Monday, April 2, 2012

Links for the Week [March 26 - April 1 2012]

Most of my reading this week was health-care.  Obviously, the Supreme Court's hostile questioning of the Obama Administration's signature legislation was a big shock.  Still, it was  useful to see the ACA defended in ways that the Administration wasn't able to before the Supreme Court.  Here's a Tumblr summary of some of the arguments I found interesting.  

About a "creepy" application called "Girls Around You" and what it says about social networking, data and privacy. 

John Lancaster on Marx in the London Review of Books.  A wonderful piece on what Marx means to us today -- and what he was right about. 

Dahlia Lithwick on the twisted idea of "liberty" that the conservative wing of the Supreme Court has.  I usually find Lithwick's prose a bit too hectoring but I agree with every point she makes here. 

How to be an Academic Failure: A Guide for Beginners.  The title says it all.

When writers have as much power as J. K. Rowling, they can transform the publishing industry single-handedly.  More seriously, the Web has given writers more bargaining power w.r.t. publishers and distributors. 

How much work is it to teach at a community college? Probably a lot.  Henry Farrell comments. 

I am very late to this really really good Ethan Zuckerman post on the blurring lines between advocacy and journalism.  The Passion of Mike Daisey: Journalism, Storytelling and the Ethics of Attention, by Ethan Zuckerman.

And finally, a dense philosophical meditation on computation.  Ian Horswill: What is Computation? Crossroads Magazine, March 2012, ACM

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Some notes on Kahaani

Perhaps the best decision I made was to watch Kahaani from rather than in the cinema hall.  Or perhaps it was the worst since the visual quality of the streaming video was abysmal.  Perhaps, in the cinema hall, the improved visual quality as well as the audience participation would have made the movie seem better than it was.  As it stands, the movie is incredible - and by that I mean not remotely credible (apologies to David Edelstein). 

Kahaani is what I call a by-the-books thriller with a twist in the tail.  And perhaps if you don't read the said books (spy thrillers, murder mysteries, espionage tales), the juxtaposition of a thriller plot, a demonstrably grubby (and sometimes colorful!) middle-class Indian setting, and a bonafide star like Vidya Balan would be something unique and that may perhaps explain why Kahaani has received such rave reviews.  It isn't a bad film, by any means.  But it isn't particularly good either. 

It's main problem, from my perspective, is that its thriller credentials are extremely thin.  Granted, all thrillers are, to some extent, ridiculous, with events that stretch one's imagination.  But Kahaani's plot is so by-the-books, so conventional, that it never works: the movie skips from one point to the next and there is no texture to these events; random people are identified by random strangers who presumably saw them years ago.  To reveal more than this would be to spoil the story for others.

Vidya Balan is an elegant and wonderfully restrained actress but even she can't do much with the material (she's made to deliver some cringe-worthy lines to the young actors).  The worst of the lot is the movie's sudden plunge into moral theatrics -- "collateral damage" says the callous Agent Khan from the Intelligence Bureau about the sacrifice of civilians for national security and the way he says it is so preposterous that you wonder why the movie even had to go there -- but it does, to its detriment.

As for the final plot twist, it is like the rest of the movie -- by the books, and not remotely credible. 

[For an example of a movie that follows a fairly standard mystery thriller plot, but does it elegantly, with detailed attention to the milieu it creates, see Navdeep Singh's vastly superior Manorama Six Feet Under.]