Friday, February 18, 2011

Rome (HBO Series)

Review : Rome (a mini TV series)
Produced by : BBC and HBO
Aired : 2005 to 2007
My rating : 8 out of 10

HBO's "Rome" TV series covers the events of the Roman Empire in 1st century BC. It ran for 2 seasons in 2005 and 2007. Both the seasons are available on DVD. The first season has 12 episodes, starting with Julius Caesar's victorious conquest of Gaul and ending with his assassination on Ides Of March. The second season has 10 episodes beginning with Marc Antony discovering the assassination and ends with his eventual death (along with Cleopatra) when Octavian's (Augustus Caesar) army defeats him in Egypt.

With so many movies already filmed about all stories related to Roman Empire, what's the point in watching a TV series that cannot be really as "grand" ? Plenty of reasons, I would argue. It may not be as grand as a big budget movie, but it's very detailed. And in fact, the budget was not all that small. Due to expenses needed to recreate Rome, the series was cut short to 2 seasons, and the story at the end was compressed to a few episodes.

We follow 2 common soldiers in Julius Caesar's  army, Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo. Their lives are entangled with that of the nobility and all the dirty politics that was rampant during that time. The story of Roman Empire (as much as is covered by the series), remains very faithful to the known history than most of the movies I have seen. Of course, some kind of artistic license is needed to make it dramatic.

Rome is recreated as accurately as is possible. The sets, costumes, customs and daily lives of people in this series feel real. The acting is top notch. You understand every character, the motives and come to like them of hate them. Not a single soul is clean - in fact most are shallow, selfish and outright despicable. But that's how it was. Life was hard. Nothing mattered more than power. Revenge and brutality were commonplace. In spite of the lavish palaces and a Republic government (in theory),  it was not a pretty world for most people, and it's shown as it was.

That's the real strength of the series. It doesn't depict grand battle scenes with awesome CGI effects, but shows the lives of people in extreme close-up. It may be too much of a close-up for many viewers, but that's what the series is about.

I highly recommend this series. But with a strong warning. Things are way too explicit and graphic here. Subtlety is completely nonexistent. If your sensibilities are easily offended, then stay away. I am not exaggerating. This is correctly rated "MA" - and is not suitable even for teenagers.

Thursday, February 10, 2011


Book Review : Singularity
Author : Bill DeSmedt
My Rating : 2 out of 5 stars

In June 1908, there was a meteor impact in Tungaska, Siberia. This is the largest known impact on land, as powerful as 1000 atom bombs and devastating millions of trees in a 2500 sq km area. It's sheer luck that this was in an isolated area in Siberia, else the consequences would have been truly horrific.

There have been many alternate theories about the cause, including a crash of an alien spaceship. One theory, with little scientific backing, is this event was due to a subatomic black hole that passed through the Earth. There are many problems with this hypothesis. Can black holes be that small ? Can they be stable if they are this small ? How can such a small black hole get created in the first place ? If it was created during the early period following the Big Bang, how did it survive for this long ? That's for theoretical physicists to debate.

But one simple reason for opposing this theory is, lack of an exit event. If indeed a black hole passed through the Earth, then there would have been another explosion as it exited the Earth. Well, author Bill DeSmedt, has an answer. The black hole never left the Earth ! It's trapped inside and slowly eating the Earth away !!

Look, most science fictions have to bend the known laws of Physics, else even a "simple" thing such as inter-galactic travel cannot be used to make a story. So I am willing to play along - but to a limit. The ideas started transcending that limit when some evil Russian plans to "capture" the black hole using magnetohydrodynamics - yeah, look up that term, it's real. They track it's trajectory inside earth, build a trap exactly at the right spot and boom - capture it, just like that. I wish, building particle accelerators was that simple ! And if you think that's bizarre, wait till you find out, why exactly did they want to capture it. Are you ready for the spoiler ? To change history, of course ! To make Russia great again. Whatever.

