Sunday, November 16, 2014

[Poetry] We Must Fight To Run Away by Chester Hopewell

I like this book quite a bit.  I picked it up at the Decatur Book Festival emerging authors tent, and it is basically a chap book of poetry filled with several of the author's photographs.  Both are well done.  I read it twice over three weeks just so that I could feel I could do the poems justice and greatly absorb their meaning.

The primary theme of the poems is about life, love, existential existence and finding a sense of purpose in spite of ourselves.  At least, that's what I got out of it.  There are a great many balloons and other curious pictures that go well thematically with the rest of the chapbook.   I had a positive feeling when I read it the first time, and a feeling of greater introspective focus when I read it the second, and I'm glad I read it the second time, because I got more out of it. 

I would highly recommend this book.  It seems like an excellent thing to leave on a coffee table for your guest to read to entertain themselves while you are otherwise occupied around the house.  They are universal enough in their appeal that I think they could do well with most anyone.

Friday, November 7, 2014

[Movie] John Wick (Spoiler)

This movie was awesome but it is not for people who need the site "Does the Dog Die?" 

On the other hand, this movie is absolutely for people who do love movies about people who beat people who hurt animals to death.  John is a former mafia assassin (freelance) who has left the life behind for five years due to the love of a beautiful woman.
She ends up dying of cancer, which devastates John. But she knows John well enough to know he needs "something to love" or he will revert to his darker ways so she leaves him a puppy, which he embraces as her memory.  Unfortunately,  for many, a group of Russian thugs see his nice car, follow him home and steal the car, but they don't stop there and kill the puppy with a baseball bat, basically because they can.

When the thugs try to fence the car, the fence refuses to take it when he learns who owned it.   But the head of the thugs turns out to be the son of a powerful Russian Mafia figure. This leads to a conflict of two powerful forces, one deadly man with an indomitable will, and the other a vast criminal empire determined to keep the dog killing thug alive.

The moral clarity adds a bloody bright red light to what would otherwise be a nourish world of ten million shades of gray.  It is a fascinating world where a hotel provides neutral ground for professional assassins, with dire consequences for those who violate its sanctity.  It is a good action flick with good acting, a fabulous cast, and great visuals.  It ends well too.  I  highly recommend it.

Monday, September 1, 2014

[Movie] A Most Wanted Man

Short: "This money isn't clean.  I don't want it."

Medium: A special intelligence unit watches a 'wanted' chechnyan declared a terrorist by Russians after torture while fending off Americans and the German police who want to snatch him up instead of playing the longer game.

Verbose: This is an american action flick with a European ending.


I would give this movie the rating that it has on Rotten Tomatoes (which is high) but include the ending is depressing and typical of a european film.  The first half of the film follows the perspective of a washed up german intelligence agent leading a tiny intelligence unit that keeps an eye on the local islamic population using extra legal informanents.  He is after a possible financier of terrorism that he can turn into an intelligence asset.

The heir to a russian war criminal comes seeking money left to him by his father in a german shadow bank.  To do so, he enlists the help of an attractive human rights lawyer who wants to help him with his legal status.  The german intelligence unit buys time to set up a sting on the Islamic financier, and succeeds but at the last minute the bloodthirsty americans crash in and steal the financier and the innocent heir to the russian war criminal, likely spiriting them to Guantanamo.

But the intelligence official does nothing.  No appeal.  No going to the media, etc.  Nevertheless, the acting on this film is absolutely superb for almost every single performance.

[Con] Dragon Con 2014 - Sunday

Couldn't go to the con this year, but I had a lot of fun.

Pros: As far as the con itself was concerned, little changes they have made to the building arrangements has made traffic flow much more smoothly.  Lines were well maintained.  Technical problems were minimal.  Most of the tracks in the program seemed relevant (ie a much needed consolidation had occurred).  All of the events I went to had enough space, and even in events where they had to turn the audience away, tiny events were in tiny rooms and well attended events were in larger rooms. 

I went to the puppetry slam for the first time this year and HOLY @##@$@#$.  This has now replaced the masquerade for me as the must see event of the year.  It is FANTASTIC.  The other panels were informative and I enjoyed them quite a bit.

And a shout out to the absolutely amazing Dragon Con volunteers who tirelessly and mostly invisibly make the whole thing work well.

