” When I was younger, definitely, I let it get to me. As an adolescent, I was bitter and angry and I definitely put up these walls. But the older you get, you realize you just have to have a sense of humour. You just know that it’s not your problem. It’s theirs.”
This last week, I took it upon myself to investigate and determine ONCE AND FOR ALL what was the best movie of the past 5 years (2006-2011). Granted, best is a meaningless word really. What does best mean to you other than your personal favorite? That being said, I have personal favorites among many forms that I would never suggest are the best of the lot. So, best? I suppose it means that it has to be something or someone whose merits you could argue are better than others in its genre? Something that stands the test of time. Something that strikes a chord. Something where the writer and director and actors have all come together in perfect harmony and created something glorious. In the parlance of our times, Something SIIIIIIIIIICK…
Anyway, these were some of the answers my friends gave me when I popped the big question. What is the best movie of the past five years?
No Country For Old Men
There Will Be Blood
The Lives of Others
Son of Rambow
Wristcutters: a love story
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Of course, these being my friends, I also received answers like Ghostbusters and Duck Soup. Yeah, I love them. Although I haven’t seen or didn’t enjoy some of the movies listed above, I could see them being considered the best. In my own head, the short list of my favorite movies of the past five years is as follows :
The Secrets in Their Eyes
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
The Lives of Others
Little Miss Sunshine
The Dark Knight
I love them all but if forced to make a case for one, I would go with, drum roll please…
THE DARK KNIGHT.
Christopher Nolan’s ‘The Dark Knight’ came out in the summer of 2008 with almost unprecedented hype. Part of this was just due to the fact that it was marketed as the summer blockbuster of the year and it was also due to the sad passing of Heath Ledger some months before it’s release. For these reasons and more, this Batman movie (the first one without ‘Batman’ in the title) was hyped up to saturation point. And then it miraculously delivered. I remember I went into the theater almost angry. I had been through months of waiting. I had hustled for tickets. I got to the theater early only to have my friends show up late. And so it was that I ditched their front row seats and found myself sitting alone in the best seat in the theater (halfway up, bang in the center). And I loved it. From the very first shot, the slow steady zoom-in of the glass building and the window shattering, I was enraptured. I think it’s the best movie of the past few years because it’s almost impossible to make a huge pop-corn movie that is universally loved. People go into these things jaded. They want to rip the movie. It’s not smart enough for some. It’s too mass-marketed for others. It’s cliché. It’s guys in tights. The Dark Knight is incredible because it combines great acting and directing with a cracking script that perfectly mixes humor and drama, comic book madness and metaphors for modern life events. I think I love the movie more than most because there are anywhere between ten to twenty lines that stand out for me. Also, this movie stars the three-headed monster of Christian Bale, Aaron Eckhart and Heath Ledger, all perfectly cast. I have forever been obsessed with movies starring a trio of strong male leads (Quiz Show, LA Confidential). It’s just something I like. Perhaps it’s not the best. Maybe it’s just my favorite. Although I don’t think it’s that. Everyone loves to have their favorite movie be something independent, something cool – Forgetting Sarah Marshall or The Big Lebowski, something along those lines but The Dark Knight attempts more and delivers more than any other movie has in the past half a decade. It’s a monster. But it’s still goddamn good – and I don’t even like studio summer movies. It is literally the only summer movie hit I would ever call a favorite film.
So without further ado, here is a great scene from the film, a nice dinner conversation between Bruce Wayne, Harvey Dent and company. A complete non spoiler and it illustrates how well written and constructed the film is.
On an autumn evening way back in the late 90s, I walked into my neighbourhood Easy Video (wow, remember movie rental stores?) and I saw an 8 part VHS (video cassettes?) series called The Beatles Anthology.
Easy Video offered 3 tapes for 3 days for 3 dollars. Decent deal. The Threefer. And so I rented out parts 1, 2 and 3 and walked home.
Each part is approximately an hour long. I loved the documentary so much I watched parts 1-3 the first day.
Then, I went back and rented parts 4-6 the next day, without returning 1-3 because I had another 2 days with them.
Then, I went and rented parts 7-8 and another movie without making any returns thus leaving me with the entire Beatles Anthology and Desperado in my room.
