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Apr 142015
 



It was the title that spurred me to pick up Night Train to Lisbon (2013) at my local library.

Not for me Iron Man 3, Kuch Kuch Hota Hain, Chennai Express, Terminator 27, Dabbang 25 or Avengers 65. No, no, no, can’t take that drivel no more!

Night Train to Lisbon promised adventure, thrill and more than a hint of intrigue.

Danish director Bille August directed the film based on Pascal Mercier’s eponymous novel.

Problem with Indian Films

The main reason I gravitate toward non-Indian films like Night Train to Lisbon is that most of our movies are set on a small canvas.

Or as I like to say, Indian movies are invariably done in portrait mode.

Puny talents make monkeys of themselves to the accompaniment of ear-splitting noise over some silly, soppy romance in Chennai, Vijayawda, Bhatinda or Pune; or an upright ‘Singham’ cop takes on the corrupt, plundering elements in town; or, worse, a well-heeled NRI returns to India to engage in some bizarre antics that makes me cringe. Friday after Friday, a thousand variants of this small-canvas, portrait mode drivel plays out on screens in India and distant shores (to pander to the diaspora).

Au contraire, classy, memorable movies almost always come in landscape mode.

Individuals play their parts against the backdrop of events that are larger than themselves.

Casablanca was set against at the backdrop of WW II, Godfather was more than the story of a single crime family, the charm of Italian film Life is Beautiful owes to its scaffolding of Nazi brutality and the concentration camp, Django has the terrible injustices of slavery as a prop and in Inglourious Basterds we have the nasty Nazis again.

There are so many pivotal moments in Indian history, near and distant, against which any number of stories could be woven into fine celluloid yarn. To name a few, the Emergency (1975-77), massacre of Muslims in Gujarat, Naxalite movement in West Bengal, displacement of farmers by mega projects, Bangladesh liberation war, Sri Lankan fiasco, endless Kashmir violence, Garib Hatao, Ayodhya, Sanjay Gandhi’s forced sterilization program, tacit alliance of Christians and Muslims (against Hindus) and conflicted allegiance of Indian Muslims.

But we seldom encounter Indian films juxtaposed against key events in our present or past. Like Ayn Rand’s uber-heroes who achieve the impossible, heroes in Indian films stand tall, towering in a freakish vacuum.

Romance in a Time of Danger

The beauty of Night Train to Lisbon is that it alternates between the present calm times (the film was made in 2013) and a disturbing phase in Portugal’s history – the decades-long dictatorship of Antonio Salazar that ended four years after his death in 1970.

The movie begins on a rainy morning in Berne, Switzerland where a middle-aged teacher Raimund Gregorius (Jeremy Irons) notices a young woman in a red jacket preparing to leap off a bridge.

Raimund saves the girl, but she soon vanishes leaving behind a red jacket with a small book in it.

The philosophical book by Amadeu do Prado is the trigger for Raimund to take the night train to Lisbon.

And thus begins our journey into a perilous time when countless dissenting Portuguese voices and lives were crushed by the regime’s merciless butchers and flung into prison dungeons to rot there till the Carnation Revolution freed them.

Romance clashes with revolutionary fervor and adultery in the past and gently touches Raimund’s quest for Prado in present-day Lisbon.

Great beauty and adultery are seldom apart for long, right?

Under Bille August’s competent direction, the movie neatly alternates between the past, present and Prado’s reflections on life (from the book).

British actor Jeremy Irons, who plays Raimund, is a giant among actors. Winner of the Oscar, Golden Globe and several other honors, Irons is impeccable in Night Train to Lisbon. I plan on watching Irons’ other films including his best known work Reveral of Fortune.

Mélanie Laurent (who plays Estefania, the lover of both Prado and his dear friend Jorge) is a stunningly beautiful woman and a remarkable talent (Unfortunately, I have only seen her in short roles in Inglourious Basterds and this film).

