Kiss the Sky (1998)

NOTE: This film is intended for mature audiences (MPAA rating: R – Restricted for audiences under the age of 17). 

I learned about this little-known film (on Amazon) when I was searching for William Petersen’s DVDs.  He’s best known for his work on the CBS hit drama, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.  I saw him first in Young Guns II.  Petersen starred in Manhunter (1986); in To Live and Die in L.A. (1985), he worked with noted director Michael Mann.  Why didn’t he become a big star back then?  He turned down lead roles in Platoon, Goodfellas, and Heat so that he could be near his kids.

Jeff (William Petersen) and Marty (Gary Cole) Jeff (William Petersen) and Marty (Gary Cole)

Jeff, an architect (Petersen) and Marty (Gary Cole), a lawyer, are lifelong friends from L.A.  They’re both going through a mid-life crisis, feeling discontent w/ their careers (though very lucrative) and marriages.  Both also have children.  “The American Dream” has left them feeling empty.  Jeff was in an institution a while back, but is now worried for Marty’s sanity.  Marty, who studied Eastern Philosophy as an undergrad, is taking anti-depressants.  Jeff decides that they should have an adventure (like in their 20s).  He convinces Marty’s wife, Beth, to let him go.

The two men head to the city of Manila in the Philippines, then eventually to a stunning secluded island.  They meet a young Australian woman, Andy (Sheryl Lee), and a Dutchman living as a Buddhist monk, Kosen (Terence Stamp).  But even in “paradise,” they can’t escape themselves or their problems! 

Don’t read more, unless you want to know more details from, and analysis of, this film.  Comments in blue come from IMDB users. 

In the opium den In the opium den

In Manila, the men check out a manufacturing plant.  Then they party- indulging in wine, women, and… opium (whoa!)  While lying in the opium den, they hear about a very special island from an older Filipino man.  Notice how the director had them keep their heads very close together?  (Someone commented that this film is an early “bromance.”)  The two pals function more like brothers.  Jeff is charming, confident, and a fast-talker.  (His wife, Frannie, knows he’s a player.  He flirts openly with women.)  Marty is a straight-arrow; he never cheated on his wife in 20+ years.

The seduction conversation between Sheryl Lee and William Petersen has some of the best dialogue I’ve ever heard.

When Ilsa and Andy arrive at the resort, the men notice Ilsa first.  (After all, she’s Swedish and wearing a skimpy dress.)  At dinner, it’s obvious that Jeff is intrigued more by Andy.  She’s intelligent (went to Oxford and works in publishing in London), attractive (but not in a cheap/obvious fashion), and gives off that mysterious vibe.  He follows her to the night markets and they have a very interesting conversation.  Poor Marty is stuck with Ilsa, who complains all night long.

Jeff purposely guarded against falling too deeply for Andy.  He wanted to leave after their first night together because he saw in her the type of woman he could fall for.  The thing that attracted her to Jeff was his ability to detach himself.  She could see decency in him, but another part of him proved to be a challenge to her.  He tapped into that part of a woman that wants the unattainable. 

After Jeff leaves, Andy gets to know more about Marty.  He’s a good listener, unlike his buddy.  Jeff gives snappy retorts instead.  When Jeff returns, he’s surprised (and a bit angered) to know that they got together.  Then, he thinks up a solution- they can both share Andy!  She agrees to this unique arrangement, seeing it as another adventure.  The threesome frolic on the beach and swim in the gorgeous blue ocean.  Eventually, they are joined by one of her old loves, Kosen, who has been living 30 years as a Buddhist monk.  He’s composed, wise, yet humble.

This film showed how women gravitate towards Alpha males like Jeff, while though she had affection for Marty, she wasn’t drawn to him the same way…  it really rang true to me regarding relationships between men and women, expectations, how we communicate (or don’t communicate).

