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Archive for March, 2010

My year of reading graphic novels, thin books and light reading continues. I should be really ashamed of myself for this, but I also have a valid excuse – what can I do when there are so many graphic novels and thin books which are excellent ๐Ÿ™‚

I saw ‘Logicomix’ in the bookshop sometime back. It was a book on some of the events related to the history of 20th century mathematics, told in graphic novel form. I found the premise as well as the mode of storytelling interesting, and so I got it. I finished reading it today. Here is the review.

Summary of the review

I am giving below the summary of the story as given in the book’s inside flap.

This innovative graphic novel is based on the early life of the brilliant philosopher Bertrand Russell and his impassioned pursuit of truth. Haunted by family secrets and unable to quell his youthful curiosity, Russell became obsessed with a Promethean goal : to establish the logical foundations of all mathematics.

In his agonized search for absolute truth, Russell crosses paths with legendary thinkers like Gottlob Frege, David Hilbert and Kurt Godel, and finds a passionate student in the great Ludwig Wittgenstein. But the object of his defining quest continues to loom before him. Through love and hate, peace and war, Russell persists in the dogged mission that threatens to claim both his career and his personal happiness, finally driving him to the brink of insanity.

Logicomix is at the same time a historical novel and an accessible introduction to some of the biggest ideas of mathematics and modern philosophy. With rich characterizations and expressive, atmospheric artwork, it spins the pursuit of these ideas into a captivating tale.

Probing and ingeniously layered, the book throws light on Russell’s inner struggles while setting them in the context of the timeless questions he spent his life trying to answer. At its heart, Logicomix is a story about the conflict between an ideal rationality and the unchanging, flawed fabric of reality.


What I think

I enjoyed reading ‘Logicomix’ very much. It is a story about mathematics and philosophy in the early 20th century and the people who took part in this interesting adventure. The reader doesn’t need to have any knowledge of mathematics to appreciate the story. The authors and their team turn up in the book and narrate the story and then hand it over to Bertrand Russell, who continues it. The authors keep on popping up intermittently in the story at interesting points.

I wish the book was available when I was studying in school and college – the names and concepts that we learnt in mathematics classes come alive in this book. I still remember my first mathematics class in college – our professor taught us Eulerโ€™s formula and used it as a calculating tool for solving problems (which was really a shame!). I later appreciated the magic of Eulerโ€™s formula while reading Roger Penrose’s ‘The Road to Reality’. In the same way this book brought to the fore, the magic of set theory, the foundations of mathematics and how people sacrificed their lives and their sanity to build those foundations. It was interesting for me to learn that some of the basic mathematical notations that we use today, (like ‘for every x’ and ‘there exists an x’), were invented only around a century back. The book also touches on some of the momentous happenings in mathematics during the first half of the twentieth century – when mathematicians like Russell and Godel discovered a simple example or one theorem which rendered someone else’s lifetime work meaningless. It is one of the tragedies of mathematics that the pursuit of truth sometimes demolishes hope and beauty and shows us a truth that we don’t want to hear. Russell says these poignant lines in the book, when he narrates the story on Godel’s ‘Incompleteness Theorem’ :

“All over!” Von Neumann’s comment perfectly sums-up the essence of Godel’s proof. I know it may be hard for laypersons to understand…But for a lot of intelligent people, the Incompleteness Theorem meant the end of a Dream! The Dream had theological ancestry. Its credo had been written in Greek, two and a half millennia ago! And now suddenly, the rug had been pulled from under the feet of the dreamers. That is the beauty, that is the terror of Mathematics…There’s no getting around a proof…Even if it proves that something is unprovable!

There was also another interesting thing that I discovered – out of the mathematicians that the book mentions (the time period is the first part of the twentieth century), there are five from Germany and one each from France, Italy and Hungary. There are also four mathematicians from the UK, but that is to be expected from a book which is told from Bertrand Russell’s point of view. It looks like Germany was a centre of a lot of creative activity during the first half of the twentieth century. The book ends with the famous last scene from Aeschylus’ play ‘Oresteia‘, one of the great tragedies from ancient Greek literature.

Further Reading

‘Logicomix’ was one of the shortlisted books in the annual ‘Tournament of Books’. Unfortunately, it was pitted against ‘Wolf Hall’ by Hilary Mantel (the previous year’s Booker prize winner) and so lost in the first round. You can read about it here.

Final Thoughts

‘Logicomix’ is an innovative experiment in describing the history of mathematics in graphic novel form. I have to say it succeeds excellently. If you like mathematics and graphic novels, you will like the way both of them combine together in this book to give pleasure to the reader.

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Music and setting

I normally don’t read articles on music – I prefer to listen to music. So, when I saw this long article I thought I will give it a miss. But then, I read this paragraph and then couldn’t resist reading the rest of the article. This is how the paragraph went.

