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Saturday, May 14, 2016

1000 Words on 500 Days of Summer

It’s been almost seven years since 500 Days of Summer was released. Every year since that release date I’ve watched the movie at least once. I’m still convinced that the film is one of the masterpieces of the millennium and manages to be overcome of the most difficult challenges of any film (or artwork). Namely, the film is both popular and appealing to a wide audience without seeming formless or pandering. Too often films that are made for everyone end up being films for no one. This isn’t the case in 500 Days of Summer.

Only in hindsight have I realized it’s a film for everyone. When I’d first watched it, it seemed quite straightforward. Tom was good and hopeful and Summer was evil. This is the kind of analysis I was able to do at 20. And of course, completely lacking the grounding to realize there’s another perspective to the film, I was convinced the narrative I’d seen was right. Much like in Love in the Time of Cholera (another favourite of my teenage self) I’d missed entire worlds of layers under the obvious story.

But Love in the Time of Cholera is still a literary masterpiece and 500 Days of Summer is still an amazing film, despite the changes in my perspective. I’d even say because of the changes in my perspective.

There are only two reasons to watch a film multiple times. The first is because the film is predictable and the familiarity of knowing what to expect never becomes dated or dull. No matter how many times I watch The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, I never tire of the Mexican standoff scene even though the initial tension of wondering who will shoot first is long gone.
The second reason is because every time a film is watched there is something new that’s noticed. Maybe not in the film itself but just the act of watching the film brings to mind history and nostalgia which one compares the future against. Perhaps the dialogue of the film speaks philosophically enough to bring up both familiarity with the character’s ideas and self-reflection (in this sense Before Sunset is the most Proustian of films).

500 Days of Summer obviously lies in the second category. As I’ve said before, I identified heavily with Tom when I first saw the film. Tom was the man that many thought they were and went through an experience that many have thought to be the defining moment of their mental development.

In the simple version, Tom thinks he’s a good guy and believes that by virtue of being a good guy things should go in his favour. He’s almost wholly ignorant of what Summer says she wants because they don’t match up with his ideas of a relationship and his ideas of a relationship are obviously what everyone should want. By not appreciating Tom, Summer represents evil and (almost) breaks his hope in romance leaving him bitter.

In this reading of the film, Tom is always right and Summer is always wrong. I didn’t realize Tom might have not been 100% right on everything until about 2012.

The reality is (unless I watch this again in 2022 and decide again) is that Tom makes errors because he doesn’t live in reality. Summer is a real person but Tom’s Summer exists in his head. In the entire film, it’s Tom’s early-teenage sister who is the most logical. The entire film is drenched in quality quotes but one that really sticks is “Just because she likes the same bizzaro crap you do doesn't mean she's your soul mate.

There are other things that make the film amazing other than the script and storyline. The soundtrack definitely plays a huge part and the non-linear storyline definitely is critical to the success of the script. The acting is, of course, of the highest quality and I think quite a lot of people would love more collaborations between Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zoeey Deschanel. There's gorgeous set pieces such as the musical scene and especially the "Reality and Expectations" scene. But I’m sticking to the storyline for why this film is underrated.

One of the reasons this film can be for everyone is that we’ve all been there. Maybe I didn’t understand the errors Tom was making but I’d been Tom. Almost everyone has been Tom at some point and most people have played the Summer role. Because many relationships fail due to the balancing act of one person wanting more than the other is willing to give, pretty much everyone can relate to Tom wanting a “real” relationship and equally relate to Summer not wanting to be too serious.

I think at some point everyone would quote Summer in “I, like being on my own. I think relationships are messy and people’s feelings get hurt. Who needs it? We’re young, we live in one of the most beautiful cities in the world; might as well have fun while we can and, save the serious stuff for later. But also at different times it’s equally likely “I love how she makes me feel, like anything's possible, or like life is worth it.” As said by Tom is more accurate to describe life.

And that’s what the movie does perfectly. It achieves balance. It tells the story of the relationship from start to end, with flashbacks giving perspectives. It doesn’t force a romantic story onto the viewer but neither does it drown the film in depression and easy clichés. The abandonment of clichés is difficult to find in romance films. Almost impossible, really. Most people love romance films for familiarity but the breath of fresh air from something really different can sometimes be far more memorable than the familiar.

In closing, my favourite quote from the film is:

“Isn't that sweet? Ain't love grand? This is exactly what I'm talking about. What does that even mean, love? Do you know? Do you? Anybody? If somebody gave me this card Mr. Vance, I'd eat it. It's these cards, and the movies and the pop songs, they're to blame for all the lies and the heartache, everything. We're responsible. I'M responsible. I think we do a bad thing here. People should be able to say how they feel, how they really feel, not ya know, some words that some stranger put in their mouth. Words like love, that don't mean anything. Sorry, I'm sorry, I um, I quit. There's enough bullshit in the world without my help.

