Archive for the ‘Entertainment’ Category

feel it, it’s heartbreaking

July 6, 2010

There’s a good reason that I stopped watching soccer – I get way too invested in my teams. I became aware of this back in 2004, when the Euro Cup was held in Portugal. The stars seemed aligned for Portugal, they were the host nation, Nelly Furtado did an awesome theme song for the tournament, and it was meant to be a swan song for many of the so-called Golden Generation’s players. Except there was this runty underdog team from Greece. And see, Portugal was able to beat every single team that year except these unexpected blind-siders. So Greece took the title while white confetti (that should’ve red) rained down in Lisbon. The day after watching that final I woke up with a  totally illogical depression that took *days* to shake. It was ridiculous, and ever since I have followed soccer from a remote, safe distance. I didn’t even follow the 2006 World Cup.

But see, this year the World Cup is literally happening on my doorstep and even escaping to Seattle during June and July (a coincidence) hasn’t stopped me from getting sucked in. I’ve been visiting the Fifa website everyday and watching all the highlights videos (since we don’t have TV here). I’ve even hung up a World Cup banner in my study here and decked out my desk with a shiny red vuvuzela. But, watching all my favoured teams fall by the wayside has reminded me why I’ve stayed away from the beautiful game all these years….

world cup 2010

My World Cup shrine in Seattle/Bellevue

Bafana Bafana started out pretty well, and that first beautiful goal Tshabalala scored against Mexico was the first hint that I was in trouble, I was getting into soccer again. Then came that SA vs. Uruguay game. By a weird coincidence I went to the house of an Indian family to watch it. It happened like this: this guy that was at MSRI when I was there last year is now doing a PhD at the local university and we had connected on fb. He told me that his boss from MSRI, JJ, who now lives in Redmond, had invited him to watch the USA vs. England game at his house and that I should come. So I did and it was really fun, I took my vuvuzela along and taught their overwhelmingly enthused daughters how to “play” it and ate Indian snacks and pretended to be invested in the US beating England (what do you know, they drew!). Then while at that game I got to chatting with JJ’s wife, Chandana, who I had met once or twice in Bangalore actually. She was mortified that I had left SA right before the World Cup had started and very kindly told me that if I wanted to watch any other games during the coming week I should let her know and she would come fetch me and we could watch together at their house (on their huge screen / projector setup!). Turns out that she was watching all the games and all their family and friends nearby had an open invitation to stop by at any time to watch with her (their neighbour as a direct route to their house through a gate in their back yard for instance). I thought I must take advantage of her offer bcs the whole family was going to be gone after that week for a trip to the Himalayas or something. I was also thinking it would be good to make more friends that live close to us. So I picked the SA vs. Uruguay game which worked out great bcs that day also happened to be the last day of school here and her kids were going to be there so we made a whole plan to watch it together and order pizza etc. So Chandana came to fetch me and I thought “Yee, this is so much fun, making a new friends and going to watch soccer on a big screen and the game is going to be *awesome*”.

Then the game actually happened. It was horrible. First Forlan did his physics-defying free-kick (I’ve watched this guy in subsequent games and he has just mastered how to take a free kick in a way that it arches over every defender in the ball’s path and then nips into goal right at the top post of the net). Then, as I started to get the feeling we weren’t going to equalise, out of nowhere our amazing goalie got red carded!! For something that was TOTALLY not a foul!! Who red cards a goalie?! By this point I think was yelling a lot and the other ppl in the room  were looking at me with some sympathy. Then Uruguay scored their (totally undeserved) penalty against us and I really thought it couldn’t get any worse. Then, during injury time, something even worse then our inevitable defeat happened: SA fans start to leave the stadium in droves. I felt pretty ashamed to be a Bafana Bafana supporter at that moment. Watching the stadium get emptier and emptier made me feel profoundly sad. But there was no time to be too sad because the final kick in the pants was being delivered- a third goal for Uruguay in the dying moments of the game. Out of all the games I could have chosen to watch with a bunch of strangers, this must be the worst; it did not bring out my socially acceptable side *sigh*.

