THE ABSENT

THE ABSENT
THE ABSENT - out now!

CRIPPLED HEARTS

CRIPPLED HEARTS
Out Now - For sale on Amazon and other onlne book sellers

SOLIDARITY WITH THE FLESH EATING MOSAIC AND OTHER POEMS by Raj Dronamraju

SOLIDARITY WITH THE FLESH EATING MOSAIC AND OTHER POEMS by Raj Dronamraju
Out Now

THE RETURN OF THE MAGNIFICENT NINNY AND OTHER POEMS by Raj Dronamraju

THE RETURN OF THE MAGNIFICENT NINNY AND OTHER POEMS by Raj Dronamraju
My first book of poetry available through Amazon and other online booksellers www.rajbooks.com

Saturday, February 28, 2009

THE THIRD MAN AND THE GOOD GERMAN



In a list of my 100 favorite movies which I posted on my other blog last year (and which I really need to amend), THE THIRD MAN was #17….

http://www.xanga.com/rgdinmalaysia/683521476/the-big-list---my-favorite-100-movies/

It’s a great film thick with the atmosphere of a corrupt and rotting post-WWII Vienna where anything is for sale….It features imaginatively constructed scenes of suspense (the parrot, the little boy, and the final chase in the sewers are three that come to mind) and a shocking revelation about 2/3’s through the film….When Orson Welles (as the film’s villain) first appears, it is a genuine surprise and the scene on the Ferris wheel between him and the film’s hero played by Joseph Cotton is fantastic….Cotton, BTW, was an underrated actor who was gifted with both matinee idol features and a sort of restrained edginess that shone through exceptionally in his performance as a villain in Alfred Hitchcock’s SHADOW OF A DOUBT.

This may be Orson Welles greatest film despite the fact he is not credited with directing it….The rumor is he actually did direct most of the scenes and I can believe it considering the resulting product.

THE THIRD MAN also has a great soundtrack featuring a zither which plucked gives a really uncomfortable feeling to the proceedings….



Recently, I saw THE GOOD GERMAN which on the surface has some similarities with THE THIRD MAN….The same corrupt atmosphere (in this case Germany immediately following the end of WWII), a female character more interested in survival than morality, a hero who gets roughed up a lot and grows increasingly more cynical as the story progresses, another character believed dead who shows up alive (in this case a good guy) plus black and white cinematography that apes the golden days of cinema.



THE GOOD GERMAN however is nowhere near as original as THE THIRD MAN….It is though a worthwhile attempt to make a film that both critiques American double standard morality….In this case, turning a blind eye to Nazi war criminals entering the USA as long as they are of use to the burgeoning nuclear program….and also acts as a homage to classic films….Stephen Soderbergh’s black and white visuals do get a little runny in the scenes that take place during the day but the night scenes are really well-done.

The ending, which is kind of the reverse of CASABLANCA, stressing selfishness over sacrifice in an airfield goodbye, is really a fitting and powerful climax.

George Clooney has made some interesting and worthy films this decade and here is yet another one….Since he has the rugged features of a classic movie star rather than today’s metrosexual pretty boy, he is perfect for this type of role….Cate Blanchett almost lapses into self-parody as the German femme fatale but never quite crosses the line….It is weird also seeing Tobey MacGuire (Spider Man) in a supporting role cursing, having sex, and punching a woman in the stomach and beating another guy with a pipe.

When Hollywood can still produce a film like this made in this style with A list actors and decent production values, it diminishes my cynicism about filmmaking.

OF PROTESTS, SOCKS, ISRAEL, TENNIS

Last week, a student in her final year at the school where I teach was suspended for using a derogatory term to describe the principal within earshot of the principal herself….She had been originally spoken to for having socks on that didn’t conform with the school dress code….Neither of these were very clever actions on her part….For reasons I’m not sure of that student’s mother when informed of her suspension chose to pull her out of school entirely rather than wait until July when the school year ends.

