Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Just Go With It

Movie Review : Just Go With It
Director : Dennis Dungan
Genre : Romantic Comedy
Starring : Adam Sandler, Jennifer Aniston, Nicole Kidman, Brooklyn Decker
Released : 2011
My Rating : 4 out of 10

After the over-the-top-crudeness of "You Don't Mess With Zohan", director Dennis Dungan and actor/producer Adam Sandler have teamed up to give us a movie that's being labeled as a "romantic comedy". Disappointingly, it is neither romantic nor funny.

Danny (Adam Sandler) is a rich and successful plastic surgeon. He has a fake wedding ring and pretends to be in an unhappy marriage, just to have one night stands with young women. When he meets Palmer (Brooklyn Decker), he thinks he found the love of his life. But she thinks he is married. And so the lies start. He has to introduce Palmer to his wife, with whom he is supposedly getting divorced. To play that part, he requests his secretary, Katherine (Jennifer Aniston), who is a single mom. Naturally Palmer hears about the children, and Danny gets sucked into saying bigger and bigger lies.

That's a good enough plot for making a nice predictable romantic comedy to enjoy and forget. Alas, the execution guarantees only the "forget" part of it. I haven't watched the original movie (or play) "Cactus Flower" from which this is adapted, so I cannot offer comparisons. I doubt, if it was as forgettable as this one.

I would have never thought Adam Sandler can be as ineffective as he is here. The attempts at being funny are pathetic - not crude, not gross - just lame. Of course, a big reason is the script which feels like written by an intern. Jennifer Aniston tries hard, really hard to make it work - but it's obvious that she is trying, and it doesn't feel natural. Brooklyn Decker was not chosen for her acting, so why bother evaluating it ? And Nicole Kidman would probably like us to not just forget the movie, but also her role in it.

No Adam Sandler movie is for kids, you should know that by now. But seriously, don't watch this one, rather spend that time watching an episode or two of your favorite sitcom.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Hidden Reality

Book Review : The Hidden Reality
Author : Brian Greene
My Rating : 3 out of 5 stars

The complete title of the book is "The Hidden Reality : Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos".

Brian Green is a professor of Physics at Columbia University. His first book "The Elegant Universe" was a major New York Times Bestseller and has been made into a similarly titled Nova series. And with an appearance on the hit CBS sitcom, "The Big Bang Theory", he is one of the rare physicists that can claim a celebrity status.

His first book opened the doors to The String Theory for laymen like me. I had always heard about it, and thanks to Brian Greene, I know the basic outline of it. His second book, "The Fabric Of Cosmos", was also well received, and personally, I liked it more than the first book.

To say that the physics of 20th century is not intuitive would be an obvious understatement. Neither Einstein's Relativity Theory, nor the Quantum Mechanics sit well with our everyday life experiences. That's a limitation of our senses. The predictions of these theories are verifiable by scientific observations.

String Theory is not completely there yet. It has the potential, and far better minds than mine believe in it. So I see no need to question it, but much of the content in the second half of Brian Greene's first book felt a bit speculative. Of course, he was aiming to introduce the readers with the cutting edge research, and he succeeded in it.

Why do I mention that ? Because his latest book, "The Hidden Reality", is even more speculative. Again, he is introducing the readers to the latest thinking in physics. To untested theories, which may be proven wrong.

The core theme of the book is about the various flavors of the multiple universe theory. After the big bang, it's possible that multiple universes were created. Each having billions of galaxies. Our universe is just one of the many, or infinitely many. We may never detect those other universes, but Brian Greene outlines the logic, which indicates that, they are out there. But the very nature of the underlying idea makes me squirm - is this really science ? It's almost like, we can neither prove their existence, nor disprove it. To be fair, the author tackles such doubts head on. His justifications didn't convince me. This could very well be due to my feeble non-physicist mind. Nevertheless, this was a shortcoming of the book to me.

It could also be due to the order of presentation. The multi-verse theories are presented in first few chapters, and then their basis is questioned. A bit more effort in setting up the expectations about the speculative nature of the theories would have helped.

The tail end of the book is not as well written as the rest of the book. From a scientific point of view, he discusses questions similar to "How do we know we are not living in a Matrix ?". I am not fond of such debates. To me, these are exercises in futility. Maybe he wanted to discuss it for the sake of covering all aspects of multi-verse theories. That aside, his discussion is repetitive and tedious. Fortunately, it's a small part of the book.

