Saturday, July 14, 2018

A story that must be told

SNOWDEN (2016)

Produced By: Endgame Entertainment and others
Director: Oliver Stone
Starring: Melissa Leo, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zachary Quinto, Shailene Woodley and others
Pros: Excellent story, good acting
Cons: Long
Rating: ***** of 5 (5 of 5)

Once in a while, a story is so important that whatever movie is made from it - however good or bad - it is worth watching, not just that year, but for at least a generation. Edward Snowden is a soft-spoken yet controversial figure, who has such a huge sword over his head that he may or may not be alive tomorrow. But his story is one that must be told. Snowden tells the story of how this geeky computer consultant went from leading a thoroughly ordinary life to becoming a refugee in Moscow with the US government firmly looking to put him behind bars.

The story, of course, is excellent, but basically handed down to the director. Much of it sticks to facts, with only a small bit of dramatization to move the story along. And really, it doesn't need much else - Snowden's story is the story of eternal times: one man taking on the colossus of the US government, David vs Goliath for this century. On top of that, there is some strong acting from Joseph Gordon-Levitt and, surprisingly, Zachary Quinto. The only downside I can think of is that, at a little over 2 hours, this is a very long movie. However, I do not believe it could've been made shorter - there's just too much to piece together in the story of this extraordinary individual.

Now, I must make an editorialized comment. Was Snowden a traitor or a patriot? There's no obvious answer. Of course he broke the law - he stole government property, even if that property was obtained quasi-legally (which is to say, illegally). And thus, he needs to face the music in a court of law, which must be a public court of law, because what Snowden did has implications for the public at large - and it's his constitutional right. That's how the law has to work - blind. He needs to be sent to jail, and then pardoned for revealing just how wrong the government can go. The point of a pardon is that, while justice is blind, the law itself can be an ass. In which case, the judiciary can't do anything (because it has to follow the law), but the executive can. Snowden is the traitor that we don't deserve - one of the bravest people in the world today. A man whose story must be told so that we remember to stand up when the government decides to flip the switch. (OTFS)

Thursday, July 5, 2018

One-time watch

INCREDIBLES 2 (2018)

Produced By: Pixar, Disney, and others
Director: Brad Bird
Starring (voice): Craig Nelson, Holly Hunter, Sarah Vowell, Bob Odenkirk, and others
Pros: Entertaining story, fast-paced
Cons: Very predictable, too many subplots
Rating: *** of 5 (3 of 5)

I don't watch a whole lot of animated movies. Somehow, I default to thinking that they're for kids (and there were indeed quite a few kids in the theater). However, it was a slow week with otherwise terrible movies, and Incredibles 2 seemed to have good ratings. Yes, I fell for the ratings again. It's not a bad movie - but it's not particularly good either.

I admit, I haven't seem the first installation of the movie, so I might not "get it". Nonetheless, while the movie was certainly entertaining in a comical way, it felt like sitting through many movies. There were a lot of unnecessary subplots and new characters being created all the time - basically a lot of noise with little signal. There's not much to say of "acting" in an animated movie, though the effects were excellent, as is rightly expected of Pixar.

The movie also has a unique shortcoming - it is fast-paced and thus never really boring, it is still quite a predictable plot. The results are painfully obvious, the hints so big that they could block out the sun. What's the point of sitting through the whole movie if you can guess the result a minute or so before it is shown to you? That's what made it really disappointing - and not worth more than one watch, if at all. (OTFS)

Of longing and hyperbole

TOAST (2010)

Produced By: BBC Films and others
Director: SJ Clarkson
Starring: Oscar Kennedy, Freddie Highmore, Helena Carter, Ken Scott and others
Pros: Lovely story, good acting
Cons: A lot of exaggeration
Rating: *** of 5 (3 of 5)

Movies made on the theme of food are rather rare - you had The Hundred-Foot Journey that interlaced food with racial tensions in France, and the ever-watchable Ratatouille. But food is not really you can build a story around - so instead, you build it around the person making the food.

