Saturday, August 30, 2008

Vicky Cristina Barcelona

NYT reviews Vicky Christina Barcelona. This wonderful new movie by Woody Allen is set in the gorgeous town of Barcelona that is littered with art and sculptures. The light in this movie is honey toned and summery and it follows the adventures of Vicky and Christina and the dilemmas they deal with while trying to understand love and its many complicated facets. Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz are excellent and light up the screen.

The Portrait of Two Ladies
Published: August 15, 2008

Bathed in light so lusciously golden and honeyed that you might be tempted to lick the screen, “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” is a rueful comedy about two young American women who, during a summertime European idyll, savor many of the Continental delicacies that such travelers often take pleasure in: art, music, culture, yes, but also strange bodies and unexpected dreams. These bodies and dreams open possibilities for the women, intimating freer, somehow different lives, despite the persistent tugging of a voice that hovers at the edge of this story trying to pull it and its characters down to earth, where desire can fade quickly.

That narration, which weaves in and out of the story like a thread, is spoken by the actor Christopher Evan Welch, but more rightly belongs to Woody Allen, the film’s writer and director. Although “Vicky Cristina” trips along winningly, carried by the beauty of its locations and stars — and all the gauzy romanticism those enchanted places and people imply — it reverberates with implacable melancholy, a sense of loss. Mr. Allen may be buoyed (like the rest of us) by his recent creative resurrection, but this is still the same glum clown who, after the premiere of “Match Point,” his pitch-black, near pitch-perfect 2005 drama, commented that cynicism was just an alternate spelling of reality. Ah, life! Ah, Woody!

Ah, wilderness of a heart that knows what it wants even when the rest of the body does not! Sensible Vicky (Rebecca Hall) insists that she knows what she wants — her dull fiancé in New York, for one — while dreamy Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) does not. The two have traveled to Barcelona so that Vicky, who speaks little Spanish, can work on her masters in Catalan culture, while Cristina plays her foil, and we play virtual tourist amid the city’s Gaudí splendors. With the narrator setting the brisk, at times rushed, pace, the women move in with some acquaintances (Patricia Clarkson and Kevin Dunn), but their sentimental education doesn’t really begin until they meet one of Spain’s national treasures: Javier Bardem.

Mr. Bardem slithers into “Vicky Cristina” (and in that order) like a snake in the garden, wrapping himself around the two women with blissful, insinuating, sensuous ease. He’s the celebrated painter Juan Antonio, one of those artistic sybarites who attack both women and canvases with bold strokes. Eyes hooded, smile taunting, he invites the Americans to fly away for the weekend — a jug of wine, a loaf of bread, thou and thou — a proposition that inspires mockery from Vicky and girlish excitement in Cristina. Mr. Bardem, relieved of his ghoulish Prince Valiant bob from “No Country for Old Men,” invests the cliché of the Latin lover with so much humor and feeling that he quickly vanquishes the stereotype.

The same goes for Penélope Cruz, who plays a combustible Judy to Mr. Bardem’s smoldering Punch. As Maria Elena, Juan Antonio’s unstable former wife (an incident with a blade botched their happily ever after), Ms. Cruz has her own type to surmount, which she does with fire, smoke and comedy. With her artfully tousled hair and watchful eyes, Maria Elena is a classic screen siren (and totally crazy chick), but one with the pulse of a real woman. Ms. Cruz, slipping between Spanish and English (the latter was once a serious obstacle for her), does especially nice work with her voice, which seductively lowers and sometimes rises with animal intensity, suggesting a more variegated interior world than that provided by Mr. Allen’s writing.

Maria Elena and Juan Antonio give the film such a twinned jolt of energy that you may wish it would head off into Almodóvar country, but that wouldn’t be true to Mr. Allen, for whom desire remains an agony. Still, he’s enough of an entertainer to give the audience its pleasures, which partly accounts for Ms. Johansson. She isn’t much of an actress, but it doesn’t terribly matter in his films: She gives him succulent youth, and he cushions her with enough laughs to distract you from her lack of skill. The appealing Ms. Hall, whose jaw line and brittle delivery evoke Katharine Hepburn, furnishes an actual performance, one that, tinged with sadness, makes evident that this is as much a tragedy as a comedy.

There will always be an audience that hungers for a certain kind of Woody Allen movie, but it’s a relief that he has moved away from the safety and provincialism of his New York. Working in Britain for his previous three films and in Spain for this one has had a liberating effect, perhaps because it’s made it easier for him to step down as a leading man. He gave himself a sizable role in “Scoop,” but mostly he fluttered around Ms. Johansson, tossing off jokes. He was playing the fool rather than inhabiting one, as had become his custom in those films in which he clutched at much younger actresses with whom, like Fred Astaire after Ginger Rogers, he never found the right rhythm.

The characters in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” by contrast, generally move fluidly — bopping and weaving, going here, pausing there — a looseness that works contrapuntally with the voice-over’s insistent forward drive. Delivered in novelistic third person, the narration allows Mr. Allen to dispense with large chunks of exposition, to fill in the narrative gaps, yet it also puts some aesthetic distance between him and his characters. The film feels personal — “Sentimental Education,” a touchstone here, is one of the things that makes life worth living, as he says in “Manhattan” — though not claustrophobic, another cloyingly needy dispatch from a ravenous id. What Mr. Allen says about life and disappointment still sounds very Woody, but these days he seems content to speak through his characters, not just for them.

