Review – Black Swan | The Graduate Times

My review of Black Swan, originally published on on 27 January 2011.

Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) who still lives with her mother (Barbara Hershey) is a fragile-looking ballerina who dreams of making it as the main dancer of the company she belongs to. Her dreams come true when Thomas (Vincent Cassel), the director of Swan Lake, casts her as the virginal Swan Queen. It also means she’s going to perform as the evil twin, the Black Swan, which she has some difficulties with. Her rise to prima ballerina is not without struggle – trying to explore her dark side (Star Wars pun not intended) leads to disastrous consequences, coupled with her insecurities over a new dancer, Lily (Mila Kunis). The movie ends with a spectacular performance of Swan Lake, but with an unexpected twist.

The soundtrack of the movie is excellent and the haunting rendition of Tchaikovsky’s compositions adds to the atmosphere. The movie is best described as a psychological thriller, although elements of horror creep through (especially if I consider the reactions of the three girls sitting next to me; two of them screamed and one jumped in her seat), during the complete unhinging of Nina’s psyche. The audience is thrown headfirst into Nina’s mind, so much so we’re not sure whether what we’re looking at is real or in her broken mind.

I’ve always liked Natalie Portman, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen her acting chops until this performance. Nina started out being an innocent and sheltered ballerina, dedicated to her art…and then her slow descent into paranoia was spot on. The last 30-40 minutes of the movie are Portman’s all the way. Her final transformation, literally and mentally, into the Black Swan are frightening and exhilarating at the same time.

Having seen Mila Kunis on The 70′s Show, I was surprised and enthralled by her feisty take on the potential upstart, Lily. Vincent Cassel plays the dominating, sleazy ballet director with ease. Winona Ryder gives a solid performance with her character of Beth Macintyre, the aging ballerina whom Nina replaces.

I don’t think everyone will like this movie. One could tell Nina was already walking towards a breaking point from the start, and the scenes showing her fall can be disturbing to some. Not all moviegoers would appreciate the sexuality of the movie either. Thomas urging Nina to be wilder, Nina’s and Lily’s bedroom scene…just to name a few, might put some people off as it’s depicted in a raw and aggressive manner.

The dichotomy between black and white, innocence versus cunning, reality versus illusions is rife in the movie. The director, Darren Aronofsky (of The Wrestler fame) has presented Black Swan as an artistically gritty movie, and coaxed show stopping performances from its actors.



Torment – book review

Note: I’m going to be blatantly lazy and rip my last foreword off. “There are spoilers; but with this book, to know more before getting into it is a blessing.”

I left you with the review of the last book by Lauren Kate, Fallen. I also left you pondering whether I’d read the next instalment. I did. I feel like a sadist, torturing myself. I think it’s like a test of my patience and strength to make it to the end. The thing is, this book had quite a few elements from Eclipse, the third book in the Twilight series, but in a more whiny way (brooding man, whiny girl, second guy whom whiny girl is attracted to as well, brooding man knows and accepts this because theirs is an eternal love anyway so why quibble over kissing other people?). This book is aptly named Torment. Aptly because of the torment I went through to finish the book and the 2-3 hours of my life that I spent on it will not come back.

In this instalment, Luce is whisked off to Shoreline, another school, which cannot be more different from her last, Sword and Cross. It gives her freedom, isn’t as black as the earlier one and this time, the students are special. She’s not told about why she’s going there, what she needs to look out for and why she needs to be protected. She’s also not told and has to find out for herself that she’s surrounded by Nephilims (other angels). She makes friends (again) and manages (again) to get mixed up in some shady business, even when everyone and their guardian angels are screaming at her to STAY PUT and be safe. Nuh-uh…Luce is above warnings and other people trying to keep her safe. All she does is whine, and complain and be angsty.

