The Science of Sleep (La Science des rêves)

In his fantastic romantic drama Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the director Michel Gondry blurred the lines between dreams, reality and memory. His next movie in French, The Science of Sleep (La Science des rêves), continues on the same course. Stephane has a overly vivid imagination due to which he sees reality as richly as his dreams. On returning to France after a long stint abroad, he lands a boring typesetting job. Things are a bit more interesting at home, where his new neighbour is a pretty girl named Stephanie, who he slowly falls for. But his graphic dream-reality mixups threaten to ruin his relationship.

The Science of Sleep deals with a very interesting concept that is creatively depicted in the movie by using stop motion animation. This sense pervades the entire movie and it feels like a daydream. Stephane has a quaint gift, Stephanie is a quirky girl and we want these two to fall in love. However, they live in this intensely boring plot that turns off even the most optimistic viewer. Watch this movie only if you find the concept interesting.

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Nagamandala (ನಾಗಮಂಡಲ)

Nagamandala (ನಾಗಮಂಡಲ) is a 1997 Kannada movie directed by Nagabharana. Adapted from a play of the same name written by Girish Karnad, the movie was critically acclaimed and won several awards. The play might be based on rural folktales or a custom of the same name practised in the Malnad region. The movie was quite the center of gossip in the late 90s due to its realistic portrayal of the subject matter.

Rani is a motherless young girl from coastal Karnataka, who is married off as soon as she reaches puberty. Appanna, her husband from North Karnataka runs a gymnasium in his village and lives alone in a big house. She repulses his violent advances towards her, angered by which he leaves her locked in the house every day to visit his concubine. In an attempt to fix her marriage, Rani takes the advice of her matchmaker, a blind old woman, and prepares a love potion for Appanna. Things go wrong with her experiment and the potion ends up being ingested by a cobra who lives behind her house. Unbeknownst to Rani, the snake takes the form of her husband and starts visiting her regularly. The situation complicates when Appanna gets suspicious.

Nagamandala is a tightly written, well directed venture. It has all the trappings of a mysterious folktale told around a fire by a superb storyteller. Nagabhrana keeps the settings minimal and true to the North Karnataka environment. The movie uses several songs, 12 of them, to nudge the story forward (much like in a play). Composed by C Ashwath, the music is a winner. Prakash Rai (the husband and the snake), Vijayalakshmi (the bride) and especially Jayashri (the blind woman) have acted excellently. Nagamandala is a mystic folktale that is sure to keep you spellbound! 🙂

Kismat Konnection (क़िस्मत कनेक्शन)

I watched Kismat Konnection (क़िस्मत कनेक्शन) wanting to see how the pair of Vidya Balan and Shahid Kapoor would work onscreen. Directed by Aziz Mirza, the movie is set in Canada where Shahid is a new architect looking for a break. Lady Luck finally shows up in the form of Vidya Balan, a community worker, whose community center will need to be demolished if Shahid is to succeed. (Vidya Balan here reminded me of Sandra Bullock in Two Weeks Notice.)

The plot is amateurish, and the pace so slow that you might prefer to watch paint dry instead. The music is mostly forgettable, the only solace being Kahin Naa Laage Man. Turns out that the copycat Pritam has lifted even this one from a track by The Boss. This movie can be skipped, yes, not worth watching even by the Vidya Balan fans amongst you! 🙂

Parenthood (Seasons 1-2)

I have never been a fan of drama on TV, but my opinions changed on watching Parenthood. This family drama has aired for two seasons starting in 2010. It is supposedly based on a movie of the same name, which I have not seen. The drama circles around the five families of the Bravermans who all end up living close to each other. The Braverman grandparents are living together, though there is a widening rift between them. Of their two sons and two daughters, their older daughter Sarah has returned to live with them with her two children after a divorce. Their eldest son Adam seems to have a picture perfect family, until he discovers his son has Asperger’s Syndrome. The strong willed daughter is Julia, whose husband is staying home looking after their daughter. And finally the wayward and confused son Crosby, who lives on a boat and is shocked to discover one day that he has a son.