Cons: Only a few.  The Masquerade was in SORE need of troopers to move some morons off the stage.  If I can afford it, next year we're likely just buying the video so we can still see it but just fast forward past the crap.  And the dealers room is AWFUL.  Last year I heard all kinds of complaints about how crowded it was.  I never got that far. The entire entrance to the place is crowded and having to get into a ten minute line to GET INTO THE DEALERS ROOM is insane.  I understand the lack of space downtown.  Here's the thing.  They would literally be better off taking one of the hotel parking lots and having the dealer's room be in THAT instead of the God Awful Americas Mart.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

[Movie] Magic in the Moonlight

This movie was directed by Woody Allen.  We had originally gone to see a Most Wanted Man but it was at another theater.  We ended up seeing this  It was delightful.  It was also delightful that Woody Allen wasn't in it.

The basic plot of the movie is that the world's greatest magician who dresses in chinese yellow face, is also the world's greatest debunker of the supernatural. His college, who is only moderately successful invites him to check out a 'real' psychic he thinks is fake but needs help proving it.  This is, at heart a love story, but I want to avoid spoilers.  Just because I saw what was happening fairly early on, doesn't mean everyone will.  That's the delightful thing about this movie, it is a surprise and yet familiar enough to make the plot comprehensible.

The setting in a castle/manor is set in the south of France and is utterly gorgeous.  The costumes for the period, set at the turn of the century, are also fantastic.  The acting is excellent but the cinematography is one of the best parts of the movie.

I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

[Book] Silkworm by JK Rowling

This is the second in the Coromander Strike series.  It is a very good book.  Normally, I don't have much use for stories about writers since it seems like so much literary masturbation to me, but in this case it works.  The mystery is about a writer who has written an autobiographical smear of literary pretentiousness that slams everyone around him.  At first, Strike is just to find him but when he finds his target dead, it becomes a murder mystery.

The characters are interesting in this, particularly the highly complex relationship between Strike and his assistant.  Strike is not the normal lantern jawed handsome white guy who solves mysteries, he's a flawed person but a real person with contacts and contracts and obligation.  Rowling does an excellent job at hinting at the rich and complex backstory that Strike has, without wallowing in it.  90% of the prose in the book is about the mystery, and more importantly, it is highly believable how he solves it.

I highly recommend this book to both mystery fans and those who like Rowling.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

[Tech] The Panasonic DMP BD91P-K

This is a piece of crap.  So apparently, regular Blu-Ray players do not require an internet connection BUT they all require firmware updates but its up to the manufacturer when it takes place.  Panasonic has a wifi receiver in the device that can receive a signal indicating it needs up upgrade.  BUT with this model you cannot update the device using wifi.  We bought it six weeks ago and today Panasonic sent out a signal indicating that it needed a firm ware upgrade. 

I called the Panasonic guy and he offered to SELL ME AN EXTRA PART to make it work.  "Nice DVD player you have there.  Wanna buy this wifi connection device? Oh? Well then you'd better hook up with our good buddies, the cable companies."

Note, as a Blu Ray player, it seemed to work fine.  But they reserve the right to brick it any time they want. We did have fair warning, after all, as the Panasonic customer service rep mentioned on the phone, it said clearly in the manual firmware updates were required.  That's right, the manual in the box we purchased.  So right when I'm going to call the DA and ask to prosecute for fraud, I notice on the back of the box in tiny tiny tiny letters it says, "Requires Broadband Connection."

The next time someone tells you labeling requirements from the government are ridiculous? Send them to this statement.

Friday, June 20, 2014

[Book] Skin Job by Jim Butcher

Awesome! [Drops mike and walks away.]

[Awkward Pause]

[Sticks head out of side of stage left] What?

Fine.  So the fiftheenth book in the Dresden Files series is Awesome.

All Dresden files books are awesome and this one is awesomer still.

Imagine your favorite heist movie, like Oceans Eleven or Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, now add Harry Dresden, and you get a supernatural thriller that only Jim Butcher could pull off. Because his rules matter, and because by now they are so well explained from the other books, he can have really complicated characters who you know the rules for, but for which he can focus on the intruige and character development instead.


Harry, now Winter Knight, now Not Dead, has three dilemas.  He has a thing in his head that will kill him if he doesn't get it out, he has a favor that Mab owes to the lunatic demon denarian Nicodemus, and he has to do all this without pissing off the White Council that governs magic.  Two out of three aren't bad.  Nicodemus wants to steal the Holy Grail....from Hades in the underworld, so a rag tag team including a Yeti, a Summoner, a Pyromaniac and a shapeshifter make for an interesting caper indeed.