“Make no mistake : the setting matters. There are many ways to listen to classical Indian music – in the private, somewhat sterile perfection of the CDs and DVDs we play at home; in the concert sabhas of Mylapore and T.Nager; on the music channels on TV or on YouTube, which now carries a little or a lot of almost everything, often in choppy, byte-sized pieces. But I happen to think that this music sounds best outside, on a hot spring or summer night, with the taste of pollen and dust on your tongue and mosquitoes circling around your feet. Music is a tangible thing, to be felt in the pores of your skin no less than in the ear; you just can’t do that very well in the concert halls where the temperature is usually fixed at sub-Arctic levels and the amplifiers are invariably turned on too high.”


If you want to read the whole article, you can find it here.

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I discovered ‘Asterios Polyp’ by David Mazzucchelli, through a post by fellow book blogger Emily, sometime back (Thanks Emily!). I read excerpts of the book in NYT, and liked it very much. Since then, I have been waiting to get my hand on a copy of the book. Last week, when I went to the bookshop, I discovered it by accident and got it. I finished reading it today. Here is the review.

Summary of the story

I am giving below a summary of the story from the publisher’s website.

The triumphant return of one of comicsโ€™ greatest talents, with an engrossing story of one manโ€™s search for love, meaning, sanity, and perfect architectural proportions. An epic story long awaited, and well worth the wait.

Meet Asterios Polyp: middle-aged, meagerly successful architect and teacher, aesthete and womanizer, whose life is wholly upended when his New York City apartment goes up in flames. In a tenacious daze, he leaves the city and relocates to a small town in the American heartland. But what is this โ€œescapeโ€ really about?

As the story unfolds, moving between the present and the past, we begin to understand this confounding yet fascinating character, and how heโ€™s gotten to where he is. And isnโ€™t. And we meet Hana: a sweet, smart, first-generation Japanese American artist with whom he had made a blissful life. But now sheโ€™s gone. Did Asterios do something to drive her away? What has happened to her? Is she even alive? All the questions will be answered, eventually.

In the meantime, we are enthralled by Mazzucchelliโ€™s extraordinarily imagined world of brilliantly conceived eccentrics, sharply observed social mores, and deftly depicted asides on everything from design theory to the nature of human perception.

Asterios Polyp is David Mazzucchelliโ€™s masterpiece: a great American graphic novel.

What I think

‘Asterios Polyp’ is about an architecture professor and his life and loves. It is also about his philosophy of life and his ideas. The story has two strands – one which describes past events – Asterios’ time as a famous architecture professor, how he meets his wife and what happens after that. The second strand describes the present, where Asterios’ apartment has burned down, and he takes a few possessions and gets into a bus and travels to a distant town, sees an auto mechanic shop and joins there to work as a car mechanic. How things develop in the past and the present and how the two strands come together in the end form the rest of the book.

There were many interesting things for me in the story. It took me a while to notice this, but after sometime I did – when each of the characters in the story speaks, the author has lettered the words in a different style and font, unique to each character – I found this quite interesting and innovative, because I haven’t seen this in any other graphic novel.

There is a scene in the book, where Asterios reviews the architectural designs that his students have made. After doing that he says this about his students.

Asterios : Well, I have two kinds of students. Those who can’t draw, and those who can’t think. And the amount of confidence they have seems to be inversely proportional to their talent.

I found it interesting as it made me remember a similar comment made by an art teacher in a book called ‘Berlin : City of Stones’. The art teacher’s comment goes like this.

Art Teacher : No sense of coherent anatomy – an altogether plebeian grasp of line weight and gesture….Once again, I face the “artistically inclined” youth of today as Sisyphus faced his boulder. I only wish the admissions board would enumerate for me exactly what it is for which I am being punished!

There are many references to Greek literature in the story. There is one about Aristophanes’ theory which goes like this :

Aristophanes, in Plato’s ‘symposium’, is purported to suggest that human form was not always as it is today. Originally humans were spherical, with four arms, four legs, and two faces on either side of a single head. (In evolutionary terms, it’s hard to see the advantage of this construction). Such was their hubris that they dared to challenge the gods themselves. Zeus, in his wisdom, split the upstarts in two, each half becoming a distinct identity. (Plato makes clear what he thinks of this theory by having Socrates casually dismiss it). Since then, men and women have been running around in a panic, searching for their lost counterparts, in a desire to be whole again. (We should atleast give some credit to Aristophanes for originality).

There is a rendition of the story of Orpheus and Eurydice in this book, set in a modern context. What is it about Greek tragedies which makes us sad and cry even after thousands of years?

There are also beautiful lines in the book like this : “Asterios’ and Hana’s lives folded into each other with barely a wrinkle.”

