Saturday Night Fever

There are moments in Saturday Night Fever where you ask yourself what is the big deal about this movie since it seems no different from a crappy 80s Bollywood movie! 😀 This movie launched the careers of John Travolta and the Bee Gees and popularized disco, but it is a surprisingly bad watch. Tony (John Travolta) works at a hardware store making small change, lives with his dysfunctional family and drives around with friends causing mayhem. The only point of his seemingly pointless life is to dance the night away at the local discotheque with girls (and sleeping with them) on Saturdays. As he and his gang prepare for an upcoming disco contest they find their wasted lives heading slowly towards a crash.

Much like the lives of its characters, Saturday Night Fever feels purposeless all through. What it does do well is to portray the 70s disco culture fueled by music, dance, polyester and promiscuity. All the dances are great to watch and they feature the now-popular songs by the Bee Gees. The movie is a waste of time, instead catch the dance videos of the movie and enjoy the ridiculous moves and the beats.

Memento

Memento is one of those rare gems that is clever and entertaining. Leonard, the protagonist, wakes up in a motel room not remembering how he got there. He looks in the mirror and sees the many tattoos on his body which inform him that his wife was raped and killed and he is on a hunt for the killer. Other tattoos and a copious amount of Polaroid photos and notes with him remind him of the clues he has accumulated on this chase. Leonard was afflicted with short term memory loss after his wife’s murder, he can remember everything upto her death, but he cannot form any new memories. So, he takes photos and keeps notes of everything. Is Leonard being used as a puppet by someone who is aware of his condition?

Memento fascinates the viewer from the very beginning with its unique non-linear sequence. Imagine the story as a thread with a beginning and an end. The movie is composed of alternate scenes, one progressing forward from the beginning and the other backwards from the end. The big surprising reveal comes in the climax when these tracks meet in the middle. The Nolan brothers deserve an Oscar for their screenplay which successfully pulls off this intricate feat, intriguing the viewer in every scene, but never losing him. Guy Pearce brings the Leonard character to life with razor-like focus to his acting. Director Christopher Nolan concludes the movie offering one possible meaning to the story, but he leaves enough threads open so that Memento will be a fertile source of discussions with your buddies. The concept of Memento has been used in Hindi and Tamil movies, both named Ghajini, but sadly they stripped the story of all its intelligence. Memento is a witty little movie that demands to be watched. Do not forget to check it out! 😉

Bintan

We recently spent a few relaxing days on the island of Bintan, Indonesia. Bintan is very close to Singapore, just an hour away by ferry. This is a destination to hit for pure Sun-sea-sand relaxation. There is nothing local, cultural or historical that can be explored, since the island has been divvied up amongst resorts and the visitor will be stuck in his resort while here.

The sea off Bintan is far better than the oily waters off Singapore and the sand is white and clean. There was a bit of a drizzle on our first day, but the Sun was faithful for the rest of our stay. We ended up de-stressing by the beach for 3 full days doing nothing but playing in the water, drying off in the shade, eating, rinse and repeat. All the Singapore tourists left by Sunday evening and we had the beaches to ourselves on Monday! Even the book I had brought along stayed unread.

Bintan is a quick and relaxing destination if you live in Singapore. Stay and food is expensive, expect to pay just as much (or more) than you would in Singapore. We found the Trip Advisor page on Bintan useful to compare and pick a place to stay. The ferry to-from Singapore can be booked online at Bintan Resort Ferries. Indians need an Indonesian visa, which can be obtained on arrival at the Bintan ferry terminal for US$10. Since the Bintan resorts cater solely to Singapore visitors, cash transactions on the island are conducted in S$.

Don: The Chase Begins Again

The trailer for Don 2 is out and I was impressed enough by it to check out the earlier Don: The Chase Begins Again. Directed by Farhan Akhtar, it is based on the original Don starring Amitabh Bachchan. I had not seen that movie either, though I was familiar with the song Khaike Pan Banaraswala.

The movie is built around two rival gangsters Singhania and Vardhan who are into drug smuggling. No one has ever seen the face of Vardhan, but the cops know that Singhania uses Don (Shahrukh Khan), an infamous gangster working from Malaysia to get his work done. Cop D’Silva is hot on the heels of capturing Don, when he is injured in an accident. D’Silva uses this situation to inject a look-alike of Don named Vijay to infiltrate the drug network. Vijay successfully embeds himself into the gang and with his help D’Silva starts to kill off gangsters. All is not what it seems when Vijay and D’Silva start discovering each other’s identities.

For a Bollywood thriller, the story of (the original) Don is quite intriguing. Farhan Akhtar’s Don is shot completely in Malaysia and looks great. Playing the panache of Don is easy work for SRK. Boman Irani plays his role effortlessly, surprising the viewer with his twist. Priyanka Chopra and Isha Koppikar are mostly wasted in their roles. Don features songs from the original movie in addition to some new ones. The only song that really hooked me was Aaj Ki Raat, which I had loved on the soundtrack of Slumdog Millionaire. This one is a real earworm! Don has everything going for it, but fails miserably in its length and pace. 3 hours is too long for a 2006 Bollywood movie and the lethargic pace adds to the torture. If Farhan can edit this down to a tight 2 hour movie, Don will be an entertaining watch.

Steve Jobs

If I close my eyes and picture Steve Jobs, it is always him wearing a black turtleneck, doing a reality distorting pitch to unveil a revolutionary new Apple product. But, who is Jobs really? How does he create such exquisite products? How does he manage time and get things done? How is he as family, boss and a human being? It is for such questions that I was interested in his biography. The biography of Steve Jobs is written by Walter Isaacson and was released soon after his demise. I picked up the book after learning that the ultra-secretive Jobs had done a tell-all in the book and it would be balanced in covering both his great and not-so-great traits.