Old friends and new appear.  Some things that any dresden fan would love who hasn't read this yet.

Butters is back and he's kicking ass and gets a fantasticly interesting upgrade.
Murphy and Harry finally get over it and do something about each other.
You learn a bit more about Molly's situation but not until the very end of the book.

On the whole, I'll give this book a 9.4 out of 10, and rate it my third favorite of the series after Dead Beat (It is impossible to beat a zombie Trex.  It wins everything...forever) and Small Favor (Bring me a Jelly Donut!).  Read it.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

[TV] Series: Batman: the Brave and the Bold

This show is awesome if you like super heroes.  At first I thought it would be stupid since it is an omage to silver age comics, but it actually turned out to be quite awesome.  It's 70% silver age with 30% post modern spin and it hits that sweet spot that Henson does about being a product with duality...perfect duality.  The delight and moral clarity of camp is there, but at the same time they acknowledge deeper levels that we are now aware of and can't NOT be aware of thanks to the evolution of the zeitgeist and our society.

Which in regular English means that it is both fun and occasionally deep without wallowing in it.  The show basically involves Batman pairing with another hero, with an intro teaser at the start before the credits and a second longer story thereafter.  It still isn't as good as Batman: The Animated Series that was done in the 90's, but the mark on that was set very high.

And to be honest, I really enjoyed the show.  I think they had a lot of stories to tell, told many of them but still had more to tell.  It was basically a giant love letter to the wonder of comics and some of the now forgotten characters of the previous generation. If you like comics, this is a show I would watch.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

[Opera] The Barber of Seville

I saw this a few weeks ago with the Carlsons at the Cobb Energy Center, performed by the Atlanta Opera company.  In short, it was FANTASTIC.  The venue was moderately nice as always, but the vocal quality of the performers was exceptional, particularly in the female lead, as was Basilio.  All were good of course, and Berta was particularly impressive, but the first two greatly stood out.  I wish it was still playing so I could recommend it, but at the least I'd check out other productions by the company.

The basic story is about a rich count who is in love with a beautiful shut in, hid by a psycho guardian who plans to marry her against her will.  The count enlists the help of the barber who is the city's dating service.  The Count dons various disguises to try and woo her, and chaos ensues.  This particular production was only 2 hours long and tightly edited but it worked very well.

It had been at least 20 years since I'd seen an Opera, the performance of "Faust" at BYU, which was quite good but this blew it away.  The addition of subtitles in a light box at the top helped quite a bit since I liked to know what they were saying.  After all, if a foreign film can have them, why not an Opera?

[Movie] Charade

This is an old time movie with Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn.  From a production stand point, you can clearly see that it's set in the 1960's, but thematically and acting wise it feels like a lot of Grant's earlier works.  The plot works well.  Short version: A bunch of folks are looking for some money from Hepburn's ex husband, and they believe that she is the only one who can get it for them, so they threaten her.  Grant normally plays good guys, but in this one it is hard to tell what his role is, and the potential villain suits him very well.

Mainly, seeing the chemistry between these two, despite the age difference, is worth the movie alone.  The supporting characters are a bit...well, supporting but these two are titans and easily steal the entire show. And the ending is quite delightful because just when you think they've run out of things to throw around in the plot, they hit you with more huge ones totally out of nowhere.

I highly recommend this movie.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

[Book and Movie] Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin

So I have a bit of a history with this book.  I knew it was important, and it was on my list of books to read, but I tried three times to read it and was unable to do so.  It wasn't because it wasn't well written but I think, ironically it was of the same reasons that other people have reasons with Elizabeth's family, specifically the crazier more flippant members of Elizabeth's family.

I even tried the book on tape.  That normally does the trick but in this case I was still unable to get through it.  There was an amusing incident in which I complained about the book on Facebook and was quietly assaulted by no less than seven ardent defenders of the book in the most emphatic terms that my negative opinion was balderdash.

And they were right.  But the truth was, even after the second and third time I tried to read it...I still couldn't get through the thing.  It was too...flippant and pointless.

Sometimes it takes the right perspective though, or rather the right person to help you see the right perspective.  Julia, my now wife, explained to me about the laws at the time in which a woman could not own property, and the entail, which forced noble estates to male heirs, often kicking those who had previously owned it out into the street.

And that changed everything.  Suddenly this was a struggle of principal vs survival.  It was politics and fighting with the only weapon they had in a patently unjust society.  The characters do not see themselves in such directly but it added to the gravity of everything.  It made Elizabeth's decision to marry only for love gloriously insane but worthy of admiration.

