Friday, February 14, 2014

Tom Could Never Kill

Friday, February 14, 2014 0
The alarm on his phone was fifteen minutes away from buzzing, but Tom was already wide awake. Sleep had become a luxury he couldn’t afford anymore, and when the alarm did finally chime from his phone, Tom sluggishly got up from his bed. Another long day ahead to wade through, he thought to himself.

Since Marla had broken up with him, Tom had become an empty shell of a man, it was as if Marla had reached into Tom and grabbed his soul and taken it along with her, leaving him as vacant as his apartment. His endless pleas did not bring her back, neither did the flowers, nor did the letters. When he had exhausted all options of bringing her back, Tom decided to put himself out of his misery, but the means to his end were either painful or needed a doctor’s prescription, or required the false bravado to run a blade through his veins. Why should he be the one to die? He asked himself one day. Shouldn’t it be Andrew? That smooth-talking son-of-a-bitch who had come out of nowhere and taken his Marla away from him?

His Marla, he missed the way she twirled the curls of her hair when she was lost in her thoughts, he missed the way she’d nuzzle her nose against his neck while he was watching the television, he missed the way she’d talk nineteen to the dozen a moment, and fall asleep the very next, he missed the way her hands ran over his hair while he was reading the morning daily, he missed the way they  lay in bed and made conversations out of nothing on a warm Sunday afternoon. And now, it will be Andrew who would have his fingers moving through the curves of her body, it would be Andrew who would listen to her breathe while she slept next to him, her face resting on the rise and fall of his chest. It would be all Andrew, Andrew had to go.

Tom was once a funny, generous and friendly man, today, the only remaining trait left in him was his generosity. Now, he drank generously and mingled selectively. It is perturbing how pointless life becomes when the only person around whom your life used to revolve, leaves you. Tom would only speak until he was spoken to, he wandered the corridors of his office aimlessly like the zombies from that TV show he used to watch along with Marla, curled up on their couch in the living room. During lunchtime his mind would wander to thoughts of torturing Andrew, hurting him while Marla watched, a satisfied smirk would sprout around the corner of his lips, one that would vanish as quickly as it had appeared once his mates prodded him. But that was all those would remain as, thoughts, Tom sighed. Tom wanted to kill, he wanted to make Marla pay for what she had done to him. She had turned him into a rabid dog that wouldn’t stop until it sank its teeth into the flesh of the one it had been faithful to. But, he knew he could never do that to her, he didn’t have the heart to pull the trigger even if he were given a chance to get away with it. His spirit may have been broken, his faith may have been lost, but Tom still had his conscience intact. The truth was simple, Tom could never kill, even if it gave him a sadistic pleasure to hurt the one who had betrayed him. Tom couldn’t kill even out of spite, for Marla’s absence had become too heavy a cross to bear. He couldn’t imagine a future without her, but he had to make her pay.

        ***********

Zeus was skimming through the classifieds section of The Tuesday Daily when he found what he had been looking for, another job that required his special set of skills. It had been a while since he had been employed in a job that had asked for his expertise, he fished for his phone out of his pocket and dialed Handler, as was the norm for jobs such as these. Handler would screen the advertisement, after which he would get in touch with the person who had posted the ad, checking for the veracity of the job and negotiating the payment. After the background check performed and the requirement deemed to be “genuine” the Handler and Zeus would meet in a dingy pub in the suburb to discuss over the when and the how of going about the job.

Zeus never met with his clients, if things went down the crapper the anonymity maintained between Zeus and his clients would make it harder for the law enforcement agencies to trace things back to him. The deal was always taken care of by Handler, who acted as a liaison between Zeus and his client, in this case it was Tom. They had met in a crowded mall-- a cloak and dagger affair--heavily dressed to maintain their anonymity with neither of them wanting to be recognized by the other. Tom had a cap on with shades covering his eyes, and a heavy overcoat covering his slim build. He had taken enough effort to make sure his movie star looks never stood out from the crowd. Handler had been a part of enough such meetings and had come out of them as incognito as he had gone in, yet, his years with the Secret Service had taught him to never be complacent with his appearance, he took pains to look ordinary.

