Another day

“Damn you, Damn you!”, look – what’s going on with that dude? He’s running and shouting like a madman!

They stole his car said my friend as we spot a silver corolla at full speed.

Two friends, one driving, one leaving forever the country, my brother and I, sharing a car and a red light, witnessing a car robbery.

I am in disbelief but calm. This isn’t so uncommon after all.

Let’s follow them, said my friend driving. I look at him not believing what he just said and while I oppose both my friend leaving the country and my brother oppose my opposition and seem thrilled. I try to protest once more with no avail: what could happen? They argue. The tyranny of the majority wins once more, I give in.

-

We lose the stolen car quickly, they were going really fast and skipping all red lights. What now? We discuss a few places we could go but none of the places seem good for the time being.

Let’s go home I say. Today is not the day said my friend driving.

Indeed, I reply.

As we drive home we start talking about our experiences with the police, I have been stopped before with my friend driving, nothing important or nothing that involved more than two cops. We are decent citizens after all.

The car we are in is identical to the stolen car, same model same color.

-

When was the last time they stopped you? Asked my brother to my friend driving, I better not answer that before I jinx myself he replied, and while my friend driving said that I spot a police SUV closing the street.

They might be doing a routine operative. I am too naive.

Look they have a gun pointing at us! I thought of it or somebody else said so. I see the gun.

Everything start happening so fast and so slow, it all makes sense but they got it all wrong.

My friend stopped the car quickly, thankfully. We get out.

Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot! I beg for my life. Words I don’t remember coming out of my mouth but that everybody else does.

Turn back said one voice while twenty policemen were pointing at us from every direction. We are surrounded. My friends, brother and I we all want the same: to cooperate.

The policemen seem inexperienced. There’s disagreement, one voice says hands on the car while other voice shouts hands over the head. What do we do?

Tension. That’s all I feel and everybody does too. The police seems goddamn sure of our guilt, I can feel it. I am afraid for my life. We look guilty.

My heart is racing like it hasn’t in years. For a moment I separate myself from the situation, and allow an outside perspective to invade my mind. I laugh. How can I not? I am not guilty nor did I did anything but the police force might understand it differently, I don’t want to cause my dead or help it. I become as serious as I can. Quickly.

The police is following protocol, taking us one by one. They do their job and their inspection, they realize that we are only guilty of being afraid for our lives. We got nothing to hide besides our fear.

-

To our relief we are no longer suspects. I am still anxious. It has been quite an adrenaline shot, perhaps a needed one.

They try to ease away the fear, they can smell the fear in us. We were all afraid, policemen included. Maybe this happened in twenty minutes or five.

It felt forever but it passed, like everything else, nothing is forever.

-

Leave now,
he said,
so we did.
Happy
to be alive
and not dead.
To have
another stupid story
and a reminder that
perhaps
living isn’t so bad.

-

The ones that got away, the robbers, they got the best deal. All the police force was on the hunt for us, not them. They got away and so we did but at the end we all lost. The police lost valuable time. The owners of the car might never see the car again.

Life’s not fair.

From films to books

I started reviewing some films towards the end of 2012, I did it with the intention to pay closer attention to the films that I watched rather than mindlessly watch them. Practicing my written English and my writing in general was also a big part of my motivation. I believe I succeeded at both, I definitely watched many more films than I cared to review but I watched them all as if I was going to review them, and most certainly it changed the way I watch films.

I noticed that watching a film with the intention of reviewing it made me much more conscious of what I was watching and what was happening, I was definitely more aware.

For this 2013 I want to do the same but instead of films I will review books. I prefer to read in English  specially if English is the original language the book was written in. I live in Venezuela and finding English books is rather difficult, that leaves me with no choice but to buy the books online, and while I own a kindle I prefer to read on paper.

At some point, while I lived in Hong Kong, I was averaging about a book a week. To accomplish such a feat I was reading about 20 hours a month, 5 hours a week, 1 hour a day for “work days”; and while nowadays I still read more than an hour a day (mostly online sources) I will promise only to review 18 books. That’s not to say that I will not read any more books, which I might, but only after I finish the 18 books I will list in this post.

