Movie Review: Outsourced

Coming from the land of the perennially outraged, I was prepared to be extremely open-minded about this movie. And so I was, so perhaps my review is more balanced that it perhaps deserves.

Story: Todd Anderson works in the call centre for an American company, churning out American gimmicky products, for the American public, in America. The stuff is made in China though, and, to cut costs, his department is being outsourced. To where? India.

If the injury of losing his job wasn’t bad enough, the indignity of having to train his replacement and the team is also heaped on his plate. His manager inveigles him with the threat of losing stock options in a bad economy.

So Todd flies to India.

Review: The movie was very funny, but very superficially. I did laugh at the Indian accent turning ‘Todd’ to ‘Toad’. I laughed at the cow in the office. The half-finished office. I laughed when he did a Salman Khan dance too.

Jolly good! *head wobble*

But it is a glaring example of poverty porn. The guy lands in Mumbai, the commercial capital of the country, and see only shacks and shanties lining the road. He gets down to catch a ferry near the Gateway of India, which happens to be cheek by jowl with Taj and Oberoi. All three edifices are kept out of the frame, possibly to reinforce the rundown-ness of this mosquito-infested, cow-ridden country. It is sad, because right now I am typing this post on a MacBook Air, seated under a Daikin airconditioner, in a glitzy office, in Mumbai. [Let’s ignore the fact that I am meant to be working.] And the impression people have of India is that it is a bunch of yokels, chasing after cows.

Story: There is a story. That’s about the extent to which it is gotten right. The rest is a mad mix of romance, comedy, and drama. And not in a good way. There are no surprises, everything is a trope, and everything is exaggerated. Case in point: a guy wants to put up pictures of his family in his cubicle, so he wallpapers every conceivable surface at his disposal with the photographs. Unless he has a 1000 family members, this is unnecessary and excessive.

Characters: One-dimensional, nonsensical, and stereotypical.

Acting: Awful, hammy performances.

What I liked: It was funny in parts. But that’s because of the afore-mentioned open-minded approach, and my idiotic sense of humour.

What I disliked: Everything.

Rating:

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Series Review: Bitten

I have to admit that I am a sucker for supernatural series, books, and movies, which is probably evident from the number of them I have reviewed thus far.

Bitten is another in a long list of series that I have started, and instantly regretted. But because I possess an unrelentingly completionist character flaw, I couldn’t stop.

Premise: Elena Michaels is the only female werewolf in the world. She belongs to the American Pack, but has chosen to distance herself from the violence that seems to be part and parcel of that world. Part of her decision stems from a similar need to distance herself from Clayton Danvers, her ex-fiancé. However, when the alpha, Jeremy Danvers, calls due to a situation, she heeds his call to go back. Season 1 focuses on her trying to keep her new life and old from intermingling. The subsequent two seasons have other overarching storylines, but would involve spoilers even for a bare outline.

Review: Bitten is not a great show. It had a solid premise, and I believe it was based on a series of best-selling books. The trouble with adaptations, even though series are more suited to long-form storytelling like books as compared to movies, is that they lose some of the instinctive sense that the original author possesses. Case in point is Game of Thrones. Anyway, I digress.

Theme: The show is an unrelenting drama. And when I say unrelenting, I mean that the drama is ceaseless. There are very few notes of humour leavening the heaviness, and those are few and far between. In fact, I only saw those in the first season, because as members of the Pack started to get killed off, none of the characters retained a modicum of happiness in the avalanche of their grief, desire for revenge, and constant issues.

While there is nothing wrong with dramas, the viewer tires of so much seriousness. Also, some of the issues are not developed convincingly, thus making them hard to support emotionally. By the time I reached the end of the show, there was a strong sense of “Get over yourselves!”.

The tone was disappointing by overall it was possible to overlook. What was utterly ridiculous was a lack of background development. The potential was glaringly there, but not used at all. The wolves’ mythology wasn’t explored, until the second season, and it was a blink-and-miss moment.

Characters: Unrelatable, flat, and one-dimensional characters. No doubt the actors were good, but they had very little to work with. The only person with a seemingly faceted personality is Clayton Danvers, but it is the barest flicker. Elena Michaels is whiny, damaged, and constantly sighing and complaining. Jeremy Danvers is strong and authoritative. Nick Sorrentino is fun and charming, and later also a little damaged. Logan is supportive, till he has problems, then he becomes the ultimate whiner.

