Sunday, February 28, 2016

Oscars 2016 Predictions: Guesses & Wishes

With the Academy Awards Ceremony around the corner, I guess it's time to come up with some predictions, root for some movies, actors, technicians - end up being happy for some, being sad for some and all that but what goes on paper before, stays on it. So,.....

Here are my predictions (and wishes) for some prominent categories.

Best Editing:
Nominees: Mad Max Fury Road, The Big Short, The Revenant, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Spotlight

My Guess & My Wish: Mad Max is the overwhelming favourite in this race, beating some other films with its unconventional and flashy edits but I somehow have this feeling that Hank Corwin edited The Big Short is going to surprise itself and others for its scintillating work in maintaining the cohesion amidts the chaos surrounding the 4 parallel tracks

Best Cinematography:
Nominees: The Hateful Eight, The Revenant, Carol, Sicario, Mad Max Fury Road

My Guess & My Wish: Even though the efforts of the other nominees are there to be clearly seen in the films they have worked on and have been nominated for, nothing comes as clear and as close to doing the unthinkable as Emmanuel Lubezki's work with his variety in The Revenant. The camera travels with Hugh Glass in many of his ridiculous escapes, stays with the characters in the Bear fight & climax duels, shoots up the heroism with natural lighting when the troops get to see Glass to their utter surprise and evokes nostalgic memories of the 60s spaghetti westerns in its long range wide shots (which the work in The Hateful Eight also manages to do)

Best Supporting Actress:
Nominees: Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl), Rooney Mara (Carol), Rachel McAdams (Spotlight), Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight), Kate Winslet (Steve Jobs)

My Guess: I am bemused at Alicia Vikander being in receipt of a 'supporting actress' nomination given the significance of her role in the film but that's going to tip the balance in her favour as she goes past Kate Winslet's meticulous portrayal of Joanna Hoffman in Steve Jobs. McAdams and JJL didn't have the sort of impact in their roles to get to the winner's circle but the same cannot be said of Rooney Mara.

My Wish: I fervently wish and hope that the Jury gets bowled over by Rooney Mara's representation of the meek, passionate and confused Therese Belivet in Carol and give her the award.

Best Supporting Actor:
Nominees: Mark Ruffalo (Spotlight), Sylvester Stallone (Creed), Tom Hardy (The Revenant), Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies), Christian Bale (The Big Short)

My Guess & My Wish: I am a big Rocky fan and I know I would be delighted to see the Italian Stallion get decorated with an Oscar; I liked the seasoned performance of Mark Rylance as the spy in Bridge of Spies & the devotion and confidence that Bale shows on his skills in The Big Short; I thought Tom Hardy was a revelation in The Revenant with his villainy and scary idealogies BUT the mind stays with my heart on this one in predicting that the ambitious 'go-getter' in Mike Rezendes of Spotlight is going to help Mark Ruffalo go get his much deserved Oscar in his third such attempt at Oscar glory.

Best Screenplay (Original):
Nominees: Bridge of Spies, Spotlight, Ex Machina, Inside Out, Straight Outta Compton

My Guess & My Wish: To be fair, I haven't seen 3 out of the 5 films nominated here. So, all I can guess is to just go by instincts and I just feel it would be a mighty task for any of these films to have something on them to power over the magic that the simplicity in Spotlight's screenplay commands. Coens' work in Bridge of Spies was simple and charming but Spotlight beats it by a considerable margin

Best Screenplay (Adapted):
Nominees: The Martian, The Big Short, Room, Carol, Brooklyn

My Guess & My Wish: It is very difficult to recreate the magic that a great page-turning book offers but if McKay and Randolph are getting praised for doing just that in The Big Short, I can see why! The film is totally devoted to its unconventional 'Scorsese-Thelma'ish treatment of a technical subject and it works incredibly well! Who wouldn’t like Selena Gomez explain synthetic Collaterized Debt Obligations from a casino table or Margot Robbie in a bathtub explaining sub-prime mortgages comparing it with shit?!

Best Actor:
Nominees: Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl), Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs), Bryan Cranston (Trumbo), Matt Damon (The Martian), Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant)

My Guess & My Wish: By virtue of the nominations, it could be a three way battle with Redmayne's bid to defend his Award from last year in a role tailor-made for Oscar glory and the nonchalance associated with the Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston for his role in Trumbo but the weight of his previous nominations, his winning spree this year and his display of LITERALLY 'getting-into-the-skin', I am quite bullish on the prospects of the man who fought with the Bear. The Oscar is going to decorate Leonardo DiCaprio's accomplishments come Sunday, with Roger Federer cheering him on from the gallery. Well, that's going to be 'some moment' and hopefully, it happens!

Best Actress:
Nominees: Brie Larson (Room), Charlotte Rampling (45 Years), Cate Blanchett (Carol), Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn), Jennifer Lawrence (Joy)

My Guess: I join the bandwagon in calling Brie Larson the overwhelming favourite to win this one, just like Patricia was last year for her Boyhood role. Being cast as a mother has its benefits, I see! Cate didn't do anything exceedingly special to warrant an additional Oscar and Saoirse has years and talent to take her to the finish line in the years to come but Jennifer Lawrence can spring a surprise if the Jury saw what I saw with her show in Joy

My Wish: Jennifer Lawrence getting it just for expressing herself so convincingly that I came out of the perception of JLaw's suave image and mediocre talent and instead, started seeing the struggles of Joy, empathises and rooted for her success in her business and enjoyed every bit of her swag at the end.