When I was averaging a book a week I didn’t take any notes nor did I have any intention of reviewing with a lengthy post what I thought of the book. This will change.

I have hand picked 18 books for 2013. Each book will be thoroughly reviewed and I will make public my notes on each book.

Here’s the list:

  1. The Personal MBA by Josh Kaufman
  2. This Will Make You Smarter by John Brockman
  3. The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene
  4. Mastery by Robert Greene
  5. The Art of Seduction by Robert Greene
  6. Finite and Infinite Games by James Carse
  7. Call me Ted by Ted Turner
  8. Trust me, I am lying by Ryan Holiday
  9. Levels of the Game by John McPhee
  10. The (Honest) Truth about Dishonesty by Dan Ariely
  11. Universal Principles of Design by William Lidwell
  12. Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
  13. The Moral Animal by Robert Wright
  14. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
  15. The Signal and the Noise by Nate silver
  16. Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
  17. Tokyo Vice by Jake Adelstein
  18. Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards

The list is in the order I will read it, and as you can see they are all non-fiction ranging from Psychology, Business, Design, Philosophy, Statistics, Journalism and even Drawing.

I left Drawing on the Right side of the Brain last because I expect to read it on December,  hopefully not only will I post notes about this book but also drawings.

Can’t wait to start!

 

Addendum: With the movies I reviewed I didn’t quite follow a format even though I tried to keep some uniformity, I will do this differently as well; I will format my reviews in the following way:

—————

[Review] (Book name)

I will post a picture of the book, in whatever context or way I find appealing and easy.

For usability sake, I will post the ISBN of each book and the date I read the book, I am hesitant to post a rating but I will.

I will then write a short intro on what the book is about.

Followed by my notes

—————

Ghost World

Terry Zwigoff the director and co-writer of Ghost World did an amazing job. The cinematography, cast, acting, story and music are of the highest quality, specially the music. Zwigoff as gossip has it is an intense man, he threaten Robert Crumb to commit suicide had he not starred a documentary about his life, and so Crumb, a widely acclaimed documentary about a cartoonist with a traumatized family was born.

One can only be an outcast if there’s  a set-in way of thinking an a never changing mentality an inflexible culture. Zwigoff with Dan Clowes bring to a life beautifully crafted characters, each approaching alienation slightly different, but ultimately feeling quite the same.

The first scene starts with the everyday life for most people, despite age, race or family conditions, where the seeming vein differences that we all have seem to clash, even for Rebecca and Enid, our lead characters, both disdain the normal and the status-quo is to be made fun of.

Ghost world’s gets down to business quickly, After Thora Birch, who plays Enid delivers “We graduated High School. How totally amazing” it seems obvious by then that this film is full of potential, it seems though that this will be a comedy and a dumb one, but I assure you, it’s nothing like that.

I am going to save you the spoilers, and to some Ghost World might look like a love story but don’t fool yourselves into thinking it is, because it isn’t  This film is much more than that, and its subtlety is brilliant without being pretentious. The characters have a scope of realism that is refreshing in films of these kind which often could be labeled as artsy.

Above all what I find the most touching is Enid’s conflict with the world, wanting to belong but not belonging  feeling a connection and then blowing it up; ruining other people lives without wanting to; making a compromise with the world through art only to be shutdown by misunderstanding. It all feels so tragic for her, even though the world around doesn’t seem to be, with the all present calmness and idleness of everyone but Norman, so she feels that her only possible solution is to join Norman’s path, whatever path it might be, wherever it might lead.

Venezuela is ill

It’s cancer.

The illness this country faces is analogue only to cancer: sometimes, the medicine can be even worse than the illness itself. It’s terribly sad to think of politics and how I’d try to fix this country, not that I think I am qualified, rather I find the mental exercise, at times, interesting, but often, all too often really, very depressing.

Venezuela is severely ill. Economically, politically and morally. A time bomb, this is what this country is. Now, at times of presidential elections, there are two candidates running; one that has been there for 14 years already and one that is trying to beat a man that seems unbeatable, the former Hugo Chavez, the latter Henrique Capriles.

