Thursday, December 17, 2009

Avatar : Review


The long wait was finally over. After having counted the days for almost a year for James Cameron's Avatar, I saw it with my friends, mere hours ago. So how was it? Read on.

My previous post might have given you some ideas about the kind of work that Cameron had put into this project. 14 years in the making, this is to say the least a passion project, and he had to wait that long primarily so he could develop a camera to enable him to shoot the way he wanted, and mainly for the special effects to be able to catch up to the standards he had in mind. While the special effects didn't quite catch up when he started work in full swing, he knew it was close enough that he could push the boundaries into the next level. Audience expectation was quite high, and my expectations were off the charts. Let there be no mistake, James Cameron is one of my favorite filmmakers. His films have contributed vastly to my desire to be in this field. And Avatar was according to his own words a game changer. People like Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Peter Jackson have already made statements to the effect which said that cinema will be demarcated into two halves - the ones before Avatar and the ones that will come after. Industry experts predicted that its effect would be almost as important as when sound entered into the picture.

As the day of the release drew nearer I was worried that people wouldn't want to see Avatar, dismissing it as just another action sci fi film. My attempts at making some friends understand the impact of Avatar had failed quite spectacularly. Many people claimed that the trailer footage was quite unimpressive, and there were a lot of ugly rumors about how the film was a disaster. Well, all that is in the past. Cameron Came, Cameron Conquered.

Having watched the film a few hours ago, one of the questions me and my friends kept asking each other was-how do we describe what we experienced to others? What terms would we use to accurately gauge what transpired on screen? Frankly speaking there isn't anything I can say to quantify this experience. Avatar is in a wholly different class. Although let me clarify, this film was never meant to be seen in 2d. Watching it in 2d is like getting 10% of the experience. This is what 3d always promised to be, but never had fulfilled. The use of actual 3d space, real time focusing ,depth perception in live action shots is light years ahead of what people have seen up until now. Make no mistake, Avatar is every bit the game changer it claimed to be. This is the dawn of a new era. Although, I don't think this is as great a turning point as when sound came into cinema. The main reason being prohibitive costs. Making a live action 3d film is a costly affair, and for the near foreseeable future only the films with the largest budget will be able to dream of using this technology. But 10 years down the line, it's anyone's guess.

Now for the claimed photorealistic effects. The effects are so real, that Sam worthington's Avatar looked more real and lively than Worthington himself. You will doubt , many a time that the people you are seeing are actually people with extensive makeup. The expressions, the movements are so real, that its sufficient to say that this is the first film to have just jumped across the chasm that is Uncanny Valley. If nothing else, this years Oscar for best cg is going to Avatar. What about the performances, you say? The overall cast is quite good. But for me the standout roles were that of Zoe Saldana as Neytiri, Sigourney Weaver as Dr Grace Augustine and Stephen Lang as Colonel Miles Quattrich who might I say makes for a bad ass villain, although a tad one note. As for Sam Worthington, I will admit, I wasn't sold on that man's leading man capabilities until now. I can see why Cameron chose to cast him in the lead when many others hadn't even heard of him.

Now for the story. The story, although thinly garbed in the veil of sci fi, is essentially an environmental and philosophical one, and its pivotal point is of course the interracial love that blossoms between Neytiri and Jake. Jake, a paraplegic ex marine is asked to take over his brother's job of manning an 'avatar' - a human Na Vi hybrid body in the distant planet of Pandora where a corporation is trying to get its hands on a rare mineral, the cheekily named Unobtainium(obviously the McGuffin of the story). The greatest deposit of said mineral is right below the settlement of local Na Vi population and Jake and some other scientists are trying to mingle with them to try and convince them to move before the bulldozers come with hired guns to drive them away by force. The film is mainly narrated through his video logs, which document his feelings and what goes through his head as he becomes more like the Na Vi. Now I will be frank, the story wont win any prizes for being terribly original. You have seen different versions of this in other films. But the same story can be told in different ways, and this is where Cameron's powers shine through. The effects, the 3d, the cast and the amazing pacing that does not relent adds to the most immersive cinematic experience I have ever had. The film is unapologetic in its environmental and anti war message. As for Pandora, it is something else entirely. So much care and work has been put into bringing the plants and animals of Pandora to life, that words fail me.

In a day and age where slo mo and ramp shots take precedence over character development( I am talking to you, Michael Bay) the film has only one major action sequence, which is the last 20 minutes of the film. Almost an entire half of the film is dedicated to building the characters, and that is done with care. By the time when all hell is about to break loose we have come to care about the Na'Vi, Pandora and of course Jake- so when everything goes to hell in a handbasket, the stakes are quite high and we actually give a damn. As for the action. HOLY HELL- forget what you think you know. Cameron still has the touch. No one, and I repeat, no one can direct action like he can. He proves yet again that you don't need to use weird angles, slo mo like we use oxygen and flash frames to make mind blowing action. The McGs, the Tony Scotts, the Michael Bays and the Christopher Nolans of the world would benefit from learning from him. Here is a filmmaker who actually knows how to spend 230 million on a film where every damn frame, nay , every pixel will amaze you. Come Oscar time, I am sure he will get a nomination, and let me be first to say, I am fully rooting for him to win best director.

And now for the fly in the ointment, so to speak, the things that I didn't like. The 2 major points of complaint I had was to do with the music. First of all I do NOT like the theme song. It is plain crappy. The overall music of the film, while it served it's purpose, was nowhere near as memorable as James Horner's other works. I frankly expected better. I would have preferred to see a little bit of earth before the film went directly into the main story, but apparently this was a decision made by the producers , and about 15 minutes of earth footage was cut. Hopefully we will see it in the director's cut. I would have loved to hear more about Eyra and how the Na Vi link works, but oh well, maybe in the sequel perhaps? The transition from the second act to the third , I would have liked to be more detailed, but that is just me nitpicking. Truth be told, the last point I could only think of after thinking about the film's narrative for a good 2 hours. It wont occur to anyone while they are watching it. You, my readers, will be lost in Pandora. I humbly request you to put aside your alternate plans, or your hatred of James Cameron or dislike for action sci fi films and go watch it, because believe me this is history in the making. This will be the bar against which epic films will be compared forever. Is it mere coincidence that James Cameron's initials matches with the other JC?? After Avatar,I am not so sure. I will be watching Avatar again, at least 2 more times in the theater. And with that, my countdown for Battle Angel Alita begins. Come join me in prayer that it will be indeed his next project.