Toast, a semi-autobiography of celebrated chef Nigel Slater, is just that, it's a decent piece of hagiography about the poor boy, victimized by his parents who couldn't cook to save their lives, and his step-mother who can, and who eventually grows up and moves on. Very nice - but also pretty exaggerated. All the characters, except the father (Ken Scott), are monochromatic. There was clearly a desire to send a message here, and that took precedence over the entire story. Nonetheless, the story is good and entertaining, and Oscar Kennedy puts up a great performance (Freddie Highmore was OK too, but his part in the movie is somewhat of a side-show, despite being the lead).

Overall, a decent movie that you can watch with your family. (OTFS)

Saturday, June 23, 2018

A Lone Voice of Reason

Government Bullies
By Senator Rand Paul

It's been quite sometime since I read some non-fiction. Sure, you might say historical fiction has some degree of non-fiction in it (World War 2 did happen, right?), but that's now what I meant. So, I hunted around and found this book, written to bolster the 2012 senate campaign of the maverick, libertarian Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who has often put the spanner in he GOP's works.

In this book, the Senator rightly brings out the many ways in which the US Government has expanded its tentacles within the country, with a slew of laws and regulations that criminalize activities that should've at best been civil violations. He points out how something as simple as the US Fish & Wildlife Service has a SWAT team and the ability to conduct sting operations on just about anybody anywhere in the country.

Perhaps the one chapter that resonated the most with me was his critique of the TSA, which has made US airports one of the worst in the world in terms of how long and difficult the security lines are - for mostly nothing. Rand quotes the term 'security theater' to describe the charade that the federalized airport security indulges in, putting passengers at increasing discomfort to give them a sense of security without actually making it more secure to fly. I myself was witness to this last time I was at the abominable Chicago O'Hare International Airport, where in the face of a massive rush of passengers, TSA agents magically opened up a new line which had the very effective sniffer dogs and simple metal detector scans, as opposed to those awful "porno" full body scans. I even kept my jacket and shoes on, and my whole bag (with the laptop in it) deposited into a machine. A viola, in a second, I was done! If they could do that to handle a huge line and still make sure everyone was secure, why can't they do that all the time? One can only wonder.

Sen. Paul does simplify things somewhat. As a civil engineer, I understand that wetlands can be complicated and frustrating, and the laws written (however bad) do have a legitimate basis. However, he has made some great attempts (mostly failed, because both parties love big government for their own reasons) to fix the shortcomings of these laws, without actually repealing the important parts. A man truly ahead of his times! 

Sunday, June 17, 2018

The story of a transformation

LBJ (2016)

Produced By: Acacia Filmed Entertainment and others
Director: Rob Reiner
Starring: Woody Harrelson, Michael Stahl-David, Jeffrey Donovan, and others
Pros: Excellent acting, sticks to the facts
Cons: Slow, peppers over details
Rating: *** of 5 (3 of 5)

Historical fiction, as regular reads would know, is my favorite genre, together with science fiction. Every once in a while though, it's nice to drop the fictitious components and learn some good ol' history. The most interesting history, inevitably, comes from the saddest moments. In the history of the US, the assassination of JFK was certainly a sad moment - not just for everyone in general, but for those African-Americans who weren't just sad that they had lost a friend in the White House, but were rightly concerned about the fact that a southern Democrat had now become President.

It is that tension that LBJ captures, or tries to anyway. That he did not get along too well with JFK, and certainly did not get along at all with Bobby Kennedy, is well-known. He was on the ticket for the southern vote. But with his ascension to the presidency, all assumptions had to be dropped. In terms of sticking to the facts, the movie does very well - even re-enacting LBJ's first speech to Congress and his support for the Civil Rights Act. Perhaps the most poignant moment is when LBJ tells a southern Congressman, in his face, that he is a racist. Director Rob Reiner captures such moments well, and he is enabled by a star cast that puts up an exemplary performance, right down to Stahl-David's tears whenever his assassinated brother is mentioned.