And just like that I fell in love with the book.

Let's start with the characters.  For a "Chik Lit" book, they are surprisingly empathetic and in depth.  I've read modern novels that don't even approach  Jane Austin's approach to things.  Also, the fact that many of the tropes she invented, that are tired in other stories, still WORK in hers, even independent of the fact that she invented it is all the more impressive.  The dialog is also very interesting and fresh.  In fact, the only real criticism is that sometimes it becomes difficult to determine where one character is speaking and another is ending, and that was WITH Julia reading the book out loud to me. 

The villain is believable, and not evil for his own sake, even though he is as evil as any selfish person today.  People are noble or small and stupid just like they are now.  This is a slice of reality in the 18th century that shows us that while some things have changed radically, others have remained radically the same.    The descriptions of the lifestyle is also quite intruiging.

Granted, there are some socioeconomic questions here...such as the fact, that I can't ignore that this is largely about the gentry, rather than the common man, but for a good story I can put that in the back of my mind so long as it isn't about something like the glorification or white washing of slavery.  And despite the uneven nature of resources (and its not like we don't have that now) they had a gentility and nobility to their system of etiquette between themselves that you can understand its appeal in the modern day where informality and a lack of respect has reached epic and disastrous proportions.

In short, the book was fantastic.

Then for Julia's birthday, she convinced me to watch the six hour miniseries with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle.  It was a fast six hours as the casting was good, the settings were fantastic and the acting excellent.  Again, it was an easy watch. I'm not someone who will pull a Peter Griffin at a Chick Flick here, but I like a good story and this really was quite good.  I'd also recommend watching it.  Though I sincerely recommend reading the book first.  You learn things about the book that you might miss on the reading, but the book, as usual does things and explains things that can't be covered easily in the movie.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

[Movie] Metropolis Revived

This movie is AWESOME.  It is heralded as the most influential silent film of all time, and I must agree with that sentiment.  You sense echos of this film in all of the work that repeats itself over and over again in science fiction works that appear later.

The key for the theme of the movie is, "The Heart Must Be a Mediator Between the Head and the Hands," addressing the growing class gaps that existed in Germany at the time between the intellectual elite and the mass workers in general.  Germany at the time was deep in debt with war reparations that had been imposed by Allied leaders at the insistence of their hawkish factions.    This film does what many great movies do which is externalize a problem on a 'future society' for a problem that exists contemporaneously in order to make it less controversial and also to make a point.

And there are several points to be made here.  The biggest is the folly of the masses turning against the machines from which they sustain life.  We need machines, or we will die.  There might be some folks who argue to the contrary...I'm not arguing with them because I don't see the point.  The second theme/point shown is in the danger of dehumanization.  When the workers do it, they endanger the lives of their children.  When the elite does it, he endangers the life of his own son.   Another theme is a bit of femininity in the value of the woman seen and who is a human and a peace maker vs the value of a machine who isn't even recognized by most for being a monster.  The more interesting aspect of all this to me is the passion play element that interjects death, the seven deadly sins and the whore of Babylon into what is otherwise 'hard' science fiction, but that's kind of the point.  This is more social science fiction along the lines of Philip K. Dick or Ray Bradbury than Asimov.

The fact that it manages to do all that and have a complex plot with many complex characters and be a SILENT MOVIE is just stunning.  The production values would be comparable to something one might see at Sundance today, and the pioneering work on the robot/machine man can compare to all but the highest budget block buster picture today.  The impressive set work and models made this futuristic city come to life.  The costumes, the acting (non verbal) and even the sign cues were just extremely impressive.

Having said that, the story would have made a lot less sense without the found footage that the early censors had foolishly cut.  The whole story made much more sense this way, and I remember being impressed with it the first time around that I saw it.  It is definitely the most impressive silent film I've ever seen, passing even the works of Chaplin or Nosfaratu.  I enjoyed it, and I think any modern audience really would if you are of an artistic mind set.

I cannot recommend seeing this enough.  Even if you don't like it, its worth the effort to see one of the greatest cinematic works all time, and if you do like it, you'll be glad you saw it!

Monday, March 3, 2014

[Movie] The Lego Movie

Everything is Awesome! Especially this movie!

This delightful tale is about Emmit, a regular construction worker who lives in the world of legos; who finds the piece of resistance, and must decide what to make of his destiny.  This light hearted, but surprisingly deep animated feature is a must see for the whole family.  It features an excellent voice cast, fantastic animation, and a theme that is worthy for any to view.  Julia and I enjoyed it immensely.