Allow me to end this with a Paean to James Cameron.

Our Cameron, who art in Hollywood,
hallowed be thy Name,

thy Avatar come,
thy will be done,
on 3d as it is in 2d

Give us this day our daily cinema

And forgive us our impatience,

as we forgive those
who do not understand what you have done.
And lead us not into mediocrity,
but deliver us from bad filmmaking.

For thine is the Stereoscope,

and the mo-cap, and the cg,

for ever and ever.


With that, I bid you goodbye, allow me to go back and mope about my underachieving and talentless life.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Martyrs of Uncanny Valley

There is a small film due to be released next week in theaters worldwide, and needless to say, I have been keeping a very close eye on its development. That film, if you are not aware of it already is James Cameron's Avatar- his first fiction feature film since Titanic. Cameron had been in the previous years developing a 3d camera system along with Vince Pace which could do a few things that no other system in the world could do. 3d films, up until recently has been mostly been used either in animated feature films, or been used in gimmicky horror or adventure films. The whole perception of 3d has been the age old 'boo! coming at you' routine, where either the monster, or shrapnel, or hero, or most recently a ping pong ball in monsters vs aliens. What 3d cinemas actually lacked was utilization of 3d space, with actual focusing , in shot, while being rendered in 3d. The variable depth of field , in any environment was woefully underused , up until now that is. Another amazing thing that the Pace-Cameron Fusion camera does is to give a real time, live view of the end picture. Since most of Avatar is motion captured, when Cameron was on the sound stage giving orders to his actors, he could (and did) hold on to a device, which is basically a big hand held screen. This screen acts as a virtual camera giving Cameron the view from that point , in real time, and it does this without even showing the actors,but shows him the end picture, i.e, in this case, the animals of Pandora, the 9 feet tall Na vi. Lastly the film's aliens and Pandora's creatures have been rendered to such a photo realistic degree that my words fall short.

Cameron is infamous as a director, being known to be a heartless slave driver, and has what can only be termed as a hate hate relationship with the media. Over and over again, his films have been lambasted before their release as a stupid mistake(this happened before the release of Aliens, The Abyss, T2(which was considered ridiculous for having a 100 million budget) and most prominently Titanic, which was dubbed as the costliest mistake of Hollywood) and time and again he has proved his detractors wrong. The negative press seems to be working full time against Avatar, along with the mounting pressure of expectations that the film will break even the record of Titanic, which to this day holds the highest box office gross in history- 1.8 billion Usd. The closest anyone ever came to that was Lord of the Rings : The Return of the King, which still fell a good 750 million usd short. I do believe that Avatar wont be able to come close to the box office of Titanic, because lets face it, thematically its not as universal as his previous film. Titanic got such a massive income because teenage girls went a dozen times to see the film. That , i doubt will happen in the case of Avatar, their hormone addled brains are busy with the inaneness that is Twilight, and science fiction action adventure might just be something they are entirely willing to miss. As I mentioned earlier, the negative publicity has been for lack of a better word, substantial. Articles, entirely based on hearsay, emailed from random people who apparently saw advanced screenings when no such screenings were even done have been posted on a lot of fan sites. Entire posts have been dedicated to deconstructing the effects work and dubbing it as 'no improvement over Jurassic Park'. I was quite surprised to see so much hate for a film people haven't even seen, and I could not fathom the reasons behind it.Most of my friends have been aware of this film,and everyone who has seen the trailers, i.e , everyone I know of has has had the jaw-hitting-the-floor reaction, which is entirely justified considering the spectacular work done. While thinking about the inexplicable hatred towards Avatar, I remembered an article I had read many years ago, and that, I believe is the main driving force behind it all- The Uncanny Valley.

Very simply put, we humans subconsciously would reject anything that approaches too near to human likeness.This theory was first suggested in 1906 and has been significantly modified since then. In the world of cinema at least there has been quite a few examples of films which has faced weak box office collections, bad reviews and general comments about how the FX / motion capture was just too bad. The greatest example I can think of is Final Fantasy : The Spirits Within. Granted, the film was quite different from the hugely popular game franchise it was adapted from, and that obviously contributed to its bad box office, but the motion capture, the effects was far ahead of what everyone else was doing,but it was such a huge flop that the producers Square Enix had to sell their own company to recover the cost. Roger Ebert at that time was one of the few critics who gave the film a good review, and mentioned Uncanny Valley as the possible prime suspect for its abysmal results. Other films, such as Polar Express had better results, but considering its subject matter, it was pretty insulated from becoming a flop. The last movie to face such unfair criticism was , my personal favorite of the lot- Beowulf. A wonderfully dark reinterpretation of the otherwise straightforward epic poem, Beowulf had it all. Amazing motion capture, great action, and one hell of a film directed by Robert Zemeckis. But still it performed way below expectations. As a matter of fact, it didnt even recover two thirds of its entire budget. Anyway, whether you believe in Uncanny Valley or not is not the subject matter of my rant. Nowadays entire movies are made or destroyed on word of mouth, something which Twilight has proven. Even before a single shot of the film was released, the film was a guaranteed hit. The internet has become a rallying point to either make or break a film. Some of the fan websites have a huge influence on how many people see the film, and in Avatar's case, Cameron seems to have pissed off quite a few of the internet bigwigs. Needless to say, their websites have gone full steam in their rant about just how crappy Avatar is. I am not going to try and make any points about how good or bad Avatar will be, but I will leave you with a few screenshots from Avatar, and you can decide for yourself. As for me, December 18th, first day first show , at AerenR Imax, I am there with my 3d glasses on. If you plan on watching it, please do see it in 3d and in IMAX if possible. One humble request to James Cameron though, please, PLEASE make Battle Angel Alita before you touch any other project. If there ever were a graphic novel and director destined to be coupled together, then its you two.
P.S.- See the photos in its full HD resolution. Click on the thumbnails to see them in hi res.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

