Lost (Seasons 1-6)

From the fecund imagination of J. J. Abrams, Lost broke onto TV screens in 2004 and I was completely swept away by its first season. The plot was built around survivors of a plane crash on an island cut off from the world. By not revealing anything about these people and imprisoning them on an island, the premise offered all kinds of creative leaps in story-telling. Abrams and team exploited this very well by writing some superb back-stories for the characters. I lost touch with the series during Season 2, and watched from the sidelines as it chugged through to completion in 2010. I jumped back in recently to re-watch Lost from the beginning all the way to the end, over a period of several weeks. Full of highs and lows, Lost offers a fantastic, but ultimately unsatisfying ride.

The standard format of each Lost episode is a mix of the happenings on the island interspersed with the past-story of a character. I found the back-stories to be much more interesting than the island story. The writers must have felt the same since the island story, which is engrossing in the first few seasons, goes totally bonkers soon after. They pull every trick possible from literature to bolster it up. Ideas of God, redemption, sacrifice, miracles, secret organizations, heaven-hell, alternate dimensions, time-travel, creation of life, nothing is spared to weave the yarns. But, ultimately their creations turn out to be grandiose and unconvincing. This is not say that Lost should not be watched.

There are many memorable moments and interesting philosophies that surface in Lost. One of my favorites was the thankless Sisyphean task of pressing The Button every 108 minutes. Despite some of its weak threads, Lost has some unforgettable actors who I had never seen before on TV. Jack, Kate, Hugo, Sawyer, Locke and many more characters whose faces are etched in my memory forever. Lost is a TV phenomenon that must not be missed, at least the first 3 seasons. In the later seasons, Lost demands such a suspension of disbelief that I was not willing to offer to its incredulous tales.

When Harry Met Sally…

When Harry Met Sally… is the first of the three popular rom-com movies written by Nora Ephron. I got to see them in reverse order, falling in love first with You’ve Got Mail, then Sleepless in Seattle and finally saw WHMS a few years ago. When they first meet, Sally (Meg Ryan) thinks Harry (Billy Crystal) is a prick. But, over 12 years and through several unsucessful relationships they keep running into each other. They mature, mellow over to each other and finally fall in love.

To me, WHMS gets lovelier every time I see it. Meg Ryan looks absolutely gorgeous here, probably her best act ever. Billy Crystal is a total natural in his role, which is very funny. The movie is full of memorable dialogues and who can forget Sally’s fake orgasm at the deli! Much like You’ve Got Mail and Sleepless in Seattle, When Harry Met Sally too remains one of the few movies which I would not mind watching over and over and over again.

Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis (Welcome to the Sticks)

With a partner who is learning French for fun, I am getting to watch quite a few French movies. Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis (Welcome to the Sticks) is a comedy movie that uses the preconceived notions of people of different regions for its jokes. Philippe works for the French postal service and is living a comfortable life with his wife and kid in a sunny Southern France town. His rosy life is rocked when he is transferred to a town in Northern France. The Southerners believe that this place is supposedly unwelcoming and cold and its inhabitants, called the Ch’tis, are uncivilized. As Philippe heads on his depressing assignment, his family chooses to stay behind. To his surprise, Philippe discovers that the Ch’tis are warm and he falls in love with the place and the people. But, on his weekly visits back home he paints a sorry picture of the North, in a bid to extract sympathy and love from his wife. He is in for a shock when his wife decides to pay him a visit.

Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis is a simple and fun movie. Though there is nothing exceptional about it, it is hard to go wrong with this movie if you are tired or stressful.

Version Control by Example

Look what arrived in my snail-mail last weekend: a free dead-tree copy of Version Control by Example written by Eric Sink! 😀 I know Eric Sink from his Source Control HOWTO, a series of fantastic introductory posts on the subject. In this book, Eric Sink gives a simple introduction to version control systems (VCS), the common operations in a VCS and he illustrates these operations in Subversion, Mercurial, Git and Veracity. The book ends with chapters that dip into the internal workings of distributed VCS (DVCS), common workflows of using DVCS and best practices.

Eric Sink is a delightful writer with the talent to make technology accessible and fun. (He reminds me of Tanenbaum, whose textbooks I love for the same reason.) I especially loved his analogy of VCS to a multi-threaded program, which he uses all through the book. Before getting into examples, he provides a solid debate on the pros and cons of centralized VCS (CVCS) vs. DVCS. After that, he shows a sample workflow between two programmers, one in the USA and other in UK, who have to collaborate on the code of a game using a VCS. He uses this scenario four times, once for each VCS he illustrates in the book. I used to use Subversion for my personal work before and my current life completely revolves around Mercurial. So, I loved going through the chapters on these VCS, it acted as a good revision. I skipped the chapter on Git, after seeing (yet again) how it makes every action more complicated than necessary. The final tool is Veracity, an open-source DVCS created by SourceGear which is Eric Sink’s company. It adds some extra features needed by commercial users that are not provided in most free DVCS.

Version Control by Example is a super-fast read. It is a practical book, there is nothing to mull or chew over here. If you are either thinking about using a VCS (oh, you must!) or thinking about switching from a CVCS to a DVCS, please pick up this book. The dead-tree version has gaudy page design and is printed on glossy paper. But, once you get over these distractions, the content is good. The book is also available online here.

August Rush

Music leads one to interesting destinations. Following the trail of the song This Time by Chris Trapper, I ended up watching August Rush. This is a modern musical fairytale spun around the life of a musical prodigy. Two musical teenagers, Lyla (Keri Russel) and Louis (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) fall in love and spend a night together before they are separated by Lyla’s dad. Lyla bears their son (Freddie Highmore), but her dad secretly gives away the baby for adoption. Growing up in a foster home, this kid is musically gifted and hears music all around him. Convinced that he is not an orphan, he runs away to New York City to find his parents. If that was not enough of a Dickensian setting, in the city he falls into the clutches of Wizard (Robin Williams). This Fagin-like musician trains him to perform guitar at street corners under the name August Rush and takes a cut of his earnings. Much like a Bollywood movie, music will unite August with his long lost parents in the end.

There is nothing much to write home about in the story, acting or music (surprised?) here. This could very well have been an average Hindi movie with Amitabh Bachchan starring as the Wizard! 😀 What saves the movie is its beautiful cinematography that tries to show how music pervades our lives everyday in the city. No need to hurry to watch August Rush, it can probably be enjoyed one time when you get a chance.