Jeff smiles on the beach Jeff smiles on the beach

Jeff gets an idea to build a type of getaway on the island- a haven where people can just be themselves.  They decide to cut ties with their families; Marty provides the cash ($200,000).  The local people think this is a crazy idea, but they work on it for one month.  Frannie (Patricia Charbonneau) air mails an order of separation to Jeff.  He’s quite affected to see the letters and photos of his two daughters.

Andy gets very hurt/angry after Jeff has a one-night stand with a Filipino photographer.  In the pivotal scene, Andy and Jeff have a huge falling out.  By this point, we know that Marty has fallen in love with Andy.  But she’s in love with Jeff!  Andy didn’t want to get so deeply involved, she admits in tears.  She goes back to London. 

We have to wonder: Did Jeff truly love Andy?  Andy is only 29 and has much more of life to live; she’s not in the same situation as these middle-aged men (w/ a lot of baggage).  Neither of them would’ve been right for her, anyway.

The monsoons come early- everything comes crashing down!  Jeff, who’s been living at the construction site, is devastated.  Then, he makes a decision that will surprise the audience.

Jeff hugs Marty goodbye Jeff hugs Marty goodbye

The character of Jeff, who never finishes anything, always full of doubts, is very human.

I was surprised to see that Marty was the one who went with Kosen to the monastery.  He walked away from his family, just as Buddha did as a young prince.  Cole proved that he’s not just a one-note actor, like in some of his other films.  Jeff chose to go back to his family, but the last scene showed that he was always going to be conflicted about wanting something different.  Jeff was a multi-faceted character, not a clichéd jerk.  Petersen’s acting is subtle, but it draws the viewer in!

South-Asian Young Writers’ Collective (SYWC): Opportunity for Desi High School Girls

South-Asian Young Writers’ Collective (SYWC) is about writing as South-Asian American girls. SYWC is an exciting summer workshop for high school girls, that will meet three times a week at Asian Arts Initiatives (AAI) in Chinatown, Philadelphia, during July and August. Participants will engage in discussions and writing exercises in class, reflect at home in a personal journal, as well as create and contribute to an online blog as a group. Each week, we will explore different themes like labels and identities, gender, food, South-Asians in the media, and applying to college.

In addition, we will have a number of field trips on Fridays and feature writers Bushra Rehman and Kishwer Vikaas, and Samip Malik from South Asian American Digital Archives, as guest speakers.

SYWC will be an opportunity for South-Asian American girls in two main ways:

1. SYWC is a forum for creative self-expression of South-Asian American identity. We approach writing not merely as a technical skill, but also a method to explore the South-Asian diaspora.

2. SYWC is also a safe space to develop a South-Asian American network by exploring our shared identities, differences and establishing personal relationships.  Funded by the Swarthmore Foundation, SYWC is the summer project of Afsana Oreen and Sabrina Singh of Swarthmore College.

Details Dates: 07/08/13 – 08/21/13

Days: Mondays and Wednesdays, with some Fridays for field trips

Time: 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., with an hour for lunch (provided) at noon

The priority deadline for applications is 06/21/13. We encourage all woman-identifying high school students who are interested in reading, writing, and the South Asian American identity to apply. Application and the program are both free of charge.

Email us at for an application, or to ask questions.

Please also Like on on Facebook for updates!


Sabrina Singh, ’15

Swarthmore College South-Asian Young Writers’s Collective, Co-Founder

Sense and Sensibility: Analysis of Characters & Themes

Fanny (Harriet Walter) & John Dashwood (James Fleet) in the '95 feature film
Fanny (Harriet Walter) & John Dashwood (James Fleet) in the ’95 feature film adaptation


The Dashwood Family:

He [John Dashwood] was not an ill-disposed young man, unless to be rather cold hearted, and rather selfish, is to be ill-disposed: but he was, in general, well respected; for he conducted  himself with propriety in the discharge of his ordinary duties.  Had he married a more amiable woman, he might  have been made still more respectable than he was; he might even have been made amiable himself; for he was very young when he married, and very fond of his wife.  But Mrs. John Dashwood was a strong caricature of himself; more narrow-minded and selfish.

