Monthly Archives: March 2006

Movie Review: Studio 54

This will be reasonably quick. Studio 54 is a film about the club in the late 70’s that elevated debauchery and exclusivity to a new level.

The wierdest part of the movie is the actors who are in it. Mike Meyers as Steve Rubell playing a somewhat serious role as the decadent club owner. Neve Cambell the debutante TV soap star trying to break into the mainstream any which way she can. Watching them gives you a wierd shit moment.

There are better movies that cover this time period. My personal preference remains The Last Days of Disco.

Studio 54 tries to explore the fascination America and the world had with Studio 54. The claim is that Rubell allowed the pretty little people to hang with the rich and famous. So everyone wanted to be in. They wanted to be part of the club that let them for a brief night be one of the special people. It wasn’t an exclusive club, it was a club that anyone could go to if they were hot enough.

But do we really need an entire 2 hours to explore that theme? The movie itself has obvious moments that make one groan. The love interest, the death, the speach, the “you are irrelevant young man, I made you” moment, the father rejecting the son’s lifestyle etc…

You could skip this movie entirely. Although watching Mike Myers ask Breckin Meyer for a blowjob is both funny and repulsive at the same time. has information on this topic…

Movie Review: Hotel Rwanda

It’s April 19th 1994, and a genocide is taking place in Rwanda.

A year earlier on April 23rd 1993 the Holocaust Memorial Museum is founded. The museum is dedicated to the premise that the systematic slaughter of one people by another is wrong, so wrong that the American people will never allow it.

Hotel Rwanda is the true story of Paul Rusesabagina, played by Don Cheadle, the manager of a 5 star hotel who saves 1200 people from the Tsutsi genocide. The general tale is simple enough. Paul as a hotel manager of a prestigious hotel is able to exploit his contacts and his resources to buy enough time to be saved by the Tsutsi rebels that overthrew the murderous Hutu faction.

Watching Hotel Rwanda shames the west. Paul could have at any point in time saved his own skin and the skin of his family. He could have walked away from the Hotel, from Rwanda and into security. But he chose not to. And he did this not to save his friends or his family, but to save 1200 random strangers that he did not know.

Instead of Paul’s heroism the lone super-power was so determined to avoid intervening in Rwanda that the WhiteHouse spokesman said: There are acts of genocide taking place. Not that there is a genocide, but acts of genocide. Because if there had been a genocide the US would have had to intervene.

Maybe Clinton was afraid of another Somalian fiasco. Maybe we, the west, felt that it was just another bit of African’s killing African’s. Nothing to worry ourselves about.

When reading about the founding of Israel, we learn the contempt the founding fathers had for support from outside powers. They knew that if they were to depend on someone else they were to to sign their own death warrants. The moral lesson from Rwanda is the same. That if you expect outside powers to intervene on your behalf you are foolish. That the west will not intervene, but will at a later point construct a monument to your suffering.

The more I study history and observe the world, the more I wonder whether Woody Allen was more of a genius than I thought. In Hannah and Her Sisters one of his characters remarks on the Holocaust: What we should be asking is not why it happened but why doesn’t it happen more often.

On a final note, if you want to read a detailed description of the blood bath in Rwanda, I recommend the book We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda. The book does a lot to cover the details of the carnage and provides some historical context.

Movie Review: Broken Flowers

In Broken Flowers Bill Murray reprises the role of Bob from Lost in Translation.

Whereas in Sophia Coppola’s film we have a wistfully irreverent film that explores the alienation of Bob to his life through the feeling alienation a westerner experiences in Japan, Broken Flowers is an indie film that tries to be twice as clever and half as fun.

The symbolism, the sets, the quiet silent moments and the utterly unsatsifying ending all create this feeling of alienation in the audience. This peculiar sense of why the f**k am I watching this movie? And can someone please the gun…

spoilers below…

The movie begins in Don’s sterile home. His girlfriend abandons him. His aloneness is contrasted with the vibrant life in his neighbors house. A house that has 5 children, a wife and celebrations of life. In case we miss the comparison, his girlfriend asks: Don’t you want to be like Winston, your neighbor?