Over the next year, EVERY SINGLE TIME I went there, I would rent two movies and one Anthology video. It was automatic. I really loved the music and the documentary footage so much that I wound up watching and/or listening to my favorite editions (Volumes 3 and 5) about fifteen to twenty times and every other one at least ten times. Disclosure: These numbers are complete guesses and may be completely different from the real numbers.
Then, on a day like any other, I turned the corner into the Inman-Grove center and saw a large white banner hanging over my ole faithful video shoppe. It read “GOING OUT OF BUSINESS.” I couldn’t believe that Easy Video was closing it’s doors despite my steady $6 a week. As I got closer to the store, I spied signs in the windows that read “Everything Must Go. $1 each.” I walked in. My eyes darted around from Comedy to Independent to the people walking around with baskets full of movies. Most of the shelves were empty already. The horror, the horror. I felt a dread come over me. I ran up to the music section and found it completely empty. Aah, the guy who works here must have put them aside for me. I mean, he called me Beatles Guy, you know? I ran up to the counter and asked the guy -who had worked there for a year- and who had personally rented me out The Beatles Anthology countless times:
“Hey, did you put the Beatles Anthology aside for me?”
Clerk: Uh, no?
“What? Dude… How many times have I rented it? Don’t you think I would have bought it for $8?”
Clerk: Uh, I don’t know?
“Dude, this is ridiculous! I would have saved it for you!”
Clerk: Dude, I just lost my job you know. We do have some movies left though.
I walked away. Seeing red. I distinctly remember wanting to flip over all the remaining shelves littered with bullshit tier-2 thrillers like Hush starring Gwyneth Paltrow. I bought some movies, navigated my way through the scores of Jumanji tapes and walked the walk home from Easy Video one last time, cursing to the skies what had been my favorite place for the entire previous year.
Life was different after that. I stopped renting movies. I had already promised myself I would never support the other store in town, that one with the yellow sign and blue shirts. I had been in there briefly and it just seemed to destroy the spirit of movies altogether. It was like movies went there to die, forever buried in that hellhole. The place wasn’t a library, it was a morgue. Seriously. F*ck Blockbuster.
* * *
It was about two to three years later that I found myself in Best Buy best buying a DVD Player. Yeah, times had changed. These little CD lookalikes were like like VHS movies but the print never got choppy! You didn’t even have to rewind them. (An aside: I shelled out $100 for the player and the clerk at Best Buy gave me a free trial to Netflix. This was in the summer of 2001. I didn’t even have a computer. Still, I eventually went to a friend’s house, got on Netflix and never looked back. They are one of the best companies I have ever dealt with.) When I bought the player, I also bought one movie. Of course, it was Goodfellas. Which I had seen the first time when I rented it from…Easy Video. I had tried to find Goodfellas in India for years. It had become a myth, a legend, an uncut diamond in the wild. When I moved to America, I went and rented Goodfellas in the first 48 hours of being here. Damn you, Easy. Forgetting you would be harder than Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Movies I saw for the first time thanks to Easy – Goodfellas, Bottle Rocket, Miller’s Crossing, Raising Arizona, The Boxer, Trainspotting.
* * *
I parked my car and switched it off. I grabbed my keys, locked the door and walked into work a minute or two early. As I walked into Pet Valu in Garwood, I heard Jerry Martier of Q. 104.3 say “Caller 50 right now wins the Beatle’s Anthology.” I slid behind the counter, said hi to my boss, picked up the phone and dialed the Q all in one motion. Five seconds later.
Jerry: Q 104.3, who’s speaking?
Me: Yes! Are you serious, did I just win the Beatle’s Anthology?!!
Jerry: Yes, you did! On DVD! What’s your name?
Me: Dude, it’s Sidrock!!
My boss: Yo man, there’s a cat litter spill in the back…can you sweep it up?