I liked most of the characters in the book – especially Asterios and his wife Hana and his employer and auto mechanic shop owner, Stiff, and Stiff’s wife Ursula. I also liked the way David Mazzucchelli has used simple lines and strokes and a minimalistic style to create this complex story. Most of the illustrations show Asterios in a sideview, which is interesting and open to interpretation. The illustrations are also interesting for the insights that they inspire. One of my favourite illustrations from the book is that of a musician’s house – you can see it below. I had a friend, who was an amateur artist and booklover, whose room used to be like this (my room is better, but I am halfway there :)) If you are a booklover and spend a lot of time buying books and are struggling to find room for your beloved books in your home – your bookshelves have all been filled to capacity a long time ago and your books have started overflowing onto your tables, chairs, sofa and other furniture and in some situations onto the floor – you will identify with this picture.

The book resonated with me at many levels – when it asked questions about whether it was enough for something to be beautiful and be present in the ideal platonic world, or should it manifest itself in the real-world in a complex sub-optimal existence to realize its full meaning? (To put it in the context of the book, was it enough if one developed a wonderful architectural design on paper, or should a building be built out of it, to prove the worth of the design?), when it tried to look at the contemporary world through Greek literature, when it talked about how memories were as real as reality, when it showed how there is order in chaos in a real artist’s house, when it depicted how love is a beautiful, complex and imperfect thing. The book even makes an environmental point in the end.

‘Asterios Polyp’ is one of the best graphic novels that I have ever read. My most favourite one till now is ‘Berlin : City of Stones’. (You can find my review of it here). I think ‘Asterios Polyp’ is not far behind.

Further Reading

You can read the NYT review of the book here and the Comics Journal review of the book here.

You can also read excerpts from the book here.

Final Thoughts

‘Asterios Polyp’ is a wonderful graphic novel – a masterpiece. If you like graphic novels and enjoy complex stories told through this medium, you will like it. Recommended.

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The day before yesterday, I had to attend an event at the university in the morning. As the university is opposite to the sea shore, after the event, I decided to take a walk on the road which runs along the beach. I walked for a few kilometres till I reached the lighthouse. Then I turned to the right walked for a while, when I encountered a makeshift shop selling buttermilk. As I had been walking for a while in the sun, I had a couple of glasses of chilled buttermilk to quench my thirst. The buttermilk was divine. Then I went to my favourite bookshop and browsed books for sometime. It looked like it was going to be a good day for me, because things had gone well till then, and my time at the bookshop reaffirmed that, because I discovered a few surprise treasures. ’24 for 3′ by Jennie Walker was one of them. It was a thin gem which was hidden deep inside the bookshelf and I was lucky to find it. I finished reading it today. Here is the review.

Summary of the story

I am giving below the summary of the story as given in the back cover of the book.

Friday : as a Test match between England and India begins, a woman’sย  attention is torn between her husband’s insistence on explaining the rules of cricket, her lover’s preference for mystery, and the worrying disappearance of her sixteen-year-old stepson.By Tuesday night the outcome of the match will become clear – but whatever happens, the lives of the players will be changed forever.

24 for 3 is a funny and moving story about love, family, and whether or not one should always play by the rules.


What I think

24 for 3 is a little gem. It is more a novella than a novel (the edition I read was around 138 pages long). It is a story about life and love, with a cricket backdrop. The book seamlessly interweaves elements of cricket with events in the life of the narrator and tells a beautiful story. The main story is quite simple, but the book uses elements of cricket to ask interesting questions on life and love. The book is rich with quotable quotes – they spring up on every page.

If you are wondering what the title, ’24 for 3′ means, here is a brief explanation. 24 is the number of runs that a batting team has made in an inning of a cricket match, while 3 is the number of wickets it has lost (or batsmen / batswomen who are out). There is no upper limit to the number of runs that a team can score (though there are constraints of time), but a team has only 10 wickets in an inning to score those runs. In the traditional version of cricket which is played for five days (and which is the butt of jokes among sports fans who don’t follow cricket), each team plays two innings. In shorter versions of the game, each team plays one inning. The team which scores the highest number of runs wins the match.

I have always wondered why there are so few novels and movies which are based on cricket. It is such a rich sport and in some ways is a sporting version of life and lends itself to lots of insights on life, that it is surprising that there are not many novels or movies based on it. The only novel with a cricket background that I have read before is ‘Netherland’ by Joseph O’Neill. It is a novel set in New York and the events in the novel happen just after 9/11. I didn’t like the main characters or the story of O’Neill’s book very much, though I liked very much its descriptions of cricket and New York and its comparison of cricket and life. I haven’t seen any movie based on cricket till now – football (soccer) has its ‘Bend it like Beckham’, american football has its ‘Any Given Sunday’ and ‘The Blind Side’, tennis has its ‘Wimbledon’ and rugby has its ‘Invictus’ and so it is sad that cricket doesn’t have its movie.

