Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Red Riding Hood

Movie Review : Red Riding Hood
Director : Catherine Hardwicke
Genre : Fantasy / Mystery
Starring : Amanda Seyfried, Gary Oldman, Virginia Madsen
Released : 2011
My Rating : 4 out of 10

I debated a lot with myself before writing this review, as in, do I even want to admit that I watched this movie ? I decided the least I could do is save your time.

Some ideas have a perennial appeal. Vampire stories have fascinated people since hundreds of years. No matter how many books are written, how many movies (and TV serials) are made, and how bad many of those are, there is always a market for them. The whole "Twilight" saga has proved just how effective this money making machine is. But those poor Werewolves, they are not so lucky. Just by themselves, they cannot dupe lot of people in parting with their money.

That does not stop Hollywood from trying. This time, the werewolves are being forced to draw references from the classic children's story. Of course, there is a love triangle involving a teen-aged girl as the central character, and 2 boys - one rich, one poor. Well, this movie is directed by Catherine Hardwicke, who also directed the first movie of Twilight saga. Now you know who the target audience is, and why I should have stayed away. Alas, I missed all the danger signs.

The story happens in a fictional medieval village. Werewolves are breaking their long held agreement and are terrorizing the villagers. In this village lives Valerie (Amanda Seyfried) - the girl with a red hood. She is the center of the story, surrounded by her family and the two young men who are courting her. She has a curious encounter with the Werewolf, whose identity is unknown. To solve that mystery and to capture the werewolf, an obnoxious werewolf hunter comes to help the villagers. To complete the reference to the children's story, Valerie has a grandmother, and this character adds to the mystery.

Such a plot is part of the problem, but just a part. The bigger issue is the poorly written and unbelievably amateurish love triangle. It's boggles the mind that the movie got funded with such a glaring flaw in the script. Even harder to believe is the fact that, the two male leads manage to do a worse job than the writers. Absolutely no one can accuse them of having any acting skills. How on earth, a movie aimed at teen-aged girls can hope to have any success with such wooden male actors ? As Twilight has shown, if you want to get away with poor plot, you need to hire actors that can attract droves of teenage girls. Else your market disappears faster than the werewolves can change back to a human form.

When compared to these flaws the mystery aspect of the movie seems to work well, even though it's filled with holes. The writers deliberately provide clues that try to misguide the viewers, but they just seem forced. The best part of the movie is the cinematography. The atmosphere is maintained quite well, but it's not enough to carry the movie.

Amanda Seyfried does as best as she can with the material. I wish Virginia Madsen, who plays the role of Valerie's mother, had more screen time. She still looks gorgeous. Gary Oldman plays the obnoxious part well, but his character is pointlessly forced onto the story.

This is one of those movies with better promotions (trailers, posters) than the actual product. I say, skip this one. In any case, it's not for the kids.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Anand-Morozevich 2007 Mexico WCC

Every true sports fan has his or her unforgettable moments, both happy and sad. I am no exception. From Cricket, Soccer, Tennis, Field Hockey, NFL etc and Chess. Yes, chess does that too. I often watch chess games live on the internet, and sometimes get goose bumps when my favorite player is playing an exciting, razor sharp position. Once in a while, there is simply a "Wow" moment, and it's etched in the memory forever.

This is from the Round 11 game of 2007 World Chess Championship in Mexico.Anand won the tournament to become the unified world chess champion. Later he successfully defended that title against Kramnik, Topalov and most recently Gelfand. He was at the height of his chess creativity in those years, which has sadly been absent from his recent play.

Let's first look at the position before the final move.
Morozevich has just played
55. ... Qe4

Position after Black's 55 ... Qe4
What would you do in this position ? White has 3 connected passed pawns that will net him a win easily, as long as the black queen can be neutralized. Right now, the black queen is attacking both the white knight and the e pawn. The pawn needs only 2 moves to become a queen, but just the rook alone is not enough of a support. So giving up the knight to protect the pawn may be risky. Giving up this advanced pawn, means a long hard struggle to queen the other 3 pawns. So what should be done ?

Before we look at Anand's brilliant trick, let's take a few steps back.
During the game following position arose.
Position after Black's 32. ... Rh4-h5

In this position, Morozevich indicated a desire to draw by repetition of moves. It's roughly even but unclear position. Anand could have accepted the draw and still kept a comfortable lead. But he decided to press on. White then went on to capture the queen side pawns, Black captured pawns on the king side.Eventually queens got exchanged. Morozevich had sacrificed his central pawns to gain tempo, and reached a position where he was guaranteed to get the queen. Still White is better.

Position after Black's 50. ...Kh7-h6

At this point Black is willing to sacrifice the bishop to get his queen. Anand played the following move. Later it became clear that he had calculated all the way till the end.
51. Rc4!
Position after White's 51. Rc4!

Game continued ...
51. ...  h3
52. Rxc5 h2
The race is getting closer, and there is nothing to stop black from getting his queen. My heart had started beating faster.

Position after Black's 52. ... h2

53. Ne3! blocks the rook from attacking the pawn
53. ... Ra1+
Position after Black's 53. ... Ra1+

This helps Black get his queen with a check.
54. Kxa1 h1Q+
55. Ka2 Qe4

This is the problem position mentioned earlier. I thought Morozevich's queen could be enough to prevent Anand from winning, and I was on the edge of my seat.
Now comes the knockout punch
56. Re5!

Black resigned.

Whit's e4 pawn is unstoppable now ! Because if
56. ... Qxe5
57. Ng4
forks the king and the queen.

As beautiful as 56. Re5! is, here is why it's great. Anand had seen this when he played 51.Rc4!, meaning he had seen the problem position in his mind, and solved it before even being played. So if you solved the puzzle, ask yourself, can you "see" it in your mind 4 moves before and solve it too ?

Anand played all his last 5-6 moved very fast. And when I saw the last rook move, it was the ultimate wow moment, forever etched in the memory.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Cool to be a fool

Sometimes you like just one or two songs from an artist, but not many other. That's what happened to me with this song from Joe Nichols. He has a few other songs that have made it to the Billboard charts for Country Songs, but this is the only one I really like. Mainly because of the lyrics.

It's from the 2002 album "Man With A Memory". The album earned him Grammy nominations, and an award from Academy of Country Music. A couple of other songs from the same album were more popular than the one I have chose. The most famous, "Impossible" is quite good too.

It's a short song, so I am presenting the full lyrics here. The self-mocking is quite common in country songs, and this is a great example.
Here I sit, a nobody with no one
Bein' me, ain't really all that fun
Leavin' her, wasn't very smart
Admittin' I was wrong wouldn't be so hard

If it was cool to be a fool
I'd be the hippest guy around
If a heartache made you famous
I'd be known from town to town
If tears were made of pennies
And a cold beer brought her back
My bank account and self esteem
Would both be in the black
If some Hollywood producer made a movie that was sad
About some guy who lost the best thing he ever had
Hey, I could be a star
If it was cool to be a fool

But we all know the way it really is
You don't get recognized, for doin' things like this
You spend a lot of time, feelin' sorry for yourself
It doesn't really mean that much to anybody else
The video didn't make a whole lot of sense to me, but that's not uncommon with music videos. Enjoy ...

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