Shades Of Words

Best of our experiences


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Liked: Gone Girl aka Marriages can be hard

What would happen to your life if one day you come home and your wife has disappeared? Would you worry yourself to death? Or would you send a little prayer of thanks?

What would happen if your wife disappeared and it looks like you killed her?  I bet you would be pretty desperate for her to be found.

 

Poster courtesy contactmusic.com

That’s where Nick Dunne finds himself one day when he returns home to find his wife gone. (If you haven’t watched the movie, then I suggest you stop reading now and rent the DVD!). The cops are called in and find proof of foul play. While surprised by the careless attitude towards his wife’s disappearance, due to lack of evidence they hesitate to bring him in.

Meanwhile -where is Amy? More importantly, who is Amy? Through a series of flashbacks, narrated by Amy as parts of her journal, we get a peek into the Amy’s childhood that overshadowed by her fictional version, Amy and Nick’s early years of romance followed by a crumbling marriage.

In the present, police find holes in Nick’s stories and a trail of clues that convinces them that Amy’s disappearance was an inside job – as in the husband did it. Smiling Instagram pictures with a volunteer, having a mistress and generally not giving a shit about his wife don’t help his case.

Then the police find the golden ticket –Amy’s journal with the last sentence that literally states- ‘He is going to kill me’. A little convenient, don’t you think? I thought so too.

Seriously, if you haven’t watched the movie yet, stop reading now.

Amy was no ordinary mid-west house wife. She was a pretty, highly educated and accomplished city girl. She wasn’t going to stick around in an unhappy marriage that used up all her money. She wasn’t going to get cheated on. She was going to get even and how!

I wasn’t surprised that the elaborate set up was to frame Nick for the murder. What surprised me how Amy chose to punish Nick, or the other men before him. It was as if she was fighting thousands and thousands years of subjugation of wives all over the world. She also chose to punish men by falsely implying them in criminal acts that are most often true against women. She was beating them at their own game. In the end, sure she was a psycho bitch, but all those men, maybe deserved just a little bit of it. To call her a nut job would be over simplification.

Based on the novel of the same name by Gillian Flynn, director’s David Fincher’s Gone Girl is a fascinating movie at so many levels. Of the bat, it’s a great who-dun-it. On the next it’s a fascinating psychological thriller with an extremely intriguing cast of characters. At a deeper level, it’s a commentary on mental, sexual and physical abuse in marriages presented through a distorting looking glass. There is no justifying the crimes that Amy commits but what’s horrific is that how easily true all her claims could have been. Gone Girl is also a commentary of the invasion of media into our lives and how critical it can be in determining one’s fate. Nick’s concern is not limited proving his innocence to the system, but also to the public. His wife is missing and he has to come on talk shows to explain himself.

Rosamund Pike has the right mix of vulnerability and steely determination to be Amy. She clearly overshadows the rest of the cast. Ben Affleck is ideal for the role of stone faced Nick. The tone of the movie is dark, even the early happy days in New York are shot in the cold winter. It’s not a happy movie, but it is extremely entertaining.


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Loved: Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries

Courtesy: ABC

This Australian period drama is an example of perfect escapist television. It has great production quality, good acting and mostly engaging script.
The show is set in 1929 -10 years after the end of the Great War. The tone of the show is light and funny. The shadow of the war is subtle and adds to the dark corners of the show. No character passing through this world is left untouched by it. Feminism, gay rights and religion are also touched upon frequently – the show clearly leaning towards the liberal left. Almost all episodes pass the Bechdel test. The mysteries themselves are a hit and miss, though Season 2 has stronger plot lines.
Our incorrigible heroine is The Honorable Miss Phryne Fisher, Lady Detective. A single wealthy lady determined to pursue her passion for solving mysteries with a formidable team of domestic help and companions. Every good detective needs a little inside help from the police. DI Jack Robinson is Phryne’s friend, confidante and potential romantic interest.
Essie Davis does a pitch perfect job of portraying Phryne Fisher. She brings sass, style and intelligence to the role. She does look much older than the 29-something Miss Fisher of the books, on which the TV show is based, but I think that brings more credibility and gravitas to her character. Nathan Page does a fantastic job of an exasperated yet amused police inspector who works hard to keep Miss Fisher off his cases. His character, like Miss Fisher’s, is extremely modern for his time, and their mutual respect for each other contributes greatly in the actual solving of crimes. It’s also a relief to have a police inspector who is actually as intelligent as the main private eye. He is not a blundering idiot and adds valuable insight to the ‘detecting’ process.
The costumes of the show deserve a special mention as they help build the essence of the characters (also give Downton Abby a series run for the money!). Phryne has the silk and chiffon gowns, the fur hats and coats, which are just like her – flamboyant, stylish and fun. DI Robinson and Constable Collins possess the respectable working man brown suits and hats. Dorothy, Phryne’s companion and lady-in-waiting, has the chaste Catholic girl clothes of long skirts and oversized cardigans.
The show was cancelled after Season2 but due to the ruckus created by its loyal fans, it was brought back. Season 3 returns in 2015 – I will be waiting for it.


