Isaac Asimov
Book Review, Non-Fiction, Recently Posted, Science fiction

I Asimov written by Isaac Asimov

Asimov-Cover2 To fans of classical science fiction, Isaac Asimov holds a position of one of a trinity – along with Robert Heinlein and Arthur C Clarke. Of course there have been many more talented writers in the golden age of science fiction who arguably should be a part of an extended trinity – Philip Dick, Harlan Elision, Fredrick Pohl come to mind immediately. But we like symbolism and simplicity, so three it remained.

But speak of science fiction today and Asimov rings the most bells than anybody else. Partly the reason is his prodigious output. He penned hundreds of books, articles, anthologies, science books for kids – his influence extended across all major science and science fiction during his time. As popular a science fiction writer as a contemporary science writer, he was and still is one of the most widely read author.

But his major appeal, according to me, is his engaging writing style. It is highly accessible and there is always a humour underlying his work. Asimov’s writing, according to his own admission, has been to bring science to a much wider audience. Conscious to steer away from typical science writing of his time, which usually assumed scientific literacy for the reader, Asimov adopted a highly readable form of science writing. And his science fiction also reads the same way. The concept of psychohistory and laws of robotics, in the hands of another, would have assumed a mystical aura. In Asimov’s style, the concepts became crystal clear and natural. In fact, the real world of robotics assumes the Asimov’s laws – another powerful indication of how science fiction actually creates reality!!

I became a fan of Asimov on reading his powerful short stories – “The Last Question” and “Nightfall” and it has been an insatiable passion ever since. So, I picked up “I, Asimov”, his autobiography, without hesitation.

And it is a rollicking ride. The first thing that strikes you as the first pages go by is the very different structure of the book. Usually autobiographies and biographies follow a linear chronological pattern.

“I, Asimov”, on the other hand is like a collection of short stories, each two to three pages long. Collected together, they are vignettes of Asimov’s thoughts and opinions on almost everything he had ever encountered – to his opinion of having kids, his contemporaries, his marriages, his work, his religious beliefs (or lack of it), his political beliefs and his own opinion of himself.

“I, Asimov” reads much like all his work – highly readable and accessible with sparkling wit. And for an autobiography, it is a surprising page-turner – the reader is never under pressure to remember dates or events but goes along with the story, the ‘story’ is Asimov’s life. It is only roughly chronological and by the end of the book, the reader easily forms a very fair idea of Asimov’s life.

Asimov weaves his life story beautifully within these short pieces. And what comes across in the pages is a man who is witty, loyal to his ideas, full of life and passion for his work. He also comes across as stubborn and cocksure and supremely self-confident. But he admits to these freely. Usually owning up to non-flattering parts of your own character leads to explanations or self-pity. Asimov does not fall in either pits. That is one of the most endearing part of the book.

He is also one who can be truly generous. He rates many writers, including Heinlein, to be much better writers than himself. He is surprised that many times he was awarded Hugos or Nebulas while much better writers were overlooked. This quality of generosity or self-critique is rare in anybody, more so in writers…

It is as if, in the last autobiography he wrote (he wrote two before), Asimov wants the reader and the world to know exactly who and how he was. He does not dress up his prejudices and does not hesitate to call a spade a spade. He comes across as forthright and frank without ever resorting to taking himself seriously. Even when he talks about death, there is no morbid philosophy. Even though he had only a few years to live (in fact he did not live to see this book’s publication), the inevitability of his death is told in a faintly ironic and humorous tone – “I expected to die at sixty and then at sixty five and then to my surprise, I reached seventy – more than anyone ever reached in my family”

The taste that you take away from this book is of a man who is sparkling, witty and entirely sure of himself. It shows also a man who can be full of warmth towards some people and cold towards some other. Someone who did not care too much of societal niceties. A man who stuck to his ideals and his philosophy, inspite of everything he faced.

Pick up this book. This is an autobiography unlike any you may have read. If you haven't read Asimov yet, this book may actually be a good place to start – you will want to read him. If you have already read Asimov, you might realize why you enjoyed his work so much

 

Some quotes –

“Once, when a religionist denounced me in unmeasured terms, I sent him a card saying, "I am sure you believe that I will go to hell when I die, and that once there I will suffer all the pains and tortures the sadistic ingenuity of your deity can devise and that this torture will continue forever. Isn't that enough for you? Do you have to call me bad names in addition?”

“I received the fundamentals of my education in school, but that was not enough. My real education, the superstructure, the details, the true architecture, I got out of the public library. For an impoverished child whose family could not afford to buy books, the library was the open door to wonder and achievement, and I can never be sufficiently grateful that I had the wit to charge through that door and make the most of it. Now, when I read constantly about the way in which library funds are being cut and cut, I can only think that the door is closing and that American society has found one more way to destroy itself.”