4 years gone

This post serves a two fold purpose. One to let you guys know that i am still alive and kicking, and secondly to highlight an inane trivia that i myself wasnt aware of even a few minutes ago.
I started this blog after having put my foot in my mouth and was almost forced into starting a blog just to keep a friend company, and then it became an interesting thing to do. Admittedly i havnt been the most regular writer, but i have tried to assault you, my readers' senses with my highly opinionated rants as often as time has permitted. 4 years later , you would think i would have run out of things to rant about. Oh you poor fools. (Thats right, its the 4 year anniversary for omnisnomicon)
This lull you had been experiencing was just my laziness. I will have MANY things to bitch about soon enough , so if you have appointments to the eye doctor, or ENT or even the psychiatrist that you have been postponing, i suggest you go soon. Because soon i will be back in full force, ranting and bitching about...well everything!
Oh and happy birthday to . We are officially four years old and counting.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Valkyrie :review

As you might have read in the last one year (almost), the making of this film became more infamous than the film itself. With Tom Cruise set to take the lead role, people were already panning the film as a bad idea. The Germans were not too happy either, they even prevented the film from being shot in quite a few actual historical locations, demanding that a scientologist should not be allowed to take on the role of a national hero. After a long uphill battle the film was finally canned, and released.

The plot is probably well known to all of you by now, Colonel Claus Von Strauffenberg , career army officer in the German Panzer division along with a few others hatch a plan to kill Hitler and replace him with a viable German leadership before the Allies reach Germany, and its name is tainted forever in the history books. Operation Valkyrie is so daring a plan, that one would have to either have balls of adamantium or be crazy, or both to launch it. But crazy as the plan might sound, the film is surprisingly faithful to the actual events. I have a special soft spot for WW2 films, and on top of that this is a film which introduced me a to a previously unknown(to me at least) part of WW2 history, so I was already hooked.

Any average history buff will know how Hitler died and therefore they should know that this operation had failed. So by that count, the movie had a very hard task, to make a thriller based on a widely known event in history, where everyone knows it wont end the way the heroes wanted to. Suffice to say, Bryan singer and his team proved more than adequate for the task. For all the loony antics of Tom Cruise in his life outside of his film roles, he is quite a good actor. Anyone, who at the beginning of his career can stand his ground against stalwarts like Dustin Hoffman and Jack Nicholson is a good actor in my book. If you are still unconvinced, I highly recommend Magnolia. Back to the topic at hand. In spite of all the negative criticism pointed towards him , his portrayal of Strauffenberg is quite sufficient for this role. His demeanor and mannerisms at least in my mind fit my idea of someone like Strauffenberg.

What aspect of this film should I praise? Every man has done his job quite well. The pacing of the film is very intense , it is a very old school thriller narrative which once starts doesn't slow down for even a single breathing moment. There are a few scenes in the film which really stood out in my opinion. The opening strafing of the Panzer division by British Spitfires, the first meeting between Strauffenberg and Hitler to name a few. There is one scene involving the standard Heil Hitler salute which is quite electrifying. I only had two complaints for this film, I honestly wished some of the British actors didn't sound so British, a neutral accent should have been aimed for if not necessarily a German English accent. The other aspect is the exclusion of a very important historical figure, Erwin Rommel. But in hindsight, including him would have increased the films time by at least 45 more minutes and would have complicated the plot further. Note- Erwin Rommel was one of the few people openly critical of the Nazis. Only his tremendous success as a military commander kept him out of harms way. When operation Valkyrie failed and the search began for anyone who might even remotely be part of this plan, Rommel's name came up, but there was no evidence. To this date its not known whether he was involved or not. But his wife had stated on many counts that Rommel was against the idea of assassinating Hitler, not because he had any love for him, but he didn't want to make a martyr of that man. Ultimately, because of his popularity and lack of proof, he was spared a long farce of a trial and allowed to commit suicide.

Filmmaking is such a tough job, I honestly sympathize with Bryan Singer and Tom Cruise. The amount of negative propaganda and criticism extended towards he and his team even before anyone had seen the film would be crushing for one's morale. And you are screwed if you decide to do a historical film. There will always be someone who will be unhappy. Take for example , the common reaction of the average american movie goer. The imdb boards are filled with people complaining that the film was too complicated, with people complaining why did Tom Cruise wear an eye patch(one even wondered if he thought himself to be a pirate!!!). This in spite of simplifying the plot, and making the film so easily understandable thanks to its taut narrative pace and clarity in the flow of events. Von Strauffenberg was a charismatic hero in real life. Apparently he was famous for being able to inspire people to follow him into his perilous plans with his speeches. When he was recovering from his injuries in Tunisia, he refused to take morphine , because he didn't want to become an addict. This aspect was not shown in the film, and was another point of criticism extended towards the film. Singer, in response asked a question- Can you imagine Tom Cruise on film, refusing morphine when he is in pain? People wouldn't believe it to be a true incident. I know I wouldn't have.

In the end, I am foremost thankful to Bryan Singer for pursuing this project with Tom cruise for almost a decade(why cruise? the picture above will show that Strauffenberg and Cruise had quite a bit of facial similarity), and Tom Cruise for daring to produce this film which many people had judged even before it was released. It is sad that films like Valkyrie and Lions for Lambs(both produced by Tom Cruise as chief of United Artists) meet this fate, I hope that Cruise continues to choose projects like these. Well done gentlemen, well done.

Highly recommended.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Wrestler : review

Before I get into the review, first and foremost i have to thank my friend Kaushik, because of him, I got to watch this film in the first place.