Best Director:
Nominees: George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road), Adam McKay (The Big Short), Lenny Abrahamson (Room), Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (The Revenant), Tom McCarthy (Spotlight)

My Guess & My Wish: McKay, McCarthy and Abrahamson have been impressive coming to the limelight displaying immense promise and potential but Miller and Inarritu have still not given them an easy path to glory ruling their chances out with their own glorious outings. As a Steven Spielberg fan, I sincerely admonish his snubbing in this category but I don't see anything that can stop the genius and vision that Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu has translated to a vivid viewing experience handling his troop mighty well in the tumultous experience of shooting in the wilderness in The Revenant.

Best Picture:
Nominees: The Revenant, The Big Short, Bridge of Spies, Spotlight, The Martian, Brooklyn, Room, Mad Max: Fury Road

My Guess: After guessing The Best Actor, Best Cinematography, Best Director for the same film and knowing how the patterns work, it is tough to not guess that the same film would win the Best Picture award as well but that's exactly what I am going to do in placing this risky bet. With due respect to all the nominees, I feel it is going to be a two-way shootout between Spotlight that charms with its magic & simplicity and The Revenant that manifests magnificence with its painstaking brilliance; Only this time, the charm might go on to outwit the grandeur!

Spotlight is going to be in the spotlight as the curtains are drawn on the Academy Awards ceremony, for an 88th time!

Predictions for some of the other categories:
Best Animated Film - Inside Out
Best Costume Design - Mad Max: Fury Road
Best Foreign Film - Son of Saul
Best Make up & Hair Styling - Mad Max: Fury Road
Best Music - Ennio Morricone, for The Hateful Eight
Best Production Design - Mad Max: Fury Road
Best Sound Editing - The Revenant
Best Sound Mixing - The Revenant
Best Visual Effects - Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Who are you placing your bets on?

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Visaaranai - Takes one Hope away, Gives one too!

After my Visaaranai show last evening, as I walked through a quiet stairway in the mall, I was suspicious and got wary of a loner walking behind me and had him in the corner of my eye. I had the same feeling when I was in the elevator, again, with only one other person giving company. Though these lasted just for seconds, that was the sort of impact the film had on me. The assumption that other humans can be trusted for no reason seemed to have been tested!

There are films like Forrest Gump, The Shawshank Redemption & the recent The Revenant which offer hope to mankind reminding us of the greatness humans can soar to and there are films like Visaaranai, which provide us with a stark reminder on the other extreme humans can hit to save themselves.

Vetrimaaran has taken his time to come up with this tale and one can see why he needed that if one were to observe the efforts gone into its making right from the tiny details like the indistinct yet relevantly written mumblings from the wireless police devices to the water-tight screenplay that keeps us glued to the proceedings. It would be a sin if I were to not mention the little symbolic touches that make tremendous impact on us as he takes us through this cinematic experience. To mention a few:

  • The choice of Ayudha Pooja for the setup didn't seem random to me. That's one festival with which you can bring the motif 'Cleaning' into the picture. The repeated emphasis on 'cleaning' the Police Station is a clear dig at the corruption that has rendered the office impure. A special kudos for the twice-repeated "AC Ayya irukarapo Clean  panna varaadha thambi" which sends the message on the percolation of corruption and its degree even at the north side of the system's hierarchy
  • Murugan, as he gleefully observes Tamil Police being benevolent in contrast to their counterparts from Andhra Pradesh, is shown to add waste to the dustbin without noticing it is piled up with garbage to its brim. His ignorance of the piled up garbage outside is his ignorance of the corrupt nature of the men inside
  • The callousness of the officers and the significance (or the lack of it) offered to the value of the lives of our heroes is brought forth in three simple, yet shuddering sequences. 
Scene 1: Happens in the verandah of the R.K. Puram Police Station. The head officer clad in lungi readies himself for his ploy of making our heroes 'accept' to having done the crime they weren't actually part of. As he begins his dressing down session, he shows resent over the quality of the Palm-husk readied by his sub-ordinates for the beating even as our heroes squeal in extreme pain and suffering
Scene 2: Happens in the first floor of the police complex as AC, DC orchestrate (sorry about the intended pun) the plan to seal off an internal gaffe. The DC is shown to cooly apply drops to his eyes not once, but twice as they discuss limiting the duration of the lives of the insignificant few in the building
Scene 3: Happens in the nondescript house when a police officer (known for clearing up goof-ups) calmly offers consolation while he puts the handcuffs on the insignificant ones as they shiver in shock  seeing one of their own slowly lose his life's battle against the bullet
  • A hint of the final scene is given much earlier,  through the last words of wisdom the captured auditor offers to the Officer in-charge of his arrest: "Naalaiku vera yaarayo vechu unna mudipaanga; 'This' game ends there". The presage is not so much about the imminent death of the officer as it is about the one who does it. 'Vera yaarayo' & 'This' are key here. Not many of us would have expected I-2's Chandran to be that Yevano Oruvan when he is introduced in the film. That's the scary point. When you are a victim of the evils of the system, you are bound to be silenced by someone who you may not even have met. The film could have easily continued with Chandran being silenced by someone else. He becomes the victim the moment he kills the officer. That's another game, for another day!
  • I'm not sure if I was reading too much into it but I felt the winding single-shot in the decisive scene where the DC meets our insignificant heroes of the tale was deliberate. The shot begins as the camera panes and travels behind the DC into the washroom & takes a U-turn as it comes out following our heroes who are led downstairs. That's the moment when their lives take the 'U-turn' and it's only downhill for them from there!

