Jade Sharma

Review for Problems by Jade Sharma and the House Stark Women

Photo: ‘Problems’ by Jade Sharma

Photo: ‘Problems’ by Jade Sharma

As soon as I saw episode 4 of Game of Thrones, I came across Jessica Chastain’s tweet slamming it with the sentence: “a woman doesn’t need to be victimized in order to become a butterfly.” I agree with Chastain’s statement, however I also do not feel that Sansa Stark’s character construction glorifies rape and abuse as a tool to empower women. When the young Lady of Winterfell tells the Hound that, “Without Littlefinger and Ramsay and the rest, I would’ve stayed a little bird all my life,” I immediately thought about Nietzsche’s quote: “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.Game of Thrones presents a violent world from the very first season, where both genders (think of Theon Greyjoy’s brutal emasculation), have to navigate a survival of the fittest. This is the same gut reaction I had while reading Jade Sharma’s ‘Problems,’ that was published a few years ago in the USA and was just released in my country, Italy. Perhaps, being a European who was lucky enough to live for a while in New York, I had the chance to nurture my personal matriarchal ideals from both cultural perspectives.

Feminist historiography is important to deconstruct patriarchy, but we should aim for an inclusive world where neither gender prevails on the other. This can be achieved by reminding ourselves that in fiction, as much as in reality, both men and women can either be frail and be destroyed by tragic events, or embrace a combative spirit to emerge as phoenixes from their ashes. Along these lines, Jade Sharma, presents this crude reality through her female protagonist. ‘Problems’ unveils the story of a troubled heroine who is overwhelmed by drug abuse, but seems to fight like a warrior through a world of perdition she has chosen to helm.

The Indian-American author introduces us to Maya, “a thrifty, generic brown” woman full of self-destructive complexities. She has a low self-esteem and is a lymphatic bulimic, heroin junkie and is addicted to a zillion other drugs. Maya is also an unrealistic writer and bookseller, who is married to an alcoholic and has an affair with a professor who is over sixty years old. The literary style adopted, for this harrowing coming-of-age tale, is a stream of consciousness that is fiercely physical, both from a lustful and scatologic standpoint. The way the writing flows almost seems to be taken from a stand-up comedy stage: it’s sardonic, irreverent, raw and current with millennial psychology.

‘Problems’ is fraught with sharp thoughts, that obviously pertain to those struggling with addiction, but also to people pondering upon the challenges of intersubjectivity. For instance Maya brings to the readers’ attention the weariness that can come out of an unhappy marriage when she says: “Seeing the same person so much it makes you not see them at all.” She also struggles with body appearance when she declares: “Age is meaner than death,” and reminds us all, how conflict sometimes can be a trigger for people craving for attention, when she admits: “I can’t handle not having someone around to tell me I look hot or get mad at me or just acknowledge my existence. It’s like, what’s the point of being alive if no one is there to see it? If there’s no one to disapprove of my behavior, then why bother doing it?

Those who have pursued a career in the arts, moving to New York City, without necessarily being addicts will definitely identify with Maya’s reflections on the subject matter: “You live in New York, and you’re cool. You have an apartment in the East Village, and you call yourself an artist. But after a while, you forget what it was you were excited about. There is nothing here for you. You feel like a sucker every day paying fourteen bucks for a pack of smokes. You take stock of your resources, and you don’t have anything. You call yourself an artist, but you work fifty million hours a week just to sleep in a room where only a bed fits. You go to bars where you can sit down or hear anyone talk. You’re a hipster in New York City. There are a million of you, and it doesn’t matter that you believe you’re talented, because no one cares and you’re only getting older. The thing you didn’t realize when you were fourteen and thought Kurt Cobain was God was that not every weirdo with an ironic tee from Urban Outfitters makes it. There are a lot of people in their sixties, toothless, broken and poor, who have stories of almost making it. At what point do people hear ‘loser’ when you say ‘artist’?

Our narrator truthfully grasps the struggles of living that New York artists have to confront. She equally dissects mercilessly and authentically the life of a junkie: “One of the greatest myths of addiction is that it’s interesting. It’s the most boring thing anyone could ever do. There is a slight glamour in the beginning, a feeling of doing something wrong, of indulging in a weird world populated by ghosts who used to be struggling musicians but don’t make music anymore, or writers who need write. And then your whole life is getting high and being numb, and there’s absolutely no reason to leave your bed except to get more money. Your life becomes a triangle of elemental needs: get money, get drugs, get home. Dope is a tease. It makes you not want anything else. There’s no freedom in the end, it’s just another jail.” Maya, besides the profound observations also manages to be humorous about life in rehab, venting out: “Sometimes it feels like you are being punished, and the real program is to make you so miserable that you don’t try to use or off yourself again because you may fail and have to come back. That’s pretty much the lesson you take away: next time kill yourself properly, or don’t try.