Friday, August 29, 2008

On Michelle Obama

Farah Griffin of NPR analyzes Michelle Obama and her speech at the Democratic Convention.

By the time Michelle Obama -- the woman who many hope will be America's next First Lady -- took center stage, the Pepsi Stadium was electric with anticipation. We'd just watched a well-produced video, South Side Girl, documenting her "American" story.

It was followed by her brother's loving introduction. Watching her, resplendent in teal, perfectly made up and coifed, I wondered, "What will it take for Americans to love this woman?" Surrounded by tall placards with her name in bold white print, I thought "What will the pundits make of her performance?" I had no doubt she would be elegant, beautiful, intelligent and graceful. She always is. I wasn't concerned that she might slip up and speak a basic truth about our deeply flawed nation. She has learned her lesson and there are now handlers to assure that she makes no such slips.

It is Michelle's blackness that has deeply disturbed many Americans and much of the press, and it is that same blackness that has endeared her to many, but not all, black Americans. For those of us who share her race, gender and generation, the negative reaction she has inspired is stunning. As with Michelle, we are the daughters of hard working, even struggling, parents.

We are the daughters who were constantly told that we mustn't ever fit the stereotypes "they" have of us. We were raised to take advantage of the opportunities created for us by the Civil Rights Movement (and though rarely acknowledged, by the Feminist Movement as well). We grew up in black communities that were proud of us.

And, when we went off to predominantly white, elite colleges and universities it was with the reminder that we must do better than well, and that we dare not forget those we left behind. Why are black women like Michelle Obama, black women who have been educated alongside and worked with white Americans as equals, so unfamiliar to so many Americans?

Unlike Oprah, a billionaire media mogul who serves as a spiritual mother to millions of American women, Michelle is mother only to her own precious daughters. An accomplished professional, a devoted mother, sister, wife, daughter and friend, Michelle Obama is like countless other American women and yet many white Americans have found it impossible to see themselves or their aspirations in her.

Maybe it is because they cannot imagine her as First Lady. "Lady" is not a designation easily bestowed upon black women. In fact, it is an identity that we have had to fiercely fight for. In an effort to leave behind a legacy of forced labor and forced sex, formerly enslaved women valued ladylike behavior and instilled it in their daughters as if that alone would save the race.

However, in both legal and popular discourses, the privileges of ladyhood were reserved for white females. Many white Americans are comfortable with fictions of welfare and quota queens. Unfortunately a younger generation, encouraged by irresponsible artists and greedy corporate conglomerates, have also grown comfortable with "video hoes." But are Americans ready to bestow that designation -- Lady, First Lady -- on a black woman? And, at what price?

Last night, Michelle Obama was all that one would have expected of her. She was articulate and empathetic. She was patriotic and visionary. She stressed the importance of education without emphasizing her own educational pedigree. She was elegantly dressed, replete with portrait collar and flattering 3/4-length sleeves. Her hair was "appropriately" straight. She acknowledged her debt to past struggles for social justice, both those for racial equality and gender equality. She was magnanimous towards Hilary Clinton. She was not threatening or loud. She did not raise an eyebrow. She painted a vision of a glowing future led by her husband. And she gave Americans a picture of themselves as a people striving together toward a better tomorrow. She gave no specific policy points (Americans tend not to like that in their first ladies) nor did she acknowledge any ongoing racial tensions. She was soft and feminine.

By the end of her speech when she was joined on stage by her daughters and the stadium erupted in thunderous applause, my heart was full but my mind was still aflutter with questions:
Did she successfully do what the campaign wanted her to do? Will working class white Americans feel any closer to her and, by extension, to her husband? Will middle-class white professional women and stay-at home moms see themselves in her? Will self conscious (and a few self-hating) black Americans think she represented the race well?

I can almost say with certainty that elderly black women, the church and neighborhood mothers, were indeed proud. And the rest of us who have loved her from day one can only pray for her protection, her safety and her sanity on this mad journey.

-- Farah Jasmine Griffin
Thanks Amitava for the link.

thought for today

It is by persevering that one conquers difficulties, not by running away from them. One who perseveres is sure to triumph. Victory goes to the most enduring. Always do your best and the Lord will take care of the results.

- The Mother [CWMCE, 14:173]

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Happy Birthday Papa


Happy Birthday to the best dad anyone can ever have..i Love you and thankyou for everything....
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Barack Barack Barack Obama You Rock

What a strong speech. It will be so amazing if he wins, he will change the direction this country is going in and give us all hope again. Michelle his wife is such a wonderful role model for working women and her main issue is balancing work and family. Gail Collins wrote in the NYT, that Michelle Obama feels that America expects mothers to work but does not provide any services for taking care of their children. Health insurance is also a big issue, so many Americans are uninsured. To be uninsured is OK until you fall sick.
His family history is so interesting. A single white mom, a Kenyan absent father and white grandparents bringing up an African looking child. A Harvard graduate who goes into public service instead of a corporate job.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

a new home

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running free

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mili and lili

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spiders webs

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demak leaves

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a chair with a view

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life aint bad on a hammock

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green glass

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keep your temper

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welcome to the Lake

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water baby

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mamu and mami, bhaiya and lili

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bhaiya and mila

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gone fishin

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a table in a field

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a lake

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tea warmer

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the corruption of priviledge

David Cameron