Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Wednesday, February 23, 2006





Review by Gokhra

Cast & Credits Robert Barnes: George Clooney, Bryan Woodman: Matt Damon, Julie Woodman: Amanda Peet, Jimmy Pope: Chris Cooper, Dean Whiting: Christopher Plummer, Robby Baer: Max Minghella, Bennett Holiday: Jeffrey Wright

Corruption... is how we win.
That's a pretty strong line from the movie and that pretty much sets the tones for the underlying theme. Who would have thought movies about political intrigue would be so engrossing? Or am I just becoming old and 'atellectual'? Decide for yourself.

The movie is about have and have not. It's about the world oil supply not having enough to meet the demands. Ultimately some people will profit form it while the majority will suffer and many will die. "Syriana" is about oil, money, traders and spies. It spans across America, China, the Gulf States and Texas. There's all kinds of betrayal going on underneath. There is even a mighty intriguing speech in defense of corruption which government officials especially here should memorize.

The movie's plot is very complex. First of all there is a whole bunch of characters.

The film is set in Geneva, the Persian Gulf, the Department of Justice, Texas ranches, the French Riviera, the Maryland suburbs, and Gaghan's unnamed Persian Gulf emirate.

The leadership of that country is yet to be determined. The current emir has two sons groomed to succeed him as king. One, Meshal (Akbar Kurtha), is a spineless yes man. The other, Nasir (Alexander Saddig), is a more natural-born leader who's repulsed by his family's obeisance to America and its wishes for the country's natural gas. He wants to right his nation's squandered promise and be a reformer.

As a start, Nasir has just kicked out the Americans and handed over the drilling rights to a Chinese company, which leaves the previous drillers, a Houston outfit called Connex, in a fix. Connex decides it's going to merge with Killen, an obscure Texas oil company, which Connex finds attractive because it's about to start drilling for oil in Kazakhstan. Washington has to approve the merger, and to ensure that it goes smoothly the companies hire an intimidating D.C. law firm to find and fix any potential roadblocks. The job falls to a taciturn lawyer named Bennett Holiday (Jeffrey Wright).

A tubby George Clooney plays Bob Barnes, a loyal veteran CIA agent whose latest assignment involves arranging a pivotal assassination. What if a CIA agent brings about two assassinations and tries to prevent another one, and is never sure precisely whose policies he is really carrying out?

"Syriana" is a crowded movie. This can have a negative effect such as evident in “Crash” where too many actors and too many plots ultimately led to nothing. This movie differs quite a lot. Surprisingly it still leads to a sense of nothingness but in the end it's still a great movie.

The film has another intriguing plot involving Wasim (Mazhar Munir), a Pakistani kid, left idle and facing deportation from the Gulf after he's laid off from the drilling fields when the Chinese step into the picture. Unmoored and uncertain, he's seduced by the prospect of terrorism. Can't help thinking though that this movie could have developed better as a mini series as there are so many characters to build upon.

More characters include an American couple played by Matt Damon and Amanda Peet, living in Geneva. Their young son drowns at a party for the emir. The sheik awards Damon's firm a $100 million contract. "How much for my other son?" he asks. This is a brutal line of dialogue and creates a moment trembling with tension. Later, Damon's wife accuses him of trading on the life of his son.

The character in the movie inhabit separate stories, but we gradually discover how those in one story are connected to those in another. The motives of one character may have to be reinterpreted after we meet another one.

The movie is a bit hard to explain but somehow it all makes sense.

"Syriana" is exciting, fascinating, absorbing, diabolical and really quite brilliant.

It's about something very specific -- oil. Which is to say that actually it's about everything? The movie seems scarily true. The runaway corruption almost makes sense. In fact, the most disturbing quality of "Syriana" is how rational it seems.

One wheel wonder

By Gokhra & Mood Dude

A Couple of bummed out guys on a dull weekend watching Ripley's believe it or Not. And they could not believe what they were watching. Some people will go to any lengths for ingenuity, craziness and a laugh.

Gokhra (G): If a bike is half a car then this has to be half a bike.
Mood Dude (DM): Yep, the danger also seems to increase proportionately.

(G): This monowheel (named for obvious reasons) is built by Kerry McLean who is a Michigan, USA. Would you call him crazy? Not for building it but definitely for riding it.
(DM): This seems a very cool machine. The concept is very simple. Both the rider and the engine are placed in a circular construction. The metal circle is held in place by several bearings. The outside of the rim that connects to the ground is sprayed with a rubber like compound that makes it act like one solid wheel. I guess that won't be too comfortable on the butt.

(G): The seat has springs to compensate unlike certain cars belonging to certain people who call themselves Mood Dude.
(DM): Stop dissing my car because without it we would not get any exercise whatsoever.

(G): You eman by pushing it?
(DM): Yeah. The monowheel has a four stroke engine commonly used for lawnmowers and gives out 5 bhp. With the custom stainless steel exhaust also designed by McLean output is closer to 10bhp. It falls into perspective when you consider the fast 150cc Pulsars in Dhaka have about 12 bhp. Those are pretty heavy compared to the wheel and they go fast. Real fast. So you can imagine how crazy it would feel on this. This 10 bhp wheel has a top speed close to 60 kilometres per hour.

(G): Pretty sure it is still faster than your car. Last time we stopped at a traffic light a CNG scooter pulled ahead of you.
(DM): I was trying to save petrol hence save the environment.

(G): Sure you were. Steering the monowheel must be difficult although McLeans demonstration makes it look so easy. You steer it with body weight by leaning and turn it simply by putting a foot out. Sounds a lot like your car where we have to put out our feet to make it stop. In the States this machine is road legal and you drive it around with a license plate.
(DM): Should be a breeze to park. Heck I can even carry it straight up to the office and turn on the loud engine when I want to drown out my boss's screaming.