The conclusion of this psychotropic chronicle is summed up with Maya’s query: “When did I confuse hedonism with lousy old self-destruction?” But whether we have addictions or not, the ultimate lesson Maya teaches us is to embrace the hardships knowing that the ebb and flow of life will knock you down, only to teach you to stand up again and not give up. As the book beautifully ends: “You will feel waves of sadness and you will let them run through you because that is what they are: passing waves.” To stay in line with Game of Thrones our Maya seems to adopt Arya Stark’s mantra to the question “What do we say to the God of Death ?”… “Not Today!

Russian Dolls: We’ve Only Just Begun

Russian Doll.jpg

Netflix, Season 1
Starring: Natasha Lyonne, Charlie Barnett
Created by: Natasha Lyonne, Amy Poehler, Lesyle Headland
Reviewed by Jade Sharma

For a lot of people life consists of repeating the same self-destructive patterns. That girl who can’t permanently shake the doucebbag who everyone can see treats her like garbage. The guy who lets some girl string him along, uses him to build furniture from Ikea, ditches him for anyone else, but picks him back up anytime she feels like it. We kinda know when we don’t see a friend for a long time that means they’re probably using again. Instead of lecturing the people around us, we listen patiently as they share their litany of reasons of why this time it was different, and we hear the words: This is the last time. One of the lesser known clichés of addictions is that relapsing is part of the nature of the disease of addiction. But for the person who is in the cycle it really is always different. The idea that it’s laziness or weakness that leads us back is offensive. We’re not idiots.. Yes, we know how it seems but the truth is always complicated. And it all looks easy to the outsider but even when we are brave and end the cycle, we have to deal with the messy parts of life that are harder to solve like loneliness and emptiness.

Russian Doll is about 36-year-old Nadia, who is stuck in a loop, re-living the same day. This isn’t a grungy hipster version of Groundhog Day. Russian Doll has bigger existential fish to fry than finding how to give love another chance. Russian Doll does a good job of showing us the messy complicated parts of life but packages it in a tight well-written narrative that moves at a good pace.

Russian Doll - Image.jpg

Russian Doll starts in the bathroom. Where we find Nadia (played by Natasha Lyonne in all her androgynous, sarcastic, ranting, glory. Side note: Lyonne is one of the creators.) in front of the mirror. She swings the door open and we find a refreshingly diverse hipster wonderland as her best friend Maxine (played by scene-stealer Greta Lee) exclaims, “Sweet Birthday, Baby.” Nadia, after bemoaning mortality, and asks whether women have mid-life crisis, urns to the party goers “to make some decision.” She decides to have meaningless sex with a pretentious douchebag named Mike, whose mouth is constantly expounding opinions, illustrating that too much Académie can be a bad thing. Nadia’s first death is being hit by a cab. As a viewer it’s jarring to see a character to get hit by a car and then cut to the next scene to find her standing in a bathroom, completely fine, like someone who wasn’t just hit by a car. But that’s we get used to in Russian Doll and what becomes even comical: like the montage of scenes where she seems to die every single time she tries to get down the stairs.

The first thing Nadia does is to figure out what the hell is going on. The earie part of the show is Nadia does what most people would do in her position: sharing what is going on with her friends and getting frustrated when they don’t seem to take her seriously. How frightening/maddening would it be to try to get the people around you to believe you, as you go through this, totally terrified and alone.

Her first theory is that is must be the drugs but after a few deaths, her investigation, confronting the dealer, is that the only thing laced with the joint is anti-depressants and ketamine (which she first blames as the reason as she swears she has never done ketamine, only to be reminded by Maxine that she had actually done ketamine) which ends the drug theory.

After finding out that her party is being thrown in what used to be a Yeshiva school, the next segments, finds her investigating the clumsy idea of something religious/supernatural/has to do with ghosts that is thankfully short and concludes with Nadia turning to a homeless guy that lurks throughout the show, named Horse, who probably is the key to something but somehow, for me, this is the part that drags in this show. I don’t care about Horse and it seems both heavy-handed and nonsensical that Horse, a random homeless dude in Tompkins Square, could hold answers. He doesn’t but he does take up too much screen time to not hold some importance that I’m not interested enough to investigate.

