Monday, March 28, 2011

Books: Fast Food Nation

Eric Schlosser investigates into the machinations of the fast food industry in this non-fiction. He begins with the advent of the fast food culture accelerated by the growth of automobiles, drivers and good roads. He then moves into the system of franchises which fuelled the growth of the fast food industry. Very soon, the needs for profits became important. So, the working condition of the employees degraded. In order to avoid unnecessary surprises, forming an union was discouraged through various techniques – contractual and psychological - devised by the fast food conglomerates. When the outlets increased through franchising, there also arose a demand for constant supply of consumers. This led to various efforts targeting the young minds to ensure a lifelong allegiance. Schlosser also examines many industries spawned by the growth of fast food outlets. For an uninterrupted supply of raw materials, various other industries have sprung up. He devotes pages on potato farming and meat packing. The various practices of these industries for a steady supply at a low cost are explained in detail.

In this book, Schlosser concentrates on the effects on the fast food industry on the American way of life and also psyche. As fast food joints are rapidly expanding across the globe, he also details the globalization impacts on a minute scale. Fast food is referred as “unhealthy” in common parlance. So, the resonating theme of the book is also “unhealthy”. In this book, the term unhealthy has profound meaning as it highlights ill effects of not only one’s body but also one’s society and culture. But, Schlosser’s book does not end up as a doomsday prediction. He also suggest practical ways to fight these ill effects. According to him, corporatization is not bad. Most of the ill effects can be easily checked by the corporate by letting go of a few pennies of the profit earned. Many of the instances provided refer the fast food giant MacDonald’s. In the afterword, Schlosser has defended this point. As the original book was published a few years back, the afterword is a well intended attempt to update the new reader on the current changes in the industry.

The narrative is simple. The industry touches our every day life. Combining the above two facts, this book becomes a tireless read once you get your hands on it. If you are an avid reader who wants to try out non-fiction, then this is the right book to start with.

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Tags: Books,Eric Schlosser,Fast Food

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Movie Review: Drive Angry

John Milton(Nicolas Cage) chases three men on his car through the streets of a sleepy little town in Colorado. During the chase, the car carrying three men topples. Milton kills two of them and leaves the third after maiming him badly. Milton interrogates the badly maimed man to confess the location of a girl. After this incident, Milton plans his next steps while having coffee in a diner. At the diner, he notices the waitress Piper(Amber Heard) and develops a non-romantic interest in her.

When Piper quits the job after a fight with the owner of the diner, Milton follows her. Her car breaks down on the way to her home. Milton promises to fix the car in return for a ride to the nearest place she can drop him. The nearest place turns out be right next to her house. Piper and Milton part ways. But soon Piper gets into a fight with her boyfriend after seeing him in bed with a naked woman. When Piper is repeatedly hit by her boyfriend, Milton interferes. After knocking her boyfriend unconscious, Milton and Piper set out to Louisiana where the girl is held captive.

Meanwhile at the diner, a mysterious man named “The Accountant”(William Fitchner) turns up. He is tracking Milton and has an unique ability to make people obey him. He gets information about Piper and Milton from Piper’s coworker. He turns up at Piper’s house to see an agitated boyfriend. The Accountant kills him and persuades two cops to join him in the hunt by convincing them he is from FBI. Milton is also being tracked by Jonas King(Billy Burke), a cult leader. Why is the girl being held captive? Why is Milton in search of this girl? Why are these men hunting Milton? All these are answered in the rest of the movie.

Patrick Lussier directs this action movie which tries to scale new heights in absurdity with liberal splashes of nudity and blood. The twists and turns in the plots are visible from a mile away. The movie is in 3D and the director has used cheap techniques in order to make the viewer recoil in their seats. Although the movie revolves around cars and chases, there isn’t a worthy chase in this movie. As for absurd scenes, there are dime a dozen - a girl does a Bobbitt act on the villain with her mouth, Milton giving multiple orgasms to a waitress while the former is fully clothed and fighting a bunch of baddies etc. Among the performers, William Fitchner impresses in the role of “The Accountant” (which might be significantly longer in duration than any of his previous roles). William brings the well needed relief in this enterprise.

Language: English

Genre: Action

Rating: *

Tags: Movies,Nicolas Cage,Amber Heard,William Fitchner,Billy Burke,Patrick Lussier,Action

Friday, March 25, 2011

- and -- in an hyphenated name!

What comes first in an hyphenated name – the surname given by your parents or the surname of your husband? I always thought it was the surname given by your parents. So, I was surprised to hear my colleague stating it was her husband’s name that came first in her hyphenated name!

