Friday, August 15, 2014

Robin Williams and Popeye, the Underrated Début.

We like certain people for the positivity that they radiate. Robin Williams was one such guy. Many of his movies, even the lesser ones, make the viewer feel happy and content, just by his magnificent presence. So, it was with shock that I woke up to the news of his demise. My despair knew no bounds when I found out it may be a suicide. This guy, who, as per me was the most cheerful guy on reels, was apparently depressed and sad in his real life. This fact took some time to sink in. Guys, if any one of you feel discontent or sad or depressed; feel free to get help immediately. That's all I have to say on this topic.

The first movie of Robin Williams that I watched was Mrs. Doubtfire, the one that inspired Avvai Shanmughi (Chachi 420 in Hindi). It was a riot. After that I happened to see Jumanji, Flubber, Patch Adams and much later Good Will Hunting. I have not seen many of his films that are the favorites of critics except the last one that I mentioned. But even these movies were sufficient to make me realize the talent of Robin Williams. Most of his roles had a sweet, sugary and a little bit loony undertone and mostly he played the pretty ordinary guy who do extraordinary deeds compelled by circumstances very convincingly. It was only recently that I watched one of his negative roles, in the movie Insomnia by director Christopher Nolan. Even in that movie the subtlety that Robin Williams displays in portraying a psychopath is commendable.

Some years back I was browsing Wikipedia about the cartoon character Popeye, one of my childhood favorites, when I first came to know about a live action Popeye movie released in 1980. It was the first leading role of Robin Williams. It was registered in my mind as an awesome trivia. Yesterday in an article about his movie career, I came across Popeye movie again. So out of respect to this wonderful man, I decided to watch Popeye and blog about it.  The movie, directed by Robert Altman was in its time panned by critics and was just a moderate success. May be these factors stopped them from producing a sequel, but the movie had every potential for the start of a series.

First thing that makes this one special is the presence of Robin Williams, who plays Popeye just like in the cartoon but simultaneously renders him that extra depth which only a genius could do. The movie itself is very close to the cartoon. It has high energy, craziness and a bizarre sense of humor. The set of the village of Sweethaven makes a perfect background. There is very little plot or characterization. The movie unfolds in a totally haphazard manner. Lot of characters just come and go on screen with no more purpose than a background prop. Some of them make a lasting impression- like that guy who tries to pick his fallen hat but fails as his feet strikes it away from him every time he tries! But for me, surprisingly all these work brilliantly.

The humor is mostly verbal and a very little slapstick. I was expecting more of slapstick as it was about Popeye and due to the presence of Robin Williams. The way Popeye speaks to himself, just like the cartoon is brilliant. Robin Williams convincingly portrays him as an awkward and at the same time tender guy. There is a scene were Wimpy takes Seetpea for betting in horse race. All the horses are small plastic toys operated by wheels, and the place is inside a brothel! Did I forget to tell the movie is actually a musical? The songs are very funny and not just inserted to please the ears of viewers. The one inside the saloon is hilarious.

It is a very crazy movie, the cacophony of which may not be liked by many disciplined viewers. But I would recommend it to the adventurous ones and for the fans of Robin Williams.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Sunday Tweet War

Normally I never go for an argument with strangers, not in real life, never in cyberspace, especially about politics. Because it never changes a thing, other than generate lot of negativity. Today was an exception. I was doing my regular twitter rounds when I reached the timeline of Indian National Congress. For one of their tweets, I replied.

INC tweet:
#TheIndiaTheyInherited - Due to pro-poor UPA policies
More homes turn to PDS; wheat off-take triples since 2005 http://t.co/vvioayfqzg

My reply:
@INCIndia real progress is when common man has disposable income not depending sudsidized food supply

After minutes of posting that I got this reply from Mr Nikhil which started this conversation:

Nikhil: till then? Should we leave poor dieing without food n shelter? We must appreciate good work done by UPA in last 25 yrs

Me: We are a free nation from 65 years. Why still there are poor dying? Till when this will continue? The only way out is to give poor a fishing rod once and for all, instead of a daily supply of fish.

