Monday, August 31, 2015

Movie Review: This is where I leave you

When you see the names of Tina Fey and Jason Bateman in the cast, you have already prepared yourself to see a comedy. If the names of these stars aren't enough, you have Shawn Levy as the director. To help you recall, remember "The Internship" where Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson struggle in Googleplex. Sometimes, all the names associated with comedy may be misleading, and you end up with a drama that makes you chuckle at times. A drama is not bad if you have prepped yourself in the first place.

This movie is an adaptation of the novel by the same name by Jonathan Tropper. I haven't read the book. But if I had known it was an adaptation, then I would not have assumed this would be a comedy. The story deals with a dysfunctional family who comes together to mourn the death of the patriarch. After the death of her husband, Hillary Altman(Jane Fonda) brings her children under her roof to sit shiva. Paul (Corey Stroll), Wendy(Tina Fey), Judd(Jason Bateman) and Phillip(Adam Driver) are here children. For simplicity, Shiva is a Jewish custom where the family sits together for seven days for mourning. To make matters worse, all the Altman kids are going through difficult time.

As you can see, the stage is set for comedy. But the movie explores the human side of coping with issues ranging from love to anger. None of the people is happy. All of them find happiness eventually. They make us chuckle in the process. But at the end of the day, is the movie any different from the countless movies of dysfunctional families we have seen already? The answer is no. There is nothing novel or memorable here although the director tries in vain to entertain and shock us. When you have finished watching the movie, a question lingers in your mind. What would have happened if this was a movie featuring a different set of actors? A set of players who regularly features in dramas. Would I have liked it better?

Stay away.

Language: English

Genre: Drama

Rating: *

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The art of naming restuarants

Names play an important part as it provides an identity. Have you wondered about the art of naming a restaurant? What does the owner think while choosing a name? Does it reflect the cuisine or does it reflect the experience? While conversing with my daughter recently, I learned the importance of a name. Not that I didn't know it before, but sometimes a chance conversation could reopen your eyes.

Daughter: *with excitement* Let's go to that place where we went before for dinner.

Me: *not able to understand where* Do you remember when?

Daughter: *clarifies* It was a while back. It is a nice place.

Me: *still having trouble in recollecting* Remind me, please.

Daughter: *with patience* The one opposite Ryman.

Me: *bingo* Oh! Royal Tandoori.

Daughter: *smiles* Yes.

Me: *carefully diverts to choose another restaurant* Can we try "House of Flavours"? Have you been there?

Daughter: *abruptly* No

Me: *awaits a clarification*

Daughter: *seals the deal* No, we will go to Royal Tandoori. It is posh. The name says so.

My personal preference is the second one because of the ambiance. But the word "Royal" won my daughter over. Now I also know why the restaurants these glaring adjectives as part of their name.

Tags: Parenthood,Restaurants

Monday, August 24, 2015

Photos: The view from top of Durdle Door

Durdle door is part of the Jurassic Coast and is located in Dorset, England. After parking the car, I walked down the tourist track to reach Durdle door. Before I reached the pebbled beach to view the natural limestone arch, there is a platform in the middle of the cliff. This platform gives you a spectacular view of the sea. The sea is like a chameleon. Depending on her mood, the sea has shades of green or blue.


Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Movie Review: The November Man

The November Man is an adaptation of the novel written by Bill Granger. There is a series of books which details the adventures of CIA operative Peter Devereaux. I haven't read the series. The series occurs during the tail end of the Cold War ear considering the year of publication. Pierce Brosnan and Roger Donaldson unite after Dante's Peak. The genre is a thriller, an area where Pierce Brosnan is comfortable.

The movie opens with a quick introduction of Peter Devereaux(Pierce Brosnan) and his new protege David Mason(Luke Bracey) before the former retires from the spy world. Before long, he is called back from retirement to bring back an asset from Moscow. This time around, there are surprises. Devereaux is on the run with former protege hunting him. The key to the mystery lies with a refugee case worker named Alice Fournier(Olga Kurylenko).