In France, you have freedom to choose which comes first! If you want your husband’s surname to appear first, you can do so. If you want the surname given to your by your parents to come first, you can do so too.

The strange thing about the whole hyphenation was something else. You can give your kids a hyphenated name. If you are legally wedded, then your kid should have double hyphenation ie --! If you are not legally wedded, your kid should have only one hyphenation. Isn’t this almost like branding?

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Tags: Musings,Hyphen

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Movie Review: Battle:LA

In August 2011, several meteors land on earth. The meteors lands in multiple places around the world. The common factor of these landings is an ocean near a major city. Hours before the meteors land under the watchful eyes of the media, US Marine Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz(Aaron Eckhart) meets his friend and a superior officer at Camp Pendleton to discuss his retirement plans. After his last mission ends in the loss of many lives, Nantz has been seriously thinking of retirement. His request is accepted by his superior.

The next day, Nantz and his group of Marines are interrupted from their regular training exercises. The meteors have landed on earth by now. All the men are transported to the Forward Operating Base in vehicles. The meteors turn out to be aliens and they are waging war against the humans. Most of the cities on the West Coast have fallen. LA is taking a stand against the aliens. At the Forward Operating Base, Nantz is assigned to a young platoon commander. Their mission is to evacuate civilians trapped inside a police station before the military bombs the entire area to wipe out aliens.

The team is assembled. All of them has heard about Nantz’s earlier mission which costs a lot of lives. So, they are tensed. On top of it, the young platoon commander is unsure about Nantz. Being experienced, will Nantz step out of the line to undermine the commander’s authority? The rest of the movie tells us how Nantz succeeds in fighting the aliens and making soldiers out of the survivors.

Jonathan Liebesman directs this action thriller which fails to effectively engage for many reasons. The movie gives you a feeling of deja vu as the basic story appears in many movies. But the main drawback is the use of extreme close-ups along with the shaky camera. The extreme close-ups are good if it is a drama with excellent performances. The shaky camera is good if it is action movie. Combining these two techniques for a action movie where there are neither great performances nor great action scenes does not work. The other factor which works against the movie is the lack of large canvas. Even though LA is burning, there are a very few shots in the movie that shows the extent of damage to the city. Most of the scenes are confined within couple of blocks in the downtown which hides the big picture from the viewer. CGI effects are minimal.

Stay away from this one.

Language: English

Genre: Action

Rating: **

Tags: Movies,Aaron Eckhart,Jonathan Liebesman,Action

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Should I kiss?

For someone who share a similar background as me, it is unnerving to see people kissing each other in Paris. I'm not referring to a lover's kiss. If it was, I\m sure all of us would have ogled at it to learn and also to compare the methodology! While meeting someone or bidding adieu to someone, a kiss is a ritual here.

A man kisses a woman or the other way around. A man kisses another man. A woman kisses another woman. The third scenario of a woman kissing another woman is strangely calming! The first and the second scenario are unnerving. What do I do in such a scenario? Luckily for me, it is the fear itself. There never was such a scenario! But it is not the case with others!

My friend narrated his experience. While meeting his daughter's teacher, he shook hands with her first. After a few seconds of hesitation, he kissed her on the cheeks. The intensity of the dilemma was so acute that he forgot the presence of his wife next to him while committing this act. That is where he halted the narration. Being a good friend, I didn't press for a Q & A.

Anyways, it is better than an extended cheeks expecting to meet and greet the other person's cheek, with a stupid glee on the face. That is what another friend did at the end of a fun night with his team members. If we could predict the future, all of us would have been at different places. The lady extended her hands towards him and what would have been a kiss on the cheek ended up as a hand shake!

A kiss on the cheek is friendly and not intimate. But if you are not comfortable with the whole thing, a simple hand shake will suffix. If you are friendly with the other person and are too shy for a cheek-brush, go for a hand hug. A hand hug is when you wrap your handshake with your left hand. It works for me!

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Tags: Musings,Kiss,Paris

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Movie Review: Fighter

Micky Ward(Mark Wahlberg) is a boxer from Lowell, Massachusetts. He trains under his older half brother Dicky Eklund(Christian Bale) from whom he has learnt all that knows now. Dicky is a former boxing champion who has now fallen from grace and is addicted to crack cocaine. Alice Ward(Melissa Leo), their mom, acts as the manager. Micky has been very unlucky so far since his mom cannot get him good fights and his brother regularly fails to show up on time for the training sessions. Alice’s family is big with seven daughters and two sons. Her current husband is George Ward, Micky’s dad. The entire family is extremely bonded to each other. Micky is divorced and his daughter lives with his former wife. Micky wants to win boxing matches and earn enough money to get his daughter back into his life.

At a family dinner at a local restaurant before Micky is scheduled for a boxing match in Atlantic City, he gathers courage to get the phone number of the beautiful bartender Charlene Fleming(Amy Adams). He sets up a date with her on the coming Saturday when he is back from the match. When the limousine arrives the next day to pick up Micky, Dicky is late as he is getting high with his friends. Eventually, Micky, Alice, George and Mickey O'Keefe(playing himself) the stand-in trainer finds Dicky and reaches Atlantic City. Just before the match starts, Micky is given a raw deal and is asked to fight a boxer who heavier than him. Micky loses fight and returns home in shame. When Micky does not turn for the date on Saturday, he is confronted at his house by Charlene. Together, they go out on a date later. When Charlene questions Micky harshly about the poor choices made on the date, Micky opens up and admits the shame of losing the battle to her.

Three weeks later, Alice learns that Micky and Charlene are in a steady relationship. Micky also informs his mom and his siblings on his plans to train in Las Vegas under a different trainer and manager. The family blames Charlene. Dicky promises everyone to get the money for Micky for a status quo. But Dicky ends up crossing the line of law with a prison sentence for him and a broken arm for Micky. The family is devastated. After watching the documentary named "High on Crack Street: Lost Lives in Lowell" chronicling Dicky's fall from grace airs on HBO, the lives of the two brothers undergo changes. Micky starts training again under O'Keefe with a new manager. Dicky fights his addiction. How Micky ends up as a winner without losing his ties to his family is told in the remaining part of the movie.

David O Russell directs this drama about loyalty and familial bonding based on the real life story of Micky Ward and Dicky Eklund. The story focuses on the emotional turmoil of Micky Ward who struggles for a better life while trying to keep his family together. The family here do not necessary refer to those with the same bloodline. The success of David lies in telling a story of ordinary people with whom the viewer connects easily. David heightens the drama without going overboard. One such instance is the scene showing the solidarity of the family during the climax fight. Charlene shouts at Dicky on how he is handling Micky inside the ring and Dicky shouts back asking her not to interfere. The emotional outburst is silenced by Alice by gently shushing Charlene, pulling her to Alice's side and explaining to her what Dicky is doing. Everything is over in a few seconds. But it gives the viewer a lasting impression. In spite of being a serious movie, the circumstances and reactions at many places invoke genuine laughter in the viewer.

The movie also works because of the performances by Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Melissa Leo and Amy Adams. Mark's Micky struggles with his inner demons while trying to keep his family together. One of the best scenes of the movie is when he tells his sisters to show respect and immediately turns to Charlene to ask her not to say anything. The conflicts and the pain is visible in his actions throughout the movie. Christian Bale as Dicky has the most difficult task in hand. He shows two phases in the life of Dicky. While the mannerism remain the same, Christian show different emotions during these different phases. His unsuccessful escape from the cops and also how his demeanor changes after watching the HBO documentary shows how good an actor he is. Melissa's Alice is tough. Watch out for the scene when she cries on hearing Dicky sing. Amy Adams surprises in a role which is markedly different from her previous ones.

Go for it. The movie makes you feel good. You may not expect to laugh when you enter the movie hall. But you will end up laughing and smiling throughout the movie.

Language: English

Genre: Drama

Rating: ****

Tags: Movies,Mark Walhberg,Christian Bale,Melissa Leo,Amy Adams,David O Russell,Drama

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Movie Review: 127 hours

Aron Ralston(James Franco) takes off alone on a Friday evening to Canyonlands National Park in Utah. He plans to spend the weekend in the park; cycling, trekking and climbing. He starts off Saturday with a lot of energy and enthusiasm and an intent to beat the duration given in the guidebook to reach a particular destination. On his way, he meets two hikers Kristi(Kate Mara) and Megan who are lost. He guides them to their destination by accompanying them. He also shows them a hidden pool inside the park. The trio has a lot of fun by sliding between the rocks and falling into the pool. After this, they part ways.

Aron continues his journey. When navigating his way on a rock formation, Aron steps on a loose rock causing him to fall down. He hits the ground without any major injuries. The loose rock had descended along with him and landed on top of his right hand. As a result, he has limited mobility. Although Aron tries to free his hand, he is unable to. The rest of the movie gives a glimpse what Aron undergoes in the next 127 hours and how he extricates himself out of this predicament.

