Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Caring about Africa

I'm back after a conspicuously long absence. There truly are no excuses for my behaviour. Forgive me, throngs of addicted readers. I hope the abstinence wasn't too hard to bear.

I watched The Constant Gardener last week. It was quite good. The story was engaging, the drama was well-orchestrated, Ralph Fiennes was hot and there were some truly exceptional supporting character performances, including but not limited to Rachel Weisz, who absolutely rocks, by the way.

But there's a but.

It was a good movie, but it wasn't a great movie, and I can't for the life of me figure out why. OK, well, I think I have figured it out now, but at the time, I was a little bewildered, as I could see no obvious flaws in the film's structure, cinematography, acting, storyline et cetera. Yet, the movie ended with me feeling like I'd spend a decent 2 hours watching a decent movie. And nothing more.

I think I finally figured out what went wrong; I did.

A short, quasi spoiler-free, aside: the movie is about evil pharmaceutical companies testing evil drugs with terrible side-effects on the unwitting population of Kenya. Ralph Fiennes plays a British diplomat who is determined to get to the bottom of this all because, um, something bad happens. I won't tell you what out of the goodness of my heart (but you'll find out ten minutes into the movie anyway).

Being a movie about drugs in Africa, there is ample opportunity for the audience (in this case, me) to be presented with a sliver of the continent. Kenya is the focus of the action. I saw mothers with AIDS, babies with AIDS, pretty much everyone with AIDS. I saw starving infants. I saw evil corporations distributing medicine that does more harm than it does good. I saw Rachel Weisz and various other brave knights (in the contemporary sense, of course) toiling and investigating and getting to the bottom of things. And I saw people who are exactly like me dying and suffering and generally having a terrible time just because they happen to be African.

This should have made for a great movie. The love story superimposed on this background should have pulled at my heartstrings, should have made me cry, should have made me care. But guess what? None of that happened. The movie ended and all I felt was a slight discomfort, a slight sense of unease. I didn't cry. In fact, my mood was exactly the same as it had been before the film.

Now I know myself pretty well, and I know that I'm not one of those ditzy idiots who care little about anything but nail polish. I watch the news, I read newspapers, I have strong political views, I get mad and passionate about things, I am not so entirely self-absorbed that I live in my own little world where everything is beautiful and everyone is happy. In short, I am aware, and I care (the rhyming is unintentional).

So when The Constant Gardener failed to make me respond to what it was depicting, I initially thought there was something wrong with it. But then I realised that what was wrong was only to do with myself.

You see, at the root of my strange apathy (because that's the best word to describe it) is a sense of helplessness. For a long time, I watched the news and I thought 'The world sucks.' I looked on the internet and I thought 'The world sucks.' This went on for a while until one day, I watched The Constant Gardener and I thought 'The world sucks and there's nothing I can do about it.'

And that's where I stop caring. Because it's too much. How am I supposed to deal with famine and AIDS and civil war and religious persecution and corporate evil and boy soldiers addicted to heroine and gang-raped women and malaria and have I mentioned civil war?

It sounds selfish and cowardly, but I stopped caring because I felt insignificant. Not in a teen- angsty 'nobody cares' way, but in a 'people are dying all over the place and here I am, unable to do anything much but get worried and organize cake sales'.

So I watched The Constant Gardener and felt absolutely nothing at all except a nagging guilty feeling that I should have felt something.

The Constant Gardener is a good movie, but I doubt I'll remember it when I'm senile and arthritic. And that's completely my fault. It's a good thing that there's people who continue caring about the big problems, otherwise we wouldn't even know they existed (and I blame the ruling classes for that; they're not interested in any country unless it's got oil, and if they're not interested, the media's not interested).

Poor reader! You were expecting a proper review, weren't you? And instead you got a whole load of me. Oh well. This is my blog after all...

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Saturday, February 18, 2006


Yesterday, I watched Steven Spielberg's Munich. A synopsis for you: a group of Palestinian terrorists kills a group of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. The Israeli secret service, the Mossad, sends a group to kill those responsible for the massacre.

