Thursday, December 20, 2007

Friday, October 26, 2007

Stalingrad

This is a german movie about the Battle of Stalingrad. It's main focus is on a group of german soldiers and their trials through the battle. The Battle of Stalingrad is one of those things that's so huge in scale that numbers no longer make sense. The battle lasted six months, there were 1.5 million casualties on both sides and the germans suffered a decisive defeat. The battle was fought with utmost brutality by both sides.

The movie does not follow the larger strategic aspects of this battle, and just focuses on the platoon. It's realistic and probably one of the few movies I have seen that portrays the german soldiers as individuals.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Indian World Champ

Not cricket :)
Vishwanathan Anand has won the World Chess Championship.
http://ia.rediff.com/sports/2007/sep/30chess.htm

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Ditto

It's a Korean movie about two students who start talking to each other across a gap of 20 years through HAM radios. It's basically a melodrama. It's rather nicely taken, if a little sentimental.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Downfall

This is a german flick depicting the last days of Adolf Hitler in his Berlin bunker. The story is told from the perspective of Hitler's personal secretary. It's based partly on the memoirs of Traudl Jung. This movie caught some flack for humanising Hitler. The movie shows him being really nice to his secretaries, the Goebbel's children and a few others. I suppose the protestors were against any attempt to show Hitler in a remotely positive light. While I am sympathetic to their feelings, I think they are wrong. Demonising (or deifying) historical characters keeps us from properly understanding history. Hitler was most definitely human, as was Gandhi.

Coming back to the movie, it quite starkly describes the last dying gasps of Berlin as the soviets inexhorably grind their way towards it. There's escapism, delusion and sardonic acceptance of reality all in equal measure. It's hard not to wonder at the german army top brass who, knowing full well that they were lost stayed loyal to their leader. Was it servility? Were their protestations of loyalty to their oaths real? Was it fatalism? I suppose it is hard to know.

In all, an interesting movie, recommended for all who are interested in the history of this period.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Mozhi

It's got Prithviraj, Jyothika, Swarnamalya and Prakashraj playing the main roles. Prithviraj and Prakashraj play Karthik and Viji. Karthik sees and falls in love with Archana, a deaf-mute girl played by Jyothika. Things happen.
This movie is brought alive by Prakashraj's easy humour and his interaction with Prithviraj. Their interaction is portrayed quite nicely. Jyothika's acting has been applauded in this movie. I thought it was a bit overwrought. Swarnamalya plays Jyothika's friend : a nice, undemanding role played appropriately. They all live in the same apartment complex and the other characters in the complex were played decently.
I checked out the soundtrack too, and it's surprisingly decent ( we fast forwarded through the songs in the movie :-) ).
In all, a good movie.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Hot Fuzz

Watched this flick in Boston after a nice kayak trip on the Charles.
Brilliant escapist fun, from the same people who made Shaun of the Dead. Highly recommend it.
Cop gets posted to a middle-of-nowhere village in england which hasn't had a single crime in 20 years. Obviously things don't stay as quiet any longer.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Rangoon

Rangoon is a Burmese Restaurant in Philadelphia. Burmese food seems to have a fascinating mix of chinese, thai and Indian influences.

I had the firecracker lentil fritter (which is almost identical to desi masala vadai), thousand layer cake with vatana dip (which looks and tastes like a parotta with yellow dal curry) and a monsoon vegetable. I found the flavoring quite nicely balanced and light.

I would rate it a definite try :-)

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Cool Design ideas

Here is a collection of simple, cool design ideas that are making a difference across the world.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

A very bearable lightness of being

When I went to California for the christmas break, we went on a glider plane ride. I had never done anything similar.
Basically, a glider is a plane without an engine :-) It is towed to a few thousand feet (3000 in this case). Then, it is up to the pilot to soar. The pilots try to catch a thermal (columns of air rising from the ground), and stay soaring for as long as possible). Just like the eagles. In theory, at least.

As we waited our turns, we watched other gliders land and take off. A glider (or a light plane that towed them) would land every so often. Against the backdrop of the mountain, the landing was a beautiful sight. The gliders especially, seem to hang in the air forever and touch down ever so gently.
Finally, it was my turn to go. Being towed by a plane was definitely a novel experience. When the tow cable was released, the pilot banked right and there was that feeling in the stomach as we dropped a couple of hundred feet. Then, he decided that he would find a thermal at a nearby cliff (the air blows on the hill and rises up vertically along the side). Now, he did a couple of turns, which in retrospect probably were not really that steep, but made me really nervous :-) I had my camera on the plane, so took a few shots which calmed me down somewhat.