Then we have a phase where Nadia parties, does whatever drugs or drinks are in front of her, and dies in whatever way, taking a break from trying to figure anything out. That’s what there is to love about this show: the pacing is great. I love how though it meanders it still manages to stay compelling.

So, as much as we’re with Nadia we also find relief when she finds a fellow being who is also stuck. After death has gotten to just be a normal part of her routine, she finds herself on an elevator that starts to plummet to the ground and Nadia says to the guy next to her, who is not freaking out either, “Didn’t you get the memo?” she asks, and tells him that ‘We’re all going to die.” He responds, deadpan, “I die all the time.” This new turn in the narrative is a welcome one, we are relieved that finally Nadia isn’t alone in her loop, and that the narrative is extending past just Nadia and her world.

While Nadia’s been agonizing in her loop and trying to figure out what has been causing it; Alan (Charlie Barnett) has been finding comfort in his loop. He likes knowing the rhythm of what’s going to happen but Nadia messes all that up. But Nadia also jars herself and Alan back to figuring out how to get out of this.

They team up, going through each other loops and meeting back at Nadia’s party after they die. They figure out that the very first death, the first night, they actually ran into each other which leads them to the theory that neither of them was supposed to die. That somehow this leads to the universe catching a virus, leaving both Alan and Nadia in this loop.

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Russian Doll ends in what could look like a heavy-handed  mantra to reach out and save each other, as the key to ending the loop turns out to be that Nadia intervenes on Alan’s first night so he doesn’t jump off a building because his girlfriend dumps him and Alan stops Nadia from being hit by a cab, this corrects, or as Nadia sees it de-bugs the universe, and we finally see our characters break free from their loops and move forward.

When Nadia and Alan are both in their loops we see them meander through, following different paths, to find the same outcome: They wake up from their deaths in the same place. This metaphor of being stuck in the same loop, is how a lot of us feel, like someone hit the pause button, and like Nadia, we may spend some time dwelling on the sofa doing nothing until something jars us awake, and we look for answers on how to break free. This is where the metaphor ends. Sadly, the solution to breaking free in real life isn’t ever an universe-bending puzzle with the solution lurking in some obscure part of our world, like a random person in Tompkins Square, or someone going through the same thing but lies in our boring selves (like the title Russian Doll, where going inward to find replicas of the self) to make the steps out of the rut by doing real work that wouldn’t be entertaining to watch. There is something to be said that having real friends to be present to do the dull work of listening to us and doing things like taking a walk with us, or going to a movie to calm the agony of making the hours go by, slowly, stepping forward, one step at a time, or as they say, one day at a time, until we are free and can then investigate what plagued us to find solace, again, and again, in the same self-destructive tendencies.

Back to Russian Doll: The series has been green-lit for another two seasons. Where exactly does a series go, after it’s untangled an extensional crisis and what exactly could be in store for our characters with a-dozen-or-so deaths behind them? Russian Doll has created a feat for itself, it’s hard to imagine what Easter eggs of wisdom will emerge in the narrative space it’s created once life goes back to normal.

Ocean’s 8: The quirky little street kid to the Ocean’s big brothers

Ocean’s 8: The quirky little street kid to the Ocean’s big brothers

Some film introduce you to characters that stay with you hours afterwards or are so profound you only find more genius in it with every viewing. Ocean’s 8 does neither but it knows what it is and that’s pure unadulterated, a fun, breezy comedic break from the heavy cloud of a chaotic political climate, and viewed at the movie theater, escape from the blistering sun. Ocean’s 8 is the playful younger, street kid to it’s heavier three big brothers. In the theater someone joked that it was called Ocean’s 8 because they couldn’t find 14 actresses as this not a pre-quel ,but takes place after Ocean’s 13.

American Splendor

Most Hollywood films, take you on exciting thrilling car chasing gun fighting journeys where beautiful people meet and have sex with other beautiful people. And you get to go along for the ride. But afterwards you walk into the street, and back home to your apartment with your sick cat and your fat wife, and all of a sudden what you thought was an alright life seems pathetic and lame in comparison.

