Thursday, April 20, 2017

MovieNotes: The Fate of the Furious

Title: The Fate of the Furious (a.k.a. Fast & Furious 8) (2017) (IMDB)
*ing: Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Charlize Theron, Jason Statham, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Kurt Russel, Nathalie Emmanuel, Scott Eastwood
Director: F. Gary Gray
Language: English
Genre: Action

Preamble
Another Movie from the Fast & Furious stable vrooms in. Even though the makers keep saying, they have had their "one last ride".

Basic Premise
Dominic Toretto is blackmailed into turning his back onto his "family" by a cyber-terrorist Cipher. His team tries to figure out a way to get Toretto back as well spoil Cipher's plans. To their aid, comes a former adversary, who has his own axe to grind with Cipher.

MovieNotes
16 years ago, there came a movie about a cop investigating a bunch of drag racers who were involved in stealing electronic items from truckers. And now over eight movies, they are stealing nuclear codes and EMPs and chasing down submarines and fighting cyber-terrorism. Now thats, what you call growth.

Living true to its name, the movie has a lot of furious characters, moving up across continents at a frenetic pace. Action keeps shifting from one location to another. Add a plane which never seems to land anywhere! The fast paced action also ensures that plot-holes are just jumped across. And too many characters from the previous films just manage to conveniently appear at just the right time.

A sequel certainly seems to be in the offing, with the way the lead villain conveniently disappears. Wonder what they will chase next. Maybe a satellite?

With Paul Walker gone, all the talk of family, seems quite forced now. The crew cracking jokes just after close shaves with death just doesn't gel.

Best Performer - Baby Toretto! It takes in a lot of guts to do such intense scenes while ever smiling. And easily outshining the co-stars sharing screen space with them.

Most Outrageous Scene - The Rock pushing away a torpedo with his bare hands while sliding along a car!!!

Best Scene - The Haka performed by the "Red Dragons"

The Quote - "It doesn't matter what is under the hood. It matters who is behind the wheel" - says Dominic Toretto. I guess the likes of Fernando Alonso will certainly disagree !!!

Rating: 7/10. Paisa vasool. But a a bit of a letdown after the emotional ending of Fast & Furious 7. Where the series should have ended. But guess we will go back for Fast & Furious 9!

Previously on MovieNotes - The Boss Baby

Monday, April 10, 2017

MovieNotes: The Boss Baby

Title: The Boss Baby (2017) (IMDB)
*ing: Alec Baldwin, Miles Bakshi
Director: Tom McGrath
Language: English
Genre: Animation, Comedy

Basic Premise
Tim finds out that his younger brother is much more than just an infant. But is actually an undercover agent from BabyCorp who has come to find out the latest product from PuppyCorp, so that they ensure that puppies do not take up all the love from babies.

MovieNotes
The animated movie is based on a weird premise of an ongoing battle between puppies and babies who are tussling it out for their share of human love. And babies are manufactured in a factory with some of them assigned "management" roles. 

The highlight of the movie is Alec Baldwin's corporate speak (pie charts, promotions. memos) while having the physical appearance of a baby. Add Tim's imagination which sets up the brotherly ride. 

We have lots of adult references for a cartoon movie. Elvis, Gandalf et al - aren't they too far remove from the target audience. Tim's room has a Gandalf alarm clock. Isn't seven too young for Lord of the Rings?

Finally, the most important question. Tim is shown to have a hyper-active imagination. So, did the entire story play out in his head? A point which could have been elaborated further.

And why does the villain have Trump like hair?

Rating: 7/10. Jokes are funny. Only if they could have fleshed out Tim's imagination a bit more.

Previously on MovieNotes: Logan

Thursday, April 06, 2017

BookMarks #24: Life After War

Title: Life After War
Author: Angela White
Genre: Fiction, Apocalyse, Dystopia
Setting: Modern USA
Published: 2010

BookMarks
This was a box set of the first 3 books of the "Life After War" series, namely

  1. The Survivors
  2. On the Road
  3. Safe Haven
The book begins with America being subject to retaliatory nuclear weapons attack from across the world owing to the actions of a past President. Most of the cities are destroyed and the few left are fighting for their survival. Another cause for fear is the presence of slaver gangs from across the borders. Meanwhile the survivors bundle together under a single leader, who is constantly on the move looking for more survivors to gather in order to rebuild the country.

The story has too many elements mixed up - nuclear attacks and witchcraft both make their presence felt in equal measure. Its an end of world tale with survivors trying their best to live, but it has its plot-lines all mixed up. The picture painted of the post-apocalyptic world is quite grim but let down terribly by the story development. And its easy to mix up many characters who just keep on jumping from nowhere. 