Stuck in this lonely space, an ex sends him a letter announcing a child that may or may not be looking for him. With nothing better to do, he goes on a roadtrip to visit the four girlfriends he had some twenty years ago. The first is a blue collar widow of a NASCAR driver. The second a sterile frigid woman who once was a hippie. The third a pet therapist who is now a lesbian. The fourth quintessential white trash that will not speak to him. The fifth is dead.

When he arrives back home he notices a young man that appears to be following him. He approaches the young man and we think for a moment that boy must be the son. However, when confronted with this comment, the young man reacts violently and runs away. Don is thus left alone and confused and wondering what exactly the point of his life really was.

In case we miss that point the camera pans around him and we realize he is standing staring at a four way intersection in some random neighborhood.

There is a cult of indie worship in this world. I am fan of good movies. This movie was too clever and not fun.


Movie Review: Kinsey

There is a movie that will explore the transformation of America by the Kinsey report. In this movie, we will understand how information can destroy myth and legend. How fact can liberate the human soul.

This is not that movie.

The movie begins in Indiana, where a young man is taking the sexual history of Kinsey. As he asks Kinsey detailed personal questions, we learn about the test, and about the personal sexual history of Kinsey.

And that’s what the movie is about. The test and how it was used to create the two seminal works on male and female sexuality and Kinsey’s rather interesting sexual life.

Kinsey’s sex life is intended to act as a proxy for America’s sex life. He starts out ignorant and fearful about sex. As he learns more he becomes more comfortable and happier. In the beginning he is reading a manual on how to avoid masturbating. In the middle we watch him have sex with a man, and then allow his wife to have sex with the same man. At the end of the film he is lecturing his graduate students about the dangers of mixing free sex with emotional entaglements.

The film stars great comedic actors: John Lithgow, Tim Curry and Oliver Platt. And it’s a shame that they play the roles of the great villians in American sexual life. A shame because although very funny they trivialize how villianous the Church, the scientific establishment, and money were. The Church used sex to control the people. The scientific establishment was unwilling to investigate the topic to avoid controversy. The establishment did not want to pretend that they were doing it and wanted to appear as good Christians. As a result thousands suffered because of their lack of nerves.

The film is funny. In some ways it’s the 40 Year Old Virgin all over again. Of course when you talk about sex, it’s going to be funny. The sexual histories that are collected and shared are absurdly funny. Kinsey’s in particular has ridiculously funny moments. For example, his wife, played by Laura Lienney, is at the doctor’s office and is asked to show us how big Kinsey’s penis was. Well it turns out that Kinsey had a 12″. But watching the whole sequence of the doctor showing the ruler, the husband squirming and then the wife squirming and then doctor’s eye bugging out is too funny.

The problem with humor in this film, is that there is a serious topic burried in all of the sex jokes. That America was repressed and as a result people were hurt. During the filme we are reminded that this is not just good clean fun but serious business. Unfortunately those moments of seriousness clash so violently with the humour that those serious side jaunts seem out of place.

The one sad truth about this film, is that in the absence of decent sexual education people will hurt themselves. With various religious groups encouraging abstinence and discouraging information in the face of plague, the tragedy of the 50’s seems to be repeating itself. This film would be a success if one of those morons and their leader that think that sex-ed is the problem were to understand that ignorance is the problem. In the profoundly ignorant 50’s people were doing it all of the time!

Movie Review: Downfall or Der Untergang

Downfall is a German film about the final days of Adolf Hitler. Thanks to 60 years worth of historical study, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the revelations of the participants, the exact details of the events are well understood. This particular version of the story is as accurate as it will ever be.

