Layoffs – A New Perspective and a Path Forward

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I will be starting my new job in a couple of weeks after a layoff and 3.5 months search. Make it 5.5 months if I factor in the 2 months additional notice at work that I really couldn’t leverage productively due to the deliverables I was committed to before the layoff.

I joined LinkedIn premium sometime in mid-January and immensely thankful to the insightful posts by various members about their trials and tribulations which put my experience in perspective. I would like to present a framework of what worked, what didn’t for me and lessons learned. For more details about how exactly I went about it, the processes and methods, I will try to elaborate in my blog https://arunarasan.wordpress.com/ at a later date. I sincerely hope this help out others as I have been helped by you all.

What worked?

  1. Networking and Referrals – I reached out to professionals in my community and across LinkedIn. The opportunity I just landed was through an acquaintance in my community.
  2. Routine and Discipline – The process of landing the next opportunity requires the same discipline as being full-time at work. I made a fairly flexible routine that I can stick to.
  3. Rest – I took time off periodically from my routine to recharge and just clear my head.
  4. Taking care of mind, body and soul – I’ll be the first to admit that the last few months has been a draining experience. Even if you don’t feel like doing it, invest (keyword is invest) the time to exercise, read, write and listen to thoughtful, motivating material that may or may not influence your career; whatever that appeals to you. Like all well thought out investments, you will see incremental gains and it pays down the line when you emerge stronger out of the slump.
  5. Family – I spent more time with my family and got more involved in my spouse’s and children’s needs and activities. Most of all, I was able to be there for my father in his battle with a terminal illness.
  6. Career introspection – A few months ago, I wasn’t even contemplating the role I am taking up next. I’m taking a lateral move to reach my end goal which helped me land this position. Evaluate your career if you haven’t made headway.
  7. Inspection and adaptation – I periodically inspected, adapted and fine-tuned my approach and processes based on how my search was going and the results I was experiencing. The goal is to work smarter, not harder. It’s important you take the time to evaluate yourself, your skills, and your methods and calibrate yourself.

What did not work?

  1. Direct company applications – 99% of my direct company applications (through company portals) went into the ether. I’m not saying you should not do it, but pace yourself so that this is not the only thing you do.
  2. Predictability – I had some unpleasant surprises. Some of the positions that were in the bag or close to landing after interviews were shelved inadvertently after budget cuts or job relocations. This can be devastating to the psyche. So be on the lookout.
  3. Length of the interviewing process – Some of the positions took months to move along with each stage of interview taking upto a month to materialize which can be extremely taxing with the constant preparation. Coupled with the unpredictability factor, some of these positions evaporate midway due to budget cuts or job moves which can be a gut-punch. Be prepared to pull yourself up by the bootstraps when this happens.
  4. Number of opportunities available – The plethora of jobs posted can be an illusion or a mirage. Guess what a mirage can do to someone lost in the desert? The ratio of interviews I was able to land is extremely low compared to the opportunities applied for, whether it’s direct application or referrals. So do not be complacent. To be fair, it gets tougher as you go up the ladder in the technology field. So this has to be taken with a grain of salt for other fields or the level you are aiming for.

What I learned

  1. Groundwork – If you haven’t done the groundwork prior to a layoff, be prepared to be doing that work after the layoff. It’s going to be a long haul rather than a short one. This realization made me plan better, recover better and move forward.
  2. Networking – Nurture your contacts and networks diligently. If I had, I would not have been grinding out for 5.5 months. Network down, up and laterally.
  3. Who stands with you? A profound truth I realized is that I should have given the same intensity of attention to my family and friends and nurtured my network as I had given to my job for years. Ultimately, they are the ones who pull you through the tough times; not your job.
  4. Resilience – The job search process after a layoff can be draining, excruciating and demoralizing. There will be setbacks. It’s about acknowledging, allowing the time to process those setbacks and then focus on getting back on track after taking a hit.
  5. Inspection and Adaptation – If something does not work, change it. Periodically inspect and adapt yourself through the whole experience and you will come out better than before.You are investing in yourself through this process.

I want to finish with this quote from Rocky. As cheesy as it may seem, to me truer words have never been spoken.

“You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done! Now, if you know what you’re worth, then go out and get what you’re worth. But you gotta be willing to take the hits.”