Acting: I imagine the actors are good, but due to the paucity of material, they probably couldn’t do much.

What I liked: The premise is interesting. I also like the foreshadowing in some bits. It was very subtly done and natural, and I only caught it because I am an obsessive dissector of stories and dialogues.

What I disliked: The character development, story development, the lack of tone, the unresolved issues, and so on.

Rating: ✩✩

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Book Review: Being Mortal

 

I have no idea why I picked up this book, and what I was expecting to glean from it. But the fact remains that it is a seminal piece of work, and everyone should read it.

Ok, now that the first flames of ardency have waned a bit, I can be slightly more balanced. But I still think it is an important work, for those who fear ageing and those who have ageing/terminally ill family to look after.

Author: Atul Gawande

Premise: The book is divided into progressive chapters, tackling every step of the terminally ill cycle of a patient. Each chapter takes a few perspectives into consideration: the clinician’s, the immediate family member, and last but not least, the person in question. The chapters progress upon the insights from the previous chapter, and at the end of the book, there is a clear journey from one standpoint to another.

The book relies heavily on case studies to illustrate its point, but without taking away their humanity from the people concerned. There is sensitivity and deep honesty about failings and strengths in equal measure, even on the author’s side.

One factor I loved about this book is that the narrative is not punctured with references. It is smooth and definitely structured, and those looking for facts and figures to back up assertions can find them after the epilogue, neatly codified for easy extraction.

Writing: Beautiful, uncomplicated prose. In fact, and I don’t know know that it is fair to Atul Gawande to make this comparison, the writing for me is reminiscent of another physician: Siddhartha Mukherjee. Mukherjee is one of my favourite authors, and his Emperor of Maladies deserves full credit for hooking my interest to medical non-fiction.

The editing is stellar, and each chapter is a definite and complete in of itself, while still flowing seamlessly from and to the preceding and succeeding chapters.

Pace: This was not an easy book for me to read, as it contained a lot of information. Secondly, it described medical conditions explicitly, and I winced with the imagined pain of it all. It is not a long book, and yet it took me ages to get through, therefore it that sense it is my pace I am judging.

Conclusion: I cannot say I enjoyed this book, because it wasn’t meant to be entertainment. It provokes deep scrutiny of oneself and that it is its goal. To that end, the book is an unmitigated success.

It is my opinion, and based solely on the book, that Gawande wrote this book to make something of his own loss. Although his learnings preceded those events, he saw firsthand how it materially worked on a deeply personal level. Because I picked up this book, expecting a treatise on coming to terms with death, I was taken unawares at first. But ultimately, I identified with his emotions, even though he merely implied them.

Rating: ✩✩✩✩✩

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Movie Review: Hawaa Hawaai

Going for a movie with my parents was one of my great pleasures in life. We drove down to the theatre, usually with pre-booked tickets in the comfy sofa seats, bought sundry snacks, and sat down to a few hours of mindless entertainment in comfort. Nowadays, with dad gone, we’ve stopped going. But there was a time where one or sometimes two movies a week was the norm.

A few years ago, a common trailer was played before several of the movies. It was of Hawaa Hawaai, and it seemed like a down-on-his-luck guy comes out on top story. I love those kinds of movies, plus it had something to do with skating. And lastly, I loved this song that played when the trailer came on. It was just lovely. [Doesn’t have subtitles, sorry, but this is a pretty decent translation.]

Story: The story opens with a young boy, Arjun Waghmare, sitting next to his dad, praying. The rest of him family is around, smiling. The next scene, you see Arjun  getting a job with a tea stall owner. His mother stands next to him, extremely distraught, but he convinces her to let him work.

As the movie unfolds, the viewer is taken through Arjun’s day to day existence as a poverty-stricken child in Mumbai. His father has passed on, and the boy does his best to help his mother run the household, as does all the members of the close-knit family. He has a bunch of friends, all working children, who eat lunch together and have each others’ backs.

The tea stall is set up in the parking lot of commercial complex. However, at night, it transforms into a classroom for skating children, taught by a dedicated trainer, Aniket Bhargava. Arjun is fascinated by the skates, and wants to try doing it.