Right after the funeral of Mr. Dashwood, John arrives with his family to take possession of Norland.  This is his right, but shows lack on kindness for his step-mother and half-sisters.

Mrs. John Dashwood  had never been a favourite with any of her husband’s family: but she had had no opportunity, till  the present, of shewing them with how little attention  to the comfort of other people she could act when occasion  required it.  

So acutely did Mrs. Dashwood feel this ungracious  behaviour, and so earnestly did she despise her daughter-in-law  for it, that, on the arrival of the latter, she would have quitted the house forever, had not the entreaty of  her eldest girl induced her first to reflect on the propriety  of going, and her own tender love for all her three children  determined her afterwards to stay, and for their sakes  avoid a breach with their brother.

Description of Elinor:

Elinor, this eldest daughter whose advice was so  effectual, possessed a strength of understanding, and  coolness of judgment, which qualified her, though only  nineteen, to be the counsellor of her mother, and enabled  her frequently to counteract, to the advantage of them  all, that eagerness of mind in Mrs. Dashwood which must  generally have led to imprudence.  She had an excellent heart; her disposition was affectionate, and her feelings  were strong: but she knew how to govern them: it was a knowledge which her mother had yet to learn, and which  one of her sisters had resolved never to be taught.

Description of Marianne:

Marianne’s abilities were, in many respects, quite equal  to Elinor’s.  She was sensible and clever; but eager in  everything; her sorrows, her joys, could have no  moderation.  She was generous, amiable, interesting: she was everything but prudent.  The resemblance between her and her mother was strikingly great.

Edward (Dan Stevens) & Elinor (Hattie Morahan) in the '08 miniseries
Edward (Dan Stevens) & Elinor (Hattie Morahan) in the ’08 miniseries

Edward Ferrars:

Edward Ferrars was not recommended to their good opinion by any peculiar graces of person or address.  He was not handsome, and his manners required intimacy to make them pleasing.  He was too diffident to do justice to himself; but when his natural shyness was overcome, his behaviour gave every indication of an open affectionate heart.  His understanding was good, and his education had given it solid improvement.  But he was neither fitted by abilities nor disposition to answer the wishes of his mother and sister, who longed to see him distinguished — as– they hardly knew what.  …But Edward had no turn for great men or barouches.  All his wishes centered in domestic comfort and the quiet of private life.

Marianne’s early opinion of Edward:

Edward is very amiable, and I love him  tenderly.  But yet, he is not the kind of young man —  there is a something wanting, his figure is not striking —  it has none of that grace which I should expect in the  man who could seriously attach my sister.  His eyes want all that spirit, that fire, which at once announce virtue and intelligence. 

Elinor’s opinion of Edward:

…I venture to pronounce that his mind is well-informed, his enjoyment of books exceedingly great, his imagination lively, his observation just and correct, and his taste delicate and pure.  His abilities in every respect improve  as much upon acquaintance as his manners and person.  At first sight, his address is certainly not striking; and  his person can hardly be called handsome, till the expression of his eyes, which are uncommonly good, and the general sweetness of his countenance, is perceived.  At present, I know him so well, that I think him really handsome; or, at least, almost so.

The Middletons:

Description of Sir John:

Sir John Middleton was a good looking man about forty.  He had formerly visited at Stanhill, but it was too long ago for his young cousins to remember  him.  His countenance was thoroughly good-humoured; and his manners were as friendly as the style of his letter.  Their arrival seemed to afford him real satisfaction, and their comfort to be an object of real solicitude to him.  He said much of his earnest desire of their living in the most sociable terms with his family…

 …Sir John’s satisfaction in  society was much more real; he delighted in collecting about him more young people than his house would hold, and the noisier they were the better was he pleased.

