Vamshidhar Kommineni

December 26, 2006

Movie Review: Children of Men

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vamshi @ 10:21 pm

Rating: 4 stars
Link to Ebert’s review
Link to Rotten Tomatoes’ review aggregation
Link to IMDB

How would the world be if there was no possibility of survival for the human race within a finite period of time? This is the essential question posed by Children of Men. The year is 2027 and no human being has been born on the planet since 2009. Why this is the case is not explained, nor is it really central to the movie. The movie centers around the question above and uses a single pregnant woman (an illegal immigrant in Britain) trying to find passage to the "Human Project" (another organization that receives scant explanation except as end goal) and the people who would help her get there vs the people who would use for political ends as the drivers of the plot.

This is a good movie with the cinematography being the highlight. It is directed by Alfonso Cuaron (he of Y Tu Mama Tambien fame) and camera work is done by Emmanuel Lubezki (who has some impressive cinematography to his credit). In contrast to the rich, lush colors of The New World (also shot by Lubezki), this is a gray, post apocalyptic world made more so by the palette of colors used and the many hand held shots that work well rather than irritate. You have to see it to appreciate it.

The other central thread in the movie is that of immigration policies. In the movie’s world, Britain has survived after a fashion amidst a crumbling world by isolating itself, closing its borders and gathering up all illegal immigrants ("fugies", short for fugitives). This is obviously a subject close to the director’s heart and chillingly depicted in the rounding up of fugies into cages and housed in "refugee camps" in appalling conditions. It forces you to ask yourself the questions about where we are in our current society (the attitudes towards Mexican immigrants in the US or Muslim immigrants in Europe) and where we are headed. In a sly reference to our society, the British government organization that operates the illegal immigrant internment camps is called Homeland Security.

<Warning: spoiler alert> Two scenes in this movie elevate it to 4 stars from 3.5 and make it a must watch. The depiction of the ghetto in which the fugies are housed is almost a future imagined version of the Jewish ghettos as they must have been in World War II. It looks and feels like the descriptions and depictions from the countless World War II books and movies, and is a frightening window into how such atrocities might be committed again in the "civilized" world. The other scene is the long tracking shot involving the baby being carried out past the both the rebel fighters and the government soldiers. Observe the use of sound and the human expressions in this scene.

Another interesting thing I found is how the hero of the movie, Clive Owen (an always underrated actor) never picks up a gun in the entire movie. Not once amidst all the shooting and killing.

This isn’t a perfect movie and the plot does wander at times and leaves too many things unexplained. But it is one of the year’s best movies nevertheless. Watch the movie in the theater if possible for dramatic effect. The turnout was surprisingly good for Christmas evening yesterday.

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October 8, 2006

Crossing the Chasm #1: Automotive navigation systems

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vamshi @ 1:59 am

See my earlier post on why the title "Crossing the Chasm"

One of the gadgets dear to my heart and one that has really made my life a lot easier is the automotive GPS device. I have the navigational and directional sense of a blind lemming. It didn’t hurt much when I lived in Champaign (you go 4 miles in any direction and hit cornfields, so you couldn’t be too lost at any given time), but moving to Seattle in late 2003 and getting lost many times the first month in the company rental car certainly underscored the need for something better.

At the time navigation systems were just beginning to become popular in Europe and the UK, but were mostly non-existent or non-functional in the US. Around this time Honda integrated a gem of a navigation system (sourced from Alpine, if I remember correctly) in their new model Accords and Acuras. Luckily, the Acura TSX was right down the alley of what I was looking for in a new car, and the nav system made it that much more appealing. At the time, most people who saw my car thought the nav system was pretty cool, though very pricey (it was a $2000 option on the car). For me, it was worth every penny, and I still can’t get around parts of Seattle without it. Also makes life very easy when I drive up to Vancouver or down to Portland.

Enough rambling about me though. Since 2003, nav systems have certainly become very mainstream particularly in the last year or so. Every entry level luxury car (Acura, Lexus, BMW, Audi, etc.) provides them as an option as do the mainstream American sedans (Toyota, Honda, etc.). The other reason for the market penetration is due to some great, user friendly after-market products from Tom Tom and Garmin. Another thing that seems to have made quite a difference in the after-market/handheld GPS devices is the SirfStar III chipset that apparently is much faster to satellite lock and much better at holding the signal in city environments (I haven’t had the chance to play with one of these devices yet). Now it seems like everyone is scrambling to release GPS based navigation systems and prices have dropped to the ~$350 range for the devices with smaller screens

Over the next 3-5 years, I see these devices becoming very common in the American market. Optimistically, every car you buy in the future will have them as a low priced option. People will start to see the advantages of this just as Mapquest and the others revolutionized directions. Online maps and directions, while a quantum leap over book based maps, are still pretty deficient (have you ever tried to flip through directions while going 40mph down a high traffic street or tried to take down directions when you dont’ have a printer?), and I do believe that nav systems put them to shame. It’s just taken a lot longer for the adoption because of the cost of entry relative to the basically free online maps.

Incidentally, Microsoft has an interesting stake in this market, since quite a few of the nav system devices run on the Windows CE operating system, and they have a pretty big push into the automotive PC market in general.

Just to give you a flavor on the range of devices available, here are a few that I’ve noticed (my personal favorite is the first one, the Garmin Nuvi) on Engadget over the last few weeks alone (clicking the image takes you to the GPS.Engadget article on them):

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