Then, the pilot got the brilliant idea that maybe we could pop the canopy and I would get better shots. Rriight. The plane was flying at about 50 mph, and the outside temps were about 40-50 degrees Fahrenheit. I was so cold, I was barely functional. A blast of wind at that speed and temperature is not really conducive to coherent thought, speech or photography :-)

Once we levelled out, he let me fly the plane for a little bit. The controls of the glider are pretty basic. A stick and 2 pedals. The stick controls which way the plane spins or pitches. The pedals controls the left/right rudder. That's it. When you turn the plane, you don't just use the rudder, you also want to use the ailerons to bank the plane. It makes it more stable (similar to how banking the road for a turn makes it easier). I had to find out, so I tried turning without banking the plane. Yes folks, it is true. you do need to bank the plane :). I tried a couple of turns very gingerly since I seem to suffer from this notion that banking the plane will somehow make it fall out of the sky :-)

Then, just as I was getting comfortable with the whole thing, it was time to land.

I decided that this concept needed more exploration. When I got back, I looked around for gliding clubs and found one. Since I expressed interest in joining the club, the instructor agreed to take me up a couple of times. And so, on a very wintry april weekend, I went to the Morgantown airport.

I rather enjoyed the two rides that I took. It was a good day with strong updrafts and a strong wind. The instructor/pilot was very good about explaining what he was doing (like shallower turns when turning into the wind, steeper turns when turning with the wind behind us). He let me have the controls for a bit. It was definitely a more interesting ride since I was being instructed on what I was doing. He kept me quite alert by asking me orient myself constantly. I guess it is more important in a crowded suburban area rather than over a bit of california desert. It's not like you can afford to get lost because there would be absolutely nowhere to land :-)

Gliding is definitely an enjoyable experience. Except for a small sound of the wind coming in through a little ventilation port (and the instructor's voice of course), there is absolute silence. Just the lonely impulse of delight etc etc.
Once I relaxed, and stopped bracing my legs against the glider walls, I enjoyed myself quite a bit. So, I guess I have one more thing to do and learn :-)

Saturday, April 07, 2007

The Expert Mind

A very interesting article here on what goes into making an expert.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Here's to the Thespians

300 has raised quite a few hackles, with many people complaining that the story is historically incorrect. That is quite true. It has also caught a lot of flak for its portayal of Persians. For some reason, Darius looks hispanic, most of his generals look african, his immortals all look like mutants of some sort. Now, portraying the enemy as a monster has a long history and it works within the context of the comic and the picture. But people who claim that the Iranian outrage at the portrayal are is somehow misplaced are making a pretty disingenous argument. Artistic expression is sacred and must be protected, but it is also an indicator of opinions and feelings of said artist.

Anyway, this post is not about the portrayal of persians. It's about the greeks themselves.

Anyone who is familiar with the history of the Greeks and the Spartans should know that the Spartans were hardly the way the movie portrayed them. As a small sidenote, a few decades after the battle at thermopylae, the spartans would crush the greeks with help from the Persians.

The spartan society was a fascist one with a small group of 'full spartans' lording it over the other strata. At the bottom were the helots who were nothing more than serfs. The bits in the movie about killing the substandard babies and the brutal training of children are all true. They had a brutal secret service that would kill any of the lower strata that acted up.

The rest of the Greek states had citizen-soldiers who fought when called upon. The Spartans were soldiers full-time. The state was about the army. The state was the army. The spartan phalanx was feared and rightly so. Thanks to iron discipline and tough training, they were unbreakable. The Spartan phalanx, if you ignore the kind of society that went into making it, was just way too cool. I suppose I am extremely ambivalent about them. I really admire their discipline, training and courage. But I am not too hot on their society.

When the decision was made to stop the Persians at pass of Thermopylae, the Spartans, 300 of them led the army, made up of volunteers from different Greek states, numbering 4000. There is no doubt that the other greeks were heartened to have the spartans with them, and the spartans must have led by example.

