Sunday, January 29, 2006

Color Me Good

Rang De Basanti will have its share of critics - people who didn't like the film for a million different reasons. I could pick a few faults in it myself, but my advice to anyone who actually reads this blog is: go out and watch it.

I liked the movie. Because there are a million small reasons to like it - small nuances to appreciate about the way the movie is set up. Apart from that, there is an intangible 'it' factor a movie has. There are movies for the head and the heart. However, this movie hit me straight in the gut (and I mean that in an entirely good way). Admittedly, everyone won't feel the same way. But, heck, that was one $10 ticket well-spent. (I see more viewings in my immediate future)

No spoilers here - just go out and experience the (filmi) 'awakening of a generation'.

Can't still get "Roobaroo" out of my head...

Monday, January 23, 2006

Munich

Munich is a film that seems to be in two minds. It seems like Spielberg, the accomplished director, was out to make a spare, intimate film about killing and vendetta and the human toll it takes. Entwined in it is a grand tale of Israel, the PLO and the 1972 massacre at the Olympics. Telling this second tale is Spielberg, the biggest blockbuster director of our era. They collide in uncomfortable ways, sometimes making you scratch your head.

I've been reading about the film, and though I've tried to avoid the reviews, methinks the coverage carried by Time and elsewhere is reading too much into a film, that, of course, has to have a lot of reading between the lines done to it. After all, it has all the characteristics of a zeitgeist-defining film.

1. Oscar-winning director with top box-office appeal? Check.
2. Middle-Eastern context? Check.
3. Moral Dilemma? Check.
4. Applicability to current political context? Check.
5. Gratuitous shot of the WTC? Check.

Except for the last bit, which would probably have been more surprising for its exclusion (see: The Gangs of New York*), the film itself isn't manipulative in any straightforward way. Spielberg sticks to his best skill: that of the story-teller. Albeit a stricter editor could've done something about the pace, this story of a bunch of Mossad spooks on a vengeance mission is although uneven, definitely worth a watch.

The film succeeds in its primary intent. We are drawn into the conflict faced by the agents with a license to kill. The quest to not cause collateral damage of the human kind starts off as an important part of the mission, but the blood-letting and the blood-let-ters grow increasingly nonchalant and even callous as the film progresses.

IMO, the film does put across well what it sets out to say- an eye for an eye, however hated or 'evil' the enemy is, takes its toll on the executors. Anyone but the most hard-boiled of ideologues would find it difficult to digest the kind of deaths the protagonists see and engineer. An uneasy encounter with people from the 'other' side (this scene is too pat IMO) adds to this discomfort, and the retaliations that ensue mean that the cycle is endless. The film offers no easy solutions, and I'd be loath to demand any.

The film is best watched without reading too much into anything, as that gives too much weight to what is ultimately a story of individuals. But as I mentioned earlier, the film is too important not to be minutely analyzed, every phrase parsed for nuances.

A thing that works for the film is the lack of serious box-office star power. Geoffrey Rush as the team's liasion with the government is (as expected) to the manner born. Eric Bana is surprisingly competent (except for an uneven accent) as the upright, no-questions-asked agent who starts having doubts down the line. The support cast is again competent with the future Bond (Daniel Craig) making an appearance too. With no couch-jumping antics, the focus of coverage on this film has been on the film and related issues, a welcome relief.

It's been a pleasant surprise - two good movies over two weekends, (Syriana and now this), with well-known stars/directors doing their serious turn.

* The ending credits of Gangs of NY showed a CG-created animation of the NYC skyline (as seen from the Brooklyn side) evolving over the years. It stops with a shot of the WTC. The film was released in 2002.
Scorsese chickening out? Not really, further research reveals.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

GMail Problem

Boy, I'd have loved to see the reaction this would have evoked if it had been a Microsoft offering.

Linky here. Fun stuff.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Insightful

Ari makes an eloquent point over at his blog that I'm still trying to digest for the clarity with which it explains the erosion of civil liberties in the US with the Patriot Act, unauthorized phone-tapping, fear-mongering et al.

"It seems to me to be that the fundamental position of the right in response to 9/11 is to be as much like our enemy as possible; torture as a tactic, drive religion into the public square, and a super powerful executive branch. Their message to the troops who defend us is that they are not defending the US anymore but just the collection of people who are (legally) sitting between Canada and Mexico."

I think that for me as an immigrant, the idea of the US as a haven of freedom (yes, I know it sounds clich├ęd, but admit it, it's true) and as the Land of Opportunity is something that makes more sense than the "Us Against Them" mindset the far Right brings into the argument. The US is losing part of what makes its democracy great by these unwelcome intrusions into personal lives in the name of "The War on Terror".


Friday, January 13, 2006

Me Against the Music

Ars Technica (a fine site for the compute technophile) has this nice opinion piece on growing apathy towards music.

Quote from the original study:

"The degree of accessibility and choice has arguably led to a rather passive attitude towards music heard in everyday life.