“I am not a Zionist, then, because I don't believe in nations, and because Zionism merely sets up one more nation to trouble the world. It sets up one more nation to have "rights" and "demands" and "national security" and to feel it must guard itself against its neighbors. There are no nations! There is only humanity. And if we don't come to understand that right soon, there will be no nations, because there will be no humanity. ”

“I have never, in all my life, not for one moment, been tempted toward religion of any kind. The fact is that I feel no spiritual void. I have my philosophy of life, which does not include any aspect of the supernatural and which I find totally satisfying. I am, in short, a rationalist and believe only that which reason tells me is so.”

“The age of the pulp magazine was the last in which youngsters, to get their primitive material, were forced to be literate.”

“Having reached 451 books as of now doesn't help the situation. If I were to be dying now, I would be murmuring, "Too bad! Only four hundred fifty-one." (Those would be my next-to-last words. The last ones will be: "I love you, Janet.") [They were. -Janet.]”

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We need to talk about Kevin
Drama, English Movies

We need to talk about Kevin directed by Lynne Ramsay

We-Need-to-Talk-About-Kevin "We need to talk about Kevin" is a film you wont forget in a hurry…the theme and the mood that the film creates will ensure this

This is one film that is truly difficult to review. It cannot be easily bracketed. What makes this even more difficult is that its in the form of a narrative where the narrator herself does not quite seem 'balanced'. The movie is adapted from the novel by the same name by Lionel Shriver

If I have to best describe it, "We need to talk about Kevin" is a horror film in the most terrifying sense. It turns what we consider our safe haven – the family, the home, the child and parents into an universe where horror can happen almost casually and naturally. And its not the horror of a ghost or a supernatural being or something not of this world but the horror which is completely human.

What if your child is destined to kill when he grows up and somehow, in some chilling way, you had an inkling of this ever since he was born?

Eva (Tilda Swinton ) is the mother of Kevin. The film opens with Eva living in a rundown house, with a host of neighbours who hate the sight of her. Her house and car is defaced with paint and graffiti. Eva seems neurotically nervous andwe_need_to_talk_about_kevin-large jumpy. And right from the start we know that something has gone terribly wrong with her life.

That is the life we are slowly shown – in carefully crafted flashbacks. From her wooing by Franklin (John C Reilly) to her wedding, it seems like a fairytale. Then Kevin is born and things slowly change, irrevocably. Right from the start Kevin seems to be at war with his mother – almost willfully playing mind games with her at an age when he had not even learned to walk on fours. And believe me, the child Kevin can be quite frightening. The father is always blind to Eva's pleas and explanations – dismissing them as something that exists inside her mind only. And Kevin, right until the end, acts absolutely 'normal' with the father, who until the very end continues to treat everything as normal. Eva, it would seem is the only one, to whom Kevin shows his true self.

The film switches between the present and the past, both of them slowly coming closer. You slowly get an inkling as to what may have happened. Of course nothing quite prepares you for what actually happens…

Eva seems to have become permanently imbalanced but continues to try and find a way to come to terms with 'normal' life. Once a successful travel writer, she takes work in a small travel agency and drives home alone to her ramshackle We-Need-to-Talk-About-Kev-007 house. She becomes so used to people hating her that small kindness or a friendly word seems to actually rattle her. One can literally feel the nightmarish world her life is. And yet she hangs on to life and whatever sanity she has left. And you wonder what she is hanging on for…

And as the film progresses we see that she visits Kevin, who is now in prison. And until the very final scene, they sit opposite each other without talking, without speaking one word, not even looking at each other properly.

What is so powerful about the film is that dialogues are sparse. The rest is filled with imagery and music and noise. The imagery used is probably one of the best ever created in cinema.The opening scene is of Eva soaked in red tomato juice in Tomatina festival followed by a white satin curtain blowing in the wind across a open garden door, the significance of which we get at the very end. The music is eerie and beautiful with a tinge of horror at the edges. The song – "Everyday" originally sung by Buddy Holly, one of my favourites, is played back in a slow moving, eerily shot Halloween backdrop, while Eva is driving home. It has altered the song for me forever. The noise and the silence used in this film is used like a sharp weapon – the scene of Eva drowning out baby Kevin's cries with the noise of a drilling site is a scene that will haunt.

