does not want to call attention to the plotting and the characters BUT hellooo!!! Everything is downright wacky Mr. Murakami!

For those of you (like me) into off center storytelling, especially in small doses, Murakami's short stories should be up your alley... they're not just weird for the sake of being weird... well not all the time anyway...

Cover art for 'after the quake' - most international editions of
the author's works are also known for their amazing covers

You might want to ease into it though, with a collection like 'after the quake' (1999; English Translation in 2002 by Jay Rubin) – oh and I've found that most his stories are better enjoyed when your reading whims are not too... urgent... you don't want to rush through this stuff... the insanity within is always sublime.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

What does John Grisham have against his 'heroes/protagonists'?

Spoiler Alert – for anyone who has not read 'The Associate'

Just finished reading John Grisham's latest legal thriller, 'The Associate' (2009), and am fully convinced that Grisham has it in for all his central characters.

I mean after dragging his central character through hell that's the 'payoff' he gets?!?!? REALLY?!?!

OK I do realise I'm not giving away anything specific BUT saying that he (Kyle McAvoy –  the hero) kinda (mostly) gets the short end of the stick at the end kinda feels like I MIGHT be killing the experience for anyone who's reading this, before they've read the book.

Promotional/Cover art - 'The Associate'

BUT for anyone who's familiar with Grisham's work this should come as no surprise! He writes these 'everyday' heroes who are brilliant, self made and morally sound, puts them in a situation that's going to test every fibre of their being (and spirit) and then short changes them when it comes to the part where they should get rewarded and live happily ever after!

Cases in point?!?!?! Hmmm... let me think...

'The Firm' (1991) – sure Mitch 'gets away' but he's constantly looking over his shoulder isn't he?
'The Chamber' (1994) – his client is put to death but we did all see this coming... so it's a little bit all right... but still this fits in nicely with the point I am trying to make here so...
'The Rainmaker' (1995) – Rudy loses his interest in law... but arguably is better off as a person so... this one's iffy but still...
'The Partner' (1997)  – The money?!?!?! EXACTLY!!!!
hmmm... there should be more but my un-photographic memory fails me!

Oh sure... most do get a 'nice' ending BUT they're too 'everyday' for my tastes... for once [OK he's done it once in 'The Runaway Jury' (1996) so maybe more than once... maybe more than 30 percent of the time] I'd like to see them somewhat vindicated.

BUT having gone on a semi-rant there for a bit... 'The Associate' is a bordeline great read – not his best by a long shot but still better than most of the stuff I seem to be coming across these days...

Promotional/Poster art - 'The Firm' (1993)

Hmmm... I might go and read 'The Firm' again – loved it... and hold it responsible for making me a fan of Grisham AND the legal thriller genre in general.

AND, the film is not half bad either – one of the few times where a film has a better ending than the book! Not saying one's better than the other – BOTH good in different ways!