Showing posts with label Review-ery. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Review-ery. Show all posts

Saturday, November 18, 2006


I’m feeling really awful for Borat and his creator who are in every kind of trouble from every possible direction.

Despite Cohen’s seemingly sincere denials and the earnest defense mounted by his passionate fans, BoratLove is losing the battle to logic.

Afterall intention is, sadly, an outdated and ineffective excuse.

(See comments to my earlier post.)

Those gunning for Borat include
The Anti-Defamation League
Official complaints in Kazakhstan
The old Jewish “shape-shifters"
Insulted Roma villagers
Drunk Frat boys
Snarky columnists.

More horrible than any of this are the K-Fed jokes.


Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Borat (So What?)

Yesterday at lunch with the awesome Pied Piper and an accomplished, pioneering writer whose anonymity we shall preserve, Piper turned to me and said, “You saw Borat and didn‘t blog about it?” And I shrugged sheepishly into my chopped salad and did my best to explain that I’m having a bit of a crisis with my response to comedy. It’s true.

Much to the somewhat indulgent amusement of my family, I laugh at the lamest of jokes. But my thinking side is increasingly uncomfortable at the influx of comics who made it because they trashed on their own ethnicity. Suddenly it's okay--no really, okay--to make ethnic and racist jokes again. As the song goes, "Everyone's a little Racist Sometimes." So Chris Rock, Sarah Silverman, Dave Chappelle, and Jeff Foxworthy make malicious jokes about Black, Jewish, and "Redneck" people; I find that troublesome. I can handle Margaret Cho and Russell Peters who mock ethnic culture rather than ethnic race (Make sense?). As for the rest, I’m fairly sure that the subtext is that comics secretly ethnic stereotype everyone although some bizarre sense of cultural correctness or essentialism allows them to broadcast only mockery of “their own.”. Either cultural correctness or comic selectivity--Jeff Foxworthy for all his proud Southern Redneck-ism cannot make anti African American jokes--because what would be funny about that?

Which is why Sacha Baron Cohen or “AliG” as I have called him for the last five or so years--ever since I watched my first couple of episodes on BBC’s Channel Four, too dim-witted for too long to figure out that Ali, Borat, and Bruno were Sacha meme--is my favorite comic. Because Cohen doesn’t say stupid things, he just asks stupid questions and any resulting humor is the consequence of the interviewee’s own idiocy and bigotry. And also, Cohen muddles both ethnic race and ethnic culture--AliG fancies himself a RudeBoy (you’d call it gangsta this side of the puddle) and seems to believe that he is Black, frequently accusing his uncooperative guests of “racialism;” Borat’s vociferous anti-Semitism is directly contrary to Cohen’s own reportedly orthodox Judaic upbringing.

So what in the name of sweet baby Krishna is my problem now? I have to say somewhat meekly--and at the risk of sounding like a hipster-in-the-manger whose favorite indie label has gone mainstream--that Cohen was okay as a small, inside joke. The huge Twentieth Century Fox spectacle of Borat morphs what was once funny into cruelty because what was once merely a silly prank is now a hugely profitable deception. When Borat is no longer the little guy, it‘s harder to excuse his lapses of decency. When he’s no longer the little guy, the fulcrum of honesty seesawing between power and sympathy shifts from the pompous interviewee who is essentially being true to himself to the fraudulent player-interviewer egging him on. Even the gag about being a Kazakhstani reporter seems maliciously opportunistic, because we know that Cohen wouldn't dare impersonate a bumbling Russian or German with impunity. Borat has to be coded as a token white person to gain the kinds of access he does, but he is simultaneously an inept parody of the voice--and presence--of a people with minimal to none-at-all influence in the Western world. When even NPR begins to josh about Borat being a better representative of Kazakhstan than President Nursultan Nazarbayev--Oy! Cohen, we have a problem.

P.S. Also the movie wasn’t as funny as the show. Cohen’s team imported a (weak) plotline, which, methinks, was unnecessary. Borat is essentially Jackass with ideas. And I don’t remember Jackass pushing plot.


Thursday, October 19, 2006

The "So-Bad-it’s-Good Syndrome ™ "

A belated thank you to Pied Piper for the shout out :).