Apart from the occasional wrestler(like Hulk Hogan) I never really cared for the whole wrestling thing, didn't even bother to know their names. I knew it was fake, and I couldn't believe why people watched it , when they could easily watch some other real full contact sport, if thats why they watched it. My logic was simply, these guys are staging something, its got up, make believe. I chalked them up as elaborate stunts,it never occurred to me what punishment these guys took to put on that show. Because lets face it,no matter how much you might "learn" to fall safely,there is always the probability that one mistake can be fatal, or can injure you. Your body might be able to take the punishment, but for how long? I say all this, simply because, being casually dismissive comes easily to me, and this second look, the slightly deeper thought about what torture these guys subject themselves to, was not a luxury granted to me by myself, but this film. Does that mean that I suddenly love this sport? Hardly, but this dichotomy of real/unreal in the world of wrestling, shown by this film made me sit up and take a second look, and that is just one of the achievements of this film.

The wrestler is a peek into the life of has been wrestler Randy "The Ram" Robinson,who is reduced to doing small time shows, barely making enough money to pay the rent for his trailer. Shot on 16mm, the camera work is almost entirely hand held,giving a very documentary like feel to this movie. Let me say outright,while the sports underdog genre movie has been done to death,this isn't a film like that. Randy isn't a Rocky. He isn't noble, neither is he an underdog. We see him at a point in his life, when he has burnt all his bridges, and is now stranded alone. When he was younger, the bright lights of fame probably blinded him, and being self absorbed and selfish,he didn't see what was more precious. The only semblance of a relationship he has is with a Stripper(Marisa Tomei, in a very good supporting performance), who he likes. Even his daughter wants nothing to do with him.

I really want to review this film without revealing much of the story, so let me get straight into what I loved about the film. The entire cast does a great job, but this film belongs to Mickey Rourke. Maybe its partially because his own past has such an uncanny resemblance to Randy's,that this role that could easily have been played as a tearjerker, or in a matter of fact tone, gets some hidden layers of quality. Now what exactly was in those layers I cant really tell, neither do I want to. But when Mickey is on screen, he demands to be seen, and seen again ( at least in this film). Speaking of layers, he added 30 pounds for this role, and he looks like a big walking piece of pulverized meat. I realize fully that others might not feel the same way, and ultimately cinema itself is a very subjective experience. While the film is about the life of a wrestler, it thankfully is more about his personal life than wrestling matches. And show his personal life it does, warts and all. Come to think of it, its almost all warts. I cannot really discuss the film any further because that would waste the experience for you guys,but once you see the final act of the film you will realize why I so surely said this isn't a ROCKY.

Kudos to Darren Arronofsky for making a wonderful film. Sadly his previous film , The Fountain wasn't that appreciated(which according to this reviewer was quite good). But what a comeback- in the form of the tragedy of a man too old to change his ways,who is only good at one thing.Some will argue that since Mickey's life so closely resembles the characters, it should obviously call for less acting talent than say portraying a role that would be a complete opposite to one's own nature. Not true- its not easy baring one's soul and showing yourself, naked and frail for a role. And on top of that it would be simplifying the character Randy too much. There are such subtle nuances in Mickey's portrayal, and in the script that it is bound to hit a raw nerve. The film has already won a number of awards, and I am being told that Sean Penn will win the Oscar for Milk this year, a film I have not seen, but personally,I know who I will be rooting for. Welcome back Mickey.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Quantum of Solace Review

Bond, aggrieved but in denial about his lover's death is on a bloodthirsty rampage. Does he find out who was behind it? Does he gain a quantum of solace? Find out.

The shooting of this film had been plagued with accidents. The stunts were supposedly that good. The trailer looked impressive. And yours truly, having missed the chance to see Casino Royale on the big screen didn't miss this chance and was there, first day first show to catch this one. Quantum picks up right after the events of Casino. The film opens with a breakneck, albeit frenetic chase which Bond is bringing his captive back for interrogation.
The film was ...well to be honest I don't know how to describe this film yet. Is Daniel Craig a good Bond? Depends on what your idea of who bond is, if you love the bond of the films, then sadly he isn't. But thats not his fault. The entire series has gone through a reinvention. But if you have some idea as to how the original novels had described bond, then the answer is a resounding yes. As anyone can figure out, there are certain trade offs to reinventing a franchise. You will end up losing a few fans and gaining some new ones. The silky smoothness, the suave appearance, the suits, the gadgets and the one liners are gone. Instead we have a way more believable super spy- he bleeds, he can be wounded, and he is one ice cold killing machine. And believe you will, Daniel Craig is that good.
The wow factor is more subtle now, in the previous films you would know that the car would be amazing, and that bond would be unhurt, and he would manage a cool line before getting rid of the bad guy. While that had it's own stupid charm, it was getting too old. Here you are amazed by how he keeps his cool even when his car is hurtling towards the ledge. He isn't smiling, he knows the risks, and he does bleed, gets bruised. But man oh man what a MAN! Okay now that we are done with praising Craig, lets move on to the film.

The films main flaw , or what I strongly felt was the major one, was that its trying to be too breakneck in its narrative. We get it, its an all out action version, but a little more exposition wouldn't have hurt. And this is one of those rare action films where the actor actually has the chops to pull off scenes that doesn't require a stunt man. The story progresses too fast. I would have liked a better pacing. To top that off the pacing isn't helped by the often spastic cutting syndrome. This is where Martin Campbell is sorely missed. Marc Foster, quantum's director seemed to only know the close up and the mid close shots. So the action looked (in some places) like a blur. And this is even more frustrating because we already know Craig can do action very nicely. There was no need for such a shot setup. I seem to have inadvertently put the blame on the editors of this film too, but that wasn't my intention. Some of the action is edited beautifully, and it IS a lot of hard work. And most of it has paid off quite well.But the fault lies with the director here, his decisions had a waterfall effect on how the film would be setup, shot and edited. If only Marc foster had decided to place the camera a little further away from the action. Now I am not saying Craig is a judoka or anything, but in casino he went through quite a pumelling and managed to look good while doing it. And in this film, the quick cut plagues some of the car chase and other chases too, where it was not required.

Also,Foster seems to LOVE inter cutting between the actual event to another side story altogether. The interrogation is constantly inter cut with the horse race. Unless there was some entirely different stunt caper thought out, there was no need to show that a dozen times. This isn't monster's ball Foster. Get over it already. Which brings me to the other question, if the producers knew beforehand that they would do a direct sequel, why not bring in Martin to direct it? It would certainly have had a more uniform feel in terms of camera work and editing. Quantum as a standalone film feels less like a bond film and more in the ranks of those spastic quick cut Bourne films(yes, i don't like them much,so what?). My advise is watch Casino right before you go in to see Quantum, that way it might feel like a single story, albeit a long viewing experience.

