Category Archives: Film

Escape Velocity

I hated growing up in Murray. As soon as I was old enough to realize that it was possible to leave, I made that my solitary goal. It pained me to see the look on my parents’ faces each time I made this proclamation, but I was absolutely convinced that if I was ever to become successful in life, I would need to situate myself elsewhere — someplace with a thriving tech industry that didn’t stop moving after 9 pm.

Now, here I am at 35 years old still living here and have yet to reach escape velocity. Quite the opposite, I’m actually finding fewer and fewer reasons to leave. You could say that I’m running out of thrust, to keep to my metaphor. To put it simply, I just speculate that I have more to lose than to gain by leaving. It’s simple economics.formula6

 

I’ve lost count of the other individuals I’ve encountered through life who’ve told a similar tale to mine — those who once also counted themselves among the despondent legions of Murray’s youth who vowed to leave this mire without so much as a rude gesture once they had the means. Of those who did manage to leave, the gravitational pull of this place inexplicably drew a good number of them back years later.

Those that haven’t returned yet? Give it some time.

I sometimes imagine that the phenomenon could be used as the main premise of a comedy film in the same vein as Groundhog Day or The Truman Show. I can already hear the trailer now: “Meet Fred, your average, everyday, normal guy. Fred just moved to Murray, KY, a seemingly normal, quiet town. But this particular town has a well-guarded secret. Once you settle there, you can never really leave.” The frightening thing is that those words could actually work for a horror movie as well.

This is a horror film disguised as a comedy.

This is a horror film disguised as a comedy.

... This too

… This too

The distinction between the comedy or tragedy of being bound to a location lends itself to an interesting behavioral experiment. Consider how the classic psychological test of whether an individual sees a glass of water as half full or half empty can purportedly be indicative of whether he or she harbors a optimistic or pessimistic worldview. I believe a similar test can be devised by asking individuals if being tethered to Murray is comedy or tragedy. Do they regard themselves as being blessed beyond measure, or do they feel that they are victims of terrible misfortune?

For the longest time, if you had asked me the Murray question, I would have answered that it was a series of poor decisions, mistakes, and bad luck that kept me rooted here. I would have also answered that God was punishing me somehow by keeping me here to atone for past sins. I spent many sleepless nights driving myself to madness by calculating “what if” scenarios. What if I had made a different decision or reacted differently to a given situation? Would my current lot in life had been any better?

The problem with this thinking is that those “better” potential outcomes would have inevitably led to other unknown potential outcomes. What may appear to have been a better decision in current hindsight may have eventually led to a catastrophic outcome. I am loath to admit it, but the film The Butterfly Effect (based on the eponymous concept in chaos theory) was instrumental in helping me understand this. We all sometimes wish for a chance to go back and change certain things about our past, but there is no guarantee that those changes would have made us any happier.

butterfly effect

Change one thing. Change everything.

Now logically, this all makes perfect sense to me. Emotionally, I’m still working on internalizing it. I have to occasionally remind myself that I am in Murray not by misfortune, but because that’s just how things worked out. Every time I wander into the dangerous thinking that my life should have turned out differently, I have to pull myself back out by reminding myself that things are exactly as they are meant to be.

I’ve been trying to cultivate an attitude of thankfulness to keep myself from going to such dark places in the first place. I have so many wonderful people in my life right now who either would likely not have existed or I would have never met if I had strayed from my path even a little. The thought of giving up those lives and relationships breaks my heart, so even if I was given the opportunity to go back and change things, I would be a fool to gamble away all that I have for some unknown alternative.

So am I glass-half-full kind of person or a glass-half-empty kind of person? In response, I ask, “What is wrong with just being okay with the fact that the glass just is?” Many countless happenings transpired to transform the glass and its contents to their current state. Some were events of nature and others were decisions made by people who were driven by many different motivations. I think it’s presumptuous for us to label the net sum of those happenings as fortunate or unfortunate, as we simply cannot comprehend how those happenings factor into the ultimate future of human existence.

full-glass

 

Instead of judging happenings as good or bad, fortunate or unfortunate, we have to remember that we can’t see the big picture of this thing called life. Or as Tolkien’s Gandalf the Grey so eloquently put it, “Even the very wise cannot see all ends.” We have to trust that since God is in control, everything will work out in the end for those of us who trust in Him and allow Him to direct our lives.Romans_8-28

More on Orwell – Morewell!

Through all my rambling in my last post, I never mentioned that 1984 is actually a pretty good novel once it actually gets going. I can see how a reader might be turned off at how slowly the pace moves until about half way in. Regardless of how boring it might seem at at the start, I still recommend that people read it simply to open their eyes to how easily we give up some of our most basic freedoms and the consequences of doing so.1984-front

My primary reason for reading 1984 in the first place was to discover the story behind “Big Brother,” a term that seems to be thrown around a great deal by the media and conspiracy theorists. It turns out that Big Brother is just a name and a face given to the concept of around-the-clock surveillance of the individuals of society.

In 1984, the government of Oceania monitored all citizens through devices called telescreens (televisions that watch you – yeah it sounds like a Yakov Smirnoff joke) to ensure they weren’t engaging in illegal activities, behaving erratically, or fostering anti-government tendencies. Since the government needed a friendly face under which to operate, they created Big Brother, their benevolent leader and protector.

Propaganda was also spread that stated, “Big Brother is watching you,” which is just a masked way of saying: “Be careful what you do, because the government always has its eye on you.”1984-Big-Brother-Poster

Knowing now what the concept of “Big Brother” is, I’ve come to realize that it is now used primarily by the media as a fear mongering tactic to shy people away from some new technological advance – especially technology that makes use of personal information or communications (i.e., Google’s GMail*).

1984 shows us that we should remain ever vigilant about what rights we surrender. In this day and age, by simply using certain technologies, we effectively waive certain privacy rights. Fueled by recent films such as The Matrix and I, Robot, fear of becoming slaves to our own technology is very real. Such films inspire us to ask one of the great philosophical questions of our time: What negative impacts are new and existing technologies making on our lives?

At first thought, it’s easy to say there aren’t any negative impacts. However, to consider the question further, perhaps it may be helpful to think of the state of our lives should certain technologies (e-mail or mobile phones, for example) become suddenly inoperable. In my opinion, over-reliance on technology is a negative impact.

So indeed we have already sacrificed pieces of ourselves for our modern conveniences. How many more sacrifices are we prepared to make in the name of technological advancement? More importantly, how close are we to the world of 1984 by making those sacrifices?what-is-right-is-often-forgotten-by-what-is-convenient-quote-1albert-einstein-quotes-appalingly-obvious-technology-exceeded-humanity-toxic-relationship-destroyer
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*According to many misinformed people, someone working for Google is sitting at their computer, reading peoples’ e-mails, and deciding what advertisements to put up based each message’s content. In actuality it is a computer algorithm that scans for keywords from the text – not much different than anti-virus software scanning messages for viruses or software spell-checkers searching for misspelled words.

No Names

I finished George Orwell’s 1984 shortly after finals week, but I’m only now sitting down to write about it. Considering some of the recent happenings in the news, it seems an appropriate time.

Like it’s cousin, Brave New World, 1984 is a dystopian novel that outlines a grim existence for the future. 1984 has come and gone, but does that not reduce the potency of Orwell’s critique. It’s not difficult to see society heading in the terrible direction of 1984’s circumstances. Every day we give up certain freedoms to maintain social order and harmony.

For all the technical inaccuracies and impossibilities of the movie Hackers (which would have been more accurately named Crackers), I admit that I found the film at least mildly entertaining. There are bits and pieces of philosophy stuck in there – so brief that if you blink, you’ll miss them. In a deliberate nod to Orwell, a character named Emmanuel Goldstein delivers one of the most philosophical quotes in the movie:

Screen-Shot-2014-04-18-at-18.51.11You could sit at home, and do like absolutely nothing, and your name goes through like 17 computers a day. 1984? Yeah right, man. That’s a typo. Orwell is here now. He’s livin’ large. We have no names, man. No names. We are nameless!

The amount of digitized data has increased exponentially since that film was made in 1995, so it’s probably safe to assume that 17 computers is now a gross understatement. From the government, to our insurance companies, to our financial institutions, to our commerce – our livelihoods have been reduced to mere numbers in databases. We have become the little ones and zeroes that comprise some huge system that we have little or no control over.

Our identities have become commodities. Unscrupulous harvesters sell our e-mail addresses to spammers by the millions. Advertisers collected demographic information on us such as where we shop and what we eat so they’ll better know what to throw in our faces next time we open our eyes. And now come to find out most of our major financial institutions handle our personal information with very little regard as to how it may be misused. This is clearly illustrated by institutions such as Citigroup, a company that does not even bother to encrypt sensitive customer data before sending out into the world in a UPS box.

