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Book Review

The Alchemist

The Alchemist presents a simple fable, based on simple truths and places it in a highly unique situation. And though we may sniff at a bestselling formula, it is certainly not a new one. Even the ancient tribal storytellers knew that this is the most successful method of entertaining an audience while slipping in a lesson or two.

Brazilian storyteller Paulo Coehlo introduces Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd boy who one night dreams of a distant treasure in the Egyptian pyramids. And so he’s off, leaving Spain to literally follow his dream.

Along the way he meets many spiritual messengers, who come in unassuming forms such as a camel driver and a well-read Englishman. In one of the Englishman’s books, Santiago first learns about the alchemists — men who believed that if a metal were heated for many years, it would free itself of all its individual properties, and what was left would be the "Soul of the World."

Of course he does eventually meet an alchemist, and the ensuing student-teacher relationship clarifies much of the boy’s misguided agenda, while also emboldening him to stay true to his dreams. "My heart is afraid that it will have to suffer," the boy confides to the alchemist one night as they look up at a moonless night.

"Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself," the alchemist replies. "And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second’s encounter with God and with eternity."

Movie Review

Seven Pounds

Will Smith is interested in emotional pain now, in the dark oblique.

In fact, the movie is so roundabout and cryptic that it takes half the running time just to figure out the general nature of what’s going on. Seven Pounds makes a mystery of its lead character and of what he’s pursuing, and for a very simple reason: If the movie were to announce its subject and story in the usual straightforward way, it would seem so ridiculous, far-fetched and borderline distasteful that no one would want to watch it. It might even seem funny.

So Muccino’s task is clear, if difficult — to generate enough magic and to work up just the right mood so as to cast a spell on viewers. That way, when the movie’s intentions and meaning are finally made clear, nothing will seem discordant or strange. All will make sense. For the most part, Muccino accomplishes this precise balance that Grant Neoporte’s screenplay requires.

Going in, all we know about Ben (Smith) is that something terrible has happened in his past, and that he feels responsible for it. That’s all. Everything else we gradually piece together, through a fractured narrative that jumbles the time sequence. We learn that he is an IRS agent.

Later, we see that he does field audits, but audits of a very particular and repugnant kind. He seems to specialise in hounding people for back taxes when they’re in the hospital, sometimes with serious illnesses.

There’s anger in this guy. In one scene, he talks on the phone to a food company’s customer service representative (Woody Harrelson), and when he finds out the man is blind, he goes ballistic and starts taunting him, making withering, demeaning remarks and shouting into the phone. Obviously, this is not the usual Will Smith, and that difference is half the appeal of Seven Pounds, to see a familiar screen presence show new sides of himself.

Smith has made a point of stretching in recent years. Even in the title role of Hancock, which was in most ways a routine action movie, Smith had to build a character different from his usual rambunctious action persona, tapping into reserves of sorrow and disillusionment.

But he goes much further in Seven Pounds. His breeziness becomes a shallow act, and his smile becomes downright eerie, a strained mask that hides pain, wards off hostility and expresses aggression all at the same time. It’s a smile with dead eyes.

Throughout, Seven Pounds has a distinct quality. The pensive score, the subjective cinematography and even the muted aspect of the featured performances all contribute to a sense of being trapped inside a waking dream, or nightmare. Ben leads a hollow existence, a death in life, and the people with whom he comes into contact are the forgotten, who have dropped out of the world.

Enjoyment of Seven Pounds rests entirely in how one reacts to the romance that develops between the austere IRS agent and Emily (Rosario Dawson), a graphic artist suffering from congenital heart failure. Some will cry foul, say it’s too much, that the movie turns maudlin. But for those who find themselves on the film’s wavelength, this is love at the edge of the universe. This is the kind of thing that inspires people to write operas.

Dawson, with her strident but delicate beauty, is worthy of operatic treatment. Seven shows once again that she has it in her to be a powerhouse, even as it showcases a sweetness and vulnerability she hasn’t shown before. Dawson, who played Mimi in Rent and Edward Norton’s girlfriend in Spike Lee’s 25th Hour, is ready to take her place as a major screen actress.

In the end, the most appealing thing about Seven Pounds is the element it shares with Smith’s more cheerful movies: It affirms life as something enormous and important, not small, not meaningless, but monumental and worthy of big statements.

Book Launch

P.G. Wodehouse

P.G. Wodehouse - The Unknown Years (a Stamford Lake Publication) by Baroness Reinhild von Bodenhausen was launched at the Galle Face Hotel on April 8 amid a gathering of literary enthusiasts, the media and well wishers.

Speaking to The Sunday Leader at the launch, author of P.G. Wodehouse - The Unknown Years, Baroness Reinhild von Bodenhausen stated that she was delighted to launch the book in Sri Lanka, saying that Sharmini Mathew and Stamford Lake Publications made the book launch possible.

P.G. Wodehouse - The Unknown Years is a heartwarming tale about a man who is known for his acclaimed Jeeves and Blanding Castles novels, a series which has kept generations in stitches of laughter.

But few know of his pre war antics; the fact that his devotion to his dogs, led to his capture by the Germans during World War Two. And during 1941-1942 he was ‘hidden away’ in a country home which belonged to the author’s family.

Now, nearly 70 years since his stay at the Bodenhausen countryside home, comes a story that sheds light on Wodehouse’s time spent with the Bodenhausens’ and a side to him many do not know.

All set for Chillies 2009

This year’s edition of the Sri Lanka Advertising Awards, the Chillies, will be preceded by the much-anticipated Chillies Week 2009, a series of potentially life-changing creative opportunities offering local creatives interaction with the world’s most exceptional advertising industry trendsetters.

The first seminar during Chillies Week 2009 will offer not-to-be-missed insights into two cultures when industry heavyweights, Dentsu Japan’s Masako Okamura and JWT India’s Senthil Kumar, highlight how creativity manifests in their respective cultures.

They will also share useful experiences faced while working with other cultures. Entitled Creativity In Two Worlds, Masako’s and Senthil’s seminar will be held on Tuesday, April 21, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Upper Crystal Room of the Taj Samudra Colombo.

Next will be the popular Judges Forum — Print and TV on Wednesday, April 22,

from 7 p.m. onwards and Judges Forum — Radio and Non Traditional Media on Thursday, April 23 from 7 p.m. onwards, both at the Upper Crystal Room. Final learning opportunities include "It doesn’t have to be an Ad," a workshop conducted by former ECD TBWA/ Tequila Singapore and Chief Integrator for Asia, Graham Kelly, on Friday, April 24, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., at the Regency Room, and a seminar on

"Creativity in tough times," also by Graham Kelly, on Friday, April 24, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., at the Upper Crystal Room.

Chillies Week 2009 will end with the 2009 Finalists Exhibition slated for Tuesday, April

28, to Thursday, April 30, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at On Golden Pond, followed by the Chillies 2009 Main Event, on Saturday, May 2, from 6 p.m. onwards at SLECC.









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