Sunday, July 25, 2010

Watch This Now

This past weekend, I caught two feature films that left me excited about the future of film. Quite frankly, these movies, along with Toy Story 3, could be the best of the year.

The first would be Inception, which I actually caught for a second time with friends who hadn't seen it before. Visually, stylistically and in terms of narrative, Inception was brilliant. If you like movies, you should go see this movie. A note of caution: Prepare to have your mind blown. You might lose your grip on reality.

I don't want to give any of the plot away, so I won't give you a summary. What I will say is this is the first movie in a long time that kept me constantly surprised. Usually, I can guess where a plot's going to head within the first 15-20 minutes of a movie. With Inception, I had no idea what was going to happen and that made for an amazing ride. I would even recommend a second viewing of this movie, not because it will be easier to break down (because it won't), but because you'll pick up on some smart subtleties you may have missed the first time as you struggled to hang on to the edge of your seat. Writer and director Christopher Nolan is a genius and deserves the many accolades sure to come his way.

The second film was Salt. Don't dismiss this movie as a generic action film. If you have any doubts as to Angelina Jolie's talents, you won't after you watch Salt. While I loved the journey Inception took me on, I'd have to say Salt left a bigger impression on me.

Think about all the action movies you've ever seen. Can you think of any that were carried by a strong heroine? I don't mean Ashley Judd in Double Jeopardy or Charlie's Angels kind of stuff. And before you bring up Kill Bill, let me remind you that we only knew the main character as the Bride - she didn't even get a name. I'm talking about a woman who looks like a trained fighter and is an inventive spy, stone-cold killer and more adept at her job than any of the men in the movie. The only other movie that comes to mind is Tomb Raider, which also stars Jolie.

Angie has done a lot of growing up since Tomb Raider. For one, her body is completely different. Here she works like a machine. Every move she makes is efficient. And yet, she has heart. I think the fear is that a woman action star - especially in the spy thriller type films - won't be believable. Either she'll be too soft or too hard. Evelyn Salt is the perfect balance. She's incredibly tough, but she's got an endearing vulnerability as well. By the end of the movie, you're really rooting for her.

Salt was originally planned with Tom Cruise in mind. After he dropped the project, the character was changed for Jolie. The whole time I watched Salt, I couldn't help but think how generic it would have been with Cruise as the star. Jolie makes Salt. It crackles with her spirit. My hope is that she has opened up the action field for women. I would love to see more women in charge instead of playing the typical damsel in distress role.

Not to be vulgar, but if I were to give you the most concise review of these two films, it would be: Inception = Mindfuck; Salt = Badass. Seriously, go see these movies.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Not In My Backyard, Thanks

I spent the better part of last week with my relatives in a town just outside of Edison, N.J. Imagine my delight when I heard that Time magazine, a publication I have always wished I could work for, printed an article about Americans of Indian descent in Edison. I was delighted to discover that Edison has one of the largest Indo-American populations in the United States; some figures I have seen have estimated that about 20% of residents there are Desi, and I was intrigued to see how it would be recognized.

Needless to say, I was looking forward to the read. Then I found out a little more about it. Joel Stein's "My Own Private India" came out at the beginning of the month, so if you're a Desi, some irate friend or relative has most probably forwarded this to you. Since I was in vacation LaLaLand, I totally missed all the controversy, which is interesting when you consider that I was in the area ... you'd think I would hear about this on the news.

What was advertised as a humor column reads as a xenophobic rant. Writer Joel Stein grew up in Edison and is shocked to find his once "mostly white suburban town" overrun by Indians. He said he intended this piece to be a satirical look at immigration, but the language he uses is often times nothing more than offensive.

You can read the article yourself and decide whether it has any comedic merit:
My Own Private India

I've read some blog postings where young Desis toss around the idea that if comedian Russell Peters made these same comments, we'd all think they were funny. I have to disagree. While the bit about Guido-Indians is marginally funny, trying to make a joke out of the practice of Dot-busting is just not cool.

