Saturday, November 27, 2010

Conan @ tbs

I was waiting for atleast 10 episodes of Conan O’ Brien’s new late night variety talk show ‘Conan’ on cable network TBS to air before writing about it. It’s been 3 weeks and I think the time is right. Fans have been waiting for Conan to air and TBS too has done its promotional part by having the Conan Blimp hover around all over the New York Yankee Stadium and the rest of the United States as a follow up to the Nov 8 premiere.

Was it all worth the wait and hype? Letterman joked on his show that the moment the clocks gained one hour in US, from first Sunday in November for daylight saving, they slipped in another late night talk show – Conan.

Hah ! funny ain’t it? That old man remains witty.

As for Conan the show. Conan O’ Brien has more or less delivered according to expectations. He is an easy fellow with his self deprecating brand of humour and wayward funniness. It was best that he could get out of NBC late night fiasco earlier this year and so let’s look at the positive side.

He still averages a one minute entry applause, which is testament to his popularity. That new set (above) with the Oceanscape - of Rio de Janeiro is the best talk show background and a welcome change from all the night lit skyscrapers. There’s a lot going for him.

He can make fun of TBS and TBS won’t mind that , the jokes can be below belt and that’s why he has that crucial 19-45 demographic in pocket, but serious competition from another very funny man in Jon Stewart, his American express ad rocked, the intro animation is slick, and so is the 3-D and mobile remote controlled moon. But importantly Conan O’ Brien is an easy guy to adore and has the gift of making his guests comfortable .The guests are on a free license to say or talk anything. However in due time, he must stop making NBC jokes. He made millions out of the shove that NBC and Jay Leno gave him and we got a new verb- Leno’d .

So get on with it. You are better off at TBS. And the best part is that the show is self titled- so Conan is harder to replace ;)

Anyway, anyone who writes for The Simpsons and the skits on Saturday Night Live is bound to be wacky with his sense of humour. Conan is back ,not to his best but still ..what’s the hurry?

Negatives- hmmm, they have lost drummer Max Weinberg, but the Basic Cable Band will do just fine. Conan still doesn’t have a staple thing like a top ten list like David Letterman, the segments are just building up and will take some time to get settled. Overall after a dozen episodes into the new show, I would say it’s my first choice for late night variety talk shows. And as the TBS tagline goes – very funny !

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Danny MacAskill - Way Back Home Edinburgh to Skye

The short film- Way Back Home tracks a journey street trials artist Danny MacAskill from Edinburgh to Skye with beautiful locales of Scotland as he travels to his hometown of Dunvegan in the Isle of Skye.

It has him performing stunts in Scottish villages,bakery streets,phone booths,wartime bunkers,Edinburgh castle,old arc bridges and hydoelectric power stations.At 1:46 mark in the video,he continues cycling where its clearly written ‘cyclists dismount’- confident and defiant.

Each move succesively better than the previous one .It falls into Nadia Comăneci’s perfect 10 category in grace and control,but the video is edited product ,however I doubt if Danny MacAskill ever missed a trick ..incredible,almost orgasmic control .

By his own admisssion, MacAskill has said that he didn’t believe that he could make a living out of his cycling stunts.His earlier video brought him recognition and help him get an ad of Volkswagen .This is the follow up video and has an incredible viral quality .Such is it beauty that you will surely watch it multuiple times.I have watched 4 times already.At this point ,since 8 days of its release on the net,it has got 2.25 million hits.

But then I shoudn’t be surprised he has skill in his name ;)

Produced by RedBull,and shot by his flatmate and friend Dave Sowerby, it has used two songs,Wax and Wire by Loch Lomond and A Little Piece by The Jezebels.The video,the location,the stunts,the music,it all just too good for words to form a summation .Watch it and you will know why !!!!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Un Prophète

Un Prophète is a cold, stark and hard crime drama. But there is a remarkable restrain in the screenplay, never once going over the top and thus making it a compelling character drama. It is not about guns, drugs or car chases; Un Prophète is about characters-most importantly about a teenage illiterate French-Arab-Corsican in France.

The story about the rise of a greenhorn to become a crime head against a racial backdrop of Parisian prison is told as Un Prophète examines a fraying social fabric.

During his entry into the prison and initial check up he is asked whether he eats pork .He says no and then yes. An ideal Muslim according to Holy Quran must not consume pork; but Malik does. It reflects a childhood in remand houses and that of minimal adult supervision .But that his origins are ambiguous and beliefs are lucid, does work to his advantage.No sooner is he into prison that he is compelled to murder Reyeb, an Arab who is to testify against the one of the under trial Corsicans, who also control the prison. To live he has to kill. Malik is directly thrown into deep choppy waters. Pushed to the extremes, he innovates in what results in two scenes of great intensity.