Jerry: Sidrock!! Are you serious man? How did you pull this off? (laughing)
I had been calling into the station and requesting songs from work (mostly Beatles) for about two to three years at that point. Sidrock was notorious throughout the station for his schticky name and repeatedly requesting “Godzilla by Blue Oyster Cult“, any song that had just finished playing and Mongo Jerry‘s “In the Summertime”. Jerry was the only one who ever humored me. I had tried to win their contests a hundred times, using two phones and all that but to no avail. I told him the entire saga of the Easy Video incident and he played our little talk on the air. I could only hope that the douche who worked at the video store heard that I won it on DVD. No rewinding for me, son. DVD commentary, sucka! Jerry followed up our talk with a speech about “never giving up”. I felt like an Olympian. My boss repeated his request about the cat litter spill in the back. I grabbed a broom and got to it. Customers soon heard a voice from the back…Baby you’re a rich man, BABY you’re a rich man TOO! You keep all your money in a big brown bag – at the zoo…Oh what a thing to do!…Babyyyy!
* * *
2011. I recently shipped all my things from California to New Jersey. Whatever didn’t fit in my bags when I flew cross-country. I opened up my suitcase to see that some piece of crap has stolen whatever DVD’s I had left in there. I hid them in an album in my jeans but I guess some scumbags aren’t beneath searching a man’s pants. He took everything of any value. Except he left The Beatles Anthology. I’m really happy he did. When I saw those 4 discs with the apples on them, they made me feel like it’ll all work out in the end. We can work it out.
Maybe it’s because I grew up in the shadow of Cantonment Station but I love trains. In fact, the rails are easily my favorite form of transport. So without further ado, here is my comprehensive train blog of the year! All aboard! Come on ride the train choo choo ride it!
I recently caught the North Coastal Amtrak train which runs along the west coast from San Diego northwards through Los Angeles and Santa Barbara and ultimately all the way to Seattle. I rode the train from Los Angeles to Oakland which usually accounts for a twelve hour ride but due to mudslides(the natural disaster, not the cocktail) it took about fifteen hours. Ever the planner, I boarded the train with ample entertainment.
1) Mad Men season 4 (One of my favorite TV shows ever. Amazing. 9.3/10)
2) The League season 1 (I thought it would be funnier. 6/10 so far)
3) Ham & Cheese Sandwich (Satisfying at the time. 7/10)
4) Turkey & Cheese Sandwich (Waited too long to eat, got soggy. 5/10)
5) Two Spectacular *Brownies*(Made the trip even more of a pleasure. 10/10 ^_^)
6) The New York Times (Didn’t read it but hey it was comforting to have. 8/10)
7) A copy of Esquire magazine (7/10)
8 ) Drugstore Cowboy (1989) (Early Gus Van Sant starring a peaking Matt Dillon. Hats on beds. 8.5/10)
The ride started on what seemed like the 100th day in a row of pouring rain in southern California. I stood wet at the Norwalk bus station waiting for a bus that would take me to the city of angels (Los Angeles, not Bangkok). I was soaked because everyone under the tiny bus stop roof inexplicably had their umbrellas open, thus pushing my umbrella-less self out into the downpour. Chinese water torture was no fun but still I promptly arrived in LA- only to be reminded that Amtrak is never ever prompt. Oh well, sank into an oversized wooden armchair in Union Station, an old timey station similar to the one from The Untouchables (1988, Kevin Costner is Elliot Ness and his incorruptible team vows to bring down Al Capone’s racket in prohibition-era Chicago, 8/10 “Thash the Chicago Way!”)
I eventually boarded and scoped out my car, number 16. It was about half full and I seemed to be one of two people without gray hair. The other was an Agitated Hipster yelling on his phone. I figured he must have been on the no-fly list. I took my assigned window seat. A few minutes later, a man in a tweed blazer complete with elbow pads and a very impressive mustache sat down next to me. We nodded and said hi to each other. He immediately pulled out the NY Times and proceeded to destroy the crossword like Drago destroyed Apollo. He housed that crossword, he really did. I kept looking at his paper out of the corner of my eye, trying to figure out one damn clue before him but it was useless. I wondered if he could sense me looking on but of course I was too stealthy. He was like a Jeff Foxworthy from a Royal Tenenbaums universe.
For the next hour or two, I had a great view of rundown storefronts, some awful graffiti and some dumpsters. I went for a stroll. As I was walking, I heard an announcement over the intercom. A man named Pierre said “Hellooo everybody, hope you are enjoying your Amtrak Starlight EXPERIENCE so far and I wanted to remind you that I am in the dining car and we are now taking appointments for lunch. Someone will come through your car so please choose a time slot and I look forward to meeting you in person.” I didn’t like Pierre. He sounded like he was trying to suppress his accent. I wish he would’ve embraced his Frenchness and come full on like Chef Gusteau from Ratatouille. I reminded myself that he probably had to stick to a script as per his job demands.