Hugo Chavez has been rather straightforward about his political ideas: he claims to be a left-wing supporter, he uses ‘Socialism‘ as the flag for his political ideals and he wears that word like a badge of honor.

Henrique Capriles holds left political and economic views as well ,the only difference is that Capriles tries to stay away from the word –socialism– and the stigmata that ‘socialism’ might come with, but his political ideals, economically and socially are from what he says: left-wing. At least this is what I infer from his speech.

It’s important to make clear what I mean by saying that Capriles hold similar views, as often his supporters seems to believe that this is indeed not the case. Capriles will (if he keeps his word) emulate more or less a similar policy socially and economically; the only difference then seems to be a change of management, not all policies would be similar, but the principles remain more or less the same.

(As I am writing this Capriles is doing an interview and he was asked whether or not he thinks of himself as a center-left-wing politician, he avoided the question spectacularly.)

The ideals that socialism preaches seems right for Venezuela, most, simply don’t know that it’s called Socialism; in fact, the lack of political education in this country is alarming. Bear in mind that all people seem to agree that social benefits –whether from Chavez or otherwise– must be mandatory and perhaps the discontent comes from Chavez poor management.

I understand this, but the fact that Capriles is not straightforward and clear about his political views makes me uneasy. He comes off to me as untrustworthy. Chavez is slightly less cryptic, more predictable than Capriles is.

(And as I finish this, Capriles was asked about a reform for the exchange rate system, but he yet again avoided the question, which makes me infer that change will not be part of his policy, at least not here, where perhaps some sector of the population is dearly waiting for it.)

I think that some policies and the management style of Chavez lacks too often, it lacks in efficacy and efficiency all too much. Under his wing urban violence is skyrocket high, he very often says one thing and does the other (yet this is predictable to an extent); on the other hand, Capriles not being straight forward about his intentions truly put me off, and makes me feel as if I can’t trust him. I can’t trust either of them: Chavez for his trajectory, the other for his speech.

Perhaps this is also a symptom of the cancer, rather than an effect of the people in charge or hoping to be, the leadership is rotten and so is society, full of corruption, urban violence, poverty and lack of education. Just to name a few.

We will eat shit then…

Imagine a man who is deeply hungry, he’s been without food for a month, today is his lucky day, it’s that day in which he gets to make a decision between two options in the food menu: dog shit or horse shit, the choice made today will be what follows for the next six years; after being without food for a month and deeply craving it, a man faced with both choices realizes that there’s a third one and after some thought he puts aside what he craves, and realizes that the only possible choice for him is one: not eating shit, even if that means dying of hunger. The man realizes that shit has no value, no substance whatsoever and that he will die of hunger nonetheless, even if shit at times feels as good as food that contains substance: it’s all an illusion.

If I were to vote my vote would be null, rather I have decided to not vote, and perhaps it was time to make my reasons clear but not before exposing some of the illness that I see in this country, it was important for me to put this down, to give some order to my thoughts – it gives me perspective.

 

Mr. Nobody: An artsy film that’s bearable

Mr. NobodyMr. Nobody is incredibly ambitious. In a few words: Van Dormael, the director, attempts to pack the whole array of experiences that might occur in a person’s life, in other words, Van Dormael shots to the moon and at times it seems like he gets there, while at some other times you are not sure.

This film, Mr. Nobody, might appeal to everybody and at the same time to nobody in particular, without spoiling you completely, let me just say that Van Dormael tries very hard to make a scene for every type of person, every personality and this is perhaps its weakness and its strength.

It’s important for me to make clear that I tend to avoid these movies but ultimately end up watching them, for whatever reason; usually the movies I categorize under ‘artsy’ are unbearable with a few exceptions, the first that comes to mind is The diving bell and the butterfly and the second one is Mr. Nobody.

The quality of the picture is stunning, simply beautiful. The soundtrack is just as good as the picture; the range of music is comparable to the range of great scenes you will find in this film: Pavane, Satie, Pixies and Ella Fitzgerald, just to name a few.

