Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Movie Review: 11.6

11.6 stands for 11.6 million Euros, the sum stolen by Toni Musulin. Toni was an armored truck driver. One fine day, he drove his armored truck with 11.6 million Euros and never returned. The story of Toni is the subject of the book written by Alice Géraud-Arfi. Philippe Godeau uses this book as the foundation of his movie. Instead of the thrilling elements of the heist, the director focuses on the human side of the drama. This choice is one of the major setbacks of the movie. The human side of a heist is less attractive than the thrills.

François Cluzet stars as Toni Musulin. If you remember the quadriplegic in Intouchables, then you know who François Cluzet is. The role is not challenging for him if you consider the fact he has already played a role where he has restricted movements. For a man who does not want to get into trouble but becomes angry at his living condition, François Cluzet does a good job. Although Toni teaches the oppressive capitalists (no points in guessing how these corporations become villains in France), we are unable to sympathize with him because of ambiguities in the character. How can he afford fast cars? What tips Toni to be vengeful? These are neither explained nor alluded, and it is where Philippe Godeau fails to make this movie a gripping drama.

Toni Musulin was hailed as a hero after the heist. He had a lighter sentence because there was no firearms involved in the heist. The authorities have not recovered a sizable chunk of the money. All the above are exciting to read. But the director chooses to show what is Toni's background, who are Toni's friend and why weren't they implicated. These factors contain the ingredients of drama but not an interesting one.

If you run out of other choices, then you may try it.

You will find more information on this movie here.

Language: French

Genre: Drama

Rating: **

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Movie Review: Battle of Wits

We are conditioned to expect an action movie with stunning, but gravity defying stunts with a non-existent plot when you mention an Asian movie. Although the above statement is primarily due to our stereotyping, there are great movies that do come out of this part of the world. Battle of Wits, directed by Jacob Cheung and starring Andy Lau, is one of those which gets the right kind of publicity.

The movie opens in 370 BC. At this time, China is not united but under different warlords fighting each other for their personal agenda. The movie is about a siege. Liang, a city-state is under a siege. Although Liang is not a formidable city-state, it comes in between the fight for supremacy between two states - Zhao and Yan. When the movie begins, the rule of Liang is ready to surrender to Zhao forces who are on their way to a bigger battle. When a lone Mozi warrior Ge Li(Andy Lau) turns up, the city-state decides to fight back. This exercise is indeed a battle between David and Goliath. At the same time, it is also a battle of wits.

Jacob Cheung does get preachy about the Mozi philosophy while telling this story. Frankly, I was not able to find anything new in the philosophy that is mostly about universal love. Aren't most of the philosophies based on universal love? The other reason for distraction is the action piece. The grand scale used by Jacob Cheung is breathtaking. He tells us how the war is fought in a clear way. By doing so, he also depicts the human ego in a subtle yet pronounced way. The rulers are worried about their prestige while commoners are worried about existence. All these facets are beautifully captured.

You will not find gravity defying stunts. Instead, you will find how a war is won with limited resources and intelligent strategies. David wins here against the Goliath. But how does he win? In order to find it out, you will have to see the movie.

You will find more about the movie here.

Language: Mandarin

Genre: Drama

Rating: ****

Friday, December 26, 2014

Books: The Man Who Ate The World

According to the author Jay Rayner, who is also a journalist turned food critic, nobody goes to the restaurants for the nutritional reasons. They go for the experience. I agree with the author. Whenever I have felt the pangs of hunger dig deep into me with every inch of my body craving for food, I hurry to the nearest fast food joint. The mission at hand is to drive down a greasy whatever they are offering with black colored fizzy liquid. While doing this, I also thank the Almighty for every morsel of food passing down my esophagus. I never achieve this blissful state while visiting restaurants. Coming back to Jay Rayner, he doesn't place a value for the experience. The experience is invaluable. He travels the world looking for the best experience.

In his quest for the best experience, Jay Rayner chooses six cities in the world - Las Vegas, Moscow, Dubai, Tokyo, New York, London, and Paris. Earlier, the restauranteurs were limited by geography. The geographical boundaries are not longer a challenge with globalization. As a result, the local celebrity restauranteurs have expanded to other parts of the world. Now, they can cater to food lovers in different parts of the world enabling them to enjoy the experience without traveling extensively from their home. The branching out has also brought fresh challenges. Earlier the restaurants used locally grown produce. Now these produce have to be flown in from other parts of the world. There are customizations in every part of the world to suit the local palate which brings down the quality of experience.

The book is about food and hence features it in abundance. The author warns the readers. The book will make you hungry. I agree with the author. After a few pages into the page, you are hungry. Added to this, Jay Rayner has a humorous way of writing that makes you laugh loudly forgetting the surroundings. But how much can you eat before you say no more. The book is like a good buffet. You devour it with energy and enthusiasm. Then the overload of food hits your brain. After this point, you can't take it anymore. The initial pace of the book slows down after a couple of chapters. Then the pace is sluggish. When it comes to Paris, we just want to get this over with.

The book is very funny initially and funny in bits and pieces from there. You may agree with the author in many of the observations made in the book. You can equate the book to a dinner with good starters followed by a bland main course and even blander dessert. Read at your peril. If you do not want to waste time, look at the funny quotes from Jay Rayner to save your time.

