Mission: Impossible

With Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, the fourth movie in the series releasing this year, I thought it was a good occasion to watch the original again. Mission: Impossible is based on an old TV series of the same name, which I have not seen. Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is an agent for the Impossible Mission Force (IMF), just a fancy name for a CIA group that uses technology and some clever wizardry to get their (supposedly impossible) job done. Their latest mission goes bust and most of Ethan’s team is killed due to a mole. The CIA suspects Ethan is the mole, so Ethan is forced to go underground to find the real mole and clear his name. This leads him to the impossible task of stealing data from the CIA headquarters and enticing the real mole with it.

The MI movies have always required a suspension of disbelief and that is easy with the first movie. The three set pieces of the IMF mission, Ethan’s high-wire trapeze antics to steal from the CIA and the climax on the TGV are all nicely done. The pace is perfect here, not like the insane speed that is seen in M:I III. The plot evokes genuine interest and is a thrill to follow. I am glad to admit that Mission: Impossible remains an entertaining movie to watch on a rainy day.


Ghost in the Shell

When I discussed the possibilities of the kind of world shown in The Matrix with my friends, one of the top recommendations I got was Ghost in the Shell. This is a 1995 anime movie based on a manga series of the same name. The movie is set in the futuristic world of 2029 AD, one that is heavily reminiscent of that in the Blade Runner. Humans and cyborgs co-exist, the latter being created by embedding human brains in mechanical bodies. The principal character is a cyborg called The Major, a female cop, who is on the hunt for a hacker named Puppet Master. His trail also leads her to introspect and question her own birth, meaning and existence. When she finally tracks him down, he reveals himself to be a program that has gained sentience and gives her an offer she cannot refuse.

The Japanese are masters of the surreal. The leaps of imagination and vision depicted in Ghost in the Shell are just fantastic. Though I found the story itself pretty boring and robotic (sorry guys!), the premise, the possibilities and the production are definitely top-notch. The hauntingly beautiful choral song that plays during the birth of The Major and her few contemplative moments are pure gold. The lush animation of the dregs of the city are right out a dream! (Seriously, who needs 3D?!) I did not find Ghost in the Shell very accessible or human (sic), but it is definitely worth watching once to lend oneself a flight quite unlike any other.

Leaf Storm

A copy of One Hundred Years of Solitude sits on my shelf mocking me everytime I look at it. I have tried to read this book by Gabriel Garcia Marquez quite a few times and have given up in the middle. In an effort to break that jinx I read Leaf Storm, a shorter work by the same author. Gabriel Garcia Marquez is a writer from Colombia and is the winner of the 1982 Nobel Prize for Literature. The Picador edition of Leaf Storm I read is translated from Spanish by Gregory Rabassa.

The book takes its name from the novella that appears first in the book, followed by six other short stories. The Leaf Storm walks through the thoughts of three people: an old man, his middle-aged daughter and her small son on a hot noon in the fictional town of Macondo in 1909. (Incidentally, Macondo takes center-stage in One Hundred Years of Solitude too.) The occasion is the demise of the old man’s friend, a doctor, who the whole town despises. As these three people sit in the doctor’s dusty old house preparing his body for burial, they take a long walk through the years of their lives. The works that I was strong reminded of while reading Leaf Storm were those of RK Narayan. While lacking the myriad colorful characters and landmarks of Malgudi, the principal characters, their home, lives and thoughts are similar in flavour to those in RKN’s creations.

In The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World, the body of an adonis washes up at a fishing village. Though very much dead, the charms of his body sets the hearts and minds of the womenfolk aflutter and gives them new dreams while they prepare to bury him. A man with wings lands in the chicken coop of a farmer in A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings. The poor couple use him as an attraction to get rich, but after his sheen fades he is discarded amongst their poultry. Just when they think he is almost dead, he recovers and flies off into the clouds. Blacaman the Good, Vendor of Miracles is a story where a mistreated assistant of a fair trickster gains actual miracle powers and watches his former master kill himself. The Last Voyage of the Ghost Ship is something unique: an entire short story told as one, yes o-n-e long sentence! In Monologue of Isabel Watching It Rain in Macondo returns the reader to the life of Isabel (the daughter from the Leaf Storm novella) to revisit a few days of her pregnancy when it rained non-stop for a week in Macondo. The last story Nabo is about a stablehand who enters into a coma.

Leaf Storm is a comfortable introduction to Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The Leaf Storm novella and Isabel’s Monologue are my favorite picks from this book. These really portray the signature style of Garcia, which I have seen in One Hundred Years. The drowned man and the man with wings are children’s fables, beautifully told. The rest of the stories are just oddities, especially Nabo, which I could not even understand properly. I liked both the story telling style and the settings of Colombia of the early 20th century in Garcia’s stories. Much like RKN and Graham Greene, he does not need grand settings or premises, but revels in the strength of his realistic characters and their small-life travails. It is yet to be seen how I will fare with his serious works like One Hundred Years of Solitude and Autumn of the Patriarch.

Rating: 3/4

Community (Season 2)

In its second season, Community hits all the right notes. In Season 1, I had noted that Community flailed around for half the season before finding its groove. Gone is that confusion, Season 2 is all batty and all intelligent!

In this season, Jeff and Britta continue their on-off love, Annie gets prettier and Shirley has a baby. But forget that, Season 2 is all about homages. Every episode clearly focuses on recreating a subculture and you will love it if you can get that meme. Some of the memorable homages of this season are to Jesus, zombies, Dungeons and Dragons, Star Wars and Westerns. A Christmas episode explores the mind of Abed and is created using stop-motion animation. That is probably the craziest and brilliant byte of this season. At 24 episodes, this is one long season and I loved it.