The first one is him carrying out his first ever murder –with a blade, which is very unlike a murder you will ever see. Sure you can kill with a blade, but it’s how the blade is hidden and used that is important. Malik watches part horrified as Reyeb dies, blood squirting from his slit neck like a pipe; and part relieved that he has saved himself by taking another man’s life. That Malik is not a killer is demonstrated as he shudders at the bloody outcome of his actions.After he carries out the murder, Malik is under the protection of the Corsican mafia led by César Luciani, but is still derided for his roots. But for Luciani, he’s the prison errand boy and loose clay to mould as he thinks necessary. And later as Malik gains his trust – his eyes and ears. Every group is closed, be it Arabs or Corsicans. But Malik is special now as he has access to the Luciani despite being an Arab. Learning as he goes, keen as a mustard, but never showing anybody so.

And the second scene is that claustrophobic shootout to eliminate an entire gang. Again Malik improvises. By now, he has been through so much that he just takes the risk that needs to be taken to get out of the situation .During that scene in the car, Malik reaches momentary zen .It was as though he was having an invisible cloak that would protect him from all the bullets flying around.

Malik has little or no education when he comes in but learns to read and write on the insistence of his friend Ryad. Ryad’s family later becomes his foster family. He acquires varied skill sets and when gets a chance to be out on parole courtesy Luciani, to carry his outside jobs, he very enterprisingly sets up his own drug network with Ryad’s help.Malik is a guy who seemed to have been in a ghetto most of his life and with no vocational training to speak of. Yet he manages to fly, feel the beach water of Marseilles on his feet, that too on parole! He indeed had come a long way. Although, there is crushing guilt that comes with that as an apparition of Reyeb follows him during his stay in the penitentiary. But he makes peace with that too. Reyeb’s apparition is to Malik, what angel Gabriel was to Prophet Mohammed.

This is a male film at large, with peripheral screen time for women. The only ones present being Ryad’s wife Djamila and the sex worker who comes to Malik for a conjugal visit. Prison has little space for women, so women are found mostly on walls as cut-outs from x-rated magazines which is understood as there is a more testosterone/per square feet than most places in the world. Everyone in prison has to cope with debilitating loneliness. Malik will be alone even when he gets out because Ryad is dying. And for Luciani; since other Corsicans have been shifted to another prison, because of law changes made by Sarkozy government, his control is waning with less number of people around him.

Malik is pro-active and tries to manage what he can as he has outside world access from his parole. But since the Luciani can’t buy allegiance or relatives, he is deemed to do time alone, as a fallen and aging gangster.

Main relationship is between Malik and César Luciani ,which starts off as threatened and threat, master and servant, commander and complier, but lastly the vanquished and the winner, respectively. Because a protégé will allow only so much of himself to be exploited. And one day an incident will be the flashpoint that triggers a revolt and possibly revenge. Malik comes out on top after he plays the rival gangs against each other and we see Luciani, alone and resigned to defeat.

Even after all is done, in the closing scene as he gets out after his 6 years, although he walks home to Ryad’s home with his wife and toddler son, there is no guarantee that Malik will see his 30th birthday. Film has progress but cynicism is not far away too. Despite the title, it represents the resentment in France today whatever the reason may be –political, social, racial, and economical or a lot of everything.

The colour palette seen is pre-dominantly dirty pale blue or cement grey. That helps to show the cold, monotonous and cruel place the prison is. Stylistic elements include use of freeze frames overwritten with bold text to introduce main characters or some events for narration. Music is a stew of surprises with a lot of piano and guitars, but also cries of a muezzin and hip-hop and melody.

Today’s French demographic is potentially racially volatile. The society is boiling underneath with simmering intensity due to its ethnic difference and xenophobia which burst onto its streets in fall of 2005.That the social tension is present is evident in Un Prophète where the Arabs (Muslims) mostly of North African descent bide their time in ghettoised prison cells in the Paris outskirts of Brecourt. The group inside the prison is the microcosm of the society outside. There is struggle for one upmanship and strifes for control over assets.

There is no central defining conflict nor a hidden agenda for any of the characters. Malik’s double-cross that shifts the balance of power between Corsicans and Muslims is a gradual progression than a hell bent sinister plan. Despite being ravaged, he retains that kindness in his soul that should usually dissipates in the event of continued hostility.

