Posts Tagged books and movies

Review: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

Aha!  A *double* movie weekend!  I went to go see The Sorcerer’s Apprentice on Saturday for a matinee with Zac and Ken, and no small part of that decision was because my company has some prominent product placement in the movie.  It was pretty tasteful (I would totally put those up on my wall at work) but overall, the movie was only medium quality.

I do not think it was awful, but a good part of that was because I had lowered expectations going into it.  I didn’t hear positive reviews on it from the radio movie reviewer, and then Aaron was not kind to it in his review.  So, with those biases coming in, I actually found it to be enjoyable.  I do enjoy more campiness and silliness than most, though, and tolerate it significantly longer than some of my friends when watching a “popcorn movie.”

That said, I thought the plot was a bit weak, and the characterization of the main two “masters” – Cage and Molina – could have been much much better.  I’d say wait until DVD.

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Review: Inception

I’m pretty sure at this point I would put Inception at 3rd or 4th all-time for my favorite movies.  I’ve spent most of the day in my spare thoughts ruminating over the implications of the movie, and just in general the feel and the content of it.  It was outstanding.

The movie had just the right mix of group crime thriller, science fiction and drama to hook me early and keep me all the way through.  DiCaprio’s performance was amazing, of course, but I thought nearly everyone’s was, which is kind of awesome for a movie with such an ensemble cast.  There was also a lot more depth and feeling of meaning (if that makes sense) to the action, which helped me bond with the characters much faster and stronger than I would have otherwise.

They do some crazy stuff with time – at the risk of minor spoilers, there’s some very excellent pacing and drama injected by the conceit that time flows faster in dreams (and even faster in dreams-within-dreams).  I of course appreciated that, being such a time fiction nut.  I heard on the radio the following phrase in relation to Inception: “if you get past the hokey science,” dot dot dot.  I kind of took it as given – the premise is people can share dreams, there’s no need for me to worry about how per se, except in the context of the plot device.

I will be buying this on DVD as soon as I am able, and probably watching it at least once more in the theater.  Two thumbs way up!

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Media Blitz

I had a thought regarding media pacing that I wanted to share.  You see, in nearly all aspects of life that we can control, we kind of set it up to have a natural pacing – game design calls this an “interest curve,” but I think it’s also a tolerance curve.  That is, a long exposure to lots of highs can be as bad as too many lows.  Things that ignore this curve, like addiction or nonstop partying or even eating your favorite food every meal, quickly become a problem.

But in visual media, like advertisements, movies and television shows, there seems to be much less pacing and much more IN YOUR FACEness.  This makes sense from the perspective of the media producer.  They want to grab your attention now, so they bombard you with lots of highs.  For an ad, it’s not even that long – half a minute, maybe? – but because they are all chained together, and the different ad makers all want to draw focus to their own product, we become exposed to lots of highs, all in a row, which is exactly the opposite of what I described above.

I think this is pretty dangerous, especially for younger audiences who don’t have any intuition about pacing (those with more experience might understand enough to avoid the bombardment in favor of better, natural pacing) and therefore get blasted over and over.  It certainly seems like it could burn people out from getting value out of sensory experience, but it could also reduce audience’s ability to focus very long on anything at all.

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Review: A-Team

Saw A-Team with Emily yesterday, and I thought it was great!  Definitely one of the better/funnier/enjoyable movies I’ve seen this year.  I will admit, I was not a particular fan of the original A-Team, but it was great attending with someone who was because the nostalgia was infectious.  Not that there’s too much throwback-y humor – I’d say the right amount from my perspective.  The action was top notch for a summer blockbuster, and the plot was respectable – a little twisty but I enjoy that in a spy/action thriller type movie.

The real strength of the movie, though, was Murdock.  Liam Neeson was excellent as always as Hannibal, just a very solid performance.  The actors for both Face (Bradley Cooper, who I recognized but could not have told you from where – IMDb says the Hangover) and B.A. did act their characters just as I would have expected.  But Murdock… oh, Murdock.  Played by District 9′s “Wikus” (Sharlto Copley) he was straight up insane – by which I mean did an amazing job being both believable and hilarious and all over the place playing a moderately crazy man.  It was so fun to watch.

The movie also had two (!) previews for Scott Pilgrim, which I am becoming increasingly interested in seeing!