However, the movie was only a good attempt. It was slow, and yet it lacked details. LBJ's transformation from basically another southern Democrat to a champion of civil rights, effectively the man that killed his party in the South, is attributed almost entirely to his domestic help and the indignities she faced in the segregated South. And while her story - and those of millions of others - are heartbreaking, it is just too simplistic to believe that mere guilt could create such a sudden transformation. Too much time is devoted to looking at people's faces and pointing out just how unpopular LBJ was with JFK's cabinet, and not enough time to what was going on inside the man himself. Which is ironic, given that the movie was supposed to be about him. Still, it's a decent movie worth watching - once. (OTFS)

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Thought-provoking format

13 Reasons Why Season 1

This is an unusual review - I've reviewed books and movies, but I don't think I've reviewed a TV show before. And that's because I rarely watch popular TV shows, preferring to keep to sci-fi, such as Star Trek. Why exactly I decided to get 13 Reasons Why Season 1 from CPL, making it the first DVD that I've rented from there, is beyond me. Maybe it's the fact that Season 2 just came out and the Internet is talking all about it. Or maybe the fact that I got hooked to this amazingly powerful music video. Or perhaps the fact that I know three friends who committed suicide. Whatever be the reason, I saw it.

And it's good. It is a teen drama, so I was ready for the senseless parts. But the format is what I particularly liked - 13 tapes, one from each episode, explaining why a poor girl committed suicide, in her own voice. How accurately is depicts American high schools is something I can't comment on, though the absolute obsession with sports is something that I have seen to be true. The story is still pretty good though, and the actors did well. Most importantly, the writers really thought about the characters and added depth to them - nobody is black or white, but a mixture of both. Everybody carries some blame.

Suicide, in general and particularly on a university campus, is a very sensitive topic, one that is not discussed too often. Some critics have said that the show glorifies suicide - I disagree. It does not, in fact the actual suicide scene itself is handled with great care, and the common theme throughout is that someone has to stop it from happening. That's hardly glorifying it.

Season 1 is really a complete story in itself (unsurprisingly, as it came from a book of the same name). I can't say I'm interested in Season 2, but let's see. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Surprisingly predictable

The Summons
By John Grisham

So once again, in the absence of any new ideas, I've defaulted back to John Grisham for my reading. And once again, I am not disappointed, despite the fact that this book was surprisingly predictable and deviated from Grisham's usual style of quiet endings without a 'gotcha!' event. So while this book was different from a typical Grisham mystery novel, it is still set in his usual background - the rural south, warts and all.

To some extent though, the book does go into fantasy. Many of the events seem highly unlikely for people who know about tort and big pharma. But then, this is a work of legal fiction and doesn't have to get the story right. What's more important is his deviation from his usual template for endings... and the fact that I could guess how it would end! A clear formula that has worked well. 

Monday, June 4, 2018

A new era

SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY (2018)

Produced By: Lucasfilms and others
Director: Gareth Edwards
Starring: Alden Ehrenreich, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Woody Harrelson, and others
Pros: Great acting, good story
Cons: Bad cinematography, too long
Rating: **** of 5 (4 of 5)

Initially, I was hesitant to watch Solo because of the poor reviews and somber box office collections. The liberal media was plastered with stories that it deviated too much from canon (as if they ever cared about that), or that it was plain boring. All of that is fake news - this is a great movie and a worthy addition to Star Wars. Of course, it is not as good as Rogue One, but the comparison is unfair. This movie is not a prequel and does not pretend to be one, instead, it is an origins movie, the first of its kind for Star Wars.

There's a lot of good things in this movie, starting with the phenomenal performance by Ehrenreich as well as the supporting actors. While the director was clearly aware that he has to have one eye behind his back so as not to contradict any of the original movies, he nevertheless took the story and made it his own. Solo does not try to fit itself into history, but creates its own. And in that, it has conjured up a new story (and possibly another, going by the hints). And a darn good one at that.

