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Archive for February, 2010

Disclaimer: Two back to back reviews of Jason Reitman’s films is a mere coincidence (facilitated by the purchase of a brand new DVD player) and not a premeditated act. The reviewer, any one in her immediate family or her pet cat, are not being paid, in cash or kind, by Reitman. The reviewer claims, in her defense, that she didn’t know Thank You for Smoking was Reitman film. It had been lying with her for the longest time and the only reason it didn’t get viewed (and reviewed) earlier was its advanced format, a format the reviewer’s former, antediluvian player pouted at.

Thank You for Smoking is a satirical look at the intrigues of the PR Machinery of Big Tobacco. The story is that of Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart), the spokesperson for Big Tobacco. Naylor is a glib spin doctor whose arsenal consists of four words  –  convince, confuse, deflect, bribe, and he uses them effectively.

Hell, he can make anti – tobacco lobbyists look bad while sitting next to a lung cancer patient with all the outward and pity inducing symptoms – bald pate, wheelchair bound, stick thin, sallow complexion – of the vitiating disease. The scene where he goes to his son’s school to give a talk on his job and almost gets booted out for telling seventh graders that smoking isn’t bad is too funny.

In his own words, Naylor’s job is ‘to talk’ and he does that tirelessly. He spins and spins and spins. All the time. He has few friends and none outside his line of work. The two friends that he has are all from his line of work, i.e., spin doctors for Big Gun and Big Alcohol, or, as they, self-deprecatingly call themselves, Merchants of Death. They meet regularly to vent and bitch about do-gooders.

The only genuine relationship he has is with his son which is one of mutual love and respect.

Naylor is Now conflict enters his life from various sources. A senator from Vermont, Finnistre (William Macy) is threatening to go more graphic about the warning labels on cigarette packets and the Marlboro Man is threatening to lash out at Big Tobacco for giving him cancer and teen smoking (Big Tobacco’s bread and butter) is at an all time low.

No problem. Naylor has the fix for all. However, all the good work Naylor’s done threatens to come to nought when a sexy reporter (Katie Holmes) seduces him into spilling all and a bunch of anti-tobacco lunatics kidnap and poison him with nicotine patches. Things come to when he has to make a choice about his son’s future.

The story is as much about how Naylor goes about solving these problems as about his relationship with his precocious son whom he takes along with him everywhere.

The film is hysterical. The characters are all stereotypes. All the characters are caricatures. Special mention to Rob Lowe’s Hollywood Superagent and Robert Duvall’s’ smoke-till-I-die Big Tobacco chief. There are no ‘deep’ moments, and yet it is extremely effective anti smoking film. Yes, don’t let the title fool ya. The film works because there is no preaching of any kind – subtle or overt. Everyone gets their ass taken and nobody on either side of tobacco fence gets spared.

It is not Reitman’s best film – amongst the three films I’ve seen, I would rate it after Up in the Air and Juno. But even Reitman’s worst (and debut) effort is right up there with the best of the industry.

Statutory warning: This film kills with laughter.

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For those of you who can’t wait *winks* and for those with more practical considerations (like saving  muchos rupees), you can order your copy here.

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Take a film that’s tagged as a recession romantic comedy, put in George Clooney in it, marry the two and what do you get? A light, breezy film, right? Wrong. Up in the Air is actually a meaningful film masquerading as a romcom.

Meet Ryan Bingham (Clooney), a man who is fires people on behalf of bosses who are too chicken to do it themselves. He travels 300 plus days a year, which means he has to spend ‘65 miserable days at home.’ He has no friends and a family he’s barely in touch with. He is comfortably ensconced in a ‘cocoon of personal detachment.’ And who can blame him? Many policemen, doctors and people in difficult jobs get somewhat desensitised over time in order to function.

What he has, however, is gold membership of all travel related clubs and a frequent flier mile count that’s outta this planet. If he can help it, he never spends on anything unless it somehow adds to his miles. After all, the ten million mile number, which happens to be his goal, doesn’t happen by itself.

He meets a kindred soul, Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga) in the first class (?) lounge at an airport. Sparks fly over a deliciously double entendre conversation involving phrase like ‘How Big’ and ‘impress me’, only they are referring to cards classification and club membership / benefits. Soon they’re jumping into bed, on their way to a casual fling. Of course, with their crazy travel schedules setting the next date is not an easy task. Still, one is managed some three months later when he’s in Fort Lauderdale and she’s in Miami. Out come the laptops and the relevant weekend is marked on the calendar.

Meanwhile, back at office in Omaha, Nebraska, enter the fresh-faced young recruit Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick) and the man who fires people for a living is in danger of becoming redundant himself. Natalie comes up with the idea of firing people via video conferencing thereby saving the company beaucoup travel dollars.

However, what she possesses in bright ideas, she lacks in experience. Therefore Clooney is roped in to show her, well, the ropes. Clooney effortlessly slips into the role of a mentor and teaches her everything from the value of buying the right luggage to the morning after protocol post a one-night stand. In the process, some of her youthful hope and enthusiasm rubs off on his cynical side and he decides to take a chance on love.