’24 for 3′ as a cricket novel is the real thing – it is a novel with cricketing elements interwoven deeply into the story, that it doesn’t feel forced. It describes the life of the narrator who is a Spanish woman, and her relationship to her husband, lover and step-son and how the events of the story move with the rhythm of a cricket test match between England and India which is being played at the same time. Some of the descriptions of the match look real and the names of cricket players mentioned in the book are those of actual players. So I thought I will do some research and find out whether the cricket match described in the book was actually played. It looked quite close to the cricket series in 2007 played between England and India, with India being the underdogs and winning the series, but the scores which are mentioned in the story are fictional.

There is a character in the story called Agnieszka – the name reminded me of one of my favourite tennis players Agnieszka Radwanska, who plays tennis in an old fashioned way and constructs each point like a chess player implementing a strategy or artist giving the finishing touches to one part of his / her masterpiece.

It was interesting to read about the author after I read the book. It seems Jennie Walker is the author’s pen-name, while his real name is Charles Boyle and he is an award-winning poet. One can see the poet in many of the lines in the book. It also looked like Boyle sent this book to his literary agent and many publishers and got rejection slips from all of them. He then got it published himself. After it got a lot of critical acclaim and won a literary prize –ย  the McKitterick Prize for 2009, which is awarded for the best first novel by an author who is over forty – a mainstream publisher helped in marketing the second edition of the book. It was quite interesting to read that and it made me wonder that the books we find in the bookstore are probably a fraction of what is written, and it also made me sad to think that many excellent books fall through the cracks and will never see the light of the day.

Excerpts

I am giving below some of my favourite passages from the book.

‘Five days?’
All I’ve done is walk back into the bedroom and ask who is winning. He tells me to lie down. He tells me that this is a natural question but not the right one. Today is Friday, the match lasts until Tuesday evening, they’ve been playing for only two hours and no one can tell right now who is winning. But England are doing pretty well, considering their injury problems. He asks if I’d rather make love for ninety minutes or for five days.He tells me it’s a game involving many different skills and a lot of patience. Although there are times when outright aggression is exactly the right attitude. He tells me it can be affected by external factors : the weather, for instance, and not just when it rains – if there’s moisture in the atmosphere the ball comes through the air in different ways, it swings or turns and the bowler can more easily deceive the batter. Or the condition of the ground, whether it’s hard or soft or downright muddy. Or personal rivalries. Or delays on the Tube, or which side of the bed. Experience is good, but sometimes the rookies can do better than the older ones. They have nothing to lose.

To begin with all was goodwill and enthusiasm. Alan said that Selwyn had a natural talent. I laughed. A natural talent for swimming, I could understand. Or running. Or drinking wine or telling jokes or sex. All these are normal, rational human activities, and I can see why God might enjoy scattering at random a few especially gifted individuals – to set some standards, to give the rest of us something to live up to. The government would call them beacons of excellence. But for cricket – which may well be the most over-designed of all human activities, and is neither normal nor rational – surely no one can have a natural talent.

Alan doesn’t approve of boredom. It makes him feel guilty. This is because he’s not good at it. So he devotes enormous amounts of energy to doing battle with it : making lists and plans, being better at his job than his colleagues, cleaning his shoes, getting up early on holiday so we can fit in the flea-market and the ice-cream place before the transport museum. And, yes, watching cricket. Because I’m better at being bored, the fact that I find pretty well all of the above boring (although I did unexpectedly enjoy the transport museum) hasn’t mattered much. He used to worry about Selwyn not being ‘stimulated’ enough, but a lot of the time that was because he was jealous of Selwyn for being better at boredom than me, or for not seeing it as a problem, or for not being bored at all.

He sits in front of a computer game on a flat screen – and this is boring, because he knows how these games will end, or at any rate the people who make them do: they’re finite, and fixed. They don’t even have the appeal of sport, which is that even when one team is much better than the other, you never know for sure what’s going to happen next, and nor do the players. By five o’clock all the probabilities could be overturned. And cricket, which allows for the influence of an almost infinite number of variable factors within its Byzantine structure – even I can see this – has class.

And if being in form – your body brimming with life and confidence, alert to everything around you, your timing spot-on and your jokes all funny – equates with being in love, then Selwyn has clearly fallen out of love. With me. He no longer chases me around the kitchen with a water pistol, or puts grapes in my cup of tea. He doesn’t ask me where rain comes from, or why you can’t pee and sneeze at the same time. He no longer rushes to my bed on my birthday clutching a hand-made card with a sellotaped pop-up frog that falls out when I open it – instead, he dutifully proffers a shop-bought card with ‘love’ in some fancy typeface that mocks the real thing. I have become a type and not an individual, a representative of a category, an off-the-peg mother.