Combine this with the haunting presence of Tilda Swinton and an atmosphere of impending disaster throughout. "We need to talk about Kevin" will keep coming at you long after its over…

In the end, a note regarding the imagery again. A lot of this movie is perception. Its about how you want to interpret it. Eva is seen scrubbing off the graffiti and the paint off her door and window throughout the movie, slowly, painfully butWeNeedtoTalkAboutKevinTomatina she keeps at it. And just before her final meeting with Kevin in the film she completes the process. Her door and window is clean again.

 

In the prison, at their final meeting, Eva asked Kevin the simple question – why?. What Kevin says is probably the most chilling yet pitiful part of the whole film. It leaves you unsure of how it goes forward for these two. Eva walks off into the bright white light, ending the film that had started with bright red. Was there redemption? For whom? Was it even possible…

 

You feel a strange pain in your heart as the movie draws to a close. There is a strange sense of closure yet non-closure at the end and it tugs at you.

This is one film that you will think of often and you would think of Kevin and of Eva too…

P.S – A note about Oscars. You see this and you see why Oscar is losing its relevance year after year. A movie like this is not even a contender for many major awards and wins nothing. Truly remarkable!!!

 

 

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The man from earth jerome bixby
English Movies, Science Fiction

The Man from Earth directed by Richard Schenkman

220px-The_Man_from_Earth "The Man from Earth", has become a cult classic, for primarily one single reason

In an age when films and television seek to hold our, supposedly ever shortening, attention-span with ever more doses of action and shocks and thrills, "The Man from Earth" succeeds in holding our completely rapt attention with something which is supposedly, utterly, out of fashion – conversation.

Also, this film became a classic not with any production house backing but by the most democratic popularity of all – word of mouth. In fact, in an extraordinary move, its producers have publicly thanked P2P networks for making this film a success

If someone told you that a whole film can be confined to just one room, having a handful of characters sitting and talking for  the whole length of the movie, you might wonder who in their right sense would make a movie like this in this day and age, much less see it. "Who is afraid of Virginia Woolf?" was a fluke, you may say…

It is here that your intuition might fail you. Because this will be perhaps one of the best movies that you will ever see. Not only will you be held in a complete grip throughout but at the end, you might realize that the best thrills that we get are not from high speed chases or a jump from a skyscraper, but from stimulating ideas – ideas that completely challenge what you think. Ideas, when presented by a skilled scriptwriter, can completely bowl you away. For don't be fooled, "The Man from Earth" is a roller coaster ride, from the starting scene to the end

Conceived originally in early 1960s by Jerome Bixby, of the Star Trek (original) fame and one of the best science fiction writers of all times, "The Man from Earth" was completed on his deathbed in 1998, making this his final work. Fans of science fiction will instantly recognize the imprint of the golden era of science fiction – which depended more on mind expanding ideas rather than on exotic unrelatable visuals

John Oldman is a departing university professor, who is thrown a farewell party by a handful of his colleagues, at his house. The departure is sudden and Oldman's colleagues want to know why he is in such a hurry to leave. Oldman isman from earth group reluctant but under pressure, he begins to tell his extraordinary story. He begins by asking his colleagues to suppose a hypothetical situation, a possibility – what if a Cro-Magnon man survived to this day, thus living for 14000 years!!! That's the spark that sets this film alight.

Among Oldman's colleagues is an archaeologist, a biologist, an art historian and a devout Christian and a psychiatrist. When such a pantheon of minds is confronted with a fantastic idea as agelessness, the setting is perfect for a firefight – of words. And it does not disappoint. Each person has his own unique take on the situation and everyone fights a duel between believing this fantastic possibility and their own prejudices and beliefs. Its extraordinarily stimulating to hear  the ideas that come forth. Everything is challenged – from history and the way we look at it, religion and what we believe, our ideas about our minds, our deep seated cultural beliefs. And tightly packed into ninety odd minutes, this is one long conversation that you wish will never end!! It is like a concoction of a high caffeine mixed with mind expanding drugs…

Slowly the utter shock at the onset is replaced by credulity followed by a grudging wonderment of the possibility. And then of course there is the dynamite climax. A climax that is as shattering as any Dan Brown could have dreamt of. And 2409_5 the way that this happens keeps you on the tenterhooks throughout. The script and the pace never slackens and as you are slowly drawn into the absorbing setting inside Oldman's house, the mood changes subtly as revelations and possibilities become even more fantastic and real at the same time.

Daylight is slowly replaced by flickering fireplace as the people inside the room face a life-changing dilemma – to overturn everything that they had believed in – about history, religion, beliefs, culture or to try and find a way to believe the whole story to be untrue. The struggle between letting the mind expand and staying within the comfort zone of common wisdom becomes fierce as the film rushes to the end.