The film, doubtless, will strike the right chord with the viewers especially in US and Europe. Which is precisely why the film was made, I suspect. To cash in all the recession blues hanging heavy all around. What I didn’t expect was that the makers would come up with an exceptional film in the process. I’ve seen Jason Reitman’s Juno, and while I thought it was a pleasant enough film, I didn’t think it was outstanding.

However, Up in the Air is not only a gem of a film, it delivers a sucker punch right in the solar plexus. It is insightful, edgy pastiche of the modern, jet-setting corporate culture with its mindless obsession with material possessions. It doesn’t have any forced or unrealistic situations and/or cartoon characters which we’ve come to expect from comedies. Razor sharp dialogue is the only concession the film makes to the genre. The film is both funny and poignant in parts. Given the theme, the film doesn’t weigh you down at any point. Well, except during Natalie Keener’s first firing episode. I have to admit, I felt so bad for Mr. Samuels I bawled like a baby.

On the whole, however, it is, as it promises, a mature comedy. As you can tell, I really, really, really liked the film.

Note: not to be seen when you’ve just been laid off yourself, lost a loved one or generally when PMSing.

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Here’s a book review I did for Businesworld recently.

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I heard an intriguing doomsday theory the other day. Now, I love doomsday theories. They make good fodder for my stories. The theory I heard then is that 2012 will definitely happen.

For those who don’t know the significance of the year 2012 (where have you been the past few months and why haven’t you watched the movie?), there exists an ancient Mayan Calendar System which predicts the end of the world in the aforementioned year. Of course, like all doomsday theories, this one too has naysayers who claim nothing of the sort will happen and that doomsday mongers have drawn this erroneous conclusion based on the fact that the calendar ends on winter solstice (or is it equinox?) 2012.

According to this intriguing new theory, the world will definitely end, only not in the volcanoes-erupting-Earth-caving-in-Sun-getting-outta-control kinda way but in a more sophisticated financial Armageddon kinda way. So you’ll have a situation where the banks and bourses have collapsed, asset prices have collapsed and there is hyperinflation. Unable to afford food, people will die of starvation and there will massive looting and vandalism. What we will have eventually is massive geo-socio-politico (and any other o you can think of) unrest.

The reason: The US economy is on a headlong collision course. The levels of debt and unemployment are extraordinary and you have a set of politicians who are out to destroy the currency. Not bad enough?

Picture Spain, one of the bigger European economies. Its economy is in worse shape; the housing sector which was the driver of growth there has completely collapsed and thirty per cent of the population between the ages of 18-25 is without jobs. To make matters worse they have the common currency, the Euro. Otherwise the natural thing would have been to devalue the currency and somehow get growth back on track. As things stand today, they are staring at massive deflation and that is never good for growth.

Then there is China where the Central bank has been conducting the most extraordinarily inflationary experiment and flooded the system with liquidity. As the result there are huge asset bubbles everywhere and danger of hyperinflation.

You see where I’m going with this? No? Rest assured, neither do I? All I know is I’m going to liquidate all my stock market holdings and stuff the cash inside my mattress. After all, during the conditions reigning at the time, I just might be able to afford a packet of sugar.

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Australian Open is over and so are my days of vegetating in front of the telly. *sigh* No more excuses. Now I have my butt down to work. I make a half-heated move to slide my butt off the bed. Okay, but before I go, I really should figure out what else happened while I was away. So I randomly switch channels and discover:

A) Man U won their match against Arsenal 3-1. I try to get excited but find I’m unable to care. I do follow the Premier League but only because several friends are football fanatics (read Manchester United) and it is impossible to have a conversation with them unless you know who’s where in the premier league points table. In fact, I currently support Chelsea only to piss them off. Chelsea vs ManU should be cracker. Meanwhile I’m more curious about the Russian Billionaire and owner of Chelsea. I wonder if wasshisname is on his yacht with a bevy of models. But since the boat comes with an anti-paparazzi photo shield, there’s no way anyone is gonna find out is there? BTW, there’s Abramovich owning Chelsea, Usmanov part owning Arsenal…what’s with Russian billionaires owning English FCs?

B) There’s some furore going on over some BT Brinjals. Everyone is screaming at a beleaguered Jairam Ramesh and I ask myself if I want to find out what fuss is about. The answer is an emphatic no. I mean I do like the occasional baingan bharta but not enough to try and make sense of the din. I move on.

C) A nine year old girl has been raped in Goa. Hold on there’s something that puzzles me. As I listen further, I find the girl is Russian. And suddenly it’s all very clear. Ah, so that’s how she escaped the first eight years and nine months unscathed.

D) The stock market is down but not enough to interest me. Yet.

E) Some Nooria Yusuf or Haveli chick went on a demolition derby after consuming…hold on, one can of beer??!!!! Come on, you can lie better than that. I am the worst drinker around and get buzzed when I’m merely down half a glass, but even I can’t get drunk enough to ram a taxi and run over traffic constables on one can of beer. Pop a date rape drug and pretend amnesia. When you ‘come to’ say someone spiked your drink while you were looking elsewhere. Shout rape and become the victim instead. Deflect suspicion from your homicidal jaunt.

*Sigh* Time to get a move on. Truly. But hey, what’s that? I’ve got a message from a friend. It’s Margaritas in the afternoon today. I guess work can wait another day.

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