A few minor problems. Was it me or was the makeup all different in different shots? The bond title track is the worst I have heard. Although nice titling sequence. I liked the slightly anti American rant(who doesn't!). It was good to see the REAL original super spy outsmart the Americans. And lastly the product placement. I would have hoped it would have been slightly lesser but oh well. And in spite of being a fan of Sony Ericsson,the taking photographs from so far away and identifying faces with facial recognition software bit is laughable to say the least. Watch out for the first official film appearance of Windows Longhorn multitouch interface though... that made me feel all warm and gooey inside.

So , is it worth watching? Oh yes! Specially on the big screen. But you might just slip up and say oh Bourne, Jason Bourne.( Funny how they match, eh? J(james/jason) B(bond/bourne))
Incidentally if they were to fight it out, who would win? My money is on Bond. Another solid outing for Craig as bond, but lackluster when compared to the stellar Casino Royale. Lets hope Campbell comes back to direct another one, or better yet, Marc Foster doesn't return.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Motorola Yuva A810 review

Having lost my beloved motorola A1200 aka MotoMing phone to a fraud, I had to go on the hunt for a new phone. After much research and internet chat board debate I finalized two models the Motorokr E6 and the HTC Gene P3400i.They were both very competitively priced but the Gene beat the Motophone in almost every aspect. Bigger screen faster processor, ram and definitely a more user friendly OS, if only more vulnerable. When we went to the shop to buy the HTC, I noticed two aspects which turned me off from the phone permanently.Being the cheapest of the HTC models, its build was quite flimsy. I was afraid I would break it within the first month itself.The other problem was the SD card slot on the top had NO COVER! So what you had was a gaping hole on the top where water, moisture could get in.I have no idea why HTC made such a mistake when a rubber stopper cover is so cheap and effective. Anyway, long story short, the shop keeper then showed me the Moto Yuva A810, a derivative brother of the motorokr E6 and the latest model. In fact after having researched new phones for a week i hadnt even seen photos of it anywhere. But it was very competetively priced. At 7450 (approx 160$) it looked like a steal.
Now that I have used the phone for a good 24 hours, how is it? Read the first ever english review of the A810 to find out-

The following are the specs of the Motorola Yuva A810

General 2G Network Quad band
Announced 2008, June
Size Dimensions 105 x 51 x 14 mm
Weight 100 g
Display Type TFT touchscreen, 256K colors
Size 240 x 320 pixels, 2.2 inches
- Handwriting recognition
Ringtones Type Polyphonic, MP3
Customization Download
Vibration Yes
Memory Phonebook Yes, Photo call
Call records 30 dialed, 30 received, 30 missed calls
Card slot microSD (TransFlash), up to 2 GB, buy memory
Data GPRS Class 10 (4+1/3+2 slots), 32 - 48 kbps
EDGE Class 10, 236.8 kbps
3G No
Bluetooth Yes, v1.2 with A2DP
Infrared port No
USB Yes, v2.0
Features Messaging SMS, MMS, Email
Browser WAP 2.0/xHTML, HTML (Opera v8.5)
Games Yes
Colors Excellent Black and White Shang-chi
Camera 2 MP, 1600x1200 pixels, video
- Java MIDP 2.0
- Stereo FM radio
- MP3/WAV/WMA/AAC+ player
- 3.5 mm audio output jack
- Voice memo
- Built-in handsfree
Battery Standard battery, Li-Ion 910 mAh
Stand-by Up to 150 h
Talk time Up to 4 h

As you can see, the Phone has a smaller screen than the Ming and the E6, smaller by approximately 0.2 inches. And don't be fooled by the tri-band listing in other websites, the India release model of the A810 is quad band.

Here are the different views of the phone. I don't know about you, but Motorola surely isn't going to win any awards with this design. It's functional and spartan and although the photos might make the blue outline seem okay but in person it looks a tad tacky. Still, without it it would have looked too empty. Below the touch screen there are 3 buttons. In the middle is the 5 way direction joystick. To the left is the cancel/switch off/switch on button and to the right is the select button, just in case you don't want to use the touchscreen. The left side of the phone sees the volume control and above that the 3.5 mm headset jack. On the top is the locking mechanism which has to be pressed to open the back of the phone. To the right side is the usb port which is used to charge the phone and connect to the PC. Below that is the Camera button followed by the locking key, which when slid up locks the phone and when slid down opens it up.
The rest of the looks of the camera is pretty clear from the pictures.

The screen is slightly smaller (0.2 inches to be exact) than the E6 and the rokr screens, but it looks sharp. The images appeared crystal clear, possibly even sharper than the ming. I realize this shouldn't be mentioned here, but in the ming if the photos used were more or less around the same size, it would fit most of the photo, chopping out a part of it. Here it fits the entire image, which is good, but the resizing leaves space either on the top/bottom or the sides.which shows up as white bars.

Calls messaging and other features.
I made Local , STD and International calls and the reception and voice clarity was pretty good. One major glitch, one of the few crippling things about this revamped OS (or is it old? i don't know) was when I sent queries to the network, like showing an on screen balance. The phone just stuck to the requesting screen and you could see the cursor blinking on the screen behind it , after quite a while a message box appears but its blank. I tried it quite a few times, with 2 different networks and still the problem persisted.
Overall the new look of the OS essentially means fancier icons, in reality it is more or less the same as the ming or the E6. Although I found the response time to be much slower than the ming, which was my previous phone. Even the simplest tasks , like opening the alarm clock took a good 2.5 seconds. Don't get me wrong, the ming was slow too, but this was frustrating. I thought that this was because of the 2gb memory card I had put in, so I changed it and put in a 512 mb card to check if the response became faster( this has been known to happen with smart phones, putting in their max capacity memory card sometimes slows it down). But sadly this had nothing to do with the memory card, even with the 512 mb completely blank card, it took exactly the same time to open up each and every icon. Again my gut instinct tells me that this is some fatal flaw in the OS. On the other hand, strangely, changing the color scheme of the phone, something that took the ming nearly 8-11 seconds to do, happened instantly each and every time with this phone.It was blazing fast in this aspect.The start up and shut down menu also has gone through some changes and it looks fancier.But how do these things matter when in the real performance as a touchscreen phone it is slow?