I didn’t watch the SA vs. France game but I hear we played well and that makes me happy. I can’t help but speculate that we might have inched past Mexico in our group if that Uruguay match wasn’t such a disaster. With Bafana Bafana gone after the group stages I thought it was time to go back to supporting my “ancestral roots” and I made a special plan with AmyGeek to DVR the Spain vs. Portugal game. To make this work I had to stay off *all* internet for the whole day to make sure i didn’t find out the score. It was harder than it should be, no Facebook, no entertainment news – never realised how often I check these during the work day. But I managed and I had high hopes for Portugal – dangerous hopes, hopes reminiscent of those Euro 2004 hopes. Before that game they had not conceded any goals in the World Cup yet. And then they played terribly compared to Spain and lost off of one goal. And I couldn’t even be that mad because really, Spain played the better game.

After all that I thought “No, I’m not watching any more games, it just gets too upsetting!”. So on the day of the Ghana vs, Uruguay game I was innocently sitting at my desk not even paying attention to it. Then Jak comes online and tells me the the game is happening and starts giving me running updates from time to time. When he updated me with “Gooooooaaaaal from Ghana!!” that was it. I got so excited that I loaded a live matchcast and started following, getting sucked in once again, biting my nails and chatting to Jak about the game. When that awful diva Suarez batted away the dying seconds golden goal that belonged to Ghana, I was LIVID. And then when Ghana’s Gyan missed the resulting penalty I wanted to throw my laptop against the wall! Two days later, I am still trying to recover from my seething sense of injustice and ill-will towards Suarez and trying to remind myself that this is all just a game and it’s not cool to hate on a guy you don’t even know (even if he is a hand balling ass clown). I am officially neutral-ish for the rest of the World Cup – I am an ABU (Anyone But Uruguay) supporter (a phrase helpfully coined by SuperSarah). And I also think that from now on, that its a good idea for me to stay away from sports in general and soccer in particular.



April 28, 2010

Well, well Gossip Girl you are just a feast of product placement and tech surprises! Last season there was the plot line featuring a lame technology for development scam and your blatant subtle placement of Vitamin Waters where ever possible (sometimes even obscuring characters in the shot!). I thought I was done being surprised but in an unlikely alliance I’ve discovered that you’re now pimping Microsoft of all things!

I thought I was seeing things in an episode a while back where Dan needs some polaroid film for some or other contrived reason relating to a party (you can *never* have an episode of Gossip Girl without some kind of party or event, in fact the show seems to be an exercise in concocting events since these seem to be the only places where dramatic things can happen in this story universe). Anyway, good ol’ dad (the obvious pick for a character introducing new tech right) was all like “Don’t worry” tinkered on he keyboard for 2 seconds while this shot flashed:

Hello! That’s Bing! How’d that get there? Is Bing more Upper East Side than Google? And literally 2 seconds later Daddy Rufus declares that Polaroid film has been sorted – no scrolling through lists or getting out a credit card, seemingly Bing just makes it happen like that folks! I thought this was of once-off thing, but I should have known better. Gossip Girl must make some kind of contract with companies that stipulates multiple product placements in a season because in another recent episode the made a play for instilling “Bing It!” as a new catchphrase. While other shows, like House, have accepted “Google It” as a well-established term, last night I was amused to hear Eleanor Waldorf barking at the help to “Bing It!” when looking for a wedding venue (a quickie wedding being this week’s contrived party). Now I am kind of wondering – the only characters to pimp Bing so far have been parents. So will we be seeing the “youngsters” surreptitiously picking up the Bing torch, or are the stealth marketers aiming to pitch it at an older market here? Mmm, perhaps the narrator could pick up the phrasing: You know you Bing me. XOXO.

Oscars stories and the Best Actress “curse”

March 21, 2010

Last weekend was the 80-something Oscars and, well I’m a bit of a sucker for following the movies award season. I don’t usually watch any of the shows but I read about it voraciously. This year was interesting for me; right as some of my favourite actors looked set to win, I had to give in to something I had long suspected but tried not pay attention to: the Oscars are often not about the year’s best movies so much as the “campaign” . I’ve heard of campaigning to sway the votes of the 6000-strong academy, but I didn’t realise how hard-core and expected it is.