I walked though car after car and what seemed like waves and waves of old people. Each car seemed more quiet than the last. Except for Pierre. This clown kept up his schtick not for an hour, but for HOURS. He kept up the reminders to sign up for a slot for lunch and then for the coup de grace, Pierre kept announcing who was due for lunch every 15 minutes complete with updates on who was late. He had become the most hated Frenchman of my life by voice alone. At one point, between announcements 65 and 85, he came on the intercom sounding embarrassed and thoroughly defeated “…Uh…Ladies and gentleman…I’m so sorry…It’s me Pierre again…from the dining car…truly sorry to bother you all but…Larry, you’re 2:45 lunch appointment has come and gone, it is now 3:20 and we’re still waiting for you so feel free to come by Larry…better late than never heh heh…once again, I do apologize…” I decided I would not visit the dining car on principle. My two halves of a sandwich would have to suffice.
Getting back to my car, I told Foxworthy I was moving seats in order to give us both more room. He barely lifted an eyelid as he marked up his crossword with cryptic hieroglyphics that I didn’t bother trying to decipher. Get er done, stranger. I sat down and looked out the windows again. The windows were nice in that they were large, I would guess 5 feet in height and the entire length of the train. What wasn’t nice is that you can never open your windows on trains here. The number one thing I miss about trains in India is the open windows. Although they’re smaller there, you get the smells and you get the breeze through those windows. That’s three senses being turned on as opposed to one.
The train ran along the coast now. Sand and waves took turns coming up beneath my window as I listened to Ratatat by Ratatat. Cherry, specifically. We were now in Santa Barbara. The sun shone through slivers in the clouds and it was drizzling. I ate a sandwich. The drizzle gave way to rain from time to time and I looked out on the surfers getting wet from all sides. We came to a stop. Someone other than Pierre introduced themselves and told us we would be here for 15 minutes. I got off for some fresh air.
I stepped off the iron horse and I was surrounded by cigarette smokers hitting their stoges harder than Foxworthy hit his crossword. I noticed a lot of hippies. One dude had hair down to his ass, hemp bag, the whole kit and caboodle. I listened to a song and decompressed. I was daydreaming when I saw this girl with huge eyes sort of wave at me. I waved back but all I could hear was Clipse in my ears. For some reason, I don’t know why, she unnerved me. Not in the way every girl unnerves me, she was different. Bad vibes. I think it was the way she wore her shawl – I got a sudden jolt and remembered Roy Hobbs meeting a girl on the train in “The Natural“. They hit it off. And then she shot him. I finished my song, got back on the train and sat behind Foxy again.
I sat and wondered if I had jumped the gun on “The Natural” connection, was I being paranoid? Since when am I paranoid? Is it wrong to distrust someone because they look eerily similar to a murderer in a movie? At that moment, some girl sat next to my crossword-ing friend. He didn’t even look up. Suddenly, I felt a tap on my shoulder and Hemp Bag was standing there with his girl. “Hey dude, like, I hate to bug you man, I didn’t even know Amtrak did assigned seating, but you’re sitting in my seat. I hate the whole thing man but I guess I should sit in my seat. I just don’t wanna deal with any drama later.” Too true and well said. I got up for them but now this redheaded dame was sitting in my old seat. Foxy took it upon himself and before I could say anything, he said to her bereft of emotion “You’re sitting in his seat.” Perhaps it was his delivery but she took offense to it and said “This is MY SEAT.” She said it as if she had given birth to it instead of just sitting there seconds earlier. I explained to her the who, what and where. She said she wanted Amtrak to tell her to move. I grabbed my bag and went to the back of the car.
The back was completely empty. I wondered why I hadn’t sat there the whole time. I opened up my *Brownie* and waited for my life on the rails to get even better. It did. Soon I had forgotten about the red-headed stepchild and I was looking out the windows ON BOTH SIDES while listening to Band of Gypsys. Feet up, swag UP. At some point, Red brought the conductor to me and said her piece. I didn’t even bother switching off the music. I waved them off and said “No big deal”, “It’s all good” et cetera. Red walked away and the conductor gave me the look as in the look that says “God. What a tool.” I rolled my eyes appropriately. Happy as a clam, I seemed to be winning all my little battles on this train.