On a cold Wednesday morning, when the only people in the mall were the employees of the stores it housed, they had met each other near the large fountain that lay right in the middle of the sprawling courtyard. Just two middle-aged men, probably unemployed, catching up for a drink too early in the day as they bitched about their wives, and lament on how unfair the world had been to them. But all that happened was a solemn exchange of the envelope which had the pictures of the mark in it, and a piece of paper with the number of a bank account to which the money for the job had to be transferred.
“His office is at the Millennium Towers, he works from Monday to Friday and gets off work at 5.30 in the evening. He carries a brown leather bag to work and has a black Saints cap on, it would be hard to miss. I will wire you half the amount now, the rest will be done once I read about it in the papers.” Tom whispered hoarsely, and then he added “I want it to be done in one clean shot through the head, he should never see it coming.”
“It will be done.” Was all Handler said.

              ***********

It was a Thursday, Zeus had chosen a building under construction as his vantage point. He had been studying his target for a week. His mark was slim-built, with a week’s growth of beard and unkempt hair that needed to be trimmed, he had a set routine, enter at 9 a.m. exit at 5.30 p.m. He would enter Millennium like a man walking his last mile taking each step in trepidation. He would walk in with his shirt tucked in, but it always found a way to sneak out of his waist by the time he got out of work. Zeus had taken pains to set the vantage point, to gauge the right distance from Millennium while aiming at his target, and the escape route through the fire escape. He took cover on the ninth floor of the building. Dressed in a plain sky-blue shirt and cream chinos, with a briefcase that could hold the blueprints to the building but had the unassembled parts of an M25 Sniper Rifle in it instead, Zeus very much looked the part of an architect. He waited patiently for his digital watch to dawdle past 5.30, and when it did, he craned his neck towards the entrance of Millennium as he saw the employees hurriedly file past the entrance.

He took a deep breath and wrapped his finger around the trigger and aimed the rifle toward the exit gate.  He spotted his mark lingering far away from the crowd savoring each step on his way out, like he was in no hurry to go home. Zeus squeezed the trigger when the target was in the center of the crosshairs, the barrel spit a muffled cough as the bullet zipped out and hit its mark.

***********

The Saints cap flew off his head from the impact the bullet had made on his forehead as he dropped his mobile phone and the briefcase. As promised to Tom, he never saw it coming. A moment ago he was trundling toward the parking lot thinking of reasons to go home to an empty apartment, he had nobody waiting for him, no more Marla. And in the very next he lay sprawled to the ground glad that the misery was finally over, as blood oozed from his forehead. The people around him thought the man had a heart attack, but when they saw a man next to the fallen shriek in horror at the bloody mist that had sprayed across his face, it then dawned on them of what had happen.

A phone rang next to the now dead body.

A dazed bystander picked up the phone and pressed the button and held it to his ear.

“It’s done” was all Handler said before he hung up.



This post is part of  A significant turn.. on WriteUpCafe.com<

Monday, February 3, 2014

A World Beyond Hollywood - Part I

Monday, February 3, 2014 0



Ricardo Morales: If you keep going over the past, you're going to end up with a thousand pasts and no future.


I have gotten back to watching foreign language cinema only recently, I devoured close to half a dozen movies last weekend, and I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I said I feel different, for that is what some movies do to you, they fill in a vacancy inside of you, and yet, at the same time leave you asking for more. I had stopped experimenting with foreign movies close to five years back when I was introduced to American television that required just an hour of investment, and was equally rewarding with engaging story lines and compelling characters.

As I had exhausted the best ones in my hard disk and was left with only the B grade shows, and with Hollywood churning out big budget blockbuster that required a viewing in the movie theaters, I looked to breathe some life into my old fetish for watching foreign language thrillers. I scourged the internet for thrillers recommended by movie lovers, and came across two cerebrally and emotionally charged movies made by countries from either side of the Indian Ocean, Argentina and South Korea.