Best of luck to you in your search! If you are looking for a hero, look within yourself. Never give up. Inspect, adapt and work smarter. I’ll see you on the other side.🙂

IT Application Development Manager – Roles and Responsibilities: An Act in Four Parts

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Part 3 – Up Close and Personal with the Two Big Ones

Team Management

team-spirit-959304_1280My objective is to ensure that the team’s goals align with the long term and short business goals and strategy while maintaining a good work-life balance. This is a fairly involved process which takes most of my time and creative thinking. A loyal, motivated and engaged team most often delivers high quality results which add business value to an organization. To keep the team motivated and engaged requires a manager be a servant-leader rather than a leader who rules with an iron fist. The latter scenario almost always leads to talent attrition and the team is left with sub-par talent which doesn’t do the organization any good in the long run. While managing a team is an exercise in democracy and consensus building, you pick and choose what can be subject to this process like major decisions while leading with your best judgement on others.

team-386673_1280Work-life balance is the golden mean by which many choose to stay or leave. The challenge to me as a manager is to keep work-life balance close to the golden mean for the team, given the number of Initiatives, information, issues and priorities that comes from all directions in an organization. My job is to digest this daily influx of information, figure out what adds the most business value, prioritize the bucket, socialize the priorities with the team and stakeholders, get their buy-in, resolve conflicts and differences of opinion, then proceed to divvy out the tasks to the team based on their capabilities and capacities/bandwidth and deliver within time and budget while managing risks and the proverbial monkey wrench that can gum up the works.

startup-593341_1920Alongside work-life balance and prioritization, I try to find opportunities for training, mentorship and motivation to aid individual team members in their career goals. Conflict resolution is another big given with a bunch of smart people working in close proximity for extended periods of time. It’s my job to referee and channel this into something constructive.
I strive to provide a fun environment for the team. I want the team to want to come to work, not need to come to work. To this end, I keep them in good humor and spirits with my witticisms at times offer the occasional social and health advice (generally frowned upon by HR) and shoot the breeze and lunch when time permits.

Application Development

If teams are the powerhouse or the Mitochondria, the applications or products they build are the channels through which revenue gets funneled to the organization. The path to that final quality end product is the famed Software Development Life Cycle or SDLC. While going through the SDLC, a typical app. dev. manager has his hands in many pieces of this pie and generally orchestrating contributions from business, subject matter experts, business analysts, development team, quality assurance teams, Project Management Office and clients. This is much more difficult that it sound because developers speak Vulcan, business speaks Wookie, execs speak high Valyrian and clients speak Mandarin – You get the picture. All through the long SDLC, a manager works to keep the various business requirements true to form and from being lost in translation on its way to becoming a product.

startup-594090_1920To get into a bit more detail on the SDLC, a manager usually gets involved right at the budgeting and forecasting stage for future projects. I write about this portion in detail in the “Budgeting and Forecasting” section. A manager usually leads the discovery phase with Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) and Business Analysts and some key technical resources. Next comes all the red tape and paper work to actually allocate the money for the project. At the requirements and functional analysis stage, the manager is corralling SMEs, BA and key tech. resources to flesh out requirements and build a development backlog. Once that backlog or the “What” gets build, next comes the “How” with design sessions with key tech resources. It’s the manager’s responsibility to close all technical loops and lead the discussion on a scalable, maintainable, extensible and robust solution. The team takes over the development tasks and the manager and PM oversees task completion in alignment with planned schedule. The manager leads on tackling any hiccups at this point and keeping the schedule on track. Again manager and/or PM then tracks completed tasks for handoff to the QA team. Once certified for go-live, the manager coordinates the release schedule with developers, infrastructure and DBAs and red tape with other compliance and audit related gate keepers. Post deployment, depending on the organization, the manager may have to track usage and performance metrics to determine the usability and performance of the product and gauge the level of success of the release. During the whole SDLC, reports are provided to stakeholders. Yes, a lot of gears are churning in this process.