Description of Mrs. Jennings (mother-in-law of Sir John):

Mrs. Jennings, Lady Middleton’s mother, was a good-humoured,  merry, fat, elderly woman, who talked a great deal, seemed very happy, and rather vulgar.  She was full of jokes and laughter, and before dinner was over  had said many witty things on the subject of lovers and  husbands; hoped they had not left their hearts behind  them in Sussex, and pretended to see them blush  whether they did or not. 

We learn that Mrs. Jennings’ late husband had been in trade (in a not so fashionable part of London).  He became quite wealthy, so his family advanced in status.  Lady Middleton and Mrs. Palmer (Charlotte) were educated in good schools (for girls of that time).

Col. Brandon (David Morrissey) sees Marianne for the first time in the '08 minseries
Col. Brandon (David Morrissey) sees Marianne for the first time in the ’08 minseries

Colonel Brandon:

The first reference to Col. Brandon comes from Sir John, who is one of his oldest/closest friends:

They would see, he said, only one gentleman there besides himself; a particular friend who was staying at the park, but who was neither very young nor very gay.

He was silent and grave.  His appearance, however, was not unpleasing, in spite of his being in the opinion of Marianne and Margaret an absolute old bachelor, for he was on the wrong side of five-and-thirty; but though his face  was not handsome his countenance was sensible, and  his address was particularly gentlemanlike.

John Willoughby:

Willoughby’s entrance into the story is heroic:

Elinor and her mother rose up in amazement at their entrance, and while the eyes of both were fixed on him with an evident wonder and a secret admiration which equally sprung from his appearance, he apologized for his intrusion by relating its cause, in a manner so frank and so graceful, that his person, which was uncommonly handsome, received additional charms from his voice and expression. 

Willoughby’s description of Elinor and Marianne:

Miss Dashwood had a delicate complexion, regular features, and a remarkably pretty figure.  Marianne was still handsomer.  Her form, though not so correct as her sister’s, in having the advantage of height, was  more striking; and her face was so lovely, that when, in the common cant of praise, she was called a beautiful girl, truth was less violently outraged than usually happens. 



The story opens with talk of the Norland Estate and its entailment.  Money, as you may know, is very important in Jane Austen’s world.  At first, John wants to give his sisters 3,000 pounds.  Fanny thinks this is too much, as they will eventually marry.  She tells him to think of their son.  John asks her if 500 for each would be a fair sum.

What brother on earth would do half so much for his sisters, even if really his sisters!  And as it is — only half blood! — But you have such a generous spirit!

Fanny, though cunning, selfish and vain, is also a humorous character.  Just note theses lines:

…people always live forever when there is any annuity to be paid them…

I am convinced within myself that your father had no idea of your giving them any money at all. 

Finally, John decides that he will give them 500 per year.  Fanny is very pleased to hear this. Then, she comments about the furniture and sets of china in the house.  It’ll be too fine for them to take when they move to a smaller place.

Family (particularly the bonds of brotherhood):

Throughout the novel, John acts in a manner that proves that he’s not a true brother to the Dashwood girls.  It’s not just his stinginess, it’s his tone, demeanor, and decision to go along with the wishes of Fanny.  John becomes interested in Elinor’s relationship with Col. Brandon when he learns of that gentleman’s wealth.  Later on, he’s eager for Marianne to become the colonel’s wife; it’d be a great advantage to him.

When Mrs. Dashwood sees the blossoming romance between Elinor and Edward, she is very happy.  She tells Marianne:

You will gain a brother — a real, affectionate brother.  I have the highest opinion in the world of Edward’s heart.

Another brother-figure in the book is Mrs. Dashwood’s cousin, Sir John Middleton.  He offers the ladies Barton Cottage (at a very reasonable price) without even meeting them!

He earnestly pressed her, after giving the particulars of the house and garden, to come with her daughters to Barton Park, the place of his own residence, from whence she might judge, herself, whether Barton Cottage, for the houses were in the same parish could by any alteration, be made comfortable to her.  He seemed really  anxious to accommodate them, and the whole of his letter was written in so friendly a style as could not fail of giving pleasure to his cousin; more especially at a moment when she was suffering under the cold and unfeeling behaviour of her nearer connections.