My first part of this two-part review will deal with a taut, and edge-of-the seat drama released in the year 2009.

I had seen the French prison drama Un Prophete a couple of years back, and had unwittingly assumed it to have won the Oscars for the Best Foreign Language film, for it was a raw and violent story of a juvenile convict who grows on to be a mafia kingpin. I had never bothered to check IMDB for the details, for, Un Prophete was that good. The jury obviously had a different winner in mind, a deep, emotionally charged Argentinian drama, The Secret In Their Eyes, this was one of those rare moments where the jury was right. But you couldn’t blame them if they were wrong too, because the competition in Foreign Language category was that tough in 2010.

There are some stories that you take along with yourself long after the end-credits have rolled, long after you have closed a book and placed it in your shelf. There are some stories you fall in love with such intense fervor, that once it is over, you cannot hold yourself back from sharing it with someone. The pain and the pleasure of watching such stories leave an indelible impression on you, an experience that you’d get over only if you wrote about it for others to read, or told about it to others so that they could experience the same.

The Secret In Their Eyes is such story of a legal counselor, Benjamin Esposito. Retired from the legal profession for more than twenty years, he begins to write a novel about that one case that still haunts him, a case that had changed his life forever, a brutal rape and murder of a young newly-married wife. His journey down memory lane reintroduces him to his then boss, Irene Mendez Hastings, a woman for whom he had harbored feelings that went unreciprocated. As Esposito gets back in touch with the proverbial one-that-got-away, he begins to question the decisions he’d then made, both personally and professionally. Juan Jose Campanella , the director, takes us on an intense ride that travels between the past and the present and leaves us emotionally spent by the time the door shuts down on us.

TSITE isn’t just a murder mystery, but it is a tale of a man who grapples with the choices he had made in his past, while trying to go about finding the answers to the questions that are plaguing his present.  It is a story about second chances, and of hope. Seldom have we come across murder mysteries that are less about the murder and more about the life of the ones who are embroiled in it. TSITE is that one rare film that not just takes us into the lives and psyches and principles of those involved in it, but also, introduces us into the petty politics and class system that make the deliverance of justice that harder in their society. 

The actors are solid and make you relate to their plight, and the chemistry between Esposito and Hastings while strong and could be felt in the air, never gets the best of the two by going predictably overboard. Campanella’s pacing never makes you feel that there are any dull moments in this thriller, no words are wasted, no scene seems overdone. And the big reveal that unravels slowly and delicately like a Christmas present, is that final punch to the guts that would knock you out of your senses and leave you breathless. The Secret In Their Eyes has in its title a sense of foreboding, and much like its haunting name, the movie will stay long with you once you are done with it.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Wolf of Wall Street - Marty's Still Got It!

Sunday, January 5, 2014 1




"My name is Jordan Belfort. The year I turned 26, I made 49 million dollars, which really pissed me off because it was three shy of a million a week."


How is Martin Scorsese able to direct one brilliant movie after another even when he’s at the end of his career? This was the question that was plaguing my mind as I walked out of the theater. His energy is awe inspiring, and yet at the same time insane. You could feel the zest for film making, the itch to tell a story, the childlike enthusiasm that is present till date in Marty’s eyes sprinkled all over the screen. To make a movie out of a character who had embezzled ordinary people out of millions in stocks and shares—financial terms that may go way over the head of the average moviegoer, like yours truly—and to keep the audience involved at the same time is no mean achievement. But in Wolf of Wall Street, Martin Scorsese does that, and how!


Scorsese portrays the lead character, Jordan Belfort, as no less than a rock god. The man is a modern day snake-oil salesman, he makes a living by cheating honest and hardworking people, he is a drug addict, a wife abuser, a womanizer, and egotistical, yet, Scorsese and a brilliant Leonardo Dicaprio make us root for the bad guy. We cheer for Jordan where he dupes an unassuming, gullible, customer into buying the shares of an obscure company over a cold call, a victory that he celebrates by miming a vulgar sexual act on the other end of the line, we are left wide eyed out of amazement, and at times even in splits when he berates an honest FBI agent by rebuking his normal life as he asks him to go back to his “ugly wife”, while he shows off his ill-gotten wealth. Jordan Belfort is a man full of himself, a man intoxicated on his own success, and we are captivated by his life hook, line and sinker. 

