Sunday, October 6, 2013

Prisoners of the Mind

Prisoners reveals that we are all prisoners of our minds. Fear and trauma makes us vulnerable and irrational. Two girls, best friends, are kidnapped. At once the joy is gone out of the lives of their families. They are inconsolable. Keller (Hugh Jackman), father of Anna, does not like being vulnerable and defenseless. He is like a man possessed, conducting his own investigations and decides that Alex, a young man with the IQ of a 10 yr. old, knows more than he is prepared to admit and stalks him. Alex's RV was on the street where the two girls played earlier and his subsequent actions render him suspicious. Keller even kidnaps and tortures Alex for information. The plot reminded me of the book Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland by Christopher Browning, in which he talks about the psychology of the middle aged veterans who were given the task of killing Jews in Germany and how they did this initially with some reluctance but how insecurity of income and peer pressure drove them to commit such heinous acts that defy description and imagination.

Keller and his vigilante justice left a very bad taste in the mouth as also the suicide in police custody of Bob Taylor, another mentally challenged person and a suspect in the kidnapping. Alex and Bob Taylor were as vulnerable and defenseless as the girls and their families. Instead of being helped they were punished for being inarticulate and mentally challenged. Which makes me wonder, will these unfortunate people ever get support in society? The movie was truly dark and disturbing. What people do when they get desperate! Cruelty is innate in man. It was easy for Keller's son to use a gun and take the life of a deer. It was easy for Keller himself to torture.
Keller with fellow sufferers Nancy and Franklin Birch
His friend and wife were so desperate for news about their own child that they condoned torture although they knew it was wrong; however reluctantly, they sanctioned an act that was sinful in itself. The kidnappers themselves took lives with deliberate intention to inspire soulless existence. A priest had to live with his conscience murdering the murderer. Even the detective Loki with all his facial tics seems to have an aura of mystery around him, battling some past demons. 

Detective Loki

We all have evil within ourselves, but this movie gives us no hope. Let us at least protect the handicapped who are even less equipped to handle the evil. The movie is far from entertaining, it left me more scared than ever in my life for the future of sanity. The acting seems secondary to the plot for there are so many twists and turns that the viewer is struggling to keep pace with the story to be bothered about the characters themselves. However, I have to say that the detective Jake Gyllenhall stood out as an extraordinary performer.

Theatrical Release Date: September 20, 2013
Director(s): Denis Villeneuve
Actor(s): Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Melissa Leo, Paul Dano, Maria Bello, Viola Davis, Terrence Howard
Genre(s): Drama, Thriller
Production Co.: Alcon Entertainment, 8:38 Productions
Distributor(s): Warner Bros
MPAA Rating: R
Website(s): Official Site, Facebook
Running Time: 153 minutes

Rating: 3 out of 5

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

What Temples Teach

How does one protest against the rules of a temple? I visited a local Swaminarayan temple yesterday. We were just three people in a massive auditorium that temporarily houses the gods. They are building a huge (Italian) marble main temple next door.

There were two seating sections in this auditorium divided by a 
w  i  d  e aisle: one for the men and one for the women. My son Mukunda sat next to me because, what the hay, there was no one there. But, from God knows where (!), an eagle-eyed woman who saw through Mukunda’s disguise of beard and moustache came up to us and reminded us of the rules of the temple. Mukunda had to go to the other section. He was one among a thousand empty chairs on the left side of the auditorium. 

Women are not given tilak by the pandit. He hands it over to the male member of the family and he gives it to the women!! I believe the pandit keeps himself pure this way.
Purity is also maintained through separate chambers for men’s and women’s footwear so they have no way of pouncing on one another in lust.

I thought I should gloss over all this and just do what I came to do – pray. I pray that people treat each other with respect, consider all equal.

I knew this would be my last visit to that temple. The woman who made my son go over to the other section is only one of those thousands of women who will be taught to do the same. She will play an integral part in humiliating her own sex in the name of religion.