Kept reading the e-book just to get through the story, without developing any real interest in its characters! Certainly not looking forward to reading any of the remaining parts.


Previously on BookMarks: A Clash of Kings

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

BookMarks #23: A Clash of Kings

Title: A Clash of Kings
Author: George RR Martin
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Setting: Fictional Continent of Westeros, in medieval times
Published: 1998

Summary

Post the events in "A Game of Thrones", the Stark family has been scattered far and wide. Meanwhile King Robert Baratheon's death has given rise to multiple claimants for the crown. Alliances are being forged and re-forged as the games continue. Treachery and dark magic are as fair in this game as bravery on the battle-field. All this while mysterious forces are awakening beyond the Wall.

Joffery Baratheon is the king in King's Landing. However, his brutality makes him unpopular with the populace. His rule is supported by his mother, Cersei, the Queen Regent,and his uncle Tyrion, the King's Hand, both of whom are frequently at odds with each other, carrying out their own plots.

The late king Robert's brothers Stannis and Renly have both staked their claims for King's Landing due to Joffery being Cersei's son from her relations with her brother Jaime Lannister, who is being held captive by Robb Stark's forces. Robb has been declared the King in the North. While we hardly see him in action, throughout the book comes stories of his victories against the Lannister forces. Renly is killed by a mysterious shadow, the product of the red woman Melisandre's dark magic for Stannis. Stannis proceeds to attack Winterfell. However his plans are thwarted by the use of wildfire by Tyrion and the timely arrival of Lord Tywin Lannister along with the forces of Lords Tyrell. Lord Tyrell's daughter Margery, who was previously married to Renly is offered as bride to Joffery. Joffery accepts the offer, ending his betrothal with Sansa Stark who is kept as hostage in King's Landing. Meanwhile, Tyrion is badly injured in the battle at the hands of his own forces.

Arya Stark continues her journey with towards Winterfell, in the company of Yoren, Gendry, Hot Pie and others headed towards the Wall. However their party is attacked by Lannister forces who are out in hunt for Gendry. Yoren is killed and Arya is taken captive to Harrenhal. However, she manages to free the mysterious Jaqen H'gar and his two companions. In return, Jaqen gives her three lifes. However Arya manages to convince Jaqen to help free Harrenhal. Before leaving Jaqen gives her a small iron coin. Arya, Gendry and Hot Pie plan to escape from their new ruler, Roose Bolton.

Balon Greyjoy declares himself the King of Iron Islands. His son, Theon, in an effort to prove his worth in his father's esteem captures Winterfell with a small force, where he had lived most of his life as Ned Stark's ward. He pretends to kill off the remaining Stark boys Bran and Rickon. His reign is short-lived as Roose Bolton's bastard son Ramsay brutally takes over Winterfell, killing Theon's forces.

Bran Stark alongwith his companions the Reed siblings Jojen and Meera leave Winterfell in search for answers to his mysterious dreams. While sending his younger brother Rickon off with Osha to the a safe location.

Across the Wall, the Night's Watch is hunting for Mance Rayder, a former member of the Watch and now the self-styled King-Beyond-the-Wall who has been gathering wildlings under his command. While they are captured, Jon Snow kills Qhorin Halfhand (at Qhorin's instructions) in a bid to join up with the Wildling forces and find out more about Mance's plans.

Catelyn Stark seeks out Renly for an alliance with Robb. But is witness to Renly's murder alongwith Brienne. Brienne swears herself to Catelyn's command as they both reach Riverrun. There they get the news of the fall of Winterfell and the false news of the deaths of her sons Bran and Rickon. Adding to her grief is her father Hoster Tully being on death-bed. Catelyn sets up a meeting with the captive Jaime.

Meanwhile across the seas, Daenerys and her group reaches the city of Qarth, where her dragons are a major source of attention. Daenerys keeps up her efforts to build an army to take on her rightful Iron Throne aided by Ser Jorah Mormont and her Dothraki followers.

BookMarks
The second book in the series " A Song of Ice and Fire". It carries forward the events of "A Game of Thrones". While it forms the basis for the second season of the TV series, many events have started showing divergence from the show.

The plots and sub-plots of treachery continue unabated as the battles for the Iron Throne hots up. Its a no-holds barred approach from all parties. Saner counsel is shrugged off and hotter heads prevails. Each player plays their own games carefully building alliances, buying loyalties but never sure when someone would turn their back onto them. It is an intriguing tale.

