The Da Vinci Code

There seems to be a Da Vinci Code fever. Everyone I know in SoC watched the movie in its opening weekend. Almost 2 years after I read the book, I caught the movie yesterday evening with a friend. The story of the movie can be read from my post on the book, I won’t repeat it here. With the movie now released, all the controversy and debate should hopefully come to an end.

The movie was a bit long. Tom Hanks with his long hairstyle is (thankfully) watchable as symbologist Robert Langdon. His acting is mostly wooden. This is not to blame him, but his role doesn’t require much anyway other than explaining the history of the Church and the symbols. The surprises in the movie were Ian McKellen (Magneto from X-Men) and Paul Bettany (as Silas). Ian as the very-English Grail researcher Teabing was a delight to watch. The movie was a bit dull starting off, but from then on it was good. Just as in the book, there are no dull moments, the puzzles keep on coming. I wish they’d shown a bit more info on Leonardo da Vinci himself. It was good to see the various paintings, monuments and places from the book onscreen. I don’t know how the movie will be appreciated by viewers who haven’t read the book. I found it interesting and watchable.

To Kill A Mockingbird

Read the book To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. I’d heard much about it and am glad now that I read it. The book is narrated through Scout, a 6 year old girl. It is set in the 1930s in Maycomb, a sleepy Southern US county. The novel is a Bildungsroman, as we follow the adventures of Scout, her elder brother Jem and their summer vacation friend Dill through their years, we also see significant events happening in the county and how these events shape their thinking. Scout’s dad is Atticus, a honest free thinking lawyer. About half of the book sets the stage by introducing the county, the neighbours of Scout, her adventures in school and most importantly the society of the America of those years. The real deal is when Atticus has to defend a black named Tom who has been charged of raping a white girl. As Scout and Jem follow their dad’s court ordeal, they also perceive the change in the county towards them (this is Southern USA remember?). It changes their thinking about people and society and starts moulding them into maturity.

The book won a Pulitzer Prize. It was also made into a highly acclaimed movie which I’m now eager to see. I loved the book, couldn’t keep it down once I started on it. There are several aspects in the book which endeared it to me — of lost innocence, of racism in the USA, of small town America, of the 2-tone view of a child’s world and of how the world is a total complicated mess. Through all the hell around him, Atticus stands as steady as a rock for his children, always making them think about the answers to their queries of the world around them. Lee was apparently inspired by the Scottsboro Boys trial for this book. From what I know, under its shiny veneer racism still lurks in the richest nation of the world. This book is just as relevant today as it was in 1960. Eminently readable.

[ Cover of the 1967 Penguin Edition reprint, this is the one I read from.
I couldn’t find a better cover pic on the internet. ]

King Kong

Watched Peter Jackson’s remake of King Kong. I hadn’t seen the original, so the story was new to me. The movie is set in Depression era USA. Irked by his producers, Carl Denham, a filmmaker sets off to a secret island to make a movie. All he needs is a heroine, he convinces Ann Darrow who he meets on the street to take this role. They leave in a hurry with the steamer crew assuming they’re headed Far East to Singapore. Ann’s favorite playwright Driscoll is also on the ship. They’re attracted to each other and start to fall in love. Carl convinces the ship’s captain to head over to Skull Island, the secret place whose map he has possession of. The ship crashes into the rocks hidden by fog on the island. They discover that the island is filled with crazy natives and has a humongous wall surrounding it. The tribals steal away Ann and leave her as a sacrifice to the island’s beast.

Kong, a prehistoric 25 foot gorilla is the partaker of this sacrifice and he takes away Ann into the jungle just as the ship’s crew try to rescue her. The film-makers and the crew decide to scour the jungle for her. Meanwhile, Kong saves Ann from a group of carnivorous dinosaurs in a vicious battle. Kong is a lonely ape, the last of his species and starts to take a liking to Ann. She is also thankful for his help and they share a beautiful sunset on a high cliff on the island. That night, Driscoll saves her and is pursued by a very angry Kong. In the end, the ape is captured using chloroform. With his Skull Island footage lost, Carl sees the captured Kong as a chance to redeem his career. He takes him to NYC and shows him as a mega attraction in the city. In the first night’s show, Kong comes to his senses, breaks free of his chains and goes out on a rampage. The army is called in to kill him. Ann finds him and he flees with her to the top of the Empire State Building. As dawn breaks over NYC, Kong is attacked by biplanes. He fights the biplanes but is badly injured. He bids Ann an emotional farewell as he falls to his death below.

King Kong is almost 3 hours long. I was dreading the length, but it turned out to be surprisingly interesting. There are 3 different streams going on in the movie — relationship between Kong and Ann, love of Driscoll and Ann and finally Carl’s unstoppable passion to make his film at any cost. The Skull Island scenes remind me of LOTR. The prehistoric beasts of the island are done very well. The scenes between Kong and Ann are actually emotional (surprise!). The climactic scenes of a wounded Kong and Ann seeing the Sun rise over the skyscrapers of NYC is fantastic. Jack Black (as filmmaker Carl) and Adrien Brody (as Driscoll) are good. I loved the Eastman-like color that pervades the movie. This is easily one of the better movies of 2005. I rate it as better than Peter Jackson’s 3rd LOTR movie.