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2014 – The Year of the TV

2014, was my Year of the TV. A new baby at home and a DVR service courtesy DirecTV meant that I could relax my exhausted mind with endless TV shows and movies. New parents often tell me that when you have a child, you never get to watch a movie again. In our case, watching TV was the only mode of relaxation that involved the least effort and the maximum returns when the baby was asleep.

The whole year is a blur and it’s hard to remember what all drivel I sat through, but a few things stand out – because there were really good or really bad. As 2014 comes to a close, over the next 1 month I am going to reviews on everything I liked, loved or hated.


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Book Review : Santiago and the drinking party

This is an odd little book. It doesn’t have a plot, or a theme. Stuff happens. Why or to what end doesn’t seem to matter.

The story starts at an unusual place, deep in the Amazon, where Daniel, our narrator, is backpacking as a student. During a dangerous, almost fatal river crossing he meets Santiago. Santiago is the resident philosopher –who earns his living feeding off the superstition of the tribes. His daughter, Angelina makes quite an impression of Daniel. Then they have sex. And then Daniel runs for it. Well we don’t know why exactly, but Daniel decides that he has had enough of the Amazonian exoticness and must head back to US of A.

Years pass, presumably. We don’t know for sure. Daniel is back in the Amazon, riding a bus back into its depths, reaching the little town which he visited many years ago. Why is he going back? What is he looking for? What is he running away from? Again, we don’t know.

The story or whatever this is really starts from there. Daniel is welcomed into the dysfunctional social circle of Santiago’s thinking and drinking club. It is exactly what it sounds – Santiago and few men get together in the Cantina, drink beer and have existential discussions. Once in a while they make you think, but mostly they are just the ramblings of drunken men.

Angelina has now become the bonafide village hottie – who freelances as an actress, guide, scientist – anything that will get her out of this little shit -hole. She is of course desired by many men and is often the cause of petty fights.

Several characters are introduced but none are really etched out. Who are these people? What do they do all day? What do they live on? How do they earn their wages? We don’t know. References are made to tourist groups and expeditions but how central are they to the economy to the village is again not clear.

There is something almost mythical about the world that Clay Morgan creates. There are pink dolphins, blue butterflies, green dense undergrowth, clear waterfalls and naked dancing tourists. There is a man that appears in the middle of the river island, a flood that brings an epidemic of toads, a brain fever that makes people dizzy with happiness. And the endless disappearing of people.

The most macabre of all is the endless disappearing of people. Hector, the village con artist and sociopath keeps disappearing into the forest with tourists and no one knows what ever becomes of them

So should you read this book? Oh, I don’t know – it’s quirky, fun and interesting. The language is beautiful. Towards the end it’s just bizarre. Morgan tries to fill the last 100 pages with as much weirdness as possible. What is an already an aimless tale becomes even more derailed. At the end you are left with a sense of wasted time.


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The Four Graces by D.E Stevenson

The Four Graces is a pleasant, relaxing beach read for the discerning reader. Early 21st century England, life at the vicarage in a quaint parish, local gossip, eligible young bachelorette’s – it’s fairly staple Victorian fare. Not quite up the alley as Gaskell or Trollope, there is sufficient amount of plot to keep it interesting. The war clouds hovering over the story add some depth to the somewhat two dimensional storyline.

The Four Graces are the daughters of the Vicar of a small village (the name of which I can’t recall).  Sal, Liz and Tilly live with the father. Addie works in London. The book may as well have been called the ‘The Three Graces as Addie is hardly in it and is clearly not loved as much by all the sisters. She is painted as a self-centered, immature girl who does not have much regard for her sisters’ lives or hardships in the village. What I do like about the book is that the portrayal of the sibling relationship is realistic. The four sisters love each other, but there is does exist elements of friction over matters big and small.

As there are four young girls of marriageable age, the central plot predictably includes love interests. Several eligible men make their appearances. There is for instance the young Roderick Herd who inexplicably takes to hanging about the household, sending mixed signals to the girls about his interest. Then there is William Single, a professor type of indeterminate age, who comes to stay with them. A lot of space in the book is spent in developing their relationships with the girls.

There also is the annoying Aunt Rona, who imposes herself on the household and then goes on to become even less endearing by needless matchmaking.

In terms of character development, the book makes clear all the four sisters have their own personalities but does not really dive into them. Tilly, the youngest follows in Sal’s footsteps, but is much inspired by Liz and starts to find her own voice towards the end.    The most interesting character in the book for me is Liz – she is the only one who imbibes some quality of the modern women. She is outdoorsy, independent, witty, calls a spade a spade. For unfathomable reasons, she is not her dad’s favorite who tries to find the image of his late wife in them.

This book will pass very nicely as a young adult novel that introduces this generation to the Great War.  Even in the tranquility of the English village life, the realities of war are not far away. Everything is in short supply and rationed – salt, sugar, meat, clothes, patience, and faith. An extra guest is a strain on the resources. Small events in the village life take larger significance and are important distractions. There is the fear of separation and death. Men are on the frontlines, and women are also joining the services. Each family has a life or two at stake.

But days go on. People get married, have babies, gossip and plan village fetes.