Sunset was somewhere over some mountains. I looked out upon it all and wished I had some of those Andes mints. Do they still make those? Darkness came. I switched off the music and decided to watch Mad Men. I was flying high and ready for some witty barbs from Draper, Sterling and the boys. The episode turned out to be one of my all time favorites (“Waldorf Stories“) and I was feeling unstoppable now. I took off my headphones and Pierre was asking about someone again. This time, I laughed at him for a good five minutes and decided to sign up for a dinner slot simply so I could make him call on me endlessly too. I filled out the form and gave it to the conductor. I used my favorite alias for such situations, Mbubu. It’s pronounced mmm-bu-bu, NOT muh-bu-bu. I wondered how Pierre would react to such a name. It had stumped the girl at Panera but maybe French people are more exposed to exotic names than Americans? I would find out.
I was standing by the bathrooms downstairs when the train came to a stop. I stepped out into the dark and the girl with the shawl was standing there again. This time, I handled that sh*t with aplomb. “Oh hey! I saw you earlier heh heh.” She asked me how I was finding the train ride. I said “Oh, it’s quite a splendid machine”. That dumb joke went right over her head but she didn’t turn out to be the threat I anticipated. We made small talk and then I got back on the train all the while trying to spy which car she was going to. Shawl girl wouldn’t surprise me again.
I was holding court in the back of the 16 car when I decided to spice up the party. *Brownie* number two. Don’t mind if I do. I gazed outside while listening to tunes, the most therapeutic thing I can do for myself. Some Rolling Stones, I think it was. It should have been, anyway. At some point I listened to You Can’t Always Get What You Want and that choir seemed to fill up the whole damn train.
I lost track of time.
I thought of the KTX train in Korea and how pleasant a ride it had been. The seats were a burgundy felt that I loved. It relaxed me on sight, it really did. Plus, every half hour, give or take, a beautiful immaculately dressed Korean girl would enter your car, bow, and walk a cart full of snacks right by you. She would reach the back door, bow and leave. Easily one of the best snack presentations I’ve ever witnessed. I would have squealed in delight if that had happened at that moment in the middle of the California night.
The entire vibe of the train had become different. No more vistas. No more views and definitely no more views of the vistas. No more people, it seemed. All was quiet and dim. We had been on the train for 10 hours and due to delays, I had another 4 to go. I put on Drugstore Cowboy. It’s in my personal top 40 movies of all time. First time I saw it, I gave Matt Dillon and Gus Van Sant a lifetime pass for that one. However, being all brownied up and watching that movie on a 3 inch screen disoriented me a bit. Suddenly I was hungry and the silence in the train struck me as very odd. I hadn’t had a real meal all day and so it was I asked the conductor why Pierre wasn’t making any announcements for dinner. She said dinner had ended an hour ago. Hmmm. Could Pierre have chickened out and refused to even try to pronounce Mbubu? Did he call Mbubu and I didn’t hear him? Could he have called on Mbubu only for me to forget that was my alias? I don’t have the answer.
I had the munchies now and I wandered off in search of some grub. Upstairs was crazy, the length of the cars seemed to get longer. And wider. Or narrower. It was like that Virtual Insanity video by Jamiroquai but with old people moving around instead of furniture. I went downstairs and it was empty. And noisy. It was another world down there. The humming sound of the train on the rails echoed off the walls and restroom doors that stretched on the length of the whole car. Every ten seconds or so, there was the semi-loud crash of the chains between the cars. I grabbed a pole to keep my balance. For a second it felt like this.