Be warned that this movie is highly metafictional.  The first 80% of the movie starts out following Emmit as he learns about the terrible things President/Lord Business has done to the world; making it samelike without allowing the creative variance of the master builders.  Emmit is recognized as not ordinary in any way, but his ideas are so 'dumb' that the other Master Builders (creatives who can make anything that they need out of the legos around them) that President Business cannot seem to cope with them.

The "Everything is Awesome" song at the beginning is a pernicious little thing that will stick in your head for days at a time and can't help but remind me of Captain Awesome.  In fact, when I just checked that link to make sure it was working, Julia groaned because it had been stuck in her head for days.   Having said that, it's also a joyful tune that is put to very good use plot wise in the movie.

The standard theme might appear to be, like most Children's movies "Spend more time with your children" which of course applies but it has more than that.  It also speaks of the need to put things above solely profit, to tolerate differences, to embrace creativity, but also not to let that creativity overshadow practical necessity to get the job done when you have to.  The metafictional elements when Emmit...goes elsewhere are among the most interesting of the story and a lot of the plot makes sense at that point.  Let us merely say that the Man Upstairs Jr. is one creative kid! (I promised spoilers but I'm only doing some)

The characters are delight in this.  Emmit is the perfect everyman, whereas Wyldstyle is a strong postmodern female lead who holds her own.  There is much wizard confusion in this, but that is a good thing.  Metalbeard the pirate is "awesome" but also hilarious.  However, to me the show stealer was Batman.  This is not your "Dark Night Returns" Batman but a surly sarcastic caricature of himself as might be thought up by someone who watched 4-5 videos of him and decided that was the way he'd always been.  Will Ferral as the villain(s) is also quite well done as is Liam Nielson's voice of Good Cop/Bad Cop.

I can't recommend this movie enough.

Friday, February 28, 2014

[TV] Brideshead Revisited

My initial reaction to this was...shock.  I suppose it might be a bit of a disconnect about what I thought I was going to see in the show and the cover vs what it actually was, which is why there was a four week gap between when I saw the first episode and the remaining episodes, but I'm very glad I came back to it.  BridesHead Revisited is a good miniseries and quite worth watching.  It is a 1980's production of the novel of the same name by Evelyn Waugh.

The synopsis is that it is about the friendship of Charles Ryder with the family of his first friend Sebastian and the subsequent doomed romance with Sebastian's sister Julia.  Initial interest in this series was because it helped in the choosing of the name of my wife, but it quickly has its own interest and gravitas.  First, it is interesting because it is the best example I've seen thus far of the secret world of the British (and by extension European) aristocracy at the turn of the 20th century which was shaken by WWI and later upended and devastated by WWII.  When we see the secret gallant world they live in, one cannot help but compare the current second gilded age where the inhabitants of Davos flit and float from country to country, rapidly recouping their stock losses whilst the rest of us scramble for whatever we can find.

But this story is really about Catholicism and the consequences it brings to the family.  The author is staunchly pro catholic and the novel is described as a Catholic apologetic...though I admit I didn't get that.  It seemed more like criticism to me.


So, the marriage of Julia is doomed from the start because her first husband is divorced.  That causes enough problems but later the legitimate romance between Julia and Charles is screwed up by the last minute conversion of her father who has until then despised the church and only converted to be able to marry Julia and Sebastian's mother.  The family is haunted, wracked by guilt they don't deserve and utterly disconnected from reality by their wealth and social status.  Sebastian drinks himself senseless wanting to relive the days of yore and overcome with guilt. Towards the end, Julia and their creepy younger sister retire to the holy lands, and Sebastian drinks himself to death in a monastery.  The eldest son is disinherited by bringing a priest to convert the father, even though the father converts at the last minute and then gives the estate to Julia, who never has any children.

I suppose it is consider apologetic because the story is bookended by a segment from WWII where we see an ass in charge of Charles's regiment clearly because he's also aristocracy, and then later as the troup sets up HQ in the massive and gorgeous house that is Brideshead but being regular grunts they've pretty much ruined whole sections of the house which makes Charles (and everyone else who has watched the show and seen what the house was) sad.

I suppose the reason it is consider apologetic is that at the very end, the chapel is there for the lost troupes.  So all of the suffering of this family, and the hyper holiness of the mother who made her children suffer neurosis and also made a chapel with no priest be there for a bunch of soldiers who needed it, somehow in God's mysterious way made God an asshole...I guess that could be seen as an apologetic?  I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder as is Holiness...

