Video review: Apple iPhone 5

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Japanese hardware sales, Aug. 10 - Aug. 16: Science edition

Far too often, we here at the Institute for Japanese Hardware Sales Tracking deal in half-truths for the purpose of attempted comedic affect. Sometimes, we deal in reverse-truths. Other times, supertruths -- but how would you even be able to tell? Ah, see. You just got logic schooled, son.

Today, we're trying something completely different: Explaining the causes for the changes in hardware sales for each console with cold, hard, unfeeling scientific fact. Observe -- and learn:
  • The DSi increased because people are still buying boatloads of Dragon Quest IX. Simple.
  • The wheels have somewhat fallen off the Wii wagon as interest in Monster Hunter 3 subsides.
  • The PSP increased because Dissidia: Final Fantasy is coming out in North America next week, and Japanese gamers want to experience the magic all over again at the same time ... that we do. This is science, trust us.
  • 360 sales increased 68.54%, due to wizards.*
  • The DS Lite decreased because it doesn't have a camera in it. Duh.
  • The PS3 didn't do much, as folks are putting off their Sony purchases 'til the Slim drops.**
  • The PS2 is ... it's like, twenty years old. Science can't explain why people are still buying it. You know who can?***
* - You're going to have to trust us on this one.
** - Yes, the PS3 Slim news didn't drop during the week of August 10. Wizards got involved, and time-traveled the news over to Japan early.
*** - Wizards.

- DSi: 87,936 17,870 (25.50%)
- Wii: 47,732 592 (1.26%)
- PSP: 39,882 5,989 (17.67%)
- Xbox 360: 9,162 3,726 (68.54%)
- DS Lite: 7,921 778 (8.94%)
- PS3: 5,944 118 (2.03%)
- PS2: 4,907 306 (6.65%)

[Source: Media Create]

Film Review: 'Sikandar'

The Story:

'Sikandar' is a Kashmiri drama based on terrorism, in which an innocent 14 year old football player is victimized by the militants and the army, and is forced to play a game way out of his league.

'Sikandar' is a story of Sikandar Raza (Parzan Dastur), a 14 year old student who lives with his aunt and uncle in Kashmir. He's a passionate footballer who is often bullied by his schoolmates and only has one true friend, Nasreen (Ayesha Kapur). While Sikandar and Nasreen share a youthful bond of friendship, terrorist activities are on the rise in the state of Kashmir with the arrival of Zahgeer Quadir (Arunoday Singh). Colonel Rajesh Rao (R. Madhavan) pledges to retaliate if the terror fails to cease while politician Mukhtar Mattoo (Sanjay Suri) attempts to barter peace amongst the powerful centers - the militants, the army, the politicians and religious leaders.

In the volatile state of the Kashmiri town, life takes a turn for Sikandar when he stumbles upon an abandoned gun on his way home from school. Despite Nasreen's disapproval, his curiosity forces him to pick up the weapon and use it as a tool to threaten the school bullies. Once Sikandar learns the power of the gun, he uses it to escape any troublesome situation.

While Sikandar encounters the possibility of making his troubles disappear, the opportunity comes at a huge price: Sikandar's newfound weapon soon puts him in the danger of Zahgeer, who manages to befriend Sikandar and recruit him for his sinister plan to kill Mukhtar. He trains Sikandar and promises him the reward of lifetime bliss. But when Nasreen insists on standing between Sikandar and his target, Zahgeer reaffirms his trust in Sikandar and lures him into terrorizing situations beyond his control.

What follows is a series of coincidental mishaps and a deceiving game in which Sikandar tussles between warring parties, and is ultimately used as a pawn for them to win their long running battle.

The Cast:

Parzan Dastur as Sikandar Raza - naïve 14 year old who lost his parents 10 years ago and lives with his aunt and uncle in a small town of Kashmir. In his goal-driven journey of making his foster parents proud and becoming an ace footballer, Sikandar is stripped of his innocence, brainwashed and displaced by militants, the army and leaders.

Ayesha Kapur as Nasreen - a 14 year old Kashmiri girl who befriends Sikandar and discourages him from joining terrorist activities. She threatens Sikandar by putting her life on the line.

R. Madhavan as Lt. Colonel Rajesh P. Rao - a strong army commander who tries to win the town by spreading peace, but comes across the harsh hurdles raised by terrorists like Zahgeer. He warns Zahgeer of an eye for eye retaliation if he proceeds with terrorist activity.

Sanjay Suri as Mukhtaar Mattoo - charismatic yet shrewd, he is the reformed Kashmiri militant turned politician who mediates peace between the diverse powers - the religious leaders, army and militants.

Arunoday Singh as Zahgeer Quadir - a conniving militant leader and area commander of the Kashmir Azaadi Force, who manipulates Sikandar and trains him to become a shooter.