A German writing about the end of Nazi Germany is conflicted. On the one hand is the tragedy of the events in Berlin. Thousands of Germans died defending Adolf Hitler’s bunker. And in the movie it is abundantly clear that is what they are defending. Not Germany, not the Nazi party but Hitler. On the other hand, this was Nazi Germany. As a Greek who has visited memorials throughout Greece to massacres perpetrated by Nazi Germans, who is initimately familiar with the Genocide practiced on the Jews thanks to his own personal study of the topic, I find it hard to feel sorry for the Berliners. Like Goebbels says: They claim innocence but no one forced them to go east. There is satisfaction in seeing Berlin destroyed in 1945, and then there is horror in understanding that you feel satisfaction.

This is a profoundly disturbing film. And that is it’s power.

The film is shot from the perspective of Trauld Junge Adolf Hitler’s young secretary. Traudl Junge, in an interview at the beginning of the film admits that she thought joining the Nazi’s would be a great adventure. At the end of the film in the conclusion of the interview reminds the German audience and ourselves, that not knowing is not an excuse when such horrors are taking place. And that’s what the movie does. It shows how people chose not to know. How they chose to believe. How they desperately clung to the power of the Fuhrer. Trauld repeatedly is given an oppurtunity to flee the Fuhrer, to escape. And yet she doesn’t. Is it because she is loyal to the Fuhrer or because she does not believe it could end?

And that’s the part that frightens. How so many of the Germans who surrounded Hitler were convinced that without their Fuhrer, life was not worth living. Hitler was some kind of God who personified their entire aspirations, and his death destroyed all hope. Goebbel’s wife kills her children because she believes that life without Adolf is not a life worth living. The various SS officers upon learing of Hitler’s death blow their brains out rather than continue living.
There are three attributes that make the film particularly powerful.

The first is the performance of the actors who capture the insanity of the participants.

The second is the bunker as a symbol of death. The film is shot almost entirely in the bunker. We, the audience, escape the bunker only momentarily during the film to see Berlin being destroyed. The bunker transforms itself during the movie from a place of refuge to a final resting place. A place to flee from if you want to live, like Himmler, and come to if you want to die, like Goebbel’s wife. The bunker becomes the sepulcher of Nazi Germany. Only when Hitler is finally dead is the audience and Germany allowed to exit from the bunker. It’s only then that we begin to feel safe, that there is finally hope.
Finally he story itself. This is the final days of a powerful evil force. Watching it die is like watching the end of a horrible disease. There is something immensely satisfying and horrifying about this end.

Bruno Ganz as Adolf Hitler puts on a masterful performance.

A fantastic film. Definitely worth watching.

Software visionairies vs pragmatists

In the software industry there are two fundamentalist camps on how to deliver new technologies.

On the one side live the visionairies. They believe in the revolutionary power of their technology. They believe in their ability to impose the technology on the market place because of the trancedence of the solution. Software visionairies believe in radical technological breaks. They believe they are chosen to change the world.

On the other side is the software prgamatist. The pragmatistfocusses on the plausibility of the solution. How can the broadest set of customers be satisfied by combining the best attributes of multiple solutions. Sometimes the final outcome is less elegant, less pristine, but typically is adopted by more people. The pragmatist may be visionary in how he views the end goal, but is pragmatic in how he gets there.

The tension between the pragmatist and the visionary is that the pragmatist’s willingness to compromise may ultimately affect his ability to actually ever deliver on the vision whereas the visionairy’s unwillingness to compromise may affect his ability to get revenue.

Companies, at their core, are either visionary or pragmatic. A visionary company will have multiple disconnected architectures that have no relationship to each other but represent huge bets of money time and revenue. A company of software pragmatists has a single architecture that continues to evolve over time.

Intel is a pragmatic company. For years they viewed compatibility and evolution as core to their business. Itanium, which was visionary, had to be made compatible with the X86 architecture because of Intel’s pragmatic DNA. Itanium failed to deliver the 64 bit world Intel imagined. Instead 64 bit architectures came to the masses when another very pragmatic company, AMD, did something Intel should have done: extend the x86 architecture.

