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Oscar Round-up

A quick round up of Oscar nominated movies, FWIW.

The Hurt Locker:
The opening of the movie is a very shaky low-fi footage from robotic camera, giving it an ordinary documentary feel. But from the moment the first bomb went off, in what would be the signature shot of the movie – super slomo, the movie was so engrossing that one forgot about everything else. The creeping tension – for even scenes with 2 dialogues and no action lasting several minutes, is of high quality. When any day can be the last day of your life, people become edgy/ careless, and bare out their dark sides – “he is trying to be a hero, but is being stupid. he will get us all killed. why dont we just kill him? accidents happen all the time” or the reckless sides, removing protective gear while trying to diffuse a car bomb saying “there is enough powder here to send us all to jesus, so i might as well go in comfort” etc.

Choosing the cereal scene, and the completely unexpected, totally genuine ‘lessons-for-life’ to the infant about keeping passions in life, leading to the end of the movie is just brilliant. It may not win Best Picture or Director due to other popular entries, but the movie is a lesson on how to write a screenplay. And certainly can win the original screenplay category. Or if the academy grows some sense before voting, best director as well. It was pleasing to see Renner getting a best actor nomination for an unpolished, true to the last bit performance. Intense, and a must watch.

Up in the Air:
It is impossible to imagine anyone other that Clooney playing the role of Ryan Bingham. What Tom Cruise used to do, or what Brad Pitt tried, Clooney has just mastered (from Ocean’s 11 to Michael Clayton and now Up in the Air). He takes to these cool, savvy, suit-clad, tongue in cheek, 40-something characters like a duck to water.

Up in the Air is about a professional who makes a living out of firing people, and always on the move, up in the air. Since he is a frequent traveller, he keeps his luggage and life very light (“last year I travelled for 322 days of the year, which meant that I spent 43 miserable days at home”, or “if life is a backpack, and it is on fire, what would you save from it?”). His seemingly shallow world is seemingly rocked when technology tends to take his job. Excellent supporting cast as well – both supporting actresses got nominated, along with script (probably win as well) and direction. The best part about the movie is that it doesnt do an oh-so-predictable “Jerry Maguire” all-izz-well-ending and embrace reality. Must watch.

The Blind Side:
Certainly not a best picture candidate, and will pale away in front of a Hurt Locker, or without Sandra Bullock. Frankly, I am not a fan of Bullock. Somehow her on screen presence always irritated me, regardless of the role (Chris Waltz’s SS Colonel in Inglorious B was irritating, or if someone recall the preachy lady from The Mist, but those are written so). Take Urmila; she was good in Rangeela, and that’s it. Or like Aishwarya Rai in Hum Dil De Chuke and nothing else.

Anyways, Sandra Bullock’s only other watchable movies – for me – were Speed and Crash, both for entirely different reasons. And I will go on one limb and say that this movie is watchable just for Sandra Bullock’s acting. She was amazing. It could be because so much was stacked against her, that we get very very pleasantly surprised by her performance in this movie – about a white family fostering a black boy and supports him on his way to big leagues. Will she win? Possibly, due to sentiments.

An Education:
If somebody can stop Sandra Bullock from winning the best actress, it will be Carey Mulligan. The fact that she is unknown or it is a less known British movie doesnt help her, but she was outstanding in the most fresh coming of age movie in a long time. And without doubt some of the best dialogues written for a movie after last year’s Doubt. The movie is all about Carey, a 16 year old school girl in mid 60’s in a convent in England and about her ‘hands-on’ education of life. The ending is one of the most intriguing one in recent times, without looking to complete the entire circle – a good sign of believing in the imaginative capabilities of the audience. Studios cannot do such a thing, only a British indy can.

District 9:
Most original alien movie in 30 years since Ridley Scot’s Alien. Must watch for excellent script, subtle undertones and realistic movie making (unheard of in sci-fi; while we are at it, let me also recommend Moon, another brilliant sci-fi movie from last year). Must watch, but since it went against the US norms of Alien movies, it has no chance of winning any biggies. Reviewed before.

Reviewed before, another must watch. Some parts are quite a stretch, but the concept of chasing a dream in a house is certainly the adventure ride of the year. And add to that outstanding, touching music score and some amazing montage on story telling in the beginning of the movie. Coraline (another must watch, somewhat an animated take on Eternal Sunshine of Spotless Mind) might give it a run, but should win best animated feature.