“And lo, the beast looked upon the face of beauty.
And it stayed its hand from killing.
And from that day, it was as one dead.”

Getting What You Came For

I read the book Getting What You Came For (The Smart Student’s Guide To Earning A Master’s Or Ph.D.) written by Robert L. Peters. This is a revised edition published in 1997, but most of the stuff holds good even now. The author gives tips for everything from the time you are in undergrad, applying for grad studies, choosing your adviser, doing research, getting your thesis done, dealing with stress and managing time. The book is quite comprehensive in its coverage. I skipped over chapters which weren’t relevant for me. The ones which I found most useful were the tips about managing time and stress. Hopefully, I should be able to deal with this better now. I think this book helped me quite a bit (if only I can apply whatever I’ve learnt in it). I recommend it to all who are finding grad school hard and stressful. The only downside of the book was that it has very few engineering/science specific advice.

The Crying Of Lot 49

Trying to put into words the experience of reading The Crying Of Lot 49 is extremely hard. This is an early novel from Thomas Pynchon. Set in 1960s California, the story is said from the viewpoint of one Oedipa Mass. She is called upon to co-execute the will of her former rich boyfriend Inverarity. While working on that, she comes across an intriguing symbol of a muted post horn in a bar bathroom one night. She begins to try to find out what it represents. Over the next several days as she doggedly pursues the real meaning of the symbol, she discovers an underbelly to the world around her, an alternative postage system that has existed since medieval times and still being used today. In the end, the existence of her discoveries is left hanging in the air. It could be real or she could be imagining things.

The book is quite thin. Had it been any thicker I might have given up. Pynchon’s work is dense, complex, bizarre, dreamy, funny and sarcastic. The reader discovers slowly page by page, bit by bit along with Oedipa a bizarre world and what the symbol might mean. The world presented by Pynchon is rich in detail and here the real and imaginary combine and become indistinguishable. What the book leads to might be either gibberish or prodigal, but the journey is damn tripping. I’ll bet not everyone can describe this book or what it really means in a definite way. I need to reread this book someday.

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith

I finally wrapped up watching the Star Wars prequel saga after catching Star Wars Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith. In this final prequel which ties into the first movie, Anakin Skywalker turns into Darth Vader. The battle between the Republic and the Separitists is raging on when Anakin and Obi-Wan rescue General Palpatine. Palpatine has a soft spot for Anakin and he quickly gains his trust. Also, the General is slowly growing powerful in the Senate. Meanwhile, Padmé is pregnant and Anakin is getting nightmares of her death during childbirth. He loves her too much and is ready to do anything to save her. Palpatine encashes on this by revealing to him that he knows the secret of cheating death which he learnt from the Dark Side. The general turns out to be a Sith Lord!

Torn by his love for Padmé, Anakin becomes an apprentice of Palpatine, moves over to the Dark Side and acquires the Sith name Darth Vader. Following his orders, he kills all the Jedi in the Jedi Temple and heads to Mustafar to kill the Separatists. Also, by an Order 66 all the Clone Troopers are also ordered to kill all the Jedi they can find. This way the Jedi is almost vanquished with just Obi-Wan and Yoda surviving. Padmé goes to Mustafar to meet Anakin. Obi-Wan follows. On the lava filled landscape of Mustafar, a climactic light saber duel ensues between Obi-Wan and Anakin in which Anakin is defeated and is burnt to near death by lava. He is rescued by Palpatine and gets his dark suit. Darth Vader comes to life. On the other side, Padmé does die during childbirth giving birth to the twins Luke and Leia.

I liked The Phantom Menace and found Attack Of The Clones extremely boring. ROTS in comparison is quite good. Anakin’s transition into the Dark Side is convincing. The effects and the new planets are enjoyable. This is a good watch. I now need to watch the original 3 movies to finish the series!

Mission: Impossible III

First week of vacation and I am already bored! Last night, Parineet, Sagar and me headed out to Golden Village at Tiong Bahru to watch Mission: Impossible III. In this third movie of the series, Ethan Hunt is almost a family man. He is engaged to a nurse (Julie) and is planning marriage when he is called back to rescue a teammate in Germany. The teammate dies after being rescued and Hunt decides to kidnap the villain Davian in Vatican City. He succeeds but Davian is rescued back by his cronies and with a little help from someone on the inside of IMF. Davian swears revenge and kidnaps Hunt’s fianceé. Hunt heads out to China on a personal mission to kill Davian and save his love.

Tom Cruise is just as watchable as before even though he has aged. The effects are good, but the movie is a letdown. The story is riddled with holes. For example, Hunt plans an elaborate scheme to get a mysterious object called the Rabbit’s Foot. After all the planning, the viewer does not get to see how he steals it. Also, we never get to know what this object is. The movie is good to watch, but very forgettable after you are done with it.