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Movie Review: Hereafter (2010) February 14, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Movie Reviews, Paranormal, Reviews.
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Sure, Invictus was just okay, but it seems to me old Clint Eastwood can do no wrong these days.  There is a quiet confidence in his approach, a lovely subtlety in his pacing and pauses.  And no matter what, he manages to evoke powerful, genuine emotional responses from his audiences (I mean, come on — Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby, Letters from Iwo Jima, Changeling, Gran Torino…).

Eastwood’s latest effort, Hereafter, is no different.  It’s a dangerous project because, as the title suggests, the film is about death and what comes after, which makes it prone to soppy melodrama and manipulation.  And of course, the afterlife is a topic often subject to ridicule and parody, so there’s the additional hurdle of keeping the film serious without tipping it over the edge.

Somehow, some way, Eastwood delivers.  Pound-for-pound, Hereafter is perhaps not one of Eastwood’s greatest films, but it’s certainly one of his better ones — and it holds great potential to be one of his most popular films.

It tells three separate stories about three different characters — Marie (Cecile de France), a well-known French television journalist; George (Matt Damon), an American factory worker who just gave up on his old job; and Marcus (Frankie McLaren), a British boy with an older twin brother and a crackhead mother.  I won’t say much more than that except that each of their lives is touched by death and what lies beyond.

Perhaps it’s just my fascination with the film’s themes and/or my appreciation for Eastwood’s direction, but I was totally engrossed by Hereafter from start to finish.  Sceptics might have a natural bias against the film because it lays quite a lot out on the table (similar to say atheists towards The Passion of the Christ or fundamentalist Christians towards The Da Vinci Code — even though it’s fiction), but those who keep an open mind will find it hard not to be moved by at least one of the three stories in the film.  It’s a shame that many people will simply scoff at this film because of its subject matter and try to discredit it on other grounds.  I’m just glad religion played an almost non-existent role in all of this.

Anyway, I loved it.  Eastwood butchered the ending in my opinion with a pointless sequence but apart from that I found it beautiful, absorbing, poignant, and ultimately very satisfying.

4.5 stars out of 5

Indian Journey Part IX: Tempting Death July 3, 2010

Posted by pacejmiller in India, Travel.
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I risked death several times during my stay in India.  And no, it’s not the spicy food.  It’s the crazy traffic that I mentioned in any earlier post.

Which auto rickshaw should I choose?

On our second day in Hyderabad, we decided to go grab a late night snack at the luxurious Marriott Hotel at around 10pm.  After finding out that a booked taxi would cost us 700 rupees to get there compared to a 50 rupee auto rickshaw ride, we opted for the latter in order to save a bit of cash.  After all, the Marriott was only 4km away.  How bad could it be?

Anyway, we got the hotel to arrange two autos for the four people (two in each) and they negotiated a 50 rupee fare for each one.  The ride there took about 15 minutes, but it was a heart-stopping ride as the auto zig-zagged through speeding traffic and we were jolted out of our seats every time the little three-wheeled vehicle hit a bump or pot hole (and there were plenty of them).  It was pretty scary, and we decided after arriving at the Marriott that 700 rupees on the way back would probably be worth it.

Riding inside an auto

However, when we were ready to leave, we asked the hotel reception, who said that it would cost us 1300 rupees to get a taxi back to the Taj Tristar (where we stayed).  1300 rupees!  We weighed that up against the cost of an auto ride and thought, what the heck, we’ll risk our lives again.

The hotel basically told us to go out of the gates and find our own autos, which we did, thinking that it wouldn’t be all that hard.  After all, my marrying mate had told us that the city of Hyderabad “comes alive” after 11pm each night.  I think he got “comes alive” and “drops dead” mixed up, because when we exited onto the street it was eerily quiet, not an auto to be seen anywhere.