Once Edward’s fortune is transferred to his brother, Robert, Lucy transfers her affection to him as well.  Now, Robert didn’t have to pay his addresses to Lucy; Lucy is considered “unsuitable” by Mrs. Ferrars.  Also, Robert commented that she wasn’t “pretty,” as Elinor recalls to Edward.  I suspect that Robert wanted to one-up his brother by marrying Lucy.  Well, it was no loss to Edward, who had “long-regretted the attachment” (engagement to Lucy).

In the background, we have the cruelty of Col. Brandon’s older brother to his wife (Eliza’s mother).  Since he is a gentleman addressing a lady, Col. Brandon doesn’t go into detail with Elinor.

Esteem & Love (You can’t have one without the other!):

Marianne describes her perfect man:

I could not be happy with a man whose  taste did not in every point coincide with my own.  He  must enter into all my feelings; the same books, the same music must charm us both. 

A good relationship (friendship, partnership, marriage, etc.) must be based on mutual respect.  In Pride & Prejudice, it is obvious to Jane and Lizzie (the two eldest Bennett sisters) that their parents do not respect each other, therefore making their marriage unhappy.

“I do not attempt to deny,” said she, “that I think very highly of him — that I greatly esteem, that I like him.”  

 Marianne here burst forth with indignation —  

“Esteem him!  Like him!  Cold-hearted Elinor!  Oh!  Worse than cold-hearted!  Ashamed of being otherwise.  Use those words again and I will leave the room this moment.”  Elinor could not help laughing.  

“Excuse me,” said she, “and be assured that I meant no offence to you, by speaking, in so quiet a way, of my own feelings.  Believe them to be stronger than I have declared…”

Austen’s sly humor is to be seen in many of Marianne’s speeches.  Here is Marianne’s first impression of Willoughby- a man who fires her imagination:

His manly beauty and more than common gracefulness  were instantly the theme of general admiration, and the laugh which his gallantry raised against Marianne received particular spirit from his exterior attractions.  …His person and air were equal to what her fancy had ever drawn for the hero of a favourite story; and in his carrying her into the house with so little  previous formality, there was a rapidity of thought which particularly recommended the action to her.  Every circumstance belonging to him was interesting.  

…when she saw that to the perfect good-breeding of the gentleman, he united frankness and vivacity, and, above all,  when she heard him declare that of music and dancing he was passionately fond, she gave him such a look of approbation as secured the largest share of his discourse to herself for the rest of his stay.

Marianne has esteem (respect; regard) for Col. Brandon (because of his knowledge of music/good taste), though she doesn’t view him as a suitor from the get-go:

Colonel Brandon alone, of all the party, heard her without being in raptures.  He paid her only the compliment of attention; and she felt a respect for him on the occasion, which the others had reasonably forfeited by their shameless want of taste.  His pleasure in music, though it amounted not to that ecstatic delight which alone could sympathize with her own, was estimable when contrasted against the horrible insensibility of the others; and she was reasonable enough to allow that a man of five-and-thirty might well have outlived all acuteness of feeling and every exquisite power of enjoyment.  She was perfectly disposed to  make every allowance for the colonel’s advanced state of life which humanity required.

The first person to notice the colonel’s love for Marianne is (surprisingly) Mrs. Jennings!  She’s the one who jokes about “the mysterious Mr. F” and is eager to marry off every pretty girl in the area.  Col. Brandon is very eligible, and (especially in that society) people must wonder why he isn’t already married.

…soon after her arrival at Barton decisively to pronounce that Colonel Brandon was very much in love  with Marianne Dashwood.  She rather suspected it to be so, on the very first evening of their being together, from his listening so attentively while she sang to them; and when the visit was returned by the Middletons dining at the cottage, the fact was ascertained by his listening to her again.  It must be so.  She was perfectly convinced of it.  It would be an excellent match, for he was rich and she was handsome. 