Music and Video
The media player and video player are separate now and its not real player anymore. Playback was quite fine, but a few minor issues- the volume control is a step up control, meaning it increases by about 12% for every mark on the volume level. If the real player could have a progressive control, then why couldn't the supposedly new player have this?
The earphones given with this handset is so bad that i cant even begin to talk about it. The sound wasn't good in this. I attached my isound DJ monitoring headphone to the phone and listened to quite a of tracks. Music playback was quite good , at least for a non audiophile like me it was quite satisfactory. Still, I strongly recommend people should factor in buying another headset to enjoy music on this phone. The Creative EP 630 is highly recommended, it comes with noise isolation.
As for the video playback it was decent,but it does not support real media files anymore.
The phone has only played mp4 and 3gp videos until now, and i sincerely hope that this is not what motorola had in mind when they were advertising this as a media phone. Maybe an update will solve that?

Other changes in the phone include having a button for connecting to the computer, which means that just attaching the wire wont do, you have to activate it from the phone itself.The phone also has additional icons from ,presssmart and google , but I couldn't check how good its internet connection was since my GPRS wasn't activated yet. The phone also has EDGE.

Photo Editor
The photo editor was quite disappointing. when you open a large file, it opens in the actual size and you cant resize it to fit the screen with the editing options available. This is highly irritating, specially since the 3 year old motoming had this feature.I cant understand why motorola chose not to include this. The open with option has been changed to edit, and in most cases ,i.e, any file above 110 kb the editing software refuses to open saying its too big. I can understand that motorola needed to downscale the phone, but this is ridiculous. The ming could easily open upto 250kb files.

The phones auto lock feature is a bit weird. And from what i read online it seems to be similar to the rokr. With the ming you could arrange it so that it asks for a password when you want to unlock it. But in this phone it can be opened with the slide to unlock key. So basically its not secure. The only time it asks for a code is when you restart the phone. I cant say i am happy with this. But then again, other phones have this feature, so i can only assume its popular.

The phone has something called Krishcricket, which is basically a set of cricket games, which i found to be quite boring.

Camera & Video
My initial impression was that the camera was lightyears ahead of the ming, but now i am not so sure. I will try posting some images so you can have a comparative idea as to how good they are, i will post some more photos as the week progresses. I have 2 cameras, so a camera phone was not a priority for me. But it seems to take decent photos, so I am satisfied. One thing though, the live preview on this phone seems to be lagging behind , it feels choppy.The ming had a slight lag too,but this is more noticeable. And it takes much longer to save an image. The video is decent, I felt it was more or less at par with videos taken by the ming.

The phone is aimed for people who want a smart phone on a tight budget. Understandably, motorola had to make compromises to fit it into a lesser budget. Therefore the smaller screen. But motorola seems to have jumped into the fray without being fully prepared for this. The OS has quite a few flaws, and the reaction time to every instruction can be irritating.
But from what little i could find out, the configuration is around the same as the ming, and it shouldn't be slow. I blame the OS for this. Even though the OS looks snazzy, it has problems. It will need a LOT of tweaking.

Some minor complaints. So many people on their own have designed skins and themes for the linux based phones, motorola couldn't be inspired by them? A phone aimed to be a media/fun phone it still has only 3 color schemes, black, blue and white(the same as the ming). Quite disappointing. A media phone should allow for some level of customization, and this was not satisfactory. But wait! It gets better. I tried the installation cd which would update the motorola software. But the software didn't even recognize the phone! A quick check on the motorola website revealed that this phone wasn't even on their website yet.This is just sloppy. The software therefore couldn't find any updates because they hadn't even included it.
Starting the Motorola phone tools software also caused problems, every time it reached 100% it stuck there,but I am willing to concede it might be a problem with my computer.I will try it on another computer and post if i get a favorable response. The price tag makes this phone a steal yes, but I don't think this is the right time to buy this phone. Its very new and it definitely needs some updates in its OS.
If this is the phone you want, then wait a while, keep checking the motorolafans and motorola website. While on the surface level this phone might be snazzy, but take it from me, a motorola fan,the company should have done some more work on this phone. Let's hope motorola fixes these issues soon. But if the time lags arn't an issue for you, then this is a good phone. As for me, if this is indeed an OS issue, I hope that Motorola quickly releases an update which solves this.
I hope this review was helpful for you, I realize this is hardly a 100% proffessional review but I have tried to make it as comprehensive as possible.
Lastly, some comparative shots of photos taken by the A810 and the nokia 3500c


Friday, August 01, 2008

The perils of being safe

My friends will vouch for the fact that I am not one for political discussions. I guess I have been lucky enough to be able to have a blase attitude about the machinations that runs this country, or any other for that matter. I generally tend to avoid the newspapers headlines .Primarily because I am sick of the same old stories, and lets face it, when was the last time you saw a happy headline?

Anyway, the last few days has been a very difficult time for India . We have had close to 50 bomb threats. Out of which nearly 25 were detonated. What I felt like discussing was the current scenario, and ask you, my readers, your opinion about what can or cannot be done.
This new stage, and I call it a new stage in terrorism in India because the tactics have changed somewhat, now they seem more focused on putting the fear in people than killing, or maybe this is a point of view thats granted to us, thanks to the tireless and very admirable work of the Indian Police force. This new scenario poses deeper questions for our country. If you will remember, the NDA government had implemented the POTA( Prevention Of Terrorism Act) in 2002 and the first thing the UPA Government under Mr Manmohan Singh did was to repeal it. Before the POTA, there were other acts, namely the original TADA , followed briefly by the POTO act(which lasted less than a year).

Now don't get me wrong, this is not a rant against the UPA or the NDA. My questions are merely as a civilian.