We waited and walked around, and finally a lone auto headed our way.  Realising that this was our only chance to get back to the hotel, my colleague was happy to pay double (ie 100 rupees) for the ride.  The auto’s driver for some reason had a companion with him in the front seat, so the four of us all squeezed into the back seat.  We were basically sitting on each other’s laps.  I thought this was uncomfortable until I saw that it was nothing because locals often packed six or seven people into the same space!  Once we even saw 10 people on a single auto!

If we thought the ride to the Marriott was rough, the ride back was ten times worse.  For starters, the streets were almost completely empty, with only the occasional sedan driving in the opposite direction, usually coming right at us because this auto had no lights.  “Come alive” my arse.

The auto traversed various back alleys and rough roads, and we had absolutely no idea where it was going.  For all we knew they could have been driving us somewhere to rob us.  Did I mention that the driver didn’t exactly know where our hotel was?  We showed him the hotel’s business card, but he didn’t look confident at all (no head wobble).

At last we arrived at a giant intersection, and the driver turned around and asked, “Left or right?”  Taking a wild stab in the dark, we pointed left.  Fortunately, the 50% gamble paid off and it was the right direction.  Shortly after we could see the hotel.  Imagine if we got it wrong?!

Unbelievably, the day the wedding concluded, we went back to the Marriott for dinner.  I don’t know what went through our minds, but we ended up catching autos to and back, after vowing never to risk our lives in one of those things ever again!  I guess being cheapskates outweighed safety.

Let me go first

The Shocking Death of Edwin Valero April 21, 2010

Posted by pacejmiller in Boxing, Social/Political Commentary.
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Talk about a shock.

A few days ago, I was stunned to read about the arrest of Venezuelan boxing superstar Edwin Valero for allegedly murdering his wife.  The 28-year-old southpaw isn’t widely known outside of boxing circles, but most who follow the sport know him as the guy with an unblemished 27-0 record, all victories coming by way of knockout.  More remarkably, Valero’s first 18 bouts all ended in the first round, a former world record and a feat that landed him regularly on those wacky Japanese TV shows.

Today, I find out that Valero has committed suicide, hanging himself in his cell with his track pants.  The man who grew from wretched poverty to national hero to drug abuser, wife beater and eventually wife murderer — the man many wanted to see face pound-for-pound champ Manny Pacquiao — ultimately died as a coward.

Opinion is quite divided on Valero and his passing.  Most agree that the boxing world has lost a tremendous talent, but it would be an understatement to say that some are glad this wife beater and supposed murderer (Valero apparently admitted to stabbing his 24-year-old wife Jennifer Carolina Viera) has met his end.

Personally, I wasn’t that high on Valero’s boxing ability.  He was promoted by Pacquiao’s company Top Rank, so of course people would talk about a potential bout between the two men.  In my opinion, it was just talk.  Having watched a few of Valero’s bouts, I wouldn’t have given him a little more than a puncher’s chance against Pacquiao.  Sure Valero had some heavy hands, but he simply wasn’t at Pacquiao’s level yet.  Most of the guys he had fought earlier in his career were bums, some of which had never won a professional bout.

In any case, Valero failed to get a license to fight on US soil because of a brain injury he suffered as a result of a severe motor cycle accident he was involved in (without a helmet) in 2001.  The state of Texas was willing to license him, but after being charged with drink driving there, Valero could not get a visa to enter the country.  Valero believed the refusal to allow him to fight in the US was political, as he was a huge supporter of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, the face of whom he had tattooed across his chest.

Nevertheless, I think Valero’s life tells a very tragic story.  This was a guy who experienced appalling poverty (much like Pacquiao did) growing up, and somehow made a name and fortune for himself through his amazing talents and hard work in the boxing ring.  Inside the ring, Valero was a hero.  Outside of it, he was a mess.  And because no one wanted to believe that a sporting superstar could have serious issues, they pampered him and turned a blind eye to his problems.

Edwin Valero and his wife Jennifer in happier times

Valero was said to be battling serious alcohol and cocaine addiction, and suffered depression on top of it.  Before Valero’s wife was killed, she had allegedly told her family that he “didn’t sleep, he didn’t eat, he used drugs every day and he was growing more violent all the time.”