Apple is a visionary company. For years under the between-Steve-Jobs-CEO’s, Apple declined because pragmatism was rammed down a company that was at it’s heart visionary. Only when Jobs showed up and pushed visionary ideas throughout the company, did the company start to recover.

A company can succeed by being visionary and by being pragmatic. A company fails when the path it chooses is at odds with the fundamental DNA of it’s core leadeship.

Having said that both can lead to success, most big successful companies that have had long shelf lives were run by pragmatists. Companies that spent prolifigately, embarked on many different initiatives, changed architectures, operations, and systems regularly tend to have not succeed over the long haul. But that might be perception, not reality.

On a personal level, being a visionary is more fun. You get to ignore the real world because you believe the world will bend to your view of reality.  Being a pragmatist on the other hand is messier, more painful and over the long haul more lucrative. When I started out at SGI I was seduced by the visionaries. I think by this time, I’ve evolved to being a pragmatist.

Movie Review: V for Vendetta

Last night I went to see V for Vendetta, a film based on the comic book by Alan Moore.

Warning: Spoilers.

The comic book revolutionized the art form because it did not have any thought bubbles, and because the main dramatic character had no facial expressions. As a result, the feeling of mystery and uncertainty about V, the main character, was enhanced. An essential aspect of the comic is we never really understand who V is or why he does what he does. Is it all part of an elaborate vendetta or is he a revolutionary or is it all of the above?

The comic book is very subversive. Essentially V claims that liberty and justice have sold themselves out for stability and power, and that the only way to restore freedom is to transform the power structure to an anarchy. An anarchy is not a place where there is no order, but that order is not imposed.

In addition to politics, the comic book attempts, modestly successfully, like Les Miserables, to not only address the big questions but also the little ones of the little people. V the comic book wants to be a tapestry not a simple morality play. For example, in a bar a meaningless character pleads to the fingermen (the secret police) to let his mother live with him, and the fingermen point out that she should have been sent to the homes years ago. He complains that the homes are gas chambers. The fingerman turns to him and says: No, truth be told they are a room with three men and a truncheon. At which point the man breaks down and asks why must man live this way. The protestor is quickly subdued.

The movie is less subversive and less amibitious. It’s more a critique of fascism than a critique of structured government. The villian is not justice brokered by powerful men, but the powerful men running the show. It’s a story about revolutionary violence, not a story about the violence perpetrated by power. And perhaps it’s even a critique of the Bush administration.

Having said all of that, the movie retains the flavor of the comic book, and the creators of the Matrix do in fact know how to put together action sequences and exploit special effects to dramatic effect. So the movie entertains even if the moronic love moment between V and Eve could have been removed … the predictability of it was pathetic.

Which brings me to the other piece. The comic book structure is divided into two elegant parts. In part I we discover V as a man performing a Vendetta on his enemies from the Larkhill asylum. At the end of Part I we are left wondering like Finch, was V performing a Vendetta when he killed anyone who knew him and now it’s done? Or was V planning something bigger? Or did V kill everyone not to recognize him but to create a plausible back story? Or what? The second part is where we discover the or what.

The movie structure eliminates the creepiness of the descent into V’s insanity. The movie V is a revolutionary who announces his Vendetta and his Vengence on society in the openingin sequence. We know he plans to blow up parliament as he dramatically declares his revolution in the first 15 minutes of the film. This creates tension in the movie, but alters the comic book pacing and reduces the impact and creepiness of the murders.

The movie, instead adds some back story explaining why the fasicst come to power, although the backstory is silly and predictable. However, there is a small moment of surprise when we discover that perhaps the entire back story is really all part of V’s plan.

Natalie Portman, as Eve Harmond, fails to capture the essence of the most dramatic moment of the comic book. When Eve finally discovers that she is free from the bonds in her head. The directors can not be blamed for altering the structure of the comic book, the problem is that Natalie simply can not convey the Matrix like moment where you discover that you were trapped in a cage and now, at long last, you are free. Part of the problem is that they could not use makeup effectively to show the degradation of Eve’s body. Some bruises, dirt etc would have helped significantly.