The Indians are batting again, as they did two days ago and surely they have had their turn?
‘Second innings,’ says the loss-adjuster. ‘They bat, the others bat, then the first lot again.’
‘Again?’
‘Five days…’
‘And again and again?’
‘Just twice.’
‘Oh, so it’s like that play by Samuel Beckett.’ Except that you can see the Beckett in one evening.
This changes everything. It’s not like life at all, unless you believe in reincarnation.
You get a second chance.
Everything you did wrong first time round you can now do right.
Or vice versa. But different, anyway.

‘Do you think….that I’d make a good loss-adjuster’s companion?’
‘Consort?’
‘Even better.’
‘Oh yes. I’ve known this for some time. Since Edinburgh. When you come into a room, people think they’ve gained something, whatever they’ve lost.
‘And have they?’
I’m not used to compliments, and they’re nice. They’re an underused genre. The cricket commentators use them all the time – ‘That was beautifully bowled’, ‘He plays that stroke better than anyone else in the game today’ – but not face-to-face. Do cricketers blush?
Now I have something to live up to. It’s like having a new job.

Sometimes the batter’s job is to score lots of runs as fast as he can, and sometimes it’s to stay in and not get out and the runs are secondary. The bowler’s priority is almost always to get the batter out but there are times when stopping the batter getting runs is the main thing.
God, this is a stupid game.
Agnieszka is proud, intelligent, ambitious, and she offers herself to an overweight buffoon who slouches over crosswords in the stale air of coffee bars. Selwyn – Selwyn is gorgeous, and if I were a fifteen-year-old girl I’d make sure he understands what that means – and he spends all day grumping about the injustice of the world. Me, I am married to a caring, conscientious man who rearranges cookery books by the light of the moon, and I rush away into the arms of a man who wears yellow wellington boots and whose job – and possibly whose life too, if I cared to investigate further – reeks of doom, disaster, things gone awry.
Stupid, stupid game. To decide who bats first, the umpires toss a coin. You can play the most brilliant game of your life and still end up on the losing side. You can be totally out of form and score zero and zero again and still prance with your team-mates in triumph at the end. And that’s another thing : the spraying of champagne by the winners, the conspicuous waste. Fools. Champagne is for drinking, whether you win or lose. Just pass me the bottle.

Further Reading

I read an interesting review of the book on ‘The Guardian’ which I liked very much. You can find it here.

I also read an interesting article about how the book was published in ‘The Times’. You can find it here.

Final Thoughts

’24 for 3′ is a beautiful little book. I loved it. If you are a cricket fan and like reading, you will enjoy reading this book. If you are not a cricket fan and think it is a boring game which is played over five days, but you like reading books, you will still find an interesting perspective of cricket and life in this book.

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I saw a movie called ‘Portrait of Jennie’ yesterday. It was a movie from a different era and it was beautiful and haunting. It was about an artist who finds his muse and starts producing beautiful works of art, but who is intrigued and puzzled by his mysterious muse and her secrets and her magical appearances and sudden departures. The character of Miss Spinney, the artist’s patron who is an art dealer, is played by Ethel Barrymore, great-aunt of Drew Barrymore – she was around 70 years when this movie was released, but even at that age, she looks so beautiful and graceful. I am giving below some of my favourite dialogues from the movie.

Gus : Let me put it this way, Mac. I have got a lot of respect for a guy that’s doing what he’s got to, even if, maybe, it’s killing him. You want to paint pictures, so you’re going right ahead doing it, no matter. I like that, Mac. Most of the time, fellow’s got the idea that there is nothing much to life except getting through it as easy and as comfortable as they can. Making a quarter here, a dollar there. Eating, sleeping and dying. Then a fellow like you comes along who’s not thinking too much about them things. It starts you wondering. Wondering maybe if you’re not missing something.

Miss Spinney : You know, something about you appeals to me.
Eben Adams : I can’t imagine what.
Miss Spinney : I think you are like the beau I wanted when I was young. When I was doubting myself.
Eben Adams : Not you, too?
Miss Spinney : Even me. Look what it’s brought me. Just a frustrated old maid, lecturing a frustrated young artist.

Eben Adams : Maybe I will paint only one important painting in my life, that much I know I can do.
Miss Spinney : A Portrait of Jennie?
Eben Adams : Yes. It’s the first and only thing I have ever been sure of in my life.
Miss Spinney : But you couldn’t do it without her.
Eben Adams : Of course not.
Miss Spinney : Suppose she doesn’t make another appearance?
Eben Adams : I can’t even think of that.
Miss Spinney : I didn’t realize how much you needed her. It took you a long time to find something to bring your talent to life. You couldn’t find it, so…
Eben Adams : So you think I created her, because I needed her for…
Miss Spinney : Inspiration? Perhaps. Maybe you really saw her, maybe you didn’t. What is the difference? As you grow older, you will learn to believe in lots of things you can’t see. Better get that canvas ready for her.