The rest of the cast including Jack Huston (in the role of Prado), Christopher Lee as the older Father Bartolomeu, and Martina Gedeck as the optometrist are solid. As I’ve long argued, there are no bad actors. Only bad directors!

If you’re the sort to delight in offbeat, lesser known quality films, you’ll be pleased with Night Train to Lisbon. The DVD is available at Netflix and most U.S. public libraries.

Just don’t expect Raimund to save the world or find a cure for cancer in 110-minutes. ;)

Apr 082015
 

Intel's Linux Compute Stick
Is it just me or are we all agreed that Intel’s new Linux Compute Stick is a piece of junk that has no hope of success.

Touting the Compute Stick in hyperbolic terms as a “New Mini-Computing Paradigm,” Intel describes it as a “pocket-sized computer delivering an entry computer experience by plugging directly into the HDMI input of TVs and monitors.”

At first glance, $110 for a computer on a HDMI dongle might seem like a no-brainer (although $11 higher than original price of $99).

But let’s look at the Linux Compute Stick’s configuration:
* 1GB RAM
* 8GB storage (of which I suspect a lot will be taken up by the Linux operating system)
* Wireless 802.11 b/g/n
* Bluetooth 4.0
* Quad core Atom processor
* miniUSB
* microSD

You’ll agree that the specs are a mix of good (WiFi, Bluetooth) and bad (storage).

Since you have to bring your own display (TV or monitor with HDMI input), keyboard and mouse, that adds at least another $100-$120 to the cost.

So your $120 Linux Compute Stick is actually a $210-$230 Linux PC. Unless, of course, you’re just plugging the Linux Compute Stick into your TV.

But if your TV has just two HDMI slots (like mine does and both are occupied), then you’re in trouble. On my Samsung LCD TV, one of my HDMI inputs is taken by the Roku box and the other by the home entertainment system.

Some media accounts say the Linux distro on the Compute Stick is Ubuntu 14.04.1 LTS (Trusty Tahr).

Now if the post installation size of Ubuntu 14.04.1 LTS is indeed 6.3GB as some on the Ubuntu forums say, then there’s very little space left on the Compute Stick for other applications or storing your files, documents, video and audio. You will be forced to store your files on the microSD card (not a safe prospect).

Target Market

Intel is pitching the Compute Stick at all and sundry – Consumers, Businesses and Educational institutions.

For consumers, Intel is positioning the Compute Stick as an entry computer for working with productivity apps, reading and composing e-mail, browsing the web and streaming content.

Anyone see a resemblance to the old WebTV thingie from the 1990s?

Intel says the Compute Stick can also be used as an education system, as a thin client, in kiosks, as POS devices in retail and other lightly embedded applications.

In short, Intel thinks the Compute Stick is for most of the things we do with a desktop PC or notebook and more.

Dead on Arrival

After having dicked around with Ubuntu and its spawns like Linux Mint over the last 12 months, I can assure you that 1GB of RAM is definitely not enough. Continue reading »

Apr 082015
 
Should Average Chutiyas Buy an SSD?

You can’t open tech deals sites like Techbargains or Fatwallet these days without seeing notice of further price drops in Solid State Drive (aka SSD) prices. Although SSDs have been around for a few years, they still haven’t caught on with average Chutiyas. Even a gadget obsessed maniac like SI bought the first SSD only […]

Apr 032015
 

Me Bad! Me Terribly, Furiously Bad! Here I was smug in the fantasy that the trashiest films in the Milky Way came from my familiar precincts of Tollywood, Bollywood and Kollywood. Boy did I get disabused of my illusions today! All illusions shattered in the Walpurgis Night of Furious 7, amigos! Utter Garbage Imagine my […]

Apr 022015
 
How Much Do You Really Know about PCs?

Who amongst us has not been touched by personal computers! For the baby boomer generation, no other product has had so powerful an impact on their lives. Not even the contraceptive pill that liberated millions of women and men from the burdensome drudgery of parenthood. From birth to death, the PC now permeates every aspect […]