[Piper's exclusive rights to the "So-Bad-it’s-Good Syndrome" a.k.a. Mutant-Variant-on-the-Stockholm-Syndrome" have hereby been asserted.]


Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Kiran Desai's The Inheritance of Loss

(Sorry to have been so solipsistic--although The Yunus Nobel and the Desai Booker provided the much-needed antidote to that : )

I have been praising Desai's novel to anyone who'd listen. Why? You can read the swiftbyte synopsis on Modal Minority where Teju Cole kindly linked to a comment. On the other hand, if you feel i have the right to claim a goodly portion of your life, the full-length, gushy version follows.

Six years ago, on the debut of Kiran Desai’s Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard, I wrote a largely negative review for Contemporary South Asia. Therefore, I began Desai’s recent second novel, The Inheritance of Loss, with an attitude of scepticism, and then found myself becoming increasingly impressed and moved by it to an extent where I began to panic, assuming that my earlier review, written as a freshly-minted graduate student, had been arrogant and wrong--The Inheritance of Loss is that good. Commendable in Desai’s new novel is her judicious sense of the world, about which, she speaks with a non show-offy quietness that in no way impairs her immense eloquence on several hot-button issues--such as homosexuality, religious tolerance, multiculturalism, and cross-cultural and cross-class understanding. Also commendable is her understanding of human relationships, beautifully translated into accounts of love, loss, and their lack of logic.

Narratively, The Inheritance of Loss concurrently tells the story of two different kinds of diasporas--that of undocumented, and thereby exploited, blue-collar immigrants in New York City and an aging, elitist cluster of Indian professionals settled post retirement in a remote Gurkha hill station called Cho Oyu. Citizens of both these diasporas face the challenges of a nominally globalized society that is paradoxically fraught with increasingly exclusivist, separatist, and nationalistic agendas; diaspora collapses the boundaries between the first world and the third world while simultaneously enforcing them. Like academic studies of globalism, most notably the work of Hardt and Negri in Empire (2000), Desai has no policy answers, however she presents the complicated multi-faceted minefield of decisions in a global economy honestly, and goes beyond meaning and misery with the implicit humanistic conviction that kindness accomplishes both cure and prevention.

The Inheritance of Loss brilliantly captures globalism reverberating in the aftereffects of cultural encounters post (way past) colonialism and continuing consumerist imperialism. While some of the landscape and final denouement of the novel is reminiscent of Desai senior i.e. Anita Desai, especially in the 1977 novel, Fire on the Mountain, Kiran Desai’s voice is discretely definitive, and she makes some remarkable observations about human movement and migration, demonstrating that they have always been a part of the fabric of human commerce. Also, commendable, given the middle-class provenance of most south-asian novelists and novelistic material in English, is Desai’s easy class shift showing that not all movement to and from the western world falls into the category of middle-class endeavor.

Biju, one of two protagonists, the son of a domestic servant, has entered the United States on a tourist visa and simply overstayed, working illegally, and thus being paid badly, in a variety of New York city eateries, always trying to stay one step ahead of the immigration dragnet. This is an account of life previously abridged in South Asian English fiction for instance in Romesh Gunasekara‘s Reef (1994) and Monica Ali’s Brick Lane (2003)--both, incidentally, shortlisted for the Booker Prize. In The Inheritance of Loss, Biju’s constant procession through the small-scale eateries of NYC has no hierarchical development and establishes no mobility upwards--its back-and-forthness, on the contrary, illustrates the utter meaninglessness of his progression. Biju’s narrative as an indigent in the first world is balanced by that of the other protagonist, seventeen-year-old Sai, whose life is ostensibly elitist but shabby nevertheless. Sai is an orphan being brought up in a dilapidated once-mansion by her grandfather, a staunch, self-hating colonial, whom we are throughout tempted to describe as Naipaulian. Biju’s father, referred to throughout merely as “the cook,” is the sole domestic--housekeeper, cook, errand boy, and chaperone. The cook is the only witness to Sai’s loneliness, but while appreciative and empathetic to it is constrained by a lack of agency as well as funds, power, and kinship.

