Sunday, September 06, 2009

Running..Random Musings..

It has been a pain trying to do my usual runs in warm weather. But now that things are cooling off, I managed my usual 5 miler. Good to be back to running that distance again, and as the temps drop furhter, the longer I can run.

Idiocy Ascendant...

Like any other place, we in the US have our fair share of idiots and ignoramuses. Somehow the election of an African-American president seems to have driven them fucking batshit insane.

President Barack Obama is expected to welcome students back to school and suggest they stay in school and work hard and not to drop out of high school.
The reaction from the , has been anger and wild accusations that he’s planning to indoctrinate kids with socialist ideology.
Some even want to keep their kids out of school that day. link
And if you thought that was far out. Read this(By way of DarkSyde on DailyKos).
Evolution scares the heck out of them too... link
The shirts, which were designed to promote the band’s fall program, are light gray and feature an image of a monkey progressing through stages and eventually emerging as a man. Each figure holds a brass instrument.
And no I am not at all happy with the President with his lack of support/lukewarm support for the public option. Trying to compromise with people trying to destroy you is just a bad political move. If he drops the public option, I will likely not vote for him again, nor will I donate to his campaign when he is up for re-election.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Departures (Okuribito)..Not A review -

Having watched Waltz with Bashir and Revanche and read about the The Class and The Baader Meinhof Complex I was struck by the reviewers who thought that Departures (Okuribito) was not the right choice to win the best foreign film Oscar for 2008. The class I cannot talk about, as I haven't had a chance to watch it yet but Waltz with Bashir was clearly an innovative movie with the way it used animation to tell the story of a dark chapter in Israel's history. So a part of me did wonder why some critics thought that Departures was not deserving, questioning the idea of what the academy considers to be prize worthy.
I am still conflicted, having watched 3 of these 5 nominated films. Also I feel that there are always worthy films and stay out of the whole "best movie" categorization. A movie speaks to me in different ways, at different levels based on how I feel at that moment too. I just love movies..lets just leave it at that.
On to "Departures"...
Daigo Kobayashi (Masahiro Motoki), is a professional cellist who loses his job when his orchestra is dissolved due to lack of patrons. So he and his wife, Mika (Ryoko Hirosue), return to his hometown and move into the house that used to double as a bar Daigo’s mother used to run. Dead for a couple of years, and the whereabouts of Daigo’s father, who walked out on the family when Daigo was a young boy, are unknown. Eager to find work , Daigo answers an ad offering a career "working with departures". Sounds promising enough?
So he goes for an interview and, is hired almost before he sits down, at a high salary, too. There is a catch though, the "working with departures" is a misprint, the job involves working with the departed. Daigo will be preparing bodies for cremation something referred to as "encoffinment". His job is to assist Sasaki (Tsutomu Yamazaki), a dour, gruff man who owns the business who dealing with his own grief, while helping others thru their losses.
But Sasaki knows his work, it is almost akin to an art form ( the Japanese term for this is “Nokanshi"), where with the grieving family watching, the corpse is prepared for cremation..the body bathed with a cloth, dressed up and made up, all done with delicate flourishes, a spiritual concentration and a respectful grace. All of this done without the deceased body being exposed except for their extremities.
Daigo is wary of his wife finding out about his new profession, for just as those in the Indian caste system that take care of the dead were discriminated against so are these in Japan, although with time that has gone but not vanished. This we find out when Daigo encounters one of his old friends who knows what he does, and is shunned. But Mika does find out and refuses to let him touch her, leaves him for a while, to return with news that she is soon to be the mother of his child, but still wanting him to change his profession.
Daigo does ponder his own fate as well, wondering about his own calling in life, the shadow of his absent father always around him. I don't want to give too much of this plot away. But this movie is not morbid despite the premise, the Nokanashi rituals are beautiful to watch as are some of the revelations during these ceremonies, where despite the Japanese habit of restraint, things are revealed during these moments, whether they are family fissures, or the heartbreaking loss of a child or a mother, or the quite peace of sending one along with love and kisses.
Daigo and Sasaki are the gentle gatekeepers of sorts of this journey to an afterlife. Daigo's entrance to this new profession does bring out it's share of laughs, which are best experienced watching the movie. The humor translates well too, I could tell from the audiences reaction as well as from the tears.
This is a moving, sentimental film, some of the visuals from Nothern Japan are stunning and the music subdued but just right. One might say you know what might happen next, but let that not stop you from enjoying this film. The main actors are able and well cast, and the secondary characters contribute to the of this wonderful film.
I loved how the movie began with the headlights of a car signifying an arrival, and ending with a departure, one that brings catharsis for the protagonist and as a viewer, I experienced the characters joys and sorrows as well. This movie might not find a broad audience here, it was a huge hit in Japan, but I could tell from the arthouse theater audience, that is was well appreciated. The movie was shown twice this month, I missed it last time, and am glad to have been able to see it.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