On Friday, a student in my Year 11 English class showed up in class wearing his pants tucked into his socks with black, red, and blue stripes drawn on them….When I asked him why he was doing that as it looked sort of silly, he told me it was to protest what happened to his classmate and her removal from school.

His simple protest, while I don’t agree with as the student admittedly used a foul word to describe the principal and was not expelled but rather suspended and then removed by her mother, was ,however, clever and a creative way to blow off steam that didn’t harm anybody.
It has inspired me to take a further action in a case I’ve been monitoring….Last week, I wrote about my support for UAE’s decision to not issue a visa to an Israeli female player for a tour event in Dubai.

However, since I wrote that, UAE has bowed to pressure and allowed in a male player for next week’s men’s event as well as paying a fine some of which goes to the female tennis player in question….There is talk of taking both the men’s and women’s events away from UAE.

If this was Myanmar or North Korea, I doubt this would have ended the same way….One of the root causes of the dislike and perpetuation of negative stereotypes about Jewish people in the world is the fact that normal justice doesn’t seem to apply to them….Of course, it all starts with Israel’s long history of mass murder and deliberate targeting of women and children.
I’ve been looking for some way to creatively let off my anger at the disgusting colonial regime full of human rights abusers and murderers known as Israel….I mean I no longer pay taxes in the USA but I’ve now come up with something else.

Let me say first that I have a long history with tennis….It’s the only sport I’ve ever been anything above mediocre at and played on and off throughout my life from when I was a kid….I’ve also loved watching it on TV for years….Bjorn Borg was my idol growing up and I had his poster on my wall when I was in junior high school….This decade I’ve admired Roger Federer greatly….I think he might truly be the greatest player I’ve ever seen.

However, I don’t watch it much since I came to Malaysia due to the time difference and not always having access to television….I gave up on women’s tennis a long time ago as the Williams sisters completely turn me off….They are poor sports, display no class, and have the physiques of men….I miss the days of Steffi Graf, Monica Seles, and Martina Navratilova.

Anyway, I’ve decided to boycott tennis….I will still play it and love the game but will no longer watch ATP or WTA events on television….They can support whomever they want but I am also free not to support their decision and do what I want as a viewer.

There,,,I’ve done something….I feel better already!

BAN THE OWNERSHIP OF EXOTIC PETS/WILD ANIMALS



Of course, domesticated animals such as dogs and cats have been bred specifically for that purpose….They would have a hard time foraging in the wild and have had centuries of pet life in their DNA.


A bigger problem is the keeping of wild animals, exotic animals as evidenced by the recent mauling of a woman by a pet chimpanzee….Of course, the owner of the chimp is a clearly mentally unbalanced woman who slept and bathed with her primate.


But I would argue there is no sane reason to keep an animal like a monkey or a large or poisonous snake or a tarantula or a scorpion….Some people even apply to keep an animal like a tiger.


These animals were not meant to be kept as pets….They are hazardous both to their owners and to neighbors if they escape….They were not meant to be kept in suburban tract homes….Of course, there are those people who are rich enough to afford better conditions for these animals but who would let an animal like a lion suffer the fate of ending up in some foul private zoo like Michael Jackson’s Neverland?


Again, what is the purpose here?….Is this freedom?....It is not overly restrictive to demand a nation’s citizenry not keep dangerous animals.


Currently in Florida, animal control and environmental officials are battling a growing feral boa constrictor population that is decimating local populations of birds, small mammals, reptiles….The origin of the introduction of these large snakes into the wild was through them originally being pets….The famous photo a few years ago of a snake that blew up while eating an alligator was one of these.


There is a growing lack of community among humanity, a growing selfishness and a growing isolation from the affect of an individual’s actions, this is just another example….The causes of this societal dislocation (especially in America)and the greater negative affects if they continue is another blog entry.


I think lawmakers should act now and ban all exotic pets not specifically bred for being a pet and/or a danger to humanity as well as the ecosystem if they were to escape.

