The Review Corner

Singletons - Meet your "invisible" partner

Before I get into this, I need to let you in on a little secret. Well, not exactly a secret, more like, there’s something you need to know about me. No, I’m not crazy…well, not yet anyway.  I’m an ardent fan of utilising technology in every day life, with a view to simplifying certain processes and speeding certain things up. But every now and then, I stumble across certain new apps, which to be honest, stump me. This is one such one.

Let me start with a bit of a preface. We all know that there are a lot of socio-cultural differences between the so-called Western world and their Asian counterparts. However there is one question that transcends boundaries, countries , religion, caste, creed and everything else. And that is, “Are you seeing anyone? / Are you still single?” Though previously unheard in Asia, particularly in India, these days it’s no longer considered taboo to have had a girlfriend / boyfriend (s) prior to getting married. And if you’re of marriageable age, then ideally you are expected to be in a serious relationship, if not married already.

Before we get into a heated debate, I am in no way saying that a marriage is the be all or end all of a relationship. Marriage is sometimes just a strengthening of the bond, sometimes its just some paperwork, other times it’s due to social compulsion. I still maintain my stand on the topic - Marriage, it’s not for every one. If you feel the need or want for it, then do it. If not, live together. Anyway, I digress.
Come to think of it, let’s maybe think of this as a story. We have a hero, say, Matt. Matt’s been single for a while. And he likes to mingle. Which is absolutely perfect. But at every  social gathering he goes to, all the “nosy Toms” want to know just one thing - “Why are you still single?”. Now, though it’s absolutely none of their business, Matt decides to take the polite approach and cooks up a story about his girlfriend, who he has been seeing for a while; about how it was unfortunate that she had to go overseas on a business trip; about how he misses her and he wishes she was there. But the problem is that the the nosy nosersons are quite “socially” active these days - which means unlike older times, they are more likely to spy on Matt’s social life through the already well-established “spy-networks” of Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus and the likes.
Would you like an "invisible" partner?
Would you like an "invisible" partner? - Image courtesy

Which means that Matt now needs to cover his tracks. So in true James Bond style, Matt decides to use technology to help him. Unfortunately Matt is neither an engineer nor is that tech-savvy. Step in the “Invisible Girlfriend” app. Touted to be man’s next best invention since sliced bread (by the makers of course), the app can provide a range of relationship "tokens" to help keep the conversation going, and help Matt escape those judgemental looks from friends and family. So yes, coming back to the relationship prompts - the app provides a range of options from SMSes and  “emergency interaction” to what is now considered the “true sign of a relationship” - a Facebook relationship status change :) All Matt needs to decide is what subscription he needs to go for.

There’s the :

a. Just Talking - SMSes, automated calls and some gifts for $9.99 per month

b. Getting Serious  - Just talking plus Facebook relationship changes and real voicemails and girls all for a paltry $29.99 per month

c. Almost Engaged - This offers all the advantages of Getting Serious plus “custom girlfriend characterisation” and live phone calls, all for just $49.99. Matt can even pick a "girlfriend" from the company’s “extensive library”

Now, is that WOW or what? (holding up a sarcasm board)

So that’s that then; for the millions of Matts out there in the world who want to enjoy their single life whilst “maintaining a potentially infallible story-line”,  well, they have the invisible girlfriend app, if they can afford it. Alternatively, they could just do what the rest of us normal people do and get in a real relationship or better yet, just ask them to mind their own business.

Frankly, I’m not quite sure what the makers of the app were thinking when they came up with this ridiculous notion. Maybe it was the result of one drunken night and lots of "creative" single men.

Here’s the link to the website, if you are keen to explore the options. Bear in mind that they’ve not gone live yet - wonder why :)

The Kill List - Forsyth at his undeniably best

The Kill List is master storyteller Frederick Forsyth’s latest addition to his long list of cutting-edge suspense thrillers.

The Kill List - Cover Image courtesy of Google Images

Plot Line:

America has a new enemy - The Preacher, who has just made it onto their short top hit list of people who are to be tracked down and killed at every cost. This top secret catalogue is known internally as “The Kill List”. The Preacher is masked figure with blazing amber eyes, who radicalizes young Muslims abroad to carry out high profile assassinations.
To hunt down the Preacher, the United States appoints one of its many classified organisations, blandly named as TOSA or Technical Operations Support Activity, who in turn passes the mission on to their star crusader, only known as the Tracker, who is an ex-marine.
Armed with very little evidence and unable to trust anyone around, the Tracker has his work cut out. And when one such radicalised youth, kills a retired Marine general, whose son happens to the Tracker, the hunt becomes extremely personal.