Kiran Desai’s intensely realistic portrayal of life on two continents, diasporic on multiple levels, demonstrates an immense tenderness for the human condition, the unmappable, unpredictable journey we all share. The epigraph from Jorge Luis Borges (“My humanity is in feeling we are all voices of the same poverty”) in fact works as an effective foretelling device. However, while there is plenty of human cruelty, it is the usual, small, culminative atrocities of the cosmos that prove overwhelming. Thus it is the cosmos, depicted in Desai’s novel as a kind of self-righteous globalist pimp, that is the source of narrative malevolence, allowing Desai to nimbly sidestep standard manuals of narrative which indicate that novelistic conflict requires good and evil characters. Yet, no matter how seemingly clear-cut the situation, Desai’s description and dialogue allow us to see subtly-planed universal angles, so that even where sympathy seems impossible, empathy interferes.

I'll end this review with two telling performative passages from Desai in which she ably shows rather than tells the foregoing. In the following exchange that takes place at an ubiquitous Gray’s Papaya in New York, we are able to see the harassment that one kind of victimized minority may still inflict on an otherwise privileged Other:
“Would you like a big one?” asked Biju’s fellow server, Romy, lifting a sausage with his tongs, waving it full and fleshy, boing-boinging it against the side of the metal pan, whacking it up and down, elastic before a sweet-faced girl, brought up to treat dark people like anyone else...

Thump Thump Waggle Waggle. Like a pervert jumping from behind a tree--waggling the appropriate area of his anatomy--

Big one? Small one? (p.15)
Later on Desai depicts Sai’s love affair with her mathematics tutor Gyan--an affair that is predicated on the power hierarchy in their age/sex/size/knowledge. While their difference is established, we are witness to sweetly awkward and unwittingly comic initiatory exchanges that are conducted in a spirit of joyous pseudo inquiry embracing both bourgeois consciousness as well as romantic awareness:
“Let me see your hands. They are so small.”
“Are they?”
“Yes.” He held his own out by hers. “See?”
… He weighed her hand.
“Light as a sparrow. The bones must be hollow.” (p115)
At subsequent pauses in the rain they measured ears, shoulders, and the span of their rib cages.
Collar bones, eyelashes, and chins.
Knees, heels, arch of feet.
Flexibility of toes and fingers.
Cheekbones, necks, muscles of the upper arm, the small complexities of the hinge bones.
The green and purple of their veins….
Now and then she recalled certain delicate observations she had made during her own explorations before the mirror that had been overlooked by Gyan, on account of the newness of landscape between them…
She brought up these omissions at his next visit, proffered her hair with the zeal of a silk merchant: “See--feel. Like silk?”
“Like silk,” he confirmed. (pp. 124-125)


Anyone seen...

...First Class Man? It's apparently a play based on the life of Srinivasa Ramanujan by Alter Ego Productions and is on until the 21st of October off-off-off-off-off-off-off Broadway. Much as i find the choice of subject matter laudable, I have to say that i find stills from the show rather underwhelming.

And that's a pity--Ramanujan's life is infinitely fascinating, and the biography by Robert Kanigel, The Man Who Knew Infinity is, hands down, the *best* biography i've *ever* read.

Kanigel's sexy, almost-SF title doesn't hurt any either. First Class Man, OTOH, sounds like the story of a math-geek journeyman with mediocre academic ambitions. That or a stuffy frequent flier.

Still, the tix are relatively inexpensive ($18), and it might be worth checking out.


Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The Last Cliché

So I had an hour and a half between doctors' appointments yesterday and snuck into the Lowes on Second Av to watch Zach Braff’s The Last Kiss.

(I went alone. Big A owes me bigtime for dragging me to The Aristocrats and Clerks 2, but, for all its failings, The Last Kiss wouldn't have been punishment enough. I’ve decided to punish him with The Lake House, which has his least favorite male actor plus his least favorite female actor, plus a leaky-bag plot. His pain shall be my entertainment. Muaahahahahaha. Although, i‘m still somewhat nice enough in that i'm willing to Netflix it so he can vomit in the comfort of his own home if he needs to, per his request.)