This is one film that will make you hold your breath till the end by just talking to you.

Watch this!! That's the only thing I can say – you wont be disappointed even if your favourite movie till yesterday has been American Pie!!

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Gladiators Arthur Koestler
Book Review, Historical, Recently Posted

Gladiators written by Arthur Koestler

gladiators

‘It is written: the wind comes and the wind goes, and does not leave a trace. Man comes, and man is gone, and knows nothing of the fate of his fathers and has no knowledge of the future of his seed. The rain falls into the river, and the river drowns in the sea, but the sea becomes no greater. All is vanity.’

 

Gladiators by Arthur Koestler is a retelling of the Spartacus story that will leave cringing those who lapped up Kirk Douglas in the role of the slave revolutionary and those who have read Howard Fast's "Spartacus".

This is a story not particularly of Spartacus as it is about his revolution. And the fate of any revolution as envisioned by Arthur Koestler

Spartacus is a completely historical figure who is shrouded in a mythical aura.

One of the most well known rebel in history, the word Spartacus has come to define defiance in the face of oppression and freedom in the face of tyranny. Little is known about him factually since his history was written by the ones who vanquished him, the Roman republic.

The legend of Spartacus has lived down to the present day and has continued to inspire revolutionaries. Any slave rebellion, before slavery went out of fashion, was compared to the Spartacus revolution. Toussaint L Overture, who found a slave republic in Haiti, was known as the "Black Spartacus". The long shadow of the insurrection by the gladiators 2000 years ago…

It is easy to romanticize Spartacus and the slave rebellion. It has all the ingredients of a modern day Hollywood hit – complete with a square jawed hero standing upto the might of the Roman empire. A slave, a gladiator, a trained killer who kills for the crowds pleasure turning on his master and attempts to change the course of history single-handedly.

A Spartacus that gives stirring speech – of the equality of man and right to freedom and then inspires his fellow slaves to start a rebellion that shook the Roman Empire to its core. The tragic end, the underdog going down fighting, crushed by treachery and bad luck but preserving his honour till the end.

The "I am Spartacus" at the end of the Kirk Douglas movie was stirring but probably untrue.

Almost seems formulaic and scripted.

Except that it really happened…

Not the melodrama.

But the rebellion was a unique aberration in the long history of empire building of the Romans. It did shake the empire and Spartacus did inspire awe and fear among his enemies. Hannibal and Spartacus were the favourite bogeymen of Roman mothers – Hannibal a decorated enemy prince and Spartacus a mere arena gladiator.

The memory of Spartacus in Roman society, completely dependent on submissive slave force, was immense and deep…

Although what he spoke and thought or even what he looked like has not been recorded. If he ever wrote a memoir, it has been lost to posterity. So Spartacus is an open field for interpretation. And since everyone likes a dashing hero, people have forged him in their own imagination

Gladiators Arthur Koestler Where Koestler's book "Gladiators" differs from tellings is that it looks at the Spartacus revolution as a whole and does not dwell on the man himself. Koestler's Spartacus is not a superman but an extraordinary man thrust into greatness in an environment not of his choosing. Koestler's Spartacus is not a man who has a great vision of history or of his rebellion but is willing to learn along the way. He is an able leader, a brilliant tactician and a man who is willing to lead his people. He is not without his doubts but is willing to find answers and experiment

"Gladiators" is more about is the rebellion itself with Spartacus just a character. Koestler's telling of the story is about how the rebellion, and by extension all the rebellions before and after, exists outside of the characters.

Spartacus is not above the rebellion. In fact it is the rebellion which controls him. Inexorably, history pulls Spartacus and Crixus and the other slaves into an iconic rebellion they themselves had not planned. It does not start with any stirring speech but with an act of defiance.

The nature of man takes care of the next part and history at its time completes the story. The yearning for freedom is the most innate feeling of man. Spartacus just follows it and then acts according to what is thrown at him.

“Gladiators” is about the inevitable failure of a mass revolutionary movement that is based on ideals alone. The utopia that exists in the dreams of man is doomed to failure, 2000 years ago or a century ago. One man’s search for utopia is different from other’s search for utopia. Inevitably, good actions for the greater good ends up doing the same damage that the revolution originally intended to abolish. Spartacus had to crucify his own men to uphold his dream, the same way that the Cheka (the early secret police of the Soviets) imprisoned their own people to uphold the common man’s utopia.

"Gladiators" is also about two men of the revolution – Spartacus and Crixus, two faces of the same rebellion. Spartacus is the idealized hero, looking to find cosmic answers to his endeavors. Crixus only knows one dictum – "Eat or be eaten". Spartacus realizes the truth of Crixus at the end and Crixus,in the end appreciates what Spartacus represented about the revolution.