Friday, February 20, 2009

THE BOX MAN - CONCLUSION -THE SUMMING UP

So what were the learning objectives of the Box Man lesson and were they realized?

Well, the Performing Arts/Fine Arts class I teach is supposed to be not only drama but also an introduction to as many different art forms as possible….The Box Man involved several different art forms including drama….On that level it was successful.

Another point of the lesson was for the students to be able to plan their own living space….There was supposed to be an interior design to the box as well as an exterior design as the reading I gave them six weeks ago indicated….Most people in my two year 9 classes understood and did this part of the exercise….Less so in the two Year 8 classes (although many of their projects were also excellent).

Of the foreign students who live in the school hostel, many of them were unable to complete a Box Man due to not having access to boxes….The one hostel student who did complete it had a local student as a partner….If I ever do this again, I will definitely pair hostel students with non-hostel students rather than allowing students to pick their partners.

All in all, it was great fun and I think the students had a chance to stretch their creativity and also their planning skills as they had to design and execute a project.

The arts should be a part of every high school student’s schedule from nursery school to graduation….I have some interesting stuff planned for the rest of this term and especially for next term….


THE BOX MAN PART FOUR -EVEN MORE PHOTOS
















THE BOX MAN PART THREE - MORE PHOTOS


















THE BOX MAN PART TWO - PHOTOS
















THE BOX MAN PART ONE - THE BOX MAN BY KOBO ABE



THE BOX MAN by Kobo Abe is a surreal novel (and there is no better world than surreal to describe this book) set in a Japan of what I gather is the near future….People have started dropping out of society and living in large boxes….These are not like the homeless people of today who sleep in cardboard boxes….These are actually people who spend all their time in a box with two eyeholes cut out as well as two holes cut out for their arms….The boxes reach almost to their ankles and they shuffle along….On the inner walls of the box are shelves holding toothbrushes, tools etc….Some other touches-An umbrella that can be opened over the top of the box for rainy weather and a phone book or some other similar object that be placed on top of the head to prevent rubbing the top of the head against the box.

It’s an interesting book that makes valid social criticism about the negative conformist material society we live in globally….It does get a bit too weird at the end to the point of where it almost ceased to make sense but I still liked it….Definitely Kobo Abe’s best book and I’m not one who generally likes surrealist literature.

This book inspired me to create a lesson for my Fine Arts/Performing Arts class….My students working alone or with a partner had to create their own box as a living space….Here was the original lesson handout (which was included with an excerpt of a couple of pages from the book).

Pretend you are a box man like the one(s)in the story and design a box similar to that described in the excerpt from the book.

The finished box will be due the sixth week of the term. You and your group will present it in front of the class.

This last week the project was due….I will be uploading pictures shortly.

THE RIGHT DECISION----UAE AND NOT GRANTING A VISA TO AN ISRAELI TENNIS PLAYER

The United Arab Emirates has decided not to issue a visa to Israeli tennis player Shahar Peer for the WTA event occurring this week in Dubai.

http://www.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/meast/02/15/tennis.uae.israel/index.html

As punishment for that, the Wall Street Journal has pulled out of their endorsement of the tournament and the Tennis Channel will not be covering the event on television.

However, I think UAE made absolutely the right decision.

Israel is a democracy therefore when Israel goes on a killing spree like they just did in the Gaza Strip with phosphorus bombs, nail bombs and other weapons of terror aimed at women and children as well as civilians in general, one not only holds the government of the country responsible but also the voters who voted that government in.

As far as I’m concerned Israel (and consequently every Israeli) should be banned from every world event until they cease being a racist, Nazi-like colonial regime based on oppression and mass murder.

And for those people who claim to be progressives and liberals and think UAE’s decision is wrong, what about South Africa in the 1960’s, 70’s, and 80’s?….It was routine to bar South Africans from competing in events until Apartheid finally was dismantled.