Inglorious Basterds:
Much has been written about Tarantino’s “best master piece” yet, and for many it may have fallen short of the expectations from a QT movie. But given the nomination for lesser movies like Blind Side, I am not surprised Inglorious got a nod into best picture, and best original screenplay.

Havent watched A Serious Man, Precious, or Avatar. I plan to catch on the first two, I am not sure if I want to watch Avatar though.


Baltimore vs Bangalore vs Beijing

Obama called the kids in the US to raise the bar to compete against those from Bangalore and Beijing, if they care about a better future. As usual with his talks, this got some applause from the domestic folks. But the truth is, it is not just difficult, it is impossible.

Because, foundation of education is built on social culture. And it is known that America is a low context culture while India, or China are high context culture (read more here). In the latter, a lot is unsaid, and need to be derived from the context of usage which makes its people very good at analytics. A low context culture calls for everything to be explicit and said. There are no hidden meanings. This reduces the need for analytical thinking to figure out day to day life. But that gives people room for out of the box or creative thinking, and question stated facts openly. Over a period, low context cultures become less analytical and more creative. (At the same time, high context culture excels in areas that thrive on hidden or layered communication, films for example)

Given these, asking an education system to move from creative to analytical planes, ie., to a new direction is a huge task, and if attempted will take at least 4-5 generations to reach anywhere near. And then the culture itself will prevent that from happening since they will openly question the need itself. So it is safe to assume that Baltimore and Bangalore will stay as is for sometime to come. If Obama is hoping otherwise, it’s habitual. That is all what he has been giving the Americans all along – hope!


Bad Lieutenant, Good for Cage

I have been terribly disappointed with the choice of movies a talented actor like Nicolas Cage was making in the past few years; Giving us a bunch of silly, boring (but blockbuster) movies about seeing futures or hunting treasures.

He is back. Though Bad Lieutenant is a bit over the top, I am happy to see glimpses of vintage Cage here. Story is about a cop who is a little on the edge, does drugs/gambling, sort-of corrupt, as title says, bad, investigating murder of a family related to drug pedaling. As one critic called it, unhinged performance from Cage.

Though it might fetch him a nomination or two, since the movie didnt do well at the BO, there are good chances that Cage will go back to the money hunt again. That, I feel, is the real bad part of the movie.



I am not trying to tell you what you didnt/ must do. I am just pointing out a perspective that you *may* have missed. It may not be the proven fact but a possibility.


Up and away!

Watched Pixar’s UP last night. Brilliant, conceptual, evenly paced adventure with loads of fun. What surprised me was the imaginative script and emotion filled scenes. The timeline of the movie is a little iffy, but the first 15-20 mins, especially the 5 minutes of boy-meets-girl story telling was undoubtedly the best animation sequence I have ever watched. Pixar rules! Must watch


Walk and Talk

Amarendra, a friend, was talking about an email signature – obviously, from a new father – that he saw: “First twelve months you ask your child to walk and talk. The next twelve, it’s sit down and shut up”.

Ever since I noticed that my conversations with Joshua during his first year revolved around the words No, Slowly and Carefully, I wanted to blog about it. And just the other day I was asking my wife about the most common words that she uses when with him. Not too different, I must say.


Leading the Mainstream

Many of us often customize a product to suite our special needs. There are always people who keep pushing the envelope, to extract more juice from what’s available. Such people are called lead users. (Eric Hippel from MIT coined the term in 1986. Read more about it here and here

People, or companies watch lead users. Many a times, observing lead users is a way to improve your product, or even come up with new products. It may appear to be a rare usage by small group, but the potential of an unexplored market is huge. All one needs to do is convert such use cases to accommodate normal users. Usually, mainstream users do not know how to demand something that is not there.

Some of the lead usage can directly translate to mainstream, while some may require core changes. Take for example ABS, anti-lock braking system. Guess who was the lead user for ABS? Airplanes! Of course, what else one needs to stop without skidding, than the 200′ long, 200′ wide, 400 tonne flying giant? ABS quickly made its way into other fast moving objects like race cars, and eventually became a standard safety feature in any automobile.