With the POTA act being repealed, the Indian penal code was left with no other substitute laws to go by. Now, POTA itself is a very dangerous act. I say this because like it's American counterpart the Patriot act, it has a very wide umbrella under which anyone deemed suspicious can be taken into custody, without any charges, and kept in jail for a maximum of 6 months. Also, this allows the police and the Indian Penal code to take confessions made in police custody as evidence. Previously, a person could deny their statements made in custody.Now , this effectively means that if under sufficient mental and/or physical torture, someone confesses to something , then that's it for them.

Whether you like, dislike , support or condemn laws like these is irrelevant. There is no denying the fact that we are living in troubled times. I will try and play the devil's advocate here and explain the dangers of both sides. Recently Advani, the current leader of the BJP demanded in light of current events that POTA be reinstated. That coupled with new anti terror laws, will give immense power in the hands of the counter terrorism and police forces. To put it very dramatically, its nearly a prodigal license to kill. Many civilians have died before, and with more acts of terrorism, the government will be forced to take a strong stance. If such a law does come into play, this will destroy the lives of many civilians. But the other alternative is also a bad one. Our police forces are already ill equipped, and in our country it is especially hard to track down people, considering the wide variety in social class and lack of technology in every area. Even post the Mumbai bomb blasts, the perpetrators vanished from the city going from one village to the other. Our officers are by no means unqualified. But this situation is the equivalent of being stuck between a rock and a hard place. Either options will shape up badly for us. We, as a country have a history of communal violence, and thats also a distinct and scary possibility if this trend continues.With any counter terrorism laws like the POTA, its up to the people to apply it as they see fit. Without stronger laws, it is difficult to capture and break the backs of these networks. Unless the UN unilaterally starts acting against Pakistan, I don't see how this will stop anytime soon. Economy is the new power(relatively new) and that is the only viable way in which they can force countries to actively discourage terrorism. Although that brings other ethical issues into play, cutting funds and aid would affect more civilians albeit in another country.

But generally speaking, we as a country revel in breaking laws. From the littlest do not litter or you will be fined sign to larger ones, its a part of the mindset, dare I say that its only natural to break the laws the do not suit us. New laws, taking a harsh stance on terrorism, or even pressurizing other countries, in the long run probably wont help as much as we hope it will. Take into account the prank bomb threats that were made in the last week alone. Not only is it disturbing to think that people would find that funny, but to do something like that also shows a blatant disregard for life and ethics in general. Unless we as a nation start obeying laws, and the government decides to give the police and judicial system a major overhaul(that includes reviewing much of our own laws, which are quite ancient) , demanding more active application of the laws, we will remain a country mired in a sea of trouble.I digress, and I am by no means suggesting that common theft equates to terrorism, and however you might feel about this situation, one thing is definitely for sure. We need to meditate on this before embracing any law that makes us feel safe for the time being . I guess I am as confused as the next person regarding the current state of affairs. I frankly do not know what would be a better option among the two I mentioned above. I would like to hear what you have to say regarding this. Sure we could always take the often pragmatic view that this just seems different, its always been like that, and shrug it off, but humor me, enlighten me or criticize me, like they say- let's get it on.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

REVIEW : The Dark Knight

You have to see this film tamal, and if you cannot enjoy this, I pity you.
Seriously you should see this, it's so much fun
I liked it.
I loved it.
Try to see it without analyzing it too much, that way you might enjoy it.

These were the advise given to me by my friends, all of whom have liked The Dark Knight to a certain degree. The numbers are in. TDK has the honor of the highest opening 3 day collection ever, 156 million $.That’s just the US alone. I am pretty sure, come Friday , the 7 day worldwide collection figures will hit a cool 250 million easily. So what did I think of this film? I will get to that in a minute, but seeing as my opinion might be lets say somewhat unpopular I need to clarify a few things.
I admit, I let the media frenzy bias me against the film.
I do not like Nolan's interpretation of Batman in the previous film so there is that additional bad aftertaste.
I also admit I was a tad jealous, during my college years I had talked my friends to death about what I would do if I was allowed to make Batman, That included calling the first film The Dark Knight. Hah, I was ahead of my time! It also included plans for a 11 part epic structure, charting the fall and return of the caped crusader. Aaah such grand dreams. Anyway, back to the topic.
The hype surrounding Heath Ledger's performance really got me riled up. Comments like who is Jack Nicholson, and that he is more talented than Marlon Brando by award winning film critics stank of hard selling a film. If anything, this felt like a landmark win for the marketing and publicity division of Warner Bros. These were my thoughts even the night before I went to watch the film. Today morning, on my way to the theatre, I swore that I would try to be as unbiased as possible.12 hours later I think I have sufficiently digested the film to be able to write a review that should be able to explain my feelings. Please understand, this is not my bid at showing off just how elitist I am or how commonplace everyone’s taste is. I have the distinct feeling that I am probably not the audience for this film, so my opinion hardly matters. The verdict is that people love it, and there will be more of Batman in this vein.

Batman , straight from my childhood is my favorite superhero. So understandably the emotional investment in this is far greater than you can imagine. When I saw Batman Begins, when I figured that Nolan had turned Batman into a ninja and he was getting slapped into his senses by toms and janes, I couldn’t help but be repulsed by it. I remember that’s the only time in my life, that I wanted to walk out of the theatre. So before going to watch this film I thought it would be better if I saw it as a standalone rather than a follow up to that atrocious film. So without much further ado, here is my critique. Warning, spoilers galore.

Story- I liked the fact that the joker tells everyone a different origin story, I like the idea of not explaining his origins. But for all the supposed realism in the script these points bothered me a lot-
Joker gets beaten up a lot in the interrogation room, but no scars, no bruises . Bruce Wayne suddenly figures, in the Dent dedication party someone is coming to kill Harvey Dent? HOW?? Someone explain to me how the sonar works, because I was under the impression that only
the phone created by Lucius fox could do them, not any phone. If that is indeed the case, then
that renders the whole plot point of Batman finding the Joker to be completely stupid. Gordon
dies, but wait, he isn't dead after all. Why such an elaborate ruse? It seems it was set up purely to surprise the audience. Because his death wouldn’t have drawn out the joker, or gotten a confession out of any mob boss. With the joker's disfigured face, he is walking at the front of the police guards and no one notices him? The batman, supposedly the smartest superhero of them all gets his gears through Wayne Enterprises but keeps a long paper trail to have a two bit executive find them and try to blackmail fox about it?
Also the realistic look of the bat suit notwithstanding, the cowl and neckline looked eerily like
Azrael's batsuit.Not cool.But that’s a minor fanboy complaint.

