Cloud Atlas Movie Review   November 3rd, 2012

Cloud Atlas is both a compelling and challenging film. It has a sweeping narrative and stunning visual style, which is to representative of the Wachowski’s work. It also expects something from the viewer as it consists of several parallel and interconnected story-lines. These stories flow linearly in their own time frame, but the plot of the film cuts between all of them, sometimes quickly so. The editing, pacing and theming of these cuts was wonderfully done.

The stories are all inter-related, but the film is not totally clear on the mechanics of that. It is eluded that the characters could possibly be reincarnated souls, but that is not strongly suggested. Several links between the parallel lives are shown, but they don’t always make logical sense. Even so, thematically it all works.

The characters are played by the same actors in each of the different periods, sometimes with some impressive makeup which loses them in the character. The acting and characterization is brilliant and the stories make for some wonderful character drama. The film also works across several different genres and tones between the stories, which made things balanced and interesting.

There were some major themes throughout the stories: man’s violence against man for greed and more basic human drives, selfish and selfless acts, falls and redemptions. Deconstructing the film, it felt like the stories fell into two types, major arcs which dealt with the fight against systematic injustice, and minor arcs which served as connections between the other stories and showed more of humanity’s mix of weakness and potential.

The movie isn’t perfect. Some of the connections between stories felt a little superfluous. The points the film made did get a bit heavy handed at times, but at the same time the drama and overall intrigue of the stories were still definitely entertaining. If you’re willing to watch a film which takes some degree of active engagement from the viewer, and which could definitely use a second viewing to aid in the understanding, then it’s well worth the effort and a rewarding experience. 4/5 stars.

Podcastle – Zauberschrift   February 14th, 2012

Being a wizard is supposed to be exciting and prestigious, but what if it was more like being a programmer or an engineer?

Podcastle, the fantasy podcast, has a fun story Zauberschrift, about an apprentice brought in to do sustaining work on an old wizard’s buggy spells.

Posted in Podcasts | No Comments »

Randy Pausch and Richard Feynman   January 11th, 2011

I recently finished reading The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch, the memoirs of the CS professor who gave a moving lecture after being diagnosed with cancer. It’s a nice collection of essays and memoirs, dramatic and inspiring. It has the wisdom and creativity of one adept at engineering, both technical and social. Reading of his work in Virtual Reality and the sabbaticals he did at video game companies and at Disney Imagineering was fantastic.

I was also recently reminded of physicist Richard Feynman, autobiography, Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman which I read in college. I started re-reading it today and have been enjoying that as well. Like Randy Pausch, Richard Feynman is an entertaining character. Both men are brilliant and smart, but not just with standard “book learning.”

They both show creative insight and love of solving puzzles, but also demonstrate a social knowledge which a lot of smarter people don’t always have. Pausch used that to teach his students how to be better collaborators and Feynman used social engineering along with his love of pranks to have lots of good-natured but devilish fun. I’m looking forward to reading about his time at Los Alamos working on the Manhattan Project, where he became a master safe-cracker, among other things.

Posted in Books | 1 Comment »

King Corn   December 13th, 2010

The documentary movie King Corn is a study of how processed corn enters the food system and where it ends up. It was even-handed and thought-provoking and approached the situation from an interesting perspective.

College graduates Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis move from Boston to Iowa, the center of the Corn Belt, to investigate the question. The documentary has a nice personal feel. Where other filmmakers could fall into predictable archetypes of the smart-assed liberal youths pitted against the conservative small-town farmers, there was thankfully none of that. The documentarians were earnest and friendly and they were welcomed by the community. It also helped that both Ian and Curt had family roots from three generations ago which came from the town they settled in, so they were able to add a personal side to the story as they connected with distant relatives and examined how their great grandfathers had farmed the land.

The two of them rented an acre of land to plant and tend a corn crop and the film followed them for a year, from planting to harvest. During that time they interviewed farmers and towns people to get a good picture of everyone involved in the corn market, from those growing it, to the distributors and consumers, from factories making high-fructose corn syrup to big cattle feed yards. The film goes over changes in farm subsidies and economics which have lead to bigger farms owned by fewer families, and the downsides of corn-fed beef and corn syrup as used in processed food.

However, the documentary remains mostly neutral, also showing how food has become cheaper and more plentiful. Processed food is not as healthy, but it also allows Americans to get more for their budgets. Like anything it’s a complex issue, a story of unintended consequences and high-fructose corn syrup is a genie that will not go back into the bottle. The film does not offer any answers on what to do with the chain of corn in the current food supply. At the same time it presents the issues in a straight-forward and even-handed way, keeping the discussion civil and refraining from political rants. That tone, and the personalized feel of the documentary make it a movie worth checking out.

Scarecrow’s Diploma   November 30th, 2010

I caught The Wizard of Oz while I was home on Thanksgiving. My parents’ Tivo picked it up and I watched part of it with my dad. It’s a fun classic to curl up with, but there’s one thing that always bugs me.

Being a nerd, I always catch this goof at the end, when the Wizard is giving out the gifts. After he gives Scarecrow his honorary diploma, Scarecrow spouts off the Pythagoearn Theroem, which is the sum of the squares of two shorter sides of a right triangle, equals the square of the hypotenuse. However, he flubs it and instead says isosceles triangle.

I wonder if that was intentional. Most-likely the screen writer was looking for something that sounded like what an egghead would say, and being a theater type instead of a math and sciene type, just made a mistake. It would be wonderful if it was an intentional gag though.

The whole joke at the end is that the Wizard’s gifts are pure chicanery and he’s giving the characters symbolic tokens to make them feel better, even though they went through the hero’s journey themselves. They are imperfect, but they still rose to the challenge. It would’ve been neat if the math flub was intentional to wink at the audience for that. That’s probably not the case, but geeking out on plot structure, it’s fun to think that it could be.