Final point- I hate the final scene with Autumn because it makes it seem like Tom's learnt nothing. Ideally he'd have realized by the end that no other person can give your life meaning.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Football- 2006 World Cup – Trinidad

Football- 2006 World Cup – Trinidad

On November 16th 2005, Trinidad and Tobago created history by becoming the smallest country to ever qualify for the World Cup. By beating Bahrain (who would have been the smallest country had they qualified with a similar population of 1.2 million) 1-0 at the Bahrain national stadium, they provided Trinbagonian  fans with a once in a lifetime moment for many.

Supporters were understandably circumspect about the possibility of qualification. In 1989, needing just a draw to qualify for Italia ’90, the national team, dubbed the “Strike Squad’ had been paraded across the entire country as heroes. The team bus to the national stadium for this final, all-important match was at the back of a slow moving motorcade to allow the fans to see their “World Cup heroes”. They lost 1-0 to the USA, who qualified for the World Cup for the first time in 50 years. They have been to every World Cup since then and 1989 is generally considered the turning point of American soccer, with their reappearance to the World Cup coinciding with being named hosts for the 1994 World Cup.

Hopes were higher in 2005 even with the lingering memory of that 1989 defeat. The squad that qualified for World Cup 2006 was not a young one. Captain Dwight Yorke and playmaker Russell Latapy were members of the 1989 Strike Squad. They may not have thought their chance to go to the World Cup would ever arise again and they were not going to be complacent. Furthermore, Bahrain was not a football power. Few Trinidadians could name a single player from their team. To have the playoff game against the AFC playoff winner was considered to be an easier route than to play the representatives of the Oceanic Federation (where at the time Australia were still members and perennial champions) or a South American team.

The first leg of the playoff was held on November 12th, 2005 at the Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port-of-Spain, the capital of Trinidad and Tobago. Trinidad and Tobago is comprised of two islands and populated by members of various ethnic groups brought to the island by the British during the period when the island was a colony. It is a young country, having gained independence in 1962 and the status of republic in 1974. Overt sporting patriotism is rare due to the fact that the country is rarely a front-runner at world events. At the time, the main claims for fame for Trinidad and Tobago were the 1974 Olympic Gold in the 100m sprint by Hasely Crawford (whose name was borne by the stadium the playoff would be held at) and the silver and bronze medal performances by Ato Boldon (who would direct and produce a documentary about his travels to Bahrain for the second leg of the playoff) at the 1996 and 2000 Olympics.  

In the lead-up to the match, the national colours of red, white and black could be seen everywhere. Vendors were doing quite well on the sale of miniature flags and bandannas and even the replica shirt of the national team was enjoying high sales (despite usually being derided as overpriced). Scalpers, dreaming of immense markups, tried in vain to obtain tickets for the match to no avail. No one would sell their ticket.

With the home support behind them, Trinidad attacked regularly and most of the game was played in the Bahrain half. However the Bahrain team was well disciplined and had clearly come into the game expecting to have to defend. Their resolute defending coupled with inspired goalkeeping from Hussein Ali Hasan eliminated Trinidadian chances one after another. The Bahrainis, likely inspired by their excellent defensive display, gained the lead against the run of play. Salman Isa took advantage of a largely untested Trinidadian defense’s lapse and headed in from the edge of the six yard box after a short corner. Chris Birchall would equalize less than three minutes later with a ferocious shot into the top left corner but Bahrain would hold the advantage of an away goal going into the second leg.

The return leg was played on Wednesday 16th November 2005 at 8 p.m. Bahrain time. It was 1 p.m. in Trinidad and the entire country had come to a standstill. Even people who had never watched a minute of football in their life could not fail to be carried away by the historic moment that was underway.  Most workplaces gave their employees half-day and schools, who could not just send students home, allowed pupils into the staff rooms and audio-visual rooms so they could follow the action. Those unfortunate enough not to have access to a television surrounded radios where the match was being broadcast on several stations.  

Not many Trinidadians had gone to the away match. All the supporters were able to fit on a single chartered plane and numbered less than 300. Yet prior to kickoff it was still possible to hear the sounds of the Trinidadian supporters playing musical instruments (known as the “rhythm section”) amongst the noise of the Bahraini supporters.

Due to the importance of the occasion, the first half was tense and largely devoid of any action. Bahrain knew that a draw would be enough and once again set up to defend while Trinidad continuously attempted to find the goal that would give them qualification. The ball was regularly stuck in the midfield and the play itself was scrappy with misplaced passes and mistimed tackles the regular feature. Bahrain had a chance at the end of the first half when Trinidadian goalkeeper Kelvin Jack missed an attempt to clear but the Trinidadian defence cleared before Jack’s error could be punished. The teams went in at the break with Trinidad having played more attacking football but were lacking the ability to break down the strong defence, while Bahrain seemed more nervous playing in front of huge home support but still managed to put a resolute display.