If you are able to leave these complaints aside, the book is worth reading. The subject matter is really advanced, and making it accessible to general public is not an easy task. Considering what he is trying to explain, I have to applaud his effort. The previous too books did a better job, no doubt. But this book has many plus points as well. When they say, a certain star is at a certain distance from us, I had always wondered - is that the distance now, or when the light left that star or something else ? I found the explanation here very friendly. As was the explanation of Hawking Radiation of a Black Hole and its importance. Very well done.

I definitely recommend this book. You have to have the motivation and the curiosity to read books about cutting edge science. You already know if you are that type. If you want to start reading popular science books, I would rather recommend Brian Greene's first book "The Elegant Universe", or Simon Singh's "Big Bang", or even some older books by Gamow and/or Feynman.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Bottle Shock

Movie Review : Bottle Shock
Director :  Randall Miller
Genre : Comedy / Drama
Starring : Alan Rickman, Bill Pullman, Chris Pine, Rachael Taylor
Released : 2008
My Rating : 7 out of 10

If you think the typical strategy of using an underdog story to make a feel-good movie has nothing new to offer, you need to watch Bottle Shock. Based on real life events, this time the underdogs are the Napa Valley vintners in 1976, competing against the mightily snobbish French.

Steven Spurrier (Alan Rickman) is a multilingual Brit, running a fledgling "Academy of Wine" in Paris. His neighboring shop-owner and what seems like his only customer, gives him an idea of a publicity stunt to revive his business. A blind wine tasting competition between the French and the "new world" wines. So he comes to Napa Valley in search of finding some competition, although he is very skeptical to say the least. A chance encounter introduces him to Jim Barrett (Bill Pullman). His winery is also struggling, and he too is very skeptical of this snobbish gentleman - fearing that the competition won't be fair. Helping Jim in his wine-making, is his son Bo Barrett (Chris Pine), a new intern Sam (Rachael Taylor) and a Mexican immigrant Gustavo (Freddy Rodriguez).

It's a fictionalized account of what happened then between all these characters and how the competition was won by Napa Valley. In spite of the little publicity the competition received at the time, it put California on the wine map, squarely competing against the myth of the French wine. Lot of success depends on marketing and hype, especially in Wine industry, and this was the trigger that lit the fuse.

It's such an enjoyable movie that it's easy to forgive its flaws. It totally fails as a love triangle, mainly because Sam's character is so ill-developed. The commentary on racism feels very out of place because it doesn't add anything to the story. But the dramatization of the events leading to the competition is lot of fun, and makes the whole package stand out. The tone is always light, and goodhearted. The acting is just OK, except Alan Rickman,  and if I have to use typical wine lingo, adds a bright acidity to an otherwise mellow round bodied fruitiness :-)

I have to mention a couple of spoilers, so forgive me. When Jim asks, "Why don't I like you ?", Spurrier responds, "Because you think I am an ass... I am not, it's just that I am British, and well, you are not". So when Spurrier pays him for tasting, Jim asks his son Bo to take Spurrier on a wine tour. All vintners are surprised - "He wants to pay for tasting ?", and are happy to oblige. Oh, what times ! Today, tasting brings in a sizable revenue to Napa Valley. Good for our economy, but I still wish Spurrier hadn't started this damn tradition.

Whether you like wine or not, I definitely recommend this movie. A note : this is nothing like Sideways, which was a much better movie because wine was a backdrop, with focus on characters. Here, wine competition is the story, and people are just a sideshow. It's not for the kids, but it is much safer than Sideways.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Hummingbird Eggs

 Hummingbirds are common in my area. I was able to take a photo of one - because it was resting ! See here.

I find them one of the most amazing creations of nature. Their nests are equally amazing. You would expect it to be tiny, and you would be wrong - it is even tinier than what you might expect :-)

It's only about an inch in diameter. It seems like made of mud and is glued to the branch. (Wikipedia tells me, a lot of spider silk is used to make it sticky). Here is another photo to give you an idea of the scale.

The eggs are as small as jellybeans !

No eggs were harmed in taking these photos ! But I didn't get to see the chicks. I didn't want to disturb anything, so didn't go near it again. From a distance, it was hard to see if the eggs hatched. Other birds, and even ants are likely predators of these eggs. The nest seemed empty after a few days :-(

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