We have become so detached from our own identities that it is now possible for others to use them for their own maligned purposes. All it takes is the knowledge of a few sets of numbers that can be obtained quite easily.fortunetellerBW

It’s obvious now that we can’t simply throw away all these conveniences that we’ve come to rely on. It’s not like we can just stop using our driver’s license numbers, credit card numbers, and social security numbers and go back to addressing each other by name. That may have worked when America was nothing but a network of small towns and villages connected by dirt roads, but certainly doesn’t cut it in today’s fast-paced global economy.

Perhaps using biometric verification systems are the future of secure commerce – a scanner at every terminal that verifies you are indeed who you say you are and approve of whatever transaction that’s been initiated. Of course, there will still be tech-savvy identity frauders out there who are able to capture and reproduce fingerprint or retinal signatures for whatever diabolical means, so I’m not suggesting that biometrics would be and “end-all” solution. I do believe, however, it would put us in a better situation than we are in now.

After all, right now all it takes is digging through some victim’s trash or mailbox and doing a little internet research to pull off a good identity fraud.

Well I seem to have digressed a bit from talking about 1984, and this post is already long enough, so more on Orwell another time.

Sandworms and Sequels

W00t! I finally get to credit yet another completed sci-fi novel reading to my name: Frank Herbert’s masterful Dune. Since the spring semester started up in January I’ve maintained a steady pace of reading before, after, and between classes. By the time spring break started, I was on my last 50 pages, so with all the extra time, I was able to finish!DUne

Here are my thoughts:

Unlike the many Michael Crichton novels I’ve read and re-read, Dune started off rather boring. This most likely contributed to my inability to get into it the first couple of times I tried reading it. My favorite books are the ones that I absolutely cannot put down once I start them*, and Dune simply did not fit into that category. Nonetheless, it is still a worthy addition to any reading list, despite its minor flaws, which I will briefly discuss.

After the book began to pick up pace about a fourth of the way in, it steadily began to snowball toward climax. An explosive ending steadily became inevitable, with all the major subplots hurtling uncontrollably toward each other. What irritated me most was how the ending seemed rushed – as if Herbert intentionally left several loose ends untied as fuel for the subsequent sequels. He spent chapters upon chapters at the beginning (the aforementioned “boring” part) weaving an intricate plot web with which to spend the rest of the book untangling.

Most authors separate the climax and resolution by starting a new chapter. This is the formula I am accustomed to and expect to see when reading a novel, since it aids in my mental organization and processing of the plot. The fact that Dune’s climax and resolution are found in the same chapter is probably the source of my irritation – that and the fact that the resolution is only, like, two pages. A two-page ending hardly seems adequate enough to finish off 300 other pages of dense, well-written narrative.

I just wasn’t left with a substantial sense of closure. Like the end of Matrix: Revolutions (don’t even get me started on the wasted potential of the Matrix story line), I could tell an ending was supposed to be there, but it just didn’t seem meaty enough for me.

Some free advice to both novelists and screenwriters: I don’t care if you are planning to do a sequel, finish what you’ve started and if it is truly deserving of a sequel, you’ll find a way to write it. It’s not necessary to leave huge holes at the end of your story just in case you need to plug a sequel into them later. I swear I get so sick of how every movie anymore has to be the start of a trilogy. Someone in some office is probably saying, “Yeah that’s a great script, but cut out the detailed ending. If this one makes it big we’ll make two more of ’em!” Exhibit A: Super Mario Brothers. Yes, the movie was pretty goofy at times (to be honest, I think that’s part of its charm), but it probably wouldn’t have sucked quite as much if it hadn’t been designed with a sequel in mind.

Ugh, I went off on a little tirade there. Don’t let my ranting dissuade you from picking up Dune if you’ve been considering it. One of the reasons I and so many others enjoy reading sci-fi novels is because of their power to whisk readers away to worlds that are limited only by the authors’ imaginations. Dune does not by any means suffer from lack of imagination. Anyone whose creative energies are so abundant that they spill over into appendices and glossaries certainly deserves any awards or critical acclaim they receive.

As if I could ever aspire to do better…

Next on the list? Orwell’s 1984.

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*It has never taken me more than three days to read a Crichton novel cover-to-cover. I finished Prey seven hours after I started it, stopping only for snacks and bathroom breaks.

Finding A Hero for All of Us

I somehow managed to free up an evening tonight to see Jet Li’s Hero (released in China in 2002 as Ying xiong). Let me just say: Wow. I haven’t gotten around to seeing any of his previous movies, but if Hero is a testament to their quality, I’m seriously considering checking them out. I was absolutely amazed at how well the film blended intricate fight choreography with an emotional storyline. It’s not to often that you find an action movie with a plot of any substantial depth.Ying xiong Wallpaper 6

The only thing that might turn some people off are the subtitles. There are some people who find it hard to enjoy movies with subtitles. They find the dialogue difficult to follow because of the tension created between reading the subtitles and watching the visuals. I don’t seem to have too much of a problem with it, probably since I’ve watched so much subtitled Japanese anime. Still, there are those who would rather have English dialogue dubbed over the film.