Here's a taste of his humor: "Eventually, there were enough Indians in Edison to change the culture. At which point my townsfolk started calling the new Edisonians "dot heads." One kid I knew in high school drove down an Indian-dense street yelling for its residents to "go home to India." In retrospect, I question just how good our schools were if "dot heads" was the best racist insult we could come up with for a group of people whose gods have multiple arms and an elephant nose."

In the late 1980s, a New Jersey gang known as "Dotbusters" attacked and killed a man. Last month, Indian immigrant scientist Divyendu Sinha was killed in what is suspected to be a racially-motivated assault. Sinha was murdered in Old Bridge New Jersey, a township that is located within 13 miles of Edison. His death came little more than a week before Time published the Stein piece. I'm not sure what the timeline is like between putting the magazine to bed and publishing it, but you'd think Time would have been more sensitive with this story given Sinha's recent death.

I could sit here and tear apart Stein's entire article, but it's been done before. The Huffington Post actually printed a series of guest columns in reaction to Stein's piece, so I will direct you to these:

Joel Stein's Beef With Indians Hurts Everyone

The "Hilarious" Xenophobia of Time's Joel Stein (This one's written by Kal Penn)

Joel Stein and the Curry Problem

I just want to say this: I'm all for freedom of speech. But I honestly can't find any merit in Stein's piece. It failed as a satire. And he just comes off looking like an ethnocentrist. Time let me down on this one. Intolerance (against any racial, ethnic, religious group) is not something I want to see splashed across my magazine.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Talking 'Bout My Generation

If you hear me dropping the phrase "generational differences" in reference to my various cultural observances all too often, there's a book you can blame for that. I've been reading Jean M. Twenge's sociological text Generation Me and it has been an eye-opening experience.

This book provides a comprehensive analysis of the behavior of twenty-and thirty-something Americans. If you've ever wondered why we're all so damn self-obsessed and neurotic, you'll find an answer within these pages.

Sometimes, reading the book was painful as it forced me to confront some ugly truths about myself and made me realize I'm not as special as I perceive myself to be. Alas, conditions I thought set me apart from the crowd (ie: delusions of grandeur, relationship retardation) are really rather common amongst my peers. I highly recommend Generation Me to both members of the age group, as well as to our parents and employers.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Starbucks: Now Tolerating Freeloaders

Imagine my surprise when one recent night on the 5:00 news Lester Holt announced that Starbucks would now be offering free Internet access. What year is it, 2007?

At first I thought maybe college had spoiled me. In school, I had access to free Internet anywhere I wanted it. The campus library? Check. The Student Union and Quad? Check and check. Random grassy patches where people gather to study? There too. A coffee shop without wi-fi was unheard of. In my mind, there was no greater pairing. What self-respecting pseudo-intellectual or academic hasn't killed a day at their local coffeehouse?

I had taken it for granted that Starbucks would offer free wi-fi. But apparently, prior to July 1, 2010, one had to pay to hop on a wireless network at the nation's most famous coffee chain. And even then, there was a time restriction. Those dinosaurs! Why were people still going to that joint?

I'm sure not if all Starbucks operate the same. As much as I can remember, my campus Starbucks had free wireless. And I've been able to get on a free network at the Barnes and Noble in my city with a Starbucks in-store since it opened two years ago.

But, the fact remains. For a brand that claims to "inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time," Starbucks has been slacking.

And when you think about it, it's even more than slacking. Starbucks has been elitist in their attitude. Their policy of Internet only for those who can afford it is not very customer friendly. Some wireless providers make you pay $5-$10 a sitting! With prices so high, it's as though they didn't want people to use their Internet. They took so long getting with the program that now I don't really care to get with theirs.

I'd much rather go down to my neighborhood fast-food joint to connect to the Internet for free. You know there's something wrong when Popeyes, Subway and McDonalds get free wi-fi before Starbucks. I've been told Starbucks is a great company to work for. As a consumer, I don't support it. You'll see me patronizing local shops, where the coffee is cheaper and the attitude isn't so uppity.