The Dream

#"THE AMERICAN CYNIC LONGING FOR THE DREAM"

 

 

 

      Seabiscuit

      Director: Gary Ross

      Writer: Gary Ross

      Studio: Universal Pictures

      Starring: Tobey Maguire, Charles Howard (Jeff Bridges), Tom Smith (Chris Cooper), Elizabeth Banks, Gary Stevens, William H. Macy, Kingston DuCoeur, Eddie Jones, Ed Lauter

 

      Spellbound

      Director: Jeffrey Blitz

 

 

Review by Jade Sharma 

 

My boss says to me today, "You know what the only free thing in this country is? I say, "What's that?" He says, "The only goddamn free thing in this country is to pay your rent. It's free to pay your rent, that's all these bastards let you get way with anymore."

 

Although my boss, a middle aged artist from a working class background in Detroit, who makes art out of garbage is not a fair representation of the general public. He does convey a popular sentiment, that to put it bluntly, that America well, kind of, sucks. There's a lot to gripe about, you can choose among the following: economic hardship, vast unemployment, blackouts, ban on smoking, Iraq, George W. Bush, on which ever scale, local or international, problems are plentiful. If you are complaining today in America, odds are the person listening to you is nodding in agreement and chiming in with their own grievances.

 

It is true that America is in need of a collective self-esteem boast, where can they look? The movies, in particular two films have come out, to help America feel a little bit better about herself. Seabiscuit, is a tale of horse, a jockey, and the owner of a horse, defying all odds and ending up on top. It is set in the depression, another time when Americans had a lot to gripe about. It opens with the hard luck story of the jockey, Red Pollard (Tobey Maquire)whose parents were forced to give him up, because they didn't have any money. Then through twists and turns, on thing leading to another, his life is intertwined with Charles Howard (Jeff Bridges) who is going through his own hard times. He has just lost a child, and his marriage has ended. We meet him as he is finds his new wife, and decides he wants to buy a horse to race. As he wanders prospective trainers, he stumbles upon the eccentric recluse trainer Tom Smith (Chris Cooper). Cooper spots Seabiscuit, and is convinced the horse will be winner, despite its lazy nature and small body. So finally the team is formed, each of which their own problems to overcome: the horse (1.too small, 2.tempermental), the jockey (1.too big, 2.bitter, 3.attitude problem), the owner (1.death of child), and the washed up trainer. If it sounds a bit over the top and formulaic, well, that's because it is.

 

It is "one of those" movies. It even sounds like "one of those movies." It has one of those generic intrusive scores, if you close your eyes, you will know what to feel because it uses that same score that has been in Hollywood movies for the past decade. It's the most awful, annoying attribute of the film, it feels as though someone is poking telling you, "feel this way", "now feel this way." This film is one of those big guy v.little guy. A team with everything against them overcomes (I.E. The Mighty Ducks). What makes it a little more interesting is the character of William H.Macy who plays a radio journalist covering the horse racing, his fresh snippy banter throughout this movie, add a much needed touch of wit and cleverness. Also there are passages in the film, small little history lessons in black and white interwoven depicting the changing time of America in it's journey toward modernity. Despite that, it is your basic hard luck boys overcoming the obstacles. So why is it so popular?

 

I saw it in a theatre in upstate New York; the audience's median age was about 60, and white. There was applause all through it. Afterwards I was standing in the lobby waiting for my friend, when a 70 year old white woman, with an almost teary eyed smile on her face, turned to me, and said, "Wasn't that just wonderful?" I nodded in agreement. And she began telling me about how her husband had read the book. She said, it was the best movie she had seen in a long time. That Hollywood had finally made a movie that she liked.

 

It was then I realized this movie was more like a photo album to her, it wasn't just the actual time period, that she was nostalgic for, the depression is a time I don't think most people want to re-live, but of the feeling that America offered. A time when things were changing, printing presses, the assembly line, and the feelings of opportunity these changes evoked in the American spirit. The feeling that if you worked hard and you had experienced your due of hard times, you would eventually be successful. The American Dream. But for people in my generation, there is no nostalgia for that time. The whole time I was watching it from a multi-cultural, historical perspective. I kept thinking where are the black people? Are they being lynched? I think that's why young people, are more apt to be cynical about this film. The American Dream may have always been a myth, for the every one of the immigrants who came here with a quarter in there pocket who became wealthy, there were thousands that didn't. But it was the possibility of the dream.