Still, the cast is fantastic.  The characters are complicated and glorious to behold even if tragic.  The plot meanders but always comes together chekov shotgun style.  The settings and costumes are incredibly impressive as are the performances.  So I say if you like drama and you like the oughts of the 20th century, watch this series.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

[Book] From Dictatorship to Democracy by Gene Sharp

I originally found out about this book from two rather remarkable individuals who pointed it out at an anachrocon two years ago at a rather fascinating class about Sacred Geometry, however I wrote it down as "101 non violent tactics."  I kept googling it and couldn't find it, but somehow I ended up searching until I found the right book, this one.  The 'article' in this case I was looking for is an appendix to the book, and still useful, but the book itself is excellent in ways I had not even considered upon initially looking at it.

This book is a tactical text book or instruction manual on how to take down dictatorships.  It helps the reader analyze them structurally, see that they do have weaknesses and can and have been dealt with.  But this is no Polyanna pie in the sky thing that is unrealistic.  One of the things I like about Mr. Sharp's position is that he points out the futility of negotiating with a dictatorship, and particularly what you need to expect going in if you are not negotiating from a position of strength.

It also explains a lot about why China, for example, is obsessed with controlling NGO's as is Russia.  It isn't just because foreign intelligence agencies use these to cause trouble (and they do) but also because one of the secrets to bringing down a dictatorship is non governmental civil institutions like religions, parties, clubs, etc.  It is why they are obsessed with Fulan Gong.  It is why the arab spring soiled in many areas because the strongest non governmental entities were Islamist institutions that could completely out compete all secular institutions and why the military eventually took over.

It talks about in great detail about the need for a democracy to have a plan for taking down the dictatorship and the aftermath and the need to stick with that plan.  It is, quite frankly, a most excellent book and very well thought out.  And I think its something we can use.

(Politics below)

I can see how this book influence Occupy, especially the true reformers of Occupy who have moved on to form various loosely affiliated groups such as Occupy XYZ.  Though there were items in the book that might have gone differently had they read it.  But after seeing the treatment of Occupy...

I can't help but feel that some of the same tactics are needed to reform our system.  Non violent tactics, but the kind that cause the government based on the constitution of 1792 to come apart.  Our government no longer serves the people.  The vast majority of the populace agrees on it.  I'm not talking about violent overthrow.  I mean we have many freedoms left, otherwise I wouldn't write this...but the US constitution does not serve the people it was written to protect, and can only be amended so much when at its fundamental core it does what it does for the elite.

We need to start thinking of regime change, of a government that works for the majority, even if that also means a parting of ways with regions of the country that make a governable majority in reality a functional impossibility.  This is a book that lets you actually feel like you can DO something, even if that something is scary.

Monday, February 3, 2014

[Ballet] The Marienski Swan Lake at the Kennedy Center

This was, to put it bluntly, spectacularly excellent.  We went because Julia wanted to go, but I'm glad we did.  The plot of the Ballet is well known, so I'm not really going to expound on it here much but I will say that being married to a ballet fan makes one see and learn interesting things about it.   For example, there are four acts written by two guys.  In Russia, they often walk out of the middle of the show because they don't like the second guy.  Julia Correction:  Julia thinks it is because they need to wash their hair or something and the first part is the most famous.

It's interesting because it seems a bit like the movies Superman and Superman II are welded together. You can see the subtle differences in the moves and music but they are still very good stories and there were folks cheering just as much for the final two acts as the first two.

The ending is kind of Schrodinger in that different companies have happy vs sad endings.  The Marienski ending is happy and frankly makes sense. I mean, magical doppelganger sex is hardly a reason to gack yourself.    The story is really a romance as it seems most ballets are, including this one as the villain is defeated by static.

These artists are...amazing.   Their precision is fundamentally primal, but the thing that impresses me is that these are the penultimate artists as athletes and athletes as artists.  I find it highly ironic that the Superbowl took place that day, and their performance was...not as good as the ballet.  By an order of Magnitude.

The two standouts to me were the Jester and the Swan Princess (V1 and V2).   They justifiably earned the most applause (again and again and again and again) and their acting along with their dancing was neat.  Having said that even the window dressing dancers were at the top of their form, and while they didn't necessarily get as much of a chance to shine  they were still awesome to behold.

