It is 2004. A couple of Ceyloni men are discussing the merits of certain good luck charms, and the prospects of forming a better life elsewhere. The conversation is robust, a little vulgar, and very easy going. Needless to say, we like these two men immediately. Soon thereafter, we get glimpses into their very very poor home lives – the money problems, the obligations. We are introduced to the sister of one of the men, who is contemplating a three year tour as a middle easterner’s maid to make some money for her husband and daughter. Everybody is suffering. The urgency to try to find the better life elsewhere has never been higher, but Stanley and Manoj (the latter who looks a bit like a Ceyloni Andy Kaufman), our heroes are thwarted by an immigration policy which desires Sri Lanka’s doctors and nurses, but not it’s weaker huddled masses. But then, while lamenting another failed attempt to get a visa to go to Europe, suddenly the heroes come upon a flyer for a handball tournament in Germany.

Thus is the setup for Italian director’s Uberto Pasolini’s Machan, shown as part of the Washington DC International Film Festival. Based on a true story, Machan is clearly intended as a foreign audience pleaser – trying to catch some of the same good fortune and word of mouth that vaulted movies such as The Full Monty, Tampopo, or Amelie international sensations. In fact, looking at the previous paragraph, if you strip away the cultural details and observations on poverty, what we have is, more or less, the setup for Dodgeball or Lagaan or any number of stories about charming plucky underdogs. If we did head down this direction, we might have had that audience pleasing classic that the filmmakers were targeting. What we are left with instead is a movie of tremendous charm with tremendously likable actors, but a film that strives for too many emotional notes, and is thus more uneven than it needed to be.

What do we mean by “too many emotional notes”? Well, for instance, neither Manoj nor Stanley know the first thing about team handball. So their quest to recruit teammates, find uniforms, come up with a team name, all play as human comedy. The team varies very very widely in age, height … and contain all the usual “types” you see in virtually any sports movie. In these scenes, we see the cheeky Full Monty sort of charm – it is funny stuff. However, juxtaposed with these scenes, we also see their home lives, and the very real stakes that they are playing for. We meet Suresh, Stanley’s brother in law (whose wife is the one looking into becoming a maid) who works in a hotel, and when we see how he reacts to his co-worker being replaced as a bathroom attendant by a hot air dryer, it is hard to watch. The flow between the two tones in uneasy – they almost seem like two different movies.  Another example is the sequence where Manoj makes a key decision about the Germany trip.

Overall, this is a good, but uneven film.  If it chose to stick with a cheekier tone (reminiscent of the comic scenes), Machan might have been a great audience entertainment.  As is, it is entertaining with good performances and a deep knowledge of Sri Lanka.  It was just too weighted down to fly.


Silliness, thy Name is Infomercials

* Well, on a slow work day like this, I could use a good joke – or a bad one for that matter.  Indeed, Roger Ebert and the unusually erudite commenters (if I ever get them, I’d pray they were as good) on his blog supply some levity.

However, for true silliness, where else to go but the land of INFOMERCIALS.  I must confess, I am a true sucker for them, especially on weekend mornings.  30 minute blurbs about products that seem so useful, that it is a miracle the free market has not caught up.  I mean you can just pen away car scratches, or cut through just about anything, or buy super cheap real estate, even make mini hamburgers!  Really, I am lucky I don’t have 100 “As Seen on TV” boxes in my apartment.

Obviously, though the best of all products is the Snuggie – the Blanket with Sleeves.  I admit, I watched the ad and wondered “do people really wear that to the game?”, but then I see that yes, yes they do.  It really is a phenomenon.  But now, you can enjoy your s’mores with them!  (hat tip, JoePos)  When the kids get that excited about the microwave, I don’t know how I can say anything bad about it.