Part 4 – Up Close and Personal with the Rest (to be continued)

Back to Part 1 and 2

IT Application Development Manager – Roles and Responsibilities: An Act in Four Parts

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Part 1 – The Why of it all

workstation-336369_1920I started writing this article for three reasons. First, I wanted to speak for the good managers and leaders in the making, who give their best to their team, business and organization every day under exceptionally trying circumstances. Second, I wanted to clear the fog around the roles and responsibilities of a traditional IT Manager. Hopefully my defogger will dispel the myth that the role carries no real responsibilities. And finally, I could never give a satisfactory and pithy answer to the casual question “So what do you do?”  Trying to encapsulate what I do in a sentence or two is like trying to stuff a pumpkin into a lunch box. So instead, I’m going for bit of an exposition here.

 “To be a good general, you have to be a good soldier first”.

Who said it? I don’t know. It sounds something like what Sun Tzu might say but then again it could be Napoleon. However, the most popular is Aristotle’s maxim “He who cannot be a good follower cannot be a good leader”. In my career, I have worked under a dozen or more front line managers. They run the gamut across the good, the bad and the ugly.  It’s important that you experience this dichotomy so that you may recognize the occasional greats that may cross your path, and quite possibly imbibe and emulate the very same qualities when given the chance.

Part 2 – “So What Do You Do?”

computer-564099_1920So what does a manager do? At its very core, it’s problem-solving at a strategic and/or tactical level. You may say almost everybody at work is there to solve a problem. The difference is the breadth of problems a manager needs to be knowledgeable about and address which sets it apart from other IT jobs. For example, in many small institutions, you might see a manager acting as a Project Manager and Product Manager in addition to regular application development duties and team management duties. Depending on the size of the organization and structure, a Manager may be faced with problem solving in one to many of the areas below

  • Team Management
  • Application Development
  • Budgeting and Forecasting
  • Product Management
  • Project Management
  • Production Support
  • Client and Partner Management
  • Vendor Management
  • Reporting

Personally, I’ve been all over the place depending on projects and resource constraints. From experience, I would say having a breadth of knowledge across all the above responsibilities helps a Manager tie in contributions from different class of contributors – business, execs, PMs, SME, BA, developers, clients, vendors, etc. across the organization without losing sight of the big picture. Let’s take an up close and personal look at each of the functions.

Part 3 – Up Close and Personal with the Two Big Ones (Contd.)

 

An Indian Parent’s First Time Experience with the US Educational System – Part 2

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Note: This is Part 2 of an extended article. Click here for Part 1. When I started this article, I was looking to recount my eye-opener of an experience at my 5 year old daughter’s first parent-teacher meeting. It ended up meandering into topics far beyond my original intent. So I’m breaking the article into two for better palatability!

A Totally Off-the-Cuff Comparison of Indian and US Educational Systems

back-to-school-1416913-638x433As an expat from India, I’m inevitably going to do the half-baked comparison of both the Indian and American educational system. Clearly not a Malcolm Gladwell level of analysis and discussion but I definitely got an opinion like your average-everyday-harried-overworked parent.

The focus in the US seems to be critical thinking at an early age. Children are encouraged to dissect and deconstruct everything from language to Math and progression is rigorously tracked. I’m sure we do this at some level in India but definitely not in the measurable standards being implemented in the US. The system in the US also seems to provide a standardized and objective platform for the teacher to teach and measure progress. Most the material I received showed footnotes and references to studies done by experts in the education field. This very fact gives me more confidence in the way material is being taught in schools here.

Another aspect which caught my attention that levels the playing field is standardization. Whether it’s the US or India, there are good and bad teachers. But the differentiator here is that teachers here have a slightly more objective method to the madness which minimizes biases in teaching and grading. The system in India is a bit more skewed to the subjective side. God help if your teacher is in a bad mood or another teacher other than your favorite ends up correcting your paper. I’m sure the Indian reader knows what I’m talking about!

Another thing which is bothering me is whether we are doing anything actively to improve the education system in India. There seems to be a great deal of study, debate and research going into improving the science of education In the US. The nation maybe divided here on common-core, no child left behind and other standards, but at least they are having a debate about it and moving the ball forward. I readily admit I have not done any research into this aspect in India and been out of the school system for decades, but I’m in touch with many younger kith and kin coming out of the school and college systems. I feel not much has been done to change the system in India. We are stuck with an old, antiquated and rigid system which favors mass-producing students and graduates which was ideal for British times doing service-oriented jobs but not innovation or entrepreneurship. The changes that seems to happen once in a blue moon seems to be politically motivated and ill-conceived. Regarding career choice, you got to pick the route even before knowing the destination. For some reason you are expected to know what you want to do for the rest of your life at 16 and do course work related to that. Once you chose that path, there is no going back!