I can point to two things that hold this movie back and make it a notch below Rogue One though. At 2 h 15 m, it is way too long and a lot of subplots could've been discarded. Some of the character build-up was, for once, too deep and unnecessary. And the cinematography was just bad - it felt as though half the film was in dim lighting, with some dialogues delivered too fast. And while we all love Chewbaca, he just had too many unintelligible lines. Now there's something to look into for a sequel to this one. (OTFS)

Sunday, June 3, 2018

An entertaining guide to the universe

We Have No Idea
By Jorge Cham and Daniel Whiteson

Jorge Cham's name is pretty much synonymous with PHD Comics, the iconic comicstrip (and series of movies) that he created and which resonated so strongly with graduate students around the world. However, he has also set aside some digital real estate towards explaining science through comics. Now, with the help of physicists Dan Whiteson, he has brought has approach into a book that discusses some of the biggest mysteries oh the physics of the cosmos.

The book is a pleasure to read for someone that loves physics, such as myself, despite never having studied it beyond freshman physics. It surprisingly gives credence to the concept of cosmic inflation, despite all the views against it that I have read. But at its heart, it is an ode to Einstein and his theory of relativity, a theory that has stood up to every experimental observation and yet presents us with more questions than answers.

My only complain with the book is the juvenile level of the narrative, especially the pointless and distracting footnotes. In trying to be humorous, it very much felt irritating. That's probably something that should be knocked off the next edition. 

Monday, May 21, 2018

What would SP Mookerji have thought?

Last week, in the din of the Karnataka assembly elections and the aftershocks of the hung assembly there, news from Bengal barely made any noise. Democracy died there, with the TMC winning 90% of the Panchayat seats through ruthless intimidation, outright booth capturing, murder, and anarchy. When SP Mookerji fought to have Bengal partitioned so that its Hindu residents could still have a homeland, he probably never envisioned that the land that he helped preserved would devolve into exactly what the racist Winston Churchill said it would.

Of course, for the Lutyen's media, this was a mere blip, a sad turn of events that were unnecessary. Some commentators took it to a new low, 'blaming' the BJP for making inroads and forcing the 'poor' TMC to resort to such violence... obviously, to protect secularism, that exalted child at whose altar anything and everything can be sacrificed to. It was thus with great irony, just as her goons had run an election that Stalin would've been proud of, that TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee congratulated the JD(S) for stopping the BJP's supposed attempts at horse-trading to manufacture a majority. Nobody in the English media saw the two-facedness of this - a ruthless dictator that just snubbed democracy under a jackboot in her state, talking about protecting it elsewhere. But what else can be expected from the Pidi media?

An article in OpIndia stated that the Delhi establishment had gone back to scavenging for crumbs from the dynasty, having tried to take power directly through AAP. They are wrong - in Rahul Gandhi, they have found not just an incompetent politician, but a politician who is willing to give a free run to the establishment. Gandhi only reads from a script, and only shows up whenever it suits his image. He is a puppet being controlled by the Deep Congress, and he is happy to be that. The Deep Congress is no longer looking for the crumbs of the dynasty - rather, it is the dynasty that is reduced to begging for crumbs from the Deep Congress.

The Panchayat elections in Bengal just goes to show what is at stake - after over half a century, India has a shot at being an actual democracy. But if the secular gang stitches up an unholy alliance in 2019, all will be lost. That will be the last free and fair election in India. Perhaps Mookerji should've moved to East Pakistan.

Dismiss the Special Counsel

It's been one year since Congress appointed Robert Muller as Special Counsel to look into the alleged Russian interference. Since then, not a day has gone by when CNN hasn't proclaimed that there was "huge news" and quietly implied that President Trump's indictment was days away. Indeed, Muller did taste success when he indicted former NSA Michael Flynn, who remains the biggest mistake of this administration. However, since then, the investigation has gone nowhere - far from catching some collusion with Russia, the Special Counsel is indulging itself in every random straw that the liberals are trying to clutch on to.

Pat Buchanan, writing in TAC, rightly said that the Special Counsel has turned into an attempt to impeach Trump for cheap. Instead of some James Bond-level conspiracy, the whole Russia angle has devolved into fake ads on Facebook and clinches on the idea that voters are stupid. Now the latest liberal opium is the hope that Trump will say something stupid under oath, making it perjury and thus get himself indicted for that. It's a race to play gotcha with the President. And it was not the point of the Special Counsel.