The beginning of the second half suggested it would again be a case of Trinidadian attacks and Bahraini defence for the next 45 minutes. Four minutes into the second half, another thwarted Trinidadian attack resulted in a corner.  Perhaps it was under instruction from the coach at half-time or perhaps just the sense that time was running out, but both Trinidadian centre-backs came forward for the corner. Dennis Lawrence, the tallest player on the pitch at 6’ 6”, rose highest to head in  Dwight Yorke’s corner into the bottom right corner. It was described by the television commentator as “most important goal ever for Trinidad” and it was no exaggeration.

Jubilant scenes of celebration occurred on the pitch as well as all over Trinidad. Those who were able to hear a television would have been able to hear the few Trinidadian supporters over the silent and stunned Bahraini crowd.

Most of the second half still had to be played and Bahrain attempted to change their tactics to chase the goal they needed to have any chance of going to Germany. Trinidad, however, continued to attack and Ali Hasan in the Bahraini goal was called on several times to keep his team in the game. Tensions ran high and there were a few moments of confrontation amongst players as the half progressed.  Kelvin Jack was again involved in a bizarre moment of goalkeeping when his was dispossessed while attempting a clearance. Ahmed Hasan put the ball in the back of the net but the whistle had already been blown by referee Oscar Ruiz. The Bahrainis protested the decision and the game degenerated into furious scenes of dissent culminating in defender Ali Baba being sent off for pushing the referee.

There was still time for Russell Latapy to hit the bar and for Kelvin Jack to atone for his earlier eccentricities by making an exceptional save in the dying moments of the game. After the whistle the Bahraini players again surrounded the referee but the Trinidadians took no part in the fracas. Like the rest of the country, they were too busy celebrating becoming the smallest nation to qualify for the World Cup.

The next day was declared a public holiday and the team was paraded across the country, just as in 1989, for the fans to see their footballing heroes. Unlike in 1989, there would be no disappointment. The potential opponents or probable results in Germany were largely ignored. It was enough for every Trinidadian fan to be able to say they saw Trinidad play at a World Cup. 

Two Years, Eight Months and Twenty‑Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie - review

Two Years, Eight Months and Twenty‑Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie - review 

Salman Rushdie’s name on the cover of a book comes with baggage. Because of the history of the author’s previous works, there’s the inevitable desire to compare with the old books. Midnight’s Children especially weighs upon all of the author’s work because of the stature of that novel.
However, it’s not just comparison but expectation. The reader expects the protagonist to be from the subcontinent and the novel to be peppered with historical and contemporary references. There is the expectation that the novel will reference and compare Eastern and Western histories. The historical fiction is expected to be accompanied by magical realism. These expectations can also weigh in on the evaluation of Rushdie’s new novel. And, if the reader is expecting to find all those things, they won’t be disappointed.

Two Years, Eight Months and Twenty‑Eight Nights is an unwieldy name which references the 1001 nights needed to tell the stories of Arabian nights. With that reference it’s obvious where the historical references of the story are going to come from.  Like the Arabian nights, the book is less a novel than a series of tales.

Rushdie does not self-reference as heavily as other novelists (Phillip Roth and Orhan Pamuk, for example) but the novel is clearly influenced by his life in America. The book is primarily concerned with fragmentation and conflict which are recurring themes for Rushdie but it’s the first time he’s had these themes in an American setting.

The tales of book are about several different characters, both historical and contemporary and human and jinn. Thus the novel can feel a bit unfinished at times. It’s possible this was the intention of the author but it feels as though the structure could possibly have been made into more. Famous historical philosophers Ibn Rush and Ghazali are the two primary characters and their cross-century conflict underpins the entire story.

Mr. Geronimo is the strongest character in the book who actually has a compelling backstory and seems to exist in reality (although a reality which makes less and less sense to him). Too many characters feel like cameo roles or unnecessary additions.  The character or Jinendra feels like an uncessary addition, while characters like the Mayor and the Lady philosopher feel like they had potential but were never fleshed out.

The book is fuelled by ideas more than characters, which is unfortunate. Some of the most memorable characters in recent literature have been Rushdie’s protagonist Saleem Sinai in Midnight’s Children and Haroun in Haroun and the Sea of Stories. This novel felt as though more time developing the characters than the ideas would have resulted in a more enjoyable experience.

The abundance of switching between tales and periods usually isn’t a probably for Rushdie but this time the flow is broken enough to lose the reader’s attention. It’s possible that the focus on a central character (perhaps Mr. Geronimo whose scenes are most realistic) would have saved the book from being too formless. The abundance of ideas has come at the cost of the development of the world of the novel itself which is left vague. While it becomes clear that the grand theme is about reason and religion ( Ibn Rushd and Ghazali are main characters, after all) the clarity comes at the cost of feeling that one is reading a lecture and not a story.

The book itself has a lot of potential and occasional cameos of brilliance. But in total it never really managed to get going and become more than just a sum of sketches of varying appeal.