I shall go mainstream and say that I really liked the movie. I was expecting some politically charged piece of propaganda about how good Israel is and how evil the Palestinians are, even though I'd read reviews praising Munich as fairly objective and more human in approach. Still, being the eternal sceptic that I am, I had trouble believing this. I was thus very pleasantly surprised when Munich lived up to the positive reviews.

The acting was great. Pan and I spent a good part of the movie drooling over Eric Bana's perfectly toned physique. I also fell in love with the French informant, played by a certain Mathieu Amalric (see photo). Pan and I also engaged in the overly distracting activity of trying to remember where we'd seen certain familiar-looking faces before. To our eternal shame, we did not recognize Geoffrey Rush. I still don't know how that happened. Only when we saw his name at the end credits did we finally manage to get rid of that nagging feeling. Oh, and 'the blond guy', as we referred to him during the movie, is the new James Bond. Again, we were really embarrassed at our inability to recognize him.

OK, I know, famous and hot doesn't necessarily make the acting any good, but in this case, it all worked very well. Eric Bana crying was truly heartbreaking and definitely not overdone. Unfortunately, the movie was dubbed, as all movies are in Italy, but the Italian voice actors were surprisingly good this time. I really don't know what could possibly have happened to make them competent.

Now to more serious matters. I don't know how Spielberg did it, but the whole tragic storyline was populated by genuinely human characters. No-one was a killing machine, not even over-zealous blond guy. Skip the rest of this paragraph if you don't want spoilers, but it's not a major spoiler, so you might as well read it. Well, there's this scene where Avner (Bana) is on the balcony of his hotel room, having a conversation with one of the men his team has to kill. Shortly after the conversation, the man goes to bed, and Avner has to switch off the light in his room so that his team can detonate the bomb they've placed under the man's bed. Now Avner has just talked to this guy, who's turned out to be polite, and nice, and decent. How can he just switch off that light and kill him without second thought? It's a beautiful scene, one where the humanity of both men is so strikingly obvious that it's really terrible to watch Avner having to make that decision, and even worse to think of how he'll feel about it later (the other man gets blown to pieces, which is rather gruesome, and sort of makes you forget to feel sorry for him in your attempts not to feel sick).

I also loved Mathieu Kassovitz as the toymaker turned, er, bombmaker. The humanity of that character too was beautifully protrayed, as was that of Palestinian terrorist Ali, played by Omar Metwally, whose justifications for his actions seem to be as valid as Avner's. That's where the film manages to be balanced. You get human beings telling each other their motivations, ignoring the fact that their reasoning might be flawed, because it's the feeling that's important. The movie never really answers the questions that one would expect it to answer, but instead focuses on the human tragedy of it all.

Now to the violence. There were very few instances in which I thought Spielberg would have done better to tone it down a bit (man hanging off ceiling fan, anyone?). Apart from that particular incident, I thought the rest was all meaningful. I guess we have to see what really happens in the world if we want to understand what state it's in. But then, does seeing to much violence reverse that effect and make us less sensitive to it? I'm not sure what the answer to that is, but anyway, I thought the violence in Munich was needed, if not essential.

For example, I thought the juxtaposition of the last sex scene with the airport terrorist killing scene was a masterpiece. It sort of reminded me of A History of Violence, where the two sex scenes are completely different, and you really understand how the characters have evolved.

One last point. Munich could have been shorter, like ten-fifteen minutes shorter. In that respect, it sort of reminded me of the ending of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King which was so over-long that I could almost see Peter Jackson crying over the end of his huge project and saying: 'Just one more scene! Please! Waaah!' Of course, you might not agree with that. Suit yourself.

All in all, it was a positive experience. We saw the 22:15 screening, which meant that we got out at one in the morning, all bleary-eyed and tired. Poor Harry was expecting, quote, 'a nice, historical movie,' but got a traumatizing gore-fest that actually happened in real life. Marry, poor thing, was so tired she almost fell asleep. Random Italian woman made us move seats and went on about it for ten minutes. But really, Munich was really good.