I read a great New York Times feature “The Red Carpet Campaign” that brought this realisation home (I highly recommend it if you have an interest in silly things like Hollywood awards). Turns out that awards campaigning is all about stories (another thing I love). I learned that there are a number of narratives that get used every year. For films there’s The Movie That Speaks to This Moment (this year filled by recession-themed Up in the Air), The Chance to Make History (this year’s Hurt Locker), The Big Gamble That Paid Off (Jame’s Cameron’s specialty) and the well-worn Little Movie that Could (last year’s winner Slumdog Millionaire and, before that, Little Miss Sunshine and Juno). For actors and directors there’s The Kid With a Future, The Comeback and the particularly bulletproof It’s Time. That last one’s reserved for those who have “paid their dues” or been nominated loads of time without winning. That was Sean Penn who, criminally beat out Lost in Translation’s Bill Murray in 2003, it was Kate Winslet last year and it was Jeff “The Dude” Bridges this year.

There’s another narrative that wasn’t mentioned in the feature but that I’ve always suspected: This May Never Happen Again. I think this one is reserved for actors who are hugely successful but haven’t garnered any or many nominations. So when they do get nominated the Academy pounces on an opportunity that may never present itself again – to Oscar mint a big-deal star. The most heinous example of This May Never Happen Again was Gwyneth Paltrow’s ’99 win for Shakespeare in Love. It was a fun movie, great even, but Gwyneth Paltrow was certainly not the best actress in the movie, let alone of the year. That year a bone fide future star, Cate Blanchett, should totally have won for her amazing performance in Elizabeth. There was Julia Roberts’ win for an OK performance in Erin Brokovich. She was nominated (twice I think) early in her career but then nothing… for yeeaars. “She may never be nominated again! And she’s a real Hollywood legend. This may never happen again!“. Sandra Bullock ran a self deprecating campaign constantly insisting it was Meryl Streep’s Time (it has been over 20 years since she last won). As much as I loved Sandra Bullock in high school and excited at the idea of winning her the Oscar no-one ever imagined she would win, I got the feeling her win was another This may never happen again (Disclaimer: I have yet to watch The Blind Side, so I may change my mind). The NY Times feature thinks it was a Who’da thunk it story, after all Bullock has famously never been one to seek out awards.

Two award reactions really struck me this year. Mo’nique winning an Oscar was something I would never ever have imagined happening. The only movie I’ve ever seen of hers is Phat Girlz which was some scary shiz, I’m pretty sure Luisa and I couldn’t even finish watching it. Anyways, Monique took a lot of heat from the media for skipping out on some award season events (she was working on her talk show). I love that when she did win she thanked the Academy for opting to vote for performance over politics and then in her press room interview told reporters off for writing articles encouraging voters to “teach her lesson” for daring to not schmooze by the campaign rules:

“… I’m sure some of you are sitting in this room right now — some reporters wrote, ‘Someone needs to teach Mo’Nique a lesson. Someone needs to tell her how this game is played.’ And I am very proud to be part of an Academy that says, ‘We will not play that game. We will judge her on her performance and not on how many dinners she attended and how many pictures she took. It’s on the screen.”


Then there was Kathryn Bigelow, first women to win Best Director. While everyone focused on the fact that she was a woman she said she hoped that one day people wouldn’t feel the need to specify:

“I’d love to just think of myself as a filmmaker, and I long for the day when a modifier can be a moot point.”

And to end off on something more low-brow – the whisperings about the “Best Actress Ocsar Curse” (cue spooky music). Apparently many Best Actress winners experience a bust-up in their personal relationships “shortly” after winning. And with Kate Winslet and Sam Mendes announcing their divorce almost exactly a year after she won last year, the curse has gained publicity again:

Over the past 12 years, eight of the best-actress champs busted up with their lovers after winning: Kate Winslet (won for 2008), Reese Witherspoon (2005), Hilary Swank (1999, 2005), Charlize Theron (2003), Halle Berry (2001), Julia Roberts (2000), Gwyneth Paltrow (1998), Helen Hunt (1997). Five of the splits occurred less than a year after their Oscar triumphs (Winslet from hubby Mendes, Witherspoon from hubby Ryan Phillippe, Swank from hubby Chad Lowe, Paltrow from boyfriend Ben Affleck, Roberts from boyfriend Benjamin Bratt). Berry’s break-up with Eric Benet occurred 18 months after winning; Hunt split with Hank Azaria less than two years later.