It was absolutely the right decision then regarding South Africa and it is the right decision now to ban Israeli’s world competition in sports or anything else global until they clean up their act.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

ON MICKEY ROURKE'S UNLIKELY COMEBACK

I should admit at the outset that I have not yet seen THE WRESTLER the recent film that has sparked the unlikely revival of the career of Mickey Rourke (including an Oscar nomination)….I hope to see it soon however I don’t need to see it to understand that this is one of those underdog/comeback/second chance stories that people love and that is what is driving this.

That is not to say that Mickey Rourke doesn’t deserve this….There was a period in the mid to the late 1980’s where he was my favorite actor….It seemed he was to be the next Marlon Brando or Robert DeNiro and like them he perched his career between disappearing into a character and creating a recognizable persona that followed from film to film….I think RUMBLEFISH is one of the best films of the 1980’s and one of my true favorites but BARFLY, DINER, and ANGEL HEART (which I saw again recently after many years) are also great films….Quirkier stuff like JOHNNY HANDSOME, THE POPE OF GREENWICH VILLAGE, WHITE SANDS, and HOMEBOY (which he also wrote) are also worth checking out.

Sort of like Johnny Depp now, Mickey Rourke seemed to select roles without commercial considerations instead focusing on whether or not they were interesting to him but unlike Depp whose seemingly non-commercial roles hide the usual Hollywood plot structures and endings filled with sentimental goop, Rourke’s choices were extremely eclectic (except for perhaps 9 ½ WEEKS but the less said about that the better).

So what happened?....How did Rourke go from that to straight to video releases or playing the heavy in fifth rate Jean Claude Van Damme and Sylvester Stallone films or really weird stuff like BULLET which has him acting next to Tupac Shakur???!!!!

Well I am not one to repeat Hollywood gossip….Obviously, he has had a lot of plastic surgery so much so his face is only a few notches below Michael Jackson’s in being unrecognizable….It is true that boxing was his first love before acting and his strange return to boxing in the 1990’s was just another example of his increasingly eccentric, erratic behavior during that time.

I am also not one to second guess his role selection especially the fact that he turned down roles in films that went on to be very successful such as RAINMAN and PLATOON while starring in films that weren’t so successful….Personally, I can’t see him in PLATOON and RAINMAN (which is a great movie) would have been very different with him in it….A smart actor knows his limitations and strengths and a great film is often just matching the right actors with the part.

I wish Mickey Rourke well on Oscar night….Life is a strange journey sometimes.



Friday, February 13, 2009

WHAT DOES IT MEAN (IF ANYTHING)???

Once again, I did a descriptive writing class with Year 10 using a painting….The responses ranged from an alien landscape to the afterlife….Also mentioned was a futuristic disco and a zoo….Here’s the painting….What do you think?


ZAC EFRON AS YOUNG HITLER

I can’t think of anything more moronic and vacuous than High School Musical….I don’t mean to sound like an old fart but the TV shows and music and movies we mocked as idiotic when I was young seem like classic works of high art produced during The Renaissance compared to this….High School Musical is the equivalent of cotton candy; sugary sweet, bad for you, and disappears without any indelible trace upon consumption.

The other day, as a joke, I told my homeroom class that High School Musical star Zac Efron was going to star in a movie as a young Adolph Hitler….I was surprised how many of them actually believed it! LOL!!!!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

PONDERING THAIPUSAM PLUS HAPPY BIRTHDAY, CHARLES DARWIN


In a book as yet unpublished that I wrote about my first couple of years in Malaysia, I spent a little bit of time on attending my first Thaipusam at Batu Caves in Kuala Lumpur….I won’t go into a huge explanation of the origins and story behind the Thaipusam celebration but basically it involves people taking on a vow for something they or a loved one need and the repayment is them performing an act for the Gods as an offering.

A lot of these acts involve self-mutilation such as piercing ones cheek or tongue or placing hooks in one’s flesh and then bearing a heavy chariot on their shoulders then walking a distance from one temple to another….In Ipoh, where I live no,w the distance is relatively short perhaps a couple of miles….The latest new form of self- flagellation is sandals with spikes built in that one must walk on the entire distance.