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Tuesday, February 14, 2006

A Single's Guide to St. Valentine's Day (or, How to Get Through the Most Depressing Day of the Year)

It’s St. Valentine’s Day! Blind, naked, pink-cheeked babies are flying around, shooting fake plastic arrows and generally dispensing love left and right. For some yet to be discovered reason, the arrows always seem to miss me, and every year I'm left entirely alone to wallow in self pity, wandering what on Earth I could have possibly done to deserve such unbearable loneliness.


So what to do to get through this depressing day without jumping off a cliff? Drown my sorrows in Nutella and booze? No, that would make me fat. Hook up with the first person I meet on the street? No, that would be unhealthy. Pretend it’s just any other day of the year? Yeah, like that’s possible with all the pink and roses and various mushy love items fluttering about.

What can I say? I'm single. And you know what the worst part is? I really, really, really wish I wasn't.


I won't lie to you. I adore the concept of St. Valentine's Day. Yes, it is a manufactured holiday to sell cards and chocolate and flowers, etc., but what the hell, I'd be really happy to receive cards and chocolate and flowers, even if it meant funding evil corporations.

I could try to pretend I didn't care, but would you believe me? I wouldn't believe myself!

But I guess tomorrow's just another day... oh, wait, isn't tomorrow singles' day? Squeeee!

Anyway, here's some personal tips to get through today (even though today's almost over, at least it is here in Europe... but honestly, I couldn't bring myself to do this any earlier. I was busy watching crappy movies on cable TV...):

1) Listen to feel-good songs, eg.
  • 'Beautiful', by Christina Aguilera. I know, I know, Christina Aguilera is rather lame, but the lyrics to this song are truly uplifting: 'you are beautifuuullll, no matter what they saaaaay, words can't bring youuuu dooooowwwwn!' I couldn't agree more. So yeah, lsiten to Christina, but don't watch the video, it's full of ugly people. Which I guess is the whole point of the song... (on an unrelated note, how crappy must it be to get cast for a role in a video where everybody's ugly? It's like, you're ugly, we want you!)
  • 'Girls Just Wanna Have Fun', by Cindy Lauper. Who wants smelly, fat, bald men? Girls just wanna have fun! Like, totally!
  • 'Single', by Natasha Bedingfield. This is self-explanatory, really. An ode to all the lonely hearts of the world. You don't need to be paired up in order to be happy! Even though Natasha ruined the whole 'independent woman' image with her next song, where she basically professed her undying love to unidentified cute male who walked about in her video. Whatever.
  • 'Everybody Hurts', by R.E.M. You are not alone in your pain. Everybody hurts sometimes! (NOTE: It is not advisable for you to try to sing along. Especially if you're tone deaf, *cough*Panacea*cough*)
  • What is a song list without Britney? Hmmm, what to pick amongst the shining gems of her repertoire? A-ha! Of course! 'Outrageous'! (don't ask... it's one of her lesser known singles. In fact, I only know it because Micky actually owns the CD. OK, fine, I admit it; I have 'Outrageous' on my iPod. So what? Is it a crime to like Britney? You have a problem with that? Huh?) This amazingly well-written and stupendously performed Brtiney song is basically on the same shallow note of the rest of her opus. However, it does not talk about mushy teen love, but about, um, shopping, and Britney's 'sex-drive'. Yeah. Whatever it is that you, virtual reader, are thinking, I agree. Unless you're a 50-year-old pervert who ogles Britney's cleavage at every occasion. In that case, I'm not thinking what you're thinking. Sorry.
  • 'I Hate You So Much Right Now', by Kelis. Because you have to understand that men are bastards who cheat on you, and they should all be emasculated because they do not deserve anything but pain and the contempt of the entire female population. Besides, we could totally reproduce without them. Just give science some time. Evil men!

2) Putting these songs on loop will hopefully put you in the right mood to appreciate just how good it is to be single. Every cloud has a silver lining! First off, there won’t be any of those pesky anniversary and birthday dates to remember. Also, you won’t have to worry about him cheating on you. You won’t be jealous of random females he happens to look at when you’re out. You certainly won’t get pregnant (unless you’re the Virgin Mary). You won’t have to pretend to like the crappy music he listens to. You will live longer (all spinsters live to the ripe old age of 112. Didn’t you know?) And, last but not least, you will not be forced to watch 'The Fast and the Furious' instead of 'How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days' (not that the latter movie is any good. But seriously, anything is better than an hour and a half of car races with implausible stunts).