Marianne exclaims to her mother and Elinor:

It is too ridiculous!  When is a man to be safe from such wit, if age and infirmity will not protect him?

But thirty-five has nothing to do with matrimony.

Several readers in my book club (composed of mostly single young ladies who are avid Austen fans) agreed that “when you’re young, you want the bad boy.”  Someone added that “most women have dated a Willoughby.”

“Edward is boring,” the organizer said.  Another member commented: “Edward is like the [modern-day] nerd character.  He’s quiet- the nice guy.”

I agreed with the reader who said “Col. Brandon was a real friend to Marianne.  Even though he thought she didn’t like him, he watched out for her.”  Did Marianne “settle” for Col. Brandon?  What do you think?

Before Midnight, Man of Steel, & ST: Into Darkness

Before Midnight

Jesse (Ethan Hawke) & Celine (Julie Delpy)
Jesse (Ethan Hawke) & Celine (Julie Delpy)

It’s almost impossible to talk about this film w/o giving things away, but I highly recommend it (as w/ the previous 2 films)!  Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) are now a middle-aged (WOW!) couple raising 2 adorable young daughters (twins) in Paris.  This film takes place in Greece, where they’ve been vacationing.  Jesse is feeling bad after his son from his marriage, Hank, leaves to go back to Chicago.  

It takes three: Richard Linklater, Delpy, & Hawke at 2013 Tribeca Film Festival
It takes three: Richard Linklater, Delpy, & Hawke at 2013 Tribeca Film Festival

There are other actors (playing their friends/acquaintances) here, too, who are pitch perfect in their roles.  “They got serious!”  The young lady sitting beside my friend commented.   This is a film about grown-up life and real situations, and it’s refreshing to see (for a change). 

Man of Steel

Jor-El (Russell Crowe) with his baby son Kal-El
Jor-El (Russell Crowe) with his baby son Kal-El

First of all, this film is much better than Superman Returns (a debacle of a film I saw while visiting some cousins).  I don’t remember much that happened.  Secondly, that’s not high praise.  This film is about 75% action/special effects and 25% acting/dialogue.  Russell Crowe (an actor I usually love watching) does as well as he can w/ what he’s given. 

SVU fans (like me) were pleased to see Chris Meloni
SVU fans (like me) were pleased to see Chris Meloni

I also felt bad for Kevin Costner and Diane Lane, who’ve been out of the spotlight for several years now.  They barely have anything to do in this film- what a waste of talent.  Hey, Hollywood, if you want viewers to care about characters (esp. iconic ones), you need to put in more development.  We’re not all 12 y.o. old boys! 

Jonathan (Kevin Costner) & Martha Kent (Diane Lane)
Jonathan (Kevin Costner) & Martha Kent (Diane Lane)

Star Trek: Into Darkness

Spock (Zachary Quinto)
Spock (Zachary Quinto)

There’s something about Zachary Quinto (and it’s not just his large, expressive eyes)!  I noticed him first in Margin Call (a movie about Wall St. that I didn’t fully understand) a few months back.  He created a very well-rounded character- a young analyst (w/ a science background) who was bright, ambitious, yet honest.  I haven’t seen the first ST reboot film, but hope to in the near future.      

Benedict Cumberbatch
Benedict Cumberbatch

I was VERY excited to see Benedict Cumberbatch (one of my fave Brit actors) on the big screen again.  (He was in Atonement, playing another sort of villain, but that wasn’t a meaty role.)  This film was pretty good (exceeded my expectations).  Cumberbatch has some great dialogue, and just makes you feel for him/his people.  (Our “enemies” are NOT one-dimensional, after all.)  As for the action stuff, I esp. liked the scene where they navigate the asteroid field.  Check this film out.   

A critical piece on the casting of Cumberbatch