For a couple of years now, Valero had been linked to reports of domestic abuse — first against his mother and sister, then against his wife, who once reported to hospital with a punctured lung and broken ribs.  Valero was subsequently arrested by police after an argument with medical staff, where he allegedly tried to prevent his wife from speaking to authorities.  She later said that her injuries were sustained from an accidental fall.

In the end, Valero had no one to blame but himself.  But was society complicit in his demise?

“We all looked away, not to admit what was going on,” said Valero’s manager, Jose Castillo.  Authorities “were very permissive with him, and because of that, we’re now in the middle of this tragedy.”

R.I.P Corey Haim (sob) March 10, 2010

Posted by pacejmiller in Entertainment.
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Corey Haim (right) and Corey Feldman back in more innocent days

Corey Haim (right) and Corey Feldman back in more innocent days

[Update: the coroner has finally released a report clarifying that Corey Haim did not die of a drug overdose as initially suspected.  Haim’s official cause of death is pneumonia complicated by an enlarged heart and narrowed blood vessels.]

Tragic.

One of my favourite dudes from the late 80s and early 90s, Corey Haim, passed away on 10 March 2010, at just 38 years old.  No formal cause of death has been determined but it’s no surprise most speculate that drugs were involved.

Haim has been ‘troubled’ for many years now, to the point where his best mate Corey Feldman (also one of my faovurite dudes as a kid, who starred with Haim in many films and later on the reality TV series The Two Coreys) refused to have any contact with him until he got his life back on track.  Sadly, there’s no chance of that happening now.

This wound is fresh because I had just watched Lost Boys: The Tribe (review coming soon), in which Haim had a small cameo in the credits and was reportedly to be involved in a further sequel.  He also apparently said in a recent interview that he has to get clean or else he would die or go to prison.  I thought he had turned the corner…

Anyway, I’ll always remember watching Haim’s straight-to-video  ‘classics’ with my sister as kids – such as Prayer of the Rollerboys (I bought my first pair of rollerblades after this!), License to Drive, Dream a Little Dream, The Dream Machine and Fast Getaway (amongst others) – back in the day when those movies were cool, and Haim and Feldman were cool guys, heart throbs, the Robert Pattinson and Zac Efron of their day.

It’s such a shame.

[PS: Corey Feldman on his WordPress blog:

I was awakened at 8:30 this morning by my brother and sister knocking on my bedroom door. They informed me of the loss of my brother Corey Haim. My eyes weren’t even open all the way when the tears started streaming down my face. I am so sorry for Corey, his mother Judy, his family, my family, all of our fans, and of course my son who I will have to find a way to explain this to when he gets home from school. This is a tragic loss of a wonderful,beautiful,tormented soul, who will always be my brother,family, and best friend. We must all take this as a lesson in how we treat the people we share this world with while they are still here to make a difference. Please respect our families as we struggle and grieve through this difficult time. I hope the art Corey has left behind will be remembered as the passion of that for which he truly lived. ~ Corey

Well said Feldman.]

JD Salinger, author of ‘The Catcher in the Rye’, passes away January 29, 2010

Posted by pacejmiller in On Writing.
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Sad day for the literary world.

Reports today confirmed the death of JD Salinger, the author of The Catcher in the Rye.  Salinger was 91 years old.

Salinger’s life after The Catcher in the Rye wasn’t what you would have expected.  The overwhelming success of the controversial book was probably the last thing Salinger wanted.  It brought him too much unwanted attention, turning him into a recluse that never published anything after 1965.  He said he still wrote, but he never had the desire to publish his works.

I have only read The Catcher in the Rye once, when I was in a lost youngster in high school.  I don’t think I ever gave the book the attention and respect it deserved.  I can’t remember much about it except that I didn’t really get the message and I only read it because I had to.  All I could think of was finishing the thing so I could go play video games or something.

I’m sure if I read it again today it would be a completely different experience.

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