Going beyond these little magical touches, the film presents a pressing case of how men who don't have the ultimate power are all mere players in the game designed by the opportune few at the top. Our heroes fall prey to Police officers from Guntur and Chennai, who have no go other than to devise their wily ways of torturing the hopeless lot to escape from ones who instruct them to meet their monthly numbers, who have their own wily ways of minting money from the power centres to compensate for the loss of their conscience when put into such irrecoverable wormholes of situations.

This one focused on the Police system, on how the men who can influence the system rig it to suit their needs with no concern for anything outside of their needs. But this can be extended to any system that man has created; any system he can bend to suit his desires. It could be you, it could be me at the receiving end of it. Think of it - We all already are, in a few cases.

Visaaranai takes away hope - The hope that your life is always in your control;

Visaaranai gives hope - The hope that there still are film-makers who can genuinely make you think a lot about films & how you actually are part of the stories some of them make.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Taxi Fare Comparison (Ola, Uber & Taxi For Sure) for Bangalore & Chennai

Take dynamic & differential pricing out of the system and urban life becomes a lot more peaceful to handle. No longer do we choose the closest cinema hall for movie-watching. We get to compare prices across halls, across show-times & to add to the complexity, across payment modes - one guy offering a cashback of 15% against another giving a flat Rs.50/- discount - Now, one of these is to be translated to a common unit to arrive at a decision. Coming to think of it, all this is too much effort for arriving at a 'decision' to spend on having some leisurely time away from work!

The same holds good across domains with the spread of mobile apps, new revenue models & pricing concepts (bordering unethical!). This post intends to offer help towards your decision on one such curious case - that of deciding on 'Which taxi service to book depending on the expected traffic, the distance to cover & the type of the vehicle needed'.

The visualisation below is based on the current pricing model adopted by Ola, Uber & Taxi For Sure in Bangalore and Chennai. It will be updated frequently to reflect any tweaks these service providers are going to come up with in the near future. I had initially created this on an Excel file to help myself. But where is the fun if something as handy as this isn't shared? Here it is for public use. Go ahead and share it with friends who use these services extensively.

  • The filters are self-explanatory allowing you to choose the options that suit your need. (Select only one item in each filter for it to make sense; You can't be in Bangalore and Chennai at the same time, right?)
  • You also have the option of choosing the Multiplier value ('X' factor of these service providers to confuse the rider) for each service before comparison. They are set to '1' by default.
  • Take your mouse over the dots corresponding to the distance you expect to travel, the visual will show the price for each service for the city, traffic type, cab type & multipliers chosen

If the visualisation widget doesn't get rendered properly on Mobile phone, you could look at it here:

Fares as on: 10th Feb, 2016 (Revised rates for Uber in Chennai have been taken into account)

ATP Top 50 Career Win % vs Age

Inspired by this viz piece by Jessica Minton on the Age vs Success Ratio of Quarterbacks in Superbowl, I set out on a similar visualization to see how things looked for the ATP Top 50, thanks to easy data availability via the stats page of

Here is the viz:

If you can't access the whole visual, check it out here

You can hover over each dot on the plot to find more details on each player represented by the dot.

Interesting Observations from the Viz:

  • Average Age of ATP Top 50 is 28.1
  • Average Success % of ATP Top 50 is 62.2%
  • Tennis is a tough sport. Only 4 players have a success rate of >75%, the Big Four. In other words means, only 4 of them are expected to win at least 3 out of any 4 matches played in succession
  • There are JUST 7 active Grand Slam Champions (including del Potro who isn't in top 50 today), 4 other slam finalists & 5 other Masters finalists which talks of the mind-boggling domination of the select few in the upper echelon of men's tennis
  • At the same time, tennis gives its opportunities. The last few in top 50 have a win rate of just above 50%. In other words, you win one, you lose one and if you do this consistently you are going to be hovering around the top 50 in the world. Another indication of how tough and brutal the knock-out format tennis follows is!
  • At the age of 34, Roger Federer maintains such a high level winning % of 82% (which is on par with what Novak and Rafa have currently, before even their expected decline)
  • The man with the lowest win % in top 50 is Guillermo Garcia Lopez (52% success rate)
  • The youngest in the top 50, Borna Coric enjoys an above average success rate of 64% which is expected to go higher as he continues to make progress
Hope you like this.