Sunday, March 22, 2015

Django Unchained

Movie Review : Django Unchained
Director : Quentin Tarantino
Genre : Action/Western
Starring : Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel L. Jackson
Released : December 2012
My Rating : 7 out of 10

Before watching a Quentin Tarantino movie, I guess you should ask yourself if you are a fan or not. Liking ‘Pulp Fiction’ is not enough. I liked it, but I am no fan of him. Maybe “Kill Bill” is a right example. Did you like it? I didn’t like it at all, but if you liked it, then there is a good chance that you might like this movie.

The movie begins in 1858, just a few years before the Civil War. Dr. King Schultz (Christoff Waltz), a dentist turned bounty hunter, forcibly takes a slave, Django (Jamie Foxx) from his recent owners. Dr. Schultz is not interested in keeping Django as a slave, but rather wants Django’s help in identifying other criminals. So he offers Django freedom, and makes him a business partner. Their “business” does quite well, and after accumulating enough money they start their quest to locate and free Django’s wife.

They learn that Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) is now on a plantation owned by Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). This man is as deplorable as they come, so Schultz and Django invent an elaborate pretext to be invited there. Not everything can go as planned, and Candie’s sycophant slave Stephen (Samuel Jackson, under a heavy makeup) sees right through them.

Just like his previous endeavour (The Inglourious Basterds) Tarantino has chosen another sensitive subject to impose his style on, and he easily succeeds. There is a lot of vintage Tarantino in the movie, especially in the scenes focused on Christoff Waltz who gives a comparable performance to his famous role in The Inglourious Basterds. These scenes, as we have come to expect now, are full of smart, witty dialogues that build up the tension required for the eventual violent follow-up. Also, we are constantly guessing as to which direction the scenes will move towards. That’s the good part.

What I specifically didn’t like was the mix up of these high quality scenes with deliberately impossible action, in the later part of the movie. Sometimes our two lead protagonists are ordinary human beings, who have to worry about things going wrong. Sometimes they can wipe out an army with a revolver that never runs out of bullets. Either one on it’s own is acceptable, but the combination did not work for me. In fact, in the end, it ruined my experience, and for a long movie like this, it’s a serious shortcoming.

The acting is generally good. Jamie Foxx has done a reasonable job, and Samuel Jackson rarely fails to deliver. Christoff Waltz, as I mentioned, is perfect. The one who impressed me most was Lionardo Do Caprio. His star image, doesn’t bring an evil Southern slave owner to mind, but he has done a wonderful wonderful job. His progression since the romantic hero of Titanic has been a joy over the years.

I repeat. If you have like his previous movies, then there is a good chance that you will like this one, else, not so much. This is correctly rated R, and has copious amounts of violence.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Kasparov On Kasparov - Part 3

Book Review : Gary Kasparov on Gary Kasparov Part 3 1993 - 2004
Author : Gary Kasparov
My Rating : 5 out of 5 stars

This is the third and last installment of Kasparov’s autobiographical look at his own games.

I have reviewed his previous books, Part 1 and Part 2. Part 3 covers his life and games from his championship match with Nigel Short, upto his last game at Linares. The format is similar to not just the previous two installments, but all the other books in his mammoth series that began with “Great Predecessors”.

Although this covers the last part of Kasparov’s chess career, it’s not the period of deteriorating results. Kasparov was the highest rated player all the way till he retired - only recently Magnus Carslen surpassed that rating. He was unquestionably the best player till his last official game, towering above his contemporaries, winning one tournament after another. A true legend, and in my view the best player ever.

Since he retired at his peak, the quality of the games in this book is astonishingly high. In fact, for a lowly amateur like me, most of the games are just too deep. There are many helpful explanations, ton of annotations, and ample diagrams. Just like his other books. They help, but this is also the period when chess went through a big transformation. Research and preparation were always part of life for a serious chess player. But the advent of affordable computing power, and increasingly smarter software assisted players in finding moves that may seem alien to humans. It led to positions where general principles were often eschewed in favor of complex calculations. Chess became more and more concrete. Kasparov masterfully adapted to this new world. No, he mastered it. Complications were always his territory, and the opening research made him even more invincible.

If computers had an impact on making games more difficult for average players like me, at the same time they also helped us enjoy the game like never before. Chess found a perfect medium - Internet -  to broadcast games to the entire world, at a very low cost. The amount of data that needs to be transferred for indicating a move, is just two coordinates, practically nothing. Because of this, many tournaments were broadcasted live. I have watched many of the games in this book live, and I remember some of them vividly. I remember my own surprise when Kasparov unleashed the Sicilian Dragon on Anand during their match. I remember how Kramnik’s Berlin Wall effectively neutralized Kasparov’s play with white pieces in their match. I even remember Kramnik’s Rb1 against Kasparov’s favorite Gruenfeld. And so on. I was lucky to witness so many great moments, and now, I get to read exactly what Kasparov was thinking and planning during these, in his own words. How he planned his strategy against specific opponents, and how it worked, is a fascinating read.

This commentary, and Kasparov’s deeply personal thoughts, make this book very very interesting, and definitely the spiciest book in his entire series. The reason is, this was also a turbulent period for Chess, especially for the title of World Champion, and Kasparov was at the absolute center of this. This book begins with his first match after he broke away from FIDE, and ends with his retirement due to the hopelessness of reunification. The feud between him and FIDE costed a great deal to the entire chess world. This is a hugely controversial issue. I remember the zealous passionate debates and extreme opinions that were expressed online and in print media. In this book you get to hear Kasparov’s side. He does accept moral responsibility, but also does not mince words when he criticizes the other side - which mostly is the FIDE, and also Kramnik who avoided playing an automatic rematch. It’s all very candid, and mostly honest, keeping in mind that this is his defense. I don’t think he is being completely truthful though. For example, he expresses regret that the reunification was not properly supported by all the grandmasters, in spite of he himself agreeing that it was not a perfect plan. That particular Prague agreement, completely left Anand stranded without a fair chance. It was so distressful to Anand that he lost almost all his games in the Dortmund tournament that he played after the announcement. So Kasparov’s complaint about not getting to play a reunification match based on such an agreement, doesn’t touch my heart considering that it was he who broke away from FIDE. There are more such instances, if you remember the not-so-distant past.

In addition to playing at the highest level to constantly prove that he was the real true chess king, Kasparov was also active in many other endeavours. He started an online chess site, tried very hard to attract corporate sponsorship for chess and became an active politician in Russia. It boggles my mind how someone can do all this, and still win consistently against the top competition. He recounts what else was going on, including his divorces, and how it all affected his play.

I highly recommend this chess treasure. The depth of the games, and the commentary that is bound to touch you emotionally, one way or another, makes it perhaps the most interesting books of the series.

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