Previously on BookMarks - My Brewing Romance with Cricket

Monday, March 27, 2017

पुष्प की अभिलाषा

आज सुबह की बात है। घर से निकले ऑफिस की तरफ। और जैसा की अक्सर होता है हमारी महानगरी मुम्बई में , आधे रास्ते में फँस गए ट्रैफिक में। वैसे तो यहां की बड़ी और  चौड़ी सडकों को एक्सप्रेस-वे और फ्री-वे बोला जाता है, पर ऑफिस के समय ज्यादातर गाड़ियां रेंगती हुयी ही नज़र आती हैं।  गाड़ी से बाहर झाँका तो नज़र पड़ी डिवाइडर पर। छोटे-छोटे पौधे लगे हुए थे। और फिर ध्यान गया उन पर खिले हुए फूलों पर। बस फिर कहीं दिमाग के कोने से निकल आयी वो कविता जो बचपन में पढ़ी थी - श्री माखनलाल चतुर्वेदी की रचना "पुष्प की अभिलाषा"

चाह नहीं मैं सुरबाला के गहनों में गुंथा जाऊं,
चाह नहीं प्रेमी-माला में बिंध प्यारी को ललचाऊँ।
चाह नहीं सम्राटों के शव पर, हे हरी ,डाला जाऊं,
चाह नहीं देवों  के शीष चढूं, भाग्य पर इठलाऊँ। 
मुझे तोड़ लेना वनमाली , उस पथ  पर देना तुम फ़ेंक,
मातृभूमि पर शीष चढ़ाने, जिस पथ जाएँ वीर अनेक। 

कई साल हो गए, इस कविता को पढ़े हुए। स्कूल के पाठ्यक्रम का हिस्सा था। मुझे याद है टीवी पर भी अक्सर आया करता था। और शायद इसी कारण दिमाग में अच्छे से बस गयी थी ये कविता।  और आज सुबह जैसे ही सड़क के डिवाइडर पर खिले हुए फूलों पर नज़र गयी, सारे शब्द खुद-ब-खुद याद आ गए। 

मनुष्य का जटिल दिमाग - कभी तो अभी पढ़ी हुयी चीज़ याद नहीं आती और कभी अकस्मात् सालों पुरानी भूली हुयी यादें प्रकट हो जाती हैं। 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

MovieNotes: Logan

Title: Logan (2017) (IMDB)
*ing: Hgh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen
Director: James Mangold
Language: English
Genre: Superhero, ComicBooks

Basic Premise
In the year 2029, the mutants are on verge of extinction with only an ageing Wolverine (Logan) taking care of Professor X, whose powers are no longer under his control. Meanwhile, a new set of mutant children have been created to be taken for military operations. However, as they are difficult to control, they are being exterminated. Logan is assigned the task of taking a young mutant kid, Laura, to safety.

MovieNotes
The first X-Men movie is generally credited for being the pioneer for the current superhero universes. Logan seems to be the culmination of that journey. Yes, there will be spin-offs and other superheroes in the different cinematic universes, but Logan completes the journey of the very first ones, Professor Charles Xavier's X-Men and Wolverine. It is poignant that the one mutant who stays with Professor X till the very end is Wolverine, the one who refused to be recruited by him.

The X-Men may have created the superhero genre but Logan does not feel like it belongs. Although Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart reprise their roles, Logan is quite different. We do not see them as invincible superheroes but as two world-weary men who have weathered many storms and are now coming to the end of their journeys. Even superheroes need to hang up their boots.

There is no big saving-the-world theme. The opponents are just ordinary men. All they seek is to protect the child who has been unwillingly placed in their custody and take her to safety. Although Logan has his own doubts.

Meta-theme: The mutant kids reading X-Men comics! Comic-books shown in the movie showing the path ahead for a story which is based out of comic-book characters!

The all-round acting provides the real high of the movie. Add the poignant ending, and it seems like a perfect culmination to a 17-year journey.

Not to be missed - The Deadpool trailer at the beginning. That's another superhero movie trying to redefine the genre.

Rating - 9/10. The Superb acting and for being a different superhero film!

Previously on MovieNotes - Schindler's List

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

BookMarks #22: My Brewing Romance With Cricket

Title: My Brewing Romance with Cricket - Better Than Any Love Story
Author: Shashank Kumar
Genre: Non-Fiction, Sports, Cricket
Published: 2017

BookMarks

"My Brewing Romance with Cricket - Better Than Any Love Story" is a young writer's narration of the goings-on in his favorite sport as he grows up. In his own words "For some cricket is just an ordinary sport. For me, it has been one of those factors which has provided me outright energy to tackle the world head on. The love I have nurtured over the years has been described aptly in an unstructured and a raw manner. My only intention is to make people feel the aura of this game."