The evidence is kind of compelling but we are dealing with a biased sample of people (Hollywood people) who have ridiculously high rates of breakups as it is. But then, THEN news started surfacing about trouble in Sandra Bullock’s marriage to Jesse James less than a week after she won the Oscar for The Blind Side. A seemingly odd match (she is America’s comedic sweetheart and he is a tattooed, hog building, hard-core stunt man and blue collar hero) they’ve emerged as pretty solid, fun and awesome pairing. And he was so sweetly by her side all awards season long as she gushed over him in acceptance speeches saying things like her work got better when she met him because she had never known what it was like to have someone have a her back and he was all teary while she gave her Oscar’s speech *sigh*. First Sandra B pulled out the London premier of The Blind Side, which is a rather big deal, citing mysterious “unforeseen personal reasons”. At the same time that a trashy gossip rag publishes claims of Jesse J’s infidelity with a scary tattooed lady *while* Sandra B was shooting The Blind Side. Next Sandra B has moved out of their home and is nowhere to be found while he has issued a vague public apology. This was not the romantic ending I think America had in mind for Sandra Bullock who has been one of the public’s best liked stars for a good 15 years now. It sucks that there are so many recent gushy quotes from both about their marriage and step children. Boo, and Ouch. All this basically a week after her winning the Oscar – ok it is a little creepy!

It’s time for season 6! Breakups and reunions…

October 19, 2009

Yay, TV series hiatus time is over and many shows are well into their new seasons. I was recently browsing a gallery on Entertainment Weekly entitled “20 shows you’re breaking up with” about which shows readers were… well it’s in the title. Then I realised, I am totally breaking up with some shows this year, and I feel that its all been decided for me in the season premiers.

A number of juggernaut shows are hitting their 6th season this year and I found big differences in how two mainstay medical shows are aging. One is getting a bit tired and grasping for story lines and the other feels like we’ve only just begun to nick the surface. I have watched every episode of Grey’s Anatomy and House, but I’ve always seen a House episode is an hour of well-crafted, intelligent TV that requires my full attention and Grey’s as more of a watch-it-while-you-fold-laundry type show. After the season 6 premiers I feel pretty sure I’ve lost interest in Grey’s Anatomy but find myself more intrigued by House than ever. Where it feels very obvious that Grey’s Anatomy cooked up in a kitchen with many prodding cooks, House seems like it was written by one author, who thought very deliberately about the script.

After 2 bumpy seasons, sticking it out with Grey’s Anatomy hardly seems worthwhile anymore. I was somewhat amped after the pretty brilliant and shocking season 5 finale. But since the publicity machine around the series ruined any plot unknowns there were no surprises in store with season 6. SPOILER ALERT Big non-surprise, George died, Izzie lived, people organised a funeral and, in the one moment that got me sniffly, parceled out his organs for donation. I’ve read that Izzie’s laughing fit at the funeral was the perfect laugh-so-you-don’t cry moment. But I found it bizarre and the dialogue only served to point out how overworked the plot has been lately (“George died! I got cancer! And you (Meredith) got married on post-it!”). Amongst everyone going through their own 7 Kubler-Ross stages of grief (real original underlying theme by the way), the Chief was comically sparring with Callie and trying to save face with the board. But on his way to his Big Important Meeting he finds himself (un)comically at rival Mercy West’s door where it dawns on him that he should merge Seattle Grace with Mercy West. So that means a whole bunch of new characters and the diluting the screen time of the existing characters we would only love to see more of (how many more Georges have to be sidelined before sanity returns?). I know this was supposed to be the big shake up of the series but it was not handled in a way that made sense and I’m unmoved.