3) Pamper yourself. A good idea is to send yourself roses or buy yourself Ferrero Rocher, but make sure nobody know it was you, otherwise you'll look more pathetic than you already are. If someone asks you who sent the flowers, try to look embarrassed, make yourself blush and say, in whispered tones: ‘I don’t know! I found them in my locker this morning, but I really don’t know who put them there. But isn’t it cool that I have a secret admirer?’ Make sure the person you tell this to is one of those people who are certain to spread the news throughout the school/office/kennel faster than you can say ‘secret’. This will make everyone, including yourself, think that you’re not single, and really, isn’t that what you want?

And that's all there is to it, folks. If you're still miserable, I suggest going to bed early. Which is what I'm going to do tonight.


Friday, February 10, 2006

A battle of wills

Three days ago, I declared war on the Nutella jar.

It's a pitched battle, I can tell you. All's fair in love and war, as they say, and Nutella, despite being an inanimate object, seems to knows this. There's no other way to explain the low pitched vibrations it sends my way, and that only I can hear. They're definitely below the human hearing threshold, but somehow, the evil chocolate-y goodness has found a way around physics.

Damn you, Nutella!

Day 1:
The Poodle's Friend 1, Nutella 0.5

Well, I had a little chat with my assistants Col. Brain and Sgt. Tongue yesterday. The plan was very clear. I told Col. Brain to take the troops away from Brodmann area 2, where they were at risk of ambush from enemy forces. Sgt. Tongue was instructed to keep his detachment sedated; I didn't want any Nutella-drunk soldier defecting to the other side.

These brilliant tactics led to a scintillating success for the forces of good in yesterday's battle. Only one spoonful was lost to the enemy, instead of the usual eight, and the troops celebrated with...um...cereal. Oh well.

Day 2:
The Poodle's Friend 1, Nutella 413.5

After a brisk pep talk to the troops, I entered the battlefield, fully prepared to continue the fight to the last nerve cell, should that be necessary. But the entirely unfair methods used by the enemy (subliminal messaging, propagandistic pamphlets, promised tastiness et cetera) proved too effective to beat.

Certain defectors also stirred agitation within the ranks. A small minority held on to their belief that the enemy sucks. The vast majority, however, started arguing that Nutella isn't that bad after all, even when you're not hungry. And really, the whole idea that chocolate makes you get pimples is an urban myth...

Needless to say, the majority won. The troops went completely crazy, and the enemy triumphed.

Day 3: Peace talks

The spectacular defeat in the First-And-Only Nutella War resulted in a humiliating peace settlement whereby General Nut, commander of the victorious forces, made Mr. Roger, representative of the defeated powers, sign an agreement to continue with the usual rhythm of Nutella consumption. Public opinion in The Poodle's Friend Land was shocked, but didn't know what to make of it; could eating more Nutella really be considered a defeat?


Monday, February 06, 2006

A Streetcar Named...Fourteen?

Don't you just hate kids on public transport?

I was sitting on tram number 14 this morning, making my way to school, late as usual, when a woman with a 5 year-old child gets on. Normally, this sort of thing doesn't bother me. I'm usually too busy hoping the tram will somehow get through the big traffic jam in five minutes instead of fifteen, so that I might be able to get through without being marked late.

Alas, today was obviously a lost cause, so I was resigned to tardiness yet again. At least I was enjoying one of those overly long Yes songs (the one I was listening to at that time was a twenty-minute version of 'Close to the Edge') so I was pretty relaxed.

And what happens? 5 year-old idiot child sits right behind me.

Not only that, it clings on to the metal bar attached to the back of my seat.

Not only that, a single, priceless, beautiful strand of my ash-blonde hair gets tangled in the idiot child's fat, grubby little paws.

