May 24, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of Crystal Skull

Indiana Jones series has been one of the top 10 best Hollywood series of all times, what with two legendary film-makers - George Lucas and Steven Spielberg joining hands together. I had watched and enjoyed the first three movies in this series, and so when I came to know that, after nearly twenty years Indy is back, I had mixed feelings, bcos I didnt like Harrison Ford's movies of the past decade and I was doubtful about his having necessary energy to carry a movie entirely on his shoulders. Now, after watching, I can tell that old is indeed gold..
For an Indy movie, you dont need a super-strong story; and you invariably know the ending as well (pretty much like our masala movies) .. so the challenge for the director is to show the events in an interesting fashion, with intelligent screenplay, some twists here and there and with quite a bit of help from graphics. Spielberg mostly succeeds in the latest version too.. but he liberally borrows ideas from movies that have been released in the interim period, making us feel a sense of deja vu. For ex, several scenes remind us of some classy shots from Jackie Chan's 'Operation condor', 'Mummy returns', and a few James Bond movies.
The movie has its nice moments too.. the scenes involving insects and reptiles are hair-raising, as usual.. and the ride in Amazon river is amazing. The climax is a little disappointing and made me wonder why recently Spielberg and alien-centric climaxes dont go well at all. For many people, this might be their first Indy movie on-screen (like my case), many oldies might feel this to be their last, so just for the sake of it, I am sure that there will be a good audience to see Indy on silver screen.

May 18, 2008

Tamil Cine Quiz - 6

Another music quiz.. The first is quite easy whereas the next two are somewhat hard, I think.. As usual, comment moderation is in place; and more clues might be revealed depending on the response..

1) What is common among the following pairs of songs? (a) "Janani, Janani" (Thai Moohambikai) and "Idhu kAdhalA" (Thulluvatho Ilamai); (b) "KAdhal sadugudu" (Alaipayuthey) and "Pon mAlai" (NizhalgaL); (c) "Solladi" (KAdhalil vizhundhEn) and "Hello mister" (Iruvar); and (d) "Engirundho" (En jeevan pAduthu) and "Shenbagame" (Enva ooru pAttukkAran)?

2) What is common among these three movies - Priya, Dhool and Kuruvi? (Plz remember it is a music quiz). One song in each of these movies has a common thread connecting it to the other two. To the best of my knowledge, that is a very unique thread. It has something to do with preludes... the songs are a duet, a solo and sort of a duet respectively for the 3 movies mentioned above.

3) Recently we get to hear a lot of remix songs. Surprisingly, AR Rahman, in one of his earliest movies (among his earliest 3) re-mixed a song penned by Vairamuthu and composed by MS Viswanathan. The original version was so-so and not very popular (it was repeatedly played in DD only), but the remade version turned out to be a great hit. Which song is it?