When the movie is adapted to the screen, there are changes to the timelines. The cold war was over long back. The Russian oligarchs or cheap replica of Russian bureaucrats are the favorite Hollywood villains for movies set in Eastern Europe. Give the movie the darker tone and there is a shadow of misery everywhere. There is no way this movie can work past the cliches. Despite this, Roger Donaldson succeeds in capturing our attention by setting a pace for the movie. He doesn't give us time to think due to the speed at which events happen on the screen. 
Moreover, he has Pierce Brosnan as the protagonist. As the settings have a James Bond hangover, Brosnan is in familiar territory. On top of it, we are all waiting eagerly to watch Brosnan reprising a role that has shades of the man who has the license to kill.

This movie is perfect for a forgettable evening. You watch this on an unremarkable evening where there is nothing else to do.


Language: English

Genre: Thriller

Rating: **

Photos: The majestic mountains of Snowdonia

Though the summit of Snowdon mountain was foggy, the sky was clear in other parts of Snowdonia in Wales. The roads wound through the mountains. The grass on the mountain was green interspersed with brown. The combination gave a rugged look to the terrain. This picture was the last one of the wonderful day and also the last of this series.



For other pictures in this series, please follow the below links

Tags: Photos, Wales, Snowdon Mountains

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Reframe your mind using positive thoughts

Norman Vincent Peale have written a book on positive thinking. He advises on chanting positive thoughts to influence outcomes in life. To bring about positive changes in life, he advises on recanting positive affirmations throughout the day. These positive affirmations use religion as crutches. If we disregard the religious overtures of these affirmations, the main question becomes visible. Are these techniques effective?

Recently, I was reading Tina Seelig's book named "Insight Out" when I came across the answer. Tina refers to what most of the behavioral experts endorse. Reframe your mind. By chanting positive affirmations, you retrain your mind by giving it a new frame of reference. This process helps in looking at events in a different way. The best example she quotes in her book is by Mauricio Estrella. I am quoting it verbatim below. Mauricio used a simple technique to reframe and retrain his mind. He decided to use passwords that will propagate positive thoughts and retrain his mind.

Letting all the frustration go, I remembered a tip from my former boss, Rasmus. Somehow he combined to-do lists with passwords, and I thought to use an augmented variation to that.
I'm gonna use a password to change my life...
My password became the indicator. My password reminded me that I shouldn't let myself be a victim of my recent breakup, and that I'm strong enough to do something about it.
My password became "Forgive@h3r"
During the rest of the week, I had to type this password several times a day...
In my mind, I was reminding myself to "Forgive her". That simple action changed the way I looked at my ex-wife. That constant reminder that I should forgive her led me to accept the way things happened at the end of my marriage, and embrace a new way of dealing with the depression that I was drowning in.
In the following days, my mood improved drastically. By the end of the 2nd week, I noticed that this password became less powerful, and it started to lose the effect. A quick refresh of this "mantra" helped me. I thought to myself I forgave her as I typed it, every time. The healing effect of it came back almost immediately...
One month later, my dear exchange server asked me again to renew my password.  I thought about the next thing I had to get done.
My password became Quit@smoking4ever.
And guess what happened. I'm not kidding you. I quit smoking overnight.
One month later, my password became Save4trip@thailand.
Guess where I went 3 months later. Thailand!

Mauricio's story is simple and thought-provoking. We are all forced to change our passwords every few days in our organizations. Rather than thinking about the biggest problem we are facing, we could adopt this style of formulating passwords. A friend of mine implemented a slightly different way of Mauricio's example. He swore a lot while exercising. He did it when he had expended all his reserves of energy and needed a sudden boost. This technique was not working out. When he came across Mauricio's story, he decided to think positively while energy levels sank. As a result, he felt a sudden burst of energy flowing through him. This was in stark contrast to his earlier experience.