That Trump is a pathological liar and narcissistic maniac is pretty well-known even by his supporters. He's no angle, and nobody who voted for him expected to act like one either. His alleged affair with Stormy Daniels surprised nobody. But if liberals want to get rid of Trump, they'll have to do it through the political route - bring in a formal impeachment motion in Congress and take it to its logical conclusion. That is where liberal hold back, because they know that it will be extremely hard and will open them up to collateral damage. And indeed, that was the point of making it so hard to impeach a president - to prevent mere allegations from destroying an institution.

One year after the Special Counsel's appointment, outside the world of liberal comedians and CNN, it is apparent that there was no Russian collusion. There was interference, and it goes to President Obama that he failed to protect the US from it. But that is beyond the Special Counsel's brief, and it is far beyond its brief to look at every other perfidy that Trump indulges in. He's a terrible person, but he's also a very popular person, and if liberals want to get rid of him, they're going to have to take their case to the people, like old-fashioned politics. Right now, the Special Counsel is a waste of time and needs to be dismissed. Enough is enough. 

Friday, May 18, 2018

Kumar overthrows Sultan

With the exception of Mizoram, which the BJP is eyeing in order to bring the entire Northeast under the NEDA banner, Karnataka marks the beginning of the big assembly elections in India to states where both the Congress and the BJP are directly at each other's throats. Following this will be MP, Chhatisgarh, and Rajasthan, all of which will be extremely hard for the BJP to retain, particularly the last one. No wonder then that the Congress threw whatever it had at this election - it needed the momentum, not to mention the funds from at least one big state. This was a battle royale.

In the last decade or so, over 90% of elections in India have thrown up a clear verdict. But whenever there is a hung assembly, all hell breaks loose. While the BJP won the most seats, effectively ending the reign of the incumbent Siddharamaih (also called Sultan due to his crass Muslim appeasement and extremely arrogant attitude), it fell short of a majority. The party lost 8 seats by margin of less than 1,000 votes. Indeed, while the incumbent CM was defeated in one constituency by the JD(S), he one by less than 1,000 votes in the other against the BJP. A few voters here and there could've titled the balance.

It is terrible for a state to have a regional party that can be best described as sub-regional: far from winning a majority, such a party knows quite well that it cannot possibly win a majority, but it can win enough to stop anybody else from winning a majority, and then extract its pound of flesh. You see many of these in north India, but in south India, Karnataka (and perhaps Telangana in the form of the MIM) is the state, and JD(S) the party, that seem to find it alright to basically hold the entire state to ransom for their small number of seats, despite knowing full well that they did not and cannot win from most of the state. While the JD(S) did punch above its weight this time, it still won largely in its old Mysore region, with only crumbs from elsewhere. And yet, it is this party that holds the keys now. This is the sort of situation that created the corrupt behemoth that was the UPA government. Indeed, with the Congress offering Kumaraswamy, who controls less than a quarter of the MLAs in the Assembly, the Chief Ministership, the risk of non-existent leadership and government paralysis are even greater.

Perhaps the only good outcome of this election is the decimation of Sultan Siddharamaiah, who used religion, caste, language, and everything else possible to divide the state from the rest of the country, and the people of the state from each other. The Muslim League would've been proud of his polarizing campaign, if it had won. The fact that his government has fallen is testimony to the fact that the people of Karnataka do not want to a start a civil war, either inside their state or outside of it within the country. For Sultan would've done that if it were possible and could've helped him retain power. This man was a Jinnah-wannabe, and his political death could not have come sooner.

While the floor test is scheduled tomorrow, the most likely outcome seems to be a JD(S) minority government backed up by the Congress, purely to keep the BJP out. And it will not last - this story is old. The Congress pulls the plug from smaller parties whenever it wants, and it will do the same with the JD(S). Kumaraswamy may become CM tomorrow, but his days are already numbered. As for the BJP, it is clear now that it has only one route to power - an absolute majority. Nothing else will work. 