Acting- First and foremost, as much as I love Christian Bale, and I do LOVE that man's work, he is plain shitty as Bruce Wayne, and his Batman voice is laughable at best. Note Christian, hoarse isn’t scary, hoarse is...hoarse.
Michael Caine , Gary Oldman and Aaron Eckhart do their roles very well, specially Eckhart. Although I didn't see much chemistry between Eckhart and Gylenhall. But in her minor role, Maggie's final sequence was touching.
Morgan Freeman played....Morgan Freeman. God I hope he gets some good roles, I miss the old him.

Now for the actor of the hour. Heath Ledger. May he rest in peace.
There are these quirks about his portrayal of the joker, that are quite good, like how he licks his face every now and then, he always looks at everyone with a little tilt in his head. Pity he never gives his maniacal laughter up close, the two times it came, it was seen from his back and from a distance. I would have wanted to see his eyes then(this is where Nicholson looked forgive the pun batshit craaaazy). I admire the man for having the balls to take on Jack Nicholson. One particular moment though deserves mention, You can't see the joker, but he tells one victim to look at him, and in the final time shouts "LOOK AT ME!" .That was good.

Is it oscar material? Honestly I don't know. I guess for me in the big picture I see so many far greater portrayal of evil men, which should have gotten Oscars( like Kevin Spacey as John Doe in SE7EN or Ralph Fiennes as Amon Goeth in Schindler's List), but didn't that this hardly seems like one deserving of that award. Still, quite good work. This is a different Joker though, and it would be unfair to compare the two. Lets not forget, even Burton's Batman is non-canon, and he made Batman into a murderer. I guess my gripe is that the joker got reduced to a murdering a few people at a time, when for the most part in the comics he has done crimes and murders on a much larger scale. Considering the films take no prisoners attitude, I think it could have been quite possible to do both. The joker in this film feels like another Hollywood psychopath. In the comics, he is unpredictable and quite smart. He stays ahead of everyone else because his insanity makes people think he is just in for the ride but he is someone locked in a circle of trying to top himself, and you also get the feeling that there is a method to his madness.

Action- This is my biggest gripe about the film. The action is for lack of a better word, very under whelming. Except for the shot where the bat mobile rams into the big rig truck, I found no other action shots to be memorable. For a 185 Million dollar film, and that too a big superhero film, I would have expected much better action. And some of the bat bike cgi was plain bad. Before you cringe, let me give you a few examples of films done for nearly the same budget, which in my opinion had far greater action.

Die Hard 4- 110 mil
Transformers-150 mil
The original Batman film-35 mil only!
Even the original Hulk- 137 million.

Sure , I don't expect Transformers to happen in a Batman film, But my complaint isn't the lack of any particular kind of action, but rather, a lack of real imagination of awe inspiring scale(again by comparison of scale, batman begins had far greater stakes).Take for example, the original jokers final attempt at creating mayhem. Jacko goes out in a ticker tape parade, announcing that he will be giving free money, knowing all the time that people's greed will bring them out and will be prime fodder for his machinations. The whole set piece feels near operatic. And the showdown is also much larger than life.
4 days into the film, and there is already talks of a posthumous Oscar and a best picture
oscar.IMDB lists it as the best film of ALL TIME, beating the likes of Schindler's List, Godfather and a host of other films. Forgive me if I don't get on that bandwagon. I didn't like the ending for one, the last lines by Gordon was cheesy enough to remind of of the 60's Adam West Batman show. And Two face reduced to being a puppet in the Joker's hands? Sigh.
One last gripe, and a major one if you will-for that brilliant setting where one ferry has the bomb trigger for the other one, I don't buy the cop out conclusion to that, that the people, after seeing what the Joker can do, don't break from their civilized lives and destroy each other. To me the film would have been redeemed a LOT if only they would have killed each other off, thereby giving the joker a very skewed legitimacy,(also in turn testing batman's faith a lot more cruelly) that civilization is but a mask. For all the shouts of a realistic bat world, this stretched credibility into a filmy 'life is beautiful, people aren't beasts' ending. Blah. On a side note, I personally would have shown some people refusing to participate in the vote itself, refusing to stoop to the Joker's level. This to me would have shown the best in humanity, and coupled with the worst, that is the people ready to kill off others in a bid for survival would have made it a spectacular plot point.

For me this film was lackluster-I guess my disappointment measures directly proportional to just how close they got to getting it right. When Nolan was selected as director, I hoped for the best-sadly that was not to be. The only highlight of this film was Heath Ledger's last performance.
I wonder how this film will be seen once the frothy mouthed frenzy dies down and is seen solely on the merits of its story, rather than the glorified and untimely death of a fine actor.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

R.I.P. Stan

Stan Winston, the virtual father of physical make up and special effects of Hollywood has passed away. He was only 62. He lost his battle against plasma cell cancer. The legendary makeup and fx artist, in his career had been nominated for 10 oscars, winning 4- winning 2 for Terminator 2 Judgment Day, 1 each for Artificial Intelligence and Aliens. He had created the Predator, Aliens,Terminator and even the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park all in his workshop. My friends will know how much I was in love with T2 in particular. Even in his last days, he was working extensively. You have even seen his latest work on the silver screen in the form of Iron Man's armors and the special effects for James Cameron's yet to be released Avatar. Take your time to go to imdb and check his extensive resume out. I doubt there is one human out there who is into Hollywood films, and hasn't seen this legend's handiwork.

Goodbye Stan. You are a major reason why I fell in love with the movies. You were , still are one of the greats. We will miss you.

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