Monday, July 30, 2007


In this day and age, when most big-budget blockbusters are special effects-driven, it takes something special for a movie to amaze us with its computer graphics and special effects alone. Transformers manages to do that. Unlike in the case of Superman, Batman and other superheroes, I've had no exposure to the toys or comics that this film is supposedly based on but the film's special effects and action sequences kept me pinned to my seat for its entire running time.

The factor that works to the movie's advantage is that the basic premise - robots take the shape of a variety of automobiles and then transform back when the need arises - never gets old until the end credits roll. The sequences where different vehicles like cars, trucks, tanks, fighter planes and helicopters turn into robots are always thrilling. We know its computer graphics but they do look realistic enough to seem like working, mechanical models and that makes the transformation acts really cool. Some moments where the vehicles transform in mid-air before smoothly launching into an attack and a couple of slo-mo shots of the transformations are particularly spectacular and elicited many involuntary "Wow!"s from me.

But its good that the special effects are so fantastic since the movie offers precious little apart from that. The story is simplistic to the point of being silly and none of the characters make an impression. The humor is pretty lame (actually, there are some mild laughs from the humans like Shia LaBeouf, his dad and the hacker. But the robots' attempts at humor, like when they use street slang they picked up on the way, fall flat. It would've been much better if they had remained serious and left the humor to the human characters). The fight sequences between the robots sometimes get confusing since its not clear what exactly is happening due to a hyperactive camera and director Bay's tendency for quick cuts.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Ooh La La La

Tonight, Sun TV had the first episode(atleast, thats what it seemed like. I'm not sure since I did not watch Sun TV last Sunday) of Ooh La La La, a talent hunt show for Tamil music bands. It is being conducted by A.R.Rehman and the program seemed to offer something different from the usual cinema-based programs on Sun TV on quite a few counts.

I am genuinely surprised that there are so many indie music bands in TamilNadu. When it comes to Tamil music, I listen almost exclusively to film music. But seeing the number of bands vying for a chance on Ooh La La La, it looks like the non-film, pop music industry is pretty big in Tamil too. A pleasant surprise was that the bands sang their own compositions rather than existing film songs. That differentiated the program from other talent shows right off the bat. Though only small bits of the songs performed by the bands were shown, many were catchy and a good sign that they were all pretty talented. 18 bands were selected for the quarter-finals in today's program and it looks like the actual competition, with the bands singing on stage, will be shown from next week's program.

The selected bands got to meet ARR. Disappointingly, they barely showed what he spoke to them (in the little they showed, he spoke fully in English. Considering this was Sun TV and these were all Tamil bands, I'm not sure why he had to talk in English completely). Maybe he wanted to keep focus on the bands themselves. If that really was his idea then thats pretty good but it would've been nice to hear him speak too.

A top spot will bring the band good publicity, boost album sales and maybe even snag them a recording contract. Good luck to all the bands...

Tuesday, July 24, 2007


Kireedam is a remake of a Malayalam film of the same name from 14 years ago. The original, inspite of having a star like Mohanlal in the lead, seemed to revolve around a father's dreams for his son and his sadness as the dreams come crashing down. With Ajith in the lead, the Tamil remake is understandably more hero-centric. It is only a small shift, which by itself is a pleasant surprise, but that is all that is needed to dilute the emotional core of the film and make it seem more like a retread of many other rowdy-themed Tamil films than the remake of a classic.

It is pretty obvious that Ajith is pretty confused about the direction his career should take. A bit too old to play the loverboy roles that brought him stardom, box-office success and some of his most memorable roles, he opted for the masala route, playing image-boosting, fan-targeted roles in several masala films. They didn't bring him much success with only a few hits in the middle of a long string of flops. With Aazhwaar being a particularly huge dud, he has opted for a change of pace with Kireedam. It is a down-to-earth story where sentiments play a key part and the film eschews things like punch dialogs and graphics-aided stunts, which have become staple fare in films by our heroes. It is a welcome move by the actor and a step in the right direction to be taken seriously as an actor again.

Rajarajan(Rajkiran), a head constable at a police station in Tiruchi, has only 1 dream in life - to see his eldest son Shaktivel(Ajith) join the police force as a sub-inspector. Shakti seems well on his way to fulfilling his father's dream as he is called for an interview. Things progress smoothly on the personal front too as Shakti falls for Divya(Trisha) and their families accept their romance wholeheartedly. While he is away for the interview, Rajarajan gets transferred to Kodikarai, a troubled area where a local dada Varadhan(Ajay) holds sway. Shakti is forced to clash with Varadhan when he attacks Shakti's father and that sets off a series of events that threaten Shakti's attempts to join the force.