I still don’t know what Daniel looks like in my head…it’s still a blank sheet of paper and this annoys me no end. He’s still brooding, and she’s still whiny. Then we have another male character thrown in – Miles. Who falls for Luce almost immediately. Is it her utter helplessness and blank personality that draws a crowd? We’ll never know. Luce, who apparently has an eternal love bond with Daniel, decides experimenting with other boys is fun. It’s something like: I love Daniel. But Miles is so nice. He’s being so nice to me. He pays attention to me. Daniel is not here. It’s not like he’s out there trying to protect me. I hate not getting attention. Miles is giving me attention. I’ll just kiss him.” Eternal love? Of course. I shudder to think that girls might swoon over their doomed love and hope to have a guy like Daniel in their lives. Uhhh. No. He hides things from her, stalks her in my opinion, kills her in every lifetime by kissing her and has a problem with her when she dyes her hair. She’s not much good either. Clearly she has no idea of what she wants, doesn’t listen to well-meaning advice and is one of those attention-seekers who subversively claim to hate the attention. Or wait…maybe they do deserve each other.

Anyway, the book follows Luce’s adventures at Shoreline and outside with her new friends, with a mini-battle at the end of the book. As with the first book in the series, many questions are raised: Why exactly do Luce and Daniel like each other…all they do when they meet is kiss (it’s not as if they have anything in common)? How stupid is Luce to believe that her soulmate-who-can-fly will send her a note asking her to meet him far away from her sanctuary, when only a few hours ago he told her explicitly never to leave Shoreline? Why does Luce then repeatedly endanger herself when told…wait for it…not to endanger herself, by going on yachting trips, meddling with the shadows (now called Announcers), jumping through said Announcers to random locations across USA? Is Luce not human, considering Daniel looks afraid when she’s threatened with those starshot arrows? Why do I have a weird and sneaky feeling that Luce is actually Lucifer? Was there anyone who read the book who didn’t recognize Shelby’s ex-boyfriend as an Outcast from the first description we read of him?

The cover is lovely as usual. Looks very deviantArt if you know what I mean. That’s the best bit about the book. The cover.

The One with the Road Trip: Karan’s Big Adventure Part 3

Guest post by Adita Divecha, Karan’s mother

Note: If you haven’t already, read The One with the Flight (Part 1) and The One where Karan Goes to a Dentist and Pets a Dog (Part 2)

My husband, Rajiv, had to go to Pune for some work and he suggested that we go along with him. It was to be a day trip. We would go in the morning and come back by evening. Pune (it used to be called Poona earlier) is about four hours by road from Mumbai because of the new express highway which links the two cities. It used to take much longer earlier. Of course this highway has been there for quite a many years but is new to me as I have not been to India for the past eight years.

Anyway, we left early in the morning at 7.30am with Madhavi (Rajiv’s sister), at the wheel. Rajiv was sitting in front and Karan and myself at the back in the car. Karan is used to sitting in a car for long periods as he commutes daily to school in Sharjah from our house in Dubai. So he was very happy, looking out of the window taking in all the scenery. There was a little traffic on the way but not too much and once we were out of Mumbai, it was smooth sailing. We stopped on the way at a McDonalds outlet and Rajiv took Karan to the toilet. Then a little ahead we stopped again at a rest stop (in a small town called Khopoli, i think) and had breakfast. Karan did not want to eat anything there…He had already had his breakfast before leaving home. He ate a few of the biscuits he likes later in the car.

We reached Pune by 12pm and Rajiv met the person he was to meet and finished his work. Again, as Karan needed to go to the toilet we went to the Poona Club where he would be comfortable. Then we went to my cousin sister Padma’s place as she had invited us for lunch. Karan enjoyed himself there as he got to lie down on the sofa in peace (one of his favourite activities…hahaha) and he got his favourite chicken biryani for lunch. Later he had mangoes for dessert. So he was in a very good mood.

We left Pune around 4.30pm after a really great lunch and tea and having a really good time with Padma, chatting about so many things. Karan also was fine on the way but a little whining had started. So I made him listen to his favourite songs on my phone and he calmed down. The whole journey was uneventful but once we entered Mumbai, the traffic jams started. Due to the traffic jam and the incessant honking of the cars, Karan started getting upset and started crying. We had to stop on the way at a hotel so that he could be taken to the toilet. He seemed to feel a little better after that but as he was still whining, the music had to be played again so that he calmed down. We reached home finally at about 9pm after which he had his dinner. Karan went off to sleep very quickly as he was exhausted after his trip.

All in all, it was a very good experience for Karan and he sailed through with flying colours

Covent Garden Market


I only managed to snatch the end of this exuberant performance, but it would seem that Covent Garden over the weekend is a hotbed of talented artists and it was quite an engrossing time I spent there. Anyone who’d like a relaxed and entertaining day out should take advantage of any sunny weather coming their way and head over to the Covent Garden market. No disappointments, I assure you.


Note: Much thanks to @cookiemonster82 for suggesting we should wander in that area. Both @masarat and I loved it, I should think.

Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap


I’ve always wanted to see Agatha Christie’s play, The Mousetrap, and I decided now was a good time as any. I toddled off to St. Martin’s Theatre (map), situated towards the end of the picturesque Seven Dials area of London, with tickets for the upper circle. As a matter of interest, it was the 24,217th performance of the play that I was about to watch. I managed to get the front row seat, which was extremely amenable to watching the show without bobbing heads in front of me.

The curtain rose, the lights went out and we heard a scream… the show was on!

I’ve only ever been to one theatre production before this one, but I must say, St Martin’s Theatre was absolutely beautiful. The interiors were mostly made out of woody browns and lush, velvety reds. The seats were a bit tight (but then again, I didn’t take off my thick coat) but comfortable.

The basic premise of the play circles around 7 strangers stuck in Monkswell Manor Guest House, cut off from the rest of the world due to excessive snow, and their numbers become 8 once the enterprising Sergeant Trotter (Marcus Webb – superb actor) skis in. He tells them that he has come to investigate a murder, which took place in London and explains why he has reason to believe the answer lies in that very house. The play, performed in two acts, sees the unravelling of the mystery.

I shall not spoil the surprise here, although those who own copies of the book or impatient Googlers might already know the ending. Personally, I have the book, although I’d read it only once and around 8-10 years ago. That was why I happily went into the theatre, blissfully ignorant of what was about to happen. And that, I think, added to the quality of the show. In addition, at the end of the show, the actors kindly request the audience to become their partners in crime and not reveal the ending to future theatre-goers.

The performances were great – with the quirky Christopher Wren (played by Ashley Cook) capturing everyone’s attention and funny bone. I loved the intensity of Ann Wenn who played Mollie Ralston; she was superbly convincing. You’d think people might get bored of performing the same lines and actions repeatedly, but there was no sign of fatigue amongst these fine actors. I was riveted at every turn.

It’s one of those plays which I’d gladly love to see again.

Fallen – book review

Note: there are spoilers; but with this book, to know more before getting into it is a blessing.

Let’s start with what’s good about Fallen: the cover. It’s visually appealing and hints at a dark, emotional story weaved around a girl.

And then we start reading and the clichéd phrase, “never judge a book by its cover”, leaps to mind.

I felt as if the first three hundred pages or more were going nowhere. The key characters Luce, Daniel and Cam just fluttered about everywhere. Luce agonized over boys. Daniel treated her like a yo-yo. Cam was inexplicably attracted to a gormless Luce. It’s set in a reform school that seems to have little/no security in spite of its students being there for having committed some kind of crime. A rehash of New Moon seemed to take place where Daniel wanted to leave Luce for her own good. The extended characters just seemed to hover, not really fulfilling any purpose. It was as if there was no depth to the characters and no chemistry whatsoever. And I’m still confused about what the essence of the story is. Everything seems to be shrouded in mystery, so much so it’s tedious because the readers aren’t being given enough bait. It’s hard to sympathize with the title character, when all she seems to do is be. By the end of it, you just want the story to come to a conclusion. But alas! We’re told the next book, Torment, is on its way. The book seems aptly named considering what I went through to finish the first one.

I trudged through the tome hoping at the end, to get some answers for the misery I’d put myself through. Zilch. If anything, the last 50-100 pages were filled with so much information, which could’ve easily been disseminated throughout the book. Even so, the action sequences at the end provided more questions than they did anything else. And frankly, I don’t even want to know the answers. But if you’d like to be picky about it: what on earth are they fighting for? Why do these two angsty people (sorry one human, one angel) get reincarnated? What’s with Cam wanting Luce? What’s with anyone wanting Luce? What was with the ridiculous battle at the end? Who or what are the Shadows? Will Luce ever grow a personality? Can Daniel stop brooding 100 times the amount Edward Cullen ever has? Will I put myself through reading the next instalment to review it? Oh such difficult questions.

I’m guessing the author, Lauren Kate, wants to cater to the YA (young adult) audience the way Twilight did. See, here’s the thing…I enjoy Twilight as a bit of fluff; same for the movies (I’ll even admit to my Twilight posters). Bella is a whiny girl obsessed with a hot guy for no reason. Edward wants to eat her. Jacob keeps taking his shirt off at every opportunity. But in those books, I felt like the story moved along no matter how ludicrous. Here, in Fallen, we’re sitting in a stagnated pool of angsty teenagers who go around in circles, and do very little. If you think Bella is a bit of a whiner…Luce is even more agonizing. Imagine that. And after reading the book, I still cannot imagine what the protagonists look like, and I’ve a vivid imagination. I did not see them in my head like I normally do when I’m reading a captivating book. All I think I see are greyish stick figures. Because the book is so…grey.

I’m pretty sure loads of teenagers love this book (it’s got the teenage angst and eternal love angle), so she’s probably a hit with her target audience. But I’d like a YA book more if it holds me as a teenager, and keeps me coming back even when I’m older. And there are some YA books that do that for me.

I really loved the cover of the book…really loved it. Shame to be disappointed with the stuff inside.

The f-word for parents of kids with special needs via @LoveThatMax

Today, I got an email that I couldn’t stop thinking about all day long. It was from a mom on an e-loop I’m part of; she’s been lobbying on behalf of special needs families for years, and she invited us to attend a meeting happening next week. It’s about policy plans for our state’s Division of Developmental Disabilities. There will be a lot of talk about the Community Services Waiting List, which is what you have to be on in order to be eligible for housing for the disabled, as well as other support services.

The “f” word in my life is Max’s future; it’s not something I talk about a lot. On purpose. Looking that far ahead unsettles me. It’s what I had to learn to stop doing when Max was a baby, because the more I kept trying to envision what his future might be like, the more anxious and depressed I’d get. And so for years, I’ve set my sights on the present of Max and what he is doing, rather than what he might do someday. It’s been a good thing for both of us. A healthy thing.

I don’t have my head buried in the sand. We are in the early stages of setting up a special needs trust for Max. But the thought of Max in a home for the disabled? It makes me cry. I am tearing up as I type this, and I’ve had to stop a couple of times. My mind goes to bad places when I think of it.

Max in need of a special home?

Max without me and Dave?

How could we do that to him?

Who would protect him and take care of him like we do?

No, he could never go to a home.

But what if it were the right thing for him? He’ll need to be independent.

Would he be able to change his clothes himself or would there be someone to help him?

Would he be able to feed himself?

What kind of friends would he have?

What do those homes look like on the inside, anyway?

What kind of job would he get?

How could I not kiss him every day?

Would it be weird for me to visit every day?

And so on and so on. My mind spirals off into all sorts of irrational thoughts. And I know they are mostly irrational, given the fact that Max is eight years old and still has lots of growing to do and progress to achieve.

There is a home for adults with disabilities near a coffee shop we used to go to before it closed. A group of residents would come in sometimes, a mix of adults with mental disabilities and Down syndrome. I’d spy on them the entire time from behind my cup of coffee, watching them talk, laugh and enjoy themselves, as friends do. Sometimes I’d marvel at their camaraderie and feel glad for them. Sometimes I’d tear up as Dave would say “Awww, honey, don’t” because I kept picturing Max as one of them.

The truth is, I’m not yet at the special-parent developmental stage where I can think of this. It’s still too painful. And yet, what’s helped me help Max over the years is researching things that could benefit him. I know I should attend the meeting. From what I’ve heard, the waiting list for housing is very long, he’ll probably need to get on it sooner rather than later, and it would be good to at least learn about it.

I asked Dave if he thought we should go. “Yes,” he said, without hesitation. “Let’s educate ourselves.” He doesn’t get emotional about stuff like this.

So I am dreading it, but I’ll put on my big girl panties and go.

Saw this post over at Love That Max and identified 100% with it. I’m also guessing my Mom does too. Sharing it with others so you can see what we think about the f-word.