I have physically stood next to people undergoing this prior to walking between the two temples….I have seen the needles go into cheeks and tongues and the hooks go into the flesh….However, I can’t help but feel there is some trick to it….I know the tongue and the cheek are not particularly sensitive and hooks can be placed in skin not too deep without a lot of discomfort.

One should look at the preparation for Thaipusam….A number of weeks before the event, the devotees switch to all-vegetarian diet, start sleeping on the floor, and refrain from sexual relations, alcohol, cigarettes etc. ….It is the purer state of mind created by living this way that allows them to slip more easily into a trance….Being in a trance is the key as that is how one is able to deal with the pain when undergoing the piercings etc….However, the trance seems to consist of a lot of fidgety movement, dilated pupils, weird noises….I have witnessed the devotees smoke a large cigar as they are undergoing this….I am told that this is the custom but it makes me wonder what is in the cigar? (I don’t mean any disrespect here….I just have a hard time believing in things like this and so am looking for a logical explanation….Mind-altering drugs are a possible explanation).



Speaking of science, logic, and the rest, February 12th is Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday….I honestly believe that along with Copernicus establishing the Sun as the center of the universe and Sir Isaac Newton establishing the laws of gravity and motion, evolution is the most important scientific discovery of all time….For me, it perfectly explains nature and man’s place in it….The real beauty of evolution it does not require a belief in a supreme being to function.

On my other blog, I posted an entry a few months back about what I felt was the death of science in today’s society and I did mention evolution in that posting….I received a response from someone I assume of a Christian bent who posted a link to a cartoon lambasting evolution and also college professors and scientists in general….Well, as someone who lived for awhile as a teenager in a rural area of America wherein religious fundamentalists (in this case Christians) tried to get on the local school board with the intended purpose of ending the teaching of evolution or at least forcing the teaching of creationism, I can tell you I regard evolution as a FACT not as a theory and I think it should be called that way.

I’m not a scientist but here are the main arguments (proven I believe) for evolution….

http://www.news-medical.net/?id=12840

http://salmonriver.com/lightscience/evolution2.html

http://sandwalk.blogspot.com/2007/03/evolution-is-fact.html


Interestingly enough, last year I read a news article about how the thumbs of today’s children are becoming bigger and stronger due to the overuse of computer games….This is a perfect example of adaptability to the surroundings.

THE BEST PERFORMANCES BY ACTORS THIS DECADE (SO FAR....)

This decade is not over yet but here are some of the best performances in film by actors I have seen the last ten years or so….



JAVIER BARDEM – NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter became an icon of villainy in the 1990’s….Bardem as Anton Chigur is becoming so this decade….An amazing look backed up with the sense of irritation he feels at other’s inability to grasp the unstoppable logic of his murdering ways created the most memorable screen character of this decade
KEY SCENE -The exchange between Bardem and the service station attendant is disturbing, suspenseful, and funny at the same time.




AJ BOWEN – THE SIGNAL
THE SIGNAL is an extremely well-written movie that avoids all horror movie clich├ęs since it really isn’t one but rather is an art film….Bowen as the husband whose wife is having an affair actually finds more sense in the twisted world of the mind altering signal than in reality….As an actor, he really gets inside a complicated character and makes it easy for the audience to understand….One of the most interesting performances I’ve ever seen.
KEY SCENE –Although many of his rambling conversations with people he is about to commit violence against are funny and terrifying, Bowen’s conversation with himself at the end tops everything.





MICHAEL CAINE – THE QUIET AMERICAN
Like Jack Lemmon in last decade’s GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS, Caine summons up every bit of pathos for this role and like Lemmon, I believe he deserved an Academy Award for this role and also like Lemmon he didn’t win….Both the original novel by Graham Greene and this film adaptation are the perfect criticism of the neo-conservative mindset and Caine, as the slightly corrupt world weary British reporter, is the perfect narrator for the rise and fall of Alden Pyle.
KEY SCENE – The drunken Caine running through the US Embassy looking for his stolen girlfriend is heartbreaking and powerful.