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Just around the Corner

I step out from under the dirty brown awning of my three story apartment building. The grey cracked concrete walkway to the street is littered with a soggy, muddy old copy of LA Times, pages falling out of the flimsy string holding it together. An empty Starbucks plastic cup (tall) rolls over brightly printed car wash coupons, charred cigarette butts sneak from under the sun baked yellow grass, dead bougainvillea flowers sit degenerating into pulp in the crevices on the sidewalk where the rain water has collected and a faint odor of dog poop hangs in the air. A steel sprinkler half-heartedly sprays intermittent jets of water over the small yet lush green garden next door. The low lying jasmine hedges that line the street are in full bloom creating an illusion of white and green lace. Yellow and purple wild flowers spring out of gaps in the tiled sidewalk.

I turn right on to Keystone Avenue and walk north.  A battered IKEA loveseat, once navy blue, but now an unknown color, lies abandoned on the pavement. A dark spot stains the seat covers, the arms are worn out to the frame and the foam filling has sprung out from the bottom is falling out to the pavement.

Up ahead, a young Asian couple walks out of the Keystone University Apartment building. The girl’s dark hair is streaked with neon blue, further accented by the matching pashmina scarf she has thrown around her neck. She wears no make-up and Aviator sun glasses hide her eyes.  Her mauve paisley print dress flutters in the slight breeze blowing through the street. The boy’s tumbled dry hair and unshaven beard hints that he may have just fallen out of bed. His blue and yellow UCLA t-shirt is paired with khaki shorts. His loafers are untied and the strap drags behind his heels as he walks down the street.

I pause to let two teenage boys on skateboards rush past me on the sidewalk.  Headphones in ears, caps pulled low over the ears – both are dressed alike with front open shirts and shorts sitting low on the waist. An old balding man hunched over the steering wheel, turns his shiny red and white Volkswagen Beetle into a covered driveway.

On the intersection of Keystone Ave and Venice Boulevard, small wooden cargo boxes are stacked up to four feet and placed on the payment. “On Sale” sign is stenciled on alternating sides in charcoal black paint.  On top of the stack is a white cardboard placard with a hand drawn arrow pointing to the auto repair shop at the corner of Keystone Avenue.

Outside the shop is a public payphone that hasn’t seen much use in a while. A tattered LA directory hangs from a metal chain scraping the ground. The phone is off the hook and the receiver dangles in mid-air. The booth itself is covered in fluorescent graffiti with no hint of the original paint. “You suck!”, “peace y’all” and other important messages are scratched on the metal frame.

I take a deep breath and smell the familiar salty tang of the evening sea breeze that has just begun to flow inwards from Venice beach, which is three miles down the road. The sky darkens and stretches of pink, violet and orange paint the horizon. It’s time for sunset and the crimson red sun, barely visible behind towering city buildings, disappears slowly from the view.


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Frozen

 So, what’s better than a magical story about a  princess?

Simple – a magical story about two princesses. A lot has been written about how Frozen is a marked shift from Disney’s traditional romantic princess-in-distress-saved-by-prince-charming formula. Frozen is about a princess-in-distress saved by another princess-in-distress.

Hmm, I personally think the shift is debatable – why, for instance, do Elsa and Anna have to be princesses in the first place at all? They could have siblings in any kind of family. There is no denying the message Disney franchise keeps reinforcing that girls need to be princesses with pretty clothes and fancy houses.

However, there is something refreshing about Frozen. The animation for instance is very old school Disney. The ice castle, the kingdom of Arrendale, the snow monster – all with the beauty and simplicity of 2D dimension. The Nordic aesthetics of the movie are breathtaking. The action sequences are what cartoons should look like with no larger than life special effects – it’s a relief to not let CGI take over the story.

Elsa, the heir-apparent and the older of the two princess, is an x-man ( woman to be precise) and can turn things into ice. With no Professor X to guide and harness her power, she lives in fear of herself secluded from her sister and others. Anna, the younger princess, unaware of her sister’s powers,  gets all the love and freedom that a princess would, grows up to a happy-go-lucky girl waiting to meet her prince charming. She has no real relationship with her sister but carries the hope that one day things will improve.

Life gets interesting when on the day’s of Elsa’s coronation, Anna meets the love of her life, gets into a fight with Elsa who exposes her power in public. Being afraid of hurting people and being called a monster, she runs away and finds solace in an ice castle. Frozen is really about Anna’s journey to find her sister and release Arrendale from eternal winter.

On her journey she meets Kristoff, an out of business ice seller and Olaf, a talking snowman. Olaf is probably the most adorable of sidekicks – he is a snowman who loves warm hugs and summers !

There is something comical yet deeply dark about the song “In Summer” when Olaf croons

Bees’ll buzz, kids’ll blow dandelion fuzz
And I’ll be doing whatever snow does in summer.

With some of the wittiest dialogs in the movie  he provides most of the laughs.

Frozen works at several levels and I haven’t enjoyed an animated movie this much since Despicable Me. I definitely recommend watching it – it’s a great comfort movie. But to be one of the highest grossing movies ever?  I just don’t get it.

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