Then, when the greeks were betrayed (by a local goatherd, incidentally, not a former spartan) the spartans chose to stay, for one of the most celebrated last stands in history and it is for this that they are rightly famous. But, what everyone seems to ignore is that the spartans were not the only greeks to stand there to the end. The Thespians also stayed. They were citizen soldiers from the city of Thespiae , worshippers of Eros and the Muses. These must have been just normal guys, not professional soldiers like the spartans. What made them stay? Courage? Desperation? Inspiration? Awareness that they were participants in a momentous occasion?

The Spartans exchanged cloaks and shields with them, as they all prepared for the final battle. They clearly thought of the Thespians as one of them. This, to me, is the real inspiring story.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

300

This is a very faithful reproduction of Frank Miller's 300 comic. The comic depicts, the greek stand at the pass of thermopylae against the invading persian army. It is beautifully made, and is very true to the comic. The action is beautifully choreographed. The Spartans are suitably be-six-packed. The Persian forces die by the thousands etc etc. The fight choreography and cinematography are just brilliant. I believe the actors and the extras trained really hard to make it all happen and it shows.
True to the comic, the plotline, dialogue and character development are threadbare. But then again, one doesn't go to see this movie to see a deep human-interest story. The movie delivers what it promises, and that's it.
As a telling of the Battle of Thermopylae, Gates of Fire is a much better story. I hope they make it into a movie.
There has been controversies surrounding this movie about the way the persians were depicted. That is quite understandable. The movie is not true to the events of history at all. But more on that, later..

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Letters from Iwo Jima

This movie, also directed by Clint Eastwood is the companion piece, to Flags of our Fathers. It tells the stories of the Japanese defending Iwo Jima. The movie is almost completely in japanese. The pace, the lighting and the acting conspire to take us into the lives of the doomed defenders. The movie is based on real events and real people, which makes it all the more poignant. It is hard to tell that Clint Eastwood directed both this and Flags of our Fathers. FooF is a pretty good movie, but this one, in my opinion, is much better. Clint Eastwood seems to have captured the essence of the somber, japanese style. The movie is probably the best I have seen in this year so far.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

World Cup Cricket



Well, the world cup is here again. It's the last chance for Tendulkar, Dravid, Ganguly and Kumble to win. Frankly, I am not very hopeful. Especially, after the last time, when the bowling and the batting collapsed like a house of cards in face of the Aussie onslaught. And this team isn't nearly as tight as last time's. Well, I guess we will find out..

Awesome ad, though. In case anyone's wondering, the song's in konkani.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Running shoes and running injuries

Check out this post.

This makes a pretty convincing argument for why the highly supportive, high-tech athletic shoes can actually contribute to injuries. In brief, the knee-leg-foot structures are built to sense and absorb the impact of activities like running. By lying to them about the actual impact (by absorbing it), the shoes actually make the body pound harder on the joints. If you run barefoot and/or with minimal protection to the sole, you will be a whole lot better off, since you will let the body do what it does.By protecting something that is designed to take impact, we are actually weakening it.
Some very interesting studies have been quoted, the most obvious of which is that barefeet cultures seldom report the kind of foot problems that are common in shoe wearing cultures.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Flags of our Fathers

One of the most iconic pictures from WW II was the raising of the US flag at Iwo Jima. (The other cool flag raising picture from the same war, in my opinion was from Berlin.) It's a technically brilliant photograph which really captures the feeling victory. The government saw this as a chance to raise money for the war bonds. So, the three survivors from the flag raising were taken back to the US and feted and treated as heroes.

The movie is a story of the photograph and the three men. It is told in a non-linear manner through the recollections of the different people involved in the photograph. I wouldn't call it an anti-war or a pro-war movie. It seeks to tell a very real story of what happened during the war.

It has been directed by Clint Eastwood and co-produced by Speilberg. I really enjoyed it and look forward to the companion movie, Letters from Iwo Jima, also by Clint Eastwood.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Banlieue 13

One brother trying to rescue his sister. One honest cop trying to follow orders. One psychotic villain with a nuke. This could pretty much be the plot for a desi flick :-)
Banlieue (District) 13 is set in the near future in France where all the 'tough' neighbourhoods have been cordoned off by high-walls and barbed wire. The cop has to break into one of these (District 13) to try and deal with the nuke. He needs the help of Leito (the aforementioned brother) to help him get in.
This movie has stunning action scenes featuring parkour. Parkour is an urban art form, the artist tries to move from point A to point B in the most efficient manner possible. So, 20 foot jumps, full speed runs, diving right through ventilators that don't seem quite big enough for a man and the like are common. These guys (both the heros are accomplished parkour practitioners. One of them was a originator) literally flow through buildings, roads, corridors, rooms and other assorted obstacles without the slightest pause. It's balletic in grace. Brilliant stuff.
In all, a very good movie. Simple plot. Fantastic action.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Man against man