Koestler throws open the question to the reader – who was the real hero? Spartacus who toiled for the ideal "Sun State" only to demolish it himself or dour faced Crixus, who knew that nothing is worth the effort and one should just live for themselves.

And that is the real thrust of the book – Can a revolution actually succeed without compromising on its lofty ideals? Can a revolution against oppression survive without oppressing its own children? Can a revolution exist outside of human nature? Can valour and sacrifice justify the dictum of – for the greater good? Can a revolution succeed when promising a paradise tomorrow and giving hell today?

This being the first of Koestler's trilogy, next being "Darkness at Noon" and ………, you can see Koestler developing hisArthur koestler- theory of revolutions which he sharpens with his "Darkness at Noon", the most famous of his work. But even if "Darkness at Noon" was about the Russian Revolution and "Gladiators" is set in ancient Rome, the same theme recurs.

Koestler is saying that nothing changes, even after 2000 years.

It is not a book that would be easily recommended to someone who is about to start Koestler, but I would suggest reading this before reading his other work. Not only can you see the progression of Koestler's ideas but Gladiators is a brilliant book in its own right.

It is surprising that it is not more widely known. Maybe"Darkness at Noon" overshadows this or probably people are happy with the fairy tale telling of the other Spartacus…

End point – this thin book will probably change more than a few beliefs – about history, about idealism, about myths and about rebellions….A must have…

 

Some quotes Gladiators by Arthur Koestler –

 

‘Anyone can live—but dying is an art and takes some learning,’ he kept on admonishing his gladiators

 

‘Truly,’ he said to the slaves, ‘your chains must be dear to your hearts and of great bliss to your bodies. I for one cannot see anything else on this estate that you can call your own and could wish to defend with your lives. Or did they tell me lies, or do those fowls lay eggs for your breakfast, do those cows yearn for the bull to increase your herds,

 

the relatives of Death, such as Honour, Shame and Duty, exist for him only who has no ken of reality. For reality, mucous, unspeakably delicate, with its mesh of thin veins, is not made to be torn to bits by some pointed object. And now Praetor Clodius Glaber knows that dying is unutterably stupid—more stupid still than life itself

 

So there it was again, the Sign on which the gladiator’s fate depended. There was no escape from it. Jewelled, loosely wrinkled, that thumb pointed down, dishonoured life and degraded death to a spectacle, pierced even one’s dreams.

 

It is the same with prophecies as with clothes. There they hang in the tailor’s shop, many men pass them, many a man they would fit. One comes and takes the robe. And so it is made for him—for he has taken it unto him…. What really matters is, that it suits fashion and period. It must fit in with the taste of the time—the wishes of many—the need and longing desire of many…

 

He who aims to plant a garden must start out by weeding

 

He himself had once seen better days: and despite his earnest endeavours to do so he had never been able to imagine the mental make-up of a man who had never seen better days

 

Many a man has strutted the road of tyranny, at the outset solely with the purpose of serving his lofty ideals, and in the end the road alone made him carry on

 

It is the same as with war: everybody discusses it, some are for it, some against, but no one honestly believes that it will eventually materialise; and when it is really upon them, they are astounded that they were right. There is no surprise greater than that of the prophet whose prophecies come true. For there is a great laziness of habit in the thoughts of man, and a smiling voice deeply buried inside him, which whispers that Tomorrow will be just like Today and Yesterday. And, against his better judgment, he believes it. And that is really a mercy, for otherwise he could not live with the knowledge of his certain death

 

and also crosses grew in a corner by the North Gate, on which died those whose lives were forfeited in the interests of common welfare, those who had not been able to submit to the stern laws of freedom

 

In the evenings people told each other stories about the wicked time of slavery, it lay far behind them, and now only half of it was true

 

He means well, you say? Of course he means well, that’s the worst of it

 

For the damage done by the congenitally wicked tyrant is confined to the field of his personal interests and his personal cruelty; but the well-meaning tyrant who has a lofty reason for everything, can do unlimited damage

 

And I tell you, it is dangerous to combine so much power in the fist, and so many lofty reasons in the head, of one single person. In the beginning the head will always order the fist to strike from lofty reasons; later on the fist strikes of its own accord and the head supplies the lofty reasons afterwards

 

But past experience evaporates quickly from the memory of man, and the more tormenting the experience, the quicker it devours every trace of itself

 

But man is not allowed to shape his existence independently of the system, conditions and laws of his time

 