"In short, our relationship to music in everyday life may well be complex and sophisticated, but it is not necessarily characterised by deep emotional investment."

Ars Technica refutes:

"In the end, it was people like Britney Spears and Ashlee Simpson who turned music from an emotional human experience into a mass-market commodity, not the advent of music downloading and MP3 players. If anything, Internet downloading has offered alternative music a better chance at reaching new audiences than it ever had before."

I'd agree with the second piece. It's not downloading, or too much easy access to music that is causing this apathy. Music on most popular stations on radio and TV is bad. It's as simple as that. There are other factors, like the fact that this generation has many more distractions (computers, the Internet, games, cellphones...), but music media has to do some serious hard work to ensure that it stays relevant to the set of people other than the airhead set who'll lap up anything the mass media throws at them. The discerning people are the ones who are passionate enough to spend on buying CDs, and going to concerts, which is where the real money is.

My morning drive (when I'm not listening to a CD) is punctuated by repeating cycling through local radio stations in the hope of finding a half-decent song to listen to. The same standard set of songs repeat through with hardly any changes. If I hear "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" by Green Day or "Somebody Told Me" by The Killers a few more times, somebody (or something) is gonna get hurt real bad...

There are amazing songs I've heard out there. They are generally by bands with the weirdest of names like Gorillaz, Death Cab For Cutie, and My Morning Jacket. They pop up on one of the "Alternative" stations or on listener-supported 'eclectic' stations like KCRW or KEXP. These stations surprise you with the sheer variety of music they have on offer.

To paraphrase an (in)famous management institute, Dare to look beyond MTV and popular radio stations?

In the case of Hindi music, dare to look beyond Jatin-Lalit and Anu Malik (or is it Annu Malleeek for numerological purposes now?). Try Indian Ocean or Strings. There are pleasant surprises out there. You may just get passionate about music again.

* The title of this post is the name of a Britney Spears - Madonna single. Exactly my point, it's them against the music. I choose music.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Et Tu

U2 is the world's biggest rock band. Period. Wannabe upstarts like Linkin Park and Coldplay will have to wait before they can prise the cup. In all likelihood, it will be from the cold, clammy fingers of Bono on his deathbed. Incredibly enough, the band has gone from strength to strength in its 25+ years of existence.

You may think Bono's politics are too strident or that their melodies sound too jaded now (I disagree), but one thing you cannot deny is their success. The scalpers in Seattle had a happy smirk on their face as they sold tickets for thrice the already steep list price on craigslist. This for a concert in Portland - a 3 hour drive from here. The Seattle concert took place just before I moved here, and I can only imagine the frenzy then. I didn't even try this time, unlike my scrambling for Mark Knopfler tickets. I knew the exercise would be futile.

U2's career, as anyone reasonably interested in them knows, spans four distinct phases. (These are unscientific and of my own making, so bear with me).The first was as a small but highly visible and rising Irish band with anthems like "Sunday Bloody Sunday" and "New Year's Day". They were always strident, with a point to make and the world was theirs to change.

The second phase was when they exploded on the world stage. This was when they released the monster success "The Joshua Tree", spawning classics with very long-winded-names like "I still haven't found what I'm looking for" , "With or Without You" and "Where The Streets Have No Name". I'm sure the inlay designers had a hard time with that album.

The third, and IMO most interesting phase of their career came with Achtung Baby, Pop and Zooropa. Bono famously pronounced that "Rock is dead" and they went through this experimentation phase. Bono tried some serious multiple-personality business with alter-egos called "The Fly" and "Mephisto". The distinctive, soaring rock sound took on an electronic tinge, and the music was fit for a late-night lounge rendezvous more than the arenas that U2 filled with lighter-bearing fans.

Achtung Baby was either lauded or reviled with very few opinions in between. Pop on the other hand was almost universally panned and did not do too well in the commercial sweepstakes either. (I loved both albums to varying degrees, though)

IMO, this phase, though the most derided of their career,is what saved the band. After participating in Live Aid, and doing The Joshua Tree, U2 were in danger of becoming too strident, too serious and too full of themselves. There was a good likelihood of them becoming insufferable. (There are people who'll say they are insufferable enough as it is)

This New Age phase, if you will, helped them learn to let their hair down. U2 fans, try and remember a fun U2 song before this time. Except Rattle and Hum, which had "Helter Skelter" and "Desire", there isn't a single U2 song I can recall which wasn't a call to arms of some sort, or a lament of some other sort.

The result was that when they returned to basics (Phase 4, if you were paying attention) with "All That You Can't Leave Behind" (please, what's with the long titles?), they had learned the fine art of restraint. Their sound, though essentially the same, has evolved over the time, and this album showcased it off to great effect. There was the unusual beauty and grace in songs like "Beautiful Day", the cause-embracing "Walk On" (that stands on its own as a completely awesome song), but there was the bit of tongue-in-cheek with "New York", and the robust, uplifting "Elevation".