In my opinion:

It is a typical Forsyth classic - fast moving, action-packed and backed with excellent research. Whilst not in the same league as that of  “The Day of the Jackal” or “The Odessa File”, The Kill List does have its edge-of-your-seat moments.  Forsyth’s detailed research for all his books is what sets him apart from some his contemporaries, and it’s no different with this novel either. What I loved best about the book, apart from the well-paced plot, is the exceptional detail about the military, their impeccable execution under pressure and how the entire premise is very real-world-real-scenario based.
Yes, there are some minute flaws in the story line, the end-result is quite predictable and the final confrontation is a bit rushed. However  as some wise people have said in the past, “ It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey!”. And the “journey” that this book takes us on, from the deep, impenetrable mountains of Afghanistan to the vicious pirate-infested “Horn of Africa”, is an outstandingly well-crafted and enjoyable one.

Final Verdict:

The Kill List by Frederick Forsyth is an excellent blend of well-paced military action, the quintessential real-world hero, enthralling    writing and the archetypal Machiavellian bad guy. A definite read.

Overall Rating : 4 / 5

Bibliographic info:

Title                  The Kill List
Author              Frederick Forsyth
Publisher          Penguin Group US, 2013
Length              352 pages
 Genre                Fiction | Thrillers  | Suspense | Military

Aye aye Captain - A review of Captain Phillips

It takes a lot to make me write a review for a movie. Not because I do not take the pains to dissect it; purely because I'm inherently lazy. But not this time. This movie deserves every bit of the praise. Captain Phillips is an incredible dramatisation attempt by director Paul Greengrass (of the Bourne Series, Greenzone & United 93 fame) to recreate the "true" story of how the American cargo ship "The Maersk Alabama" was hijacked by Somali pirates back in 2009. With two-time Academy Award® winner Tom Hanks in the titular role and a  screenplay-to-act-for by Billy Ray (of The Hunger Games, State of Play, Shattered Glass fame), the movie should definitely be on any hard core movie buff's to-watch list!

Image Credit from the Wikipedia Website

As it is based on a true story, the plot itself is quite predictable. To put it briefly, it's about four young Somali pirates hijacking the behemoth of an American cargo ship, in the hope of making some money by holding them ransom. However it takes an immensely talented director to be able to keep us on the edge of our seats, with a story we know the ending to. Nevertheless, the director Paul Greengrass managed to do it with United 93, and has successfully done it with Captain Phillips too.

The plot itself has multiple layers, and people like me, who have a tendency to over-analyse will find much to feed our brains. Though in a nutshell, it is  a heroic survival tale against all odds, the plot also touches on a number of different issues from the plight of the fishermen in Somalia who have resorted to being pirate-raiders for the manipulative ring leaders to how globalisation has left as much as fifty people competing for one job.

Tom Hanks, as Captain Richard Phillips, lives and breathes the role of the eponymous merchant mariner to the letter. He sails effortlessly through every scene, be it the reserved and methodical Captain Phillips that we see at the beginning of the movie, or the sleep, water and food-depraved traumatic Phillips being held captive by the Somali pirates. Though he is splendid throughout, the last five minutes of the movie is when he truly delivers the performance worthy of another Academy Award®. You've got to 'see it to "feel" it'!

However it's not all the Tom Hanks show. He is matched step-for-step and act-by-act by newcomer Barkhad Abdi, whose electrifying performance of the pirate leader Abduwali Muse, has already gathered rave reviews. Perhaps the most enthralling scene the two of them have together is when Muse, after boarding the ship, looks dead-eye straight at Phillips and says  "Look me in the eye – I'm the Captain now!". As the ringleader Muse, Abdi portrays the perfect eclectic mix of intense determination and sheer desperation of someone who has gone way too far to turn back and has no other way out.

With a run time of 134 minutes, the movie starts off a tad slow, but soon has us gripped-by-our-throats with the suspense and tension. Greengrass makes good use of every available tool at his disposal, and be it the claustrophobic scene inside the "being-constantly-tossed-by-the-sea" lifeboat or the "unabated negotiations" between the US Navy and the pirates, he executes them with panache. Technically, the movie is exceptionally crafted and we find ourselves "virtually" present for every scene. The cinematography by Barry Ackroyd is exceptional and the riveting  background music by Henry Jackman adds to the overall mood.

As i said earlier, it takes a true genius to wring suspense from a screenplay that you know the end to. And once again, Paul Greengrass has done just that.

My final verdict: A pulsating survival story of the captain of an American cargo ship kidnapped by Somali pirates, executed brilliantly by Director Paul Greengrass and Academy-Award-worthy acting by Tom Hanks and debutante Barkhad Abdi.

P.S. I've not provided a detailed scene-by-scene description of the storyline on purpose. At the end of the day, it's a thriller, and though the story in its entireity  is available on the public domain, I'm of the opinion that its best if we just know the synopsis and "relive" the movie, as the director and actors meant for us to. 

Watch the YouTube trailer here for Captain Phillips by Sony Pictures: