Friday, June 17, 2011

Inglorious Basterds


Movie Review : Inglorious Basterds
Released : 2009
Director : Quentin Tarantino
Starring : Brad Pitt, Melanie Laurent, Christoph Waltz, Diane Kruger
My Rating : 8 out of 10

I am not a big fan of Quentin Tarantino. Oh, I totally "get" his movies, I like them, but I just don't think of them as highly as most others do. In my opinion, he stresses more on style than on substance. I am also turned off by his fascination with macabre violence, and ego trips like Kill Bill. I am perfectly aware that this is but a minority viewpoint among movie aficionados.

I did like Pulp Fiction, and would definitely consider it a classic. And I have to say that, Inglorious Bastards is, in my opinion, the best Tarantino movie since Pulp Fiction. It's well crafted, full of vintage Tarantino scenes and very gripping.

The story takes artistic liberties to create alternate history of World War II, without being pretentious. There are 2 threads. In one, a group of American soldiers - the Basterds - led by Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) is raging a successful guerilla warfare in France. Their task is to kill Nazis and collect their scalps. When they learn about the Nazi leadership attending a movie premiere in a small theater in Paris, they hatch a plan to blow up the entire theater. Helping them is a double agent Bridget von Hammersmart (Diane Kruger), who is a German actress.

In the second thread is about the owner of the theater - Emmanuelle. Her real name is Shosanna (Mélanie Laurent). At the beginning of the movie, we see her family butchered by the "Jew Hunter" Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz). She also has her plans for taking revenge during the movie premiere. As expected, the 2 threads of the story eventually meet.

One of Tarantino's main strength, and his signature style, is to blend superb dialogues within scenes of brutal violence. Some of the scenes in this movie are wonderfully taut and tense. It's the anticipation of the violence that keeps you on the edge of your seat. Of course, the ensuing violence is typically shocking, as you can expect from Tarantino. The movie is watchable just for those scenes.

I do not want to give away a lot, else the unpredictability of the movie will be compromised, depriving you of a lot of excitement.

Acting overall is fairly good - especially by Christoph Waltz. His portrayal is unsettling and mesmerizing. Brad Pitt, does a variety of roles, quite unlike his super star image, and he succeeds. With every movie, I get more and more impressed. Both the female leads (Diane Kruger and Mélanie Laurent) look beautiful and give a strong performance. There are cameos by Eli Roth, and Mike Myers.

I definitely recommend this movie. There is no need to remind anyone, but just in case, Quentin Tarantino movies are never for kids. For anyone else who loves movies, this is one that should not be missed.



Thursday, June 2, 2011

Plastic



Book Review : Plastic
Author : Susan Freinkel
My Rating : 5 out of 5

The complete title of the book is "Plastic : A Toxic Love Story".

Susan Freinkel's "Plastic" is a very current, up-to-date book that has to be on your "must read" list.

Plastics when used in daily conversations, is a nebulous term. Technically, it's a polymer (mostly man-made) with long molecular chains, which give it all the properties that we associate with plastics. Paradoxically, the very same properties that make plastics so desirable - lightweight, durable, inert, strong and cheap - also make it such a nuisance. As a result we cannot live without them, but we wish we could.

Susan Freinkel explains both aspects of this love-hate relationship. It was indeed revolutionary that we figured out a way of using the by-products of petroleum processing. It wasn't just about efficiency. These by-products generate a wide variety of plastics that make all sorts of items - from everyday utilities such as comb and toothbrush, to ultra-thin ultra-flexible tubes required in medical equipments. This platics revolution was crucial to improving our standard of living. Its substitution in place of wood and animal parts has helped us stop the plundering of Mother Earth. Think abut it. Today we see pictures of sea birds dying because of plastic trash. But its use has also saved many species by removing our need to kill them.

Freinkel explores the world of plastics, and it's effect on world in general by using a very novel approach. She devotes a chapter to objects such as chair, comb, Frisbee, credit card, bottle etc. I really liked this idea. It was a great pleasure to read the history of plastic chair and comb and Frisbee. These chapters are a great cocktail of information and story telling. The later chapters have less emphasis on story, but more on opinions and research. As a result there is some danger of information overload towards the end. Overall it's very well researched, well presented and well argued.

Consider the case of the plastic bag. It's hard to find an item as reviled and still as widely used. Well maybe the plastic bottle can compete for that dubious honor ! Are these items so deserving of scorn and activist attention ? The book's discussion of these topics was an eye-opener. I had always suspected that, replacing plastic bags with paper bags, is not really a wise solution. My suspicions were confirmed. But there is way more to it than what I had naively suspected. I urge you to read those chapters.

I had also wondered what happens to the items I throw in the recycle bin. I got answers. I think I agree with what I have learned. Recycling is needed, but the need to recycle is also a problem ! Reuse is the solution. Not always possible, but we should do it whenever possible.

As the author correctly points out, plastic is not a villain, and making it compostable won't make it a hero either. It's the culture of irresponsible consumerism based on single use, that's the root cause of the problem. For example, replacing plastic bottles with glass bottles will only increase the fuel required in transportation. Plastic has genuinely great benefits all over the spectrum of its applications. But if we keep throwing it away, we will become a civilization that choked on its own trash.

She points out that, it takes nature thousands of years to create the fossil fuel that's used to make plastics. It takes us few seconds to use it and trash it. Trash that will kill many species and outlive us by many generations. Very ironic and very sad.

Changing consumer behaviour is a tricky multi-dimensional problem. In here, there is a superb survey of many such attempts underway today.

That's not the only focus of the book, nor is its intention to be an activist mouthpiece. It's a social commentary too. I was chuckling when she pointed out how we all disapprove plastic chairs as being cheap, but we still use them. There are many such observations about the curious nature of our relationship with plastics.

I think this book has a wide appeal and it's very relevant today. Read it.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Why do I think Messi is the greatest soccer player ?

FC Barcelona won the UEFA Champion's League 2011 Final (3-1) against Manchester United in style. Messi scored one, and helped in David Villa's magical goal. It was yet another amazing performance and complete dominance by Barca under Josep Guardiola.
I just want to bookmark a few videos celebrating the best Soccer player ever - Lionel Messi. At 23, he is already at the top of the world. Has won the FIFA best Player of the Year in 2009, 2010 and will likely win it again, having scored the most goals in La Liga and Champion's League.

There is a reason why. He is not just a prolific goal scorer, but he is also a dribbler and a passer. He is not the forward waiting for the midfielders to create an oportunity for him. He creates the opportunities for himself and others. And his control of the ball is already legendary.

For his dribbling skill, check out this video. At around 0:48 check out the sea of yellow jerseys needed to prevent him from scoring.



For his amazing passes, check out


And even you have watched this before, please watch again one of the greatest goals in the history. Starting behind the half-line, he beat 6 defenders and the goal keeper to score this goal !


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