The book narrates how he fell in love with the game (with the Hrishikesh Kanitkar match), his heroes (especially the one from his home state) and his favorite memories of the game. Reading through, brings back memories of the last 20 years of Indian cricket. Many happy ones and a few not so happy ones.

It has been oft said that in India, cricket is not just a sport, its a religion. And this book is an offering from one of its more passionate devotees.

Available on Amazon:  Kindle  (Link); Paperback (Link)

Previously on BookMarks - One Hundred Years of Solitude

Sunday, February 26, 2017

BookMarks #21: One Hundred Years of Solitude

Title: One Hundred Years of Solitude
Author: Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Genre: Fiction, Novel
Setting: A fictional town of Macondo in 19th century Colombia
Published: 1967 
Language: Originally in Spanish 

Plot Outline
The novel tells the story of Jose Arcadio Buendia and multiple generations of his descendants and the town of Macondo. We learn the history of Macondo, from being initially settled by Jose Arcadio Buendia and how its rise and eventual fall matches that of the Buendia family. 

BookMarks
The novel belongs to the genre of "magic realism". A phrase which I first encountered in the TV series Narcos. Not surprising given that Narcos is based in Colombia and Macondo has been interpreted as a metaphor for Colombia. So we see sudden unexplained actions during everyday activities which can only be interpreted as divine or magical. So sudden appearances which defy logic are interspersed in the tale of a normal (or rather not so normal) everyday life.

Hundred years is a long time. And as the narrative unfolds, newer and newer elements get added into the scenery. Where we began with only transport means as walking and horses, we end up with stories about aeroplanes and big ships. All the new elements add to the mysticism of the story as it is quite difficult to keep pace with the changes happening at times.

The number of Aurelianos and Jose Arcadios across the family tree cutting across the generations of the Beundia family , and almost all of them growing up under the watchful eyes of the matriarch Ursula, makes it even more difficult to keep track of the events at different times. Their shared characteristics and at times similar actions add to the confusion of the reader, while at times giving an illusion of the circular nature of existence. 

Overall, the book is not an easy read, with characters with similar names and incidents popping across generations making it difficult to keep track. And the story moves in jumps, sometimes covering years in the space of pages. There is hardly any conversation. There is a lot of action happening but the reader does not see it unfold directly. All the action is told through second hand information. The city lives through multiple civil wars and political changes, attacks of plagues and diseases, founding of a new train route, arrival of gringos who setup banana business, all the action happens offline. We hardly witness these upfront. 

An overarching theme is that of circle of life. Macondo rises from the dust and that is where it vanishes with a duststorm. At the very beginning we have the story of a child with a tail and that is where the story ends with another child born with a tail. 

Melquiades is another intriguing character who appears from the beginning of the story. He is shown as a wandering gypsy, who has a heavy influence on Jose Arcadio Buendia. He leaves behind his workshop and a series of parchments in a mysterious script. After over a hundred years, the last of the Buendias  is able to decipher the script. And comes to the realization that the parchments have the story of the entire Buendia family and Macondo. And the story ends as he reaches the end, with Macondo vanishing again. Interestingly the parchments are written in Sanskrit!

Overall, a difficult read but an intriguing work of literature. One can do best not to be sucked into this magic realism!

Previously on BookMarks: Predictions 2017

Saturday, February 18, 2017

LearnNBlog #11: 14th February & Bhagat Singh

One of the perils of social media is the speed at which misinformation spreads with Whatsapp and Facebook being the prime messengers. 

So its Valentine's Day with the usual lovey-dovey mesaages floating in the ether. However, this is also the time for "patriotic activists" to start taking potshots at the westernization and the degradation of the Indian morals. So they feel the need to counter it. Even these zealots are of different kinds.
  1. The conspiracy theorists - They blame the big western corporations who have invaded the Indian market and are making big profits of the gullible Indian masses. Also in the process causing the moral degradation of the Indians.
  2. The lunatics - Who resort to violence to stop the celebrations. 
  3. And then the worst lot. Who try to appeal to emotions with misinformation. The kind which circulates fake messages e.g. Bhagat Singh was martyred on 14th February for his country and today's generation celebrates the day as Valentine's Day!!! etc, etc.
Bhagat Singh was a young man who captivated an entire nation with his ideas and acts for liberating our nation. A man who sought freedom and equal rights for all. A man whose martyrdom is celebrated till date. And he was just 23 when he was hanged.  

Therefore it makes one filled with anger, when I see lunatics tarnish his martyrdom by spreading misinformation. And these lunatics keep evolving. Till last year they said that Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru were hanged on 14th February. When this was found out, a new message was being spread that they were sentenced on 14th February. And the gullible masses lap it up in a rush of patriotism and become the agreeable messengers of misinformation, without once bothering to do a fact check. And this when everyone has access to the internet.