Exciting but poor ending

The Third Twin
By Ken Follett

So I walked around the public library and tried to find a new author I could like. I failed. So I decided to go back to the ones that I knew I'd like. I found Ken Follett, and thought that I had already finished all his books. His Century Trilogy is still one of the finest examples of historical fiction I had read. And yet, The Third Twin was mystery (and apparently a dash a science fiction too), which is an odd combination. But since this was usually a safe author, I went ahead.

My reactions are mixed. The book is thoroughly riveting to read, with only a few subplots and lots of surprises laid out for the reader. It's apparent that Follett thought out his plots and characters carefully. A little too carefully, because the undoing of the novel is at the very end. Follett deliberately stretches it, no doubt for dramatic effect, but it ruins what was otherwise a good, solid plot. The book should've ended 50 pages earlier.

Nonetheless, as I battle insomnia in this warm weather, it was a good read.  

Sunday, May 6, 2018

When another Rahul got me thinking


Rahul Roushan (not Gandhi), journalist and founder of what used to be an extremely popular account in the early days of Facebook in India, Faking News, ran an AMA on the subreddit r/IndiaSpeaks, which is one of the primary right wing subreddits and directly opposes the left wing r/India. Roushan is well-known for hit humor and witty one-liners, but having heard him before on panel discussions, I also knew that he was a thinker and could critically analyze situations well - especially political ones.

On the AMA, Rahul brought up a point that hit me right in the face - the Congress is not just a party, but a state of mind. There is a Congress in every Indian. And that Congress is the ability to hide duplicitous behavior through virtue-signaling. Everyone does it. We will talk about the importance of cleanliness without batting an eyelid while tossing garbage out the bus window. We will complain about corruption until we're in a position to make a quick buck ourselves - and we'll keep complaining about it even after that! We will talk about the importance of sports while telling our kids to study and not play.

It goes much deeper: India has been infamous at the UN for pretending to support all manner of humanitarian missions while itself being unable to lift hundreds of millions of its own people out of poverty (which is changing ever so slowly). We are fully capable of the double-speak it requires to call ourselves a secular country in which your religion determines your association with the state and its laws, to guarantee freedom of speech along with laws that can get you in jail for years for merely saying something that anybody (especially some special people) don't like, to vow to fight casteism while making caste the basis to receive doles and favors from the state, to demonize America while doing everything in our power to send our children there... the list just goes on.

And worse, we don't even realize it: we are so used to saying high-sounding nonsense that we've basically learned to lie to ourselves. Political parties represent the society in which they act, and the Congress party represents this society to the T. 

A new start


It was a long shot when I first signed up for it. The relentless cold spell that kept me away from training for weeks, and the ACL injury that kept me at home for months. And neither of those was any chance for the biggest hurdle of all: my nearly two-decades of lethargy, of ignoring the fact that I was physically not well, and being mentally sharp did not make up for it.

And then, on that fateful day, I did it. Right around my training time at 32:31 - by no means a good number going by the average, but certainly an unthinkable number for me just a few years ago. A great start to hopefully a better future. 

Monday, April 30, 2018

Flight of fantasy... and why not?

Treknology: The Science of Star Trek from Tricorders to Warp Drive
By Ethan Siegel

Ah Star Trek, that epitome of human creativity and endeavor. When I look at the night sky, I imagine zooming through the cosmos, faster than light, through nebulas and around stars. And then I remember my one class in special relativity to realize that it's impossible. Or is it?

In this grand collection of all the quirks from Star Trek, Ethan Siegel, of Starts with a Bang! fame, takes us through what can best be described as a history of the franchise as it relates to real life. I've heard of the Alcibierre Drive before, and I could guess that the flip phones both became a reality and are nearly extinct now too. But there's plenty more - from tricorders to deflector shields to replicators (although I don't agree that 3D printing is the same as replication).

This wonderful book is easy to read, with lots of pictures and a casual style. For all us nerds out there, it's quite a pleasure. 

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Of change in the old south

The Last Juror
By John Grisham

When I'm out of ideas on what author to pick up at the library, I default to John Grisham. The stories are mostly legal thrillers with good plots, not too convoluted, but full of depth. You gave to love Grisham's attention to detail and fine research, as he builds his stories and characters. I didn't really have to think too much - I knew it would be good. And I was right.

