Tuesday, November 13, 2012

I've Got 'Pi' on My Mind

It’s been more than 12 hours, yet I still can’t stop thinking about Pi.
I’m not a mathematician; I’m a moviegoer who’s got the fictional story of a 16-year-old boy, the only human survivor of a sinking freighter traveling from India to Canada, on my mind.

Last night I attended an advance screening of "Life of Pi" at the Regal Royal Palm Beach Stadium 18 in West Palm Beach, Fla. The film is directed by Ang Lee, director of Academy Award-winning films "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" (2000) and "Brokeback Mountain" (2005), and distributed by 20th Century Fox. Based on and using the same name as the 2001 novel by Yann Martel, the film centers around the journey of Piscine Molitor “Pi” Patel as a 16-year-old, played by Suraj Sharma. As I stated, he is the only human survivor. A hyena, orangutan, a zebra and a Bengal tiger that were a part of his family’s zoo being shipped on the freighter also managed to get into the lifeboat.  However, in a short period of time due to animal instincts, it was just Pi and the tiger, Thirsty a.k.a. Richard Parker, navigating the deep, blue sea for 227 days.

Recently I’ve seen films using 3D technology, which really did not enhance the product at all, only hiked the ticket price. That isn't the case with this film. As soon as “Life of Pi” began, sitting with my 3D glasses on, I was whisked away into a zoo in Pondicherry, India with exotic and beautiful animals -- stunning. We then begin to hear Piscine as an adult (played by Irrfan Khan) living in Montreal, Canada, tell his remarkable story to a writer.

Piscine called “Pi” for short is named after a swimming pool in France by his father who lived life by scientific reason, which is the opposite of Pi’s mother, who raised Hindu, had a strong spiritual foundation. As a teen, Pi begins to explore spirituality outside of his Hindu roots leading him to Christianity and Islam. Because of his profound love of God, he decides to try and incorporate all three religions in his life. 

In my opinion, the story offers that different religions are really not that different as the goal of all is to lead one to enlightenment and a closer relationship with God. For Pi, elements of Hinduism, Christianity and Islam offer him the wisdom and guidance to survive losing his family and more than half a year on a lifeboat with Richard Parker. And it is through dealing with an often tumultuous tiger, he would learn courage and hear echoes of the lessons his father taught him.

The scenes with Pi and Richard Parker on the lifeboat are compelling, and sometimes had me at the edge of my seat.  There are so many scenes that affected me through the visual aspect, the acting or both. From the vicious storm that causes the ship’s demise to jellyfish glowing in the night sea to Pi making a plea with God during a thunderstorm, all unforgettable. I think the directing by Lee, cinematography by Claudio Miranda, Sharma’s acting skills and the apparent talent of everyone involved makes this film an absolute triumph. It’s hard to believe this is Sharma’s debut; he seems like a pro. I highly recommend this film.

“Life of Pi” is rated PG for the emotional content and there are some frightening sequences. It opens in theaters Nov. 21.

View the official trailer:
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Friday, November 2, 2012

Hurricane Sandy and My Close Ties to the Northeast

Union City, N.J. at night, 10/30/12. Photo by Steven Estrada 
"Still no power."

That's been my brother Steven's response to my asking him each day if he has electricity since Hurricane Sandy reached the shores of New Jersey Monday.

He lives in Union city, N.J., a short commute into New York City via the Holland Tunnel. His community is one of many across the tri-state area still reeling from the hurricane that really wasn't hyped after all. I know a lot about hurricanes as I've lived in South Florida for the past seven years.

I arrived a few months after the destructive Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne in 2004 while many areas were still in recovery. And, just in time to experience Hurricane Wilma in 2005, where I had to help my parents hold their front door closed for hours. They were prepared; doors and windows boarded and all. Wilma was just insistent to get in. Thankfully she didn't. It's almost as if hurricanes have their own agenda; selectively choosing areas in which to wreak havoc the most and areas to leave be.

I grew up in Freeport, Long Island, N.Y. living there for 26 years. Yes, I pronounce "mall" "mawl." I used to walk on the boardwalk in Long Beach with my friends, take frequent trips with my mom into Manhattan, or what Long Islanders always refer to as "The City," as that's where she worked, and frequent The Nautical Mile. So even though the effects of Hurricane Sandy damage in the northeast are hundreds of miles away from my physical location, it is definitely close to my heart.

I have family and friends who still live in Long Island and in Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, Staten Island, and New Jersey. It's surreal looking at photos posted on Facebook and Twitter of areas severely affected by Sandy. It’s devastating reading about the loss of life, and uplifting at the same time when reading about the courage of the first-responders.
It's times like these when technology, social media, etc. is at its best. If they're able to keep their smartphones charged, we can stay connected to the ones we love by not only hearing their voice, but seeing their circumstances. My brother sends me photos via his iPhone to show me what's going on in his neighborhood.

After such a tremendous storm, the hardest part is wanting desperately for life to return to normal, quickly. Having experienced living in the aftermath, I know that will take time and a whole lot of patience. The good thing is that many, even without power and being uncomfortable, understand this and are working together. What is a constant is a sense of hope.

Let's keep all those from the Caribbean to the East Coast of the U.S. affected by Sandy in our prayers.
Click here for info on Ways to donate to Hurricane Sandy relief efforts.

UPDATE: As of 1 p.m. Nov. 4 power was restored in my brother's Union City, N.J. apartment.