The movie doesn't quite set things in place for the emotional impact it hopes to extract later. There are some sequences that work(like the confusion in Ajith's house as Trisha enters searching for the thief) but the proceedings are never engrossing(the abrupt editing could have something to do with it too). Rajkiran and Ajith do create a likeable father-son pair but the emotions never reach the level needed to draw us in. The romance between Ajith and Trisha is also quite superficial. The effect of this lack of emotional depth isn't seen until much later though. The characters go through a lot of pain and suffering but we watch them with a detached air.

Its quite possible that the story of a man who is forced to turn to violence due to circumstances was new when the Malayalam original was released. But we only recently had a slew of movies in Tamil where the hero was a rowdy. Though most of these had a protagonist who was a rowdy by choice, there were a few(like Thamizh and Agaram, to name a couple) where the unwilling hero was pushed into a life of rowdyism. That's what happens to Ajith here and so everything seems too familiar. The lawless area, the all-powerful dada, the situation where Ajith turns to violence for the first time - everything is completely predictable.

While family always played a part in the other movies where the hero turned rowdy, that aspect is given a much bigger focus here and that's where Kireedam differs from those movies. Rajkiran sees his dream crumbling down a little bit more with each new act of Ajith and that is more effective than Ajith's frustration about things spiralling out of control. And its not just Rajkiran. Though the others in the family get far less screen time, there is a wonderful, wordless scene late in the movie around the dinner table that shows just how much they all love Ajith. This love is in the background whenever Ajith does something that pushes his family's dream further away and that makes it more effective.

Considering Ajith's star status, the direction the movie takes towards the end comes as a surprise. The fight sequence feels real and is not cinematic and the film manages to end on a powerfully ironic note.

Ajith manages to forget that he is a star and has let the actor in him again peek out. He downplays the role and that is exactly what the role needs. He is especially impressive in the last scene(there is a 'showcase' scene where he cries out but it is in the scene before, where he uncontrollably screams at Rajkiran, that I thought he was excellent). Trisha plays her usual role and doesn't bring anything special to the table. Rajkiran plays almost the same role he played in Thavamaai Thavamirundhu and brings believability to it. Saranya too joins him. Vivek has a few funny lines and so does Santhanam. Ajay, looking a little bit like Surya, is a usual villain, shouting and screaming but eventually not very effective. Vizhiyil... and Kanavellaam... are the best songs on the soundtrack and they earn the top spots on screen also. They both play in the background without any lip-syncing and that works. Akkam Pakkam... is pleasing to the eye with its nice settings and a pretty Trisha.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Weekend Trip - Yosemite National Park

Like San Francisco, Yosemite National Park is another of those places that is a victim of my "its so close we can go any time" syndrome. One of my favorite scenic places, I haven't been there for more than 8 years I think. Finally made it back there last weekend and it was just as beautiful as I remembered.

On Saturday, we drove directly to Mono Lake, an alkaline and hypersaline lake east of Yosemite National Park. There is a vista point on 395 South that provides a view of the full lake and from there it is a short drive down to the lake itself. We initially drove down Highway 167, which took us by the rim of the lake but was completely deserted since it didn't have lake access. But once we turned back and continued south on 395, there were a couple of turnoffs that provided lake access. The first one had a wooden trail right down to the lake itself for a closeup look at the unique flora and fauna there. The visitor center, a few blocks away on 395, also had a great view of the lake and the different shades of blue on the lake's surface made for a beautiful sight.

We then took 120 to the Tioga Pass entrance into Yosemite National Park. We took 120 all the way through the park. This route took us by some beautiful lakes(Lake Tenaya is probably the biggest and most beautiful of them) and huge granit rock outcroppings, a characteristic of Yosemite. We drove on to Merced, where we stayed the night.

It was back to the park yesterday morning. We entered the park through 140 - the Arch Rock entrance - this time. Our first stop was Bridal Veil Falls. Since it was almost end of July, there was not much water but rockhopping to get close to the falls was, as always, a fun affair. We then drove to Glacier point, which provided great views of Half Dome and Yosemite Valley itself. It was really hot though and the little time we spent walking to and from Glacier point tired out most the folks in our little group and so we headed back home from there.

Here are some photos from the trip.