One of my biggest pet peeve in the Indian education system is this – memorization and regurgitation or ‘mugging’ as it’s known in India. The emphasis is mostly in reproducing what’s in a text book in varying degrees. I remember the system being more liberal in CBSE and I could reference material outside of prescribed school books. This took a complete nose-dive in the State Board system and two years of high-school in this system was a harrowing experience to say the least. You were encouraged to memorize and Xerox the contents of the books verbatim, word-for-word. A little deviation and you will be scraping the bottom of the barrel! This got much better at the University level though I understand that you will never get away from memorization, which is fundamental for any learning. But my point is this – if you encourage a child to ‘mug’ vs. improve critical thinking at a young age, how are you going to turn out when you are in college, career or life? To be fair, I have not seen how the system hold up in the US across the entire spectrum of schooling, but what I see and hear and my own experience doing a Masters in grad school here, the focus is heavily on application vs. theory and critical thinking. For those of you in IT, you might understand this – Why is solutioning almost always done here and implementation done in India?

When I started this article I just wanted to narrate my experience at my daughter’s parent-teacher meet. But it ended up as a quasi-ramble-and-rant session with copious amount of digital ink being sacrificed at the altar of education! I’m very much looking forward to seeing how the US educational system plays out as my daughter goes through school. I expect to learn as much as her, I suspect. Hopefully I will provide an update in a few years. Let’s keep rolling for now!

Part 1: Expect the Unexpected: Surviving My First Parent-Teacher Meeting

An Indian Parent’s First Time Experience with the US Educational System – Part 1

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Note: When I started this article, I was looking to recount my eye-opener of an experience at my 5 year old daughter’s first parent-teacher meeting. It ended up meandering into topics far beyond my original intent. So I’m breaking the article into two for better palatability!

Expect the Unexpected: Surviving My First Parent-Teacher Meeting

back-to-school-1416913-638x433This Monday, I was at my 5-year-old daughter’s public school, McSpedden Elementary in Frisco. This is my first ever parent-teacher meet as a parent, did not know what to expect at all in the slightest and vaguely anticipated a run-of-the-mill activity. Another item to check off my list – or so I thought. We waited a bit for our turn outside the KG class and few minutes later, the teacher called us in after she got done with the parents before us. My wife and I sat ourselves on the kiddie chairs in front of the teacher. I was acutely aware of how small the chair felt and wondered how large or heavier people would fare in the same situation. As I was contemplating this and other random thoughts, as I’m usually wont to, the teacher laid out a folder on the table between us and proceeded to walk us through the first page.

I clearly wasn’t prepared for the barrage of ‘ism’s and stats being spelled out. It took me about a minute or two to realize what was happening and shook myself out of my stupor. I was looking at a page full of graphs, scores and percentile ranks. Each graph corresponded to different skills being tested like reading, comprehension, letter knowledge, phonemic awareness and so on. My brain still churned slowly like molasses. I think I was still in shock that the page corresponded to the progress of a 5 year old……a five year old, in the first month of Kindergarten!!! Somewhere in the fog of my brain, alongside being a bit overwhelmed and bewildered, all I could tell myself was “Impressive”, over and over again. The precision with which the teacher has tracked periodic progress on different aspects of linguistic cognition, noting deficiencies and what was made to correct it send me into a paroxysm of reverence and respect. At this point, I was acutely aware of how low I had set the bar and the teacher was clearing it somewhere in the stratosphere.

This was just the beginning. The teacher proceeded to show some of my daughter’s works and some finer points on how the work was evaluated week over week. At this point, my geek mode had set in and I was listening with rapt attention. She might very well be giving me a TED talk at this point. Next came math. I have some difficulty reproducing the exact terms, but at a high level, math problems were given as word problems and the kids were being taught and evaluated on different aspects critical thinking and approaches being taken to solve the problem. The focus seemed to be on deconstructing and dissecting the guts of the problem and constructing a logical and mathematical path to the solution rather than shortcuts. Each mini-step within this process was evaluated at levels ranging from novice to practitioner and expert. Never in a thousand years would I have used the word ‘Practitioner’ with a five-year old, but it made perfect sense! The fundamentals that get ingrained at this age is going to last a life time. It definitely made the big picture clear with the articulation provided by the teacher.