Setting the story, as he usually does, in the Deep South, Grisham sets his tale in the backdrop of the end of segregation and the 'instant' integration of schools, touching on a variety of social themes that come out in the midst of a murder trial. However, as it is fiction, he does take liberties with the facts, especially the facts about laws, but then, you shouldn't really be trying to learning the law from a novel.

So while I continue my search for an author worth becoming addicted to, I suppose I'll always have Grisham to fall back on. 

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Never crash a trilogy

The Sins of the Father
By Jeffrey Archer

For many young adults, Jeffrey Archer is somewhat of a right of passage - it is pop-fiction, but it is sophisticated stuff, meant for the new connoisseur of modern fiction. It is fast-paced, but still has enough depth. All that's OK, except that The Sins of the Father (a rather enigmatic title with biblical references) is actually Part 2 of the Clifton Chronicles, and I haven't read Part 1. So the story didn't make much sense to me, and yet I kept on reading.

Big mistake. Not only were the characters somewhat unfamiliar, the story was also... boring. Stuff happened, and kept happening, but there was no theme, no reason. It was truly like reading a soap opera - and I'm someone who likes historical fiction, which is laid in a grand scheme. So obviously this book was a letdown. I suppose I should stop going by big-name authors that high society seems to lionize, and just stick to reliable themes instead. 

A heavy dose of realism

BRAD'S STATUS (2017)

Produced By: Amazon Studios and others
Director: Mike White
Starring: Ben Stiller, Austin Abrams, Jenna Fischer, Michael Sheen, and others
Pros: Relatable story, excellent acting
Cons: Monochromatic characters
Rating: *** of 5 (3 of 5)

One of my constant gripes with so-called mainstream movies is their utter lack of connection with real life: the characters are there and yet don't belong there, the themes and issues (if any) are just not something you'd except to come across in your life. Some might say that the purpose of cinema is escapism, and therefore themes that are disconnected from reality are kosher. And I might agree (after all, I watch Transformers!), but every now and then, it's good to have a movie that's based on Planet Earth once again. The last movie that I can recall that did this was Manchester By The Sea, and although Brad's Status is far removed from that, it is still a refreshing watch.

Exploring the story of a mid-life crisis and the importance of family, the movie comes across as very relatable for anyone that has been through the agony of college admissions, or whose own children might be. The backdrop is as simple as that, and yet it's a theme that has hardly been explored. Ben Stiller puts up a strong performance in a role that is full of conflict, ably supported by Austin Abrams. The story is not slow, but it is not fast-paced either: it moves along gradually, and the father-son relationship keeps it fueled up.

My only grouse with the movie was that many of the characters were cliched and monochromatic - there was little depth to any of them. There was a nice story, and the acting was good, but it wasn't thought out too well. However, the good music score did help improve it a bit. This one below was my favorite. (OTFS)

A Unique Movie

THE DISASTER ARTIST (2017)

Produced By: New Line Cinema and others
Director: James Franco
Starring: James Franco, Dave Franco, Seth Rogen, Ari Graynor, and others
Pros: Unique movie, excellent ending, excellent acting
Cons: Slow
Rating: **** of 5 (4 of 5)

Once in a blue moon, you come across a movie that you can't quite put your finger on, "so bad it's good" being a particularly catchy way to describe it. Of course, I've never seen The Room, so I was a little unsure about watching a movie about that movie - an odd thing to make. But watch it I did, and I am quite glad I did. This is a unique movie, a mockumentary if you may. But it is anything but a joke - director James Franco puts in a lot of effort towards his goal of recreating events from the original movie, and that effort shows quite well.

The movie does get somewhat boring in between as the movie tries to capture every event from The Room, but the ending makes up quite well for that - the audience, both inside and outside the movie, are truly captured by it, which was a rare experience for me. Moreover, Franco and his brother put up a grand performance that endears them to the viewers. Overall, a great movie. (OTFS)