North By Northwest

I got around to watching North By Northwest. This is my first Hitchcock movie (discounting Psycho, which everyone and her shower killer should’ve seen). Cary Grant plays Roger O Thornhill, an advertising executive who is mistaken for a government spy. He is chased across the country by the members of a secret organization who are afraid he might spill the beans on their plan. He is charged with murder of an UN official and the police are looking out for him too. While under pursuit he meets Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint), who is attracted to him and helps him. Who are these guys who’re behind him? Where can Thornhill go as he is relentlessly chased across the country? What’s all this for?

The movie opens with a superb title sequence music which hooked me. As in all of his movies, Hitchcock makes an early cameo appearance. The story is intriguing, full of twists, moves very fast (reminded me of The Bourne Supremacy) and always stays a step ahead of the viewer. Only after the credits roll, you realize that not everything in the plot made sense. In fact, it is full of holes. There are many iconic scenes, like the one where Cary is chased by a crop dusting plane in the middle of nowhere. Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint and especially James Mason (what a voice!) have acted well. Eva is gorgeous in this movie, frankly I was floored! The movie is surprisingly loaded to the brim with delightful double entendres (I didn’t know Hitchcock did this). Add to this the suspense and the romance between Cary and Eva, and you really feel like you’re watching a James Bond movie. Infact, I looked it up, James Bond movies started from 1962 and this was released in 1959. I now definitely think that this movie must’ve influenced the Bond series. This was a real treat, I’ll definitely be watching more Hitchcock now.

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Good Will Hunting

Where was this gem all these years?! Saw Good Will Hunting which stars Matt Damon and Robbie Williams. Will (Matt Damon) is a janitor at the MIT who is a prodigy in math, science and arts. He’s an orphan and has been through a troubled childhood. When Prof. Lambeau (a Fields Medallist) leaves a tough problem to his class, Will solves it during the night and leaves the answer on the board. The surprised professor tracks down the secret problem solver and is eager to showcase his genius to the world. Meanwhile, Will who has a violent background, fights with a cop and gets thrown into jail. The professor gets him out on the condition that he attend therapy every week. Will agrees but screws around with the minds of every therapist. Meanwhile he’s fallen in love with Skylar (Minnie Driver), a Harvard student. Lambeau finally convinces his old friend Sean (Robin Williams) to hold therapy sessions for Will. Though they get off on a rocky start (Will verbally abuses Sean’s dead wife), after several tries Sean is able to open up Will’s pent up emotions. Lambeau wants Will to use his prodigious talent. Skylar wants him to move with her to CA. Sean wants him to do what is right to him. Will wants to return to his former simple life. What does Will do?

This movie is scripted by the actors Matt Damon and Ben Affleck (they won an Oscar for this screenplay). Unbelievable isn’t it? The story is splendid and definitely makes one think about life. On the one hand it is about Will rediscovering himself, opening up his pent up emotions and discovering what he wants from life. But, the movie is also about Sean, renewing his life (he’s depressed after his wife’s death) through his sessions with Will. The actings performances from Damon and Williams (another Oscar for his role here) are top class. The movie is a bit lengthy (2+ hours). This is a must watch!

School Of Rock

There used to be a way to stick it to The Man. It was called rock ‘n’ roll!

Saw the comedy School Of Rock starring Jack Black. Dewey (Black) is a guitarist who is kicked out of his own band while they’re preparing for a rock contest. Looking for work, he fakes as his flatmate and lands a substitute teacher job at a prep school. To his surprise he finds his class to be very talented in music. He sees in them a chance to form a band and win the rock contest. He fools them into a class project called Rock Band and they start training. Meanwhile, the school principal and his flatmate’s girlfriend try to break his plan.

This movie was simply stomach-aching-hilarious. I laughed so much that I actually got a tummy ache. The kids have all acted superbly. But, the movie is all-Jack-Black. He takes the movie to an entire new level with his rock antics. You’ll enjoy this more if you know a bit about rock culture. Don’t dare miss this movie!

Super Size Me

I knew fast food was junk food, but had no idea it could be deleterious to health. Then I saw Super Size Me this week. This is a documentary by independent filmmaker Morgan Spurlock (creator of 30 Days). Looking at the high rate of obesity in USA, Morgan decides to try an all McDonald’s diet for a month to see how it would affect his body.

At the start of his 30-day experiment Morgan is a fit adult with the right fat, cholesterol and BMI numbers. He enlists 3 doctors to watch his health and embarks on his experiment. He eats all 3 meals in a day at McDonald’s and doesn’t exercise (to mimic the normal lifestyle of an American). Though he feels a bit odd at the beginning, he soon finds himself addicted to the food. He gets bouts of depression when he doesn’t eat it. His physical health deteriorates so much that by the end of the month his liver suffers serious damage, he suffers heart aches, his weight increases by 11 kg and his cholesterol/fat numbers increase ridiculously. His doctors tell him that if he continues, the experiment could have fatal consequences.