Danny Boyle directs this movie based on the Aron Ralston’s autobiography aptly titled “Between a Rock and a Hard Place”. Aron’s story is familiar with anyone who has read the book or searched about him on Google. Aron’s story is lifting and inspirational. Danny Boyle deserves kudos for adapting this story into an entertaining movie. Danny succeeds because of three techniques used; the camera, the music and the editing. The cinematography by Anthony Dod Mantle and Enrique Chediak gives an unique perspective of the various scenes. Kristi’s fall into the hidden pool is shown from the viewpoint of Kristi which translates into exhilaration for the viewer. Similarly, the hallucinations of Aron when trapped is heightened by the camera angles chosen. The music by A R Rahman puts the viewer in the right mood. The music in the initial part of the movie is fast and jarring depicting Aron’s state of mind and energy. But at the same time, the music stops at the crescendo leaving the viewer to arrive at his own conclusion. Finally, the editing by Jon Harris ensures that the multiple angle shots are not lost in the final version by either using split screens or by fast cutting between the shots.

James Franco delivers a great performance as Aron Ralston. Aron is optimistic, careless and confident at first. Later in the movie, he imagines and also decides to make amends. His spirit sinks. James Franco successfully brings the contrast to these two phases with his acting. The later part is extremely difficult as an actor. He impresses viewers in the scenes when he frees himself and also during the next few scenes to freedom.

Highly recommended for serious movie lovers. Beware of scenes which are not palatable.

Language: English

Genre: Drama

Rating: ****

Tags: Movies,James Franco,Danny Boyle,Drama

Friday, March 11, 2011

Books: The Big Short

In the financial meltdown of 2007, not all people lost money. There were a few people who predicted doom very early on by having a closer look at the events in the financial markets. Michael Lewis chronicles their life in the years of these people in the years till the precipitation of the calamity. In this book, Michael details the lives of Steve Eisman, Michael Burry, Jamie Mai and Charles Ledley along with a few others. Although these men saw how this drama will eventually unfold, it was not easy for them. In the overly optimistic atmosphere that characterized the years before the crisis, it was difficult to hold on to one’s money and also the faith of the investors.

Michael’s theme is perseverance in the face of adversity. He translates the complex world of finance into simple words that almost makes it comprehensible even for a layman. Yet, the financial packages created by various institutions are so complex that simpler words is not sufficient and the reader sometimes gets a vertigo while trying to understand it. But when it comes to detailing the struggle of his subjects, Michael succeeds.

This is recommended if you have a bit of understanding of the world of finance, and also if you are looking for inspiration in the face of adversity.

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Tags: Books,Michael Lewis

Movie Review: Last Night

Michael(Sam Worthington) and Joanna Reed(Keira Knightley) are a married couple living in NY. Michael works for a firm which specializes in real estate development while Joanna is a freelancing writer lazily working on a new novel. When both of them attend an event hosted by Michael’s firm, Joanna notices Laura(Eva Mendes). Joanna comes to know that Laura works closely with Michael. Joanna is upset after noticing Laura’s attraction to Michael. When Michael and Laura return home that night, she is angry at Michael. Later in the night, Michael apologizes as he is traveling the next day with Laura to Philadelphia.

After Michael leaves the next day, Joanna bumps into Alex Mann(Guillaume Canet) her ex-lover. Alex is also an author who is visiting NY now. They plan on a date in the evening. When Alex and Joanna meets, they reminisce the past. Meanwhile in Philadelphia, Laura and Michael unwinds in a bar after a hectic day. The more they get drunk, the more the inhibitions are shed. The next few hours are trying for the married couple now in two different cities undergoing two different yet similar emotions.

Massy Tadjedin directs this drama about a married couple facing temptation. The movie tells the events in their lives in a span of less than 36 hours. But the interesting storyline do not translate to an interesting movie. This is mainly due to the editing. The story develops in two cities and as a result, the story shifts between the cities to show the conflicts undergone by the protagonists. The shift is too abrupt and thereby do not let the viewer fully appreciate the dilemma faced by the protagonists. These abrupt shifts also take the fun out of the great performances.

Stay away. Go for it if you want to really see how a good story can made into a bad movie.

Language: English

Genre: Drama

Rating: *

Tags: Movies,Sam Worthington,Keira Knightley,Eva Mendes,Drama

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

How do we ensure gender equality?

I was so worried in the morning! Today is the Women’s day! But is there a similar occasion for men? Yes, there is! November 19th is the International Men’s day! I’m relieved now. Finally, my kind has a day! Frankly, it is not a day marked for celebrating womanhood that bothers me! Of late, we have a day marked for celebrating one thing or the other! We might run out of days in an year to celebrate. Again, I’m not bothered by this!

