Monday, December 28, 2009
Sunday, December 20, 2009
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Wednesday, December 09, 2009
During a year-long gambling binge at the Caesars Palace and Rio casinos in 2007, Terrance Watanabe managed to lose nearly $127 million.
The run is believed to be one of the biggest losing streaks by an individual in Las Vegas history. It devoured much of Mr. Watanabe's personal fortune, he says, which he built up over more than two decades running his family's party-favor import business in Omaha, Neb. It also benefitted the two casinos' parent company, Harrah's Entertainment Inc., which derived about 5.6% of its Las Vegas gambling revenue from Mr. Watanabe that year.
In a civil suit filed in Clark County District Court last month, Mr. Watanabe, 52 years old, says casino staff routinely plied him with liquor and pain medication as part of a systematic plan to keep him gambling.
It's scary because there were no signs of such behavior during Watanabe's early life. His fortune was not inherited. He joined his father's business when he was 15 and slowly built an empire. To transform a small toy store to a $300 million conglomerate requires not only extraordinary business acumen but also discipline and control - something that's not found in addictive gamblers. And then such a sudden descent in this manner, as if someone with no monetary orderliness won a lottery and decided to bungle it up, shakes me.
PS: Read the whole article, it's very good reporting.
Tuesday, December 08, 2009
While the usual formula contains part cleavage and part punch-dialogues, Gautam Menon, the director, in an effort to give the audience a 'non-movie' movie experience has stripped some of the ingredients. There are fights where the hero doesn't fly. The father is friendly, not fire-breathing. The hero falls flat after losing his love but picks up life with another woman and marches on. More importantly, there's no flow in the narration where elements of screenplay converge in the end for a grand denouement. But pretentious drab should not be confused with film art. 'Vaaranam Aayiram' is long and fails to engage. It's not cerebral and doesn't deserve delving into its themes.
While Menon wants to be appreciated for his bold vision for his tangential sub-plots in the second half, we can sense his turmoil to abide by some of the Tamil cinema's rules. Songs. There's a 10 minute episode on how the protagonist's parents fell in love in the 70s. Surya as a school boy? Give or take 20 years, the viewers won't notice! Although I'm annoyed by overacting heroines, Menon flashes his female leads with their underacting. Their stilted range of emotions is annoying too. The biggest downer is Menon's dialogues - in trying to be poetic he's managed sophomoric. Some may sleep through, some may scratch their heads and some may be wowed. I just didn't hate the picture.
But I'm happy the film is made. Surya is no better than Vijay for accepting such a non-commercial project for it all boils down to holding onto one's fort. While Vijay and Ajith have a strong viewership in B & C centers, Surya and Vikram with their flair for experimenting alternate between commercial and challenging roles to earn audience with sophisticated tastes. Nobody serves the art; every actor prostitutes their talent for money. But with the success of every Vijay/Ajith film we're traveling back in time. With the usual nonsense on how a woman should dress to crass comedy capitalizing disabled people their movies propagate virulent stereotypes. With at least 'Vaaranam Aayiram', we're going in another direction - it's progressive because there's no social degradation.
Thursday, December 03, 2009
A judge has finalised a settlement in which film studio Sony will pay $1.5m (£850,000) to film fans after using a fake critic to praise its movies.Sony did something enormously stupid. Their fictional cinema critic was just one Google search away from being exposed and still they went ahead. But the legal aspect of the outcome is interesting. So, if I saw the movie and retained the theater stub I'm eligible for a $5 pay-out. The judge thinks that it's appropriate the studio compensate half of the ticket price for cheating its audience. And 'cheating' here means misleading the common man by a fake positive review. I think the judge was legally bound to compensate the viewer somehow. But does it make common sense?
In 2001, ads for films including Hollow Man and A Knight's Tale quoted praise from a reviewer called David Manning, who was exposed as being invented.
He supposedly called Heath Ledger "this year's hottest new star" for his role in A Knight's Tale, said The Animal was "another winner" and Hollow Man was "one hell of a scary ride".
People who saw the films in the US can now get a $5 (£2.80) refund from Sony's pay-out, lawyer Norman Blumenthal said.
Shouldn't the audience who claim their $5 back be asked to prove that they saw the cinema only because of the fake review by the fake critic? No, because it's logically undecidable. This leads me to another question - how many cinema goers go to a specific cinema because their favorite critic recommended it? Before the internet, whatever newspaper/weekly you subscribed to and whatever critic worked for that publisher played a role. But now everyone has access to every cinema pundits' bytes. Rottentomatoes pools together reviews of popular critics. And IMDb has its rating for every movie - voted by the general public.
At the beginning of this decade, when my interest in cinema was at its peak, I devoured every review from every pundit. There was a phase where I allowed the critics to dictate what I should think about the movie. Wag the Dog is an example - I thought it was bland and predictable, but critics loved it. I read them all and taught myself to love it. This primarily came from the insecurity that I don't know enough, not mature enough, not culturally acclimatized enough to appreciate the product. It took a while for me to realize that I'll always be, heck, even some cinema pundits will be, inadequate and not always get the director's vision. Sometimes, it's just a cheap writer/director conveying something unworthy of serious interrogation. Sometimes a truly serious message is lost on me. But either way there's no need for me to hide my real thoughts.
I saw '2012' last week after reading Roger Ebert's review. For those who don't know much about film critics he's their equivalent of Brad Pitt. He won the 1st Pulitzer for film criticism (of only 2) and most of the times my likes and dislikes are in agreement with his. The cinema was such a disaster that I wanted to punch my fist through the screen (as if there weren't enough holes in the movie). If that's his only review some reads they'll think he has an IQ of the director of 2012. Since I've followed him over the years I know that's his guilty pleasure. He recommends some crazy products from time to time.
Now that I have rambled let me try to connect the dots and conjure a few points. Most people don't listen to critics. They have their favorite actors, directors, writers to decide if they should go to a movie. Those who read/listen to critics always take that with a pinch of salt. And they gradually educate if the taste of their critic matches theirs. But nobody I know ever respects blurbs behind DVD cases or newspaper ads. Those short sentences always have to be 'Brilliantly directed' or as in this case 'Another Winner'. Sony had to pay for something nobody would anyway have based their movie-going decision on and that's just dumb.
Tuesday, December 01, 2009
The couple that crashed into the party are celebrity whores. They're famous now for trying to get famous. And they want to get a bit more famous so that they can be even more famous. But what about the audience who care about politics, war, economy, health care? They're now driven to focus-journals like National Affairs & Foreign Policy. The editors are not even emphasizing the breach as an indication of the holes in the security details for the leader of the free world - they're carrying profiles of the crashers and what they're up to. With the flurry of coverage given to nonsense like balloon boy, Levi Johnston and now the Salahis, they're ...