Jobs was a genius and visionary. If not for him, the world of computers, software and gadgets would be much less beautiful or useful. With the Apple II, the iPod and the iPhone, he created products which had been envisioned before, but had not been created with such detail and simplicity. He had an unwavering focus on how his products looked, felt and were experienced. Everything had to be just right: the shape, color, texture and weight. At Apple he created a culture where design drove engineering. He was a pathfinder, understanding what users wanted without having to rely on user studies, but instead on his legendary intuition and taste.

Despite having created some of the most popular digital products ever, Jobs used old-world habits and tools for his creation. He regularly took long walks to think and to talk about ideas. He used sketchbooks all his life to write, draw and thrash out ideas. In his team meetings, he insisted on using whiteboards to formulate and simplify thoughts. He believed that sparks and ideas were formed when random interactions happened between people and he built workplaces that encouraged this. He delivered products on time by resolving issues by meeting or calling people immediately, instead of email.

Jobs was also extremely hard to work with. He was highly opinionated, judging anyone or anything as either great or crap, even if he had no idea about the subject. A lot of his friends, partners and employees left him, not being able to bear his mercurial attitude. All his life, he regularly screamed at and insulted people whose work he did not like. He was a hard dictator, never interested in working for or with others, his orders had to be followed. With his authoritarian style of management he drove away all leaders and independent thinkers from his organization. He routinely lied and took credit for ideas of his employees. Despite being an excellent judge of human taste, it remains a mystery why he treated his fellow humans so badly. Isaacson attributes this to him being abandoned by his biological parents. But, that does not really explain why he did not accept his own daughter Lisa for more than a decade.

From his college days, Jobs was deeply influenced by Eastern spirituality, philosophy and habits. He took to veganism and followed it all his life. He also practiced weird diets of fruits and juices. Even after being diagnosed with cancer he did not undergo surgery, but instead went for quack medicines. His stubbornness in sticking to his belief despite all evidence to the contrary ultimately led to his early demise.

I recommend picking up this book to examine the greatness and the failings of Steve Jobs. Every reader is sure to benefit from the lessons of his life.

Rating: 3/4

Hudugaru (ಹುಡುಗರು)

ಹುಡುಗರು (Hudugaru) is a Kannada masala movie starring Puneeth Rajkumar, released earlier in 2011. Directed by K. Madesh, it is a remake of the Tamil movie Naadodigal. Puneeth, Srinagara Kitty and Yogesh play three close friends leaving carefree but disillusioned lives in the town of Shravanabelagola. Just when their luck seems to turn for the better, Puneeth’s friend shows up at his doorstep asking for his help to elope with his girlfriend. The task is not easy since the lovers are the progeny of a rich industrialist and that of a powerful politician. Putting their lives at risk, the trio kidnap the girlfriend and help the couple to get married in secrecy. In the process, Puneeth loses his grandmother, Kitty his leg and Yogesh his hearing. They are enraged when they learn that their efforts were wasted since the couple decide to separate over marital differences.

Though it seems like a violent movie, there is little of that in Hudugaru. The movie is an unnecessarily long 2.5 hours, though it is thankfully bearable. It is helped by good comedy by all the characters, especially Yogesh. Radhika Pandit and a whole host of actors are introduced, but are completely wasted in their roles. The movie could have been a lot shorter by cutting out these characters and a lot of the petty banter. Shot all over small-town Karnataka, the production quality is nice.  The songs are passable, the one that I like is Neeralli Sanna Ale, whose lilting lyrics are penned (unsurprisingly) by Jayant Kaikini. Hudugaru is an entertaining movie that can be watched once.

Game of Thrones (Season 1)

Not being tied to advertisers, HBO has been producing TV series of exceptional quality over the years. Its latest creation, Game of Thrones, is a grand and spectacular experience. It is based on the book A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin, the first of his A Song of Ice and Fire series of medieval fantasy novels.

This Gothic tale takes place in a world divided into seven kingdoms which are bounded in the North by an imposing Wall. King Robert Baratheon rules the seven kingdoms he united by war from his Iron Throne at King’s Landing. His bumbling reign is sitting on a powder keg of rivalry, hatred, greed and jealousy amongst the kingdoms’s clans and families. A miasma of treachery and murder explodes when Robert appoints Lord Eddard Stark from the Winterfell kingdom as his hand. The season ends with the peace torn apart and the kingdoms aligning themselves with the Starks of the North and the Lannisters of the South and standing at the brink of an all-out war.

The production quality of the series is top notch, you shall be sucked into its dark world! Helped by the novel, the story telling is gripping and the tales are edge-of-the-seat thrilling. Much like The Wire, there are some superb actors here living and breathing their roles. Kudos to the team for some excellent casting. Particularly endearing to me are the characters of Eddard Stark, Arya Stark and Tyrion Lannister. The series has lots of gore, a bit too much for my taste. Heads roll in every episode and entrails are plucked out regularly by combatants in all their bloody viscera. This is not a series for the family, there is not a single episode which does not feature full nudity.

Season 1 packs a powerful punch with ten terse episodes, each an hour long. This is far lesser than the number of episodes in most American TV seasons, but I felt this was perfectly concise. The end of the season left me teetering at the edge, salivating for the war, intrigue and dragons that will arrive in the next installment. Game of Thrones is easily the best TV series this year. It brings a whole new level of grandeur to Gothic fantasy on TV. Game of Thrones is a heady trip that should not be missed at any cost! 🙂