PS: Came back yesterday evening to find Harry Potter 7 waiting in the mailbox. Was pleasantly surprised since I thought the book would only be shipped on Saturday. Guess it was delivered on the release date. So if there are no new posts the next couple of days, you know why :-)

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Live Free or Die Hard

Die Hard was a trendsetter in that it set all its action within the confines of a single building. Its sequels slowly expanded the hero John McClane's boundaries as he fought against the bad guys in an airport in Die Hard II and zipped around entire New York(with Samuel Jackson in tow) in Die Hard with a Vengeance. Following the trend, Live Free or Die Hard, the fourth instalment in the series, further extends his playground as John goes after a cyber-terrorist. So its not a good 'Die Hard' movie but as a generic action film, it fits the bill with good pacing and effective stunts.

Thomas Gabriel is the cyber-terrorist who is shutting down the computers that control all aspects of life in America. All hackers are being questioned about this and McClane is asked to bring a hacker Matt Ferrell to Washington D.C for questioning. But Matt had unwittingly been a part of Thomas' plan to control the country's computers and so Thomas wants to eliminate him. So McClane now has to save Matt and the country from Thomas.

The film has some good set pieces for the action sequences. The chase in the tunnel and the final chase (where McClane, in a huge truck, evades a fighter plane) are pretty good and the sequence with the SUV in the elevator shaft, while reminding us of a similar sequence in Jurassic Park - The Lost World, generates a few tense moments. Granted, almost all of the stunts are preposterous but created in the ol' fashioned way using sets and stuntmen rather than computer graphics, they manage to get the adrenaline flowing.

McClane gets a partner in the form of the hacker here and he does what unwilling partners do in movies like this - diffuse the tension, serve as a comic interlude and occasionally help out as he gets pulled into increasingly dangerous situations. While Die Hard III played the racism card as it pitted Willis and Samuel Jackson together, this film plays the technology card as it pairs up McClane and the hacker and paints McClane as someone not caught up with today's technology. It does get a few funny lines out of this.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Coming Soon - Kireedam

More than 1 month after Sivaji released, it looks like theaters are finally allowing other films to release and producers are finally gaining courage that their films wouldn't be swamped by the Sivaji wave and would find an audience too. Ajith's Kireedam was one of the films that was officially postponed to avoid clashing with Sivaji(it was originally supposed to release on May 1, Ajith's birthday). It is finally releasing this Friday and will be the first 'big' film to follow Sivaji.

Ajith is said to command the biggest and most loyal fan base after Rajnikanth. His fans have stuck with him through his lows and his films always command a great opening. But Ajith needs to give them something to cheer about. His Aazhwaar, released for Pongal, was a washout and was probably one of the biggest flops - both critically and commercially - of his career(the fact that Vijay's Pokkiri, released at the same time, went on to become a superhit made things even worse). So he must be banking on Kireedam to make his fans happy. Trisha is paired with him. Though their previous outing together, Ji, was a flop, they do make a cute pair. Rajkiran plays an important role as Ajith's father.

The film is based on Mohanlal's Malayalam film of the same name. That Kireedam was a realistic, emotional film about a father's dreams for his son and his pain on seeing those dreams come crashing down unexpectedly. Mohanlal and Thilakan gave powerhouse performances(I think Mohanlal won a special National award for his acting) and the film featured an unforgettable climax and a poignant last shot that spoke volumes. It is considered a classic. If the Tamil version doesn't pander to Ajith's image and captures the sentiments without exaggerating them, it could work well. Considering recent Ajith's films, that's a rather tall order and the big question is if it will achieve it.

Unfortunately, past remakes of other Malayalam classics don't inspire much confidence. The latest ofcourse was Chandramukhi, which rendered Manichitrathazhu almost unrecognizable by changing it to suit Rajni's image. But atleast it was a hit. The worst offender undoubtedly was P.Vasu's Seenu, that massacred Mohanlal's fantastic Bharatham. Starting with the cast, which had Karthik play Mohanlal's role and P.Vasu(shudder!) himself play Nedumudi Venu's role, everything in the film simply reminded us how much better the original was. Quite a few years before that came Satyaraj's Engirundho Vandhaan, a shabby remake of Mohanlal's comedy classic Chitram. So obviously, I'm hoping that Kireedam reverses this trend.

Helming Kireedam is a new director A.L.Vijay. Ajith has never shied away from giving chances to new directors and initially, that move paid him good dividends as directors like S.J.Suryah gave him hits like Vaali(personally, my favorite Ajith film). But the situation has reversed recently. Ajith's few hits in recent times have been delivered by old-timers like K.S.Ravikumar(Varalaaru, Villan) and Saran(Attagaasam) while new directors have delivered duds like Aazhwaar. Hopefully, this new director validates Ajith's faith in him. Veyyil-fame G.V.Prakash, A.R.Rahman's nephew, scores the music. The album is apparently doing good, which is a good sign. I love Vizhiyil..., which is a great melody and Kanavellaam... is a pretty good too.