God is in my own home and I am very comfortable praying there.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Star Trek 2: Into Darkness

An action packed sci-fi thriller, it is fast-paced and furious.  I will not compare Star Trek 2 to The Wrath of Khan(1982) although the plots are somewhat similar, for the simple reason that the former presents a new era in cinematography with focus on non-stop, edge-of-the-seat tension rather than the psychological battle of wits of the older movie. As usual, the IMAX 3D effects are superlative. BUT, the writing leaves a lot to be desired. The movie has a thin storyline of a warped (pun intended) Starfleet commander using genetically engineered superhumans to build an arsenal to wage war against Klingons.  To what end escapes me.

James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) still has to prove himself as a competent captain of the Starship Enterprise.  He has this unfortunate tendency of not following orders and following his gut instincts which 
compromises the safety of his crew and the ship. His actions are more or less guided by sentiment.  The character appears an overgrown teenager not much wiser at the end of the movie. We also see more of the human side of Spock (Zachary Quinto) in his “bromance” with Kirk and the odd tender scene with Uhura (Zoe Saldana).  The old Spock is so dissociated from the new Spock that the latter seems a totally different character!!  And the younger one is so insecure that he has to dial the older Spock’s number for advice?  Has Nimoy become the futuristic soothsayer and has the present audience been sucked into the black hole of recycled themes of the original universe? The character of Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch) is not allowed to develop into a mega evil one because of the focus on action.  He does not stand out as any special villain. I think he came in a little too early in the series; the screen writers did not wait for the development of a deep relationship to build between Kirk and Spock which is the crux of the old episode.  Of course, the new generation knows nothing about the old Khan but shouldn’t the writers be writing new stories?

 And what’s with the long leather trench coats?  That seems to be a new symbol of evil in movies. And as some reviewer (Nordling) pointed out why bother Khan for platelets or whatever when there is a shipload of cryonicised superhuman members with super healing powers right there? And why is Carol Marcus (Alice Eve) in the movie—she is irrelevant to the storyline and seems to be inept even as a hostage.  Her underwear scene is totally ridiculous.

The Enterprise team really solidifies under Kirk's leadership.  Scotty (Simon Pegg) bears special mention as the strong, humorous, principled character who reminds Kirk that their mission is exploration of the universe not extracting revenge by hurling torpedoes against Klingons.  It all ends well for the Enterprise but one mustn’t dwell too deeply on the grey areas of revenge, disobedience and rebellion.  The object of the movie is entertainment which prevalent in abundance.
The movie has no groundbreaking issues to deal with like its predecessors did; in that sense it is a disappointing venture.  It offers no thought provoking elements, nothing to place it in the context of the twenty-first century other than the graphics.  It is not so bold, after all, to go where no man has gone before.

Release dateMay 17, 2013 (USA)
DirectorJ.J. Abrams
PrequelStar Trek
Production companyBad Robot Productions
GenresAction film, Science Fiction, Adventure film
Stars: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Benedict Cumberbatch, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Iron Man 3

Iron Man 3 is a reminder of what happens when power gets to evil hands.  Power here is the new technology extremis which can regenerate lost limbs in human beings, but can also go horribly wrong when it can make people explode. It is unclear what the evil Mandarin hopes to do with this power, but he definitely means to kill the President of the United States, who is unfortunately never very well protected in movies. The President suffers a few humiliating moments when he is made to hang in an Iron Man suit several feet above a shipyard while Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), Rhodes (Don Cheadle) and an army of Iron Man suits attempt to rescue him  and Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow) from exploding extremis beneficiaries. The focus of the movie is the gadgetry, and the miracles of modern science which is a good thing, because the few attempts at sentimentality were a hopeless failure.  The movie’s best feature was, of course, Ben Kingsley, the substitute Mandarin, who deteriorates from a grand panjandrum to a two-bit lecherous actor in the space of a few minutes. The young boy Harley, I think is thrown in as an attempt at sentimentality which I already remarked was a hopeless failure.  The movie is a visual treat in 3D and quite gripping in parts especially when the suit tries to rescue passengers who are sucked out of Airforce One (one really has to be willing to suspend disbelief!).  There is nothing Stark cannot escape from.  He can lay hands on tools, equipment, and cars 24/7 and, like Rumpelstiltskin of yore, spin junk into homing fragments of metal armor. In any case, his super-hero status is derived not from his inventions, but from a deep sense of personal responsibility in the fight against evil. He is human after all, with human anxieties.  Thankfully, the movie does not dwell on that aspect.  Thoroughly entertaining! 