Because of its rich layered storyline, Un Prophète is a brilliant example of cinema. The genre is prison/crime drama, but is approached with elements of allegorical references to Islam, Holy Bible, The Prophet and the angel Gabriel. That it is poetic is an understatement and that it is set in a cynic dark world is scripted genius.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

New F1 Champion

With his fifth victory from the 10 poles this season Sebastian Vettel became the youngest to win the Formula One Championship. He won in Malaysia, Valencia, Japan, Brazil and today in Abu Dhabi.An astonishing end to one of the most dramatic seasons in the sport's 60 years as the leaderboard changed with even a single twitch or turn .We have had 5 different championship leaders this season and four of them could have won the championship today at the Yas Marina circuit in Abu Dhabi. We had the steady defending champion in Jenson Button,pugnacious Lewis Hamilton,an inspired Fernando Alonso ,bullish Mark Webber and prodigious Vettel fighting it all year across 19 races.

Sebastian Vettel led the championship for the first time this season, and for the only time that mattered - after the last race.Vettel was clearly in tears on his slow-down lap as he attempted to speak over the in-car radio, with team principal Christian Horner proclaiming: "Sebastian Vettel you are the world champion!"

Its heartbreaking for his teamate Aussie Mark Webber for being so near,yet so far .Ferrari and Alonso will be frustrated after their superb late season charge failed to materialise in claiming either championship.It has been a very close season with Vettel winning by just 4 points from Alonso.Lastly about the ciruit itself..what do you call a race that starts at twilight and ends in bright lights? Twinight race or dusklight race? Whatever,that Yas Island is something special.

The next season starts in 120 days in the desert of Bahrain,with 5 previous world champions on grid.Sounds deliciously promising.

Monday, November 8, 2010


I watched British graffiti artist -Banksy’ much praised debut film- ‘Exit through the Gift Shop’ some while back.What I took from it was of course a look at the current graffiti movement . But I learnt something more. And that is -Your talent alone doesn’t count for much.How to exploit that is as important if not more.

See,if your book isn’t published, you are no writer.Your art will remain abstract and dusted not abstract and expensive until it reaches art galleries.Talent is like technology-its no use just having it,it is how and what you can do with it that matters.Take banksy as case study..

He has found a way to make a living out of graffiti which is seen as dirty and in some cultures an anathema and an ill function of the western world .Graffiti is perceived as an art form with no direction or purpose except for vandalism.Yet,Banksy is revolutionary with his new techniques with stencils, huge photocopiers to create them and advanced editing softwares to make instant elaborate graffitti.He has created a unique identity by his satire and chilling black humourin his artworks and accompanying epigrams.

Some of my favourites are –

· We can’t do anything to change the world until capitalism crumbles. In the meantime we should all go shopping to console ourselves.

  • T.V. has made going to the theatre seem pointless, photography has pretty much killed painting but graffiti has remained gloriously unspoilt by progress.
  • Think from outside the box, collapse the box and take a fucking knife to it.

And gradually expressing and speaking out in a manner like his ,with tools as rebellious as canned aerosol paint ,he has gained massive support and admirers.His work has cropped up all over the world in Bristol,London,Los Angeles,San Francisco,Toronto.In August 2004, Banksy produced a quantity of spoof British £10 notes substituting the picture of the Queen's head with Diana, Princess of Wales's head and changing the text "Bank of England" to "Banksy of England." Someone threw a large wad of these into a crowd

Those notes fetch a fortune now on ebay and selected art auctioning sites

As a caped anonymous crusader ,his auctions have raked in millions.Earlier this year he directed ‘Exit through the Gift Shop’ which premiered to rave reviews at the Sundance Film Festival.Nobody for 1 second believes that graffiti artists don’t dcoument their work on camcorders and film tapes.But the genious of Banksy lies in fictionalising and scripting this underground graffiti movement ;documentary style in an entertaining package.Proof of it being that ‘Exit through the Gift Shop’ is loved by critics and fans alike and people rushing to see his film in a faint hope that it may give glimses of details of the person/personality himself.

Exit through the Gift Shop shows a lot of ‘how a graffiiti is actually done’ and what goes behind making it in his trade mark stencillling technique but remains cryptic.Banksy himself says of his technique.Banksy says

‘I use whatever it takes. Sometimes that just means drawing a moustache on a girl's face on some billboard, sometimes that means sweating for days over an intricate drawing. Efficiency is the key.’

He has cleverly used a psuedo documentary maker as a narrative device and the film has grossed way way more than its budget.So that is how you monetise talent.Encash the intangible.Make your work speak and make it earn too.Banksy has truly monetised his talent in inventive ways.