But there was something that makes up for all the multi-writer schlock and aaall the bad season premiers (hello Gossip Girl!). Something that restored my faith that there can be some truly great storytelling on TV. HOUSE, how constant and undisappointing you are, even when you did that weird reality show knock-off thing and sidelined the original beloved team in season 4 you were still totally watchable. So season 5 ended with House’s mind playing dangerous tricks on him and he voluntarily admitted himself to a psych hospital. And that is just where we find him, fresh off Vicadin withdrawal and being generally belligerent and cruel to the other patients. The whole two hour premier is about House in the hospital – no cases, not Princeton Plainsbourough, just House, his crazy roomies and his therapists. I watched this episode during an airport layover, on a plane and, finally, when the jetlag ensured I was totally awake at 2am during which I had tears – lots of them!. It has a brilliant storyline and was like a great big reward for all viewers who have watched House be relentlessly awful and unchangeable for the past 5 seasons. After getting to know the character so well, you can anticipate his reactions to the hospital, but you will be floored by the way things actually go and come to not know what to expect at all. The casting of that Law and Order guy as House’s therapist was genius, I found it totally believable that this guy might have the gravitas to get through to House and I’m excited that it seems like he will be around for more episodes.

withdrawal is a bitch

withdrawal is a bitch

Gossip Girl taps ICD4D

June 4, 2009

Gossip Girl is a total guilty pleasure of mine. Initially intrigued by its being set in two posh, private Manhattan schools, I knew after watching the pilot that this would be my mindless TV joy. But recently I was unable to suspend my disbelief when GG’s world of shiny things attempted to fuse with ITC4D. Preppy cad Gabriel and his faux socialite sidekick Poppy (a name that’s even more fun in Afrikaans, doll) have been running all over New York pitching a business idea so obviously profitable that they have heaps of rich folks falling over themselves to invest after only vague elevator pitches at swanky cocktail parties. Problem is it’s all a con and they plan to skip town with the money. But that’s besides the point – what is their super convincing idea? Its very vaguely described as “backing a company that wants to provide wireless access to the developing world”. The really fun this about this idea is that the investors don’t seem to be in it for the warm charitable glow, but because it is set to triple their money “by the end of summer”. As fang-toothed Gabrielle tells a googly-eyed Serena van der Woodsen this startling prediction at a party, she responds with the following blithely unaware gem:

yes that's chuck in the background looking rightfully suspicious

"Come on, without you how else will all those African teenagers send in posts to Gossip Girl?"

Yes because that’s what African teenagers really want Serena – to gossip about whose shack has the shiniest tin roof. Later, as Gabriel schmoozes with more potential investors, he explains:

"The governments, the ISP's and the big companies need to use these satellites. We can be the only game in town" and implies that the free wireless is a happy consequence of the big business "Doing well by doing good"

"The governments, the ISP's and the big companies need to use these satellites. We can be the only game in town"

Satellites? I am so intrigued but, oh no! Before he can explain more about those pesky techno details, he puts on the money squeeze:

“There’s a ticking clock, some of the major Internet corporations are looking to do a similar thing. If we act now we block them completely and we make at least triple on our investment”

Are you convinced? Lily Bass was:

"You can tell your backers I'm in!"

"You can tell your backers I'm in!"

After 5 seconds of thought? Perhaps that last husband of Lily’s should have thought twice about leaving his Trump-esque fortune and company in this lady’s hands when he croaked.

In the next episode this delicious con continues with Poppy stepping up during a swish lunch with Georgina at the Russian Tea Room spinning more wireless yarn while drinking martinis and eating caviar:

business lunch

business lunch

G: Who knew you could bring wireless to third world countries? What a great job!

P: Yeah it’s really more of a passion that a job. I mean it gives so much to the children.

G: Of course! I mean they can look at faraway places and read Bible stories. Oh! They can download Kirk Cameron movies!

Ah, it’s all about the children, Kirk Cameron movies for development, yay! Having been recently immersed in ICT4D during my internship at the Technology for Emerging Markets Group and attending ICTD 2009, this was a total laugh. The idea that wireless internet for people who probably don’t even have computers could be a free side effect of a profitable business in Africa where governments needed some other awesome ass satellites. That browsing the internet to look at faraway places and Bible stories would be its main mode of improvement for poverty stricken children. The preposterous idea that people would have the speeds needed to download whole movies (using which computers and what storage if I may ask).

But I am too harsh, truly I expect GG writers to be experts in Manhattan and debutant balls, not technologists so all is forgiven. (Though I do wish they hadn’t rushed it in the end, I would have liked to see the take down of Gabriel and Poppy rather than have it tacked onto the final episode as a btw)