Pearl Jam's excellent new Lightning Bolt (@PearlJam, #LightningBolt)

The chief achievement of Lightning Bolt is that it is an album, wittingly or otherwise, almost exclusively for men, by men. Eddie Vedder seems to get men or rather manliness (for whatever that means in this metrosexual age) in a way that Hemingway perhaps got or envisioned it to be anyway, in the 20s.

I've been listening to Lightning Bolt for almost a month now and I like it a lot. It is easily the best album Pearl Jam has produced in a very long time. It ranks maybe somewhere right after Ten and Vitology along with Yield. I like their last Backspacer a lot as well but it sort of faded away over time. It was too punk and lacked legs. No big songs that you'd keep going back to. Lightning Bolt fixes all that. It caters to hard-core Jam fans with hard rocking songs and soothes the other Jam fans who live for Black, or Indifference or Immortality. With Lightening Bolt, Pearl Jam have gone ahead and created a brilliant album. An album that really is a huge achievement given how far behind they'd fallen with duds like 'No Code', 'Riot Act' and the self-titled 'Pearl Jam'. Lightening Bolt has energy, it has legs, it has life. It is fun to listen to from start to finish. Not something you can say about too many music albums these days. It is so great to see a rock band go back to what worked in the first place rising about the political discourse that they may or may not be suited for but something that never served their art well.

And they knew they were on to something good. They promoted this album incessantly on Social Media. They instagrammed every photo and retweeted the smallest praise from everyone (a reason I avoid following favorite artists on twitter - it cheapens their appeal to me to some extent.) and slow revealed songs, streamed the album free on new iTunes Radio. And seems like it generally paid off. They are somewhat relevant again and that's not easy in our age of '15 seconds of fame'.

Here are my thoughts on some of the key songs.
  • Sirens. A big song. Something that you can come back to year after year. A soothing, beautiful song. 
  • Sleeping by myself - a really beautiful tune that sounds all Vedder and no Jam.
  • Mind your Manners. Spin the Black Circle is back! Rejoice!
  • Lightning Bolt. A big rock love song. Beautiful tunes. 
  • Infallible. A fallback classic Jam tune with really good guitar play. 
  • Let the records play. Now here's a surprise - a dance track almost. Nicely done. 
  • Yellow Moon. A very classic Jam ballad. Beautiful soft song, a very post Cobain Jam tune. 
  • Pendulum is my favorite song from the album. A dark, brooding sound bordering Indifference with less dramatic flair.  

Captain Phillips: Thrilling Battle of Haves and Have Nots

Captain Phillips is a thriller directed by Paul Greengrass based on the true story of the captain of an American freighter whose ship gets attacked by Somali pirates and the thrilling events that follow the attack. I enjoyed the film a lot and thought it could've been a few minutes shorter for an even bigger impact. Tom Hanks is brilliant and so is the supporting cast. This film is quite an accomplishment.

While avoiding overt politics the film clearly highlights the outsized difference of the haves and have nots. Muse, the captain of the pirate enterprise isn't unlike Phillips but comes from a world that could not be more different. Both are doing a job that they believe needs to get done. And when the US navy intervenes, there are no heroics, just men doing a job that needs to get done. It is almost a procedural.

By the end of the film, the outsized American response almost seems comical and would be completely ridiculous had it not been real. The battle of four hungry, rag poor Somalis with the might of an American navy. To put things in perspective: Somalia's GDP in 2010 was about $6 billion. US Navy's budget for 2014 is $155 billion. I cannot wait for Gladwell to untangle this David vs. Goliath for us.

While watching the film I couldn't help but utter "To Have and Have Not", and recalling  Ernest Hemingway's 1937 novel of that name. I was immediately struck by the parallels between the film and the novel. The novel is the story of Harry Morgan, a decent man, captain of a fishing boat who hits hard times and becomes a criminal almost out of no choice and to a disastrous end. In a sense, Morgan is Captain Phillips and Muse rolled into one. The real villain often is the crushing hand of circumstances forced by poverty, a disease that is so hard to avoid specially when inherited.

Improbably entertaining Gravity celebrates the pursuit of life as not only primal but the only ethical course of action

Gravity is an entertaining space thriller that is the new 'must-see' film. A brief, pulsating exploration of claustrophobia of open space. It is fast-paced, poignant, scary and even funny. It celebrates the pursuit of life as not only the most primal but the most ethical course of action. It is one of the best single-idea movies out there.

Sandra Bullock, the much-maligned, unassuming super-star, makes a giant comeback with a strong, believable and rare likable performance. She makes you want to root for her no matter how improbable her pursuit seems.

Alfonso Cuarón, the young Mexican director, adds another excellent film to his small but wide portfolio.