When the skates prove too expensive for their combined slender means, the boys band together and make a pair of skates out of refuse. The trainer is so impressed, he volunteers to train Arjun for the next skating competition.

Review: The story is an upbeat one, but there are so many underlying subtle commentaries about social ills: genetically modified grains destroying farming families, poverty in the cities, childhood labour, disgraceful medical facilities, and so on. The subtexts are so powerful, their sorrow sometimes overwhelms the narrative, although in a necessary way. Basically, I was in tears several times.

Story: Beautiful story, with well-executed story arcs. Only, at the end of the second act, the major setback was too contrived for my taste. The director did build up to it, but it was too coincidental. Somehow, in stories, coincidences are irksome, even though they do occur in real life too!

Characters: Immensely relatable characters, with complex personalities and true pathos. Indescribably transcendent.

Acting: Terrific performances, especially from the child actors. They could have been real street children, lifted from the slums of Dharavi.

What I liked: Everything. I usually avoid dramas, because the sorrow lingers far longer than the happiness. But in this movie’s case, it was worth it. Yes, there is happiness with a good outcome, but it doesn’t change the fundamental sorrow at the heart of this movie: that father’s death.

What I disliked: Nothing. Beautiful, beautiful movie.

Rating: ✩✩✩✩✩

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Movie Review: Stardust

I watched Stardust again after a very long time. I remember chancing upon it quite by accident, before I’d heard of Neil Gaiman, let alone read any of his books.

I loved it the first time around, so I was quite pleased to watch it again. Sufficient time had elapsed, so the story was familiar enough for me to pick up on smaller details I missed the last time, and yet be delighted anew.

Case in point: I never noticed the embroidered waistcoats of the princes of Stormhold. Of course, Mark Strong acts in a way that makes me swoon, but really this was a gross oversight.

Story: The village of Wall in England, gets its name from a long wall that borders it on one side. Dunstan Thorn crosses the wall, and visits a market in the magical world of Stormhold. He meets an enslaved girl, who says she is a princess, and invites him into her caravan.

Nine months later, Dunstan receives a baby in a basket; his son Tristan.

Tristan grows up, and tried everything to woo a local heartbreaker named Victoria. He is an unremarkable person on the surface of it, and Victoria appears to prefer Humphrey more. Until Tristan promises to bring back a bit of a star that he sees has fallen to the earth.

Now the star is Yvaine, and she’s been knocked out of the night sky by the king of Stormhold’s enchanted necklace. Since he has more than one surviving son, the one that possesses the necklace is next in line to rule.

Add to this chaos, three witches see the falling star and are after her for her heart.

There is so much complexity to this story, it is fantastic.

Review: I read much later that the book was better. Of course, it always is, but I hadn’t and still haven’t read the book. I love the movie. Perhaps once I read the book, I might change my tune.

Story: A fairytale story of magic, good and evil, romance, laughter, and so much more. There is danger, and killing is quite casual to be honest. Some of the humour is so subtle, it is perfect.

Characters: The characters are supremely one-dimensional. They have one motivating factor, and that’s it. The only one with any depth is Captain Shakespeare. Hilarious and poignant all at the same time.

Acting: What incredible actors. Mark Strong, Robert de Niro, and Michelle Pfeiffer were incredible. This is the movie I developed a crush on Ben Barnes for his tiny role as young Dunstan Thorn.

What I liked: Gorgeously sumptuous movie, with extravagant sets and locales. The fast-paced momentum was great, but I truly loved the editing. The story was wonderful too, and while it had plot holes, it didn’t matter to me. The whole thing was a dramatic extravaganza.

What I disliked: Loved it all.

Rating: ✩✩✩✩✩

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Movie Review: The Conjuring

I adore horror movies, even though I am desperately afraid of watching them. When I was young, I devoured movies like Poltergeist and the like without feeling the smallest twinge of fear. As an adult though? Total. Chicken. Shit.

To be fair, horror movies aren’t that scary any more. I found Scream to be a total yawnfest. But I heard the buzz about The Conjuring, and I was agog to watch it. Now, no one in my family enjoys horror, much less paying for the experience. So I had to wait till it was released on Netflix.

Worth it.