Let's hope Kireedam turns out to be a crown jewel among Ajith's movies...

PS: Since we're going on a trip, I will probably not see Kireedam this weekend, though it is being screened in the Bay Area. I'm hoping to see it Monday or Tuesday evening though and so the review will not be online until the middle of next week.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Rajni - Netru

As the Netru in the title indicates, this is the first post in 3-part article about Rajni. This post is about other movies Rajni could've acted in. The next one tackles a couple of the most common accusations thrown at Rajni. And the last post will be about what I would like to see Rajni do next (they will not be posted on consecutive days though and the next one may not be online until next week).


Rajni has acted in too few films in the past decade or so. Both Baasha and Muthu released in the same year(1995) but in the 12 years since then, he has acted in only 5 films(Arunachalam, Padaiyappa, Baba, Chandramukhi and Sivaji) with 2 or more years between films. So one of my favorite past-times in the time between those movies was to imagine what other movies would have been great vehicles for Rajni. Looking back at the movies in the last few years, here are 3 films I really wish had been made with Rajni instead.

This is a film even I didn't like much and it is the only flop on this short list. But I think the story, inspite of being a modern-day version of Kalyanaraman, had all the ingredients that go into a Rajni movie. The first half, with the hero as a scaredy-cat, would've allowed enormous opportunities to exploit Rajni's comic abilities. The flashback(which would ofcourse have had Rajni again) created a memorable, good-samaritan character along the lines of the dad in Muthu. And the second half, with Muni's ghost entering the hero's body, would've provided enough action to satisfy Rajni fans. Graphics, which our directors seem to love, would actually not seem out of place considering the storyline. In the hands of a good director, this movie could've been quite the entertainer.

I feel no other director can showcase an actor's macho image as well as Dharani does and that would have come in real handy in a Rajni film. Dhool is a fantastic entertainer with action, romance, comedy and sentiments in the right proportion and that naturally makes it an ideal Rajni movie (the Madurai Veeran... song alone would've been enough to drive the Rajni fans delirious). The film had a politician as the villain, which would allow Rajni to spout some politics-tinged dialogs. And as an added bonus, the film would've paired Rajni with Jo :-) Ofcourse the glamour quotient vis-a-vis Reema Sen would have had to be toned down to make it a family-friendly film - a key criterion for a Rajni film.

This one's a no-brainer. A project that Shankar himself admitted he had prepared with Rajni in mind, the actor passed on it since he thought the story was too sensitive considering his political affiliations at that time. But the role would have fit Rajni like a glove. The one-day CM concept with all those radical acts would have been a perfect match for Rajni's do-gooder image. The scenes from Sivaji where Rajni implements his plans in the villages(the ambidextrous signing, the slow-mo walks, etc.) were proof of just how stylishly Shankar would have presented Rajni in the scenes where he sets things right. And if Rajni does get into politics, the Mudhalvane... number would have served as the perfect theme song :-)

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Books 4 and 5 are my least favorite in the Harry Potter series and if asked to choose the one I like less among the 2, I'd pick book 5, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Suffering the same problems faced by the middle episode(s) of any series, it had little of note happen and felt curiously incomplete. But I didn't feel the same about the movie. Light on action, especially compared to the previous entries in the series, it works when seen as a setup for things to come rather than as a self-contained adventure. Because of that, I think it would appeal more to fans of the book i.e. those who have read Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince rather than to those following Harry only through his movies.

The movie continues the darkening of the tone that the series has gone through since Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Gone are the innocent wonder of the youngsters, the magical atmosphere at Hogwarts and the silly pranks and magic acts. In their place we get students who realize the enormity of the imminent danger and are ready to fight it, a dark and gloomy Hogwarts and powerful magic (one just has to see Dudley's fate to understand the change in tone - in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone he gets a tail while here he almost had his soul sucked away by a dementor!). How one reacts to this change in tone pretty much determines whether one will like Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

There's not much action in the film. While earlier films had happenings like the Quidditch match, the Triwizard tournament, etc. that lent themselves to grand set pieces and quite a bit of action, the central piece here is the new teacher's vendetta against Dumbledore, Harry and the other students. That obviously isn't quite as exciting. There are a few laughs but the movie mostly keeps things serious and conveys just how harsh and mean she is. The whole track with Hagrid's half-brother appears tacked-on. Fully computer generated, Grawp looks like Shrek walked over from a nearby screen. The climax too is rather low-key.