(G): A construction worker and a self taught engineer Kerry has built some of the craziest, fastest, biggest and most successful monowheels around. This guy has a lot of superlatives riding in his wake. Pretty impressive but did this guy just wake up one day and decide he was going to build a monowheel?
(DM): Actually the idea of a monowheel existed for as long as there were bikes. People have been toying with the idea of wheels ever since these round things were invented. Possibly some stone age guy mad e the wheel, decided to ride and got squashed before he could tell anyone how cool it was. Many of the modern inventors got equally squashed as well. In fact, McLean also had a bad accident developing his machine. He started off small about 20 years ago and those were quite successful but as any petrol head will tell you, after a while you have the urge for more power. His wildest creation to date was the Rocket racer with a monster 3500cc V8 from and Oldsmobile.

(G): Eh?
(DM): An Oldsmobile is another one of those dull American cars. It was real heavy (the engine) which gave it stability at the price of maneuverability.

(G): With 225 bhp it was too much power to handle and McLean crashed, broke lots of bones and suffered burn injuries from being dragged around. That monster wheel is still used except now it has rudders and stabilising fins.
(DM): His first was made in 1971 using a 250cc bike engine. He got the idea looking at stagecoach wheels. McLean says he never saw one before so he wasn't influenced by other designs. Maybe that attributes to his success.

(G): There were a lot of attempts before this. The earliest dates back to 1869. It was built by Rousseau of Marseilles. It perched the cyclist on the inside of a 2 1/2 yards-high wheel. It also had no steering mechanism so you can imagine the ensuing hilarity.
Other inventions included the Tractowheel which was basically a fat tire off a tractor made by Jackie Channabais of France. In between all theses years there have been many attempts but none quite as successful both commercially as well as performance wise.
(DM): McLean's machines are made with very high quality materials and cost about $ 9,500. You may be thinking this is a weird thing to pay a lot of money for but so far at least 5 have been sold and he will build it for anyone willing to dish out the dough.

(G): You can't argue that this is a beautiful machine. It's the ultimate big boy's toy. You give it to the person who has everything and a love for machines.

Sites Unseen

By Niloy

NASA embraces BitTorrent
Download a 2.9GB (single) picture today! NASA has been experimenting with BT for a while, but it's only recently that it's started using it for its massive picture library, "Visible Earth". Previously you needed to be an accredited journalist to get these files - now, thanks to BitTorrent, you can download them for yourself. Finally, a desktop background for your 86400 x 43200 monitor! [doiop.com/NASAtorrent]

How to use BitTorrent
And if were wondering what the hell BitTorrent is, here's a short guide on how to get started downloading files using BitTorrent in 5 easy steps! Uses Azureus and Pirate Bay as an example. It was originally written for “friends and family,” but still it's a great tutorial for beginners! [poromenos.org/tutorials/bittorrent]

Exhibition on Pixar
The UK Science Museum will be holding a new exhibition on “Pixar: 20 Years of Animation.” If you've ever wondered how box-office hits such as Toy Story, Finding Nemo and The Incredibles were created then here's your chance to find out. Nice. [sciencemuseum.org.uk/exhibitions/pixar]

Game: Torus Trooper
Torus Trooper is a fly-through-infinite-space-and-kill-the-baddies top-down shooter for Windows that reminds me of Galaga and Tempest but I'm sure will remind younger gamers of more recent console fare. It's an extraordinarily fast-paced game with gorgeous wireframe graphics and a frenetic techno soundtrack, and not only do you have a constant barrage of baddies and projectiles to contend with, you also have to navigate a twisting, turning playing field that zooms past at lightning speed. Best of all, it'll run great even on low spec PCs! [doiop.com/TorusTrooper]

“LEGO people built my PC...”
Photos showing little “LEGO people” assembling a PC. It made me smile; I thought you guys may enjoy it too. [skizzers.org/andy/lego.html]

Easy DVD ripping
Popular open source DVD ripping app HandBrake has been available for Mac and Linux for some time now, and has finally been ported to Windows. It's a slick all-in-one ripping app that will encode your ripped video in MPEG-4 or H.264 (MP4, AVI, or OGM) and has a great built-in calculator that takes the fuss out of choosing a bitrate. [doiop.com/HandbrakeDL]

Game: Cororo the Maze
The goal in Cororo the Maze is to collect blue stars by running into them with a blue ball. Of course, it's really not that simple. You guide the ball through the maze by using the mouse to tip the entire playing field this way and that, and it's much trickierand more addictivethan it sounds. [doiop.com/CororoMaze]

Game: Opniyama
This is another crazy Flash-based puzzle game; a true time waster. You direct your little dude (or dudette I suppose) to climbing around stuff, and shooting a little web gun to climb to other platforms. There are dozens and dozens of these platforms, never mind little critters to annoy. Nothing seems to really kill you or slow you down, and you can grab little pods and plant, uh, more creatures. This is something you really have to try to understand. It's worth a few minutes of swinging around and planting things anyway. [doiop.com/opniyama]

Dave Chappelle tells all on Oprah
Finally Dave Chappelle tells the public what happened and what is going on with his show. It is a must read if your a Chappelle fan. [doiop.com/ChappelleWhy]

That's all for this week, I'm afraid. You will also find these links at [niloywrites.blogspot.com]. Comics fans might want to check out [BDcomics.blogspot.com] where you get to download comics. You can also check out more of my photography at [flickr.com/photos/Niloy/].



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