Its mind-boggling to think about the amount of the work the teacher does on a periodic basis to produce this data-driven picture of where my daughter is in her developmental cycle – multiply the effort with the number of students in the class; that’s worth a mental Iron Man triathlon right there. On top of this, she has games, songs and other infotainment activities going on for the kids. Being a teacher is hard work!!! I’ve always known that the teachers here work hard but clearly I’ve been blissfully unaware of the complexity of the educational system and the degree of hard work done by the teachers!

Part 2: A Totally Off-the-Cuff Comparison of Indian and US Educational System

Game of Thrones Audiobook – An Inebriating And Atmospheric Concoction of Swords, Sandals, Intrigues and Myths

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A Song Of Fire and IceIt’s been three long years. I finally feel compelled to spill some digital ink in my blog about this force of nature that has taken a vice-like grip on my life. For the last 6 weeks, I’ve been filling my head with gravelly, rasping voice of Roy Dotrice reading through the first two monumental tomes of ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ – ‘Game of Thrones’ and ‘A Clash of Kings’. What a visceral experience it has been!

George R. R. Martin writes like a man possessed. He has fleshed out so many characters – dozens of major and minor ones – it’s quite a task to keep them straight in your head. But Roy Dotrice and George R. R. Martin have poured so much verve and vitality into their efforts that you can feel the characters step right out of the books. You can smell their very breath, blood, sweat and tears and feel their love, lust, loathing and fears. If this wasn’t enough, the plot is byzantine and labyrinthine with new threads popping up like a Hydra’s head. But it all comes together beautifully leaving you wanting for more.

Aparently the first book took about five years to write. It’s an incredible feat of writing that GRRM was able to keep the characterizations on point with their core over those five years but also evolve them organically over the story arc. It’s mind boggling that there are three more books in the series already written, with each close to having a thousand pages. And GRRM is writing two more. This man definitely has a lot to say!

GRRM’s works have been compared to Tolkien’s and categorized as ‘high fantasy’.  To me it feels more like a medieval swords and sandals genre interspersed with fantasy elements; not the other way around. It’s hardly overrun (at least in the first two books) with the kinds of Elves, Orcs, Hobbits and Goblins as in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. It is atmospheric but exudes grittiness and realism and reins in the fantasy elements. The only negative thing I have to say is that amidst all these characters, the common everyday folk are just fodder for collateral damage in the books about Kings, Lords, Ladies, Knights and their Gods and monsters. So much as ants to an army of boots. But then, who knows? Democracy wasn’t invented then!

It’s tempting to start watching the HBO series and would be interesting to watch up till the end of book 2 adaptation just to see how HBO has done it. Has anyone played Eddard Stark like a true moral compass as he was? Can Cersei Lannister and Joffrey Baratheon be more detestable on TV? Can anyone play the dwarf Tyrion Lannister (my favorite GOT character) with equal parts deviousness and cleverness, valor and deceit, chivalry and roguishness? Who get’s to play the Starks of Winterfell? Can the savagery of the Dothrakis be truly captured? Is the resourceful and tiny ass-kicker Arya Stark picturized well? I will get it one time or the other.

I plan to take a short break from the rest of the series. You can’t have too much of a good thing! I can’t recollect anything else throwing my life in such disarray. While listening to the books, I have locked my car keys inside the car trunk, lost car keys while standing right in my own garage, forgot entire grocery lists and just stood frozen in the grocery aisle. Every day I look forward to the horribly long and nasty work commute so that so I can acoustically plug myself into this world. I have even stopped listening to my beloved NPR. My knowledge of current affairs is getting stale. I’m deaf to the world outside of work and my wife has deemed this to be a vice akin to drinking. This has got to stop!

Enough said – looking for your next book to read or listen to? You can’t go wrong with ‘A Song of Fire and Ice’ series – An inebriating and atmospheric concoction of swords, sandals, intrigue , legends and myths beautifully orchestrated by the mad genius George R. R. Martin. Go get some; Winter is coming!

Donating to National Public Radio – I just did.

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English: Logo of NPR News.

