Flops I love: Blindness

7 08 2009

In one of the many rainy and gray days this (supposed) summer, I watched “Blindness”, the movie adaptation from the excellent book “Ensaio sobre a Cegueira”, by Portuguese author and Nobel Prize winner José Saramago:

This is the plot summary, sourced from IMDB:

A city is ravaged by an epidemic of instant “white blindness”. Those first afflicted are quarantined by the authorities in an abandoned mental hospital where the newly created “society of the blind” quickly breaks down. Criminals and the physically powerful prey upon the weak, hording the meager food rations and committing horrific acts. There is however one eyewitness to the nightmare. A woman whose sight is unaffected by the plague follows her afflicted husband to quarantine. There, keeping her sight a secret, she guides seven strangers who have become, in essence, a family. She leads them out of quarantine and onto the ravaged streets of the city, which has seen all vestiges of civilization crumble.

I read the book in Portuguese (my first language, if you’re a newcomer to this blog) more than 10 years ago, and was skeptical about how well it would translate to English, as Saramago’s style of long and convoluted sentences may irk folks used to a language that excels in being concise and objective. A movie adaptation would be even more challenging: the book is an allegory rich in images, smells, noises and emotions. Converting that to actual faces and action could ruin the whole experience.

My expectations were very low for the movie, but I was immediately hooked by its attention to details such as the effort to make it set in a non-recognizable city, use of an international cast, and the camera point-of-view. Of course, most people don’t care about any of that, but I also found the storytelling to be engaging and well-paced, and the actors are really good too.

I’m clearly in the minority here: according to Box Office Mojo, the production budget for Blindness was $25 million, while the worldwide gross revenue came short at $20 million. Its “rotten” consensus in Rotten Tomatoes does not help either: “not as interesting as its premise implies”. I beg to differ, but for the sake of full disclosure you need to know that Blindness was written by a Canadian and directed by a Brazilian, so I may not be a very impartial judge here. And hey, have I told you that I liked The Godfather Part III and Beneath the Planet of the Apes and hated The Lord of the Rings? Now you know, so follow my recommendation at your own risk.

The Circus and le Cirque

7 08 2009

Over the long weekend, my wife and I took L to see the Shrine Circus at the Centre Point Mall in North York.

Looking at the kids on the back of this elephant was a trip down the memory lane:

Despite all the controversy around the use of animals – a Twitter search for that event will return at least as many protests as praises – I have to admit that one of my earliest and fondest memories as a kid is playing with a lion cub in some anonymous circus, duly recorded in a badly preserved picture (I’m the one on my father’s lap):

The last time I’ve been to a traditional circus – i.e., excluding the Cirque du Soleil – I was a 9-year-old living in the same city I was born at. I vividly recall my friend Drausio petting a camel and getting sprayed with drool all over his face – no picture of that, unfortunately 😛 , and no relationship with the delicious camel drool Portuguese dessert, or “baba de camelo”.

Back then, having a circus coming to our city was a big deal, as the only other mass entertainment available for kids was to watch old movies on Sunday’s matinées. Old is an understatement: I actually remember going to a black-and-white Tarzan movie featuring Johnny Weissmuller. Most Disney cartoons didn’t get distributed beyond the large cities, but you don’t miss what you never had, so I have no complaints there. The pluses of growing up on the countryside outweigh by far the constraints – in my naturally biased view, of course.

Not much changed since: the Shrine Circus 2009 show was not very different from the ones I used to see so many years ago: no high-tech involved, just the artist, the act and the public, all frozen in time and space. Hopefully I’ll be proven wrong here, but I think I just saw the last few breaths of a dying art. I quoted Evan Solomon (CBC) a few months ago saying that “when a new technology comes, the incumbent never dies: it simply goes after deeper efficiencies”. The innovation pipeline does not always work like that, as typewritters and the telegraph can attest. Radio, TV, movies, games and the Internet all fragmented the entertainment space in formats that are more easily consummable, forcing live performances to go after deeper efficiencies.Thus, circus performances will live on through the several forms of Cirque Nouveau, but somehow the amateur spirit is gone as shown in this Wikipedia excerpt:

Cirque expanded rapidly through the 1990s and 2000s, going from one show to approximately 3,500 employees from over 40 countries producing 15 shows over every continent except Africa and Antarctica, with an estimated annual revenue exceeding US$ 600 million. The multiple permanent Las Vegas shows alone play to more than 9,000 people a night, 5% of the city’s visitors, adding to the 70+ million people who have experienced Cirque. In 2000, Laliberté bought out Gauthier, and with 95% ownership, has continued to expand the brand. Several more shows are in development around the world, along with a television deal, women’s clothing line and the possible venture into other mediums such as spas, restaurants and nightclubs.