Tags: Books,Jay Rayner,Restaurant,Experience

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Movie Review: Elite Squad

Elite Squad or Tropa de Elite is a Brazilian film directed by José Padilha. The movie is based on a book written André Batista and Rodrigo Pimentel. Both the authors were members of BOPE which stands for Batalhão de Operações Policiais Especiais. BOPE is specialized in urban warfare and often sent to favelas to keep order. If you are wondering what favelas are, then these are the slums where all the fancy action pieces in Hollywood movies are shot if the premise is set in Rio de Janeiro. If you are wondering who José Padilha is, then he is the one who directed the updated, but terrible and boring Robocop. After watching this gritty drama, you understand how Hollywood can corrupt a talented director with a gigantic budget and special effects.

The events unfold in 1997 just before the visit of Pope John Paul II to the city. In order to ensure the pope has a restful sleep, BOPE begins an operation to clean up the slums. While the action progresses, Captain Roberto Nascimento(Wagner Moura) using a voice over tells us the situation in Rio de Janeiro. The economic conditions in the city have made the cops corrupt. They are hand-in-hand with the criminals often giving them protection in return for money. But BOPE is a special task force above corruption. But life in this unit is dangerous. Nascimento wants to leave the group as his wife is pregnant, and they are expecting a baby soon. He has to choose a successor for his position, and he narrows it down to two new recruits - Matias and Neto. Do they possess the right qualities for becoming a member of BOPE team? The thought troubles Nascimento.

Using a spirited voice-over from Wagner Moura as Nascimento and shooting close to the characters, José Padilha succeeds in putting us in the middle of the action. Combine the above with an excellent performance from Wagner Moura, we almost sympathize with the dangers these men has to encounter as part of their daily life. Just when we are feeling sorry for this unit, José Padilha shocks us with their training methods and also their brutal treatment of criminals. At the end of the movie, we are left to question what is right and what is wrong. The answer to this question is not easy. During the final scene, Nascimento's choice completes his training by pulling the trigger. The screen whites out and we hear the shot. But what has happened off-screen plays up in our imagination and we cringe.

It is tough to find a genre for this. It is not an action movie. Although there are thrills, this is more of a drama. But there is no question if it is a good movie or not. It is a must watch for serious movie lovers.

You will find more about the movie here.

Language: Portuguese

Genre: Drama

Rating: ****

Monday, December 15, 2014

Movie Review: The Lunchbox

The Lunchbox resembles You've Got Email. You've Got Email was the most recent adaptation of the many correspondence courtship drama made for the screen. It was able to grab our attention due to hard-to-find-now but the then Hollywood sweetheart Meg Ryan, Tom Hanks, Internet boom and popularity of AOL. When compared to this biggie, the Lunchbox is small in every kind of measuring yardstick. Ritesh Batra, the director of this movie, is not a celebrity. Irrfan Khan and Nimrat Kaur plays the protagonists. The former is an international star but not at the same star status as Tom Hanks, and the latter is an unknown face. Finally, the correspondence is set in the lunch box where they write each other letters using pen and paper! In spite of all these, the movie captures your attention. A simple movie can be very effective in telling a touching human drama.

You may have heard of the dabbawalas in Mumbai. Although their method might seem chaotic for an untrained eye, their efficiency is unparalleled. Even Harvard had come to Mumbai to study their delivery system. A mix-up by the dabbawala places the lunch box prepared by the young wife Ila(Nimrat Kaur) on the desk of Saajan Fernandez(Irrfan Khan) a widower waiting for his retirement. At the end of the day, Ila is surprised by an empty lunch box. She thinks her husband is happy with the new recipe on which she had ample help from the auntie living upstairs, never seen in the movie, but heard through the movie. She decides to write a thank you note and puts in the dabba. This correspondence starts the friendship between two lonely souls living in a crowded city. In real life, this might never happen. Otherwise, the Harvardwala would never have conducted a study on dabbawalas. I am quoting one of the characters in the movie here. 

A simple narrative style, an eye for detail, excellent acting and photographing Mumbai combines together to keep us engaged in the movie. The movie is about two lonely people who haven't got anyone to communicate. Saajan lost his wife to death while Ila is losing her husband to his work. The two lonely people are living in one of the busiest and crowded city in the world. The irony itself captures our attention. They exchange letters not to philosophize instead to connect. The yearning of the protagonist to reach out finally pulls us into the drama. Nawazuddin Siddiqui, in a very short role, proves his versatility. The man can play anyone. Ritesh Batra does not carry any excess baggage as this is feature film debut. But he handles his subject and his actors like a veteran.

This lunch box contains a simple meal. But this would be most fulfilling meal you have eaten in a long while. Go for it.

Language: Hindi

Genre: Drama

Rating: ****

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Choose your off-site wisely

Off-site is one of the favorite events to enable team building. As the name implies, the venue is not your regular work location which provides the much needed and deserved break from the monotonous or stress-ridden environment. Who doesn't like that? But off-sites can also be detrimental. I learned this lesson recently from a friend of mine.

The friend was looking forward to the off-site announced by his firm. The company was trying to shoot two birds with one stone. They were providing back to the community and also building the synergies between the various teams with the off-site. In order to accomplish this objective, the company took all of their employees on a mission to rebuild one of the recreational centers for young adults with special needs.

I don't know how off-sites work in your place. The friend turned up over-dressed and under-prepared for the day. When I met him at the end of the day, he was groaning from 8 hours of hard physical labor. He summed up the off-sites in the following words. " I work hard for 8 hours every day. How is this different? There is no fun. Moreover, I am in pain. My body is aching all over!"

I am afraid this off-site is going to have an adverse effect on the friend. He might resign! I wonder what he would cite the reason in his exit interview.

Tags: Musings, Off-site

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