But the film works when one looks at it as laying the foundation for the final battle(s). Both the scenes where the Order of the Phoenix convenes and the scenes where Harry trains the other students are exciting since they are essentially setting the pieces in place for the final good vs. evil confrontation. We can actually sense the pressure on Harry as he realizes he has a huge responsibility that he doesn't even know if he is ready for. And it is nice to see his growing army of friends, relatives and acquaintances who trust him implicitly and are ready to stand by him when he has to face Voldemort.

Things really begin to heat up from the second half of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. So Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix should be seen more as a part of an epic journey rather than a complete little trip. Then it works.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

3 New Reviews

Reviews for Karuppusamy Kuthagaithaarar, Sivaji and Thullal are now online @ bbreviews.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Kids' Day Out in Oakland

Since Kavya is having her summer vacation and getting bored out of her mind staying at home, I took the day off from work today and took Kavya, her cousin and Karthik out. Our first stop was this kids park called Fairyland in Oakland. While we have made multiple trips to the Oakland Zoo, we have never been to Fairyland, which is about 15 minutes north of the zoo, in downtown Oakland. Our trip today made me wonder why. It is a fun place for kids and has enough to entertain them for atleast half a day, if not more.

The park is situated on the shore of Lake Merritt and that by itself makes it a picturesque location. The tickets are pretty cheap at $6 (parking is $3 on weekends and holidays). The park primarily consists of what they call storybook sets - set pieces illustrating scenes from popular children's stories. So they have models showing scenes from stories like The 3 Little Pigs, Pinocchio, Snow White, Alice in Wonderland, etc. All the sets are painted in bright colors, which makes them eye-catching. While some of the sets are simply for display, others(like Peter Pan's pirate ship) allow kids to climb up a rope ladder to the crow's nest, jump around, etc.

Apart from these sets, they also had a puppet show. It was a simple story narrated very slowly and clearly. The puppets were also cute and the show managed to even keep Karthik interested! There were 4 rides - 2 carousels, a train ride and a small ferris wheel - that were all very very kid-friendly. They also had a few animals in cages at a couple of places in the park.

From there we went to the Oakland Zoo. Among the 3 zoos I have visited in the Bay Area(the zoos in San Jose and San Francisco are the other two), Oakland is definitely our favorite. It has a lot more animals than the zoo in San Jose but is not as big as San Francisco and so will not tire out kids as much. They have a nice cable car ride and the new kids' area is a great addition with cute animals and a nice play area. The adjoining area with a few rides is ofcourse a very popular area with the kids. We have a membership at the zoo and since that means free admissions, we decided to make a stop there though we only had a couple of hours.

We covered almost the whole zoo in that time though. Karthik gets totally excited seeing the animals and his enthusiasm was the main factor in making us see most of the animals. It was a real hot day and most of them were cooling off but we saw the giraffes, lions and zebras.

A real exhausting but fun day...

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


Its well known that director-turned-cinematographer Jeeva was in the middle of his fourth film(as director) Dhaam Dhoom in Russia, when he passed away prematurely. The future of the film was naturally shaky after that. But his mentor P.C.Sriram has stepped in and offered to complete the film and the producer must be heaving a big sigh of relief.

I'm sure there have been more than a few instances of a director taking over a half-finished film but off the top of my head, I can remember only one. Kamalhassan took over Chachi 420, the Hindi remake of Avvai Shanmugi, from its original director after the two had some differences of opinion. Since Kamal ghost-directs most of his movies anyway(that was probably where the difference of opinion arose!), the change of directors probably didn't make much of a difference there.

As far as pedigree goes, one can't think of a better director to take over a film originally started by an ace cinematographer. Apart from being Jeeva's mentor, PC was probably the person most responsible for making viewers sit up and take notice of cinematography as an important component of a film. He won the National Award for Naayakan and worked on movies like Mouna Raagam, Agni Natchathiram, Thirudaa Thirudaa, Alaipaayuthey and Mugavari. He too turned to direction without giving up cinematography, his first love and has directed 3 films Meera, Kuruthippunal and Vaanam Vasappadum. But the two directors' style of filmmaking does make me wonder if it will be a smooth transition as far as Dhaam Dhoom is concerned.

PC's three films so far have all dealt with very heavy subjects. I don't remember much about Meera, his first film, apart from the fact that it starred Vikram and Ishwarya, but I have seen it and I don't think it was a candyfloss love story. Kurudhippunal was a stark, realistic and violent cop story about a policeman's single-minded pursuit of a terrorist while Vaanam Vasappadum was a bleak, depressing story about a woman's search for justice after being raped by two young boys(in fact, the romance was the weakest part of the film).