Actually, that last part about changing history could have been made really interesting. And that's where the book really really really fails miserably. The last few chapters gave me an impression, that even the author was completely confused as to how to tame the weirdness of his own ideas. So many things are left unexplained, may be because it was impossible to explain them.

The characters are as clich├ęd as they can get. A computer hacker who can do pretty much  hack into whatever he feels like. A beautiful female spy, who has lost her parents. A rich Russian with evil intentions. How novel.

Books like this, give Science Fiction a bad name. I have to mention the hilarious awkwardness of the prose.
In the fresh, clean hours after midnight, with the petty interruptions and annoyance of the day fading like dreams at dawn, he essayed prodigies of system design, assembling soaring fairytale architectures of logic, elegance, and power from dry dust of global variables and reserved keywords.
DEEP TIME. Its texture is the granular trickle of sand through the fingers, its signature sound, the echoing of footsteps down marble corridors, past doorways opening onto light of other days.
... the cool and quite were all but sepulchral.
Sepulchral ? I know my English is quite bad, but reading a fiction book should not make you feel like appearing for GRE.

This book should have been very good. Mixing spy thriller with science fiction is a tantalizing idea. And it does start well - except of course the forced usage of jargon. And then it just fails. Flat on its face. I have to recommend against reading this book.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Obesity Crisis :-)

Heard on Colbert Report.
Folks, there is an obesity crisis in America. Do you know that 33% of Americans haven't had a chance to be obese yet ?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Khamosh Pani

Movie Review : Khamosh Pani (Silent Waters)
Released : 2004
Language : Punjabi
Director : Sabiha Sumar
Starring : Kiron Kher, Shilpa Shukla, Aamir Malik
My Rating : 9 out of 10

The partition of 1947 - when the state of Pakistan was created - has been a subject of many movies. It was a traumatic experience for displaced families to say the least. As is unfortunately usual in such ethnic struggles, the ultimate price is paid by women. The point "Khamosh Pani" illustrates, is that the nightmare doesn't ever end - it just comes back in different but equally devastating forms.

Director Sabiha Sumar tells the story of one such woman "Ayesha" with simple honesty. Ayesha (played perfectly by Kiron Kher) lives in a village in the part of Punjab that ended up in Pakistan. Ayesha is a widow and her life revolves around her son Saleem (Aamir Malik) - who is becoming an adult, but still is not very mature. He has a girlfriend Zubeida (Shilpa Shukla) - who has big dreams of her own. Overall their life is typically placid.

But this is year 1979. Prime Minister Bhutto is hanged by the army dictator Zia Ul Haq, beginning Pakistan's long steady descent into the grips of Islamic Fundamentalism. We are only told about these events via news on radio, but we witness its effect on the protagonists. It's easy to see how an aimless lost youth like Saleem is an easy target to be devoured by fundamentalist recruiters. His conversion begins at the worst time for Aayesha. The Sikh people are allowed to come to Pakistan to visit their place of worship. This creates religious tensions. For Aayesha, this brings back all the painful memories she was trying to suppress all the while - because one Sikh person is looking for his sister who was left behind.

This is a difficult and excruciatingly sad subject. Women who could not escape in time either lost their honor or were killed by their own family members in the name of protecting the honor. It's not hard to guess what Ayash'a past must have been, and Sabiha Sumar treats it with utmost sensitivity.

That is the real hallmark of this movie. The directory just completely avoids the trap of over-dramatization. The entire movie feels really real. The village, the people, their interactions, everything. There is no preaching, no propaganda, just storytelling. There is a lot of symbolism, but nothing overt. It's impossible to miss the Aayesha's tragedy - she could never escape the horrors of partition. It took away her remaining happiness and life many years later, but take away it did.

Everybody performs well, although I thought Saleem's transformation from a naive youth to a blind fanatic deserved a better performer than Aamir Malik, who was overshadowed by his 2 main costars. We don't expect anything less from an actress like Kiron Kher and she delivers far more. Her portrayal of Aayesha is absolutely authentic.

This is a sad movie and not for kids. I would definitely include this in "must watch" category.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...