Anyway, The Last Kiss is a heap of clichés. You have guy pals who are upped from the Boy Meets World magic number two in ZB’s first movie, Garden State, to an Entourage-ish four, trapped in varied stages of sucky coupledom, throw in a mom (the cadaverously beautiful Blythe Danner) jealous of her daughter, and also in there is a college-aged slut who is the Natalie Portman character from Garden State gone unbelievably toxic; to make her narrative function clear she is (a) skinny--so you get the point that she is young (b) dark-haired--so you get the point that she’s evil-intentioned and slutty enough to throw herself at guy-in-a-relationship.

All the women, mom and slut included, are potential or actual PSYCHO-STALKERS and if you have sex with them you will get PSYCHO STALKED. (Men, you have been warned.) All the men dick around in assorted but uninventive ways and then !finale! decide to return to their women. (Women, you have been warned also.) It was like monomaniacal street-theater director wannabe meets complex Freud manqué, only not as sexy and without berets and cigars--i.e. disappointing.

The best part was that I suddenly realized close to the end of the movie that i had four minutes to make my appointment, so i had to dash for it and didn’t see the eponymous last kiss. It *was* the best part--not having to watch that too, i mean. One thing i learned yesterday--that I never want to watch Zach Braff having physically spazzed out and emotionally awkward sex that has been choreographed to tediously "ironic" music ever again; those five minutes yesterday--my eyes! my head! Meh!


Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Game, Nussbaum

While I have been guilty of sending people off to read Martha Nussbaum’s thoughts on Cosmopolitanism, I’ve never read Harvey C. Mansfield‘s Manliness . And I may never read it, thanks to Nussbaum’s killing review in which anger, eloquence, and contempt perform brilliantly under the direction of unwavering logic.

Nussbaum’s review which originally appeared in The New Republic, demolishes Mansfield’s work for being skimpy on facts, inconsistent with definitions, superficial with summary, and misguided in its focus. Apparently, Mansfield, a full prof. at Harvard, fallaciously assumes that all men must aspire to manliness, which is like saying all women aspire to feminism (side bar: why don’t they?? I‘m always but always surprised when women simperingly claim to “not be a feminist or anything”).

So, blah, blah, and yeah, it’s a perfectly executed review. But the reason I’m still thinking about it is because it made me laugh every time Nussbaum neatly flipped Mansfield‘s ungainly assertions off, sometimes with audacious flippancy--kinda like this:

Feminists, then, have not typically sought a society in which there are no gender distinctions. They have challenged imposed and unchosen gender norms that interfere with women's freedom and functioning….Anne Hollander has written eloquently of the way in which women have claimed the suit, that attribute of the successful man the world over, as their own, replacing with it those billowing petticoats that made women seem vaguely like mermaids, human on top and some hidden uncleanness below. But women's suits never have been and never will be precisely like men's suits -- perhaps because women have better fashion sense, perhaps because color-blindness is a male-sex-linked gene.


Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Lady in the… Whatever

Night Shyamalan has curly hair--so I mean… of course it’s a no-contest decision that I *love* him, right?

What hangs in the balance is The Lady in the Water (TLITW), his latest movie, that the critics claim to hate and audiences seem to like.

I like it lots.

But then my willing suspension of disbelief is virtually superhuman and improbabilities and plot holes don’t bother me. Much.

When we saw the movie this weekend, Big A set up a parallel snarktrack in my left ear, making me giggle quite a few times, which I would then try to neutralize, a little too late, by telling him sternly that it wasn’t funny. There is plenty to snark about--Shyamalan sets up an entire mythology--a generally difficult task given that the purported events are neither in the hazy hobbited past or in a galaxy far, far away but rather in a contemporary Philadelphia apartment complex. Plus the entire running time of the movie is an hour and a half; establishing a mythology takes lots more time. George Lucas took decades; Tolkien took a lifetime. True, E.T. did a great job in an hour and a half, but then it had superficial trappings of science and zero gigantic flying eagles to baffle us.

But back to the simplistic TLITW. Shyamalan professes that the movie has its origins in a story he made up for his kids--I’ll buy that. There is an innocence and affection about the tale, an earnest conviction in the goodwill of humans, a distancing of evil to television news (footage of the war loops endlessly on the tube) and night-fears; siblinghood is elevated to a powerful influence, and cooperation rules.