Now, are you ready to try out Mauricio's technique? Tell me how this worked out for you when you have tried it out. I am interested in knowing.

Tags: Musings, Norman Vincent Peale, Tina Seelig, Mind

Friday, August 14, 2015

Scrambling for the back bench

I am attending training sessions this week. The training provides a good opportunity for shared experiences and networking. On top of the above benefits, the training also allows me to take my mind away from the pressures of professional life. It is the right time to pause and reflect. In a way, it is an experience to revisit the school days. But there is also a marked change from what we experience in our school days.

If you remember the school days, the front rows used to get filled faster. The early birds and the studious ones used to occupy the front benches. The students who wished to stay below the radar used to go for the middle rows. The latecomers often dubbed as inept and lazy ended up in the backbench. They were the social misfits, at least according to our limited world wisdom. If you are in the backbench, you often encounter the wrath of the teacher too.

There always has been a surefire way to attain the backbench. Create mischief in the class or come late to the class. This week, I realized the equation has changed. I was neither early nor late to the class. But I found the rows at the back to be filled already by the time I reached. The front rows were empty. As a result, I had to pick one in the front row. To get a 30,000 ft view, you need to be as far as possible from the stage where the action is happening. But a scramble for the nosebleed section is something I couldn't comprehend! The irony was you come in early to get a place in the back row,

Tags: Musings, Training, Back Bench

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Photos: Trekking the Snowdon mountain

There are two options to the summit of Snowdon mountain in Wales. The first option is the easiest. Take the train. The second option is harder than the first. You have to trek up the mountain. But you cannot show up one day and expect to climb all the way without any preparation. A friend of mine abandoned the exhausting climb midway. While in Snowdonia, I took the first option. On the way down, I noticed many trekkers walking down the mountain. I am not sure if they were able to reach the summit. Their walk suggested they had a good time.

Tags: Photos, Wales, Snowdon Mountains

Monday, August 10, 2015

When you are in Falmouth, you should have an early dinner.

Falmouth is a small city in Cornwall, UK. In case you wind up in this city, there is one thing you should know. All the restaurants close by 10 pm. The city center is a blink-and-miss. The city hosts a harbor, and you can find a variety of boats anchored in the harbor. Consequently, you let your believe there is a certain kind of life associated with this city. If you tread in the line of thought, you will be fooled easily.

This weekend, I was in the city trying to find a place to have dinner. The first place featured Pizza and seafood. I ignored the first and focused on the second. Unfortunately, the lady at the counter apologized saying there are closing the kitchen and those seated remain the last ones to be served. In a way, this behavior reminded me of restaurants in Montmartre which refuse to take any more clientele after a certain time. There is a difference. In Montmartre, they neither want people to wait indefinitely nor want to hurry the existing customers. Here, they want to close the shop. And the time is only 9 pm.

I decided to walk through the city center. After rejecting the little choices I had, I came across a Thai restaurant. They had one reservation and if they showed up there would not be able to entertain us. At this point, I was curious. I asked the person at the counter. "Do restaurants close early around here?". The person nonchalantly replied. "Yes, unless it is an Indian restaurant. They are open until midnight or even until one a.m.". At this point, I choked. Until now, I wasn't able to figure out if it was a veiled insult or innocent remark. 

A group seated at the table right next to the host overheard my request for a table. As they had finished their dinner, they decided to take an early leave so that the restaurant could accommodate my family. The food was good. I soon forgot about the bitter taste. I trust it was an innocent remark. To be frank, the only restaurant that was open till one a.m. was a pizza shop. Probably, it is run by Indians!