This film however might be slow at times and perhaps this is my main problem with artsy attempts. At times it feels as if Van Dormael is just extending the ending for the sake of it, making it unnecessarily long; that’s not to say, however, that you shouldn’t watch this movie, to the contrary, you should: it’s a unique experience.

P.S: I have watched a fair share of artsy movies that have cult-followers, and while my intention is not to offend I must make clear that artsy movies are not my cup of tea usually, but in their defense, at times they deliver.

P.P.S: Lately I haven’t seen many movies, I have on the other hand watched a few documentaries but I hadn’t felt like reviewing them; I am watching The Sopranos, which is amazing, it’s only second to Breaking Bad and clearly among the best TV I have ever watched, and that’s all I am going to say, I refuse to review The Sopranos or any other TV show, at least for now.

The horrible and the miserable

 

Alvy singer: I feel that life is divided into the horrible and the miserable. That’s the two categories. The horrible are like, I don’t know, terminal cases, you know, and blind people, crippled. I don’t know how they get through life. It’s amazing to me. And the miserable is everyone else. So you should be thankful that you’re miserable, because that’s very lucky, to be miserable. “
Annie Hall.

This are two movies, one by Woody Allen’s criteria deeply Horrible (Martha Marcy May Marlene) while the other Miserable (Annie Hall ); both films deeply touching and great in their own particular way.

Annie Hall.

Annie Hall“I would never want to belong to any club that would accept someone like me for a member”, along those lines this films, Annie Hall, begins.

It’s incredible that I didn’t watch this film before. Alvy singer who’s played by Woody Allen is the stereotypical neurotic kind. I felt extremely identified with him, which is terribly odd, rest assured that I am not jumpy as Alvy is.

The writing and picture are both stunning, perhaps it truly lacks in soundtrack and sound quality, but I can’t really complain there, this is a movie from 1977 with incredible picture, that’s in itself quite an achievement and I don’t mean this in a condescending way but in the most honest possible way.

There are some gimmicks here used by Woody Allen. Talking to the audience, using extras to speak up about something, etc., it’s quite interesting and most definitely original. Must’ve been weird and exciting watching this film back in the 70s.

The story is hard to categorize, it would seem first that it was an autobiographical story, that feels like a romantic comedy, but in the most pretentious way, it could be described as a clinical study about human relationships with a comedic tone, because otherwise it would be unbearable. I never anticipated the ending nor did I think about the story while I was watching it, the dialogue was engaging and as such my mind didn’t have time to think about the possible outcomes.

I have watched a decent amount of Woody Allen movies, at least from the last two decades, this is a director that averages 1 movie per year, and he has managed to do so for over 40 years. This is incredible, and Annie Hall is yet my favorite Woody Allen movie.

Martha Marcy May Marlene

If thrillers and beautifully crafted stories are your thing you must watch Martha Marcy May Marlene (MMMM). Sean Durkin does a wonderful job as a story teller, overlapping stories and making the viewer feel what it’s going through Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) by raising simple but deep questions: What is real and what is not?

MMMM is great, it’s an uncomfortable and unsettling film to watch, the quality of the acting is not lacking and everything else, from picture to audio is quite decent.

Martha is a beautiful young woman that we know little of. As the movie progress we start understanding her a little bit more, but this movie raises many more questions than it cares to answer. It’s deeply disturbing film and rarely does any filmmaker does so little to generate so much anxiety in me. This is a thought-provoking film, no doubt.

MMMM has too much depth and while there are many unanswered questions perhaps it makes clear that questions and answers are not in the first order of importance, rather what is more important is the representation of something ultimately sinister: losing one’s own identity by being forced into another.

Trapped in one’s own body

I just had the pleasure of watching two incredible films: The diving bell and the butterfly and Mar adentro, both films share a lot of similarity, at least from afar, but in reality they’re both about similar issues while having a different tone; Mar adentro (sea inside) and The diving bell and the butterfly are both great films, both must be seen, and I think it’s perhaps wise to watch one after the other, in no specific order.