So here is the timeline to Bhagat Singh's martyrdom (historically verified)
  • 30.10.1928 - Lala Lajpat Rai is injured in a lathi charge by the police, personally led by the police superintendent James Scott, during a protest march against the Simon Commission.
  • 17.11.1928 - Lala Lajpat Rai dies due to a heart attack aggravated by the injuries suffered in the lathi charge.
  • 17.12.1928 - Bhagat Singh and his associates kill the assistant superintendent of police John Saunders mistaking his for Scott. The act which made Bhagat Singh a popular figure.
  • 8.4.1929 - Bhagat Singh & Batukeshwar Dutt threw bombs in the Assembly chamber in Lahore. They were then arrested while spreading leaflets and chanting Inquilab zindabad.
  • 15.4.1929 - Lahore bomb factory discovered and the entire group charged with killing Saunders
  • 12.6.1929 -  Bhagat Singh & Batukeshwar Dutt are sentenced to life imprisonment for throing bombs in the Assembly.
  • 10.7.1929 - The Saunders murder trial begins.
  • 20.9.1930 - Trial ends
  • 7.10.1930 - Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru are sentenced to death.
  • 14.2.1931 - Madan Mohan Malviya files a mercy petition with the Viceroy. [The only 14th February connect]
  • 19.3.1931 - The mercy petition is rejected.
  • 23.3.1931 - Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru achieve martyrdom.
So these are the key dates, with only one reference to the 14th February date and that had nothing to with the trial or the actual execution. So that begs the questions. 
  1. Why spread falsehoods which can be found out with a simple internet search? 
  2. And why are people so gullible to believe everything that's posted on the interwebs?
  3. And why are people in such a hurry to spread interesting "alternative facts" without any verification?
I rest my case. 

P.S. Did learn some more things about this great person while doing my "research" for this post. Whether you agree to his methods, you have to admire the spirit of the young man.

Further Readings
  1. Bhagat Singh (Wikipedia)
  2. Bhagat Singh (Cultural India)
  3. Shaheed Bhagat Singh - Letters & Writings (Link)
  4. Brief Note on Simon Commission (Important India)
  5. Lala Lajpat Rai (Wikipedia)
  6. Alternative Facts (Wikipedia)
Previously on LearnNBlog: Ringa rings roses

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

MovieNotes: Schindler's List

Title: Schindler's List (1993) (IMDB)
*ing: Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley, Ralph Fiennes
Director: Steven Spielberg
Language: English
Genre: History

Basic Premise
It is the story of a German industrialist during World War II, who employed thousands of Jews in his factories in Krakow, thus preventing their deportation to concentration camps and saving their lives.

MovieNotes
Schindler's List is one of those rare movies which can shake you up to the core. It is an intense tale of survival in some of the most harrowing circumstances in human history. A story of how one man tried to fight the system in order to save other human beings, whose only crime was being born a different religion. It is also a reminder of the atrocities inflicted on one community by another under the banner of some cause.

The movie brings out the darkest horrors of holocaust. There is a sense of constant fear throughout this film. One can feel the fear of being caught, deported and even killed for just being of a different community. One scene depicts a whole group of women being put together inside a room. One can feel their fear as they look at the showers with  rising apprehension. Their sense of relief when water comes out of the showers and not gas is quite disturbing. And yet, you keep watching.

The horrors of war bring out varied reactions in different men. Some become beasts enjoying the unlimited power they have, some are plain greedy, making a profit out of war, some are just trying to survive, and then there were men like Oskar Schindler who saved others fully aware of the dangers they were putting themselves in.

The movie is almost entirely in black and white. A little girl's red coat is the only bit of colour which stands out as she makes an unsuccessful attempt to survive the massacre. The black and white frames add to the grim picture making one focus on the story with no distractions.

"The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who remain neutral during the times of moral crisis". Dante in the Divine Comedy.
The movie hits hard. Released over 20 years ago, its message is even more relevant in today's times. There are quite a few signs that the modern world could be heading towards a similar catastrophe again. Xenophobia and the rise of extremists across the world is happening again. And if we (yes all of us) do not act and resist, we could be soon heading for another round of mass atrocities across the world. And then the only ones to be blamed would be us the people who chose not to take a stand!

Schindler's List was released over twenty years ago. And it is only now that I finally to watch it. It was a grim and depressing watch. And I had quite a disturbed sleep after watching the movie.

Rating - 10/10. A movie whose message is loud and clear.

Previously on MovieNotes - Jolly LLB 2