After I saw No-Man's land, I decided to look up on genocides. It's seriously depressing. Here's the list of genocides since 1915 according to the wikipedia. Mind you, by limiting it to the post-1900 period, we have knocked off all the people that the europeans took out as part of their colonialism, 'bringing the light of civilization to the illiterate races', 'spreading the word of God' and 'manifest destiny' trip around the world. Also ignored are what the islamic empires, the timurids, the mongols and other assorted world-conquerors did. This is just what happened in the 'enlightened', 'modern' age.

The wikipedia list also ignores cases like the Partition of India (atleast half a million dead, 14 million displaced). It was not a genocide by definition. If we take into account the any number of non-combatant killed in riots, disturbances, terrorism (or freedom-fighting, if you belong to the other side), state-oppression(or internal-security actions, if you belong to the other side), we come up with a huge number of non-combatants killed on a very regular basis.

Reading this list is truly mindboggling. Like the Rwandan genocide : 937000 people were killed in a 100 days, meaning that about 10000 people were killed every day. Most of these killings accomplished by machetes.

Also depressing is how few of the perpetrators actually pay the price. The bottom-line, apparently, is that if you don't lose a war, you will be ok. If you are on the 'right' side of real-politik, you will be ok. Saddam Hussein was using weapons supplied by the US, UK and European countries for his campaign against the Kurds. The Turks have never had to answer for the Armenian Genocide.

What I find most astonishing and scary is the apparent mundanity of the perpetrators. I guess it would feel better if these were some kind of alien creatures. We could disassociate our species from this behaviour. But that is not the case. It looks like while we as a species are capable of great feats, great science, arts and achievements, we are also perfectly capable of great arts of cruelty and extermination.

Friday, January 05, 2007

No-Man's Land

No-Man's Land is a movie set in Bosnia-Herzegovina during the Bosnian War. The focus of the story is on two soldiers from opposite sides who find themselves stuck in a trench in no-man's land.
The Bosnian war was the vicious aftermath of the demise of communism in Yugoslavia. The fighting was vicious, with massacres and the longest siege of a city(Sarajevo by the Serbians) since World War 2. The UN and the NATO were largely useless. They were in the country for humanitarian purposes and were hamstrung by rules and regulations. They were mute spectators to civilian massacres, were taken advantage of by both sides and sometimes taken hostage. In all, not their shining hour.
The Bosnian War (and Rwanda and Darfur and any number of other major and minor conflicts) really makes one wonder about human nature. People who have been living in relative peace split in ethnic lines(and religious lines in the case of Darfur). Suddenly, it's as if the previous coexistence was a mirage and the animal nature of man has asserted itself. Actually, it is hard to call it 'animal nature'. Animals don't seem to indulge in the kind of intraspecies violence and hatred that humans seem to slip into all too easily. It is as though this thing we call civilization is a poor, and ill-fitting mask.
Anyhow, back to the movie, the UN forces are represented by a french sergeant who wants to do something ('There can be no neutrality while witnessing a murder', he says) and his do-nothing bosses. The french sergeant's is a brief, but well etched role.
The movie is very well made. It makes its point without being preachy. Even though it is a serious movie, there are some very nice touches of humour. In all, a good movie.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Casino Royale

Casino Royale is probably the most enjoyable James Bond I have seen in a while.
This is a little different from the other James Bond flicks in that Bond finds himself frequently outclassed and manages to pull through only by grit and luck. Bond is also considerably less 'cool' and more bitter. No tossing bon-mots as he dispatches bad guys left, right and center. This Bond has to work hard for his kills :-) Oh, and no cool gadgets either. The non-gadget thing is no big loss really, in my opinion.
There's a cool Parkour sequence in the beginning of the movie. It is as good as everyone is raving about. It's kind of funny watching the bad guy (one of the founders of Parkour, Sebastien Foucan) gliding around the construction site effortlessly while Bond lumbers after him. Mind you, Darrel Craig is not exactly Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now, but Sebastiean makes him look like a beached whale in comparison :)
The ending was somewhat unsatisfying and contrived, leaving too many loose ends.
In all, a pretty ok movie.