On the other hand, Jeeva's films have all been light-hearted, romantic entertainers. 12B dealt with 2 love stories in 2 parallel, alternate timelines in a man's life; Ullam Ketkume dealt with multiple love stories in a college setting; and Unnaale Unnaale revolved around a love triangle. All 3 films were slickly packaged with nice locations and great songs and were glossy. They had their share of serious storylines and poignant moments but no one would label them as tearjerkers or heavy movies.

According to the article, most of Dhaam Dhoom is finished and only the songs are left to be picturized. It will be interesting to see if we can spot the different styles of Jeeva and PC when the film arrives in theaters...

Monday, July 09, 2007

Ratatouille / 1408


Pixar has set the bar so high with each of their films that a film of theirs that isn't significantly better than its predecessor automatically ends up being a disappointment. Ratatouille isn't just 'not better' than its predecessors, its worse. So its no wonder that it is my least favorite Pixar film among all their releases. The animation is dazzling as always but when it comes to an engaging story and interesting characters, the film falls short of other Pixar films like Cars, Finding Nemo and The Incredibles.

Ratatouille doesn't have any problems with its lead character. The rat is very cute with its big eyes and red nose and its agility is made full use in many sequences. Its ambition to be a chef is a pretty neat idea for a film and leads to many clever segments. The scenes where he 'guides' the janitor are some of the cleverest and funniest in the film and his conversations with the other rats in his group are usually funny too. The problem is that it has to share the screen with many humans and they are not half as interesting(I can't think of any other Pixar releases with such important roles for humans). So scenes that involve humans invariably drag and since they play an important part in the proceedings, there are quite a few such scenes.

What eventually keeps us parked in our seats is the animation. The design and animation are ofcourse responsible for making these usually repulsive rodents seem cute. Its amazing the way the silky fur of the rats has been brought out and their movements are incredibly realistic. Some segments, like the rat's dash through Paris, the view of Paris at night and the final scene with all the rats in the kitchen, are visual wonders that almost make us forget that we are watching something that was created on a computer.



Recent Hollywood horror flicks have tended to fall into two categories - the watered-down PG-13 movies like The Ring and The Grudge that rely on "Boo!" moments and cheap scares and the violence-filled, gore-heavy movies like Hostel and The Hills have Eyes. Given a choice I prefer the former but most movies I have seen in that category have been dumb and disappointing(the latest one I saw was The Messengers). 1408 is a more mature horror flick that tries to make us think too in addition to scaring us.

The title refers to the room number of a hotel in New York with a rather horrific history. John Cusack plays a professional debunker of ghost stories and against all warnings from the hotel manager(Samuel L. Jackson), he elects to spend a night in Room 1408. But the happenings there quickly change his mind.

1408 is rarely scary. It has a few "Boo!" moments, a couple of legitimate scares and some frightening images but overall, it isn't really scary. Its mission is to make us understand how scared John Cusack is and in that it succeeds. It creates a growing sense of dread as he goes from a cynic to a believer and makes us feel for him as he desperately tries to escape from the room. There is also a nice misdirection that creates what seems like a predictable twist before turning it around.

The movie turns more emotional as we learn about John's past and the happenings in the room get connected to his need to get closure. Things get a bit confusing as we are left guessing how much is real and how much is in John's mind but that does help keep us involved. The ending is thankfully not too open-ended but it doesn't answer all our questions either.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Day Trip - San Francisco

I've seen that I never explore cities that I live close to, even when they offer a lot of attractions. There's the thought of "its so nearby, we can go any time" that prevents me from making as many trips as I can or seeing as much as possible when I do go there. That's the case with San Francisco. Though I've lived in the Bay Area for almost 11 years now, I really haven't seen much of the city.

When I go to other cities(like Chicago), I try to see as much of the city as possible since there's the thought that I may not come back, atleast in the near future. But my itineraries in San Francisco have so far been limited to the Golden Gate bridge(from a couple of viewpoints), Crooked Street and Pier 39 since my trips usually happen when I'm taking some guests to the city and those are pretty much the main must-see spots for tourists.