"How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb" repeats the formula in some ways (including the long names), with "Vertigo" providing the sass to the solemnity of "Sometimes you can't make it on your own".

Bono gets a lot of attention, but U2 is an incredibly tight band. The Edge (lead guitar), Adam Clayton (Bass) and Larry Mullen (drums) have had a big hand to play in the success of the band. (OK, it's one of the few bands other than the Beatles where I know the name of every band member) I cannot think of "Where The Streets Have No Name" without the wall of sound the guitars and bass create, or "Sunday Bloody Sunday" without the marching band drums. Stroke of genius, that.

Media mavens, charlatans, showmen, business gurus, call them what you may. U2 is the world's biggest rock band. Period.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Roshambo, anyone?

Wordsmith is the best. They send you a new word in the email everyday. This is one of those things that would have been really big among many of us preparing for either the GRE or management entrance exams. Of course, back in the day, email was a weekly affair since paying Rs.25 an hour for just checking email or surfing while at the hostel seemed a bit much. Our source of difficult words was the Times of India editorial.

However, I subscribed to 'A Word A Day' recently because I thought it'd be interesting. It's been fun mostly, and you learn new things on the list all the time.

There are additional meanings to words though, that Wordsmith will not elaborate. Roshambo is probably one of these words. For a full treatise on this French word, read this.

For the pop-culture summary (much more interesting), read this.

As for the 'inviting' title, no thanks. I'd rather watch.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

"Bad, bad server. No donut for you". Orkut, the bottom-scraping dog of all the online services out there. Yes, it is owned by Google, my favorite online company.

"Please excuse us while our server is having a massage." - Flickr, the media darling photo site. Owned by Yahoo!

Cute, yes. But am I the only one who is so so pissed off? (In Eric Cartman's words). 'Free' services by these notable service providers means that we have to put up with sub-standard services. Instead of raising the bar on service and availability, why do I see that the bar is being lowered? Of course, Google is introducing new services quicker than people can say "We are not evil", but at what price? I remember reading and being impressed by the number of servers they ran, with their legendary clustering software and the GFS, but they can't keep a puny social networking site going? Or is it that 'Beta' means you get away with it?

I remember how in the early 0's I used to be impressed by Yahoo!'s uptime figures - they apparently had servers which had not been switched off for more than a year at a time. Now, every other time I log on to some online service, there's a cutesy message, asking me to twiddle my thumbs while the server gets a spanking or a massage or whatever the perverts at the data center can think up for it.

In the past two weeks, my favorite email app, GMail died on me once for no reason (I press the send button, and there is an error message from the server), and did not send out an important attachment on a different occasion.

There are some very maddening aspects to this attitude:

1. I'm not paying for the service. I am expected to be grateful that they are providing this service. I am also expected to be grateful that I am giving them eyeballs and the opportunity to make their billions off the ads I click on. I'd like to see Amazon have such a down-time. Because they stand to lose millions in lost transactions for every error, employees are on pager duty to ensure things go well. Things like diagnostics and support are taken seriously.

2. It's 'Beta'. So, STFU and play nice. Wasn't beta something you did for a few months while you ironed out kinks? Isn't 'software as a service' at least partly about the fact that you could fix things quickly on the server end? I won't even go into the time I was locked out of GMail for a whole day for no reason.

Orkut is apparently run by a three-person team within Google (Some business magazine I was reading talked of this as being a good thing. They obviously own or want to own Google stock and have never used Orkut) I am not surprised. With the quality of the site, it is obvious that three people with an IQ of 200+ cannot handle all of this.

There are unsexy things associated with running a website that the alpha-nerds at Google and Yahoo! need to learn. Things like uptime, maintenance, tech. support. When they learn this, maybe we can talk of Web 2.0.

Note: I am not panning any MSN services here because I don't use any other than MSN messenger. I am a fairly tolerant customer. These services have really raised my hackles, which is some achievement by itself.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

1024 * 768

Until I get a new computer, that is.

I fall in the category of not making New Year's Resolutions. Actually, I fall in the unique category of not making just NYRs. A New Year is a reasonable time to evaluate where life is going and if you like the direction it's taking. (Many people seem to like doing it).

But I find it more useful to take stock every once in a while, especially after what the insurance companies call a "life-changing event" or something thereabouts. So, most of my good intentions have been intended at the beginning of semesters, changing of jobs or cities, or on a Friday night when sleeping early seems too wasteful. Like tonight.

Resolutions for this epoch? Watch more movies. Good ones. Read more books. Good ones. Make more friends. The kind worth keeping.Fall in love.*

Be kind to people. Be hard on yourself. Expect less of other people. Expect more of yourself.

And, always wear sunscreen.

* The day this has to be planned for is the day it freezes over you-know-where.
** The title of this post is pure genius, spouting from the fount of wisdom that is Alhad.