The Wind Rises (2013)

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Since The Wind Rises is not only a Studio Ghibli release but also supposedly Hayao Miyazaki’s last film (though this is doubtful since he has repeatedly announced his retirement and then reneged on it), there was zero doubt that we would eventually watch this. This film has also attracted considerable controversy since it could be interpreted as being laudatory towards a man who helped build Japan’s war machine during the Second World War. This of course only makes it even more of a must watch.

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Ilo Ilo (2013)

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This film was Singapore’s submission for the 2013 Academy Awards for the Best Foreign Language Film category. It is also the first Singaporean film to win an award at the Cannes Film Festival, bagging the Camera d’Or award meant for début directors. This makes it the highest profile Singaporean film of recent years. I was particularly curious about how it stacks up compared with The Journey, arguably its closest Malaysian equivalent.

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The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

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All indicators point towards The Wolf of Wall Street being an excellent film. It is the fifth collaboration between Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DeCaprio. It is based on the real story of the colourful life of Jordan Belfort. It was nominated for multiple Academy Awards. After being impressed by Margin Call, I looked forward to watching another good film depicting the finance industry. Unfortunately, it turned out to be something of a dud.

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The Burmese Harp (1956)

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This one was a pick by my wife who had heard about it as a notable film about Buddhism long ago but had never seen it. It is apparently quite highly regarded, being a nominee for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film during the first year that the category existed. Note that I’m going to be more spoilery than usual partly because this is such an old film but mostly because it’s hard to say anything worth saying about it without revealing much of the plot.

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Blue Jasmine (2013)

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I don’t consider myself a fan of Woody Allen’s films. Sure, there is much to admire about them including the clever dialogue and witty social commentary, but on the whole, they’re not to my taste. Blue Jasmine gained attention recently both for being one of the better Allen films of recent years and one that departs significantly from his usual form. Since this film also won Cate Blanchett the Best Actress Oscar, I thought I should check it out.

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The Lunchbox (2013)

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This modestly produced Indian film has been making waves all  over the world. It’s been a commercial and a critical success both for domestic audiences in India and in foreign markets. I think this is because it feels very authentically Indian, yet at the same time it tells the kind of timeless, universal story that Hollywood excels at, making it a film that travels exceptionally well.

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Recent Interesting Science Articles (June 2014)

Only four articles since I’ve been away or else occupied for much of this month.

  • According to the scientists covered in this article from the BBC, rats may be observed to feel regret. The experiment involved setting up lines for food and the rats could choose whether to stay in line or switch to a different one. When they realized that their new choice was worse than the previous one, they were observed pausing and looking back towards the reward they had passed over.
  • This article from recode.net talks about how computer algorithms are being used to devise customized treatments for cancer patients. The process involves sequencing the DNA of both the patient’s normal cells and that of the cancerous ones to add to the usual wealth of data that is then fed into the algorithm to generate precisely the correct treatment. All this is still in the trials stage of course, but it’s one of the biggest steps yet towards the long talked-about era of personalized medicine.
  • One of the biggest science news this month was the discovery of a truly massive body of water located deep beneath the Earth’s surface. This article for example from New Scientist provides details of how the underground has a total volume three times that of all the oceans on the surface, supporting the idea that all of the water currently on the surface gradually oozed out of the Earth’s interior rather than originating from comets.
  • Facebook recently revealed that it had conducted an experiment in which it intentionally manipulated the emotions of its users by tweaking their news feeds to be either sadder or happier than normal. They then monitored the posts of these users to see if the emotional tone matched. This article from The Independent gives further details. The change in subsequent seems small but most people are more shocked that Facebook chose to perform such an experiment without notifying users and asking for their permission. Naturally this also raises the question of whether other online companies tweak the content received by their users in similar ways.

The unexamined life is a life not worth living