EMILE HIRSCH – INTO THE WILD
Hirsch downplays this role that another actor might have overplayed in a flashy Christ-like manner….In doing so, his actions (getting rid of all his material possessions, dropping out of the material society) make perfect sense….Hirsch making this character a gentle aesthete instead of a wild-eyed visionary was a great choice and acting is all about choices.
KEY SCENE – I particularly find the scenes between Hirsch and Hal Holbrook as a lonely widower with no kids deeply moving because again they are not overacted….Holbrook is also brilliant in this film.



JON HEDER – NAPOLEON DYNAMITE
Creating a memorable character out of thin air is a very hard task….Heder’s socially awkward and completely nonsensical Dynamite is a memorable comic creation on par with Inspector Clouseau or Chaplin’s Tramp….If he based this on a real person, I would really like to meet that person.
KEY SCENE – Too many to name.



COLIN FIRTH – WHERE THE TRUTH LIES
It’s fun to see an actor who has established himself in a certain type of role go against type in a role….The normally slightly befuddled nice guy, the cool Mr. Darcy Colin Firth as an aging entertainer with a lot of weird sexual habits is really a surprising role and he pulls it off with a lot of emotion and energy.
KEY SCENE – The final flashback of what actually occurred in the hotel room between Firth and Kevin Bacon is a quick moving scene but when Firth realizes the rejection, disgust, and anger shown towards him by someone he deeply cares for, the look on his face is amazing.



DENZEL WASHINGTON – TRAINING DAY
Washington, like Colin Firth, takes on a different role here, a villainous one but also one that it is multi-faceted and leaves the viewer confused until the last 1/3 of the film as to whether or not he really is such a bad guy….I think Washington deliberately plays up his character’s good side (and he does have one…. this is a complex portrait of villainy indeed).
KEY SCENE – Washington’s pathetic speech once he realizes the neighbors in his community are turning against him after being terrorized for so long is made powerful by physical gestures such as his sarcastic laughing….It is almost Shakespearean.



GREG KINNEAR – AUTOFOCUS and LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE
Kinnear might be the most underrated actor working in Hollywood today and these are perhaps two of his greatest roles so far….As TV sitcom star and sex addict Bob Crane in AUTOFOCUS, Kinnear shows not only a character’s downfall but also that he didn’t have much of a soul to begin with….In LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE, Kinnear plays a loser who becomes a winner by following his own set of personal goals….In a movie filled with great performances, Kinnear makes an unlikeable character comedic and, at the end during the performance of his daughter, one could say heroic.
KEY SCENE – In AUTOFOCUS, either the conversation in the car with his son about what the color orange looks like or his final phone call to Willem DaFoe’s character (DaFoe is just as good as Kinnear in this film). One can sense the desperation in both scenes….In LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE, there are many but I think the scene where he confronts the agent and realizes that the 9 stop program isn’t just a hokey con but something he believes in is great



ROBERT DOWNEY JR. –TROPIC THUNDER
A great comedic performance in a movie full of them…. Downey as an Australian method actor acting as an African American is an amazing work of acting dexterity.
KEY SCENE – The conversation with Ben Stiller where he states “never go full retard” is something I can watch again and again.



TIM ROBBINS – MYSTIC RIVER
Sometimes it’s not a matter of speaking the lines with emotion or utilizing make-up or changing your physical appearance, sometimes it’s simply a matter of acting the way someone would who had undergone what is in the movie….Robbins, as a survivor of kidnapping and childhood sexual abuse, really inhabits this role with his sloping shoulders and nervous, shambling gait, he is still the child who is frozen at the time his childhood was taken from him.
KEY SCENE – All of the scenes between Robbins and his wife are a tutorial in acting but his death scene where he realizes the irony what’s happening to him is brilliant acting.

The decade’s not over….Let’s see if there will be anymore performances added to this list by the end of 2009.