There I am, rooted to the spot, too scared to turn around lest I should discover a deposit of snot all over the thing's face, but too uncomfortable and annoyed not to do anything. Now you might think a single hair is not that big a deal, but see, if I had even moved so much as a fraction of a centimetre, there would have been immeasurable pain.

With all the nonchalance I could muster (which isn't much, I'm afraid) I very, very slowly leaned forward. After a few tense seconds, I finally felt my dear little lock come free of the clutch of that evil thing. I was saved!

Well, not so much. My brain spent the next three minutes conjuring images of drooling children, their fingers in their mouths, saliva all over the place... I shudder to think of it now, imagine then! It took quite a while to absorb the shock of having some kid's saliva on my hair.


Eventually, I mustered enough courage to turn around. The kid was a girl. She was making those random sounds that kids like to make.

How eternally grateful I was when the mother finally pulled her away; their stop had obviously come.

'Close to the Edge' was still not over, and it inevitably brought back horrendous memories of fat, wet, sticky fingers, and imprisoned hair. I changed to 'Sweet Home Alabama', and that made me feel better.

Oh, and I was late to school.


Thursday, February 02, 2006

5 things meme

Here I am pretending I actually knew what a meme was before today.
Yes, I'm comparatively new to this whole blogging thing. Thanks to FrankenGirl for the tag.

Instructions: Remove the blog in the top spot from the following list and bump everyone up one place. Then add your blog to the bottom slot.

1) Kiss My Mike
2) Ultimate Writer
3) Golgotha_Tramp
4) FrankenGirl
5) The Poodle's Friend

Select 5 people to tag (hmmm, shall we make it one for now? I don't think I know enough people. Sniff.)

1) Panacea

Ah, to the good bits...

What were you doing 10 years ago?
Collecting stickers. It was a whole fad thing. You know how those things go.

What were you doing 1 year ago?
Thinking the IB was hard. I should have known better. It got harder.

Five snacks you enjoy:
1) Reese's peanut butter cups - discovered them two summers ago in the US. Thank God we don't get them in Italy, or I'd be a rolling ball of fat.
2) Twix
3) Nutella, spoonfuls of
4) Toblerone
5) Chocolate and yoghurt flavoured ice cream

Five songs to which you know all the lyrics:
1) Going Through the Motions (from the Buffy musical episode) - Joss is God.
2) Thank You For the Music (ABBA) - see this post.
3) Every You, Every Me (Placebo) - 'Cruel Intentions' was the first teen-flick I ever saw, and it started with this song, which was ever so cool!
4) Sansin Bol Olsun (Hande Yener) - Turkish pop, guys!
5) Open Your Eyes (Yes)

Five things you would do if you were a millionaire:
1) Set up a personalized T-shirt shop
2) Write and produce movies adapted from my favourite books and plays
3) Produce a Buffy feature film with Sarah Michelle Gellar
4) Buy my school and make it decent
5) Buy various houses in cool locations

Five bad habits:
1) Washing my hands way too often
2) Not walking with my back straight
3) Never washing the dishes without prompt (read: without my mother yelling at me)
4) Constantly failing to update my fics (yes, even with Panacea's constant nagging)
5) A compulsion to eat Nutella like a rabid...something or other. I can't stop myself if I know it's there on the shelf.

Five things you like doing:
1) Washing my hands way too often
2) Eating Nutella (have I mentioned this before? I like Nutella)
3) Watching random Buffy episodes
4) Buying random CDs at fnac club member sales
5) Eating lamb (funny...there's a lot of eating in my life)

Five things you would never wear again:
1) My old glasses. The new ones make me look so much sexier
2) Loose pyjamas. They're really uncomfortable
3) A crimson velvet dress my mum forced me to wear when I was 10
4) Girly headbands
5) Frilly blouses

Five favorite toys:
1) My Buffy DVD set
2) Moses Jr. (beloved computer)
3) My calculator, and games therein
4) A stuffed dog named 'Mr. Roger'
5) Minesweeper

Of course, five is hardly enough for any of these categories. Let your imagination run wild.