Who cast the die, decided a man’s life before he was born? He gave noses unto all of them, stuck eyeballs into them, guts and sex, without much difference. But he set them apart in their mothers’ wombs already, some were never to smile, nor be smiled at, the others were dragged into the light of day, and for them shone the sun

 

‘Can you hear them, brethren, do you hear them?’ shrieked Zozimos and waved his sleeves like banners. ‘Do you hang well, brethren? Does freedom cut nicely into your limbs? Do its splinters tear your flesh? It’s the Sun State, that stuff which flows red from your mouths. They’ve skewered you like worms, so that every one may see the time of Justice and Goodwill is come

 

As for your returning, I can see quite well why you did it,’ said Hegio. ‘I too have within me those two opposed energies: the desire to depart and the desire to remain. You might also call them the desire to destroy and the desire to preserve. There are only those two whether you search without or within you; and their strife is eternal. For each victory gained by one over the other is but a sham-conquest which cannot last; just as the change from life into death has its vicious circle and is only seemingly final. He who departs remains chained to his memories, and he who stays abandons himself to painful longings. And throughout the ages men and women have crouched on ruins, lamenting they said: the time is not ripe, it is either too young or too old

 

THIS IS THE LAST RESTING PLACE OF HERMIOS, A LUCANIAN SHEPHERD; HE LONGED TO EAT FIELDFARE WITH BACON JUST ONCE BUT WAS PREVENTED. YOU WHO PASS HERE, REMEMBER THAT NO ONE SHOULD EAT FIELDFARE WITH BACON AS LONG AS ONE MAN LIVES ON THIS EARTH WHO MAY NOT TASTE OF THEM

 

‘It is written: the wind comes and the wind goes, and does not leave a trace. Man comes, and man is gone, and knows nothing of the fate of his fathers and has no knowledge of the future of his seed. The rain falls into the river, and the river drowns in the sea, but the sea becomes no greater. All is vanity.’

 

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Descendants george clooney
Drama, English Movies, Popular

Descendants directed by Alexander Payne

Descendants flatters to deceive…unfortunately

descendants-movie-golden-gl__oPt What happens when your wife suffers a terrible accident and you know that she is never going to wake up from her coma

At a time when you were contemplating resurrecting a marriage that has gone cold

and you are like a stranger to your own children because you have been busy with your work too long

And then you are hit with the revelation that your wife had been cheating on you and was planning to leave you

What happens is that you get a brilliant premise for what can be a brilliant movie. Except "Descendants" flatters to deceive and wastes what is Clooney's brilliancy

I haven't read the book that 'Descendants' is based on but from the reviews I read, it seems that the strengths of the book has not translated into the movie's strengths

George Clooney as Matt King is a man who has been busy with being a lawyer and a land baron rather than being a father and a husband. As he mentions at the start, his younger daughter has grown from 3 to 10 and he has not been witness to the in between years and his older daughter has a drug problem. They are strangers to each other. And now they have to get to know each other since the connecting link between them, their mother, is gone.

As Matt grapples with the problem of how to relate to his two daughters and how to handle the grief of his wife'sfirst_clip_of_george_clooney_s_the_descendants_arrives-558x345 accident, he finds out from his own daughter that his wife was having an affair. In a tizzy, Matt rushes off in his slippers, in the famous running scenes shown in the promos, face taut with agony and shock to find out the details from his wife's friend.

And so begins a hunt for the wife's lover. With his daughters in tow, Matt goes on a road trip to confront the man. Whom he finds eventually. And the movies drags on to a close…

About this time, the 'Descendants' started to lose the plot for me. I mean, the first part was barely holding it out and the second part left me completely cold…

My biggest gripe is that the script leaves us feeling Matt as pretty one-dimensional. Except for flashes of nascent spark in the first part, especially when he finds out about his wife's infidelity, Matt seems mostly unperturbed by his wife's  condition. Beside grappling with the daughters, whom he seems to get back in touch more or less easily, he seemed to spend much of the time preparing for his wife's death. The anger that he feels at his wife's betrayal does not lead to anything much except for a somewhat farcical hunt for the lover. And when he does find him, you would expect some riveting dialogues…doesn't happen.

The-Descendants-007You would expect a man in his situation to be introspective – after all, there might have been good reasons for his wife's infidelity. He was not always there and she was lonely might have been one. But we never get to see that side of the story. Even the goodbye scene with his wife seems out of the blue, with almost no buildup. Does he forgive her, does he forgive himself? We don't know.

We see how Clooney, as Matt is trying to deal with on the outside but we don't get to see the inside of the man. There is attempt at humour but they come out as unnecessarily lighthearted. And there is attempt at grief but they come out a little contrived. Even the decision about the land – we don't get to know whether that was a genuine decision from the heart or an attempt to get back…

After a while it becomes a little difficult to connect to what is happening on the screen. There is not much here that descendants_trailerfin_hdwould separate this from numerous other movies with the same theme.