The clearly multi-ethnic, but simultaneously ethnically ambiguous, community that is the apartment complex in which TLITW entirely takes place must work together save Story--a nymph from an alternative world--often putting the lives of its members in danger and on nothing but the word of a waifish, half-clad girl. This is the sort of blind, narrative-saving faith that Shyamalan seems to expect from his viewers. But TLITW is not quite Peter Pan, where we can discharge our responsibilities as audience by clapping as if we believe in fairies. Plus, really, blind faith is something no liberal should demand--after all it is superstitious faith in divinely revealed narratives that is the cause of much of the world’s troubles.

To offset what may seem a authorial demand, so often the events on screen seem a collective exercise in creativity and commitment. Saving Story is a process deeply connected to the way in which the story is saved from nothingness by being reconstituted through a Korean bedtime tale, a child reading a cabinet-full of cereal boxes, a cabal of potheads. The story is pieced together, put together by means of trial and fatal error. The implied metacinematic element --the tagline, after all, is “Time is running out for a happy ending”--is pronounced especially in the fate of the character of Mr. Farber, the movie-critic, but the strong suggestion is that the world’s welfare depends on individuals who choose to work towards a collectivist good.

So that’s the warm-fuzzy/nebulous-fuzzy message--that we’re all connected purposefully: the possibility that a writer severely blocked will meet a mystic nymph and then miraculously go on to write a book that years after his death will sit on a shelf in a kitchen in the Midwest and that a young child who reads it will be inspired to become a brilliant orator and the leader of change in the United States.


Hell, Yeah. If we’re willing to believe this account of a Welsh lad listening to 60’s pop on the BBC being influenced by the pre WWII Italian thinker Gramsci to the extent that he names his rock band after one of Gramsci’s books--Scritti Politti--and goes from Madonna-ish and Michael Jackson-like pop arrangements to Reggae and Kraftwerk collaborations and despite dabbling in Derrida, begins to focus on the non ironic, life-affirming power of love; sure.

But back again to TLITW. It’s not a scary movie--I was startled a couple of times (but then my mom’s arrival in a room can startle me--much to her distress) and honestly, the scariest bit was recognizing the once gorgeous Sarita Chowdhury.

And I’m not interested in quibbling about whether the Lady (btw, Bryce Dallas Howard‘s flawlessly planed face is magical in the extreme) is really a girl or is in the water or out of it or flying on an eagle, or if Shyamalan is an arrogant, pretentious, film-school egotist or not. Ummm, did i mention that he has curly hair?

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Desi Writing of the Giddy Sort

Check out Anokhi a flippantly south asian version of Vanity Fair/Cosmo. Do it eventhough the current edition places the words “Does Not Have” in front of the word much beloved of glossies-- “SEX” --making for an unwittingly ethnic-ironic headline.

And also, Virgin Comics --an unholy alliance of the multinational maverick, Richard Branson, and Deepak Chopra, my favorite Desi proponent of mucho mumbo-jumbo including intelligent design. Virgin Comics offers Indian themed--er… ummm... rather “Hindu” themed--comics with titles like Ramayan Reborn, Devi, and Sadhu. Despite my misgivings about the fundie potential of the subject matter, i have to say the artwork looks amazing.

Not entirely edifying news. True. However, it does signal a deeper Desi engagement with alternatives to traditional publishing--publishing that actually has the likelihood of commercial success unlike literary publishing that looks for recognition via big businesses with the big bucks.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Trying to Catch Them Riding Dirty

Here’s Himalayan Project (thanks Abhi) rapping about being brown with real verbal dexterity and rare political adroitness.

Zeeb and Chee Malabar’s track about being pulled over by an NYC cop, Oblique Brown, is on their myspace page here--it's got an old-timey feel to it while being totally current. Postcards from Paradise (with Rainman) is also a captivating track, idealistic and beautiful and more importantly, more my speed :P .

These Brooklyn boys are playing in New York all this month. Very worth going to see.

Jul 14 2006 10:00P
Columbia University/Lerner Hall New York, NY
Jul 21 2006 8:00P
QMA/Queens Musuem of Art Queens, NY
Jul 21 2006 10:00P
Maya Lounge New York
Aug 17 2006 8:00P
SOB's New York

India at 75

I've been reading this WONDERFUL collection of 75 writers on India's 75th birthday from PEN all day and bugging my cousins to read i...