Sunday, April 13, 2014

Iron Lady

Movie Review : Iron Lady
Genre : Biography / Drama
Director : Phyllida Lloyd
Starring : Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent, Susan Brown
Released : 2011
My Rating : 6 out of 10
A few days ago was the death anniversary of British ex-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and I was reminded of this movie. Eager to get a recap about a very influential and controversial figure in World History, I watched the movie with an open mind, as I really didn’t remember much about the so called Thatcherisms.

The movie opens with an old Mrs Thatcher living alone in an apartment, suffering from dementia. She often talks to her husband, seemingly unaware that he is dead. Most of the time she is just another old lady, except sometimes, she remembers her years as the Prime Minister. These earlier years, as a young candidate, her marriage, rise to the highest political office is shown to us via flashbacks. These flashbacks are generally short, providing just a glimpse of her days at the office. On the other hand, the flashbacks related to her family life are more illuminating.

The focus of the movie is clearly on the last days of Mrs. Thatcher, her battles with dementia and memory loss, with a sincere attempt of showing the loving relationship she shared with her husband. Rest of the material just builds the context.

That was my main problem with the movie. Margaret Thatcher is not just one of the many political leaders in recent history. Her influence on Britain as well as World, is large. She was  a polarizing figure, well known for a her fiscal conservative policies. I would have really liked if the movie had lived up to its title. There was so much opportunity. The script could have focused on some key events such as the Falklands War, or the union strikes, and tried to show her struggles, how she overcame the adversity. At the same time, it could have highlighted the strength and stubbornness of her character, and why she came to be known as the Iron Lady, with both good and bad connotations of the term. Especially now, as there are far more skeptics of the European Union than ever, and Mrs Thatcher’s views on the matter were essentially correct, although unpopular when she was expressing it. A focus on such things would have been so much more interesting. As it stands, the movie is not captivating at all.

There is nothing wrong in making a movie about people suffering from illnesses related to the old age. But if that's your goal, then you don’t need to chose Margaret Thatcher as the main subject. However, this does allow Meryl Streep to shine through. She won her third Oscar, only her second as an actress in a leading role. The previous came from her deeply emotional performance in Sophie’s Choice, almost 30 years ago. The range of roles she has played in all those years is unparalleled. It’s yet another performance, where she just immerses herself in her character. Helping her do that is her makeup, for which the makeup artists (Mark Coulier and J. Roy Helland) won a well deserved Oscar.

The rest of the cast lends good support. As I said, the main problem is the script, trying hard not to present any sharp views in this controversial figure, and as a result giving us a very bland movie.

I can recommend this movie only for watching one more beautiful demonstration of Meryl Streep’s acting prowess. If you are interested in knowing about Margaret Thatcher as a person or as a Prime Minister, a Wikipedia article is going to be a better source. The movie is appropriately rated as PG-13, but even the older kids will be thoroughly bored.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Kasparov on Kasparov Part 2

Book Review : Gary Kasparov on Gary Kasparov Part 2 1985-1993
Author : Gary Kasparov
My Rating : 5 out of 5 stars

Kasparov’s massive book writing project is going strong. The second book in the series on Kasparov himself, has been available for a while now and is as good as all the other books. I have a talked a lot about his entire project and this series when I wrote the review of his first book.  If you are not familiar with his 10+ books so far, please click on that link for more information.

This book, as is to be expected, follows the same format and the presentation style. So I am going to skip reviewing that particular aspect.

As the title says, the games being focused here are from the period 1985 t o 1993. It starts with the second match for the World Championship title against his arch rival Karpov, and covers the period till Kasparov’s decision to break away from FIDE.

I noted a slight difference from the first book. Here, there are less autobiographical notes than the first book. This was a politically tough period due to the break up of former Soviet Union. Kasparov’s mother is Armenian and his family lived in Baku, which is in Azerbaijan. As a result of different ethnicity, his family was in danger during the turbulence. Kasparov talks about how they all made to safety, and how it affected his chess. But these life stories are a definite sideshow.

The focus is on games, which are played by an even more improved Kasparov from the first book. These are explained with passion and clarity. The last game from his second match with Karpov, when Kasparov became the Champion for the first time, is explained in nearly 10 pages! Not just dry variations after variations, but explanation that is accessible to someone like me who is just a woodpusher but still an enthusiast. Some of the annotations give such a nice insight into how he has approached and understood chess. In one game he explains that his opponent Karpov missed a better move due to his playing style, and Tal would have found it naturally. But then, Kasparov explains, he wouldn’t have created such position on the board, if he was playing against Tal! That’s match strategy 101 right there. Of course much easier said than done.

Kasparov is also known for his legendary opening research. He talks about it freely, how and when he studied the particular opening system, how he anticipated his opponents moves, and had the novelties in mind. Many of his games gave new direction for many variations, and he points that out while discussing the novelties and their impact.

Kasparov also explains what went through his mind, before and during the game. It’s not a secret that Kasparov had this intense desire to win and dominate. When he drew a series of games against the topmost players, he considered it as a slump! He wanted to take revenge, and make a point. He always wanted to assert via his games, that he was indeed the Champion. There is no gloating. He has chosen games, where he failed to win, especially against his new arch rival Anand. At the end of the book, he openly admits that breaking away from FIDE was the biggest blunder of his life. There is no sugar coating. Just plain truth as he sees it. It all makes for such a wonderful reading.

I absolutely recommend this book. Note that there is some overlap with his previous books about the World Championship matches with Karpov. I have them, and I do not mind the repetition. I am now waiting for his next installment and then hopefully a new series about the latest players.
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