Descendants had a unique chance to show us the turmoil of a man who is very much of our times, caught in a pincer between a world that he neglected but depended on and a world where he spent much of his time but which becomes a stranger to him. And it had the talents of George Clooney for doing exactly that. 

Unfortunately, inspite of the best attempts of Clooney, the Descendants neither quite sparkles nor connects. It just about whets your appetite – to read the book…by Kaui Hart Hemmings of the same name…

Well that's just my opinion. How did you find Descendants?

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paan-singh-tomar
Bollywood Movies, Popular, Thriller

Paan Singh Tomar directed by Tigmanshu Dhulia

paan-singh-tomar-l

Paan Singh Tomar makes for good movie recipe…a national sports champion turning bandit to avenge injustice

Like a desi Robin Hood

Paan Singh Tomar, the movie, is also a sad testimony to the fact that unless he had turned bandit, a movie would not have been made on him. Not if he had broken a thousand sports record

The movie itself proves what the movie tries to say.

Ironic

The real Paan singh But it makes for a great script. And with the irrepressible Irrfan Khan in the lead role, you can expect the screen to come alive. And it does. Irrfan Khan brings to Paan Singh Tomar an amused dead pan humour that suits both Paan Singh the athlete and the Paan Singh the bandit

Like Paan Singh Tomar says in the beginning, while giving an interview – “dacait to parliament me hai, hum to baagi hai” (dacoits are in parliament, I am an outlaw)

 

Its the same Paan Singh Tomar who readily joined the army sports team because he was told that he could eat as much as want without limits

The movie starts off with a flashback, while giving an interview to a local newspaper, of how he first becomes a national steeplechase champion, creating records that will stand for decades and then how a disillusioned Paan Singh turned bandit to avenge his land grabbing of his ancestral property

There is good rhythm in the first part as we see the rustic youth in the army turning into an athlete. His talents as anPaan singh soldier inexhaustible runner is soon recognized and he goes on to represent India at the Asian Games. He is a good family man and is content with loving his wife and his children. Mahie Gill as his wife plays the perfect supporting role – a wife who will support Paan Singh no matter what and who understands why he has to act the way he did.

The first half ends with the transformation of Paan Singh Tomar as he is pushed into what has been both the curse and the blessing of Chambal valley. Turning bandit is both an act of liberation and defiance and an act of desperation. And Paan Singh tries his damn hardest to defy his fate – going through all ‘proper channels’ to try and get his issue resolved.

He even tries to use his sports medal to try and persuade. In a heart-wrenching moment when his medals are thrown away by an openly corrupt police inspector, Paan Singh finally sees the truth. He sees the only way open…

Mocked and derided at every turn by a compromised establishment, facing apathy by even the district collector, Paan Singh does what many men and women before him had done and what many after him will do – he turns to the only route that will give him justice. Through the barrel of a gun

The second half is his journey as a bandit – from taking his revenge to finally falling to police bullets, refusing to surrender till the end.

The second half is also the story of the sheer futility that he faces as he realizes that he has to be always on the run. Even if he completes his revenge, he realizes, there is no going back. Paan Singh Tomar will only run for his life now. He can never again run for sport. As he gains notoriety and his gang becomes big, he knows that he only has to go forward. That this was the life chosen for him. Not by him but chosen for him.

I do have an issue with the second part. It seemed a little incomplete. The Paan Singh we could relate to in the first half paan_singh_tomar_20120319 seemed to disappear somewhat in the second half. The storytelling in the second part dealt more with action than with the man. We see he becomes a bandit but what we don't see what it does to him. Except for a few scattered dialogues, we don't see the dilemma much. The man who loved his family to bits – does he not miss the wife that he loved so much? If he did and I am sure he did, that fact never makes an appearance. We know that he realizes the futility of it all but Irrfan Khan as the Paan Singh Tomar on screen does not share it with us.