Yesterday we went to San Francisco after deciding beforehand that we wouldn't see any of the usual spots. It was a pretty cloudy and windy day but that didn't stop us(and it hadn't stopped a lot of people, considering how crowded it was - the All-Star game could have had something to do with it). Since riding the historic cable car was the #1 item on our agenda, we parked near Ghirardelli Square and boarded the cable car at Aquatic Park for a ride to Union Square. There we had lunch at Wolfgang Puck's eatery in the basement of the Macy's building and then walked for a bit around the courtyard across from Macy's, where an Art Festival was going on. We took the cable car back from Powell/Market but this one dropped us off at Bay Street at Fisherman's Wharf. So, to get back to Ghirardelli Square, we walked along Fisherman's Wharf, which looked like the San Francisco equivalent of Chennai's own Burma Bazaar, with its multitude of small shops and rock-bottom prices. We then popped into Ghirardelli Square for some ice cream and coffee before heading back home. Overall, it was a relatively light trip but it was fun seeing a side of San Francisco that I haven't seen before. Here are a few photos from the trip...

Still have a few more spots to visit in San Francisco like Coit Tower, the Museum of Modern Art, etc. So I'm hoping that I can make another trip this summer.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

4th of July Fireworks

Continuing the tradition from last year, we celebrated the 4th of July holiday with a simple barbeque in our backyard and watching the fireworks at night. The barbeque ofcourse was a sedate, fully vegetarian affair with chips, grilled corn, skewered vegetables and veggie burgers.

The last 2 years, we went to Central Park in Santa Clara to watch the fireworks. While the fireworks display there is spectacular, it is a really popular spot that gets crowded real soon. So getting parking nearby and finding a good spot to watch the fireworks requires that we show up more than 2 hours early. That is not a good option when you have a kid who gets restless after running around in the park for an hour or so. Getting home isn't easy either with all the traffic and could easily take upto an hour. So this time we picked a closer location, Hyde school, in Cupertino to watch the display. It was way less crowded and the fireworks show was just as good. We were joined by 2 other friends and their families and so it was a fun, relaxed affair.

I finally bought a tripod a couple of weeks ago and with the S3 IS having a fireworks setting(aperture f/8, shutter speed 2s), I was all set to finally get some good pictures of the fireworks. The photos were better when compared to the shaky, handheld photos I got last year but they're still not what I'd call good shots. It had nothing to do with the camera and was all the photographer's fault though! The main problem was that I zoomed in to focus only on the fireworks. So while they look pretty and colorful, one can't really identify them as fireworks at all! There are no elements, like say the moon or the silhouttes of trees, houses, etc. to give some 'perspective' and show that the fireworks are actually in the sky! As the finale neared and there were multiple glows, I should have also cranked the shutter speed down to less than a second. Too much light pretty much ruined the shots of the final few fireworks.

For what its worth, here are some of my fireworks shots from yesterday night...

Monday, July 02, 2007


Halfway into 2007, here's a look back at the year so far in Tamil movies...

Pongal usually kicks off the year's movies and 2007 had a good start since movies by both Vijay and Ajith got released. In recent years, the career graphs of the 2 actors have been the exact opposite of each other and 2007 turned out to be no different. Vijay was coming off a big flop in Aadhi and a year-long break while Ajith was fresh off the success of Varalaaru, released just a few months ago. But their films again met with markedly different fates at the box-office. Pokkiri, a remake of the Telugu superhit of the same name, became a big hit and resurrected Vijay's career while Aazhwaar came a cropper and negated the gains of Varalaaru.

The stars then took a break and let directors take centerstage. Gautam Menon joined hands with Sarathkumar for Pachaikkili Muthucharam, which also starred Gautam's favorite heroine Jyothika in a negative role as the 'other woman'. Though the film started off well with Gautam's trademark style, Sarathkumar took over in the second half and transformed it into a regular masala. Radhamohan, without the pressures of promoting a producer's son as hero, gave us Mozhi and proved that Azhagiya Theeye was no flash in the pan. The realistic, subtly humorous film was filled with loveable characters and became a big hit. It was the perfect send-off for Jyothika, who gave a great performance as a deaf-mute. The reliable Ameer introduced Surya's brother Karthi in the earthy and emotionally-powerful Paruthi Veeran and cemented his status as one of the most promising directors today. Jeeva created another youthful love story and introduced another young hero in Unnaale Unnaale, which was a bit too unbelievable and talky but went on to become a big hit. But sadly, the director himself died due to cardiac arrest while shooting his next film.

Not all famous directors were successful though. Cheran donned atrocious wigs and bright costumes for Maayakkannaadi and along with Navya Nair, created the most irritating screen couple of the year so far. The detour into his brand of realistic, message-oriented cinema came too late and couldn't save the film. Suresh Krissna, who seems to be able to find directing assignments even after a string of flops, notched up another flop in the distasteful Parattai Engira Azhagu Sundaram, a remake of a Kannada hit. K.Balachander, coming back after a long break, couldn't regain his old touch in Poi, a youthful romance.