I just saw off my ‘97 Toyota Corolla to be donated to KERA, the local National Public Radio (NPR) station in Dallas. I bought the Corolla as my first car to commute to my first job in the IT field in 2004. It sure warmed the cockles of my heart when I made the decision with my wife to donate the Corolla in 2012. The warmth evaporated and I started having misgivings when the tow-truck guy started hitching my car to the truck. This car had never died on me and had been resilient and reliable. In fact I drove it exactly 995 miles from Minneapolis to Dallas in the dead of a snowy winter and pulled through some rough snow storms in January 2011. The moment it was being towed away, I panicked. I felt horrible, guilty and had this empty-hollowed out feeling in my gut. I had my Sam Witwicky – Bumblebee moment and I wanted to call it off. Fortunately for NPR and KERA, the tow-truck pulled away fast before I had a strong urge to plunge myself in front of the truck to stop it. And that’s that.

When I started the article, I fully intended to expound on why we should donate to NPR. Somehow it turned out to be a quasi-obituary to my Corolla. I fully intend to finish this at a later date. My only message for now – If you are willing and able and share a worldview that knowledge needs to be shared, donate to keep NPR strong. There are some trolls out there who think otherwise.  Let’s keep them thinking.

How can you donate?
http://www.npr.org/stations/donate/ (Search for local stations to donate)
http://www.cartalkvdp.com/ (For donating cars)
http://www.kera.org/donate/ (For Dallas/Ft. Worth/Denton local station)

BBC Sherlock Season 2 in the US

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Sherlock BBC Title ScreenJanuary 2012 is not a good time to be a BBC Sherlock series fan in US. I was totally misled by the PBS site into thinking that Season 2 of the BBC Sherlock series starring the brilliant Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes and the equally fantastic Martin Freeman as Dr. John Watson, was to be broadcasted on January 15, 22 & 29, 2012 at 10pm. I was positively giddy that each episode was only 1 week behind the BBC air date in the UK and that episode 1 ‘A Scandal in Belgravia’ should start things off with a bang. Short of shouting from the rooftops, I made sure to pound the US broadcast date into friends, family and anybody who cared to listen.

Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock HolmesAt 10:01PM, January 15, 2012 I experienced an odd mixture of intense disappointment, cold dread, absolute horror,
deep embarrassment and frantic monkeying with the remote when the local PBS didn’t broadcast anything remotely similar to the BBC Sherlock series. Not even the encore presentation of Sherlock Season 1, A Study in Pink, was running. At that moment, I was ready to strangled the PBS scheduler/webmaster who put that information on that site if I could. I was totally bummed out. Some digging into the PBS site at this location revealed that Season 2 of Sherlock would start on Sunday, May 6, 2012 at 9PM ET.  January 15, 22 & 29, 2012 at 10pm would be encore presentation of Season 1.

Why in God’s name did PBS have to bury it somewhere in the nether regions of the website instead of putting it under ‘Schedule’? I’ll be damned if I had to wait till May. A year long wait between the two season was torture enough.

Ahem, I can’t say much but have you tried Googling the search terms “Sherlock season 2 watch in USA“?

For those who prefer to wait, here’s a list of BBC Sherlock Season 2 episodes with their US broadcast dates and times. The game is afoot!

Sunday, May 6, 2012 at 9pm ET – A SCANDAL IN BELGRAVIA
Sunday, May 13, 2012 at 9pm ET – THE HOUNDS OF BASKERVILLE
Sunday, May 20, 2012 at 9pm ET – THE REICHENBACH FALL

You can read my review of BBC Sherlock Season 1 here. Happy sleuthing!

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows – A Review

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Every great hero requires a great villain. This movie has neither, but it does have a passably entertaining Robert Downey Jr. queering and vamping it up quite a few notches as Sherlock Holmes and a robustly masculine portrayal of Dr. John Watson by Jude Law. The duo have the camaraderie down pat in their second outing together and the back and forth between them is hilarious. The two make the movie watchable. There is plenty of humor as well but with some zingers missing the mark.

I won’t go too much into the story as every other review will have a gist. In a nutshell, Professor Moriarty wants to be the catalyst to start a World War which in turn will create a climate rife with demand for his armaments and munitions factories, making him gobs of money. Sherlock Holmes wants to be a very big spoke in the well-oiled machinations of this anarchist-capitalist-power-brokering villain. What I want to focus for the rest of the review is the conceptualization, characterization and execution of the movie. To borrow a line from the movie, “Do you need me to elaborate? Or can we just crack on?”.