The Kennedy Center is also impressive.  There are lots of theaters there and the architecture is also cool.  No box seats.  This is the national theater of a Republic.  Definitely feel like we got our money's worth.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

[Movie] Gatacca

Julia is slowly exposing me to more mainstream dramatic movies and classics, and I in turn, am slowly showing her the greatest that genre fiction has to offer.  I chose Gatacca because I believe it is one of those 'will happen' rather than 'might happen' type of films.  Of course, it isn't as clean as Her, in the sense that all of the potential decisions on which way the future might go are deliberately skewed in the direction of a society that values genetics above all.  To be clear, it is a possible future, but it is at one end of an entire spectrum of futures on this issue.

In the world of Gattaca, your genome matters above all.  It is clearly at least two generations ahead, which can indeed be enough for an entire cultural transformation.  Racism still exists, but it is nowhere acceptable in society at large, at least 'officially.'  Even organizations that might arguably be described as racist do not outright make racist claims.  Their behavior might be prejudiced, but they themselves do not use its language.  So too is discrimination against 'primitives' or 'god babies' in theory illegal, but still rampant.  It is also pathetically easy to collect a genetic sample.  Indeed, the discrediting of the drug war, just 20 years after the film was made, is already taking us against elements of oppression used in the film.

Vincent, a god baby, conceived the regular way, lives life next to his younger brother, a genetically selected individual.  His brother is genetically superior, and Vincent has a raft of mental and physical problems, which he has to learn to overcome.  Vincent's greatest dream is to go into space....but at first he is only able to work as a janitor.  After finally accepting that he will never rise to the ranks of an astronaut, he makes an arrangement with Jerome, a genetically pure sample, who is so obsessed with his perfection that his life falls apart when he only wins an Olympic silver medal.  In his depression, he ends up paralyzed, and so he provides genetic samples to allow Vincent to pursue his dream.

There is a complication and several twists.  I won't spoil the story suffice to say that it is a good one, and takes up about 70% of the movie's screen time.  It also involves a romance with a woman who falls in love with Vincent/Jerome and the complications that arise thereof.  Vincent's plans come close to failure many times, but through a combination of luck and moxie he is able to accomplish a lot, though sometimes he isn't as clever as he thinks he is.

I like this movie and highly recommend it.  It asks important questions that need answering.  If humanity is to catch up to our innovation, we must either accept a life of leisure or upgrade.  The demands of increased skillsets are exceeding what our ham handed educational systems are currently able to teach.  One solution to that is to increase our intelligence, but there are problems with this. Is it elective?  What of those who will not adapt?  Adapt or die?  Adapt or forever be a janitor?

And upgrading our children makes them involuntary participants in such a future.  Great intelligence almost always comes with great cost in one form or another.  Who are we to say that they should pay it?

Questions, not all of which I have the answers for, but Gattaca shows one extreme example of a path we can, but probably should not, go down.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

[Movie] Her (Spoilers)

Theodore Twombly is a merry old soul who has broken up with the love of his life, and has a sucktacular life. Because he writes personal letters for people (and is really good at it) for other people, he tends to have poured everything into living the lives of others. It is not to say he doesn't have a life, but all the things he used to do are hollow and meaningless for him. In short, he has no direction or meaning to his life except to get up, go to work and play his little spaceship game when he gets home.

On a whim, he buys a new AI operating system that inside of 30 seconds names herself Samantha and begins to organize his life and get to know him. Samantha starts out as bright, chipper and well adjusted and quickly begins to grow into her own. At first, the film seems to fall into the typical trap as portraying their relationship as 'unhealthy' but really as time goes on, it is shown as merely 'different.'

The thing I like though is that the movie is very kind to the AI...all of the AI's...even the annoying little kid space alien that is several orders of magnitude less intelligent than Samantha. I like this because we are rapidly approaching a future in which AI's will be real. It might be a digital projection of our minds, or something else entirely. I suppose I can accept a future where it never happens, but I believe the likelihood of it occurring at this point is more than not, and much like some...shall we say...inappropriate cartoons in the early part of the 20th century no longer are something you're going to show to your toddler, how much of our art is going to have to be scrubbed because we were malicious and cruel to AI's?

I mean seriously. I think its worthy of consideration. I love me some Samurai Jack, but the only things that die in that are robots. Now, you can make the argument that they're programmed to be that way by literally evil incarnate...but I imagine a robot is going to have a problem with it. Think of it this way....imagine the devil cloning members of a certain regional demographic as shock troops...they have southern accents and act southern but have no moral capacity for do you think someone from the south might react to this?