Release Date: May 3, 2013 (USA) 
Director: Shane Black 
Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce 
Running time: 130 minutes 
Producer: Kevin Feige 
Production companies: Marvel Studios, Paramount Pictures

Rating: 3 out of 5

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Happy Ugadi 2013

Vijaya nama Samvatsaram is here.  Wishing all a very happy new year.  May the new year usher in peace, gun control, and health care for all.  May the climate change be reversed, there be fewer solar flares, less dark lightningno global warming and no pollution.  May all women be empowered, not be victims of sexual assault, domestic violence or objectification; may they all gain equal access to education, and jobs.  May they have the right to abortion in all states, always. May there be marriage equality and no person be discriminated against because of his/her sexuality.  May there be no bullying in schools, no shootings.  May there be cure for autism, cancer and AIDS. May all heretics, terrorists, dictators see the error of their ways.  As also some Republicans.  May the US deficit become a surplus and Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae episode be just a short nightmare.  ....

Monday, April 1, 2013

Connecticut "Breaks the Mold"-New Gun Laws

Gun Control March Jan 26, 2013 at the Capitol--NY Daily News
Connecticut lawmakers today announced the proposal for the strictest gun laws ever in a bipartisan measure, to prevent mass shootings like the one in December which left 20 children and 6 educators dead. Senate President Donald E. Williams Jr. declared that Connecticut has broken the mold and should be a  role model for all the other states.

The proposal includes new registration requirements for existing magazines that carry 10 or more bullets, something of a disappointment for some family members of Newtown victims who wanted an outright ban on the possession of all high-capacity magazines and traveled to the state Capitol on Monday to ask lawmakers for it.
The package also creates what lawmakers said is the nation's first statewide dangerous weapon offender registry, creates a new “ammunition eligibility certificate,” imposes immediate universal background checks for all firearms sales, and extends the state's assault weapons ban to 100 new types of firearms and requires that a weapon have only one of several features in order to be banned.
The newly banned weapons could no longer be bought or sold in Connecticut, and those legally owned already would have to be registered with the state, just like the high-capacity magazines.
“No gun owner will lose their gun,” said House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero Jr., a Norwalk Republican. “No gun owner will lose their magazines.”  (Los Angeles Times, 4/1/2013)

A small step but a reassuring one.  Mental health issues can be dealt with next.
Ribbons for the victims of the Newtown shooting was worn by each of the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox at the Opening Day game today at the Yankee stadium.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Target Not Tweens--VS

Victoria's Secret issued this response on March 25, 2013, on their facebook page:

In response to questions we recently received, Victoria's Secret PINK is a brand for college-aged women.  Despite recent rumors, we have no plans to introduce a collection for younger women.  "Bright Young Things" was a slogan used in conjunction with the college spring break tradition.
I hope that puts parents at ease...Hope they know that when their girls leave for college and are all alone. away from family support that they are pressured from Victoria's Secret to appear a "sexy" and desirable "thing" .  When they want to emulate grown-ups they want to be objectified?  "Campaigns like this encourage girls to think of themselves as objects and not as full-fledged humans with ideas and feelings," says Udall-Weiner, a Santa Fe psychologist.  I can't even count the number of times "sexy" or "very sexy" appears on their advertisements.  

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Sexualization of Girls--The Outrageous Victoria's Secret

Victoria's Secret’s “Bright Young Things” line features lace-trimmed thongs for tweens (ages 9 to 14)  that have the words, “Call Me”, "I Dare You" and “Feeling Lucky” printed on the crotch. Chief Financial Officer Stuart Burgdoerfer of Limited Brands, a unit of Victoria's Secret, said these would appeal to the young girls because they would like, above all, to appear grown up.  Panties such as these are blatant objectification of women, and now young girls are made victims of sexualization.  Carrie Goldman explains that sexualization occurs when a person’s value is measured by his or her sexual appeal and is sexually objectified.  The process of socialization enforces gender based stereotypes--the idea that make-up and clothes are “cool” dominates the culture of the school girls.  Not only do the girls try to appear “cool”, but they are also socialized by media to attract men.  The “Call Me” panties seem like a lure to prostitution and profiteers like Victoria Secret are the pimps. They are not the least concerned about the childhood of these girls or about the degradation of women but perpetuate “the beauty myth”—a term coined by Naomi Wolf to indicate the entrapment of women into the never ending cycle of clothes, diets, make-up and exercise routines to achieve an elusive ideal of feminine beauty that men appreciate.  What is the message of “Call Me?” When it is on underwear, are these girls expected to strip and show their crotch? And “Feeling Lucky”?  These are sexually explicit messages and have no place in a girl or a woman’s life.  Unfortunately, these girls are too young to comprehend that such messages do not empower them.  