Nikhil: yes, agreed with this too. For the same reason Rojgaar yojna n mnrega by UPA. We must appreciate Manmohan and his team

Me: Any yearly  study done how this scheme has benefitted economy? Or was that another handout? Is there an upgradation in skills of the people in this yojana?

Nikhil: People got jobs, spending power increased, so increased demands, to fulfill demands, more supply, thus more jobs.

Me: a link pls.

Nikhil: UPAs reforms n policies are always inclusive and conducive to kickstart the sluggish economy. Hats off to Manmohan.

Me: Why economy is still sluggish and not kick started yet?

Nikhil: Good schemes take time to flourish n reach the people. Many people opposed the computers and IT initially.

Me: How many years? 10 not enough? Then y INC criticising the new govt which is month old?

Nikhil: Instead of bluntly blaming, we should analyze the challenges n conditions before 65 years to realize INCs contribution

Me: I am not blaming. Look the election results.

Nikhil: agreed with this too. Thanks to Nehru for making India truly democratic. So we should respect the mandate.
We must respect mandates in 65y, MMS got 2nd term. IG was PM for 15y, JLN was PM for 17y. Why? They performed well.

Me: So we can conclude that UPA II was a failure as the result was disastrous. PM who performed well got repeat mandate. (Ur words). UPA2 did not get another term. Bcos of non performance.

Nikhil: Good to see that you come down from 65y to UPA2. Not at all disastrous, but few things mishandled. Corruption n Anna.

Me: was using ur logic n assuming the govts that got repeated mandates did well. few mishandling cost you an election?

Nikhil: UPA1,2 performed tremendously well but failed to project their achievements. They should learn Modi style of marketing

Me: So now u r not respecting mandate. U accuse people where manipulated?

Nikhil: Lets give some time n wish bestluck to Modiji. Lets hope he continue on the path defined by Manmohan Singh.

Me: Let's do it. I hope he doesn't repeat the grave mistakes of previous govts.

Nikhil: Not manipulated but Modiji succeeded in projecting that last 65yrs were disastrous due to Congress. Which is not true.

Me: So who were responsible?

Nikhil: Obviously UPA, but not everything was as disastrous like Modiji projected during his campaign. UPA should introspect.

Me: Supposing Modi has projected a 100% disaster rule by UPA, how much of a disaster it actually was?

Conversation continues.... Will update later.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Killing Jesus by Bill O' Reilly and Martin Dugard

Bill O’ Reilly and Martin Dugard had written two other books- Killing Kennedy and Killing Lincoln, both best sellers, before writing Killing Jesus. I wanted to read them, as the concept sounded good. But now, after reading Killing Jesus, I don’t want to waste time on them. No, it’s not that Killing Jesus is a bad book. I will come to that later, anyhow. Killing Jesus is a book that tries to unveil the mysteries behind the crucification of Jesus. It is supposed to be a historical recounting of the events that culminated in the crucification and eventual death (as per authors) of the Son of God (as per Bible).

The book starts with giving the readers an account of Rome and their times. It discusses the last days of Julius Ceaser and the ascend of Augustus Ceaser eventually. Then the narrative move to Jerusalem and describes the political and religious climate there and how the local rulers and priests have masterminded strategies to align themselves in favor of ruling Rome. John, the Baptizer arrives next and after that only the story of Jesus Christ starts. The book then follows Jesus preaching, gathering followers one by one, challenging religious authorities and cleansing the temple. When his activities start disturbing them, priests conspire and execute him with the help of Roman authorities.

I had told in first para that this book is not bad. Killing Jesus is written fabulously. It has every requirement of a page turner- intrigue, great plot, and superb descriptions of the times, a multi-dimensional tormented hero and lot of things happening every moment. I could not put this one down.  My issue is the authors’ claim that this is a historical account of the life of Jesus, while actually the book is more of a historical drama. A historical book and a historical novel are poles apart. In a book of history there will be account of events, details of the times and analysis of happenings.