I scrambled back to my seat. My mind could have outrun the train at that moment. Thoughts of the train rides I had been on. Faces and landscapes. Conversations with strangers. Trains from Paris to Amsterdam, Amsterdam to Berlin, Seoul to Busan, New York to Boston, Bangalore to Madras. And now, Los Angeles to Oakland. I was nearing the homestretch. I listened to every song I had about trains or the songs with ‘train’ in the title at least. There was “This Train” by Bob Marley. There was “Stop the Train” by Peter Tosh. There were others but it seemed like musicians only used trains as a metaphor. I thought of a song my mom used to sing when I was a kid, “If you miss the train I’m on, you will know that I am gone, you can hear the whistle blow a hundred miles.” At least that was about a train. By the 14th hour, I was exhausted. I laughed at how the flight for the same distance was 45 minutes AND cheaper. Still, given the same choice, I’d take the train again. What was it about the rails? It was something about time. Not saving it, but savoring it. And space. And leisure. A completely different vibe from flying and a different purpose too. And then I realized that one of my all time favorite songs captures the spirit of a train ride better than I’ll ever be able to.
Never saw it as the start It’s more a change of heart Rapping on the windows, whistling down the chimney pot Blowing off the dust in the room where i forgot I laid my plans in solid rock Stepping through the door like a troubadour whiling just an hour away Looking at the trees on the roadside feeling it’s a holiday You and i should ride the coast And wind up in our favourite coats just miles away Roll a number, write another song like Jimmy heard the day he caught the train
He sipped another rum and coke- and told a dirty joke Walking like groucho sucking on a number 10 Rolling on the floor with the cigarette burns walked in I miss the crush and i’m home again Stepping through the door with the night in store whiling just an hour away, Step into the sky and the star-bright feeling it’s a brighter day
You and i should ride the coast And wind up in our favourite coats just miles away Roll a number, write another song like Jimmy heard the day he caught the train
You and i should ride the tracks And find ourselves just wading through tomorrow But you and I when we’re coming down We’re only getting back and You know I feel the sorrow
We’ve got the whole wide world !
When you find that things are getting wild, Don’t you want days like these
When you find that things are getting wild, Don’t you want days like these
When you find that things are getting wild, Don’t you need days like these
When you find that things are getting wild, Don’t you want days like these, like these!
CAKE! Not really a fan but ever since my birthday, I’m straight cakin’. It started with the ice cream cake my friends surprised me with on my birthday^^. I inhaled it. People ask me my favorite food and I usually don’t know the answer and they’ll say Indian or Mexican or Moroccan or Something Exotic. Well, after much thought, it’s Ice Cream Cake or Brownies. If they ever put me on the electric chair, bring me some brownies as last rights.
So, 2011 kicked off as a banner year for cake. We ate the cake merrily while listening to this on a loop. Cake! Yay!
A week later, I saw this cake sitting on the counter of a luncheonette named Mama’s – and you know what I mean – and the way she looked was way beyond compare. She made me feel like a little kid for a second, she really did- when I saw her standing there. She turned around to look at me – as I was walking away- I heard her say over my shoulder- “We’ll meet again someday- on the avenue.” – Tangled Up in Bluuue…
The movies are an ocean of treasures and besides your personal favorite screen moments, there are so many devices and instances (cliches?) that make movies cool and familiar at the same time. One of these is Fin. These three little letters say ‘the end’ with half the letters and twice the personality.
Tonight, I’m writing just to write. 2am. Laptop. It’s become a ritual. By the way, ritual is one of my favorite words. Rituals are usually the most fun parts of things. For example, if you smoke cigarettes, it’s the ritual that’s harder to break in my opinion than the physical addiction. I miss buying a pack and packing it tight, squeezing out that first guy to see how much white was left on the end. You miss the cigarette breaks more than the cigarettes. Ritual. You miss having a smoke post-meal. Post joint. Post…many things. Ritual.
I read an article today. Have you ever had a very brief flashback to a moment of personal triumph? I’m sure you have because I do all the time. Mine are quite small in the scale of the world and all else in it but they fill me with enormous well-being. They are random flashbacks of quiz competitions as a schoolboy, playing basketball from the time I was a kid up till and including three weeks ago and lastly this little blog and a handful of things that I wrote that I come back and read and I say “Wow, that’s not so shitty.” In fact, to me, it’s good. That article said that whatever comes to you in those fleeting moments are the pleasures of your life. I suppose it sounds obvious. Anyway, it’s been two years + since I started this little bugger and although I haven’t been consistent, it’s given me a place to be forthright and true. I don’t even have anything to write tonight. Nothing to say really. I came just because.