Hugo Weaving performed admirably, and with restraint as V.

John Hurst did a great job as the crazed leader of the fasicst organization.

All in all a fine and entertaining movie that captures the spirit if not the essence of V.

Play Review: Anna in the Tropics

Anna in the Tropics by Cuban-American author Nilo Cruz is currently performed by the bay area theatre company TheatreWorks . The play is set in small town in Tampa Bay Florida in a cigar factory in 1929. The factory is a family owned factory where cigars are manufactured by hand, and the workers are entertained with stories told by a lector. A man paid by the workers to read whatever the workers want, almost like a live radio station.

The lector in this play serves as metaphorical narator as he reads Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. Once the reading begins of Tolstoy’s tragedy, the structure of the play is almost foretold. There is going to be adultery, betrayal, loss and partial redemption of the characters. Fortunately for us, Nilo Cruz treats Tolstoy’s book as a source of themes not a source of plot structure. He does not slavishly follow the book but instead is inspired by it.

The particular production put on by TheatreWorks is very good. As a local theatre organization with over 36 years of contribution to the area and an 8 million dollar budget the plays produced are entertaining, well crafted, well acted and well produced. This is not broadway or even Market street, but for ~30$ very much worth the money.

Movie Review: Enron: The smartest guys in the room


In 2000 I was in Greece doing my military service, and I kept getting phone calls from my wife about the collapsing California power infrastructure.

I remember hearing that the problem was too much demand and too little supply. I remember thinking that the financial boom that Northern California had thanks to the stock market bubble was finally over-taxing the basic infrastructure. I remember hearing how imperfect deregulation had created a catastrophe. I remember being ridiculed by my Greek friends. I remember the power generator NetApp built to deal with the power shortages. I do not remember hearing about Enron.

Then I watched the documentary Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room and I realized that those pig-fuckers in Texas had goat-fucked the entire state of California. And I was pissed off in a way that I had never been pissed off.

What had happened was that the Enron traders convinced the power production companies to cut their power supply. As a result, the consumers of power had to buy power on the spot market at higher prices. As the supply shrank the power on the spot market increased. Because California’s power deregulation did not cause end-user prices to spike, the effect was felt primarily by the power distribution companies that suddenly were being squeezed, unable to raise prices to conusmers and watching their prices for power go up.

And if that was the only thing Enron’s bastards did that would have been sufficient. Crippling the entire power system of the seventh largest economy of the world sounds like the plot of an evil villian from a James Bond film, not the actions of the 8 largest company in the world.

They preceeded that coup with the limited partnerships financial shennanigans. Essentially Enron created a financial instrument that let it sell assets to other companies for Enron stock and those companies would make money by selling Enron stock later.

And yet all of this tremendous evil that was carefully engineered by less than 10% of the company would have been palatable if it had not been for the fact that thousands of people (20k) were destroyed by this, excluding the people who were hurt by the engineered power crisis (40 million).

Now that I think about it, the engineered power crisis is enough for us to put them in jail for an exceptionally long time. In Stalin’s time, the Soviets talked about saboteurs who were wrecking the economy. Here at last are some true wreckers. And still Skilling and Lay protest their innocence.

As a final note, in 1999 I remember thinking that there was something wierd about how Enron did business. A sales guy came back from the bidding that ocurred around the Enron-Blockbuster deal for the streaming media infrastructure. He said that what he found fascinating is how Enron booked all of theoretical profits from the deal immediately without ever making a dime. I remember thinking, but that sounds wrong.

But I figured that I was an ignorant engineer, and it was just too advanced for me.

It was. It was thievery on a scale that I could not conceive.

There was one good thing to come out of this. Thanks to Andy Fastow and the criminal enterprise that was Enron, Sarbanes-Oxley emerged and thanks to it the compliance market for storage. As an employee of a storage vendor, this is good news. Andy Fastow created the SnapLock and LockVault market, so I guess I should be thankful for small things…