Finally to end this rumination, a few words with Mr. T:

Timothy Bradley Jr vs Kendall Holt – 140 lb Unification and Regret

Well, for people who follow boxing, Ricky Hatton is the only legitimate champion in a very deep 140 lb “junior lightweight division”.  This past Saturday, while my DVR was working, Timothy Bradley and Kendall Holt – each of whom hold an alphabet title of some sort – fought a unification fight.  It is actually an important fight, something Showtime has been telling us for months, kind of tactily admitting how bare their championship boxing schedule actually is.  Both fighters won their straps over fairly significant competition – Bradley beating highly regarded Brit Junior Witter and Kendall Holt beating Ricardo Torres in a pretty eventful 60 seconds of boxing.

Anyway, after a very entertaining undercard fight … hell, how does something with Librado Andrade not be entertaining … we get to the fight from Montral (between a guy from California and one from Jersey – I do not understand this beloved sport sometimes).  And really, Kendall Holt will be talking to himself for the rest of his career, after such a desultory performance.

It is not as if Bradley is great shakes.  Bradley just worked.  The perfect microcosm of the fight took place in Round 1.  After Bradley was sort of plugging away, mixing punches, “boxing” in a classic textbook (albeit kind of plodding) manner.  Then out of nowhere, Holt lands a huge counter and knocks down Bradley.  In 99% of fights, this sort of knockdown – which hurt Bradley – would cause the knocker downer to step his pace up and try to really go after him.  But instead, he just went about his business.  There was a KO to be had, and Holt chose not to chase it.

With this second chance, Bradley just started working, and Holt let him.  It was really weird to see, as round after round was being given away just because Bradley worked harder.  Despite his jab knocking Bradley back every time, despite his power uppercut in the 9th round, Holt never went after him, and he gave rounds away.  At times, I just was not sure how much he wanted to be there – like he had a date he was missing for this.  Even in the 12th, with his corner pleading for Holt to come forward, nothing was going on – except for a flash knockdown in the 12th (actually a knee, really hard to say).  Holt’s lethargy directly led to his defeat, as it should have – Bradley just wanted it more.  The judges had it 114-112, 115-111, 115-111, all for Bradley.  I had it 114-112.

Holt could have had it, but he did not go after it.  And either way, Hatton is still the king.

MLB Preview – NL West

One division to go, click to see AL East, AL Central, AL West, NL East, NL Central

1. Los Angeles Dodgers

Manny helps them hit

Kershaw will rise help them pitch

But no win ninety

2. San Francisco Giants

Lincecum Cain rock

Bursting at seams with youngsters

Good offseason too

3. Arizona Diamondbacks

So much young talent

But has underperformed some

Chris Young must rise up

4. Colorado Rockies

Pennant winner once

Still have Tulo and young arms

Could see them winning

5. San Diego Padres

Huge ballpark effect

But where will runs emerge from

Adrian needs help

MLB Preview – NL Central

Other divisions here, here, here and here:

1. Chicago Cubs

The billy goat curse

Is fake but is fun to discuss

This team is league best

2. Cincinnati Reds

Votto could be a star

Volquez is on his way there

Will Dusty stink

3. Saint Louis Cardinals

Pujols NLs best

Ludwick fluky Ankiel not

But need Carpenter

4. Milwaukee Brewers

Rickie Weeks its time

To live up to the promise

Gallardo step up too

5. Houston Astros

Ed Wade is moron

Hunter Pence and Roy Oswalt

Only source of hope

6. Pittsburgh Pirates

Always last it so seems

Have a few good players there

They will be traded

MLB Preview – NL East

Check here, here and here for the American League haikus:

1. New York Mets

So much talent

A fantasy owner’s friend

Bullpen rises up

2. Philadelphia Phillies

Hamels hurt again

Howard waves at curveballs again

Phillies no win again

3. Atlanta Braves

Jair Jurrjens fun name

Young talent tradition big name

Not the right year yet

4. Florida Marlins

Young young Florida

Hanley amazing center field

But he plays shortstop

5. Washington Nationals

Jim Bowden is fired

Source of humor is no more

But they will stink still