A Return To Blogging..
Well kinda ..sorta..
I have been away a while. Probably lost what small audience I had. Why the lack of blogging? Mostly time, work has been crazy busy since end of Feb, blogs are mostly blocked at work, been on the go all the time, with little time to read or update blogs.
Having said that, I must say I have not been completely absent from blogs. I need my daily dose of political crack, so that has continued, mostly on the train on my commute. And that has about been the only reading I have done, other than the news kind.. and technical, work related, geeky stuff, which thrills me no end.. No it really does.. not to mention pays the bills, which in this economy I am pretty grateful for!
Am not sure what kind of blogging I will be able to do, maybe once a week? Or when it strikes my fancy, or I want to just vent? I find this place good for that. I am on Facebook too, but I find facebook too restrictive in the sense that, unlike this blog not anyone can read what I have to say unless they are my "Friend" Whatever that means!
Also too much background noise on there, and not very conducive to my more free wheeling spontaneous side.
So what do I have to say this Sunday?
Well been busy working, and every time I feel like taking a break take a peek at the other PC and came across the very important piece of news which at that moment CNN felt I should know.
Plus-sized TV shows find big audience

Ya I kid you not.. as if the audience for media is not fragmented enough. We now have this? Nothing against that, but CNN continues to be craptacular!
Talking about other things..
the internets I can't do without. Finally got FiOs in the neighborhood and moved to Verizon from Comcast, which always said they would get me good speed but never quite did. This ain't bad eh?

And in news that got this geek's interest...
Scientists Worry Machines May Outsmart Man
Well we do make it easy for machines, some of us are just too friggin dumb and we make it easier for machines to look smart ;-) .. an example below..

But on a more serious note, AI has been advancing my leaps and bounds these past few years, and I wondered if we are moving close to this point..
The idea of an “intelligence explosion” in which smart machines would design even more intelligent machines was proposed by the mathematician I. J. Good in 1965. Later, in lectures and science fiction novels, the computer scientist Vernor Vinge popularized the notion of a moment when humans will create smarter-than-human machines, causing such rapid change that the “human era will be ended.” He called this shift the Singularity.
The article talk about this in some detail, and I do think we will get to that point in the near future ( if we don't manage to destroy mother earth first).
Here is the interesting part..machines simulating empathy (god those empathy haters.. republicans..their heads must be exploding!).
Here is a link to the video..
As examples, the scientists pointed to a number of technologies as diverse as experimental medical systems that interact with patients to simulate empathy, and computer worms and viruses that defy extermination and could thus be said to have reached a “cockroach” stage of machine intelligence.
Empathy for a Sick Child, From a Machine

Well that is all from me for now.. time to get back to work. Maybe I will get time to check out some of my old haunts on the blogosphere?

Friday, January 16, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire
Directors: Danny Boyle , Loveleen Tandan
(co-director: India)
Writers:Simon Beaufoy (screenplay) and Vikas Swarup (novel)
Via The story of the life of an impoverished Indian teen Jamal Malik, who becomes a contestant on the Hindi version of "Who Wants to be A Millionaire?", wins, and is then suspected of cheating. full summary.

I finally got to see "Slumdog Millionaire", a few weeks back but did not have a chance to put up this "Not A Review". I was curious to see this film as it has been garnering good reviews and an astonishing 135/145 reviewers on rotten tomatoes loved it giving it a 93% "freshness" rating. But that was not my only reason to want to see this movie. It literally came out of left field, making an unexpected run at and winning the 4 Golden Globes that it was nominated for.

I had some idea about the movie, but I had not read any detailed reviews. I enjoyed the movie, but I have seen other movies too this past year that I loved too.. Man on Wire, The Edge of Heaven, The Secret of the Grain, WALL-E , The Visitor and 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. There are many more that I have to see. But I digress.

I can think of a number of reasons why this movie has struck a chord with viewers and critics alike, despite being in Hindi (30% of the movie?). Perhaps it is the story of an underdog, and that most of us love to root for one. I think the director, Danny Boyle has done an excellent job of adapting this story in to a movie, it helps that almost everyone knows the show "Who wants to be a millionaire", and the underlying themes transcend cultural and other differences, perhaps also explains it's success.