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Here is the second part of the February 2010 edition of ‘Delightful moments at the movies’ ๐Ÿ™‚

(1) Before Sunrise โ€“ Directed by Richard Linklater Lead Actors and Actresses : Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy โ€“ Saw ‘Before Sunset’ a few years back and liked it very much and so have been wanting to see its prequel ‘Before Sunrise’ since then. A beautiful movie which only has a marathon conversation between the main characters, in Vienna, during the course of a night. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy have done quite well, though I liked Julie Delpy’s character a little bit more. ‘Before Sunrise’ is better than ‘Before Sunset‘, though ‘Before Sunset’ is also good. One of my favourite movies of the year!

(2) Rules of Engagement โ€“ Directed by William Friedkin โ€“ Lead Actors and Actresses : Tommy Lee Jones, Samuel L.Jackson, Guy Pearce, Ben Kingsley, Bruce Greenwood, Anne Archer โ€“ Legal drama based on a war scene. A bit disappointing. Some of the scenes reminds one of ‘A Few Good Men’. But ‘A Few Good Men’ is a wonderful movie with stellar performances by most of the cast (Tom Cruise, Demi Moore, Jack Nicholson), but though here there areย  heavyweight actors here, in Tommy Lee Jones, Samuel Jackson, Ben Kingsley and Guy Pearce, the movie somehow doesn’t work. There is no surprise in the end and things are a bit too predictable.

(3) Half Light โ€“ Directed by Craig Rosenberg โ€“ Lead Actresses and Actors : Demi Moore, Henry Ian Cusick, Kate Isitt, Hans Matheson, James Cosmo, Joanna Hole, Beans El-Balawi โ€“ Saw a Demi Moore film after a long time. She looks as young as ever! It was an interesting thriller which grabbed my attention, but unfortunately, towards the end, everything became predictable – like a 1950s/1960s murder mystery. The scenes in the movie have been sculpted beautifully and the locale – seaside Wales – is breathtakingly beautiful.

(4) Kettle of Fish โ€“ Directed by Claudia Myers โ€“ Lead Actors and Actresses : Matthew Modine, Gina Gershon, Christy Scott Cashman, Isiah Whitlock Jr. โ€“ Nice romantic comedy about a sax musician in a nightclub and a biologist who is his roommate and starts her acquaintance with him by hating him. I didn’t know any of the actors or actresses but liked most of them. Matthew Modine does well in his role as a sax musician in a nightclub and Gina Gershon does well as the biologist. Christy Scott Cashman as the wife of a rich man does well too. Ending is predictable, but the movie was romantic. There is an interesting romance between a frog (the biologist’s) and a goldfish (the musician’s). Was surprised to find that this movie didn’t have a Wikipedia entry – even the vaguest movies have. Looks like it didn’t do too well in the box office. It is sad, because the movie was actually nice.

(5) Analyze This โ€“ Directed by Harold Ramis โ€“ Lead Actors and Actresses : Robert De Niro, Billy Crystal, Lisa Kudrow โ€“ Robert De Niro plays the role of a mobster and Billy Crystal is his psychiatrist. Lisa Kudrow is Billy Crystal’s character’s girlfriend. Nice comedy. De Niro does well – after the critically acclaimed hits of his younger days, he has reinvented himself as an elderly comedian now.

(6) Rails and Ties โ€“ Directed by Alison Eastwood โ€“ Lead Actors and Actresses : Kevin Bacon, Marcia Gay Harden, Miles Heizer โ€“ Story about a train driver who has an accident which kills a woman, who commits suicide on the tracks. An added complexity is that the son of the woman who died, likes the train driver and his wife, and becomes a part of their family. Kevin Bacon does excellently in the role of the train driver and husband and mentor to the young boy – he shows all the vulnerability of the family man on his face. It is sad that in the first part of his career, he was just given bit-parts and it is nice that he is getting meatier roles now. Marcia Gay Harden plays the role of the wife of Kevin Bacon’s character and does quite well.

(7) Mama Mia! โ€“ Directed by Phyllida Lloyd โ€“ Lead Actresses and Actors : Meryl Streep, Amanda Seyfried, Pierce Brosnan, Julie Walters, Christiane Baranski, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard โ€“ Interesting story about a girl who invites three men (one of whom could be her actual father) to her wedding. Reminded me of a movie called ‘Definitely, Maybe’ which I saw sometime back, which had similar elements in its plot. The film has all the famous ABBA songs and so is a pleasure to listen and watch. I loved the performance of Meryl Streep (the mom), Amanda Seyfriend (the daughter) and all the three former boyfriends of Streep’s character, one of whom is played by Pierce Brosnan (why did he walk out of the Bond role? Sad!)