What does that say about us as an audience? That we’d root for the bad guy as long as they are flamboyant, good-looking, incessantly cussing and bedding a bevy of beauties, because we are just the average person who could never get to live the large life of those men we see on screen?


Scorsese sells us the image of a man who has it all, a yacht, a fast car, hookers, a bungalow, all of it gotten by money fraud. He may seem like a man who would end up being a victim of his own hubris, but eventually only gets off easy. Scorsese may seem like he’s playing the devil’s advocate by glorifying the criminal exploits of Belfort, and he has been slammed by some critics for this, but this is how Belfort’s story could be told. And it is told effectively, it keeps you engrossed, it keeps you wanting for more, and not for a second does the three-hour runtime seem overbearing.


Much praise should be handed over to Terence Winter whose screenplay has the raw power and the intensity to keep you absorbed for three-hours. The movie is bereft of gun fights, and violence, but, what it does possess in large doses is the outrageous sex scenes (despite the cuts), the profane language (censoring which would only end up making the movie a silent film), and a lot of humor. Scorsese has assembled an ensemble cast where every actor is seen having a time of their lives, be it Matthew McConaughey in a cameo as the eccentric Mark Hanna who guides a greenhorn Jordan Belfort into the world of stock markets, or Jonah Hill as Donnie Azoff , the drug-crazy, pill-popping right-hand man of Jordan Belfort who is border-line insane. The star of the show, however, without a doubt is Leonardo Dicaprio who throws in a career best performance as Jordan Belfort, if you were blown away by his negative role as Calvin Candie in Django, you better fasten your seatbelts in the Wolf of Wall Street, because Leo’s fantastic (which is quite an understatement) performance would make it tough for you to not jump out of your seats and hoot for him.


Oversexed, power hungry, abrasive, arrogant, misogynistic, the real Jordan Belfort may have many more detestable qualities that would not have garnered him much fans. Yet, Dicaprio lets loose the crazy hidden inside of him, we can see him enjoying the character, be it while dishing it out to people who are lesser than him in all his arrogance, or while trying to win over the affections of his wife with his boyish charm, Dicaprio is not acting like Jordan Belfort, he is Jordan Belfort.


You could draw many a parallels between The Wolf of Wall Street and Scorsese’s own gangster classic Goodfellas, the in-your-face narrative style that breaks the fourth wall which gets you sucked into the world of the protagonist from the get-go, the characters of Henry Hill and Jordan Belfort—confident, ambitious and fueled by greed—they are men who tend to reach for more than they could grasp, the usage of music in the scenes that only gets you involved even more, and the camaraderie between the protagonist and his band of merry men. The Wolf of Wall Street is the Goodfellas for this generation, you cannot have enough of it with just a one-time watch, you will watch it time and time again, you will recommend it to your friends, you will watch it with them just to see them have a great time, and you will talk about the movie till the cows come home.


After his recent movies over the years, I had assumed that Scorsese had run out of steam to make a classic like Goodfellas again, how wrong was I! The old devil still has it in him. In his latest outing the great man has collaborated with a legendary actor-in-the-making who doesn’t howl like a wolf, but roars like a lion!

Monday, December 30, 2013

The Year That Was

Monday, December 30, 2013 0
There is something about the year end and the approach of a new year that lifts our spirits. We are brimming with Hope, the New Year is not going to be the same as the last year we promise ourselves, something is going to be different about it, things will change. There will be new beginnings, chapters will be closed, new chapters will be scripted, a new dawn will arise we tell ourselves. But deep within we know things will be the same, yet, we can’t stop gushing over the endless possibilities that a new year brings along with it.