Killing Jesus seriously misses out on the third thing. The writers just present the data available to them chronologically and try to milk the dramatic turn of events. Their claim that this book has revelations on the tale of Jesus is totally wrong. It was the same story that I knew from the time I read the New Testament for first time. It does not deviate much from Gospels, only some chronological rearrangement is done. Also all the supernatural occurrences are removed and the eventual resurrection is mentioned in a passing, to align with the concept of a historical version of events. Therefore here Jesus does not perform any miracles.

So finally what we have here is a version of New Testament, a well written one that mix and match the happenings in different Gospels and devoid of any supernatural occurrences. Also with an overlong prelude that involves Roman history which is included especially to sow the seeds of hate in reader’s mind.  And I don’t want to mention factual errors and Biblical inaccuracies, the details of which can be obtained from the experts’ mouth directly if you do a google search.  

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Non-Stop Thrills from Liam Neeson

Before watching Non-Stop, the latest of the action flicks starring aged Liam Neeson that Hollywood is regularly churning out recently, I had seen enough bad reviews for it. One reason why critics panned the movie was due to its similarities with previous Liam Neeson movies- Taken and others. Other than that, it is the usual issues with action movies, not having enough logic binding the plot, silly characterization and such.  As I don’t have any issues with generic movies and I don’t expect any Oscar worthy qualities from action movies, I jumped in to watch it.

Non-Stop has Liam Neeson as an alcoholic, but good-intentioned Air Marshal, who gets a message in his phone, which has a secured network, during his flight that if an obscene amount is not transferred to a bank account, every 20 minutes one person will die. Soon he realizes that the threat is real when people start dying around him in that interval. His fellow passengers infer that he himself is the culprit as circumstantial evidences point towards him. Even on ground he is implicated as the bank account to which money has to be transferred is in his name. Neeson has to find out the actual culprit, diffuse a ticking time bomb, save the plane and prevent any more killings and all these confronting a horde of irate passengers.  

I loved the movie. It starts with a good concept and builds on it. Thrills are pretty good. After a long time I am watching an action movie that does not entirely depend on elaborate set pieces made by computer generated effects. The biggest draw is Liam Neeson, who looks his part and executes it brilliantly. His acting was integral in making me forget or overlook the inconsistencies spread throughout the entire film. Julianne Moore as a fellow suspect and potential romantic interest ably supports him. Other characters do not rise above B movie level as they are not given any scope for that. The climax was a bit of a letdown for me. It was satisfying while watching, but later when I thought about it, it felt lousy. I would say it was somewhere in between Con Air and Speed2: Cruise Control.

Watch Non-Stop for an earnest and very talented Liam Neeson and also for good thrills.  It is good entertainment.  

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Book Review: Why Do Buses Come in Threes?

What is the best way to divide a cake equally between two kids, without any disputes?

Make one kid to divide the cake into two and other one to choose the piece that he wants. That way the first kid knows the cakes are cut equally and second kid is sure he has the biggest piece.

Simple, isn’t it? What if the cake has to be divided between more than two kids? What if the cake is of a complex shape? What if instead of cakes, resources has to be divided, between corporations or nations? “Why Do Buses Come in Threes? “is a book by Rob Eastaway and Jeremy Wyndham that assures us there are ways to do it. This book tries to find mathematics in our everyday life. Math is one of the least favorite subjects of most of the students and many feel a study of math does not affect their life in any way. But the writers assert that math is in fact the building block of our lives, influencing our every movement and every action.

The title of each chapter is a question like the title of the book. Like, “Why are showers always too hot or cold?” The writers then go on to explain fundamental principles based on mathematics to solve them. Almost all the branches of maths- algebra, trigonometry, geometry, logic, probability- you name it appears in it in ways that we never thought possible. By the end of this book we get a good perspective about Fibonacci numbers, problem solving, scheduling projects, betting, surveys, superstitions and much more.

Credit has to go to the writers for detailing complex math fundamentals in a way that can be understood by even high school students. The light humorous way of explaining makes it all the more enjoyable. The book compels the reader to think and find patterns and make connections of events that puzzle us in our daily lives using mathematics. The last chapter contains certain tricks using maths that can make kids more interested in numbers. I would recommend this book as a must read for students of maths and adults alike. It is a must read.