Tags: Musings, Falmouth, Dinner

Friday, August 7, 2015

Uber revelations in Mumbai

Uber is a breath of fresh air. Having spent a considerable amount of time waiting for taxis in Paris in various weather conditions and extraordinarily large amounts of cash for cabbies in The UK, I was happy to hear about Uber. Here is one company that makes our life easier. The fare is cheaper and affordable. There are no disappointments after flagging down a cab. Sometimes, the driver is not interested in going in your direction. The Uber model is beneficial for both drivers and also the passengers. When I visited India a few months ago, I realized the above statement is not true. Although the model remains beneficial for the passengers, it does not necessary hold true for the drivers.

While in Mumbai, a friend of mine hailed me a Uber cab. My friend showed me a cool app showing the location of the cab. After doing a quick action on the phone, we were directly connected to the driver. But the driver's location was shown incorrectly on the app and hence he will not be able to pick me up. We tried again. This time, a cab showed up within a few minutes. I was planning to catch an international flight. The app directs a route for the driver. The driver seemed confused with the directions. He told me he would be taking a different route. I don't know Mumbai, but I decided to take a leap of faith. To be fair, I reached my destination on time without taking a circuitous route. I classify all the above as software glitches. What disturbed me was the conversation with the driver.

I was curious to find out how Uber has changed the driver's life. So I went for an open question. "Is Uber better than your previous job?". The driver shrugged. "I can't say anything now. I will have to wait and watch". With this statement, I was intrigued. "Why?". My response might have been inappropriate, but I couldn't resist asking it. "I still have not got paid. I have started this job only for two weeks". This answer was shocking because I thought the drivers were also the owners. On the way to the airport, the driver explained the situation. His current boss owns two cars. The owner is hiring drivers and running the operation using Uber.

When I reflected on the new revelations, the situation has not changed much for the drivers in India. In fact, the drivers will find it tougher now. Earlier the owner hires the drivers and hands them over the keys. In the evening, the driver returns with the collection and the odometer reading. The driver gets paid in the evening. The owner pockets his share. This system was advantageous for the driver as the odometer reading does not reflect the number of trips he made. The driver might have taken a passenger to a destination and taken another one back to the starting the location. As the fare covers both to and fro, the money earned from the return journey goes into the driver's pocket. Now the owner gets paid by Uber without leaving the confines of the home. Where does that leave the driver?

I have nothing against Uber. I believe companies like that a great enabler. But there is always smart people out there who will be able to use these services in a different way than envisioned.

Tags: Musings, Taxi, Uber

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Contraband cigarettes

Of late, there have been many instances of seizures of contraband cigarettes reported in Reading. These shopkeepers have been selling cigarettes purchased from European countries. After purchasing, these items find a way to the UK with paying the necessary taxes associated with imports. In the end, the shopkeepers pocket a higher sum as profit when they sell these items at local prices.

I do not sympathize with these shopkeepers. They are charging their hapless customers the same rate and are not passing the cost benefits to the customers. Smoking is a costly business. I know for sure because I was a smoker until recently. I found cigarettes to be more expensive in Belgium than France. I also cigarettes to be costlier in the UK than France. In both France and the UK, the government charges the smokers more and also scare them away with nasty pictures on the cigarette packs.

In India, cigarettes are sold either as packets or as single units. The flexibility of buying a cigarette versus as a packet is two-fold. You smoke less. You spend less. When you have a pack in your pocket, you need less activation energy to smoke. Why don't the shopkeepers adopt the same modes of sale in Europe and UK? Wouldn't this approach not only reduce smoking but also provide more profit for the shopkeeper? The more profit means less contraband into the country.

Tags: Musings, Cigarettes, Contraband

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Movie Review: Mission Impossible : Rogue Nation

So far, a different director has helmed each episode of the Mission Impossible series. Christopher McQuarrie handles the latest one in the series. In case you are wondering who Christopher McQuarrie, he is the one who gave you Jack Reacher. I liked Jack Reacher because the ability of the director to establish the character with a fast-paced narration. So I was looking forward to this movie. Moreover, the trailers showing Tom Cruise hanging on the side of Airbus is exciting and intriguing.