May 8, 2008

Stem Cell Controversy-A primer

Some of you might be familiar with controversy involving 'Stem cell research'. Human stem cells are derived from humans and have the capability to differentiate into different types of cells (such as blood and organs). There are two kinds of stem cells – human embryonic stem cells (hESC) and adult stem cells. The former ones are derived by destruction of an early stage embryo whereas the latter ones are derived from a tissue sample obtained from an adult. Both these types have generated controversy – the former due to the ethical and religious belief that it is wrong to destroy a human embryo, albeit with the permission of the parents, and the latter due to the fear of human cloning. The interplay between religion, ethics, legal issues, commercial interests and Government policies have made the stem cell research a very controversial topic recently.
In order to understand the controversy on stem cell research, it is important to acquire some knowledge on its fundamentals. Human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) are derived from blastocyst, which is the inner mass of an early cell embryo. A few days after fertilization (typically 4 to 5 days), the embryos reach the blastocyst stage and at this time they consist of about 50-100 cells. These cells would be able to differentiate into about 220 different types of cells that are found in an adult body. Hence, they have excellent capacity for self-renewal, making them attractive in degenerative medicine and post-injury tissue replacement technique. The controversy arises from the fact that while extracting out the embryonic inner mass, the embryos get destroyed, and the religious groups consider it akin to ending a human life.
The proponents of life argue that destroying an embryo is against human dignity and that one life is sacrificed for the sake of another. There are ethical and religious protests on the use and destruction of human embryo for stem cell research. This has led to the ban for stem cell research in some Western countries and some of the states of the U.S.A. In most of the Western countries in which Christianity is the primary religion, the hESC research does not get Government funding. Private funded research is allowed in most cases. This arises an inconvenient question as to, if the hESC research is deemed unethical and anti-religious in the first place, why show vague double standards in allowing private funding while stopping Government funding, as opposed to totally ban such research.
Are these embryos equivalent to a ‘person’? Various religious groups consider different timeframes about when ensoulment takes place. Some have revised the timeframe (usually to an earlier time) after scientific discoveries started to reveal the exact chronological events of human embryonic growth. Pro-life activists argue that an embryo has to be considered as a human immediately after conception and bring ethical questions about destroying that embryo, on the similar line of argument that they use while opposing abortion.
We can classify the people of this planet into three broad categories – traditional Christians, post-Christians and followers of Eastern religions, the tolerance to and acceptance of stem cell research increasing from left to right. Whereas the first category resists the creation and destruction of human embryos because they consider an embryo to be a child, the last category doesn’t object and in fact supports stem cell research due to their religious beliefs that concern reincarnation and karma. Due to this divide, some scientists are heading east, and, if the scientists in the eastern countries succeed in curing some diseases or cloning the children via stem cell research, the desperate people will also head to such countries to avail the facilities.
A more elaborate look at the voices and concerns of people of different religion and beliefs shows that the opinion of the world is certainly divided in the issue of stem cell research. Several non-Catholic Christian groups don’t mind hESC research with the consent of the mother. The religious argument against hESC research would be much stronger if all religions agreed. The problem is difficult and emotions run high. Religions are attempting to reconcile the overlapping rights of three parties: the mother, an embryo and the patient. The answer is certainly not an easy one.
Though the scientific progress in this Government-funded area of research has been promising for the cure of aforementioned diseases, it has also received its share of resistance, mainly due to the fear that man should not play God and use the adult stem cells for human cloning. Though several U.S. states and Western countries have banned human cloning, some of the Eastern countries haven’t. And that again, along the lines of hESC research policy, divides the world. The use of human cloning as a cure for certain emotional matters, such as, loss of a child or donation of bone marrow for transplant, plus the deep inner urge by the scientists to solve the ultimate challenge of nature – creation of a human – all have caused a substantial private funding in human cloning research.
Rather than think that the humans try to outsmart God by entering into his realm of creation and destruction, the people should think that it is God who is gradually revealing the nuances of his powers to humans. Such a thought would drive away the ‘Man vs God’ argument and reinforce ‘Man aided by God’ faith. After all, one can argue that, if God wants to keep his utmost secrets to himself, why can he not hide it from the humans for ever? Such a philosophical/theological thought aside, the numerous medical advancements that the stem cell research promises must allow its opponents and Government to let the scientists do their job under the watchful eyes. After all, a life saved is a life created.

May 3, 2008


Sometimes I tend to place too much hope on a director that I neglect all the ominous signs coming out from various quarters. First was Skanda's comment in Balaji's post; the second was the interview of Gautam Menon that Vijay wants his movies to have the masala elements of his legendary flims Sivakasi and Thiruppachi. I think Perarasu is probably the worst thing to have happened to Vijay and going to Tollywood, to Dharani; both these seem to have rubbed on a reliable director like Dharani too, which makes us wonder whether it is indeed he who gave us Dhil, Dhool and Gilli.
I got the feeling of watching a 80's telugu-dubbed movie; remember the stories where a goon or a landlord enslaves an entire village, tortures and kills them? (Maaveeran, anyone?) Kuruvi is shockingly similar to those violent-n-loud movies. The director is badly inspired from Hollywood movies like The Mask of Zorro and Blood Diamond. Worst, the second half happens in Andhra, so we have a Ghaddar-like villain, a loud MLA who shoots at the drop of the hat, his brother who is always shouting and another stereotyped villain can get away with atrocities in cities of the caliber of Kuala Lumpur and Chennai.
Kuruvi is carried almost entirely by Vivek in the first half, and once the action shifts to Andhra, it becomes brainless, totally predictable and sickening. Trisha is to the movie what the Andhra spicy pickle is to curd rice. Vijay has unnecessarily thinned down, having lost some muscle too, but looking younger. Suman is wasted even more than in Sivaji. Vijay starts the movie this time with a car race (engEyO idikkuthey..) Some of the songs are nice to listen to, but not so creatively picturized. The action scenes are as usual contrived, liberally copied from Matrix and superhero movies.
If at all you want to watch, do so only until 'Intermission'. By naming the movie after a cute little bird, the film crew have grossly insulted it.