I do think that the first half of the movie was the stronger one in the sense that it had more of an impact on me, as it dealt with the harsh and very real and at times harrowing lives of these street kids (themes that have been handled well in other movies). The acting by the children playing Jamal, Salim and Latika was amazing, and that extends to the adults playing these and other roles too (The cast has been nominated for ensemble cast - SAG awards)
I think it was hard to work across the language barriers which Boyle did well, but it is perhaps harder to maintain a sense of continuity for the characters when they are played by 3 different actors spanning the different stages of their lives. And I think that came across really well for me.
Other than the obvious known names of Irfan Khan and Anil Kapoor most were not professional actors and it is a credit to the director that he manages to extract these great performances. One other thing that I liked was how the life experiences of Jamal are tied to his knowing the answers on the quiz show and the flashbacks do a wonderful job of setting up the character's evolution to a person that he is. I thought Anil Kapoor's performance was really good too, he does a good job playing the slick and seemingly friendly and jovial game show host while barely being able to contain himself with his not so subtle put downs of the "chai wallah".

I thought Dev Patel (he is British) gives a very strong performance as Jamal. Coming back to the second half of the movie, it was not as strong as the first half, I thought parts of it were a bit contrived or shall we say melodramatic, but I did not go in expecting anything "arthouse" like either. The the use of "D: It has been written" was a nice touch and we all know the desi/Indian thing about fate.

Did the depiction of life in Mumbai bother any of you who may know the city and be familiar with it? It did not bother me, I think movies do have some obligation to depict reality. And (I have not read the book this is based on) the director captures the grinding, stark poverty that is almost inescapable for anyone who lives in Bombay. I found the depiction of the rancid, seedy underbelly of the city to be very real. I think it was a fair portrayal.

I was reading an interview someplace with the director and he mentioned how frenetic the shooting pace was, and also often they did not get permissions to shoot till the last moment and at times none at all. And one could get the sense of how the city could close itself upon you.

I thought the movie in a lot of ways was tragic and funny, the changes of a rapidly globalizing India were well captured. The movie was also in essence a fairy tale on some levels, yet the themes of poverty, religious strife, exploitation and abandonment the characters experience are very real.

It reminded me to some extent of "The Pool" and like Chris Smith, I have to say Danny Boyle has captured the ethos of India and that in life anything is possible, perhaps it needs to be written but it would not happen without some pluck and verve and a dash of luck.

A couple of closing notes....

'Slumdog Millionaire' Hailed and Slammed in India

and the film, which opens in India next week (January 23), was just slammed by 66-year-old Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan on his blog (via The India Times): "If Slumdog Millionaire projects India as Third World dirty underbelly developing nation and causes pain and disgust among nationalists and patriots, let it be known that a murky underbelly exists and thrives even in the most developed nations."

For a completely contrary view.. Boyle is a poverty pimp with an Avid.

Credits - I see a lot of movies and I don't often see this. No one left the theater till the credits had finished rolling. Maybe the song and dance routine during the credits had something to do with that too.

Friday, January 09, 2009

A New Year..Back To My Reading
To anyone still reading this space, a very happy new year to you and your loved ones. Not a believer in new year resolutions and all that, but as 2009 began one of the things I did want to get back to was reading. While I do catch up on news and politics on the web and the newspaper, reading a book is one of the things that I truly enjoy.
The last few months of 2008 were pretty distracting what with a pivotal election and the iphone, which I used to follow the election and politics as often as I could during my waking hours. Took me away from the reading time I had on the train.
Now things are a bit quieter, and it is time to get back to reading. I was not sure what I would start reading though. These were the choices (as seen in the picture below)....

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin

The Forever War by Dexter Filkins

Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us) by Tom Vanderbilt

These are all very good books. My pick to read was "The Great War For Civilisation" by Robert Fisk. This is an author signed copy from my friend Dan. It is a huge book about 700 pages. I am on page 60 now. And I am already hooked. I hope to be able to post small synopsis of each chapter as I finish it. The Publisher's Weekly got it right I think. Here is what they have to say..

Fisk, who has lived in and reported on the Middle East since 1976, first for the (London) Times and now for the Independent, possesses deep knowledge of the broader history of the region, which allows him to discuss the Armenian genocide 90 years ago, the 2002 destruction of Jenin, and the battlefields of Iraq with equal aplomb. But it is his stunning capacity for visceral description—he has seen, or tracked down firsthand accounts of, all the major events of the past 25 years—that makes this volume unique. Some of the chapters contain detailed accounts of torture and murder, which more squeamish readers may be inclined to skip, but such scenes are not gratuitous. They are designed to drive home Fisk's belief that "war is primarily not about victory or defeat but about death and the infliction of death." Though Fisk's political stances may sometimes be controversial, no one can deny that this volume is a stunning achievement.

So how about you folks? What are you reading? Any new year resolutions?