Great films are challenging. They raise questions and invoke feelings, and these two don’t disappoint.

Mar adentro

Mar adentroMar adentro is a film with incredible acting from the lead Javier Bardem. The movie in itself has a lot of depth, it’s the kind of movie that raises a question and doesn’t answer it. It’s a tragedy with great cinematography and a beautiful soundtrack, which amounts to the best kind of tragedies when portrayed in a film.

Ramon a spaniard who used to be a sailor, finds himself trapped in his own body after an accident, he sees himself as a burden to his family and perhaps to society as a whole; Ramon wants to die and he’s in his full capacity as a thinking man to make this decision, but he can’t, his body is paralyzed, he can’t  kill himself without help, he needs others to help, he’s paralyzed from toes to neck, and so 30 years of suffering ensue. This is a dark description but Ramon is not dark at all times; he makes the best out of his misery: he writes and he talks constantly with his families and friends, one could say that despite it all he’s cheerful.

Ramon is not a character of fiction: he was a real person, with real problems and real feelings that indeed due to the inflexibility of the state he couldn’t make a choice for himself.

So many topics comes afloat: morality and values, the hypocrisy of individuality, death and human suffering from different perspectives.

After watching this film most people would probably have the need to answer one of the questions this film raises: whether euthanasia should be allowed or not, morally and legally.

I personally feel the need to answer the question: for me it’s not about dignity. It’s about freedom of choice for oneself. That’s what I value the most. Individuality and the freedom that comes with it. For me it only makes sense to allow euthanasia, otherwise we would be attempting against humanity, not allowing it is a form of repression.

I salute Ramon Sampedro who by now is dead. Those who think that euthanasia is evil, might as well reflect how selfish it’s to think so, as if making the decision of taking one’s life is light and easy, life must first be rather gloomy to chose death over life, specially if death comes by one’s hand.

The diving bell and the butterfly

the diving bell and the butterfly

The diving bell and the butterfly is a film based on a true story of a man with locked-in syndrome, which is a fancy way of saying that his conscious mind is intact, while his whole body – but his eyes – are unable to move.

An ambitious film that begins with a first person view shot. The ambition of this film relies on beautiful cinematography and manipulation of images to make us feel, an attempt to communicate deeply through vision while never leaving behind sounds. An artsy attempt that I believe comes triumphant.

The eyes are the window to the soul: such a common saying never made more sense before. The unsettling first person view shots manages to represent what it must feel like to lose one’s body while the thoughts, memories and humans desires are still intact.

Mathieu Amalric which plays Jean-Do does an incredible job as an actor and I think combined with Julian Schnabel eye for cinematography they both very well deserve the highest praise in filmmaking, the former as an actor and the latter as a director.

The diving bell and the butterfly succeeds as a touching movie and brings to life some daunting thoughts I have from time to time. To feel trapped, not only in one’s body but in one’s life. Perhaps not literally in the “locked-in syndrome” fashion, but rather trapped in  prejudice, fear and bitter feelings, in age or whatever other instrument outside of our control trap us. It however reminds us how from time to time, imagination is as good as the real thing if not better, how the human mind can forget it all and lose itself.

Lastly, The diving bell and the butterfly leaves me with an unsettling thought: the mind in a vacuum is not only useless but also a terribly dark place to be, so dark that when Jean-Do learned to communicate, his first word was mourir, after being asked what he wanted to do, which is french for “to die”. That exchange helps the viewer understand Jean-Do with more depth since at the beginning he doesn’t seem troubled, nor does he seem bitter, in fact, in his own conscious as we experience it from outside it seems like he’s content and he doesn’t mind making jokes about his condition to himself: a refreshing light view on life which we discover to be a shield, a defense mechanism: what he really wish is to no longer “be”, to no longer live.

Without doubt a deeply thought-provoking film. A must watch.

-

P.S: I watched The diving bell and the butterfly first and then I watched Mar adentro, I watched both in their original language, using subtitles with The diving bell and the butterfly.