 

For all of you cynical Americans who feel that that dream has died, check out Jeffrey Blitz's documentary, "Spellbound", which chronicles eight kids hoping to win the National Spelling bee. Blitz's subjects are as diverse as they get: suburban kids, city kids, rich kids, poor kids, and kids of different races. What all these kids have in common, is there desire to be the National Bee Champion, though at least in one case it seemed the parents wanted it more so.

 

The first part of the film is portraits of each of the kids. First there was Angela, from Texas, who's parents immigrated her ill legally. Neither her mother or father speak English, though when she wins the regional spelling bee, her father is so proud he cries. Her brother articulates that this is the reason his father came to America, to provide better education for his kids.

 

There is also Neil, a second generation America, who's parents are from India. It seems his father is the driving force of Neil's participation in the Spelling Bee. Neil's father has hired tutors to teach him French and Spanish, so he knows how to break down words from these languages. He goes over 7,000 words with him a day. Neil's father, says in the film, that if you work hard in America you are guaranteed to succeed, this he says is not true of other countries.

 

There is also Ashley who is from the ghetto in D.C, who memorizes words out of the dictionary, and Nupar who's a upper middle class Indian American.

 

The second half of this film is the actual spelling bee, where you see the kids compete, which makes you feel as nervous as the parents are when you watch it. Blitz shows each kid spelling each word, each participant hesitantly utters each letter, taking deep breaths, nervously looking around. This is what makes it so suspenseful. One by one you see each kid fall round by round, till one is declared the winner.

 

The National Spelling Bee, epitomizes the American Dream. Any of these kids can win, they all have an equal chance, no matter where they're from or what they look like. Although luck does come into play, if you work hard, you will win.

 

Jeffrey Blitz got this movie made by acquiring twelve credit cards, and charged the entire production. This is part of the sentiment of the American Dream: risk. He risked his financial safety on his product. The whole movie was shot on DV, which only adds to its authentic feel.

 

Seabiscuit is a formulaic predictable Hollywood "feel good" piece of propaganda to make you feel better about America. While Spellbound is a quirky honest look of the wrestling human heart of the American dream in all its beautiful hopeful glory.

 

Lost In Translation

The cinematic seventh seal has been broken with Bill Murray’s deconstructionist Karaoke version of Roxy Music’s "More Than This" in Sophia Coppola’s second movie, Lost in Translation. Murray plays the role of Bob Harris, a fictitious character mimicking his own real-life stardom, struggling with the both success and ultimate meaninglessness of his grandiose life. While filming a multi-million dollar whiskey commercial in Japan, Bob meets a young American woman named Charlotte also staying in his same swanky Tokyo Hotel. Charlotte, a young twenties-something Yale graduate is struggling to find her identity within in her new marriage to a glitzy photographer (Giovanni Ribisi) who remains out of focus when it comes to their seeming incompatibility. Bob, a married man of 25 years, is always trying to come to grips with his struggling relationship coupled with a career crisis.

Kinsey

Can masturbation cause blindness? Does being a homosexual mean you are insane? Is it normal for your boyfriend to touch your anus? Does cunnilingus cause birth defects? These are the questions the students struggle with as they line up at the door of Professor Alfred Kinsey's office. What is perhaps most shocking about the film, Kinsey is not the discoveries he makes (most woman orgasm by stimulating the clitoris not the vagina) but the level of ignorance about sex in the 50s. Viewing the 50s from the present, it never occurs to us that the Cleavers might have assumed, as did the recently married woman interviewed in Kinsey, that babies come from a woman's navel, as newly weds.

Kill Bill II

So I'm sitting in the theatre, already content on giving a couple more bucks, and wasting a couple more hours, out of pure loyalty to the guy, just because of record. I figured, why not, he might have something up his sleeve. I didn't expect that much from him, but Kill Bill Volume 2, I gotta say is fucking awesome. There are some drawn out monologues like the one Bill (David Carradine) goes on and on about some comic book for two minutes that made me bored to tears. Monologues about comic books, are no longer clever subjects about a subculture, but sound more like generic banter from Clerks. Then there's the part where Uma is getting trained by her Kung Fu expert, that though are entertaining often drag and should have been shortened. But even with all this, the movie was great. Not because there were some good parts to outweigh the bad. It's just that the good parts weren't just good, they were fucking amazing. I mean, amazing like they should be shown in every film school to every film student to say, hey, this is fucking cinema.