(8) The Time Traveler’s Wife โ€“ Directed by Robert Schwentke โ€“ Lead Actors and Actresses : Rachel McAdams, Eric Bana โ€“ Interesting story about a time traveller and about his beloved and his family. Rachel McAdams as the time traveller’s girlfriend and wife does well (I really liked her role as Irene Adler in ‘Sherlock Holmes‘ and her performance in this movie is nice as well). My favourite character was the younger version of the heroine played by Brooklynn Proulx. Earlier the only way to write story about time travel, was to write a science fiction novel about it. Audrey Niffenegger has used the premise to write a love story (on which this movie is based) which is wonderful!

(9) Under the Tuscan Sun โ€“ Directed by Audrey Wells โ€“ Lead Actresses and Actors : Diane Lane, Sandra Oh, Raoul Bova, Pawel Szajda, Lindsay Duncan, Giulia Stiegerwalt โ€“ Beautiful story about a woman whose husband leaves her and how she is able to find her life and love after moving to Italy. The Italian culture and people depicted in the movie are very wonderful. I am hoping to read the book (the memoir of Frances Hayes) on which the movie is based, sometime. Diane Lane does well in the leading role, while her character’s Italian boyfriend Marcello (played by Raoul Bova) also does very well. Liked the way Italian men are portrayed in the movie – handsome, masculine and flirting with women all the time (though I suspect that it is just the archetype and not true). Loved the movie. One of my favourites out of the ones that I have seen this year.

(10) Love Happens โ€“ Directed by Brandon Camp โ€“ Lead Actors and Actresses : Jennifer Aniston, Aaron Eckhart โ€“ Story about a bestseller writer who helps others overcome grief, but who doesn’t recognize his own grief. Liked watching Aaron Eckhart and Jennifer Aniston, but something didn’t come together in the movie and though it was nice in parts, overall it wasn’t satisfying. Also Eckhart does quite poorly in the emoting scenes, which was disappointing, because I have liked all of his movies that I have watched till now (Erin Brockovich, No Reservations, The Core). It is difficult to believe that Jennifer Aniston has crossed forty now – she is so beautiful!

(11) Alex and Emma โ€“ Directed by Rob Reiner โ€“ Lead Actors and Actresses : Luke Wilson, Kate Hudson, Sophie Marceau โ€“ Watched it for the Nth time! It is a movie about how a novelist has to finish writing a novel within thirty days to repay his debt and how he uses his own life experiences to write the novel, and how, in the process, he falls in love with the lady from the stenographer agency who transcribes his novel. Loved Kate Hudson’s role in the movie. It was also interesting to see Luke Wilson’s character trying to write a novel – the process described is very real and true (many times authors don’t know how a particular scene will turn out or how the novel will end), though the movie is a comedy.

(12) The Road โ€“ Directed by John Hillcoat โ€“ Lead Actors and Actresses : Viggo Mortensen, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Charlize Theron, Robert Duvall โ€“ Film adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy novel. Bleak from the beginning to the end, though the ending offers a ray of hope. The landscape, the sky, the houses, the road, the sea – they are all grey. It looks like the director didn’t need any colour to film this sombre story. I read somewhere that the role of Charlize Theron’s character has been expanded in the movie, when compared to the book. She does well in her role. I haven’t read any Cormac McCarthy novel before, but with the kind of bleak tone the movie had, I think one needs to be in the right mood to read any of McCarthy’s works. I am surprised that this movie was not one of the ten nominees for the Best Picture Oscar this year. Maybe this is the year of the sunshine movies – most of the nominees I have seen make one happy and smile in the end. I have seen Director John Hillcoat’s movie ‘The Proposition’ before and liked it very much. It has its violent and dark moments but was wonderful overall. I would rate it higher in terms of likeability, though in terms of cinematic art, ‘The Road’ is at the same level.