Watching Morgan eat for 30 days would’ve been boring. Thankfully, he isn’t the focus of the documentary. The film observes the obesity trend in the US, the culture of fast food, school lunch diets and the business of fast food. The film was released in 2004 and soon after McD removed their SuperSize meal option, introduced salads and food nutritional information in their outlets. Though the arguments against Spurlock’s method are pretty easy to make (he didn’t have to eat it 3 times/day or choose the unhealthy options on the menu), the film was a wakeup call for me. I eat at the McD on campus atleast once a week since nothing else is open at late hours. I knew it was junk, but didn’t know it could be harmful. Whoa! I will surely be watching my fast food intake now.

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Breaking The Spell

In recent months I have been lurking on BookTalk, a book discussion community of freethinkers. Every quarter they discuss a work of fiction and non-fiction each. For me it’s a good place for book recommendations. The non-fiction work being discussed in the 3rd quarter of 2006 is Breaking The Spell: Religion As A Natural Phenomenon by philosopher Daniel C. Dennett. In this book, Dennett tries to look at religion as a natural entity and attempts to examine all facets of it using the scientific method.

The spell that Dennett is trying to break here is that of religion and also of the oft-heard saying that religion can’t be studied by science. The book is divided into 3 parts:

  1. Opening Pandora’s Box — Can religion be defined? How to define religion? Why should religion be studied as a natural entity? Can/should science study religion? Cui bono? Who benefits from religion?
  2. The Evolution Of Religion — Why was religion born in nature? Why were Gods born? Why did folk religions domesticate into mainstream religions?
  3. Religion Today — Is it religion that keeps society sane and moral? Is it religion that gives meaning to life?

Dennett is good at analogies. He draws comparisons to music, money, language, sex, sports, literature and other such entities related to humans in his explanation of religion. He draws on a huge compendium of writing on evolution, memes and religion, with detailed endnotes and countless quotes. This was the first time I was reading a work that put religion into a clean, non-emotional scientific analysis. Dennett succeeds in asking the right questions, which as he confesses is harder than answering them. Some of the biggest influences in his study of religion are Charles Darwin’s The Origin Of Species and Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene. The former is the forerunner to the discovery of the gene (an unit of biological evolution) while the latter introduces the meme (an unit of cultural evolution). I knew about the meme before, but Dennett applies it to explain the evolution of religion. It was here that I felt that the idea of the meme was so revolutionary that I’ve now resolved to read Dawkins’ book.

The book is primarily aimed at those who are religious, though it gives loads of ammo for the non-believer. The book introduced so many things that I wasn’t even aware of about evolution, cultures and the scientific method. I’ve got a higher respect for Darwin now. On the downside, the book is very verbose. I couldn’t help but feel that Dennett could’ve easily removed loads of stuff and made the flow tighter. The book is also quite big at 448 pages which includes 4 appendices (which I conveniently skipped). In fact, the book introduced so many lines of debate and thought that I need to re-read it again to get a fuller understanding. I will reserve my final judgement about this book until then.

The Time Machine

The movie The Time Machine starts off in 19th century NYC. Dr. Alexander, an Applied Mechanics professor at Columbia University proposes to his sweetheart Emma. The happy moment is short-lived as she is killed by a mugger. Stricken by grief, Alex works on time travel equations for many years and builds a time machine. Using it he goes back to the past many times, but isn’t able to save Emma from her imminent demise. Not able to find out how to save her life, he travels to the future hoping the answer can be found there. He arrives in 2030 A.D., finds that humans are exploring the Moon, but no, they don’t know the answer to his question. Humans are trying lunar mining and it goes bad. The moon explodes, showering onto Earth. Alex escapes and travels forward to 800K A.D. There he finds that most species have been wiped out due to the lunar explosions. Humans have evolved into 2 distinct species — the higher species called Morlocks mind-control and hunt the lower species called Eloi. Alex meets the head of a Morlock tribe and finally gets the answer to his question. He can’t save Emma due to a temporal paradox. It was Emma’s death which caused his creation of the time machine. He can’t use it without her demise. Alex escapes, destroys the Morlocks using his time machine as a time bomb and lives with the Eloi.

I saw the 2002 version of the movie. This is a remake of a similar movie released in 1960. Both of them are based on the epic book by H. G. Wells. Though there has been so much discussion about time travel, I still found the movie’s time travel exploits engaging. While the story stays in the 19th century, the movie is a real treat to watch. However, the future world story isn’t that great, infact it is boring. The effects are good, the casting and acting aren’t. Just a decent watch.

How To Get Control Of Your Time And Your Life

I picked up How To Get Control Of Your Time And Your Life hoping to snatch some tips on effective time management. I started managing/scheduling my time a couple of months ago using Google Calendar (before that it was done in my mind or on scraps of paper). It is quite rudimentary, but suits my work style well. I’m aware of the newer techniques like GTD (which really works BTW!), but the problem with me is that I abhor these simply because they entail extra work. I’m too lazy like that.

Anyway, this book is well recommended, pretty old (1973) and written by Alan Lakein. The tone is informal. Alan talks about techniques of managing your long term goals, short term activities and assigning priorities. I’ve been reading the 43 Folders blog for quite some time now and so am already aware of most of these. There was nothing new I learnt from this book. The book is really tiny and can be finished in a few hours. If you’re not doing any kind of time management/scheduling, then this book will help you a lot. But, if you’re already done with newer techniques like Getting Things Done, don’t bother with this one.