The Crew:

Director: Piyush Jha
Producer: Sudhir Mishra
Production House: Sudhir Mishra Productions, Big Pictures
Distributor: Big Pictures
Music Label: Big Music
Screenplay: Piyush Jha
Story: Piyush Jha
Cinematography: Somak Mukherjee
Music Director: Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, Justin-Uday, Sandesh Shandilya
Lyricist: Prasoon Joshi, Neelesh Misra, Kumaar
Cast: Parzun Dastur, Ayesha Kapur, Sanjay Suri, R. Madhavan, Arunoday Singh

What Worked:

While there have been many anti-war films based in Kashmir, what makes 'Sikandar' stand out is the way Piyush Jha depicts the balance between Sikandar's perspective and the dangerous games of the militants. There are a few engrossing sequences that tug at your heart such as - the face off between Madhavan and Sanjay Suri, the training scenes between Arunoday and Parzan, and Sikandar's uncle discussing the irony in the statement 'Fight For Peace.'

Parzan - the young sardar boy who charmed you in 'Kuch Kuch Hota Hai' and 'Parzania' - fits the role of a Kashmiri boy and handles the transition of his character with ease. Sanjay Suri and Madhavan also prove their versatility in their non-commercial avatar as defense personnel.

But Sikandar's biggest strength is its captivating setting. All the credit goes to Somak Mukherjee for capturing Kashmir's volatile yet scenic serenity. There is visual juxtaposition in every frame - presenting the beauty of Kashmir versus the brutality of its current state.

What Didn't:

Sikandar's premise is convincing, but the screenplay remains disjointed since Jha tries to weave together a thriller and a human drama. It falters as a suspense thriller since the pace is far too slow and the editing is choppy, making it difficult to understand the nuances of the story. While the pre-climax scenes are gripping, the subtle ending leaves you wanting more.

Ayesha Kapur - the girl who played Michelle in 'Black' - puts on an unimpressive act due to her expressionless character.

The Soundtrack:

'Sikandar' features a melodious soundtrack by the trio Shankar Ehsaan and Loy, as well as duo Justin-Uday. Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy compose the best track "Dhoop Ke Sikke", while Justin-Uday create refreshing sounds in classics such as "Gulon Mein" - dedicated to the ghazal lyrics by Faiz Ahmed Faiz - and "Manzaraat".

Slated or Rated:

'Sikandar' is a soulful film with an engaging story, a beautiful soundtrack and crisp cinematography. If you're all for Kashmiri folklore and enjoy shedding light on its tragically touched regions, then go see it!

Rating: 2.5/5

Sikandar Poster



Venezuela repeats at Miss Universe contest

NASSAU, Bahamas – Miss Venezuela was the fairest of them all, again.

Venezuelan Stefania Fernandez won the 2009 Miss Universe pageant in the Bahamas on Sunday night.

Miss Venezuela Stefania Fernandez, center, reacts as she is named Miss Universe AP – Miss Venezuela Stefania Fernandez, center, reacts as she is named Miss Universe 2009 next to Miss Universe …

Dressed in a flowing red gown, Fernandez embraced runner up Miss Dominican Republic as the announcement was made, and received the crown from last year's winner, Dayana Mendoza, of Venezuela. The sparkling tiara fell to the floor at one point, as Fernandez danced in joy.

Venezuela, a beauty-obsessed South American country, has won the Miss Universe pageant six times.

During a question-and-answer segment with the five top finalists, Fernandez said she believed women have overcome obstacles such as hitting the proverbial glass ceiling.

"I feel we have reached the level that men are at," she said.

The other top-five finalists were runner-up Ada Aimee de la Cruz, followed by Miss Kosovo, Droga Ganusha; Miss Australia, Rachael Finch; and Miss Puerto Rico, Mayra Matos Perez.

The top 15 finalists appeared in bathing suits before the final 10 were chosen for the evening gown segment.

Pageant co-owner Donald Trump told reporters, "I think this is the most beautiful group of women I've ever seen."

The televised event includes musical performances by Flo Rida, Heidi Montag, David Guetta and Kelly Rowland.

Montag gave her first live performance, singing "Body Language" from her debut album.

Fans cheered on the blond star of MTV's "The Hills," although NBC, which is broadcasting the event in the Bahamas live, blocked out more than half of her performance as they introduced the 15 finalists.

"It's my first performance live and it's in front of a billion eyes. So I'm very excited to show everyone what I'm coming with," said Montag before her performance.

Hosts are Billy Bush, co-anchor of "Access Hollywood," and Claudia Jordan, a former Miss Rhode Island USA who has appeared on several TV shows. Judges include actor Dean Cain and supermodel Valeria Mazza.

Miss China, Wang Jingyao, was named Miss Congeniality and Miss Thailand, Chutima Durongdej, won Miss Photogenic.

Many contestants have suffered from dehydration in recent weeks, and Jewel Selver, Miss Turks and Caicos, went home Saturday to recuperate, said Esther Swan, Miss Universe spokeswoman.