Inside the Machine

I find most of the celebrated books on computers to be extremely dry. Though they are packed with important information, they make no effort to engage the reader and fail to give an intuitive understanding of the subject. Jon Stokes is that rare breed of technology writer whose book Inside the Machine is so edge-of-the-seat absorbing that it is hard to believe that it is about computer architecture and microprocessors. Stokes is the co-founder of the Ars Technica website, one of my favorite haunts, where he has written in-depth articles about processors since 1998.

The first 4 chapters of the book deal with the basic architecture and execution steps of a microprocessor, pipelining and superscalar execution. Stokes takes the reader through 4 conceptual views of the CPU: (1) as a calculator (2) as a computer reading instructions and data from memory (3) the programmer’s view of the processor, also known as the Instruction Set Architecture (ISA) and (4) the actual microarchitecture of the chip. In here and in the rest of the book, Stokes uses lots of colorful illustrations to depict how the CPU is structured and how it behaves while processing instructions. Without a doubt, these are the most engrossing diagrams I have seen of computer architecture and they are easy to grasp and remember. Add to this the countless wonderful analogies that Stokes describes in the text that help to see the topic from many different viewpoints.

The rest of the book picks many popular processors and uses each to introduce a contemporary technique or concept. What follows are the items I found interesting in this part of the book. Chapter 5 deals with the Pentium and Pentium Pro (P6) microarchitectures, using them to explain branch prediction, dynamic scheduling and micro-operation decoding. Chapter 6 uses PowerPC processors to talk about RISC and its typical microarchitecture. Chapter 7 introduces the Pentium 4 (NetBurst) microarchitecture whose ginormous 20-stage pipeline I loathed and whose trace cache I thought was a really cool idea. Chapter 8 covers vector support: MMX, SSE and SSE2 in Intel and AltiVec in PowerPC processors. Chapter 9 talks about 64-bit computing, tells the story of Intel’s failure to push a new ISA through the 64-bit Itanium and how AMD stole the show with its x86-64. Chapter 11 is oddly placed towards the end and it deals with caching. Special mention goes to the kick-ass analogies and delightful illustrations of the types of caching and caching hierarchy here. The final Chapter 12 brings the reader to today, with the power-saving architecture of Pentium M and the Core 2 Duo multi-threading architecture.

Inside the Machine is an absolute must-read for anyone who works with computers. I only wish the ARM microarchitecture, which is now popular on handheld devices, was covered in the book. Jon Stokes really succeeds in giving the reader a big-picture view of the internal structure and workings of today’s microprocessors. Do not be surprised if this book turns you into a processor geek who follows the microarchitectures of upcoming processors. Inside the Machine is the kind of book on science and technology that I love to read and cherish.

Eno Onthara (ಏನೋ ಒಂಥರಾ)

After his success in Yogaraj Bhat’s whimsical movies, Ganesh seems to have run out of luck. None of his later movies have clicked with the audience. Another addition to this list is his 2011 romantic venture Eno Onthara (ಏನೋ ಒಂಥರಾ), a remake of the Tamil hit Kushi. Ganesh and Priyamani play the prime characters, who we are told are destined to end up with each other. They become friends while acting as couriers for the love letters of their mutual friends. (One really wonders why these lovers are writing letters when they could email, chat or at least use SMS?! 😀 ) A misunderstanding emerges between them and they become spiteful of each other. As always (yawn), in the end they realize their love for each other.

I have not seen the original, but a slower more boring movie than this could not possibly be made! Without his trademark banter, Ganesh just cannot engage the viewer in a movie that is 2.5 hours long. Priyamani is pretty and passes muster, but she tries to ape Jyothika so much that it is creepy. The script, whether copied from the original or not, is just pathetic. All the songs are horrible, except for the melodramatic Anthara Heegeke, sung by SPB which is the reason I checked out this movie. Give this song a listen, but do not under any circumstance try to watch Eno Onthara!

Dirty Dancing

When in middle school, I spent an entire summer in Mysore staying at my uncle’s place devouring chakkali, Tintin-Asterix comics and Chandamama-Balamitra magazines. One of the images stuck in my mind from that idyllic vacation is a Dirty Dancing T-shirt that my uncle frequently wore. I only found out that this was the name of a movie a lifetime later when the Internet happened. A memory is a fickle creature and on a whim I decided to watch Dirty Dancing to satiate this childhood curiosity.

Dirty Dancing turns out to be a dance-romance which is (sadly?) much like a Bollywood rich-girl-loves-poor-guy movie. The rich girl is Frances (Jennifer Grey), who along with her white-collar parents and sister are vacationing at a lake resort. Johnny (Patrick Swayze) is an instructor at the resort who teaches ballroom dancing to the visitors. He and his blue-collar brethren live in separate quarters (“visitors are not allowed”) where they sweat and groove to mambo (hence the title Dirty Dancing 😉 ). Even an Indian infant can guess the plot from here: Frances is smitten by Johnny, her father objects, throw in a white-over-blue-collar atrocity, a final climactic dance when everything is settled and the errant dad sees the light.

Jennifer Grey is pretty and Patrick Swayze is stone-faced, but they have good chemistry and manage with their good dancing skills. The dances and dance-training scenes are well choreographed and great to watch. The final track (I’ve Had) The Time of My Life is quite memorable. Dirty Dancing is yet another movie that is over-hyped (remember Saturday Night Fever?) and can be strictly watched once.