(13) P.S. I love you – Directed by Richard LaGravenesseLead Actresses and Actors : Hilary Swank, Gerard Butler, Lisa Kudrow, Gina Gershon, Kathy Bates, Jeffrey Dean Morgan – Old-fashioned romantic movie about a young woman who loses her husband with whom she is very much in love with and how her husband had arranged for his letters to reach her which show her how to get on with her life. I loved the movie! I can’t imagine Hilary Swank in a romantic movie, but she does quite well. Gerard Butler looks cool! I loved the song ‘I took a stroll on the old long walk’ which comes in the movie – it is so wonderful that I couldn’t get the song out of my head ๐Ÿ™‚ You can see two versions of the song here (how it comes in the movie) and here (has movie scenes with singer and lyricist Steve Earle’s voice). Jeffrey Dean Morgan plays the role of an Irish singer and he looked to me like Javier Bardem. Critics seem to have panned this movie, which is sad. (It is like some of those unhappy people I have met, who say that icecream and chocolates are bad – what do they know about icecreams and chocolates!!) Critics have even panned the above song! (If you do see the videos do tell me whether you agree with me or with the critics :)) I am glad that movie makers don’t listen to critics and continue making romantic movies! Thank God for romantic movies! I was in a terrible mood when I sat to watch this movie and by the end I was laughing and crying – that is what an old-fashioned romantic movie can do. I am going to unashamedly say that it is one of my favourite movies of the year ๐Ÿ™‚ I am going to watch it again ๐Ÿ™‚

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Here is the first part of the February 2010 edition of ‘Delightful moments at the movies ๐Ÿ™‚

Present nominees (all kinds!)

(1) Up in the Air โ€“ Directed by Jason Reitman โ€“ Lead Actors and Actresses : George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick โ€“ Story about a chap who is a ‘corporate downsizer’ and whose job it is to tell people they are fired. A new greenhorn who joins his company tries to save travel costs by trying to do this highly personal and sensitive activity over video conference. This affects our hero who is having an affair with someone whom he meets at airports. George Clooney does well in the main role, while Vera Farmiga as the fellow frequent flyer and his romantic interest and Anna Kendrick as his new team member with innovative ideas do well. There are shades of ‘Intolerable Cruelty’ in this movie (a chap cynical about relationships but who becomes a romantic later), but I liked this movie more. My most favourite scene in the movie was when George Clooney’s character convinces his sister’s boyfriend, who has developed cold feet, to proceed with the marriage. I wasn’t sure how it would go, but the scene went off well and it was quite convincing.

(2) Invictus โ€“ Directed by Clint Eastwood โ€“ Lead Actors and Actresses : Morgan Freeman, Matt Damon, Adjoa Andoh โ€“ Inspiringย  movie. I didn’t know a lot about the history of the 1995 Rugby world cup and so it was nice to know that through this movie. Freeman is perfect in his role as Mandela. It was interesting to see Matt Damon speak in a South African accent. I also liked the character of Mandela’s chief of staff played by Adjoa Andoh.

(3) District 9 โ€“ Directed by Neill Blomkamp โ€“ Lead Actors and Actresses : Sharlto Copley, Jason Copes, David James โ€“ Movie about aliens landing in South Africa and how the South African government handles it. The movie is made like a fictional documentary. There are shades of ‘Avatar’ and ‘Dances with Wolves’ in the movie, but the details are different. Liked the character played by Sharlto Copley (as the official incharge of evicting the alients) and one of the aliens, Christopher Johnson (played by Jason Copes). Found the movie a bit difficult to watch.

(4) Sherlock Holmes โ€“ Directed by Guy Ritchie โ€“ Lead Actors and Actresses : Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Rachel McAdams, Mark Strong โ€“ Interesting interpretation of the Sherlock Holmes stories. Robert Downey Jr. does well as Holmes and Jude Law plays an interesting version of Dr.Watson. I liked Jude Law’s performance very much. The version of Sherlock Holmes and James Watson of the movie combine both detection and action and are ready to fight with the bad guys when needed. Sometimes Watson proves his deductive skills too by making inferences as fast as Holmes. The character of Irene Adler is portrayed well by Rachel McAdams – mysterious and mischievous. Loved the references to different characters and events in Sherlock Holmes stories.

Past nominees (all kinds!)

(5) My Cousin Vinny โ€“ Directed by Jonathan Lynn โ€“ Lead Actors and Actresses : Joe Pesci, Marisa Tomei, Fred Gwynne โ€“ Saw this movie for the Nth time ๐Ÿ™‚ Joe Pesci is nice in the role of a budding lawyer and Maris Tomei as Pesci’s girlfriend is brilliant (she won a best supporting Oscar for her role in this movie). Fred Gwynne as the Judge is wonderful! I don’t know why I haven’t seen any movies of his, before – he is really good.

(6) Chocolat โ€“ Directed by Lasse Hallstrom โ€“ Lead Actresses and Actors : Juliette Binoche, Johnny Depp, Judi Dench, Alfred Molina, Leslie Caron, Victoire Thivisol, Carrie-Ann Moss โ€“ Saw this movie many years back in the theatre and saw it again on TV. The freshness of the movie is still intact and Juliette Binoche is as wonderful as ever. It is sad that she is not getting the kind of opportunities she deserves for her talent. Johnny Depp is cool in his role.

Part 2 follows soon ๐Ÿ™‚

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