Story: The Perron family, parents and five daughters (!), move into a huge house in Rhode Island. The family is mostly keen to settle into this big house, with room for them all, except for the eldest. The dog too refuses to enter the house.

From the first night itself, weird stuff begins to happen. Clocks all stop and the family dog is found dead outside. An unseen force is taking control of one of the daughters too. In mounting panic and dread, the family consults with noted demonologists.

Enter: Ed and Lorraine Warren. They set about bringing in the church and trying to figure out what is happening in the house. It is bad, very, very bad.

Review: The movie is insanely frightening, because the family seems so normal. Mother, father, siblings, and dog. Straitened circumstances. Old house that needs fixing up. The scares are legitimately awful.

Story: I read somewhere that there were continuity goofs and so on, but I couldn’t care less. I was gripped with the steadily escalating horror. In the climax, it could really have gone either way. [I know this is a movie, and everything usually turns out well, but they killed the dog! All bets were off.]

Characters: Fantastic characterisation. Fear and terror brings out either the worst or best in people. This movie was an excellent showcase of that.

Acting: Excellent, understated performances.

What I liked: It wasn’t a predictable plot, although the plot isn’t new. The cinematography and editing is tight, and extremely well-executed. There is no spare fat in this movie.

What I disliked: They kill off the dog. 😦

Rating: ✩✩✩✩

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Book Review: Killing Floor

I have to admit, I only picked up this book because it was the first in the series of Jack Reacher novels. And I had watched the film and loved it. I thought I had outgrown this genre of novel, having subsisted on an diet comprising Robert Ludlum (not the ghost-written rubbish) and Arthur Hailey and the like, for a large chunk of my teenage years. Both the authors, especially Hailey, wrote well, and wrote gripping tales with a great deal of sadness and loss woven into the violence and action. I was tired of it. I think the last one I read was Arthur Hailey’s Strong Medicine, and I had had enough of gritty, complex thrillers.

Author: Lee Child

Story: Jack Reacher is an ex-military policeman, jobless and roaming America driven largely by whims. He alights from a bus at Margave, Georgia, again on a whim, and decides to have breakfast at a cafe. In a matter of hours from his arrival in the small, sleepy town, he is arrested for murder.

He is innocent, but spends a weekend in prison with another man. When he is almost killed in a clearly staged prison execution, he gets out angry and wanting answers. His weekend cellmate disappears, but leaves behind more questions than answers. Reacher knows something big is going down in the small town, but he has no idea what.

Writing: The writing is in first-person, so there is no information the reader has that Reacher doesn’t have. It is an interesting perspective for me, because I haven’t often read first person narratives. The scene is unfolding in front of my eyes, and all Reacher’s back story is contained in his thoughts. Fascinating!

Secondly, the sentences were in short staccato bursts. Fragments and clauses in punchy adjective-noun pairings. (<- Like this one.) It made so much sense because it mirrors a person’s thought. Who thinks in full sentences anyway? I found myself devouring pages and pages of the book at a rapid clip.

Characters: Jack Reacher is a tough, intelligent, salt-of-the-earth protagonist, who is fair and loyal, but not sweet or nice. He appears to be good-looking, doesn’t discriminate, and is a pin up for both boys and girls alike. He is the hero. Plain and simple. But he is also human, and prone to mistakes. What he isn’t is depressed, moody, alcoholic, generally plagued with nightmares and moralistic morasses. Whew. After the Bourne series, I was done with that sort of broodiness.

Pace: There is action on every single page. There are twists that are unexpected, but since you are following along with the story in Jack Reacher’s mind, you can see how things unfold. He reaches the same conclusions you have, because you have the same information he has. I loved the fact that Child doesn’t assume an idiot will read his novel. Early on, the first murder victim was kicked around by a maniac. Reacher doesn’t know who this maniac is; but he finds out eventually. It is a dawning realisation of putting pieces together logically, but the conclusion isn’t spelled out at all. You only know he knows when he sees the same man come after him, and he thinks about how this maniac kicked around the victim. Brilliant stuff.

Conclusion: Loved the book, and now want to read the whole series. I was under the impression that I had lost my taste for thrillers, but I haven’t. I am just tired of the grittiness in all the others. I like this one very much indeed.

Rating: ✩✩✩✩✩

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