Other than just the names of the lead characters and the era, Guy Ritchie’s production does not have much in common with Doyle’s creation of the Holmesian world. The move exists entirely in a parallel universe and it does not take too much deductive reasoning to figure out that the driving force behind the movie is Hollywood’s sole intention of creating serial cash cow. Again to borrow a line from Downey’s Holmes, “It’s so overt that it’s covert!”……indeed! Already the series is starting to sag and lose steam with those lofty intentions not providing enough intellectual heft to the movie.

With all the above being said, judging the movie on its own merit, it does have its moments and fairly good entertainment value. But my disappointment stems from the fact that I expect more from a movie that has the name “Sherlock” in it. There are no great deductive sequences that truly stand out and even if there is potential, it is lost in frenzied chopping and editing of the film. The fast pacing of the movie does not cover for the yawning chasms of eminently forgettable sequences and some dreary camera work. Somebody fell asleep behind the camera only to wake up and go hyper kinetic on the editing table. I understand that the judicious use of dirt and darkness adds some grittiness to a movie but the color palette of the movie is stubbornly dark and gloomy. The lead characters and particularly Sherlock seems to be grimy and unkempt as a norm. It would be easy to mistake him for a homeless hobo and I think this effect was intentional to a degree but not to the extent seen on the screen. Apparently the smartest man in the room is also the dirtiest as well.

For the action fans – there are some elaborate action set pieces, especially the one at the end where the pre World War 1 German army is field-testing their earth-shattering artillery and machine guns on our protagonists who are trying to outrun all of it. The camera zooms, pans and freeze-frames the action to dramatic effect with the booming soundtrack cranking up the adrenalin. On the contrary, the hand-to-hand combat at the beginning of the movie to showcase Sherlock’s fighting skills doesn’t flow very well. There is an acrobatic chase sequence in the middle which is a little bit too boiler-plate but none-the-less entertaining.

My other big disappointment is the characterization of Professor Moriarty which is highly underwhelming. Jared Harris maybe a decent actor but neither the menace or the genius of Professor Moriarty is sufficiently brought to the fore in his portrayal. Instead of crackling intensity and electricity, the wattage seems rather dim in the one-on-one scenes between Holmes and his arch-enemy Moriarty. This is a big letdown given the intellectual heft of both the characters. The climax does make up for it’s lack thereof but it’s an effort too little too late. Noomi Rapace as the gypsy Madam Simza is efficient and shows high promise. But her presence seems underutilized after her star-making turn in the Millennium series. The brother of Sherlock, Mycroft Holmes as played by Stephen fry is another oddball whose intelligence is rather overshadowed by a concerted effort on the portrayal of goofiness as a primary characteristic. None the less, the performance is still enjoyable.

In totality, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows seems like a middling effort from Guy Ritchie but ably and gamely carried on by Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law. It still remains a poorer cousin of the first Sherlock Holmes from 2009. The sum of its parts is palatable and entertaining none the less. I deduce that to get the best bang for your buck for this movie would be to forget all preconceived notions of Sherlock Holmes and just accept the movie on its own terms. That’s one way to avoid any disappointment.

Some Favorite Superhero Movie Soundtracks

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I am a huge comic book and movie buff. Obviously, another qualification if you need to be a part of the geekdom🙂. So why not share my enthusiasm for rousing, goose-bump creating, fist pumping, pound-concrete-with-bare-hands effect inducing superhero movie soundtracks with like-minded aficionados? I’m starting to put together a playlist of some of my favorite superhero movie soundtracks in YouTube. It’s a work in progress and hopefully I will be adding more soundtracks to the playlist when I get some time.

I’m kidding you not, I tried to telekinetically lift a car like Erik Lensherr a.k.a Magneto did with a submarine in X-Men First Class, while listening to rousing track 4 in the playlist called “X-Men First Class Soundtrack -16- Sub Lift”. You’ll know what I mean if you watched the movie. Needless to say while my effort was a terrible failure, I’ll not be surprised if a fair number of you folks will try doing the same. Soundtrack 4 can do that to you. Let me know who did.