In the above case, adaptation into mainstream happened without any change. Which may not be the case with some other products, like say, energy bar – a high protein food devised by top athletes to infuse max energy in the shortest/fastest way. If companies had introduced it as is into mainstream, it would have flopped badly because protein bars tasted like shit. Athletes didn’t bother about the taste and probably swallowed it! It served a different purpose. So, companies reworked the formula to add cocoa and sugar into energy bars to make them best sellers in literally no time!

Every lead usage need not translate into a successful product. Some of the brilliant ideas may not even see the common light. But communities like open source software take a very Freudian approach to the concept of lead users – allow anyone to lead the changes, and let the best survive. IMO, best of both worlds.

So, the next time you are customizing anything because it doesn’t serve your need as is, do a bit more – think how useful it would be if everyone knew about it.


Applied Art vs Design

How different is applied art from design? Art fundamentally is a form of expression while a design has to communicate. But applied art has many characteristics that are similar to design – one of them is the context of application. Medium where the art is applied holds the same amount of constraints and makes it contextual, just like in design. How does one explain this?

Let’s take a cell phone. The concept of a cell phone, simplified, is a device for communication. Now try mapping the levels of cell phone concepts to that of art.

How a cell phone works and what it contains – its fundamentals, is equivalent to fine art. The core concepts of art, such as materials, usage, medium, is applicable to cell phone as well.

Similarly, the different models and features of a cell phone, that abstracts the fundamentals can be mapped to abstract art?

And, when a cell phone is applied to a context – usage by elderly, say – it becomes equivalent to applied art. Some call it design for context, or emotion. I just call it user centered design.

I have not studied art to really stand by these definitions, I am just looking at this from an eye of a designer. But this surely does explain why designers often can sustain a conversation in applied arts, and to certain extent on abstract art, they fail to stay on board when it comes to fine arts. I do not want to say that designers lack fundamentals, but the most important aspect of design and usability is the context and usage, which matches quite well with applied arts.


Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds

Tarantino claims this movie as his best masterpiece yet; Also cleverly stamping it with the last words in the movie. Given that it took so many rewrites and 7 years for RTM, it better be. But having watched the movie, I must say that the on-the-edge feeling one gets watching PF (or, even Jackie Brown) was missing. Storyline had history stacked up against it, so it was bound to be “tense”. I read that this version is about 1/3rd the size of the original script. That probably explains why some of the gaps are too evident, which surprisingly included many of the character developments.

May be it’s just me, but I detest film makers using narration to develop the story. Instead of building the character/ story line, this I feel is a short cut way to set premises. Setting a period say, 1941, France, is alright, but I expect more from QT. On the other hand, short interludes works fine. Say, the blip shot of sex with translator was very QT.

Soundtrack is pretty good. Audio/Visual has nothing to complain about. In fact, the DP did a great job. And the German actor who did SS Colonel Landa was brilliant. One actually felt uneasy when the character came on scene. Rest of the casting was alright, just about. Brad was pits. Why Brad? Why not say, William Macy?

Anyways, I feel this movie was hastened up for release. In terms of craft, I would say that this is typical Tarantino. And given the kind of engagements he had after the Kill Bills, I can understand why critics are calling it, the return of the king. Still an 8/10 for me.


District 9

Write down all the regular features in a Hollywood alien movie.

  1. Aliens are attacking the world
  2. It’s the end of the world soon
  3. Everyone looks up to USA
  4. Americans have the best ideas and put a task force together
  5. Big ticket actors for the BO
  6. Overdose of patriotism, heroism and sacrifice
  7. Billion bucks mind boggling CGI
  8. Finally all aliens are destroyed, America saves the Earth once again
  9. The End.

Let’s work on a story that is exactly opposite to the standard fair above. Aliens aren’t attacking, but they live amongst humans, for a change this is *not* happening in the USA. The actors are fairly unknown, no Michael Bay budget for graphics, the filming is raw and like surveillance footage. Thankfully the hero is forced to fight for it, hence heroism is non existent. The simple (though racist) human nature and politics looks very natural.

The ending, emotionally wrenching, leaves some loose ends untied, involving the audience to stitch the story back. An often used trick to either let the story linger in their minds, or for the, oh, sequel. It works well on both counts.

Easily the most original alien story in 30 years, after Ridley Scott’s brilliant Alien. And certainly a must watch!