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It Could Happen to You

I’m spending the weekend mostly inside (or gallivanting around at dog parks) with the beagle trio (Max, Tulip, Buddy), so I am reading – programming – watching movies.  I saw It Could Happen to You, a movie from 1998 that I had no idea existed, with Nic Cage and Bridget Fonda.  The premise is that a very honest cop in NY doesn’t have cash on him to leave a tip at a diner, so he promises the waitress half his lottery winnings (from the lottery ticket he just purchased) on the next day.  Obviously, he wins, and then he gives her half, fulfilling his promise.  Antics ensue.

My favorite part of the movie is later, when the two of them are talking, and she says, “I just couldn’t believe you went through with it.”

“A promise is a promise.  Anyone would do the same,” he replies.

“No,” she says, “nobody would do the same.  Nobody!”

How important is a promise?  I used to believe that keeping my word was one of the absolutely most moral things I could do.  Then, as I became a bit wiser (I like to think!) I decided that sometimes doing the right thing means going back on your word, because when you made your promise, you didn’t understand the full consequences of your action.  I do think that honoring one’s word has moral value – it is Right to do it, integrity is a virtue worth promoting, and reliability of stated intent is something valuable.  That implies that I find lies evil, on principle, but unlike my ideas about fairness or the value of sapient life, I don’t think it is as strong a principle as to form a core of a philosophy.

I’d like to believe that I would have done what Cage’s character did, but like all of my moral posturing, I don’t honestly know how I would act in the moment, when the decision actually stands before me.

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Pre-Review: The Lightning Thief

I had this urge to read the last Harry Potter book the other day, probably because I got the 6th movie on my iPad for the Puerto Rico trip, and therefore I was ready to complete the series again.  I think I’ve mentioned it before, but basically I inherited this bug where I just can’t sleep if I have a book I am interested in reading, I just stay up reading.  This has not been a great week for that sort of behavior, though – man, have I been tired!

But that’s not what this blog is about!  This blog is about how when I was shopping for a new 7th Harry Potter book (because I can’t find my old one, and I needed it in paperback anyway), I was also browsing the “young reader’s fantasy/sci-fi” section, because a lot of those books are pretty interesting.  I picked up the first in the “Percy and the Olympians” series (you may have seen the movie, but I didn’t!) and so far, I have been liking it.

I don’t know, there’s this quality to younger-people books that is really appealing.  I guess they focus a bit more on tone and theme, which I appreciate, even when it’s pretty heavy handed.  I also (apparently) don’t appreciate good prose, so that’s a bonus too, because those kinds of books also lack the good prose. :)

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Review: Prince of Persia

Went out to see Prince of Persia: Sands of Time last night with awesome folk as kind of a postdated birthday celebration, and I wanted to get my thoughts down.  I think I liked it overall – I am kind of a sucker for video game movies anyway, and despite its failings (which I’ll get into in a moment), it was an enjoyable watch.  I personally wanted more time manipulation because I am a time-control-junkie, but since it was an essential part of the plot, it figures they wouldn’t be able to use it as much as I wanted.

The biggest complaint I have about the movie is one Zac brought up, that the characters’ dialogue was all about telling the narrative, and when dramatic moments were attempted, they fell kind of flat.  It was cheesy, but I don’t really mind that — in fact, had it been a tad cheesier, it would have been waaaaay better!  As it was, it was straddling this strange line of humor/drama between Shrek and Lord of the Rings and it didn’t quite satisfy.  I guess that’s the danger of making these four-quadrant films that are supposed to appeal to young and old, male and female.

The action of the movie was satisfying overall – a very video gamey feel, very appropriate.  There were even a few homages to the Prince of Persia style “parkour”/puzzle games in some of the cinematography.  The acting was pretty flat – I was not feeling chemistry between the male and female leads, which is too bad, because they were both hot!  Uh, I mean… no, I guess that’s what I mean. :)

I would recommend this movie to anyone who (1) enjoys video games, specifically Prince of Persia (obv), and (2) doesn’t have critical film expectations for it – you just want to have a good time.  Which we did!

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Television

Since I am getting excited for the finales of a number of shows I watch, I figured I would talk briefly about my favorites and what I am watching now.  It’s on my mind!