The movie wastes no time and starts of the cliffhanger in the trailer namely the Airbus scene. During the time, all the main characters Ethan Hunt(Tom Cruise), Benji Dunn(Simon Pegg), William Brandt(Jeremy Renner) and Luther Stickell(Ving Rhames). Once the stage is set, we get to know IMF has been compromised. Although Ethan believes there is a much larger secretive organization named Syndicate, there is no proof for the same. IMF is disbanded. CIA absorbs the current operatives under the supervision of Alan Hunley(Alec Baldwin). Ethan is on the run after being captured by Solomon Lane(Sean Harris) and escaping from his custody with the help of the mysterious Ilsa Faust(Rebecca Ferguson).

As you can see, the stage is set for spectacular action scenes. The movie changes locations from Belarus, Washington, Cuba, Paris, Vienna, Morocco and finally London. The constant shift in location adds to the excitement, and nowadays this phenomenon has become very common in movies. Either the travel and studio support environment has improved or the air ticket prices have nosedived. In addition to the shift in locations, this movie is also a nod to the previous ones in the series. There are references to Ethan's escapades in the past and also brings back the IMF characters. On top of all this, there is also a bike chase in Morocco which is a hat tip to MI-II. The face changing masks are there. There is no high-altitude acrobatics. But there are highly impossible "Ethan" stunts.

As the name implies, this series is detached from reality. Hence, if the movie can dazzle you with visuals relying on the suspension of disbelief, then it can be termed a success. In that respect, the movie succeeds. Simon Pegg's funny lines prevent us from guffawing and instead smiling when Ethan is ready to execute the underwater stunt. There are other places where Simon Pegg comes to the rescue of the movie with his witty lines. There is nothing much to write about the other actors. They just fit the bill to give us an entertaining watch.

If you are an action junkie, then this is for you.

Language: English

Genre: Action

Rating: ***

Photos: Three is company

I posted a photo of a lone rider previously. He had two more companions. All the riders gathered around the edge of the slope before they decided to bike down it. This is a picture where all of them gathered to discuss. I have no idea what they were discussing. This was a quite a sight on top of Snowdon Mountain in Wales.


Tags: Photos, Wales, Snowdon Mountains

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Movie Review: Gone Girl

Having read the novel, I was happy with the selection of David Fincher as the director of the movie version of the novel "Gone Girl". David Fincher has given us dark movies before. Who else is the right choice to bring the darker side of marriage? The novel resembles a screenplay where events unfold in a non-linear manner for a major part. Gillian Flynn, the author of the novel, pens the screenplay for the movie that is almost a replica of the novel. When the novel gets adapted as the movie, the latter becomes darker and shocking than the former.

David Fincher sets a dark tone for his movie. Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike plays Nick and Amy respectively, a couple who loses their jobs during the economic downturn and subsequently moves to a small town in Missouri when Nick's mother health deteriorates. In his hometown, Nick opens a bar with his twin sister. As the movie opens, Amy has gone missing, and the townfolks are frantically searching for her. As time progresses, we realise that Nick and Amy have been leading a less perfect life. The choice of the lead pair by David Fincher is unusual but right. As they are both beautiful people, the disintegrating marriage and violence on the screen turns disturbing for the viewer. Rosamund Pike has played bad girl before in Die Another Day. But Amy is a new territory for Rosamund Pike, and she easily slips into it. She undergoes physical transformation to match the various phases of Amy. Ben Affleck has a tougher role because he is the one always reacting to situations. Although he gets overshadowed by Amy at many places, he also brings out the suffering and confused husband ably.

As a person who has read the book, I am happy with the adaptation. David Fincher is back in form after the disappointing The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The direction, the screenplay and the acting transforms this adaptation in an engaging drama told in a thriller format. There is an underlying theme of violence. When the violence erupts, the ensuing scenes repulse you. Hence, this is not a movie to watch with kids.
Language: English

Genre: Drama

Rating: ****

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