The debate over “Dubbed vs. Subbed” is a sensitive one, as any discerning aficianado of foreign film is well aware. I actually prefer subtitles since, being the purist that I usually am, I feel that the language used in a film is part of its essence. It just seems to me that English-speaking voice actors sitting in a recording studio just can’t come close emulating the emotions that screen actors (good ones, at least) actually feel. It’s as if something is taken away, like a color from a painting.

This is why I can admire talented voice actors more than screen actors. I would imagine that it’s much easier to get into character when you’re standing on a set and in costume than when sitting in a sound-proof booth.

Overall I can say that Hero is well-deserved of all the good reviews it has gotten. Highly recommended.

And of course I can’t finish this post without a reminder to you all that Sunday is Talk Like a Pirate Day! ARRRRR!!!! Leave it to Brandon to get me started on something like this… :D

Making Connections

When digging into any recently published science fiction novel, it’s not uncommon to notice subtle (or not so subtle) references to older, “classic” sci-fi authors and characters. Many contemporary authors like to pay homage to those who’ve inspired them by cleverly naming characters or places after them – either directly or subtly by using anagrams. Most often, when a character or place is named in such a fashion, there’s a certain irony to be found – an “inside joke,” if you will, that can only be understood if you recognize the reference. I wish I could provide a concrete example, but bear with me, you’ll soon see this evidenced, though not restricted to the scope of literature.

My personal library (if it could even be called such) isn’t comprehensive by any means, but I have read my share of science fiction novels. Not surprisingly, nearly every one of them contains references to other works. I’m not certain when exactly it was, but at some point in time I finally decided that no longer wanted to be left out of the loop – I wanted understand the ironic implications. Hence, I began to take an interest in classic sci-fi novels.

I began by picking up Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and Frank Herbert’s Dune with every intention of reading them quickly. I managed reading two chapters into each and didn’t pick them up again.

Here it is sometime later and I’ve began again on Huxley. It’s been two days and I just started chapter 8. Now where am I going with this, you may ask? For some reason, right around chapter 4, with the introduction of a main character named “Lenina”, the movie Demolition Man crept out of my subconcious. If you ever sat through it, you’ll remember that DM was set in a “utopian” future, where society has been sterilized, crime and suffering are non-existent, and everyone is generally happy. If this sounds all too familiar, it’s because it is the same setting found in BNW, and more recently, the movie Equilibrium (highly recommended flick, BTW). Anyway, in DM, the name of the character played by Sandra Bullock was none other that “Lenina Huxley.”

I can just hear the stunned gasps of realization already. I’m certain many of you recognized the reference immediately when you first watched the movie, but please remember I’m working backwards here, so I’m quite proud of myself for making the connection. Yes, I know I’m certainly not the first to do it. In fact, while writing this I clicked the IMDb link to DM and sure enough there’s a trivia section explaining it all. Man do I feel dumb now, but since I’ve already put this much effort into the post I might as well make it.

It’s satisfying to see that my labors are already bearing fruit, and I haven’t even finished my first novel. So far I’m really enoying BNW. Perhaps I’ll post a reaction when I finish it.

Also, does anyone have any suggestions for good classic sci-fi? After Dune I’ll probably move to Douglas Adams’ The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy or George Orwell’s 1984, but I’m going to need a lot more to keep me going.

2003 Holiday Movie Lineup!

The holiday movie lineup is quite impressive this year. I read a couple of reviews on my must-see list, and as I imagined, “The Last Samurai” got pretty decent reviews. The film adaptation of Michael Crichton’s “Timeline”, however, did not fare so well. I can live without seeing the others, but I plan on being one of the fanatics in the mile-long line come December 17th for the opening of “Lord of the Rings, Return of the King”. Contrary to last year, severe beatings will commence if I am forced to sit in the front row (pronounced “neck-breaker”) seats again this year.161237

I cannot say that I’m surprised about the Timeline review. I’ve read a great deal of Crichton’s novels such as The Andromeda Strain, Jurassic Park, The Lost World, Sphere, Congo, and I’m working on Eaters of the Dead (renamed “The 13th Warrior” in theaters, which I thoroughly enjoyed), but it seems that lately the film adaptations of his books haven’t quite met the expectations of many.