  • Fringe: I am actually considering purchasing the iTunes episode for the 2nd part of the finale, tonight, rather than wait for it to show up on Fox’s website like I normally do.  I really enjoy the combination of detective stories plus crazy / weird science.  The actors are also quite engaging in their roles.  Some of it is silly, but I had it recommended to me, watched the first season on DVD and was hooked due to the pacing / run-up to the finale.
  • LOST: I think I definitely benefited from watching the first few seasons of LOST all together on DVD/Hulu.  I have heard a bunch of friends soured on it watching it week to week.  I appreciate the dramatic style of the show, and definitely relate strongly and emotionally to some of the characters (specifically Jack, Kate and Hurley), even if sometimes the plot advancement is… slow.
  • 30 Rock: I finally relented and started watching this when Netflix Instant got Season 1 – and it’s pretty hilarious.  It helps a ton that Tina Fey’s character Liz is so adorable and also eminently relate-able (?) … a common theme among shows I love!

Here are some of the shows I enjoyed from the past, with a short self-explanation:

  • Friends: felt like hilariously over-the-top version of my everyday life /  friend group interaction; relate-able characters (Ross, Chandler)
  • Scrubs: similar to the above, with Zach Braff’s character JD waaaaay more relate-able
  • Battlestar Galactica: great balance of characters and plot, obvious draw of space-drama (yay science fiction)
  • Futurama: I guess I love comedies and/or science fiction? :)

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Telos and Virtue

Some may say that maximizing happiness is the most important, or that every individual should be free to choose, but in a community, where people interact and affect each other, it is worthwhile to ask, “of all the ends that could make us (the community) happiest, which ones are the right ones?”  This essentially boils down to what the community should honor and respect, or what Aristotle calls the good (or sometimes, the “good life”).

The process for determining what is worthy of honor is teleological – a fancy word that means “divine its purpose”.  Here, that means its purpose to the community.  Examples from Justice ask what is the purpose of:

  • Marriage (in the same-sex marriage debate: is it reproductive? honor a strong exclusive bond among persons? something else? nothing?)
  • Universities (is it okay for universities to auction off admissions? or is this a form of corruption because the community should honor principled academia?)
  • Military service (is it okay for the military to be entirely mercenary? or is the honor of serving one’s country (patriotism) valuable to the community?)

Telos is a wonderful tool, in my opinion, but it has its cost – it gets people into the contentious space of arguing over what they believe is best for everyone.  We can all agree on increasing welfare (everything else being equal) and on protecting individual freedom (everything else being equal), but discussions of virtue and the purpose of community activity require us to prioritize other missions (like honoring commitment between two faithful partners in the same-sex marriage debate) over welfare or freedom or both.  A utilitarian, for example, might say there is no purpose to marriage but increasing total happiness, and if a large majority of people are much happier with no same-sex marriage, then that’s how it should be.

Since I do believe in principles (like the value of human life) that transcend utilitarian calculus, I am happy to know that now I have a good tool for logically explaining my position beyond blind assertion.

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What is the Right Thing to Do?

I recently read the book Justice by Michael Sandel and was blown away.  Part of the reason might be that I have philosophical inclinations but never really had (nor tried to find) the philosophical vocabulary I needed to describe how I felt.  This book is essentially Freakonomics for morality.  It has tons of examples to illustrate ideas and points, and does an amazing job of weaving very disparate theories of morality (utilitarianism, libertarianism, categorical imperatives, purpose of virtue) together while at the same time poking at them to test their strength.

Many points struck me from this book, but one near the beginning, laying out the structure of the discussion, was particularly striking. Justice stems from three principles: maximizing welfare, preserving freedom and promoting virtue.  The way in which these three principles interplay and intertwine (and are sometimes at odds with each other) define moral choices, and let us inform each other, essentially, about our views on what the right thing to do is.

Now that I have read it, I can see my conundrum over justice has very little to do with welfare (which I consider to be a byproduct of the other two, and why I am distasteful of utilitarian arguments) but is about the interplay of freedom and virtue – almost certainly because freedom is attractive in its objectivity and virtue is frustrating because of its subjectivity (what should be honored and valued, by a community of individuals?).

I often think to myself, “justice is the first priority, fairness is second,” so I am already admitting the possibility that equality and individual freedom should be secondary to some greater principle… but I have a hard time pinning down what principle(s), exactly.

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