Using this palette of human characters the creators have painted emotional and heartfelt threads that one can not but feel connected to. As you can guess, the similarities with Modern Family are many, but this feels more memorable by being a good drama. The actors are excellently cast, leaving me wondering sometimes if they are family in real life too. My favorites are Amber, the rebel granddaughter and Crosby, the confused son. The story telling is great and leaves one eager to watch the next episode to see what befalls the characters next. Parenthood is a warm family drama that is sure to take you on a journey of misty eyes and laughter.

Windows 7: The Missing Manual

Is there any payback to a long time Windows user by reading a 900 page book on Windows 7? If the tome in question happens to be Windows 7: The Missing Manual, then the answer is surprisingly yes! Written by David Pogue, the tech writer for The New York Times, this book is an useful pick for everyone from the newbie to the expert user.

A lot of incremental changes have been happening in Windows over several versions and you may have missed some of it. I found the book immensely useful in discovering these little nuggets: easier keyboard shortcuts, features, usage scenarios and dialogs that greatly enhance the user experience. The book is loaded with the hallmark wit and sarcasm of Pogue, that makes it a joy to flip through. For experienced users, I do not recommend buying this tome. Instead, borrow it and go through it for a few hours with your laptop beside you, trying out your discoveries. I highly recommend at least a cursory glance at the first few chapters of Windows 7: The Missing Manual for all Windows users.

In The Plex

Google is not just a search engine today, but the world’s largest artificial intelligence. It gathers a substantial amount of public and private information about a large portion of the human population and their doings. Using clever algorithms it chomps through this vast morass of data, and distills it to a form that can be useful to humans. In what seems right out of a dystopian novel, the mantra of this mega corporation is “Don’t be evil!”

The headquarters of Google is housed in an edifice called the Googleplex. The author Steven Levy, most famous for his epic Hackers, was given priority access to the happenings at the ‘Plex for a few years. Distilled from his experiences and interviews there comes his latest book In The Plex. Starting quite interestingly, from Ragihalli, a village near my home of Bengaluru, the book trudges through seven chapters and an epilogue that gives the reader a complete picture of the history, growth and people behind this all-pervasive mega corporation.

Starting as a search engine developed by two Stanford University PhD students, Google grew to every domain imaginable: email, documents, photos, news, maps and cellphones. Such phenomenal speed and success was only possible by hiring the brightest minds of the world and providing them a work environment free of bureaucracy and perks such as free food. This genius pool helped Google to not just improve their existing projects, but also sparked innovation in the 20% of creative time that were allowed to have. The sponsorship for all these elaborate efforts came from online advertising, which Google was able to turn into a multi-billion-dollar cash cow.

Despite the pretty picture, Levy also shows how Google is no utopia. Ignoring its own slogan, Google entered the China market by agreeing to censor results as the government wished. After a long-drawn and exasperating operation out of China, it recently shuttered the Google China effort. By scanning copyrighted books on the sly without informing the publishing world, Google behaved in a way that harked back to the dark days of Microsoft. It did an U-turn on net neutrality, first fighting for it and later opposing it for wireless internet access, in what one can only presume is to bolster its Android product.

The epilogue looks at Google’s blunders as it tries to catch up in the social networking sphere. Despite gaining an userbase of millions in Brazil and India, Google ignored its Orkut and treated it like a pariah. Denied manpower and computing resources, Orkut is now on its inevitable demise. Not all Googlers or startups bought by Google have prospered either. Scores of them left to help Facebook and Twitter, the social networking upstarts of today. And Google continues to throw everything it can at social networking, products like Wave, Buzz and +1, all of which have failed to hit the mark.

Much like Hackers, In the Plex has the trademark storytelling style of Steven Levy. This makes the book engrossing, but can sometimes get a bit too verbose for the techie reader. Taking on a subject as massive as Google, Levy has deftly partitioned the tale so that the reader is never overwhelmed. Levy is no stranger to mega software corporations, and that experience helps in giving a balanced picture of the inner workings of Google. In The Plex is unquestionably the must-read book this year for the tech oriented reader.