2013 has been quite an eventful year, a great year for reading books(16 so far!), a decent year with the writing(I have two blogs in all!), although I am yet to steel myself and start writing that book that many of my friends have persuaded me to, it was also a year where I realized that I can do a decent job of making people laugh when given the stage. I've quite a lot to be thankful for. I've people who believe in me, people who feel that I can do better with my life, these are the people who egg me on to go on to take the leap while I doubt myself.  But when you are on the verge of taking that leap of faith, you can’t help but wonder “What if I fall?”. Well, even if we fall, we might at least plummet to the ground screaming our lungs out with a wide grin. It is necessary to embrace failure, it’s only when we fail big do we get a chance to enjoy true success when we attain it. This has been a year that has taught me to better have tried than to live with regrets wondering “What if?”.

This has been a year for falling in love, writhing in pain over it, and trying to fall out of it all over again, all the while trying to be happy with whatever little that I've been dealt with.

This has been a year for forging friendships, and a year for seeing some fledgling ones cut short. There always was the chance of holding on to whatever little that was slipping through my fingers, but so caught up I was in my own hubris that by the time I tried to mend all that I had broken, it was already too late. Time either strengthens relationships, or sours it, only we can choose the people who are worth fighting for, and go to any lengths to revive it, to save it. I am still learning, and who better to teach us about life, love and loss than our own friends, those great teachers. They become a part of our life, teach us something about ourselves, even when it ends on a bitter note we take a vital lesson from failed relationships. I am humbled and thankful for that.

This has been a year where I've been a victim of my own pettiness, my jealousies, my insecurities.  I am still trying to be a good person, I am still trying, This has a been a year of pains and gains, of broken heart and mended soul, of lost dreams and a new found hope, of self-doubt and self-discovery.

To all those have been a part of my life this year, thank you for being there. Thank you for the belief, thank you for the love. To those who aren't a part of it anymore because of my own doing, if you are reading this, I am glad for the good times we shared, you have taught me more about myself than you could imagine. I’m sorry for being an ass that I was. I may not be the finished product yet, but I am trying. To you dear reader, I wish you the very best that life has to offer.


I leave 2013 a little more mature, a little more grounded, and head into 2014 a little more wiser, zinda hoon yaar, kaafi hai. I cannot wait to meet the people that life has in store for me, I cannot wait to see where Life would take me, and I cannot wait to learn more about myself. Bring on the New Year, I say, I just can’t wait!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Captain Phillips - A Master and a Commander

Thursday, November 28, 2013 0

Captain Richard Phillips: You said you were a business man! Is this how you do business?


There are some movies that translate real life incidents onto the celluloid in an attempt to rake in the moolah, they “Hollywoodize” the original story by adding a lot of drama and over the top action sequences in order to connect with the audience with the premise remaining the same: ordinary men under extraordinary circumstances who come up trumps when faced with adversity. Eventually the final product ends up looking cheesy. Paul Greengrass’ latest offering Captain Phillips is a story of courage and determination where the titular character played by the ever-so-brilliant Tom Hanks is faced against Somali pirates. While there have been other action films inspired by real life that have fallen flat in keeping the audience engaged while playing to the galleries, Captain Phillips keeps the viewers emotionally involved because it brings two different worlds together in the form of their lead characters, Richard Phillips an Everyman with wife and kids from the global superpower America, and the ruthless pirate Muse from Somalia, a country torn by strife. Two men with vastly different socioeconomic backgrounds, but with one common objective : Survival.


Adapted from the book "A Captain's Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALS, and Dangerous Days at Sea" written by Richard Phillips and Stephan Talty, the film is inspired by the real life hostage situation of the Maersk Alabama hijacking. Like any other Paul Greengrass film, the movie is filmed in the trademark shaky camera that throws the viewers right into the action. Paul Greengrass has always been known to direct edge-of-the seat action sequences, The Bourne series is a testament to that, the action scenes in Captain Phillips are no less thrilling than his other films, at times they are even better. Captain Phillips isn’t just an action movie shot like a docudrama, what it also strives to be is a social commentary on the two lead characters who are on the opposite ends of the spectrum, there are bad guys doing bad things, but what Greengrass also shows us is why they  are forced to do it.