These days, employers want to ensure gender equality in their organizations. What bothers me is how they go about it. Everyone wants gender equality. It is your talent that matters; not your gender. But how can you implement this? Declare an edict - “Any team should have a homogenous composition of men and women”. Is that the way to go about it? If so, how is it different from reservation?

“I will not take women in my team”, said my friend. It was in the middle of conversation dealing with appraisals, long work hours and performances. “The kind of deals I sign cannot be implemented by working on regular work hours. Everyone needs to work long hours most of the time! Then, why bother taking women with time constraints!”. How do you address this? Believe me! Even though there is prejudice attached to the statement, there is also a bigger issue here; the workload committed by organizations. What do we address first? The prejudice or the way we work?

Footnote: I was not shocked by my friend’s statement because this was at the tail end of the conversation. The major blow have already been delivered. My friend was given a few resumes. In 20 seconds, he had shortlisted the candidates. He had shortlisted by glancing at the names and guessing the gender!

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Tags: Musings,Gender,Equality

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Movie Review: Unknown

Dr Martin Harris(Liam Neeson) arrives in Berlin with his wife Elizabeth(January Jones). Martin plans to attend a biotechnology summit hosted in the city. After arriving at the hotel, Liz proceeds to check into the hotel while Martin collects the luggage from the cabbie. When Martin checks the luggage, he is unable to locate his suitcase. So, he rushes back to the airport in a taxicab driven by Gina(Diane Kruger) without even informing his wife. On the way to the airport, the cab meets with an accident. Martin is knocked unconscious and is saved by Gina. In the confusion after the accident, Gina disappears into the crowd.

Four days later, Martin wakes up from coma in a German hospital. As there were no identification papers on him, the hospital authorities were unable to inform his immediate family. Martin suffers from memory loss due to the trauma and concussion resulting from the accident. But he is able to recall Liz and certain details of his life. When he realizes that Liz has been in a strange city for the past four days, he persuades the hospital authorities to release him. He rushes to the hotel.

At the hotel, Martin has trouble establishing his identity. He manages to convince the security in charge to take him to his wife who is attending a party. But Liz does not recognize him. To his shock and bewilderment, he meets another man(Aidan Quinn) who claims to be Liz’s husband, Dr Martin Harris. Now, Martin is confused. Is this a conspiracy or flight of fantasy? Martin tries to get to the bottom of the mystery with the help of Gina and an ex-Stasi agent Ernst Jurgen(Bruno Ganz).

Jaume Collet-Serra directs this thriller which is adapted from the novel of Didier van Cauweleart. The movie veers into the identity crisis of Martin and his dilemmas. Then, it suddenly takes a turn and becomes a thriller. Before the shift, the viewer is confused as to what the movie has to offer. Another drawback is the inability to explain how the former Stasi agent stumbles upon the conspiracy. The adaptation fails.

Liam Neeson as Martin rises above the script. Martin is so taken aback by the events unfurling in front of him that he even suspect his memories. It is at this point Liam excels.

This is watchable only for Liam’s acting. For that, you can wait for the DVD.

Language: English

Genre: Thriller

Rating: **

Tags: Movies,Liam Neeson,Diane Kruger,Jaume Collet-Serra,Thriller

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Concept of Permanent Loss

Parenthood is not easy! Every day you age as a parent is a humbling experience. Not only does the respect for your parents increase by leaps and bounds, but also your experience in explaining complex concepts in simple words.

A few weeks back, I woke up in the middle of the night after a disturbing dream. The subject of the dream was a permanent loss involving my daughter. In the ensuing disorientation, I managed to write a short email to my wife asking if all is well.

When I woke up next day, my wife had replied. There was nothing to worry. When I called home that evening, my daughter was excited.

She: What happened yesterday?

Me: *confused as I had forgotten about the dream by now* I came back from office, ate dinner and slept.

She: *uninterested* That’s all?

Me: *unsure where this is leading to* Yes…

She: *excited* Did you write to mom? Did you dream about me?

Me: Yes.

She: Tell me about it.

I was taken aback for a moment. I had no idea how to explain the dream. Is she old enough to hear what I have to say? After an uncomfortable pause, I composed myself.

Me: You went away to a far away place. I was searching you everywhere. I couldn’t find you and was very sad.

She: *laughing*

Me: *unsure what is happening*

She: *laughing* I’m a small girl. How can I go away alone?

Didn’t I tell you it is a humbling experience?

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Tags: Parenthood,Loss,Dream

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