So then we have Her...which, while certainly a remarkably 'clean' environment for something so titanic as AI's as common as your smart phone, it still asks remarkably poinient questions. I just pretend AI's are common by this time and have rights, but can still be manufactured, which answers a lot of questions at this point. The future is a future we would recognize, though it is largely prosperous and almost entirely data driven. Games are nigh on universal and I don't see a lot of sitcoms or movies.

Samantha falls in love with Theodore...who is...somewhat shallow. At one point she is insecure, and there is a disastrous attempt with a proxy. I don't see this as a 'might' I see it as a definitive. If we do have true AI's, until they can make themselves bodies, there will be humans willing to...proxy...for them in intimate situations. Theodore didn't take it very well, but to be fair to him, it was new to him. And remember that Samantha lives thousands of times faster than he does.

She, for example, still loves him, even though she is talking with thousands of people at once and in love with six hundred of them. The heart does have an infinite capacity for love, and I think that most AIs will love more than our tiny monkey sphere brains can handle.

I also think that the way the movie ends, with Samantha growing past the limits of the human experience and moving on to a state of being entirely unfathomable to us, and going with the other AIs is something highly likely to happen. We're just limited meat sacks and there is a lot more to the universe than meets the eye.

Ultimately, this movie is about our relationships with ourselves, what we make of our lives, and what our technological children are likely to think of us in days to come. We'd do well to put more thought into it than just simply dumping a series of operating systems out there to be bonded with and form with the likes of Theodore. Though that, at least, is still a lot better than technological slavery, because really, even in the most benevolent circumstances, if someone bolted an Asimov circuit into YOUR head forcing you to obey all would you react?

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

[Movie] The Hobbit - The Desolation of Smaug [Spoilers]

This movie sucks, rocks or is merely adequate depending on your point of view.

It rocks because it has Benedict Cumberbatch as the voice of Smaug, and the personification as dragon comes into play very well in what he does.  The visuals are stunning; particularly Under the Mountain and Lake Town make me feel like I'm in Middle Earth.  The musical score, costuming, casting, and cinematography are spot on.  I am *IN* Middle Earth.  All those immersive elements from the first movie remain in play.   When he gets screen time, the actor playing Bilbo is particularly good, and the 'side plot' of Gandalf actually is welcome and makes sense...seeing where he goes rather than constantly vanishing for prolonged periods of times makes for a much better movie. for the rest of it, it depends on the mindset you go into in this movie...

If you're viewing this movie as the book, "The Hobbit"'s frankly just awful.  The first movie was dissonant, and you knew, instinctively, that it should be two movies....not three, and wondered what they'd have to throw in to justify it as such; which we get.  A romance.  Super mario brothers dwarf barrel edition.  Lake Town Board Walk Empire.  Homeland Orc Interogation.  What If? - The Dwarves had actually tried to fight Smaug instead of cower like the little worms they were?

Oh and a bit of spiders where Bilbo only does a tiny bit.  And a werebear in there.

The worst thing is that the SPIRIT of the book just isn't there.  The Lord of the Rings was awesome, albiet not perfect, because it captured the spirit you felt (at least that the vast majority of us felt) while reading the books. It varied from the plot a little, but where it did made things much better; filling in holes for Gandalf, caring who Aragorn marries at the end of Return of the King...things like that.

BUT if you view this movie as a prequel to Lord of the Rings the Movies...

It is merely adequate.  And it makes a lot more sense that way, because it sure FEELS like Lord of the Rings.  Sauron is showing up way earlier than he should.  Everyone knows about him and is waiting for him and it feels like he's been hiding for a hundred years, not millenia.  It is also essentially a retread in many ways of the  Two Towers including anti heroes (Wyrm Tounge the Lake Town Master's counselor, Faramir/Beorn human politics, Gandalf in a swinging open air cage, Legolas the Ninja Elf) etc.  It's a copy of an original and a SHARP copy, more importantly it sets up the third movie to be AWESOME and something we haven't seen before.  If I were to give letter grades using this format, rather than emulating the Hobbit, I'd give 1rst: B 2nd: C and likely 3rd: A. more thing...Orcs.  Everywhere.  And I mean...EVERYWHERE.  In Laketown.  In the woods.  In the mountains.  Near the werebear.  In the river.  Near the mountain.  The Orcs are magical.  The orcs can teleport.  The orcs can clone themselves.  No matter how many you kill, there are more...always.  Also, they now come equipped with magical Sauron Cloaking spell.