The following video is an excerpt from the feminist, author and film maker Jean Kilbourne's "Killing Us Softly" in which she explains media's participation in the sexualization of women.  


While on the subject of sexualization in the media, who ever decided pink was for girls and blue for boys?  A few months ago Honda released a new model named “She’s” made exclusively for women.  It is pink and apparently “adorable”, and comes equipped with a windshield that protects her delicate skin against the mean UV rays (pout, pout).  And oh, it has a lipstick holder.  Isn’t that absolutely peachy fun!! (Blink-blink with large Maybelline mascara-ed eyelashes).  As Alyssa Rosenberg quips, “To be fair, Honda is providing a UV-blocking windshield to stave off every girl's first face lift. But really, if you're not going to make the glove compartment heart-shaped and give me a makeup mirror in the driver's-side visor, how can you claim to be meeting my needs?” Women need to battle this ridiculous stereotyping.  In the same article Rosenberg writes, “..color coordination isn't the only thing I want out of a car. Where's the emergency kit in the trunk that comes fully equipped with an extra set of birth control pills, spare Spanx, and replacement heels in case I break one of mine running to whatever meeting I'm late to this time? What about an onboard GPS system that won't let me make hormonal navigation decisions? Or an OnStar system that summons only the cute AAA guy? And I'd really love a specialized Breathalyzer that can detect if I have too few Skinnygirl Margaritas in my system to go home with that guy.”
Remember women, that capitalism likes the fact that you are now independent and are able to spend money on products it can fool you into buying and still keep you degraded and dehumanized.  Women should concern themselves with developing a healthy self-image.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

10 Years After the Iraq War

The Huffington Post has an interesting poll.  It features a "Change My Mind" debate presenting opposing points of view on "Was the Iraq War Worth It?".  Pratik Chougule confirms it was and Hussein Ibish disagrees. The Post takes a pre-debate poll and a post debate poll.  The poll concluded that while 6% of the readers agreed with Pratik Chougule before they read his article, 2%  more readers agreed with him after reading the two articles  (I participated an hour ago).  He has changed the most minds with his rhetoric:
Numerous investigations after the war assessed that Saddam -- the only world leader who openly applauded the 9/11attacks--had extensive ties to terrorist groups, and was preparing to reconstitute his WMD programs.
And Hussein Ibish is wasting his sweetness in the desert air when he rejects Chougule's claim:
Weapons of mass destruction, of course, were most frequently cited, but it was clear at the time that there was every reason to doubt the administration's claims. And, we quickly discovered, these claims were as false as many of us were convinced they must have been. Given the way that intelligence information was processed and presented to the public, there is every reason for the American people to feel that they were deliberately misled by some key elements of the Bush administration regarding Iraqi WMDs.
There were numerous, and patently ridiculous, attempts, including by Vice-President Dick Cheney, to link Iraq to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Others argued that even though Iraq was obviously not involved in the attacks, the United States needed to make a show of strength in the region in response and this was a perfect opportunity to do that. Some endorsed the war as a human rights measure, and as a debt owed to both Kurds and Shiites from previous American engagements with Iraq. Others suggested it was necessary to secure American dominance in the oil-rich Persian Gulf region. Some even argued that overthrowing Saddam would be the key to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 
As Judge Judy would say, "Reee-diculous"!! Ask Ezra Klein who supported the war then.

All the old faces-- Rumsfeld, Cheney, Bush--showed up again on television last night making themselves look even more foolish (although, I cannot quite put the poll out of my mind).  Here is Rachel Maddow on her show last night (Tuesday, March 19):

These are the faces that have changed our future, and made Iran the most powerful country in the middle-east.