However the second half is action packed and the chase that ensues between Paan Singh and his main nemesis is one the most riveting moment. Especially when Paan Singh uses the same strategy to run over obstacles as he did when he ran for India – the tragedy of his situation could not have been made starker

The end is shot with care and the very last that we see of Paan Singh leaves you with a good closure…

Another thing to note is that the dialogues are almost completely in rustic dialect. This is a great move. Since you understand what is being said well enough, the dialect gives a very earthy and real feel to the movie. You can almost feel how Paan Singh must have talked

Overall, Paan Singh Tomar is a welcome direction that Hindi movies are taking. India is filled with folklore and mythical figures.Chambal folklore especially has never been exploited as it should have been. Man Singh, Putli Bai cry out for a245909-paan-singh-tomar portrayal on the screen. We really don't need to go to exotic locales or dance in Greece or in front of pyramids to get audiences anymore

Paan Singh Tomar's success is testimony to the fact that the we, the audience today, want a good story told. And we want a a sincere movie not a fluff in the wind…

This one really should not be missed. Irrfan Khan as Paan Singh Tomar will leave quite a mark on you… and so will the ending credits, when you realize just how many sportsmen have been neglected to death. Makes the movie even more telling…

This is a good article that I found on the web post the movie release – well written piece on a journalists journey today to Paan Singh's homeland

Times crest article – here

and a Frontline article related to Chambal dacoits – here

What do you think?

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Kahaani Vidya BalanYou get an immense shock of a revelation. A twist that leaves you grappling with the realization that you have been taken on a merry go round for the 99% of the movie.

 

All the beliefs and convictions that you had built up during watching the movie is shattered completely. You start seeing the whole story from a radically different perspective and you get that A-ha moment when you pinpoint the places that you were taken for a ride. And you realize that there were no flaws and that indeed there were two stories running in parallel – one which you were being told and one that was actually happening

 

The best of the suspense thriller aims to do exactly this. Ask Hitchcock. And as any avid movie watcher knows, such movies are truly hard to find. Among Hindi movies, one that springs to mind is "Kaun", featuring Urmila Matondkar and to some extent "Khamosh" starring Naseerudin Shah.

 

What do you get when you start off with a terrorist attack, then get a pregnant woman searching for a missing husband in the crumbling magical city of Kolkata, a mole in the Intelligence beareau and a race against time to uncover a mystery that seems to become15NXG_KAHAANI_951357f unsolvable by the minute? You get "Kahaani" or a "Story". And unless you see the end, you would not know what a perfect yarn has been scripted

 

After seeing "Kahaani" one can say with belief that this one will go down as one of the best well made movie of this genre. Not only is the story impeccable, not only is the premise well thought through but what makes the "Kahaani" complete is the environment. The sounds, sights, the camera work, the music, the hotel room, the chase through the alley way, the puja preparation, the poignant flashbacks. Everything makes this a complete delightful package

 

And a big part of the environment is the city in which everything takes place – Kolkata.

 

Kolkata is a magical place for a lot of reasons. But the Kolkata brought alive in "Kahaani" is truly a delight. By turns eerie, by turns old world charm, always colorful both in characters and happenings, Kolkata in "Kahaani" is one helluva interesting place. And for once the Kolkata depicted is not the cliché Kolkata depicted in movies like "City of Joy" or the invisible one in "Yuva". The sights and sounds and the people are much more authentic than anything else you have seen.

 

The characters in "Kahaani" gives it the special edge that a movie. Bob, the harmless looking Still-from-Kahaani insurance agent who is actually a hitman is probably one of the creepiest character to be shown on screen; Rana, a newbie Kolkata sub-inspector, who starts off getting involved out of a sense of gallantry and then gets enmeshed in something much more sinister; Khan – the Intelligence guy who is a ruthless pragmatist.

 

And Vidya or as the Bengalis keep insisting – Bidya. Vidya Balan is truly an actor to watch out for. The sheer versatility she is capable of not only shows in the difference between her "Dirty Picture" and "Kahaani" but also within "Kahaani". By parts vulnerable, by parts pragmatic, by parts manipulative, by parts teasing, "Kahaani" is a powerful vindication of Vidya Balan's ability to carry a movie completely on her shoulders. Never did you feel the need for a hero, so completely she dominates the story. It helps of course that she had a powerful story and a talented cast to back her up. But nonetheless, take Vidya Balan out of the movie, there would be a glaring vacuum.

 

Vidya as the pregnant woman searching for a husband who for all purposes seems to have abandoned her is one of the most memorable character in recent Hindi movie history. She kahaani-cinema-038manages to exact your sympathy and your awe at the same time as she struggles against an  advanced pregnancy to follow up every lead on her missing husband. And as she slowly gets enmeshed in a much bigger plot, as her life comes under danger, you get involved completely in trying to solve the mystery for her, working out every possible angle in your head

 

Every possible angle except the one that is right!!!

 

The ending makes this perfect movie complete. The five minutes of shock you experience as you digest what has been revealed is worth every paisa you have spent in getting that movie theatre seat or in buying the DVD…

 

This is a movie that can be enjoyed only in its seeing. Nothing else comes close. Just go and see it!!

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