I used “amateur”, but the precise word is “mambembe” – no idea on how to translate that from Brazilian Portuguese. So, in the mambembe spirit, I’d like to conclude this post with this very amateurish video with my favourite circus song:

Moleskine art

23 09 2008

About two weeks ago I was having major troubles uploading pictures from my trip to Switzerland to Flickr, and went through a painful cycle of deleting everything and uploading the whole batch again. Unfortunately, during that process, I lost some nice comments people made to the deleted photos, including one by Susan Rudat, who commented on this picture taken in Bern:


I visited Susan’s photostream in Flickr and I felt like a new world just was revealed to me. I had never heard about it before, but found that there are several artists, like Susan, who create wonderful art in Moleskine notebooks. Her work is copyrighted, so I can’t add samples here, but I encourage you to take a look at some of her sets, such as Places and ‘skine color. Simply awesome.

(Susan, if you ever read this entry, I would like to suggest you publish a sample of your work under a Creative Commons license, so that others can spread the word around what you do.)

I’m obviously not in the same league as any of those folks, and I have not had much success with my attempts of drawing using a tablet, so I decided to give it a try by starting small. Following a tip by Bernie Michalik, I went to a DeSerres store and bought one of their moleskine-imitation books, which cost half of the price of the real Moleskine ones, some cheap pencils and ink pens, and started fooling around with the new found hobby. Here’s my first sketch, a drawing of my son in the 10 seconds he stood still watching something on TV:

Lucas and Penguin

With 100 more years of practice, I can hopefully join one of the Moleskine Art groups in Flickr 🙂

I have a lot to thank Bénédicte and her Carnet de Dessins blog for being an inspiration and taking me out of my geek / Web 2.0 comfort zone and go back to the non digital world of pencil and paper. I may never become an artist, but I’m enjoying doing things that do not require a keyboard for a change.

Comic books

4 07 2008

I’ve been reading comic books for as long as I can remember, and that officially makes me a geek – as if working for IBM and being a Lost fan was not enough 🙂 . Last Saturday, my favourite comic book shop in Toronto closed for business, and led me to reflect on how much of a subculture that is, despite the success of the super-hero blockbuster movies.

The Comic Emporium closes shop

The Comic Emporium closes shop

I’m still a regular buyer of Marvel books (the Ultimate Universe titles are *really* good) and some DC (All Star Batman & Robin by Frank Miller and Jim Lee is not too bad) but I like all types of comics, from Peanuts to Moebius.

What I like about comic book as a medium is that, contrary to movies, they are pretty much limitless: no technical or budget constraints, they can go as far as the writer’s or artist’s creativity can take them. From the deceptive simplicity of Charles Schulz’s Charlie Brown to the visual sophistication of Alex Maleev, you can make the unimaginable real. It’s storytelling at its best.

I also find comics a good way to learn a new language. Reading books and newspapers can improve your vocabulary, but let’s face it, nobody speaks that way. If you are learning Portuguese, I highly recommend Brazil’s Monica’s Gang (the site is annoying, but the first 10 years of the series are worth a read). For other good foreign books, try Argentina’s Mafalda – a masterpiece or France’s Asterix. Belgium’s Tintin is a bit dated and in hindsight controversial, but so influencing that it can’t be missed.

Comics, as everything else, keeps reinventing itself, so you may find digital comics interesting. For gamers, try out PvP. Toothpaste for dinner is not too bad. And many IBMers love the stick people at xkcd.org.

If you ever visit São Paulo, pay a visit to the Gibiteca Sesi (“gibi” is comic book in Portuguese). They have a colletion of 26,000 books, including gems by Will Eisner, Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore. If you are a big fan like me, that’s like heaven on earth.