Tom Hanks is aptly cast as Richard Phillips, a bespectacled Joe Schmo who is the captain of a cargo ship cruising through calm seas one moment and ends up facing the working end of a gun in the next, Hanks’ likeability is what makes us root for him to stay alive, and as usual he plays the role of a hapless hostage with much conviction. While it is no easy task to outdo a two-time Academy Award winner like Hanks, Barkhad Abdi as the pirate leader Muse does it with menacing ease, Muse is a rebel with a cause, he is forced to wield a gun because circumstances make him do it.

While there have been other big budget movies that have come and gone this year lacking in some way or the other, Captain Phillips is a smartly made thriller which is the complete package of action and drama that will keep you engrossed.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Gravity - Deadspace Downfall

Saturday, October 12, 2013 0



                                       Ryan Stone: I hate space!

I was intrigued with Gravity from the moment the project was announced, it seemed to be a theme never attempted. Marooned in space, with only two characters who fight for survival not against aliens, but against a more human catastrophe, and an opening scene, a long take that lasts for 13 minutes, what was there to not be intrigued by it? As many other big budget movies were released over the course of a couple of years, Gravity had moved down my list of movies to watch and I had almost forgotten about it, I thought the project was shelved. But I chanced upon its trailer a couple of months back, and since then, it had soared back to the top of my must-watch films.

And it will stay on top, for never before has something so spellbinding ever been attempted. Watching Gravity on the big screen is the closest you would come to reaching for the stars, the space is Alfonso Cuaron’s giant canvas and he paints it with breathtaking imagery.  The stars, the space stations, the jaw-dropping image of planet Earth in all its glory, there is so much out there, up above the world so high that when seen on the big screen would make you rave about it. Yet, what Cuaron makes us fear more is the vast expanse of nothingness where our protagonists are lost.  An endless dark abyss where the deeper you fall into, the more engulfed you get by its silence. And there is so much of silence.

Cuaron takes no time in setting up the film right from the opening single shot scene, where the camera traverses across the limitless space and goes on to focus on the two protagonists to the tune of the pulse pounding background score.  The sequences of debris hurtling into the path of the astronauts is stunningly shot, the 3-D has been used like no other film previously seen before, from flames to teardrops the smallest of things have been amazingly shot by Cuaron and his team, no wonder it left James Cameron speechless.

Gravity is an achievement in film making, with Cuaron’s grand vision complimented well by the lead actors. If the cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki, and sound engineering are a treat to visual and aural senses, then Sandra Bullock and George Clooney’s portrayal of the hapless astronauts keeps you emotionally engaged. Clooney’s Matthew Kowalski is the seasoned and level-headed mission commander, who with his Zen like calmness tries to ease the nerves of the greenhorn Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) as she keeps falling inward into the bottomless pit, literally and metaphorically. But it is Sandra Bullock who as Dr. Ryan Stone is the hero you will be rooting for, unsure, terrified, and with a draining oxygen tank, Stone has a tragic past for which she blames herself, and the recent catastrophe only gives her a reason to give up on surviving, which is shown in a brilliant scene towards the end through her tearful outburst where she realizes that there is no one waiting for her at Earth, nobody who’d miss her if she were gone. Bullock nails the character with much gravitas, she initially had me skeptical since I found her role to be an extension of the jumpy and panicky Annie from Speed, but Ms. Bullock deserves as much accolades coming her way for this is a movie that not just depended on the visuals but also on the actors. You worry for her when she drifts off into space, and you cheer for her when she tries to get into the escape pod hoping that she makes it.  

It would be unfair to label Gravity as a sci-fi movie, this is a story that could as well be set in sandy dunes as much as it is set in space. Space is just a backdrop, with the peril of falling debris in fact a possible catastrophe named Kesslersyndrome. This is less of a sci-fi horror and more of a survival-thriller, an astounding piece of cinematic achievement that would pop your eyes off its sockets, where every shot from the movie is a potential front-runner for your desktop wallpaper.

 
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