As always there were a couple of small movies that sneaked in quietly but captured everybody's attention. Debutant director Venkat Prabhu fashioned a great entertainer in Chennai 600028, a film about gully cricket. Completely down-to-earth and never taking itself seriously, the film was a great entertainer and a big hit. Karuppusamy Kuthagaithaarar gave a familiar romance in a familiar setting a fresh spin and backed by a good performance by Karan, went on to become a hit. Satyaraj's performance was the highlight of Periyaar, a biased but nevertheless entertaining look at Periyaar's life. Pori was a disappointing outing from Subramaniam Siva, who gave us the lighthearted Thirudaa Thirudi before while Deepavali proved that Ezhil has completely lost his tough.

2007 will also be remembered for having the first 'official' remake of an old Tamil film. Naan Avanillai, a remake of the old KB-'Gemini Ganesan' film, had an unimpressive cast and unbelievable romances but its fast pace made it a hit.

Then it was back to the stars... well, just one star - a superstar - actually. The coming together of Rajnikanth, Shankar and A.R.Rahman made Sivaji an event rather than just a film and its upcoming release forced several other big movies to postpone their release dates. And luckily, the movie lived up to its pre-release hype. It was quite weak on logic and was Rajni's show all the way but nobody seems to have cared. It is turning out to be as big a hit as was expected and will certainly enjoy a long run.

As we move into the second half of the year, the roster of films to be released would have a Tamil cinema buff salivating. The biggest of 'em all is ofcourse Kamal's Dasaavathaaram, which has him playing 10 roles. As of now, the film is slated to be released for Diwali. Apart from that there's Bheema with Vikram, Azhagiya Thamizh Magan with Vijay, Kireedam and maybe Billa with Ajith and Vel and Vaaranam Aayiram with Surya. Smaller movies like Evano Oruvan and Oram Po seem to have a lot of promise too. Lots to look forward to :-)

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Sivaji - Repeatu!

Finally managed to see Sivaji again on Saturday evening. Third weekend after release and the show was pretty much sold-out. That by itself speaks volumes about the Rajni phenomenon...

In general, people who voluntarily go for a repeat viewing of a film like it more after the second viewing. And that was the case here for me too. The hype and expectations were literally sky-high before the film's release and I don't think any film could've lived upto those kind of expectations. But before the second viewing, I knew exactly what I was gonna get. I knew it was going to be a Rajni film rather than a Shankar film; I knew that the comedy was going to be loud and juvenile; I knew the film was going to be real light on logic; I knew that the stunts were going to be a disappointment. With such tempered expectations, I thoroughly enjoyed the film.

The other aspect that makes repeat viewings enjoyable is the anticipation. Sivaji has no real suspense and is little more than a showcase for Rajni's charisma, screen presence and style. So knowing that a high-point was coming made some of the weaker scenes pass by quickly and so have a lesser effect overall.

A few additional comments after this viewing...

- The music for the opening SUPERSTAR graphic sequence isn't bad. But the previous music(from Annamalai) still wins for sheer exhilaration.

- The comedy scenes still worked for me. Didn't feel they were beneath Rajni's image or anything (if the girl comes after Rajni he is chauvinistic and if he woos the girl, its beneath his image. Rajni just can't get a break!). Many people complained about the compartmentalization - Rajni struggling with the bureaucrats but still able to joke around with Shreya's family. That happens in almost all Rajni movies. That mix of Superstar/clown has been his calling card for a long time and is part of his routine and wide appeal. So didn't feel it was new or a distraction...

- Athiradee... and Style... (in that order) still rock big-time. Appreciated the sets in Vaaji... and Sahana... much more this time around. I think those 2 songs should've been switched though. Considering Rajni has the old hairstyle in Sahana..., it makes more sense to have it in the first half.

- My current favorite scene... when Rajni visits minister Hanifa to get his signature, Hanifa asks "Yaaru", Rajni pushes the doors open with both hands and strides in(in slow-mo ofcourse) before uttering "Boss". Goosebump alert!

- Rahman background score is terrific in the BOSS scenes and is also good in other scenes(like when Raghuvaran gives CPR to the boy). But it is a disaster in the fight sequences, especially in the music store fight. The Sega Fightaa... song ends up being ineffective because of the way it is used and the use of different music styles in 1 fight doesn't work at all.

- Mottai Boss definitely needs more screen time. That was a master-stroke by Shankar to finish the movie on a real high.