Thursday, December 29, 2011


Movie Review : The Descendants
Director : Alexander Payne
Genre : Drama / Comedy
Starring : George Clooney, Shailene Woodley
Released : November 2011
My Rating : 7 out of 10

With only a few movies, Alexander Payne just might have established himself as a sincere artist. His Sideways is widely loved, and he was also the producer of "The Savages", which I liked. The genre of Drama/Comedy applies perfectly to his movies, with the focus of presentation on underplay and subtlety.

His latest movie, The Descendants, will be a candidate for many 2012 Oscars, with both George Clooney and Shailene Woodley having a good chance to win in their categories. Even with strong Oscar / Golden Globe nominations, the real question is always, should you watch the movie ? Hopefully, my reviews help you decide that.

As the movie opens, we learn that Matt King (George Clooney) is a successful lawyer, whose very large and extended Hawaiian family has inherited a substantial fortune. Unfortunately, his wife is in coma due to an accident, and the prognosis is not good. He has never been really there to perform his parental responsibilities - he calls himself a "backup parent". Now he finds himself in a situation where he has to rebuild the relationship with his kids, inform all the relatives about the doctor' decision to pull the plug on his wife, handle the legalities of inheritance - all at the same time. To make matters worse, he finds out that his wife was having an affair and was about to divorce him.

To say that this is an unpleasant situation would be a gross understatement. This particular storyline poses numerous challenges for the writer, director and the actors. It can get overly emotional. Any attempt to infuse humor might show disrespect to the serious issues faced by the characters. I think the movie keeps the right balance between all these elements, thanks to superb direction and absolutely great acting.

I am quite certain that George Clooney will be nominated for Oscar. It is a great performance, no doubt. In contrast to his usual role of a suave, confident man, this role requires him to play a middle-aged man with slouching shoulders and a tired gait. I was very impressed with his performance.

But more than him, I was completely won over by Shailene Woodley's performance. If casting George Clooney for this role was a surprise, the character of his teenaged daughter is completely anti-stereo typical. She is not the careless, disrespectful teenager often found in movies. She is bitter, but because she saw her mother cheating on her father. In her own strong-headed style, she supports her father all through out the movie. Shailene Woodley's acting is so real, that you might forget she is playing a character. I am looking forward to her future movies.

So in spite of this, why only 7 out of 10 ? That's where subjectivity comes into play. I thought the movie was unnecessarily slow, to a point where many viewers may just give up on the movie. As a parent, I also found a few of the dialogues/scenes involving the younger daughter quite uncomfortable. Removing them wouldn't have done any harm to the overall effect of the movie.

If you are OK with slow movies, it's definitely worth watching. My wife was quite bored by this movie, but I liked it. It's definitely not for the kids, although I doubt if any kid/teenager would have even the slightest interest in watching this movie.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Sudoku Bragging :-)

I like Sudoku, but I didn't solve too many puzzles in the printed form. If you make a mistake in deciding a number for a square - especially at hard levels - it becomes too much pain to figure out later what went wrong and how to fix it. But the iPad app is the best way to solve Sudoku. If you make a mistake it immediately lets you know. It also allows you take notes and helps in visualization.

I have been using Sudoku2, and definitely recommend it. It has a nice point system, in addition to the timer, to keep you motivated :-) I am no longer addicted to it, as I was a few weeks ago. Mainly because, I have reached my limit in improving the score. So here is what I think is my peak score :

Can you beat it ? :-)

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Lady bug

It's awfully hard to capture a photo of an insect ! They are constantly moving in search of food and are not enthusiastic about posing for a portrait. So I could not get a face shot of this self centered starlet. (And I don't have a macro lens. Ever since I discovered how good prime lens can be, I haven't taken it off.) Holding the camera in one hand, focusing continuously while the other had was trying to twist the branches to make the bug face the camera, I spent about 15-20 minutes without success :-(

Friday, December 16, 2011

Interview With Michael Platt

A very interesting video about the implications of Europe's crisis - interview with Michael Platt, founder of one of the largest asset managers in the world, BlueCrest Capital Management. It's a bit long - 15 mins, but very well worth watching. In case you are short on time, I have summarized the key points, as I understood.

Disclaimers :
1. This is obviously NOT an investment advice.
2. I do not know anything about this person, apart from what I have learned from the interview. So I am taking it at its face value.

Why I think it's worth watching :
1. He seems like a very smart guy. Apparently manages about $30 billion in his hedge funds, which is huge. Claims to have generated positive and hefty returns over last many years. Let's say all that is true.
2. He is NOT shouting from the roof, crying Armageddon. He sees a high probability of a significant crisis due to European debt situation. He is calmly talking about his viewpoints, and his strategies.

Key points he is making :
1. He is worried about the crisis. So he has all his money in the safest and liquidest instruments : short term US and German government debts.
2. No matter what the policy makers are saying, Euro break up is being priced in for, in options and futures markets.
3. Math is against Europe. Example : Italy's debt is already 120% of their GDP. GDP is declining and debt is growing at 5%. Arithmetically, this will blow up.
4. There is no growth to get Europe out of this. Austerity makes it worse. And their is no willingness to transfer money across boundaries to ease the burden.
5. Most of the European banks are now insolvent.
6. As an investor, you do not make money by going into a crisis. You make money in the aftermath of the crisis.
7. Things will get worse in 2012. What's going on is significantly worse than 2008.
8. He thinks that bold solutions - like ECB printing, a fiscal union etc - will solve the crisis. (This is the where I disagree. Printing money does not solve anything. It just changes the problem from high debt to to high inflation. And an European fiscal union is probably a non-starter.)

Monday, December 12, 2011

U-12 Chess Champinonship

The chess revolution started in India by Anand continues to generate more fruits. Adding to the list of Humpy, Negi - now we have Karthikeyan Murali. He won the U-12 chess championship.

You can read more on Chessbase.

Many kids from India participated in the World Youth Chess Championship and many did well. But it's hard to find online news articles to link. :-(

Friday, December 9, 2011


Movie Review : The Savages
Director : Tamara Jenkins
Genre : Drama
Starring : Laura Linney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Philip Bosco
Released : 2007
My Rating : 7 out of 10

Tamara Jenkins' first major movie is about a brother and sister forced to take care of their dying father. It's not a comedy, although labeled as such. In fact, it can be quite uncomfortable to watch at times.

There is no plot as such. Lenny Savage (Philip Bosco) is suffering from dementia. We learn from references that he wasn't that great of a father, as a result Wendy (Laura Liney) and Jon (Philip Seymour Hoffman) share no love for him. But they are forced by the circumstances to share the burden. This provides the backdrop for the real story where, they have to confront their own shortcomings and get their life in order.

This is not all that funny. And although the tone can be a bit light-hearted, the handling is quite serious. It's a dysfunctional family.  The brother and sister have major personality traits to overcome, which they have acquired definitely because of their father's neglect. There is risk that a viewer can get completely indifferent to such characters. It's the credit of actors and the director that make you feel sympathetic to them.

I can watch any movie for Laura Linney, an uncommon combination of beauty and ability to play complex characters. Hoffman rarely disappoints. And they together share 90% of the screen time. Philip Bosco supports them well portraying an old demented man.

Only if you like to watch different but well made movies strongly based on characterizations, I can recommend this. It has limited appeal otherwise. Definitely not safe for kids.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...